18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. I. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Refund or Deposit
– I have received u letter from the general secretary of a Melanesian mission, in which he says thai ou the 23rd September last the mission was required to deposit £200 with the. Department of Trade and Customs pending the trans-shipment of a launch which was en mute from New Zealand to the New Hebrides. The department demanded immediate payment. The launch was trans-shipped on the 20th December. On the 21st April, the mission wrote to the Collector of Customs, Sydney, regarding the delay in making a refund of the deposit, but had not received an acknowledgment of. its communication. More than four months have elapsed since the launch left this country.. Although the mission, through its agents, has made repeated applications to the department, it has been unable to obtain a refund, of the amount lodged. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs state whether it is customary for the department to retain such deposits indefinitely? If not, in view of the circumstances in this case, will he ensure immediate repayment of the money?
– I shall convey the text of the question to the Minister for Trade and Customs, ascertain the facts, and in due course pass them on to the honorable member.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a letter published in to-day’s issue of the Sydney Telegraph, headed “Sharp Practices “, over the signature of “ A. R. Gray “, a real estate agent of Sydney, in which he has cited certain dealings he has had with the Land Sales Control Department in Sydney, namely: -
A block of flats submitted to the Treasury at £16,500; permission refused ; consent given at £14,750.
A house and land submitted at £6,250 ; refused ; permission givenat £5,300.
A block of flatettes submitted at £4,500; permission given at £4,200, even though the Valuer-General’s valuation was £4,500.
Mr. Gray went on to say that, in every instance, the sale fell through and asked -
But how does the Treasury explain this: Within two months of their rejection by the Treasury, at the prices I had submitted, another real estate firm submitted the same properties and the Treasury passed them at the prices it had refused me?
– Order ! The honorable gentleman has read sufficient to explain his question.
– In view of the very serious allegations that have been made in that letter, imputing corruption in the Land Sales Control Department in Sydney, will the Prime Minister appoint a royal commissioner to inquire into the whole of the administration of land sales control in Sydney, including the allegation that certain real estate firms can obtain the consent of the Treasury to sales of properties at prices at which other firms have been refused permission to sell?
Mr.CHIFLEY.- Naturally, I have not read letters in the newspapers this morning, and I have not seen the oneto which the honorable member refers. In this case, specific instances have been cited, although I did not hear the names. The person who signed the letter will be communicated with. Last week, the honorable member for Swan made certain allegations in which names were mentioned, and I arranged with the Commonwealth Actuary, Mr. Balmford, to make an investigation of the circumstances of that and similar cases. I have not seen Mr. Balmford during the last few days, and perhaps the investigation is not yet completed. I do not see any reason why a royal commissioner should be appointed. The honorable member may rest assured that if there has been any wrong-doing I shall make no attempt to screen the persons concerned.
– Or any firm?
– I do not know what is the legal position in regard to that. In view of the fact that there were some departures from the ordinary procedure, I changed the administration of that department immediately. I cannot give the honorable member any more information until the Commonwealth Actuary has completed his investigation.
– At the wool sales in Launceston some time ago, a considerable quantity of wool was sold at high prices, and great difficulty in now being experienced in getting the wool away because of the shortage of shipping. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping take the matter up with a view to having more shipping provided, because I understand that the present position is detrimentally effecting wool prices.
– I shall take the matter up with the Minister for Supply and Shipping, and see whether the wool can be cleared.
– In view of the admission in this House by the Minister for Immigration that the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society of New York has been financing and arranging passages of refugees to Australia, will the honorable gentleman inform the House whether he is aware that the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society of New York is part of the New York organization that has called upon terrorists in Palestine to take armed action against British subjects whom it describes as “brutal invaders”? Who are the agents of the American organization in Australia? Did the Minister obtain his information from those agents direct? Has the British Government been asked to approve of vises of refugees being financed by the organization? What precautions have been taken to prevent the entry into Australia of terrorists, and of those people who, having been refused admission into Palestine, now claim to be at war with Great Britain?
– As I have repeatedly stated in this House, every precaution is taken to ensure that the people who come to Australia are persons of good character. Wc enlist the aid of the British Government and through it we have the use of the British consular officials in various countries and of the British Secret Service Office. As far as is humanly possible we take every precaution to ensure that only decent people are admitted to Australia. Of course, the position is a iittle different from what it was in the days when men like Judge Swindell were permitted to enter into Australia. We are advised by the representatives of the Jewish welfare societies of Australia, and as far as I know, they are all very decent people, all good Australians. The men with whom the Government has most to do are Mr. Masel, of Melbourne, whose sons served in World War II. and whose brothers saw service in World War I., and Mr. Brand, of Sydney, who is a member of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. I know no more than I have said about the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society of New York. I do not know whether it did or did not make the statements attributed to .it by the honorable member for Reid. I should like him to vouch for the accuracy of his statements before I would be prepared to take any notice of his views on that question or, in fact, on any other question. If the honorable member will supply me with supporting evidence - because 1 always like supporting evidence where he is concerned I shall investigate the matter further.
– Has the Minister for Works and Housing seen the statement by Mr. Wainwright, Controller of Materials in South Australia, published in the Adelaide Advertiser of the 13th May, that the production of corrugated and plain galvanized iron sheet in Aus tralia had fallen from 110,S07 tons in 1939 to 67,191 tons in 1946, that all States with the exception of Tasmania did noi receive delivery of the quotas that had been allotted to them, and that during the period from 1939 to 1946 the export of galvanized iron had increased by 500 tons annually? In view of that statement, will the Minister take action to prevent the export of galvanized iron until local demands have been met ?
– I have explained many times why the production of galvanized iron and many other materials has not yet reached the pre-war level. The quotas of galvanized iron allocated to the States have been agreed to by the State Premiere.
– But the quotas are not being delivered.
– Quotas are being delivered. Deliveries depend on the availability of coastal shipping. Probably some of the 500 tons by which exports of galvanized iron are said by the honorable member to have increased goes to the territories of the Common wealth to which we have the obligation to supply materials. While I am in charge of the allocation of galvanized aron I will continue to have regard to the needs of the territories.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral whether negotiations are proceeding or intended with Portugal arid France with the idea of giving to Australia defensive rights in Timor and New Caledonia.
– Negotiations are taking place between the Government of Portuguese Timor and the Australian Consul in Timor on matters of trade, common defence, and the use of air travel facilities. It is expected that the Governor of Portuguese Timor will soon visit Australia. No negotiations of the kind referred to are taking place with the Government of France, which has resumed full sovereignty over New Caledonia without, restriction.
– The Commonwealth Government holds millions of pounds of the wheat-growers’ money under the authority of the Wheat Export Charge Act, passed last December. What does the Government intend to do with it? What is being done to give the wheat industry a satisfactory stabilization scheme?
– The Commonwealth Government has, as I have pointed out before, completed its part of the legislation to bring into effect a satisfactory wheat stabilization plan. The taxing measure associated with it was agreed to by a majority of the members of this Parliament. We are still awaiting action by the State parliaments to make the scheme fully operative. Meanwhile the tax is being paid into a trust fund in the Treasury from which there will be available when the stabilization plan conies into operation money for disbursement to the wheat-farmers in the event of the price of wheat falling below the guaranteed price.
Standardization of Gauges
– I ask the Minister for Transport whether it is a fact that an amount of £750,000 was provided for expenditure on preliminary survey work in connexion with the standardization of railway gauges during the current financial year? Will the Minister inform me how much of that amount has already been expended ?
– A sum of money was set aside for preliminary work on the standardization project. The work has been proceeding. Some delay has occurred because of the failure of two State governments to pass the necessary ratifying legislation, but I. hope that they will do so at an early date. The whole of the sum has not yet been exhausted. I shall ascertain for the honorable member how much has been expended.
– Will the Minister for Immigration inform me whether the Nazi leader in Australia, Dr. Becker, whose deportation was ordered at the end of the war, is still at large in this country? If so, why was Dr. Becker allowed to remain in Australia while other ex-enemy subjects, whose records were not so bad as his, have been deported? Does the Government still intend to deport Dr. Becker? If not, what is the reason for the change of policy ?
– There has been no change of policy. I invite the honorable member to cast his mind back a few months when I made a statement in this House, and several public statements concerning Dr. Becker. He was interned in the early stages of the war, and was released on the recommendation of Mr. J ustice Simpson pending deportation. He was one of many persons who was so released. With a number of other former nazi supporters, Dr. Becker was listed for return to Germany on Orontes last January, but the Allied Control Commission in Germany requested the Australian Government to send only a few people to Germany - in fact, to send none for the time being - and eventually a number of people whom His Honour had recommended to be held pending deportation, were sent. The Government intends to send Dr. Becker back to Germany as soon as the Allied Control Commission is prepared to receive him, and shipping is available. I have already advised the South Australian branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia in these terms, and yesterday, I sent a letter to the federal secretary of the organization on this subject. I assure the honorable gentleman that once this Government makes up its mind to do a thing, it never changes it.
– According to an announcement in the press to-day, the British film magnate, Mr. J. Arthur Rank, will visit Australia early next year. Mr. Rank has fought strongly for the recognition of, and the making of high-class British films, and has performed splendid work in Great Britain in catering for children through his children’s theatres. A great need exists in Australia for high-class films. Will the
Minister for Information arrange for Mr. Rank to address members of the Parliament on these matters? Will his department and the National Film Board seek Mr. Rank’s advice regarding the establishment of children’s theatrette.? in Australia?
– We shall be only too pleased to consult with Mr. Rank when he comes to Australia. Mr. Rank has already bought substantial interests in Greater Union Theatres, and lias a number of representatives in Australia with whom I have discussed the future of the Australian film industry. Mr. Rank’s work has been of a very meritorious character, and my departmental officers and I will be happy to give every facility to him to begin similar good work in Australia. If it is possible to arrange for him to meet honorable members, T shall be pleased’ to make the necessary arrangements. I discern, of course, the distinction in the mind of the honorable member regarding films for children and Ihe development of the film industry in Australia.
– In view of the increasing number of rejections of genuine applications by ex-servicemen for the immediate payment of the war gratuity to which they are entitled, because they do not fall within the narrow limits of the conditions governing immediate payment, I ask the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction whether he will review the conditions governing this matter so that each case may he considered on its merits, with the object of making payments to ex-service personnel to meet their present requirements?
– The payment of war gratuity is administered by the Treasurer, but, as the honorable gentleman well knows, the terms and conditions applicable thereto were recommended by an all party committee of this Parliament. I understand that the conditions are flexible enough to enable the immediate payment of Avar gratuity in certain cases. However, I will refer the matter to the Treasurer, who will doubtless advise the honorable member in regard to it.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Immigration a question relating to Mrs. Jurgenson, whose case I have already taken up with him and with the Minister for External Affairs. Mrs. Jurgenson, who is married to an Esthonian, is living in Esthonia and the Russian Government will not permit her to leave the country. Can the Minister tell me whether, if Mr. Jurgenson were naturalized as an Australian, that would grant Mrs Jurgenson Australian nationality in Esthonia, and place her beyond the jurisdiction of the Russian Government?
– I do not include in my other qualifications that of a constitutional lawyer, although I have learned a great deal since I have been a -member of this Parliament. A case is on record of an Australian subject who w-as married to a Russian woman. He was naturalized and eventually his wife was able to make a declaration of British nationality at the Australian Legation at Moscow. Subsequently, she was allowed to come to Australia. Whether the Russian authorities would permit such a procedure in the case of Mrs. Jurgenson I cannot say. Every effort is being made by my department fo enable Mrs. Jurgenson to join her husband in Australia.
– Will the Minister acting for the Minister for Air tell me why the Royal Australian Air Force is being reduced to two fighter squadrons and three heavy bomber squadrons, which are now the only heavy operational squadrons in Australia, together with three transport squadrons, one reconnaissance and one survey squadron? Does the Minister think that such a skeleton force is sufficient to meet even the bare minimum needs of the nation? Why are sixteen of the nineteen Royal Australian Air Force care and maintenance unit? being disbanded? How many Royal Australian Air Force squadrons were in existence at the end of the war?
– I am sure that the honorable member does not expect me to be able to give to him complete information on such an all-embracing question. I do not admit that what the honorable member has said in regard to post-war plans foi- the defence of this country is based on facts. He, in common with other honorable members, will be informed in due course of the policy of the Government in that regard. I shall ascertain the facts in relation to the number of bombers and fighting squadrons that Australia had at the end of the war, and convey the information to him.
– I ask the Prime Minister to state whether or not the time has expired for the lodging of claims with the War Damage Commission. Has there been a settlement of all the claims that have been made? Is there ;in.y balance in the fund? If- there is, what does, the right honorable gentleman propose shall be done with it?
– There arc some outstanding claims against the War Damage Commission which still have to be settled, and some adjustments that have to be made, particularly in relation to the territories of the Commonwealth. I am not able to say when the whole of the work will have been completed. It is being pushed on with as rapidly as possible. New claims having relation to previous applications are- constantly being considered. The indications at the moment are that there will be a fairly substantial balance after all the claims have been determined. The Parliament will decide what will be done with that money.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral - (1) Is a man named A. J. Dalziel at present abroad as an official representative of the Australian Government and people? (2) If so, for what purposes was he sent abroad and what staff was sent with him? (3) Is he employed by the Government and if so in what capacity and at what salary? (4) Will the Minister inquire whether he is the same A. J. Dalziel who, styling himself chairman of the Legion of Christian Youth, wrote to me in the following terms in September, 1941 :-
The opponents of ‘the Union of Socialist Soviet Republic don’t realize that lust for power, self-interest and selfishness, the bases of our present social order, have greatly contributed to the chaos and conflict in the world to-day. . . .
– Order ! Mr. Dalziel cannot debate that matter in this House, even through the medium of the honorable member.
– My other questions are : (5) Is the Minister aware that recently, when I proposed to place on the noticepaper a question regarding the association of this. Mr. Dalziel, as an officer of the Attorney-General’s Department, with the internment of men associated with the Australia First Movement shortly after the letter quoted from in question 4 was written, I was approached by the Clerk of this honorable House, ostensibly as an intermediary for the Minister, and asked to withdraw the question on the ground that Mr. Dalziel was dying of tuberculosis and was in hospital? (6) Was Mr. Dalziel dying of tuberculosis at that time; and if so, by what Communist magic was he cured in time to become an Australian delegate to an international conference a few weeks later?
- Mr. Dalziel is one of the Australian representatives who recently attended the sub-commission of the Economic Council of New York. He was recommended for that temporary position by Colonel Hodgson.
– Did he go from Australia?
– He went from Australia for the purpose I have mentioned, and will shortly return to this country. He has been absent for about five or six weeks. I have no knowledge of any relationship that may have existed between him and the honorable member, especially in regard to what may have occurred as far back as the time mentioned by the honorable member, at which time I do not think that Mr. Dalziel was my secretary. Any views that he may have expressed would have been on his own account. He is a very loyal and good public servant, and is so known to all honorable members who come from Sydney. I believe that his work abroad has been reported on favorably by Colonel Hodgson.
– I inform the honorable member for the Northern Territory that I will not allow officers of this House, who cannot defend themselves, to be slandered at question time. The Clerk of the House sent for the honorable member in regard to a question that I had ruled was out of order. I do not think that any member of this House, had he been in my position, would have tolerated the question which the honorable member sought to have printed on the noticepaper. If there is any implication against an officer of this House, I accept full responsibility for having instructed the Clerk to refuse to permit the question submitted by the honorable member to appear on the notice-paper. I hope that no further reflections will be cast on officers who cannot defend themselves.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. I wish to make it quite clear that I have cast no reflection on any officer of this House. I regard the Clerk of the House as a most efficient officer.
– Honorable members can judge that matter for themselves.
Post- War Services: Pay and Conditions
– I ask for leave to make a statement relating to pay and conditions of service in the post-war forces.
– Is leave granted?
Opposition Members. - No
Leave not granted.
– I lay on the table the following paper : -
Defence - Pay and Conditions of Service of Post-war Forces - Statement by the Minister for Defence.
– I have received from the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) 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 failure of the Repatriation Department to give immediate effect to the establishment of a medical clinic urgently required for the treatment of ex-service members at Grace Building, Sydney, and the need for further discussion with ex-servicemen’s organizations before granting priority to the Taxation Department of accommodation suitable for clinic purposes.
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– The urgency of this matter is due to the fact that it has been reported that the Taxation Department is to enter into occupation to-day of premises in Grace Building, Sydney, which were intended, are suitable, and are needed, for clinic purposes, for exservice men and women. The importance of the matter to exservice men and women is stressed by the fact that, since Wednesday of last week, the 7th May, ex-servicemen’s organizations in Sydney, and their representatives, have endeavoured, without avail, to secure an interview with the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), with a view to placing before him the facts in support of their case, and on matters on which he obviously has been misinformed. The right honorable gentleman has consistently evaded an interview with those representatives. He did not reply to their requests until they telegraphed last Tuesday that, notwithstanding his silence, they intended to come to Canberra. Just prior to their departure : by aeroplane, a telegram was received, advising them that the
Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) would see them. The matter is not one primarily for the Minister for Repatriation, although it is one on which he might be consulted and in which he should be quite interested. But the decision in respect of this matter is one for the Prime Minister himself, who is also head of the Treasury, because it is the Taxation Department which has stepped in and claimed priority over exservicemen.
It is necessary, I think, to tell the story of the churlish treatment and cold indifference which representatives of all service organizations have met with at the hands of the Government in regard to this matter. I desire to emphasize the conditions under which sick and disabled service men and women have to seek treatment from the medical authorities in Sydney. I desire also to show how the Prime Minister has been misinformed, and it was because he had been misinformed that the delegation wished to see him.
I stress the need to delay the taking over of the tenth floor of the Grace Building in Sydney until all the facts regarding this important matter have been ascertained. It is, no doubt, true that the Taxation Department is pressed for space. Many government departments, and many private firms, also, are pressed for space in Sydney. However, after I describe conditions under which thousands of ex-servicemen have to obtain medical treatment at Randwick and Concord
Mich year . at the outpatients’ department, honorable members will realize that, whatever difficulties the Taxation Department may be experiencing, it should not be given priority over the desperate need of servicemen for better treatment. The importance of the matter is emphasized by the nature of the delegation which visited Canberra. The delegation was as follows: - Mr. Bolton, the President of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia; Mr. Darling, the president of the Ex-naval Men’s Association; Mr Davis of the Legion of Ex-servicemen; Mr. Workman, representing the Air Force Association ; Mr. Linney of the Limbless Soldiers Association ; and Mr. Owens of the Tubercular Soldiers Association.
These people represented more than 200,000 members. Their aim in coming to Canberra was to protect the interests of their less fortunate comrades and they surely, with the war only just over, were entitled to five or ten minutes of the Prime Minister’s time. That was all they asked, but it was refused them, and they were sent, from one official to another. Such treatment is an eloquent commentary on the sincerity of the Government, and the public will not forget to contrast the experience of this delegation with that of others which have come to Canberra to see the Prime Minister.
During the 1914-1S war, an outpatients’ department was established at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick. It was possibly inadequate for the needs of the soldiers of the last war. It would be inadequate for the treatment of the soldiers of this war; but there can be no question of its inadequacy and inconvenience for the soldiers of two wars. It is a long way from the city, and its accommodation is overtaxed. The Minister for Repatriation told the delegation with great pride that the Government was paying £20 a day in fares for persons visiting the hospital for treatment - as if a Gd. train fare could compensate a limbless soldier or a. tuberculosis sufferer for having to strap-hang in a tram over long distances when travelling for treatment. Furthermore, the medical records of all patients are kept at the Grace Building, Sydney, where the Repatriation Department already has the fourth to the ninth floors, and their other services. The number of patients visiting Randwick is more than 400 a day. Frequently, many of them have to go more than once a week. Most of them have to come in from the country, or from outlying suburbs. It has been felt for a long time that there is need for a more central clinic. For that reason - although it is now denied - the Repatriation Department initiated the proposal to acquire Grace Building so as to concentrate all repatriation activities at the one place. It frequently happens that a serviceman, after waiting for hours at Concord or Randwick to see a doctor, will be told that his papers, or some of them, are at Grace Building, which means either a journey back, or the loss of another day for another appointment. Most of the men have to take time off from work, which causes both inconvenience and loss of time Many of thom are in serious need of medical aid and comfort. I know some - and no doubt other honorable members know others - who for years have suffered great pain without complaint, and who have been travelling backwards and forwards to Randwick for years for treatment. No pension which they might receive, nor any number of 6d. tram fares, could compensate them for their suffering.
Two and a half years ago, the then Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost), promised the executive of the Returned Sailors, .Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, in Sydney, that the clinic would be established with the other repatriation services in the Grace Building. “When the present Minister assumed office, he repeated this promise to the president and secretary of the league. The equipment has already been acquired for the doctors’ consulting rooms, the specialists’ rooms, the X-ray plant, the massage rooms, the dispensary, the pathological room, the dental room, the biochemical section and the operating theatres. Yesterday when the servicemen’s representatives were within the precincts of Parliament House they sought to interview members of the Opposition but were told that we did not desire to see them until they had first presented their case to the Prime Minister. We said that we preferred to keep out of the matter altogether, and it was only when they came to us prior to leaving the building with the bitter complaint that they had been cold-shouldered by Ministers and Government members that a decision was made by ex-service members on this side of the House to ventilate the case in the manner I am now adopting. Equipment to the value of £20,000 or £30,000 has been acquired and is lying in store awaiting installation on the ninth floor. All the equipment has already been established to service the treatment rooms on the tenth and eleventh floors. Everything appeared to be going forward satisfactorily, when, like a bolt from the blue, the Taxation Department made its claim. The matter was considered by a. sub-committee of Cabinet, of which the Minister for Repatriation was a member.
– Who were the other members?
– As far as I am aware they were the Acting Minister for the Interior (Mr. Lemmon), the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) and the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman). In fairness to the Acting Minister for the Interior, may I say that the members of the delegation informed me that he had treated them very courteously and had been inclined to be helpful. They also said that, the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr.
Scullin) had spent a good deal of time with them. They were very appreciative of his assistance, but they did not appreciate the treatment received from the Minister for Repatriation, who threw out his chest and said, “ I take responsibility for this decision “. That attitude wat adopted by a Minister whose sacred duty it was to stand up for the rights of these men and women and to grant them succour. This is a matter which falls within the responsibility, noi of the Minister for Repatriation, but of the Treasurer, as ministerial head of the Taxation Department. The Prime Minister should have met this delegation and not have seconded one of his underlings to the job. The Minister for Repatriation .should have done his utmost to give effect to the promise which had been made so long ago; but unfortunately we have in that office a gentleman who’ talks a lot about the sacrifice he made during the war - by proxy. In the word? of Romeo, “ He jests at scars that never felt a wound “. In reply to representations made earlier in the month by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) the Prime Minister wrote a lengthy letter, the concluding paragraph of which reads as follows:-
The allocation ot the tenth floor to the Taxation Department is not considered as permanent. Further, those parts of the clinic intended to occupy the ninth and tenth floor? will do so. It is therefore not correct to say as reported, that the occupation of the tenth floor by the Taxation Department has stopped the move of the clinic from Randwick.
It was upon this point that the delegation wished to see the Prime Minister personally, because they believed, from the knowledge they possessed, that the right honorable gentleman must have been misinformed. The eleventh floor is at present occupied by the Royal Navy, and, as far as is known, will be so occupied for at least eighteen months or two years. If the Royal Navy is to vacate that accommodation very much earlier, I invite the Minister for Repatriation to state when it is likely to be vacated. That is the least the service organizations are entitled to know. I have stressed the needs ; I have shown the gross discourtesy to people who came to Canberra who were entitled to the utmost consideration that could be extended to them. They did not come unexpectedly; for a week prior to their visit they had been trying to secure an interview with the Prime Minister, pleading for five or ten minutes of his time in order to prove that the substance of his letter was wrong, in order to show him how he had been misinformed ; but they were refused an interview. No’ body of men in this nation is more entitled to five or ten minutes of the Prime Minister’s time than an organization representative of some 200,000 exservice men and women of New South Wales. I have endeavoured to show that the refusal to grant their request was based on wrong information supplied to the Prime Minister. I have too great a respect for the right honorable gentleman to believe that he deliberately misstated the position to the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, the Limbless Soldiers’ Association and the Tubercular Soldiers’ Association. I simply say that whoever prepared the letter for him did not state the facts. The statement that the eleventh floor is available instead of the tenth floor is absolutely untrue. I have shown that the eleventh floor is occupied by the Royal Navy and is likely to remain so occupied for some, considerable time. It is regrettable that the delegation should have been denied an opportunity to present their case personally to the Prime Minister.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) negatived -
That the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) be granted an extension of time-.
– The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has submitted the motion for the purpose of drawing attention to the failure of the Repatriation Department to give immediate effect to the establishment of a medical clinic that is urgently required for the treatment of ex-service members at Grace Building, Sydney, and the need for further discussion with exservicemen’s organizations before granting priority to the Taxation Department of accommodation suitable for clinic purposes. It will be seen that the motion is in two parts. I agree with some of the things the honorable member has said concerning the facilities provided for outpatients at Sydney. I have nothing, good to say about the Randwick Military Hospital. It is completely out of date and inadequate. The establishment of the clinic at Randwick involves ex-service men and women in a good deal of travelling under great difficulties. The fares of patients to and from Randwick are met by the Government, expenditure on this item amounting to approximately £20 a day. The facilities have been improved to something like a set-up that will meet the need temporarily. Between the two wars the Opposition parties wore in power for all but two years, but did nothing about altering the conditions of our out-patient clinics.
– Yes, wc did. We built one in Melbourne.
– We are not talking about Melbourne. The clinic there is ‘a credit to the Repatriation Department. When we have completed our arrangements in Sydney, and as soon as the physical difficulties have been overcome, provision for out-patients in that city will be equally good.
Mr. Anthony interjecting,
– I wish the honorable gentleman of the seventeenth century would keep quiet.
– Order ! The honorable member for Richmond was heard in silence and the Minister must be accorded the same treatment.
– It is well known that conditions in Sydney are not satisfactory, but the honorable member for Richmond did not present anything like all the facts. The ninth floor of Grace Building is being used- by the Repatriation Department. As soon as the Royal Navy vacates the eleventh floor, the Repatriation Department will take possession of that floor too and on it many diagnostic, and treatment facilities, including X-ray equipment will be available for ex-servicemen. It is all a matter of time.
– Why can not the Taxation Department wait for the eleventh floor to be vacated?
– Why not he patient and listen to the story ? This matter cannot he decided on sentimental grounds. We have to deal with the facts. The position is that there is insufficient office accommodation not only in Sydney but in all Australian cities to satisfy the needs of citizens and government departments. The amazing thing about this disputation is that honorable members on the Opposition benches have been loudly vocal for years in their complaints that government departments occupy premises that should be vacated to enable exservicemen to re-establish, themselves. They are on the other foot to-day when they argue that, the Taxation Department should not be temporarily accommodated in Grace Building. Is the Taxation Department to continue to occupy privately-owned buildings and prevent ex-servicemen from re-establishing themselves? The Opposition cannot, have it both ways. The history of Grace Building is simple. The property was acquired by the Government in 1942, and space was allotted as follows: - Basement and ground floor, Postmaster-General’s Department; first floor, Department of Postwar Reconstruction and Department of Labour and National Service; second floor War Service Homes Commission; third floor. Department of Post-war Reconstruction; fourth to ninth floors, Repatriation Commission. The other two floors were to have been available- for the Repatriation out-patients clinic. It is true, as the honorable member said, that T agreed with my predecessor that that clinic should be established there as soon as possible. I still agree that that is the most desirable thing to do and we propose to do it as soon as we can. But when the matter of accommodation for the Taxation Department came before the sub-committee of the Cabinet, it was canvassed at great length, and, finally a subcommittee of that sub-committee agreed to inspect the provision made for outpatients at Randwick and the position in Grace Building to ascertain what could be done to meet needs. The honorable member for Richmond said that, with my chest stuck out with great pride, I told the deputation that met me on Wednesday night, that I took full responsibility for what had been done. It is true that I said that I took full responsibility. I do not know whether I had my chest stuck out, but I do take full responsibility for the recommendation to the Cabinet. I do not shelter behind any one from responsibility for the decision reached,, because it met my approval in the’ circumstances. The representatives of the ex-servicemen’s organizations told me on Wednesday night that it was the first time they had ali- been able to get together to present a common ease on a particular subject. I received the deputation at the request of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley)” because, if any one should know the facts, I should, because I was a member of the accommodation sub-committee of the Cabinet as well as Minister for Repatriation, and it is my job to know the facts. With becoming modesty, I claim to know as much as or more than the honorable member for Richmond about the matter. I have been to the Randwick hospital many times. It is not true, as said by the honorable member for Richmond, that all out-patients have to go to Randwick for treatment.
– I did not say that; I mentioned Concord as well.
– The honorable member did say it. I listened to him in silence. The ex-service men and women who need out-patient or medical attention do not all have to go to the Randwick hospital for it, because we have provided, at my suggestion a panel of doctors that men and women who, need medical attention can visit in their own localities. They may nominate the doctors they want to visit. That eases the pressure on the Randwick hospital out-patients department and that is a substantial improvement. It is not true that the men who are required to attend at the Randwick hospital suffer a great loss of working time. That matter has also received my attention, and has been rectified. Under certain conditions, the men are compensated for their loss of time. Of course, some men must wait for a considerable period, because of the difficulty of fitting them in with the doctors who examine them. However, that is not always due to the doctors. Appointments are made for ex-servicemen to present themselves at certain times, and they do not always arrive. That upsets the programme of the medical men, and those officials responsible for making the arrangements.
I am not able to say when the Royal Navy will vacate the eleventh floor of Grace Building, but pressure is being exerted, so far as it can be exerted, to gain possession of it. When we get it, we shall establish all the diagnostic and treatment facilities thai; the honorable member for Richmond mentioned. Therefore, X-ray, diathermy and other facilities for the men will then be available at Grace Building. That will have two results. Many ex-servicemen will be treated in the city, thereby relieving the pressure on space at Randwick and to that degree making working conditions there easier. However, it will not overcome the objection that files containing the medical history of these men and women will have to be taken from Grace Building to Randwick hospital on some occasions. I have told the whole story to ex-servicemen’s organizations on a number of occasions. If I bad to de’cide this matter entirely on sentiment, I would say that we should, because of the services that these men have rendered to the country, provide this accommodation for them’ immediately. Unfortunately, there are physical difficulties to overcome.
– Where is the Taxation Department situated to-day?
– I am not able to supply that information. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) may be able to do so. The fact is that the present accommodation available to the Taxation Department is most inadequate. We must be realists. One of the problems facing the Government, as well as private enterprise, is that of providing accommodation for people of all classes. An agreement has been made that the tenth floor of Grace Building shall be made available to the Taxation Department, and I accept full responsibility for it. As I told the exservicemen who interviewed me on Wednesday evening, the decision was made after mature consideration, and must stand. I repeat to the House this morning that the decision stands. It will not be altered at present. However, it is only a temporary expedient. As soon as other provision can be made, the Taxation Department will vacate Grace Building. The Prime Minister has said that these premises are to be the home of the Repatriation Department, and they are recognized as such.
– A poor show !
– Anything that this Government does is a “ poor show “ in the opinion of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) ; but I remind him that Australian ex-servicemen would have been very much worse off to-day had it not been for the actions of this Government, both while they were fighting and since their demobilization, because we have increased service pensions and improved their conditions. The Opposition cannot claim any credit, and is not entitled to any thanks for what has been done.
– The honorable gentleman has excluded ex-servicemen from the use of Grace Building in order to make room for the Taxation Department.
– We have not excluded ex-servicemen, because they have not yet used it. The honorable member for Richmond in his speech hurled a very nasty insinuation at me. He said that I had not suffered any wounds in warfare. If he will examine my record, he will find that I was rejected for service in World War I., ,and I was too old for World War II. However, on the outbreak of war in 1939, I had a family of three boys. Two of them were in reserved occupations, but they left them, and joined the forces. The youngest boy was under age for military service, unless I approved his enlistment. All those boys served in the armed forces. One had a wife who is now a widow. One is totally and permanently incapacitated as the result of his service abroad. The third has an injury to an eye, from which he will never recover. I hurl those facts back in the teeth of the honorable member for Richmond, who rides on the backs of ex-servicemen in an endeavour to make political capital out of the difficulties confronting this Government to-day.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. Any references which I made regarding the honorable gentleman were made without a knowledge of the losses that he has sustained. If, in the course of my remarks, I said anything to hurt him, I deeply regret it.
. [ regret that this atmosphere has intruded into the debate. No member of the Opposition, having a knowledge of the fact.3, would have made observations calculated to hurt the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) personally. Honorable members should dismiss from their minds any thoughts of that kind, just as the Minister would like us to dismiss from our minds anything of a sentimental or political nature, and debate this subject on wider national grounds. This matter affects the well-being and the lives of many thousands of ex-servicemen. Therefore, we should discuss and decide it in the light of the clear logic of the case. The Minister gave a lengthy explanation which, however, brought no solace whatever to ex-servicemen who need to take advantage of the clinic. Briefly, the facts arc that the proposal for this clinic, which was considered to be urgently required by the Government, is now to be discarded, or shelved for an indefinite period. The Minister has said, “ This matter must not be decided on sentiment”. Ho added that if it were a matter of sentiment it would be easy, but there were physical difficulties that had to be overcome. In my opinion those difficulties are not by any means insurmountable, although the- Minister seems to think they are. The honorable gentleman is a member of the accommodation committee, but he has not been accommodating to ex-service men and women in this connexion. He said, in effect, “ I have made my decision; I am not disposed to alter it. Even though the heavens fall I shall not alter it”. That is the attitude adopted by this little Fuhrer The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) and I spoke on this subject on the adjournment of the House some days ago. I do not desire to traverse the whole history of the matter again now, but we pointed out that more than 800 patients who are at present, receiving attention could be helped by this clinic. These individuals deserve the utmost consideration. Their organization established a “worry bureau” in order to help them, because it felt something of the kind was necessary. The clinic was also intended to assist them. The Government at one stage indicated that it was necessary to take over this building for repatriation purposes. That is shown by departmental records. The Minister, in speaking on the subject the other evening, said, “ These men go out to Randwick hospital and we pay their tram fares “. The honorable gentleman is a resident of Tasmania, and it would do him good to see how people are herded together on the trams in Sydney like sardines in a tin. It is of no benefit to disabled exservice men and women to be forced to use tram cars for transport even if their fares are paid. The proposed clinic was to be established in Sydney partly because specialist medical practitioners who have their consulting rooms in the city would find that location more convenient and therefore be able to give more attention to the persons who needed the clinic than would be possible if the treatment had to be given at Randwick or elsewhere out of the city. A deputation representative of all the exservicemen’s organizations came to Canberra to see the Prime Minister .(Mr. Chifley) on this subject. If they could not see him they desired to see the Cabinet subcommittee. I point out that this deputation represented 200,000 ex-servicemen in various organizations which, for the first time, had been able to come together in a deputation of this description with a common interest. These organizations adopt widely different attitudes to matters affecting returned soldiers, and it is obvious, therefore, that they must have been driven together on this issue by a very strong emotional force. When the deputation arrived in Canberra it was calmly “ wiped “ by the Prime Minister, and also by the Cabinet sub-committee. A junior Minister was detailed to meet it.
Is that the treatment that is accorded to deputations of the coal-miners’ organizations, the Australian Labour party, the Australasian Council of Trades Unions, and other trade unions which come to Canberra to interview the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) cr the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman)? Representatives of such organizations invariably gain audience with the Ministers they desire to sec. It is also rumoured that the Government provides transport for them to come to Canberra. But ex-service men and women ure apparently of no importance in the Government’s scheme of things, although they fought to maintain the conditions that the workers of this country enjoy.
Why would not the Prime Minister accede to the wishes of this deputation? The answer is because it was not in his interests to do so. Why did the Minister for Repatriation forgo the right to floor-space in this building? The answer is that the Prime Minister wanted the space, so a junior Minister could not have it.
– That is entirely untrue.
– Is the Prime Minister entitled to this space? It is stated that the space is necessary to accommodate officers of the Taxation Department. [” directed attention the other night to a report which I understand was submitted to the Prime Minister by departmental officers to the effect that if the furnishing of assessments by married people in receipt of less than £300 a year, and by single people in receipt of less than £150 a year, was discontinued, reductions in the staff of the Taxation Department of from 15 per cent, to 25 per cent, could be made at once, but the Prime Minister was not prepared to approve of the recommendation. He not only rejected, it; but he said the other night that he was not prepared. to trust the people to say whether they should be taxed or otherwise. The Taxation Department would not require this floor space if retrenchments of the staff were made in accordance with the recommendations to which I have referred. The Minister has told us that the basement and ground floor of this building is used by the Postal Department, the first floor by the Department of Post-war Reconstruction and the Department of Labour and National Service, and the second floor by the War Service Homes Commission. Honorable members will be ‘ required, very shortly, to consider a bill the purpose of which is to absorb the War Service Homes Commission in the Department of Works and Housing.
Why should it be necessary, therefore, to reserve a whole floor in Grace Building for the War Service Homes Commission which is “ on the way out particularly as the space is needed for the provision of a clinic for men and women who are broken in body and mind because of their war service. I understand that 7,000 feet of “floor space is available in Dymock Building. Why could that not be used by the Taxation Department and the original idea carried out in regard to Grace Building? This subject has not arisen suddenly. The Taxation Department has been short of office accommodation for a long while, yet the Government has allowed floor space which it occupied to pass out of its control. It has, in fact, surrendered thousands of cubic feet of floor-space, and, having done so, it now wishes to “ take it out of the hide “ of ex-service men and women by refusing to allow the proposed clinic for them to be established in Grace Building.
– The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) said that this subject should be dealt with in cold logic. He then proceeded to make some of the most illogical statements that one could imagine. He said, for example, that ex-service men and women who required treatment had to travel to Randwick by tram and that he could nol imagine anything more difficult for these disabled men and women to do. If the proposed clinic were established at Grace Building many of these individuals would still have to travel to it by tram.
– No; they could travel by the underground railway.
– The argument of the honorable member for Wentworth was quite illogical on that point. Every one recognizes that the clinic facilities available at Randwick are quite inadequate. The Government has been doing its utmost to remove the establishment into Sydney and for this purpose hoped to make space available in Grace Building. It should be borne in mind that the fourth to the ninth floors of that building are already occupied by the Repatriation Department. The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Riordan) stated that the space occupied ‘by the Royal Navy will be made available to the Repatriation Department as soon as possible. The honorable member for Richmond has said that nobody knows when the Royal Navy intends to vacate the accommodation it is now occupying, and that some limit ought to be placed on the time during which it can continue to occupy it.
– I said nothing of the sort.
– The honorable member and other honorable members opposite, indeed, all parties in this House and the community at large, were only too glad to welcome the Royal Navy when it came to the Pacific theatre of operations. Now that the war is over, the honorable member says, “Kick the Royal Navy out. Do not let it have time even to wind up its affairs. Get rid of it, because we need the building for our own requirements “. For how long the Royal Navy will continue to occupy the eleventh floor of Grace Building is a matter that has been taken up on the highest level by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) with the appropriate authorities in Great Britain. Nobody can say whether the Royal Navy will vacate its present accommodation in six months, nine months, or twelve months. I believe that the floor that it now occupies will become available in seven or eight months’ time.
This matter has to be considered in the light of the scarcity of accommodation generally. Cabinet realized that exservicemen’s organizations were pressing for the relinquishment of certain buildings that had been occupied by Commonwealth departments during the period of the war, so that ex-servicemen could establish themselves in their professions. Recognizing all the difficulties that were associated with the matter, Cabinet appointed a sub-committee, the chairman of which is the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson), who, unfortunately, is ill at the moment, and therefore cannot be present to-day. The other members of the sub-committee include the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) and my self. The committee has paid close attention to the requirements of all Commonwealth departments, and the availability of office space, not only in Sydney, but also in every other capital city. A subcommittee of that sub-committee devoted a whole day to the investigation of the matter in Sydney. Randwick was visited. The inadequacy of the facilities there was noted, and the matter was discussed on the spot with representatives of ex-servicemen’s organizations and the Repatriation Department. At Grace Building, an examination was made of the plan, and of the allocation of space for different departments on all floors. An investigation was made of the possibility of providing accommodation in Dymock’s Building, which has been mentioned, as well as in other buildings. Having investigated the matter from every aspect, the conclusion was reached that, in the light of the demands for accommodation by all Government departments, as well as by other departments of governmentassociated with the activities of exservicemen, and the Repatriation Department - because that is not the only department which is concerned with exservicemen - the best that could be done for the time being was to allocate the ninth floor of Grace Building for repatriation purposes, and to allow the Taxation Department to occupy the tenth floor as a temporary expedient, requiring that department to relinquish it and make it available to the Repatriation Department in accordance with the original plan as soon as other accommodation could be provided. Illustrating how closely the matter was examined, I point out that an investigation was made of the possibility of dividing the city of Sydney into two zones, one being on the north side and another on the south side of the city. Those ex-servicemen requiring treatment who live on the south side were to be asked to continue to go to Randwick, and those who live on the north side were to be asked to receive treatment at Grace Building.
– That is a stupid idea.
– It is not a stupid idea.
– Of course it is. The honorable gentleman will admit that, if he knows anything about Sydney’s transport system.
– I reiterate, that it is not a stupid idea. It is obvious that men who live on the north side have to pass through the city in order to go to Randwick. That is only one aspect which was investigated. I have mentioned it merely in order to show that a most complete investigation was made by the subcommitter of Cabinet before a decision was reached. The Taxation Department is at present located in the Commonwealth Savings Bank building, where it is very greatly overcrowded. One of the first decisions of the sub-committee on accommodation when it commenced its investigations was that the space allowed per person in government departments should be reduced to the ‘minimum required under health regulations. In accordance with this decision, the spaced fixed was 75 square feet per person. The allowance in the Taxation Department at present is very much less than 75 square feet per person, and the provision of further accommodation for that department is absolutely essential.
– Why did not the Government think about that months ago, and retain the office space which it allowed to pass out of its possession?
– The honorable member has asked in this House from time to time why the Government was delaying the return of certain buildings to their owners. That, of course, is not the only consideration. One difficulty is that the Commonwealth has not now the power that it had in war-time, when, under a National Security Regulations, it could say, “We require this building for defence purposes, for the accommodation of a government department “. The Government has not the constitutional power to-day to retain possession of some buildings, and the only alternative would be to acquire them compulsorily. Immediately action along those lines had been taken, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) would be the first to object.
– The Minister’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Scully) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mb. Speaker - Hon. j. S. Rosevear . )
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the House do now adjourn.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. j. S. Rosevear.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move - ; - I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1936, the following work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report thereon, namely : - “ The Erection of Permanent Administration Offices, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory “.
This proposal was the subject of previous references to the Public Works Committee. In 1923, the committee investigated a project to erect .provisional administrative offices, and duly reported to this House on the 21st June, 1923. By resolution on the 24th August, 1923, the House decided that it was not expedient to carry out the construction of provisional administrative offices, but that it was expedient to invite competitive designs, for permanent administrative offices as recommended by the Public Works Committee in its report.
In 1924, the Government accordingly invited competitive designs. The winner of the competition, Mr. George Sydney Jones, was commissioned as architect to complete the plans, and supervise the construction of the building. He died before the plans were completed, but not before he took part in presenting the scheme to the Public Works Committee on the 11th February, 1926. The committee submitted its report on the 15th June, 1926, and the Parliament agreed on the 23rd July, 1926, that it was expedient to carry out the work.
The scheme provided for one lower ground floor, ground floor, mezzanine floor, first floor and second floor, with a total effective floor space of 215,35:1 square feet. The estimated cost excluding architects’ commission and expenses, supervision, interest, competition costs. &c, was £631,S19.
A special arrangement was then made by the Federal Capital Commission with the executors of Mr. Jones to retain Mr. Godsell, of Robertson and Marks, architects, to carry on the work on behalf of the executors. When the working drawings were sufficiently advanced to define the foundations, a. contract was entered into, in 1928, for the construction of the foundations of the building.” Before the plans of the superstructure were finally approved, the Government decided, owing to the financial depression, to postpone the work. The agreement with Mr. Godsell and the executors was then terminated.
In 1935-36, the project was revived, and the preparation of plans was undertaken by the Works and Services Branch of the Department of the Interior. In 1937, the Government decided again to postpone action in regard to the building.
In June, 1943, the Minister for the Interior gave instructions that, consistently with meeting war requirements, steps be taken, as opportunity and staff offered, to prepare tie drawings, specifications and quantities in readiness for the immediate calling of tenders for the building when the post-war programme for Canberra was authorized.
The scheme which has now- been developed provides for a much larger building. It includes a basement which would release 25,000 square feet of valuable office space otherwise used for storage of files, and which would provide 7,500 square feet for plant, space for parking cars and bicycles, accessibility of service piping and road access to the goods lift.
The proposed building will be approximately 425 feet in length, and 212 feet in width, and will comprise a full basement, lower ground floor, ground, first, second, third and fourth floors, giving a total floor area of 450,000 square feet. On the fourth floor will be situated a cafeteria. The main structure will be of reinforced concrete, with brick infilling and concrete floors throughout, covered with timber flooring. The external face of the walls will be of granite in the base and freestone veneer above. A central heating and ventilation system will be installed, together with a modern type of electrical lighting, lifts, fire services, &c.
The building will be one of the largest permanent structures in Canberra, and will form part of the group of buildings allocated to the “ Government Triangle “ of the Griffin plan. It will mark the beginning of the erection of permanent buildings in that group. In the event of the Government at a later date considering it desirable to provide for an additional administrative building of similar design, the allotted site of such building would permit of the use of the existing plans, &c, and at the same time would not detract from the architectural grouping of the proposed government buildings in the area. The estimated cost of the proposed building is £1,425,128.
Having regard to the changes which have been made in the plans of the building since the proposal was originally approved by the Parliament, and, also, to the fact that the estimate of cost has been increased to nearly £1,500,000, it is con. sidered advisable that the project should be again investigated by the Public Works Committee before construction is commenced. I table the plans of the proposed building.
– “Will the Department of the Interior be housed in the new building?
– Many departments will be housed there, including the Department of the Interior, the Treasury and, I hope, the Department of “Works and Housing.
– Has the site been decided on?.
– Yes, the building will be erected on the original site.
– I heartily approve of this motion, because it is time that permanent building.were begun in Canberra. A mistake to; made in not proceeding with a permanent administrative building when it. was first decided upon. Had a building been available it would have simplified the conduct of administration during the war. I know that exception will be taken in other parts of Australia to this proposal, especially at the. present time when there is such a shortage of accommodation elsewhere. Therefore, J ask the Minister, in order to answer this criticism in advance, to prepare a statement showing how much accommodation elsewhere will be rendered vacant when the proposed building is completed, and what government departments will be accommodated here which are now using buildings in the State capitals.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 15th May (vide page 2494), on motion by Mr. Ward -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The measure before the House is to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund sums for the purpose of financial assistance to the States to be applied in the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of roads. Every honorable member in this House who represents a country constituency will be wholeheartedly in sympathy with it. A great many of us hold the view that it is unfortunate that more money cannot be provided by the Government for road works. Throughout the Robertson electorate the shire councils are in an unenviable position, as their roads are in a deplorable state. Traffic is increasing, and great motor lorries and trailers, carrying loads of up to 20 tons, are causing heavy wear and tear to most of our roads. The maintenance and upkeep of roads is primarily the responsibility of State governments, but as far back as 1026 the Commonwealth undertook to make financial provision to assist the States in this work. Some people seem to think that the Commonwealth is providing money for roads because of the institution of the system of uniform taxation. That is not the case. In 1926, a petrol tax of 3d. a gallon was imposed on all petrol consumed in Australia. In 1.930 the tax was increased by 4d. a gallon and recently it was increased to 1.0-^d. a gallon. The Commonwealth also imposes a duty of lOd on all imported petrol and Sd. a gallon on petroleum products. Out of the proceeds of the levy of lOd. a gallon it gives to the States 3d. a gallon and from the levy on petroleum products of 8d. a gallon it gives the States 2d. a gallon. The view is strongly held in this country that when taxes are imposed for a special purpose the whole of the proceeds of the tax should be used for that purpose alone. At first the petrol tax was imposed for the purpose of providing money for roads. Now, however, only a relatively small portion of the money so raised is made available for road works. The reason for this is that the Government has not at its disposal sufficient moneys from other sources to meet all its commitments, that, in order to meet the clamour on all sides for reductions of taxes, it must utilize some of the proceeds of the petrol tax in order to balance its budget. For instance, the cost of social services has been multiplied at least by four in recent years, and tremendous sums of money have had to be provided for the services of the Government. So, it has been found impracticable to give to the States any more money than is now proposed under this measure. The petrol tax is not the only tax collected from the people for the construction and maintenance of roads. The State governments are the primary taxing bodies for that purpose. In 1945-46 the New South Wales Government collected from fees for motor-vehicle registrations and drivers’ licences an amount of £2,G1S,000. It is estimated that, of the amount to be granted by the Commonwealth to the States under this measure, the allocation to New South Wales, the State in which I am most interested,, will be £1,200,000. The amount will, of course, vary according to the rise or fall of the consumption of petrol in Australia. In addition, the Commonwealth proposesto apportion among the States an amount of £1,000,000 for the construction and maintenance of out-back roads, in areas where there are no railways and in otherwise inaccessible places. This additional grant is to be apportioned in the same way as the larger sum. New South Wales will obtain from that grant an amount of £276,000, so that the total amount to be received by New South Wales from the Commonwealth for road construction and maintenance will be £1,536,000. If we add to that amount the collections of fees for motor-vehicle registrations and drivers’ licences it will bo found that the annual amount available to the New South Wales Government for road works will be £4,154,000. That is a very large sum of money, and a great deal of work will, no doubt, be done as the result of its expenditure. I had hoped that more money could be made available by the Commonwealth for this purpose, but after hearing the Government’s case, and having discussed the matter privately with the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), and given it the deepest consideration, I believe that, having regard to all circumstances, the amount to be provided is fair and reasonable. Whilst the provision of an additional £.1,000,000 for out-back roads is very welcome, I trust that, as affairs return to normal, the Government will see its way clear to increase the amount. Our roads are in such poor condition that many millions of pounds could be expended on their repair. The shire councils throughout Australia are in a very bad way financially, and thousands of miles of roads within their areas badly need maintenance and repair. They are unable to undertake the work without, financial assistance. Some members of the State parliaments appear to think that the Commonwealth should provide all the money required by the States. For the New South Wales Government the Commonwealth provides a total amount of £25,000,000, of which nearly £15,000,000 is provided under the States Grants (Tax Reimbursement) Act. The
State governments have a clear obligation to expend a proper proportion of the money received from the Commonwealth on the roads within their boundaries. It seems to me that the New South “Wales Government is simply saying to the shire councils and other road-building bodies, “ Go and get the money from the Commonwealth “. The allocation of money to the States for road building has been decided in conferences between representatives of the Commonwealth and State Governments, and when extra amounts are required by local government bodies it is not right for the State government to suggest that the Commonwealth Government should supply the money needed. I advise shire councils to approach their local State members and to insist that those gentlemen accompany them to the Minister for Local Government or the Minister for Public “Works as the case may be, and impress upon the Minister concerned that it is the duty of the State government to make available any extra money which may be required. They should remind State Ministers that a very substantial sum has already been allocated by the Commonwealth to State governments.
– That is only a dole.
– It is if one can call £25,000,000 a dole. But that is in accordance with the law. The uniform tax agreement provides that all income tax shall be raised by the Commonwealth and portion of the revenue so obtained paid to the States to enable them to carry out certain specified services. The people of Australia are in favour of uniform income taxation, and I think that public revenue will be provided in that way for many years to come. The sum of £25,000^000 has been allocated to the State of New South “Wales, and I repeat that funds should be provided for road construction out of that sum. If this great country is to be developed properly that can best be accomplished by the construction of roads.
– All the money taken from road-users should be used for road construction and maintenance.
– There is no doubt about that.
– If all the income derived by the New South Wales Government from the licensing; of drivers and registration of motor vehicles in thai State was spent on its roads a large total sum would be available.
– But the money raised by that means is not spent on roads.
– I agree with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang), and that is what I have been saying. The Commonwealth has the. sole responsibility for collecting the money from the people and it has to allocate that money between itself and the States. The Commonwealth Government, in addition, i.responsible for certain debts of the States.,
Sitting suspended from 12.J/5 io 2.15 p.m..
– Tha Commonwealth is involved in the matter of roads because the States asked it to help them. The £6,000,000 that the Commonwealth is making available for road construction and maintenance and other allied purposes is the amount agreed upon at a conference on the subject between the Commonwealth and State authorities. Roads in New South Wales are deplorable and must be improved. Citizens who devote time and thought to local affairs should be encouraged in their desire to give better services to people in their shires. The shire and municipal councils have little money to spend, and quite insufficient to construct and maintain roads to the required standard. I think I can say that of all the shires in the Robertson electorate. They are in urgent need of money. In one shire a public meeting was held on the subject of roads and the lack of money. The Treasurer has said that, the money to be made available under this measure is the limit to which the Commonwealth will go in providing money to the States for roads. The right honorable gentleman has the responsibility to attend to the budgetary requirements of the Commonwealth, but no public man can escape the responsibility of ensuring better roads merely by saying that no money is available. Plenty of money was available for war purposes. It appears that we have come to the pass that I feared we should come to, namely, that, as before the war, money would not be available for urgent peace-time needs. “We accept the bill in the belief that “ half a loaf is better than no bread and we accept what we have received, but hope that soon the Treasurer will see ‘his way clear to make more money available. The responsibility now devolves upon the States to apply the money provided under this agreement to the most urgent needs. If the Government of New South Wales next year expends all the £4,154,000 that will be available to it for road construction and maintenance from this grant and its own resources, the needs of shires for roads will be relieved.
The need for good roads in any electorate is particularly urgent. The Lake Macquarie district is one of i lie most beautiful scenic districts in Australia and tourists ought to be encouraged to go there, but the roads are so deplorable that no one with any sense would take any pleasure in motoring along many of them. I hope that the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) will realize the urgency of providing better highways. I know that he is sympathetic. But he is not the Treasurer. I hope that he will wield whatever power lie has to influence the Treasurer to make greater provision for roads in Australia. In Paddington, even in his own electorate, the roads are not well looked after and need improvement. But, as a man who travels widely through Australia, the honorable gentleman is well aware of the condition to which country roads have deteriorated. I consider that there should be a further conference between the State and Commonwealth authorities to devise a new plan under which more money will he made available for roads. Nothing is of greater importance in the development of the country than trafficable roads. Upon good roads the primary producers depend to get their produce to market. I trust that argument will end between the Commonwealth and the States as to who shall provide the money for .roads and that they will agree on the provision of more money for local bodies to enable them to construct and repair roads.
– 1 understood the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams) to say that shire councils should apply to the State governments for the money they so badly need for road work: but, under uniform income taxation, the ‘State’s ability to raise money is severely limited. If the States had, as I understood they desire, the power to impose additional taxes, those taxes would be levied on the people who pay the petrol tax. When Commonwealth members of Parliament are in a “ jam “ they tend to shift the responsibility to State members, who retaliate; but I think it is the Commonwealth’s responsibility to make a liberal allowance to the States for road construction and maintenance, since it levies and collects the tax on petrol. I know what the roads are like. In my 1928 Dodge car I feel every bump and rut in the roads. I strongly advocate that every honorable member should drive over country roads in an old motor vehicle that he may realize how bad their condition is.
Although this bill will assist in improving our roads, it does not, in my opinion, go far enough. On the basis of 3d. a gallon on the petrol consumed, a sum of about £4,500,000 a year will be made available annually to the States. The total money to be placed at the credit of the fund which is to be established is estimated at from £.16,000,000 to £18,000,000. It is proposed that 40 per cent, of the amount received from the petrol tax shall be used’ in the construction and maintenance of roads. Although transport costs have risen, we must remember also that the costs incurred by shire councils are greater than ever. The obligations of local-governing bodies are heavy. Despite petrol rationing, large numbers of motor vehicles are in use, and generally it can be said that the flow of traffic to-day is greater than ever before. Moreover, motor vehicles to-day travel faster than they did; few of them travel at from 20 to 25 miles an hour as was customary some years ago. The result is that the wear and tear on the roads, particularly as the result of fast-moving heavy vehicles, is increasing. I am aware that i here is legislation to control heavy traffic, but I am also aware of the difficulties of policing such legislation. Fastmoving heavy traffic demands roads with more solid foundations and better surfaces than were constructed in the past. Considerable advances have been made in road-making since the days of the Romans, but there is still much room for research in this connexion. In my opinion, two things are necessary: More money to meet extra costs must be provided, and roads must be more scientifically constructed.
Local-governing bodies are responsible for the provision of roads, footpaths, recreational facilities, health services and other amenities within their boundaries. The demand on their revenues is increasing every year. In order to keep pace with modern transport developments, localgoverning bodies are now expected to construct aerodromes, provide water supplies and so on. The provision of these facilities represents a serious drain on their financial resources. Only too frequently these bodies are left without sufficient funds to maintain in good condition the roads under their control. In New South Wales alone the local-governing bodies are expected to maintain 101,000 miles of road of a total of 126,000 miles of road in that State. The construction and maintenance of district roads has to be met from their revenue. In order to show how the costs of road construction and maintenance have risen I inform the House that since 1939 maintenance costs have risen by 31 per cent., new construction by 36 per cent., and bridge-building by 50 per cent. Labour costs, which have already risen, by 40 per cent, since 1.939, are likely to rise still farther. Bitumen, which before the war cost from £6 to £7 a ton now costs about £20 a ton. These increased costs have seriously embarrassed most local-governing bodies.
Although a total of about £6,000,000 a year will be available for road construction and maintenance, only about 20 per cent, of the roads in New South Wales will benefit, so that 80 per cent, of the roads in that State will still have to be maintained by local-governing bodies. I have no doubt that similar, or worse, conditions exist in the other States.
Ninety years ago, it was reasonable to charge the cost of making and maintaining roads to local land-owners because they were the main users of the roads, but those horse-and-buggy days have gone forever. To-day, district roads are used by motorists from all parts of Australia ; yet the local-governing bodies are still required to maintain them. There was a time when it might have been reasonable to assume that district roads were used only by local traffic but to-day, as every honorable member knows, secondary roads, as well as main roads, areused by motorists from other districts. Much as they may desire to raise revenue for the maintenance of the roads in their districts, the local shires are restricted in the raising of finance. I shall not say more on this subject as I understand that it will be dealt with by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder).
If the Commonwealth Government, acted only as a collecting agent and allocated the moneys received to the State Governments to be used by them, a more satisfactory position would exist.
– In that event the Commonwealth would not control the expenditure.
– This legislation will lead to the duplication of functions now performed by the State Governments, because it envisages the setting up of a Commonwealth organization similar to those which already exist in the States. A Commonwealth authority to deal with strategic roads is understandable, but the duplication of departments, although adding to the cost of transport, does not generally increase efficiency.
There may be good reason for restricting the operation of this measure to three years, but in my opinion a much longer period would be better. It is impossible for local-governing bodies to make long-range plans under legislation which will remain in operation for only a short period. If they knew what their revenue would be for a number of years ahead, they would be in a better position to plan wisely. The war contribution of the local-governing bodies has not been stressed sufficiently. As I understand it, they willingly made available their roadmaking machinery when the Commonwealth Government required it for defence purposes. “When they did so, they were not able to maintain their roads, which began to suffer severely from neglect. In addition, heavy defence vehicles, which could not always keep to the main roads, caused extensive wear and tear on subsidiary roads belonging to the shires. Now, the local governing bodies urgently require .road-making machinery. Several shires in my electorate are severely embarrassed by the shortage, because they have not been able to replace the equipment which they made available to the Government.
Another feature of the great work performed by the local-governing authorities during the war was to act as collecting agents for the War Damage Commission, liv that operation they displayed great efficiency and probably saved the Government a substantial sum of money. If the Government had been obliged to create a special department to collect war damage insurance, the cost to the country would have been considerable. I desire to pay a tribute now to town clerks, shire engineers and other officials who have shown such efficiency and courtesy, not only during the war, but also under peacetime conditions. Despite their difficulties to-day, they have displayed realism, and an understanding of local conditions. In every way, they have worked extremely hard and willingly to co-operate with the Government. Now, two courses are open to us. Either the condition of back roads, and standard maintenance will deteriorate, or, alternatively, the Commonwealth must make a liberal contribution to the local authorities. I use “liberal “ in the full meaning of the word. In addition to the amount of £4,500,000 made available to the State authorities, a similar sum should be provided to local authorities for expenditure on their roads. Prompt action is essential. Therefore, I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the immediate allocation to localgoverning bodies of a substantial proportion of the petrol tax.
.- Although members of the Opposition have offered some criticism of the bill, I contend that its provisions are more gen erous than the terms of the act which amended the Federal Aid Roads Agreement in 1937.
– That is ridiculous.
– I admit that the provisions of the bill are not all that could be desired but the Federal Aid Roads Agreement, as amended in 1937, did not make a grant in respect of subsidiary roads in rural areas. The Australian Country party, which constituted a part of the Government of the day, should have been vitally interested in that matter. An additional £1,000,000 will be provided under this bill specifically for subsidiary roads. If the States, to which this money will be paid, do not- distribute it to local authorities, the fault will not lie with the Commonwealth. No doubt, the local-governing bodies will ensure that they receive their share. The additional amount of £1,000,000 will be a very valuable contribution towards the total amount required to repair all subsidiary roads.
Road transport now presents a vast problem. Apart from motor oars, heavy trucks are now operating in districts which are not served by railways. Some parts of my electorate are 60 miles from a railhead, but with the development of motor transport, the country is becoming more closely settled. Primary producers are now providing pastures on land which, at one time, was not used for grazing purposes. Each of these large trucks, which have dual rear wheels, is able to transport approximately 200 sheep. As the result of the development of road transport, sheep can now be sent from these comparatively remote areas to the fat stock market. In the past, that was almost impossible, because it would have necessitated drovers taking the flocks bv road. Whilst this bill will alleviate, to some degree, the .financial, difficulties of the shires, honorable members must view the problem of road transport from a new standpoint. Shire councils can no longer be expected to finance the construction of roads in their areas. During the last twelve months, the increase of heavy vehicular traffic on country roads has destroyed them. Built to carry horsedrawn vehicles, including spring carts, buggies and wagons, they were made of gravel to a depth of 5 or 6 inches. Had
They been required to serve the purpose for which they had been constructed, they would have endured for many years. Now, heavy trucks destroy them in twelve months. I speak from personal experience of this matter, because my home is situated IS miles from the nearest town. For various reasons, the shires are no longer capable of grappling with the problem of road construction. Some years ago, even, the main highways of Victoria were only a series of pot-holes. From Melbourne to Hamilton, for instance, the road was a veritable nightmare. Then Victoria established the Country Roads Board, and I pay a tribute to the achievements of that instrumentality in improving the highways of the State. On behalf of shires, the board undertook the construction of certain subsidiary roads. The record of that instrumentality demonstrates that we must move with the times. Shires are no longer able to afford to purchase expensive road-making machinery, and in future, this work must be undertaken by an authority with sufficient revenue to enable it to purchase roadmaking equipment. Fortunately for the nation, Australian engineers have had excellent experience of methods of road construction. This stood them in good stead when the Commonwealth, called upon them to build strategic roads, particularly in northern Australia, during the war. From that work, they gained additional valuable experience, which they are now able to utilize in the construction of roads. I have had the privilege of speaking with some of these engineers, who are a fine body of men. But even the most highly qualified engineer will not be able to construct good roads if he has not the necessary modern equipment for the job. I. propose to deal with the financial aspect of the problem. If the decision were in the hands of the Opposition parties, they could n.ot approach the problem as a Labour government can approach it, because the Government and the Opposition are divided in principle so far as the financing of national works is concerned. The construction of roads is a great national work and should be undertaken on a national basis. However, the Commonwealth is shackled under the
Constitution, and must work through the States, which have a great responsibility in this matter. However, under measures of this kind we are only dealing with the problem in piecemeal fashion. I do not believe that if the whole of the revenue from the petrol tax were made available to the States they would be able to meet this problem. It is becoming increasingly more difficult, and will continue to do so as we endeavour to extend settlement and open up new areas. The best way in which the Commonwealth Government can table the States in financing road works is through the Commonwealth Bank, along the same lines that we are following in respect of housing problems. I have always advocated that we should make full use of the Commonwealth Bank for the financing of national works. The requisite finance could be made available through that institution by way of long-term loans to the States at a very low rate of interest. The States should have no trouble in repaying such loans. They would practically be required to repay only the capital, whilst, in the meantime, the Commonwealth would receive increased revenues as the result of opening up new districts. At the same time, settlers whose properties would be enhanced would probably be able to afford to pay some increase of rates.
I repeat that the only effective way to deal with this problem is on a national basis. We shall be obliged to do so in the very near future, because, as I said earlier, the construction and maintenance of first-class roads would be beyond the financial capacity of the States, even if they received the whole of the revenue derived from the petrol tax. This problem, at any rate, is beyond the financial capacity of local government bodies. 1 know that from personal experience. I suggest that a conference should be held between the Commonwealth, the State?, municipalities and shires, with a view to co-ordinating a scheme of road construction on a national basis. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) and other honorable members opposite will admit- that the shires have not sufficient, finance to keep even pot-holes filled, and. event after these are filled, the first truck that comes along the filling is removed. In addition, the shires must carry heavy overhead costs, including the employment of an engineer and the upkeep of the necessary machinery. The present piecemeal fashion of maintaining roads is sheer waste, because most of the existing roads cannot stand up to wear and tear in a wet winter. The shires cannot even main.tain existing roads, let alone construct new ones, which are essential to the development of their areas.
– That is because they have not sufficient money to lay down a modern road in the first place.
– The shires cannot construct first-class roads because the expenditure involved would necessitate an increase of their rates which ratepayers could not afford to pay. However, I agree that the most effective solution would ;be to lay down first-class roads in rite first instance and to seal them off immediately. That would prove to be the most economical method in the long run. In this matter, we must look ahead ;it least ,1.00 years. If we did so the first cost, so long as it provided a proper foundation, would not be too great. In fact, viewing the problem in that light we would eliminate recurring expenditure at present involved in maintenance and repairs. At the same time, the interest charge on the original cost would be comparatively low. More important still, users would have the benefits of firstclass roads. However, to-day, local government authorities, because of lack of finance, ave obliged to do a little to-day and a little to-morrow. We shall never construct good roads by that method.. In addition, we require the most modern equipment for road construction, and the cost of such equipment is beyond the financial means of local government bodies. Also, we would require the services of the very best engineers even should we bc obliged to obtain overspas experts. We know that by adopting the proper methods many miles of road can be laid down and sealed off in a day. However, at present, we are simply wasting considerable money bepa USB we do not set out to do the job properly in the first instance. This is not a party political matter. Honorable members opposite who approach it from that point of view have no real conception of the problem. They say that the Government is too parsimonious; but only a few hours ago they were asking the Government to reduce taxes still further. The Government has made liberal reductions of taxes. Honorable members opposite cannot have it both ways. If they press the Government to reduce taxes still further, they cannot expect it to make unlimited millions available for the construction of roads. However, the proposals embodied in this measure represent a vast improvement of any effort by past governments. The Opposition parties would ignore the Commonwealth Bank as a means of financing road construction, because their policy is to borrow money at interest at as high a rate as 6^ per cent., and the only ones who would benefit under that system would be the money lenders. Modern roads are essential in an up to date transport system. Therefore, we must view this matter in millions, because we have to develop a vast continent with only a sparse population. However, we must open up the country. We cannot do so without providing good roads. In future the extension of the existing railway system will be limited. The railways will be fed by big trucks, and these can operate only on firstclass roads. In the district in which 1 live, which cannot be classified as the real out-back, it is beyond the financial capacity of the shire council to maintain good roads. I believe that the Government will face this problem in a broad way, and I hope that when it does so. the Opposition will support it in every way. However, the only criticism honorable members opposite have offered of the bill so far is that the Government is not providing sufficient money to the States out of the collections of petrol tax.
– That is obvious.
– I have not the slightest doubt that the whole of this sum of £10,000,000 could be well expended in the electorate of Gippsland alone. However, this provision is much more generous than any made for this purpose by past governments. I am afraid that, the magnitude of this problem is not fully appreciated. We should give consideration to the problem of financing road construction on a national basis. That is the view taken by the Government, whereas the Opposition believes in borrowing money at high rates of interest with benefit mainly to money lenders.
– The honorable member does not know what he is talking about.
– The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) did more than any other individual to hamstring the Commonwealth Bank, and ii nd in that way held up great national projects. Yet he pleaded only a few minutes ago that governments of which lie was a member were not able to finance national works. Honorable members opposite would have the farmers, whom they claim to represent, in the same position as they had them in a few years ago, when they could not discharge their interest liability, let alone pay rates and taxes. I do not believe that the £6,000,000 which the Government proposes shall be expended on roads will be sufficient to meet requirements. I hope that the Minister will pay heed to what I have said in regard to capital works, and that financial assistance will be given to the States at a very low interest rate and over a long term. Such an investment would pay big dividends.
– 1 do not regard this as an unimportant bill; rather the reverse. It represents one of the few attempts of the Government to place constructive legislation hefore this House. How much more constructive it could have been had the Government shown greater liberality, is a matter of opinion. I do not share the views expressed by the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams), who claimed that the amount proposed to be expended is all that could reasonably be expected from the Government at the present time. The revenues are so buoyant that not only could taxes he more greatly reduced than the Treasurer intends that they shall, but in addition, the Government could have shown greater liberality in allocating to the construction of roads the customs and excise revenue derived from the petrol tax. Nor was I impressed by the contention of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod), that this measure is much more liberal than simi lar legislation of any previous government. I take exception to that. If honorable members will peruse the report of the debate which took place in 1937, they will find that, in proportion to the tax imposed, the amount, allocated then to road construction was much greater than is to be allocated under this measure. When one considers the relative costs of road construction, one must conclude that a good deal more could be done with £3,800,000 in 1937 than with £5,500,000 in 1947, for the simple reason that costs have risen by from 30 per cent, to 50 per cent. Possibly 50 per cent, would be a conservative estimate in many respects. I leave out of account the proposal to expend £500,000 on strategic roads, because that is an obligation which the Commonwealth must assume. I can well afford to disagree with the statements of honorable members opposite, who have not substantiated them with cold figures. Were they to attempt to do so, they would find themselves in as much difficulty as is the Minister for Postwar Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) in trying to save the £100 which he promised he would give to charity under certain conditions.
Road construction is essential to national development. If this Parliament, in conjunction with those of the States, could evolve a first-class national programme of water conservation, hydroelectric development, transport improvement, and the development of communications generally, probably this “ talking shop “ could close up and we could remain in our electorates for several months, because the future progress of this land is definitely bound up with development along those lines. There should also be a soundly conceived and operated immigation policy. With decentralized development, there would be a return to that individualism and initiative which characterized an older generation, and in that individualism many people might yet regain their souls. Good roads are cheap roads, and cheaply constructed roads can he described as expensive. Figures compiled by the Automobile Association of Australia have an important bearing on this matter. That association has estimated, I believe conservatively, that the cost of operating a motor vehicle on a bad road is approximately l£d. a mile higher than the cost of operating it on a good road. There are approximately 500,000 miles of roads in Australia, of which more than one-third are bad. Assuming that every passenger motor vehicle i-n the Commonwealth travels, on an average, 7,000 miles a year, the aggregate addition to running costs by reason of bad roads is nearly £11,000,000 annually. That estimate is fairly accurate. We know that the old style, of road construction must be discarded, because gravel roads are entirely unsuitable for modern transport purposes. The time has arrived when there must be bitumen roads, or whatever type may supersede them as the result of scientific investigation. The cost of modern road construction is very great indeed. But be the cost high or low, it is cheaper to construct roads in keeping with modern transport requirements than to continue to use those that have already been proved obsolete and completely out of step with the needs of modern, fast-moving transport vehicles.
Commonwealth legislation for the construction of roads was first introduced in 1926, and on that occasion the entire collections from customs and excise duties on petrol were allocated to that purpose. That was an act of the Bruce-Page Government, and it represented a real step forward. It was founded on the principle that the whole of the proceeds from the petrol tax should be devoted to road construction and maintenance in this country. However, in 1930, in common with governmental activity generally in connexion with transport, the attempt was made to gain greater revenue from the motorists, so as to assist the difficult budgetary position of the period. That principle was adopted again in 1939 when, in order to meet war needs, the motorist was singled out for a heavier tax. I have never believed, ‘and do not now believe, that really beneficial results accrue to a country from impositions on transport. Apart from the tax on petrol, we know that, particularly in regard to motor transport, burden after burden has been imposed. Australia has worked along lines almost diametrically opposite to those followed by the Government of the United States of America. It is interesting, to compare the amount of tax in the United States of America and Australia with the amount diverted to government revenues. The two countries are approximately of the same size, and in some degree their developmental problems are similar. In the United States of America, cheap transport has been made more or less a guiding principle, whereas too often the tendency in this country is to penalize transport. The average tax on petrol in the United States of America is 4d. a gallon, of which 2£d. a gallon is allocated to roads and only l$d. a gallon is diverted to government revenues. In Australia, the present, tax is 10 1/2d. a gallon. Until a short while ago, it was ll£d. a gallon. Of the total amount, 3d. a gallon is devoted to roads, and no less than 7-Jd. a gallon is diverted to government revenues. That is a mistaken policy. While the war was on we could not have much objection to the imposition of a substantial tax on petrol to bolster our revenues, but the war is over; we are now in a period of buoyant revenue, high export prices, and rising wages. In these circumstances, I have no doubt that a far greater proportion of the revenue derived from the petrol tax could be made available for road improvement and construction, and much les? diverted to Consolidated Revenue. The Government should recognize the importance of transport in this country and should be prepared to devote all the revenue derived from a tax on transport - the petrol tax - exclusively to the improvement of roads, the construction of new roads, or the provision of new or better aerodromes, particularly in country areas. Between 1926 and 1946 approximately £150,000,000 was raised by means of the petrol tax. Of that sum £50.^000.000 wa? expended on roads, and the rest paid into Consolidated Revenue. I trust that the remarks that have been made by honorable members on this side of the chamber will have some effect, and that the Government will be prepared to re-examine this matter, with a view to making a greater concession and a fairer apportionment of the revenue derived from this tax.
Most of the money to be provided under this measure will be expended under four main headings - general road construction, developmental roads, strategic roads, and road safety measures, principles and practices throughout Australia. Dealing first with general road construction, the Minister dealt extensively in his secondreading speech with the co-ordination of road transport in this country. Coordination is a long word, and its meaning embraces many things. In the present circumstances, it is most difficult to do very much co-ordination, although some may be possible in country areas. A great deal of nonsense is talked to-day regarding the co-ordination of transport, particularly in the more settled areas. We have, of course, roads following railways. This is a natural development. Towns grow up alongside railways, and it follows that these towns must he linked by roads. Sometimes, the reverse has been the case. Railways follow easy contours and so do roadways. However, that is no reason why we should interfere too much with the transport system of this country. We must realize that different forms of transport have different uses. This will be even more marked in the future. The airways will take an increasing proportion of long-distance traffic, the railways will be concerned mainly with the haulage of heavy goods, and motor transport will serve intermediate centres. In my own electorate there is an example of what might be called rationalization or co-ordination of transport, but it has not benefited the district. It has meant that people making the journey of 120 miles to the capital city of the State have notenjoyed a through service either by rail or by road. This has meant transhipping passengers and luggage, waiting on dark platforms, and many other inconveniences. This type of co-ordination is taking us backwards rather than forward. Whilst there may be some room for coordination in new areas, far too much nonsense has been talked on this subject. Whenever co-ordination is mentioned we should bear in mind the relative values of the various forms of transport, and the part that they will play in the future. There is, however, some scope for uniformity in roads. Tor instance, much could be clone in regard to determining the space that will be provided for roads. Provision should be made for the widening of roads if necessary. There is also a need for wider culverts and bridges, and for stronger culverts and bridges to carry greater loads. This is important not only for defence reasons, but also because heavy road transport is coming into its own in this country. Narrow culverts are a. constant danger to the travelling public.
Under this measure, £4,500,000 is provided for general road construction, but all this money is to flow through the different State instrumentalities. There is no mention of the shire or municipal councils. In other words, these councils will have to be petitioners to the central authority of the State. In the main, I agree with that, but not entirely. I think that some money could be set aside in this measure to flow directly to the municipalities and shires so that they in turn could carry out urgent work. I do not agree entirely with all that has been said by honorable members opposite in regard to shire finances. Over the years, most shire councils have been guided by sound common-sense men, and their financial position to-day is relatively good. But there is another aspect of this matter. The buoyant state of local-government finances has been due in a considerable measure to the fact that during the war years they were unable to obtain the materials or the man-power necessary to undertake their normal works programmes. Thus they have accumulated substantial funds. The war is now over and there is a necessity to carry out road repairs and to undertake new projects that will involve the expenditure of many thousands of pounds - in the case of the larger shires and municipalities, many hundreds of thousands of pounds. The Government would have been wise had it earmarked portion of the money to be expended under this measure directly to the shire councils instead of allowing all of it to be transferred to the main authority, leaving the shire councils to become petitioners to that authority.
There is an enormous amount of road work to be done in this country, and its execution will necessitate common action by the Commonwealth Government, the governments of the States, and the municipal and shire councils. Most of the money I hope, will be spent on country roads. That is essential if we are to have real development. However, there is a need for some regard to be paid to roads leading to our capital cities. Take for instance the city of Melbourne, the problems of which are well known to me. Melbourne is ohe of the finest cities in the world. As I have seen most of the world’s leading cities, I feel qualified to make that statement. In Melbourne, there seems to be a lack of planning that is almost astounding. The neglect of the many important road building problems is almost beyond the imagination. For instance, fine boulevards lead out of Melbourne in almost every direction, Sydney-road to the north, St. Kilda-road to the south, and Dandenong-road to the east, but at some points they all narrow no bottlenecks - streets with trams. Lack of planning has created these obstructions, but no one seems to care. It may be that Melbourne and Sydney will each have a population of between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000. One can imagine how the present traffic problems would then be accentuated. In London before the -war, tens of ‘millions of pounds were being expended on the construction of by-passes to avoid bottlenecks in congested parts. The situation in Melbourne and in other cities in Australia must be faced now. Most of the roads leading into Melbourne from the country are wide enough, or are, at any rate, capable of being widened; but, us they approach the city, even though there are still open paddocks on each side, they narrow until only two traffic lanes ure possible. Already a tremendous volume of traffic is being carried by these roads, and it will be much greater. The cure for this trouble lies in the hands of local-governing bodies and State authorities, which should be financed out of the proceeds of the petrol tax.’ I hope that, eventually, all the money raised from the petrol tax will be devoted to road maintenance and construction. Sydneyroad, leading into Melbourne, should be w ide enough to carry four lines of traffic.
The £1,000,000 to be provided for the construction of developmental roads in sparsely-settled areas is little enough. One desirable feature is that the money may be applied to road maintenance, and the purchase of road-making plant. I hope that not too much of the money will be spent on roads which are of value only for tourist purposes. I am well aware of the value of the tourist trade, but it would be possible just at this time to expend too much money, relatively, on roads with no other purpose than to promote tourist traffic. The £1,000,000 should be expended on building and maintaining roads in areas capable of development - for the promotion of land settlement, secondary industries and, in suitable places, timber getting.
The proposal in regard to the maintenance of strategic roads requires little comment except in one particular. 1 represent one of the greatest military areas in Australia - the Seymour district in Victoria. During the war, local bodies in that area complained to me that military vehicles were damaging their roads, and I pointed out on many occasions to the defence authorities that the maintenance of those roads was primarily a defence responsibility. No shire council can be expected to maintain out of rates roads used by hundreds, perhaps, thousands, of military vehicles. Therefore, the proposal to expend £500,000 on the maintenance of strategic roads is, I believe, an indication that the Government recognizes its obligation to maintain roads which carry a heavy military traffic.
The bill provides for the expenditure of £100,000 on measures to promote road safety. No one oan deny that the number of accidents on our roads, including fatal accidents, is causing general concern. I suppose we shall always have with us the foolish person who drives a car at too great a speed, and the careless person who allows his tyres to become worn, or fails to have the steering of the car checked. However, we can do much by eliminating narrow culverts, and by controlling speed, to reduce the number of accidents. The great majority of accidents occur in the cities, and it appears that something more than traffic control is necessary to reduce the number. I believe ‘that accidents in city streets are largely due to bad lighting, and if better lighting were provided, the accident toll would be reduced. 1 probably drive in the cities as much as do most people, and I am well aware of the danger which arises from bad lighting in almost every city in Australia. Moreover, very little is being done to improve the position. St. Kilda-road, in Melbourne, is a fine highway, but it is a death trap to motorists on wet nights, when confusing lights are reflected from the wet road surface and from wet wind screens. Probably, in other cities, there are streets which are similarly dangerous. There is a new system known as fluorescent lighting, but in most places where such lights have been installed no attempt has been made to hood them. They give more light, but there is still glare to dazzle the eyes of motorists. Most of the light is diffused into the atmosphere, instead of being thrown down onto the road. It may appear very effective to someone looking down from an aeroplane, but to motorists driving along the road such lights are a source of danger, and a cause of accidents. In Brunswick, however, there is the finest street lighting system which I have seen anywhere. I do not propose to go into the controversy as to whether yellow lights or blue lights are the better, but in Brunswick the lamps are properly hooded, and the light is directed onto the road. A motorist can switch off his headlights, and still see anyone who may be crossing the street, and there need not be any glare from the lights of approaching cars. The exercise of even a. little common sense in street lighting would do much to make night driving safer. I welcomethe proposal to expend £100,000,000 on the promotion of road safety.
I said earlier that more money should be made available for the Federal Aid Roads scheme. I do not say that all money raised f rom the petrol tax should immediately be made available for road purposes, but the aim of any government should be to reduce transport costs, and one of the most direct ways of doing this would be to reduce the petrol tax. I believe that it would be possible to reduce this to 6d. within a short time. This would represent a reduction of about three-farthings a mile in motoring costs, which would be a substantial amount in view of the large number of motor vehicles in Australia and the mileage which they cover each year. I also believe that this income could be expended almost exclusively on road and aerodrome construction, after providing a reasonable sum, for the benefit of our fishing fleets.
The Government should strive for that objective. It is well within reach, and would be of great advantage to the country.
I have no objection to the populationcumarea formula provided in the bill. I realize that it means that Victorian motorists will pay substantial sums to assist larger States. However, I am sufficiently federal-minded to believe that the wealthier and more populous areas of the country should help the less favoured States in the interests of true national advancement. As a Victorian motorist, I have no objection to paying a share of the money that will be used to assist larger States like Western Australia. There is not much general objection to this scheme on the part of motorists. Victoria has not the same problems of road communication as the bigger States. Furthermore, the development of other parts of the continent must have an appreciable effect on the progress of Victoria, as well as of New South Wales, which is in a somewhat similar position. Anything that serves to develop and populate Australia adds to the security of the nation.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Fuller) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I direct the attention of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to a matter which I ask him to take up with the Government of New South Wales. In order to increase the total quantity of timber available for building purposes, the Government of New South Wales has inaugurated what is known as “ operation Oxley”, which consists of concentrating a great number of motor trucks and other mechanical vehicles in the Hastings River area in order to ensure the production and transport of the maximum quantity of hardwood and softwood from that prolific timber-growing district. This timber is then transported by rail to Sydney to be cut into the appropriate lengths and sizes. This means that many more rail trucks are used than would be required if the timber were sawn into building timber before being placed on the railway. The shortage of railway trucks in New South Wales is very serious, and the result is that large quantities of heavy articles required for building, such as tiles and galvanized iron, are transported by road, instead of by rail, at greatly increased costs. I ask the Prime Minister to raise this matter with the Government of New South Wales with a view to having the timber sawn into building lengths at Wauchope, where there are many efficient sawmills and where timber workers live close to the mills: My suggestion would save considerable space on rail trucks, and would enable the railways to carry larger quantities of other important goods.
– Would the mills be able to cut all of the timber?
– They could do so if they worked a second shift. They are big mills, and they have extensive kiln-drying plants that would permit the timber to be dried quickly and then moved to the city in a state which would enable it to be used at once in buildings.
.- The matter which I shall mention might have been made the subject of a question; but, as honorable members know, it is difficult to obtain an opportunity to ask a question in this House, and, in any case, the motion for the adjournment affords me a chance to elaborate on the subject. I refer to the export of textiles, particularly suit-lengths. As most honorable members are aware, men must wait for periods up to nine months to obtain delivery of suits ordered in these times. Nevertheless, 1,350,000 suit-lengths were exported from Australia last year. The principal figures are as follows: -
The shortage of suit materials in Australia presses most severely on exservicemen, who are experiencing great difficulty in obtaining civilian clothes. There is much beneath the surface in relation to this matter, and I want the Government to take note of what I say and make a thorough inquiry into the situation. Early in 1946, I asked Mr. E. M. Forde, who was then Deputy Prime Minister, about the export of textiles He said that no further suit materials would be exported to Russia, and that only a few token shipments would be made to other countries. Here is a list of the values, in round figures, of some of the “ token “ shipments that left Australia last year -
In 1945, the total value of textiles exported was £357,000. Many features of this trade ought to be investigated by the Government. Ordinarily, we would be proud to have an export trade in any commodity in order to build up credits abroad and enhance the reputation of Australian products. However, the situation to-day is abnormal. What is the reason for this trade? The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) may say that it is designed to secure dollar exchange. We shall not get dollar exchange by exporting goods to Russia ! He may claim that the trade will establish goodwill abroad. We shall not secure goodwill by sending shoddy goods abroad, and that is what is happening. The Prime Minister may have read the report of Mr. Russo, an authority on China and Japan, who has criticized the quality of Australian textiles shipped to those countries and has’ claimed that it is creating a bad name for Australia. I understand that officers of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture have been, or are being sent to China to inquire into the situation. In Cairo. I believe that there was an action in the courts between two Australians, or people who had adopted Australia as their country, who were engaged in the textile trade and who had quarrelled regarding the quantities and quality of shipments from Australia. One obvious reason for the anxiety of manufacturers to export their products in preference to selling them on the home market is that home prices are fixed. The prices of woollen suit-lengths in Australia are fixed by the Prices Commissioner, but the export prices are not fixed. ‘Surely the Prime Minister can see what undesirable practices may arise from that differentiation. Some of these persons who export our textiles are comparatively newcomers, and are making fortunes out of the shipment of materials which should be reserved for the use of our own people. It is common knowledge that that kind of thing is happening. Why, the figures speak for themselves! The Australian market is being drained in order to enable these “ get-rich-quick “ exporters of our textiles’ to continue in the trade. Some of the exporters of our woollen textiles are legitimately engaged in endeavouring to open markets for Australian cloth in New Zealand and other countries, and I do not intend these remarks to apply to them.
– The figures cited by the honorable member are misleading. A question was answered on this subject by the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pollard), which tells a completely different story from that presented by the honorable member.
– The figures which I have given indicate that Russia is the largest purchaser of our woollen textiles.
– That is so, but those textiles are of a class not suitable for the manufacture of suits in this country. The quantity of suiting material exported to Russia is very small.
– I am informed that the bulk of the exports to Russia consisted of army cloth of good quality, which could have been used in Australia, and that hundreds of thousands of square yards of that material was shipped to the Soviet Union. These figures are contained in the magazine Hard Comment. This allegation should be examined. If Australia is to preserve the good reputation of its exports - and our woollen, goods are the equal of those produced anywhere in the world - adequate measures should be taken to ensure that all exports shall be examined. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) has handed to me a copy of his questions on this subject, and the reply given by the Minister for Trade and Customs, to which the
Prime Minister has referred. The honorable member for Wentworth asked -
How many square yards of woollen piece goods were exported from Australia during (a) the twelve months ended the 31st December. 1946, and (6) the three mouths ended the 31st March, 194.7, and what was their value?
The answer shows that the exports were much greater than I had indicated in the figures which I cited earlier. The answer was as follows : -
The next question asked by the honorable member was -
How many suit-lengths were represented in these totals; at what price per suit-length were they sold abroad, and what is the comparable price of such suit-lengths in Australia’?
I have been trying to ascertain that information, but without success. The Minister’s answer was, of course, a “ lemon “. When I have endeavoured to check up on these figures with the Department of Trade and Customs during the last few months, I have been invariably given the reply that they are not exactly known. It is safe to assume that the suitlengths were sold abroad at double the price that would be obtained for them in Australia. If a trader can secure such high prices by sending our products abroad, is it likely that he will be interested in marketing them in Australia 1 The Government should look closely into this trade. The Minister for Trade and Customs, who is the chairman of the export committee, should probe these nefarious practices. I ask the Prime Minister to direct the new Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice) who, I know, will endeavour to clear the matter up, to scrutinize carefully every application for a. permit to export our textiles. This is essential in order to preserve Australia’s good name as a manufacturer of good quality cloth. The next question asked by the honorable member for Wentworth was -
What proportion of the exported cloth was double-weft material and was its quality superior to that of suitings generally obtainable in Australia at present?
The answer to the first part of the question was that the information is not available. To the second part, the answer was “ No “. Yet only a few moments ago, the Prime Minister said that the quality of the cloth sent to Russia was not suitable for Australian conditions. As I have said, i’t was good army cloth. How.ever, the best quality in one market may be the worst quality in another. The next question was -
Are those exerts regarded as token shipments? If so, what quantities of woollen piece goods were exported as token shipments in 1944* 1945 and 1940?
The answer was -
Worsted exports, of which approximately 65 per cent, are men’s suitings, are token shipincuts.
A big token ! The reply continued -
Token allocation of worsted cloth of all types approved for export are as follows: - 194.4. - 180,000 lineal yards (estimate only). 1045 - 334,000 lineal yards (estimate only). 1940 - 430,000 lineal yards (estimate only).
Manufacturers of woollen piece goods, nonworsted, are given an export quota amounting to IDS per cent, of current production.
The last question was -
When is it proposed to cease the export of such purely token shipments?
The answer was - l.u the interests of permanent and valuable export trade it is pro.posed to maintain token shipments.
Some- of that trade is not worth continuing. The Government should seriously reconsider the advisability of continuing these token shipments in quantities totalling millions of yards. Australian men .and women, who are unable to obtain their requirements of woollen piece goods, derive no satisfaction from being told, “ These are merely token shipments “. The Government should exercise a careful scrutiny over every application for an export permit in order to ensure not only that the quality of our exports shall he maintained but also that the Australian market shall not be unnecessarily denuded of supplies of these materials.
– I wish to raise a matter which concerns the ad-ministration of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I have a letter which indicates that a certain wellintentioned person was good enough, during the war, to send certain food parcels to a Frenchman, who ultimately became a prisoner of war in the hands of the Japanese in Indo-China. The postage paid on each of these parcels amounted to Ss. ‘Some little time ago, the sender was informed that the parcels could not be delivered, and that they were available for collection, but that the amount of postage now due on them amounted to £2 12s. 6d. each. That, I think, is a little “ tough “, and I am not noted for being one of the softest members of this House. I suggest that the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron) should ascertain whether such parcels containing foodstuffs should be returned to Australia if they cannot be delivered. It is monstrous that, after the lapse of a couple of years, a person should be called upon to pay £2 12s. 6d. for food parcels which could not be. delivered. A statement of government policy on this matter would be welcome.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre- sented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointment - Department df Supply and Shipping - G. B. Clarke.
Defence (Transitional Provisions’) Act - National Security (Buttoning1) Regulations - Orders - Nos. 140, 143.
The following answer.? to questions were circulated; -
Telephone Services: Automatic Exchanges
The provision of automatic telephone exchanges in country districts is dependent upon the erection of buildings to accommodate the equipment. Materials from which such structures are fabricated are in short supply, due to the heavy demands in respect of housing schemes. In addition there is a serious shortage of labour skilled in the installation of autumn tic exchange equipment, this position having arisen mainly as a result of’ the abnormal development in large centres which can be served by automatic exchanges. Deliveries of automatic telephone equipment on order from the Unite! Kingdom for installation at a large number of exchanges in country districts have been delayed by shortages of labour, raw materials and ffuel supplies, and the situation lias been accentuated by the severe winter conditions through which that country recently passed.
Broadcasting: : Australian’ BROADCASTiNG Commission : News Service; Use of Official Cars.
State news editors, London staff, secretarial assistants and the news typist is approximately £80,000. Fees and retainers for country correspondents total approximately £15,000.
Alternative in any instances. However, the commission has periodically examined the position and is satisfied that the officer of the commission’s staff responsible for authorizing the use of government cars has exercised proper control, and that the cost to the commission is reasonable. The commission considers that the nature of journalistic work and the spread of hours worked by journalists causes a greater use of the car service than would be the case with administrative officers. The commission is also aware that it is the practice for newspapers with Canberra representation to provide a car for the use of their staff. The commission is satisfied that it could not maintain its own car in Canberra for the same average cost of hired cars over the past three years. The department of the Interior does not seek an explanation from any department as to the necessity for a car. It is left to the requisitioning department to nominate officers authorized to order cars and cars are supplied only on the order of such officers.
£184 ; 1946, £366. The fact that the Commonwealth news service was operated and presented from Canberra during 1942 accounts for the heavier expenditure for that year. In subsequent years the national news service was operated from Sydney.
Queensland Bureau of Industry
In future, this office will not consider an application or issue a permit unless plans or drawings, which have been prepared in ink or some permanent medium, and which fully indicate the proposed building, are lodged with the application form. Plans, &c, must show the arrangement and area of every floor, including the basement, and there must also be information regarding elevation to show at least the height from the lowest ground level to the top of the roof. In addition, the drawings,&c., must be in duplicate so that one set may be returned to the applicant, duly stamped if approved? -
House adjourned at 3:45 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 May 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1947/19470516_reps_18_192/>.