18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. 3. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 3 p-m., and read prayers.-
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That the House,’ at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 10.30 &.m.
– Is the Prime Min”ister able to inform the House how many interned Germans and Italians were given parole in Australia before being returned to their own countries? Who authorized the granting of such paroles, and under what conditions were they granted? How many Germans and Italians broke their paroles? Who was responsible for the granting of parole to Dr. Becker, and what disciplinary action, if any, is being taken against the official or officials responsible? How did Becker gain possession of the large sum of Australian currency which was found on his person when, by accident, he was discovered in the act. of leaving the country? If the Prime Minister cannot supply the information, is an investigation being held into these matters?
– I think it is obvious that all of those questions cannot be answered offhand. I know that paroles we ve gran ted in some instances on the recommendations of courts which inquired into particular cases. As the matter involves a considerable number of questions, I ask the honorable member to supply me with a copy of them so that I can have inquiries made and obtain the information.
– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture seen the reported statement that more cream was sold, during the past month than was sold in the month preceding the imposition of a prohibition on the sale of cream? Is any effective action being taken to prevent illicit sales? If not, will everybody be placed on the same footing so that honestpeople will not be penalized, as happens at present?
– I have not seen the statement referred to; but, in any event, more cream is not being sold than before the imposition of the ban. Many prosecutions for illegal trade in cream have been launched and more will follow. To the degree that the availability of staff makes it possible, we will ensure the observation of the ban as it should be observed.
– Is New Zealand in the same currency area as Australia? Does New Zealand get imports of cloth and clothing material from Australia? If those are facts, can the Prime Minister explain why, on the very day that clothes rationing was re-instituted in Australia, New Zealand announced its abandonment of clothes rationing? If the same conditions operate in New Zealand and Australia in respect of the availability of clothing, what need is there for continuing clothes rationing in Australia ?
– If the honorable gentleman’s question, “Is New Zealand in the same currency area as Australia ? “, means, “ Are New Zealand and Australia both in the sterling area ? the answer is “ Yes “. It is true that certain goods are allotted for export to New Zealand. Allotments were made during the period of severest rationing. There are many reasons for that. They have been given previously. One primary reason is that we require certain important commodities from New Zealand. I do not know the motives of the New Zealand Government in abandoning clothes rationing, and I do not propose to comment on its decision. Having examined the whole position, the Government believes that because of certain factors relating to the availability of imports from certain countries, it is advisable to continue clothes rationing for at least some time. That does not mean that we are not anxious to abolish clothes rationing when we are able to do so. We cannot do so at the moment. Therefore, the Government has decided that the wisest course is to continue rationing to ensure a fair distribution of articles of clothing, the supply of which is limited.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs been drawn to a statement made by Mr. Fielding, president of the Queensland Retailers Institute, that Brisbane retailers hold at least 10,000,000 clothing coupons, or five times more than enough for restocking requirements? Will the Minister have the position investigated, and state what justification there is, in view of these circumstances, for the continuance of clothes rationing?
– My attention has not been drawn to the statement reported to have been made by Mr. Fielding. I shall cause inquiries to be made and endeavour to ascertain whether there is any foundation for the statement, and if such a position as has been outlined exists, ascertain what can be done to remedy it.
– It has been brought to my attention that many people in Australia are owed money by the Taxation Branch in respect of overpaid income tax. Does the Prime Minister know how many people have paid more tax under the pay-as-you-earn system than is due on their assessments? Does he know that refunds are long delayed? What action is being taken by the Taxation Branch to ensure that there shall be no delay in making refunds to people who evidently need the money urgently?
Mr.CHIFLEY. - It is true that the issue of income tax assessments to taxpayers was considerably in arrears. There were several causes. First, during the war, a great many officials of the Taxation Branch joined the armed forces. Secondly, in the same period, the number of taxpayers increased from about 800,000 to about 2,000,000. That, of course, meant a great deal more work. On their return to the branch, many officers who had served in the forces had to be trained in the new method of tax assessment. The arrears are being overtaken. A change that is, I am sure, welcome to the taxpayers has been made this year under which overpayments of tax are refunded to taxpayers with their tax assessments. It is expected that at least 60 per cent., and, perhaps, 70 per cent., of wage and salary earners will receive refunds of varying amounts. It is hoped that the arrears will disappear within a reasonable period.
Publication of Details
– I understand that it is apractice of municipal councils, in some, if not all the States, to publish in the press the whole of the details of a by-law about to be enacted. As this practice appears to cause no inconvenience to the councils, will the Prime Minister consider the possibility of publishing in the press the bills about to be presented to the Parliament, so that before they receive the assent of the Parliament, the people of the Commonwealth will know of the legislation proposed and the manner in which it is intended to enact it?
– Generally speaking, it is notthe practice of governments to circulate bills to be presented to the parliaments until such time as they have been read a first time in the chamber in which they are introduced. One of the difficulties which the honorable member probably has not thought of is that, as the result of last-minute amendments made to draft legislation, most bills are printed only just prior to their presentation to the Parliament. I am prepared to consider the honorable member’s suggestion where there is ample time to do as she suggests. My experience, however, and that of others associated with the preparation of bills for submission to the Australian Parliament, is that it is not possible to circulate them at amy lengthy period of time prior to their presentation to the Parliament. Furthermore, members of this House who have to consider the bills are entitled to be given the first opportunity to study them.
Imports - Agricultural Machinery
– I wish to direct a question to the Prime Minister relating to the acute dollar shortage, which is not only resulting in the curtailment of essential imports to Australia, but is also causing this country to draw heavily upon the meagre pool of dollars in the United Kingdom. In view of thesecircumstances, and the fact that very substantial quantities of our dollar resources are used to pay for imports into Australia of ordinary agricultural products which experience has shown we are able to produce up to a certain volume here, will the Prime Minister convene a conference of representatives of the
Australian Government and the governments of the States, the growers in the various primary industries concerned and the scientific instrumentalities of the governments, to plan the very substantial and prompt speeding up of the production of such commodities as tobacco, linseed, cotton, and other agricultural products which loom very largely in the allocation of our dollar resources for imports?
– .Some thought has been given to the aspects of production in Australia that the honorable member has mentioned. I understand that certain experiments have been carried out in the growing of linseed. There is a Commonwealth bounty on cotton production. I referred to tobacco on a previous occasion, when I pointed out that there were certain districts in which tobacco could be grown. The leaf is not suitable for smoking but can be used for other purposes. I do not think that much could be gained by calling a meeting of the Premiers - they might digress on to other subjects. I understand, however, that a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council will be held in the near future, and I shall ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to list the matter for discussion. I agree that it might foe possible, perhaps through the State Ministers for Agriculture, to consult with growers’ organizations. There are, of course, agricultural problems apart from those associated with the production of cotton, tobacco and linseed, but I assure the honorable member that the matter he has raised will .be given further consideration.
– Has the Prime Minister read the following report published in to-day’s Melbourne Age: -
Limiting of tractor and other agricultural machinery imports from North America will foe considered by Cabinet on Monday, when the latest cuts in dollar imports will be under discussion.
It was stated to-day that farmers might be forced by the deteriorating dollar position, to work with even fewer tractors than those now in use.
Does the right honorable gentleman realize that such a statement will cause alarm among primary producers, particularly as in respect of the heavy type of tractors they are now 10,000 short of requirements, and that the lighter tractor from the United Kingdom is not suitable for heavy agricultural work, such as wheat-farming? “Will he investigate fully all means of saving dollars before the basis of primary production in this country is threatened ; and will he endeavour to have more not fewer, dollars made available for the purchase of tractors overseas in order that primary production may flourish in this country?
– The necessity for bringing tractors suitable for agricultural purposes from the Uunted States of America has been very strongly stressed by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. I understand that the tractors most in demand are mainly those between 35 and 40 horse-power. Very heavy tractors, say, up to 60 horse-power, are not so necessary for agricultural purposes. Agricultural machinery imports have been examined, and the whole range of dollar imports will be examined next Monday by the Cabinet. The honorable gentleman can rest assured that the type of tractors most needed for agriculture has been considered by the Minister, and wall be fully considered by the Cabinet. The importation of other classes of agricultural machinery, comprising a relatively small quantity, and tractors of the very heavy type, will have to be reviewed. I understand that the tractors in use by primary producers are mainly those between 35 horse-power and 40 horse-power. The point mentioned by the honorable member has not been overlooked.
Export of Suiting Materials
– Has the attention of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture been drawn to a statement made last yeek by the honorable member for Wentworth that hundreds of thousands of yards of suiting materials were being exported to Russia and other countries? As I have no knowledge of any shipments to Russia, I ask the Minister whether the statement is correct, and if so, whether he has any comment to make on it.
– I have not seen the statement referred to, but I shall make some inquiries to ascertain whether or not it has any foundation.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether the Government has considered the request presented to it this week by Tasmanian fruit-growers for a special assistance grant to offset the 1946-47 crop failures? If so, has the decision been favorable and acceptable to the Tasmanian growers? If not, when can a decision be expected? Further, in view of the consistently high market .prices being paid for Tasmanian fruit on the mainland, will consideration be given by the Minister to an increase of the payments to growers? Will the Minister undertake to have a full investigation made of the present basis of payments to growers, with particular attention to the relative merits of the assessment and the payment on delivery basis?
– For some time past, Tasmanian fruit-growers’ organizations and the Tasmanian Minister for Agriculture have been making representations to the Australian Government, not only for assistance in respect of 1946-47 crop losses, but also for a higher unit payment for fruit acquired under the Apple and Pear Acquisition Regulations. In fact, the Tasmanian Minister for Agriculture has already waited on me today, and I understand that at a later stage representatives of the fruit-growers will interview me. An investigation of the payments now being made for Tasmanian fruit under the acquisition regulations was made prior to my recommendation to Cabinet for a continuance of the acquisition scheme this season, and Cabinet decided that the basis of acquisition payments should be the same as that applying last year. In these circumstances, I cannot hold out any hope for a reconsideration of the payments for this year. Assistance with respect to losses sustained last year will receive consideration.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Immigration been drawn to a statement attributed to theGovernorGeneral, Mr, W. J. McKell,. when he recently visited the Whyalla shipyards, that those shipyards were thefinest he had seen; and that His Excellency praised the marvellous layout and. compact facilities of the yards? Has theMinister also seen a press comment that those yards could absorb an additional SOO, or 900, men but that housing conditions locally were acute? Will heconfer with officials of Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and the housing authorities concerning the necessity for bringing out shipbuilders fromGreat Britain, and also the urgency of erecting homes at Whyalla to house them?’
– In the statement which I made to the House last week, dealing with immigration, I mentioned the question of shipbuilding and the desire of the Government to arrangefor greater facilities to be provided either by the British Ministry of Shipping or by building ships in. Australia to bring migrants to this country. I hope very soon to discuss with Mr. Essington Lewis the question of shipbuilding, which, although not primarily coming within my province, has a direct bearing upon immigration, because it will be impossible for Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited or any other company in this country to build ships unless they obtain migrants for that work. I shall see what I can do to bring out migrants to engage in the shipbuilding industry at Whyalla.
– Has the Prime Minister noted the important fact that the UnitedKingdom Government abstained from voting on the Palestine partition plan and announced that it would accept no responsibility for enforcing the plan?1 Does the right honorable gentleman consider that countries which voted for the plan have assumed specific obligations under the United Nations Charter to contribute forces in the event of the Arabs carrying out their threat to declare war?1 Can he 3ay whether Australia’s moving part in the partition deliberations was the result of careful supervision by the Government ; whether Cabinet was kept fully advised of the negotiations; and whether it approved the action taken by the Australian delegation?
– What the United Kingdom did in connexion with voting on the Palestine partition plan is a matter entirely for the government of that country, and does not call for comment by the Australian Government. The subject has not been discussed by the Australian Government. Indeed, I should regard it as a presumptuous act to question the action taken by the Government of the United Kingdom. I imagine that that Government refrained from participating in the deliberations because it is so actively associated with the present administration of Palestine that it might not have been regarded as an impartial party to the deliberations. The partition of Palestine has been the subject of discussion between the Australian Government and the Minister representing it at the conference. The honorable member asks whether, having regard to all the circumstances, Australia’s vote for the partition of Palestine was wise. I answer that question in the affirmative. The Government was kept fully informed of all the reasons for and against the partition, and having considered the matter, it decided that partition was the best course to f ollow. It was not a matter of choosing between the bad and the good, but of choosing the least of a number of evils. Throughout the negotiations the Australian Government was kept fully informed, and it approved the vote cast, by its representative.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister in his capacity as Treasurer in relation to anomalies under the social services legislation passed by this Parliament. A man with a dependent wife who is in receipt of superannuation benefits . amounting to £237 per annum, pays a social service contribution, whereas another married couple, who receive superannuation benefits of £104 per annum, in addition to age pensions amounting to £195, or a total of £299 per annum, pays no such contribution. Will the Prime Minister take steps to remove that anomaly, as it is unjust that a couple in receipt of approximately £9 a fortnight should pay the contribution whilst another couple whose income is approximately £11 10s. a fortnight should be exempt from payment?
– Before venturing to give an answer to the honorable member’s question, I should like to have further particulars. If the honorable member will let me have them - not necessarily the names of the persons concerned - I shall look into the matter.
Shortage of Essential Supplies at Rabaul.
– Has the Minister for External Territories any further information to give to the House regarding the alleged shortages of supplies at Rabaul?
– I have received a further communication from the Administrator of Papua-New Guinea, in which he advises that the District Officer, Rabaul, has personally checked the accuracy of the statements that have been made regarding the position at Rabaul, and that the District Officer advises -
The District Officer at Kavieng, New Ireland, advises that the supply position in that district is capable of improvement, but is not desperate or serious.
– Last week, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture emphasized the grave position of the Australian pineapple industry because of the embargo placed by the Canadian Government upon the import of Australian canned pineapples. I asked then that representations be made to the Canadian Government on the subject, and the Minister said that this would be done. Has the Minister yet received any information from the Canadian Government? As there is some confusion about the relation between the embargo and the International Trade Organization ‘Charter, will the Minister explain what the position really is? “Will he also state what are the provisions of the agreement as they affect the Queensland pineapple industry?
– I have made further inquiries as I promised to do, and I have learned that, on the 17th November, the Canadian Government announced that certain economic measures would be taken by the Foreign Exchange Board, in order to rectify Canada’s adverse trade balance. The measures of direct interest to Australia are the prohibition of the importation of certain consumer goods, the control of certain capital goods, the imposition of export quotas on other goods, and a tax on the components of certain imported articles? The operation of the International Trade Charter will have no adverse effect upon Australia. On the 18th November, the Australian High Commissioner in . Canada forwarded a memorandum, which reached me only to-day, explaining the measures taken by the Canadian Government. It is clear from the memorandum that Australia is affected in regard to pineapples and other canned goods, but this is in no way associated with the International Trade Organization Charter. Under that charter, any nation has the right to take such action as it considers necessary to rectify an adverse exchange balance, but in order to understand that the action taken by Canada is not associated with the International Trade Organization Charter, it is only necessary to recall that Australia itself has had to take action to correct our adverse dollar position by discriminating against the importation of motor cars from the United States of America to the advantage of British exporters, yet this constituted no infringement of the charter. The Canadian Government may discriminate in any way it thinks fit even under the charter in order to rectify an adverse trade balance. The Australian Government is perturbed at the turn of events, in Canada, because of the adverse effect upon the pineapple industry in Queensland, and we are making representations to the Canadian Government, in an endeavour to lessen the impact on our economy. However, pineapple juice will be included in the quota which the Canadian Government has prescribed and we hope that, although for the time being the entry of pineapples into the Dominion of Canada “will be prohibited, the admission of a quota of pineapple juice will be allowed, thus assisting the industry in Queensland.
Wagga “ Daily Advertises “ Report
– I desire to make a personal explanation. In yesterday’s issue of the Wagga Daily Advertiser, there appeared the following three-column heading : - “ Police Watching District Women’s Move”. The letterpress stated that a detective from Cootamundra visited Gundagai last week to investigate the activities of the Gundagai branch of the United Women Citizens Movement Against Socialization. This allegation was made by a Gundagai solicitor. Alongside this statement appeared, a photograph of myself. During the discussion, which followed at a meeting of delegates of this movement, a woman from Gundagai asked -
Who organized this investigation? Our organization was originated in Sydney, and why should they come to Gundagai to inquireabout it? . . . Could it be that it is Mr.. Fuller’s way of intimidating us?
Idesire tomakeit clear that any action by the New South Wales Police Department to investigate the activities of this mushroom group,or organization, or any of its members, is the sole responsibility of the police authorities. I absolutely deny any knowledge whatsoever of the affair.
– I askthe Prime Minister whether it is a fact that, because the coal-miners agreed to work on alternate Saturdays during the last three months, Australia is assured of adequate supplies of coal to tide industry over theChristmas period, when miners take their annual leave ? Is it also a fact that some of these miners, who desired to partake of some of the amber fluid when they came out of the pits, found that most of the hotels in Newcastle and the coal-mining districts were without anyrefreshments at all? Approaches were made tothe breweries, which complained of a shortage of malt. However, there are, apparently, adequate supplies in Victoria, and I suggest that some mightbe made available to breweries in New South Wales, soas to ensure that there will be sufficient amber fluid in the immediate future.
– Whilst this is not a subject on whichI am an expert, I am aware that there is a shortage of beer, and, in view of the approach of the Christmas season,I have made inquiries in regard to the availability of brewing ingredients. The Minister for Labour and National Service informed me that some industrial dispute occurred in the malting houses in Melbourne, which has resulted in a diminution of the quantity of malt now available. Although I was not aware that the honorable member intended to raise this matter, I communicated with the general manager of Tooth and Company Limited, Sydney, this morning, andwas informed that although amplestocks of barley are available there isaseriousshortage of malt. The principal reason for the shortage, I am informed, is that sufficient labour is not available to malt stocks ofbarley on hand.I later spoke to the Minister for Labour and National Service, andI understand that the industrial trouble to which I referred previously has now been settled.However, NewSouth Wales breweries, because ofthe shortage of malt, have been working ontheirreserves. Although I cannot promise that ample malt will be available to the breweries before Christmas, Ican assure thehonorable member that everything possible is being done to ensure that reasonable stocks of the amber fluid willbe available for Christmas.
Nationalization: Police Inquiries; Advances
Mr.HOWSE. - By way of explanation, I draw the attention of the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Attorney-General to a statement made in this House on the 17th October by the MinisterforInformation. On that occasion the Minister for Information said that he would consult the Minister acting for the Attorney-General in order to ascertain whether certain statements made by opponents of the nationalization of banking could be made the subject of official investigation.Can the Minister acting forthe Minister representing the Attorney-General inform the House whether certainpolice investigations made into theactivities of the Cowra and District Citizens’ Rights Committee, afew days ago, were authorized as the result of the undertaking to which I have referred? If not, can the Minister say whether the Commonwealth Investigation Service has been in communication with the New South Wales police in relation to the investigation which I have mentioned and also in regard toanothersimilar investigation conducted into the affairs of the United Women’s Citizens Movement Against Socialization at Gundagai during last week-end ? Ifthe police activities which I have mentioned were undertaken without request or direction from the Australian Government, will the Minister say whether the Government approves of the action taken?
– My answer to mostof the questions asked is certainly “ No “, and, as far as Iknow, any action taken in New South Wales was initiated without reference to : the Australian Government or the Attorney-General’s department. Although I am confident that any action taken in New South Wales was entirelythe result of decisions made by the authorities ofthatState.I shallmake inquiries to confirm my answer. However, from my own knowledge 1 would say that no overtures, negotiations, conferences or discussions have taken place between the Attorney-General’s Department and the New South Wales authorities.
– I ask the Treasurer what foundation there is for press reports that trading banks were instructed recently to restrict in some directions advances that might otherwise be made by them to persons or companies for developmental purposes. Will he make a full statement ro the House on the Government’s policy in this matter, and the reasons that actuated its decision?
– The Commonwealth Bank has examined the matter of advances. From memory, I believe that bank advances have increased from £200,000,000 in June, .1.945, to £320,000,000. They have increased by £65,000,000 since last December. As a great Ileal of public money is available for investment, it is considered that, in many instances, instead of obtaining further advances from the trading banks, companies ought to increase their capital. Bank advances have also been made for the production of certain commodities to a degree far beyond the capacity of the country to absorb them. The matter of speculative advances has also been examined. I do not intend to weary the House with a recital of all the kinds of advances that have been examined. The very large amount of money flowing into the hands of members of the public in various ways is causing a pronounced inflationary tendency which could be aggravated unless a close check were kept on bank advances. The policy applied by the Commonwealth Bank was the subject of consultation with the Australian Government, which approves the action taken by it. In order not to take up more time than is necessary, I will give the honorable member a statement fully covering the matter.
Advisory Committee on Production Costs.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform me whether the Production Costs Advisory Committee, which recently investigated the dairying industry, held further meetings last week in order to submit additional reports on the industry? If so, will the Minister make inquiries and inform the House whether those reports can be tabled before the expiration of the present sessional period? In any case, will he undertake to table the report which the committee submitted to the Government some weeks ago?
– I do not know whether the committee has held meetings within the last week. I know that it will have to hold further meetings, because its first report was only of an interim character and required complete revision, The committee expedited :he presentation of that report in order that the Government might make the decision which it did make in respect of higher payments to dairy-farmers.
– Can we have a copy of the report?
– It is subject to revision and correction. The Government acted very promptly in order that the farmers might have the advantage of an early decision.
Mr. Anthony interjecting,
– I know that the honorable member for Richmond is frustrated because the decent thing has been done.
– Order ! I wish the Minister would co-operate with the Chair by ignoring interjections.
– I wish, sir, that you would keep the honorable member in order.
– Order !
– Obviously, even if the report reaches me before the Parliament goes into recess within the next two or three days, I shall not have time to peruse it. thoroughly, which I desire to do, before tabling it.
– What about the report that the Minister has had for weeks ?
– That is only an unrevised interim report which is not in sufficient detail to present to the Parliament. As soon as the Government has had time to examine the complete report and the final report, it will be only too glad to place the documents on the table of this House.
– Why not send the honorable member an autographed copy of the report?
– I shall be glad to do that because, after all, it is the first report of the first committee appointed by any government in an endeavour to establish the actual costs of production in the Australian dairying industry.
Import Duties on Equipment.
– I ask the Minister representingthe Minister for Trade and Customs whether it is a fact that import duties are imposed on equipment required by municipal councils in New South Wales for their cleansing services. In view of the fact that the councils are not operating at a profit and are merely rendering a public service, will the Minister give consideration to the discontinuance of import charges on such equipment?
– I assume that the honorable member refers to mechanical and other equipment which municipal councils import for the purpose of providing services in their municipalities. I understand that there are certain bylaw provisions which enable the Department of Trade and Customs to waive the imposition of import duties in certain circumstances. I shall discuss this matter with the Minister for Trade and Customs and ascertain whether anything can be done to satisfy the honorable member’s wishes.
Promotions of Prisoners of War - Militia
– In the Melbourne press this morning it was stated that for the purposes of pay the Government would not recognize promotions of prisoners of war in captivity. It was reported that the Government had considered the claims, but had rejected them on the ground that the men received higher pay from the Japanese after promotion. In view of the small amounts paid by the enemy and the fact that the enemy recognized such promotions, and as the men concerned received extra punishments because of their added responsibilities after promotion, will the Minister for the Army refer the matter to Cabinet for reconsideration in order that justice may be done?
– The statement which appeared in the press to-day was not correct. I do not say that promotions made while men were prisoners of war will be recognized by the Government, but I point out that the newspaper reports did not give the true story of such promotions. I have asked the Government to reconsider this matter, and it will do so at a later date.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Army concerning the basis of enlistments in the Militia forces. In explanation I point out that, prior to World War II., many men en- listed in and were trained by the militia forces but, because of their particular employment or because of some physical disability, were unable or unwilling to be called up for full-time duties with the armed forces when war broke out. This represented a considerable waste of money. Will the Minister, in enlisting the militia forces, ensure that only men. willing and able to be called up in a time of emergency, such as war, for fulltime duties, shall be enlisted and trained ? In other words, will he ensure that the militia shall be recruited more or less on the basis on which the Australian Imperial Force was recruited?
– The honorable member’s suggestion contains merit, and. I will inquire this afternoon whether it is possible to put it into effect.
Malayan Seamen - Chinese - Undesirable Foreigners
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether it is a fact that the Government has decided to deport all undesirable foreigners? Is such a decision linked with the decision to deport fourteen Malays and also one Chinese who have been in this country for many years? What factors render a foreigner undesirable in the Government’s view?
– The Government has decided that all (persons who came to Australia as evacuees’ or refugees during the war and who, under our immigration laws, are not eligible to become permanent residents of this country, must leave. We. have been very tolerant of these people. We could have asked them all- to- go immediately the war ended, but we have allowed them to stay- for a certain period, in some cases so that they might wind up. their- affairs here and in other cases so that they anight get decent shipping facilities to take them back to their own countries. In all-, 15,000 evacuees of all nationalities- came to Australia during, the wai-. Of that number, 4,400 were Asiatics. Most of the evacuees,, including- the Asiatics, have gone.. There, are about 500 Chinese, mostly, seamen, and about 50 Malays left. All of these people will have to leave Australia. There have been protests from a. number of very reputable people,, particularly in Sydney, on. emotional and- sentimental grounds, about the- repatriation of the fourteen Malays mentioned by the honorable member, r have advice that, of those fourteen Malays who married Australian women, two of them had wives in. Malaya at the time of “ marrying.” in Australia. A photograph of one of them with his two children and his Australian “wife.”, who is expecting: another child shortly, was published recently in the Sydney Sun. He. already has a.wife and two. other, children, in Malaya. That, of course, is the reason why he does not want to go back to Malaya. Probably that, too, is the reason why he has persuaded his Australian de facto wife that our immigration laws and policy ought to be waived so that he might be permitted to remain in Australia. What this Government proposes to do is not unusual. I am carrying out the policy that has been carried out by every- Australian government-, since federation,, and, as far- as I- am concerned, it will not be altered. In. that regard, I think I have the support of a- great majority of the. Australian people. The honorable: member’s. question also referred to a. Chinese- . who, according to to-day’s press), has been- resident, in Australia for twenty years and’ has been told that- he must- go. The policy which I have just mentioned relates to- evacuees who came to Australia during the war. This Chinese is said to have been here for twenty years, and obviously, therefore, is not a war-time: evacuee. -Speaking generally, I think that there is some claim for him to be regarded as a resident of Australia, and I have no doubt that his certificate can be- extended from time to time as it has been extended in the past. An error may have been made in his case. The gentleman’s name is Wong. There are many Wongs in the Chinese community, but I have to say - and I am sure that the honorable member for Balaclava will not mind me doing so - that “ two Wongs do not make a1 White “.
Cost- of Production
– Some months- ago, in answer to. a question I asked, upon notice, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said. he. thought, that the finding, of. the. committee investigating the cost of producing wheat would probably be available at the end of November. Has that committee decided on the’ cost of production? If not; when is it’ expected that its finding will be available?
– I said that we hoped to receive the report of the committee investigating’ the cost’ of producing’ wheat before the end’ of November, but the report has’ not” yet reached me. I hope to receive it’ within a week.
Shortage, in Queensland.-
– I direct the attention of the- Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping to questions Nos-. 12 and 14, which have been on the notice-paper since the beginning of this sessional period. They relate- to the acute shortage in Queensland of electric stoves; radiators, bath heaters; refrigerators and steel products: I asked that steps be taken to ensure- a more equitable and speedier distribution of those much-needed articles. Can the- Minister say why I have not yet received answers? Will he state the reasons– for- the shortages before the Parliament goes into recess?
– I regret that the honorable member has not received replies to his questions. The preparation of answers to questions on notice takes time, of course. If the answers do not reach me in time to furnish them to the honorable member for Moreton before the Parliament goes into recess, I will have them forwarded to him. In any event, I will try to have the answers expedited.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture consider lifting the export levy on rabbit skins in view of the great reduction of rabbit skin prices? Rabbit skins to-day fetch only from 16d. to 23d. per lb. Rabbits are increasing rapidly. It does not pay rabbiters to trap them. The levy benefits only the hat-makers, not the men suffering from the rabbit plague.
– I think that, within a measurable period, it will be possible again to lift the export levy on rabbit skins, but, as time goes by, it will inevitably be re-imposed. The levy was introduced by the Menzies Government in 1939. No succeeding government has yet seen fit to lift it.
– The Melbourne press at the week-end stated that the Minister for Air had gazetted regulations to deny to certain airline companies the use of government aerodromes if they do not follow his directions regarding the fixation of fares on certain air routes. Has the Minister gazetted such regulations?
– Yes. Regulations have been gazetted under which powers have been taken to do certain things that are set out therein. They include power in respect of the use of aerodromes. The regulations are lengthy and detailed. I suggest that the honorable member procure a copy and read them.
Mr. POLLARD (Ballarat- Minister for
Commerce and Agriculture) [4.4]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The object of this bill, which is a machinery measure only, is to continue in operation certain regulations which were found necessary during the war in the administration of the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939-1940 and which were promulgated under the National Security Act 1939-1943 as National Security (Supplementary) Regulations 14, 38 and 49.
National Security (Supplementary) Regulation 14 removed any doubt which might have existed regarding the power of the High Court under section 13 of the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939- 1940 to authorize payments for the sustenance and maintenance of persons and their dependants, whose businesses were placed under controllers appointed by the High Court pursuant to that section. National Security (Supplementary) Regulation 49 extended the powers and functions of a body corporate, where necessary, to enable it to act as a controller under the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939-1940.
It is now proposed that these two regulations be incorporated as sections of the act as the need for such provisions has not yet passed. This bill is also designed to continue in operation, under the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939-1940, regulations for the control of enemy property which have been in force since the 27th September, 1939, under National Security legislation and the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act 1946. The National Security (Enemy Property) Regulations, which, if this bill be passed, will become regulations under the Trading with the Enemy Act as from the 1st January, 1948, were first introduced to bring under control the property and funds in Australia of persons resident in Germany. With the subsequent extension of hostilities, the property of persons living in all enemy countries and the areas occupied by the enemy, came within the scope of the regulations. These regulations will be needed until all property taken under Commonwealth control thereunder has been disposed of in accordance with the peace treaties or other inter-governmental agreements made in respect of these matters. There are many problems associated with the disposition of enemy property and the work of decontrol, realization or liquidation, as the ease may be, is likely to take a considerable time. So much so, that the Government does not consider it would be appropriate to carry the regulations forward under the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act. Rather, in view of the close association that has existed in the prevention of trade with the enemy and the .control of enemy assets, it has been decided that the regulations could be most suitably preserved by re-enacting them under the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939-1940 as from the 1st January, 1948.
It is not proposed that there should be my change in the administration of the regulations and they will continue to be administered by the Treasurer. All appointments and other actions taken under the existing regulations will still hold good. The only additional provision it has been necessary to make, is in respect of penalties for infringement of the regulations. These were provided for previously in turn, in the National Security Act and the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act 1946. Clause 3 of this bill contains the machinery necessary for the imposition of penalties under the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939-1940. In addition provision has been incorporated in the bill for the making of regulations under the act for the purpose of carrying out or giving effect to article 6 of the Agreement on Reparation from Germany, on the establishment of an inter-allied reparation agency and on the restitution of monetary gold, to which agreement Australia is a party. The final provision of this bill is to ensure that the powers of the Controller of Enemy Property in respect of the assets of unincorporated enemy bodies, such as chambers of commerce and clubs, which have already been brought under his control by declarations by the Minister for Trade and Customs, will not be impaired by the lapsing of National Security (Supplementary) Regulation 38 under which those declarations were made.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Bill presented by Mr. Drakeford, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
In March of this year, the Air Navigation Act 1920-1936 was amended for the purpose of approving the ratification of the Convention on International Civil Aviation signed at Chicago in 1944 and authorizing the making of regulations to give effect to the convention and for other purposes. Honorable members will recall that the subject-matter and scope of the Chicago Convention were fully explained to Parliament during the discussions on the legislation introduced in March. Briefly, it concerns all aspects of international civil aviation and replaces the Paris Convention of .1919 which, in view of the immense developments of aviation during the war, was considered by the nations which assembled at Chicago to be inadequate for past-war conditions. In order to give effect to the convention by the 10th August, 1947, the date on which Australia officially became bound by the convention, it was necessary to promulgate ;m entirely new set of regulations. These regulations, like the regulations which they replaced, make provision for the control of domestic air navigation in relation to matters on which the Commonwealth has power to legislate, as well as the control of international air navigation within Australian territory. Those provisions of a domestic nature are as closely in accord as practicable, having regard to Australian conditions, with the principles recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization for adoption by all contracting .States.
The primary purpose of the bill is to amplify the Commonwealth’s power to make regulations in respect of air navigation, and in particular expressly to authorize regulations covering certain subject-matters which at present are authorized only in general terms. The main features of the bill are as follows : -
It is considered essential for the safety of air navigation to be able effectively to require the marking or removal of dangerous obstacles where practicable and necessary. If the owner of any such object is directed to remove or light the object, the regulations provide that he will be reimbursed reasonable expenses incurred in complying with such a direction. However, there may be some legal doubt whether the general words of the existing act authorizes the regulations providing for such action, which again accords with practices in all countries with extensive air services, and the bill therefore expressly authorizes regulations covering this subject-matter.
Honorable members will see that the bill contains no new principles, but for legal reasons amplifies the power to make regulations in respect of the matters I have outlined and which it was considered Parliament had granted in more general terms earlier in the year. In the circumstances I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 27th November (vide page 2830), on motion by Mr. Pollard -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– In general, I support this bill, but there are certain drafting amendments which might be made. There are many thousands of egg producers in Australia who produce on a very small scale, and there are a few who produce on an extensive scale. This bill should benefit the majority of egg producers rather than the few, even if the few produce the majority of the eggs - which is hardly likely. As far as I can see, there is nothing in the bill to ensure that the small-scale producer will be represented on the board. Indeed, there is every likelihood that in each State a large-scale producer will be selected for appointment. In Victoria there are 9,000 egg producers on the State Egg Board roll, representing producers with birds numbering 100 and upwards. Some 8,000 of those producers are unorganized and some 1,000 are organized. Among the egg producers’ associations in Victoria there are the National Poultry Farmers Organization, with approximately 600 to 650 members; the Bendigo and Ballarat Commercial Poultry Farmers Association, with approximately 200 members; the Eggman’s Protection League, with an unknown number of members; and the National Utility Poultry Breeders Association known throughout Victoria as the N.U.P.B.A., which, although it has 300 or 400 members, has only 50 voters on the State Egg Board roll.
The small producer may have excellent qualifications,but he may have insufficient money to spend on an election campaign if appointment to the board is to be as a result of an election. The large producer, on the other hand, may easily be able to spend £1,000 upon such a campaign. If elections are to be held for appointments to the board, there may be a certain amount of campaigning throughout every State. How then can the great number of small producers feel that the board is satisfactory to them? Can representation be governed by the number of birds owned with representation of the small-scale and the large-scale producers respectively? Is there any way by which the Minister proposes to ensure that the small producer is adequately represented on the board ? If only one representative of the egg producers is to he chosen or elected in each State, in what way is it intended to ensure that the voice of the smallman shall be heard? This matter has been brought to my notice by the egg producers in my electorate, of whom there are quite a number. They are concerned about this question of representation. If there is to be only one represen tative of the egg producers from each State on the board, is it not more than likely that the wealthy man, who is able to campaign throughout the State if he wishes to be elected to the board, will be the one chosen? “Will the Minister look into the matter of having either two representatives or of making the choice along different lines so that the interests of the small man will be protected ?
.- The egg producers commend certain aspects of this measure because they have, in common with all other primary producers, for some time been seeking to have legislation enacted providing machinery designed to afford them an opportunity to watch the interests of their own particular section of primary production. They have always asserted that control should be by the producers themselves. Obviously they must make some recommendations to the Government, and in the initial stages possibly receive some assistance from the Government, and, therefore, they are not opposed to a government nominee being on this board, or, for that matter, on any board connected with any other branch of primary production. What they take exception to is the fact that the Government appears to be adopting a policy of appointing a chairman of its own selection and making that chairman, whilst he occupies that position, all-powerful. If the chairman does not agree with any recommendations made by the board, and if he reports his dissent to the Minister within 24 hours, the Minister may make the final decision. That decision may be favorable to the general body of members of the board, or it may be favorable to the chairman. If the former, then the chairman is placed in a very awkward position vis-a-vis the members of the board. If the latter, then he assumes unto himself - in some respects perhaps unconsciously - the powers of a little dictator over the other members.
Sub-clause 7 of clause 5 states that the Governor-General may appoint the chairman of the board, who may hold office for an indefinite period and can only be removed from office on the recommendation of the Minister to the Governor-General. On the other hand, sub-clause 9 of clause 5 states that a member of the board, not being the chairman, may be removed from office by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the board. If a set of circumstances such as I outlined a few moments ago arose, then a member of the board might be immediately removed therefrom, but the chairman, no matter how abhorrent he might be to the other members, would remain in office for so long as the Minister wished to have him there - and in those circumstances, of course, the Minister would not make a recommendation for his removal. It would appear, therefore, that the chairman is to be nothing more or less than a “ Yes man “ to whatever Minister may be in office. The opinion of the producers is that while the Government should certainly have a nominee on the board, he should not be clothed with the wide powers provided in this measure. The provisions of this legislation are akin to those of a similar measure covering the dairying industry. In some respects, the terms are almost identical.
Another objection raised by the egg producers is in respect of clause 9 subclause 6 which provides that the chairman of the board shall have a deliberative as well as a casting vote. I remind the House that the board will include representatives of the producers, the employees, and commercial interests. On matters involving a difference of opinion amongst board members the chairman will, in effect, have two votes. The powers of the chairman are to be very wide indeed. Sub-clause 8 of clause 9 provides that should the chairman dissent from a decision of the board he may bring that dissent to the notice of the Minister within 24 hours. The board’s decision will then have no effect unless the Minister approves of it. This may result in dissension, chaos, and unnecessary delay. Clause 13 provides - lii addition to any other powers which are conferred by this Act. the Board shall have power -
to make recommendations to the Minister in relation to the making of regulations for the purpose of regulating the export of eggs from Australia ;
to ad vise or to make recommendations to the Minister regarding matters arising in connexion with any export programmes relating to eggswhich the Board considers it necessary to observe from time to time.
The board’s power to make recommendations to the Minister is, of course, subject to the right of the chairman to dissent from any decision of the board. So, whilst the board’s powers may, at first glance, seem admirable from the point of view of everybody interested, in effect its work may be nullified by the intervention of the chairman. This could be particularly dangerous in relation to the power set out in paragraph c. The chairman of the board might disagree with a recommendation decided upon by the board, and, if that dissent were reported to the Minister within 24 hours, the Minister would be in a dominant position. I should like to have an assurance from the Minister that no action will be taken in. this industry similar to that taken in the wheat industry when wheat was sold to New Zealand. It may be that the board will be of the opinion that eggs should be sold at a certain price; but the chairman may disagree, thus giving to the Minister full power to dispose of the eggs in whatever manner he pleases. I remind the Minister that a storm of protest came from all parts of Australia against the New Zealand wheat agreement. The taxpayers of this country would not like a repetition of that deal, because once again they would have to make up the deficiency.
Clause 18 of the bill refers to the Egg Export Charges Act 1947. I have endeavoured to ascertain the nature of this legislation, but I am informed that it has not yet been brought before the House. This is reminescent of the circumstances surrounding the introduction to this Parliament of a repatriation measure. That bill mentioned certain social services legislation which had not yet been introduced, and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) agreed with the Opposition that the Government should not pursue this practice. Clause 18 states - (1.) There shall be an Egg Export Fund, into which shall be paid, out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is hereby appropriated accordingly, all moneys received by the prescribed officers miller (.lit: Egg Export Charges Act 1047.
In fairness to the House and those engaged in the egg industry, some explanation of the proposed Egg Export Charges Act 1947 should have been given by the Minister in his second-reading speech. -I hope that an explanation will be forthcoming in the Minister’s reply to the second-reading debate. Clause 23 provides - (1.) The Board shall, not later than the thirtieth day of September in each year, report to the Minister generally as to the operation of the Act. (2.) A copy of the report of the Board shall bo laid before each House of the Parliament within seven sitting days of that House after its receipt by the Minister. (3.) Thu report shall be accompanied by a statement by the Minister as to thu operation of the Act.
T ask the Minister whether that report will include the balance-sheet for the year’s operations. Primary producers generally are of the opinion - and rightly so - that where boards have been set up to control their activities it is encumbent on the boards to place annual balancesheets before the people who are interested in the industries concerned. 1. trust that this practice will be adopted hy the Australian Egg Board, f suggest also that as the Minister has under his administration most other boards controlling primary industries, he will give serious consideration to the general adoption of this pripciple.
Egg producers generally, and particularly those in Western Australia, are in favour of this legislation except for the points that I have raised. They object particularly to the powers that are to be conferred upon the chairman who, by dissenting from decisions of the board w ill be able to hamper its work. In 1943 the Egg Regulations were introduced. They were absolutely necessary in the war period so that production resources could be marshalled, waste eliminated, and the maximum possible quantities sent to Great Britain. However, under the Egg Grade Orders Nos. 1.3 and 14, promulgated in August of this year, the prices growers receive for washed eggs and unwashed eggs differ by 3d. a dozen. I agree that there should be some differentiation between the prices of those two classes of eggs, because washing removes the protective film, and causes the eggs by the time they reach their destinations overseas to deteriorate to a large degree. For that reason, washed eggs should bring a lower price than unwashed eggs. I should like to know whether, with the introduction of this measure, regulations 13 and 14 will lapse. Reverting to the differentiation between the price of washed eggs and that of unwashed eggs, the producers in Western Australia do not object to the new grading, but they claim that the margin of 3d. a dozen is too great, and encourages dishonest producers to mix the two grades in order to take advantage of the higher price. Thus, the new order is defeated because of thai wide disparity. The producers claim that the difference between the prices should be, approximately, Id. a dozen, or 14d. a dozen, and that such a margin would encourage producers to send along their washed eggs for pulping, or drying. Under the new order the producers ari? not allowed to sell washed eggs for local consumption. That is stretching the issue a little too far, because washed egg? for local consumption would not have time to deteriorate to a serious degree.
Producers generally are experiencing difficulty in obtaining the materials that they require to improve their poultry farms, but that difficulty is most pronounced in Western Australia, which is seriously affected by every little industrial upheaval in the eastern States. For example, if one section of the tally clerks go on strike, or have a dispute with another section of the members of their association, shipping to Western Australia is held up. Cargoes quickly pile up on the wharves, and when shipping is resumed, more important commodities are given priority, with the result that delivery of materials required by poultry producers is delayed in transit for very long periods. Producers urgently require various materials in order to enable them to improve their poultry farms and produce clean eggs. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to their request that the disparity between the price of washed eggs and that of unwashed eggs be reduced at least until such time as materials they require are again in plentiful supply. Whatever arguments may be advanced against the introduction of the. new grades and restrictions, it is clear that some difference must he maintained. The producers are in favour of that principle of differentiation with the qualifications that I have mentioned.
As this measure will take the place of National Security Regulations affecting the industry, producers are concerned about the report that the Government has decided to make surplus funds accumulated during the war available to the industry. It is said that these funds will be used to finance the various boards, including the board to be set up under this measure, and that the remainder of the funds will te divided among those interested in the industry. However, it is a,ISo reported that the Government proposes to earmark £250,000 of those funds for the purpose of meeting the cost of the construction of the egg-drying plants which were established during the war.
– That is not correct.
– I am glad to hear the Minister refute that report, because producers are of opinion that as the egg-drying plants were established as a war-time measure as part of the war effort of the nation as a whole, no one section nf industry should be obliged to bear the burden of meeting that cost. I am sure that, egg producers in Western Australia will be pleased to have the Minister’s denial of the truth of that report, because it was causing them grave concern. T commend the bill, although, I repeat, I object to the method of appointing certain members of the proposed board, and the provision giving dictatorial power to the chairman of the board.
Mr. BERNARD CORSER (Wide Bay) 1 4.41]. - Poultry-farmers generally will welcome this measure, because certain of its provisions will .meet long-felt wants in the industry. For instance, to some degree, the producers will be given a say in the control of their product. We must realize that the poultry industry has been confronted in recent years with many difficulties. Some of those difficulties still exist. I refer particularly to the shortage of materials, such as ga.vanized materials needed for the improvement of poultry yards. For some years, producers have experienced difficulty in obtaining adequate feed for their birds. This has involved the loss of tens of thousands of birds, and that loss has seriously reduced present-day returns to poultry-farmers. In addition, the industry is still experiencing a shortage of labour, as well as transport difficulties.
One feature of the bill which producers will appreciate is the provision giving them some say, at least, in the control of the export of their product. The proposed board is to consist of a representative of the producers in each State who will be selected by ballot, or. should the holding of a ballot not be practicable, after consultation between the producers’ organizations and the Minister. In addition to those six members, who will be representative of th’: industry, employees engaged in the grading, handling and processing of eggs will be given a representative on the board, whilst two members with commercial experience will be appointed. The ‘board will also include a nominee of the Government, who will be the chairman of the board. T disagree with the provision,, which has been applied by the Government in res peat of other commodity boards, denying the right to members of the board to elect its own chairman. The provision in clause 9 is also most unfortunate. Under that clause the chairman is to be given the right to veto any decision of the board. It is provided that should the chairman, within 24 hours of a meeting, indicate his opposition to any proposal, even though it be carried unanimously by the other nine members of the board, he shall notify the Minister and the decision will have no effect unless the Minister approves. How can the Government justify that provision when those other nine members will be directly representative of the industry, and the board, supposedly, is to be set up in order to give to them a say in the handling of the product on ‘behalf of the producers? That is provided for in the bill. This principle was first embodied in legislation dealing with meat, but since then a similar provision has been incorporated in various acts of Parliament dealing with other primary products. I atn sorry to see such a provision in this measure.
Clause 10 provides that there shall be an executive committee of the board, and that not less than two members of such committee shall be representative of producers and one member shall be representative of employees engaged in the handling, grading and processing of eggs. In a country so large as Australia, there may be difficulty in arranging meetings of the board which can be attended by all its members, and consequently much responsibility will devolve on the executive committee. I hope that matters of vital importance to the industry will he dealt with by the full board, and not left to the executive committee consisting of the chairman and four other members of the board.
Poultry-farmers have had good cause for complaint regarding, the control of their industry in the past, particularly during and since the war. I hope that before long an announcement will be made regarding finances of the poultry industry during the time that it lias been controlled. I do not think that information on that subject has ever been supplied to poultry- farmers. In the absence of authoritative official information as to the cost of producing eggs, it is difficult to decide what is a fair price to charge for them. As a result of an investigation by practical men, of costs in the dairying industry, the price of many dairy products has been reviewed. I urge a similar inquiry into the cost of producing eggs. As a matter of interest to poultry-farmers generally, the basis on which the price of eggs is fixed is, I understand, the cost of producing eggs at egg-laying competitions held at the. Hawkesbury Agricultural College. It must be remembered that the hens engaged in those competitions are chosen by experts. I am reliably informed that as many as 100,000 birds are examined before those selected for the competitions are decided on. No poultry-farmer can raise 100,000 pullets in order to make a selection of his laying hens; yet that would be the only way to raise birds equal to those on whose production the price of eggs is fixed. The cost of producing eggs at egg-laying competitions is not a fair basis on which to fix their price. The Hawkesbury Agricultural College does not breed the hens which participate in its competitions and, in any case, the costs associated with the competitions relate only to carefully selected hens. It is not right that the price of producing eggs should be assessed on such a basis.
I ‘Understand that the United Kingdom authorities reject washed eggs. The Australian control however, reduces the price of washed eggs by 3d. a dozen. As stated by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton), poultry- farmers have been annoyed because eggs of similar quality to those exported are sold at 3d. a dozen less in the local market. There is justification for their complaint. They should get the full value for their eggs in the Australian market. As producers will have direct representation on the board, I hope that the marketing of eggs will be conducted on sound lines which will result in better prices being realized.
– I shall not speak at length on this measure, but I desire to inform the House that the Australian Country party, which originated the plan for the organized marketing of primary products, associates itself with this measure for the organized marketing of eggs. An examination of the official records will show that most of the boards established to deal with the export of primary products were set up while a member of the Australian Country party occupied the position of Minister for Commerce. I have only to mention the boards which were established to control dairy products, meat, canned and dried fruits to show that that was so. He took the initiative. We have followed this course for a very old-fashioned reason, and out of an elementary sense of justice. We believe that those who engage in primary production are entitled to the reward of their labours, which comes to them in the form of payment for the product concerned. This seems to be almost too elementary a principle to need declaring. I know of no one who has ever openly controverted tha principle that those who produce goods are entitled to the value of their product in return for their labour, their enterprise, and the risks they take. Because history shows that primary producers were so often exploited in the sale of their products, my party was driven to propound the principle that the Government itself should intervene, and establish statutory bodies which would enable primary producers to gain the full benefit of the sale of their product. Now, I find that this bill, purporting to embody that principle, in fact controverts it. Upon examination, the bill is discovered to be a very close copy in all of its mechanical details, and in the principle which it embodies, of the legislation which established the control authorities in regard to the wheat, .meat, fruit, and the dairy products. We find that all of our struggles for the protection of the primary producers from exploitation by their fellow men are becoming in vain, and that the safeguards which we set up are being replaced by statutory provisions which too often result in the primary producers being exploited by their government. Indeed, the budget figures which were so recently before the Parliament bear this out, and show that in respect of wool-
– Order! The honorable member must deal with the measure before the House.
– I am endeavouring to deal most intimately with the measure before the House. There is an association between the bill we are now considering and previous administrative acts of the Government conducted under wartime emergency regulations, which are now to be firmly established by statute. Under those regulations, £500,000 was extracted from the egg producers, and is held by the Government, and between £10,000,000 and £11,000,000 was taken from the wool producers, and is held by the Government, as the budget figures show.
-Order! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.
– I am pointing out that the bill proposes to impose on the poultry industry exactly the same conditions of control as have been imposed on most of the other primary industries. Whether that is a good thing or not cannot, I submit, be examined, except by making some passing reference to what has resulted from the establishment of the same kind of control in regard to other industries.
– Having made that passing reference, the honorable member will now return to the bill.
– I wish to fortify my comparison by referring to the millions of pounds of which the wheat-growers have been deprived by similar legislation. The small bill now before us provides for the establishment of a board upon which there will be a majority of representatives of the producers. In fact,, there is to be a producers’ representative from each of the States, besides two members representing commercial interests, one representing the employees engaged in the handling of the product, and one representative of the Government. At first glance, it would appear that the Government is following the precedent of placing control of the industry in the hands of a majority of the producers concerned, a principle to which my party subscribes, but that impression is dissipated when one discovers that the single representative of the Government, this poor, lonely, isolated representative of the Government, who is to sit cheek by jowl with the representatives of the producers, will have the right, as chairman, to negative every decision taken by a majority of the representatives of the producers. The bill provides that the chairman may refer any matter to the Minister, who can ratify the veto of the Government-appointed chairman, or can vary the decision of the board. It was not as a result of the decisions of the elected representatives of primary producers on other marketing boards that the producers of Australia have been robbed - I use the word advisedly - of millions of pounds during the last few years. By the exercise of the authority of the Government-appointed chairman, or by the exercise of the superior authority of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, contracts have been made over the heads of the members of the boards which were supposed to be controlling the industries concerned. The bill purports to place the control of the export of eggs in the hands of representatives of the poultry industry. It would appear that the representatives of the wheat industry had full control over the export of wheat, but we know that the Minister may utterly disregard the decisions of the Australian Wheat Board, and enter into export contracts which would deprive the producers of millions of pounds. This bill contains provisions which make the same kind of thing possible. If the intention of the Minister in regard to export contracts is not exposed in time, it may result in the taxpayers being called upon to assume financial responsibility for the contract, as occurred in the notorious wheat export contract. Upon a cursory examination, this bill may appear to follow the pattern of the policy which the Australian Country party originated and has advocated for many years. However, upon a. closer examination, and particularly when the analysis is made concurrently with the administrative history of hoards which purport to have control of the various primary industries, I am compelled to believe that this proposal is another example of the organization of primary industries in a way which will place every primary producer completely under the control of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture of the day. Members of the Australian Country party subscribe to the principle, as we have always subscribed to the principle, of the organized control of the disposal of primary products, but we propound our conviction that the whole of the proceeds of the sale should be distributed among the growers concerned.
.- .1. rise more for the purpose of replying to some of the remarks of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) than to justify the need for the bill. The poultry industry in Australia has always been one of the mort, hazardous primary industries. During my fairly close association with the industry for many years, the variations of price have made the livelihood of the egg producer in Western Australia one of the least certain of occupations. Seasons when the egg yield has been heavy have been accompanied by low prices, and values have fluctuated so considerably that the industry cannot give a reasonable standard of living to a man and his family, and certainly cannot guarantee the security of the capital invested in it. These conditions make it necessary that action be taken to provide efficient organization for the industry and ensure a reasonable return to the producers. That is the desire of all those who are actively engaged in egg production. That it is also the desire of this Government is evident from the introduction of this bill.
For many years, the prices of eggs have fluctuated within such wide limits that the business of egg production has been the most hazardous of the whole range of hazardous primary industries. The fact that a large proportion of our eggs must be exported makes even more vital the need for an efficient organization in which egg producers themselves shall have a large share in making decisions affecting the industry. The bill provides for that; but with this as with other organizations in respect of which the Government accepts a large financial commitment, there must necessarily he some measure of governmental control. In the past, governments have provided various types of control. In the present instance, the board will possess a large measure of control, but because of the Government’s financial commitments, the decisions of i his organization will be subject to review by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Obviously, this will occur only when the board reaches a decision involving governmental commitments. For this reason, the industry will have freedom of control to a much greater degree than if all decisions of the board were di.ib.ject to the approval of the Minister. The practice has repeatedly been followed by providing in a bill or in regulations that the decisions of a board dealing with primary produce shall be subject to the approval of the Minister. In my view, that allows to a board less control than a body has if it can make decisions freely, and only in extraordinary cases is it likely that those decisions will be vetoed by the Minister. It is idle for the honorable member for Indi to endeavour to depreciate the degree of control, and the protection which has been given to other primary producing industries. The Government proposes to establish a wheat marketing organization in Western Australia. That scheme will provide for governmental control of the industry, at least in some respects, in order to ensure that the Government, and the people which it represents, will have some voice in the decisions of the organization to be constituted.
– The honorable member is referring to a bill relating to the wheat industry which the Government proposes to introduce?
– The honorable member must confine himself to the present measure.
– As I understand the present bill, it will provide that the Government is to be represented on the board to be constituted because that board will be handling public money. Obviously, that is only fair. Any board, whether Commonwealth or State, which expends public money must, because of ordinary financial safeguards and accounting procedure, have responsibility to the government whose money it is to handle.
– The Government took some, money away from the wheatgrowers !
– Because of Mr. Deputy Speaker’s ruling, I am not allowed to discuss that matter at present. However, I point out to the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) that all the Government did was to withhold certain money from the wheat-growers at a time of high prices in order that it might be paid to them in the form of subsidy in years of low prices, and that is the .fundamental principle of all stabilization schemes. The present bill provides that a measure of governmental control is to be exercised over the board constituted to manage the poultry industry. Such a provision is not only commonplace, but is also virtually necessary, and, in my opinion, it is preferable to the constitution of an organization, the decisions of which would be subject to confirmation by a Minister on all matters.
.- The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke) has endeavoured to put forward an excuse for the Government’s proposal, which, although it purports to be a measure to enable producers to control their own affairs, is, in actual fact, designed to hand over control of poultry-farmers’ affairs to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) and the Government. In this respect the bill follows the patterns of other measures enacted by this Government in regard to the market- ing of primary produce. The principle of establishing a board subject to control by the Minister is similar to that contained in the measures introduced by the Government to establish boards to control the dairying, meat and wool industries. Primary producers are supposed to be represented on these boards, which were established, allegedly, to safeguard and protect, the interests of the primary producers concerned. However, each of the measures contains a provision to enable the Government, through the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, to take control of the particular industry concerned out of the hands of the growers’ representatives. The Australian Egg Board is to be no exception. Clause 13 states -
In addition to any other powers which are Conferred by this Act, the Board shall have power - * le) On* behalf of the Commonwealth and subject to any directions of the Minister -
to purchase eggs which arc intended for export and comply with the conditions and restrictions with which eggs intended for export arc required to comply; and
to manage and control all matters connected with the handling, storage, protection, treatment, transfer and shipment of, and to sell, eggs purchased in accordance with the last preceding sub-paragraph.
I direct attention especially to the words “… subject to any directions of the Minister “. “What discretionary power will the proposed board have in face of such a provision? The Dairy Produce Export Control Act 1947, and other measures relating to the control of the marketing of primary produce, each contain an express provision that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture may veto a decision of the board concerned, which means that the Minister may override it. However, this bill goes even farther, because clause 9 provides that the Minister may himself make a decision. Sub-clause 8 of that clause provides -
If the Chairman or other person presiding at any meeting of the Board dissents from any decision of the Board at that meeting and signifies at that meeting to the other members present in person his intention to bring his dissent to the notice of the Minister and, within twenty-four hours after the close of the meeting, transmits to the Minister notice of his dissent together with full particulars of the decision, the decision shall have no effect unless the Minister approves the decision (whether with or without variation) and, if the Minister approves the decision subject to a variation, the varied decision as so approved shall be deemed to be the decision of the Board.
Stated in simple terms, that means that the board has no power to make a decision at all, because if the Minister chooses to override any of its decisions, or to vary them, he is empowered to do so. In those circumstances, is it not fair to say that the (board is to be simply a facade to enable the Minister to exercise persona] control of the industry?
The honorable member for Perth said that it is necessary for the Government to retain control of the industry and for the Minister to be able to exercise the power proposed to be conferred upon him by this bill because the Government may be involved in financial commitments entered into by the board. In answer to that, I point out that the clause does not contain one word in regard to abuse by the board of its financial powers. If it contained any such provision, the Government might have some case. But, in any event, the Minister has complete power to vary decisions of the board, not only in regard to financial matters, but also in regard to any other matter at all. If the argument of the honorable member for Perth has any substance whatever, why has not a qualifying clause been included in the measure so that the Minister’s power may be exercised only in regard to financial matters?
Then we come up against the old device of the Minister being empowered to appoint the chairman of the board. Under the bill the Minister will have the last say in regard to decisions of the proposed board, and, that being so, it is difficult to understand why the board should not be permitted to select its own chairman, as was the case in all similar boards constituted by governments supported by members of the present Opposition. I have in mind particularly the Australian Dairy Produce Board, constituted by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) when he was Minister for Commerce some years ago. The measure which established that board, and measures which constituted similar boards for the marketing of primary produce, all contained a provision that the producers’ representatives should have the right at their first meeting to appoint the chairman of- the board. However, sub-clause 7 of clause o provides that -
The member appointed to represent the Commonwealth Government shall be Chairman of the Board and shall hold office for such period as the Governor-General directs, but the Governor-General may, on the recommendation of the Minister, remove the Chairman from his office for incapacity, incompetence or misbehaviour.
No longer have we a state of affairs in any producers’ organization in which Mr. Jones says, “I nominate Mr. Smith as chairman and somebody else nominates Mr. Brown, and the appointed members who have assembled from all parts of Australia elect their own chairman. That system has gone overboard. Under the new autocracy, the Minister, and others such as he, plan to get complete control of industry in their own hands. Under this system, the Minister says to the members of the producers’ organizations: “You shall not have the right to elect your chairman. I shall nominate the chairman and, to ensure that I shall do so, I make provision for this procedure by law. I, the Minister, am the sole authority to appoint the chairman “.
I compliment the Minister at least on his consistency in taking power over primary producers’ organization. As far as I have been able to discover, all of the bills introduced by him and by his predecessor, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), contain provisions for the setting up of a network which enables him to sit back at Canberra, holding the threads of all growers’ organizations in his hands, and dictate to every primary industry in the Commonwealth. That is the system proposed in this bill for the comparatively small egg and poultry industry. I say that it is “comparatively small”, having in mind the importance of the wool industry, the wheat industry, and the dairying industry; but it is, nevertheless, an extremely important industry, and many thousands of Australians will be affected by the bill. There is nothing surprising in the measure. It represents no new line of action. In fact, it is one more nail in the coffin of this Government. It exposes the Government’s pretence that it wishes to give primary producers control over their own industries, because it will not give the egg producers control over the export of their own product. It is the sort of measure that one would expect to be introduced by a government in one of the countries behind the “iron curtain “. It has all the elements of dictatorship. It will deprive the people of the right to direct their own affairs and, in this respect, it is in line with Government policy as it has been revealed in other measures which have been introduced into this Parliament recently.
. - in reply - I could not help but notice, in the concluding remarks of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), that he spoke of this bill as “one more nail in the coffin of the Government”. If the fate of this Government should be to suffer defeat at the next elections, at least it will go out of office at a time when the primary industries of Australia are more prosperous than they have ever been in the history of this nation. That will be in marked contrast with their condition when office was vacated by a government with which the honorable member for Richmond and the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) were associated. The honorable member for Indi gave his usual discourse about what the Australian Country party had done for the primary producers, and gave that party credit for originating organized marketing of primary products. His knowledge of the history of organized marketing in Australia is sadly astray. The plain fact is that the first organized marketing act ever passed in Australia was introduced by a Labour government in Queensland in 1915, when Mr. Forgan Smith was Minister for Agriculture. That measure gave the primary producers of Queensland the right to form a marketing board to market any particular primary commodity. It is true that such boards had no export powers, but the act has always operated successfully in Queensland in relation to marketing control within the State. It has severe limitations in relation to interstate marketing, as the honorable member for Indi is aware. The honorable gentleman claimed credit for his party for the introduction in this Parliament of the first measure to establish some form of organized marketing. The first export control board in this country was established in 1924 under the regime of the Bruce Government, with which, I believe, the Australian Country party was not then associated.
– The Bruce-Page Government.
– At any rate the honorable member was then one of the radical members of the Country party, and had not wormed his way into the affections of the United Australia party ;is he later did.
During this debate a number of honorable members referred to the so-called dictatorial power of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture under the terms of this bill. I make no apology for the fact that all measures relating to export control boards which have been introduced in this Parliament recently provide that a residual power shall be vested in the Minister as the representative of the Government and the people. That has been the practice in respect of every export control board, whether the legislation has been introduced by this Government or by any other government. It is regrettable that honorable members opposite cannot be honest and fair in their criticism of the Government in relation to these matters. Who selected the Chairman of the Australian Wheat Board and who chose the Chairman of the Australian Wool Board, when the honorable member for Indi was a member of the Government?
– Those were war-time boards.
– The honorable gentleman is astute, and is always ready with an excuse. If it be desirable to have the chairmen of such boards elected by the producers in peace-time, it should also lie desirable to have them so elected in war-time. However, the government of which the honorable member was a member saw fit, in its wisdom, to appoint the cb airmen of primary produce export control and marketing authorities. I also remind the honorable member that, prior r,o the war, a government of which he was (in ardent supporter appointed the Chairman of the Australian Meat Board instead of allowing the producers to do so. [ remind him further that members of boards appointed during the period when he was associated with the Government were not always 100 per cent, representative of the producers.
I refer briefly to the subject of the ministerial power conferred by this bill. The Constitution lays down that control over exports and imports shall be vested in the Australian Government. No government that is responsible, not only to the primary producers, but also to all other members of the Australian community, should willingly divest itself of this final constitutional authority and hand it over completely to some semigovernmental authority, as the honorable member for Indi suggests. Only within the last fortnight a member of the Australian Country party - the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) - came to me and said, “ One of my constituents has applied for an export killing licence in respect of a meat works which he has purchased at Echuca “. I said, “ That is interesting. I hope he gets a licence “ ; but the honorable member said that he was not sure that the man would be successful. I said to him. “Well, you know that the authority to appeal to is the Australian Mt-at Board “.
– When 1 was speaking I was made to keep pretty closely to the subject of the Egg Export Control Bill.
– Never mind about that. I am dealing with a principle involving the rights of citizens. The honorable member was exceedingly vociferous and departed from the provisions of the bill to such a degree that he talked about wool profits. He also made statements without the slightest foundation of truth. So I hope the honorable gentleman will not object if I get somewhere near the border. The honorable member will not distract me from the point I am making. I told the honorable member for Bendigo that his constituent had to apply to the Australian Meat Board for a licence.
– Which clause is the Minister referring to?
– The honorable member is always anxious to criticize the Government, but he does not like it when he finds himself “ on the spot “. I did not make one interjection during his speech. It was not worthy of an intelligent interjection. Now that I am attempting to deal with the position he tries to take me off the path, but he cannot. The constituent of the honorable member for Bendigo applied for a licence and the Australian Meat Board, the majority of the members of which are representatives of the producers and the chairman of which was appointed by the Government, refused his application. The matter was then referred to me. Having heard the complaint of the honorable member for Bendigo and reviewed all the reasons for which the board refused the licence,
I directed that it issue the licence. Does the honorable member for Indi say that that was an abuse of power? Does the honorable member deny the right of a Minister to ensure that a citizen shall receive justice when he considers that justice has not been given by a. semigovernmental authority? I do not say that the board did not act in good faith; but I considered that the grounds on which it acted were not sufficient for that man to be deprived of a licence. That is one instance, but there are others. The honorable member for Bendigo has been critical of the Government’s retention of final authority over boards established to control primary industries, but a constituent of his was assured of justice because the Government saw fit to retain that authority. That policy has been applied consistently by every Australian government since federation. The moment any government hands absolute power to a subsidiary authority, which is not responsible to the people, it will be not true to the very essence of the democracy that we boast of or allege that we have in Australia; but, of course, members of the Australian Country party do not understand the meaning of the word “ democracy “ in its true sense.
The honorable member for Bourke (Mrs. Blackburn) made some comment about the need as far as practicable to protect the right of poultrymen in a small way to be elected or appointed to the board. The Government proposes that in the States where rolls of poultrymen with 40 hens, in some States, and 50 in others, for the election of egg boards - there is a variation between the States - producers iri a small way will have an equal opportunity with those in a big way to convince others engaged in the industry to elect them to the board.
I have no means of laying it down - nor would it be practicable - that poultrymen with vast assets or vast flocks of hens should be debarred from and that men with small flocks and few assets should be assured of election. In the States where elections are immediately practicable all poul.trymen will have an equal opportunity of trying to convince the others that they are efficient and would capably represent them. We are presented with difficulties in Victoria because of the number of organizations that claim that they represent the poultry industry. As far as it is humanly possible for me to ensure the selection of a man who will give the producers efficient representation, I will endeavour to do it. The honorable member for Bourke may be further assured that I shall not lean towards men of affluence in making my selection. When the selection is made due regard will be paid to the character and capacity of the person chosen. I am sure that the board will operate in the interests of the producers and at the same time protect the interests of all the people.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) referred to the fact that the Controller of Eggs has laid it down that 3d. extra a dozen shall be paid for unwashed eggs for local consumption as well as for export. He does not think it necessary to differentiate between washed and unwashed eggs on the local market, but I disagree. The Australian consumer provides the producers with a good market and is as entitled to quality as are purchasers overseas. It may be said that eggs for local consumption are marketed quickly and that therefore no need exists for them to be unwashed, but other factors creep into the position. One is that if one allows or encourages the production of both washed and unwashed eggs it becomes much harder to police the export trade. Secondly, peak egg production occurs in six months of the year, when millions of dozens of eggs are placed in cold storage for consumption three months later. It is essential that if their keeping qualities are to be preserved, they, like export eggs, should be unwashed. The premium on unwashed eggs will be an encouragement to the producers to place their eggs on the market unwashed, and I forecast that soon at least 90 per cent. of the eggs sold on the local market and exported will be unwashed. I give the bill my blessing because I am sure that it will be of advantage to the Australian egg industry.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee: (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Pollard) proposed -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purpose of a bill for an act relating to the export of eggs.
.- I ask the Minister to state whether the imposition of1s. 3d. for each 30 doz. eggs is estimated to cover the whole of the costs of administration.
– Order! The motion before the Chair is for the appropriation of the requisite money for the purposes of the bill.
– Perhaps I might explain that it is expected that that amount will be sufficient to cover the whole of the administrative costs.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported and - by leave - adopted.
In committee: Consideration resumed.
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 - (1.) For the purposes of this Act, there shall be an Australian Egg Board. (7.) The member appointed to represent the Commonwealth Government shall be Chairman of the Board and shall hold office for such period as the Governor-General directs, but the Governor-General may, on the recommendation of the Minister, remove the Chairman from his office for incapacity, incompetence or misbehaviour.
.- During the second-reading debate I referred to the fact that the Minister had not consulted with the egg producers before this bill was drafted. The honorable gentleman then indicated that thebill had been drafted after consultation with the members of the Australian Agricultural Council. Whether or not he regards that as a sufficient explanation, I do not know. There are a great many aspects of the bill which are not at all clear. I trust that the Minister will give the committee a satisfactory explanation as to what is proposed by those clauses, about which doubts have been expressed. Sub-clauses 4 and 5 of clause 5 of the bill read a? follows : - (4.) The members representing producers shall, wherever practicable, be elected by the producers in such manner as is prescribed. (5.) Where, in respect of a State, it is not. in the opinion of the Minister, practicable to hold an election of producers, the member representing producers in that State shall, wherever practicable, be a person selected after consultation by the Ministerwith representatives of producer organizations in that State.
A good deal of uncertainty exists in Victoria as to how the representatives of the producers are to be finally selected by the Minister. I have heard it suggested that in that State the Minister proposes to select them from a panel of members of the Egg Board who are producer representatives elected by the egg producers. Is that procedure to be applied generally throughout Australia? Is it to be applied in respect of some States only and not of others? If it is not to be applied generally how are the producers representatives to be selected? Paragraph b of sub-clause 2 prescribes that the board shall consist of two members with commercial experience. What sort of commercial experience is envisaged? Are these representatives to come from the egg industry or from industries connected with the poultry industry or are they to be brought in from some outside organization? It is in respect of these points that some clarification is required. Sub-clause 7 reads -
The member appointed to represent the Commonwealth Government shall be Chairman of the Board and shall hold office for such period as the Governor-General directs, but the Governor-General may, on the recommendation of the Minister, remove the Chairman from his office for incapacity, incompetence or misbehaviour.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has objected to the proposal that the chairman be appointed by some person other than the members of the board. I support his views, and I do not propose to elaborate them. Why has no restriction been placed on the term of appointment of the chairman? Section 4 of the Apple and Pear Organization Act 1938-1947 prescribes the term of appointment of the Government representative on the Australian Apple and Pear Board, who, in that case, is also its chairman. Sub-section (4) of that section reads -
The member appointed as the Government representative shall hold office, unless sooner removed from office by the Governor-General, for a period of three years but shall be eligible for re-appointment.
Why is it proposed in this case to appoint thechairman to hold office indefinitely? ft seems to me that appointment for a period of three years would be ample. The person appointed may be found for some reason or other tobe unsuitable, apart altogether from having become disqualified to act as the result of incapacity, incompetence or misbehaviour. Subclause 11 of clause 5 of this bill reads -
Where a person whose place has become vacant represented the producers in a State, the person appointed to fill the vacancy shall be a person recommended by the Board.
Why should not a person appointed to fill such a vacancy be appointed, not by the board, but by the producers who appointed the representative whom he is to replace? I ask the Minister to clarify these points.
– I move -
That, after sub-clause (5), the following subclause be inserted: - “ (5a.) No person shall be eligible for election or appointment as a member of the Board to represent producers or to continue as such a member unless he is a producer.”
I have discussed this matter with representatives of one of the largest poultry organizations in the Commonwealth who are most anxious that this limitation on the field of choice of a person eligible for appointment to the board shall be imposed so that only genuine producers may be selected to hold office as the representatives of the producers. Sub-clause 5 of clause 5 states -
Where, in respect of a State, it is not, in the opinion of the Minister, practicable to hold an election of producers, the member representing producers in that State shall, wherever practicable, be a person selected after consultation by the Minister with representatives of producer organizations in that State.
The words used in that sub-clause permit of the Minister making a very wide choice.
– The Government will accept the amendment.
– I am prepared to accept the amendment moved by the honorable member.
– An amendment moved by the Opposition has been accepted by the Government, and the whole Committee rejoices at that extraordinary happening. This is the first occasion in the life of this Government when such a thing has been done. I congratulate the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) upon allowing me to establish a record.
– It is the first occasion upon which a really sound amendment has been moved.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I do not wish to take advantage of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) when he is in a generous mood, but I am hopeful that the Minister will accept an important amendment relating to the appointment of the chairman of the board. I desire to know why the chairman cannot be appointed by the other members.
– It is a matter of government policy.
– I realize that; but it is not a matter of policy of which the producers are in any way enamoured. They have been accustomed to appoint a chairman from amongst themselves. In this case the chairman hasenormous powers. By clause 9, he has the power of carrying information to the Minister and of securing from him a variation of a decision made by the board. Therefore, the appointment of the chairman of the board by the Government negatives, in effect, the intention to make this a producers’ board. Sub-clause 7 of clause 5 provides that the member appointed to represent the Commonwealth Government shall be chairman of the board. By virtue of what, other than the Government’s will, will he be chairman of the board? It will not be by virtue of any experience before the Government brought down this series of bills controlling producers’ organizations. At a later stage I shall move an amendment proposing that the chairman of the board shall be elected by the other members. I believe the producers are entitled to control their own organization, but they cannot be said to do so when the most important executive position in that organization is to be filled by a nominee of the Minister.
I take exception to the manner in which the Minister is to nominate not only the chairman, but also the producers’ representatives on the board. Sub-clause 5 of clause o states -
Where, in respect of a State, it is not, in the opinion of the Minister, practicable to hold an election of producers, the member representing producers in that State, shall, wherever practicable, be a person selected after consultation by the Minister with representatives of producer organizations in that State.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– By this measure, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture is appropriating, in respect of the egg industry, certain powers that he already possesses in respect of the wheat industry, the dairying industry and the meat industry. In effect, the Minister is setting himself up as a dictator controlling the major primary industries in this country. At the same time, he is erecting a facade by appointing boards which nominally control these industries, but which, in effect, have no real power at all. All the real authority is centralized in the Minister. This, as the Minister himself has admitted, is in accordance with the policy of the Government, the ultimate object being, I have no doubt, the socialization of all industries, both primary and secondary. As I have pointed out, the chairman of the Australian Egg Board is to be appointed, not by the members of the board themselves, but by the Government. This is a negation of the democratic principle that members of any organization, whether it be a cricket club, a progress association, - or any other body of freely gathered people, should have the right to elect its chairman. The usual practice, as we all know, is that some body moves that so and so be appointed chairman; another member moves that someone else be appointed; an election is held and the person who has the confidence of the majority at the meeting becomes chairman. But that practice is not being followed under this measure. The chairman of the Australian Egg Board is to be a government nominee. This industry is not unimportant. The annual production of eggs in this country is valued at approximately £12,000,000. This centralization of power in the hands of the Minister is merely a repetition of what has been done in regard to other industries. By virtue of what right does the Minister arrogate to himself the right to appoint the chairman of the Australian Egg Board ? That is a question that will find an echo in the hearts of every primary producer in this country.
Why will the Minister not allow the members of the board - representatives of the egg industry - to appoint their own chairman? A subsequent clause provides that should the chairman of the board dissent from any decision of the board be may notify the Minister of that dissent, and that action gives to the Minister complete right to override the board. Obviously, the board is to be a dummy. Ostensibly, the board is to control the export of eggs - “ control “ is the word used in the short title of the bill - but in effect it will be completely subservient to the Minister. The chairman of the board is charged expressly with the duty of carrying tales to the Minister if he does not agree with the decision of a majority of members of the board. I point out, too, that the producers’ representatives need not necessarily be elected by the producers. In accordance with sub-clause a of clause 5 the Minister may, if he is of the opinion that it is not practicable to hold an election of producers in any particular .State, select the representative of that State. The sub-clause provides - (5.) Where, in respect of a State, it is not, in the opinion of the Minister, practicable to hold an election of producers, the member representing producers in that State shall, wherever practicable, be a person selected after consultation by the Minister with representatives of producer organizations in that State.
The Minister can, therefore, disregard completely the producers’ organizations in any State and select some one of his own choice to be the representative on the board of the producers of that State. All r.li is, of course, is part and parcel of the socialist plan of this Government. It is part and parcel of its plan to centralize control of every industry in Canberra. Ry means of identical legislation covering the dairying industry, the wheat industry, the meat industry, and now the egg industry, the Minister is acquiring power to control these industries from his desk in this city. This is a negation of the democratic principle of representation of the industry by representatives of the industry. The chairman will be no more than a dummy of the Minister. What other interpretation can be placed on this clause? No doubt Mie Minister will say in reply that
Mie Commonwealth Government has, or may have, certain financial commitments in respect of the industry and that it will be necessary for the Minister to have the last word in regard to control of the industry. But is any subsidy now being paid to the poultry industry? I challenge the Minister to say that the Government is contributing Id. to that industry. If at any time in Hie future the Australian Government had a financial commitment in respect of the poultry industry, it could easily insert a clause in this bill providing that the Minister’s overriding authority should apply only in respect of matters that involve financial commitments on the part of the Australian Government.
There is no sincerity on the part of the Government Hn this matter. The Government is determined to socialize completely any of the primary industries which it selects for that purpose. Every one in the community who has any knowledge of the mechanics of the election of officers of organizations knows that the democratic principle applied in such cases is for the members of each organization to elect their president, secretary, and other officers. I do not think that that principle was ever departed from until the Government introduced this series of bills. I, and all of the producers, want to know what is the purpose of this policy. What is the intent behind it all? Why is the Government so anxious to maintain com plete control over a chairman of its own choosing instead of allowing the producers to select their own chairman ? For the reasons I have given, I intend to move an amendment to provide that the members of the hoard shall have the right to elect their own chairman. If the Minister has any quarrel with that, he can say so. I know that my amendment will be lost, because the Government’s regimented majority will overwhelm the Opposition. I move -
That, in sub-clause (7.), the words. “The mein.ber appointed to represent the Commonwealth Government shall be Chairman of the Board “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “The Chairman of the Board shall be elected by the members of the Board”.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Clark).The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has had much to say about the negation of democracy. He claimed that under the clause the Government was seeking power whereby it could completely socialize the industry. After all, democracy means that the Government shall govern. However, it is rather strange to hear the honorable member talk in that strain when the principle against which he protests has been taken from regulations enacted by a government in which he, himself, was Minister for Commerce. His ignorance of that fact gives some indication of his knowledge of the control exercised through himself over primary industries at that time. When he was Minister for Commerce he brought in legislation dealing with the control of the wheat industry. Did he provide that the chairman of the control authority should be elected by the growers? Certainly not. Did he make provision for the wheat-growers to elect the members of the controlling authority? Certainly not. That legislation provided that all of the members of that authority be selected by the government of the day. That Government did not give to the growers the right to express their opinion by vote ; and, I repeat, that Government, and not the members of the controlling authority, elected the chairman. Yet the honorable member now says that this provision, which is on nil fours with provisions embodied in legislation introduced by a government of which he was a member, is socialization. He declares, “ This is socialism! “. If this is socialization now, was it not socialization when the government of which he was a member enacted the same provision? The honorable member is an .utter humbug.
Recently, the Liberal-Country party Government in the State Parliament of Western Australia introduced legislation dealing with the wheat industry in order to provide against the possibility that the present wheat pool did not continue to operate. What did that Government do ? It enacted provisions identical with the provision now being considered by the committee. Is that Government accused of socialization ? When this Government does the same thing honorable members opposite say that it is socialization. When the Liberal-Country party Government of Western Australia does it, it is democratic, but when this Government does it, it is socialistic, Indeed, it would be a negation of democracy were the Government to fail to make this provision, because it would then hand over control of primary industries to persons having no responsibility to the Parliament, but responsible only to themselves. Tinder such conditions, those in control of an industry could, if they saw fit, implement a policy whereby they could exploit the community as a whole. Legislation of that kind, whether it be introduced by this or any other Government, would be a negation of democracy.
.- It is true that the provisions to which the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) has referred were embodied in National Security Regulations enacted by a Liberal- Australian Country party government ; but the Minister forgets that those regulations were enacted during the war when conditions were completely different from those obtaining in peace. In time of war it is necessary to provide against emergencies; and in an emergency people are prepared to forgo for the time being certain freedom which they normally expect to enjoy in peace. However, the Government is embodying in this legislation, in a permanent form ns it were, regulations which were enacted to meet an emergency arising under war conditions. Members of the Opposition contend that no justification exists for the perpetuation of these provisions. The Minister for Works and Housing also implied that no industry should be allowed to run itself ; that under such conditions of control the producers would not be responsible to the Government. That is the kernel of the socialist’s argument which honorable members opposite uphold. Surely, *when we have returned to peace-time conditions, we should encourage primary producers to run their own industries. For that reason, legislation of this kind is unnecessary.
When I spoke earlier on this clause, I pointed out that it was to a large degree obscure, and that its real effects could not be appreciated by the producers. In order to clarify the clause, I submitted certain questions to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard). I do not accuse the Minister of discourtesy, but I suggest that, hut for the fact that the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) continued the debate, the Minister would have allowed the clause to go through without making any explanation on the points I raised. I again ask the Minister to answer the questions which I addressed to him. I have asked them because the producers want to know what the future holds in store for them under this legislation.
– I am amazed at the arguments being put forward by honorable members opposite on this matter. The honorable member for .Indi (Mr. McEwen) said that the Australian Country party recognizes that there must be some control over the marketing of eggs. However, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) has just told us that control provisions of the kind embodied in this measure were enacted in order to meet the emergency arising under war conditions, and that they should not now be continued. The main authority for the control of eggs is legislation passed by the States. The first board to control the sale of egg3 in South Australia was established not by any socialist government, but by a Liberal-Country party government headed by a Liberal Premier, Mr. Playford, and its chairman waa an officer of the State Department of Agriculture. He was not a primary producer. Mr. Playford has claimed on many occasions that that officer is doing a good job for the poultry industry. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) says that he does not know of any other board or committee which does not elect its own chairman. It may be that many small bodies which deal only with their own affairs appoint their own chairman, but the Australian Egg Board will deal with an important primary industry and will have great powers. It will also have to accept heavy responsibilities. Whenever the Parliament places a board in control of a commodity, or service which is of great value to the community, it exercises some control over such body.
This measure is similar to other legislation designed to control the marketing of primary products. The Parliament has a duty to the people; it has no right whatsoever to set up a body to control the products of any section of the community and give to it full power to do as it likes. According to the honorable member for Richmond, the chairman of the Australian Egg Board may be merely a tale-bearer to the Minister. Such comments belittle the Parliament, which is a responsible body. The Minister occupies a responsible position, and the Parliament expects him to accept the responsibilities associated with his office. Every person who has more than a certain number of hens must register as a producer of eggs, and he is subject to a number of limitations as to what he may do, and how he may dispose of his eggs. Honorable members opposite want the board to elect its own chairman. Next they will clamour that the Board shall have power to make regulations. The bill provides that, in the absence of the chairman of the board, the members of the board present at a meeting shall elect some one to act in his place, and that such person shall have the same powers as are vested in the chairman appointed by the Minister. It may be that the person elected to act as chairman will be a representative of the poultry-farmers. If so, he will be able to report to the Minister should he think that some decision of the board is not in the best interests of the producers of eggs or of the community. .1 hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.
Debate resumed from the 27th November (vide page 2896), on motion by Mr. Holloway -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- One would naturally have expected every member of this House, regardless of his political affiliations, to support this bill, but, instead, speaker after speaker has risen from the Opposition benches to attack it viciously. First, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) did so. He was followed by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), and later by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison). By voice and action they and other members of the Opposition have indicated clearly that they are prepared to license vested interests to exploit the people of this country. They are engaged in a vendetta against the Government and are determined to destroy it. if they can. In their desire to do so they have thrown the workers, the farmers and the business community to the winds. They have done so because they are acting under instructions.
The bill has one objective, namely, to establish a stable economy in this country and prevent the exploitation of the people. By his speech in this House last week the Leader of the Opposition has clearly demonstrated that there is no limit to the number of times that he is prepared to change his opinions and his political coat. He has been, in turn, a young Nationalist, an old Nationalist, a member of the United Australia party, and now a Liberal. He has never been loyal to any leader under whom he has served, and he has never been trusted by any one who has served under him. The right honorable gentleman clearly demonstrated his unfitness for leadership in national affairs. A former Leader of i lie Australian Country party onceecribed hhim as “a back stabber”, whilsthe riright honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has said of him that he has never been loyal to anybody but himself. The Leader of the Opposition sinks lower in the public estimation, if that is possible, as the result of turning still another somersault. He has een d described as the Labour party’s most valuable electoral asset. His bitter attack on the Commonwealth Parliament and on parliamentary institutions during his speech on this bill last week revealed him as a man who can never again be trusted with power, and as the defender of vested interests and big business against the just aspirations of the farmers, workers, and business people. As a representative of. a rural constituency
– I rise to order. I understand that there is a standing order to the effect that an honorable member may not read his speech. Will you, Mr. Speaker, ask the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) if he is reading his speech?
– I do not know whether the honorable member is reading his speech, or whether he is speaking from extended notes - a habit which appears to be developing on both sides of the House.
Honorable members conversing audibly,
– I have more than once warned honorable members in the Australian Country party corner against carrying on animated conversations whenever an honorable member from the Government side is speaking. I shall take drastic measures if this practice does not cease. Not only is it a nuisance inside the chamber, but it is a nuisance outside as well, in connexion with radio reception.
– I support this bill because of the benefit it will bring to all country people. No section of the people has a greater interest than have primary producers in preserving economic stability, and this can be done only if the Commonwealth Parliament is able to control rents and prices. The bill may be regarded as an anti-depression measure. It obviously cannot prevent, depressions which are of overseas origin,, but it can temper the wind to the shorn. Iambs in Australia. Primary producers are always among the first victims of a depression, as the prices of the goods they sell always fall more than do the prices of the goods they buy.
Most farmers have a vivid recollection of the low price of butter during the depression, of the fact that wheat was sold at 2s. a bushel, of potatoes selling at £2 a ton, and of wool being sold at a ridiculously low price. They are determined that any measures necessary to prevent a recurrence of such prices shall have their full support. In the past, economic depressions have always been preceded by booms, which have burst and left behind over-capitalized land, and a burden of debt and interest payments. Danger lies ahead for primary producers, because plans are already under way for an expansion of production of many foodstuffs. It is right that we should have sufficient confidence in our country to expand production ; but, if the incomes of consumers were to fall suddenly, unmanageable surpluses would soon appear on the market, and thousands of families would again be walking off the land.
Any legislation that will protect the incomes of consumers is of vital interest, to farmers. On this issue, town and country people can say, “our interests are identical “. Continued price control will give farmers protection against excessive prices for goods which they buy. In common with the rest of the community, farmers have benefited during the war from the Government’s price stabilization policy. They have received the benefits of subsidized prices, not only of fertilizers for their land, and of sacks for the harvesting of their crops, but also of food, clothing, household goods, and farm requirements.
Not all farmers are aware of the large amounts that have been expended’ on keeping down their costs during the war. Since 1943, they have received subsidies of £10,000,000 on fertilizers, and more than £3,000,000 on cornsacks, while stockfeeders have received assistance amounting to more than £14,000,000. During two seasons, at. least, stock-feeders were saved from complete disaster by the Government’s action in transporting fodder to drought-stricken areas, and making it available at cheap, subsidized prices. In addition, it can confidently be said that, without price control, the price of bran and pollard would have been twice as much as it. has been during the last three years, which would have made it impossible for many poultrymen and dairymen to produce at a profit. The value of price control iis particularly apparent at a time when deferred maintenance’ must bc undertaken. During the war, fences have, of necessity, been neglected, machinery litis been patched beyond the limit of efficiency, buildings have not been repaired, and expansion has been deferred, but now this work must be put in hand. It. will be disastrous for farmers if price control is removed, and they have to compete for supplies with those whose needs are less urgent, but whose pockets are deeper.
The hill proposes that the Parliament shall have power to fix minimum as well a- maximum prices, so that homeconsumption prices may be maintained. Growers of grain sorghum, oats and barley Iia ve benefited from a guaranteed minimum price during recent years, and this encouraged them to expand production at u time when the outlook was uncertain. It is no exaggeration to say that the offer cf a guaranteed price for grain sorghum was one of the main factors in extending its cultivation, so that a crop was obtained last season in areas where wheat had failed because of drought, and this relieved a critical shortage of feed grains. It is interesting to note that the Government is returning to oat-growers ls. per bushel windfall profit, which is made on the export of oats bought at guaranteed prices iti 1946. In addition, it is expected that a further substantial rebate will be made to growers from profits on exports. As the result of action recently taken by the Prices Commissioner in conjunction with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, tobacco-growers will this season receive a special grant of up to 9d. per lb. on tobacco leaf, as well as price increases amounting to 87-^ per cent, which they have obtained since 1939.
If, us a result of the proposed referendum, the Parliament is granted by the people the powers sought, the Commonwealth will be authorized to pay subsidies for the purpose of maintaining reasonable prices for the benefit of producers and consumers of essential goods. Tn thi? way, it will be possible to sustain an industry which is passing through a difficult period. Although the Commonwealth can already pay bounties, it cannot, in many instances, be expected to do so if it is unable to control the prices at which the goods are passed on to consumers. We are all aware of the difficulties that faced the apple and pear industry when the overseas market, which normally took over half of the total production, wa? cut. off. Grants totalling £2,000,000 have been made since 1943 to keep the industry in existence, and to prepare for the time when nor nml exports can be. resumed.
It is generally known that subsidies amounting to £S,000,000 have been paid to dairymen as compensation for the low price which consumers pay for milk; but it is not so well known that subsidies totalling £11,000,000 have been paid to potato-growers. Potato-growers are well aware of the value of prices control to their industry, and have asked for its continuance. Without prices control, the potato-growing industry would be in a chaotic position to-day. Therefore, the retention of this authority is required for a period. During the last fifteen months, raw wool has also been subsidized by £5,000,000, and this payment has prevented a substantial increase of the price of clothing. To date, Australia has been fortunate. Unlike the United States of America, it has not been compelled to allow internal prices to rise to the level of world parity. That would occur here if prices control were abolished. If prices control is not retained, a 2-lb. loaf of bread will cost more than ls. on the basis of the present world price of wheat. Without prices control, in times of scarcity, retail margins on fruit and vegetables tend to be excessive. This condition may well cause a decrease of consumption, and the fruit and vegetable industries may require some years to recover.
The fact that the control of marketing is beneficial to producers is shown ‘by our war-time experience. During this period of control, incomes have been at an unprecedentedly high level. Debts and mortgages have not been lower in this generation, and production has been high. Throughout Australia, the power to control prices may prove to be a great help in overcoming the difficulties, which section 92 of the Constitution is designed to prevent, in regard to the marketing schemes of the Commonwealth and the States. Honorable members opposite must not consider that the Government desires to retain prices control merely for the sake of exercising controls. Prices control has already been removed from fruit and vegetables, hay and chaff, and certain cereals, and the remaining controls will be abolished as soon as production is adequate. The power which the Government is seeking is a reserve of authority to enable the Administration to deal with emergencies which cannot be met without adequate power. During World War II., as well as during the period of reconstruction which has followed the cessation of hostilities and which will last for a long time, it has been fully demonstrated to the people of Australia that strict control of prices is absolutely necessary for the economic security and stability of our country. Monopolistic interests and black-marketing experts disagree with this opinion. They bitterly resent any curtailment of their “liberty” to exploit and rob the people for their own selfish and greedy ends. The control of prices, and various restrictions which were so necessary during World War II., have been just as necessary in the transition to peace-time conditions. In some respects the maintenance of some controls was even more necessary during the period of reconstruction than in war-time because of the anxiety of so many unscrupulous exploiters to make as much money as they could as quickly as they could before the inevitable depression set in.
Many advanced thinkers associated with the Labour movement in Australia and in other countries believed that, in order to preserve the living standards and the economic security of the people, the government should always be empowered to fix prices and exercise, when necessary, certain definite measures of control. That is why Labour governments have always been reluctant to lift restrictions, which they have imposed, until they were assured that the needs and rights of the people would be reasonably safeguarded. The political and industrial opponents of the Labour party, who comprise the monopolistic and exploiting interests, who own or control all the means of production, and who direct the business of the community for the wealth that it produces for themselves, are naturally opposed to any restriction of their activities or anything else that would deprive them of their opportunities of exploitation. Consequently, when they are no longer confronted with the perils and risks of war, they insist upon the immediate abolition of all prices controls and restrictions, and demand the restoration forthwith of their “liberty” to exploit the people in whatever manner they choose.
It was in such circumstances last July that prices control was abolished in the United States of America, and exploiters of every variety were given an “ open go “ on the home markets. With the abolition of prices control and restrictions in the United States of America, there was an immediate sky-rocketing of living costs to heights far beyond the means of the average person, and then beyond the means of the community generally. As the result of World War II., the United States of America had become by far the richest, and, perhaps, the most powerful country in the world. Yet, because of inflationary tendencies due to the sudden removal of war-time controls and restrictions, President Truman has been compelled to convene a special session of Congress to take certain urgent measures which, he considers, are necessary to halt the alarming inflation that has overtaken the United States of America. Since the first United States Congress met nearly 160 years ago, this is only the twenty-sixth occasion on which a special session has been convened. The last occasion was in 1939, when President Roosevelt sought the repeal of a measure which prevented the United States of America’s participation in World War II. The summoning of this special session of Congress is proof that inflation in the United States of America demands prompt and drastic action. In a direct and forthright address to Congress last week, President Truman said -
To-day, inflation stands as an ominous threat to the prosperity we have achieved. We cannot allow the nation’s strength to be wasted and our own free institutions shaken by an economic catastrophe which we would be inviting unless we take steps now to halt runaway prices.
It was reported that after prices control had been removed earlier in the year, food prices in the United States of America had risen by 40 per cent., which was 10 per cent, higher than the peak period of inflation which followed World War I., and which was responsible for the subsequent financial and economic depression. President Truman has appealed to Congress to take legislative action to restore prices control and restrain inflationary bank credits. Since the position appears to be deteriorating rapidly, he virtually asks for a restoration of those war-time powers without which it will not be possible to avert the national calamity which is now threatening that country. The Australian Labour party has always recognized the danger inherent in removing prices controls, particularly of food and other vital commodities, and it is essential that those controls should continue to be maintained and intelligently applied so that the economic balance and security of the country may be maintained. In the absence of such controls, the present satisfactory condition might seriously deteriorate. The result of the imposition and maintenance of the present controls is that our economy is at least as sound as that of any other country. In order to avoid inflation such as has occurred in the United States of America and other countries, the Government now seeks constitutional authority from the people to continue the present controls. The Government believes that such a step is the only means of avoiding the occurrence in this country of a catastrophe of the nature which President Truman says is now threatening the United States of America. The Opposition has chosen to throw down a challenge to the Government on this issue, and we accept that challenge, just as we accepted the challenge of the “ yellow peril “, when it threatened to overwhelm us.
.- This bill proposes to amend the Constitution under section 128 of that instrument by giving to the Commonwealth power to control permanently “ rents and prices (including charges, “. Those powers, it should be noted, are now exercised by the Government under National Security Regulations made during war-time, but it is proposed to ask the people to vest them permanently in the Commonwealth. I am opposed to this bill, root and branch.
– The honorable member surprises me !
– The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) says he is surprised, but he is no more surprised than I was when I listened to the broadcast of the debates which took place in this House some time ago, and, in particular, to the arguments advanced by supporters of the Government some days ago in regard to this bill. I heard one particularly puerile observation, namely, that because members on this side of the House were opposing this bill we were, in reality, opposing the right of the people to express their opinion by means of a referendum and by some ramshackle method of logic, the speaker sought to draw the inference that members of the Opposition were insincere when they advocated very recently that a referendum should be held on the nationalization of banking. There are two answers to that contention. In the first place, it is obvious to any one familiar with parliamentary practice and the previous history of referendums in this country, that if members of the political parties in opposition at a particular time are not in favour of a question which is proposed to be submitted to the electors, they should oppose the bill which provides for a referendum to be taken. People would be quite puzzled if the Opposition were to adopt any other course. In the next place, of course, the present members of the Opposition are opposed to the Government’s proposal to take a referendum on this matter, because it has already been submitted to the people by way of referendum, and rejected violently and decisively. The Government’s present proposal was submitted to the people in 1944 at great cost; indeed, at illegal cost, as the Auditor-General later disclosed. Now, only three years afterwards, the people are to be asked to vote on a similar question, and the taxpayers will again have to foot the bill. In those circumstances, members of the Opposition believe that it is unreasonable that the taxpayers of this country should be called upon to bear the cost of holding mother referendum on the same proposal, especially as the Parliament has ample power to deal with prices regulations, both now and in the future, as I -hall show later.
Furthermore, I am opposed to making piecemeal amendments of the Constitution. The Constitution is not an instrument which should be amended section by section. Members of the Opposition long ago offered to pool their wisdom and experience with that of members of the Government at a representative convention held to determine whether any useful amendments might be made to the Constitution. The Opposition offered to co-operate in any way to secure the enactment of useful amendments, but the Government ignored that offer, and it now proposes to take the vote of the people on a single proposal for the amendment of the Constitution. “We know that it will seek, by terrifying the people, to induce them to return an affirmative vote, and to that end, it will employ the usual blast cf propaganda. Nevertheless, I am quite confident that the people will reject its proposal, just as they did in 1944.
Before I proceed to give detailed reasons for my objection to this proposal, 1 desire to make it quite clear that neither I, nor any other member of the Opposition, is opposed to measures designed to control rents and prices as a matter of emergency, and to prevent exploitation. However, we are opposed to the institution of permanent controls, because we know that, .should the people be foolish enough to accede to the Government’s present plea, this measure will result in the present controls being continued permanently. I should like to make it clear that I believe that the National Parliament should have adequate powers to conduct the affairs of the nation. Those powers should be wide enough to cover all matters of national importance, and flexible enough to deal with any emergency or any new problem which may arise. For that reason, I quite agree that the last word has not been said upon the Constitution, and members of the Opposition believe that, in some respects, the Constitution should be amended. But we certainly do not believe that it should be amended in the way that the Government now proposes; we are convinced that it should be amended only after calm and deliberate consideration, and certainly not in piecemeal fashion. Although I consider that the National Parliament should not hesitate to exercise all the powers and functions confided to it by the Constitution.
At the .same time, however, I am a federalist. I believe that the present federal system, which admirably suits Australia, partly because of the vast distances separating its capital cities, ii lid partly because of the long tradition of State governments. Our present political arrangement provides for a federal Parliament to deal with national matters, and for State parliaments to wield sovereign and supreme powers in their own .States, exercising the residue of powers not expressly conferred upon the central government. A federal system necessarily involves the existence of some body such as the High Court, which is the judicial institution of this country which is charged with the duty of determining the respective rights and powers of the Commonwealth and the .State Parliaments. In any federal system there must be a judicial body to act as the interpreter of the legal and political provisions of the* federal constitution. Obviously, thi* Commonwealth Parliament cannot perform the functions of the High Court, because if it were the arbiter of the extent of its own powers then it could gobble all power. Labour wants this, and proof of this is supplied by the bills proposed in 1942, 1943 and 1944, and by the attempts which a Labour government made during those years to force its will upon the States. It is obvious, therefore, that in any federal system there must be a court to determine the respective powers-
– The 1944 referendum was held as the result of a. federal convention.
– I am obliged to the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke). I had not forgotten the convention, and I shall tell him more about it presently. The existence of any judicial body of lesser power and authority than the High Court enjoys in Australia would necessarily result in unification. Labour wants unification, but the people of Australia do no!- want it. I confess that there was a time - perhaps most of us can make this confession - -when I was attracted by the theoretic.il tidiness of a unified system of government with delegated, powers to provinces or States. However, a number of circumstances in recent years have changed my views. I shall specify those circumstances.
Tn the first place, Labour has embraced the Marxian doctrine of class war. As a result, Labour politics in Australia have become bitter, fanatical, ruthless *ind unscrupulous. It is necessary, therefore, ;hat there should be some check upon the power of any party which is in that frame of mind when it approaches the problems of government. Secondly, the growth of rigidity of the Labour machine in recent years has been such that members of the party ave no longer free. It is no longer possible in the Labour party for a man to take a stand * m the floor of this House on some question of principle or conscience and disagree with his party. There must be many men on the Labour side of the House who, in their hearts, violently disagree with some of the things that have been done by this Government, but who are not free to express their disagreement openly. Therefore, I say that there should be some check upon the power of the Government. Thirdly, there has been a growing tendency in recent years - i! is classically illustrated in the Banking Act - to introduce legislation which is not wanted by the people and which has not been forecast in any statement of policy. In the absence of some system of initiative or referendum, which is not provided for in our Constitution, the people have no protection. When large numbers of the people - indeed, a majority in the case of the banking legislation - are opposed to such measures, the only cheek lies in the sense of honour and responsibility of the members of the Government. If they are so rigidly bound by their party machine that they are no longer free, it is necessary for us to look to some other device or existing arrangement to operate as a check on the authority of the governing party.
The federal system spreads the power of government. It does not pull all our eggs in one basket, but leaves certain powers in the Commonwealth and also substantial powers in the States so that, if the Commonwealth gets delusions of grandeur and attempts to go too far, there can be a check by the States. A federal system of that sort is necessary. That i.the lesson of history and politics in Australia over the last twenty years. That was obviously the lesson to be learned from the relations between the Lyons Government and the Lang Government in New South Wales. The check effected by the Lyons Government in the federal sphere worked the proper destruction of the Lang Government in New South Wales in 1982. I have no doubt that such a. check also operated in some respects, though not obviously, between the Labour Federal Government and the non-Labour South Australian Government during the war. No doubt that has also been so many times when there have been a United Australia party federal government and Labour State governments. The presence of a Labour government in one place and an anti-Labour government in another place has acted, as a check or balance to the attempted assumption of too much power by one of them. I have no doubt that in the long run the governments of Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia will impose a very salutary and perhaps decisive check on this Government in relation to the banking issue which has been rending this country so violently during the last few weeks.
All power corrupts. Therefore, I say that we should spread our power, and the way to spread our power in Australia is to maintain our federal system intact. That brings me to the first of the main reasons why I object to’ the proposal embodied in this bill. I say that it will destroy the federal system, because it will immediately vest enormous, almost unlimited, power in the Australian Parliament. One has only to look at the powers which the Commonwealth Parliament now has under the National Security (Prices) Regulations in order to realize how wide and drastic they are. With these and other powers which have been taken - for instance, the hanking power - there will literally he no limit to the effective Commonwealth power if the people vote in favour of the referendum proposals.
The second reason why I object to this bill is that I am profoundly dissatisfied with the present administration and extent of prices and rent controls in Australia. I have always acknowledged the necessity for these controls, but I claim to have some knowledge of their administration, especially as it finds its way into the law courts through prosecutions for offences under regulations, and I say that nobody with any knowledge of the regulations can fail to be dissatisfied with their extent and the way in which they are administered. There is a vast and top-heavy system of centralization for a start. There is a system of profit control operating under the prices power which, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) said last week, is putting a premium upon inefficiency.
The prices of too many commodities are being controlled. I am heartily in favour of control of the prices of essential commodities and commodities which are in short supply, but control is applied to the prices of many commodities which should not be so affected. If it be said, “Well, we must control all of them to prevent inflation “, why are so many commodities placed under nominal legal control without any attempt being made to enforce control of them? Everybody knows, for instance, that the prices of yachts and motor boats have risen so much that a craft which a few years ago could have been bought for a few hundred pounds now costs thousands of pounds. Yet the prices of these objects are subject to control.
– Who wants a yacht?
– Lots of people apparently want yachts, and- they pay thousands of pounds for them. The point is that these things arc the subject of a legal prices regulation order, but nobody is troubling to give effect to it. Perhaps that does not matter, but why bother to have a law if we do not bother to enforce it? Furthermore, some of these controls are utterly unenforceable. I suppose the best illustration of this is the prices regulation applying to second-hand motor cars. I said in this House, just a year ago, that 90 per cent, of the motor cars sold in Sydney were sold on the black market or above the pegged price. That was an under-estimate. It is still an under-estimate. There have been a few prosecutions here and there, but everybody knows that one must pay double, treble or quadruple the legal price in order to purchase a second-hand motor car. All that happens under this system is that the Government creates criminals out of citizens who do not regard the regulations as binding on their consciences, though perhaps they should do so, and who take the view that they must have motor cars and therefore must pay black market prices.
I say that the Government must either have effective prices control or abandon prices control altogether, because, unless control is effective, it destroys the morale of the citizens. Land sales control is in a similar condition to control of motor car prices. Why control is maintained over the prices of vacant land I do not know. The newspapers have published many outcries by municipal councils and other bodies pointing out the anomalies and injustices of prices control as applied to vacant land. The basis of fixation is very often stupid. The basis on which the prices of second-hand motor vehicles are fixed, for instance, is altogether futile and foolish. It does not take account of the quality or condition of vehicles or, very often, their age. It is an arbitrary and silly system that should be overhauled. The basis on which the price of land is fixed is equally foolish. Why fix the price of land as ‘at 1942? Why fix rents as at 1939 when everybody knows that building and ancillary costs have risen hundreds per cent. Because the citizens realize these anomalies they regard themselves as not bound in their own consciences by the law and they break it. Thousands of decent Australian citizens are being marked up for offences that are ‘breaches of the law for which, they theoretically ought to be prosecuted; but to make criminals of ordinary men and women who do not want to he criminals is bad. That leads me to the proposition which the Labour party does not seem to be able to get into its head, namely, that we should not have the law too far ahead of public opinion. Any student of jurisprudence knows that. Any man with common sense knows that the law and public opinion must run more or less side by side and that we cannot do what the Labour party attempts to do - just pass a law. We must pass a law acceptable to the vast majority of the people, and then enforce it effectively. So I say that the administration of these regulations is so outrageously wrong that I must oppose the bill.
Thirdly, I oppose it because the Commonwealth Parliament has plenty of power to deal with prices and rents. We agree that the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Bill should be extended for another twelve months. After that, the defence power, under which that bill has been introduced, will still exist. ls it supposed that the defence power is suddenly going to come to an end ? It did not come to an end when the war ended. Twenty-five years after the end of World War I., the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act was still good law. Some one challenged it in what is known as Baldings case. It was claimed that the act, which was made in pursuance of the defence power, was not valid because the defence power had come to an end with the end of the war, but the High Court said that that was nonsense. Equally is it supposed that prices control, which has survived more than the two years that have passed since World War II. ended, will become suddenly ineffective in another twelve months? That is nonsense. The Labour party does .not believe it. At any rate, the members of the party who are lawyers know that that is not true. The claim that it is true is merely propaganda. There have been, indeed, several challenges in the High Court of prices regulations and other regulations, including this very matter of defence power. It was said that as Australia was no longer at war the Commonwealth no longer had the right to operate the defence power and that that power had become exhausted by the gradual effluxion of time. The High Court rejected that argument. It was rejected not long ago by, if I remember rightly, the unanimous decision of the justices. I did not hear members of the Labour party rise to applaud the High Court justices for having upheld the Australian Government’s power on that occasion. They did not say, “ 0 wise and upright judge “ to those gentlemen on the High Court Bench on that occasion ; but, when, a little later, the High Court ruled against the Commonwealth on another matter, they launched a virulent and bitter attack on those “senile” and “ politically corrupt “ justices.
Of course, there can be no question that the power of the Commonwealth under the defence power will subsist for a long time. It will depend on how it is exercised, but, given the conditions as we find them to-day, no lawyer would say that there will not be in twelve months still ample power residing in the Commonwealth Parliament to continue controls of this sort. Moreover, there is of course the residue of power in the States for, insofar as the Commonwealth has no power over a given subject-matter, each State has complete power. In New South Wales, before the war, we had our Fair Bents Act. It existed for many years on a rational basis. The Fair Bents Court assessed rents on the basis of existing costs of a building plus repairs and other matters. I understand that that was also done in the other States. There is no reason why, if power over prices and rents did disappear from the Commonwealth, which is utterly out of the realm of likelihood, that power should not be exercised by the States. There is no reason why prices control should not be exercised by the States. I believe that it would be better exercised by the States than by the Commonwealth, because they are on the spot, because there is less redtape, less centralization and less delay and because there is more of the spirit of sweet reasonableness and common sense where you have a government operating close to people, as the State governments do as compared with the Commonwealth.
– There is always the Upper House.
– That interjection is worthy of a reply. The Upper House of the Parliament of New South Wales has never resisted or amended effective legislation relating to the control of rents. For many years the Fair Rents Court of New South Wales, about which I know a great deal, having, as a young barrister, earned many fees of a few guineas for having appeared before the Fair Rents Court, has worked adequately. No reason exists why it should not continue to do so.
My fourth reason for opposing the bill is that I say that in no circumstances should more power be given to this Government. I am not concerned with the argument, “ Oh weil, there may be another government in a few years time”. Of course there will be. I am not concerned with that argument. I am concerned with the position now in December, 1947, or March, 194S, when the referendum will be held. 1 would not give the present Administration one more jot or tittle of power. The history of Labour politics in Australia in the last few years shows that the Labour Government cannot be trusted to exercise power. I remind the House that in October, 1942, the Labour Government of the day brought down a bill in the Commonwealth Parliament to alter the Constitution -
For the purpose of currying into effect the war aims and objects of Australia as one of the United Nations, including the attainment of economic security and social justice in the. post-war world and for the purpose of postwar reconstruction generally.
– Who is to decide that, the Parliament or the people?
– We shall see what happens. That proposal, of course, was submitted at a critical stage in the war, and it was represented to the people in the most flamboyant and emotional way that those powers in that utterly dishonest form were necessary for Australia to win the war and to secure the peace. The hostility it gained throughout Australia was so violent that the Government did not proceed with it, and called together a convention consisting of the leaders of the Government and of the Opposition in each of the States and certain members of this Parliament. The convention met late in 1942 in an atmosphere of undoubted unparalleled hostility to the proposal. It was clear that all political parties in the States were prepared to tear the bill to pieces. But on the very day the convention met in Canberra this bill, which swept aside the High Court, which said that this Parliament was to be the intepreter of the Constitution, which sought to turn Australia into a unified State and to destroy the States, was abandoned and a new one was submitted in its stead.
– That bill was for a referendum.
– Yes, and it was never proceeded with. The new bill was said to be “for the purposes of post-war reconstruction “ and. matters of that sort, but it was equally vague and unprecise. That bill also met with a hostile reception at the hands of the convention. Then there was a last-minute attempt by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), who presided over the conference, to get the delegates to agree to hand over some fourteen specific powers to the Commonwealth for a period of five years, among them being this very power over prices and rents. That attempt failed because some of the States would not accept it, but that attempted arrangement became the basis of the 1944 referendum, in which the people were asked to agree to vest in the Commonwealth Parliament fourteen powers, including power over prices and rents. But the people rejected the proposal. The people had good cause not to trust the Labour Government. Because of the tactics that had gone on in the matter between 1.942 and 1944, and because the Government lumped the whole of these powers together - some good and desirable and others bad and distinctly undesirable’ - and the Government had said, “ You must vote ‘ Yes ‘ or ‘No’ for the lot”, Australians made no mistake and voted “ No “ for the lot.
– And re-elected us in 1946.
– Thus a cynical and disgusting fraud attempted on the Australian people was rightly rejected, and if their memories are as good in February as I think they will he, they will again reject the proposal contained in this bill. This is a matter of history but in my time in this Parliament - a brief period of twelve months - I have seen other things which fortify me in the view that the Labour Government cannot :be trusted with any more power. First it made attempt after attempt to socialize industry in this country. We have on this very day in this very Parliament an illustration of its attempt to dictate to the airline companies. We know that what was attempted a few years ago in respect of the airlines was frustrated by the High Court, whereupon the Minister for Information got into a fearful frenzy and talked in abusive terms about High Court judges. After hav ing been beaten by the High Court decision, the Government attempted to do what the law said could not be done by means of unfair competition. To-day, the Government wants Ansett Airways Limited to increase its fares, but ‘because the company has declined to do so and wants to reduce its fares and give cheaper service to the Australian people, this Government proposes to strangle it out of existence by denying it the use of Commonwealth-controlled landing fields. These were the tactics of the big business tycoons of the United States of America two generations ago, and they are exactly the tactics this Government is using against its competitors to-day. This cynical abuse of power, this utterly unreasonable attempt to crush others in competition with it, shows that this Government has no merit and no justification for asking the people for increased powers.
Next consider its attitude towards the ordinary everyday freedom of the people. Nobody has had more to say about that than has the Minister for Information. The honorable gentleman says that he does not believe in the freedom of the press and, for his own political purposes attempted to gag the press under the guise of the censorship, but he was decisively defeated.
– I think the honorable member had better get back to the bill.
– Get up to date.
– Order !
– I am very much up to date. Then again, there are the attacks made upon the High Court of Australia recently, upon the institution which is to interpret the Constitution. This has a very close connexion with the bill. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) talked about-
– .Order ! The honorable member for Dalley would be delighted to hear the honorable member on that subject, but it is totally out of order.
– My reference to the attacks on the High Court is, I submit, relevant to this bill in showing that this Government is not to be trusted.
– It is too wide of the bill.
– I am obliged to bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
– Most people are.
– These things, I believe, are crimes against Australia, yet the Prime Minister stands by and allows his colleagues to say and do these things. Because the Labour party machine is so rigid, honorable members opposite - some of whom, I know, do not agree with some of the things said by their colleagues - are obliged to remain silent, and no protest is made. Because of these and other things just as scandalous that have occurred in this Parliament from time to time, I say, as I believe the people of Australia will say in due course, that by its conduct, this Government has demonstrated that it is not fit to exercise any more power. Therefore I say - and I will repeat it many times between now and next February - no more power should be given to the Chifley Government. It has demonstrated that it has delusions of grandeur; it has demonstrated that it is so thirsty for class advantage and so determined to help its own friends, that it does not care about the rest of Australia and will reach out for power wherever it can get it. On that footing, which to me is the most important footing of all, I say, “No more power to the Chifley Government “.
The issue here is not, as the Labour party will say and as I heard the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) say in a somewhat involved way, whether we on this side of the House are opposed to prices control. We agree that there should be some regulation of prices and rentals at the present time. The issue is how wide these powers should be and for how long they should be exercised. If this Government obtains these powers by way of referendum, they will be as wide as a barn door and as high as a church steeple. There will be no limit to their extent, or to their duration. They will be there for always - clamped round the necks of the Australian people. To grant them would be to strike at the roots of liberty in Australia, and I will fight the proposal tooth and nail.
– I very much regret the reasons that have kept the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) absent from the House for some time. I took the opportunity to welcome him back; but I must confess that, after having listened to the speech he has just delivered, some of the warmth of my welcome has evaporated. I have never heard a speech that was so irrelevant to the real issue.
I take this opportunity to speak tonight in order, at least, to put on record what is the real reason for the bill now before the House. The Commonwealth Government had no desire to hold a referendum on price control. In 1945 we discussed with the State Premiers, at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers the advisability of continuing that control. In 1946 the matter was discussed again, and all the Premiers agreed that price control ought to be continued. As one way of doing that, it was suggested to the Premiers that the State parliaments should pass the necessary legislation on a uniform basis, and then, because the States had not the necessary machinery, that they should delegate that power and use the Commonwealth price control organization for that purpose. At the unanimous request of the Premiers, the Commonwealth prepared a bill. Without exception, all the Premiers agreed that it was necessary to continue this power.
– For how long? Was it to be temporary or permanent?
– I do not know that they said anything about it being temporary or permanent, but I assume they thought it should be continued for some period. The proposal that the States should pass uniform legislation and then delegate administrative control to the Commonwealth entailed that the delegated power could be withdrawn at any time. We were quite prepared to allow the States to pass uniform legislation and a model bill was sent to them.
The history of the matter is that the parliaments of the States have not in all cases - 1 am not saying in every case - implemented the undertakings given by the Premiers. I do not blame the Premiers for that. The decisions were made by the State parliaments, but they were not in accordance with the undertakings that each State should pass a uniform act through its own legislature and that, while the defence power about which the honorable member for Parramatta has talked was held to be valid, the Commonwealth should continue to administer its present prices control, but if, for any reason, that power, or any portion of it was declared to be invalid, that then the Commonwealth should act under the power delegated to it by the States. I remind the honorable member for Parramatta that in one of these cases the decision in favour of the Commonwealth was given on the vote of the learned Chief Justice. That was a very narrow margin. The States failed to implement that undertaking.
– How many of the States did implement it?
– In the case of New South Wales and Queensland, the statement they made at that time was that they were prepared to let the Commonwealth use the referred powers, that is, the powers they had themselves referred, [n the case of South Australia, Mr. Playford intimated that, although the powers that were referred in that case were different, he believed that, generally, they would cover the operation or the utilization by the Commonwealth Government of those particular powers. Mr. Cosgrove made it clear that he could not guarantee that the Upper House in Tasmania would pass any legislation. Mr. Wise made a precisely similar statement. They said they would endeavour to do their best to get a uniform act passed so that in the event of the High Court declaring any of the price control regulations to be invalid, the Commonwealth could continue to use its administrative machine, acting pursuant to power delegated to it by the States. I am surprised to find that some people think they know what the High Court will decide on any particular issue, because some of the best constitutional lawyers differ on these very important questions. All the courts throughout the world give decisions upon which lawyers differ. Some eminent constitutional lawyers have disagreed with decisions given by the High Court of
Australia, and very often the High Court itself is not unanimous on any particular point. I anl making no charge against anybody on these constitutional questions, because there are so many differences of opinion amongst the lawyers themselves. As a matter of fact, I doubt if the lawyers would make a living if they did not differ so much.
– It is when the litigants differ that the lawyers make a living.
– The members of the legal profession find that they are able to make their point of view coincide with their clients’ wishes. The fact of the matter is that the States did not pass the legislation.
I shall deal briefly with the reasons why I think there should be price control. In the case of New South Wales, the act continues until 1945 or until such earlier date as is notified by proclamation.
In Victoria, the legislation expired last June and a bill to continue the power was defeated in the Legislative Council. It is interesting to note some of the comments made on the bill by various prominent men. Mr. Dunstan said that he was against it “ lock, stock, and barrel “. He said, “ Let us scrap these regulations “. And here is something even more interesting: Mr. McDonald, who now occupies a prominent position in the Victorian Government, said -
I am prepared to let the people buy at any price they are prepared to pay. It is about time the Government gave up trying to protect every individual’s private business and investment, and trying to protect him from the competition of life.
Mem’bers of the Liberal party and of the Australian Country party voted against the continuance of the powers until the end of the present year.
– But the measure embraced much more than prices control.
– I am not denying that. It included a number of other powers; but Mr. McDonald dealt specifically with prices and I repeat his remarks -
I am prepared to let the people buy at any price they are prepared to pay. It is about time the Government gave up trying to protect every individual’s private business and investment, and trying to protect him from the competition of life.
Some of the statements made in Tasmania were even more striking. The Leader of the Opposition in the Tasmanian Parliament. Mr. Campbell, said-
Is there any rual danger to the people of this State if controls do lapse? The shortest road to stability is to release all controls.
And these are the people on whom the Australian community has to depend to protect them from racketeering. The people of Australia should know these things. The point I am stressing is that all the States did not carry out the undertaking given by their Premiers. I do not blame the Premiers because they all tried to get the necessary legislation through ; but had a uniform prices control bill been passed by all the State parliaments then, in the event of the Commonwealth’s defence powers failing to provide for the continuance of price control, the States could have delegated power to the Commonwealth Parliament for so long as they wished. There would then have been no need for a referendum.
– Why not put a timelimit on the powers that are to be sought at the referendum?
– Eminent constitutional authorities differ as to the constitutionality of such a proposal. There is a widely held view that the Constitution cannot be altered for a limited time.
– That was the proposal that was placed before the people at the last referendum.
– I do not profess to have a profound knowledge of constitutional law, but certain eminent lawyers expressed the opinion that the proposal would have been held invalid had it been tested in the High Court, However, that is a matter for legal argument. The main reason for the Government’s decision to hold a referendum on the continuance of prices control is that the attempt to have the States pass the legislation necessary to confer power upon the Commonwealth in respect of this matter failed completely. 1’ could quote a few more comments like those of Mr. Dunstan and Mr. McDonald, advocating the sweeping away of all controls, including prices control. I do not deny that prices control is a difficult problem. Human nature being what it is, racketeers, of whom there is a percentage in every community, will endeavour to take advantage of the people. What amazes me is that individuals like the honorable member for Parramatta, a very reputable solicitor, seems to know all about what is going on. I do not know .whether he accepts hearsay evidence; I can only assume that he does. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) apparently concurs in the Government’s belief that prices control should -be continued ai: least for a period. The right honorable gentleman also expressed the view - based on certain judgments that be read - that the High Court would treat the ‘National Security Act and defence powers as sufficient warrant to continue prices control for some time. But nobody knows better than the right honorable gentleman that it would be foolish to rely entirely on » judgment that the High Court might: give at some trine in the future. Nobody could foresee what the judgment would be. In fact, nobody is entitled to attempt to foresee what it would be. What is the position to-day ? There are inflationary trends throughout the world. We in this country have been rather more fortunate than the people of most other countries. We have seen a few instances recently of what is happening in France and in other continental countries. We know that the President of the United States of America has summoned Congress to deal with this very problem of rising prices. Prices control was wiped out in that country some time ago, but, the subsequent experience lias been such that the President has found it necessary to ask Congress to .legislate for its re-imposition.
– There may be some polities in that, too.
– There may be, but Am can only assume that the President of the most powerful country in the world has around him some very astute advisors. I remind the House, also, of what happened in Canada : As soon as the Canadian Government found it necessary to conserve its dollar resource?, certain commodities doubled in price overnight. That is the possibility that I wish to emphasize. The duty of any government, regardless of its political colour, is to protect the interests of the great masses of the people, and prevent them from being robbed, whether they be rich or poor, although I can agree that the rich can stand a little more robbery than the poor.
Mr.Ryan. - They are getting it now.
– That may be, but I point out to the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) that whatever difficulties may be associated with the controls that have been retained in this country, the internal purchasing power of the Australian £1 is better than the internal purchasing power of the currency of almost any other country in the world. The honorable member need not take my word for that. It is shown in figures issued by the United Nations Bureau of Statistics. The Australian £1 is one of the few currenciesin the world to-day. which, on a mathematical basis, should be appreciated.
– What is it worth in i nternationalexchange ?
– It is worth what we make it worth. Honorable members opposite are well aware that if the Australian £1 were appreciated to-morrow, its value would increase against all the other currencies in the world. One does not require a. deep knowledge of economics to understand that. The Government believes that the people of this country should be protected. I am not now arguing any political issue. There is no sinister motive for the Government’s request for increased power. It was willing to give that power to the States if they were prepared to use it and pass the necessary legislation. Weagreed to administer it for them on the understanding that they would have complete power to withdraw the delegated powers. In spite of what the honorable member for Parramatta has said, there is no machinery in the States to administer prices control. Not long ago, when we handed back milk control to the States, we found that there was not one State which had passed legislation to enable it, to control the price of milk in country areas. To-day the Government of New SouthWales frankly admits that it would not be prepared to undertake the control of the price of raw milk in country districts; and the same applies to Tasmania. Victoria, and South Australia.
I emphasize that should prices control break down as the result of any decision of the High Court, and should the State parliaments, with no machinery in operation to control prices, not be in session, chaos would result in this country.
– The right honorable gentleman is not suggesting that there is any danger of the Commonwealth’s power being taken away from it within the next twelve months?
– I inform the honorable member that one of my authorities on this point is a leading member of the Australian Country party, Mr. Dunstan, who said in the Victorian Parliament -
We haveno right whatever to try, by State legislation, to prop up something which, in the event of an appeal to the High Court, would probably be declared invalid.
That statement was made by Mr. Dunstan, a former Premier of Victoria. In effect, he expressed the opinion that if the powers that we are now exercising were tested in the High Court they would probably be declared invalid.
– When did Mr. Dunstan say that?
– In May last. Nobody can give any guarantee on this matter. Mr. Dunstan was for many years the Leader of the Victorian Parliament. We know that in one case the judgment of the Full Bench of the High Court, which upheld existing legislation, was resolved on the judgment of the Chief Justice, the justices being evenly divided.
I wish to emphasize one other factor. To-day the economy of the world as a whole is on the verge of disruption. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) is always talking about things in short, supply. There area great number of things used by the people of this country which are going to be in short supply for a long time. They are goods’ that conic from hard currency countries. There can be no doubt about that. Supplies of those goods willbecome still more restricted. That is something which no government, regardless of party politics, can alter, because we must have the “ chips “ wherewith to pay for those goods. If we cannot earn sufficient dollars inhard currency countries, or buy them from the British Treasury, which is already hard up for dollars, we cannot obtain those goods. We must go without them. In addition, we should be trying to earn dollars by exporting as much as we can spare to hard currency countries. That will mean further, shortages in Australia. Therefore, the Government believes that the people, particularly the poorer sections, should be protected against things of the kind which have happened in other countries. That is the reason for the introduction of this measure. We say to the people, “We have failed to get the States to do this joh. Now, we believe you should be protected, and we put it to you that the only method that we can find by which you can be protected is for you to give the power to the Commonwealth Parliament to control prices and rents “.
I emphasize to the Parliament and the people that if there were no prices control in this country it would be a sad state of affairs for the great mass of the people; if prices control breaks down, there will be a very sad state of affairs. Those people who talk about wiping out these controls have no regard at all for the interests of the great mass of the community. Consciously, or unconsciously, they are on the side of the rich profiteer and the racketeer, because when goods are in short supply and there is no limitation on prices, we know to whom those goods go. They go to people with lots of money. It may not matter about robbing them, because the very rich may quite legally have robbed somebody else previously. Honorable members opposite can wander over as much country as they like in talking about sinister intentions. The Government would not have introduced this measure had others carried out their, undertakings. Whether the people agree or not, we believe that they should be protected, and, regardless of all political considerations, we say to them, in respect of this referendum, “ Do you want to be protected from what we believe is one of the greatest economic evils that can befall any country ? We illustrate to you what is happening in Prance, Italy and the United States of America, where the people were told by all sorts of wiseacres to wipe out these controls “.
– What about Belgium?
– I could refer to quite a number of countries, but I mention those whose conditions are known to thipublic of Australia.
– None of those countries wiped out controls.
– The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), apparently, has not read American political history.
– I am talking about France and Italy.
– What I am saying is that in the United States of America all these controls were wiped out, and the result has been economically disastrous. There could be no better illustration to give to the people when these matters are submitted to them at a referendum. We shall not engage in tirades against the Opposition. We shall simply say to the people, “ This is put to you for your own protection. It is to give to the Commonwealth Parliament the power to protect you. We have tried to do it in other ways by getting the States to act, but they have failed to do their job.” In some instances, they have failed because of the action of conservative Legislative Councils. Even when a bill has been passed by a democratically elected chamber, a conservative Upper House, elected on a limited franchise, has rejected the measure. I need not say much more about the States, but that is what will be put to the people of this country in an honest, sincere way. We shall not be put off the track. The Australian Parliament did not want this power if the position could have been met in any other way. But the people have been refused the protection that is their right, and it is for that reason that this proposal is brought forward. Should the people reject the referendum, the evil that will befall them will be on their own heads. I have stated the facts. I repeat that we shall not be sidetracked.
The Leader of the Opposition said that the granting of powers to the Commonwealth Parliament meant the granting of powers to the present Government. I say to him, and to the people, that the present Government was elected by the people. A good deal has been said about democracy. Those who want to know what democracy has decided should go into the Senate and see for themselves what the verdict of the people has done in that chamber. During the whole of my parliamentary career I have never refused to support a referendum submitted to the people, regardless of the party in , power at the time. I have supported every referendum proposal because I have believed that satisfactory administration is impossible without a uniform system of government.
If prices control is to continue, the administration must be efficient. The Prices Branch has had many efficient men in its service, but numbers of them have gone, and others are going to other jobs, because there is no security in their present employment. Efficient organization and administration calls for some continuity of employment.
I have tried in a few plain words to bring the matter of the referendum down to earth and to divorce it from matters with which it has nothing to do. .Some of the remarks that have been made during this debate have been utter nonsense. I had not proposed to speak on this bill, but I heard some of the stupid and misleading statements that have gone out to the public from this House by men who are supposed to be logical, and I was impelled to speak. Some honorable members who made such statements were actuated solely by party-political motives. They were not concerned for the people.
Reference has been made to .people “ paying what prices they like “. What about the people who cannot pay the prices demanded for the goods that they require? What is the position of the worker in receipt of £6 or £7 a week ? It may be that the wealthy people will be able to buy whatever goods are available, but I am concerned for the great masses of the people who carry on the business of the country. When 600 men knocked off work at Bunnerong, Sydney was paralysed, ‘but honorable members here can knock off and nothing is paralysed. I am concerned that the masses of the people shall be protected. It is the responsibility of the Parliament and, indeed, of every individual citizen, to protect the less fortunate sections of the community. If we recognize any responsibility to our fellow men, particularly the less fortunate among them and those who do the “ donkey “ work of the world - and I know something about such work because I did it for 24 years - we must keep the wheels of industry turning. That is the duty of every good citizen, and that is what is involved in this measure.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) said that he rose to bring this debate back to earth, but he did not state the real issue in this bill. I shall, therefore, make clear what the bill is for, and what the people are to be asked to. vote on. The question to be decided is whether prices control is to continue as a temporary measure, or is to be a permanent part of our administration. That point the Prime Minister evaded most cleverly. He said that he and his supporters would not indulge in any tirade of abuse of. the Opposition. Where has the right honorable gentleman been during this debate, because Ministers and supporters of the Government have done little else than indulge in a tirade of abuse of the Opposition. I give credit to the right honorable gentleman for not indulging in abuse, but if he thinks that all supporters of the Government were similarly guiltless of abusive statements, he is under a great misapprehension. The Prime Minister also said that this bill had been introduced because the Government had been unable to get the States to agree to a plan submitted to them. He did not state the reasons for their refusal. The reason is clear: the State Premiers were not game to bring such legislation forward because they knew that the people would not agree to it. The people do not want permanent controls. It is true that the parties now in Opposition first instituted prices control in this country, but they did so as a war measure. They still agree that controls are necessary in war-time, but they contend that as the war is over there should be a tapering off until conditions get back to normal. Even if some controls are necessary in normal times, other means for giving effect to them exist. For instance, there is in Victoria a Fair Rents Court to control rents. The new Premier of Victoria, Mr. Hollway, said recently that that body would operate again immediately prices control by the Commonwealth ceased.
Other States would no doubt take similar action, and so there is no need for the permanent controls sought by the Australian Government. The statement of the Prime Minister that he did not blame State governments for not going ahead with legislation to give permanent control over prices to the Commonwealth amused me. Fancy the Prime Minister of Australia telling Mr. Cain, the former Premier of Victoria., that he was to blame! In such an event I imagine that Mr. Cain would not hesitate to tell the Prime Minister what had happened to the Government of Victoria as the result of the introduction of the Banking Bill into this Parliament. It is ridiculous for the Prime Minister to say that he does not blame the State Premiers-
– He blamed the Legislative Councils in some of the States.
– I thank the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) for his interjection, because it enables me to state the grounds on which the Victorian elections were fought. Were those elections fought on the proposals of the Australian Government tonationalize banking?
– Order !
– Or was it fought on the action of the Legislative Council of that. State in refusing to pass certain legislation? The result of theelections showed clearly that the people of Victoria agreed with the action of their Legislative Council. If it was not fought on that issue it must have been fought on the record of the Cain Government. Whatever it was fought, on, the Minister for Information seems to have been wrongly informed this time.
Reference has been made to the purchasing power of the Australian £1 as compared to that of other currencies. When we remember that the homeconsumption price of wheat has been kept down to the 1938 level, it is not surprising that the purchasing power of the £1 in Australia has remained comparatively high.
The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) made a personal attack on members of the Opposition. He said that the Opposition wanted only two speakers from each side of the House to debate the bill, because members of the Opposi tion were always anxious to get back to their electorates. When truth getsa hearing, the public will learn that when we asked for the retention of “ Grievance Day”-
– Order! The honorable member must get back to the bill.
– May I ask you a question?
– The honorable member knows that he may discuss only the bill before the House.
– Surely, I am allowed to ask you a question! May I refer to what has been said by other honorable members during the course of this debate?
– The Chair will rule as the honorable member proceeds.
– The Minister for Transport said that members of the Opposition wanted to get back to their electorates. So far as thisbill is concerned, the Opposition is prepared to stay here until the debate has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The Opposition wants this bill to be dealt with before seventeen other bills are rushed hurriedly through the Parliament. It prefers that this bill should receive due consideration rather than that the House should be adjourned at 1 p.m. each Friday. Surely the Prime Minister is in charge of the House, and he can say how long the House shall sit.
– The honorable member will now return to the bill.
– The Minister for Transport referred sarcastically to honorable members on this side of the House, saying that their slogan was, “No more power for the Chifley Government”. The Minister was right. We do not want this Government to get any more power. Once the mask of democracy is torn from the hideous face of socialism, we do not want to give more power to a socialist government. A man may handle a Jersey bull or an Alsatian dog without fear until it turns on him, but once it does he will shoot it. “ No more power for the Chifley Government!” That will be the call during the referendum campaign, and the people will hear it thundering through the country. The Minister for Transport said that the Opposition longed for rho days of the depression to return, but that is an absolutely ridiculous statement to make. He then attacked the High Court judges in the manner which has now become familiar. He said that, during the war. the judges made easy decisions, but now that the war was over they were becoming harder. A statement of that kind in general terms is of no value in debate.
The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) said that the Opposition had missed the whole human tragedy of the depression. He argued that the bill was necessary if prosperity was to be maintained, and if social services were to be implemented. Prosperity can be maintained only while we are able to produce and deliver the goods. It, is thu efforts of primary producers that make for prosperity, and the Government’s proposals, if given effect, will merely hamper the primary producers, and must eventually reduce the standard nf living in Australia. The honorable member for Parkes said that many referendums would have been won if the story had been told in the right way. life meant, of course, if it had been told in the Labour way, but wc maintain that the, way in which we put the matter before the people is the right way.
The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) charged the Opposition with not being honest enough to admit certain facts. The honorable member himself did not tell the people that if the Government’s proposals are accepted the Government will have absolute power. If, as the Minister for Transport believes, the High Court is to be abolished, and the Government has complete power over prices and banking, there will be a real dictatorship. I do not want to charge the honorable member for Fremantle with dishonesty, because charges of that kind serve no useful purpose in the National Parliament. I have noticed that, during the last eighteen months, the tone of this Parliament has been sinking. Honorable members on both sides of the House are rending more and more to indulge in per sonal abuse, which is often without foundation of any kind. The honorable member for Fremantle said that when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) was in Perth he made the ridiculous statement that discontent was sweeping over the country. That was two years ago, and if we bring the statement up t<> date, I can say that it is quite true that discontent has swept over the country - discontent with high taxes and excessive government control.
The honorable member for Hume (.Mr. Fuller) made a long speech, which contained many inaccuracies. I agree with hi in that this bill has one purpose and one only, but its purpose is to give more power to the Chifley Government, and to the Commonwealth Parliament. He criticized the Leader of the Opposition, saying that the right honorable gentleman had changed his coat many times. He said that the Leader of the Opposition had been, first, a young Nationalist, and then an old Nationalist. Does he believe that the Leader of the Opposition has discovered the secret of eternal youth ? Is it not natural that if he was once a young Nationalist and has since grown older, he must eventually become an old Nationalist ? It is a great pity that some men, as they grow older, do not obtain a better grasp of logic. They seem to be incapable of learning from experience. The honora’ble member for Hume said that the bill was an anti-depression measure, but he admitted that it could not prevent a depression of overseas origin - and this, notwithstanding the fact that members of the Government have repeatedly declared that never again are we to suffer a depression. I have heard those words so often that I realize that the one hand must have written all the speeches. The honorable member pointed out clearly that this pro posed power, even if exercised by the Australian Government, will not prevent a financial and economic depression of overseas origin from affecting Australia. If the bill will not provide that safeguard, what is the use of iti Most financial and economic depressions begin overseas. Therefore, on that ground, the bill is not worth the paper on which it is printed.
In a dramatic manner, the honorable member for Hume declared that we should have the courage to expand. I ask: Has it not been the individual who has led expansionist movements in the past? I refer to the men who pushed out into the back-blocks, or who opened businesses. Always the individual has led an expansionist movement. We speak of democracy. Abraham Lincoln was the great giver of democracy. The mob did not confer it. When people are gathered together in a mob they do not display initiative, or any tendency to expand. There is a lack of enterprise. Most men expand in their own individual ways. Individuals collectively make nations and, as a general rule, they have made nations of prosperous and virile people. History has taught us that when people get together in hordes and mobs they lose all incentive. Indeed, on that account, the Roman Empire tottered and fell into the dust. The power with respect to rents and prices, if vested in this Parliament, can produce the same result, particularly if the Government is permitted to continue the policy of which it has already given signs.
– The honorable member has a wild imagination.
– I recall a saying that “every man must have some imagination “, but I believe that imagination is only vision, provided that one can keep one’s feet on the ground. That is the important point. Where there is no vision the people perish. If the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) does not understand what I mean by that, I cannot help it.
The honorable member for Hume also declared that we must have power to control the potato-growing industry for a further period. Honorable members on this side of the chamber agree with that statement ; but the bill provides that, subject to the approval of the people at a referendum, the Parliament of the Commonwealth shall possess this power permanently. So the honorable member’s remarks on that count do not cut any ice with me. This bill will also relate to the stabilization of prices and the fixation of home-consumption prices. Making a strong point of that, the honorable member informed us that some money will be paid in the near future to oat-growers. I remind him that any money which is to be paid to oat-growers will come from the profits of their own labour and from the sale of their own crops. Therefore, any money which this Government pays to them will not be in the nature of a gift. The honorable member also pointed out that the Government has assisted stock-feeders by transporting feed for them. Transporting feed! The honorable member did not explain that wheat which was transported perhaps to Queensland-
-Order! I have already allowed the honorable member considerable latitude, and I now ask him to relate his remarks to the bill.
– This bill affects home-consumption prices. The honorable member for Hume did not tell the people that Australian wheat-growers were losing the difference between world parity for wheat and the homeconsumption price, amounting to as much as 10s. a bushel. If honorable members opposite had not made so many mis-statements, I should not now cause you so much annoyance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I must answer them; otherwise, people might think that those mis-statements are true, and that would be a. calamity.
The honorable member also stated that the advantages which primary producers would receive if this authority to control rents and prices were vested in the Parliament of the Commonwealth, would include an adequate supply of cornsacks. The honorable member should not refer to cornsacks. We know that the position is so serious that it does not require any further comment now. Finally, the honorable member stated that the Government would persist with this bill, no matter what black market specialists might say. Of course, the blackmarketeers are not saying anything. As the result of the Government’s price- fixing operations, they are living in a paradise. For example, I need only refer to the black market in second-hand motor vehicles. The Government does not police its own laws in relation to this matter, and the blackmarketeer is doing just as he pleases. So, when a man gets all that he wants, why should he pass any comment? Black marketing will become worse if the people do not reject the Government’s proposals at the forthcoming referendum.
E have in my hand a copy of a newspaper which honorable members opposite will not say misquotes statements. It is The Labor Call, issued on the 27 th November last, in Melbourne. I direct attention to an article entitled, “ What Prices Bill Will Do”. It reads-
The rents and prices amendment to the Constitution will enable the Commonwealth Parliament to -
Legislate with respect to rents and prices, including charges.
The power over rents will cover the fixing or “ pegging “ of rents and will include power to provide for the determination of fair rents and, as an incidental matter, to protect tenants against eviction. It will apply to rents of goods as well as rents of land and buildings.
The prices power will enable Parliament to control prices at which property of any kind, including commodities, land and shares in companies, are sold.
Give explicit power to control charges for which the term “ prices “ or “ rents “ are not ordinarily used, such as hairdressing or for board and lodging. Such power will also include charges for the use of money, or in other words, interest.
To ensure a home-consumption price for primary products.
To prevent losses to importers because of the collapse of overseas prices of raw materials.
To provide subsidies to maintain reasonable prices to consumers as well as producers for essential goods, such as potatoes and dairy products.
– That is a good speech.
– I inform the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) that in the column next to this article appears a photograph of himself. I do not know whether that implies that the honorable gentleman gave his blessing to this article.
– I agree with every word of it.
– If the Government’s proposals become law, the people will be robbed of initiative. The Government will do all these things for them, and the people will become like goldfish swimming in a bowl, or a merry-go-round. They will have nothing to do. If any quality has built up this country and will enable it to rise to even greater heights, it is the initiative of the people. From their failures men and women learn how to become strong. If the Government pampers them by doing everything for them, we shall not get anywhere. I am reminded of a remark by the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons) not long ago -
You cannot make mcn strong by permanently doing for them what they should and could do for themselves.
One of the qualities which built the British Empire, and the Australian nation, is not this sort of pampering, but the pioneering spirit. The passage which I read from The Labor Call is a social, programme for a lounge lizard; and lounge lizards bask in the sunlight of the Government’s new era. We can depend on that. While I could deal with many other subjects in relation to this bill, the legislation does not require a long speech. It must be clear to all that if we are to build a strong nation in future, we must allow private enterprise to operate, and encourage initiative and individual effort. We must copy all those things which in the past have contributed to Australia’s greatness. About 80 years ago, a great French writer, speaking through the lips of one of his American characters, uttered these words of wisdom and of power which are as true to-day as they were then -
The more democratic a proposal is, the more it is necessary that the individual be strong and his property sacred. We are a nation of sovereigns, and everything that weakens the individual tends towards disorder and ruin; whereas everything that fortifies the individual tends towards democracy, that is, the reign of reason. A free country is a country where each citizen is absolute master of his conscience, his person, and his goods. If the day ever comes when individual rights are swallowed up by those of the general interest, that day will see the end of Washington’s handiwork; we will be a mob and we will have a master.
Individual liberty and the common good are entirely consistent with one another. The duty which rests upon us in this generation is the same as that which has rested upon all past generations: to be vigilant to detect, and to repel absolutely, every attempt, however insidious or indirect, to destroy liberty in the name of order, or order in the name of liberty; for the alternative of the one is despotism, and of the other the mob.
– I am rather surprised at the emphasis which the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) placed upon the cry, “ No more power for the Chifley Government”. Let us examine for a moment the benefits obtained by the people from the power exercised by the present Government. To-day the people are in a better position than they have ever been in before,and that is largely due to governmental intervention. I quite agree that there are some irksome restrictions, that some anomalies exist in price controls, and that there is a certain amount of black marketing. However, it is generally realized that; some people are always able to find ways of getting around even the most carefully drafted legislation. I suggest that, people, when they hear the slogan of members of the Opposition, “ No more power for the Chifley Government”, will smile, because they realize the benefits which they have obtained from the Government’s exercise of its existing powers. However, I should like to correct one statement made by the honorable member, namely, that if the proposed referendum is carried, the people will be bound for ever by price controls. That is not correct; the bill proposes to take a referendum in order that constitutional authority may be conferred on the Commonwealth Parliament to legislate for the control of prices and rents, including charges. The first question that arises for serious consideration is: Do we believe in the necessity for maintaining controls? I should say unhesitatingly that we do, and that even honorable members opposite agree that controls must be maintained, at least for the present. However, they contend that a time limit should be set to the operation of those controls, and T. have no doubt that they would not oppose the continuation of the present controls for a limited period. But if the Government acceded to their contention, and proposed to limit the power to control prices, for, say, three years, we should probably find ourselves in grave difficulties at the end of that time. We do not know now whether three years hence would be an opportune time to terminate the present system of prices control, and because of that the Government is asking the people to confer on the Parliament general power to legislate to control rents and prices. When a surplus of goods is available, the natural tendency is for the price of those goods to fall. I point out that if the Parliament had the general power to fix prices it could employ that power at such times to protect the producers.
The honorable member referred to what he termed the destruction of incentive, and advocated that supporters of the Government should view the present proposal in broad perspective. He reminded us of individuals who pioneered this country and made its present development possible.I adopt his argument, and I refer him to the history of the pioneers of his own electorate ofWimmera, and invite him to consider how many of them have survived. By “survived”,I do not mean physically, but economically. How many of them still retain possession of the property which they pioneered and developed? I remember a man who came to South Australia and took up virgin land.He pioneered that land, and rendered the State a service in doing so. But he did not have the benefit of the protection afforded by price regulation, and when the price of wheat fell to 2s. a bushel he, like many other pioneers, had to walk off his property. However. I do not propose to spend any more time in rebutting the contentions of the honorable member for Wimmera.
Ibelieve that our first approach to this problem should be to decide whether controls are necessary. As I said previously, I think that we are all in agreement on that. Even under the present system of prices control, the rental of the dwellings occupied by many people is more than twice that which they can afford to pay. Only recently, a resident of Canberra informed me that a. similar house to that which he could obtain less than ten years ago at a rental of approximately 25s. a week, now costs more than twice that much. That sort of thing occurs even under the operation of the present system of prices control.
– Does the honorablemember say that rents have risen?
-I am asserting that the rental of a house constructed to-day would be. more than twice that of a similar house constructed ten or twelve years ago. However, I do not contend that the rent of houses built ten or twelve years ago has more than doubled itself; I was referring to houses built in the last few years. Of course, we know that the principal reasons for the higher rental of houses built in recent years is the increased cost of house construction.
Honorable members of the Opposition have contended that the States are quite capable of controlling rents. I propose to recount some of their efforts to control rents, and compare them with the efforts made by the Commonwealth. I shall speak of a ease of which I have definite knowledge. South Australia followed Vew South Wales and Queensland in applying rent controls. A Liberal government in South Australia introduced the first measure for this purpose, but its power to legislate in this connexion was subject to a time limit such as has been mentioned in this debate, because of the attitude of the Legislative Council which would grant the power to peg rents only from year to year. About 1942, t. he Liberal State Government introduced t.he bill necessary to continue rent controls for a further period of twelve months in the ordinary course of events. This was before the Australian Government applied the rent control regulations which are in force to-day. The Legislative Council of the State refused to accept the measure as it stood, and one of its members moved to insert a clause providing for a 10 per cent, increase of ali rents. The Premier, Mr, Playford, refused to accept the amendment and sent the bill hack to the Legislative Council. The Upper House remained adamant and a deadlock resulted.
In order to resolve the situation, a. conference was held, and I was appointed one of the managers for the Legislative Assembly. The representatives of the Legislative Council were directly interested in big companies which derived income from rents, and we had the most bitter fight that I have known before we could secure their agreement to the continuance of rent controls without the 10 per cent, increase which they proposed. In the end, we gained our point by telling them that, if they insisted upon the increase, we should have no option but to approach the Australian Government and ask it to take action. That forced their hands. Three weeks ago, another bill was introduced in the South Australian Parliament for the pur pose of extending the State rent control provisions for a further period of twelve months. Again the gentleman whom I opposed previously moved that all rents be increased, not by 10 per cent., but by 15 per cent. The Liberal Minister in the Legislative Council said to him, “ If you insist upon this increase of 15 per cent., the Commonwealth Government will probably step in and bring its regulations into force, with the result that the State regulations will be superseded “.
When honorable members opposite talk about the exercise of powers by State parliaments as opposed to the Australian Parliament, they should keep in mind the fact that this Parliament represents all electors. The situation in the States is vastly different. The distribution of electorates in Victoria and South Australia, particularly, gives an unfair balance of power in favour of sparsely settled country districts as against closely settled metropolitan areas. Furthermore, most of the State parliaments have Upper Houses elected by means of a qualified franchise, which operates not in the interests of wage-earners but in the interests of persons who own property or who occupy property. In the light of these facts, it is not difficult to appreciate the force of what the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) said to-night. I do not think that the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) fully understood what the right honorable gentleman meant when he said that he did not blame the Premiers for the failure of the State parliaments to transfer certain of their powers to the Commonwealth. When the States were asked to enact legislation for the transfer of powers, the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, promised to submit the proposal to his Parliament and to do his best to secure its acceptance. However, he pointed out that he could not commit the members of his Parliament to acceptance of the plan. That was quite right and fair. The Prime Minister was referring to this fact when he said that he did not blame the Premiers for the rejection of the proposal. In South Australia, the Legislative Council chopped the legislation to pieces, until it became almost unrecognizable. The Premier had no control over that. Because of the influence of privileged Upper Houses, it is not correct to say that the State parliaments can adequately protect the interests of the people in relation to rents and prices.
The honorable member for Wimmera said that the Government proposed to take away the rights of the people and that, if it obtained the power which will be sought at the referendum, the people would no longer be able to conduct their own business affairs without interference. I point out to the honorable member that the State parliaments already possess power to take this right away from the people. The Opposition relies upon the fact that the Upper Houses in most of the State Parliaments, having an equal say with the Lower Houses, are unlikely to agree to the imposition of rent and prices controls. In voting against this proposal, honorable members opposite are voting to retain a system under which the Upper Houses of the State legislatures exercise privileges against the best interests of the people. They talk about fear of centralization of powers in Canberra. In fact, they seek to withhold from the only parliament in Australia which is truly representative of the people the power to control rents, and prices of food, household goods and land, whether it be vacant or not, in the interests of the people. They desire to retain the power of the legislative councils. Only in Queensland and New South Wales were rents effectively controlled by State legislation before the war. The control in Queensland was effective because in the Queensland Parliament there is no legislative council to frustrate the will of the people as expressed in the popularly elected lower house. It was effective in New South Wales because when the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) was Premier, before the constitution of the upper house in that State was altered, it was possible, when it obstructed legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly, to appoint sufficient new members to it to ensure the passage of that legislation. In the other States of the Commonwealth, however, control of prices and rents was not nearly so effective because of the power of the legislative councils elected by privileged sections of the community.
I .say now to the people of Australia - and I shall repeat it during the referendum campaign - “Unless you give this power to the Commonwealth Parliament, as soon as the High Court decides that the conditions of war no longer justify the exercise of the defence power by the Commonwealth, control of prices, rents and charges will revert to the States, and, when that happens, the chances are that with legislative councils operating with power equal to that of the legislative assemblies in five of the six States, effective control of prices, rents and charges will not be possible “. I agree that the fixing of rents at the 1939 levels was a little burdensome and that it was unreasonable in particular instances. The regulations, however, were amended to enable the Housing Trust of South Australia, which was entrusted with the administration of the regulations in that State, to take into consideration in determining a fair rent for a house the rents charged for comparable houses in the same neighbourhood, and rents were increased or decreased on that basis. That did away with the anomaly under which a person who, for sentimental or charitable reasons, had let a house to someone at a rent lower than he would have normally charged was prevented from increasing the rent to be paid by a new tenant.
It disgusts me to hear honorable gentlemen opposite say that the Government proposes to ask the people to grant the Commonwealth Parliament power over prices, rents and charges so that it shall be able to impose its will on them and control all other matters affecting their lives. Why, the honorable member for Wimmera went so far as to state that the Government intended to abolish the High Court. The High Court is provided for in the Constitution and could not be abolished without an affirmative vote from the people at a referendum. The honorable member was drawing a long bow when he said that.
– I said that one Minister gave that indication.
– The honorable member’s statement has gone out to the world that that is what we propose to do. This bill is not concerned with anything but prices, rents and charges. The people would be foolish to believe the
Opposition’s claim that all the Government needs is continuance of the provisions of the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act for another twelve months after the end of this year, and that there is no need for the Commonweath Parliament to be given the power asked for in this bill. After the High Court rules that the Commonwealth Parliament no longer has the right to exercise the defence power, unless this power is conceded by the people, we shall be thrown to the wolves so far as prices, rents and charges are concerned. I do not desire to cover the ground traversed by the Prime Minister, but we do know that in whatever countries prices control has been lifted prices have skyrocketed and inflation has occurred. When I was in the United States of America early this year, I had a vivid demonstration of how prices soar when control is removed. The effort of President Truman to have prices control reimposed confirms that it is necessary for the Parliament to have the power to control prices. We say that, regardless of what party is in power, the Commonwealth Parliament should have authority to legislate to control prices, rents and charges whenever it considers it desirable in the interests of the people. As the State parliaments have not been prepared to bring into being unnecessary controls, so would the Commonwealth Parliament act only when the need for controls arose. I recollect that fifteen or sixteen years ago, in the House of Assembly of South Australia, the government of the day brought down legislation in connexion with certain industrial matters. The then Opposition argued that if the Government operated the power that it sought in that legislation, the initiative of private enterprise would be destroyed. I said then that no government would bring down legislation that would injure people without paying the penalty at the next general elections. I do not believe that any government would dare to initiate legislation inimical to the people. To do so would be to court destruction. All we ask is that the people give to the Commonwealth Parliament the same power as the State parliaments have held since their inception over prices, rents and charges and stick to the bill.
.- The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) should not delude himself. This bill seeks a constitutional alteration, the effect of which would be to give to the Commonwealth Government permanent power to decide rents and prices. It is part of the pattern of total socialization. It is on a par with the Banking Bill, and, like the Banking Bill and much of the other Socialist legislation passed by the Parliament, it is unnecessary and undemocratic. That, however, matters little to a government that is so busy planning a new world of controls, queues, regulations and regimentation. When this bill is passed - as it will be, because the Government has the numbers - the people will, I feel sure, reject the proposal at the referendum. As they spoke in Victoria recently, so they will speak throughout the Commonwealth on this occasion.
The Prime Minister. (Mr. Chifley) told the familiar story of the man who works and how he is trying to protect him. No classes of people want to be pushed around by government regulations; they all like to feel that they have their essential democratic liberties, but this Government is filching them by legislation of this kind. The Banking Act, this bill and the attack upon the private airlines, which indicates an intention to force them out of existence, all form part of the pattern of socialization. The Prime Minister endeavoured to qualify the range and seriousness of this legislation. This simple bill has only two clauses, but it has a very wide sweep. It would, as it were, put the people in an economic iron-lung, in which they would be looked after by this goodly Government. The Prime Minister said, “ The people will be protected “. They are apparently to be protected in spite of themselves. They do not want this sort of protection; they showed what they thought of it in other places, and the right honorable gentleman did not dare to let them apeak on another subject. He said, “If they should throw this referendum out, the evil will be on their own heads “.
– Is not that true?
– It shows how powercrazed the Government can be. In time of total war, it is necessary to have total control. By the turn of fortune’s wheel, this Government ‘became the government of the day, with its Ministers wielding great power, but if they had been put on the Nullabor plain for the duration of the war, the Commonwealth would have gone on, the armed forces would have fought just as well and their leaders would have been just as successful. Therefore, the fact that this Government, having been granted these .powers of control then, clings to them in peace-time shows that it has lost all sense of democratic proportion. The people want some freedom from this sort of control and it is wrong for tho Prime Minister to mislead them by letting it ibc thought that what he is meeking is merely something for their protection. This is, in fact, a move to secure a greater centralization of power in Canberra. The welfare of the Australian people cannot be controlled from this city. The Prices Branch and all the departments administering these controls have been set almost impossible tasks. They do their best in the circumstances, hut we should trust the States and the States have always had the sovereign power to see that rents and prices are controlled. There should be a tapering off now, two years after the war.
We have given this Government - and the Parliament, and the people should be clear about it - temporary power to regulate rents and prices, but it is time there was a re-assessment and a complete overhaul of the position. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has said very eloquently, as also has the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale), whom we are glad to see here again after a long illness, that these controls are necessary. Honorable members on this side of the House admit that until supply overtakes demand there must be some sort of control. Rents must be prevented from rocketing, but the States have those powers, and they should be allowed to exercise them. The Government has just but the definite objective of this bill is to make that temporary power a permanent one. Western Australia is more distant from the eastern coast of Australia than New Zealand. Are the people of that State going to be content for all these matters to be run from Canberra in perpetuity? It is not administratively possible. The Ministers who have portfolios, and who have the power to write regulations, imagine that, somehow or other, they can control the destinies of people throughout the whole of Australia. They have to realize that the time has arrived for a good deal of minimizing of war-time control. Some form of rent control is undoubtedly necessary, but I submit that the State governments would see to it that those controls were not applied as crudely as they are being applied to-day. Has this Government ever given any consideration to regulating sub-tenancies? It is not only the rich who are property owners. Honorable * members receive letters from many people whose lifetime savings have been put into a small property which was rented before the war at a low rental. The present rental is pegged at that figure, yet the rates are not, and the tenant can sub-let it and make I anrc profits from people who ure in desperate need of accommodation. That sort of th in:! is. never looked at, because those who administer these controls from Canberra do not see the problem in the same way. The States would arrange to meet that sort of situation, according to the density of their populations. In price fixation there are many anomalies. Although the Prices Commission, centralized here in Canberra, has many experts on its staff, it cannot be expected to be in touch with the ebb and flow of business in the different cities and to have knowledge of the variations in the several States. There must be, and there are, inordinate delays. Firms seeks a price decision on a new product; but it may be months before they receive it, and then only after a great deal of correspondence. The commissioner has to police so many activities that frequently the more guilty people escape, because they know the rules and regulations and know how to avoid them. Very often it is the small man who pays the penalty through ignorance.
It seems that the defeat of the Labour party at the last Victorian elections, in which the nationalization of ‘banking was the main issue, has not registered with this Government. This Government, meeting here in Canberra, armed with a few socialist catch, words and a few communist cliches, goes on with the story that it is the friend of the working man. That is quite out of date. It is time that this Government tried to think nationally, ceased to try to create class consciousness, and stopped pretending that one section of the community needs more attention than another, and that it is the people’s Government. The people do not want this attention; they want their essential freedom.
Many anomalies can occur. I do not claim to be an authority on the subject, but when a maximum, price is fixed for a particular commodity, that maximum price ‘becomes in fact the minimum price. Tn the case of ladies’ hats,£4 10s. was to be the maximum price, but that maximum price became the minimum price charged for any old bunch of straw or handful of artificial flowers. Honorable members have pointed to other anomalies, showing how ludicrous the regulations are. I submit that if those matters were controlled by the States themselves, that state of affairs would not exist. The honorable member for Hindmarsh has spoken of the impossibility of the States themselves doing this. I point out that the framers of our Constitution were wise men. In section 92 they said that trade was to be free between the States. If one State had a wrong system of prices control, its economy would be injured, and the competition offered by adjoining States would soon rectify the matter. Competition should be allowed to play its full part in these days. Restrictions retard production, and these restrictions in the ultimate will mean that young people will flock to the profitable industries, to the detriment of the others. I suggest that in the next twelve months, while the Commonwealth still administers prices control, it should concentrate on basic commodities, including necessary foodstuffs and building materials supplied by wholesale establishments, and ignore minor retail lines. In this way administrative expenses could be reduced considerably. That is a form of prices administration that the State would take over gladly. I say, therefore, that this measure is not necessary.
The Government will have power over prices for another twelve months, and it should be content with that. At the end of that time the whole position could lie reviewed. To ask the people to confer these powers permanently is inviting defeat, and I have no doubt that, a negative vote will be registered when the referendum is held. There has never been an affirmative vote on any Constitution alteration proposal that has not had the support of the two major political parties. In this case, the Opposition is strongly opposed to the Government’s proposal. We are in favour of the Commonwealth exercising temporary power, but we are not prepared to concede this authority permanently. We realize of course that this bill will be passed by the Parliament, because the Government has a large enough majority in both chambers, so what we say on this occasion does not matter very much, but the Government is adopting a kind of scorched-earth policy. While it is in power it is not prepared to heed the voice of democracy. It is blind to the writing on the wall in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria. It is bent upon socializing Australia as far as possible while it still occupies the treasury bench. But when this bill has been passed the question will then be in the hands of the people, and I have no doubt that the Government’s proposal will be defeated. The Government seems to ignore the fact, that individuals have initiative, enterprise, thrift and ability, and that these virtues should be encouraged rather than restricted. Honorable members opposite will find that when they speak from the hustings on their referendum proposal, the Communists will support them solidly. The Communists will support any proposal that represents a step towards the socialistic state, because the socialistic state and the slave state that they envisage are the same thing in the end. They seek to achieve their ends by violent means; but if they can find a political party by which they can be harboured, naturally they will support that party. The Communists will agree with the Government that this action is necessary to protect the people. But the people do not need this protection and they have not asked for it. I say again that the Government should be content with its temporary authority over rents and prices for another year. At the end of that time it may he found that these controls are no longer necessary. I oppose the bill and although it will be passed by the Parliament, the proposal will not be agreed to by the people.
.- This is, “ A bill for an act to alter the Constitution by empowering the Parliament to make -laws with respect to rents and prices (including charges) “, and I propose to make upon it a speech of extraordinary brevity. I have always supported amendments of the Constitution to give additional powers to the Australian Parliament as distinct from the State Parliaments. I should have thought that the tendency for prices to increase in this country was so obvious that the necessity for a corrective would be apparent. It is only necessary to consult with one’s housekeeper to know that prices are increasing constantly. Rents, too, are rising, although the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) suggested that that was not so.
– The Commonwealth Statistician says they are not rising; I do not say it.
– In my opinion, the Fair Rents Court should be made the responsible agency for rent fixation. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) has said that he would not give to this Government one jot or tittle of increased power, and that sentiment apparently is shared by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull). My mind goes back a long way in the political history of this country. I venture to recall that Sir William Irvine, then the member for Flinders, stated the same thing with respect to the Fisher Government, thus equally betraying his views as to the powers to be given to the Fisher Government. I said then, as I say now, that the powers should be given to the Commonwealth rather than to the States, and that the question to be decided is whether the powers should be given to the Commonwealth irrespective of the particular government that exercised them. That should be perfectly clear. I believe that these powers should reside in the Commonwealth Parliament. I could address a long argument to that point. I prefer simply to say that with respect to the distribution of powers between the States and the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth should exercise them. The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) said that I had spoken on many referendums. I hasten to add that- J have spoken unsuccessfully on. many referendums. Usually, the referendums were defeated; but I hope that this referendum will be an exception. I hope that it will be carried. I believe, for obvious reasons, that it should be carried. Therefore, I support the measure ; and I shall do my part in elaborating the arguments in support of the Government’s proposal.
.- Some years ago Macaulay, the historian, said that when a government took control of a commodity, the commodity became scarce, bad and dear; and I invite those people who have had some experience of government commodity control in Australia, particularly in recent years, to apply that criticism, offered so many years ago, and to ask themselves if there is not a good deal of substance to it. It is my experience, and I believe the experience of most people, that that is what does happen, and what has happened. The fact that that comment was made long before the present Government instituted, its prices control policy reminds us that, although we are inclined to think of prices control, and Government control generally, as something novel and modern and a recent innovation, in point of fact it has a very long history and not a very favorable history. One can go back to the time of ancient Rome and discover there attempts at prices control and profit control. One can discover in the period of Rome’s decay these paternalistic schemes which the Government has adopted as some modern innovation in Australia to-day. One can find in the time of the Tudors, attempts by a despotic monarchy, determined to maintain its own monopolistic advantage, to maintain prices of commodities marketed by other people. These control systems are inevitably associated with a period of political and constitutional decay, and it is my belief that the Labour party has, in a state of philosophic and organizational decay, turned to this policy as a continuing policy for this country.
– My doctrinaire friend says “ rubbish One thing he has left to us is the right to express our opinion. Certainly, it is not a very freely exercised right in this Parliament, being subject to the “ gag “, “ guillotine “ and the “ smother “ ; but that is my opinion for what it is worth, and I am glad to believe that it is an opinion which is shared by an increasingly large number of people in this Commonwealth who are thoroughly fed up with the so-called protection which this Government is dishing out to them. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) gave us to-night another one of those speeches - the twentieth century version of the Sermon on the Mount, as delivered by Mr. Chifley. It is a kind of speech to which we have now become accustomed, but by which we are no longer convinced. He says that the policy of the Government is designed to protect the people of Australia; it is for their protection. The word “ protection “ has received a somewhat sinister significance in recent years. After all, it had behind it the force of the practical Chicago racketeer who set out to protect the small trader by giving him the blessing of his patronage in return for a substantial fee. The people of Australia are being protected by the Labour Government at the heaviest cost that any modern or ancient government has attempted to levy in a period of peace. The argument of protection and security is wearing very thin in this country as the result of the people’s experience. They are not asking so much for protection as foi- the opportunity, and the right, to stand on their own feet and look after themselves with a minimum of government interference and hindrance, f remind supporters of the Government that protection against inflation is not given merely by attempts to control prices, because protection against inflation may be only a small part of the problem. One answer to the problem of inflation is the production of goods. I invite supporters of the Government to show where increased production is taking place in this country, and I draw attention to the figures cited by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) recently in this connexion. I invite them to tell the people of this country where the labour force embodied in from 500,000 to 700,000 ex-service men and women has gone. Prices in Australia, instead of falling since the end of the war as the result of the return of hundreds of thousands of men and women to civil production, have increased. The most effective price regulators, which have stood the test of time, are the regulators of production, of effort, and of enterprise. It is because the Government is not permitting those factors to develop that we on this side criticize its programme.
It is not my purpose to-night to deal with details of the prices control system. In connexion with another bill I hope to have another opportunity to discuss that matter, but there are a few matter? which I desire to place on record in this debate. We are invited to give to the Commonwealth Parliament a permanent power to control prices, rents and charges, and we are told that that control is needed to protect the people of the Commonwealth. I have said something about that. The horrible example of what is happening in the United States of America has been placed before us. What is happening in that country? We are told that there has been a sensational increase of prices there. It is true that for many items which are in short supply in that country prices have increased sensationally on the surface, and, indeed, in reality, but if we applied to Australia the same realistic test in respect of items which are in short supply, how would our real prices to-day measure up to the situation? Is the real price of second-hand motor cars in Australia greater in proportion to the price of a similar car in the United States of America at the present time? Or, let us consider transactions involving land. Does the nominal price reflect the real price? In the United States of America there are real prices - prices at which goods may be bought openly and freely. Those who believe that, at the prices obtaining in that country, there is a commercial and business opportunity to make profits are prepared to make an effort to supply goods and materials. That situation eventually rights itself. But if we look at the black side of what is happening in the United States of America, let us see the bright side also. The bright side i.= that a country which contains 10 per cent, of the world’s population produces 55 per cent, of the world’s manufactured goods. There is a clamour throughout the world for dollars to buy American goods. That is one of the factors which are keeping prices high in the United States of America. If that country had merely to satisfy its domestic demands, there would be a considerable drop in prices. What we have in Australia is not so much prices control, but prices regulation; and that regulation of prices is on a most lopsided basis.
Let us consider now the position in regard to rent control. Here again, we see not so much rent control as rent regulation. Rent control would suggest that the movements in rents would be in line with the general movement of prices which are unavoidable by various economic circumstances. But, if we look at the latest figures supplied by the Common wealth Statistician, we find that he divides the variations of prices into four groups, and traces them back to the outbreak of the war. The figures for the six capital cities of Australia show that in respect of food prices there has been, since September, 1939, an increase of 20 per cent. Clothing prices have increased by 87.3 per cent, in that period, whilst the increased cost of miscellaneous items is 26.2 per cent. Rents, however, have increased by only 1 per cent, in that period. It is popular to belabour the home-owner or landlord, the person who derives income from property. Those who have some feelings of class consciousness or of bitterness against the landlord will, no doubt, derive some satisfaction from the figures which I have cited; but, if the Government sets out to do justice to ail sections of the community, it would do something in respect of the person who derives income from the property no less than it will seek to do justice to people who derive income from farming, manufacturing, or the sale of their labour. I agree that the problem of rent control is most difficult. In respect of rents, all honorable members who are honest will say that political expediency, rather than a sense of justice, has guided our actions. In laying that. I do not, suggest that there should be any sudden increase of rents, in keeping with the increases of prices in other directions. I acknowledge frankly that any increases of that kind would be disastrous to tens of thousands of people throughout the Commonwealth, as well as to our economy. It would have an effect on the basic wage. It would have a serious effect on the living standards of the overwhelming mass of the Australian people. However, I do put this to the Government: While there may be very good reasons why no increase of rents should be permitted at the present time, there are equally good reasons why justice should be done to those persons who derive their income from property. I know of cases in which people who own their own homes cannot live in those homes because of the operation of Government regulations. They may receive a small income from the letting of their homos, and they, in turn, have to pay rent for the places which they occupy. On the rent they receive for their own homes, which they cannot occupy, they must .pay income tax at the property rate, but they are not allowed any reduction on the rent which they themselves have to pay for the premises they occupy.
– I think the honorable member is going away from the rent question to the tenancy question.
– How can it be suggested that, in referring to rent control, we may not refer to the question of tenancy, and that these matters are not the Landlord and Tenant Regulations, related to the proposed transfer of power to the Commonwealth in regard to rents? My criticism is that the Government, having had power to control rent under has not attempted to deal justly with persons who receive income from rents. While I agree that an increase of rents would be disastrous, the Government could meet the position in one of two ways, or ‘by a combination of both - it could pay a subsidy on rents, just as it has given rental rebates, or it could give a taxation concession to those persons who derive income from rent. As to how it could be worked out in detail, I will not now attempt to suggest, but a government that intended to exercise its rent control policy fairly would certainly try to do something for those persons who receive a small income from the letting of properties which they own.
I come now to the matter of charges, l t is on this point, I believe, that the sincerity of the Government can be most accurately tested. The Prime Minister would have us believe that the Government has been actuated by the best motives, namely, the protection of the people. The policy which it brings forward now is a very different one from that which was designed for the protection of the people some little while ago, and the people have had bitter experience of the way in which the Government honours its undertakings regarding the exercise of constitutional power. The power which it is sought to obtain under this legislation is an attack on the power of the States. It is an application of the x pressed policy of the Labour party to socialize the means of production, distribution and exchange. There have !>‘:cn many indications of the attitude of the Government and of the Labour party. One of them was given a year or two ago by no less a. person than the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), who spoke at a public meeting after the defeat of the 1944 referendum proposals. He was reported to have said -
The Federal Government has been retarded in its planning for the post-war years by the defeat of the Referendum (1944) and what the Government cannot achieve directly it will have to d<> indirectly. The Government found that it could nationalize the airlines mid alter the bunking system without legal obstacles.
That is borne out by what the Government has since done, and by the attitude of the Government in respect of one other constitutional change in relation to the State governments. Honorable members will recall an undertaking that was given in respect of uniform taxation. When the bill was introduced in May of 1942, the present Prime Minister, who was then Treasurer, said -
The Government, having carefully considered the committee’s report, has decided to adopt the recommendations with a view to bringing about a single taxation authority for the period of the war and one year thereafter.
Section 8 of that act provided that the act would continue until the last day of the first financial year after the date upon which His Majesty continued to be engaged in the war, and no longer. Later, the Treasurer, in his budget speech, said -
The uniform tax plan will replace the former multiple taxing systems of the Commonwealth and the States, and will operate for the duration of the war and one year thereafter.
But in March, 1946, after having given those undertakings, he said -
This Government intends that uniform tax shall be permanent. There lias been talk about broken pledges. I want to make it clear that no pledges were broken at all.
In the face of the statements I have quoted, one wonders what meaning the Prime Minister attaches to the word ‘ pledge “. I have quoted the undertakings given regarding uniform taxation, because that constitutes one of the tests which may be applied to the Government in order to judge of its good faith in regard fo the exercise of constitutional powers. The story leads on logically to a development which shows the Government up in its true colours. Honorable members will recall that in 1942 a convention was held of representatives of the Commonwealth and State Parliaments to consider proposed alterations of the Constitution. The Commonwealth desired a number of powers at that time to see the country through the reconstruction period. The convention met at Canberra between the 24th November and the 2nd December, 1942, and was attended by a very representative gathering from the political parties represented in the Commonwealth Parliament and the State Parliaments. In the official report of that convention, at page 173, we find a reference to the power proposed at that time to be adopted for the reconstruction period -
Profiteering and prices but not including prices or rates charged by State or semigovernmental or local governing bodies for goods or services.
The Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) in explaining the paragraph said -
In providing for the reference of this power to the Commonwealth, the drafting committee decided to except prices and rates charged by State or semi governmental or local governing bodies for goods or services.
The paragraph was thereupon agreed to.
– All those have been “ decontrolled “ by the Commonwealth.
– Does the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Hollow.ay) suggests that, if the power to control prices, which the Government will =eek at the forthcoming referendum, is granted, the Government will not have power to control State prices and State charges or charges made by States in respect of their own instrumentalities?
– All governments would, but that does not suggest that they would do so.
– This is not without its significance. At the time, the representatives of the States pressed the Commonwealth to exclude them from the operation of a general prices power, and the Commonwealth agreed to do so. That, I remind the Minister, was a power which the Commonwealth sought to take for a period of only five years. When the legislation to authorize the taking of a referendum was introduced in this Parliament that undertaking was given effect. The law was to alter the Constitution for a limited period by empowering the Parliament to make laws in relation to postwar reconstruction, and by including provisions to safeguard freedom of speech and expression and freedom of religion. Clause 2 of the bill read -
The Constitution is altered by inserting, after Chapter I., the following Chapter and section: - “ Chapter Ia. - Temporary Provisions. “60a. - (1.) The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the .Commonwealth with respect to -
profiteering and prices (but not including prices or rates charged by State or semi-governmental or local governing bodies for goods or services ) ;
In that form the provisions were put to the people and in that form they were rejected. I emphasize these circumstances, because I consider that they call for emphasis. That was a temporary power over prices. Although the Commonwealth sought only a temporary power, it acceded to the requests of the States that their capacity to determine their own charges in respect of their own instrumentalities should be unimpaired. The Commonwealth now seeks not a temporary power but a permanent power, and does not make any provision re garding State governments and their instrumentalities. At present the States have full sovereign authority within their own boundaries to prevent exploitation of the public, and profiteering, and to control rents. They also have full power to determine the charges that they make in respect of their own instrumentalities.
If the proposals in this bill become law, the States will be deprived not only of the control which they might exercise over the exploitation of their citizens but also of their own power to control rents. I suggest that the Government of Queensland, for example, is in a better position to determine what is a fair rent to be charged in Cairns, and the Government of Western Australia is in a better position to determine what is a fair rent to be charged in Fremantle, than any government exercising a centralized bureaucracy in Canberra can do. So, similarly, in respect of charges to be made by government instrumentalities, the States are in a better position to determine what they should charge their own citizens than is any government situated in Canberra. But the significance is not so much that the Government’s proposals would accentuate this centralization of bureaucracy in Canberra, and increase the inflated war-time bureaucracy that we have at the present time, as that they are evidence of the Government’s determination to undermine the authority of the States by the centralization of its own legislative and administrative powers in Canberra, so that it can carry out the objectives to which its supporters are pledged.
So, when the people are told that what is being done is for their own protection, they must ask themselves whether they want this kind of policy to be carried out. They must ask themselves whether they want a Socialist Australia, and a system of government in which not merely all legislative authority but all administrative authority will be centralized in Canberra. If they want that, they will consent to give to this Government the additional power that it now seeks. They will agree to add to the tremendous power which the Government now possesses under its taxing capacity and under its banking legislation this further power over commerce and industry contained in the prices law. But if the people have become alarmed at this demonstration of unbridled authority which has come from Canberra in recent years, and consider that there is still some virtue in the federal system, and believe that those who are closest to them and who know their needs best can best administer for them, they will take the advice which the Opposition tenders to them and reject, at the referendum, the power which the Government now seeks to take unto itself.
– I call the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway).
– Mr. Speaker-
-I have called the Minister.
– I desire to speak.
– The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) did not rise when the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) resumed his seat, and I called the Minister.
– I thought that the Minister intended to move the adjournment of the debate.
– Order ! There is a good deal of confusion. 1 was informed that the Minister did not propose to reply to the second-reading debate. However, he was the only one who rose when the honorable member for Fawkner resumed his seat, and I called him.
– I was under the impression that the Minister was rising to secure the adjournment of the debate.
– I did not make that suggestion.
-Order! I have called the Minister.
– in reply - I waited patiently before I rose for the purpose of seeing whether every honorable member who desired to speak in this debate had availed himself of the opportunity to do 30, and I was satisfied that no other honorable member rose. In my secondreading speech, I outlined the reasons why the Government introduced this bill. This evening, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) concisely summed up the Go vernment’s aims. The outstanding feature of this debate is that not a single member of the Opposition has had the courage to oppose outright the Government’s proposals. Every member of the Opposition who has spoken has admitted without qualification that control of rents and prices should be continued for some time. They have also admitted that the removal of those controls would be dangerous to the people of Australia, but they contend that it is wrong to give the Government permanent power to control prices and rents. However, not one of them has suggested a definite period for the continuation of the operation of the present controls. Since members of the Opposition, like members of the Government, are anxious that the controls should be continued, honorable members who reflect oil their attitude must come to the conclusion that the only explanation of their attitude is that they are seeking to make political capital out of this most important matter.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) admitted that rents had not increased by much more than 1 per cent, since 1939, and that is borne out by figures furnished by the Commonwealth Statistician. However, the honorable member was not anxious to make out a good case for the continuance of rent control because he doubtless feared that it might assist the Government’s proposal; instead, he sought to suggest that some injustice had been done. However, the fact of the matter is, that rents have not been “ pegged “. Probably what was in the mind of the honorable member, and in the minds of other people who have wondered why rents have not increased substantially since 1939, is that some injustice had been done to some one. Indeed, the honorable member made the sinister suggestion that a serious injustice had been done to struggling landlords. In answer to that contention, I point out that landlords have the right to approach fair rents tribunals and advance any reasons they may have to justify an increase of rents. Landlords are in an exactly similar position to tenants, and neither party is obliged to wait until the other is prepared to go before a fair rents tribunal. The reason why landlords as a whole have not complained that rents have not risen since
I!»39 is that they have enjoyed better financial return* for their properties since 1939 than they ever did previously. During the last eight years they have received their rents regularly; no tenant has “flitted by moonlight”, nor any of i hem fallen into arrears in the payment of rent. Of course, that is largely explained by the general prosperity experienced under Labour governments. As I say, there has been little outcry from landlords, who are, in the main, quite satisfied. Of course, we all realize that there is a most acute shortage of housing accommodation, and any one who has given any thought to the matter believes that from four to six years must id apse before the lag in housing accommodation is overcome. That leads one ro inquire what would happen if rent controls were removed to-morrow. The answer is quite obvious, and it supplies i he best argument that can be advanced in. favour of the bill. When the honorable member for Fawkner was interrupted in the course of his speech, I think that he was about to mention charges-
– I had intended to refer to charges’ made by State governments and instrumentalities.
– The answer to the honorable member’s contention is that the Government de-controlled all goods and services provided by State governments and instrumentalities, and those goods and services are now controlled by the State governments. Surely it is not suggested that the adoption of the Government’s present proposal would interfere with that arrangement?
– The legislation introduced by the previous government provided a safeguard for State governments and their instrumentalities. Why is that safeguard excluded from the present proposal?
– The fact that it i.-i not expressly included in the present . proposal does not mean that the Government does not intend to continue to allow State governments and their instrumentalities to continue to fix the prices of their goods and services. Why should the Government seek to re-enter a field which it has already vacated?
– Then why has not a provision to that effect been included in the bill ?
– Members of the Opposition have not previously suggested that it should be included. As I say. State governments are now controlling the prices of their own goods and services, and there is no reason why the Commonwealth should seek to re-enter that field. The honorable member for Fawkner concentrated on the subject of rent controls. Like him, every member of the Opposition who has spoken has advocated the continuance of those controls, but with the proviso that the controls should continue only for a limited period. Why have they not suggested a definite period for the operation of those controls ?
– Why has the Government not included such a provision in the bill?
– The Government obtained advice from the best legal authorities, and the tenor of that advice is that inclusion in the Constitution of a temporary power would be invalid. We all know that lawyers are jealous of their legal reputations, and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) would not tender advice on such an important matter as the validity of an amendment to the Constitution unless he were sure of his ground. Along with other legal authorities, he has expressed the opinion that it is exceedingly doubtful whether the Constitution could validly be amended for a limited period.
– A Labour government did it last time.
– That is so, but the validity of the proposal was not tested, and the general opinion in legal circles to-day is that it cannot be done. I emphasize that no member of this House denies that all the conditions which lead to inflation are present to-day, and we all know that inflation leads to deflation and depression. The Government does not propose to exercise the powers which it is seeking, but it desires that those powers be incorporated in the Constitution as a reserve, so that if a crisis arises the government of the day, irrespective of its political colour, will be able to act effectively. One of the most disappointing features which
I have observed in this debate has been the change of attitude manifested by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) since the debate on the Banking Bill took place. When he spoke in favour of the banking legislation, he said that the principal reason why he favoured the bill - it may have been the only reason - was that it would take away from the politician infuture the coward’s castle in which politicians have hidden themselves in the past, always having the excuse when charged with neglect to do certain things that theyhad been restricted by the hidebound Constitution. Politicians will continue to use that excuse unless the Constitution is amended. All of us at some time or another have said that we would have done certain things had the Constitution allowed us to do them. We have agreed that the Constitution ought to be amended and have complained that it limits our legislative capacity. The honorable gentleman, said that he voted for the banking legislation so that Governments of the future would not be ableto raisethe plea, that they could not cope with emergencies because of the restrictive activities of the private banks. He saidthat, when the banking legislation became law, governments would be able to raise money to provide employment in times of depressionand would not be able to blame the private banks for withholding credit. The honorable gentleman should have maintained that attitude on this bill. This Government does not want any party to be able to blame the Constitution for its shortcomings. We want power to be provided in the Constitution so that governments of the future will be able to protect the people. That power will be available not only to this Government, but, also to future governments, whatever their political colour may be.
Wednesday3, December 1947.
Question put -
That thebillbe now reada second time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. j. S. Rosevear).
Majority . . 19
– I certify that the second reading of the bill has been agreed to by an absolute majority of the members of the House as required by the Constitution.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Holloway) - by leave - put -
That the bill be now read a third time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon.j. S. Rosevear.)
Majority . . . . 19
– I certify that the third reading of the bill has been agreed to by an absolute majority of the members of the House as required by the Constitution.
Bill read a third time.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Civil Aviation- G. W. C. Wright.
Postmaster-General - A. H. Baddeley,
P. Brand, R. D. Ellis, J. T. Kilgariff, D. L. Overheu.
Works and Housing - L. A. Dobbs, L. W. Gilmour, J. J. Keogh, W. C. Le Bas, W. A. McQuiggin, A. Mitchell, J N. F. Newbold, N. H. Perkins, P. S. Saw, H. D. Turner, W. P. J. Vallins, D. H.R. Wood.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for-
Defence purposes - Elizabeth Bay ( Sydney), New South Wales.
Postal purposes - Belgrave, Victoria.
House adjourned at 12.23 a.m. (Wednesday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
t asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable members questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information : -
No’ check is exercised by the Commonwealth regarding the- use of syndicated matter. As regards importation, see answer to question No. 2. There is no embargo on the importation of newspapers whether or not they include comic strips and/or other syndicated matter.
– On the 21st October the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) asked a question concerning the importation of syndicated comic strips and magazines, and whether the Minister would consider banning entirely, comic strips and certain magazines in order to decrease dollar expenditure. The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information : -
Import licences are not granted for the importation of comic strips, but, in view of the fact that comic strips are published in many overseas newspapers and periodicals imported into Australia, they are available from that source for reproduction in Australia by arrangement with the copyright holders, if any. If the use of the comic strips in Australia involves royalty payments requiring overseas exchange, such payments could be made only with the approval of the monetary control authorities.
Periodicals of the type specially referred to by thu honorable member when of non-sterling origin, are listed under titles as prohibited imports and licences are not issued for their importation. Printed matter produced in sterling areas is exempt from import licensing and any periodicals in such category published in a sterling area either as original material or under a ru-publishing arrangement, would not be under import embargo.
Publications which arc blasphemous, indecent or obscene or which unduly emphasize matters of sex or of crime are prohibited imports in terms of the Customs Act and regulations promulgated thereunder and if the honorable member will bring to notice any imported publication which seems to him to fall within this prohibition I shall have tinmatter investigated.
The Commonwealth does not exercise any supervision or censorship over printed matter produced in Australia, as publishers thereof are amenable to State laws.
If after importation any periodical, magazines, book or extract therefrom is re-published in Australia under licence from an overseas publisher, the details of any arrangements for the payment of royalty would not be known to the Department of Trade and Customs. Consequently, no information can be supplied by that department regarding any dollar commitment involved. However, as previously indicated, any overseas remittances would be subject to the approval of the monetary control authorities. Previous inquiries made by iiic Department of Trade and Customs in this matter have revealed that dollar remittances 011 this account are negligible. In many cases payment is accepted by the overseas publisher in Australian currency which is retained in Australia and applied in discharging liabilities in Australia.
Man-power: Agricultural Machinery; Housing.
y - On the 29th October the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) asked whether the Government would conduct an examination of its works programme with the view ro deferring some works so that additional man-power would be available for other needs of the community. In consonance with the Government’s directions; the works programmes of all Commonwealth departments have been reviewed in considerable detail and considerably modified so that only those works which arc very urgently needed have been placed on the approved list. “Further, in the design and construction of works which, have been approved, care is given to reducing as fains possible the use of materials in short supply, particularly those required for housing. It is felt that the programme has already been curtailed to such an extent that any further reduction would be contrary to the public interest. A substantial proportion of the Commonwealth’s works activities (approximately 2;i per cent.) is devoted to the maintenance of works and buildings which, in many cases, would normally have been rebuilt or reconstructed. Apart from maintenance, the bulk of the programme consists of construction of houses and ancillary engineering works (including water supply and sewerage) in the Commonwealth territories; the building of war service homes; the provision of buildings and other services for the Repatriation Commission, and the construction of buildings and ancillary services for some “f the more urgently needed telephone exchanges. Limited progress only is being made in the provision of runways on some nf the more important airports, together with buildings and other facilities required for safety purposes, while the volume of work being carried out for the defence services is very limited and includes only one project of any magnitude - that being the very high priority rocketrange in South Australia.
Employment : Higher AppointmentsSection.
asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
y. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions arc as follows : -
Civil Aviation:trans-australia Airlines.
asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
d. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health. upon notice -
– The Minister for Healthhas supplied the following information : -
Australia has a plant for experimental production, but production on a larger scale has not been achieved as yet. 4. (a) With regard to the possibilities of securing greater quantities from the United States of America as an immediate measure early this year the Consul-General, New York, was cabled to request the Department of Commerce, Washington, to increase Australia’s monthly quota of streptomycin to 7,000 grams per month. A reply was received that it was probably impossible to meet the full requirements, but an endeavour would be made to make the allocation as large as possible.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 December 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1947/19471202_reps_18_195/>.