18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. DEpuTY SPEAKER (Mr. J’. J. Clark) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Display of AMERICAN Equipment.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact, as; reported in the Brisbane press of the 7th May, that four dominion naval’ officers, of’ whom one was a Canadian, one a New Zealander said two Australian, all of whom have excellent- war records, were excluded from contact with American secret, equipment that was being displayed to their British colleagues at Farnborough. The officers: concerned realize that there is no hint of reflection on them personally, and they believe, that the matter can be thrashed out only at the highest government level, by authorities of Washington, Canberra, Wellington and Ottawa. Oau the Prime Minister, indicate the reason for thi9 discriminatory treatment, and whether any discussions on the matter have- taken place between the Australian Government and the Government of the- United States of America!
– When the honorable member speaks of facts being, reported in the’ Brisbane’ press. I am at once sceptical: The press usually deals1 not in facts, but in speculation. I have not seen the report to which the honorable member has referred, nor am I aware of the incident with which it deals. I shall have inquiries made to ascertain whether there is any foundation for the report, but I emphasize that I do not accept newspaper statements as facts about any matter.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and’ Agriculture whether the Australian Government is still helping the users of superphosphate by providing subsidies. If so, will the Minister also state the present rate of payment ?
– The Australian Government is still paying the superphosphate subsidy to primary producers. Between 1942 and 1948 a total of approximately £14,000,000 was paid under this heading. The rate of subsidy a ton, and the total amount paid, in that period, are unparalleled in our history. The present rate is higher than ever before, being £2 15s. a ton in Western Australia, £2 10g. in Yorke Peninsula, and £2 5s. in the rest of South Australia and in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
– Has the Prime Minister received from the Government of Victoria any proposals to facilitate the sale to tenants of houses provided by the Victorian Housing Commission? Has the right honorable gentleman seen a statement ‘by the Victorian Minister for Housing that resistance by the Common wealth is delaying Victoria’s proposals to enable tenants to buy State houses, despite the fact that the Victorian Government has offered to the Commonwealth a guarantee in respect of any losses’ that might be incurred? Will the Prime Minister sax what the Commonwealth policy is in this connexion? Has the Commonwealth in fact delayed such sales?
– I have neither seen nor heard of the statement by the Victorian Minister for Housing to which the honorable gentleman has referred. I assume that the question relates to houses built under’ the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. That agreement =.tiipulates certain conditions under which such houses may bc sold. It would take some time to explain them, and I shall not attempt to do so now. All States except South Australia, which is implementing its own State housing programme, are parties to the agreement. Discussion of the price at which- houses built under the agreement may be sold, are being held. Some of the houses were built some years ago at a cost less than the cost of similar houses that have been built recently or which are now under construction. There has been some discussion about whether the houses should be sold at present fair valuations, or whether an averaging system should be introduced. The- sale to tenants of houses built under the Commonwealth-States Housing Agreement presents certain difficult features. For instance, a tenant who had purchased such a house might sell it immediately at a price higher than that which he had paid for it,..
The problem is at present under discussion by the Minister for Works and Housing; the State Premiers and myself. Agreement has been reached with some of the Premiers regarding the conditions under which these houses should be sold. I shall supply the honorable gentleman with a statement on the subject.
Standardization ot Gauges: - North-South Line.
– Has the attention of the Prime1 Minister been directed to statements that have been made by Mr. J. Elliott, a British railway and transport authority who has- been brought to Australia to report on the transport problems of Victoria? In the Melbourne Herald of the 7th June, it is reported that Mr. Elliott has said that the division of Australian railways into five watertight State compartments is fantastic, and that all top State railway officials with whom he has discussed Australia’s railway problem have agreed that separate State control is prejudicial to efficiency. It is further reported that Mr. Elliott has said that Australia needs a Commonwealth centralized transport commission. In view of the necessity for the standdardization of the gauges’ of railways between the capital cities, will the Prime Minister take up with- the State- Premiers the points that have been raised by Mr. Elliott so that what appears to overseas observers to be a farcical position may be adjusted ?
– The standardization of railway gauges is part of the programme of this Government. The Minister for Transport has discussed the problem with State representatives at innumerable conferences, but it has not been possible to get all the States to agree upon how the problem should be dealt with, even in regard to railways between capital cities. Queensland raised difficulties that have to some degree been ironed out. I understand that the Victorian Government and the South Australian Government are sympathetic to the proposals which have been made. Under the proposed agreement, the New South Wales Government would bo required to make a contribution that it considers to be out of proportion to the benefits that it would derive from standardization. The only section of line that the New South Wales Government would be required to convert to 4-ft. 8A-in. gauge is a short section from Broken Hill to the South Australian border. It is a very short section. Problems arise in Western Australia. The Australian Government, through the Minister for Transport made an arrangement with the Government of Western Australia for a survey to be made of the line from Kalgoorlie to Fremantle and we provided money for that purpose. I understnad from the Deputy Premier of Western Australia, Mr. Watts, with whom I had a conversation recently, that the survey has been practically completed. We are anxious to proceed with the construction of the standard gauge line from Kalgoorlie to Fremantle. A joint Commonwealth and State inquiry was held into the general rehabilitation of the railways in Western Australia, which have deteriorated very greatly. The inquiry showed that the rehabilitation of the whole 3-ft. 6-in. system would cost about £26.000,000. To convert the whole of the Western Australian railways to the 4-ft. 8£-in. standard gauge would cost about £62,000,000, which is beyond the financial resources of Western Australia. The Australian Government has adopted a policy for the standardization of railway gauges. It is not possible, however, to get agreement from all the States to the programme presented to them. The matter is being followed up with the object of having at least a standard gauge line connecting the capital cities.
– During the tourist season, residents of Alice Springs who wish to return there from Adelaide often find that accommodation on the train is booked out, with the result that they are stranded 1,100 miles from home. Will the Minister for the Interior ask the railways authorities to arrange a system of bookings which will allow residents of Alice Springs who wish to return to their homes from the south to make bookings under reasonable conditions?
– I shall refer the honorable member’s request to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, and ask that consideration be given to the claims of residents of the Northern Territory who wish to return from Adelaide to Alice Springs. It must be understood that, nt some periods of the year, accommodation on the north Australian train is severely taxed, but I shall do what I can to eliminate the inconvenience mentioned by the honorable member.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the petrol tax is 10 1/2d a gallon and whether an amount equivalent to only 2d. a gallon is returned to Victoria for road construction and maintenance? Is it true that the cost of road work has increased by upwards of 100 per cent, in the last few years. Does the right honorable gentleman know that if many roads are not given early attention the cost of their repair, if it is at all possible, will double or treble? Has he received many requests from responsible public bodies for an increase of their allocation from the petrol tax? Is he prepared to give the proposition early and favorable consideration?
– The rate of the petrol tax is well known. It is stated in the legislation and it has been repeated 50 times, if not 150 times, in answer to questions asked by honorable members. This financial year the Australian Government has paid out about £7,000,000 to the States under the Commonwealth Aid Roads andWorks Agreement Act for expenditure by them on roads as they choose. We have also done something that was never done by previous governments, for we have set aside about £2,000,000 a year for shires and municipalities in sparsely settled areas for the purchase of road-making plant and for road construction and maintenance. Local governing bodies in some States got nothing from the petrol tax prior to the application of our scheme. In New South Wales, for instance, the whole of the grant was paid by the State Government to the Main Roads Board, which did not provide funds to the municipalities, except to a limited degree, for developmental roads. When I last examined the figures of reserves in hand, the States had £40,000,000 available to expend on roads. How much of that amount has been used since then I am not able to say at the moment. I understand that the situation is to be examined this week by Commonwealth and State officers. Other aspects of this subject could be discussed, but they will probably be raised at the next conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. I understand that three of the applicant States haveincreased their motor vehicle registration fees to pre-war levels on account of the increased costs of road construction and maintenance that the honorable member has mentioned. Increases have undoubtedly occurred, but I could not state them offhand in terms of percentages. The remaining States, the more populous ones, have not increased such registration fees.When this matter is raised again at the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, we shall be able to obtain accurate figures. I do not know the percentages of cost increases, but I know that this Government has done more than any previous government has done to assist remote areas by making direct grants to local governing bodies. In fact, it is the only Commonwealth Government that has ever done anything to help people in those districts.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Repatriation concern ing the welfare of mentally ill persons. It has been found abroad that it is necessary to investigate the home environment and the working conditions of mentally sick people after their discharge from hospital. Social workers charged with this duty are able to determine whether the domestic and working conditions of such people are likely to cause a recurrence of their illness. Does the Repatriation Department intend to appoint social workers to investigate home and working conditions in order to ensure that they are not such as to cause relapses and the consequent return of patients to mental hospitals? Also, does the Minister envisage the appointment of companions to assist discharged patients for a period of, say, six months in adjusting themselves to ordinary life?
– The answer to the first question is “ Yes “. In fact, the department has already appointed some social workers. One is working in Western Australia at present.Our main difficulty is to retain such workers because of the extra inducements, especially in the form of higher rates of pay, that are offered to them by outside organizations. However, the department is now trying to adjust that situation. We recognize the importance of having social workers in this field. I shall investigate the honorable member’s suggestion relating to companions for men discharged from mental hospitals and will inform him of what is being done by the department in this connexion.
Mr. White having addressed a disallowed question to the Minister for Labour and National Service,
– Order! There is a good deal of reflection upon the Chair by honorable members of the Opposition. The honorable member for Balaclava asked a question that he framed in a form that is not permitted by the Standing Orders. I allowed him to proceed after calling him to order. Immediately the Minister attempted to answer the question the honorable member, by interjecting, showed that he had not the courtesy to listen to the reply that the Minister was making. That is a very bad habit which the honorable member has developed and if he does not change it-
Mr. White interjecting,
– The honorable member is interjecting even while I am on my feet. If he interjects again, I shall name him. It is a complete breach of the Standing Orders for an honorable member to interrupt when Mr. Speaker is on his feet and when a Minister is replying to a question.
– I rise to order.
– Order I No point of order is involved.
– The Chair must accept a point of order.
– Order! What is the nature of the point of order?
– I submit that my question was within the Standing Orders and that I am therefore entitled to a reply. When the Minister rose to answer my question he commenced to abuse me.
– Order! The Chair will be the judge of whether a Minister uses abuse when answering a question. The honorable member for Balaclava does not know how to conduct himself in the chamber.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– Order ! There is no point of order in respect of this matter.
– There is a point of order.
– Order! I have given a ruling on this matter and a point of order cannot now be taken upon it.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether it is correct that certain powers favour the early recognition of the Chinese Communist administration as the legallycon stituted Government of China? If so, what are the views of the Australian Government concerning the recognition of an administration which has gained power by brute force rather than by constitutional means?
– The honorable member’s question implies that some powers desire to afford recognition, de facto or otherwise, to the Chinese Communist Government. Although I do not know as a fact that any power desires to afford such recognition to the Chinese Communist Government, certain powers have discussed the subject and the general view of the Australian Government with relation to the position in China was expressed. I do not think that a statement about that view would be of much value at the moment because the exchanges taking place between the different countries are of an entirely confidential nature. There has been no definite expression of opinion by any country along the lines suggested in the honorable member’s question, although there have been discussions about what might be the position in the future.
Closing of Aerodromes - Smithton Aerodrome
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation inform the House whether it is a fact that the aerodromes at Mascot and Canberra are occasionally closed down for as long as 24 hours in bad weather? Is it a fact that in other countries a landing device is in operation to enable aircraft to land in bad weather, and so obviate serious delay ? Does the Minister consider that the Department of Civil Aviation should arrange for the installation of such a device at important aerodromes in this country?
– I do not know of many instances when airports in Australia have been closed down for periods of 24 hours or longer, although it is undoubtedly true that the airports at Canberra, Mascot, and occasionally Melbourne and other pla ces south of Melbourne are closed down for safety reasons when visibility becomes bad. The whole matter of making provision for safe landings during conditions of low visibility is constantly being investigated by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which has under its control a body of experts possessed of the latest information with relation to technical developments in that connexion. The latest development that the committee has investigated is’ an instrument landing system, or a series of them, and it is hoped that the committee will soon be able to recommend a world standard. As will be realized by honorable members unwarranted expense would he incurred if one system were installed and it had to be replaced shortly afterwards by another system. However, in order to ensure the safety of the public when travelling by air precautions are taken in Australia similar to those that are exercised in various other parts of the world where air travel is used extensively. The effect of the instrument landing system is to enable an aircraft to make a safer approach with a low ceiling than would otherwise be practicable. For instance, the present permissible landing, ceiling at Essendon airport is 500 feet: When visibility falls below that ceiling aircraft are not allowed to land. With the instrument landing system it would be possible for pilots to land with a ceiling of only 200 feet. Other permissible ceilings are imposed at” various’ places: The Canberra ceiling would be much higher than that. One could not approach Canberra on a 500- foot ceiling with any degree of safety or comfort. Plans are being prepared for the installation of instrument landing systems at twelve aerodromes in Australia at an estimated cost of between £300,000 and £400,000. Several other facilities also are being investigated, such as high intensity approach lighting, which may take the place- of, or be used as an aid to, instrument landing systems, and ground control approach. During the war a fog intensity dispersal operation known as- Fido was used extensively in England-, and I understand that it is still being used at one aerodrome in Great Britain and at another in the United States of America where experiments are being conducted. That’ operation involves the use of about 350,000 gallons of petrol an hour to disperse fogs on a normal runway of 6,000 feet. Such a system is unreasonable for normal peace-time operations, although exceed,ingly valuable in war-time. Australia has kept abreast of all studies on thissubject. We wish to improve facilities for landing during’ periods of low visibility due to rain, dust or fog, and we shall continue our efforts with the object of maintaining the high reputation for safety which Australia enjoys throughout the world.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation received a report in respect of work recently done at the Smithton aerodrome with a vie* to bringing the aerodrome into line with the specifications necessary for its use by passenger-flying aircraft? If the required specifications have been reached, can the Minister give a guarantee that permission to use the aerodrome will be given ?
– I was not aware that any work has been in progress at. Smithton aerodrome. If such be the case, I imagine that the work must have been undertaken by the .State Government or by the local governing authority rather than the Department of Civil Aviation. Otherwise, I should have known of it. If the Smithton aerodrome complies with the safety standards laid down by the Department of Civil Aviation, application for its use must immediately he considered. All airports, particularly those situated in areas of heavy rainfall, and those likely to experience fog condi-tions, must comply with the safety regulations’ laid down by the department. At Wynyard aerodrome, which is only 38 miles distant from Smithton, all these safety provisions are in operation. T doubt whether, in the event of the Smithton aerodrome being brought to a satisfactory condition, it will be immediately used except as an alternative aerodrome to Wynyard. Although I am anxious that air services should be established wherever they are needed, I must point out that, owing to the limitations placed on the importation of petrol because of the scarcity o£ dollars for all purposes, it is doubtful’ whether many extensions of air services can be granted. Smithton is only a short distance from Wynyard, hut I am hopeful” that th, authorities responsible for the work at the Smithton aerodrome may be able to raise the specifications of the aerodrome to the required standards so that the request of the honorable member and of certain honorable senators for an air service to that centre may be given effect as soon as possible.
– Can the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction say whether tho disposal to private industry of Commonwealth munitions establishments has been completed? If not, how much space, of a kind which could be used for manufacturing purposes by private firms, remains to be disposed of?
– Some factory space is still available for disposal. Up to the present time, the Secondary Industries Commission, which functions under my department, has disposed of 220 buildings, which contain about 8,000,000 square feet of factory space.
– In what States?
– In all States. Employment will be provided in those factories for more than 40,000 persons. There are still some factories to be disposed of, particularly in Queensland. The accommodation totals about . 1.000,000 square feet. The Department of Post-war Reconstruction is constantly trying to make contact with industrial leaders who might wish to use such buildings.
– Although I have twice asked questions concerning the victimization of a chemist who applied as a matter of urgency for supplies of serum from tho Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, I have not yet received a reply. Can the Minister representing the Minister for Health say why such prolonged delay has occurred in furnishing an answer, the preparation of which should entail nothing more than a few minutes’ telephone conversation with the department concerned ?
– I am now able to supply the information sought by the honorable member, and I could have furnished it yesterday, but I did not desire to encroach on question time and I did not have the opportunity to make a statement later. Honorable members object to Ministers trespassing on their time by making statements at question time, and so I had to wait until the honorable member again raised the matter. The honorable member was not correct when he said that he had asked the same question on two occasions, because on the first occasion he merely inquired whether a black-list was kept of pharmacists who did not pay their accounts to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, whereas on the second occasion, two or three days later, he asked a question which related specifically to a Mr. A. E. Wherrett, of Ryde. I promised to obtain an answer for the honorable member. As I have already explained to him, it has for many years been the practice of the Department of Health to place on « “ cash-with-order “ or “ cash-on-delivery “ basis purchasers of biological product? who have consistently ignored requests by the department, and letters of demand issued by the Crown Solicitor for payment for supplies which they have received. But in cases of urgency the products are supplied, regardless of existing liability, to debtors who are on a non-credit basis. In December, 1939, the Sydney office of the department furnished a statement of such debtors, which included the name of A. E. Wherrett, of Ryde, New South Wales. The statement did not indicate the amount of the indebtedness. No information is now obtainable from the files in the Health Department of the nature or extent of the indebtedness, because of the destruction of old records. In the intervening years, Mr. Wherrett has had very few transactions with the department, and none of the amounts involved was of a substantial nature. In February, 1942, and May, 1946, he purchased biological products from the Sydney office on a cashondelivery basis, without question or objection. In September, 1947, he purchased insulin, valued at £3 9s. 9d., from the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, Melbourne, and settled the account in December, 1947. In April of this year he was supplied with 8s. worth of products by the Sydney office, making payment last week, after his case had been raised in the House. On each of the two last mentioned occasions he was allowed credit, presumably through failure to refer to the list of customers on a cash basis. On the 3rd May, 1949, he telephoned to the Sydney office an order for two sets of diphtheria prophylactic toxoid, a quantity that would be sufficient to immunize eight persons against diphtheria. No question of urgency existed because it is known that the product is not used in the treatment of diphtheria. He was informed that the products would be sent by cash-on-delivery post. He cancelled the order, but on the 4th May he called at the Sydney office. The Sydney office referred the matter to the head office at Canberra, and on the 6th May the Director-General of Health issued instructions that Mr. Wherrett’. name should be deleted from the cashondelivery list and that he should be allowed the usual credit. This was done three weeks before the matter was first raised in the House. The statement by the honorable member for Parramatta that “ the patient was suffering from the deadly disease of diphtheria and the serum was required to save his life “ is not correct. The order was not for serum, or for a product used in the treatment of diphtheria, but for a product used in routine practice for immunization against the contraction of the disease.
– I refer to instances which have come to my notice of parents who have, for a number of reasons, omitted to apply for endowment payments within three months of the birth of a child, as required by the Social Services Consolidation Act, and have thereby forfeited the benefit of endowment for that period. In order to obviate the hardship caused in such cases, will the Minister consider introducing an amendment to the Social Services Consolidation Act to confer upon the Minister for Social Services discretionary power to pay endowment from the date of the birth of the child in all instances where he considers that delay in lodging the claim has been justified?
– I do not think that an amendment of the act is necessary. The Director-General of Social Services already has power under a special provision of the act to deal with cases of the kind referred to by the honorable member. However, I shall refer the honorable member’s question to the Minister for Social Services for examination.
– I lay on the table the report of the Tariff Board on the following subject: -
Felt for use in the manufacture of tennis balls.
– Is the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction in a position to say whether the Laburnam Park, the Churchill and the Inverquharity estates, which are situated near Richmond bordering my electorate, are to be acquired for war service land settlement purposes ?
– Yes, the Government has approved of the acquisition of those properties for inclusion in the war service land settlement scheme. They will provide four farms suitable for mixed farming and for fat-lamb raising. I understand that the owners are not willing to sell and that, after a very close examination of the circumstances, the Government has approved of the compulsory acquisition of the estates. When this additional land is acquired the total area available for war service land settlement in Tasmania will be approximately 250,000 acres.
– Will the Prime Minister inform me whether there is any truth in the rumour that the Government has purchased the Lapstone Hotel? If so, what is the Government’s object in acquiring that property?
– I understand that the Lapstone Hotel was submitted for sale by auction some time ago, but was withdrawn because the offer was not regarded as adequate. The Department of Air has examined the property with a view to ascertaining whether it would make suitable head-quarters for the Royal .Australian Air .Eor.ce. The acquisition of the hotel premises for that purpose would release in Sydney a considerable area that could be made available to the State Housing Commission for housing purposes. I understand that consideration has been given to that proposition, but at the moment, I am not able to supply the honorable member with any additional information about the matter. As soon as I receive the final details, I shall advise him.
Formal “Motion .for Adjournment.
– I have received from the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, .namely -
The necessity for a public inquiry into charges made by Dr. V. H. Webster and other medical officers of the Northern Territory, the circumstances surrounding Dr. Webster’s dismissal ‘as Government Medical Officer at Tennant Creek, certain action taken by the Director-General of Health .at Canberra, and the standard of medical services extended to the residents of the Northern Territory, including the native population.
.- J move-
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported?
Five honorable members having risen m support of the motion,
– Shocking charges have been publicly made about the .Northern Territory medical services. Those charges have been levelled against two officers of the Department of Health, who, until recently, occupied the senior positions in the government monopoly medical services of the Northern Territory. The allegations, which .also affect the central administration at Canberra, embrace consistent neglect of duty, professional incompetence, chronic alcoholism on the part of the senior medical administrator, criminal negligence in the treatment of certain cases, undue influence from ‘Canberra in the making of appointments, defiance “by Canberra administrators of the authority of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory, and general distrust throughout that part of the Commonwealth, bringing the medical services into disrepute.
The first complaints were stated to have been lodged in 1945. They were repeated until the beginning of this year. They have been made by six different medical officers. Admittedly, those medical officers were subordinates, but, in most instances, they were senior in experience. It is alleged that the first doctor who lodged a complaint with the Director-General of Health some three years ago was suspended from duty without pay for .having left his post without permission in order to make .his complaint. In fairness to .all .concerned, and to the people of the Northern Territory, it is imperative that there should be a full public inquiry. The present, position, briefly, is that Dx. “Webster, the government medical officer and an elected member of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory, has been sacked, not for incompetence, but, according to the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna), because he was only a temporary public servant. Dr.. “Webster has occupied the .position of government medical officer .since .194.6, and, .under the department’s own rules, he should have been qualified for promotion to a more favorable area. There is still a great dearth of doctors for such positions, and the Government, even now, is advertising overseas for doctors. Therefore, the excuse made by the Minister is not valid. The two senior administrative medical officers in Darwin against whom the charges were laid have been moved, one to Perth and the other to Brisbane. If the department’s investigation proved the charges to be correct, .those men have no right to be .in the service. If the charges were not established, they should be still holding their former positions. If the Government is only trying to cover up a scandal, it is -doing a great disservice to the Department of Health and to .the people directly affected.
On the 30th November, 194!8, Dr. Webster ‘submitted a 32-page letter to the Administrator, making specific charges and he threatened that unless action were taken be would, make a public exposure of bis allegation. In that letter Dr. Webster wrote -
Early in 1948 Senator McKenna visited the Territory I had a long interview with him. I described in some detail the operations of the Northern Territory Medical Services as I knew them and stated that there was some evidence that the appointments of-
Here Dr. Webster named two officials. His letter continued - were not made on their merits but by an improper and corrupt arrangement between two ‘-h”igh Government officials involving nepotism, and resulting in ‘grave danger and actual loss of life -to people in the Northern Territory from these two men being thrust into positions they were unqualified to receive.
Dr. Webster also wrote ;
Senator McKenna told me that such would appear to be the truth - that he ‘had come to the Northern Territory ae a result of very grave reports that had reached him and that he was now convinced were only too true.
He said that Senator McKenna promised ;to return in the winter to clean up the matter :and re-organize the service. Senator McKenna did not return. So Dr. Webster took his charges to the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory. A select committee was appointed, of which he was a member. Evidence was given by a number of doctors employed in the government medical service, supporting Dr. Webster!s charges. The Director-General of Health, in Canberra, Dr. Metcalfe, issued an instruction forbidding .his staff members to attend, or to furnish any information to the committee. That action was an attempt to thwart an elected :body. It could have been directed against this Parliament. On the 9th March last, another memorandum went out from Canberra forbidding any doctor to give any information without specific authority. But the evidence had been given. The select committee’s report condemned the medical administration at Darwin. Dr. Webster was refused leave of absence to attend the next meeting of the Legislative Council, although the department had not previously objected to his attendance. The meeting of the council to receive and .discuss the report was abruptly cancelled, on the excuse that there were no shorthand “writers in Darwin. Then Dr. Webster was sacked.
Amongst the allegations made by Dr. Webster and other medical officers who gave evidence were the following: -
Those are a few of the allegations that have been made publicly, and circulated all over the Northern Territory. If they are false, the doctors making them have no right to be permitted to continue their professional careers. If they are true, and the select committee found them to be so, then there should be an overhaul of the Department of Health administration from the Minister himself down to every person who contributed to such a terrible state of affairs. One of the officers charged is the son of a former high official in the Canberra administration. What is alleged to have happened in the Northern Territory is a warning of what can happen anywhere in Australia, if we permit our medical services to be swallowed by bureaucracy. The Northern Territory medical service cannot be operated from Canberra, just as a medical service in Marrickville or Prahran cannot be operated from Canberra. Instead of a responsible private practitioner, there is an irresponsible government employee, spending most of his time trying to untangle red tape. Much of what is alleged to have happened in Darwin is due to what happened in Canberra first.
A public inquiry might show that some of these matters have been magnified. In a small community that often happens; but if there had been no substance in the charges, they would have been exploded long ago. The best evidence of their truth was provided by the Minister for Health in his abrupt, uninformative replies given to the questions asked by the honorable member for Henty. The Department of Health is spending huge sums of public money. It should be both efficient and above reproach. This House owes it to the department to ensure that there shall be a complete probe of all charges that have been made. Unless these charges are refuted by a complete public inquiry, they will be boomeranging back on this country from overseas.
Finally, I suggest that the inquiry also be directed to establishing whether or not two medical officers assigned to Darwin - not the principals in any of the matters raised by Dr. Webster - were either Communists or “ fellow-travellers “ who were posted to this principal port of entry from the north. I have deliberately refrained from mentioning the names of the individuals concerned, other than Dr. Webster, as they should btgiven every opportunity to defend themselves publicly. The Government owes them that, just as it owes Dr. Webster the right to prove whether or not he has been grossly victimized for carrying out a public duty.
– Many of the statements made by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) can be dealt with adequately only by medical men. Others, however, are certainly not true. Admittedly there is a shortage of doctors in the Northern Territory and a lack of suitable housing accommodation for them. It is most difficult indeed to get doctors to go to remote places such as Darwin, Alice Springs or Tennant Creek. That is known to everybody. Doctors cannot be expected to leave lucrative practices in the cities to go to the Northern Territory. That has been a difficulty throughout the history of the Territory. However, the number of doctors in the Northern Territory has been increased, and efforts are being made to increase it still further. The honorable member for Reid said the Department of Health was advertising for five permanent doctors for the Northern Territory. That is quite true. That is one of the measures that the department is taking to remedy the inadequacy of medical services in the past. Surely there is no objection to that. An eminent specialist is on his way from England to take up an appointment in the Northern Territory. A children’s specialist appointed from Brisbane will commence duty in the Northern Territory this week. The honorable member’s allegation that the Chief Medical Officer of the Northern Territory was recalled to Canberra, reprimanded and suspended it. untrue. The Chief Medical Officer is a well-known and much admired man, particularly for his efforts during the war.
– Who is that?
- Dr. Kirkland, who until recently was Chief Medical Officer of the Northern Territory.
– He was sent to the Northern Territory only recently.
– No; he was there for a number of years. When I wai
Acting Minister for Health I recommended him for the George Medal for his work at Darwin during the war. Dr. Kirkland was certainly not suspended or reprimanded in any way. He was appointed to a higher post and i9 now carrying out scientific work at the University of Sydney. There has not been the slightest reflection on his ability or character. He is regarded as one of the greatest medical officers in the Commonwealth. Therefore, the allegations made by the honorable member for Reid against him are absolutely untrue. The claim that medical services in the Northern Territory are not improving is also without foundation. They are improving. It is true that Dr. Webster ha9 been given notice, but he has not yet left the Northern Territory. He was appointed as a temporary officer and has never been made permanent. The Department of Health decided some time ago that temporary officers should be replaced by permanent men in the hope that permanent positions would be -more attractive to doctors. Hitherto, medical men have been coming and going all the time, mainly because of the lack of amenities, inadequate housing, and other difficulties which were emphasized by the wartime bombing. The task of providing the accommodation that is necessary to attract medical men has been a slow one. In the last two years, four or .five doctors have left the Northern Territory and have been replaced by others. It is hoped that the appointment of permanent men will largely overcome this disability. The statement that Dr. Webster was denied the right to attend a meeting of the Northern Territory Legislative Council is incorrect. Dr. Webster was elected to the Council just as we have been elected to this Parliament, and he cannot be prevented from attending its meetings. He is at liberty to attend whether he is a medical officer or not. But he cannot neglect his medical duties. Tennant Creek and Alice Springs could not be left without a doctor for an extended period and the Department of Health appealed for relief for Dr. Webster. On two occasions another doctor was obtained to replace Dr. Webster while he attended meetings of the Legislative Council. He has attended practically all the meet ings. The reason for the postponement of the last meeting was that shorthand writers were not available to report the proceedings. Whether that is a good reason or not, it is true. Dr. Webster has attended the meetings of the Council and participated in the discussions. The Council appointed a select committee to inquire into medical services in the Northern Territory. Dr. Webster was a member of that committee, the chief accuser and a judge. He was everything. He now says that the report of ‘the committee, which has not yet been received, is obsolete and is not worth bothering about further.
There is a good deal of truth in the statements regarding the Northern Territory that have been made from time to time. Conditions there could be improved. If accommodation were available, more medical men could be persuaded to work there. It is not true to say that Dr. Webster has been victimized. A royal commission was appointed to inquire into his activities in Western Australia.
– Is the Minister explaining why Dr. Webster was sacked, or is this just a smear campaign?
– Is the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) going to start chaotic conditions again, or is he going to set a better example?
– What does that mean?
- Dr. Webster has not been victimized or badly treated. He has certainly made himself disagreeable to other people in the territory. There was trouble amongst five or six doctors there, but that was probably due to lack of amenities. Dr. Webster made himself the spearhead of the attack upon medical services in the territory largely because he was not appointed as Chief Medical Officer. He applied for appointment to that position, and he considered that he was entitled to be appointed to it. The Department of Health did not think that he was suitable to hold the position, because the findings of the royal commission in Western Australia showed that he is temperamentally unfitted for it. Since then Dr. Webster lias been a disgruntled man. That is largely the cause of this trouble. No one will deny that there is a shortage of doctors in the Northern Territory. The reasons for the shortage are that doctors do not like to go to the outback and that no proper accommodation is available for them there. Some of the medical men who went to the territory have left. Others, who are perhaps more hardy and prepared to make sacrifices, have remained there. Doctors will never be satisfied to remain in the territory unless they are employed on a permanent basis and more progress is made in the provision of proper amenities and living conditions.
It is not true to say that the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) promised to visit the territory but did not do so. At the end of last year the honorable gentleman inspected hospitals there and visited the leper colony on Channel Island. Subsequently, the colony was supplied with electric light, two modern huts were built, the tobacco ration and other amenities were improved, and a car was provided. In addition, biograph entertainments for the inmates are now available. Recently the Public Works Committee, on which are serving honorable members from both sides of the House, examined the hospital at Darwin and the Channel Island leper institution. The members of the committee have expressed no opinions derogatory to the institution.
– The Minister is entirely misinformed.
– Although they have pointed out some shortcomings they have expressed themselves as satisfied with the progress that is being made. They have not said that the medical services in the Northern Territory are perfect, and they have not said that nothing is being done. They have expressed their satisfaction at the fact that something is being done. It seems that within a very short period, when the physical difficulties are overcome, conditions there will become much better, although they will probably never be as good as we should like them to be.
It is true that medical officers in the Northern Territory are overworked. In Darwin, they are required to maintain a 24-hour quarantine service in respect of passengers landing from ships and air craft. In addition, they are called upon to maintain the general hospital services. It is admitted that outpatients are required to wait for long periods before receiving attention, but that is due to inadequate staff. The doctors are working round the clock. The delay in dealing with out-patients is the worst feature of the situation. I do not propose to deal with the allegation that pregnant women have not been properly treated. Technical matters such as that must be decided by medical men. They should not be included in charges of this kind. There is no question of appointing another royal commission or committee of inquiry. The royal commission that was appointed in Western Australia did not do Dr. Webster any good. He has never been the same man since. The select committee that was appointed by the Northern Territory Legislative Council sat for a long time. Dr. Webster ran the show. He was member, accuser and judge. The report of the committee has not yet been submitted, and Dr. Webster has said that it is now obsolete. I admit that medical services in the Northern Territory are not what they should be, but every effort has been made to improve them. The doctors that we secure are to be employed on a permanent basis instead of a temporary basis. We are bringing specialists from England because there u a shortage of specialists in Australia. A specialist from England is now on his way to Darwin and should arrive shortly. A doctor left Brisbane for Darwin this week.
The serious accusation that the Chief Medical Officer of the Northern Territory was reprimanded and suspended is unjustified and without foundation. Dr. Kirkland, who is now, and has been for years, a Commonwealth medical officer, was in charge of the Darwin hospital during the war. During the first Japanese air raid on the town approximately 330 casualties were admitted to the hospital. On that occasion, Dr. Kirkland and his staff worked all day and for nearly half the night. The hot water service was put out of action, and they had’ to use primus stoves. The electric lights were not functioning, and nurses held hand torches while Dr. Kirkland performed operations. It was recommended that he, the matron and two sisters should be decorated for their services. Dr. Kirkland now holds a high position in the medical world in Sydney. Se is still a Commonwealth medical officer. It is not true that he was suspended, reprimanded or criticized in any way.
.- We have just heard from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) a most feeble and inadequate reply to grave charges. Nearly every newspaper in Australia at present is carrying banner headlines about the scandal of the Northern Territory medical services, but that is the best that the Minister can do to’ reply to the charges that have been made. In his reply the honorable gentleman has indulged in a smear campaign, of the kind with which we are familiar, against Dr. Webster. I have never met or spoken to Dr. Webster in my life, but t know that he was appointed by this Government. Apparently he has stayed in the territory for longer than any other medical officer has done. I know that a minute before the Minister began his smear campaign against Dr. Webster all that he was prepared to say was that Dr. Webster had not been sacked because he had criticized the Government, but because he was a temporary officer. What does he mean?
There are two charges to be made against the Government in connexion with this matter. The first is that it has imposed upon the people of the Northern Territory a cruelly incompetent system of medical and health services. The second is that it has, by tyrannical and dishonest methods, sought to suppress criticism of those services and to conceal the facts with reference to them.
– How does the honorable member know?
– My sources of information are threefold. In the first place, I have read the Hansard reports of debates in the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory, where this matter has been discussed again and again during the three meetings that this Government has permitted the council to have over the last two years. In the second place, I have read extracts from the select committee’s report, which the Minister for Labour and National Service says has never been received, but .which was asserted in the Legislative Council in February last to have been sent to Canberra. I have asked the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) two questions about that report, but he has given me very evasive replies. Obviously, he does not intend that the House should see the report, which is the most damning indictment of any government department that ever was brought before the notice of a parliament. In the third” place, I have the information that was supplied to me by citizens of the Northern Territory when I went there as a member of the Public Works Committee a few weeks ago. There is almost universal bitterness amongst the citizens of Darwin about the medical and health system under which they are suffering.
– Why does not the honorable member tell the truth?
-Order! I warn the honorable member to cease interrupting.
– As to the first charge, that the Government has imposed a cruelly incompetent medical and health system upon the people, I remind the House that there is only one medical and health service in the Northern Territory. That is the Government service. There is no private medical practice in the territory. No doctor can, or does, practise privately at Darwin. Therefore, the citizens have only the Government system and are at the mercy of the Government. In this case, God help them, because what they have is one of the worst and most wretched and tyrannical systems that could well have been devised, not merely for sick people, but for well people also. Twenty-eight doctors have passed through the Northern Territory medical services within a period of three years. Doctors cannot be induced to remain there because they will not put up with the conditions under which they are called upon to work. At present there are four doctors instead of eight at Darwin. The population requires at least eight doctors, but men will not stay because the housing conditions are intolerable, because transport conditions are intolerable, and because only one doctor is available to look after as many as 80 out-patients in a day.
Under those conditions, out-patients must wait for as long as seven hours in order to get treatment. A man can be an out-patient only if he is so desperately sick that he ought to be carried into a bed in the hospital. Nobody can obtain treatment at home. Patients must trot along with little tickets, like people with numbers on their backs. There is no longer any personal relationship between patient and physician: Under the good socialist system, the sick and the injured must pad along to the out-patients’ department at the hospital and there await their turn for treatment. That is why the people are discontented and that is why the doctors are discontented. The select committee, and newspapers all over Australia, have published the allegation, which is undoubtedly true, that patients in hospitals in the Northern Territory are jumbled up together whether they are suffering from infectious diseases or not.
– Did the honorable member visit the hospital ?
– The honorable member for Reid-
– Did the honorable member visit the hospital?
-Order! The honorable member must not interrupt. He will have an opportunity to speak later.
– The situation in Northern Territory hospitals has been described by a Mr. Eager in an article published in one of the Melbourne newspapers. I cannot allow his comments about the Tennant Creek hospital to remain unquoted. He stated -
At Alice Springs the hospital is good, and there are no complaints. At Tennant Creek it is shocking. It is grossly over-crowded with ite present twenty patients.
The operations are made in the hospital vestibule. The doctor scrubs up in water from a tank fed from the dusty roof. The instruments and dressings arc boiled outside.
The labour ward, with two beds, opens on one side on to the nurse’s dining room, and on the other to the domestic dining room.
I could quote further from the article in the same strain. It is not to be won dered at that the people are bitter. The ordinary citizens, who count for so little these days under the administration of this Government, are burning with indignation, and when a member of the Commonwealth Parliament visits their city they tell him the story as often as they can. I heard these facts as a private member, not as a member of the Public “Works Committee. It was untrue to say, as the Minister for Labour and National Service did, that the Public Works Committee investigated anything connected with the Darwin hospital. It had nothing to do with the hospital.
– Other members of the committee visited the hospital more often than did the honorable member.
– If the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) is not concerned about finding out the real grievances of other citizens, well and good; I shall leave him to his own devices. Wherever one turns in the Northern Territory, one hears of difficulties. Dr. McGlashan, until recently Chief Medical Officer for the Northern Territory, speaking of leprosy, was driven to say this -
The outlook on the problem of leprosy is, unfortunately, very black, and I find it very difficult to formulate a policy to cope with it … I regret to say that we have no firm policy in respect of leprosy and it may be years before one is evolved.
That is the view of the former Chief Medical Officer, and everybody in the Northern Territory knows that leprosy is rampant amongst the native population. Yet we are told by the Minister for Labour and National Service that all is well in this best of all possible worlds, except perhaps for a few trifling things that are wrong.
I come now to the second charge, that the Government has sought, by dishonest and tyrannical methods, to suppress the facts. I remind the House that the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory - a poor instrument, an inadequate, emasculated sort of thing, but the best that the Government would give to the people of the territory in the shape of a local government institution - appointed by unanimous vote a select committee to investigate the wretched medical and health service in the territory. As the honorable member for Reid has said, Dr. Metcalfe, no doubt under the direction of the Minister for Health, gave orders that medical officers in the territory were not to give evidence before that committee. Why not? The Legislative Council is a constitutionally established body. Why should Dr. Metcalfe, or the Minister for Health, refuse to allow the truth to come out? The reason is that they are frightened to let the truth come out. Also, we know that Dr. Webster was refused leave of absence to attend the projected meeting of the Legislative Council at Darwin.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Harrison) negatived -
That the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) be granted an extension of time.
– As has been said, the subject of this debate has been given a great deal of publicity. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang), in characteristic style, has acted on a brief that has been supplied to him without taking any steps, I suggest, to verify his case. That is typical of the honorable member. He is not concerned about the genuineness of the case; his sole concern is to vilify this Government, irrespective of the source of his information. He is always anxious and willing to handle material of that kind.
– Another smear!
– I say quite definitely that the honorable member for Reid has had no opportunity to examine the case that he has presented to this chamber to-day so as to substantiate the allegations that he has made. That is typical of him since he became a member of this Parliament. What is the history of the medical service in the Northern Territory? This Government was charged with the responsibility of developing an efficient medical service and health organization in the Northern Territory, at a time when the problems and disabilities associated with the development of such a service were greater than they had ever been. There was a lack of amenities, there was insufficient housing, and both doctors and nurses were difficult to obtain. As a consequence it was difficult to obtain sufficient men to go into the territory, where the living conditions did not come up to what people expect. The Department of Health in the Northern Territory had a great deal of difficulty in developing its organization. It has also had a great number of disappointments, but the Public Works Committee made an inspection of the Darwin hospital and two of its members voiced to me their great appreciation of what had been done there in a short time, especially in view of the difficulties with which the Government was confronted. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale”) said that it was not true that the Public Works Committee had visited the Darwin hospital. I am informed by some members of the committee that it did visit the Darwin hospital, but apparently the honorable member for Parramatta was not sufficiently interested to accompany the other members to see for himself what the position was. Instead, he was told a story, perhaps in the street or somewhere else, and, like the honorable member for Reid, he made no effort to investigate whether what he had heard could be verified or otherwise. ‘ I can imagine a tenderfoot like the honorable member for Parramatta hearing strange stories in the Northern Territory. I can imagine some of the old stalwarts getting hold of him and whispering in his ear, knowing that he would come back to the south to tell the people that he had uncovered some scandal of great concern -to the people of the territory. The ten.derfeet who go to the Northern Territory should get away from the main roads and go out into the country as does the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain), mixing among the people, and then when they come into this Parliament they would know what they are speaking about. Dr. Webster has been very well known to me over a period of 25 years. In many ways he has much to commend him, but he has a flair for trouble. I know he has never been out of trouble. He was in great difficulties in Western Australia; he could not work happily with the health organization there. According to Dr. Webster the Minister was wrong, the chief of the medical staff was wrong, everybody but Dr. Webster was wrong, during the time when he occupied a position in Perth. I met him later in Wyndham, and again at Tennant Creek, and I know what I am speaking about. As I have said, I have known him for 25 years and he has a flair for trouble. No matter where he goes he does not get along with other people. He wants to be the sole decider and recommender of what policy ought to be adopted.
– Did the present Government appoint him ?
– Yes, this Government appointed him.
– Knowing that he had a flair for trouble?
– Had Dr. Webster carried out his duties in the Northern Territory as he was supposed to do in accordance with the position that he held, he would probably have got along quite well with both the Government and the people.
– If he had bowed to the Government.
– As the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) has pointed out, Dr. Webster was an applicant for the position -of Chief of the Health Department of the Northern Territory, and the trouble started when he failed to secure that position. Knowing the man as I know him, I am convinced in my own mind that the failure of his application was the genesis of the present trouble.
– Who was appointed, in fact?
- Dr. Gunson was appointed in the first instance. I am not up to date on that matter. The Department of Health, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) knows, is administered by my colleague, the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna). I know something about these matters, however, because I discussed them with the Administrator of the Northern Territory, Mr. Driver, and with Mr. Leydin, the government secretary of the Northern Territory Administration. I know that the present trouble began immediately after Dr. Webster’s application for the position of Chief Medical Officer proved unsuccessful. That is what brought the whole trouble to a head. The honorable member for Reid said that the sittings of the Legislative Council were adjourned, allegedly because no shorthand reporters were available. I desire to tell the honorable member that that was the very reason why the sittings of the council could not take place. After we had made a search of a number of departments, in an effort to obtain shorthand writers, and had discussed the problem with Mr. Speaker, with a view to obtaining relief from the Parliamentary Reporting Staff, and also with the Crown Law Department, I approached the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and asked him if he would communicate with the Premier of South Australia and ask whether, while the Parliament of that State was in recess, shorthand reporters could be made available to record the sittings of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory. On the 12th May, the Prime Minister wrote to the Premier of South Australia asking if shorthand reporters could be released so that the sittings of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory could take place.
– I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but why does the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory re- 1 quire shorthand writers?
– Why does this Parliament require them? The Legislative Council of the Northern Territory requires shorthand writers to record the proceedings.
– Is a Hansard published in the Northern Territory?
– Yes, there is a Hansard published there, although the honorable member for Parramatta has said that it is not much good. On the 19th May the Premier of South Australia replied to the Prime Minister stating that he regretted that shorthand reporters could not be made available, and later on-
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired
– I am surprised that the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) should fall for the idea of flogging a dead horse.
– I am not one of those who favour an Australia-wide medical service, but in places like the Northern Territory and north-western Australia, western Queensland and isolated areas of Tasmania, such a system must prevail because we cannot induce doctors to go into private practice in such areas. The general opinion in the Northern Territory is that Dr. Webster did a mighty fine job in cleaning up all kinds of undesirable things that undoubtedly existed there, but what the people of the Northern Territory, or at least one section of them, want to know, is, “Why flog a dead horse? “. I ask the same question. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) obviously did not visit the Darwin hospital to see the position for himself. Let us see just what happened. Those two doctors of whom complaints have been made, and who were mentioned by the honorable member for Reid, were given other positions and left the Northern Territory. Two others were appointed in their place. I consider that it is an act of disloyalty to the ethics of the medical profession for some other doctors to withhold assistance to those two new doctors in cleaning up a legacy that has been left to them. The Communist party has seized on the situation for the purposes of propaganda because it wants to control the territory. I shall read later a telegram that I sent to the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) three weeks ago about what I found out by visiting the Darwin hospital twice with my wife, and by conferring with the two doctors appointed by the Government, as well as with the sisters at the hospital. Communist snoopers are using the matter of the Darwin hospital for propaganda purposes through the medium of a filthy rag that they conduct in the Northern Territory. Yet here we have the honorable member for Parramatta coming back from a visit to the Northern Territory and speaking as if he knew all about it. But he did not, when he addressed the House on the subject, mention me as the sitting member who has been fighting for improvements in the territory for fourteen years. He did not mention one word about that. But let me tell the House what has been said by journalists about the case of Dr. Webster. Mr. Priest, of Tennant Creek, said that Dr. Webster was not victimised. I do not intend to say anything much about Dr. Webster. He is treating me now for dermatitis, and is making a mighty good job of it. He has done a good job in Tennant Creek as a doctor, and has carried out some marvellous operations. I leave the question of what has been said about Dr. Webster to the Minister himself. Personally, I think that the Government chose a bad time to dispense with Dr. Webster’s services, because medical officers are scarce in the territory. But that does not alter the fact that the Communists have intruded into this matter for the purposes of propaganda and have succeeded in pulling the legs of many reputable citizens. There are two lines of thought that bear out what I think, and what two sections of the people in the Northern Territory think. I shall quote from an article written by Mr. C. C. Eager, a Sydney Sun reporter on the 6th June last. He wrote -
There is a legacy that is being cleaned up by those two new doctors, and I think that those who have fallen for all this filthy propaganda against them should be chastised for not showing a more ethical outlook. Mr. Eager’s article continues -
The other acknowledges the state of the service until four or five months ago . : .
That is why I am surprised that the honorable member for Reid fell for the idea of flogging this dead horse. The honorable member for Parramatta, in his superfluity of silliness, has the audacity to criticize what is being done for the unfortunate lepers in the Northern Territory. Did he go over to the Channel Island Leprosarium? My wife and I went over to the island and were driven up from the wharf by a leper. My wife is only a young woman, but she had the “ guts “ to do that. The honorable member for Parramatta did not have the “guts” to do it. Yet he has criticized the treatment of lepers. I think that if the honorable member for Parramatta would only go up there again and inquire as I did, he would come back with nothing but praise for what is being done for the lepers of the Northern Territory. Dr. Kirkland, the famous doctor of the Northern Territory who has a great reputation for service, not only during the bombing attack on Darwin in 1942, but also for years before that, only a few months ago started to use the new sulpha drugs for the treatment of leprosy, and within five months no fewer than 26 lepers had been discharged from the Channel Island Leprosarium. Instead of the honorable member for Parramatta telling us about what has been done by Western Australia in the treatment of lepers, why does he not go up to the Northern Territory and apologize to the medical staff, and also go to the island and see those four remarkable nuns who are doing an amazing job up there. I refer to Senior Sister Micheline, and her three devoted helpers. He should also confer with Father Dougherty at the Port Keats mission, who can verify that when the cured lepers returned to their people they spread the news of the cures and other afflicted blacks went to Darwin hoping to be cured. If he did so he would come back with a different picture of the conditions and treatment there. The lepers at the leprosarium now have partial freedom. They may go for walks of ten miles. I have seen them come back to the island with fishing spears after having been away for ten days or so. As I have said, 26 lepers have been discharged from the leprosarium as a result of treatment by the new sulpha drugs. Sister Micheline herself, took two of them back to Bathurst Island, and there was great joy in the camp there over their return after many years in the leprosarium. The news of these cures has spread. As I have said, the blacks who have been cured are telling others out in the bush not to stay hidden as they have done in the past. The result is thai now blacks who are suffering from leprosy come in voluntarily for treatment, because they know that they may be cured, A new era, with new life for the leper, has started. It is no longer necessary for the police to round up those blacks to bring them in. 1 have nothing but praise for what has been done by this Government for the lepers in the Northern Territory. It ill becomes the honorable member for Parramatta to say what he has said. I consider that he should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. He should send a letter of apology to the people at the leprosarium. He did not even go into the hospital at Darwin, or interview Dr. Gunson, the chief medical officer, or Dr. Sendak, the superintendent. Instead, he accepted the chattering of all sorts of people who are flogging a dead horse simply because there is a vendetta against the two new doctors appointed by the Government. That is the story, and I am telling it although it might mean political suicide for me. I do not cadge votes and never did. I am standing up for the Government in this matter and if the Liberal party falls for this Communist propaganda just because the issue concerns 8 government medical service, I consider that it is doing something low-down.
– The de facto Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang), has led them astray.
Mr.- BLAIN. - I do not believe in a completely nationalized medical service. Isolated areas such as the Northern Territory where such a service is necessary, should not be asked to bear the brunt of criticism of government services. We have in the Northern Territory a legacy from the past of bad administration and lack of attention. The two new doctors are trying to clean up the mess. Dr. Gunson is establishing a clinic in Darwin similar to the one that was operated before by Sister Stone, so as to make medical attention more rapidly available for the men and women who now have to wait outside the hospital for hours before they receive attention. [Extension of time granted.”] I have here the telegram that I sent to the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna). It may have been political suicide for me to send it, and it may co9t me thousands of votes, but I was actuated by a sense of fairness. I was anxious to ensure that the Minister and the two newly appointed doctors would get a fair deal. What has happened in Darwin?
In that town, there is a filthy rag conducted by a Communist pressman, who is not game to go into the hospital himself, but sends women there to get stories from sick persons. Is that the sort of thing the Liberal party stands for? Does the honorable member for Reid support behaviour of that kind? I am not prepared to say who are Communists and who are not, but if a doctor or any one else acts as a Communist would, then he is a Communist so far as I am concerned. 1 know that the hospital in Darwin has been infiltrated by Communists, and the sisters cannot exercise their authority because, if they attempt to do so, it is thrown in their teeth that they are annoyed with the person whom they are trying to discipline, only because that person is getting more money than they are. Sisters who have resigned from the hospital have told me they did so because their instructions were continually disobeyed by people instructed by the Communists. If the Government wants to clean up the position, let it root out every Communist who is giving secret information to the Communist press. At times information is extracted from patients by stooges, whose names are withheld, and is relayed to the Communist press. “When the?e patients read the report in the newspaper they are horrified at the misrepresentations it contains. I visited patients in the hospital and learned the truth without even having to ask questions. Pressmen, in their efforts to get stories, jeopardize patients’ chances of recovery. If members of the Liberal party knew what was going on, they would not continue to flog a dead horse as they have been doing. The telegram that I sent ro the Minister for Health is as follows : -
Have investigated hospital disruption here. I. find domestic and lay staff dominated by fear insidious Communistic intrigue fortified by lack co-operation some officers with seniors. Misled visitors have abused their privilege by divulging to Communist press for propaganda purposes confidential private and medical information with regard to patients adding distress and accentuating ill health. My opinion seniors cleaning up mismanagement legacy hampered by spies and disloyal propaganda merchants who love history. I repeat that local hospital committees spell the answer. Doctors in Queensland assist ward sisters maintain discipline and insist that professional ethical outlook be observed.
Now for a solution. In Queensland and Western Australia, hospitals are controlled by hospital committees, and I suggest that if committees were set up to run the hospitals at Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Darwin, the present difficulties would be cleaned up within a month. Then there would be no room for Communist intrigue, and there would be an end to “ snoopers “ and to the vendetta against recently appointed doctors, and to attempts to bring about their downfall.
.- I think I ought to begin by congratulating the member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) upon his remarkable feat in speaking for the better part of twenty minutes about what he described three or four times as a dead horse. I have no wish to discuss the difference of opinion that has developed between him and the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale). The debate has undoubtedly shown differences of opinion, and has brought to light different versions of the facts. It is when there are differences of opinion, and different versions of fact, that inquiry becomes justified. The behaviour of the Government during this debate does not increase my own willingness to believe that there is nothing to inquire into. It refused an extension of time to the honorable member who had been appointed to speak first for my party. That refusal was obviously based on the view that he was a critic, but when the honorable member for the Northern Territory was supporting the Government, he was granted an extension of time. Thus, there is plenty of time for the friends of the Government, but only the bare minimum of time for its critics. As I have said, that does not increase my own willingness, as one who knows nothing of the matter beyond what I have read, and what I have heard to-day, to believe that there is nothing to inquire into.
I rose for the particular purpose of mentioning this point: A Legislative Council was set up in the Northern Territory. It appears to be a most formidable organization, garnished with Hansard writers, but at any rate it was set up under legislation passed by this Parliament. That council appointed a select committee to inquire into the very matters that we have been debating this morning. It held its inquiry, and the Government has been asked to produce its report. There is no conceivable reason why the report should not be produced. After all, the Northern Territory comes within the exclusive jurisdiction and domain of this Parliament, which has chosen to exercise .its undisputed and complete power over the territory by setting up a Legislative Council, the proceedings of which are a matter of public record. That council appointed a select committee, which made a report. I do not know whether its report was right or wrong-
– It has not yet been received.
– I do know, however, that the report ought to be obtained and tabled in this House. Some doubt has even been raised as to the existence of a report. My attention has been directed to the fact that in a recent issue of the Sydney Morning Herald there was published a letter by the President of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory, Mr. Driver, who is also Administrator of the territory. In accordance with the terms of the statute which created the council, the Administrator presides over its meetings. I quote the following from his letter: -
It is not a fact as stated by you that the Government members of the Legislative Council attempted to prevent the printing of the report of the select committee which inquired into the Northern Territory Medical Service.
In fact, all Government members of the Council voted in favour of the motion.
– That is not to say that the report has been printed.
– The letter makes it clear that there is a report, and that a motion to print the report has been carried. It is up to the Government to say why it cannot obtain for the information of members of this Parliament a report which admittedly exists, and which has been already the subject-matter of an order for printing. It is no excuse for the Government to say that the report has not been received. A Minister of the Crown - and I am not without some experience of such matters - does not have to wait until some one chooses to send a report to him. This matter was raised days ago, and the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) could have said, “I must have that report. It has been produced in the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory, and I want it”. When that report is produced we will be much better informed about all of the matters inquired into. If that report it not produced that will be the clearest possible evidence that the Governmenhas something to hide.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has taken exception to the fact that a report has not yet been tabled in this House, and has read an extract from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald to show that the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory had supported the printing of the report. As honorable members know, following the submission of reports to the House, a motion is moved that they be printed. They are sent to the Printing Committee, which comprises members of all parties in this House, and it is for that committee to decide whether the printing of the reports shall be ordered. There is, therefore, no substance in the objection taken by the right honorable gentleman because the report has not been printed. When the Printing Committee meets probably the report will be placed before it for decision whether the report shall be printed. I pay a tribute to those connected with the Darwin hospital. Recently I visited the Northern Territory as a member of the Public Works Committee. Although it was neither the duty nor the responsibility of that committee to report on the Darwin hospital, in view of certain whisperings that the members of the committee heard in various quarters, including the Darwin Club, where the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) and people with whom he was very friendly assembled, the committee decided to visit the hospital for the purpose of learning first-hand of the conditions existing there. The honorable member for Parramatta did not visit the hospital. The members of the committee were very pleasantly impressed by the excellent work that is being carried on at Darwin’s modern up-to-date hospital under great difficulties. The nursing sisters are doing a splendid job. One of them is very well known to me. She is the daughter of a doctor in Brisbane, and is in charge of the leprosy ward. That sister told the members of the committee about the new cure for leprosy that has been found, and showed us aborigines who had been cured. Now, instead of aboriginal men and women who have contracted leprosy hiding in the bush they go along for treatment and are able to enjoy themselves despite the fact that they are isolated on Channel Island. Excellent work has been achieved by the hospital authorities. Darwin was heavily bombed during the war, and in addition the administration has been faced with a legacy resulting from maladministration of medical services long before the Australian Labour party came to office. However, the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson), backed by the Government, has set out to provide a first-class medical service in Darwin, and much has already been achieved. There may be some delay so far as out-patients are concerned, but it is not all connected with the medical service. Although dental treatment is provided for the people of Darwin, at times they have to wait for lengthy periods for dentures. However, generally speaking, they are very pleased with what is being achieved. Whilst in Darwin I spoke to a young couple that I knew very well previously in Brisbane. The young man is in business in Darwin. His first child was born at a private hospital in Brisbane, and his other two children were born in Darwin. The young couple paid tribute to the Darwin hospital by saying that the service rendered to the woman on the occasion of each birth at Darwin was far better than that received by her during her first confinement in Brisbane. The ordinary citizens of Darwin have nothing to say against the medical treatment that they receive at the hospital there. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) claims that the Northern Territory Standard operates under Communist control. As that newspaper frequently criticizes the administration of the Darwin hospital some doubt is thereby cast on the ordinary citizens of Darwin.
Having visited the hospital I consider that the people of Darwin are being provided with a very satisfactory medical service. They have a first-class up-to-date hospital which I believe in time will be one of the finest hospitals outside of the metropolitan districts in Australia.
Motion (by Mr. Scully) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Majority . . 11
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the negative.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 2nd June (vide page 502).
Clauses 2 to 5 agreed to.
Proposed votes- Parliament, £106,050 ; Prime Minister’s Department. £1,107,530 - agreed to.
Department of External Affairs.
Proposed vote, £333,720.
Mr.McEWEN (Indi) [12.42].- During the consideration of the last two budgets the subject of the establishment of Australian legations in Chile and Brazil has been extensively discussed. I, and other honorable members, have repeatedly asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) or the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) what necessity exists for the establishment at very substantial cost of legations in those two South American countries. This bill includes votes of £5,840 for the legation in Brazil and £1,000 for the legation in Chile. The budgets have customarily provided for the expenditure of approximately £20,000 on each of these legations. I am completely at a loss to understand what advantage Australia derives from such expenditure, other than the influencing of two additional votes in favour of the candidature of the Minister for External Affairs during elections for selection of the president of the General Assembly of the United Nations. I know of no other reason for the continuance of these two legations. If Australia wishes to establish legations in South America it should give first consideration to the establishment of a legation in Argentina. Australia and Argentina do not share a common democratic system of government, but Argentina is the most outstanding country in South America which competes with Australia in the production of meat, wool, and, above all, of wheat.
– Yes, and also of jute, a matter which is worrying us increasingly as the years go on. In view of the common commercial interests of the two countries, it is not unreasonable to expect the Government to establish a legation in Argentina.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– When the last two budgets were presented to the Parliament the Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs were asked to explain the necessity for maintaining Australian legations in Brazil and Chile and on each occasion the Prime Minister undertook to review the matter and advise the
Parliament of the Government’s decision. I remind the right honorable gentleman and the committee that he has defaulted in his undertaking, and I again ask him to examine the matter without further delay. The fact that only £1,000 is proposed to be expended on the legation in Chile during the next financial year may indicate that diplomatic representation in that country is about to be discontinued. If my surmise is correct, then the taxpayers can thank the Opposition for having saved the country from the continued expenditure of a substantial sum of money. If it is not considered necessary to have diplomatic representation in Argentina, I should like to know what justification exists for the maintenance of an Australian legation in Brazil. We have little in common with that country, whereas we have a number of substantial common interests with Argentina. Both Argentina and Australia are situated in the Southern Hemisphere, and both countries engage extensively in primary industries, and have to compete for sale in the same overseas markets because the seasons coincide in the two countries. The committee is certainly entitled to an official statement of the Government’s intentions concerning diplomatic representation in South America.
I propose to refer now to the present permanent head of the Department of External Affairs, and I trust that my remarks will not be misunderstood. The action of that gentleman in offering himself as a candidate for pre-selection by a political party was an extraordinary and unprecedented incident in the history of the administration of this country. I do not want to be misunderstood and I do not want honorable members to think that I am making a personal attack on the officer concerned. I concede to every citizen the right to entertain political ambitions and to offer himself to a political party for endorsement as its candidate at elections. At the same time, we all realize that a person who accepts certain offices, or undertakes the discharge of certain public duties, must realize that he thereby excludes himself from participation in the party political life of the community. If there is any office that requires” its incumbent to avoid the suspicion of entertaining political ambitions. it ought to be that of the permanent head of a great administrative department. In this instance it is obvious that the gentleman concerned could not have offered himself as a candidate for pre-selection by the Australian Labour party unless he had previously engaged in some aspect of party politics. In my opinion it is not only bad policy by the Government to have appointed, or to have maintained in office, au officer who has engaged so actively in party politics, but it is also improper. On a prior occasion I pointed out in the House that cadets who aspire to permanent appointment as career diplomats have to become members of the Federated Clerks Union before they can become entitled to receive certain rates of pay and allowances. The particular union that I have mentioned is as undeniably under Communist control as are the coal miners’ federation, the Federated Ironworkers Union, the Seamen’s Union, the Waterside Workers Federation, the Building Workers Industrial Union, and certain other extremist organizations.
– Is the honorable member suggesting that Dr. Burton is a Communist ?
– I am not making any such suggestion. I am merely pointing out, because I believe it to be my public duty to do so, that no person can become a career diplomat unless he has passed through the Federated Clerks Union and thereby subjected himself to the iron discipline that is exercised by the Communist leaders of that union. Members of the Australian Labour party are aware of the severity of that discipline. I shall say no more at the moment on the matter, and I leave it to honorable members to make up their minds whether it is of sufficient importance to warrant their attention. However, I recall that when I mentioned the matter in the House on a previous occasion I received., within a matter of hours, a lengthy letter of rebuke from the permanent head of the Department of External Affairs. That letter was couched in such terms that I felt impelled to raise the matter in this chamber with the Prime Minister.
– Written on behalf of his master.
– I do not know whether the letter was written on behalf of his master, but certainly the officer concerned remains in his position. At the moment, I am not asking honorable members to agree or disagree with my action in raising the matter in the chamber, but I regard it as most important that our public servants, particularly members of our diplomatic service, should not be indoctrinated by Communists at the earliest stages of their careers. When I raised the matter in the Parliament, I was immediately rebuked in writing by the permanent head of the Department of External Affairs, who, a few months later, announced his candidature for pre-selection by the Labour party to contest the Australian Capital Territory seat.
– And is therefore pledged to undermine the honorable member for Indi.
– Yes. If a permanent head is a partisan member of the Labour party, it is his normal function to try to undermine me or any other member of the Opposition. It is just a matter of coincidence-
– What does the honorable member mean by “ undermining “ ?
– He has signed the Labour party’s pledge, to begin with.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Burke). - Order! The honorable member for Indi has the floor. I remind honorable members that interjections are disorderly.
– It is just a matter of coincidence that I happen to be a former Minister for External Affairs. With a turn of the wheel of political fortune, I may again occupy that office. I should then find that the permanent head of the department of which I was the responsible Minister was the gentleman who had rebuked me in writing. As I have stated, he is a partisan member of the Labour party. He has aspired to the endorsement of the Labour party to contest the Australian Capital Territory seat. I contend that that is wrong, improper and a completely intolerable situation. I do not deny that Dr. Burton has the right to be a Labour party candidate but the two positions of permanent head of a government department and aspirant for party political selection for a seat in the Parliament are completely incompatible. I should like the Government to explain its attitude on this matter.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has made a most shocking statement. If his views were generally accepted,- the permanent heads of Commonwealth and State departments, would constitute at least one class of people in the community who could never aspire to political honours.
– While they remain heads of departments.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! Interjections are not permissible.
– I thought that it was an elementary principle that any individual in any position whatsoever should be able to stand as a candidate for the Parliament. What the honorable member for Indi has suggested is a complete departure from the principles of democracy.
– May a judge seek political honours while remaining on the Bench?
– In my opinion, it reflects great credit upon the gentleman involved in this discussion that he is prepared to give up a substantial salary in order to become a member of this Parliament on a considerably lower salary. Such a course of conduct reflects the greatest credit on the permanent head of the department under discussion.
– lt is the greatest scandal in the history of the civil service.
– That is what the right honorable gentleman thinks. Apparently members of the Opposition believe that heads of the Commonwealth and State departments ought never to become members of the Parliament. I do not accept that point of view, and I do not believe that the people of Australia generally accept it.
The honorable member for Indi has stated that all diplomatic cadets must be members of the Federated Clerks Union, and that that organization is dominated by the Communist party. It is true that diplomatic cadets must be members of a union in order to receive the award rate of salary to which they are entitled.
– That is what I said.
– The Federated Clerks Union is the only organization to which they can belong.
– This Government issued an instruction that public servants must be members of an industrial organization in order to be entitled to the award rates applicable to their duties.
– Does the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) suggest that individuals who obtain the benefits of awards should not be members of the industrial organizations that secured those benefits for them? Honorable members on this side of the chamber have a very blunt term for such persons. They are “ scabs “, neither more nor less. I suggest that, because the Federated Clerks Union is the only organization to which the diplomatic cadets may belong, they are entitled to belong to it, but that situation does not mean that those cadets are indoctrinated with the ideals of communism. If that view were to be accepted, we should have to admit that every member of a union, which is dominated by Communists leaders, is also a Communist. Everybody knows that that is not true. There is nothing to show that any of the diplomatic cadets have been indoctrinated with communistic ideals.
The proposed vote now being considered shows that expenditure on Australian legations in South America has been reduced severely. The honorable member for Indi flatters himself if he believes that such a reduction has been made by the Government as the result of his speeches or the speeches of any other member of the Opposition on the subject.
– No; that expenditure was incurred because the Minister for External Affairs hoped thereby to secure the support of South American countries for his candidature for election as
President of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
– These matters are reviewed by the Government from time to time in the light of the circumstances prevailing. At one time, it was considered that we should have fairly strong representation in South American countries, but, at a later stage, in the light of expenditure on legations in other countries, the Government deliberately decided to reduce the expenditure on legations in South American countries. No speeches by any members of the Opposition caused that revision of our expenditure.
The honorable member for Indi has also made what I consider to be a very low-down suggestion in relation to the expenditure on our legations in South American countries. He has suggested that the reason for incurring the expenditure was in order that the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) should get a few votes from South American countries when he was a candidate for election to the office of President of the General Assembly of the United Nations. That is a most dastardly attack on the right honorable gentleman. Actually, there is not an atom of truth in that statement, because the honorable member himself has said that the Minister for External Affairs received only two votes from South American countries.
– I did not say that.
– I am sorry if I have made a mistake, but that is what I understood the honorable member to say. 1 distinctly understood the honorable member to say that the Minister for External Affairs got two votes from South America. I do not know how many votes he got, but it despicable for the honorable -member to suggest that that was the sole reason for the establishment of legations in South America. As the honorable member himself conceded, the interests of .some countries in South America are comparable with our own. The position there at present is that we have appointed an Australian representative - he is not an ambassador but is the Charge d’Affairs - with head-quarters in Brazil. The greater part of the expenditure is related to Brazil, but tie officer represents Australia, not only in that country, but other countries as well. He makes periodical visits to Argentina, a country mentioned by the honorable member. He is, in fact, the Australian representative at large in South America. The rate of expenditure shows quite clearly that a legation is not being maintained in Chile. The £1,000 expended in that country is to clear up some outstanding matters and when those matters have been dealt with, there will be no further expenditure in Chile, unless of course, the Government, in the meantime, believes the re-establishment of a legation in that country to be advisable. I repeat that expenditure is concentrated in Brazil because it is in that country that the Australian representative at large in South America has his head-quarters. I do not know exactly what proportion of the officer’s time is spent in Brazil, itself, and how much is spent in the other South American countries, but he is the Australian representative at large in South America. He visits Argentina to see that Australian interests in that country are adequately safeguarded. The honorable member has suggested that the Prime Minister promised an explanation on this matter. The proposed vote provides an adequate explanation for any one who is prepared to examine it, and I suggest that the honorable member has no right whatever to say that the Prime Minister has defaulted on any promise that he made in this connexion.
– I rise to support the observations that have been made by the honorable member for Indi (Mt. McEwen), who is Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party, on the subject of the relationship between a departmental head and party political activity. I have already said something about this matter outside the Parliament, and I propose now ‘to say something about it inside the Parliament, particularly in view of the remarkable proposition that has been advanced by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman). The Minister said that it was not democratic for anybody in the community to he excluded from contesting a parliamentary election as a party candidate, -while, at ‘the same time, holding a public office. T suppose, therefore, that I could be told that, without any threat to the security of our parliamentary institution in this country, a judge could be a party candidate while retaining his position on the Bench. That is a fair suggestion because, according to the Minister, it is not democratic to exclude anybody in this country from the ordinary right of a citizen to stand for Parliament. Let us apply the argument to the civil service. I shall do so because 1 believe most profoundly that once we accept the proposition that a man may continue to be the head of a department while contesting party selection for election to parliament, we are setting out to destroy the independence and integrity of the civil service. It is notorious that in the United States of America for many years there was no permanent civil service. Everybody in government employment came in or went out according to the ebb and flow of the fortunes of political parties. The result was’ that the election of a new President meant widespread patronage. Appointments of all kinds were handed out to political supporters. In due course, when a member of another political party became president, out went the old nominees and in came the new ones. We, thank God, inherited from Great Britain an entirely different conception of the civil service. We have maintained throughout, that although a civil servant should not be denied his right to vote as an ordinary private citizen, he shall, subject to good behaviour, be assured that he may continue to occupy a position of permanence, independent of temporary political judgments, and may be regarded as free to carry out the policies of whatever Government the people may elect. By so doing, we have created a feeling of security in the civil service, which, I belive has been of the greatest possible value to Australia, as it has been to Great Britain. Now, we are told, there is to be a new rule, under which the permanent head of a department, who, as such, is bound to supply honest advice and to carry out honest and fair administration for whatever government or Minister he may serve, may at the same time, become a candidate for selection by a political party for a Commonwealth election. Let us be sensible about thi* matter and see what it means. Let us consider the proposition in all its gravity. Suppose at the forthcoming election, the present opposition parties succeed and are called upon to form a government. Suppose that, in such a government, I find myself Minister for External Affairs. I shall be met, on my first morning, by the permanent bead of the Department of External Affairs who has pledged himself publicly to defeat me and who, but for the accident of his non-selection, would have been a candidate against a member of my party at the elections. Am I supposed to give him my confidence? Am I supposed to say to him, “ Of course, I understand that your dearest wish was to defeat me, but 1 can accept everything that you tell me because I know that whatever you tell me will bo calculated to make my administration of this department successful”? We are not living in a world of archangels. We are living in a world of human beings, so let us talk sense about this matter. I could not have any confidence in the advice of the head of a department in those circumstances, and I would not tolerate him as a head of a department. The result of that - and I urge all honorable members to consider this - is that, should this practice be accepted as general, instead of being only a stark, staring exception as it is now, we should find the heads of departments changing with every change of government. I cannot imagine anything more deplorable. I say to the Minister that, however comfortable he may feel about this matter, I have spoken to no senior public servant who does not deplore it and who does not feel that for the old relationship of complete confidence to be impaired in this fashion is disastrous to the Public Service and to the country. I have been a Minister of the Crown and Prime Minister of Australia, one or the other, for ten years of my parliamentary life. I have many colleagues who have been Ministers of the Crown. We have all had as the permanent heads of the departments that we have administered people who wore but yesterday loyal administrators under Ministers of an entirely different political complexion, and I am happy to say that in all my time I have never known the political allegiance of A departmental head who served under me. I can look back on them and say that they were honest men with ability and experience who quite plainly were going to give me the best advice that they could give. They wanted the administration to succeed, irrespective of its political colour, and that is as it should he. That is the ultimate tribute than can be paid to the Public Service. The moment a government says that the kind of thing under discussion is permissible that government makes an attack on the Public Service and turns it from being highly respected, objective and independent into something that is the mere servant of the political mood of the moment and in which the top ranks must be changed with every change of party administration. I cannot take that as a light matter. That is why I entirely agree with everything that the honorable member for Indi has said about it.
– I am astonished that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) should have seen fit to say that public servants who were not unionists were “ scabs “. That is a contemptible word, which, if uttered outside, would be actionable. Yet he applied it to all members of the Public Service who have not joined a union. He said that, because they received the benefits of arbitration awards, they should join the appropriate union. I contest that statement. The wages that they receive are awarded by the Public Service Arbitrator. Some public servants have made financial sacrifices rather than join the unions dominated by Communists.’ The Clerks Union, as the honorable member for Indi has shown, is in. that category. Officers have taken less than the award rate of pay rather than join it. Subject to correction, I say that there is no statute that says that public servants must join a union in order to benefit from awards of the Public Service Arbitrator. That they must join in order to qualify for all benefits of the awards was the fiat issued by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, who said that awards would apply only to members of unions. It ill becomes the honorable gentleman, who has been in the Ministry for some years and administers the Department of Defence as well as the Department of Post-war Reconstruction. malign those who are opposed to being dragooned into unions and to believe that they should have the freedom to work as well as the other freedoms.
I agree with the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) that we should protest against the expenditure of dollars on legations in South American countries. This matter has been raised over and over again. We need dollars for essentials. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) has referred to the scarcity of spare parts for tractors and other farm machinery. Other honorable members have referred to other needs that cannot be satisfied because of the scarcity of dollars. We do not buy threepenny-worth of Brazil nuts a year so to speak. I challenge the Minister to tell us what trade we do with Brazil. I doubt whether it would cover the salaries of the officers there. Our representation in South America is the result of the ridiculous conceit of the Minister, for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) who desires to dot the world with embassies and legations in order to win the esteem of the world. It is known to every one that he fished for the votes of the South American republics to support his candidature for the presidency of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Only yesterday, the press reported that there was a strong probability that he would be a candidate for the SecretaryGeneralship of the United Nations in succession to Dr. Trygve Lie, who, it is reported, is likely to retire, and that the post, with its salary of £5,000 a year, was more attractive to the Minister for External Affairs than was the prospect of coming back to Australia to fight an election in a constituency in which he has been challenged by a woman candidate who may beat him. We see how the Government is going on. With a little in Brazil, a little in Chile and so on, it thinks it gets by. The taxpayer is being fleeced by the ambitions of petty despots, “ dress’d in a little brief authority “ and holding ministerial rank.
The Government must make a declaration about diplomatic immunity. In Canberra, we have the representatives of many powers. They come under no civil code. There have been at least two, and perhaps three, traffic accidents in which people connected with foreign legations have been involved. The victim of one wrote to me about her case. She was knocked down by a motor car driven by a member of the family of one diplomat. The driver was under age and would not be given a licence to drive by the police in any State of Australia if a licence wa3 desired. The woman who was knocked down was injured, and she spent a great deal of time in hospital. She received no damages and the person who knocked her down could not be prosecuted because of diplomatic immunity. I understand that far worse circumstances are associated with another accident. If this wandering Minister for External Affairs, this peripatetic who goes around the world telling the world how everything should be done, cannot devise a way in which people like those to whom I have referred can be brought within the law, he should not hold his high office. I ask the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction to ensure that justice. shall be done to the people who have been injured in this way by motor cars owned by members of the Diplomatic Corps. Let the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) tell us why good Australian dollars are being poured out in South America to please the ego of the Minister for External Affairs.
– I deprecate the way in which the Opposition seizes every opportunity to condemn the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt). In every other walk of life in this country and abroad, the Minister for External Affairs has high tributes paid to him for his work. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) have accused the right honorable gentleman of responsiblity for Australia’s representation in the South American republics. Other nations are represented in those countries. It is unlikely that their representatives would have less influence than that on Australia’s representatives.
It is easy to confound the arguments advanced by honorable gentlemen opposite. It is to be regretted that honorable members opposite continually show their hostility to a man who is internationally respected and who has done a great job for Australia and the world. It would be in the interests, not only of the United Nations, but also of Australia if the Opposition adopted a different approach to the Minister for External Affairs and bis work for peace and the betterment of mankind.
The honorable member for Indi has referred to public servants who are members of the Federated Clerks Union of Australia as Communists. The South Australian branch of that union is not Communist controlled. The secretary of the branch is a member of the Labour party.
Mr. McBride interjecting,
– I challenge the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) to state outside this House that the secretary of the South Australian branch of that union is a Communist or a member of the Communist party.
– Who was talking of South Australia ?
– When I said that the secretary of the South Australian branch of the union was not a Communist, the honorable member for Wakefield challenged my statement.
– This looks like a red herring to me.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- The Chair does not desire to stifle discussion, but it will not tolerate persistent interjections.
– Many public servants are members of the Federated Clerks Union. It is wrong to suggest that any man is a Communist merely because he is a member of that union.
– I did not say that.
– The honorable member for Indi conveyed the impression to those who were listening to him that a man could not be a member of that union unless he was prepared to be dominated by Communists. The South Australian branch of the Federated
Clerks Union is not Communist dominated. I know the members of the union in South Australia as well as does any other honorable member. I defy honorable gentlemen opposite to give the name of any member of the South Australian branch of the union who belongs to the Communist party or who has Communist leanings. It is not suggested by those in South Australia who know the facts that any members of the Communist party belong to the South Australian branch of this union.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) referred to the propriety of a head of a government department contesting pre-selection for a seat in the Commonwealth Parliament or a State parliament. I agree with the remarks that were made by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) in that connexion. I believe that in this democracy all citizens have the right to offer themselves as candidates for election to a Parliament. The Leader of the Opposition has said that if the anti-Labour parties are successful at the next general election, the position may arise that the head of a government department is a person who sought selection as a candidate of the Labour party for a seat in Parliament. What difference would it make to the position of the head of a department if it were known that, as a member of the Labour party, he had contested a parliamentary seat, or that, even though he had not offered himself for election, he was a member of the Labour party or of the Liberal party? The heads of many government departments in Australia are men who hold strong political opinions.
– Nonsense !
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) is a good judge of nonsense. It is well known that many departmental heads hold strong political views. He is a poor type of individual who does not entertain some political opinions. Surely the sensible approach to this subject is that it makes no difference whether a man indicates the nature of his political views publicly or expresses his opinion in a secret ballot. In my own department there are men who are members of political organizations other than the Labour party. I do not agree with their political views, but nevertheless they are my friends. They do not allow their politics to influence their work in the department.
– Let the Minister ask the Chief Medical Officer in Darwin if he has a secret file in his home.
– I am not talking about the Chief Medical Officer in Darwin. Almost every Australian has some political views. Those views may or may not be opposed to the views of the government of the day. I have complete confidence in the officers of my department, although some of them hold political opinions that are entirely different from my own.
– Nearly all of them.
– The honorablemember for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) says, “Nearly all of them”. All I can say is that I have received loyal support from them. I do not care what their political views are. If, at the next general election, the head of a government department unsuccessfully contests a seat on behalf of the Liberal party, the Australian Country party, or the . Labour party, when the elections are over he will be just as loyal to the new government, if there he a new one, as he is to this Government. There is no substance in the case that honorable gentlemen opposite have attempted to make.
.- 1 believe that the opinion that has been expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) regarding political activity by members of the Public Service is the opinion of all honorable members on this side of the committee, of the Australian people as a whole, and of many of the honorable gentlemen opposite who sit behind the Ministers who have expressed themselves upon this subject in such a novel manner. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Chambers) has spoken of the loyal support that he has received during his period of office from men who, he believes, hold political views that differ from his own. That is a tribute to a system that has developed gradually in Australia and which has been inherited from Britain. The British system of public service administration has evolved over the centuries. If there be one feature that distinguishes the public services of the British peoples, it is that departmental officers do not owe allegiance to any political party but are the willing and dutiful instruments of the government of the day. When a government is elected, the officers of the Public Service devote themselves to the task of implementing the policies that are dictated by the Government. It will be tragic if ever we adopt the policy that has been advocated by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction and the Minister for the Army. There is a state of mind that has been described by some honorable gentlemen opposite as the social fascist mind. We have seen what such an approach to the problems of government has meant in other countries. We have seen what it meant in Nazi Germany and what it means now in Soviet Russia. Should we consider it proper if a judge, whom we regard as an impartial arbiter, stepped into the arena of public political controversy while retaining his judicial office? Of course that notion would shock most people’s- sense of the fitness of things, but apparently it does not shock the sense of the fitness of things of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction and the Minister for the Army. It is inevitable that in those countries where socialism has been implemented, as in the eastern zone of Germany and in Russia now, judges degenerate into political instruments. They preside over the courts, not to guarantee the freedom of the subject and to enforce the law as prescribed by statute, but to give effect to the policy of the Executive of the day. That is the situation that exists in the eastern part of Germany and in Soviet Russia to-day. If we have much more of this talk and of this practice on the part of the fascistminded socialists in this country, it will not be very long before our own judiciary, which has been the bulwark of our freedom, will degenerate in the same way. We had another reflection of that state of mind in the Minister’s approach to the subject of the membership of unions. The Minister, when I had answered his rhetorical question, said that I did not believe in a man getting the benefits of an award and at the same time being a member of a union. I do believe in unionism. I believe that a man who follows a regular occupation should, as a matter of course, become a member of the association, either of employers or employees, whichever is appropriate, that has been established to protect his interests and as an instrument to which governments can look for advice regarding the welfare and conditions under which the persons concerned should operate or work. Unions are worthy organizations, but whilst I believe that a man should, in practice, belong to a union or association, I am utterly opposed to any action that would compel any man ‘against his will or conscience to join an organization to which he did not desire to belong. Honorable members opposite may criticize and condemn such a man but they should not place him under a financial penalty, using the taxpayers’ money for that purpose, so as to compel him to join a union, as this Government has been doing ever since an edict was issued by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, and in that way prejudice the man in his employment. That again is a reflection of the fascist state of mind.
We are discussing the Department of External Affairs, and these matters have arisen as incidental to the discussion. Inevitably, of course, the position of the ministerial head of the department has come under review. There are many things about the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) that one can find to admire. He has many admirable qualities. He has great capacity, and nobody in this place would deny that he devotes great energy to the many tasks that he assumes. But our approach to this matter should be to ask ourselves how effective a Minister for External Affairs he is proving for his own country? I do not challenge the statement by the Minister for the Army that the Minister for External’ Affairs is a figure of international standing. He is highly respected abroad at international gatherings. I have seen him in action in Paris presiding over the General Assembly of the United Nations. But what I am concerned with primarily as a citizen of Australia is how effectively he is managing the foreign relations of his own country. I can commend him for any successes that he may achieve at the General Assembly of the United Nations, but if in the course of his activities there he ignores the problems of his own country, and if our foreign affairs policy deteriorates as a consequence of his preoccupation with other matters, many of them largely of a procedural character, then there is a proper ground for criticism, not of a personal kind, but of his work in relation to the best interests of Australia. Reference has been made to the widely circulated rumour that the right honorable gentleman has his eye on the secretary-generalship of the United Nations, a position which, I have no doubt, he would fill with distinction. But what is happening in the meantime to Australian interests? The drift in the foreign relationships of Australia during the last four or five years could well prove disastrous. Australia had many good friends when the war ended. In fact, it would have been difficult to find an enemy, except among the countries which Australia had helped to defeat. We had friends among the Dutch, the Americans and, certainly, among the British, as well as many of the Asiatic peoples whom we had assisted by military action and by gifts of food and other supplies. Where are those friendships to-day? Our relationships with practically all those countries have deteriorated seriously. Where do we stand with tin* Dutch? Can any one support the policy of the Government in regard to the Dutch, or the inaction which has marked its attitude towards Dutch affairs during recent years? The Government did nothing to assist the Dutch when a ban on Dutch shipping was in operation in Australia. Although it repudiated the ban, it took no effective action to see that the ships were worked. In the dispute between the Dutch and the Indonesians, the Government has, by its busybody, “ Nosey-Barker “ attitude, infuriated both parties. By the manner in which the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) has administered his department, bitterness against Australia has been created in those Asiatic countries where formerly there was goodwill. When we turn to the United States of America, a country which should stand highest in the order of priority so far as interna tional friendship is concerned, Australia has caused irritation in small matters on which it could have taken a more generous view, and could have co-operated more energetically. We have already discussed the Manus Island situation. Then there was the Fullbright scheme, under which Australia could have taken from the United States of America students who, upon their return to their own country, would have been ambassadors of goodwill. That scheme seems to be bogged down in a morass of red tape There were also the negotiations between Australia and the United States of America about double taxation. I have no doubt that the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) could prove, by citing figures, that an arrangement between the United States of America and Australia, similar to that in operation between Australia and Great Britain, would favour some American industrialists who have invested capital here, and assisted Australia in developing its industries; but how small a thing that would be when set off against the goodwill we could have created by taking a more generous point of view. In the long run Australia would have gained economically by the encouragement of American investments in this country. These are all matters that touch us closely. They go beyond Australia, it is true, but they arise out of action taken in Australia. Now let us look at what the Minister for External Affairs is doing in the centre where he spends most of his time, at the United Nations. I marvel that Australia, which is hailed by some people as the champion of small nations, should take it on itself to become the world’s busybody when it lacks the means to effectively defend itself. Through its representative abroad, it has been sticking its nose into every hornet’s nest. The most recent example was in connexion with Spain, when General Franco applied for the admission of that country to the United Nations. Australia, for reasons which have not been made clear, held up its hands in horror, and supported the rejection of the application because General Franco, forsooth, does not allow individual freedom to Spanish citizens. I do not approve of the Franco administration, nor of its acts, but that can be said of many countries which are already members of the United Nations. Where in Russia, or in the satellite countries dominated by Russia, is the liberty of the individual guaranteed? Nevertheless, for reasons of sound politics, and in order to assist the work of the United Nations, those countries have been admitted to membership of tho United Nations. As Australia has freely agreed to the admittance of those countries, what hypocrisy and humbug it is for this country to resist the admittance of Spain, a country which strategically, and in terms of trade, forms an important element of the European scene! The Minister for External Affairs might well address himself to such matters. We acknowledge his keenness, his capacity and his energy, but when we are told that those qualities have been used to promote the best interests of Australia, and to produce the best results for Australia, we beg to differ.
.- I rise to answer statements made by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White). The honorable member for Indi said that the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) had maintained Australian legations in Chile and Brazil in order to win votes so that he might become President of the General Assembly of the United Nations. That statement was very far from the truth.
– Tie Government has never given any other explanation.
– I commend the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), who spoke of what he had learned of the Minister for External Affairs when he was himself abroad. Apparently, he had to return to this Parliament to hear attacks on this great Australian. We, who had the opportunity to mingle with delegates from every dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations, while we were overseas recently, heard nothing but praise of the Minister for External Affairs for the work he had done on the other side of the world. I appreciate the sentiments expressed by the honorable member for Fawkner.
I propose now to deal with the honorable member for Balaclava, although it might be more appropriate if I- refused to answer his remarks at all for they were delivered by one whom I can only describe as a little politician, too small in stature even to wipe the dust from the boots of the Minister for External Affairs. He said that the Minister was now seeking the position of secretarygeneral of the United Nations at a salary of £5,000 a year, which was more than he ever received for his parliamentary work. To that charge, I reply that no other member of the Parliament ever made such a great financial sacrifice as did the Minister for External Affairs when he came into this Parliament to serve Australia. This is an assembly in which we are supposed to discuss matters of national importance; yet we have had to listen to a little politician maligning a man who has done so much for Australia and for the world. Let us see how far the honorable member for Balaclava was off the mark. The present secretarygeneral of the United Nations does not retire from his position until 1951, and the federal election in Australia will take place this year or early next year. Clearly, therefore, the Minister for External Affairs cannot be actuated by the motives ascribed to him, and the honorable member for Balaclava has demonstrated how out of touch he is with the feelings of all decent Australians.
The honorable member for Indi discussed the action of the permanent head of a Commonwealth department who submitted himself as a candidate for pre-selection to stand for an election to the Parliament. This is a democratic country, and every one has a right to decide that matter for himself. The honorable member for Indi suggested that if a departmental head, who failed in his attempt to get into Parliament, afterwards continued in his position in the department, he might try to undermine his Minister if he and the Minister were supporters of different political parties. The honorable member made it clear that he had no faith in Commonwealth public servants, but he is the first member of this Parliament to suggest such a thing. His statement was inspired by the fact that the present permanent head of a department sought nomination as the official Labour candidate at the forthcoming election. That officer has served in his present capacity for a number of years under various governments. I believe that he has been in his present department for about ten years.
– The honorable member should get his facts right.
– What riles the honorable member for Indi is that this officer should have chosen to stand under the Labour banner instead of as a supporter of one of the Opposition parties.. I deplore the attacks which have been made by the honorable member for Balaclava and the honorable member for Indi on the Minister for External Affairs, and 1 particularly deplore the attack made by the honorable member for Indi upon the head of a Commonwealth department.
.- I have no desire to enter into an argument with the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Sheehy) regarding the merits or demerits of the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt). I agree with him and with the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) that the right honorable gentleman achieved very great distinction as president of the General Assembly of the United Nations. I believe that he put his heart into that work; but I, and I am sure every other honorable member, wish that he would do equally good work for the Commonwealth of Australia. Since he has occuplied his position as Minister for External Affairs our relations with other countries-
– Be careful !
– Since he has occupied his present position our relations with other countries have deteriorated year by year. I believe that at present Australia’s standing in the eyes of foreign nations has reached its nadir. Never before has Australia sunk so low in the affections of foreign nations. Our standing in the world has been lowered to a great degree as the result of the policy and the methods of the Minister for External Affairs.
– The honorable member does not mean that.
– I do mean it, and 1 believe that the honorable member agrees with me. When the honorable member for Boothby said that the honorable member for Indi had stated that he had no faith in the Public Service, he sought to put into the mouth of that honorable member words which never issued from his lips. The honorable member for Indi made no remark that was in any way similar to the statement that the honorable member for Boothby attributed to him. What he said was that he thought the influence of the Communist party on new appointees to the Public Service, in particular to the Department of External Affairs, was very bad indeed. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Chambers) took up that point and said that as far as he was aware no Communist influence was exerted in the Federated Clerks Union. The Minister spoke with knowledge of what had taken place in South Australia. I have no idea what influence the Communist party may exert in the Federated Clerks Union in South Australia, but I am well aware that the Communists exert a very wide influence in the affairs of the Federated Clerks Union in Victoria. To prove my point I shall relate to the committee, as an example, what took place at a meeting of that union which was recently held in one of the suburbs of Melbourne. The executive of the Federated Clerks Union passed a resolution raising the amount of subscriptions payable by all members of the organization. A meeting of one of the suburban branches of the organization was called to consider that resolution. It was presided over by a member of the Central Executive of the Union, and a well-known Communist. The members of the branch discussed a variety of subjects other than that which the meeting was specifically called to consider, and, as time went by, it became obvious to those present that the chairman did not wish to dispose of the specific matter which the meeting was called to discuss. A member then proposed a motion proposing that the resolution of the executive to increase subscriptions be rejected.
– Order ! The honorable member is not in order in indulging in a long dissertation about a meeting of the Federated Clerks Union.
– I am endeavouring to reply to remarks made about that organization by the Minister for the Army. The Minister referred to his experience of the union in South Australia. I am dealing with what I know took place at a meeting of the organization in Victoria. I shall be brief. When the motion wa3 put to the meeting the chairman declared it lost on the voices. The mover dissented from the chairman’s declaration and was supported by others who also disagreed with the chairman’s decision. After a good deal of discussion the motion was again put to a vote, and hands were counted. Of the 60 members of the branch present when the count was taken, 56 voted in favour of the motion disagreeing with the increase of the subscription and four opposed it. Yet that motion had been declared lost on the voices by the Communist chairman. That illustration shows clearly the extent of Communist influence in the Federated Clerks Union. As a result of the chairman’s action, several members resigned from the union, saying that they would no longer submit to control or influence by the Communists.
– I listened with interest to some of the remarks made by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Chambers). I believe that sooner or later the Government will have to consider the question of the relationship of members of the Public Service to political parties. If I had authority to do so. I should amend the law to provide that no member of the Public Service may belong to a political party. If a person wishes to enter politics he has a right to do so, but I do not think that the Public Services of the States or the Commonwealth should be used as vehicles to enable those who choose their careers in the Public Service to enter political life when it suits them to do so.
– What does the honorable member mean by the Public Services of the States and the Commonwealth? Would he include all Commonwealth employees ?
– I would include all officers of the Public Services of the States and the Commonwealth whoare entitled to contribute for and receivesuperannuation benefits.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member must disregard interjections and address the Chair.
– I like to listen to the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Fraser). That is one pleasure which, I am sure, I share with you, Mr. Temporary Chairman. 1 also believe that temporary civil servants should remain aloof from party politics while they continue in government employment. The Minister for the Army has expressed his views on this matter. I, too, have held ministerial office in the Parliament at. different times, though not for very long, but I should consider myself in a very uncomfortable position if, while holding ministerial rank, I ascertained that the head of the department which I was called upon to administer was a known political opponent. You, Mr. Temporary Chairman, have held office as Minister assisting the Treasurer. If, while occupying that office, you found that the Secretary of the Treasury was a political opponent who at any time might be a candidate for election to this Parliament, how would you feel about it? In my view it is utterly wrong and, in a political sense, utterly immoral, for the permanent head of a government department to be concerned with party politics. Mention has been made in the debate of the judiciary. In 1940 we had the spectacle of the present Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) stepping from the High Court Bench into the political arena. There are some matters associated with that move which have not yet been cleared up. One is the stipulation that no person is qualified to stand for election as a Labour candidate unless he has been a financial member of the party for at least two years. Whether or not the right honorable gentleman fulfilled that condition before he stood for election I do not know.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member is digressing from the proposed vote for the Department of External Affairs.
– I remind you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the salary of the Minister for External Affairs is included in the vote for that department.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order !. It is not included in the vote.
– At least we should be entitled to consider how the right honorable gentleman became Minister for External Affairs.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order 1 The honorable member will not be permitted to get away with that, either. He must confine his remarks to the proposed vote.
– We shall have to establish a school of instruction in these matters. I should certainly like to be in charge of such a school and to deliver some lectures. I should need a very good birch.
Seeing that reference has been made to the Minister for External Affairs, I assume that I am entitled to refer to his existence, even though we seldom see him. Now and again, of course, we do hear of him. A few days ago, the President of the French Republic conferred upon him the very great distinction of the Legion of Honour, and I was hoping that as the result of that investiture and despite the objection to titles which seems to be inherent in the Labour party, we may yet see him among those who are referred to in the Book of Esther as those “ whom the King delighteth to honour”. Whether or not that will come about, I do not know, but, at any rate, I have hopes.
The Minister for the Army has referred to the South Australian branch of the Federated Clerks Union. I do not think that the honorable member for Indi mentioned that branch of the organization, but tht Minister, who, like myself, is a South Australian, must naturally have the capital city of that State uppermost in his mind. I ask the Minister whether it is a fact that only two or three years ago the South Australian branch of the Australian Labour party objected to the assistant secretary of the Federated Clerks Union. I believe the name of the lady was Johnston, and that she was “ booted out “ of the party. I am not sure whether the Federated Clerks Union was involved or not, and the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell) may have some information about the matter, buI seem to recall that the Labour party returned to certain unions the cheques that they had sent as their subscriptions, because the Labour party objected to receiving funds provided by Communists. It will be interesting to learn whether the Federated Clerks Union was among the industrial organizations to whom cheques were returned. Whatever the Minister’s stand may be here, I happen to have some unionists in my own electorate, and I have a strong suspicion that quite a few of them vote for me, otherwise ] should not be elected to this Parliament. However, I know that the Minister’* attitude to the Federated Clerks Union in South Australia is not applicable to all the members of that organization. What is the position in Sydney with which city, you, Mr. Temporary Chairman (Mr. Lazzarini) are somewhat familiar? A few days ago, I noticed a report of a meeting of the Federated Clerks Union that had been summoned because the Australian Labour party of which you, sir, are a most distinguished member, had decided that a Labour industrial group should be formed within the union. I understand that as the result of that activity, an industrial war is in progress within the Federated Clerk? Union in Sydney. That is symptomatic of what is taking place in the other States. The Australian Labour party is fighting to regain control of a large number of important unions, and the Federated Clerks Union is one of those organizations. No honorable member opposite can deny it. I come now to the Department of External Affairs.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.It is about time that the honorable member began to relate his remarks to the department under consideration.
– You, sir, and your predecessor, have exercised great patience in this debate, and patience is a quality which is not always recognized as a virtue.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! My patience is wearing thin.
– In that respect, sir, your patience resembles my hair. The real issue at the moment is whether a certain sum of money should be voted to the Department .of External Affairs. I take the same view as the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan), that the Department of External Affairs urgently needs an administrator who will take a permanent interest in it. It is not reasonable to expect that the right honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Chifley), who is Prime Minister and Treasurer, and who has all the jobs that fall to the lot of the leader of a party, should he expected to add to those multifarious duties the function of formulating and directing the foreign policy of Australia. I suppose that I am entitled to describe the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) as the de facto Minister for External Affairs, in much the same way as we refer to a de facto wife - who is really supposed to he the real thing, but is not exactly so. There is some distinction in that respect. The Minister for External Affairs is seldom here. From time to time we read a little in the press about him. Yesterday we learned that he had reached Italy.
– He will he here next week.
– I was expecting that.
– The election is approaching.
– He will have more trips abroad before the election takes place. It is utterly unthinkable that the right honorable gentleman should stay here from: next week until the next election. That would be an achievement quite beyond his capacity. It would mean that he had fixed himself almost permanently in one spot. However, Australia’s reputation in foreign countries is very indifferent indeed. A few days ago, I read in the Adelaide Advertiser an article by the AttorneyGeneral of South Australia, a gentleman whose wisdom and experience are well above the average of those persons who constitute the membership of any Australian Parliament. That gentleman has just returned from a visit to Penang and the Dutch East Indies, and he has made some very cutting references to the reputation of Australia in South-East Asia.
– To what party does he belong ?
– Unlike the honorable gentleman, he has belonged to only one political party, and that happens to be the Liberal and Country League of South Australia.
– Of course !
– It is high time the Minister for External Affairs returned to Australia. When he does come home, the first thing the Prime Minister should do is to get him to take off his boots, and then coat his feet with tar in an endeavour to keep him in this country for a few weeks.
– I desire to reply briefly to the contention of honorable members opposite that it is wrong and improper for the permanent head of a department or, for that matter, any public servant to be an aspirant for political honours. The Commonwealth Public Service Act, as amended in 1945, recognizes that members of the Public Service are entitled to seek election to the Parliament if they see fit to do so. When the amending legislation was before the House, not one member of the Opposition criticized that particular provision. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) was the only member of the Opposition who spoke on the bill, and he did not even mention the amendment that recognized the right of a public servant to seek election to the Parliament. The lack of interest of honorable members opposite on that occasion exposes the emptiness of the arguments that they have advanced to-day on this subject.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £1,449,670.
.- I desire to direct attention to a matter that concerns one of my constituents, but I have no doubt that it may also be of interest to a considerable number of people. The situation arises from the comparatively recent increase in Commonwealth superannuation payments. I am endeavouring now, at long last, to secure justice for my constituent, and, in doing so, I may obtain justice for other persons who are in a similar situation. My constituent, who served in “World War I., is a married man with a family. He was formerly employed in the Postmaster-General’s Department, but, unfortunately, while be was performing his duties as a lineman, his safety belt broke, and he fell and suffered a serious injury. As the result of that accident, he had to be retired from the Commonwealth Public Service on superannuation. At the same time, he was given a compensation payment.
– A lump sum?
– No, he was awarded a weekly or fortnightly rate of compensation. In 1947, the Government introduced legislation to increase the rate of superannuation payments, and, automatically, the compensation payment for his injury was reduced. Before the superannuation payment was increased, two of the children were still attending school, and, of course, they were entirely dependent upon him. Incidentally, two of his sons served in World War II. It is not necessary for me to mention his name in the chamber, but I shall be glad to supply it to the Government.
– The compensation would he independent of the superannuation payments?
– No. Prior to the increase of the superannuation payments, this man received £5 a fortnight as superannuation and £2 Os. 8d. a fortnight as compensation. The amending legislation increased his superannuation payments to £6 5s. a fortnight, and, immediately, the Postmaster-General’s Department notified him that, as his superannuation had been increased, his compensation would be reduced to 5s. 8d. a fortnight, [n addition, the department pointed out to him that, through inadvertence, he had been overpaid for some weeks, because it had continued to send him £1 Os. 4d. a week when it should have been sending him only 2s. lOd. a week. The department advised him that unless he immediately forwarded a cheque covering the amount of overpayment, the compensation payments to which he was entitled would be withheld for several month? until the account had been adjusted.
– Was the compensation an ex gratia payment?
– No, I was informed that it was an award of an amount of compensation. I have had lengthy correspondence with the Government on the subject. I realize that, in the course of the administration of government departments, curious and unforeseen things can happen. Regardless of the government in office, the unexpected operation of some regulations may give rise to such a position as I have described. However, any injustice that is so caused should be adjusted without delay. I first raised this matter with the Postmaster-General’? Department and the Treasurer in 1947. I now hold in my hand a somewhat bulky file, containing the correspondence on the subject. Letters have passed between the Postmaster-General’s Department and myself, the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and myself, and the constituent and myself. No one denies for a moment that a moral injustice has been done in this case, but no one can just get around to adjusting it. So, as the result of the passage through this Parliament of the legislation to increase the payment of superannuation, this man’s net weekly return for a period approaching two years has been reduced. I am not going to flog the issue any longer, but I do hope and trust that the Government will say either that it intended its legislation to operate in such a manner or that it did not intend to do so. If it will state that it did intend its legislation to operate so that, although increased superannuation was granted, the net payment to an injured man would be actually less, we should know where we stand. We should then know what step to take next. What I am protesting against is that, after more than eighteen months, I cannot get any decision and this man cannot get any decision. I think he has a wife. He certainly has two children, He is expected to live on £3 5s. a week. Well, he cannot do it! For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Treasury and the PostmasterGeneral’s Department cannot reach some decision. I do not expect that the Minister will be able to reply now to the case I have raised - he may care to do so - but I shall hand him the file and ask that some action be taken to deal with the matter.
– The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has said that he does not expect me to give a detailed reply to the case that he has outlined and, of course, I cannot reply in detail, but it is a fact that the Superannuation Act was amended towards the end of last year and that the new provisions came into operation on the 2nd January, this year. It may well be that before the act was amended the individual concerned was not entitled to the treatment that he thinks he should get. I do not know whether that is so, because I have not examined the act in detail, but if it is so, it is because of the terms of an act that was enforced when the honorable member for Indi was supporting a government in this Parliament. So he cannot criticize the act from that aspect.
– That is not the issue.
– The position now is that an employee who has retired on superannuation after an injury receives the full superannuation plus a lump sum as compensation of up to £1,000, if he is totally incapacitated. It may be that the man referred to by the honorable member has not had his case adjusted on that basis. The matter will receive the consideration of the Treasurer.
.- The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) recently gave us a review of the Government’s financial position. We have also had a considerable debate on the rising cost of living in Australia. There was some comment on the declining price level in the United States of America. Those are matters that I do not propose to go into in detail in discussing the proposed vote for the Treasury. However, there are one or two comments that I think are appropriate to that proposed vote. A feeling that prices are reaching abnormally high levels in Australia is widespread. At the same time, little effort is being made by the Treasurer to restrict governmental expenditure. That would have the effect of reducing government imposts upon the community and so of reducing living costs as a whole. It is not always clearly understood just how governmental charges have their effect on living costs, but a brief analysis would show us how they operate. Our tariff and primage collections, for example, have the effect of increasing substantially the prices of the products on which they are charged. Similarly, taxes, not only the income tax but also indirect taxes, particularly the sales tax, also play their part in keeping prices at a high level. We have pressed for reductions of those charges in the hope of keeping prices down and of arresting the inflationary movement. Itis somewhat ironical to find that the United States of America, which because of soaring prices was held up to the Australian people during the recent referendum campaign as a horrible example of what happens when prices control is removed, is now held up as an example of what happens in a country that is falling into a depression. We predicted that prices would decline when competition had free play. Consumers, particularly the housewives of Australia, would like to see a recession of that sort here with a consequential reduction of prices. I comment upon the fact that, although we have heard from the lips of the Treasurer and the Minister for Postwar Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) a claim that the Government has made substantial tax reductions, they have not attempted to answer the allegation made recently by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), when speaking on behalf of the Opposition, that at the peak of our war effort, in 1942-43, the taxation levied in Australia averaged £40 a head of every man, woman and child in the country.
– Averaged !
– That was the per capita taxation levied by one means or another at that time.
– At what time?
– I understood that the honorable member for Warringah was referring to 1938-39.
– I have just checked that with the honorable member for Warringah and he told me that he specified 1942-43. The Minister could not have imagined that the honorable member for Warringah referred to 1938-39. The total Commonwealth budget in 1938-39 was less than £100,000,000, and £40 a head would have brought in about £2S0,000,000. So. obviously, the honorable member for Warringah did not refer to 193S-39. But let us take the figure of £40 a head for 1942-43. Despite all the remissions of taxes that are said to have been made in recent years, the estimated per capita collection of tax for 194S-49 is £70. That is a jump of 75 per cent, from the collections in 1942-43 when we were at the peak of our war effort. Now, in a period of peace, the Government is getting that much revenue.
– Why should it not do so?
– In answer to the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan), I make the comment that whatever justification may be advanced for governmental expenditure in one direction or another, we cannot avoid the cold conclusion that one of the most important factors in making for an upward movement of prices in Australia is governmental expenditure and governmental activity. That is the point I set out t« establish. I do not think it can be challenged by honorable gentlemen opposite. But the matter I desire to bring immediately before the committee is just one element in that general story. Last week the Prime Minister had a little fun at my expense on the subject of sales tax. He claimed that, although, from time to time, I claimed that items of foodstuffs that came into the domestic budget still carried 10 per cent, sales tax, when he asked me and other honorable gentlemen on this side to produce illustrations, we had great difficulty in doing so. He said that I had instanced a sandwich spread and that the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) had referred to refrigerators. It is a well-known parliamentary technique to adopt a facetious approach and laugh off a serious allegation against the administration, but the Prime Minister will find it hard to convince the housewives of Australia that many items of weekly purchase that go into their homes do not carry sale* tax at the substantial rate of 10 per cent. Foodstuffs, hardware and general groceries still carry that charge.
– What are they?
– I am sorry that the honorable member for Griffith has not given a little more study to matters that certainly concern many of his constituents. I have in my hand, a massive tome dealing with sales tax exemptions and clasifications. I commend the Taxation Branch for having brought out, in 1948, for the first time, in a form that can be understood fairly readily, a set of rulings on the various items that have been affected by amending sales tax legislation from time to time. Other honorable members on this side of the chamber may deal with other divisions, but I propose to deal with the division described as “ Foodstuffs, beverages and tobacco “. In that general classification, only one or two pages deal actually with beverages and tobacco, but, from page 9!* to page 121, there are lists of thousands of items of foodstuffs. About half of them are exempt items, and the rest are item? that are not exempt from sales tax. The Treasurer tells us that the Government has taken the sales tax off all basic foodstuffs. I do not quarrel with that as a statement of fact. If one gets down to fundamental items like butter, cheese and eggs, and things like that, one agree? that they do not carry sales tax. Many of the more popular everyday foodstuffs do not carry sales tax. But the fact of the matter is that the housewife has to purchase, from time to time, scores of item* that are still subject to 10 per cent, sales tax. What may be regarded by some people as basic items may be regarded by others as luxuries. What may be regarded as luxuries in one household may for many reasons - reasons of health, reasons of diet, reasons of habit, reasons of geography, because of the scarcity of goods in particular parts of the country and various other reasons - be regarded as necessaries in other households. There are thousands of those items. The Treasurer is a man of austere habits. It is a virtue that he possesses. Austerity seems to be a characteristic of treasurers. I understand that the Chancellor of the
Exchequer in the United Kingdom is a man whose diet consists principally of carrots and apples. At one time the Treasurer told us of his partiality for meat pies. One of his budgets was dubbed “ the meat pie budget “ because one of the few concessions provided for in it was the removal of the sales tax on meat pies. To the Treasurer basic items may come within a restricted definition, but there are thousands of items that come within the definition of foodstuffs. They include manufactured lines and processed lines. Many of them are purchased by housewives. They carry sales tax at the rate of 10 per cent. The burden on the housewife is an important argument in itself at a time when the Commonwealth revenues are rising and the taxpayer should be able to look for reasonable relief. Removal of the sales tax on foodstuffs is one direction in which that relief might well be given. There is another strong argument for the remission of sales tax on these items. It would tak© a Philadelphia lawyer to tell from day to day which items were free from tax and which were subject to tax. For instance, a pickled mushroom is exempt from sales tax, but a pickled walnut is not. If a manufacturer makes a breakfast mixture, that mixture is not subject to sales tax, but if he makes a mixture for dessert it is subject to tax. Sales tax is not paid upon salted peanuts but it is paid upon sugared peanuts. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has found a gem in this list, and I hope that he will pardon me for referring to it. It is that sales tax is payable on miniature plum puddings in egg cups. The sales tax authorities must be very industrious if they include items of that kind in the list in order to levy tax upon them. I invite honorable members who are interested in the taxes paid by the community generally to study the list. I do not know the cost of policing the items and of making these rulings, f understand that the revenue from the tax on articles such as these is not very large.
– If the revenue derived from them is comparatively small, it does not constitute a large proportion of the annual tax of £70 a head to which the honorable gentleman has referred.
– These things are cumulative. I may be told by the Government that the revenue is substantial. If it is, my other argument still holds good. 1 cannot miss with both barrels. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) will agree that we must use every possible weapon in order to persuade the rather flinty-hearted Treasurer that some remissions of sales tax are justified. I say in all seriousness that these thousands of items are a nuisance to the manufacturers, and to others who have to deal with them. When the taxes are passed on to consumers, they constitute a direct impost upon the community. The Government has said that it does not propose to reduce income tax further. In those circumstances, I suggest that it should examine these indirect taxes, particularly those which cause the greatest administrative inconvenience and provide the least return for the effort expended upon their collection, to see whether it cannot give some relief to the community and reduce the volume of government activity.
.- When school teachers, public servants, railway employees and some other persons are promoted they are often transferred from the town in which they are living to another locality. If they do not move, they forgo their promotions. Many of them own houses in the towns in which they were formerly employed. If they are lucky enough to obtain a house in the town to which they are shifted, they must pay rent for it. In those circumstances, they are, in effect, subjected to a double tax. The rent that they receive for their own homes is not exempt from tax and they must pay rent for the houses that they are occupying.
– In some instances, the rent that they pay for the houses that they are occupying is greater than that which they receive for the ones that they have vacated.
– Tha*, is often the case. If a transferred officer owns a home in the town from which he has been shifted and lets it for a rent of £5 a week, and if the rent of the house that he is occupying in the town to which he is transferred is £10 a week, the hurden upon him is a heavy one. I am using these figures merely to illustrate the point that I am trying to make. I suggest to the Government that in a case such as that the rent that the man receives for his own home should be exempt from tax. That would afford him some relief. If the rent received from the man’s own borne is greater than that which he is paying for the house in the town to which he ha3 been shifted, I suggest that the difference between the two amounts should be exempt from tax. Those exemptions should be granted only to a man who owns one home. I do not suggest that they should .be extended to people who ow-n a number of houses and whose business it is to let them. Many people in the middle income group are being penalized heavily because, having accepted a promotion, they have been transferred to other localities. Some relief from taxation should be given to them.
A man who is buying his house through a building society may be offered a better job in another locality. If he accepts the offer, he must vacate the house in which he is living and rent one in the new locality. If he does not wish to dispose of the house that he is buying, he must continue to make payments to the building society, and at the same time pay rent to the owner of the house that he is occupying. I urge the Government to give consideration to helping men who are in that position to make their monthly payments to a building society by granting them some relief from taxation in respect of the rent that they receive from the persons who are occupying their houses. I am not pleading the cause of a small section of the community only. Many policemen, railway employees, public servants and others are involved. They deserve some relief, and if it were granted it would make a great difference to their standards of living.
– The matter that has been referred to by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) has been brought to the attention of the Parliament from time to time and has received the consideration of the Government. Nobody has yet found a solution of the problem, which is by no means a new one. Railway employees, public servants, policemen and school teachers are often required to move from a town in which they own a house to another locality, in which they must rent a house. The problem is not so easy of solution as perhaps the honorable gentleman thinks it is. The fact that no anti-Labour government was able to find a solution of it suggests that it is difficult to do so. I assure the honorable gentleman that the matter will be considered by the Government again,, but I am not hopeful that a solution will be discovered.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) referred to the case of a man. who had suffered an injury. The honorable gentleman, who said that he had been working on the case for eighteen months,, handed the papers to me at this table approximately twenty minutes ago. The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has now supplied me with some information about it. That shows the speed with which government departments can and do deal with matters of this kind. According to the information that I have been given, the injury to the man concerned occurred prior to 1930. Therefore, any compensation payable to .him is subject to the provisions of the “Workers’’ Compensation Act, 1912. That act was repealed in 1930, but rights thereunder were preserved. As there is considerable doubt about the legal entitlement of the man concerned to lump sum compensation up to £1,000 under the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act 1948, the advice of the Attorney-General’s Department is being sought, but has not yet been received. That act came into operation on the 2nd January of this year. Honorable members will see, therefore, that there has been no delay. The question of whether the man is entitled to this amount is now under consideration by the Attorney-General’s Department. The Treasury officials have advised me that if the advice of the Attorney-General’s Department is adverse to the man concerned,, they are prepared to consider a lump sum payment plus pension without deduction on an act of grace basis. That shows how quickly this Government is prepared to deal with cases of this kind when they are brought to its notice.
Some of the matters to which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has referred could perhaps have been dealt with more appropriately in his second-reading speech, but 1 am glad that the honorable gentleman has made the remarks that he has made because I now have an opportunity to say one or two of the things that I did not have time to say when I made my speech on the motion for the second reading of this measure. The honorable gentleman has said that Government spokesmen have from time to time stated that the increase of prices that occurred in the United States of America was due to the fact that the American Government de-controlled prices and reduced taxes far too quickly, and that the recent reduction of prices in that country proves that those statements regarding the American economy were ill-founded. In his inaugural speech to Congress, President Truman outlined a programme that included a big increase in taxation and also provision for the reintroduction of prices control in the United States. I am not in a position to say how far the United States Congress has proceeded with those measures, but it is significant that the President himself, shortly after his re.-election to office, believed that the economy of the United States would benefit considerably by an increase of taxation and the re-introduction of prices control.
The honorable member also said that the level of government activity in this country and expenditure by various governments were among the main causes of high and rising prices. In my second-reading speech I drew attention to the fact that the total percentage of the national income collected by all governments in this country is less than the percentage of the national income collected in any other comparable country in the world. The honorable member for Fawkner drew attention to some remarks that the honorable member for “Warringah (Mr. Spender) had made in his secondreading speech. The honorable member for “Warringah advanced a very specious argument. I hope that I am not misquot- ing the honorable member for “Warringah, but I understood him to say that expenditure from revenue was £40 a head of population in 1942-43, whereas in the current year it was £70 per capita. That is a specious argument, because the honorable member did not mention that in 1942-43 there was a much larger expenditure from loan money and that in fact the total expenditure a head of population from revenue and from loan money in that year was very much higher than the total expenditure of £70 a head of population during the current year, which ds entirely from revenue. I shall cite figures in support of my argument. Each year the Commonwealth Statistician compiles returns of expenditure by public authorities on goods and services, and his statement if printed in the annual White Paper dealing with national income and expenditure. It gives, as only the statistician’s figures can give, the measure of the net real cost of government by excluding from total expenditure such items as transfers by means of interest payments, social services payments and services for which direct charges are made. I shall show the movement of this figure in recent years. I regret that I have not the figures for 1942-43. In the financial year 1943-44 public expenditure was £567,000,000, or 43 per cent, of the national income. In 1944-45, the net public expenditure was £474,000,000, or 37 per cent, of the national income. In 1945-46 net public expenditure was £338,000,000, or 26 per cent, of the national income. In 1946-47 it was £254,000,000, or 19 per cent, of the national income, and in 1947-48, the’ last year for which final figures are available, it was £237,000,000, or 15 per cent, of the national income. So between 1943-44 and 1947-48, net public expenditure declined from £567,000,000, representing 43 per cent, of the national income, to £237,000,000, or only 15 per cent. of the national income. The financial year 1943-44 was during the height of the war period. These figures show how specious was the argument of the honorable member for Warringah and the honorable member for Fawkner. They, too, show that there is nothing in the argument of the honorable member for Fawkner.
.- I have now an opportunity to bring forward another argument, but I intend first to say a few words on the subject of the sales tax, about which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has spoken. The sales tax is an inflationary tax, and it is useless for anybody to say that taxation that merely takes money from the people’s pockets is for the people’s own good. That is more or less what the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has said from time to time, and also what some economists say. Their point of view can be expressed by the words, “ Take the money from the people, because .we can spend it for them better than they can spend it for themselves “. Honorable members on the Government side smile at that statement, but that is a part of the Government’s policy. The Government says that if ‘too ‘much money is circulating prices must rise, and that it can expend it more wisely than can the people themselves. The Government, of course, wants to expend that money on its pet socialist schemes about which the Prime Minister is enthusiastic. He at one time intended to buy out the private banks for £100,000,000, which would have had to come from the taxpayers’ pockets. Such sums do not come out of thin air. Although the Government has a good deal of money salted away somewhere, taxes like the sales tax are nevertheless retained. The history of this tax, which the Prime Minister knows well, as he was a Minister in the Scullin Government, which introduced it, is that it was imposed at a time when unemployment was at its highest level and when the Scullin Government was casting around for any kind of tax that it could find. It brought to Australia a taxation authority from Canada who recommended the introduction of the sales tax, and at first the tax had very wide application. But all kinds of anomalies arose. If a man bought a dozen assorted cakes in one bag, seven of one kind and five of another, the tax might so operate that he paid tax on seven of the cakes and on the bag itself, but not on the other five cakes. That is the kind of anomaly that honorable members on this side of the chamber have often cited in regard to this tax, yet the Government still persists in levying it. The huge tome that I am now holding in my hand is not Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but the list of items on which the people have to pay sales tax to-day. It has an introduction, and, being in an official document, it is not easy to absorb. The introduction to this volume says, in part -
The classification of goods marked thus (*) is conditional upon their use for the specific purpose stated in the item under which they are classified or in the particular wording of the ruling. Hence, the treatment of goods- in accordance with the ruling shown is subject to the submission of evidence, in the form approved by the Department, that the goodsare to be used for that specific purpose.
There are other paragraphs like that. An earlier paragraph states -
The fact that certain goods have been ruled to he not covered by a particular item does not preclude their being considered under other items, some of which may have been enacted after the rulings were given.
The book then invites people to write in asking what tax has to be paid on a particular item. All the trouble and complexity represented by this volume is one result of Government policy and was worked out by planners in Canberra and is just too puzzling. I have no doubt that they are gentlemen who do their daily work to the best of their ability, but whohave had inculcated into them by Ministers like the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), the idea, that they can plan a. person’s life from Canberra better than that person can do it himself, and that with the knowledge gained in Canberra they know more than a merchant, whose experience has taught him that prices and competition are the factors that count. To-day, as I have said, there are ridiculous anomalies in the operation of the sales tax. The honorable member for Fawkner referred to a few, and I can mention others. I shall become specific at this point. Hundreds of young people desire to marry and to build their own homes, but the cost has risen so greatly that it is beyond their financial capacity even to pay a depositon a home let alone to acquire one. The War Service Homes Division of theDepartment of Works and Housing u increasing the amount of the loan that may be provided to ex-servicemen, but as a correspondent wrote in a newspaper yesterday, if an ex-serviceman pays a deposit on a borne-
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Burke). - The honorable member may not go into that matter unless it is connected with the Estimates before the committee.
– This is how it is connected
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.Order ! If the honorable member does not pay heed to the Chair he will be dealt with. The Chair has pointed out that particular items cannot be discussed unless they are related to the Estimates that are being debated.
– They are absolutely related to the Estimates.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.The Chair will decide that point. The honorable member has been discourteous to the Chair, He must not continue to be discourteous. Any items that he desires to discuss must be related to the Estimates.
– The matter under discussion is taxation, and it is the Treasury that collects sales tax. I have been discussing the incidence of sales tax on building materials. There are 35 items under that heading alone. The honorable member for Fawkner mentioned several of them, but I can mention more.
– Read them out!
– I shall read them out. They include builders’ hardware, baths - the latter would not interest the honorable member - nails, fibrous plaster, boards, and many other necessaries for the building of homes. Why should the Government, by imposing a tax on the sale of those items, inflate the price of home-building to people who desire to own homes, many of them exservicemen of the last war who spent five valuable years in the service of their country and came back to find that inflated prices prevented them from providing a home for themselves. On many goods to-day the rate of sales tax is as high as 25 per cent.
– On what?
– The honorable member can take the book and study it. He would not understand it if I read it out to him. Sales tax is levied on many items that are necessaries in the daily lives of the people, such as baby food and malted milk. Baby food might appeal to some honorable members opposite, although they probably never drink malted milk. Sales tax is also imposed on beef extract. Such items are not luxuries and yet the Government continues to impose sales tax on them, which affects the pocket of the working man. A man does not need to be an economist to know that a suit of clothes now costs three or four times as much as it did before the war.
– There is no sales tas on clothing.
– No, but there is primage duty on imported cloth and indirect taxes that send up the prices of suits. One ludicrous feature of the matter is the tax on tea and coffee. I have a chit from a Sydney grocer for tea and coffee which shows the sales tax levied upon the coffee. Over a long period the Government has retained the duty on tea, which is imported, but has paid a subsidy to keep the price of tea down. There was an instance of the British Government levying a tax on goods entering Britain from Eire, and the Government of Eire paying a bounty on the goods to enable them to be produced for profitable export to Britain, but not putting a counter-barrier against their re-import to Eire. Goods were sent backwards and forwards from Ireland to Liverpool in England and the bounty was collected over and over again from the Government of Eire. That is the way in which the Prime Minister is operating his taxation monopoly here. He collects money from tariffs and sales tax on necessaries for the people and pays a bounty to keep the price of tea down. Our Minister for External Affairs, the great Dr. Evatt, in his peregrinations, and despite all the volumes that he has written could never have read the huge volume on primage duties that I have in my hand. Primage and sales tax oppress the people by taking money from their pay envelopes for the Treasurer to play with. That may not concern the right honorable gentleman himself because he has told us that he lives austerely on about the basic wage; There is time between now and when the budget is framed to go through the schedule again, and remove sales tax from hundreds of items so that the people may buy food, clothing, building materials, &c, at less inflated prices.
. -Honorable members opposite have, from time to time, complained of the complexity of the income tax provisions, saying that taxpayers have the greatest difficulty in finding out what rebates and concessions they may claim. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) has referred more than once to this matter. [ have pointed out that the complexities have resulted from the granting of requests by honorable members for special provisions to meet the desires of certain sections of taxpayers. When such provisions have been made, the department has had to hedge them about with safeguards in order to ensure that they will not be abused. This afternoon, the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) mentioned a matter which has come to the notice of practically every member of the Parliament. He referred to the case of a man, perhaps a school teacher, a bank official or a factory worker, who is transferred from one place to another. He lets the home in which he was living, if it be his own, and has to rent another in the place to which he has been transferred. Under the law, he must pay tax on the rent which he receives for his own home, while being obliged to pay rent on the house in which he is living. Many people have complained to me of this situation. The honorable member for Calare asked that some relief he granted to such persons, and said that they might be granted a concession if the rent they were paying for the new house was greater than what they were receiving for the old one. Let those honorable members who have asked that special provision be made for such cases remember their complaints about the complexity of the present income tax provisions. It is evident that most honorable members have little appreciation of the difficulties that are caused by attempts to provide for every kind of case that can be raised.
The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) recently compared the taxation per capita in 1942-43, which amounted to about £40, with present-day taxation, amounting to about £70. Honorable members opposite are constantly complaining about the increased cost of everything. They say it costs more for the poultry-farmer to produce eggs to-day than it did twelve months ago, and that he is, therefore, entitled to receive more for them. They make the same claim in respect of a great many other items. They are always saying that the value of money has declined compared with ten or even five years ago, hut they seem to expect that the country can be administered on the same amount of revenue as sufficed ten years ago. As a matter of fact, they are constantly contradicting themselves. They know that pensions have increased by more than 100 per cent, since before the war, and that they have increased considerably even since 1942-43. Do they suggest that no -more should be collected in taxation now than was collected in 1942-43, even though the pensions bill has increased so greatly ?
I listened with interest, and some amusement, to the references of honorable members opposite to sales tax. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) produced a nicely bound volume from which he read out a list of items. He said that he could not deal with all the items, and suggested that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) would discuss some of them. When the honorable member for Balaclava got up, he also waved the book in the air, but in the course of his remarks he dealt only in generalities. He said nothing specific. Referring to building materials, he mentioned sales ta>« on nails. I know that building is expensive to-day, and that a house that would have cost £700 before the war now costs £1,500, hut nails represent a very small item in the cost. If the honorable member can show that more than 5 per cent, of the material used in the building of a house bears sales tax of any substantial amount, I shall be prepared to agree that sales tax represents a considerable item in the cost of building. However, the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) has cited figures which prove that 95 per cent, of the materials used in the building of a house are not subject to sales tax at all. Let us assume that 5 per cent, of the materials bear sales tax. That represents £75 worth of materials in a house costing £1,500. If the average rate of sales tax is 10 per cent., the tax paid will be £7 10s. Even if the rate were 20 per cent., the amount collected on the materials used in a £1,500 house would be only £15. Therefore, it is not correct to say that sales tax is responsible for any considerable increase in the cost of building.
Honorable members opposite have referred to the fact that taxation at present represents a per capita payment of £70. I do not question the accuracy of the figure, but point out that it is not true that £70 is collected from every man, woman and child. Take, for instance, a family consisting of a man, his wife, and four children - six persons in all. At the rate of £70 a head, that family would pay £420 a year in taxes, whereas, in all probability, the bread-winner would pay no direct tax at all. When honorable members talk about overall taxation, they do not say that the great bulk of it comes from two sources: first, income tax on the high earnings of people who can afford to pay; and, secondly, succession duties and sales tax on luxuries. A couple of weeks ago, I pointed out that sales tax was burdensome on the people, not so much because of the amount of the tax itself, as because traders’ profits were calculated on the original price, plus sales tax. A day or two after I had spoken, I read in the newspapers that retailers’ margins of promts had been reduced by State price-fixing authorities. Sales tax does not injure the manufacturer or the retailer. For instance, if the price of tea is 2s. per lb., to which is added 6d. sales tax, the retailer’s profit of 25 per cent, is collected on 2s. 6d., so that he is well paid for the trouble of adding the extra 6d. I favour a system under which sales tax would be the last entry on the price docket so that the consumer would pay sales tax only, and not sales tax plus the retailer’s profit on the tax. I should like to see sales tax abolished altogether. I do not like indirect taxation. I want the people to know what they are paying, but if sales tax were abolished, and the same amount of revenue had to be raised as is being raised now, the extra burden would fall on those in receipt of the bigger incomes. If the Opposition were to get into power, it would be concerned, not with the abolition of sales tax, but with trying to reduce as much as possible the amount of tax paid by those in receipt of middle and higher incomes. In discussing these matters, 1 may be doing what the Government would prefer me not to do, but ] believe it to be necessary to reply to statements that do not truly represent the position, statements that are inspired by political motives. I have seen the honorable member for Balaclava gnash his teeth with annoyance when he has been unable to get up and criticize the Government. When he does rise to speak, he hardly ever has anything constructive to say. His annoyance really arises out of the fact that he is not himself a member of the Government.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Burke). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– We are discussing a bill for an act to grant and apply a sum out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the service of the year ending the 30th June, 1950. I propose to refer to a matter which comes under the administration of the Department of the Treasury. While I was in Tennant Creek during the third week in April a meeting of the Leaseholders Association was held and strong representations were made to me to endeavour to convince the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) to approve of option prices offered by private companies to develop at depth mining leases held by private individuals who, because of the cost involved, were unable to do so. Most of the leaseholders are merely gougers who cannot afford to purchase expensive diamond drill equipment. Gougers and representatives of companies with equipment of that kind approached me and asked that permission be given to test the leases held by gougers under an optiontopurchase arrangement by which they could eventually acquire the mines if they exercised the proposed option. Acting under the authority of the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations the Northern Territory Administration has refused to approve of these option arrangements until a statement is furnished giving the basis of the option price. On behalf of the miners and the companies concerned I addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister - the Prime Minister then being absent from Australia - a telegram in the following terms : -
Leaseholders Tennant Creek mining field very disturbed and amazed refusal by Di lector of Mines approve option price to syndicate with diamond drill on the field using private money prospecting field by modern drilling until statement supplied giving basis for option price. Gouge r vendor unable to supply this information. Leases named Burnt Shirt, Cat’s Whiskers, Three Keys and half a dozen others reported on favorably by my friend noted geologist George Gray of Mr Isa and later Air. Theodore’s geological adviser Fiji reported favorably in conjunction with geologist McKeown. I have read these reports here. I urge you immediately end nonsensical set-up here regarding development by obtuse interpretation National Security Economic Organization.
To-day I received a reply from the Prime Minister which reads -
Further to your telegram of 20th April, concerning the refusal of the Administrator of the Northern Territory to consent to the transfer of certain mining leases in the Tennant Creek mining field, I now attach, for your information, copy of a communication I have received from the Minister for the Interior in regard to the matter.
In my telegram I had referred not to the transfer of mining leases at the Tennant Creek field, but to the approval of option prices to a syndicate with the necesary equipment to undertake deep drilling. The right honorable gentleman’s letter does not ring true. The attached letter from the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) stated that the matter had been referred to the Administrator of the Northern Territory who had advised that the option prices were not considered reasonable. The third paragraph of the letter reads -
The Administrator states further -
The value of a mine is based on the amount and grade of ore available for treatment or in sight as result of development work done on the mine. The type of the ore deposit and the degree of uniformity of the values indicated are also taken into consideration. 1 point out that the unfortunate gouger cannot alford to purchase a diamond drill for the purpose of obtaining this information. What company will go to the expense of setting up a diamond drill with the knowledge that if it finds a bonanza at depth, its option may not be approved by the Director of Mines or that the gouger will not then sign up? The position is so ridiculous that it should be unnecessary for me to read further. However, I shall proceed. The letter continues -
The mines referred to in Mr. Blain’s telegram have been inspected by the Inspector of Mines, and, as extracts from his report will show, consent was refused because inspection indicated that the option price was far in excess of the value which would h;ive been assessed on a survey of the ore in sight.
Again, I ask, how can the ore in sight be assessed until it has been determined by cross-cutting or diamond drilling operations, both of which can be carried out only at very heavy expense? The companies which desire to quote an option price will not go to the expense of installing the requisite testing equipment unless they are given a reasonable assurance that the option price will be approved. The letter from the Minister for the the Interior continues -
The option price for the Burnt Shirt, and Burnt Shirt Extended mines was £12,000.
Why worry about the price? The mines belong to the leaseholders and if a company is willing to submit a tentative option price, no matter how high it may be, good luck to the leaseholder and to the company.
– Tell us about the Cat’s Whiskers.
– The Cat’s Whiskers mine is an excellent mine which was favorably reported on by Mr. Gray. If the Minister wants to know something of Mr. Gray’s reputation, may I remind him that the tin mine known as the Marranboy mine was reported on by Mr. Gray on behalf of the Northern Territory administration during the term of Dr. Gilruth as Administrator. Mr. Gray’s report on that mine has been amply borne out by subsequent developments. When I was at Mount Isa in 193fi, Mr. Gray was in charge nf all the developmental work there. The mines at Mount Isa on which the Americans expended approximately £7,000,000, were taken over by the Americans after they had sucked Mr. Gray’s brains to get what they wanted. Mr. Gray then went to Fiji. He is a mining engineer and a geologist of very high repute. He reported favorably on the Tennant Creek mining leases to which I have specifically referred. An option price of £12,000 for the Burnt Shirt and Burnt Shirt Extended mines is a mere bagatelle. The letter from the Minister for the Interior continues - the inspector of mines in his report of these mines stated : “ Most of the easy ore has been mined out . . . The lease has been worked to a standstill . . . Only further development work will reveal -whether more ore exists “.
Again I ask, how can the potentiality of a mine be ascertained unless adequate tests by diamond drilling are carried out ? The final paragraph of the letter from the Minister for the Interior reads -
The Administrator has been appointed my delegate under the provisions of the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations. I do not propose to interfere with his administration of the regulations in regard to the cases under review.
That is a totally obtuse interpretation of the meaning of the provisions of the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations relating to companies. I am sure that, in view of what I have said, the Prime Minister will reconsider the matter and allow the leaseholders at Tennant Creek to grant options to companies with the requisite diamond drilling and other equipment to develop their mines, thus benefiting the unfortunate gouger who without their aid cannot ascertain what ore is at depth and consequently cannot develop his lease. If such approval be given the gougers at Tennant Creek will not fall into the slough of despond. I appeal to the right honorable gentleman to give the matter his closest attention.
.- I wonder what happens to Labour men when they come into this chamber. They seem to get completely out of touch with realities and with the people whom they are supposed to represent. A few minutes ago the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson), who represents an in dustrial suburb and is, I believe, a sincere Labour man, stated that sales tax meant very little in the building of a home because in a home costing £1,500 the tax would not amount to more than about £75. Surely the honorable member, and other honorable members opposite, do not believe that £75 means nothing to homebuilders. As long as sales tax continue? to be imposed on home-building materials an unjust impost will be levied on people who already are bearing too great a load. This afternoon many honorable members have discussed the subject of sales tax on building materials. Honorable members have asked for a complete list of the home building items on which sales tax is imposed. An incomplete list which I have in my possession shows that the sales tax imposed on such items adds approximately £20 to the cost of the average small dwelling. Honorable members opposite surely do not think that £20 means very little to persons building small homes. It means a great deal to them. Every small addition adds to the total cost of the home. I am in contact with many people who are struggling to build their own homes and whose efforts I sometimes seek to guide, and I assure honorable members opposite that what they might regard as a relatively small amount means a great deal to those people. The Government collects in taxes from every new home builder at least £20. That is a very heavy impost. The Government should immediately abolish sales tax on all home building items. My incomplete list nf the items required for a new home upon which sales tax is still imposed includes paint, brushware, putty, electric stoves, hot water cylinders, electric elements, thermostats, electric fittings, tanks for purposes other than agriculture, nails, screws, bolts of all descriptions, sash fittings, including weights and pulleys, builders’ hardware and many other similar items.
– And plaster goods.
– Yes. That is not a matter to be lightly set aside. I submit to honorable members opposite that the sales tax on these items should be regarded as an additional burden on home builders, which, without tremendous loss to the Government, could well be taken from their shoulders. I ask the Government to give serious consideration to this matter.
Some time ago I brought to the notice of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) the case of a woman employee of the Department of Works and Housing, who wished to become a contributor to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. Her case was considered by the right honorable gentleman, but her claim to be permitted to contribute to the fund was rejected because the act contains no provision which would meet her case. Her husband is an inmate of a hospital for the insane, and he is said to be completely incurable. Therefore, to all intents and purposes, that woman is a widow, but she is debarred, as a married woman, from becoming a subscriber to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. The letter that the Treasurer wrote in reply to my representations on her behalf reads as follows : -
I refer again to your persona] representations on behalf pf Mrs. “ XY “, regarding her desire to become a contributor to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund.
Mrs. “ XY “ is a married woman employed in a temporary capacity as an architect in the Department of Works and Housing. Her husband is an inmate of a hospital for the insane in New South Wales.
Mrs. ‘‘ XY “ is ineligible to become a contributor to the Superannuation Fund by reason of Section 4c of the Superannuation Act, which provides that a married woman who becomes an employee after the commencement of the section (3rd August, 1945) shall not be entitled to, or required to, contribute to the fund or to the Provident Account.
The 1945 amendment to the Superannuation Act received careful consideration before it was implemented by Parliament. There are many other married women employed in the Public Service, for example, women whose husbands have deserted them, women who are living apart from their husbands and women who are not supported by their husbands. A concession to Mrs. “ XY “ requires an amendment of the act and would necessarily involve the same concession in all these cases. This would mean a complete reversal of the decision in 1945.
Much as I sympathize with Mrs. “ XY “ in her present position, I regret that I am unable to recommend an amendment of the Superannuation Act to meet her request.
I should like to know why such simple amending legislation cannot be drafted and submitted to the Parliament. It is possible that this woman is an isolated case, but, even so, the simple measure that is necessary to enable her to contribute to the fund should receive consideration by the Government. Justice is justice. If this lady retired from the department, she would become eligible for a widow’s pension, despite the fact that her husband is still living. However, she cannot be regarded as a widow while she is an employee of the department. She is not asking for anything in the nature of a gift, which she would receive if she were given a widow’s pension. She is merely seeking the right to contribute to the superannuation fund. In effect, she is asking to be made a permanent Commonwealth employee. As she has stated the position to me, her difficulty is not so much provision for her old age, because she will be entitled to a widow’s pension; but that, in the event of a retrenchment of staff in that department, she, as a temporary employee, would be among the first to be dismissed. Her case demands the action that I have suggested. I go even further, and say that married women in some other categories should be permitted to contribute to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. I am not so foolish as to believe that the Commonwealth can employ married women on exactly the same basie in regard to superannuation and the like as it can employ married men. Any provision that is made in a superannuation scheme to meet such a case as I have described must be of a special kind, but I believe that, in the circumstances, this woman should be permitted to contribute to the fund. It is of interest to note her,? that this lady entered the department in 1942. The act provides that those who become Commonwealth employees after 1945 shall be ineligible to contribute to the fund. Therefore, it is possible that she has a case. I cannot pronounce upon that, because I have not examined the matter closely, but I ask the Government not to regard it as incapable of rectification because it applies to only one person or a few persons. Justice demands that the position shall be put right at the earliest opportunity.
– The honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons) has stated that the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) estimates that sales tax on various items in a house costing £1,500 amounts to approximately £75.
– Not more than £75.
– I desire to be fair to the honorable member for Darwin. I heard the speech by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, and I believe that she misunderstood him. The honorable member for Hindmarsh stated that if £75 worth of materials in a £1,500 house were subject to sales tax at the rate of 10 per cent., the amount of sales tax represented therein would be £7 10s. If the rate of sales tax were 20 per cent., the tax payable would be £15.
– That is what I said.
– The honorable member for Darwin, unintentionally no doubt, misinterpreted the statement by the honorable member for Hindmarsh.
– That is so. 1 regret it.
– I am glad that the position has been clarified. The honorable member for Darwin has also mentioned a number of items, including paint, putty and stoves which, she states, are subject to sales tax. I inform the honorable member that paint, putty and the ordinary kind of stove that is fitted into a bouse, are not subject to sales tax. But a small electric stove, which is noi installed, is subject to sales tax. I hope I have made that position perfectly clear. Sales tax payable on various items in a house costing £1,500 or £2,000 is not normally more than £5. The reason why sales tax has been retained on those items is that they are often used for purposes other than housing. For example, although nails are used fairly extensively even in a brick house for flooring purposes, they are used extensively in certain other trades, such as box manufacturing and the like.
– Even so, could not the sales tax on such items be abolished in order to assist home builders?
– That is essentially a matter of general taxation policy. This Government did not introduce the sales tax, and it has actually reduced sales tax on many items. Locks and various other fittings are used in houses, but they are also required extensively in factories and offices. The few items which are still subject to sales tax and which, as I have stated, do not increase the cost of a £1,500 or £2,000 house by more than £5, are also used for purposes other than housing.
– I should like to explain that the list of items which I read this afternoon was supplied to me by master builders in the district in which I live in Tasmania, and I assure the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon’) that they desire to reduce the cost of home building. Indeed, they are greatly concerned about the high cost of constructing dwellings. They estimate that the sales tax payable on various items in a £1,500 house is from £18 to £20.
– For each house?
– Yes, for an average house. I am interested to have the Minister’s assurance that sales tax is no longer payable on paints, because the master builders to whom I have referred have specifically mentioned paints.
– Stoves that have been installed, and putty, are also exempt from sales tax.
– The master builders mentioned electric stoves, which are extensively used in Tasmania. I misunderstood the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) in this matter, and I regret that I made that, mistake. I am particularly concerned about the high cost of erecting homes. Even small reductions in the cost of various items that are required in home building are of value in the aggregate. Anything that we can do to make it evident to home builders that we are taking a real interest in their plight is worth while, because there is a growing feeling of concern, and even of discontent, bitterness and resentment among people who have been deprived of homes for so Ions:. I commend my suggestions to the Minister. I believe that his estimate of the cost of sales tax on a £1,500 house is too low, and that the estimate of £18 to £20 supplied to me by the master builders is nearer the mark. I urge the Minister to press for the removal of the sales tax on housing items, even though they. may be used in industries other than that of home building. Housing is the most important matter that requires our attention at the present time.
– The biggest difficulty is represented by the sales tax on furniture.
– People will scratch “ for the furniture, but they must have homes.
. -The fact that a primary producer receives his income at irregular intervals often causes hardship when he is required to pay his taxes. Because of that, a query has been submitted to me by a 3mall grazier in my electorate. He explains that he has only 4,500 sheep, and. therefore, he is certainly not a capitalist. A particularly favorable season in 1947-48 enabled him to discharge his indebtedness after years of financial difficulty, but heavy income tax, coupled with the provisional tax at a high rate, and a low income this year, have placed him in a quandary. The statement by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Dr. Coombs, relating to a restriction of bank credits is causing him concern. He desires to know whether he must obtain from the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) special permission in order to secure a loan from a bank to enable him to pay his taxes. After having overcome many financial difficulties, he thought that he was out of debt, but he now finds that he must borrow £7,000 in order to pay his way. After a favorable season, he had a return of £4,000. He then received his income tax assessment, and a demand for the payment of provisional tax. But his income for this year is only £2,900. The result is that he must borrow £7,000 from a bank. He says that he has not the money to pay the tax and will have to borrow £2,000 from the bank immediately. By the grace of the Treasury, he has had the payment of the other £5,000 delayed till after the 30th June. He will still have to pay it, of course. He said that, wharf labourers permitting, he would get his next income in October. There is hardship. I know that primary producers have the benefits of the averaging of incomes for the purpose of fixing the rate of tax, but the Treasurer should not hold such a large amount of interestfree money in the shape of provisional tax when people have to borrow, at bank interest rate, money to pay the tax, and I suggest that income should be averaged to determine the amount of provisional tax to be paid.
– I think the statement of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) that a man has to borrow the money to pay his “ icome tax definitely twists facts.
– It does not.
– The honorable gentleman implied that because of high taxes a man has to mortgage his assets to pay his tax.
– The honorable member for Maranoa was talking about the provisional tax.
– Take both the ordinary tax and the provisional tax.
– On a reduced income in the succeeding year.
– If the income in the succeeding year is reduced, the provisional tax meets a large part of the tax due. It could quite easily meet all the income tax due. Mcn of the type referred to by the honorable member are the most favoured in the community from the tax point of view. They are allowed a sevenyear average, which is the highest averaging period of any person in Australia. Farmers like me have only a five-year average.
– Men like me do not get any average at all.
– That is right. The honorable member for Fawkner may in the practice of his legal profession handle some very profitable cases in one year and pay a large sum in income tax. In the next year he may not handle so much business or earn so much money, but he gets no benefits at all from averages. I repeat that the straight-out grazier on whose behalf the honorable member for Maranoa has spoken is the most-favoured man in the community. I do not know whether the amount of £7,000 referred to by the honorable member is all income tax or income tax plus provisional tax.
– Income tax plus provisional tax.
– Then he must have had an extremely good year and a terrific income. He could not have suffered many droughts or bad years in the last seven years, because his average would have to be extremely high if he has to borrow money to pay his tax. He would be borrowing only if he had used a large part of his income in extravagant living or to pay off his overdraft. A case something like that referred to by the honorable member for Maranoa was submitted to me in my electorate recently. A man told mo he had to borrow £450 to pay his income tax. I said that I could not believe it, unless he had wasted his money in high living. _ He said, “ I shall’ tell you what the position is “. I went inside with him and he showed me his accounts. It was true that he was borrowing £450, but he had increased his capital assets by buying a new property worth £1,100 and a Prefect motor car for about £550. He had increased his assets by about £1,700 and had borne the expenses of living at the same time. So he had to borrow to pay his tax. Rut that was only because he had increased his capital assets and spent in one year much more than his normal income allowed him to spend. No one, except a person like that or one who has paid his wool cheque into the bank in order to pay off his overdraft or redeem a mortgage, should have to borrow to pay his tax. Any one working on an overdraft with a daily balance would naturally pay his wool cheque into the bank in order to save interest. The man referred to by the honorable member for Maranoa must have had an income in excess of £12,000 to be required to pay £7,000 in tax. If he has to borrow to pay the tax, apparently he has paid off his overdraft. It may be said that he is borrowing money to pay his tax, but he would not have had to borrow had he kept the money in a current account and not paid off his overdraft.
– I do not know the circumstances of the case brought forward by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann), but I can conceive that his statement is correct, because, notwithstanding what the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) has said, people are forced into predicaments like that referred to by the honorable member for Maranoa. A man in a small way of business in Sydney for two or three years made a profit of a few hundred pounds in the first year in which he operated. The provisional income tax and social services contribution that he was called upon to pay was small. I cannot give the actual figure, but in the next year he made a profit of about £2,300. Surely he was entitled to use some of that money to expand his readily growing business. He was amazed when he found that he had to pay more than £1,700 in income tax. 1 propose to take up his case with the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), because the provisional tax was more than £700. After having paid the provisional tax and social services contribution, plus the extra assessed tax and social services contribution, he wa9 left with about £600 to use for the expansion of his industry.
– And meet the cost of living.
– Yes. The interestfree loan that is taken from manufacturers as provisional tax is something that the Government cannot justify. The Government is crippling industry by levying huge provisional taxes on manufacturers. It is quite true that had this manufacturer made in the second year of his operations a profit about equal to that which he obtained in the first year, he would have been credited with the amount of the provisional tax that he had already paid. But because he made a success of things he was taxed to such a degree that he may well be forced out of business. It is conceivable that he will have to borrow money in order to carry on. The Government is constantly calling for more production, but it cannot expect more if it imposes such shackles on industry. I can well understand that the system bear? harshly on primary producers, too. Taxpayers voice their feelings about the tax laws in various ways. Some blaspheme, others curse, others cry and one that I know has lapsed into doggerel. I do not intend to quote all the verses of Edward Kelly Chifley, which was written by one protesting taxpayer. The words are attributed to the Treasurer and I quote for the benefit of occupants of the treasury bench and honorable members generally the following verses: -
Now just to show how trifling, son,
These paltry taxes are,
I’ll count them up so you can see
There’s nothing one could bar.
And when you hear the scanty few,
There isn’t any doubt
You’ll wonder what the heck, my boy,
The people howl about.
There’s income, import, postal tax;
These don’t amount to much.
There’s import sales, and super tax,
And tiny trifles such
As petrol, social service tax,
And others - Deary me! -
That don’t deserve a mention,
Almost slip my memory.
There’s thesimple old amusement tax -
Dear me, it makes me laugh!
And the profits undistributed;
That’s not a tax -not half -
And then there’s Federal land tax -
It should be plain that we
Must soak the plurry squatter,
For he’s wealthy don’t you see.
The atmosphere grew murky then
And black clouds hove in view,
An election day was looming;
And well Ned Chifley knew.
He gazed around him fearfully.
And wore a worried frown,
And then reversed his policy
And cut his taxes down.
The manufacturer to whom I have referred has not indulged in doggerel to protest against his treatment, but he has protested and is protesting vociferously. It is bad enough for industrialists to he hampered by the scarcity of raw materials and the like in their efforts to expand in the interests of the nation but to have their efforts thwarted by intolerable taxes for the current year and provisional taxes for the next year is too much. Young ex-servicemen endeavouring to establish themselves in industry may be forced to the wall by the tax burdens that they are called upon to carry. It is wrong that men should be forced to borrow money to liquidate their indebtedness to the Treasury.
– The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) said that it was hard to visualize a case like that referred to by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr.
Adermann),in which a primary producer has to borrow money in order to pay his income tax. The Minister claimed that that could not happen unless the taxpayer had been operating on an overdraft or had spent his previous profits and had neglected to put money by to meet his tax assessments. That was the gist of his argument. The position that was outlined by the honorable member for Maranoa is not a new one. I remember referring to it in one of my first speeches in this chamber. It is a state of affairs that is often encountered by taxpayers, particularly primary producers, whose income is liable to fluctuate violently from year to year. The Minister for Works and Housing has stated that the case cited by the honorable member for Maranoa is that of a person who is in a favoured position owing to the operating of the seven-year average provision. Instances of that kind occur, not because of the imposition of excessive rates of tax or the operation of the five-year or seven-year average provision, but because of the way in which the pay-as-you-earn system is applied to those whose incomes fluctuate considerably. I do not challenge the fairness of the pay-as-you-earn system, which I believe to be a good one. For the lastthree years representations have been made on behalf of primary producers who have encountered the difficulties to which the honorable member for Maranoa has referred. In those circumstances it was astonishing to hear the Minister for Works and Housing state that he failed to realize how cases such as that could occur. A situation can arise in which a taxpayer has to borrow to pay his income tax or finds it very difficult to obtain the necessary money. I shall take the extreme case of a producer who has a bad year, a good year and then a bad year. As a result of the first bad year, the tentative or provisional assessment of tax is low. In the second year, when the producer’s income is a good one, a considerable amount of money has to be paid to make up the difference between the tentative amount that has been paid and the actual amount that is due. The rate of tax is high, because the return for the year under consideration is high. In the third year, a bad one, the tentative assessment based on the good return of the preceding year has to be paid and, in addition, probably an amount in respect of the return for the year under consideration. I know of numerous instances of the total amount of tax levied in a year being higher than the producer’s total income for that year. The fact that people in positions similar to that derive benefit from an averaging of their income over a period has no bearing upon the case that has been cited by the honorable member for Maranoa. All that happens under that provision is that the profits earned over a period of five or seven years are averaged for the purpose of determining the rate of tax that is applicable to the income for the year that is under discussion. Whilst that provision would have some bearing on the total amount of tax payable, it would not amount, as some persons think it would, to an averaging of yearly incomes and a breaking down of the incidence of a bad year following a good year. The honorable member for Maranoa has pointed to a real difficulty that confronts taxpayers whose incomes fluctuate considerably from year to year. Something could be done to improve what is an otherwise good system and to avoid anomalies and difficulties.
.- I desire to make a few remarks upon this matter because I was a member of the committee that recommended to the Parliament the introduction of the payasyouearn system, which I consider to be a very good one. Many who now complain benefited greatly when it was introduced. The higher a man’s income was at the time of the change-over, the greater was the capital accretion that he got owing to a certain forgiveness that was allowed at that time. Many people who were earning large sums of money increased their capital because of the tax forgiveness allowed in the change-over year. The cause of the difficulties to which reference has been made is the way in which the system is administered. The example that has been given by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Davidson) exemplifies that. The honorable gentleman took the case of a primary producer who has a bad year, a good year and then a bad year. In the first bad year the producer’s income is low. It follows, therefore, that hie provisional tax for the succeeding year, a good one, is also low. Many people do not make sufficient provision in a good year for the tax that will ultimately be payable in respect of that year’s income, upon which they have been provisionally assessed at a low figure. If cannot be said that in these days the country man is in a worse position than the city man. On the contrary, from the point of view of tax, the city man is in an infinitely worse position than is the country man. While I do not want to take from the country man the benefits that he receives under the income tax provisions, I feel bound to say that there are two reasons for the difficulties to which reference has been made. The first is that when a taxpayer earns a sum of money in a year he ought to know that it does not all belong to him. The wise thing to do ie to set aside a reserve from which to pay to the Commonwealth what in truth belongs to it. That amount can be calculated from tables supplied by the Taxation Branch. If taxpayers did that, they would go a long way along the road to avoiding these difficulties. The second cause of the difficulties is the administration of the system. When the payasyouearn system was introduced, the intention was that taxpayers should pay as they earned. There is now a tendency to accelerate the issue of assessments. Although a taxpayer may be provisionally assessed, for example, in March of next year or before then in respect of his income for the year ending in June, 1950, he will be called upon to pay his income tax for that year before he has in fact earned the income. I know of many instances of taxpayers in a year of falling income having been called upon to meet a provisional assessment based upon a year of high income. They have then approached the taxation officers and told them that in fact their incomes for the year in respect of which they have been provisionally assessed will be much lower than those upon which the provisional assessment has been calculated. In those circumstances, the Taxation Branch has granted extensions of time in which to pay the tax.
When the returns are made, the provisional assessment is measured against the final assessment. If that procedure is followed, no real hardship is suffered by the taxpayers. If a man docs not set aside a proportion of his income in a good year but uses it for the purpose of expanding his business or for some other venture, he uses money which in truth is not his, in exactly the same way as if he borrowed money for these purposes. In most instances difficulties could be avoided if, in their first years of good income, taxpayers calculated approximately the proportion of their incomes that belonged to them and put the remainder aside for eventual delivery to the Exchequer.
The tendency of the Taxation Branch to accelerate the issue of assessments has this effect: If a taxpayer makes his return in August of this year, at any time after that he will be called upon to pay first, the difference between the final assessment and the provisional assessment that has been issued for the year that ended in June, 1949 if there be any difference and secondly, long before the year ending in June, 1950, comes to a close, the whole of his provisional assessment for that year, which in some instances may exceed his total income for that year. Pay-as-you-earn has become to some degree paybeforeyouearn. If the issue of assessments could be brought more into harmony with the spirit of the payasyouearn system and issued nearer to the end of the year, two things would result. First, taxpayers would have more money with which to pay their income tax; and secondly, it would be easier for the Taxation Branch to give relief by comparing the actual income earned and the provisional assessment of tax. If the Taxation Branch will retard the issue of assessments and not call upon taxpayers to pay tax upon income before it has been earned, many difficulties will be avoided. If taxpayers will examine the tables which show how much of their total income belongs to them and will put aside a sum sufficient to discharge their indebtedness to the Commonwealth, there will be fewer cases of hardship. I am quite satisfied that most of the troubles arise from the taxpayer’s assumption that the money that he earns belongs to him. He must realize that a portion of it belongs to the Commonwealth. If he uses that portion in his business, he uses money that does not belong to him. 1 suggest to the Minister that this matter be discussed with the Taxation Branch. I believe that if the Taxation Branch will take steps to bring the time at which payments have to be made more into harmony with the spirit of the payasyouearn system, when cases occur such as those that have been mentioned by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann), the honorable member for Capricornia and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) the taxation officers will be able to examine the taxpayer’s return for the year, calculate the amount by which the provisional assessment exceeds the proper assessment and make arrangements accordingly.
– I can assure the honorable, member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) that if the Treasury ha3 not already considered the points that he has raised, it will do so.
– I believe that it does so in individual cases.
– The honorable gentleman has explained the position very clearly. I do not accept it that any hardship is caused by the system under which the incomes of primary producers are assessed and their income tax is paid. This is an example of the tactics of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann). The honorable gentleman read a letter when he was presenting his case.
– It was not an anonymous letter.
– I did not say that it was. The honorable gentleman read from a letter and invited the committee to assume from the facts that he had presented to it that a case of hardship had occurred. He said first, “Here is a grazier who has 4,500 sheep “. In these days the income of a grazier with 4,500 sheep is approximately £10,000 a year.
– The Minister should bp fair. I never said that it was a case of hardship.
– If the honorable gentleman did not say that, I withdraw what I have said, but I understood him to say that he was putting the case forward as one of hardship. If he did not raise the matter for that reason, why has he raised it? If he did not bring it forward for that reason, why did he bring it forward ?
– The ease that I cited was one of hardship.
– The honorable member said that the man paid more in tax than the amount of his income.
– That is correct. Assuming that the man’s income is not quite so high as I understood it to be and that he has 4,500 sheep, he may have an income of only £7,000. To say that, having paid his income tax he has to borrow £7,000, is entirely ridiculous. I challenge the honorable member for Maranoa or any other honorable member, including the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Davidson), who puts forward alleged cases of hardship to primary producers, to give the Taxation Branch the details of each case. I shall then be prepared to place before this chamber the whole of the facts in relation to any case, so that it may judge whether there is any hardship. The honorable member for Maranoa either withheld some of the facts of this case or what he has recited to the committee as facts - and I am not saying that he deliberately misled the committee - were not facts at all. Either he has not given all the facts or the information supplied to him as facts was not correct.
.- I did not raise the matter as one of hardship. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Dedman) has misunderstood almost everything that I said. When the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) answered me it was obvious that he had grasped the position fairly well. My purpose in raising the matter was to point out that, as the Minister for Defence well knows, the income of primary producers fluctuates from year to year. My point was that because the man received a low income in one year, followed by a high income in the next year and then by a low income in the suc ceeding year, the provisional tax imposed on him the necessity to borrow an amount from a bank. I then, in response to the request of the taxpayer, asked the Minister to say whether the taxpayer, under the Government’s restriction of credit policy, has to obtain the permission of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) to borrow from the bank to pay his income tax. That was the primary purposes for which I cited the case. I then suggested that, in such a case, it might be necessary to average the income over a period for the purpose of deducting provisional tax. That is the point that I made. I did not cite the case as one of hardship. The Minister for Works and Housing explained the matter correctly when he said that the man would have sufficient provisional tax credit to meet his next year’s income tax. Actually, because of his low income this year, he will have almost double the amount of the provisional tax with which to pay hia income tax for this year. I added that the Government is holding a large sum in interest by virtue of the provisional tax imposed on this man, whilst he has to pay interest on the money that he has borrowed from the bank. Is there any thing wrong with that, Mr. Temporary Chairman ?
– What I stated before upon this matter holds good. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) mentioned a low income in one year, a high income in the next year, a low income in the third year, and certain difficulties that have arisen regarding the disparity in the incomes for the purposes of taxation. I challenge him to submit to the Taxation Branch the details of the case, so that I can let this chamber and the country know what was the low income, the high income and the second low income, and in what way there is any anomaly that should be righted by the Government.
– I did not say that the tax was wrong.
.- The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) and, I believe, a Minister, made some comments about my statement earlier regarding the sales tax. We know the honorable member’s technique. He adjusts his imaginary halo, thinks of a text, and then trumpets forth that honorable members were critical of the Government. I was critical about the high cost of building. I return to this subject with the additional information that for the year 1948 collections of sales tax were nearly £35,000,000 and that £233,000 was outstanding. I refuse to accept the statement of the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) or of the honorable member for Hindmarsh that that amount is a trifle. There should be no tax levied on building materials. The Building Industry Congress has given me a list of 35 items-
– The honorable gentleman was a member of the government that introduced the sales tax.
– I was not. The sales tax was introduced by the Scullin Government, which was a Labour government.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order! There is too much interruption, and it must cease. Mr. WHITE.- The Scullin Government introduced that tax when unemployment was at its highest level in our history. There are 35 items ofbuilding materials alone upon which the tax is levied. Before I quote some of them to the. committee I may mention that £21,000,000 more than was estimated has been collected in. sales tax in the last five years. That has been taken away from the people who require all the money they can possibly retain to pay for goodsand to buy themselves homes. Some of the items on which the tax has been paid are fibro cement, light fittings, rubber sheeting, bathroom fittings, &c. Oneshould not require to detail the whole of this list to the committee. The volume which. I have in my hand lists these items from page 272 to page 312. Let the Minister study the list. I do not think that Ministers, although they occupy high offices, are familiar with the taxes that operate in respect of the activities of their own. departments. Let the. Minister for Works and Housing, who talks about giving houses to the people, study this volume and let him remove every item that relates to homebuilding and thereby cheapen the cost of building, so that the people can obtain homes. I believe that the Minister desires to do that, but he is moving in the wrong direction.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
Proposed vote, £202,710.
– I wish to make some remarks about the judgment of the High Court on Monday last regarding petrol rationing. Various people, some of them in my own State, have been convicted on charges arising out of the petrol rationing regulations. In a published statement attributed to the Crown Solicitor’s Department, it is claimed that persons fined under a regulation which has just been declared by the High Court to be invalid would have to apply individually to the High Court for redress. It seems to me that when the High Court declares a law to be invalid, the onus should rest upon the Commonwealth itself to ensure that justice is done to persons unjustly convicted under that law. It should not be the responsibility of those persons individually to initiate proceedings for redress. I have not had an opportunity to discuss the matter with the Acting Attorney-General (Senator McKenna), but it seems to me that the Minister who represents him in this House (Mr. Holloway) ought to be able to give firsthand information upon a subject which is of more than ordinary public interest.
– I do not know the legal position on the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron)-, but I shall ask my colleague, the Acting Attorney-General (Senator McKenna), tc look info it. Perhaps he will be able to make a statement which will clarify the position. I cannot accept the argument put forward by the honorable member for Barker. At the time the persons were convicted for rationing offences, the law was valid. It did not become invalid until the very moment that the High Court gave its judgment.
– That is wrong.
– The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) may discuss the matter later if he wishes. I am giving my opinion as a layman. If one were to accept the argument of the honorable member for Barker it would be necessary to decide how far back from the dato of the judgment the invalidity of the regulations extended. Suppose a man had been convicted a month ago, is it suggested that his fine ought to be remitted because the Commonwealth at that time had no power to impose rationing? Then, what about a person convicted two months ago, or three, or four, or five, or six months ago? One can see the difficulties that arise unless one accepts the proposition, as I do, that all convictions prior to the date of the judgment must stand.
.- In this Government, the portfolio of AttorneyGeneral is held by a man who is also Minister for External Affairs. Earlier to-day, when we were discussing the vote for the Department of External Affairs, there was some criticism of the activities of the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt), and mention was made of the difficulty which has been experienced because, while holding the portfolio of the Minister for External Affairs, he has also acted as the representative of Australia at meetings of the General Assembly of the United Nations, and has left the problems associated with his department to be dealt with in his absence. It may be impracticable to have two persons discharging the functions of Minister for External Affairs, one to attend to business associated with the United Nations, and the other with external affairs that arise here in Australia, although the British Government dealt with a similar situation by appointing Mr. Eden to attend to matters arising out of the League of Nations. Whatever may be done in that regard, there can be no justification for continuing a state of affairs in which one Minister holds the two senior portfolios of External Affairs and Attorney-General. Our present Minister for External Affairs is to be found very rarely in Australia, and then only for short periods. He has no leisure in which to deal with tremendously important matters connected with the Attorney-General’s Department. The portfolio of Attorney-General, both in the Federal and State Governments, is rightly regarded as a key position. The Attorney-General is required to give the Government advice on constitutional problems as they arise, and in Australia the position has always been filled by a senior Minister. At present, the situation is made worse by the fact that, in the absence of the Attorney-General, the Acting Attorney-General is a member of the Senate, and is represented in this chamber by still another Minister. Consequently, the Attorney-General proper is, as it were, twice removed from the discussions which take place in this chamber on matters associated with his department. Such a position, although it may be unavoidable during a temporary period when an administration is settling down, should not be accepted as permanently satisfactory. Here is just one illustration of the difficulty to which it can give rise, and the expense and embarrassment that it can cause. In the hearing of the banking case before Privy Council, the Attorney-General was senior counsel for the Commonwealth in its appeal against the decision of the High Court. At the same time, he was trying to carry on his duties as Minister for External Affairs, and as Temporary President of the General Assembly of the United Nations. In order to fit in all those various duties, it became necessary for him to apply to the Privy Council for an adjournment of the hearing. The Privy Council, quite properly, would consent to the adjournment for the length of time asked for only on condition that the Commonwealth agreed to bear, not only the expenses associated with the adjournment, but also the very substantial legal costs involved in keeping at hand all the barristers who were representing other interests in the case. This, I think, is a proper occasion for some Minister, on behalf of the Government, to give an estimate of what that delay has cost the taxpayers of Australia in pounds, shillings and pence. I am sure it would be a very considerable amount. I mention this as an illustration of the difficulties that arise when one man tries to take an undue share of the administration on his own shoulders.
All sorts of questions arise out of the recent decision of the High Court that the regulations authorizing the rationing of petrol in Australia are no longer valid. How is the Government to deal with them? Are they to he left to the Acting Attorney-General, who is not readily available to members of this House, or are they to he dealt with by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway), who, no matter what his other qualifications may be, would not claim any knowledge of legal complexities? The present uncertainty persists because of the absence of an authoritative spokesman who can deal completely and quickly with the situation on behalf of the Government. It is time that the Government faced the position in a realistic spirit, and recognized that the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) must make a choice of the course he intends to pursue. If his time is to be largely spent abroad attending to the business of the United Nations, let us have here a full-time AttorneyGeneral who is able to deal quickly and effectively with constitutional and legal questions as they arise.
– The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) apparently takes the view that a law is valid up to the moment that it is declared invalid. To my mind, when the High Court declares a law to be invalid, that law has been invalid from the beginning, and it is not right that persons who were convicted under the invalid law should be required to approach the court again in order to seek redress. On Monday last, the High Court delivered judgment in three cases, all of which went against the Commonwealth. It would appear that the legal advice tendered to the Commonwealth on certain vital matters has been unsound, and that lawyers outside the Attorney-General’s Department, and certain private citizens, have a better understanding of the constitutional position than has the Attorney-General’s Department. It seems to me, having regard to certain legislation recently enacted, and to other legislation in contemplation, that the Government is likely to receive more rebuffs from the High Court. It has been trying to do things which most reasonable persons are convinced it has no power to do under the Constitution.
– What are they?
– I cannot discuss them now because the Standing Orders will not permit me to do so, and the Minister is aware of my deep and abiding respect for the Standing Orders. This is a matter which merits more than passing attention. I have referred on previous occasions to the growing cost of litigation arising out of the actions of the Government. I doubt whether all the governments that were in power before the 3rd October, 3 942, spent on the aggregate so much money on litigation, as Labour governments have spent since that time. Some one with authority and political perspicacity should take a grip of the AttorneyGeneral’s Department with a view to ensuring that, in the interests of the taxpayers, such wanton litigation is discontinued.
.- I should like to know whether the AttorneyGeneral’s Department is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the taxpayers’ money is always expended in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. I have a strong belief that many departments are engaged in expenditure which, if it were challenged, would be found to be beyond the constitutional power of the Commonwealth. I shall cite one or two examples. In the first place, an organization established under the Department of Labour and National Service, known as the Commonwealth Employment Service, is incurring very heavy administrative expenditure at a time when the employment level is so high that employers are struggling to get men to fill vacant jobs. That organization, I have no doubt, was continued by men who, having been appointed to the department during the war, have sought to establish peacetime employment for themselves under the pretence that they are engaged in a proper exercise of constitutional powers. The organization arose put of the man-power organization established during the war years. I have heard many explanations of the reasons why this service has been kept going. It is said that it operates under the defence power because it deals with the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen. One has only to go through the country - though I have not been able to do so perhaps as often as have other honorable members- to learn that this organization always obtains the best accommodation available in country towns.
– That is not true.
– If the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) goes to Narrabri, in the electorate of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), he will find that the Commonwealth Employment Service occupies the best premises in the town.
– What is wrong with that?
– I would not mind if some worth-while work were done; but if the Minister went to the employment office at Narrabri at 10 o’clock in the morning he would find an air of absolute inactivity. If he returned at noon and again at 4 o’clock in the afternoon he would find that condition of inactivity unchanged.
– What was the honorable member doing there ? Was he engaging in a little bit of private practice?
– As a matter of fact I. was earning a little bit of money for Mr. Chifley at the time. He seems to get more of my earnings than I do. What takes place in one country town is repeated, I do not doubt, in every town throughout the Commonwealth. Under no constitutional head of power can the expenditure of money on the Commonwealth Employment Service be justified unless it be that of defence, and then only if it be related to the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen. If honorable members examine the judgments of the High Court they will find that many of the activities engaged in by governments are beyond their constitutional powers. I should like to know, too, whence springs the constitutional power of the Commonwealth to commence the aluminium industry in this country. Of” course it is said that that industry is being established tinder the defence power. Apparently the Government seeks to use the defence power to justify every unconstitutional act in which it is engaged. Recently, frequent broadcasts have been made during the week advising people who use the roads to exercise the greatest of care and concluding with the warning, “ Death is so permanent “. I make no criticism of the broadcasts; I believe that they are very good; but 3 want to know what constitutional power enables the Commonwealth to pay to the commercial stations the charges made for these broadcasts. I cannot imagine that that expenditure could be justified under the defence power. I am satisfied that no proper supervision is exercised by the Attorney-General’s Department to ensure that government expenditure shall be limited to constitutional purposes. The Government has no power to apply its moneys for any purpose it thinks fit. Expenditure must be confined to matters which come within the limits of its constitutional powers. If inquiries were made into the expenditure of the Government for which no constitutional authority exists it would be discovered that such expenditure amounts not to many thousands of pounds but to many hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum. It is not or should it not be the. function of the Attorney-General’6 Department to supervise the expenditures of the Government to ensure that it is within constitutional limits ? I join with the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) in complaining that the Attorney-General is rarely here to discharge his duties and that, as a consequence, this chamber is denied an opportunity to question him upon matters which come within his control. This chamber is primarily the branch of the legislature which should control the expenditure of money, yet we are denied an opportunity to ask the Attorney-General whether he, as the senior law officer of the Commonwealth, can certify that expenditure that is being incurred falls within the limits of the Government’s constitutional powers.
The honorable member for Fawkner and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) referred to the position in relation to prosecutions for breaches of the petrol rationing law. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction replied that, as he understands the matter, the law relating to petrol rationing became invalid only from the time it was declared to be invalid by the High Court. The honorable member for Barker took the view that the law was invalid when it was enacted. I think that neither interpretation is correct. I believe that the law became invalid at some time subsequent to its enactment, but prior to the decision of the High Court. It is clear that it was invalid from March of this year because it was in that month that the man who successfully appealed to the High Court against a charge of infringing the law was prosecuted. He claimed at that time that the Commonwealth had no power to prosecute him because the law was invalid. That is precisely the view expressed by the High Court. If honorable members peruse the judgment they will find that the court dealt with three matters. In one of them, in which I had some interest, the validity of the law was challenged in December of last year. In the light of the High Court judgment the Government should ascertain the opinion of its legal officers on the approximate point of time when the law became invalid. I make no defence of those who break the law. I believe that law breakers should be punished. But if a law is subsequently held to be invalid the cases of those who have been prosecuted for breaches of the law that has been invalidated should be looked at again. Certainly I believe that the penalties imposed on persons who were convicted for breaches of the petrol rationing law since March of this year should be remitted.
– Honorable members opposite have advanced some rather remarkable arguments. During this debate they have contended that the regulations made under the defence power have been invalid for a long time, yet not long ago they complained that the Treasurer committed a wrongful act in not continuing to control rents and prices under the defence power.
Honorable members opposite then said that they would have agreed to the continuance of the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act for a further period of twelve months.
– What has that to do with liquid fuel rationing?
– The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) referred to the authority taken by the Government under the defence power. He is well aware that petrol was rationed under the defence power. If the Treasurer had done what some honorable members opposite wanted him to do, and had retained control over rents and prices, his authority to do so would doubtless have been successfully contested in the High Court. We should have been on no more secure ground in relation to the control of rents and prices than we have been proved to be in relation to petrol rationing. Honorable members opposite have said that the Government has been badly advised on constitutional matters. I do not agree with them. The Attorney-General '’Dr. Evatt) gave the Prime Minister the very best advice in relation to the maintenance of controls over rents and prices.
– The Attorney-General has never been right since the beginning of the war.
– Honorable members opposite appear to be endeavouring to excel each other in belittling the AttorneyGeneral. They have even made the ridiculous claim that because the Acting Attorney-General (Senator McKenna) i? in the Senate and not in this chamber he cannot be readily approached for legal opinions. Has any honorable member ever heard an Attorney-General of the Commonwealth or of a State give a legal opinion in answer to a question? In my experience in the State sphere I have found that the Attorney-General is often a member of the Legislative Council, which is the State counterpart of the Senate. Of all the matters discussed in this chamber, perhaps those relating to shipping and fuel are most frequently raised; but the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) is not a member of this chamber. Similarly, the portfolio of Minister for Trade and Customs, which entails responsibility for many matters that effect the welfare of this country, is held by a Senate Minister.
– Does the honorable member not believe in the abolition of the Senate?
– I believe in justice. The Senate has been called the custodian of the rights of the States. Indeed, the honorable member for Warringah would probably use that argument to support the retention of the Senate if a proposal to abolish it were made. The States look upon the maintenance of the Senate as necessary to the preservation of their interests. When the Opposition parties held office important portfolios were held by Senate Ministers; but now that Labour is in office they would have us believe that only junior Ministers should be in the Senate. If we accepted that view and acted accordingly they would complain that the chamber which is the custodian of the rights of the States was 11Ot getting its due. Honorable members opposite have gone out of their way to belittle the Attorney-General, who is recognized throughout the world as the most brilliant man ever to enter this Parliament.
– Has the honorable member not heard what the world thinks of the right honorable member for North Sydney ?
– I am well aware that during the days of World War I. the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), as Prime Minister of Australia, achieved world-wide renown. Whether or not we personally like the Attorney-General it cannot be denied that he has won greater recognition among the nations of the world than has any other member of this Parliament or of the parliaments that have preceded it. I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Honorable members opposite, however, believe that nothing good can come out of any political party but their own. In the last few days a concerted smear campaign has been indulged in by honorable members opposite. Again to-night the same tactics have been employed in an attack on the Attorney-General. I wish it were practicable for the right honorable gentleman to be present more frequently at the deliberations of this Parliament, so that he could give us the benefit of his advice; but I realize that the pressing responsibilities of his office prevent that.
Honorable members opposite have referred to the recent decision of the High Court in relation to petrol rationing. Although I am not a legal man, I am well aware that the judgment of a court stands until it is upset by the judgment of a superior court. That is my answer to the contention of the honorable member for Barker that those who were prosecuted for breaches of the law relating to petrol rationing should have their fines remitted. If the persons concerned appeal against their conviction for such offences their appeals will undoubtedly be considered in the light of the judgment delivered by the High Court. But if we are to reconsider the decisions of judges and remit sentences because of the change of circumstances, we do not know where it will end. Honorable members opposite should remember their own promises to support a continuance of Commonwealth wartime powers for another twelve months under the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act. The Attorney-General is a man whom we can respect. The Acting Attorney-General is also a man for whom we have a high regard. I do not claim that the legal advice that they have tendered on every matter has proved correct, but, generally speaking, the advice upon which the Treasurer has acted has been more reliable than that which honorable members opposite have offered to him.
– The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) may be aptly termed the “belittler” from Warringah. He was so bold as to suggest that the Commonwealth Employment Service apparently seizes the best office accommodation in cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth. That statement indicates that the honorable member considers that well furnished and conveniently situated offices should be reserved possibly for members of the legal profession and their clients.
– Not at all. Members of the legal profession live in the dirtiest offices imaginable. I suggest that the
Minister should pick on some other profession.
– The honorable member for Warringah evidently believes that any kind of accommodation is good enough for employers and employees to meet and arrange engagements.
– Soft chairs and sweet music.
– The honorable member supports the Liberal parly, which is scouting around the country in an endeavour to woo the workers’ votes at the next election, but in this chamber he has vigorously criticized the kind of accommodation where Commonwealth employment officers perform their excellent and highly desirable work.
– What work?
– During his speech, the honorable member was challenged to state where such luxurious offices are. He prefaced his remarks with the statement that he had often visited country districts. When further challenged, he said he had been to Narrabri, where the Commonwealth Employment Service had excellent office accommodation. He was not able to name any other Commonwealth employment offices that he had seen.
– -Another one is in Goulburn.
– The honorable member admitted that he was in Narrabri apparently on private business, and implied that the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) would take the major part of the fee that he received for the particular case upon which he was engaged. When I have occasion to call at Commonwealth employment offices in country towns, I am not engaged on my private business. I desire to assist electors, and to ascertain how the work of the Commonwealth Employment Service is proceeding. In Ballarat, the city which I represent, and after which my electorate is named, the Commonwealth employment offices are situated in Sturt-street. The accommodation is spacious, the furniture is modest. The officers, most of whom are exservicemen, are courteous, and they are performing excellent work. Although it is true that the Government’s policy of full employment is in operation, some Aus tralians are engaged in seasonal occupations such as shearing and the harvesting of hay, fruit and sugar cane. The Commonwealth employment officers may not always be hard-pressed or busily occupied, but when people seek seasonal work, their service is invaluable to employers and employees.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Burke). - Order! I ask the Minister to address his remarks to the subject under consideration.
– I am replying to a statement by the honorable member for Warringah, and am making a passing reference to the work that the Commonwealth Employment Service performs.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The committee is considering the heads of constitutional power.
– In the bad old days 40 years ago, when I was a young man, the situation was similar to that which the honorable member for Warringah would term a “ constitutional set-up “. In dingy little places in Melbourne, employment agencies were conducted by private enterprise. Information about jobs was chalked on boards outside the offices, and unfortunate persons seeking seasonal work and other employment had to stand on the kerb awaiting a call from the spider inside, who bled them for 5s. or 10s., frequently to send them to a non-existent job. That situation prevailed under what the honorable gentleman would be pleased to call the “ constitutional set-up “. Does? he desire the re-introduction of private employment agencies, such as those that conducted labour exchanges in the bad old days before this Government came into office? Does he hope that this kind of work will revert to the people who had it before the Commonwealth established the employment service? If he does, I am astonished at his lack of perspicacity, and at his complete lack of knowledge of how to appeal to the Australian workers. The staff of the Commonwealth Employment Service is performing splendid work, and I am sure that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) will go down in history as the man who has improved the surroundings of employment agencies. Forty years ago, I used to drive a distance of 10 miles in a dray to Werribee in order to engage men to work on agricultural machines. Many of those men had their sacks and billy-cans, and they needed an advance of a few shillings with which to buy some tucker. To-day, men can call at the places that the honorable member for Warringah is pleased to call the luxurious offices of the Commonwealth Employment Service. At those offices, they are courteously received by experts who have in their books the names of prospective employers. They are prepared to help the applicants, and advise them about conditions of employment, hours of labour and wages, The Commonwealth Employment Service is highly desirable from the point of view of both employers and employees. The honorable member for Warringah needs some practical experience of the position in order to sense the feeling of employers and employees about the wonderful service that has been provided by the Minister for Labour and National Service.
.- Lest the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) may be taken seriously, I desire to reply to his remarks. He has. invited the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) to obtain the opinion of employers about this wonderful so-called Commonwealth Employment Service. I propose to quote the opinion of the president of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Kimpton, in reply to a. broadcast by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley). The right honorable gentleman had extolled the Commonwealth Employment Service, and stated that it provided selective work: for men. Mr. Kimpton said that “ the retention of the employment service was merely another burden on the wageearners. Government administrative costs, he said, had increased out of all proportion, and many of the services provided were redundant.” Mr. Kimpton said that the low rate of unemployment in Australia was due to the efforts- of those engaged in industry who were working to overtake the production lag and not to the Commonwealth Employment Service-. One of. the biggest employers in: Australia, whom T shall not name. said that his firm did not approach the Commonwealth Employment Service, because it had nothing to offer and preferred the classified advertisements of the newspapers. He alao expressed the opinion that the Commonwealth Employment Service was largely filling in time writing to people who had inserted the classified advertisements. If honorable members require some statistics, after having heard the exaggerated utterances of the Minister
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Burke). - Order! The honorable member will not be in order in pursuing that line of argument. So far, the Chair has sought to restrict the debate to a statement which the honorable member for Warringah had apparently made that the constitutional validity of the service is doubtful.
– May I proceed to state my views, or shall I reserve them for a more appropriate occasion?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - The Chair is merely reminding the honorable member of the limitations of the present debate.
– I shall complete my remarks later, if the Chair so desires. From a reply to a question that I asked on the 8th October, 1947, I ascertained that this; service was costing the taxpayers £590,000: a year.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The honorable member’s remarks wouldbe more appropriate to the discussion of the proposed vote for the Department of Labour and National Service.
– The honorable member for Warringah referred to the accommodation of the Commonwealth Employment Service, and stated that he saw certain offices where the staff were not working. The Melbourne Herald of the 2nd June last, pointed out that the Commonwealth Employment Service has offices, which are not fully occupied, on the ninth and other floors of the Nicholas Building in Swanston-street. The department is- paying about £40,000 a year in rent for office accommodation which- it is occupying in nearly every suburb and city in Australia-,, and the cost of placing each person in employment, however temporary, is approximately £3.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department or the Interior.
Proposed vote, £501,050.
– Last year, the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory began to function, and since then, it has received considerable notoriety arising out of the fact that one of its elected members is also an officer of the Commonwealth Department of Health. The Legislative Council has thirteen members. The Administrator acts as the president and everything else, so far as I can see. Six members who are government nominees are officers of the Commonwealth Public Service in the Northern Territory. In fact, they are heads of the various departments there. The remaining six members are elected, hut one of them is a Commonwealth public servant. This Parliament or a State parliament would not tolerate a situation in which a member was also on the pay-roll of a government department. Such a position is utterly unthinkable. By the same reasoning, it is quite wrong and improper that any officer of the Commonwealth Public Service in the Northern Territory, whether he be a permanent or temporary employee, should be elected to the Legislative Council. If the position which I have described is regarded as a precedent, all six elected members of the Legislative Council at some future date may be members of the Public Service. That kind of situation would be utterly improper. The Government should bring the Legislative Council, in this respect, into line with the parliaments of the Commonwealth and the States.
I also understand that the latest monstrosity in the Northern Territory has arranged for its proceedings to be reported and printed in the form of a Hansard. I should like to know whether that is correct.
– I have a copy of the report of the proceedings of the Legislative Council.
– I have not seen it. Rather than increase the number of Hansards published in Aus tralia, we might consider cutting them down considerably. I am inclined to think at times that Hansard ought to be abolished altogether. I say that with great respect to the work of the Commonwealth Hansard staff. A great amount of typing, printing and expense is involved in the publications. I ask any honorable member to state, if he likes, the percentage of his constituents who see or care about what appears in Hansard. To have the Hansard system extended to a body like the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory is Gilbertian. This committee, which is supposed to look after the welfare of the taxpayers, ought to tell the Government- that it has long since overstepped the mark of common sense in needless expenditure.
.- I should like some information from the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) about the amount of £155,670 that it is proposed to vote for the rent of buildings. Earlier I referred to the kind of accommodation that is being provided for the Department of Labour and National Service at, I think, very great expense to the taxpayers. I said then that I did not regard the department as providing a service commensurate with the money expended on it. Many people in the cities of Australia, particularly, but in country towns as well, complain that the best buildings and building sites are grabbed by the Government, which is all-powerful. It seems to regard itself as all mighty in every sense. No one denies that officers who serve the Commonwealth should be given good accommodation, but when the civil community is so short of accommodation, it is important that the committee should know how that large sum of money is made up. In particular, I should be glad if the Minister could say whether any part of that money represents rents paid for the administrative offices of the Department of Labour and National Service, which I claim to be largely unconstitutional. If that sum does not include provision for the Department of Labour and National Service, I should like to know where in the schedule I may find the information to which I arn entitled.
.- The honorable member for Barker (Mr.
Archie Cameron) said that he had been given to understand that the proceedings of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory were recorded in a Hansard.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - The schedule contains a specific section relating to the Northern Territory. It would be better if the honorable member waited till we reach it before referring to the Northern Territory.
– I am making only a passing reference to the matter. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) administers the Northern Territory. What I am about to say now relates to only one of the matters concerning the Department of the Interior that I propose to discuss. The honorable member for Barker said that he was under the impression that an official report of the proceedings of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory was prepared in the form of a Ilansard report, but that he could not believe that that was so. I have in my hand the second issue of the Northern Territory Legislative Council Debates. It will be seen that a Ilansard report is made of the proceedings of the council on a scale apparently as elaborate as has been found necessary in the National Parliament. I have looked rather quickly through the publication, and I find that, apart from the select committee that inquired into the medical services in the Northern Territory, to which reference was made earlier to-day, two other select committees were appointed by the Legislative Council. One dealt with the incidence of income tax in the Northern Territory and the other with the organization and operations of the Department of Works and Housing in the territory.. The proposer of the motion for the appointment of the second select committee referred to dissatisfaction with the operations of the Department of Works and Housing at Tennant Creek in particular and also to delayed repairs. The Minister for the Interior doubtless, Ls familiar with these matters and can tell us about them.
Another matter about which I should like some information is the decision of the Government to acquire a large area in the centre of the Melbourne met ropolis for the erection of Commonwealth offices. Honorable members will recall, that some time ago the Government announced its decision to acquire several acres of land in the heart of the City of Melbourne, but we have not heard a great deal about the matter since then. 1 gather, however, that the acquisition has been proceeded with and that the plan has not been abandoned. This is a matter of acute interest to Victoria and particularly to the City of Melbourne. Can the Minister tell the committee what developments have occurred since the matter waa previously before us? Has there been any variation of the decision of the Government to acquire that land?
Mr. BLAIN (Northern Territory) [S.52~. - About six weeks ago, the first social services officer ever to be appointed at Darwin took up his duties and was provided with accommodation in the old Department of Mines premises. It is a shocking building for a social services officer to have to occupy. He should not be required to interview applicants for social services, particularly women, in such premises. What makes it worse is that he shares a room with the Director of Mines. Two officers can keep confidence* and secrets, and I do not doubt that the Director of Mines would keep to himself anything that he overheard when social services business was being transacted. The fact is, however, that no man, woman or child will interview the social services officer in the presence of another official who might be interviewing members of the public on mining matters. Confidential information must be divulged and they will not divulge it in front of a third party. I ask the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) to provide the social services officer with a more suitable office. For the second time to-day, I am compelled to defend the Government. I have said in public speeches in Alice Springs and Darwin that social services work in the States should be controlled by the States, but. that in the Northern Territory the Commonwealth must control it because there is no other authority to do so. I commend the Government, therefore, for having appointed a social services officer at Darwin. He must, however, be given better offices. I point out to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services that the social services officer is overworked. He was relucant to mention that fact to me so that I could make representations on his behalf to the Minister. I make those representations off my own bat. That officer must have a stenographer. Otherwise he will have a breakdown. Social services work in Darwin has accumulated over the years, f have done a great deal of it myself. Formerly, people needing assistance had to go to the police and finally they came te me as their federal member. Not only does the Social Services officer, Mr. Carson, need a stenographer, but the time will soon come when he will need a trained assistant. I take this opportunity of paying tribute to Mr. Carson. He is well equipped for the job. Before taking up this welfare work, he was stationed in Northam and he is the son of the late Mr. Carson who was editor of the West Australian. He has had vast experience and is doing well, despite the handicaps which, I hope, will soon be removed by governmental action.
, - I remind the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who complained about what he described as the elaborate set-up of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory, that the people of the territory have been agitating for years for some form of local government.
– The Minister means that the honorable member for the Northern Territory has been agitating.
– Yos, the honorable member has been doing so.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- I remind the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) that the Chair has restricted speeches on the Northern Territory as far as possible, because there is a specific section dealing with the Northern Territory. T ask the Minister to confine himself to answering the questions that ha.ve been asked.
– I accept your advice, Mr. Deputy Chairman. The Legislative Council for the Northern Territory was appointed with a high status and given the chance to prove itself capable of being an important instrumentality in the development of the territory. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) referred to the amount of £155,670 which it is proposed to vote for the rent of buildings. The item means exactly what it says. Rents, have to be paid for buildings which are occupied for Commonwealth purposes. Because of the1 great expansion of governmental activities, it has been necessary to rent buildings in the various capital cities of Australia to accommodate Commonwealth departments. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) asked about the acquisition of land in Melbourne for the construction of Commonwealth offices in that city. I have already explained the intentions of the Government in that regard. The plans have been drawn. The building will be a great acquisition to the City of Melbourne. The Lord Mayor of Melbourne and his fellow councillors are very happy about the elaborate building that wo intend to build there.
– Are the plans available for inspection?
– The plans are in the custody of the Department of Works and Housing. I assure the honorable gentleman that they are available. Complaints have been made by some honorable members opposite of the acquisition of property by the Commonwealth, whereas the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) has complained of the shortage of accommodation in Darwin for Commonwealth officers. In common with other places, the Northern Territory is suffering from a shortage of accommodation but at the earliest possible moment the officer to whom the honorable member for the Northern Territory has referred will be provided with proper accommodation and adequate staff. I remind the honorable gentleman that that officer has been in the Territory for only a very short time.
– The Minister has not replied to the first point that I raised. How was it that a member of the Commonwealth Public Service was elected as a member of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory?
– He was elected under the authority of an act that was passed by this Parliament. If the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) had any objections to the constitution of that council, he should have made them when the legislation under which it was brought into existence was being considered in this chamber.
.- The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) has not given much information to the committee about the block of land in the City of Melbourne that is being acquired by the Commonwealth Although I have raised the matter in this chamber on several occasions, I have not succeeded in obtaining much information from the Government about it. The attempt that has been made by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) to obtain information has also been unsuccessful. The block of land that is to be acquired comprises one thirty-second of the area of the City of Melbourne proper.
– It is not enough.
– Perhaps it is not enough for the honorable member for Griffith.
– The honorable member for Wimmera will be proud of the buildings that will be erected on it, if he is still a member of the Parliament when the work is completed.
– The area of the block is 9^ acres. An order for its acquisition has been made and another order has been issued prohibiting the former owners or the tenants of buildings that are now on the block from paying rates. As aresult, approximately 10 per cent, of the electors of the Gipps Ward of Melbourne have been disfranchised and will not be able to vote in the local government election, that is to be held to-morrow in that ward. They will also not be entitled to vote at the Legislative Council elections that are to be held on the 18th of this month. These people have made pertain representations to the Government on a number of occasions, but their submissions have received no consideration. One man who would be completely disfranchised were it not for the fact that he owns land in another part of the city is Mr. King O’Malley. Although the Department of the Interior has issued an acquisition order, no compensation for the properties has been paid. I do not think that the amount of the compensation has yet been determined. If it has been determined, let the Minister say what the amount is to be. An election is to be held in the Gipps Ward of Melbourne to-morrow. The only way in which these people could exercise their right to vote at that election would be for the Government to pay the rates on the properties. As a result of the Government’s socialistic policy of acquiring land in Melbourne and other cities and towns on which to build government offices, local authorities are being deprived of the revenue that they would otherwise collect from rates imposed. The Government’s action in depriving the Melbourne City Council of revenue that it has derived from buildings situated on a block of land comprising one-thirty-second of the area of the city and in disfranchising the tenants of those buildings requires some explanation. It is time that actions of that kind were stopped. The Minister has said that beautiful buildings will be erected on the land, but what will the Government -put inside them ? I do not deny that many of the existing buildings there are not up to modern standards, but the tenants are engaged in production. There are over 700 buildings on this 9£ acres of land, in which approximately 2,000 people are working in the manufacture of ovens, paints, varnish and many articles that are required by the dairying industry, the dried fruits industry and other primary industries. When the beautiful buildings to which the Minister has referred have been erected, more public servants will be housed in them. Those public servants will not be engaged in production. At a time when Australia urgently needs increased production, the Government is apparently quite satisfied to use materials that are urgently required by soldier settlers, farmers and others for productive purposes. It does not matter to the Government whether citizens of. Melbourne are deprived of their right to vote at the election that will be held to-morrow and on the 18th of this month, but are we satisfied to allow these people to be disfranchised? Do honorable members opposite care about that, or do they merely take it in their stride in their path towards socialism?
– I rise to put the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) on the right track. The act from which the Commonwealth derives its authority to acquire this land and these buildings was placed upon the statute-book by a government of which the honorable gentleman was a supporter. That legislation provides that rates shall not be levied upon property of the Commonwealth. Apparently the honorable gentleman did not know his facts. Otherwise he would not have made such an attack, for in effect his criticism involved an anti-Labour government. In my earlier reply to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), I said that the plans of the proposed buildings were available and were in the custody of the Department of Works and Housing. They will be submitted to the Public Works Committee, on which members of the Opposition are serving. Everything that has been done in regard to this matter has been done under the provisions of legislation that was introduced into the Parliament by a government of which the honorable member for Wimmera was a supporter. This Government is advancing the welfare of Australia and do-, ing a great deal to increase its population. We shall provide our own buildings so that the Commonwealth will be able to conduct its business on its own property, not only in the Australian Capital Territory, but also elsewhere. If Australia again faces a crisis, the Commonwealth will not have to go cap in hand to private enterprise and ask for properties in order that the administration of the country may be carried on in a proper manner. This land is required because of the expansion of the activities of the Government, which is doing something for Australia. If we are again faced with a crisis, the Commonwealth will have its own administrative offices and will be able to put our defence machinery into operation overnight.
.- The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) is in error if he thinks that members of the committee are simple-minded enough to accept his explanation. He has said that the legislation under which this property is being acquired was introduced by a former government and that that is the reason why the Government is taking this action. How stupid the honorable gentleman must be if he thinks we shall accept that explanation. There is an acquisition act on the statute-book of Australia, as there is on the statute-book of every country with a democratic government, because at. some time or other the Government may need to acquire land for the making of an aerodrome or the extension of other activities. In this instance, a whole block of buildings in the City of Melbourne is to bf acquired for government offices upon the decision of this socialistic Government. Already its tentacles have spread about, the city. The Manchester Unity building, a skyscraper in Swanston-street, has been taken over. Almora House and Henty House are recent acquisitions. The Commonwealth Employment Service and the Repatriation Department have taken floors in Nicholas House that they are not utilizing. Numerous other offices in Melbourne are held by the Government at a time when business men want premises and when ex-servicemen cannot obtain offices or shops. That is one of the evils of socialism. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) is reported to have said last year that Australia will eventually become a great co-operative Commonwealth, operated in a socialistic manner for the benefit of the people as a whole. That is the motive that is actuating the Government. It was stated by the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) in a recent broadcast that the Government will socialize all the things that it considers to be socially undesirable. On that assumption, this block of buildings and the tenants of the buildings are socially undesirable, because the premises are needed by a great government department. The socialist government of Great. Britain found that having taken over many transport systems previously operated by municipalities- -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN” (Mr. Burke). - Order! That matter is not relevant to the question before the Chair.
– As a result of the Government’s action in acquiring this property, the revenue of the Melbourne City Council will be considerably reduced, which means that rates on other properties will have to be increased. The Government is squeezing more taxes from the people. I protest against its action. I am amazed that the Minister for Information, who engages in so much intimidation and defamation, who is the federal member for the division of Melbourne, has not protested in the Parliament at the resumption of this land by the Government.
– I cannot allow the Minister for the Interior to get away with the statement that he has just made about the Northern Territory.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- The Chair reminds the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) that in Part 3 of the schedule there is an item under the sub-heading, “ Northern Territory “. Before I discovered that that item was in the schedule, I allowed the honorable gentleman to deal with the Northern Territory under the item that is now under discussion. When I became aware of the specific item in respect of the Northern Territory. I confined other honorable members to limited references to the Northern Territory.
– The Northern Territory is administered by the Minister for the Interior.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- That is true. No money for the Northern Territory is to be appropriated under this proposed vote.
– The salary of the Minister who is responsible for the administration of the Northern Territory is to be appropriated under this proposed vote.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- The honorable gentleman is in error. The Minister’s salary is not appropriated under this heading.
– This is his department. He is responsible for it and I want to reply as quickly as possible so as to put him on the right track.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - 1 suggest that the honorable member would do better to deal with that item under the proposed appropriation for the Northern Territory in Part 3 of the bill.
– That would be disjointing the debate.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - The Chair was in error originally, but it. cannot allow the error to continue. It has since restricted honorable members in discussing the Northern Territory under the present heading and I ask the honorable member to desist from so doing.
– Then, in order that the debate about the Northern Territory may appear in print in the proper sequence in Hansard I ask that the remarks that have been made in regard to the Northern Territory so far under this heading, be transferred en bloc to the later section of the report when the proposed vote for the Northern Territory is under consideration. It is confusing for those people to read in Hansard a disjointed report of a debate.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- 1 have no doubt that the remarks already made about the Northern Territory will be repeated in the subsequent debate.
.- The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) did not reply to any question that I asked on this subject of the compulsory acquisition of the land in Melbourne. I desire to know the position of the former owners and tenants. They will not be able to vote in two elections. That is one point. They are still occupants, but have not been paid for their land, so what is their present position? Are they to pay rent, and if they pay it are they entitled to vote, or are they completely disfranchised? Has the Government got matters into such a state of chaos that it is not prepared to state the true position? Is it possible for the Government to give these men an opportunity to vote as normal citizens in council elections?
– Normal citizens canmot vote in those elections. Only property owners may vote.
– I should like the Minister to say whether these people are not allowed to vote because of the prohibition regarding rent payments and the acquisition order. When will they be paid for their land, and what is their present position in regard to their former holdings ?
– I desire to canvass the subject of acquisition. The Government apparently, judging from what I have heard to-night, has acquired about 9 J acres of building land in the City of Melbourne. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) produced a most amazing statement in his reply to the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) in which he declared that it is the policy of the Government to have sufficient office accommodation available in the event of another national emergency, so that it will not have to go around the capital cities acquiring offices. The Minister has nodded his head, so I must be right in what I have said. According to his statement, the Government intends to keep the Commonwealth permanently on a war footing. I should like to know whether that policy will be extended in other directions and whether any rural property is to be acquired for national purposes. Acquisitions must be made by the Department of the Interior because the Minister for the Interior is charged with that responsibility. I should like the Government in due course to answer this question. Should it consider that it is necessary in the national interests to maintain production of a certain quantity of foodstuffs in Australia, does it consider that it would be a valid exercise of its constitutional power to acquire every wheat-farm and dairy-farm in the country? If it intends to have office accommodation on a war footing, is it not of infinitely greater importance that it should have production of raw materials on a war footing? 1 know that I cannot canvass the point that I am about to make, but I shall refer to certain developments that ar3 occurring in our sister dominion of
New Zealand, with which we have a pact known as the Anzac Pact. Are we to expect that proposals and moves similar to those being made in New Zealand are shortly to be made in this country? If there is any logic in what the Minister has said there is logic in what I suggest.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Works and Housing.
Proposed vote, £753,860.
– I consider that the portfolio of Works and Housing is at present one of the most important held by any Minister of thi» Government. It has the greatest human appeal, as housing is one of the most important problems facing the community. Honorable members are familiar with the housing problems with which we are faced. They know full well the great difficulties that confront the people, particularly ex-servicemen, in obtaining homes for themselves and their families. The Minister for Works and Housing it responsible for the administration of our war service homes legislation. Some priority of consideration is .supposed to be given to ex-service applicant? for homes. I have had occasion previously to take up this matter with the Minister. I do not want to do him as injustice, but I am inclined to think that, because of the greater projects that are in prospect at the moment, this particular aspect of his administration is not receiving the attention that it should receive. Let me give three examples that, I believe, will point to the lack of attention given to this particular section of the activities of the Department of Works and Housing. On the 13th February last, I raised in the House the subject of a war service home occupied by Mrs. S. Brown, of 19 Sunny-crescent, Punchbowl, and her husband, who is a war pensioner. I shall read in part tha letter that she wrote to me. I do not propose to read it all, because I have quoted it to the House before, but I believe that we should refresh our memories ‘about it, because I have placed other similar case* before the Minister and I desire to find out if he gave the same attention to them as lie promised in this particular case. The letter states, in part -
The rain comes’ in all the windows, leaking roofs, paintwork has blots of resin running down the woodwork, doors sagging, windows rattling, ftc.
The fittings are so inferior that the copper had to be soldered three times after the first washing. When the wringer with wooden guards was placed on tubs, it just crumpled up like sandsoap and the wringer fell into the tubs.
The bath leaves one with a gritty scum after a bath. Compressed paper, which comprises the shelves in the cabinet, bend in a hollow with one bottle of dettol only on it. The enamelling on the gas stove turned brown the first time after using it.
The front door is a painted-up secondhand door; fittings and handles are rusty, cheap and inferior.
One expects better than that for £1,500 or more.
Our place isn’t finalized yet and we’ve been here six months.
I had the Deputy Commissioner of War Service Homes inspect the place himself and he admitted it was gerry-built - “ a sign of the times “, he said.
I took the matter up with the Minister for Works and Housing, who administers the War Service Homes Division and, in a letter to me, dated the 23rd February, 1949, he promised to make inquiries into the position. On the 24th February the Minister said, in answer to a question without notice asked by a Labour supporter, that the contractor had offered to buy the home hack for £300 more than had been paid for its construction. On the 4th March last, in a letter to me, the Minister stated that the house had been closely examined by a competent architect whose report had clearly indicated that the home conformed generally to ordinary building practice, and that the contractor had faithfully performed the work that he undertook to execute. The Minister stated that the contention by Mrs. Brown that the War Service Homes authorities had not been helpful in her case was entirely without foundation. He aid that everything possible had been done both by the authorities and the contractor. In a further letter to me, dated the 9th March, Mrs. Brown sa:d, in part -
. As I write the ceiling is a huge pool of water, the water coming in through the window frame.
Whoever is telling lies about it to cover things up, it is not me.
There has been no one here for a month to get things done. . . The builder admits that the paintwork is terrific, still experts from the War Service Homes say it is 100 per cent.
On the 9th March last I wrote again to the Minister about the matter, and was advised by him on the following day that further inquiries would be made. On the 16th March the Minister wrote to me, stating that the items complained of had been fully commented upon in his previous reply. I received another letter dated the 6th June from Mrs. Brown in which she stated, in part -
. The complaints which I have made to you are still the truth.
I wrote to the War Service Homes and queried the 33 inspections made of the house and added that they must have sent a blind man. The inspector who did pass our place is now a health inspector.
. Every sheet of plaster board has hundreds of holes like perforations on postage stamps.
All the top plaster is falling . . .
I had a real builder look at my house and he said that the plaster, paint work, and fittings were a disgrace.
During the rain to-day, 5th June, we had four large tubs catching the rain.
Ike ceiling is 500 time worse than when first passed.
There the matter stands up to the moment. The Minister passed the matter over quite lightly and said that it was a case that had been investigated, and that he felt that everything was right and that the builder was prepared to buy the house back for £300 more than it had cost. But that does not absolve the authorities from the responsibility of seeing that this home is at least put into a habitable condition. This is not an isolated case of the lack of administration. I received a letter dated the 17th March last from a Mr. C. G. Chitts of Gertrude-street, Fitzroy, Victoria. I shall read the letter he wrote to me - Ministers on the front bench are laughing at what I am saying. This is not a matter for laughter, and the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) and the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) ought to have more sense of the fitness of things than to laugh at the disabilities associated with exservicemen, because this is a matter that would wring the heart of any man who has any sympathy for ex-servicemen. Mr. Chitts stated in his letter -
In to-day’s press I notice questions a?ked by you as to the bona fides of proceedings of contracts entered into by the War Service Homes Commission. You quoted a case of a contract signed in February 1948, and not yet completed. Well, Mr. Harrison, this man still has a chance of being amongst the lucky onas. I now will quote my own case, which should prove the above statement to be correct, and would earnestly plead to you to endeavour to have some acceleration put to same.
I provided my own land for this contract. In either September or October 194G, I signed a contract with the Commission in Melbourne to build me a home in Lugton-street Moorabbin, the price of this home was greater than the sum allowed by the Commission as a loan. The extra amount, was immediately paid by me, therefore there was no delay on that account. I therefore have lost the interest on the best part of £200, which I was called on to pay to secure the contract, and at the same time, I am called on to pay interest on the sum expended by the Commission. I quite understand this would be quite a reasonable business arrangement, if the Commission were getting on with the job. The position at the moment is, that this building is about half finished, so you will see that if the second half takes as long I will be in for what one might call a very poor spin.
I emphasize to honorable members that that letter was written on the 17th March last, whilst the contract was signed in October, 1946. 1 suggest that the Minister for Information and the Minister for Repatriation might have another laugh at that.
– We were laughing at the honorable member himself.
– The letter continues -
At present my wife and I. have to lire in one room with the shared use of a kitchen in Fitzroy, and being an upstairs room, it iB affecting the health of us both. Being a partially blinded soldier with just on 1000 days service, and unfortunately a year and a half of that spent as a prisoner of war, I think I am not asking too much of you when I ask you to follow up your already good efforts, and endeavour to have some effort made to expedite the completion of my home. I am well aware of the difficulty attached to tho completion of any building these times, but I feel I can honestly cla.un that’ there is no legitimate excuse for the position in which I am placed.
I passed that letter on to the Minister, who wrote as follows in reply : -
With further reference to your representations on behalf of Mr. C. G. Chitts, of 233 Gertrude street, Fitzroy, Victoria, who is having a horns built under the provisions of the War Service Homes Act, as promised I have had inquiries made and And that a loan in the sum of £1,250 was approved on the 24th September, 194(1.
Plans and specifications were prepared relative to the timber and fibro cement dwelling of approximately 10 squares in area, and a contract signed between contractor P. Carroll and the Division on 13th December, 1946, the contract price being £1,367.
Work was commenced on 18th December. 1946, but by the end of 1947 construction had only advanced to the stage of roofing, external walls, and flooring being completed. The Division during this period assisted the contractor in obtaining hardwood scantlings, roofing tiles and flooring.
As no further work of any consequence wai performed on the dwelling-house during the first five months of 1948, notice to proceed, under clauses nf the General Conditions of Contract, was issued upon the contractor on 11th June, 1948. This action resulted in the contractor making definite promises regarding expedition of the further works necessary, and sashes, jamb linings and portion of requisite drains were attended to during the ensuing few weeks. Construction again ceased, and although repeated efforts by officers of the Division to obtain fibrous plaster for internal linings of the home were made, there appeared, at this stage, to be some doubt as to whether financial arrangements between the nominated plaster suppliers and contractor Carrol were satisfactory despite the latter’s insistence that such was the case.
Following contractor Carroll’s decease on 23rd August, 1948, and after advice had been received to the effect the estate of R. Carroll did not intend to proceed with the com pletion of the home, the original building contract was cancelled on 5th October, 1948. A fresh contract in the sum of £675 was signed on 6th December, 1948, between contractor J. C. Richards and the Division. This amount was within the unexpended balance of the original contract.
Contractor Richards is endeavouring to secure the fibrous plaster necessary to complete the internal lining of the home, and when an officer of the Division made inquiry, he was informed by the suppliers that the desired quantity would be delivered within a week or bo, supplies permitting.
Mr. Chitts may be assured the Division will do whatever it can to ensure that the necessary work is carried to completion by the new contractor as expeditiously as possible.
Honorable members will note that a long time has elapsed since work was commenced on the house in December, 1946, and I should like to know whether, in fact, the house has yet been completed.
I have’ here particulars of the case of Mr. N. T. McGann, of 87 Roscoestreet, Bondi. His letter to me is as follows : -
I enlisted in October, 1939, with the 6th Division, Australian Imperial Force, 3rd Battalion, Regimental No. NX4938.
My war service was as follows: - 797 days, Middle East; 016 days, Australia.
Discharged “ B “ class 22nd November, 1943 (Discharge No. 5163) with rank of Warrant Oulcer.
On discharge I made application to the War Service Homes Commission for a home. I received a letter stating that the Government had not granted a loan for the 2nd War but that my application would be noted and when a loan was granted I would be treated with every consideration.
In November, 1947, I received a letter stat ing that a loan was granted, giving details of land available and informing me that I was entitled to a home.
I selected Lot 39, Sunny-crescent, Punchbowl, on the 20th November, 1947. My war gratuity was transferred to the War Service Department. Then I had an interview with the architects re plans anil specifications. The architects’ fees were paid on 31st March, 1947 (receipt No. 726088). On 15th January, 1948, ( received a letter stating that the lowest tender was submitted by Mr. A. K. Manning, nf Punchbowl. On 24th January, 1948, security documents were signed by me. On the 16th February, 1948, the contract was signed by the contractor, A. K. Manning, the date for completion being 27th July, 1948.
I may state that this home is of timberframed fibro construction, and since the contract was signed on Kith February, 1948, the erection has only advanced as follows: - Timber frame and roof.
This makes the job eight months behind the specified time. I call at the War Service Somes Department or ring up every week or >o and the only reply I can get is “ no further progress “. I have had several interviews with departmental officers and all the satisfaction I can get is that it is the builder’s fault. Yet all around the area are new homes - evidently war service homes - as I had the choice of the ground where these homes are built. [ brought the case to the attention of the Minister who, on the 7th April last, wrote to me as follows : -
Whilst the application was submitted on the 22nd March, 1944, building was not in progress at that time, and after the building commenced the applicant’s turn was not readied until November, 1947. Action then proceeded normally to the invitation of tenders, two of which were received, and the tender accepted - after the usual check nf the bona fides of the contractor - was £211 lower than the other tender.
Because of the failure of the contractor to proceed, a Notice under the Contract wai despatched on 19th May, 1948. The contractor called on 24th May, 1948 and £ave evidence that the delay had been caused by his failure to obtain payment for the sale nf one of his properties. He promised to commence without further delay hut ad not. do so and waa again interviewed on 30th June, ‘948 when he stated that he would go ahead within three weeks. The applicant called the following day after the matter was fully discussed with him he agreed that the contractor should be retained in view of the great difficulty which would be experienced in obtaining another contractor to complete the job within the tender price. On 7th July, 1948, the contractor met the Works Inspector on the site and the necessary starting points were determined.
Further delay occurred due to action by tha Bankstown Council and soon after this work proceeded at a reasonably satisfactory, rate until towards the end of October, 1948. Since that date work has proceeded spasmodically and the only reason that the contract has nut been cancelled is that in other cases we have found it almost impossible to arrange for contractors to take over partially erected hornet and complete them at a reasonable figure.
You will see from the above that the pre» sure on the contractor has been continuous and whilst action could have been taken to cancel the contract and invite tenders for completion, this would have resulted in a considerably hi-her cost to the applicant than will be the case if we can have the job completed by th» original contractor.
Mr. McGann can be assured that his caw has not been neglected in any way and if he feels that it would be in his interests for the contract to be cancelled and endeavours mad* to arrange for some other contractor to complete the work, even though it will involve an additional cost to him, then he should inform the Deputy Director of War Service Homes. Sydney.
In those two instances it is evident that an extraordinarily long time has been taken to complete the houses. I take it that the Minister has authority to exercise control of contractors, and to prevent racketeering at the expense of ex-servicemen.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– As no other honorable member has risen to speak, I shall take my second period. After the department has agreed to advance money to an ex-serviceman for the building of a home, after it has approved of the plans, and a tender has been accepted, and after it has arranged for the work to be inspected during its progress, the ex-serviceman should not be left to the tender mercies of a contractor who, because he runs out of money after beginning the work, waiki out without finishing his job. Surely it is the duty of the Government to protect exservicemen. I believe the Minister has the necessary authority under the law., but, if he has not, the act should be amended to give him the necessary control.
It is clear that, in the cases I have mentioned, there have been unconscionable delays. . do not know whether the houses to which I have referred have yet been completed. Perhaps they have. I raise the matter now to find out from the Minister whether they have been finished, or whether they’ are still held up, as has happened in the case of Mr. Brown’s house, in regard to which nothing has been done to make the building habitable.
– The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) has charged me with neglecting the war service homes- section of my department, although he tried to smooth the matter out by saying that the department has some very big undertakings on hand. The war service homes section has not been neglected. It receives more direct attention, so far as finance is concerned, than all the other sections of the department put together, and I include the Commonwealth-State housing project. During the two years that I have been Minister the home construction rate has increased by more than 300 per cent. Even so, I shall not regard it as satisfactory until every ex-serviceman has been housed. During the same period, the rate of purchase of houses for exservicemen has been increased by 200 per cent. It is clear, therefore, that I have not neglected my duties. The number of homes under construction has increased by more than 400 per cent.
I come now to the cases mentioned by the honorable member for Wentworth. The houses were commenced under what is known as the special advances provision, by means of which the department advances the money, and the ex-serviceman himself arranges with the contractor for the building of the house. The honorable member for Wentworth said that the department should exercise rigid control over the contractors; yet, on other occasions, I have heard him advocate the abolition of controls, and the curtailment of the powers of bureaucrats. I remind the honorable member that it would be a serious thing for the department to inter fere with an ex-serviceman’s choice of a contractor, or to declare that the person chosen was not acceptable. About 2,700 war service homes have been completed during the last ten months, and 4,S00 are under construction, yet the honorable member for Wentworth can cite only two cases to support his condemnation of the administration. In one case, the delay was due to the death of the contractor. His estate was in such a condition that we could not compel his executor to complete the contract. The house was half finished, and it is well known that it is very difficult to get a contractor to take on the job of completing a partly built house. Always, in such cases, the cost is excessive. Difficulties of that kind cannot be avoided in any large building scheme. Delay also occurs when a contractor, having undertaken to do a job for a specific price, finds after erecting the frame, and perhaps putting on the roof, that he lacks the money to finish the job. He may take some other work in an endeavour to keep the pot boiling, and leave the first job uncompleted. In many instances, the department has had to take action to keep contractors going by advancing more money than they were entitled to under the terms of their contracts. They are risks that we have very frequently to take. When risks are taken in an endeavour to avoid red tape so that homes may be made available for exservicemen without delay, it is inevitable that some difficulties should arise. Tn the majority of instances, we have been able to assist the contractors to finish their contracts. The cases referred to by the honorable member for Wentworth represent only two out of thousands that have been dealt with by the authorities. While it is true that delays have occurred in connexion with some contracts the exservicemen have ultimately obtained their homes.
– Are progress payments made as the work goes on?
– Yes; progress payments are made for completed work. If a contractor stops work before his contract is completed he is served with a notice to complete it. The serving of such a notice is required by the law. Tn some cases of that kind the contractor may reply that he is willing to recommence work within the date specified in the notice, and he may do so for a few days only to cease work again. In such cases we serve another notice on him but only in extreme cases do we prosecute for failure to observe the terms of the contract. In one State a builder who had contracted to construct eight houses went bankrupt and it became necessary to let a new contract for the completion of the work. As honorable members will readily see, the making of a new contract involved an increase in the cost of the homes. The new contractor had to go over the whole of the plans. He could not take up where the defaulting contractor had left off. His additional charges were, of course, added to the cost of the homes. For that reason we are most reluctant to prosecute contractors for failure to complete their contracts because it inevitably results in an increase of the cost of the home. We endeavour to meet the position in a practical way.
I propose now to refer in detail to the first case mentioned by the honorable member for Wentworth. If the honorable gentleman had any native common sense he would have realized that the writer of the letter which he read much be suffering from some illness. Imagine any person claiming that the ceiling of his home is 500 per cent, worse than it was when he last wrote a letter on the subject! It must have been apparent to the honorable member that there was something wrong in that case because the writer was not the owner. I could say a great deal about this case but I am reluctant to do so. By recounting all the facts I could completely explode the complaint made in the letter which was read to us by the honorable gentleman. The secretary of the Punchbowl branch of the Returned Servicemen’s League inspected the home in question and talked to the exserviceman concerned. He subsequently reported that he had found no reasonable cause for the complaint and that the league had decided to take no further action in the matter. That report very effectively answers the statements made by the honorable member. I leave it to the committee to judge between the statements made by the responsible secretary of the Punchbowl branch of the Returned
Servicemen’s League and those of the irresponsible honorable member for Wentworth.
.- 1 approach this problem by attacking the policy of the Government. I shall not cite specific cases as other honorable members have done. I contend that Government policy in relation to war service homes is absolutely out of date. In defence of his administration the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) stated that during the last two years the number of war service homes built had increased by hundreds per cent. That is the fallacious kind of statement we are accustomed to getting from the Russians who are fond of saying that production during . a certain period was 500 per cent, in excess of what it had previously been. They conveniently forget to mention what production had previously been achieved. The official figures issued by the WaT Service Homes Commission disclose that seven war service homes were built in 1942, six in 1942-43, none in 1943-44 and eight in 1944-45. I have not been able to obtain the final figures for 1945-46, but np to February, 1946, the commission states that 61 homes were built. In 1946-47, the number built was 502 and in 1947-48, the number increased to 1,247.
– For the ten months of 1948-49 the number built was 1,730.
– I accept that figure as correct. I have cited the figures for earlier years merely to show how. misleading it is to speak in terms of percentage. Last week the Prime Minister stated that the Commonwealth-State housing scheme included an amount of £8,150,000 for war service homes, but the right honorable gentleman did not say during what period that amount would be expended. The Minister for Works and Housing referred to the millions of pounds being expended on war service homes by his department but in volume of actual work the achievements represent, only what one important builder could achieve on his own account. I do not want it to be thought that I am criticizing the war service homes section of the department on that account. The erection of war service homes’ was made the responsibility of a separate department by a previous administration and the staff consisted largely of exservicemen and their sons. That so few war service homes have been made available is entirely the fault of Government policy. This year overhead administrative costs for the building of merely a few homes amounts to £173,692. Could a private builder maintain operations on that basis? War service homes are built not by the department but by builders and contractors under the tender system. Since the establishment of the War Service Homes Commission more than 20,000 war service homes have been built. Most of them were constructed during the period when there was no scarcity of materials or labour. I do not believe that the Government views this matter in its proper perspective. Tens of thousands of exservicemen are waiting to marry and settle down. They want to become home owners. In a democracy the greatest asset a person may possess is his own home. Home ownership makes him a better and more contented citizen. Due largely to the policy adopted by this Government very few people to-day are given an opportunity to own their own homes. At the beginning of the present sessional period. I placed the following questions on the notice-paper : -
After some days had elapsed the Minister for Works and Housing replied in the following terms : -
The honorable member’s question will entail considerable inquiry throughout the various State branches of my department. The information will be collated as quickly as possible and details submitted to him.
The information has not yet been made available to me. The very many public works now in progress, some of which are close to the building in which we are gathered, and some even within this building itself, impose a drain on labour and materials which otherwise would be available for the building of homes. If con- tractors can obtain work of that kind they will not prefer the construction of homes. The Minister has admitted that home building is not acceptable to builders if other work is available. I know some architects and builders who have undertaken the work of building war service homes largely out of loyalty to ex-servicemen. It is of no use for the Minister to speak of the thousands of houses that are being built, because we all know that the lag remains as serious as it has ever been. It is true that thousands of houses are being built throughout Australia but it Ss equally true that in some States the marriage rate by far exceeds the rate at which houses are being built. Thus, the lag which existed at the conclusion of the war is not being overtaken. Responsibility for the construction of war service homes is a matter not for the States but for the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth is not doing its best to discharge that responsibility. In the later years of the war and in the years immediately following the war, I warned the Government that it would get into a jam because of the absence of a real housing plan. The Government has not only planned its housing activities badly, but it has also denuded the market of urgently needed labour and materials in order to push on with its own programme of public works. Recently the Prime Minister stated that more than £2,500,000 worth of building materials were exported in 1947-48. Whilst I fully appreciate the need for maintaining exports I believe that the Government should exercise a wise discretion in determining what may or may not be exported. Export licences are granted for the exportation of goods of all kinds. Why, at a time like this, does the Government permit to be sent out of the country great quantities of lighting fixtures, piping and the like seeing that such materials are so urgently needed for the construction of homes? I do not want to drag into this debate the subject of communism, but I cannot refrain from referring to the fact that the president of the Building Workers Industrial Union, Donald Thompson, a leading Communist, is largely responsible for the go-slow tactics now being adopted in the building industry throughout Australia. Under the scheme for the rehabilitation of exservicemen, arrangements were made for the training of large numbers of building artisans, but Mr. Bulmer, the union nominee on the tribunal established by the Government to supervise the training of building tradesmen, who is also an avowed Communist, definitely sabotaged the scheme. The Minister appears to challenge the accuracy of my statement. Because of the obstructive tactics adopted by Mr. Bulmer, who is inspired by unAustralian motives, thousands of wouldbe carpenters, plumbers and building artisans are still awaiting training. I pay a tribute to the energy of the Minister for Works and Housing, but he is failing when he does not view the matter in the proper perspective. He is failing in respect of war service homes, because he should ensure that every facility is provided to enable construction to proceed.
I now refer to another matter that is militating against the erection of war service homes. Reference has been made to the subject in an earlier debate, but it is relevant to the present discussion. Taxes keep up the prices of building materials. Not long ago, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) made the following statement: -
Recently I looked over some houses being built in a New South Wales town by the Housing Commission. No one could be proud of them. They were wooden houses, and crudely finished. The interior partitions were merely fibro-plaster. They were the sort of cottages which, before the war, one would have expected to build for £500 or £600.
I was told with some pride that the costwas working out at about £1,000 apiece, apart from the cost of the land, fencing, and furniture! What ordinary wage-earner could expect to build or acquire a home at that price I
That is the position in respect of homes erected by the Housing Commission of New South Wales, and also of war service homes. If the prices of materials have skyrocketed to that degree, efforts must be made to reduce them. Indirect, concealed taxes, such as primage duty on imported materials, cause building costs to rise. The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Sheehy), who is a builder by occupation, will agree with that statement. Throughout Australia, building materials are in short supply, and many homes are unfinished. The primage duty on imported building materials should be abolished. If the Tariff Board were asked to inquire into the. effect of primage and some present duties on the cost of building materials, it would probably recommend, in a few weeks, the suspension of primage and the by-law entry of many goods in short supply until the position eased. The use of imported materials free of duty would enable builders to complete many dwellings, and construction costs would be reduced. A large number of materials, such as builders’ hardware, some kinds of paint, and other items that do not readily occur to the mind, are still subject to sales tax. I have been reading a publication on sales tax which I recommend to honorable members who are interested in the cost of home building. I found twenty such items, but I am informed by the Building Congress that 35 important items are still subject to sales tax. Of course, the items vary with the kind of building. The Minister for Works and Housing has stated that sales tax is imposed on only 5 per cent, of the materials required in the erection of a home. I challenge that figure. We cannot generalize on this matter. Different houses are constructed from different materials. Every impost should be removed from building materials.
– I did not mention 5 per cent, of the cost of. a house.
– I thought that the honorable gentleman said that 95 per cent, of the materials were not dutiable.
– I said that 95 per cent, of the articles would not be dutiable.
– Exactly. If 95 per cent, of the items are not subject to sale* tax, a simple subtraction shows that the remaining 5 per cent, must be.
– I thought that the honorable member referred to 5 per cent of the cost of the house.
– No. Even 5 per cent, of the items required in the construction of a house should not be subject to sales tax. With the exception of defence works, the highest priority should be given to projects that are necessary for housing our people. Many of our citizens aTe feeling bitter and frustrated because they are condemned to live for years in a room, or share a house with relatives, or to the rearing of a family under crowded, crude and uncomfortable conditions. They would be better citizens if they had their own homes. I know that the Government does not believe in creating a nation of “ little capitalists “. Whilst I hate to raise this matter again, it is recorded in Hansard that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) has expressed that view. No doubt, the Government prefers the people to live in homes rented from it, and so far, it has not carried out its obligation to the States to allow a large percentage of the homes constructed under the CommonwealthState housing scheme to be sold to the occupants. A person who pays rent for his home is not in such a favorable position as is the person who owns or is purchasing his home. I read in a recent issue of the Melbourne Herald of a man in my electorate who is purchasing his home on terms. He stated that he was desperately anxious to obtain a home, and, eventually, he acquired one at a cost of £2,200. Repayments are at the rate of 35s. a week. He is now 26 years of age, and he will be more than 70 years of age when the final instalment on the house is paid. In what condition will a plasterboard house be after the lapse of approximately 45 years? The Government must make a new approach to this problem, and consider reducing interest rates and construction costs. It must attack the problem in such a way as to enable people to get homes. If necessary, the Government should appoint a select committee of the House, consisting of honorable members who are particularly interested in this matter, to inquire into the position. Members of the Opposition will help to hammer out a plan to meet the situation. Housing is a matter, not of party politics, but of doing the right thing for worthy people.
.- Even before I became a member of the Parliament, I was deeply interested in the subject of housing. A few days ago, f read in Hansard the report of my maiden speech in this chamber, and in it I addressed myself to the question of war service homes and the housing of the people. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) referred to information that the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) supplied to me about the provision of money for home building. The amount provided by the Commonwealth for housing during the current financial year is £24,150,000. Of that sum £16,000,000 has been made available under the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement, and £8,150,000 under the war service homes project. During the financial year 1949-50, the Commonwealth expects to make available, to the States under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement an amount of £20,000,000, whilst £14,894,000 will be provided for war service homes. The honorable member for Balaclava has asked, “What does money mean?” In home construction, money means practically everything. I direct attention to the financial provision that the Government has made because in 1938-39, when the Government in office was anything but a Labour government, the amount of money that was made available for war service homes was only £146,000. Honorable members opposite accuse the Chifley Government of doing nothing for exservicemen. They conveniently forget that, during the current financial year, it has provided £8,150,000 for war service homes, and expects to expend nearly £15,000,000 on housing ex-servicemen in the next financial year. E invite honorable members to compare those allocations with the amount of £146,000 that an anti-Labour government provided for war service homes some ten years ago.
I was particularly interested in an article by the Deputy Director of War Service Homes in Adelaide, Mr. J. F. O’Callaghan, and also in certain figures ti at I have secured relative to the purchase of homes built by such organizations as the South Australian Housing Trust. Eighty-five per cent, of the war service homes purchased by ex-servicemen have been financed under the conditions set out in our war service homes legislation. Only 15 per cent, of them were financed by banks and similar institutions. During the current financial year, 700 war service homes have been erected in South Australia, and 500 readybuilt homes have been acquired by the wai’ service homes division of the Department of Works and Housing. The Deputy Director has set out the position quite clearly in the article. He writes as follows : -
Like all other home builders, we obtain our permit* through the State Building Materials Office, and are bound by the normal limitations which govern the supply of materials, estimated costs and size of homes.’
The division is bound by the State authority that issues building permits. I considered that, in order to enable the division to speed up its activities, it was necessary to amend the act. That has been done.
The honorable member for Balaclava has stated that building contractors do not evince a desire to work for the Division of War Service Homes, o
– I said that building contractors do not rush that kind of work if better work is offering.
– Since the act has been amended, 150 builders have accepted work for the Division of War Service Homes in South Australia. Therefore, the honorable member will appreciate that the division is not having much difficulty in that State in securing builders to undertake work on behalf of exservicemen. Many builders are operating in a small way. They take only one job or a couple of jobs at a time. Other contractors who are working for the division are erecting homes at the rate of one dwelling a week. That achievement is something new in the construction of war service homes. Under the direction of the Deputy Director of War Service Homes, progress has certainly been made in South Australia. In addition the division now has the right, which was . denied to it before the act was amended, to secure properties in various parts of the State. Previously, the policy was to buy a block of land here, and another block elsewhere. The division is now buying up quite extensive areas. At present, 111 new homes are being erected in the southern Adelaide suburb of Clovelly Park. Estates have also been secured in Brighton, Glenelg, North and East Glenelg, and Hampstead. I had emphasized the necessity for adopting such a policy, because I realized that other persons who were’ interested in the construction of homes were securing suitable areas in and near the city, and that the War Service Homes authorities were running the risk of being left behind in that race. The figures that I have quoted indicate the progress that is being made with home construction in South Australia. Like the Minister, I know that the achievement to date does not satisfy the claims of all ex-servicemen but the position is improving. In the division of War Service Homes, the lack of skilled men delays, to some degree, the rate of signing contracts. I am informed that more drafting work could be undertaken in Adelaide if the necessary staff could be obtained. The officer in charge of that section in Adelaide spends a great deal of his time and energy in endeavouring to assist exservicemen. Under the administration of the present Minister for Works and Housing, and his predecessor, progress has been made in streamlining the division, advancing the interests of the employees, and endeavouring to provide homes for ex-servicemen who richly deserve them. I entirely agree with the honorable member for Balaclava that the man who owns his own home has a stake in the country and is better for it. 1 should like the Government to consider reducing from 3f per cent, to 2f or 2 per cent, the rate of interest payable by ex-servicemen in respect of war service homes. In view of the high cost of building, that would materially assist ex-servicemen.
.- The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) has a far greater responsibility than the provision of war service homes and other homes in Australia. His responsibility extends to ensuring the production of the materials with which houses are built. The Government decided that displaced persons should be employed in brickworks to increase the production of bricks. The Federal President of the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia, Mr. E. Bulmer, however, is opposed to that policy on the grounds - to use his words - that -
It would amount to a potential force of “ scab “ labour.
The Government must either govern m abdicate to this Communist. We say that it should govern and apply its policy fearlessly. It is essential that tho output of bricks be increased. If displaced persons are needed in the brickmaking industry to increase the output, because those at present engaged cannot produce enough bricks let them be employed, regardless of what Mr. Bulmer thinks. Mr. Bulmer also said -
When the only way our members can get any improvement is to bring pressure on the Government where we feel that there would not be much chance for the Australian worker with a lot of migrants dumped in oh him.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Building Workers Industrial Union favours a policy different from that favoured by the Government. A deputation waited on the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) in connexion with which the Sydney Morning Herald reported Mr. Bulmer as saying -
The deputation put before the Minister a plan for national co-ordination of the building industry and giving priorities for workers engaged in essential industries.
We are not at war. The work of every one in the community, even the taking in of washing, is essential. Every one in the community has an equal right to a home for himself and his family. Mr. Bulmer and his friends have no right to dictate to the Government that they and their friends shall have priority in the provision of homes. I hope that the Government will strenuously resist that proposal.
The Government also proposes the use of displaced persons in the iron and steel industry so that its output may be raised and more homes built. The construction and completion of many homes throughout Australia is being delayed by the shortage or iron and steel, particularly galvanized iron and water piping. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) almost daily tells us that the shortage of iron and steel results from the shortage of labour. We maintain that it results from not only the shortage of labour but also strikes in the coal industry and the scarcity of coal and coke for the furnaces in the steelworks. The Government has made it known that it proposes to place 341 Baits in the steelworks. That proposal has been opposed by the Newcastle branch of the Communist-controlled Federated Iron Workers Association of Australia. The Government has pointed to the shortage of labour as the reason for the shortage of iron and steel. To remedy the shortage of labour it proposes that immigrants shall work . in the iron and steel industry. Again I say that it must either govern or abdicate and that its duty is to govern fearlessly and not allow itself to be dictated to by Communists. The Government has promised the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia that before any displaced person is placed at the Newcastle steelworks, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited will be asked to agree that they are to be employed only when Australian labour is not available. Therefore, the Australian workers are in no danger of competition from the Baits. The trouble is that the ironworkers union does not want a stepping up of output from the iron and steel industry. That is the real reason why it is opposed to the introduction of Baits into the industry. Owing to the shortage of iron and steel, big buildings are being constructed with bricks instead of reinforced concrete as there is no steel for the reinforcement of the concrete. The Government of New South Wales has complained about that. The absorption of bricks in that way is aggravating the scarcity of bricks for housing. The time has arrived when the Government should stand firm on its policy and do whatever is necessary to ensure an increased supply of bricks and iron and steel so that the construction of houses, hospitals and factories, for which the people have been waiting for years, shall be accelerated.
.- I direct the attention of the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) to the position that has developed in my electorate particularly, and in other parts of Queensland, because of the shortage of piping for irrigation. Owing to that shortage, it is not possible to increase the output of the fruit-growing and the vegetable-growing industries. Consequently the price of fruit and vegetables is soaring. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), from time to time, urges the primary producers to produce more. They would do so if they could. In the area of Redland Bay, in my electorate, I have received representations, which I have passed on to the Minister for Works and Housing, pointing out that 90,000 feet of piping of various types is required for irrigation but is unobtainable. The- Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) said, in answer to a question recently, that the Government. was doing all it could to step up the production of iron and steel, particularly galvanized iron, piping and sheet iron. I venture the opinion that throughout Queensland 900,000 feet of piping is needed. The Government can no longer sit back complacently and, with its tongue in its cheek, content itself with saying that it is doing all it can do. What is the Government doing to ensure the production of the piping needed to enable Queensland fruit-growers and vegetablegrowers to irrigate and thereby increase their output? Next August, the war will have been over for four years, yet scarcities persist. We are tired of the dilatory way in which the Government handles its affairs. All it does is talk. I particularly want to learn from the Minister for Works and Housing how be proposes to ensure an adequate supply of piping. _ Questiontime does not allow him to give full details of what the Government is doing and plans to do, but he has a splendid opportunity now to state in detail how it is proposed to increase production. I have not received a reply to my representations that is satisfactory to me or the people that I represent. It is useless to depend upon this Government to do anything but make promises. I want to know what is being done. I hope that the Minister will explain what is to be done to increase the production of these articles and to allocate additional supplies to Queensland.
.- I assume that the Minister for Works and
Housing (Mr. Lemmon) will not disclaim responsibility for the distribution of nails.
– I do disclaim responsibility for it.
– The Minister figures in the story that I am about to tell, so perhaps he will listen to me and, if possible, supply me with the information that I am seeking. At present it is almost impossible to buy nails in Victoria, but it is possible to buy them in considerable quantities in New South Wales. Therefore, wholesale houses and other organizations in Victoria that require nails have to bring them from New South Wales and distribute them in small quantities to builders and others in Victoria who require them. The cost of transporting nails from New South Wales to Victoria is £12 10s. a ton. Therefore, the price paid by Victorian users is considerably increased. In addition, nails are subject to sales tax at the rate of 10 per cent. As nails are used- extensively in house construction, the transport charge and the sales tax makes the cost of a house in Victoria appreciably greater than it would otherwise be.
– Order! The distribution o’f nails is not the responsibility of the Department of Works and Housing. The honorable gentleman is not entitled to discuss that matter on this item.
– There is one matter about which the Minister can doubtless supply me with some information. Although nails cannot be bought in Victoria
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable gentleman i* defying the ruling of the Chair.
– I am coming to the point that I want to make. The only person who is able to obtain nails in Victoria to-day is the Minister for Works and Housing. There are a number of firms in Victoria which are capable of manufacturing nails if they can obtain the necessary wire. The only person who is able to obtain wire in Victoria is the Minister for Works and Housing. J shall raise this question later under a more appropriate heading, but I take advantage of this opportunity to inquire of the Minister how it is that he can obtain nails in Victoria but that no one else can do so.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed votes - Department of Civil Aviation, £1,542,510; Department of Trade and Customs, £521,900 - agreed to.
Department of Health.
Proposed vote, £163,620.
. -I was informed recently that the Department of Health has engaged fourteen employees to assist in the administration of the free medicine scheme in Launceston. 1 do not know whether my information is correct. It is difficult to understand why fourteen people are required to do the work in a city of the size of Launceston. If there is any truth in the suggestion that has been made to me, it means that throughout the Commonwealth there are very many employees of the Department of Health who are awaiting the corning into operation of a scheme that is held up pending the negotiation of an agreement between the British Medical Association and the Government. That would account for part of the recent enormous increase of the number of Commonwealth employees. In the nine months that ended in March this year, the size of the Commonwealth Public Service had increased by 52,209 persons. In the same period the number of factory employees increased by only 16,400. If the Minister representing the Minister for Health can supply me with any information on this matter, I shall be glad to receive it. To engage employees on that scale to assist in the administration of a scheme that is far from reaching fruition would be extravagance of the wildest kind.
– I cannot supply the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons) with the details of the number of persons who have been engaged by the Department of Health in Launceston, but I am sure that the department would not engage fourteen persons to administer the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, which is not yet in operation. I should say that the employees of the
Department of Health in Launceston are engaged in the administration of the general health services that the department has been providing for years past. They may also be required to assist in the payment of sickness benefits and other social services. In small towns Commonwealth departments are amalgamated to as great a degree as possible, because it is not sound policy for each department to establish a branch office in them. I do not wish to be dogmatic, but I should say it is not correct to suggest that the Department of Health in Launceston has engaged fourteen persons to administer a scheme that may not be in operation for some time. I shall cause inquiries to be made into this matter and supply the honorable member with further information at a later date.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Commerce and Agriculture.
Proposed vote, £290,830.
.- The observations that I am about to make are concerned with the recent survey that was undertaken by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to ascertain the cost of production of eggs. I assume that the main purpose of the survey was connected with the export of eggs from this country, because if a substantial egg export trade is to be established poultry farmers must be paid a price for their eggs that will enable them to operate profitably. Yesterday I asked of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) a question regarding the charges that had been taken into account in assessing the cost of production of eggs. On the 19th May the Minister announced that the survey had revealed that the cost of production of a dozen eggs was 2s. 6 1/2d., of which 3.39d. was attributed to marketing costs. Those marketing costs were assessed on the basis of eggs being conveyed from the poultry farm to the grading floor, but when eggs are exported additional charges are incurred by the poultry farmers. They include a charge for cartage from the grading, floor to the cool store or the ship, an oiling charge, which is now compulsory in relation to eggs for export, a cool storage charge and the levy or pulping charges imposed by the Australian Egg Board. Those factors were not taken into consideration by the bureau in its survey. In my question yesterday, I asked the Minister whether he would give consideration to the inclusion of those charges in the cost of production and, if it were decided to include them, whether he would see that full consideration was given to the fact that during the last few months such costs have increased considerably.
I understand that when the Bureau of Agricultural Economics began its survey of the cost of production of eggs, it adopted the weighted average system but that later it abandoned that method of calculation and adopted the modal system, which, I understand, gives a slightly lower cost of production than that which would have been obtained under the weighted average system. I ask the Minister why that was done. Doubtless there was a good reason for it, and I shall be interested to know what it was. I also desire to ask the Minister some questions regarding the Australian Egg Board, which has now been in operation for a number of months. A levy of £d. a dozen, I understand, is placed on eggs for export. That levy is charged to the producers and the board has accumulated a large sum amounting to, I understand, about £80,000, although I cannot vouch for that figure. I ask the Minister what useful work the board is doing now. I am told by people interested in the industry that the board is doing no useful work at all, and that it is an excrescence upon the whole industry. I have been told that nobody wants it, and it has been suggested, although I do not necessarily support the suggestion, that one of the reasons why the board was brought into being was to provide a cushy job for certain friends of the Government. I ask the Minister whether that is a fact. In any event, it seems to me, as it does to many other people, that this board, which is costing the producers a great deal of money, is fulfilling no useful function at all, since a contract has been reached between the Australian Government and the United Kingdom Government for the supply of eggs. The board does not seem to enter into that picture at all, and
I therefore suggest to the Minister that it might be a very good move to abolish it and thereby relieve the producers of an unnecessary levy.
– I desire to deal with the item* under the heading Department of Commerce and Agriculture which refer to salaries and payments in the nature of salary amounting to £11,420 in respect of the Division of Agricultural Economics, and to general expenses of £2,330. I presume that part of that salary appropriation is for the officer whom the Minister, in his wisdom, sent to the Northern Territory. I refer to Mr. Kelly, whom 1 mentioned in the Parliament last session and who, I consider, is doing very fine work in the Northern Territory in the making of an economic survey of thai area. I should like some more information from the Minister regarding Mr. Kelly’s activities, and the instructions he has been given by the Minister. I naturally would not ask Mr. Kelly himself for such details, as 3 prefer information regarding his functions in the Northern Territory to come from the Minister himself. I must presume that he is taking an inventory of all the cattle stations and of the number of cattle on those stations, and making an investigation concerning the lack of development there and the potential optimum carrying capacity of the stations in the future. It is of no use for the Government to say that it has not neglected the Northern Territory with regard to supplies like bore casings, barbed wire, fencing materials, wind-mills, and so on. That neglect must be rectified in the very near future, otherwise our policy of supplying food to Britain and of increasing the carrying capacity of Northern Territory cattle stations, will be impeded. When we were discussing the importation of barbed wire recently, the Opposition advocated the importation of barbed wire free of customs duty to enable pastoralists and smaller settlers to improve their holdings. One of my constituents on the Roper River heard that debate and my own representations over the radio and wanted to know immediately how he could go about getting some barbed wire. I naturally thought that there would be an allocation of barbed wire based on State allocations for the Northern Territory. But I found that that i9 not so. Every State has an allocation, but the Northern Territory simply receives the left-over scraps from Queensland or New South “Wales. Unfortunately, Western Australia is not sufficiently industrialized for shipping services from there to be of the same use to the Northern Territory, which must therefore depend on the shipping service from eastern ports and the left-overs from the capitals of New South Wales and Queensland. Since the Australian Government has complete control of the Northern Territory why is there no allocation to it? That is a matter beyond my comprehension and the comprehension of the people of the territory. Surely the members of the Public Works Committee who visited the territory recently must be fully aware of the facts, because it has been stated quite clearly be me that the north is “ off the chain “ and is in revolt from Townsville to Wyndham.. As I said the other day, 1 hope that the members of the committee, who were so publicly critical of the Government’s policy while they were in Darwin, will be courageous enough to support my efforts and say the same things in Parliament, and I hope that Government members of the Public Works Committee will indicate to the Parliament just what they have seen there of Government neglect.
– The Commonwealth has not the necessary power to allocate wire to the Northern Territory, because the referendum proposals were defeated last year.
– The defeat of the referendum did not make that much difference. The fact is that the Government has not made an allocation of materials to the Northern Territory, which is an area over which it has full control. I throw that back in the Minister’s teeth, now that he has interjected. If the present condition of the Northern Territory is to be taken as an example of the Government’s neglect, and is indicative of what the Government would do all over Australia if it had as complete control of the whole continent, I assure him that it is an indictment of the Government.
– If the referendum proposals had been accepted we would have had the necessary power to allocate materials to the Northern. Territory.
– Will the Minister tell me when Mr. Kelly’s report is likely to be received, and will he assure me once and for all that it will be tabled in the Parliament so that I may move that it be printed. The Parliament and the people will then know what that very able officer of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture has said about the state of the Northern Territory which is now only half developed and will also know what he considers about its potentialities and what might be done in the. future.
.- In reply to the remarks of the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) I regret that possibly yesterday I did not furnish all the information that he desired. He desires to know what is the cost, outside of the compilation made by the cost of inquiry committee from the point that they left off to the point f.o.b. ship for export eggs to the United Kingdom and other places. I shall be glad to obtain these figures for him. I shall also try to obtain the information he asked for regarding the modal figures adopted by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in compiling its cost structure, and the weighted average figures. I shall now deal with the honorable member’s remarks about the Australian Egg Board in the course of which he stated that he desired to know why it was established, why it is continued, and what useful work it does. He added that he considered that it is an excrescence on the body politic. The honorable member also said that he has been told that the board was brought into being to provide jobs for the friends of the Government.
– I said that I understood that that was one of the reasons why it was brought into being.
– All I can say in that respect is that the Egg Export Control Act 1947 was brought down in this Parliament as an urgent measure at the request of the egg industry itself. Egg production was controlled under war-time conditions by a committee set up by the Government under the National Security Regulations, and it was realized that that committee could not function in the peacetime era for more than a limited period. The Government was therefore very anxious to divest itself of the control of the industry. That control was exercised not only over the export of eggs but also over their internal distribution in Australia. If I remember correctly representatives from the State egg marketing boards met in conference and requested the Australian Government to introduce a bill to establish the Australian Egg Board to deal with the problem of handling and controlling the egg export surplus. It was because of the urgency of the situation that the measure was introduced promptly and the board established. The honorable member has asked what useful function the board performs. Let me say in the first place that as a result of war-time experience and the demands of bulk buying by the United Kingdom Government, the Australian Government entered into certain wartime contracts with that Government. The contract buying system has been continued by the United Kingdom into the peace-time era, and it therefore became necessary to do one of two things. One thing that Gould have been done was to allow the Minister or the officers of the appropriate department to solely control the egg surplus and attend to the contract with the United Kingdom. The alternative was to establish a board constituted with a majority of producers’ representatives to handle the whole of the business of exporting eggs. At the request of the industry we established a board to handle that particular business and as far as I can see up to date it has done an excellent job. The honorable gentleman has said that there is a belief abroad that the board was established to provide jobs for friends of the Government. If the honorable gentleman can tell me of one member of the board who is a personal or political friend of mine or of anT member of the Government I shall “give the board away”. As a matter of fact, the principle adopted in tin* constitution of the board was well recognizable. It was realized when the bill was brought down that the time available was so short, with th> authority of the National Security Regulations running out, that if the board was to be put into operation to carry out itf functions properly, no time would be available to allow for the election by producers of their representatives. In these circumstances we did the next best thing. We included a clause in the bill, under which the various poultry farmers’ organizations would submit panels of names to the Minister, from which a selection would be made for representation on the board. The various organizations in the States submitted panels of names to me and I selected the representatives, basing my selections ob the experience of each individual in any representative capacity that he had held over a long period of years in the industry. We did something else too. We did not desire that the nominees should occupy their positions for an indefinite period without an election being held. The act provides that when the present members retire, their successors shall be appointed by election. Therefore, I cannot see any justification for the charge that- the authority was set up for the purpose of providing positions for the friends of the Government. For my part, I am not acquainted with any of the members of the board except to say good day to them.
The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) asked what were the functions of Mr. Kelly, an officer of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, who has made an extensive survey in the Northern Territory. It is true that Mr. Kelly has done an excellent job. He is working under the direction of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction. There is a North Australia Developmental Committee, an inter-departmental body, consisting of officers representing the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, the Department of Post-war Reconstruction and the Treasury. Mr. Kelly will report to that committee and, through it, to the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, to whom the honorable member for the Northern Territory should address his inquiries.
, - Recently, Australian wheat has been sold to the United Kingdom, on a government-to-government basis, at a price which was at least ls. a bushel below world parity. Every one is anxious, that we should give as much help as possible to the United Kingdom, but growers object to being asked to bear the whole cost of selling wheat to the United Kingdom at concession prices. I should be glad if the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) would explain the situation.
Mr. POLLARD (Ballarat- Minister for Commerce and Agriculture) fi 1.4 J. - I expected that this matter would be raised. All I have to say is that the sales of wheat to the United Kingdom were made under the terms of a contract concurred in by the Australian Wheat Board.
– After the sales were made?
– An effort was made to commence negotiations for the sale as far back as the 20th December, 194S. As soon- as the new Australian Wheat Board was constituted, I put aside other engagements and called the board together, because it was necessary to take immediate action. Out of the total membership of the board, only six were present at that first meeting. The member who makes the most fuss, and indulges in most political propaganda, Mr. Teasdale, was conspicuous by his absence. Finally, when negotiations were at a critical stage in April, four members of the board were absent. However, the board by a majority decision, accepted the price offered by the Government of the United Kingdom. If any one wants to hear more about the deal, I am prepared to discuss it further at the right time and in the right place.
.- On the 24th May, the following paragraph was published in the Melbourne Age: -
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) said the international wheat agreement will not supersede wheat stabilization plans, or interfere with the Government’s guaranteed price. Operation of the agreement will support the stabilization plan, he said. In the event of a substantial fall in prices, it will very much reduce the call on the stabilization fund.
If there were no international agreement, and prices fell heavily, the strain on the stabilization fund would be so great that a new plan would, perhaps, have to commence, with no fund and with prices so low that a levy to create a new fund would be impracticable, or would create hardship, Mr. Pollard said.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member is discussing the International Wheat Agreement, about which there is an item on the noticepaper.
– I am not discussing the International Wheat Agreement.
– The honorable member is getting dangerously close to it.
– My point is that the Government evidently had in mind some time in the future when it might not be possible to pay the guaranteed price for wheat out of the stabilization fund. If that situation should arise, would the Government be prepared to finance the stabilization scheme out of Consolidated Revenue ?
House adjourned at 11.8 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will he supply the following information for the year ended 31st December, 1948: - (a) total export tonnage of rutile to the United States of America and the value: (6) tonnage produced in New South Wales and Queensland, respectively; (c) total export tonnage to the United Kingdom and the value; (d) total export tonnage to the Continent and the value; (c) total export tonnage of zircon to the United. States of America and the value; (/) tonnage produced in New South Wales and Queensland, respectively; (g) total export tonnage to the United Kingdom and the value; and (ft) total export tonnage tn the Continent and the value?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information: -
Trade figures are compiled on a financial year basis. Export figures are therefore quoted in respect of the year ended the 30th June, 1948. Mining production figures are collected on a calendar year basis and as figures are not yet available for the year ended the 31st December, 1948, those quoted in (6) relate to the year ended the 31st December, 1947 - (a) Including rutile ilmenite 148,144 cwt., £178,195; (6) New South Wales 27,519 tons, Queensland 10,254 tons, include zircon ilmenite and monozite, as rutile figures are not recorded separately; (c.) including rutile ilmenite 51,231 cwt., £95,478; (d) including rutile ilmenite 31,974 cwt, £45,884; (e) including zircon rutile 340,278 cwt, £.1.87,590 ; (/) not recorded separately, included in (6) : (.9) including zircon rutile 16,4.77 cwt.. £7,752; (&) 2,030 cwt., £866.
r asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The information ia being obtained and a -reply will he furnished as soon -as possible.
Moat: VESTEY’s Limited.
g asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice - .
Docs ‘Vestey’s operate through the Riverstone -Meat Company in New South Wales, Angliss and Company in Victoria, and the Redbank Meat Company in Queensland?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Food Control ORGANIZATION
asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
D - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y. - On. the 26th. May, the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) asked me whether, a Mr. Timperley, an Australian, was acting on the United Nations Good Offices Committee in Indonesia, and whether he had written a letter to Mr. Hatta, Premier of the Indonesian Republic, on the suggested establishment of an Indonesian Government in exile in India. I now inform the honorable member as follows : -
I understand that a Mr. W. G. Timperley, who is no doubt the individual referred to, and whom I : believe is an Australian, was formerly a member of the United Nations Secretariat in New York. He was sent to Batavia by the United Nations SecretaryGeneral as a -member of the Secretariat of the United Nations Committee of Good Offices, and served in that capacity from 28th April to 31st October, 1948, when he left Indonesia for Europe. Certain Netherlands newspapers have alleged that Mr. Timperley wrote a letter to Mr. Hatta in .terms which implied that he was abusing his .position as a member of the staff of an independent United Nations agency. I do not ‘know whether or not Mr. Timperley wrote such a letter. If he did, and if it was dated the 4th November, 1948, it was evidently written after .he had left Indonesia and severed his connexion with the Committee of Good Offices. I .would like -to make it clear that Mr. Timperley ia, of course, not connected in any way with Australia’s representatives on the United Nations Good Offices Committee or with the Australian Government.
DOLLAR Deficits : AGRICULTURAL machinery and MOTOR vehicle8.
– On the 26th May, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) asked me a question in connexion with spare parts for machinery,
Particularly machinery and motor vehicles rom the dollar area. Further to my interim reply on thai date, it is desired to inform the honorable member that it has been the practice since the commencement of the dollar budget to allocate sufficient dollars to cover the reasonable requirements of spare parts for all types of machinery. All reports indicate that the amount of dollars being made available to cover spare parts for agricultural machinery and motor vehicles is sufficient to meet existing demands.
Hydro-electric POWER: Transmission from Tasmania to the Mainland.
y. - On the 31st May, the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Sheehy) asked me whether I had received any information having reference to tho likelihood of electric power being made available to the mainland from the Tasmania hydro-electric scheme. In my interim reply to the honorable member on that date, I referred to certain inquiries which had been made in European countries and promised that the matter would be looked into with a view to finding out whether any concrete suggestions have been made. This matter has been reported on by Mr. James Magee. electrical engineer of the Sydney County Council, who attended an international conference in large electric systems, held in Paris last year, on behalf of the Commonwealth Government. It appears that the technique of transmitting large amounts of power undersea by cable for long distances has not been fully worked out. The cable manufacturers feel confident of doing their part, but apparently the makers of the rectifiers and other terminal equipment are not able, as yet, to match their efforts with large capacity plant. Arrangements have been made for a copy of Mr. Magee’s report to be sent to the honorable member for Boothby by the Department of Post-war Reconstruction.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 June 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1949/19490608_reps_18_202/>.