18th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. J. J. Clark) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for Works and Housing whether, in view of the importance to the Australian Capital Territory of the neighbouring district of Brindabella, New South “Wales, particularly in respect of the agricultural development there, he will approach the New South Wales Government with a view to improving the state of the road at Brindabella to enable farmers there to market their produce, particularly potatoes, at Canberra? I have here a sample of potatoes, showing what can be grown in that area.
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to give information when asking a question.
– Because of the state of the road the producer of these potatoes finds it most difficult to market his products in Canberra.
– Ho could roll into market potatoes such as the honorable member is holding.
– As a part of the road of approach from tha Brindabella district to Canberra is in the Australian Capital Territory I shall discuss the matter insofar as that section of the road is concerned, with my colleague, the Minister for the Interior. Tho remainder of the road is in the State of New South Wales and I shall discuss the question, as -it affects that part of the road, with the New South Wales Minister for Transport to see whether it will be possible to obtain a grant from the special allocation’ of £1,000,000 for country roads so that such fine products as the honorable member has shown to the Honan can be made available to the people of Canberra.
– In directing a question to the Minister for Repatriation I remind the House, by way of explanation, that the Minister informed me in this chamber that he would, not table the report of the special advisory committee on medical services in the Repatriation Department, but last week he tabled, instead, a summary of the recommendations of that committee, the first of which urged the re-organization of the commission’s medical services, including the appointment of a director-general of medical services and the complete administration of the service by that officer. When was that committee set up and when did it present its report to the Government? Why has the Minister taken the unprecedented course of tabling the recommendations of a committee without making available the full text of its report? Did he do so for the same reason as he took action to suppress for some months the report of the No. 1 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, because it contained strictures against the Government which it was not desired should see the light of day, and for the same reason as that for which he forced the alteration of the No. 2 War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal’s report before its presentation to the Parliament?
– I shall reply first to the latter portion of the honorable member’s question.. Since I have been Minister for Repatriation no report presented to me by any tribunal has been suppressed, and I have previously made that fact clear to the House. Within a few days of the receipt by me of the reports of the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals they were presented to the House. Nothing was suppressed. It is clear, therefore, that the honorable member’s question is based on entirely wrong premises. The honorable member asked me when the advisory committee on medical services was established. Whilst I cannot state the exact date, I know that it - was established before I became a’ member of the Government. The report of that committee, which was an entirely departmental document, was presented to me, I should say, about eighteen months ago. In the main, the recommendations contained in that report have been implemented. In the course of his question the honorable member referred to the suggestion that a director-general of repatriation medical services should be appointed. Whilst no position with that designation exists, there is in the department a principal medical officer, whose duties are exactly similar to those that would devolve upon a directorgeneral. Specialists for the treatment of tuberculosis and psychiatric diseases have been appointed, as recommended by the advisory committee, and the medical services have been completely re-organized. 1 repeat that I have not suppressed any document, and the allegations of suppression, which are so frequently made by the honorable member, have no foundation in fact, but are simply the figments of his imagination.
– Arising out of a question asked by the honorable member for Barker yesterday, I direct a question to the Minister for Immigration. Is the Minister aware of the number of languages in which the allegations made by Radio Moscow concerning slave labour in. Australia were broadcast? Will the Minister take steps to ensure that Radio Australia will contradict those allegations in the course of its foreign language services, as well as in its English language services? Can the Minister inform me whether the information on which the allegations made by Radio Moscow was baaed emanated from Tass Newsagency representatives in Australia? If so, can the Minister say whether the representatives of that newsagency communicated in any way with the Department of Immigration for information concerning displaced persons, or whether they visited ;i, displaced persons’ camp? Will the Minister afford facilities to United Nations representatives to visit the displaced persons’ camps? Will the Minister also arrange for displaced persons to be interviewed in their own language and have the interviews broadcast over Radio Australia ?
– I cannot say offhand in how many languages the Moscow radio story was broadcast. I suppose that it was broadcast in as many languages as that network usually employs, because Radio Moscow has been consistently plugging that line, which has been very popular with those who hate the Baltic peoples who have declined to return to live behind the iron curtain. 1 shall endeavour to obtain for the honorable member whatever information is available on that point. For some time past the services of Radio Australia have been engaged in telling the truth about displaced persons in the camps in Australia and the nature of their employment. Broadcasts by Radio Australia concerning displaced persons have been transmitted by beam to all parts of the world in all the foreign languages which the service uses in its transmissions.
– How many languages are used ?
– Approximately half a dozen. We always use English, French, German, and Russian -
– What about Gaelic?
– Gaelic is not used. I share the feelings of the Leader of the Opposition concerning Gaelic, which, in spite of a High Court judgment, ie still a living language-
– Hear, hear !
– The Gaels are with us. We have had no requests from the Tass Newsagency for its representatives to visit displaced persons’ camps. In any case, it would not be of much use for representatives of the agency to visit the camps because they would not tell the truth even if they ascertained it. They have a partisan outlook, and they will carry on their propaganda as vigorously as they can. I do not believe that the story originated from the Tass agency in Australia. It is part of a pattern well known to us for the last twelve months or more. There are representatives of the United Nations in Australia. One is Major-General C. E. M. Lloyd, who represents the International Refugee Organization here. He plays an active part in arranging for the arrivals of displaced persons. ‘He is in the confidence of my department, and we get the greatest possible help from him. Other representatives of the International Refugee Organization, in the persons of Wing Commander Innis and Miss Dorothy Marshall, were in Australia during the past eighteen months.- The
International Refugee Organization is a subsidiary of the United Nations, and it knows all about what is happening in Australia. We are always prepared to provide facilities for those who wish to visit displaced persons’ camps to do so. Indeed, I should be pleased if honorable members from both sides of the House would accept my invitation to visit the camps for themselves, and learn what is the position there. The department is arranging interviews with displaced persons, and the interviews are being recorded. Being a man of justice, with a desire to treat every one fairly, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Melbourne Herald for publishing an article reporting the impressions of some of the displaced persons, whose statements give the lie direct to the Moscow broadcast.
– Has the Prime Minister read reports that the British Ministry of Food has ordered 410,000 cases of salmon from Canada to be paid for in dollars at an estimated cost of 12,000,000 dollars? In view of the Prima Minister’s statement to the House yesterday about the gravity of the dollar shortage, will he re-examine the figures to see how they can be reconciled with a semi-luxury purchase of such magnitude?
– When I was overseas, I had an opportunity to discuss the position regarding the purchase of Canadian salmon by Great Britain. The Canadian Government is troubled about disposing of the salmon. I understand that Britain, because of the dollar shortage, had been ordering salmon from easy currency countries, including Russia, and the Canadians felt very strongly about the loss of the British market. I am not familiar with the transaction mentioned by the Leader of the Australian Country party, but I understand that it represents an attempt by the British Government to preserve the free flow of trade between Canada and the United Kingdom. With a full appreciation of the gravity of the dollar situation, I say to the Leader of the Australian Country party that, however deals of this kind may appear on the surface, they have a purpose behind them in their relation to world trade generally, and to British trade particularly. I assure honorable members that the possibility of bridging the dollar gap is not as favorable to-day as it was six months ago. I hope that honorable members will appreciate the great currency problems that confront the United Kingdom and other sterling countries associated with it. As I have said, all these international deals are part of the plan to ensure n free flow of trade in spite of currency obstructions.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to the establishment of a Dollar Exports Board in the United Kingdom to operate independently of the Government’s dollar drive? Will the Prime Minister consider the establishment in this country of an Australian dollar export promotion group, representing manufacturers, exporters, trade unions, and advertising specialists, to promote a drive for the sale of Australian goods in the United States of America and Canada? Will the right honorable gentleman consider the adoption of a uniform trade mark for Australian export goods, such trade mark to be representative of Australia, and to be carried only by products that conform in quality and packaging to adequate standards ? Will the Prime Minister further consider giving special assistance to such a drive through advertising, the designing of attractive packages, and the provision of facilities for the despatch overseas of specialist salesmen instead of Government trade representatives of the usual type?
– I am aware that in the United Kingdom a Dollar Exports Board, representative of private business interests, has been established for the purpose of furthering the sale of British goods in dollar or hard currency areas. I understand that the board, which has the blessing of the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom, is working closely in conjunction with the Board of Trade. We should be prepared to consider the establishment of a similar board in Australia if the avenue for the export of goods from Australia were wide enough, but most of our exportable products are already pledged to certain markets. That remark applies particularly to butter, meat, lead, zinc and, to some degree, to wheat. We could not sell Australian wheat to the United States of America now because that country has ii surplus of wheat. Therefore, if an Australian board similar to that which is now operating in the United Kingdom, were established it would not have a very wide field of activity in which to operate. Great Britain produces a number of articles which could be exported to dollar countries if those countries were prepared to buy them. The opportunities for useful work by an export board in this country would not be in any way comparable with those of the board in the United Kingdom. I shall discuss the honorable gentleman’s suggestion with the Minister for Trade and Customs, who is responsible for export licences, but I believe that, except to a very limited degree, there would not be much opportunity for effective work by an Australian export board. With regard to the introduction of a uniform trade mark, I have always considered that articles exported from this country should bear a mark which would indicate to customers in other countries that the articles are Australian and of a certain quality, but, although the Commonwealth has very wide powers in regard to exports, there ure constitutional difficulties in the way of providing for such a mark. There are good grounds for a close examination to be made of the suggestion contained in the last part of the honorable gentleman’s question, and I shall arrange for it to be considered.
– In view of the impending strike by Australian coal-miners, t ask the Minister for Labour and National Service what steps his department has taken to cope with the great demands that may be placed upon it in the near future?
– Steps have already been taken in anticipation of the great demands that will be made on the officers of the Department of Labour and National Service and the Department of Social Services should the threatened industrial dislocation occur. The two departments are collaborating in their preparations to meet the eventuality, which we all hope will not happen.
– Has the Prime Minister seen the editorial in the Sydney’ Daily Telegraph to-day in which it is stated that the coalowners are also guilty men in the coal crisis because of their failure to take action under the Coal Industry Act to prosecute the officials of the miners federation who are responsible for stoppages and strikes in the industry? Will he give an assurance that, if at any time action is taken that would lead to a general strike, he will back with suitable measures under the existing law, or additional legislation, if that is necessary, steps to. ensure the maintenance of essential services in the interest of the general public?
– I have not seen any newspaper this morning, and I have not heard any wireless news. I understand from the honorable gentleman’s remarks that the newspaper he has mentioned has referred to the fact that, under an order made by the Coal Industry Tribunal, Mr. ‘Gallagher, the coal-owners have the power to issue summonses against officers of the miners* federation. I assume that the newspaper claims that because they have not done so, they are guilty men. I think the owners have shown a great deal of wisdom in the circumstances. I hope that, after reflection, the coal-miners will realize their responsibility to the community and withdraw their threat to strike on Monday. I make no bones about saying that, in the circumstances, the. coal-owners are justified in withholding action. That is, of course, not a matter in which I have been taken into consultation, because it is a matter for the coal-owners themselves to decide. I consulted the Minister for Supply and Fuel this morning about the maintenance of essential services through the provision of additional oil supplies for auxiliary power-producing plants and other measures. Everything possible will be done to maintain essential services, but if the coal-miners carry out their threat economic chaos must result in the community. However, the honorable member can rest assured that we shall leave n» stone unturned in our endeavours to ensure supplies of coal for essential services. I shall defer comment on the other matter which the honorable member has raised.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether it is a fact that the Australian Government has had to meet administration fees and general expenses amounting to £30,596 to pay £47,508 to chemists for alleged free medicine supplied by them during the year ended the 31st May ? Is it a fact that the cost of “ free “ medicine supplied under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme has averaged 6s. 10$d. a prescription? How many prescriptions were presented under the scheme during the period in question? How many of the 6,000 practising doctors in the Commonwealth are cooperating in the scheme? What steps has the Government taken to reduce the present obviously abnormally high cost of the scheme?
– I shall answer the question. I did not see the newspaper report that prescriptions provided under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme had cost an average of 6s. 10½d. each. In any case, that is a completely false presentation of the facts. Apparently certain administrative expenses incurred by the Department of Health have been added to the actual cost of the prescriptions. The result of such a calculation must be a complete falsification, or at least a serious distortion, of the position. I shall provide the honorable member with a statement in answer to his questions, some of which have already been asked in this chamber. I inform him, however, that the cost of free medicine is computed on a fixed scale arranged between the Department of Health and the chemists. A Treasury representative keeps a close watch on the scale, and on the charges that are based upon it. The average cost of prescriptions supplied under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme has not been anything like 6s. 10-Jd. each. Much of the information that the honorable member seeks has already been collected and I shall supply it to him.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation, relates to the crash of a Lodestar aircraft at Bilinga in March of this year, in which 21 lives were lost. Many of the persons who were killed were constituents of mine. A coroner’s inquest in connexion with the . crash was begun at Southport, but, according to newspaper reports, it has been adjourned because Queensland Airlines Limited, the owners of the aircraft, have applied to the Department of Civil Aviation for a copy of the departmental report on the accident. The department has so far refused to supply it to the company. Queensland Airlines Limited is not satisfied that the findings of the departmental experts are necessarily correct, and wishes to examine them. Will the Minister for Civil Aviation say whether this matter has been referred to him? Is a copy of the report to be made available to Queensland Airlines Limited so that the greatest possible light may publicly be shed on this disastrous accident?
– A preliminary report of the findings of the committee of investigation has been supplied to me, but the final report has not yet reached me. When I receive it I shall have it examined-
– The inquest is waiting to proceed.
– The matter of the inquest is entirely apart from the departmental procedure. I was not aware that there had been any adjournment of the inquest, or that Queensland Airlines Limited had made an application such as the honorable member has mentioned. I shall be prepared to give consideration to the application when the circumstances surrounding it are notified to me. As far as I am aware copies of the findings by the departmental investigating committee, which consists of experts, have been supplied to the relatives, or representatives of the relatives, of persons killed in the accident. There has never been any attempt to conceal them. The honorable member knows that the usual procedure is to make a complete investigation at which every person who believes that he can supply evidence about the accident is presented with an opportunity to do so. The members of the committee are technical experts who thoroughly investigate everything connected with any accident. They can bo called as witnesses at the inquest and are always ready to provide evidence. I repeat that I shall have the report examined as soon as it reaches mo nml will then consider the honorable member’s request.
– On the 18th May I asked the Treasurer whether he could inform me when the increased allowances proposed for the wives and children of invalid pensioners would become payable. The right honorable gentleman notified me about a week ago that he hoped that the necessary legislation would be passed through the Parliament so that the payments could be made from the 30th June. I now ask him whether it is possible for the increase of 4s. a week to be made payable from next Thursday by means of a provision in the legislation for retrospective application.
– As the honorable member has said, I informed him in answer to a question that the payments would be made from the date that he has mentioned. It has not been possible yet to secure the passage of all of the legislation which, for various reasons, has to be passed by the end of the month. The bill in question will be introduced as early as possible. The honorable member has asked that the decision regarding the dato of application of the increase be reconsidered. I shall discuss the request with the Minister for Social Services, but 1 say frankly that I cannot see any reason why the decision already made should not stand.
– In view of plans that have been made by the British wool textile industry to establish a development council to promote design, research, and exports, and to act in an advisory capacity to the United Kingdom Government, I ask the Prime Minister whether the Australian Government will recommend to local textile manufacturers tho adoption of a. similar plan. Will the
Government consult with representatives of the Australian textile industry in an endeavour to raise the standard of articles of clothing, particularly men’s clothing, and to ensure that inferior and shoddy goods shall not reach the retail markets?
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture will answer the question.
– I direct the attention of the honorable member to the fact that we have in Australia, 1 think under the administration of the Department of Post-war Reconstruction and with the assistance and co-operation of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, the Australian Wool Board and the joint organization, a body known as the Wool Consultative Council. It deals with the problems of the woollen textile trade generally. I shall be glad to refer the honorable member’s question to the authorities concerned, and ascertain how their programme, which is decided annually, works in with the plans that have been proposed in tho United Kingdom.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Interior. What authority is given to the Western Australian Department of Native Affairs under which it can approve or disallow the marriage of an aboriginal woman and a white man? Will the Minister inquire into the action of this department in connexion with the apparent disallowance of such a marriage in Perth recently ? A report relating to the matter appeared in a Melbourne newspaper last week-end. Will the Minister explain the reason for disallowing the marriage, and for allowing departmental action in that case?
– The honorable member has stated that the marriage of an aboriginal to a white man was disallowed in Perth. The Department of Native Affairs in Western Australia is a State authority and not a Commonwealth authority, but I shall make the necessary inquiries and advise the honorable member of the position.
– In view of the great dissatisfaction that exists in the Northern Territory because of the triple and even quadruple control of various departmental services, will the Prime Minister confer with the Attorney-General with the object of providing means by which the people in the various regions of that vast area may declare themselves on their desire to attach themselves (a) to the State of South Australia in relation to the Alice Springs region, (b) to the State of Queensland in relation to the Barkly Tableland region, and (c) to the State of Western Australia in relation to the Victoria River region. Such a redistribution would leave only the Darwin area under Commonwealth control. If the Prime Minister does not grant that request, will he, until a new northern State is established, again appoint a commission consisting of the heads of various departments, with His Honour the Administrator as chairman, and possessing plenary powers remote from political control and responsible only to the Parliament, so that the Northern Territory may speak with only one voice after departmental officers are instructed, if they are not already aware of the code, on what loyalty to the government in power means?
– I do not intend to give any consideration to a proposal to attach various portions of the Northern Territory to South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. I have not comprehended everything that the honorable member evidently has in mind in making his second proposal, but his. idea appears to me quite impracticable. Many administrative difficulties have arisen in the Northern Territory, but in such a vast area, where people are so widely scattered and have such diverse interests, it is not possible to conduct the work of administration without causing some feelings of dissatisfaction in some quarters. The whole subject of the Northern Territory is now being thoroughly examined, and I hope that there will emerge from that investigation not only improved development of the Northern Territory but also perhaps a better general overall system of administration.
Dispute in Launceston.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service furnish the House with the latest information in relation to the wool and basil workers’ dispute in Launceston, which has gone on for several weeks? What is the outcome of the investigation conducted in Launceston by Conciliation Commissioner Kelly? Will he again visit Launceston for the purpose of making further efforts to settle the dispute?
-It is true that Conciliation Commissioner Kelly visited Launceston and dealt with this matter. He returned to Melbourne and later gave his decision, but it was not accepted by the workers concerned in Launceston. The dispute was originally Australia wide. Mr. Kelly visited Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. In Queensland, there has been complete acceptance of the commissioner’s decision, whilst in Victoria and South Australia a few matters are still unsettled. The parties in Launceston have not yet reached an understanding on all points. Negotiations are proceeding in Melbourne, and if a satisfactory decision can be reached there it will apply to Launceston also. There have been further efforts made in Launceston to settle the dispute there.
– My question relates to the royal commission that is inquiring into Communist activities in Victoria at present. Will the- Prime Minister inform ‘the House whether the Australian Government has made any offer of co-operation to the Victorian Government in the conduct of this investigation? In particular, has the Australian Government offered to make officers of its investigation service available within Victoria to give evidence?
– No offer of assistance has been made by the Australian Government to the Victorian Government with relation to the conduct of the royal commission mentioned. The Premier of Victoria, Mr. Hollway, has sought certain assistance with relation to the. security service. I have forgotten the exact details of his letter. It is a matter for decision by Mr. Justice Reed, DirectorGeneral of Security, whether officers under his jurisdiction should be used. I do not intend to issue a ministerial direction that officers of a service engaged on special work should be made available. I think that that could only destroy, completely, the value of their work. Apart from inquiries into subversive activities and seditious utterances, the officers of the security service are engaged on matters associated with criminal offences. If a request is made for security officers to undertake essential services, the matter will be discussed with the Director-General of Security. As far as I am personally concerned I do not see that there is anything to be gained by permitting officers who are engaged in very careful personal examinations to be put in the witness-box. That would only result in what they are doing becoming general knowledge. Although at the moment I am opposed strongly to doing anything of that kind, I shall discuss it with the Director-General of Security.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the position of the Australian Legation in China? Is it located in the Communistoccupied territory? If so, is it making any arrangements to carry out its functions of making representations to the legitimate Government of China, which we still acknowledge? Are there any Australian interests in the Communist areas of China? Is there any value in maintaining diplomatic representation in China at present?
– A good deal of consideration has been given to the point raised by the honorable member. When the Chinese Communist forces threatened to overrun Nanking, the representatives of the various countries met to discuss the desirability of their staying in Nanking or of moving on to what might be the head-quarters of the Nationalist Government, which kept changing from time to time. I understand that, with the exception of the representatives of the Soviet and the other countries that are behind what is known as the iron curtain, decided that it would be better to remain in Nanking. Those countries include Britain, Australia and the United States of America. Their representatives stayed in Nanking. The decision of our representatives to stay in Nanking was conveyed to me when I was acting for the Minister for External Affairs. Nanking has been overrun by the Communists. So far as I know, the Communists have not interfered at all with our representatives, but they have not been able to make any worthwhile contact with the Nationalist Government to whom they are accredited. Our Chargé d’Affaires in China, Mr. Keith Officer, has flown to one or two other places to ascertain the possibility or value of our continuing to be represented in China. It was suggested that our representatives should follow the Chinese Nationalist Government to its new head-quarters, but it has changed its head-quarters so rapidly that that course was considered to be futile. The Minister for External Affairs andI are considering whether any useful purpose is being served by our representatives in China and whether it would notbe better to withdraw them.
Reports on Items.
– I lay on the table reports of the Tariff Board on the following subjects: -
– I askthe Prime Minister, in the absence of the Minister for External Affairs, whether the Government has any information about the reported intended resignation of Emperor Hirohito when the Japanese peace treaty is signed. Has the Government formed any opinion on the probable effect of such action? In view of press reports emanating from New York that, according to Japanese leaders, the peace treaty may be signed in October, or November of this year, will the Government ascertain from its representatives in Japan whether the United States of America is in fact making preparations for negotiations that are to lead to the signing of the peace treaty? If such negotiationsare planned will the Government ensure that Australia, with Great Britain, shall be adequately consulted before any decisions are reached ?
– The honorable member raises a rather delicate matter when she inquires about the position, temporal or spiritual, of Emperor Hirohito when the peace treaty with Japan has been arranged by the Allied nations. I should be unwise to discuss that matter, because it goes beyond an ordinary question of administration. In reply to the second part of the honorable member’s question, General MacArthur, who is in charge of the occupation forces in Japan, has maintained for the last two years at least that every effort should be made to conclude the peace treaty with Japan as early as possible so that the Japanese may know what their responsibilities are with regard to production and their needs for economic viability. Therefore, we have always pressed for an early conclusion of the peace treaty with Japan. There has been some talk about reparations. On a previous occasion I expressed clearly my views about reparations and I believe that those views are shared by the Government. In reply to the last portion of the honorable member’s question, we shall make every effort to ensure that Australia, which took part in the war in the Pacific, shall have a say in the framing of the peace treaty with Japan. From the information in my possession, I am not optimistic that that treaty will be concluded at such an early date as that mentioned by the honorable member.
Motion (by Mr. Chieley) proposed -
That Government business shall take pre cedence over general business to-morrow.
– The Opposition opposes this motion.
Opposition Members. - Hear, hear!
– I do not propose to take up the time of the House by repeating what I said on the last occasion on which the Prime Minister (Mr.Chifley) submitted a similar motion to the House, but I shall point out that the result of the carrying of this motion will be that in the sessional period, which will last over a period of, at any rate, some weeks more, there can be no debate upon any of the matters listed on the notice-paper under the heading “ General Business “. These matters include four proposals, one of which is a notice of motion regarding the introduction of a private member’s bill to amend the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. That notice of motion stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and was put down by me with the support of every member of the Opposition. There is also another motion on what the Opposition regards as a matter of great urgency, which relates to the position of Mr. Deputy Speaker. That notice of motion has stood on the notice-paper since the end of last year. The whole question to-day is whether the normal rights of private members are to be cut down unnecessarily. They are already being cut down in more ways than one. I say quite frankly, and with all good will, to Ministers, that they are becoming intolerably long-winded when giving answers to questions. The simplest question from this side of the House elicits volumes and volumes of words and propaganda. As a matter of fact two or three Ministers are suffering acutely from psittacosis and ought to get some advice about their ailment. Long-winded answers to questions reduce the number of questions that may be put. But to-day we have a direct attack upon the normal rights of private members. The Opposition is bound to oppose that attack.
– I rise on behalf of my party to concur in the sentiments and protestations expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies). It must be evident to any reasonable person in this chamber how the Opposition is being treated in connexion with important motions that have not only been placed on the notice-paper but have been allowed to remain there unresolved for a long time. It surely must be agreed that the motion standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition is of paramountimportance particularly in view of Australia’s present industrial position. Had that notice of motion been properly debated at the appropriate time and under the conditions that then existed, I venture to say that the Government would have been assisted and not retarded in the proper handling of the industrial situation as we now find it and as it will be in the future. One has only to examine the facts concerning the vote that was taken recently among the miners on the question of a nation-wide stoppage to realize that not all those entitled to vote actually voted on this very important issue. Only a fraction of them voted, whereas, had legislation been enacted-
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman is not entitled to discuss any matter other than the motion before the House.
– Had that notice of motion been dealt with the position would have been different. I object, on behalf of my party, to the constant curtailment of the rights and privileges of members on this side of the House, who form His Majesty’s Opposition in this Parliament.
– I have spoken on other occasions on motions similar to the one now before the House. I never seem to be able to approach the subject of interference with the rights of private members without developing a certain amount of heat. It seems to me that the motion moved by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) is similar to the pattern that has been followed by all totalitarian governments in an attempt to destroy the rights of private members and the democratic institutions in which members of Parliament represent the views of the people. Reference has already been made in thi3 debate to certain votes that were taken on the coal-fields, and it has been pointed out that numbers of unionists who are entitled to vote have refrained from doing fo because of intimidation-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is not entitled to continue in that strain.
– Some miners areafraid to cast an open vote and the noticeof motion put down by the Leader of the Opposition relative to trade union ballots is designed to give them a free-
– Order ! T do not desire to stop the honorable member from speaking, but he knows that the present debate refers only to the postponement of certain business, and that he is not entitled to discuss any matter on the notice-paper.
– Very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Then I shall read out the matters on the notice-paper which the Opposition desires to dispose of. One is the notice of motion headed “ Objection to Deputy Speaker’s ruling”, which has been on the notice-paper for some time. That is a notice of motion put down by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) and is not so important as the notice of motion by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), although it will have a far-reaching effect. There is also the notice of motion by the Leader of the Opposition which reads -
That he have leave to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904-1948.
That notice of motion is known to the general public to involve the conveying of certain directions to the Government so that the Government will be able to control the business of trade unions in a proper way. Then we have the Orders of the Day which automatically come under “Government Business “ and which show at present “ Initiative, Referendum and Recall “, which relates *to a debate that was initiated on a motion moved by the honorable member for Bourke (Mrs. Blackburn) and that has already been partly disposed of. Then there is an item which reads -
– Want of Confidence Motion - Resumption of debate [Mr. Dedman) upon the following motion of Mr. Harrison: - That this House has no further confidence in Mr. Deputy Speaker on the grounds -
That notice of motion is couched in terms that must wring Mr. Deputy Speaker’s heart every time he picks up the noticepaper. The private members of this House who placed these matters on the notice-paper considered them important and desire that they shall be discussed. But the Prime Minister thinks so little of the affairs of trade union members that he has refused to allow the notice of motion by the Leader of the Opposition to be discussed. He says, in effect, to trade unionists, “ I shall not permit you to be allowed the privilege of the secret ballot in union votes”. Regarding Mr. Deputy Speaker he says, in effect, “I think so little of Mr. Deputy Speaker that I shall not allow a notice of motion regarding him to be debated or even expunged from the notice-paper “.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is not entitled to discuss a matter on the notice-paper.
– The Prime Minister then says, in effect, to private members of this House, “ I hold you in such contempt that I shall deny you an opportunity to bring before the House proposals which you believe may benefit the people whom you represent “. In short, the Prime Minister says, in effect. “ I propose by my action to destroy any value you may have as private members of this House, to show a complete contempt for parliamentary procedure and to refuse to allow private members any privileges whatever “.
– The Standing Orders of this House were promulgated in 1901. Those who were responsible for drawing them up made a provision which is contained in Standing Order 241, which reads in part -
Except that while the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means are open, the first Order of the Day on every third Thursday shall be either Supply or Ways and Means, and that on that Order of the Day being read the question shall be proposed “ That the Speaker do now leave the Chair,” to which question any Member shall be at liberty to address the House, or move any amendment thereon.
That is the privilege that is to be taken away by the action of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) in moving the motion that we are discussing.
– The motion now before the Chair does not deal with that matter, which may, of course, arise to-morrow.
– Honorable members who address the House to-day are obliged to confine their remarks to such matters as the Government chooses to permit them to discuss. However, the Standing Orders provide that on one day in the month honorable members may address the House on any matters which they consider should be discussed. The Prime Minister, by his action, proposes to deprive honorable members of their right to discuss matters other than those which are brought before the House by the Government. In the course of the reply which the right honorable gentleman will probably make he will almost certainly contend that during the recent debate on Supply honorable members were given an adequate opportunity to criticize the Administration and to ventilate grievances. He will doubtless offer that as his excuse for attempting to prevent discussion of general business tomorrow. However, I remind him that while theSupply Bill was being discussed the “ guillotine “ was used to curtail the debate. The consequence was that the proposed votes for certain departments, which honorable members intended to discuss and to criticize, were formally approved without debate at all.When a government runs for cover and attempts to stifle criticism of itself, it does not do so without reason. In this instance, the reason for the Government’s attitude is that it is determined at all costs to avoid discussion of the motion in the name of the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), who is also the Leader of the Opposition, concerning the introduction of the secret ballot in industrial disputes. Undoubtedly, that is the reason why the
Prime Minister has adapted this attitude
– The House will have full opportunity to discuss the arbitration matters later on.
– Although the Prime Minister has just said that we shall have a full opportunity later to discuss matters connected with industrial arbitration, we know from our experience th at, somehow, that opportunity never comes. If, by some chance, an opportunity does present itself for the ventilation of grievances, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), or the Government Whip (Mr. Fuller), moves in quietly, at a whisper from the Prime Minister, and moves the gag, thereby preventing any further discussion. A notice of motion in my name has been standing on the notice-paper since the 3rd March, and although it should have been discussed during the first “Grievance Day” thereafter, discussion of it has been sidetracked on every occasion. On each occasion the Prime Minister has simply moved : “ That Government business shall take precedence over general business tomorrow “, and his majority have carried the motion. Of course, that is nothing more than a subterfuge. The Prime Minister is conducting the business of the Parliament in a manner that was never contemplated by the framers of the Standing Orders. Whilst on this occasion he may achieve his immediate objective of preventing discussion of the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), he will not deceive- the people of Australia by running away from the fight.
.- I support the protest that has been made by members of the Opposition against the Government’s proposal. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and his Ministers are conducting the business of the House in an absolutely ruthless fashion, and it is rapidly losing its character as a deliberative assembly. Notice of intention to initiate discussion on a most important matter was given by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), who is also the Leader of the Opposition, some little time ago, but the Prime
Minister simply brushes aside the rights of the Opposition, and, indeed, of the Parliament. Does not the right honorable gentleman realize that some of the landmarks in our social progress are the result of bills introduced by private members? I remind him that the abolition of slavery and the promotion of the safety of human life at sea by the introduction of the Plimsoll mark are directly attributable to the introduction of bills by private members. The unfortunate fact is that Labour members of the Parliament look upon themselves merely as delegates of the trades halls and of powerful groups, which they dare not oppose. That is the reason for the cavalier treatment given to the Opposition by members and supporters of the Government. Caucus decisions, which are made by Labour members off-stage, are ruthlessly implemented in this chamber. We are told bluntly that no amendment will be entertained to a particular measure; that urgency demands the introduction of the “ guillotine “ ; and that the Government is justified in resorting to all kinds of obstructive tactics. When the House met this morning, I wanted to ask a Minister a question concerning a matter that is most important to certain widows and children-
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the motion now before the Chair.
– Unfortunately, I cannot obtain an explanation from the Minister concerned, because it takes months for him to answer correspondence. One would imagine that the Parliament was the appropriate place for me to mention such a matter, but, in common with other members of the Opposition, I shall be prevented, because of .the Government’s attitude, from raising it in the House tomorrow. The right of private members to ventilate the grievances of their constituents is being ruthlessly curtailed. Of course, I realize that the sands of time are running out for the Government^ and that fortunately the present blot upon the administrative record of this country will be erased before long by a general election. I join with the
Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and other members of the Opposition in objecting as strenuously as possible to the curtailment of the debate.
Motion (by Mr. Scully) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. j. j. Clark.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That Government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. j. j. Clark.)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1947, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report, viz.: - The erection of a laboratory building at Geelong, Victoria, for wool textile research.
This project was initiated by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to provide special facilities for the study and development of the various processes involved in the conversion of raw wool into finished fabrics. The initial proposal, which is the subject of this motion, covers the erection of a single-storey building giving a floor area of approximately 19,000 square feet. It will form the nucleous of a group which will ultimately become an important centre of science and technology for the wool industry. The building will have brick external walls, concrete floors, and internal partitions generally of timber and glass. The sawtooth roof framing will be of timber, covered with asbestos cement. The estimated cost of the project is £68,500, inclusive of £6,500 for air conditioning plant in the constant temperature and humidity room. Sketch plans of the proposal are tabled herewith.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 19th May (vide page 93), on motion by Mr. Lemmon -
That the bill bo now read a second time.
.- The purpose of thi3 bill is to increase the advance on war service homes on mortgage from £1,500 to £2,000, and on contracts of sale from £1,750 to £2,000. The measure also provides that, where circumstances warrant it, the amount to be deposited by the purchaser may, at the discretion of the director, be reduced or waived. Any action that will hasten the building of homes for ex-servicemen is welcomed by the Opposition, and to the extent that this bill will have the effect of providing more homes, we approve it. We hope that it will be helpful. However, it is- not enough that housing loans be increased. On a bigger loan, the purchaser has eventually to find more money in interest and repayments, and, in most instances, it will take him the rest of his life to buy his home. I do not blame the Government entirely for that. It is a trend of the times that people must buy houses at inflated prices. To-day, one has to pay £2,000 for a house which, a few years ago, could have been bought for £600 or £700. An effort should be made to reduce the cost of building so that home purchasers may be able to retain their equity in the property. If there should be an economic recession, with a decline in property values, the equity of purchasers in their homes tends to disappear, and it could well be that a man, after having paid interest and purchase instalments for a number of years, would find himself bereft of any equity in his home. In the interest of democracy it is good to see so many men eager to own their homes. I do not wish to interpose political comment at this juncture, but this desire amongst exservicemen is in contradistinction to the outlook of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), who, at one time, made the unfortunate utterance - I am sure that he would prefer it to be forgotten - that he did not believe in a nation of “ little capitalists “. Ex-servicemen-, who own their own homes are “ littlecapitalists “. The fact that they want to own a home in the land that they fought for, is to their credit and to the advantage of the economic stability of their country. Unfortunately, with building prices at their present level, home purchases will have to pay for many years- before they discharge their loan obligations. In addition, of course, they will have to meet depreciation and maintenance costs. The deposit required ranges from 5 per cent., increasing by 1 per cent, for each £50 of extra loan, to a maximum of 10 per cent. In special circumstances, the limit can be waived. Interest is payable at the rate of 3f per cent. That is not a low figure, although admittedly ten years ago interest rates were higher. The Auditor-General has drawn attention to the fact that the Government is charging 3f per cent, interest. At page 138 of his most recent report he states -
In previous years, in arriving at the results of the -war service homes operations, the profit and loss account was debited with administrative expenditure and also interest on Treasury Account calculated at 3£ per cent, on the net expenditure (including administrative expenditure). The account was credited with interest earned, the rate applicable to eligible applicants being 3J per cent.
So, there has not been any reduction of the interest rate over recent years. The purchase of a war service home is a considerable responsibility. I know that the Minister will agree, as his predecessors have done, that ex-servicemen have played their part to the full, and have done their best, even in the most adverse circumstances, to keep up their payments. I shall make some suggestions which, I consider, would permit war service homes to be cheapened, not in quality, but in price. I have mentioned many times the incidence of the sales tax on building materials and I need not labour that point now. Only recently in a debate in this chamber, the Opposition was challenged to specify building items that were still subject to the sales tax. There are some such items, although admittedly they are not numerous. I submit that sales tax should not be payable on any building materials. It is a turn-over tax and an inflationary imposition that increases prices. It is an unseen tax, unlike income tax which can be seen in the assessments issued by the Taxation Branch. Unseen taxes such as the sales- tax and primage duty affect the pocket of every member of the community. They reduce the value of the pay envelope. The sales tax is payable to-day on nails, screws, locksets, cupboard fittings, electric light, hot water, units and other articles of that kind. This may be due to an oversight, but the imposts should be removed immediately. It is true that the tax on those articles may increase the cost of a dwelling by only £10 or £20, but there is no reason why the home builder should bear that additional expense at all. In reply to a question that I asked not long ago, the Prime Minister, or one of his colleagues, admitted that there was a substantial export trade in housing fittings some of which are in short supply. If those articles could be more readily obtained in this country, the completion of dwellings would be expedited, and, as the result of increased building activity, prices generally would fall. I believe too that the price of other building materials such as timber could be reduced. In a communication to me recently, the Builders and Allied Trades Association pointed out that, as most of the lower’ priced houses now sought were of weatherboard construction, something should be done about the duties now levied on imported timber. I am a protectionist and an enthusiastic supporter of Australian “industry, but duties should be fair at all times. Duties were imposed on timber in. more normal times after due consideration by the Tariff Board, and were intended to protect our own hardwood industry, ‘but they have become merely revenue-producing imposts. When the duties were imposed, our annual customs revenue was approximately £40,000,000; to-day it is more than £100,000,000, yet many imported goods that are necessities and not luxuries are being inordinately taxed. The matter has never been examined by the Government. Over and over again I have urged that the Tariff Board be asked to review the list of import duties and to select items, particularly building materials, from which the duties should be lifted temporarily at least. For instance, the tariff schedule provides for the duty-free admission of goods in certain circumstances upon application. The Tariff Board could quickly point to items of this kind. The Builders and Allied Trades Association has informed me that a home in which Baltic timber is required for weatherboard or flooring may cost an extra £60 through the effect of customs duty. The supply of Australian timber to-day is totally inadequate to meet demands and the suspension of duties on imported building timbers would be of substantial assistance to home builders. Of what use is it for the Government to assist ex-servicemen by lending them money to build homes when, at the same time, it is taxing the materials with which those homes are to be built? I believe that although the Government is pushing ahead with its housing programme, it has not examined all aspects of the matter. It must tackle this question of prices. If prices are not reduced many ex-servicemen who seek war service homes to-day will be forced to drop out of the hunt. Many of them have waited for years for houses. During the war, of course, the construction of war service homes was virtually abandoned in favour of more urgent work. In 1942, seven war service homes were built. In 1943, six were built, and in 1.944 none at all. In 1945, eight were built; in 1946, 61 were built; in 1947. 502 were built and in 1948, the total was 5,247. However, there are ‘still many applicants. I do not know the exact figure, but I am sure it is no exaggeration to say that there are thousands of names on the waiting list. If the Government does not take action to bring down prices,, in addition to lending more money, many ex-servicemen will be unable to own their own homes, and may have to pay extortionate rents or live under slum conditions. Nobody wants that to happen, but presentday prices are already beyond the reach of many ex-servicemen. Others who have succeeded in building homes may lose their equity in them should a recession occur. According to the Prime Minister, there are portents of a recession. Some honorable members opposite have referred to the position in the United States of America. I believe that present conditions in that country are an indication, not of a coming depression, but of a return to normality. However, should a recession occur, consider the position of these men! There will be a repetition of the state of affairs that we had in the early 1930’s, when many thousands of ex-servicemen and others could not meet their home-purchase payments, although they made a brave effort to do so. The Scullin Government did not take any action to relieve their plight, but its successor in which the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) was Minister for War Service Homes, held an inquiry to see how the position could be improved. Proposals were made for ‘the reduction of interest. Interest was reduced and a different scale’ of repayments was put into operation. I commend to honorable members the report that was made following a very thorough inquiry by prominent members of the Public Service. Page 3 of the report refers to the reduction of repayment over a period progressively from 9s., to 8s., 7s., and down to 2s. and, in cases of extreme hardship, to nothing at al]. Some men who had undertaken commitments that were too large for them to meet were found other accommodation
– That was during the depression period.
– Yes. I shall not discuss at length the cause of the depression, which was world-wide, but my personal opinion is that it was caused by the tariff policy that the United States of America applied at that time. This policy drew off the world’s gold, but did not bring prosperity. America is now wiser and is lending to and trading with the rest of the world. Australia was one of the -first countries to emerge from the economic depression that hit the world, but during the depression this was a matter of great human interest. Another depression might occur. It is, therefore, unwise for the Government to go on gaily leading more and more money, because ‘ that money will have to be repaid. I sound a warning note. We must reduce prices now so that unnecessary burdens will not be imposed upon the purchasers of war service homes. The war service homes are dealt with by a division of a Commonwealth government department. They have nothing to do with the States and we cannot blame the States for anything that occurs in connexion with them. J pay the division the tribute of saying that it is a very good one. The Director of War Service Homes is an extremely able man of great experience, and he and his officers are courteous public- servants. The division is staffed by ex-servicemen. However, the Government must frame the policy under which it is to operate. If the Government does not act now to reduce the cost of war service homes so that only .the minimum amount of interest will be paid on loans in respect of them, many ex-servicemen will get into difficulties. We do not want that to happen. A man who owns his own home can be a happy citizen, but if he gets into financial difficulties he may become discontented and embittered.
In 1947, the administrative expenses of the division were £125,000, and in 1948 they were £173,000, so that administrative expenditure has increased by £48,000. Although the division is a good and efficient one, if the overhead expenditure on the present number of war service homes is £173,000-
– That is an unfair way in which to put it.
– It would be unfair to divide the administrative expenditure by the number of houses, because the division is doing other work as well. However, even if it were dealing with ten times as many houses as at present, there would be no need for the overhead expenditure to be increased. Therefore, it is for the Government to ensure that the overhead expenditure in respect of each war service home is reduced by ensuring that there is a greater turnover. That problem must be solved. The Government could assist by not engaging in so many public works as it is doing at present. I have protested in this House at the proposed erection of a telephone exchange in Melbourne. I know of the great need for automatic telephone exchanges in Melbourne, because I am connected with the Windsor exchange in that city. It is a manual exchange which is joked about as being inefficient, but the cause of the trouble is insufficient staff. The purchase by the Government of large properties in capital cities and the construction of great public works in Canberra - works which could easily wait until a rainy day - is of less importance than the human problem of making the families of exservicemen contented. The children of many ex-servicemen are being born in slums. I know of many instances of exservicemen - and I am speaking now only of them because this measure relates to war service homes - who have lived since the end of the war in one room with their wives and children. Others ara living with relatives or under very difficult conditions. This problem is one of urgency. The War Service Homes Division has to have branches in all States, and that is one of the reasons why its overhead expenses are high. The Government could help to reduce those expenses in respect of each war service home by postponing some of the public works that are at present in progress and allowing the bricks, cement and timber allotted to them to be used for the erection of war service homes. We know more about how to deal with a depression now than we did in the 1930’s. It is an accepted principle that public works can be used during a recession to provide employment for men who have been thrown out of their normal employment.
The annual report of the War Service Homes Commission for 1947 stresses some of the matters to which I have referred. In order to confirm what I have been saying, I shall read a passage from it. It is as follows : -
Whilst some improvement occurred in the materials supply position, demand remained greatly in excess of supply and contractors were “hampered in completing works due mainly to their inability to readily secure essential items. Rising costs had a serious effect upon the submission of firm tender prices and the completion of proposals within the loan limits of the act.
The small contractors who build war service homes cannot compete with the great contractors who construct large public works. They cannot get the timber and cement that they require. I do not know whether the Government gives priority to the larger contractors, but at any rate it is hard for the small builders who can contract for the construction of only a few houses to compete with them for building materials. In the annual report of the Director of War Service Homes for 1948, the following passage appears: -
The increase in the amount of the loan is approximately equal to the increase in costs, h nd while the net result from the applicant’s point of view is the same, it is evident that if the rising costs had not been offset by the additional amount of the loan, a number would have had to withdraw. Despite the increase in the amount of the loan many applicants are asking for deferment of their applications as they feel that the presentcosts are beyond their means, and that there must be a reduction when materials become more readily available.
That is an exhortation by the director. I do not need to elaborate it further. I hope that what I have said is helpful to the Minister. This is a matter upon which all members of the Parliament should he agreed. They should resolve to do their very best to ensure that ex-servicemen are housed in homes of good quality at reasonable prices Although the bill is only designed to increase the amount of loans that can be made, it will enable more - war service homes to be built. If the problems to which I have referred are not tackled, hundreds of .men will remove their names from the waiting list and others, if conditions worsen, will have the vanishing equity of which I have spoken. To the degree that the bill will help to solve that difficulty - and I think it will do so in some measure - honorable members on this side of the House support it.
.- The Opposition has adopted an attitude of sweet reasonableness in regard to this measure, and therefore there is not much that I need to say about ir. .f agree with many of the conclusions that have been arrived at by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White). I point out, however, that the Opposition has an air of smugness in regard to this matter. In my view, there is nothing that should be given a higher priority than houses for ex-servicemen and their families. What the honorable gentleman has said about the housing position of ex-servicemen is true. The problem is acute. In the past there has been good, bad and indifferent administration in relation to war service homes. But for the difficulties of the post-war years, the record of the War Service Homes Division would have been better than it has been. As the honorable member for Balaclava said, it has been the victim of circumstances. The bill proposes that the amount of an advance be raised to £2,000 for the reasons that have been stated by the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) and enlarged. upon by the honorable member for Balaclava. It is necessary to remind honorable members that the representations for the increase came in the first place, at least in my electorate, from ex-servicemen themselves. Although we regret the necessity for making the purchase of a war service home a dearer proposition, it appears that most of the increased costs of building have come to stay. We may forget our dream about an £800 home. That ideal has gone with the wind, and the Minister has logically acceded to the requests made by exservicemen’s organizations. War service homes generally are splendid houses, built according to a great variety of designs. In spi’te of the effect of interest charges under the long-term repayment plan, the rentals are very reasonable. Honorable members opposite talk glibly now about reducing building costs and interest charges, but they showed very little solid performance in that sphere when their parties were in power. That is why I referred to smugness at the outset of my speech. It is easy for them to talk about what they did in 1921, but the facts are on record. I think that they will agree with me when I say that it is extremely difficult for the War Service Homes Division to get houses built at all to-day. The fact that the existing ceiling value of a war service home is £1,750 proves that it has done its job remarkably well. One of the prime considerations arising from the proposed increase of the maximum permissible advance for a war service home to £2,000 is the effect that the change will have upon rentals. At an interest charge of 3£ per cent, per annum, the cost of an £1,800 home can be paid off by monthly instalments of £6 18s. Id. over 45 years or £6 12s. lid. over “ 50 years. The cost of a £1,900 home can be paid off by monthly instalments of £7 5s. 9d. over 45 years or £7 0s. 4d. over 50 years. The monthly rates for a £2,000 home will be £7 13s. 6d. over 45 years and £7 7s. 9d. a month over 50 years. One might ask whether an ex-serviceman purchasing a home under those conditions will ever become the owner. I remember that hundreds of ex-servicemen vacated war service homes almost en masse when they felt the impact of the depression. As has been pointed out, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), who then administered the War Service Homes Commission, granted concessions to them almost to the point of eliminating repayments altogether. Hansard is full of reports of discussions about the problems of war service homes. The extension of the maximum limit upon grants to £2,000 will help to establish a good group building scheme.
The War Service Homes Division is highly efficient, and T agree with the honorable member for Balaclava that it is most humane and considerate in its treatment of ex-servicemen. The discretionary power granted to the director in relation to the amounts of deposits has been used wisely to help ‘men who have not been able to provide the statutory amount of 10 per cent of the total cost. When a house-hungry ex-serviceman in search of a home for himself and his family lacks the cash deposit required by the law but is potentially able to pay his debt, that discretionary power should be freely exercised. Even when building materials become readily available, , I am sure that the division will Iia ve great difficulty in handling the applications of all the ex-servicemen who will apply for homes. The honorable member for 7;al a.clava referred to the effects upon housing costs of the sales tax on building materials. I dare say that the Minister for Works ‘and Housing will be able to demonstrate in his reply that the incidence of sales tax in relation to the cost of housing is not very severe at present. Many items ‘have been eliminated from sales tax schedules in the past three or four years, and I do not suppose that sales lax now represents more than 1 per cent, of the increase of housing costs. There ure various good reasons why sales tax and primage ave applied to certain building materials.
Very little can be done to counteract increased costs. After examining statistics relating to building costs in various cities, I am amazed to ‘find what figures can do. It is well known that houses are cheap in Western Australia in comparison with houses in other States. Nevertheless, the overall increase of 1’iiilding costs in that State has been 37 per cent., compared with 25 per cent, in New South Wales, where an average house still costs about £500 more than does the same type of house in Western Australia.
– Over what period has that percentage of increase occurred?
– Statistics show -that the average increase of housing costs in Sydney during 1948 was 6 per cent. The increase between March, 1947, and March, 1949, was 25-J- per cent. In Melbourne, the increase during 1948 was 13 per cent., and between March, 1947, and March, 1949, it was 24£ per cent. In Perth during 1948 it was 15-& per cent. In that city, between March, 1947, and March, 1949, it was 31 per cent. Those figures are significant and I suppose, carry some factors of comparison.
Any criticism, of the War Service Homes Division must be considered in the light of the appalling difficulties that it experiences in obtaining the services of contractors. All honorable members appear to bc in agreement on that point. I take great pride in the fact that there are people building houses to-day who are prepared to do their work efficiently and honestly if they can get .supplies of necessary materials. They do not want to gain, the benefits of the black market. They just want to continue with their jobs and build decent houses for the people in return for moderate profits. Therefore, I was perturbed a few months ago when the honorable .member for Wentworth (Mir. Harrison) brought to task a contractor living at Ashbury, in my electorate, who has been building splendid ham.es for the War Service Homes Commission for years. The honorable member apparently received a letter from some disgruntled purchaser of a war service home who wrote harsh things about the contractor. We must do all that we can to encourage contractors to undertake work for the War Service Homes Division, and the attack made upon this man by the honorable member for Wentworth was completely unjustifiable, especially in the light of the builder’s good record. The honorable member read a very humorous story about shelves falling to pieces and a chimney “ going all Disney “, but those allegations were afterwards proved to be entirely wrong. The Minister’s reply on that occasion, which is in Hansard, bears out my remarks. The contractor who had been maligned made representations to the Minister for Works and Housing and to me, and I mention his case in passing. When a. builder is doing a good job, as all the evidence has proved in this case, it is up to us to leave his reputation alone. The only criticism that can arise from this bill is that it is regrettable that homes for ex-servicemen must cost aa much as £2,000. However, nothing oan be done about increased costs under existing conditions. The amendment that the bill proposes has been asked for by exservicemen’s organizations, and, in the circumstances, I give my full support to the measure.
.- I indicate at the outset that I propose to support the .bill, but I do so very reluctantly and only because I believe that it offers the only means by which the Government will be able to provide war service homes under present conditions. The Government claims that it must take a full measure of responsibility for our housing situation. But for its actions in some directions and its inaction in other directions, homes would not be as costly a.». they are to-day. It is only because the interests of ex-servicemen are involved that I am prepared, reluctantly, to support this bill. I believe that as the result of these proposals, more ex-servicemen will get homes, although the costs of those dwellings will be inordinately high. A home that to-day costs £2,000 to build is not better, in my opinion, than a home that was built by former administrations, of course in better days, for £1,000. I am greatly concerned about the rude shock that many ex-servicemen have sustained through their inability to obtain homes. I recall having read many brochures that this Government issued and despatched to Australian servicemen in North Africa and the Pacific theatre of World War II. In those publicity pamphlets, the Government indicated that it had prepared blue prints to provide charming homes in lovely settings for the troops when they returned to civil life. Exservicemen have had a rude awakening from those rosy dreams. Many of them who urgently require homes, are unable to obtain them. Those who are more fortunate than the majority of their fellow ex-servicemen, have had to pay extraordinarily high prices for their homes. The provision of homes for exservicemen should be the Government’s No. 1 priority in building. Indeed, the Government should devote the fullest attention to ensuring that ex-servicemen should get homes at a reasonable cost. There should be intense concentration on that responsibility, and the Department of Works and Housing should accord to the erection of war service homes its No. 1 priority.
I expressed my disapproval some time ago when the War Service Home3 Commission was absorbed by the Department of Works and Housing, and I regard that change as one of the reasons for the existing shortage of war service homes. Other Government departments exert pressure on the Department of Works and Housing to erect great buildings, and the voice of the poor, miserable, tiny organization known as the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Works and Housing is drowned in the lond blast of noise that accompanies the demands of the- larger departments for additional accommodation. I pay a tribute to officials of the War Service Homes Division, who are most sympathetic to the urgent appeals of ex-servicemen for houses, but their tiny section is crowded out by the demands of large Commonwealth departments, so that the programme for housing ex-servicemen is not developing satisfactorily. The Government must accept some of the responsibility for having refused to allow the War Service Homes Division to remain a department in its own right and be a single activity, as it had been since 1920. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) should remodel his department, and give to the War Service Homes Division an opportunity to make its applications for assistance and materials heard. If that wore done, more ex-servicemen would now be living in war service homes, and the dwellings would have been erected at a lower cost than they have been.
I support the proposal to increase from £1,750 to £2,000 the amount that may be advanced on a war service home, because 1 believe that the present programme is the only plan that the Government can evolve under which more exservicemen will get homes. However, at some future date, the costs of the dwellings will need to be reconciled or readjusted. A man who, as the result of his war experiences, is out of step with many things in civil life and earns little more than the basic wage, will be in a hopeless position financially if he is faced with the prospect of purchasing a war service home at a cost of £2,000. However, the present proposal is a transitory one, under which ex-servicemen will receive homes, but, as I have stated, costs will need to be adjusted later.
The high cost of building materials is due partly to strikes and hold-ups in the coal trade, and the iron, steel and transport industries. Unfortunately, the Government has been impotent to prevent those industrial disturbances. At present, the community is threatened with intense hardships because the Governments impotent to settle the industrial problem Stoppages and hold-ups increase the cost of producing building materials, and those higher costs are reflected in the rising cost of home building-
– Order! I ask the honorable member to relate his remarks to the bill.
– This bill is related to the provision of war service homes for exservicemen, and I am indicating that high costs are one of the principal problems of home building. The bill authorizes the increase of the amount that may be advanced on the construction of a war service home. That increase has been made necessary by the higher costs of building materials. I am now explaining the reason for those higher costs. The goslow tactics of many workers in industry is a contributory cause. I hope that the Government will endeavour, before it is too late, to administer this country on sound lines. I object strongly to the higher cost of building. Some of that increase is due directly to the taxes that this Government has placed on building materials. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has already dealt with that aspect, and time does not permit me to discuss the details, and, therefore, T must be satisfied to point out briefly that a number of materials required for home building are still subject to sales tax. The retention of sales tax on such items is futile and foolish. If the Government is really interested, as it professes to be, in housing the people, and particularly ex-servicemen, it should abolish sales tax on building materials and fittings. Recently, the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice) informed me, in reply to a question, that Australia is exporting substantial quantities of building materials. Those exports must stop. In no circumstances should Australia export building materials unless it is for the purpose of meeting an emergency in some of our own territories. We require all our building materials for our own housing programme. The import duties, including primage, which are payable on imported timbers, should have been abolished long ago. The Government could admit those timbers under Customs by-law, and the Tariff Board could be requested to examine, as a matter of urgency, the wisdom of those duties.
The position could be reviewed annually The retention of import duties on timber is undoubtedly a factor that contributes to the high cost of erecting houses. The annual report of the War Service Homes Commissioner makes it perfectly clear that the higher prices that have to be paid for new homes represent exactly the amount of the increased costs that have resulted from maladministration, indifference and inefficiency on the part of the Government. As I have already pointed out, a home that now costs £2,000 to build would have cost only £1,000 before the World War II. The Government has a big responsibility in this matter. It must revise its ideas about war service homes, and concentrate on reducing building costs. During the war, servicemen were led to believe, by the glowing pictures that were presented to them, that after demobilization, they would be able to move into the kind of houses that, in their imaginations, they had always desired to possess. Their imaginations were pleasantly tickled while they were serving in the forces overseas. They had visions of returning to civil life, and living in the homes of their dreams. To-day, many of those men are living under conditions of hardship, because the Government is ‘impotent to deal with the small problem of home building. I support the bill reluctantly, and I do so only because I believe that this is the sole proposal under which the Government will make it possible for more ex-servicemen to obtain homes. However, I emphasize that the costs of the dwellings will need to be adjusted at a later date.
– I am most concerned about the provision that authorizes the increase of the amount that may be advanced on a war service home from £1,750 to £2,000. In my opinion, that will be another nail in the coffin of the ex-serviceman with a family who is in receipt of a small wage. As the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) has said, a worker ‘ earning approximately the basic wage cannot afford to purchase a house that has cost £2,000 to build. In view of the increases of cost from time to time, ultimately that man will not be in a position to secure a home. I appreciate that it is now necesary to increase to £2,000 the amount that may be borrowed, although I do not think that that will help the man on the bottom rung of the ladder very much. At present a deposit of 5 per cent, is required on amounts borrowed up to £1,750, and slightly more for loans of £2,000. Some adjustment will be necessary. In many instances, exservicemen have told me that because they were threatened with eviction they purchased war service homes. The table of repayments of loans for such purchases has been mentioned by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). Those men considered that it was better for them to undertake the purchase of homes because of the present high rents and the difficulty of securing homes. I consider that when the readjustment takes place and the cost of building homes decreases to nearer their value, the government of the day will have to meet the consequential loss. I know that many of the exservicemen purchasing homes to-day are not able to pay substantial deposits. In the majority of instances they pay only the minimum deposit permitted. I consider that when the capital value of those houses recedes, if they can obtain other homes by the payment of rent they will not be willing to continue repayments in addition to keeping the war service houses in good repair. I do not visualize an unmixed blessing to the ex-servicemen. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) contended that there should be first preference for the building of homes for ex-servicemen. I point out that this Government has no say about who shall receive a priority or a permit for a home in South Australia. The exservicemen in that State are allotted homes in order of application. T understand that some time ago the number of allotments to the War Service Homes Division in South Australia was 60 permits a month. That number was increased last year. The State Government determines the priorities and decides how many war service homes shall be erected in that State.
– The Housing Trust gives a very good priority in South Australia.
– The South Australian Government has done a wonderful job in granting priorities to ex-service men. As I have already said, the Australian Government does not determine the number of homes to be built or the preference to ex-servicemen compared with civilians. To assist the exservicemen, particularly those on the lower rung, the group system of housing is the best. The honorable member for Moreton also referred to high costs. Of course we know that the position existing today is very difficult. When I was a member of the Housing Commission many witnesses before that commission said that they wanted the right to plan their own individual homes; they did not want homes planned for them by an authority. The overhead costs to exservicemen purchasing homes through the War Service Homes Division are far greater than those paid by people who secure homes under the Advances for Homes Act from the State bank in South Australia. The charges for supervision and architects’ fees are very much lower under the State administration than under the War Service Homes Division. One of the reasons for that is that under State administration houses are built mainly to a limited’ number of plans. An applicant can choose a plan from those shown to him, and the necessity for architectural supervision is reduced to a minimum. That is not so when an exserviceman chooses his own individual plan in connexion with war service homes, as has mostly been done in the past. In South Australia the War Service Homes Division has purchased from the State Housing Trust quite a number of houses that were built by the trust on the group system. Those houses were subsequently sold to ex-servicemen, who received the benefit of mass production on the multiple contract system that is followed by contractors in that State. Doubtless, the Minister will inform me that his department is building a lot of houses, many of which are allotted to ex-servicemen. From time to time honorable members on both sides of the House have complained about regimentation. However, it must be realized that if the cost of housing is to be reduced and the best results obtained, there must be a certain amount of regimentation in connexion with homebuilding. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has complained that it is not always possible to get materials for home-building. I know that in South Australia individual contractors have complained of their inability to secure materials because the Housing Trust had brought up everything available. The South Australian Housing Trust employs a man who knows the building industry thoroughly to go from warehouse to warehouse, buying for the trust any building materials available. The contractor who builds on the single tender system for ex-servicemen cannot afford to pay a man to watch out continually for materials coming onto the market. In an effort to do the best possible for ex-servicemen, as well as for civilians, it is essential that some of the agencies that can be brought into being for regimentation shall be used. The honorable member for Moreton referred to soldiers who had thought of building their “ dream “ homes when discharged, and that they had expected the Government would help them. If an exserviceman is to obtain a “ dream “ home to-day he will pay dearly for it.
– The State controls all building and does not get assistance from the Commonwealth.
– South Australia does not take any money from the Commonwealth for housing, because it can get it from- the State Savings Bank at a very low rate of interest. It is a business proposition for it to do so. So South Australia is not bound by the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement Act.
– What rate of interest is charged on government-built homes in South Australia?
– I am not sure, because it is only recently that the South Australian Housing Trust has sold houses. Previously they were rented.- If the honorable member is referring to the interest charged on advances by the State Savings Bank, the rate is a little more than the rate charged by the War Service Homes Commission. It is about 4 per cent. I am not arguing about the interest rate, because I believe that ex-servicemen should be given a concessional rate by the Australian Government. My point is that the increase of the advance to £2,000 will not be the .means of one more ex-service man obtaining a home. More exservice.men with means may be able to buy homes, but fewer of those on lower incomes will be able to do so. It is futile to blame any one, least of all the Government, for that. A substantial contribution to the increased cost of housing is made by the fact that contractors add a margin to their estimates of costs to cover unforeseen extra commitments, not only increased wages, which can be directly policed, but also delays in the delivery of materials, which may mean gangs standing idle, or wasting hours travelling from job to job according to where materials are available. I agree with the bill and with the proposed deposit of 5 per cent., which gradually increases as the advance exceeds £1,750. I do so because I realize that, particularly in New South Wales, a house of a decent type cannot be obtained for less than £2,000. So an advance of £2,000 is necessary to meet present-day needs.
– Has the honorable member worked out the weekly payments and the period of repayment?
– The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) gave some of those figures; but, if the honorable member looks at the report of the Commonwealth Housing Commission, he will see that I made a minority report on subsidizing of housing, in which I said that the rate of interest should not exceed 3 per cent., including the charge for administration. I stand by that. In that minority report, I set out tables answering the honorable member’s question. A 50-year term merely gives a person buying the house security of tenure. He will have little opportunity to pay if off, especially in view of the negligible amount that he 1 will pay off the principal in the early years of his occupancy in comparison with the depreciation of the value of the house. I look on 50-yea.r term repayment contracts as another form of rent. It puts the responsibility on the War Service Homes Division, sooner or later, to meet another recession of value of war service homes and to keep the homes in good repair. I do not like the 50-year term, because I do not think it makes for maintenance of the value of homes.
– In what way does the honorable member think a recession of the value of homes will come about?
– Only by a general recession of prices and values everywhere. I support the bill.
Sitting suspended from 12.^5 to 2.W p.m.
– The main provision” of the measure is to increase the maximum advance for the building of a war service home from £1,750 to £2,000. As the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has dealt fully with the bill, I do not intend to speak at length at this juncture. Like other honorable members who have already spoken I regard the measure with mixed feelings. I am glad that the maximum advance to be made available to ex-servicemen is to be increased, but, at the same time, I regret that such an increase has been rendered necessary. It is a practical sign of the times. I urge that greater priority be given to ex-servicemen in the provision of homes. Work on many government buildings now in the course of construction could be deferred and more attention given to the need to provide homes for cx-servicemen.
– Would the honorable member indicate what buildings he has in mind?
– The construction of many government buildings in Canberra could be deferred.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the bill.
– Many exservicemen experience difficulty in taking advantage of the advances that are available to them for the building of homes, and we shall not remove that difficulty merely by increasing the maximum advance. An ex-serviceman can obtain a loan and arrange privately for the construction of a home. However, in country districts private citizens are prepared to make forward payments to contractors who naturally welcome such contracts, whereas under the principal act actual construction must be under way and some progress made in the construction of a home before the contractor becomes entitled to any progress payment. I realize that the Minister is not responsible for that provision. I urge that that position be rectified because many exservicemen find it difficult to obtain the services of contractors, who naturally prefer to operate on the basis of forward payments. That is one reason why in many localities ex-servicemen are unable to get a home built, whereas private citizens appear to have no difficulty in securing the services of contractors. I support the bill. I again express regret that it has become necessary to increase the maximum advance. I sincerely trust that when the measure is implemented the Minister will concentrate on expediting the construction of war service homes.
– I support the bill, which increases the advance available for the building of a war service home from £1,750 to £2,000, and increases the maximum assistance to £1,500 in respect of a mortgage and to £1,750 in respect of a contract of sale. I believe that the War Service Homes Division is doing a very good job. Acting on behalf of many of my constituents’ I have had dealings direct with the division and, invariably, I have found’ its officers most co-operative. A wide variety of plans and building materials is available to exservicemen who wish to build homes. However, like those honorable members who have already spoken in this debate, I note that the measure reflects the rise in building costs which ex-servicemen will have to bear in the future. This proposal indicates clearly that the Government recognizes the effect of the introduction of the 40-hour week in that direction. It is estimated that from that cause alone building costs have risen by 14 per cent. It appears that the War Service Homes Division is somewhat hesitant to push ahead with the construction of homes in rural and semi-rural districts. On the whole, the division has been fairly reasonable but it could show more initiative in its operations in such areas. It should maintain a proper balance between the requirements of urban and rural districts. The provision of adequate houses is one way in which people can be induced to settle on the land. I trust that in the future the division will give more attention to the needs of ex-servicemen in rural districts. The majority of ex-servicemen must rely upon their war gratuity and deferred pay to finance the building of their homes. With the rising cost of living their war gratuities and deferred pay are become appreciably depreciated in value and in that way they are, to some extent and perhaps unavoidably, being penalized. Government action to reduce interest rates would he a practical move toward the alleviation of the problem of ex-servicemen who wish to buy war service homes. I sincerely believe that the present rate of interest on loans for war service homes could be and should be reduced. That would be a very practical way of helping ex-servicemen to obtain homes. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has mentioned the matter of sales tax on building materials. He admitted that that tax is not imposed upon a very wide variety of building materials. Whilst that is correct, I consider that no sales tax should he levied on building materials used for the construction of homes.
I turn now to the matter of the contractors who engage in work for the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Works and Housing. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) advanced a proposition some time ago that all building contractors engaged by the division should be “vetted” by it to ensure that they are financially stable and completely capable of carrying out the work required. I believe that the division ought to have and to exercise that power so as to protect ex-servicemen. I should like the Minister to give some attention to that point and to give me an answer in connexion with iff. I support the bill generally.
.- The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White covered this bill very comprehensively in his speech, hut I should like to add to what he said that I believe, along with the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder), that more attention and energy could be given to the building of homes in country areas. I have noticed when going through country towns that houses are being built around the fringes of such towns. One might gain the impression from that fact that building in rural areas is proceeding apace. But it must he1 remembered that many country towns are no longer country towns as we used to know them. Industries are now located in them, and, as a result, housing requirements in those towns are much greater than they would otherwise have been. Whilst building is proceeding in such towns there is no comparative amount of building going on in the really rural areas. I ask the Minister for Works and1 Housing (Mr. Lemmon) to ensure that more thought will be given to the matter of increasing the rate of home construction in the primary producing areas. I consider that a survey should be made to determine what homes could be built on agricultural holdings so as to meet the’ big demand for houses for workers on farms. Many farmers who desire to employ labour are unable to do so because they cannot provide accommodation for workers. If the Minister extended the activities of his department by turning its attention towards the question of providing housing on agricultural holdings, and proceeded from that point he would achieve two ends - that of providing labour for primary production, and that of keeping people on the land. I ask the Minister whether he could have a survey made of requirements of houses in country areas, particularly in relation, to employment on farms, and also of the requirements in country towns to which secondary industry has extended. I support the bill but I consider that it does not go far enough in that it does not really meet present-day housing requirements. The main point that the bill seems to make is that the cost of building has risen. We all are aware of that. Building costs have risen steeply. The Government has now admitted that there has been an increase of about 14 per cent., which is probably a conservative figure. As the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) has very lightly pointed out, some ex-servicemen, because of high building prices and despite the long overdue increase to be made in. the amount of loans for building war service names, will bc tenants all their lives. Unless an ex-serviceman has the luck to win a large prize in a lottery he will have no chance of ever owning his own .home, and so will be reduced to the state of being a permanent tenant. Will the Minister explain to the House what hope an exserviceman, who has probably spent his deferred pay and war gratuity in paying a. high rent while awaiting the completion of a home for himself, has of paying back a loan of £2,000 in weekly instalments at such a rate that .he will have paid it off in his own lifetime? As the Minister knows, it is the ambition of most people of the British race, and particularly of Australians, to own their own homes. They have a strong, deep feeling in that direction. But if a man is confronted with the thought that it might take him 40 or 50 years to pay off a loan for the building of a home before he actually owns the home, he has received very scurvy treatment. There has been considerable talk about the large number of w.ar service homes that have been built. I realize that there are great difficulties at the present time in connexion with the building of such homes. What are the requirements in that regard? Will the Minister say how many such homes are required, how many applications have been received and how many homes would be required if he adopted a scheme for the building of homes on rural holdings and in country towns ? I believe that the Minister will find, if he examines the position, that there is a very great demand for homes on rural holdings and in country towns. Delay in obtaining his own home is a big factor in the life of any ex-serviceman. Many ex-servicemen use their savings to pay rent while waiting for the completion of their own homes, and, 1 hope, therefore, that the department has some real, concrete plan for speeding up the building of such homes. It might be necessary to vary building priorities so as to achieve that speeding up. It might be necessary to take away priorities from some other department and give them to the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Works and Housing. It is very difficult to ‘allocate priorities, and the Minister has an unenviable job in that respect. I have no doubt that in many instances when a good case for a priority has been advanced he finds other claims that are equally good. I ask him, however, whether he will give the building of war service homes a very high priority, because of the very real need involved. The building of these homes has been promised .to ex-servicemen, and is their right. On a previous occasion the honorable member for Wentworth (Mi’. Harrison) mentioned, as did the honorable member for Franklin a few minutes ago, the question of exservicemen entering into agreements with contractors for the building of homes, and then finding that the homes had not been completed when they should have been. When such instances occur exservicemen incur considerable loss. The contractor rightly pleads that he is unable to obtain the supplies of building material he needs to finish a home in the stipulated time. In many instances that is a legitimate claim on the part of a building contractor. We all know of the difficulties that building contractors face. I suggest, however, that, first of all, every building contractor engaged by the War Service Homes Division should be carefully inspected by it so .that it .may discover whether he is a genuine contractor who intends to do the job or whether he is merely preying on an ex-serviceman and incurring expenses on his behalf without having any real intention to build a home for him. That is the Government’s responsibility. Secondly, I ask the Minister if he will consider the adoption of a plan to overcome the lag in the provision of homes for ex-servicemen. The provision of such homes is an urgent and a real need, and is a problem that the Government should tackle with full vigour. As I have stated, it might be necessary to vary the present priorities in order to deal effectively with the problem. The answer to any possible objection on that score is that the provision of war service homes is a fundamental need to-day.
– I shall discuss this bill largely in relation to the interest charges that are to be imposed in respect of advances of £2,000 to exservicemen for the building of homes. I fully appreciate the necessity for the bill. The maximum loan of £1,750 which, was previously provided was completely inadequate because of rising costs in the building of a war service home an any respectable locality. An increase of the maximum amount of loan was inescapable. I have received a large number of letters from, ex-servicemen’s organizations in New South Wales, particularly the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Alum-en’s Imperial League of Australia, complaining about the interest rate of 3$ per cent. I have made representations to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) for a reduction of the rate. The investigations of buildings costs which I made in Sydney recently showed that they vary between £230 and £250 <a square, and rise even higher, and 1 should be surprised if the cost of building any particular residence was less than £230 a square. Those inquiries convinced me that the absolute minimum cost of erecting a brick residence in any betterclass locality is nearer to £3,000 than to £2,000, so that ex-servicemen are required to provide approximately £1,250 of their own money. That calculation does not, of course, take into consideration the cost of the land. Payment of the interest rate of 3$ per cent, on an advance of £2,000 amounts to £70 annually, or 30s. a week, which is a substantial charge on the ex-serviceman’s equity in his home. Other honorable members who have taken part in the debate have pointed out that unless an ex-serviceman is fortunate enough to receive assistance from some outside source his prospect of ever becoming the owner of his home is extremely remote. I recently directed the attention of the Prime Minister and Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) to the fact that the Commonwealth Bank is holding on behalf of the Government £380,000,000 which has been compulsorily deposited with it by the private trading banks.
-Order! The honorable member is departing from discussion of the bill.
– With respect, I submit that my remarks are relevant to the bill, because discussion of its provisions involves consideration of the rates of interest charged to ex-servicemen who desire to obtain war service homes.. The Government pays only one-half of 1 per cent, interest on the trading banks deposits, which total £3S0,000,000. That is only 10s. per £100. Yet the Government charges ex-servicemen who receive advances from the War Service Homes Division 3$ per cent, interest. Obviously the “ in-between “ costs cannot be so high as to warrant a rate seven and a half times as great as is paid to the trading banks. The apparent injustice of the charges made by the Government has aroused a great deal of feeling amongst ex-servicemen’s organizations, and I suppose that every member of the Parliament who represents a constituency in New South Wales has received a lot of correspondence from them on that point. Since the matter which is of such importance is directly related to the Government’s financial policy, and transcends the administration of the Wai- Service Homes Division, which is vested in the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon), I ask that it be reviewed by the Treasurer and his officials, and that they confer with the Minister for Works and Housing so as to devise some means of remedying this apparent injustice. Unless the costs and charges associated with building war service homes can be reduced no appreciable number of ex-servicemen can become the owners of their homes. While the present rates of interest continue the best that they can hope for is to become tenants in perpetuity of the Government. While the present shortage of housing accommodation continues that is, of course, a privilege.
I recently requested the Minister for Works and Housing to supply me with statistics of the number of applicants for war service homes, the number of homes built and the period for which applicants have to wait, and the Minister courteously supplied that information. The statistics reveal that the delay in many instances extends not merely to months but even to years. I realize that the responsibility for that situation is not, in the main, attributable to the Minister or to the Department of Works and Housing, but has been brought about by a number of matters, such as the nonavailability of labour and material.
Nevertheless, a substantial share of the responsibility must be borne by the Government, which increased very considerably the cost of articles and goods, such as building materials, by sponsoring the reduction of working hours at a time when the country was desperately short of labour. The effect of reducing working hours must have been to discourage people from building houses and to increase very substantially the cost of such houses as are being built. On behalf of exservicemen’s organizations in New South Wales 1 put it plainly and squarely to the Government that further consideration should be given by the Prime Minister, who is also the Treasurer, and the Minister for Works and Housing to reducing the rate of interest charged on war service homes. I am not suggesting that the rate for advances for homes should be reduced to £ per cent., but it is obvious that some more equitable balance could be struck between the rate at which the Government acquires money and the rate at which it advances that money to ex-servicemen. Since the interest which the Government pays to the banks is only from $ to % per cent., depending on whether it borrows the money for a long term or a short term, it should not charge anything like 3£ per cent, interest on the advances which it makes, but should fix the interest rate at not more than from 2 to 3 per cent. For the reasons which I have outlined I am convinced that it is practicable to reduce substantially the present interest rate, and I point out that a reduction of even 1 per cent, would greatly ease the burden that has to be borne by ex-service home-seekers, who have to pay interest on more than £2,000. As I have already pointed out, the amount of the advance does not include the purchase of land for the erection of dwellings. Present costs in New South Wales are such that an ad vance of £2,000 will go only one-half or two-thirds of the way towards acquiring a home. I appreciate the decision made by the Government to increase the amount of the advance made in such cases from £1,750 to £2,000. More than that will be. needed to meet the requirements of those entitled, to homes. It might be said, of course, that in spite of high costs and the. present interest charges, there are ten times as many applicants for homes as can be satisfied. That is no answer, because the housing shortage is so acute that people would be prepared to pay 5 per cent, interest, and to burden themselves with an even greater capital oil ti ay, in order to obtain shelter for their families.
.- I support this bill, which provides for increasing the maximum amount of the loan to ex-servicemen for home building. The increase is necessary, but I cannot help regretting that it should be so. It is unfortunate that ex-servicemen have to borrow so much money in order to get homes. I believe that it ought to be possible to reduce the cost of war service homes, without reducing the area, and I propose to place some suggestions before, the division. It has been proposed that the height of ceilings be reduced to S feet; but I have never favoured that, although leading architects in Adelaide have assured me that the space in a room above the ventilators is merely a pocket for holding hot air. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) suggested that inquiries be made to ascertain whether builders who tendered for war service homes contracts were sufficiently financial to fulfil their obligations. However, in the case of a tradesman with a good reputation in his district, it should not be necessary to make such an inquiry. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) expressed the view that the War Service Homes Division was doing a good job. I know that in South Australia, 85 per cent, of the money advanced to ex-servicemen for home-building or for the purchase of homes is provided through the division. I also join issue with the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), who said that nothing had been done to reduce the interest rate on housing loans. If honorable members will look up the record of a previous speech that I made on this subject they will see that I advocated the reduction of interest rates. I have had experience in. the purchasing of a home under a loan agreement which required the payment of a higher interest rate than that which prevails to-day. Although the rate of interest is lower now than it used to be, the benefit is offset by the higher cost of f on struct! on. Therefore, I believe that we should examine the possibility of reducing interest rates still further.
Some time ago, it was suggested that homes somewhat smaller than the average should be built for war widows, and I should like to know from the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) whether the suggestion has been given effect. Recently, I was approached by the president of a big firm of builders in Adelaide who complained of the difficulty of getting building materials. He said that they were not receiving a fair allocation, and he even suggested that a protest meeting might be held in the Adelaide Town Hall. We know that when the supply of materials is irregular, the cost of building is increased. That matter is, I know, outside the control of the Minister, and I recognize that his department is doing a good job in South Australia. It is a great boon to exservicemen that they are able to use their gratuities as a deposit on war service homes.
– I welcome the bill. Because of the shortage of labour, many applicants for war service homes wish to do their own building; but the regulations provide that they may receive an advance for this purpose only if they are themselves builders by trade. That provision can operate harshly. For instance, a carpenter, even though, not a builder in the recognized sense of the term, might be quite capable of erecting his own home with a little assistance, and under proper supervision; but under the regulations now he could not get an advance. I know many men, carpenters, painters, &c, who are skilled tradesmen, and who are quite prepared to undertake the construction of their own homes. Some of them have the land and the materials, but they are unable to get finance from the War Service Homes Division because they are not classified as builders. I ask the Minister, not necessarily to alter the regulations, but to liberalize their administration to cover the cases I have mentioned.
There is at present a grave shortage of standard building materials, such as bricks, weatherboards and iron, particularly in country districts. Has the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr.
Lemmon) considered the use of alternative materials, such as local stone and pise, which were popular many years ago? I admit that they are not ideal because pise cracks, and the cement gives way in stone buildings, but houses can be constructed of such materials with little skilled labour, and the materials are readily available. Moreover, immigrants skilled in their use are already in Australia. Many stonemasons have arrived from Italy, and from Malta and Ireland have come men accustomed to build in pise. I suggest that the Minister consider my suggestion with a view to adopting it in country areas, to which immigrants, skilled in that kind of construction, might be sent. As a matter of fact, apart from the skilled labour required for the setting out of the foundations and the installation of window and door frames, very little skilled labour is required. I welcome this bill and the proposal to liberalize the provisions of the act relating to the amount of the advances to enable exservicemen to build or purchase homes. I make these suggestions merely to be helpful to the Minister.
.- On the last occasion when a measure of this kind was before the House I raised the subject of interest rates. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) then promised to see whether anything could be done to bring about a reduction of interest rates. Having regard to the heavy increases in the cost of all homebuilding items, the maintenance of the existing interest rate of 3J per cent, means that ex-servicemen purchasing or building homes to-day have to carry an unfair burden. Everybody knows that the costs of all the requirements for home building are increasing daily to an alarming degree. The Government has recognized that fact in the bill now before us by providing for the maximum advance to be increased substantially above that granted twelve months ago. I direct the attention of the Minister to the practice followed in New Zealand. I have been informed that the New Zealand Government issues an interest-free loan to cover the difference between pre-war and present building costs. An ex-serviceman in that dominion whose application for a. war-service home has been delayed, because of various factors that may have arisen since his discharge, is not penalized because of that delay.
– The New Zealand Government writes off the difference between the pre-war and present costs?
– No. The gap between pre-war and present costs is bridged by the grant of an interest-free loan. Should the purchaser of a warservice home sell his property because of his transfer to another place of employment, or for other reasons, the interestfree loan is transferred to the purchaser, if he, too, is an ex-serviceman entitled to the benefits of the war service homes legislation. If, however, the sale is made to a person other than an ex-serviceman, the interest-free loan is withdrawn and the purchaser must pay interest on the full amount. The Minister might give serious consideration to the desirability of amending the law in that direction. If the existing rate of interest is unaltered - and there is no indication that it will be reduced - many ex-servicemen and their families will have to carry a very heavy burden. Some honorable members have suggested that a reduction of the rate of interest by 1 per cent, would be of great assistance. I strongly support that suggestion. I remind the Minister of the practice adopted by the private banks and by government instrumentalities in relation to interest charges on advances granted to their employees. The private banks, which are so strongly condemned by some sections of the people, have evolved a scheme under which advances are made to their officers for homebuilding purposes at the very low rate of 2 per cent. In some instances, a lower rate is fixed. Their regard for their employees is to be commended. Certainly nobody quibbles about it. No financial institution would advance money to its officers at a rate of interest which would not allow it at least to square the ledger if not to obtain some slight profit. Let us consider the practice adopted by the Commonwealth Bank, a government instrumentality which some people call the people’s bank. The Commonwealth Bank advances housing loans to its officers at the very low interest rate of 1 per cent. At times since the initiation of the scheme the rate has been varied, but I understand that it is now 1 per cent.
– Is not the rate 2£ per cent, or 2 j per cent, now?
– No. I was informed by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) only a few months ago that the rate was then 1 per cent. If the Commonwealth Bank can make advances to its employees at such a low rate of interest, why cannot this Government which, I believe, is sincere in its desire to assist ex-servicemen, evolve some scheme which will enable the existing rate of 3f per cent, in relation to advances for war service homes to be reduced? The whole subject of interest rates in relation to advances for the purchase Qf war service homes should be thoroughly investigated. The preservation of the existing rate causes great dissatisfaction among ex-servicemen who know that other persons are obtaining advances for the purchase or building of homes under very much better conditions. I ask the Minister to give this matter serious consideration. I assure him that any reduction of the existing rate will be greatly appreciated by the ex-servicemen concerned. As long as nothing is done the men will continue to have a feeling of frustration for, after having waited so long for their homes they find that, through no fault of their own they have to pay a high rate of interest which is applied to the very much higher costs now prevailing. If the Minister is not in a position to make a statement on this subject offhand, I appeal to him to give serious consideration to the representations that I have made. I go further than have some other honorable members and contend that the interest rate on such advances should be reduced by more than 1 per cent.
– This bill is written proof of the futility of the policy and administration of this Government. It proves that, in the opinion of the Government, building costs have increased by more than 14 per cent, since the legislation was last amended to increase the maximum amount of the advance. To-day we are asked to increase the maximum advance from £1.750 to £2,000. The proposed increase represents one-seventh of the amount of the existing advance. “We are entitled to examine for a few moments the factors which have necessitated this increase. Obviously, we shall be told that there are shortages. Why are there shortages to-day? The first cause of shortages of building materials is the 40-hour week which was sponsored by this Government. The Government cannot escape its responsibility for the introduction of the 40-hour week, which was the most wicked proposal that has ever been sponsored by a government. This Government interfered in the Arbitration Court proceedings and deliberately procured a decision, the result of which automatically increased the cost of every commodity produced in this country. Increased costs are reflected in house rents and in building materials of every kind. The effect of the 40-hour week will continue to be reflected in the cost of all commodities until the silly policy of reducing working hours has been reversed. We may as well look at these things fairly and squarely. We have been told about the wonderful production which is being achieved under the administration of this Government. Figures which were issued by the Associated Chamber of Manufactures this morning show, in a manner which had not previously been brought before my mind, that the output per man-hour in industries in Australia has been rapidly reduced. We all are aware of the effect of dwindling production. Every person in the building trade to whom I have spoken has told me that it is impossible to-day to obtain the same output per man-hour as prevailed in pre-war years. That state of affairs exists in almost every industry. The figures issued by the Associated Chamber of Manufactures show that in 1938-39 every £1 expended on wages yielded production valued at £1 17s. In 1947-48, despite a very great increase of the money value of the output, the return from every £1 expended upon wages had shrunk from £1 17s. to £1 13s. It is obvious to any thinking person that if output per man-hour is reduced and the working week shortened the cost of everything must increase. If a sparrow, a crow or a swallow works upon its nest for only a portion of the time that it previously spent upon it each, day, it cannot build the nest in the sametime as it did previously. That remark applies to all forms of construction,, whether they be of stone, brick or sticks and mud. The number of hours worked in a day cannot be reduced without increasing costs unless the output permanhour is increased.
– The Dedman lyre bird !’
– The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) must behave himself. If he does not, I shall deal with him. He must use parliamentary language.
– Thehonorable gentleman meant “1-y-r-e”… If homes that will be occupied in nearly every instance by men who are on wages cost £2,000, the occupiers can never hopeto pay off the mortgages during their working lifetime. That is the tragedy of the position. The cost of houses is increasing at a rate that is out of proportion to the rate of increase of wages.
I turn now to a matter upon which I am at cross purposes with some other members of the Opposition, that is, the rate of interest on housing loans. I speak as onemember of the House who is a borrower and not a lender. I am not one of those who have an income from vested interests. I say that it is not possible to continue to reduce the rate of interest on housing loans unless we are prepared to extinguish the reward for saving. If the Government were prepared to say that, as amatter of policy, it did not believe in interest being paid upon money deposited in savings banks, borrowers might beable to obtain money at a rate of interest of approximately 2 per cent., provided people were prepared to bank their money and to be paid no interest on it. Three factors are involved in production. The first is labour. Without labour there cannot be production. The second factor is land. Land and labour together may produce certain things. The third factor is capital. The more highly developed a. civilization is the greater is the part that capital plays in production. Each of those factors must have its reward. Labour must be paid wages; otherwise it cannot carry on. Rent must be paid in respect of land, because if it i3 not paid people will not put their land into use. Interest must be paid on capital, because people will not deny themselves something to-day in order to save for the future unless they are going to obtain some reward for their denial. I say, as one who has been an interest payer for a large part of his life, that if a person can borrow money for a house at a rate of interest of 3J per cent., there is nothing wrong with that rate. “What I complain of is the cost of houses. We must face the facts. It is useless to try to surmount an important obstacle by ignoring its existence and saying, “ We may cross the little stream, but we are not going to tackle the Murray because that would mean building a bridge or a boat “. No amount of fooling around with interest rates will get us away from the fact that, because of this Government’s maladministration, the cost of everything has risen to such a degree that it is almost impossible for people to purchase homes. That remark applies with equal force whether the homes are being built by the Australian Government or by the State governments. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) has stated that South Australia is not a party to the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement. I hope that it never will be, because it can do a very much better job itself. South Australia was able to reduce the rate of interest on housing loans to 3% per cent, before the Commonwealth did so, because it has its own savings bank, with deposits amounting to approximately £22,000,000, and it does not have to approach the Commonwealth Bank for money. South Australia has another advantage over other States in that the great bulk of buildings in ‘ the State are made of stone, as the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Sheehy) and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) will readily agree. I regret that there is a tendency in South Australia at present, due to high costs, to build houses of materials other than stone. I consider stone to be the best building material, and in a country like ours we have plenty of it. The Government should ensure that only the best kind of ‘building is erected, and the best kind of building is a durable building. I do not like buildings made of wood, iron or asbestos.
– Does the honorable gentleman want marble buildings?
– There is plenty of marble in South Australia. If the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) goes there, he will find that they will build him anything from a palace to a mausoleum, and build it of marble. The honorable gentleman could have a building of granite, if he desired it, because there is granite in South Australia, too.
– Thu honorable gentleman must confine his remarks to the bill.
– The bill deals with houses. I am sure that the honorable member for Boothby will agree that marble makes one of the best kinds of lime.
Those are the points as I see them. I do not think that any credit is due to the Goverment for introducing this measure. On the contrary, it is to the everlasting discredit of the Government that the cost of houses has reached a point when the maximum advance allowed in respect of war service homes has to be increased by £250. The cost of houses can be reduced only by reversing the ‘present policy of the Government. It cannot be done under the present system. We are not making up the housing lee-way. Let us consider, for instance, steel production in Australia.
-The honorable gentleman is entitled only to discuss the amount of the loans.
– During the last two years steel production has been only 60 per cent, and 59 per cent, respectively, of the figure for 1939.
– That matter is not relevant to the bill.
– The decrease of steel production is one of the reasons for the present housing shortage. For the reasons I have stated I do not give the Government any credit for the introduction of this bill.
.- I. shall take advantage of the motion for the second reading of this hill to make some observations regarding the problems that are involved in the provision of homes for returned servicemen. I am inclined to the belief that the approach of the Government to that matter ha3 been the approach of an institution that finds money for people who want to borrow it. As I see it, the provision of homes for ex-servicemen is a special obligation that we owe to men who served this country during the long war. They left their civilian occupations and associations and, by so doing, deprived themselves of the opportunities to establish themselves in those occupations as they would have had if they had remained in civilian life. I share the view of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) that the root of the trouble that has led to the introduction of this measure is the increased cost of houses; but I do not share his view that, because of that fact, interest rates should not be reduced and that there is merit in charging an exserviceman interest on a housing loan at the rate of 33 per cent, if there is any way by which that rate can be reduced. I have a little knowledge of this subject because many years ago I had direct association with advances on homes. I have said previously, and I repeat it now, that long-term amortization loans can be very serious matters for the individuals who have been financed. I shall take the figures that apply under this bill, and I am sure that the Minister will check me if I make any mistake. I have the table of repayments at 3f per cent, on amounts of £1,800, £1,900 and £2,000 for periods of 45 years and 50 years respectively. It is as follows: -
I mention those figures of weekly repayments, because the average person to whom we should be giving our attention, though not exclusively as a class, is the person who receives wages or salary. He has no material resources of any consequence, and he is constantly faced with the problem of balancing his weekly budget. To-day, no magnificent home can be erected for the expenditure of £1,800. Let us suppose that the purchaser must repay the principal and interest over 45 years.
– The figures that the honorable member has quoted make no allowance for the payment of a deposit.
– That is so. In the average case, the deposit is 5 per cent., but that amount will not make a great deal of difference to my argument. However, to that degree, my figures are subject to correction, but they give the general picture that I am seeking to convey. If the purchaser seeks to disharge his obligation in a period less than 45 years, the amount of the weekly repayment becomes a greater burden upon him. This problem must be examined from the point of view, not of whether the loan is a financial investment for the Government, but of whether it is fair to a man, who has protected his country and has returned to civil life. This problem may be approached in three ways, either separately or by a combination of them. For reasons that I shall give later, I believe, first, that interest rates should be reduced. Alternatively, the Government could adopt the arrangement that has been introduced in New Zealand and to which the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) has referred. In that country an interest-free loan is given, and the amount of it is determined on the basis of a formula, which has relation to the difference between the cost price per square before the outbreak of World War II. compared with present-day costs. However, some other formula might beadopted to suit the position here.
As I have stated, interest rates should be reduced. In addition, sales tax and customs duties on the materials that are used in the construction of homes for ex-servicemen should be completely rebated. Attention should be devoted, to the wisdom of granting progressive reductions of the principal amount that is owed by the ex-serviceman upon his home on the basis of the additions to his family after the loan has been granted. That system has a precedent in other parts of the world. We desire to increase the birth-rate, and above all we should encourage the men who have served this country in war to have families. The devising of such a scheme for reducing the principal that is owed by an exserviceman should not be beyond the wit or competence of any government.
I desire to deal first with interest rates because that approach seems to be one way of meeting the position. I have 11 iven the weekly repayments that would lie required to amortize various loans over periods of 45 and 50 years. However, those figures do not give the whole picture. My experience has shown that when the purchaser of a home encounters ;i period of difficulty caused by sickness or unemployment, his repayments cease, md, to that extent, the amount that is owing increases, and the period of amortization is also extended. The result lias been in some cases that a loan that originally was to have been liquidated in 25 years was not amortized for 30 years, or even longer, because of the normal misfortunes that occur in the life of a family man.
The Government is seeking to assist exservicemen to purchase their homes during this period of high building costs. If wages increase during the major portion of the period of the loan, the burden upon the purchasers shall be reduced. However, that at not likely to occur within the next six or seven years, during which a special hurden will be imposed upon him in the meeting of his obligation. I believe that we shall face a period during which world trade will contract, and that contraction will be reflected in Australia within a reasonably short time. When that occurs, the purchaser, after having contracted to make repayments om the basis of a high level of costs, a high Wei of wages and a period of full employment, may experience a. period of lower wages, some unemployment, or illness that will remove him from the ranks of salary find wage-earners. Having in mind those possibilities, I found it illuminating to turn to certain tables that are contained in the first and second interim reports of the Commonwealth Housing Commission. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson), who was a member of that body, has been good enough to direct my attention to his minority report. I may say, in passing, that I agree generally with his conclusions. The report contains certain figures that are of importance’ to this House. In order that honorable members may see the full picture clearly, I shall give the percentage of the principal that is repaid to the end of each year. The assumed interest rate is 3 per cent. The figures reveal that at the end of the first year, the purchaser has paid off only a fraction of the principal. At the end of each succeeding year, in the course of normal events, the fraction of the principal that is repaid increases. For the purposes of this illustration, I am assuming that ;the purchaser is in constant employment and is able to -make weekly repayments without any default. If the loan is to be amortized over 35 years, the purchaser has repaid, at the end of twenty years, only 44 per cent, of the total principal that is owing. I point out that, at the end of that period, the Commonwealth still has the real security in the property, and, in reality, is still the owner of a major portion of it although throughout the period the purchaser has carried all the risks. He has been obliged to pay the rates, and, under the act, he has had the obligation to keep the property in repair. In addition, he faces in the immediate future a progressive upward thrust of prices, and may suffer all the hardships that result from any depressed conditions in the national economy. However, the figures relating to the amortization of a loan in 40 years will probably give a better picture of the position of the average nian. At the end of twenty years, the purchaser will have repaid only 35 per cent, of the principal, and at the end of 30 years only 62.96 per cent, of it. I merely quote those figures to indicate that the Government, if it has wise and efficient administration, takes no great risk. I concede that there is some risk. The Government may risk loss if the price of building is lower now than it will be in ten or fifteen years, because it will have advanced money worth so much and will have been repaid money worth something less, but that risk has general application. It applies to money invested by the public in government securities.
So it should not be considered as having any special significance. If purchasers of war service homes are to meet their obligations, they must have unbroken employment. On top of that, they have to carry the burden of the cost of repairs and pay the rates upon their land.
– And insurance premiums.
– Yes, they must meet all those charges. The Government is not risking any serious loss if it manages its affairs properly, but a very large percentage of purchasers of war service homes will never own them, except, perhaps, in the declining years of their lives. Any one who sees the realities must come to the conclusion that that does not encourage ex-servicemen to become home-owners. The. Government’s aim should be to make them homeowners within the shortest possible period.
The rate of interest on war service homes should be lower. It should not exceed 3 per cent. Since the Government pays only 3 per cent, interest on its longterm loans, it should not charge exservicemen any more interest on advances to purchase war service homes than it is prepared to pay to investors in its loans. Ex-servicemen have a special right to a concessional interest rate, and if we want to place them in outright possession of their homes within a reasonable period so. that they shall enjoy the benefit of ownership at a fairly early age we must apply an appropriate concessional rate to them.
There is merit in the New Zealand system, which was referred to by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton). Another method by which the Government could ease the burden on purchasers of war service homes is that of subsidizing the interest charge by § per cent, or 1 per cent. That would not involve the Government in the expenditure of money over a long period disproportionate to the needs of the problem. The figures are available in the minority report made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh as a member of the Commonwealth Housing Commission. He reported -
Taking the full amount of loan to each purchaser as £1,000 and the difference in rate of interest paid by the Commonwealth for the money and the rate of interest they receive from the State authority as 1 per cent, per annum the amount of subsidy for each 100,000 homes erected for home purchase would be an average of approximately £(>00,000 per annum for the 25-year period.
I do not think that would be an extravagant sum to be carried in the budget for . the purpose of settling ex-servicemen in their own homes. So there is no reason why the Government should not subsidize the interest paid by purchasers of war service homes. There would have to be a protective clause in each contract similar to the provision in the New Zealand scheme to provide that, if a purchaser of a war service home sold his home to another ex-serviceman, the subsidy would carry on but that, if he sold it to some one who was not an ex-serviceman it would cease. That would be necessary to prevent ex-servicemen from enjoying the benefit of the subsidy and thenmaking a profit on it. If that policy were applied, not only would ex-servicemen be encouraged to own their homes, but, more importantly, we should have a more stable society. The national dividend that we should receive from that would far outweigh the cost of the subsidy.
I come now to the influence on the cost of housing of the sales tax and customs duties on building materials. I concede that if those imposts were removed the total revenue would be proportionately reduced, but that does not cut down the obligation on all political parties to do their utmost to make life easier for the men who served in the war. It seems fantastic that when wu are seeking to reduce the cost of homes, particularly to ex-servicemen, we should charge customs duty on imported building materials. All the added charges on building materials by way of sales tax and customs duty become a part of the total on which percentages are fixed. So some consideration should be given to the removal of taxes on building materials though it is probably true that no such financial benefit to the exserviceman is involved.
I suggest also the adoption of a system of family endowment by which the principal owed by an ex-serviceman on his war service home would be progressively reduced in accordance with the number of children born to him and his wife. Notwithstanding theological objections, birth control is being forced upon people to-day by economic pressure. It can be understood that a young couple faced with the realization that every addition to their family adds to their economic obligations are loath to have families of the size that they might otherwise have. It would be a good thing if my suggestion were carried out by the Government in respect of not only exservicemen but all young married couples. I know from my association with the Homes Advances Department of the Rural Bank of New South “Wales mort than twenty years ago what a burden a young man takes upon his shoulders when he marries and sets out to pay off a home. Time and time again I met men who found themselves unable to meet their obligations because of illness or unemployment and other major and minor tragedies that overtook them. Every financial set-back increased the period in which they had to carry the burden. If the war service homes scheme is to be successful and the unfortunate occurrences after “World War I. are to be avoided, we must reduce the burden on ex-servicemen. I conclude by suggesting to the Minister that, if attention were given to the three matters that I have mentioned, favorable, results would be achieved. Those matters are the reduction of interest rates, with which I ally the interest-free loan, either directly or by means of a subsidy; the abolition of sales tax and customs duties on building materials; and the provision of family endowment. I am not suggesting that the problem is an easy one, but I do suggest that one or more of those methods would encourage men to obtain their own homes and would give them real assistance to do so. Perhaps, also, and this is something that we should never forget, what I have suggested would1 also enable us to take effective steps towards redemption of the promises that we made to the men of the fighting forces during the war.
– A notable feature of this debate has- been the number of reasonable, practical and constructive suggestions that have been contained in speeches by members of the Opposition, who have not availed them selves of the opportunity to attack the Government in any way in connexion with this measure. Instead, there has come from the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton), the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull), and, indeed, from every member of the Opposition who has spoken in this debate, a series of well reasoned, practical and constructive proposals on how the Government could take steps to give better effect to the high objective which is the purpose of all of us. There could be nothing more natural for a grateful country to seek to do than to provide a home for a man who has fought for it. This measure is designed to extend facilities for the provision of homes for men who have fought for theirnative land. The measure proposes to increase the maximum statutory loan available to an ex-serviceman who desires to build a home, from £1,750 to £2,000. The submission of such a proposal to this Parliament might be expected to be animated by a desire to provide a better standard of home. Unhappily, that is not the purpose behind this measure. It has been made quite clear that the purpose behind the measure is not to give ex-servicemen homes that are £250 higher in standard, but merely to catch up, or to take a step towards catching up, with increased building costs. Let us consider for a moment just what this means to the great majority of men who will avail themselves of these building loans. They will use their war gratuities as part payment for homes. An ex-serviceman would need to have enlisted for overseas service very early in the war, and to have remained in active service for the whole .period of hostilities, to be entitled now to a war gratuity amounting to £250. Therefore, many of those men who by their years of service and sacrifice, excluded themselves from the opportunities of civil employment, have become entitled eventually to a war gratuity of £250, only to discover now that under this legislation the Government itself recognizes that, for the same kind of house that it could have provided for them . two years ago, they must now deposit the whole of their war gratuity, which is to go “down the drain “ for nothing. That is the simple, deplorable fact. It is a sad state of affairs. The Parliament ought to determine where the responsibility for the increased cost reposes. It should examine this situation that has developed and that is revealed in this amending legislation, so as to discover where the responsibility lies and whether there is anything that the Government should or could do to meet that situation. In this bill we have an admission that the cost element in the construction of homes has risen by £250 for a standard type of house. “War service homes are no more than standard types of homes. What are the cost elements that have brought that situation about? I should say that no body will be found to dispute the assertion that the greatest cost element contributing to this result is the 40-hour week as against the former standard 44- hour week. I am not permitted to develop that point now, but it is common knowledge that this Government was a supporting party before the Arbitration Court of an application for a reduction in the hours of labour, which was made at a time when any one ought to have known that it would produce the result that it has in fact produced. I say, therefore, that if the Government, as a matter of policy, took the responsibility of choosing that moment to advocate shorter working hours and therefore lower production per capita and higher costs, then it should accept some obligation in a financial form for what has happened. Any man who has had any experience of building in recent times knows that after the shorter working week was introduced the greatest single cost element that has caused increased costs is to be found in the fact that no building contractor to-day can start a job with the presumption that his employees will be able to work continuously, quite irrespective of how hard they work. Every building contractor knows that throughout the work on every job that he undertakes he will be delayed by shortages of materials, and so he must take into account the fact that his men will be idle for various periods. He cannot stand those employees down because, with the present shortage of labour, he could not have any guarantee that he would get them to return to his service. So every building contractor knows that on every job that he undertakes he will be paying his men for doing nothing for part of the time, while he is waiting for some materials to be supplied.
– Building contractors sometimes have half a dozen jobs going at once, and men can be transferred from one job to another.
– That is so, but a contractor may have no tiles to carry on one job while he has plenty of bricks to carry on another job, but the tilers who are held up in their work because of the shortage of tiles cannot be moved to the other job where there are plenty of bricks, because a tiler cannot do a bricklayer’s work. The Government has failed to maintain continuity of production in this country, and so has produced an irregular availability of materials which is an important factor contributing to the necessity for this measure. In spite of this acknowledged upward sweep in the curve of building costs the Government has maintained, in the cost structure of these buildings, some elements which it could remove by a stroke of the pen.
The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) who opened the debate for the Opposition on this measure, enumerated an important category of materials that carry sales tax. It would require only a decision by the Government to-night, and sales tax could be removed from these materials to-morrow. The same thing applies exactly to the unfortunately constantly growing proportion of imported material that is being used in the construction of homes in Australia. The proportion of imported material that is being used for the building of homes, whether it be softwood timber or partitioning material, or even tiles for roofs, is increasing. Many of those items carry customs duty. Some of them do not, but all of them carry primage duty. So here is an opportunity for the Government to do something to offset this intolerable and continuing rise in the cost of home-building. The Government is not short of revenue. It has bloated coffers, and if it wanted to face up to the position it could literally, as I have said, by a stroke of the pen eliminate part of the cost element in the price of homes. As the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) pointed out by inference, if the proportion of the cost of a house represented by customs duty is, for example, £20, it becomes £30 or £40 by the time that it has passed through the various trade channels and had profits added to it at various points. By eliminating customs and primage duties and sales tax which, for the purposes of illustration, might amount to, say, £200,000 a year, the Government would probably save in the cost of building anything up to perhaps £400,000 a year. The Government should take such matters into account.
Finally, there is the element represented by the interest rate that some of my colleagues have referred to. That matter has been dealt with so fully that I do not propose to traverse it again in detail, but I say unhesitatingly that this Government has not shown a willingness to go as far as it might reasonably have gone in the reduction of interest rates charged to those who pay interest to it. It has certainly reduced interest rates to those to whom it pays interest. In some cases the rate it pays has been reduced to microscopic dimensions, but it has not reduced interest rates to those who pay interest on it. I quote, as an example, the interest rate chargeable by the Mortgage Bank Department of the Commonwealth Bank which is from 4 per cent, to 4j per cent. The Credit Foncier section of the State Savings Bank of Victoria, which does identical work, charges 3$ per cent. If that branch of the State Savings Bank of Victoria can carry on its affairs by charging an interest rate of 3$ per cent., why on earth must the Commonwealth Bank, which is an instrument of this Government, charge up to 4J per cent, for the same purpose? The same applies to war service homes construction. The interest rate of 3f per cent, could be shaved. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) said that he had been informed officially by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), in his capacity as Treasurer, that the Commonwealth Bank could lend money to its own employees for home-building purposes for as little as 1 per cent, and they need not be ex-servicemen, either. What justification can there be for the tremendous disparity between the interest rate of 1 per cent, chargeable to employees of the Commonwealth Bank, and the rate of 3f per cent, chargeable to the man who risked his life on active service? If the Government likes to make out a case for charging 3 J per cent., let it do so; but it cannot possibly justify a rate of 1 per cent, for employees of the Commonwealth Bank, and one of. 3 J per cent, for ex-servicemen. There is certainly scope for reviewing the interest rate with a view to reducing it.
I do not believe that every possibility has been explored in order to do a fair thing by ex-servicemen. It would be a reasonable principle to adopt that the obligation which a man assumes in the purchase of a home, after serving his country in war, should be no greater than he can meet by reasonable weekly or monthly payments during his working life. This bill specifically states that the period of amortization for housing loans shall be 50 years, which is a good deal longer than the expected working life of most of the ex-servicemen who will avail themselves of its provision. Is there anything generous in an offer to help the ex-serviceman to build a home in circumstances which we admit at the outset make it impossible for him to pay for it in his working life?
– He will be drawing the old-age pension before he has paid for his home.
– That is so, and his children, I suppose, are expected to take up the torch, and finish paying for the home which this legislation is intended to enable him to build. That is not a reasonable or just proposition, and it would be ridiculous to describe it as generous, as some Government supporters have done. Ex-servicemen who have chosen to go on the land have been treated much more generously. There is written into Commonwealth and State legislation an acknowledgment that we are living in a time of abnormal costs. It is provided that if an individual farm, or an estate for subdivision, is bought for exservicemen there shall be applied to it a formula which takes into consideration a notional value for primary products, and provides for the writing off of so much of the capital value as represents the difference between the productive value and the actual cost of purchase by the Government. If it is fair to apply that principle to land settlement, who shall say that it would not be fair to apply it to war service homes ? It should be recognized that we are, living in a time of inflated housing costs, and that present costs cannot be regarded as normal. However, it would not be fair to ex-servicemen to say that they cannot get homes until costs return to something approaching normal. Therefore, a formula should be worked out for assessing the normal value of a house, no matter what the present cost may be. Under such a formula, it might be found that the normal value of a house, which to-day costs £2,000, is only £1,650, and a generous country might well carry the difference. I put forward the suggestion, not as something unique, but merely as the extension of a principle already recognized by this Parliament and the State Parliaments in connexion with the land settlement of exservicemen who, naturally enough, have chosen to settle on some of the land they fought for. I am not attacking the Government for not having, already applied the principle to war service* homes. and I hope that I shall not be misunderstood. I am merely bringing to the notice of the Government suggestions which, I think, might ‘reasonably ‘be adopted in order to meet a situation which worries every one of us. I do not claim that it worries honorable members on this side of the House more than those on the other side of it. It is proposed in the bill that the amount of the housing loan shall be increased by £250, which is an acknowledgment of the fact that the cost of the average house has increased by at least that much. Thus, the ex-serviceman who pays his war gratuity of £250 as a deposit on a home has, in effect, lost the benefit of his gratuity compared with the man who built his home three or four years ago. We should recognize that we have a responsibility to do something abou the situation and we could begin by remitting sales tax, primage duty and customs duty on building materials. This would automatically write off the trade profit which is superimposed on those charges. We could review interest rates, and consider the possibility of writing down capital values so that the country will bear part of the increased cost which, we have not been able to avoid.
.- We are all concerned over the high cost of building, of which we are aware from our own observations, and from the fact that it is proposed in this bill to increase war service housing loans from £1,750 to £2,000. I do not propose -to go into the reasons for the present high costs. Some of them are due to factors for which the Government must take responsibility, while others are not. The fact remains that high costs are preventing many exservicemen from obtaining homes, because they are reluctant to assume the heavy financial obligation involved. Other exservicemen have already entered into contracts for the building or purchase of homes through the War Service Homes Division, and are pessimistic about the future. The problem is how to reduce costs. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) said the State housing authorities were able to build houses cheaper than could the War Service Homes Division. Perhaps, by making administrative improvements, it would be possible to reduce the cost of building war service homes. I do not know whether the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. lemmon) has gone into that, but I can see no reason why the War Service Homes Division should not be able to build houses as cheaply as can housing authorities in South Australia and other States. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) and other honorable members have suggested that the interest rate on housing loans should be reduced, and perhaps something can be done in that direction. A third way to reduce costs would be for the Government to subsidize building. Already, through the Joint Coal Board, it is subsidizing the building of homes for coalminers. I do not object to that. I believe it is a very good thing. The coal-mining industry is of tremendous importance in the economic life of Australia, and a great deal of our production is dependent, in the last resort, upon the miners.
We should help them, as far as we can, to obtain those amenities which will make life more comfortable for them. The Government through the Joint Coal Board is subsidizing miners’ building co-operative concerns. It pays £10 towards the costs of architects’ fees, and meets the cost of preparation of plans and part of the management expenses. If it is prepared to do that for coal-miners, surely it has greater responsibilities in respect of ex-servicemen. The Government’s promises to ex-servicemen in the past have not been properly fulfilled. The principle of granting assistance to ex-servicemen for the purchase or building of homes should be greatly extended. As a minor point, I suggest that charges imposed by way of customs duty on imported building materials, and by way of excise and sales tax on building materials produced in this country should be greatly reduced. By the adoption of all or a combination of some of the suggestions I have made the Government could reduce home-building costs substantially.
I turn now to my second observation. Whatever one may think about building costs, the fact remains that the number of homes being built to-day is totally inadequate to meet the demands of the people. Everybody knows that to-day thousands of ex-servicemen and their families are living under deplorable conditions. I know of ex-servicemen who, with their wives and two or three children, are living in one room. Recently I had brought to my notice the pathetic case of an ex-serviceman and his wife and family who are living in one room and’ who asked in vain for the allotment of a war service home anywhere in Australia. I have brought his case to the notice of the Minister, who has promised to look into it. Homes cannot be provided for even the most deserving people. We must undertake a programme for the rapid construction of a great number of homes. Why are homes not being built quickly? The reason is obvious. In the first place, it is because of the shortage of building operatives, and., secondly, because of the great scarcity of building materials of all kinds. Recently I asked whether the Government obtained priority in the allot ment of building material. I was informed that in that respect the Government was on an equal footing with everybody else. If that is so, war service homes are placed on the same basis as post offices and other government buildings which are not so urgently required. As a first step, the Minister should endeavour to obtain from the States a first priority right for the supply of the material required for the construction of war service homes. Our first requirement in this country is housing for the people, and, above all, for ex-servicemen. If the Minister approached the States on this matter the requisite supplies of iron, timber, plumbing fittings, nails and other builders’ requisites would be made available to enable the construction of war service homes to proceed without delay. An agreement should be made with the States to provide such materials as a matter of the greatest urgency. The Government should then put its administrative machinery into operation and concentrate on getting homes built quickly. Such a policy would meet with the approval of not only members of this House but also the community in general, and of exservicemen in particular.
– in re-ply - This debate has been outstanding because of the number of suggestions that have been made by honorable members opposite to meet a problem which has arisen as a result of the war. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) has asked why houses are not being built in Australia. That they arc being built is shown by the following figures relating to construction of homes throughout Australia during the period 1935-39: -
It will be observed that there was a big drop in the year following the entry of
Japan into the war. The figures for the later years are -
These figures clearly indicate the steady increase that has taken place in the building of homes throughout Australia since the war years. The number of homes built in 1946, the first year after the war, will be more than doubled this year. These figures are a complete answer to the contention of the honorable member for Flinders that we are not building houses. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) was the only honorable member opposite who took the opportunity afforded by this debate to criticize the administration of the Department of Works and Housing. He said that he had opposed the re-organization of the war service homes administration and its transfer to the control of the Department of Works and Housing, and that as the result of the change there had been a lag in home construction. Let us examine the facts. In the last year of the operation of the War Service Homes Commission, 109 homes were constructed.
– In what year was that ?
– In 1945. In 1946 although 25,000 homes were constructed throughout the Commonwealth the contribution made by the War Service Homes Commission was only 109 houses. In the same year the commission arranged for the purchase of or the discharge of mortgages on 311 existing homes, so that its total contribution towards the housing of ex-servicemen in that year was 420 homes. In the following year when the war service homes administration was transferred to the Department of Works and Housing the number of war service homes constructed increased to 502,. and the number of homes purchased increased to 1,761, or from a total of 420 to one of 2,263. In 1947-48 the momentum was continued, the number of homes constructed and purchased increasing to 3,677. In the first ten months of 1948-49 the total number increased to 5,204.
– The Minister is referring not to new homes but to the total number of homes both purchased and built.
– That is so! In 1946 the total number of houses constructed throughout the Commonwealth was 25,000. For the first ten months of 1948-49 the number increased to 50,000. Thus, an increase of 100 per cent, has been achieved in general home construction throughout Australia. The construction of war service homes has risen from a total of 109 in the last year of the administration of the War Service Homes Commission to 2,080 for the first ten months of 1948-49. The increase in the construction or purchase of war service homes has been proportionate to the increase in general home construction throughout Australia.
– The Minister’s report, states that only 1,237 war service homes have been constructed.
– The report for the first ten months of this financial year shows that the number of houses built under group and individual construction totalled 2,080. In addition, 3,124 homes were purchased by comparison with 311 in the last year of the administration of the War Service Homes Commission.
– I rise to order.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Sheehy). - No point of order is involved.
– Under the Standing Orders when any member objects to words used in debate and desires them to be taken down, Mr. Speaker must direct them to be taken down by the Clerk. I ask that the figures cited by the Minister be taken down by the Clerk.
– Order ! The honorable member has not made a point of order.
– The figures in the published report-
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– From the 1st July, 1948, to the 31st May, 1949, 188 war service homes were constructed under group construction schemes and 1,892 were constructed individually and, in addition, 3,124 existing homes were purchased. Thus, for the ten months ended the 31st May, 1949, the total number of war service homes provided was 5,204. By comparison, in the last twelve months of the operation of the War Service Homes Commission, the number was 420. In spite of these figures the honorable member for Moreton has condemned the action of the Government in transferring the administration of war service homes from the commission to my department. The figures which I have cited prove beyond doubt the falsity of the honorable member’s contention that no benefit has resulted from the change. Let us examine the record of war service homes construction during the period when the honorable gentleman was himself Minister in charge of War Service Homes. During the whole of his period of office not one war service home was constructed. The honorable member may contend that no applications were submitted for homes during that period. The fact is that in the pre-war period up to the 30th June, 1938, the War Service Homes Commission still had on its books 479 outstanding applications from ex-servicemen who had served in the 1914-.1S war. That was the position at the end of the financial year 1937-38. During that year, although there were thousands of Australian tradesmen walking the streets and 479 exservicemen who had served in the 1914-1S War were waiting for war service homes, only 21 war service homes were built. In the following year, when there were 474 outstanding applications, a better effort was made and 37 war service homes were built.
Mr. Francis interjecting,
– Those facts are rather unpalatable to the honorable member for Moreton, who has stated that the transfer of the War Service Homes Commission to the Department of Works and Housing has not been a success. The figures that I have given will stand any analysis. They prove conclusively that during the last twelve months the number of war service homes built under the group construction and individual construction schemes is greater than the number that has been built in any year since the War Service Homes Act was passed.
The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Sheehy) has asked what action has been taken in regard to widows who are eligible for assistance under the War Services Homes Act. We contacted all widows who had applied for war service homes and asked them if they wanted small houses. The great majority of them said that they did not want single bedroom homes. .Soma of them had children and others desired to take in boarders. All the widows who had made application for war service homes at that time were taken out of the general pool and given special treatment in regard to construction. We were able to do that because there was not an enormous number of them.
The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) has made two practical suggestions. He has suggested that if an applicant for a war service home is a tradesman, or has tradesmen friends who are prepared to build a home for him the necessary finance should be made available. That policy is being applied at the present time. If an ex-serviceman can produce evidence that he, or a friend who has had some training as a tradesman, is able to proceed with the construction of a home, finance is made available to him. The honorable gentleman has also referred to stone and pise construction. We are prepared to finance houses that are built by those methods, provided that the quality of the work is reasonable and is approved by our architects. Those methods of construction apply only to the building of the walls of a house, and the walls are not the most expensive items in house construction. The greater proportion of the cost of a house is attributable to the work that has to be done after the foundations have been laid and the walls erected. We accept those two methods of construction, but they do not have a considerable effect upon the capital cost of a home, for the reason that I have given.
The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has stated that the Government takes money from the private banks, upon which it pays interest at the rate of one-half of 1 per cent., and lends it to (returned servicemen at an interest rate of 34 per cent. Nothing is further from the truth than that. I believe that when the honorable gentleman made that statement he knew perfectly well that he was not telling the truth. He knows that the money belonging to the private banks that is held by the Commonwealth Bank and on which interest is paid at the rate of -£ per cent, is not money that can be used by the Government. He also knows that, as the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has pointed out, the money with which the purchase of war service homes is financed is borrowed from the people who subscribe to Commonwealth loans.
The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) referred to the construction of war service homes in country areas. I assure the honorable gentleman that the War Service Homes Division at all times endeavours to assist returned servicemen who wish to build houses in country areas. It is, however, very difficult to obtain the services of building contractors in such areas. If the War Service Homes Division or ex-servicemen living in the country can engage the services of a building contractor to construct war service homes in country districts, country ex-servicemen are treated just as well as are ex-servicemen who live in the cities. In an endeavour to remove some of the difficulties that are encountered by country ex-servicemen, approximately twelve months ago we prepared booklets containing plans of houses. A .booklet was prepared for each State, because of the difference in climatic conditions in the States. Each booklet contained approximately 30 plans of two and three bedroom houses. The booklets were sent to country applicants so that they could choose the house that they preferred. Working drawings for each plan are available. That has been done in order to give country applicants a service equal to that which is enjoyed by applicants who live in cities.
At the time when it was proposed that the War Service Homes Commission should become a division of the Department of Works and Housing I made a close examination of the New Zealand War Service Homes legislation. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Hamilton) and the honorable member for Warringah have pointed out that, under the New Zealand legislation, if the actual capital cost of a war service home exceeds what may be regarded as a reasonable capital cost, the excess amount is not subject to interest, except if the house is resold. I point out that before an exserviceman can become the owner of the home he must repay that excess sum. I agree that he does not have to pay interest on it. That is almost the only advantage that the New Zealand legislation has over the Australian legislation. I have no hesitation in saying that any one who studies both acts will come to the conclusion that the Australian act is more beneficial than the New Zealand act to ex-servicemen. Under the Australian legislation, once a returned serviceman has gone into a war service home, he will never be without shelter and can never lose his home if he plays the game. It has been proved that men who fought in the 1914-18 war, although many of them for years after the war showed no evidence that their service had adversely affected their physical condition, have, on the average, not lived for as long as men who did not serve in that war. Many of those men “ went over the range “ after having lived in a war service home for only a few years. Their widows have the benefit of the provisions of what is known as the widows’ relief section of the act. For years, many of those widows have not paid more than 3s. or 5s. a week in rent for a two or three bedroom war service home.
– That was an amendment for which I was responsible.
– If the honorable gentleman was responsible for it, I compliment him upon it. It is a very valuable contribution to the welfare of widows of ex-servicemen. It costs the community a considerable sum of money each year but the benefit that the widows receive is, in effect, a repatriation benefit. There are no similar provisions in the New Zealand act. That is only one of the main differences between the Australian act and the New Zealand act.
I suggest that the effect of sales tax and import duty upon the cost of houses has been over-emphasized. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has stated that the operation of those charges increases the cost of a house by £60. That would be so only if all the timber used in the construction of a house was imported timber, and even then I doubt whether the extra cost would be £60.
– My authority for that statement comes from a building trades organization.
– I have read many of those stories. A large proportion of them are very good bedtime stories. I defy any one to challenge my statement that the import duty on timber would not increase the cost of a normal home built under the War Service Homes Act by more than £10. In the great majority of those houses hardly any imported timber is used. In Western Australia, hardly one stick of imported timber is used in war service homes. The same is true of Tasmania and Queensland. In South Australia a fairly large proportion of imported timber is used. I say that for the whole of Australia the import duty on timber would not increase the cost of a war service home by more than £10. No article that is used only in house construction is subject to sales tax.
– What about nails and screws ?
– The articles used in building that are subject to sales tax are also used for other purposes. It is true that nails, screws and electric stoves are subject to sales tax, but the stoves that are built into houses are not. I challenge any honorable gentleman opposite to deny that, on the average, the incidence of sales tax does not increase the cost of the house by more than £10. That is a conservative figure. Even if all the advantages that honorable members have advocated were given to the purchasers of war service homes, they would not represent an amount of more than £20 on each home. This amending legislation will enable an ex-serviceman to obtain a bigger loan on his war service home. That alteration is not evidence that every war service home that is erected in future will cost an additional £250. The honorable member for Richmond has made some most extravagant statements about prices. He stated that the cheapest home to-day costs £230 a square, and that most homes which are being constructed, cost £250 a square.
– I referred to homes that are being built in certain suburbs of Sydney.
– If that be true-
– It is true.
– They must be considered good class homes.
– No, they are ordinary homes.
– In reply to the honorable member for Richmond, I shall give the latest prices per square in contracts that have been let for brick construction in New South Wales.
– In the city or the country ?
– In the city. The lowest prices per square were £181 in January and £185 in March last. The highest prices in those months were £193 and £197. Those figures do not take into consideration the cost of the land.
– I did not include the cost of the land in my calculations.
– The figures indicate one of two things. Either the citations of the honorable member for Richmond are in respect of houses of very high quality, which have extra fittings and built-in accommodation, or the contracts that are let under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement are most efficient. In fact, the costs per square for houses that are constructed under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement are between £30 and £50 below the figures that the honorable member for Richmond has cited. Incidentally, the figures that I have given do not relate to building costs in the Australian Capital Territory.
– What is the cost of construction in Canberra ?
– We have not let any contracts under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, but the cost of construction is approximately i0 per cent, higher in Canberra than in the city area of New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Total cost of dwelling-house) .
.- The purpose of this clause is to increase from £1,750 to £2,000 the maximum amount that may be advanced to the purchaser of a war service home. I should like to add one or two observations to what has already been said in the second-reading debate. I regret to say that despite the very fair and helpful attitude of members of the Opposition, the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) appeared to consider that he was being assailed in the second-reading debate, although hemade a few preliminary remarks implying that he had not been attacked. He then proceeded to cite various figures, include them in the number of houses purchased, and add them to the number that had already been built. The figures that I gave in my second-reading speech-
– Order! The honorable member may not refer to statements that were made in the second-reading debate.
– The figures are contained in the report, and I need not read them again.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN The honorable member would not be in order in attempting to do so.
– Housing costs have been inflated, and the ex-serviceman who is purchasing a war service home is compelled to pay a substantially higher price than he should pay. It is futile for the Minister to endeavour to brush that position aside, and say that the sales tax-
– Order ! The honorable member should not attempt to reply, in committee, to statements that were made in the secondreading debate.
– I am not attempting to do so.
– Order ! The Chair considers that the honorable member is attempting to do so.
– I am sorry. I merely desire to say that sales tax is still payable on such items as nails, screws, lock sets, cupboard fittings, electric lights and hot water units, which are required for homes.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! This clause does not relate to the sales tax.
– As I pointed out in an earlier debate, the sales tax is an appreciable factor in increasing building costs. Clause 3, which the committee is considering, reads -
Section eighteen of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (1.) the words “ One thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds” (wherever occurring) and inserting in their stead the words “ Two thousand pounds “ .
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The clause does not mention the sales tax.
– The sales tax on building materials and fittings is one of the items that is responsible for higher building costs. The Government has recognized the upward trend of prices by increasing the maximum amount of the advance that may be granted to the purchaser of a war service home. The customs duty on imported timber is too high. Some persons, whom I shall not name, do not understand that there is a scarcity of timber. Although supplies of timber may be easily obtained in Western Australia, the shortage in South Australia is most pronounced. I have received from the Builders and Allied Trades Association a letter which reads, in part -
It will be appreciated that the weatherboard house is essentially sought after by people in the low wage groups, and it seems iniquitous that at a time when local supplies of both weatherboards and flooring are so inadequate that the poorer section of the community should have to pay something in the vicinity of f 60 extra as a result of the tariff on weatherboards and flooring.
After all, the Builders and Allied Trades Association is an authority in the building trade, and we should not ignore its opinions and representations. Unfortunately, the Minister does not appear to be aware that supplies of weatherboard and flooring are almost unobtainable in Victoria. I regret that the Department of War Service Homes, which was established for the purpose of assisting exservicemen with their housing problems, has been absorbed into and1 has become a division of the Department of Works and Housing. Energetic as the Minister may be, and I admit that he has cited figures relating to thousands of houses-
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to relate his remarks to the clause.
– 1 am endeavouring to point out that the War Service Homes Division is now only a part of a larger department, and has been forgotten.
– Order ! This clause does not relate to the inclusion of the War Service Homes Division in the Department of Works and Housing.
– I shall leave that subject, and suggest various means by which, housing costs may be reduced. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that a bill entitled the Import of Materials Bill has been introduced in the Parliament of Victoria, and I shall hand a copy of it to him. Under that legislation, the State Government proposes to make good to State departments and individuals the difference between pre-war and post-war building coats. I advise the Minister to examine the Victorian bill. The real value of a house, that now costs £2,000 to build, is really only approximately £600 on the basis of pre-war values, and the purchaser will not become the outright owner until he has reached old age. Indeed, he will require from 45 to 50 years to pay off the principal and interest, and he will probably be receiving the age pension before he really owns his home. I hope that the Minister will examine these matters. I believe that he will do so, but he should be sufficiently frank to say that he will study the various points that members of the Opposition have raised. If the abolition of the sales tax and customs duty on building materials will reduce the cost of a house by £100 or £200, the Government should not hesitate to remove those imposts. I should like the Minister to inform me whether an ex-serviceman who desires to purchase a war service home will be permitted, under the new costing system, to consult his own architect, even though his home may be a part of a group building scheme. At present, there are two systems, namely, the individual house and a group of homes.
– He will be able to consult his own architect.
– The Minister has mentioned the provision for war widows. A less expensive house in that instance-
– Order ! The honorable member must not attempt to reply to the speech that the Minister made when concluding the second-reading debate.
– The widows of civil servants who were killed in New Guinea during the Japanese invasion have informed me that they have not yet received the benefits to which they are entitled under the War Service Homes Act. Their position was brought to the notice of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard), who passed the matter to another department. I ask the Minister to examine it.
.- Some doubt appears to have arisen about the cost per square of erecting a home in Sydney. My information on that subject has been gleaned from my personal investigations and discussions with builders and auctioneers who have homes for sale. I devoted a part of a week, and a whole week-end, to visiting numerous auctioneers and interviewing a number of builders, and I could not find one contractor who would erect a brick bouse that complied with ordinary reasonable standards for less than £250 a square.
– That is so.
– The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) may produce figures to show that the War Service Homes Division can build houses for £180 or £190 a square, but-
– Order ! The honorable member must not attempt to reply to the Minister’s secondreading speech.
– I am merely saying that the Minister may produce figures. I have not said that he will produce figures. I repeat that he may produce figures to show that the War Service
Homes Division is able to construct dwellings for £180 or £190 a square. If he does ‘ produce such figures, they must be based on several factors that do not apply to homes which are being built by contractors in the suburbs of Sydney. I have no doubt that the War Service Homes Division is able, by mass building methods, to obtain lower quotations than private builders can give for the construction of homes. There is every reason for us to urge the Minister to put more vim and vigour into providing war service homes for ex-servicemen. If exservicemen are being exploited by an amount of approximately £50 a square by private builders, it behoves the Government to provide homes for them at £180 or £190 a square. I have numerous letters here to prove that the average private citizen cannot get a home built in the better-class suburbs of Sydney, such as Northbridge, Clontarf, Balgowlah, Seaforth, and anywhere along the north shore line, which are the areas that I have investigated, at the prices that the Minister has cited. I do not know what the position is in. the western suburbs. However, the suburbs that I have named are not devoted almost wholly to working men’s homes, or to the homes of people in affluent circumstances. The big majority of the dwellings in them are probably what we term the homes of the middle class. Many ex-servicemen are included in that section. I claim that it is possible to make an advance under section 18 of the principal act, at a rate of interest substantially lower than 3 per cent.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! This clause provides for the amount of the advance to be increased from £1,750 to £2,000, and does not refer to interest rates.
– But it follows that the’ interest rate will remain at the figure that is provided in the act.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member cannot get away with that statement. The clause does not deal with interest rates.
– I had hoped to correct some misapprehensions under which the Minister is labouring about these matters. I advise him to peruse some of the statements that have been made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) about war service homes, including building costs. That matter was brought to his attention by numerous ex-servicemen’s organizations in New South Wales and I asked the right honorable gentleman certain questions about the position. The information that he gave to me in his reply was substantially the information that I have given to the chamber to-day. He dealt with certain factors in respect of charges, but you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, will not permit me to discuss them in detail at this moment. Those facts were as the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Treasurer, stated them, although he did say that there were certain reasons why he could not comply with the requests of the ex-servicemen’s organizations for a reduction of the charges. Since I am not permitted to go into the other details, I content myself with inviting the Minister to send one of his officers to Sydney to investigate building costs. Better still, let him go there himself, alone, or in my company. He disputes my figures. I will take him to any real estate agency on the north shore line in Sydney and he will find, as I found, that nothing less than £250 a square can be entertained. If the Government, by the exercise of mass building methods or better business methods, as the Minister claims for his administration, and which I do not question for a. moment, can do better, ever so much greater is the obligation on the War Service Homes Division to expand its activities so that more ex-servicemen wanting homes shall obtain them at less than £250 a square. It is very poor comfort to him to be told that the division can build at £190 a square if he has no possibility of doing other than continue living with his in-laws.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member is getting wide of the clause, which contains nothing about in-laws.
– If the maximum advance were not increased from £1,750 to £2,000, ex-servicemen would have to live with their in-laws just a little longer.
– Order ! There is nothing about in-laws in the bill.
– I content myself with that.
– I believe it to be necessary that the War Service Homes Division should have the power to “ vet “ all contractors to ascertain their financial and constructive ability to carry out contracts. That would provide a real measure of ‘protection for ex-servicemen from excessive costs in the construction of their homes.
– High construction costa can be and have been brought about by the bankruptcy of building contractors before the completion of their contracts. The added cost is entailed in the making of new contracts with other contractors to finish the jobs. The problem confronting the War Service Homes Division is difficult. It is hard for it to say, when an applicant for a home says that he has a contractor and wants him to do the job, that the contractor is not a fit and proper person to carry out the contract. Honorable members have suggested at times that exservicemen should be allowed to have their war service homes built by friends who are ordinary building tradesmen. Homes have been built in such circumstances with good results. I assure honorable members that the division watches the interests of ex-servicemen to the best of its ability. As to the “ vetting “ of contractors, it is inevitable in a large building programme that there shall be a few failures. However, we try to protect the ex-serviceman as much as we can.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 4 to 7 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a, third time.
Debate resumed from the 26th May (vide page 250), on motion by Mr. Lemmon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Mr. MENZIES (Kooyong- Leader of debate on which is now being resumed, is one for an act relating to the construction and operation of works for the generation of hydro-electric power in the Snowy Mountains area. It is not a long bill, although it relates to a vastly important matter. What it does, in effect, is to take certain preliminary steps, which must be taken before any considerable undertaking of this kind oan be put in hand. Therefore, it takes power to establish a commission that is to be called “ The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority “. It imposes on the Authority certain functions; it gives to the Authority certain powers, many of which are incidental to the performance of the functions that are set out; and it then contains certain provisions, rather remarkable in their own way, I think, relating to the .finances of the authority. Very naturally, at this stage, I do not propose to occupy a lot of time in discussing the details of the measure. Indeed, as I say, the measure is not a highly detailed one. But I want to address broadly to two matters such remarks as I have to make. The first is whether the development of hydroelectric power in the Snowy Mountains area is a good thing and ought to be encouraged to the limits of the power of the Parliament and the Government. The second is whether the bill, by setting up an authority with the functions that have been described in the hill, is going to do its task in the right way. My first question is very important. It will not, I imagine, call for any diffidence in answer to the question “Do we need to develop the resources in the Snowy Mountains area ? “, every honorable member will at once say, “ Most unquestionably, we do “. Modern times have shown that power is vital to production. Indeed, the most highly industrialized countries in the world to-day, like the United States of America, are those that have been able to bring the greatest number of horse-power to the assistance of the individual worker in productive industry. It is, therefore, of immeasurable importance to Australia that we should develop our power resources and, in particular, that we should develop those power resources that are not dependent primarily on coal. The State of
Victoria is, I suppose, better off than the State of New South Wales in one respect. lt is quite true that Victoria is dependent upon New South Wales for highgrade steam coal and, therefore, suffers regularly from a shortage of coal, but it is also true that Victoria has had immense operations . established at Yallourn for the development of electric power from brown coal and has there a brown coal deposit that, I suppose, must be unique in the world for size and accessibility, and from that there has been a great reticulation of electric power over the State. In later years, step9 have been taken to develop hydro-electric power from the Kiewa and the Eildon. The result is that as far as the spread of electric power spread over the State is concerned, Victoria, though not adequately furnished, is on the way to being furnished.
New South Wales is in a different position. Industry in Sydney and New South Wales generally is primarily dependent on electric power as the result of steam generation. That means that it is dependent on coal, and that means that if there is trouble, as there now is, in the production of coal, there is rationing of power in Sydney and other parts of the State and that, if the coal trouble be maintained for long enough to become a strike and then settles into a prolonged dispute, there will be no power at all and industry will come to an end. Consequently, New South Wales, being so dependent upon black coal for power, has an enormous and proper interest in the development of hydroelectric power from the Snowy Mountains area. It is unfortunately, as we know, the settled policy of the coalmining unions to have no reserves, though it is a policy that will have to be unsettled, if this country is to make progress. Years ago they said : “ We must have no coal at grass “.
-Order! T do not think the right honorable gentleman should proceed too far along the lines of a discussion on coal. He may make a passing reference to coal.
– With very great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is vital to my argument. I am developing the proposition that hydro-electric power is of great importance. That is the basis of this proposal.
-I shall make the position clear. I do not wish to prevent honorable members from referring to the production of electric power from coal ; but, as the bill deals with the setting up of an authority for the generation of hydro-electric power, the debate must be confined substantially to that matter. Only passing references may be made to the production of power from coal.
– I imagine that honorable members generally are not un: aware that there are reasons that render the development of hydro-electric power in this community very important and very urgent. I do not understand why those reasons cannot be debated.
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman is not being prevented from debating the reasons, but he will be allowed to do that to only a. limited degree.
– Do you mean, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the limit of time allotted to me to go into the reasons is the time specified in the Standing Orders as the time for which I may speak, or do you rule that I may discuss the reasons to the limit of only 500 or 600 words?
– Order ! The right honorable gentleman knows the Standing Orders.
– I do !
– I shall keep the right honorable member within the limits of the Standing Orders.
– This problem of hydro-electric power production in and for New South Wales is a problem that becomes more and more urgent because of the position of the coal industry and because the absence of coal reserves at any given time means that any fluctuation of the supply of coal at once reflects itself in a fluctuation of power in New South Wales. Consequently, I approach the problem of the Snowy Mountains area with this in mind. The production at the earliest possible time, which we all realize must be a number of years hence, of an alternative source of power for industry, primarily in New South Wales, though to some extent, of course, in Victoria, is of very great moment. If we are not to live from hand to mouth industrially in Australia this project must be put in hand. That, of course, is a statement of what is obvious enough. It says something that is in the mind of every honorable member in this House. But in addition to the development of hydroelectric power, the harnessing and the diversion, if necessary, of the waters of the Snowy Mountains area, has great significance from the point of view of irrigation. The moment we touch the problem of irrigation we come on to the problems that have been considered at various conferences such as whether the water should be diverted so that it flows into the Murrumbidgee River or into the Murray River. Consequently there is an interest in the production, diversion, channelling and use of the extra water and it belongs to the States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. So we have two aspects of this proposal. One of those aspects is concerned’ with hydro-electric power, which is vital to the State of New South Wales and of great importance to the State of Victoria, because both of those States are highly industrialized; the other is the irrigation aspect, not primarily dealt with in this bill, which is of great moment to three States - New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. It has been pointed out very rightly, and the surveys that have been made appear to confirm it, that the use of water for hydro-electric power and its use for irrigation are not mutually exclusive and that it will be possible to make use of it for irrigation purposes after it has been put to the best possible use for the production of hydro-electricity. Therefore, a scheme of this kind has a dual purpose. For those reasons the whole House will, I have no doubt, support a bold, comprehensive and well-designed scheme. The scheme as it stands now, is, of course, in its very early stages. The House will support a scheme that is constitutionally wellfounded and therefore permanent in its usefulness. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon referred to certain elements of cost. He made some estimates about the cost of producing hydro-electric power that I thought sufficiently opti mistic, though I observed subsequently with some pleasure, in giving to myself the task of perusing a certain address made at the University of Western Australia, that a very distinguished engineer, Dr. Loder, had made the same estimates and, I am happy to say, in almost identical language. I began to wonder for the first time whose second-reading speech the Minister had made. However, nil that I want to say about costs is that these are very early days in which to make a firm estimate of costs. When we begin some great national work of this kind, that is by common consent vital to the real industrial development of this country, we must accept some risks in regard to costs, and we cannot be expected to work out in advance the rate at which we shall some day have to provide hydroelectricity. But that is no reason why there should not be competent management, and I hope that the highest degree of competence will be shown in relation to this great scheme. It is also no reason why there should not be the closest control of costs. We should realize, however, that this great development will not be a cheap one. We are not going to obtain this enormous scheme “ on the cheap “. As a matter of fact, in all such proposals there are great hopes expressed at times that are doomed to disappointment, and sometimes early results lead to misapprehensions. For a number of years now we have been told about the achievements nf the Tennessee Valley Authority, and ; indeed in one or two of the more lyrical passages of the Minister’s speech he was obviously envisaging something of the same kind in Australia. The Tennessee Valley Authority represents a very great and spectacular experiment; but it is not beyond criticism and indeed has in recent times been the object of criticism. I noticed, for example, in a recent number of the Electrical Times a quotation from a letter that had been written by a distinguished American, Brigadier-General Wade H. Hayes, to the Manchester Guardian, which, as everybody will agree, is a newspaper whose American correspondence is usually on an uncommonly high level. The correspondent stated in the letter that the Tennessee Valley Authority adopts three main devices for what he described as its artificial prosperity. The first is that no federal tax of any kind is paid by it, and that its contributions to local rates are only a fraction of the property values , secondly, that in 1943, the Tennessee Valley Authority paid interest at the rate of less than onetenth of 1 per cent., whereas the average rate of interest paid by the United States Government for the money passed on to the Tennessee Valley Authority was 2£ per cent. ; and, thirdly, that for the year 1944 the Tennessee Valley Authority’s total investment was 750,000,000 dollars, but only 403,200,000 dollars of that amount was allocated to the power project. The board is left entirely free to make what allocations it pleases for book-keeping, and, according to Brigadier-General Hayes, its accountancy methods would make British auditors gasp with incredulity. I am no authority on this matter, but I have referred to it, not to initiate a discussion on the Tennessee Valley Authority, but merely to offer a word of what might perhaps be called warning that we should not start off with rosy ideas about cost factors, but must say to ourselves, “This is a great national undertaking. “We must tackle it, and in carrying it out we must pay the closest attention to management efficiency and to supervision of all expenditure “. The next question, and, indeed, I think the most important one is to consider at this stage how we are to go about this matter. The Commonwealth has quite plainly made up its own mind on that point. It has said, in effect, “This is to be done by the Commonwealth and by nobody else “. Although a vital interest in the matter is held by the various States to which I have referred, they are not a. party to it. They are to be in no way responsible for the establishment of the authority. So far as this legislation is concerned the job is to be done by the Commonwealth and by nobody else. I confess that that completely baffles me. After all, when there was a matter of developing and controlling the production and distribution of coal the Commonwealth Parliament and the Parliament of New South Wales concurred in action and passed complementary legislation. Each exercised its own power, each participated in the establishment of the
Joint Coal Board. Here is a matter in which the interest of the State of New South Wales is enormous. That State has indeed a far greater interest in the power that will be produced by this scheme than the Commonwealth will ever have. At the very outset nobody supposes that the Australian Capital Territory and Commonwealth defence projects will consume more than 20 per cent, of the expected ultimate output of power from the Snowy Mountains area. If we assume that the Australian Capital Territory and defence projects will take 20 per cent, of the power produced, that means that 80 per cent, will remain, most of which will be used by New South Wales, and the balance by Victoria. Those States, therefore, have an enormous interest in the scheme. It is a very unhappy position that in a matter such as this the Commonwealth should say, in effect, to the States, “ You keep out. You can be customers some day. You can buy this ‘power from us when we have generated it, but as as far as the generation of the power and the designing or execution of the work are concerned, those are matters for us and for nobody else “. So, of course, in the long run the Commonwealth will be in a position to, so to speak, “ turn off the tap “ and say, “ Very well, we are the people who are the sole controllers of this scheme at the very source “.
– Something of that sort was implied in the Seat of Government Acceptance Act.
– I intended to refer to that act in a few moments. I have asked myself, as many other honorable members have asked themselves, how the Commonwealth would do what is proposes to do in connexion with this scheme. What power was ever given to the Commonwealth to be the sole controller of a vast hydro-electric scheme in the Snowy Mountains? The bill itself deals with that matter in what I might describe as a now familiar form. It refers to the defence power. The defence power is a wonderful thing. It is “ a very present help in trouble”. Whenever you are proposing to pass legislation to do jobs like this you simply put in a recital about the defence power. The idea is that it looks all right and will do no. harm but may come in useful some day. The defence power is brought into this measure, and there is also reference to the Australian Capital Territory in words so masterly that I shall quote them. The reference is -
And whereas the consumption of electricity in the Australian Capital Territory and, in particular, at the Seat of Government within that Territory, is increasing and is likely to continue to increase;
It is not without its humorous aspect to be told that we are to have this vast proposal, this great scheme, which we have been told repeatedly is the biggest ever undertaken in the history of Australia, so thatwe may cope with the increasing demand for electricity at Canberra. Of course, the matter goes back some years. If honorable members will glance at the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909, they will find in its first schedule an agreement that was made between the Commonwealth and the State of New SouthWales. Clause 10 of that agreement provides -
The State shall grant to the Commonwealth without payment therefor the right to use the waters of the Snowy River, and such other rivers as may be agreed upon or in default of agreement may be determined by arbitration, for the generation of electricity for the purposes of the Territory and to construct the works necessary for that purpose, and to conduct the electricity so generated to the Territory.
That was an arrangement to provide electric light and power for the then Federal Capital Territory. The proposal, of course, did not involve a vast hydroelectric scheme in the Snowy Mountains, and at that time it was obviously not expected that in some visionary and distant future this city would be a hive of industry with a couple of million people, all gainfully employed. Those are the two powers that the Commonwealth brings in aid, and I repeat that it is a mystery. Why should the Commonwealth, knowing perfectly well, as every child in Australia knows, that its demands upon the current that is generated will be very small compared with the demands for ordinary civil purposes in New South Wales and Victoria, insist upon keeping those States out of the project? There is a great problem which always presents itself in circumstances like these: Is the Commonwealth to co-operate in a spirit of goodwill with the States on matters that require joint action - and I believe that if we are to develop the resources of Australia we must have more and more of that cooperation in a spirit of goodwill, each authority contributing its own power to the pool of powers - or is the Commonwealth to say : “ We are not going to bother about the States. We will label this project ‘ Defence ‘, or we will even label it Supplying something to the Australian Capital Territory ‘, and then we will smash our way through. Who is going to prevent us? Who will challenge us? Then, when we have done the work, it will be ours, and you can come along like anybody else, and be our customers “. No one can really believe for a moment that it is possible to justify the production of this much-needed electric power under the defence power of the Commonwealth. It is true that clause 16 of the bill says -
The functions of the Authority shall be -
If that were the end of the story, it might be possible to justify the expenditure of £20,000,000; it would never be possible to justify the expenditure of £200,000,000. Of course, this is not envisaged as a scheme to produce power for the Australian Capital Territory, or for defence purposes. It is designed to generate electric power for industrial purposes in the two principal industrial States, and it is only by an abuse of language that it can be described as an exercise of the Commonwealth’s defence power. Of course, it is nothing of the kind. The Commonwealth is, ineffect, saying: “Yes, we are going to embark on this great enterprise. A littleof the power generated will be used for defence purposes, and we rely on that fact “. If that were to be regarded as justifying the Commonwealth, then it would be equally permissible for the Commonwealth, under the defence power, to establish a steel industry to-morrow. It could say : “ We have to provide a certain quantity of steel for munitions. As for the rest, you, the public, can come along and be our customers”. The Commonwealth could, by the same argument, justify the establishment of cattle runs and sheep stations. There is no industrial undertaking that the Commonwealth could not embark on in a large and almost monopolistic way if the defence power were to be used in this fashion. Of course, no one would dream of interpreting the defence power of the Commonwealth in that sense. Therefore, the reference to the defence power, the hanging of everything on it, is mere humbug. In reality, it is made the excuse for the grabbing of all authority in this matter. Indeed, the bill is not put forward so that he who runs may read because, although I am not unaccustomed to reading legislative documents, I did not at first notice that, although clause 16 says that one of the functions of the Authority shall be -
to supply electricity so generated to the Commonwealth -
The Authority may sell to a State, or to an authority of a State, electricity generated by the Authority which is not immediately required by the Commonwealth for defence purposes or for consumption in the Australian Capital Territory.
I congratulate the Minister upon that clause because there is a welcome note of humour in it.
– The right honorable gentleman’s party would have done the same.
– I am speaking about humour. Therefore, I hope that the honorable member forWilmot (Mr. Duthie) will not butt in. In that clause, the Commonwealth is really saying : “ If we do not happen for the moment to need those millions of kilowatts, we might trade some of them to New South Wales and Victoria “. It would have been very simple for the Commonwealth to say to the States : “ All right, do we agree that this proposal ought to be put in hand? If so, are we. all prepared to pool our powers to enable the work to be done ? “ The Commonwealth has not done that. It has assumed that it has sole and undisputed power to do something whichit has no power to do at all.
– Has not the right honorable gentleman heard of the conferences on this subject between the Commonwealth and the States?
– I have heard of conferences, but I have not yet heard that there was any arrangement with the States. If there were an arrangement, the States, as co-operators in the project, would themselves have had a say in the appointment of the Authority. If the States were, in fact, jointly involved with the Commonwealth, as they ought to be, we should avoid a good deal of duplication of effort. For instance, New South Wales has a well-equipped and experienced Public Works Department, which has carried out works to the value of many millions of pounds, including some similar to the work envisaged in this bill - not identical, of course, because never previously has a work on this scale been undertaken in Australia. The New South Wales Public Works Department has resources and equipment which ought not to be duplicated, but the Commonwealth says: “No, we are running this show. It may be that we will take or borrow from a State such equipment as it has, but we will do the job “. My point is that the States, which are bodies entitled to their own place in the Commonwealth, ought to be regarded as co-operating on full and equal terms with the Commonwealth in carrying out this work. Take the three major aspects of the scheme: first of all, hydro-electric power is to be generated. For Commonwealth purposes, no great volume of power is required, but that aspect of the matter clearly comes within Commonwealth jurisdiction. Then, power is to be generated for industries in New South Wales and Victoria, as well as for domestic purposes. Clearly, that is a State matter, outside the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth. The scheme also envisages the conservation of water for the irrigation of land in New South Wales and, to an extent, in Victoria and South Australia also. That, too, is a matter of State jurisdiction. Yet, all those considerations, which point to the need for joint action between the Commonwealth and the States, are swept to one side, and we are presented with a bill which claims to exercise Commonwealth power, and that only; which sets the States on one side, and relegates them to the position of mere customers. I know that honorable members opposite have no sympathy with my argument, not the slightest, because they made it clear many years ago that their ultimate ambition was to get rid of the States, and concentrate all power in Canberra. Occasionally, they try to achieve that end by referendums on proposals to alter the Constitution, hut when they fail in that direction they seek to achieve their purpose in some other fashion. That is what they are trying to do now. They are saying, in effect: “ Here is something that will be popular, something that will be well received. It is a proposal that will give the people a feeling of relief, because it promises a vast addition to the volume of electric power available for their use “. Therefore, honorable members opposite regard it as another chance to obliterate the line of demarcation drawn in the Constitution itself between the powers of the Commonwealth and those of the States. All I need say is that we, on this side of the House, believe that it is vital to the freedom of the individual that the line of demarcation between Commonwealth and State power shall be maintained. We certainly believe that it should not be varied except by the votes of the people. The present proposal is a vast one. If this pretence to power succeeds, if the States can be brushed aside as if they had no vital interest in the matter, then that boundary line between the powers of the Commonwealth and those of the States will become broken in so many places that it will no longer serve to protect any power or any person.
I said earlier that the hill had some curious financial provisions. If I remember correctly, it is about 21 years since I first got myself elected to a House of Parliament - not this one. For those 21 years I have lived under the impression that one of the vital features of parliamentary government is that the Parliament should retain control of finance.
Mr. Pollard interjecting,
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) dissents?
– The Minister dissents from the proposition that the Parliament should control the expenditure of public money. I draw the attention of honorable members to clause 25 of the bill, which reads– (1.) The Authority shallhave power to borrow money on overdraft from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia upon the guarantee of the Treasurer. (2.) The Treasurer may, out of moneys appropriated by the Parliament for the purposes of this Act, make advances to the Authority of such amounts and upon such terms as he thinks fit. (3.) Except with the consent of the Treasurer, the Authority shall not have power to borrow money otherwise than in accordance with this section.
Thus, the Government proposes to finance this undertaking at its own sweet will by overdraft from the Commonwealth Bank, the policy of which it can completely control under the Banking Act of 1945. Thus, there will be no longer parliamentary control of expenditure on the project. If great public undertakings are to be financed in that way, then control by this Parliament of the finances of the country - already becoming extremely tenuous - will completely disappear. As for a long time the only function of private members in this Parliament has been to vote for financial proposals - they have no share in the moulding of legislation - it seems a pity that the Government should take away the one small function it had left to them. Here we have a conception, not yet a detailed scheme, of a project of importance and urgency in the undertaking of which every related State would, I am perfectly certain, be glad to co-operate. It is a project which is needed by the ordinary people of this country. In these circumstances it is a great pity that the Government should think this to be a proper occasion forbrushing the States on one side, for assuming a power which it does not possess, and for setting out on an undertaking as the result of legislation which is tainted, just as other legislation passed by this Government has been tainted, with serious illegality.
Mr.FRASER (Eden-Monaro) [5.36]. - Like Gaul, the disappointing but not unexpected speech made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) may he properly divided into three parts. That is, of course, if we disregard the highly superior and barbed witticisms with which he interlarded it and the manner in which he turned to his colleagues for approval. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) laughed even louder than the rest. No doubt, he will get on very well. First, there was the Leader of the Opposition’s grudging acknowledgment that this, great work is essential to the national interest and must be carried on now. 1 On that point the right honorable gentleman was quite definite. I understood him. to say, in effect, that if we are not to continue to live from hand to mouth for electric power this great project must be put in hand at once. A little later he said that by common consent this project is regarded as vital to the industrial expansion of Australia at this stage, although it cannot be brought into effect for a number of years. Again, he said that no one can deny for a moment that this scheme should be put in hand. To the degree that he gave that grudging approval of this great national work he uttered a most damning indictment of the government which he led and of all the Liberal-Country pasty governments which, while in office in the Commonwealth sphere for many years, frustrated every effort to have some action taken to harness the waters of the Snowy River.
The second part of the right honorable gentleman’s speech consisted of a series of niggling criticisms’ of this Government which has the courage and vision to tackle a work which his Government and other governments formed by the party to which he belongs were not prepared to tackle. One niggling criticism was his attempt to liken this project to the project undertaken by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The right honorable gentleman said that the Tennessee Valley Authority had never obtained a sufficiently high interest return on the capital invested in its undertaking. He ignored the fact that the Tennessee Valley had transformed an arid’ dust bowl into smiling pasture lands and that its undertaking had proved of great value to the future prosperity and well- being of hundreds of thousands of ordinary American men, women and children. Simply to concentrate on that one aspect and to issue a word of warning against proceeding with this scheme because the investment in the Tennessee Valley scheme did not return a sufficiently high interest rate demonstrates that the right honorable gentleman has a strange outlook towards a great national project which is calculated to have such a tremendously beneficial effect on the people of this country. He then complained that the Commonwealth is undertaking this great national task without the assistance of the States. As far as I can see that complaint is founded solely on some bitterness of spirit because this Government is undertaking a great national task which his government and the governments with which he was associated in the past were not prepared to undertake. Finally, there was his niggling criticism that if the Commonwealth undertakes the task without the co-operation of the States, the Australian Government may some day turn off a tap and deprive the States of electric power and of water for irrigation purposes. Has anybody ever heard of a more ridiculous ground of complaint against a great national undertaking? A person who thinks in that way indicates his regret that this project is not to be left in the hands of the private profit-makers. This project will be owned and operated by the people for the benefit of the people. There will be no danger that a tap will be turned off. On the contrary, because this Government has had the courage and energy to tackle this great national task, through that tap will flow all the means of providing better and happier living conditions for the great mass of the Australian people in the area which will be covered by the scheme.
The third part of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition appeared to me to consist of nothing but gratuitous legal advice which was calculated to incite somebody to take the matter to the High Court in an endeavour to have the scheme declared illegal and thus prevent its being carried out. Although the right honorable gentleman realized the necessity for the project, although he declared it to be vital to the industrial expansion of this country, and although he must know the tremendous benefits which will follow the extension of our irrigation to the thirsty plains of this country, he devoted the main part of his speech to an incitement of a government or of some person or persons to test its legality in the High Court. He poured out all the wealth of his legal knowledge in an endeavour to show that somebody should get the High Court to rule on some constitutional ground that this great scheme must again lie delayed. I doubt whether the right honorable gentleman would care to repeat his speech in the Snowy River area in the electorate of Eden-Monaro. If lie succeeds in having this great scheme, which contains so much good, declared illegal by the High Court, a great responsibility will rest on his shoulders and on the shoulders of those who are associated with him. If the High Court declared this scheme to be illegal, the hopes and dreams of those who have sought to obtain from the Commonwealth a recognition of the great value of the waters of the Snowy, which have been wasted for so many years, would be doomed to disappointment.
This bill establishes the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. The task of that Authority will be to harness a potential 1,720,000 kilowatts of electric power and to provide for irrigation purposes 1,S00,000 acre feet of water. Thus is being inaugurated the greatest public work that has ever been contemplated in the life of this nation. The -power to be generated will be almost equal to the total power now normally generated in the whole of Australia. The water to be made available for irrigation purposes will be from three to four times the volume at present used by the Leeton-Griffith irrigation area. So at last the rushing waters of the Snowy are to be used. Australia will get wealth from the Snowy. I congratulate the Government, and particularly the Minister for “Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) for having tackled this great project.
– What rot!
– It is an act of courage, of energy, of vision and of faith in the future of Australia. It is an act which is calculated to promote the well-being and the security of the Australian people. I cannot see much in that statement to which the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) can object.
– I do not abject to it.
– It is a significant act in the march of this continent to national strength and greatness. It is an action which should have been taken many years ago. For 80 years attempts were made to induce successive governments to harness the waters of the Snowy River. During all of those 80 years the invaluable waters of this great perennial mountain river have gone tumbling to waste in the ocean. Immense supplies of water which would have provided wealth for this nation, abundant electric power for its homes and its industries ;).nd irrigation for its thirsty plains have remained unused, because governments in the past were not courageous enough to tackle the problem of harnessing them. While that has happened Liberal and Country party governments have been in charge of the destinies of this Commonwealth.
– That is rot!
– From 1916 until the end of 1940, except for the comparatively few months during which the Scullin Government was in office but not in power because of a hostile Senate, anti-Labour governments were continuously in power in the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member referred to a period of 80 years.
– By their somnolence and then indolence, Liberal and Country party governments have betrayed the great natural resources of this continent and the interests of its people. I know that my predecessor in this House- a Liberal member, and a highly respected man - raised his voice time and again in an endeavour to arouse the Government which he supported to a realization of the criminal waste of the Snowy waters; but his colleagues aroused themselves only sufficiently to make some vague and polite reply, to fob him off and to fob off the people of the Snowy River area, and went to sleep again. From 1916, except for the brief period of the depression during which the Scullin Government was in office, anti-Labour governments were in control in the Commonwealth sphere. Although the waste of the Snowy waters was continually brought home to them during all of that time, I have searched the records in vain to find any evidence that even one step was taken in those days even to investigate this great project. It is true that spokesmen for anti-Labour governments talked about it in highsounding phrases from time to time, particularly at election time; but they did nothing. They ran true to form, in this as in other matters. They did nothing fit all. To-day there is a power shortage in Australia which has resulted from floods and the general coal shortage. Day after day I hear members of the Opposition belabouring the miners, but they are themselves guilty men in this matter. They stand indicted of a crime against the nation because, but for their timidity and reluctance, vital transmission lines from the Snowy River, fed by giant turbines, which never go on strike, would to-day be carrying abounding supplies of electricity for every domestic and industrial need, at half the present charge for electrical power. No members of the Opposition who were in the Parliament when the anti-Labour governments were in power can evade or avoid their responsibility for that. The Leader of the Opposition, as their spokesman, by admitting the necessity for this task, by declaring that it is essential that it should be undertaken now, and by conceding that, even if it be undertaken now, its effects cannot be felt for several years, has condemned himself and them for their failure to tackle the problem at a time when they had every opportunity to do so. It is not pleasant to contemplate the heritage of suffering and discomfort that Australia is now experiencing because of the mismanagement of its national affairs in past years by men who still dare to show their faces in the Parliament, and even to criticize this Government.
– There was a Labour government in power during those years.
– There was not a Labour government in power in those days. The Scullin Government was in office for approximately eighteen months, from November, 1929, but the anti-Labour parties had a majority in the Senate during the whole of that time and the Senate rejected the financial proposals of the Scullin Government that could have done much to prevent the harm that was being done at that time. The real controllers of Australia then were the financiers that the anti-Labour parties appointed to the Commonwealth Bank Board and who held the destinies of this country in the hollow of their hands. Shall we ever again see such a tragically ludicrous spectacle in this country as the workers of the nation being forced to remain idle and their womenfolk and children going underfed and underclothed and the men who controlled the financial system of the nation for their own profit and that of their pawns who were members of the Government gravely assuring them that there was no work for them to do, even in the Snowy River area? All that has passed now, but it must never be forgotten by the people of this country. To-day we are writing a brighter page in our history. We are approving of a great national work that will repay many times the expenditure that it will entail.
Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.
– When this work is completed, the waters of the Snowy River, which never cease to flow and which at one place, fall 4,000 feet in a few miles, will pass through the giant turbines of sixteen great underground power stations. They will then flow into the Mumimbidgee River, and most probably the Murray River, providing the benefits of immense and cheap power for every purpose, and generous supplies of water for a thirsty land. The project will mean the expenditure of £170,000,000 of £200,000,000, but the work will transform the south-eastern area of New South Wales in a way which few of us oan yet realize, and will provide decentralized power and water for irrigation to nourish great inland cities and a fertile countryside. lt is a project in line with a bold immigration policy, and with a plan to build, within -measurable years, th strength and population of this country to 20,000,000 peaceful people. I am proud to support a government with the courage and vision that is necessary for such a project.
For myself, I am delighted to have a part in this historic occasion, to help to come true at last what has for so long been a dream. I am also proud to be the representative of the electorate in which these great headworks are to be carried out. I have advocated the work ever since I was first elected to this Parliament and I have watched with admiration the energy and persistence of -my colleague, the honor.able member for Hume (Mr. Fuller), in keeping attention directed to this project, which will benefit so greatly the people whom he represents. Tribute is similarly due to the State member for Monaro, Mr. Seiffert, who has been untiring in seeking the action by the New South Wales Government which has led to the present decision. It is a pity that a number of the small band of pioneers of the Snowy Mountains project did not live to see the eventual success of their efforts because year in and year out they strove, against all kinds of discouragement, to awaken the governments of their day to the wastage of the wealth of the Snowy waters.
It is notable that this project has been initiated by a Labour government. It will be carried out by a Labour government, and only by a Labour government. It is the kind of project that, for reasons which I shall set out, only a Labour government could carry through. Should an anti-Labour government return to the treasury bench, the Snowy Mountains scheme will be shelved, delayed, and, if possible, killed. I shall give reasons for that statement. In the first place, this project would appeal only to a Labour government, because it is not a measure for private enrichment, or for the taking of rich profits by a few at the expense of the many. It is not a project which will pour financial dividends into the coffers of big corporations. On the contrary, it is a public work, to be carried out by a public authority charged with no duty except to serve the interests of the people as a whole. Indeed, thi? project is exactly what our opponents call socialism and at which they raise their hands in horror. Is there one of them who will deny that, by their definition of socialism, this project is a socialist enterprise and precisely the kind of undertaking which they daily denounce in the newspapers and over the broadcasting stations of this country, and against which they warn the whole community? Is it not perfectly clear that if they had their way, they would kill this project? If they, get their chance, they will try to kill it.
Secondly, the Snowy Mountains project will be successfully carried out only by a government which believes in the governmental control of credit policy, and in the public control of the public financial system. Our Government believes in that policy and our opponents do not. Our Government believes in expanding credit when required to mop up developing pools of unemployment, to counter a recession and to maintain maximum purchasing power. Our opponents believe in the rule of private finance for private profit, which restricts credit as times worsen, extends unemployment and declares there is no money for such projects as the Snowy Mountains work. The Snowy Mountains plan will be carried out only by a government that i9 prepared to embark on great projects for peace as well as for war. This is one of a number of national projects which the present Government has prepared in accordance with its belief that the resources of the nation should be fully used for the great constructive purposes of peace just as much as for the terrible and destructive purposes of war.
Thirdly, the Snowy Mountains plan will be carried out only by a Labour government because it will only be carried out by a government that is determined to maintain full employment and never permit the return of the horrors of an economic depression. This Government believes in full employment. It has established full employment, and it will maintain it. Pull employment is a completely new concept in Australia’s peace-time economy. It has never happened before in the peace-time history of Australia. It never happened during the regime of our political opponents because they certainly do not believe in it. They think that a measure of unemployment is useful in order to keep the workers in their place, and that it is handy for every factory owner to have a queue of jobless men at his gate so that he can replace the one who shows any independence, or so’ that he can put on or put off a couple as day to daily conditions make it convenient for him to do so. . The leopard does not change his spots. The Liberal party and the Australian Country party still do not believe in full employment, and they never will. That is why they will never undertake a great employment project such as the Snowy Mountains plan.
Fourthly, the Snowy Mountains plan will be carried out only by a Labour government, because only such a government is free of the vested financial interests centred in Melbourne and Sydney. Those interests feel that their private profit-making preserves are endangered by such a great public project as the Snowy Mountains plan, which will provide cheap electricity and abundant water for decentralization without private profit. Honorable members opposite who are the humble disciples of private profit would never abjure this first article of their faith by defying the moneyed interests of the two great capital cities. Thus, they would never carry out the Snowy project.
Few people yet realize the full extent of the Snowy Mountains proposals. Indeed, the project is so big that it is difficult to comprehend it without considerable study. In addition, the new proposal, which this legislation converts into a decision, is still confused with earlier and much smaller proposals. It is most interesting to note how each successive proposal has gained from the previous one, and how the concept has broadened with the collective wisdom of many minds over the years. In 1918, the New South Wales Public Works Department put forward a scheme which envisaged an output of 150,000 kilowatts of electricity. In 1937, Swedish engineers recommended to the New South Wales Government a project which would develop 250,000 kilowatts. The Main Committee in 1944 performed valuable service by directing attention to the practicability of diverting the waters of the Snowy River into the Mumimbidgee River, and using that stream to provide water for inland irrigation. The first Commonwealth investigation was undertaken by the present Government, and the question of diverting a part of the Snowy waters to the Murray River was examined. That investigation was most thorough. The Department of Works and Housing, carried out the engineering investigation, and the Department of Post-war Reconstruction examined the agricultural possibilities. They were greatly aided by aerial photographic surveys made by the Royal Australian Air Force, and made a report to the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in 1947. The committee responsible for those investigations developed the great plan for a joint hydro-electric and irrigation project. It then followed the setting up of a combined Commonwealth and State committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Loder, who represented the Australian Government, the New South Wales Government, and the Victorian Government. It is from this committee that the ultimate recommendation for the work has come. That recommendation was presented last February, and the Chifley Government has acted very promptly upon it.
It is in’ the light of this history of successive inquiries and delays through the years that we should now judge the contention of the Leader of the Opposition, who said that even now, the Commonwealth should not begin the work. He favoured more delay and marking time to permit further discussions with the States and the evolving of a new joint construction plan. It is not as though the Commonwealth is monopolizing this great project. A statement to that effect would he far from the truth. In the first place, there will be established under this legislation an advisory committee, on which the Australian Government, the Government of Victoria and the Government of Kew South “Wales will be represented, to integrate the power needs of the States with the defence needs of the Commonwealth, and also to advise or irrigation matters. Secondly, the States will have the enormous task of receiving the irrigation water and organizing for its most effective use. Thirdly, the States will have the equally great task of erecting and maintaining the power transmission lines and organizing the provision of electricity for industrial and domestic needs. Thus it will be seen that the States have a large and important share in this task. Yet the Leader of the Opposition - a national leader in the National Parliament - endeavours to import into this debate the old and searing State jealousies, and the objections to the use of Commonwealth powers. In so doing, he revealed that blindness which, as political history shows, afflicts him in relation to the real defence needs of Australia. Although his voice comes as an echo from the old colonial days, Australia is a nation, and the Snowy Mountains project is a national work. What is wrong with the nation tackling it? On the basis of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon, it logically follows that if the Liberal party and the Australian Country party come into power, he will stop the construction of this project, because he does not believe that the Commonwealth should undertake the work. He will again seek conferences with the State governments about the plans. It is equally clear that the right honorable gentleman, if given the opportunity, would not proceed with this work under the defence powers of the Commonwealth, because, as the records will show, he has expressed himself publicly as considering that tho defence powers of the Commonwealth do not justify its undertaking this task. I shall presume, until I hear otherwise, that he speaks for every member of the Liberal party and, indeed, probably for every member of the Opposition.
– The honorable member presumes a lot.
– Possibly I do presume a lot, and I shall wait with interest to hear other honorable members opposite express their views about this project. The Minister for Works and Housing will visit the Snowy River areas next week-end. Let me assure him that in the local government bodies of those districts, he will find men, some of whom have the political views of the Liberal party, some of the Australian Country party and some of the Labour party, but these men from the Snowy River are hig Australians, not little Australians, and they are united in their determination to see that this great national work is accomplished. I assure the Minister that he will not hear any niggling criticisms from them, although he may hear some forthright opinions about the niggling views that have been expressed in this House to-day about the Snowy Mountains project. He may even hear some expressions of disappointment from supporters of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party in those areas at the action of the Opposition in raising its voice against this great national project. He will receive from all the representatives of the local government bodies in that area, constructive advice, assistance and every encouragement to proceed with a great national undertaking.
.- With the possible exception of the federal aid roads scheme, this measure provides for probably the biggest practical project of public works that has ever been submitted to the Australian Parliament. Every one must regret, therefore, that the debate on a matter of such high public importance should have been dragged by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) into the political gutter.
A true representative of that constituency would have tried to make friends and not enemies for this scheme, especially’ as the Government has to deal with not only members of the Australian Parliament, but also of the State governments; The honorable gentleman’s statement that the Australian Country party has no interest in the scheme has been given the lie direct by Mr. H. P. Moss, the Commonwealth Electricity Supply Controller, in h is foreword to my book about the hydro- electric potentialities of the Clarence River gorge, that I wrote some five years ago. Tn it he said - lt is many years since I first discussed the hydro-electric development of the streams surrounding the Australian Capital Territory with Sir Earle Page, and found that he was. as he is still, a dreamer of dreams with a firm hold on mother earth.
The honorable member gave us a tarradiddle of lies about the attitude of nonLabour governments to the building of dams. In New South “Wales there are three big dams - the Burrinjuck, the Hume and the “Wyangala. Those are the only three big dams in the State, and every one of them was built by non-Labour governments. Indeed, I challenge the honorable member to name one dam in Australia that was built by a Labour government. As to the honorable member’s diatribe about twenty years ago, when the Scullin Labour Government was in office, the plain answer to his talk about the Labour party not having control of the Senate, is to ask him why the Labour party did not force a double dissolution on the abolition of the Senate, seeing that the abolition of the Senate is a. plank of the Labour party’s platform. It could have done so. But no! The Labour party wanted an excuse for its failures and found it in the Senate as Labour governments in the States’ find similar excuses in the upper houses of the States. The Labour party in this Parliament has been overworking the Scullin Government’s minority in the Senate as mi excuse ever since its fall. Labour members are as bold as lions in this chamber but as craven as jackals outside. So disgusted with the Scullin Government of which the honorable member for Eden-Monaro spoke so apologetically were many of the Labour party that they threw it out of office, after which the people threw many of its- members out of the Parliament, so equally disgusted were they with them.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro dragged the debate into the gutter, but I propose to put it on its proper plane. I congratulate the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) on the presentation of this great scheme and the informative speech that he made in presenting it. I also thank him for the associated data that he has made freely available to all honorable members. I regret that he has not been able to give us more definite details of the scheme, but that is understandable when we realize that the magnitude of the scheme has grown so greatly that, whereas, a few years ago, it was estimated that its completion would cost £30,000,000, the estimated cost now is £175,000,000. I hope that the project will be started quickly. For thirty years, I have been urging on all Australian Governments, regardless of their political colours, because I have not the slightest hesitation in putting before a Labour government a constructive proposal, that a dam be built at Jindabyne. I have consistently said that if we impounded the water the people of Australia would force the Government of Australia to use it. I pay tribute to the engineers of Australia, who for 60 or 70 years, have fought for the use of the Snowy waters for the irrigation of the vast and wonderfully productive province through which the Murray and the Murrumbidgee flow but which are desperately handicapped by the lack of an assured annual rainfall. I have always contended, and I still contend that the Snowy River, situated as it is, could provide the water that would bring to fertility by irrigation land like that in the Goulburn Valley, at Leeton and in the irrigation areas of the Murray in Victoria and South Australia which, before irrigation was virtually desert, but which now bear prolifically. I believe that the water of the Snowy is more important for use in irrigation than it is for the production of power, though I think it is most important that it should be used for the production of power also. No one can accuse me of not having barracked for the production of as much electric power as we can get from water as well as from coal. We should, however, make sure that the water is used as wisely as possible for both purposes. The latest scheme seems to make the best use of both worlds. The project will give us tremendous electric power and enable the water to be used as well for irrigation. Australia may find other means of remedying its deficiency of power, but there is no other means of remedying a deficiency of water than by the use of the streams on the coastal belt. The Snowy lies cheek by jowl with one of our driest areas, but it is an area with vast potentialities if it is irrigated. I am glad that at long last we are to see something worthwhile done in that respect.
The Snowy project, by its situation and hy its magnitude, raises very acutely the question of the proper method’ of governmental approach to such largescale undertakings from both the constitutional and the practical angles. We should ask ourselves first whether we need the great power that will be generated or whether we need to use the water for irrigation. The second question that we must ask is, “What is the proper physical method of harnessing the stream ? “ Thirdly, we must ask, “ What is tho best method of administration?” Fourthly, we must ask, “At what stages should the great work be carried out?” Fifthly, we should ask, “Are we just to concentrate on the Snowy Mountains project ? “ The Minister for Works and Housing said that it would take 30 or 40 years to complete it.
– No, twenty years.
– I thought the Minister said that the completion of the ultimate scheme would occupy 45 years. Anyway, twenty years is a long time for most of us to wait. We are getting short in the thatch and grey in. the hair. Should we develop this scheme as far as possible and at the same time develop other great sources of power and water in Australia? I propose to deal with those questions together instead of separately, because, as my argument proceeds, it will be seen that it is necessary to do so.
-(Mr. lark) . - The honorable member should deal with the bill before the House.
– I propose to do so. The first thing we have to deal with is the creation of the authority that is to be set up to carry out the Snowy Mountains project. I wish to deal with the constitutionality and practicability of this scheme. What is to be done will, no doubt, establish a precedent that will be followed in other big schemes. If we are to make use of the waters of the Burdekin, Clarence, Tully and other rivers, we must ensure that what we do now shall not impede their harnessing. It is essential, therefore, that we should set up some standardized form of governmental machinery, of a type that could be used for general application throughout Australia. The type of authority should be of such nature as to be capable of application to a number of schemes. Of course, I agree that there must be a separate authority for each scheme, but it is necessary that they should be - so closely interlocked that they will be able to pool men, machinery and equipmentMen who have administered the irrigation schemes in New South Wales have pointed out to me that because of the long gaps between the building of dams, equipment has been wasted and sold for scrap and skilled men have been scattered to other jobs throughout the country. They say that the money wasted in that way in the building of and between the building of the three dams that I have named, the Burrinjuck, the Hume and th( Wyangala, would have been sufficient to build another dam as big as the biggest of them. I should like to see an organization set up in relation to this project which will ensure that all men who go on to the job, whether they be ordinary labourers or engineers, will be able to look to work of this type as a lifetime career. Even unskilled men will become skilled in time and take pride in their job. In order to enable us to see what could be done in this connexion, I propose to examine what we have done to secure the fullest co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. Whatever one may think of the statements of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) about the defence powers of the Commonwealth, there is no question that the States have definite rights. The only way in which we shall make any real progress, therefore, is by ensuring the greatest possible co-operation between the governments concerned. I admit, of course, that, under the Seat of Government Acceptance Act and the terms of the acquisition of the
Australian Capital Territory, there are certain circumstances in relation to the Commonwealth that are peculiar to the Snowy. Notwithstanding that, I believe that what I shall have to say about the Snowy will apply generally to all similar projects in Australia.
This is a scheme that strikes the imagination of the man in the street. It is desirable that we should lay down, if we can, a general form of Commonweal tb. and State co-operation, for this project that would be mutually acceptable. If we could do this the form would be available for future projects of a similar character, would continually increase goodwill and it could provide new principles of finance that would make such undertakings independent of the annual budgets of the Parliament. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition <t bout the drafting of clause 25 wherein the authority is empowered to borrow money from the Commonwealth Bank ad lib. I think the authority should be empowered to borrow in accordance with directions from the Treasurer and that it should be allowed to go on to the public market for money. There should be a control over the power to borrow money. In fact, I think the second subclause should come first, lt states -
The Treasurer may, out of moneys appropriated by the Parliament for the purposes of this Act, make advances to the authority of such amounts and upon such terms as he thinks fit.
Irrespective of that, I have a strong feeling that by some means we must secure the independence of such undertakings as the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric authority from annual budgets. In the past, very frequently, many great public undertakings have been delayed because of the late delivery of budgets in various Parliaments, both Commonwealth and State, with the result that they have often used only a quarter of the money appropriated to them for the year. Then, the works were held up, pending the passage of the next budget, in whichever Parliament was concerned. They dragged on for many years when they could otherwise have been easily finished in two or three years.
It is important that we should not waste time in conserving water. We cannot allow more water to run to the sea unused than we can possibly help. I do not feel competent to deal with the question of thedefence powers of the Commonwealth. That is a matter for lawyers to argue and I have no desire to butt into it. I believe that even if the Commonwealth is entitled to use the defence powerin relation to this project it should not use it. Instead, it should seek to achievethe fullest co-operation between it and the States. Indeed, I hope that the organization to be established will include representatives of local government authoritieswhich will thus become partners in a great undertaking. That will mean that the people on the spot will have somesay in the manner in which water is used and in which power is distributed. Such co-operation would enable us to use to the full all the technical resources available in personnel. I repeat that if the Commonwealth is entitled to use the defence power it is better not to use it in this instance. Surely there is no sense in undertaking a great scheme that will cost £176,000,000 if there is any doubt about the validity of what we propose to do. We do not want to be delayed for months while the validity of our actions is argued in the High Court of Australia. So let us take the course that experience and tradition tell us is right, and work together on a co-operative basis with everybody straining to the last ounce of power to help. If we can get the closest co-operation from the States we shall be able to obtain thereby the opportunity to make full use of the technical men available in the public works departments of the States.
In a statement last Sunday, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) commented on the fact that one of the great shortages in Australia was highly trained technical men. About a month ago I sent him a copy of a letter that I had received from the English Electric Company Limited saying that it was prepared to send to Australia a first-class hydroelectric engineer who would investigate the Clarence Gorge scheme in the light of the information and survey data available, and advise on the type of plant and the layout of power stations most . suitable for our conditions. It might be possible to get similar co-operation in regard to the present scheme. At any rate, there are many first-class men available in Australia. Let us pool their knowledge and ability and use them to the uttermost. The only way to obtain the use of all the best technical men in Australia is to secure the utmost cooperation of every government authority in doing this job. For many years, 1 have advocated the establishment by the Commonwealth of its own technical body. During the war years I suggested that personnel should be drawn from the Air Force and Army units of engineers, to carry out a continent-wide survey, in a selected priority, of our natural resources. These men have now been demobilized but I still think that we should capitalize their war experience. 1 shall give examples of what has been achieved by co-operation between governments. The first example is that of the River Murray Commission. This commission was appointed under an agreement in 1915 by which the Commonwealth guaranteed to find £1,000,000, which was roughly one-quarter of the total estimated cost of harnessing the Murray and its tributaries. The remainder of the money was to be found by the three States affected, New South “Wales, Victoria and South Australia. That work has continually expanded, so that to-day almost £17,000,000 has been spent, and the end has not yet been reached. The work was carried out by the River Murray Commission, consisting of responsible engineers nominated by each of the four governments. Since 1915, there has been wholehearted1 co-operation among the four governments which have been able to work harmoniously and with the utmost unanimity. That fact has made available the services and experience of trained men in the various States concerned. Another notable instance of engineering co-operation was the construction of the unified railway gauge between Grafton and South Brisbane. New South Wales and- Queensland contributed their financial quota for this work on a population basis, and the Commonwealth found its own quota as well as that of the other States. The work was carried out by a railway council that was representative of the three governments and it was com pleted quickly. Similar arrangements applied in the standardization of the railway from Port Pirie to Port Augusta, in which the State of .South Australia found its share of the money, and the Commonwealth the remainder. The Murray-Whyalla Agreement, which connected the waters of the Murray with the iron and steel township of Whyalla and gave water to a great area, of country as well as to the Commonwealth railways, was constructed under a similar agreement. In that. case, the Commonwealth made its contribution by the rates that it paid for the water. The Federal Aid Roads scheme, which was inaugurated in 1926 and has been continued ever since, is the largest public works undertaking brought into being by Commonwealth and State co-operation. The roads constructed under it were invaluable during the war, and, even more valuable was the supply of trained personnel which enabled the building in a short time of aerodromes in northern Australia, from which the Coral Sea battle was won. and of the huge trans-continental roads necessary for military purposes. During the 1920’s a form of co-operation was brought, into being, not merely between the Commonwealth and the States, but including Great Britain, by the formulation of the Development and Migration Commission. Under an agreement between the three parties, a sum of £34,000,000 was set aside. Great Britain agreed to pay half the interest, the Commonwealth a third, and the States a sixth, on various projects to be constructed under it. In that instance we secured not merely cooperation between governments but also the co-operation of the leading administrative men in every State. The Wyangala dam in New South Wales, the Dawson development in Queensland, the Tod River scheme and the reafforestation project in South Australia were all undertaken under that scheme, which was most successful. The Clarence Gorge hydro-electric scheme was fully examined but, unfortunately, the migration agreement was terminated in 1930 by the Seullin Government and we have never been able to deal with it since. All these agreements dealing with the great projects of which I have spoken were framed after the fullest discussion between the respective governments and their departments. These projects brought the departments together.
One difficulty in connexion with these great developmental projects has long obtruded itself on public knowledge, and that is the futility of providing finance for these undertakings on the basis of an annual budget rather than on the basis of the estimated total cost of the work. The establishment of the principle of providing finance on the basis of the total cost of the work would enable Australia to pool its resources of men and materials much more satisfactorily than in the past. We must try to find a method’ whereby we shall be able to ensure that the whole of this great Snowy Mountains work can go on uninterruptedly. We must not have men packed from the job simply because we are short of money for a month or two. Three big dams have been built in New South Wales - the Burrinjuck on the Mumimbidgee, the Hume on the Murray, and the Wyangala on the Lachlan. The interval between the construction of each was so long that equipment and materials for their construction was sold at scrap values on the completion of each work. The loss sustained by this scrapping was estimated by an eminent New South Wales engineer to be of such magnitude as to have provided’ the finance to build another dam. The trained personnel engaged for years in this specialized work at the conclusion of each project was scattered all over the continent into all sorts of small jobs, as, for instance, shire engineers, and their knowledge and experience were lost to Australia when there was so much of this specialized work still to be done. The Tennessee Valley Authority has given a very striking instance of the savings that can be made by adopting this principle of providing a continuous series of works throughout the whole of our continent in the building of consecutive dams in our country where they are so much needed. The first dam built by the Tennessee Valley Authority took four years to complete and cost was £4,000,000. The Douglas Dam, which was built early in the last war, just .before America entered hostilities, was built in ten months instead of four years, and cost 4,000,000 dollars, or roughly onethird’ as much as the first dam. The directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority have said that under that system even the most unskilled labourer was able to go about his job straight away, almost without instructions. The Americans had learned to handle great masses of concrete in such a way as to cut down the labour and expenses associated with such jobs. This aspect is most important to us in Australia. We must do our utmost to get the cheapest construction of our dams, as we have not much water at our disposal, and much of it is a long way from the point at which it could be used for irrigation and stock purposes and would necessitate additional channels of great length. Look at the Snowy River, for instance, and see how far the water has to be carried to the Murray River or to the Mumimbidgee River before it can be used for irrigation purposes. I think it will have to be carried 400 miles to Leeton and further to other places. The policy of the Australian Country party is to achieve a consolidation of personnel and materials by having a definite programme of £100,000,000 to be spent over the next ten years in water conservation, reafforestation, soil conservation, hydro-electric development, and irrigation. This money, of course, would be spent over a number of different projects, but the timing of the building of the dams, for instance, at different points could be so arranged that the men and material would’ be able to be used continuously and consecutively.
At the present time Australia’s greatest difficulty is the non-availability of firstclass experienced technical men with international experience to design our undertakings. What may be done to improve this position is illustrated by the offer to the governments of the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Queensland by the English Electric Company Limited to send out a senior hydroelectric engineer to investigate the Clarence River Gorge scheme in the light of the information and survey data available, and advise on the type of plant and layout of power stations most suitable to the conditions. This great English company would also he prepared to make an offer for the supply of water turbines, electrical generating plant, switch gear and transformers, &c. Acceptance of such an offer would undoubtedly shorten the delay in procuring equipment, as it would enable it to be obtained straight off the factory line instead of, a9 it were, by standing in the customer queue. A similar arrangement may expedite the Snowy Mountains work. It is imperative that all these major hydro-electric propositions should be functioning at the earliest possible moment to meet the future demand, and to insure us against such emergencies as we are passing through at present.
On the 19th May the English Electric Company Limited wrote to me as I have stated. The Prime Minister and the State Premiers have copies of the letter and I hope that they will agree to the suggestion contained therein, so as to expedite the Snowy Mountains scheme as well. We should have as many men as possible functioning in such undertakings as early as possible because it takes a great deal of time to finalize plans and begin work on a scheme that is intended to produce 100,000 horse-power. Out of my long experience in these matters, I advise the Government that in dealing with this huge undertaking it might he worthwhile to put it piece-meal before the public who cannot grasp the real significance of a huge figure like £176,000,000. The announcement of the expenditure of such an amount can also create ill-feeling among departments and other authorities which might consider that they might be left without money, labour or materials as a result of this project. If we went step by step with this scheme we should get support f rom everybody in carrying out the work. I am sure that one reason why we were able to standardize the railway gauge from Grafton to South Brisbane was that we did it piece-meal. If we had put the plan for the standardization of all gauges forward all at once we should have terrified everybody. In such a scheme as the present one, for instance, there might be a difference of opinion about whether the production of the last 500,000 horse-power should not be left in abeyance while some other developments were undertaken. It is incredible that the blueprints, or considered plans, for the extra £150,000,000 worth of work on the full Snowy Mountains scheme could have been prepared in the last two years. Are we to use all our immediately available labour for projects that will not give results for 20 or 30 years, while much more important work lies ready at hand to do ? Are other regions to wait many years for their legitimate development to bc undertaken? Experience of practical politics shows that if such public works can be distributed by the Government, much more is likely to be done everywhere, but if everything is concentrated on one point nothing may be achieved, or. at the most, action will be only spasmodic.
According to the Minister’s statement the amount of water to be diverted from the Snowy River is roughly 1,200 acrefeet a second, or 1,000,000 acre-feet a year. The water flow of Australia is estimated to be somewhere between 50 and 60 million acre feet. In practically all other continents there are single rivers with a flow which exceeds the total Australian flow. In Europe, the Rhine flow is greater, and the flow of the Danube is three times as great. In North America, the flow of the St. Lawrence and of the Columbia rivers is each three times as great as the whole Australia flow, while the flow of the Mississippi is nine times as great. In Asia, the flow of the Ganges is three times the total Australian flow, and that of the Yangtse Kiang is fifteen times as great. The reason for this limited Australian water flow is its relatively small rainfall, which is markedly seasonal. The area of Australia that has an annual rainfall of 25 inches and more it not greater than half a million square miles1, or one-sixth of the continent. The distribution of this flow is very patchy. In some areas the flow for each square mile of catchment approximates that of the great rivers I have mentioned. For instance, this is so in northern Queensland, where the flow is reckoned to be 20,000,000 acre feet. It also is true of the area between the Mary River and the Hunter. This area is less than 50,000 square miles in extent and has an annual flow of over 12,000,000 acre feet, or 240 acre feet to the square mile of catchment. The Snowy has a flow of roughly 400 acre feet to the square mile of catchment. The Murray and Darling system, however, with its 414,000 square miles of catchment, has a flow of 12,000,000 acre feet per year, or only about 30 acre feet per square mile.
The heavy Australian flows which approximate the drainage of the great rivers of other continents are ail due to the same characteristics. They drain lofty areas on the main Dividing Range against which the humid sea breezes strike. For instance, the Nymboida drains thu Dorrigo Plateau of 700 square miles, with an annual flow of 584,000 acre feet, or 800 acre feet to the square mile. The Guy Fawkes and Dorrigo plateaux combined drain 2,155 square miles with an average annual flow of 1,000,000 acre feet, or 450 acre feet to the square mile. From the Mary to the Hunter there would be at .least 800,000 acres of fertile flats, capable of irrigation. In the BurdekinAyr district there are 1,000,000 acres ready for irrigation, and, on the Burdekin a relatively low level dam could hold about 4,000,000 acre-feet for irrigation purposes, which could be supplemented by a very big flow of subterranean water. The Snowy scheme will provide 400 acrefeet for every square mile of catchment, which compares favorably with the Mississippi. The only river in Australia which surpasses it is the upper Dorrigo, which provides 800 acre-feet for every square mile of catchment. We in Australia are very short of electric power compared with the people of other countries. Canada produces one kilowatt for every one and a half people, New Zealand one kilowatt for every three people, Switzerland one for every three, and Australia one for every four and a half. Outside the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, the ratio would be about one to forty. We are provided with an extraordinary opportunity in the fact that the Snowy scheme will be close to the brown coal deposits of Victoria and the black coal deposits of New South Wales, while the Clarence River is close to the great coal deposits of Ipswich. By linking all our power systems, both coal and water, we shall be able to conserve coal by using power derived from coal only during that part of the day when there is a constant load on the machines. Hydro-electric power can be used to take the peak loading, which usually lasts for only a brief time. It will eventually be necessary to win enough coal to serve the needs qf a much greater population than we have now. All the authorities agree that Australia must have a population of 20,000,000 people if we are to hold it. To serve that population, we need to produce 6,000,000 kilowatts of power, instead of 1,500,000 as at present. It might be possible to produce 2,000,000 kilowatts of hydro-electric power, so that we should still need to get 4,000,000 kilowatts from coal. One way to increase the production of power would be to improve amenities for coal-miners, and for those who work in power stations. Not only should they be provided with electric power, but they should also have running water in their houses. By providing such amenities, we should encourage persons to identify themselves with the undertakings on which they are engaged. We should also make it possible to decentralize population and industry, and to attract immigrants. In Australia, we have a wonderful climate and great natural resources. Given sufficient power, we could develop a great diversity of industries, so that every man would be able to find the occupation he wanted. A few days ago, I attended a farewell function to the retiring High Commissioner for Canada, Mr. Greene. One of the speakers said that it was bad luck that Australia had so little water compared with Canada. When replying, Mr. Greene said that it was true that Australia had less water than Canada, but it was also true that Australia made less use of what it had. We should take that to heart. I hope that we shall be able to improve the bill before it leaves this chamber, and I hope that the Snowy Mountains scheme will ultimately become an integral part of our entire electric power system. The financial clauses of the bill should be amended by taking away the right of the Treasurer to borrow ad lib. to finance the undertaking. I should like a borrowing corporation to be created, which would ensure that the work, once started, would be carried through to completion.
.- Normally, on a matter which refers specifically to the country, I should have some diffidence in addressing the House, but this is a national matter which concerns very deeply all the citizens of Australia. As the representative of a city electorate, I wish to say something about the Snowy Mountains scheme, and to give it my support. As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Eraser) has said, this is more than a scheme; it is a dream about to be given reality. I say to country representatives on both sides of the House and, indeed, to all honorable members, that there is more than a passive interest in this scheme in the cities, and particularly in Sydney, one part of which 1. represent.
The Snowy project has been moving in our minds for many years. Now, when substance is to be given to a dream of development, when great things are about to happen, one is somewhat taken aback to find that little men are afraid of it. The speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) was most unfortunate from a national point of view. There have been quibbles about the Tennessee Valley Authority, and about the Commonwealth defence power - quibbles put forward with all the fire and energy of a State-righter confronted with a great national scheme about to come to reality. Such a reaction, which indicates the sm all ness of the Opposition’s point of view, rather frightens one. It makes one feel that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was right in saying that this is, in essence and in spirit, an undertaking for a Labour government, and I am proud to be associated with a government which has the courage, the money and the drive to bring it to reality.
Before discussing the scheme itself, 1 propose to answer some of the points made by the Leader of the Opposition. The position of New South Wales in relation to this proposal is well known. What the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) said was right. He is an expert on irrigation and hydroelectricity, and he placed the onus where it properly lies. Credit for the pioneer work in connexion with the development of the Snowy belongs to the mother State of New South Wales, just as to New
South Wales belongs the credit for pioneering and supporting federation. However, New South Wales is prepared to yield place in a matter which it recognizes is properly the responsibility of the National Government. There is no doubt what the people think about it. Perhaps they do not know all the details of the Snowy Mountains scheme - how many kilowatts are to be produced, how many tunnels are to be made, what feats of engineering will be performed or what assistance we are to receive from the United States of America; but there is an instinct in the Australian people for what is right, and they have an instinctive feeling that the National Government is the right government to undertake this work, and that this is the right time to begin it. When I listen to nonsense about State rights and about filching powers from the States, it makes me wonder what some people mean by federation. Do they mean simply an aggregation of States which conferred some powers in niggardly enough fashion upon the Commonwealth? I am certain that when it comes to a vast national undertaking of the kind now in contemplation, there are no State-righters among the people, and I say that as a New South Welshman. The Minister for Conservation in the New South Wales Government, Mr. George Weir, who represents in the State Parliament one part of the electorate of Parkes, has assured me that the State Government is prepared to co-operate with this Government in the Snowy Mountains undertaking. Although the scheme was the darling of his heart, he recognizes that it is, in the strictest sense, a national undertaking, and so he has acted like a big Australian and promised his full co-operation. It has been given to this Labour Government to do something which Opposition parties never had time to do, although they were in power for more years than were profitable for the nation. There has been no quibbling by the States in this matter, although there were some difficulties to be ironed out. This proposal is 80 years old. The State archives are full of reports which record the history of the Snowy River scheme, and they make interesting reading. In this matter, the State-righters who oppose the scheme are not in the State Parliament, but in this Parliament. We have heard some dark and frightening hints that this great national undertaking mal be threatened by a challenge to the Commonwealth defence power as applied to the undertaking. Once again, the people will be the judges, and I have no doubt of the people’s answer if they are asked whether they agree to a scheme to remove some of the population from the huddled cities, and to place defence and munitions projects, not merely behind the mountains, but literally under them. On an application of the spirit of the Constitution, there is more than sufficient warrant for proceeding with this scheme under the defence power. Have honorable members opposite never heard of the atomic bomb, and the vulnerability of cities to attack? Has there not been talk for years of the need to decentralize population and industry in the interests of defence?
Moreover, the Seat of Government Acceptance Act gives warrant for the proposals contained in the bill. The Commonwealth cannot be accused of assuming rights which do not belong to it. Indeed, the Commonwealth is standing on very sound ground. If we are not standing on the firm ground of legality, we are certainly on the firm ground of popular approbation. For the sake of defence, for the sake of full employment, for the sake of the development and the wellbeing of this country, for God’s sake let us get on with this great national project which has been mouldering in the pigeonholes of government departments for more than 60 years. The most arid part of Australia is not to be found in the mallee, or in the great dead heart, hut in the departmental pigeon-holes where this plan has mouldered for more than half a century. Because this nation to-day has a government with sufficient drive and initiative behind it to implement the project it is assailed by the Leader of the Opposition on the ground that the project is of doubtful validity. The right honorable gentleman played on the fears of the States. He quibbled at the inclusion in one clause of the bill of a reference to the supply of electrical energy and water to this city of Canberra. A quibble of that kind amounts almost to perversion of outlook. I should like to see in the plan a fluming back of waters from this scheme to make of Canberra a capital city of which we are proud - a city to challenge comparison with the other great cities of the world. I should like to see fountains like those of Versailles playing in Canberra. If we can fill all our projected lakes which at present are merely dry spots in our paddocks, and if we can do something about keeping up the level of water in Lake George, we shall achieve a great deal for Canberra. All that, however, is by the way.
To revert to the city man’s idea of the Snowy Mountains scheme I give this measure my unqualified support. This plan, this gigantic national project has captured the imagination of the city as well as the country. The perplexities of city life in the recent post-war years, its black-outs, its breakdowns, the growing pains of an expanded economy stretched to breaking point, and the need for more, power by hydro-electric schemes have made us aware of the dangers of sectional thinking. Two out of every three people live in Australian cities and are behind the scheme. To the remaining one-third, the rural section, it is more than a grand plan; it is a matter of existence and survival on the Australian standard. In all the dreams we have for the development of this nation, the mirage of water has been for ever dancing before our eyes. Despite the stupid generalities so frequently uttered by men who should know more than they do about this country, its potentiality and fertility, we must face the fact that on all observable evidence and recorded data it is the most arid of all the continents, despite what other compensations and balances it carries. It is a great land, but a hard land. It has to be won, except in favoured portions. As the right honorable member for Cowper has said, the wealth of this nation is not there just for the taking. The pioneer story is the evidence here. “ The sunburnt country “ is more than a poetic phrase; it is a factual summary of our needs.
So, this Snowy Mountains project, which is intended to provide hydroelectric power to the cities and towns and water to the irrigation areas, is the beginning of another era of progress, another step on the way. In the battles which this country must undertake, the battle for water is the greatest. In the 3,000,000 square miles of Australian mainland territory only 1,000,000 square miles, one third of the country, has a rainfall of 20 inches or more. This includes, of course, the waste areas, agriculturally speaking, and the mountains and the forests where the rainfall is also a variable factor. We get either much more or much less rain than we need, a circumstance which caused an English governor of one of our States to dub. Australia “ The land of droughts and floods “. At the time that remark was uttered it was construed as insulting to Australia, but really it was a warning to the nation to conserve its resources which are given md withdrawn with such prodigality. There is, in fact, a challenge in the whole geographical and geological situation in Australia which can be answered only by conservation, particularly the conservation of water. If we are to have 20,000,000 people in Australia the Snowy Mountains undertaking and others of the kind are the only means by which that objective can be achieved. For our migration plan to work an irrigation and a hydro-electric plan must be in operation as an advance measure. We must arrange to mako use of every drop of water that we have or that we are likely to get. So, the Snowy Mountains plan for water helps to make the national plan for an added population an objective capable of achievement in our time.
The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) gave us in his secondreading speech, some staggering figures concerning what can be done with the waters of the Snowy and its tributaries. Because of the alpine character, and the height of these waters above sea level, vast hydro-electric power is locked up in them and in the snows that feed them. Consider one point alone from the Minister’s speech. The honorable gentleman said -
One gallon of water per second dropping 1,000 feet can produce enough electric power to provide for the needs of 00 Australians at their average consumption. The significance is in the great height that the water falls, from the highest power stations at the o,000-ft. level to where it will be finally discharged to the river Murray or the Tumut River only 1,000 feet above sea level. Because of our capacity to harness at such a great height, the same water may lie used many times. Added to this fact, thu snow in the mountain areas acts as a natural storage space for many months of the year. This makes it possible for the power produced in the area to bo so cheap and attractive.
The factual line in this project must inevitably be traversed; but there is more than that in it. There is poetry in this project which is about to be wrought by the skill and planning of Australian engineers and, I am proud to say, by the foresight and wisdom of an Australian Labour government. More oranges and grapes will ripen in Mildura and Leeton, made luscious by the waters of the Snowy draining 700 miles of snow country, many hundreds of miles away from the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys where finally it is turned to the uses man has devised. Fat lambs will grow sleek on the plains, fed on pastures made verdant by the water from the hills and vast areas awaiting irrigation will blossom like the rose. And for those who find facts more satisfactory than fine words there is the added attraction in the project that for every acre-foot of water poured on the hungry inland, there is a £10 note in the farmer’s pocket. This estimate of the increase in productivity was assessed by such authorities as the Rural Reconstruction Committee of the Commonwealth Office of Education and was published in a recent issue of the Current Affairs Bulletin. These little booklets are of great assistance to honorable members. They are very concisely and intelligently written and they constitute one of the best sources of vital information available in Australia to-day. The story of the Snowy Mountains scheme was published in a recent issue of that publication. Water which is ready to perform this miracle is running into the sea at the rate of 500,000 gallons a minute. Since the water falls from a great height, it is, as the Minister has pointed out, invaluable for a hydro-electric scheme. For once, we have the perfect ;et-up. If one is imaginative, one can see the result of this - light leaping in the farmhouses at the touch of a button and power for agriculture and industry waiting to be called on; the great silent partner in the development of the country; the abundance of power carrying the means of decentralization; easier times for the farmer’s wife with radio, refrigeration and, in fact, civilization brought to her door by the waters of the river harnessed hundreds of miles away from her home. At a turn of a switch the farmer’s wife leaps from the 19th to the 20th century - a life that the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), who has been endeavouring to interrupt my speech, could not compass in his imagination. It means better times for women - the abolition of rural slums. In colder statistics, this means 1,720,000 kilowatts of electricity. One-fifth of a single kilowatt is the average consumption of an ordinary household. An output of 1,720,000 kilowatts represents 4,000,000 tons of black coal, or about one- third of our total production. These staggering figures are all embodied in the Snowy Mountains plan. This scheme is eminently practical. It will water vast river valleys. Already, there are great irrigation projects in the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers but the Snowy Mountains scheme will make these schemes even greater. In the Murray Valley there are 300,000 people. When this scheme is in operation there will be millions. In time, the thriving towns of to-day will be great cities flourishing in peace and less vulnerable in war. If we had the Snowy Mountains scheme working to-day one-half of the people of End.land would not be going to bed to-night hungry. Professor Griffith Taylor, our great physicist and geographe st, has said that our Murray Valley is the best endowed single portion of the continent. The Murray-Darling systems drain an area of half a million square miles. Three-quarters of that area has a rainfall of 12 inches or less. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Puller) and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Eraser) who, because of their geographical position electorally speaking, and because of their big Australianism welcome this scheme. I am sure that the honorable member for Hume must be delighted that the beautiful Tumut River is to bo used in the plan. The honorable gentle- man has advocated the better use of that swift-flowing and beautiful river ever since he has been a member of this Parliament. As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said, this project is great in concept and in the Australianism that lies behind it. Honorable members opposite, having neglected this project while they were in office, can see no virtue in it because it is brought to the stage of commencement by this Government. Throughout they have - adopted an attitude of squalid anxiety lest others should get the credit for it. For years the driest and dustiest part of Australia has been in the departmental pigeon-holes where the plans of this scheme have been mouldering, not for lack of interest - there has been activity on the scheme since last century - not for lack of brains to do the work, or for lack of men rotting on the dole during a depression ; but for lack of money. The Labour Government which believes in men before money will implement this scheme under the defence power. Yet we see State-righters in this House wringing their hands in anguish, bleating about the money that will be spent. They are little Australians with sheep-like minds bleating about the difficulties we shall encounter, the corns that we walked on to get drive and imagination behind the great job that is to be done. We can forget all of these things in the chorus of approval by the nation because the task is about to begin. Irrigation and hydro-electric schemes are in our blood. Some of our best literature has been written about them. 1 often wonder why members of the Opposition sneer when anybody mentions literature in this House. I am sure that when the story of our lack of progress in the twenty years before the war years is written, honorable members opposite will be embalmed in literature by some intelligent Labour writer in describing what we escaped from just in time. Ernestine Hill’s romance of Mildura and the Chaffey brothers, which are recorded in her book, Water into Gold is one of the epics in our language. Ion Idriess’s The Great Boomerang tells in dramatic prose the story of the Bradfield plan. I have read, enjoyed and been informed by
Linking two States - The Clarence River Scheme. The author is, of course, the the right honorable member for Cowper, who is a former Prime Minister of Australia and an ex-Leader of the Australian Country party. As a writer and an expert on irrigation matters, the right honorable gentleman is in the first rank, but as a politician his grading must be drastically reduced. The right honorable gentleman quoted during the debate in hia own favour a statement made by a Mr. Moss, in the foreword to a book. It was-
Sir Earle Page is a dreamer of dreams about the development of electricity.
It is, of course, something to be a dreamer of dreams. But from 1923 onwards the right honorable member for Cowper was almost continuously a Cabinet Minister, and indeed for part of that time he was Treasurer. He was then in a position, not to dream dreams but to act to develop the electrical power and irrigation potentialities of the Snowy River. for which he now expresses such enthusiasm. It is a little pathetic to hear him say now, in his own defence, that he has been urging for 30 years the construction of the Snowy River headworks. For most of that period he was a party leader and joint head of a composite government. Whom was he urging? Why did he not act? Did he not have the power, or is it his contention that the fault lay with his colleagues, who remained obdurate and blind to this national need, despite his continual eloquent urging? Hidden in the right honorable gentleman’s words is the suggestion that his colleagues were not behind him. Another fine Australian story is waiting to be written about the Snowy; - the river that took the wrong turning. Instead of flowing to the sea, it has to be thrown over the Great Dividing Range to the thirsty west, just as the great Dr. Bradfield scheme for the inland means that the Tully, Herbert and the Burdekin rivers must be thrown over the ranges, in the grand suggested experiment that is familiar to most Australians. These things are living drama to Australians - the drama of the search for water. While the Bradfield scheme seeks to solve the water problem of the inland, the SnowyMountains scheme will give us more water where we are established and thriving. It is not that the Bradfield scheme is impracticable, because Dr. Bradfield was too good an engineer for that, but there are risks inherent in it that do not apply to the Snowy Mountains scheme. We cannot lightly dismiss any of the schemes that have been touched upon by the right honorable member for Cowper, to whose authority we all yield in these matters. The Ord River scheme in Western Australia, which aims at turning part of the Northern Territory into waving grasslands for stock going through to Wyndham, was investigated very thoroughly by the North Australia Development Committee, which reported that . it had great prospects of success. Having regard to the meat agreement that we are negotiating- with Great Britain, that may well be our next great venture.
These are schemes to uplift the minds and hearts of Australians. The North Australia Development Committee, with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization as a notable ally, has done great work in the north of Australia upon these matters. I think that the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain), despite his criticisms will admit that the groundwork has been done. It will be seen that these are schemes for great national works, which favour all States. What is the State-righter’s answer to the suggestion that the National Government should undertake those works ? The Snowy Mountains scheme is designed to benefit New South Wales and Victoria; the Bradfield scheme, Queensland and South Australia; the Clarence River Gorge scheme, Queensland and New South Wales; and the Ord River scheme, the Northern Territory. Tasmania has its own schemes. T suppose that not more than 1 per cent, of that fortunate island has an annual rainfall of under 20 inches. Tasmania, with its great resources of white coal, has an industrial future that is bright indeed. It is a Sweden of the south, with its newsprint, its aluminium and its great factories in the future.
The Minister has asked us to have faith in our future, faith in our engineers, and faith in Australia. Those are the three factors upon which we must base this great task of construction that will attract the interest of engineers throughout the world. I cannot do better than to quote from a bulletin that has been issued by the Office of Education. The quotation is as follows: -
After all, Western Australia, at a time when its. population was only 200,000 people, constructed, by January, 1903, the largest pipeline with the highest overflow weir then existing in the world. The country between the foot of the Darling Ranges and Kalgoorlie rises 1.290 feet so that water had to be pumped for 309 miles. If, 45 years ago, Western Australia could complete this scheme, it is not unreasonable to ask why the lifting of waters from coastal rivers over the gaps in the ranges and diverting them into the headwaters of the big dry inland rivers should bc considered an impossible task to-day.
What has been said of the Bradfield scheme may also be said of the Snowy Mountains scheme, and with greater certainty. Added to this is the promise of President Truman that we may call upon the American engineers who created Tennessee Valley and the Great Coulee, which is an indication that the eyes of the world are upon us and that we have the good wishes of the peoples of the world in the great undertaking that is before u9.
The mirage that has been dancing before. ,the eyes of all Australians from the days of colonization until now is water. Any plan that will transform that mirage into the hard, cold conservation of water for irrigation or for the generation of electricity, allow us to decentralize our industries, enable us to rectify the stupid position in which two out of every three members of our population live in cities on the green coastal strip, and allow us to enter into our inheritance must have the support of .every Australian. I represent a city constituency. Honorable members need have no fear that this scheme is ignored or not understood in the cities. It is understood because of the hardships that the people of the cities have suffered in recent years owing to the difficulties that have arisen by reason of the fact that too many people live in the cities. “ Banjo “ Paterson wrote the poem The Man from Snowy River to express in musical verse what the average Australian stood for - rugged individuality and the courage to do the job. There are plenty of men from the Snowy River in this country who are dreaming the dreams of “ Banjo “ Paterson. They are i delighted to know that those dreams- 1 will be realized and they are ready to [ congratulate a courageous and far-seeing: Government that will blend with a great scheme, full employment, decentralization, wealth to the land, prosperity to the nation and a fair share of our responsibility in regard to the defence of the Empire. I support the bill.
Mi-. ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) [9.27] .-The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) concluded his remarks by referring to the Man from Snowy River. He stated that “ Banjo “ Paterson was a firm believer in the rugged individuality of the Australian people. Since this Government came into office it has done its utmost to destroy any individuality in the Australian people, rugged ,or otherwise. It wants everybody to be so completely socialized that they are either tenants, employees or pensioners of the Commonwealth.
The next point to which I want to refer is that neither the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) nor the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) mentioned private enterprise in connexion with the Snowy Mountains scheme. I take the liberty of speaking on behalf of all honorable members on this side of the House when I say that the Opposition, having carefully considered the scheme, have come to the conelusion, without argument, that it is too big for private -enterprise to tackle. It must be undertaken by some’ national enterprise. ‘ ‘
– The honorable gentleman w’ould just borrow the money from private enterprise.
– I would not go to the honorable member for “Wannon (Mr. McLeod) for a loan. I know the history of the McLeods too well for that. We have carefully considered this scheme and have come to the conclusion that it is one for a national undertaking. That is nothing new in the policy of the Opposition, which is firmly, of the opinion that certain undertakings and services are of such a nature and magnitude that they can be carried out only by a public utility. ‘
The next matter to which I wish to refer is the history of the right honorable member for Cowper in regard to hydroelectric matters. The honorable member for Parkes and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser), who are now sitting beside each other like Castor and Pollux, the Heavenly Twins, have referred to the right honorable gentleman. The honorable member for Parkes was completely wrong in his statement of the right honorable gentleman’s ministerial record.From 1929, when the BrucePage Government was defeated, until 1 934 he was not a member of a government. That was a period of approximately five years, as I think you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, can testify from personal experience.
– I said that he was the leader of a party.
– I have seen party leaders here who did not achieve very much, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. I believe that you followed one of them, and I am hoping to see him here again very shortly. I have worked as an assistant to the right honorable member for Cowper. I do not think I have mentioned this publicly before, but in 1938 and 1939, when I was sitting on the other side of the House as assistant to the right honorable gentleman, he was then engaged, not only upon the development of the Snowy Mountains scheme, but also upon a very much bigger scheme, under which he hoped to have what he called a grid of electric power stations, generating power by the use of black coal, brown coal, and water, extending from Cairns in Queensland to Port Augusta in South Australia. I have worked on those schemes. You know, sir, what the vicissitudes of office are, because like myself you have had to make your exit from a ministry.
– Order! That remark has nothing to do with the Snowy Mountains scheme.
– I submit that it has, sir. I shall make a forecast, a thing that I seldom do, that electric power will not be generated by the Snowy Mountains scheme while the Minister forWorks and Housing is in office. I think that the Minister will agree with that statement.
– Do not worry about that. The honorable member’s forecast is like other forecasts that he has made. They have been miles out.
– Even a forecast that misses by miles is not so bad at times. Some people miss the earth altogether with their forecasts. The honorable member for Parkes has referred to State rights and petty quibbles. I remind the honorable member that the Australian federation is a federation of States. Australia has not a unitary system of government. The States are not subordinate to the Commonwealth in many respects. On one occasion I took the liberty of describing Australia as a half-sovereign Commonwealth with six half-sovereign States.
– Order! I hope that the honorable member is not about to give a dissertation on the Australian Constitution.
– I am pointing out that under the Constitution, the Commonwealth exercises a defence power, and that is the chief power on which this bill rests. If the defence power is not a valid power on which to rest this measure, it will fall and everything that the Minister has prepared will fall with it.
-Where does the honorable member expect that the challenge will come from?
– The challenge will come from the States.
– That is wishful thinking on the part of the Liberal party.
– It is not wishful thinking, but a measure of this character is not likely to come into operation until the rights of the Commonwealth regarding certain matters contained therein have been decided. Those rights affect not only the States, but also individuals. Clause 5 contains one of the remarkable provisions of this bill, because it declares outright that the Crown is bound in right of a State. I invite the constitutional lawyers to put a small toothcomb through the Constitution in an effortto dig up any insect which can be identified as one that will allow the Commonwealth to bind the Grown in right of a State. However, that is what the Government proposes to do in this legislation. Furthermore, in clauses 19 and 20, the Government proposes to deal with private property, and that gives rise to the matter of riparian rights, that is to say, the right to stop the flow of a river. There are one or two matters in that connexion which will be considered, no doubt, at the behest of certain landholders, even if the States do not take action, as the Minister hopes they will not.
My next point relates to the proposal that the Commonwealth shall carry out the Snowy Mountains scheme. The time factor must be considered, I remind you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, because you were a member of the Government that introduced the Aluminium Industry Bill in 1944, that prolific and flowery promises were made about the establishment of the aluminium industry in Australia. Five years have passed, and the industry has not yet commenced operations.
– Order! There is no aluminium in the Snowy River.
– Can you guarantee that, sir, because I am assured that very big deposits of the mineral from which aluminium is made are located in Gippsland, close to the Snowy River? I agree that the Government acted speedily in establishing TransAustralia Airlines, because it pinched aircraft from other people.
– Order! the honorable member must not roam all over the world in his speech.
– I am not going out of the world, or, for that matter, out of the Commonwealth.
-But the honorable member is roaming all around it.
– I am merely dealing with matters to which honorable members opposite have referred in their speeches. The statement has been made that the proper authority to deal with the Snowy Mountains project is a national authority. I understand that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) made that remark. The honorable member nods his head, this time in assent. Every time, with only one exception, that this Government has asked the people to grant certain powers to the National Parliament, its request has been denied and denied rather emphatically. I have a suspicion that on the Snowy Mountains proposal, the Labour Government will meet its Waterloo at the hands of the High Court, just as it met a triple Waterloo at the same hands earlier this month. If the Government then decided to ask the people to alter the Constitution to empower the Commonwealth to undertake a national work like the Snowy Mountains project, I believe that the people’s reply would be, in effect, “ This work can be carried out on the principles which have been laid down by Sir Earle Page, and there is no earthly reason why it should not be carried out by that method “.
– Does the honorable member want the High Court to knock out this project on constitutional grounds?
– I want the High Court to interpret the Constitution correctly, whether the law is against me or not on the constitutional side. All I want from the High Court is a fair, unbiassed interpretation of the Australian Constitution, and nothing else. Tt is my belief, although I am not a lawyer, that the High Court will never agree to this proposal. I believe that the co-operation of New South Wales, if it were of the nature that the honorable member for Parkes has mentioned, would have found concrete expression in this bill, or at any rate that some complementary legislation would have been introduced into the Parliament of New South Wales. However, there has not been the slightest sign of any co-operation on the part of that State. I do not recall any authoritative statement, either by the Minister whom the honorable member for Parkes has mentioned, or the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. McGirr, who, one would expect, would speak on a matter of this magnitude if New South Wales were in agreement with the proposals. That silence leads me to believe that the State of New South Wales has been consulted, and has not agreed to the scheme that is now under consideration. In making that statement, let me add that
I do not desire to detract one iota from the work that has obviously been put into this bill, and into the pamphlet that has been prepared and distributed by the Minister to honorable members. It was an excellent performance, but I am not dealing with that aspect. I am considering two questions. First, Is this legislation in accordance with the terms of the Australian Constitution? Secondly, Has this proposal received the approval of the Government and the Parliament of New South Wales?
I make another comment. I have read about rows over rivers in other parts of the world, but I do not need to go out of Australia to discuss this matter because you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, would not come with me. However, I point out that the Snowy River rises in New South Wales and empties into the sea in Victoria. It traverses two States. One well-established principle of English law, I understand, is that a person or an authority cannot stop the flow of a river and prevent land-holders downstream from having access to the water which normally flows down that stream, and which would flow down that stream but for action that may be taken higher up. Those rights are called riparian rights and I believe that, in this instance, Victoria has certain rights in the flow of the Snowy River. If Victoria is not a party to the terms of this agreement, there may be another ground on which the Government of Victoria will have something to say to this Government in a court other than the court of the Parliament.
– The honorable member for Barker is sooling the dog on?
– Quite right, too.
– Does the honorable member for Eden-Monaro really believe that the governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia consist of men who are so illadvised and have such a poor conception of public duty and responsibility, and such poor legal advisers, that they have not examined this bill most carefully, and considered its provisions in relation to the rights that they have as members of the governments of States?
– This proposal has nothing to do with South Australia.
– I shall deal with that aspect.
– That will be the day.
IT;-. ARCHIE CAMERON.- I remind the Minister of the River Murray Waters Agreement, under which South Australia has certain rights.
– Quite right.
– In the Parliament of the Commonwealth, the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) and I represent all the rights of South Australia in a federal sense. If South Australia’s rights to waters of the River Murray are involved, I assure the Minister that that State will take a deep interest in this bill.
– Tell me how this bill affects South Australia.
– The water has to flow through our lakes into the sea.
– The water will not go through the South Australian lakes to get to the sea.
– Where will the water flow?
– Provided South Australia receives its allocation under the River Murray Waters Agreement it is not entitled to any additional water.
– That is right. We shall leave the matter to the Government of South Australia. I inform the Minister that he will not commit that Government.
– That is perfectly true. I do not desire to commit the Government of South Australia, because it has no rights in the matter.
– Very well! We shall hear the views of the Honorable Thomas Playford on this matter. He is a gentleman for whom I have some respect.
– The honorable member is not the only one.
– I have some knowledge of him, too. The honorable member for Parkes painted a wonderful picture of the destructive powers of the atomic bomb, and emphasized the necessity for building powerhouses underground in this atomic age.
There is no weapon that I should like to be’ farther away from than the atomic bomb, and in this atomic age, I should not like to live in Sydney, as you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, and the honorable member for Parkes do. According to the honorable member, the power that will be generated by the Snowy Mountains scheme should be reticulated to Sydney. If the people of that darkened city were able to obtain that power at the present time, they would be able to turn on their electric lights. It is useless for them to turn on their Switches to-night. However, I believe that Sydney north and south of the harbour is already too big. Does the honorable member consider that if the great source of power in the Snowy Mountains is to be exploited, the people who use that power for industrial purposes should live in places other than Sydney? “We should try to develop the inland centres of population,
– I said that.
– 1 did not hear the honorable member do so.
– Because the honorable gentleman was not listening to the speech by the honorable member for Parkes.
– I was trying to listen to it. The bigger the city, the better the target it will make for an atomic bomb. The honorable member for Parkes seemed to think that there is great virtue in constructing underground power stations. I do not deny that there is, but he and I have an extensive knowledge of getting in and out of dugouts. A person is fairly safe while he is down below, or until a 15-in. shell lands on top of the dugout. If the entrances are destroyed by a 5.9-in. shell or. even a 4.2-in. shell, it is not easy to enter or leave a dugout. Underground power-houses must have entrances and exits, and if those are blocked up by an explosion, the whole situation will bo far from satisfactory. I also remind the House that in the recent war, forces with which the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) was associated were responsible for completely destroying some of the biggest dams in the Rhineland and flooding the Rhine territory. High explosive bombs are enormously powerful, and the atomic bomb opens up other possibilities. To withstand the blast of an atomic bomb, a wall would need to be of very solid concrete construction. If the wall of a dam on the Snowy River were broken, the underground power-houses would not be of much value. Such a thought is not a happy one. On the table of the Library there is a recent issue of the Illustrated London News in which there are diagrams and photographs of1 the war-time underground offices that were constructed in London for the War Cabinet. There are photographs of steel supports that had to be put in because the engineers’ calculations were not right when the offices were originally constructed and the roof might well have caved in at any minute without them.
Another matter referred to by .’the honorable member for Parkes was the Bradfield scheme. I had read a little about that scheme. I am not an engineer and I shall not attempt to pass judgment on it, but if there is any solid foundation for Bradfield’s contentions, his scheme ought to be gone on with. 1 point out that every one of the streams referred to in that scheme - the Burdekin and all the others whose names I have forgotten for the moment - are in Queensland. In that delightful State, we have had a Labour Government almost since Mahomet was a boy. I remember one occasion on which Labour was defeated at a general election. The new Government from our side, which was led by Mr. Moore, did not have enough sense to take the opportunity during its term of office to reconstitute the Legislative Council. Well, ever since, we have been out- of office and Labour has been in office in Queensland. The Moore Government was succeded by the Forgan Smith Labour Government. Forgan Smith is one of the greatest Labour nien that Queensland has produced Then we had the Cooper Labour Government., Cooper has now become Lieutenant-Governor. Now, there is a government in power in Queensland, led by Hanlon, another able man. The honorable member for Parkes said that the right honorable member for
Cowper was Treasurer of the Commonwealth for six years and did not do anything about the Bradfield scheme. He omitted to say that the Labour party has been in office in Queensland almost uninterruptedly since federation and has not even laid a foundation stone like that laid by King O’Malley in the scrub at the back of this Parliament House.
MY. Ha v len. - The engineers have not decided that the Bradfield scheme is feasible.
– Have the engineers declared themselves on the feasibility of the Snowy Mountains scheme ?
– I should like to have some evidence of that.
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to make more than a passing reference to the Bradfield scheme.
– I have finished with the Bradfield scheme.
– And about time, too!
– Having referred to the Bradfield scheme I now refer to this bill. I ask the Minister for Works and Housing and his supporters whether the scheme set out in the little booklet that has been distributed to us has the approval of the engineers. I am prepared to say that the scheme, whether we approve of it or not, will be vitally altered before they get far with it.
– The engineers of the Commonwealth and the Victorian and New South Wales Governments have approved of it.
– If the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has set his seal of approval on the scheme, not much more needs to be said. All great engineering projects, many of which were of smaller magnitude that this project, have been the subject of years of very careful investigation and many trials and errors. I refer honorable members to the Panama Canal and to the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal would not be a big project to-day, but it was a big job for de Lesseps to undertake. I refer them also to the Hume Dam and the. Burrinjuck Dam. The Burrinjuck Dam was built by the New South Wales Government. Lately, I find, the engineers have been boring holes into it to fill it with concrete to make it safe.
– They are still working on it.
– Yes. Even engineers make mistakes. They are not infallible. So I am not overborne by any evidence that may be produced that some great engineer or other has said that everything will be all right. One of the greatest feats of engineering that I have ever known anything about that worked out without any very great error was the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is a tribute to the people who built it. In the .Snowy Mountains we shall be dealing with conditions beneath the ground. Miles and miles of tunnels are to be driven through the mountains. I have read of the tunnelling of the Alps for railways. These tunnels are to be infinitely greater than any railway tunnel. The greatest of all the tunnels in the Alps, the Simplon Tunnel, is thirteen or fourteen miles long. The tunnels to be driven in the Snowy Mountains will be more than twenty miles long. No borings have been made. There is no true geological chart of the Snowy Mountains area. No engineer knows what the conditions will be several hundred feet underground in that area. What is underground is what . will determine the nature of operations that will have to be undertaken. It is a matter of trial and it may be, before we are through, a matter of error. I do not place any reliance on the estimate of cost, because no one knows what the conditions of . labour, the rates of pay, and the output a man will be on a job of this description. So any estimate of costs is like an attempt to estimate the cost of military operations upon which you embark. The imponderable and unpredictable are present. They will render the estimates of the most careful engineer utterly false through no fault of his. This is a project that should, be gone on with. Whether it is the best project I am not able to say. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), who nods his head, does not know any more than I do about the project; but because of bis position, he may have a little more faith than I have. It is good to have an abundance of faith. Miles of tunnels will have to be driven and rivers will have to be diverted, varying conditions will have to be contended with in this project, the magnitude, complexity and variety of which overshadow anything that has ever been attempted in Australia. “Whilst I compliment the Minister upon having presented the project to the House, I hope and trust that he and his supporters will not be so childish as to think that he unquestionably has the best plan for the intricate task that confronts the engineers of the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States of Australia.
– As an advocate for many years of water conservation and hydro-electric projects, I am naturally interested in this Snowy Mountains scheme which is the greatest scheme involving both water conservation and the generation of hydro-electric power ever presented to an Australian parliament. This scheme, which has the approval of Australian engineers and, probably, experts from overseas, has been talked about for many years. Even during the war, engineers were investigating it. The development of hydro-electric power in the Snowy Mountains would be of the greatest advantage to the manufacturing industries of Australia. I believe that wrapped up in the scheme is the desire of the United Kingdom to transfer certain heavy war industries and, probably, other industries to Australia. No government of the United Kingdom would be wise in taking that course without being assured that the necessary power will be generated to keep the industries in operation. I make that statement having in mind what we have gone through and are still going through as the result of the revolt of the miners against democratic, rule. The Communists who have established a dictatorship over the coalmining industry and the shipping industry through the trade unions are holding the country to ransom.
– Order! The honorable member must debate the measure before the House.
The bill has nothing to do with trade unions or the coal industry.
– The miners who after all, produce all the coal are certainly holding the country to ransom. Any government of the United Kingdom that proposed to establish in Australia heavy industries would need to have a source of power that would be reliable. The Snowy Mountains project offers that reliability. I leave it to the Government and the engineers of Australia to say that the project that we have had placed before us is the best that can be devised. Confident that the project has been fully considered by those best fitted to give advice, I, who am at all times an advocate of the full development of our resources of water and power, give the bill my commendation.
I regard this work as a great postwar project. During the war, local authorities were asked to indicate to the Co-ordinator-General of Works in their States the public works that they thought were needed in Australia, so that they could be undertaken as post-war projects. The various submissions were considered by the Co-ordinator-General of Works and placed in their order of priority before a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. It was decided that the CoordinatorGeneral of Works should choose the means by which the local authorities were to receive the promised consideration in the allocation of works. So far nothing has been done to honor that policy. Only two proposals have emerged so far. The first proposal was for the standardization of the railway gauges, which the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) admitted would cost £200,000,000. That was the estimate of the cost of pulling up railways and converting them to the standard gauge without even providing one extra railway station in the country. Now we have this proposal, the estimated cost of which is £175,000,000. In my opinion, it will cost at least £200,000,000 before it is finished. The Minister for Transport, in submitting the proposal for the standardization of the railway gauges, said that it would be gone on with straight away and that there was no intention of allowing delay. That was in 1945, but the standardization of the railway gauges is as far away as ever because it is a ridiculous proposal under present conditions. I sincerely hope that a similar delay will not occur in starting the Snowy Mountains project. Water conservation is vital. In most advanced countries in the world, the parliaments and the people are determined to conserve water and to develop hydro-electric schemes to enable the country-dwellers to enjoy amenities equal to those enjoyed by city people. I hope that the day is not far distant when hydro-electric power will enable housewives in town and country areas to have electric irons, refrigerators, stoves, bath-heaters and like amenities. The people who produce the real wealth of the country at the cost of arduous toil are entitled to all the comforts that the city folk enjoy, as well as cheap power to assist them in their work. The Snowy Mountains scheme will enable great progress to be made in that direction. No State has done more to give the struggler. on the land the opportunity to be free from the threat of drought than has Victoria. It has advanced more than all the other States together have done in the provision of electric power schemes and in the provision of water for its parched, lands. New South Wales has done a lot in that direction, too. Only recently, the Parliament of New South Wales approved of small schemes which were estimated to cost £30,000,000. When 1 use the word “small”, I do so having in mind the magnitude of the proposal that we are now considering; but all the schemes are valuable. In Queensland, we have a small undertaking at Ayr, which cost a few thousands pounds, but even this confers assurance on vegetable growers in that locality. Queensland is under the same ever-present threat of droughts as are the other States of the Commonwealth. Nothing has been done to ease that threat in that State.
I should like to see, in conjunction with the development of the Snowy Mountains scheme, the development of smaller but similar- schemes throughout the country, particularly in Queensland. If the States are not prepared to fall into line, I hope that some alteration can be brought about in the method of initiating such works, because” they are in the interests of all the citizensof Australia. We have great opportunities in this land. The potentialitiesin Queensland are huge. We have been1 told by experts that the tremendouslosses from droughts, which total millionsof pounds a year, could have been savedby various water conservation schemes that have been propounded from time to time. Dr. Bradfield proposed a vast scheme for Queensland which should not be ruled out of consideration just because nobody has given it full consideration. Honorable members who have not studied it are not in a position to speak authoritatively about it. The adoption of Dr. Bradfield’s scheme would be supplementary to this scheme, and, like this scheme, would assist four States. It makes provision for 4,000,000 acre feet of water to be -used to irrigate the great western area of Queensland. Bradfield claimed that evaporation there would be greater, thunderstorms would be more numerous, there would be a more humid temperature, and luscious pasture would result. The harnessing of the waters of the north would enable them to be used in those western areas and in parts of the neighbouring three States that are distant from water.
The Snowy Mountains scheme has been put before us in a very fine manner in the pamphlet entitled Wealth from the Snowy that was supplied to us by the Minister when he introduced this measure. This scheme and other great irrigation schemes are worthy of our consideration and support not only because of the effect that they will have in saving loss, but also because of the creation of wealth and the settlement of larger areas that will result from them. More important than that, there is the insurance that such schemes will provide against losses by drought. Such schemes will alleviate the trouble and remorse that accompany the fly-ridden, desperate droughts that Australia experiences from time to time, and that I have personally experienced, when families with homes in the country become desperate with remorse and hopelessness. Such families at times lose all they have and must start again. Parents in such periods, impress on their children that they ought to get away from these dreadful conditions as soon as they can and go to the cities where there are tramlines and telephones, water and heat and light, and all of the services necessary to produce them. At least that was so until the men who control the miners’ federation decided otherwise.
There is such immense value in water conservation that I should be loath to say one word against any scheme to trap the waters of our catchment areas. There is no source of water greater than the Snowy Mountains and the Snowy River, because, as well as water from rainfall there is snow which melts and finds its way to the sea. That water should not make its way to the sea without being harnessed and brought from one river channel to another where it can perform successive services both for power and irrigation. That is proposed in the present scheme by the .use of about 120 males of tunnels. This is a great scheme and, a great adventure. In that respect it is similar to that which Dr. Bradfield proposed in Queensland. Dr. Bradfield’s scheme would increase the sheep-carrying capacity of Queensland by 4,000,000 head within the first year of its operation. That would bring peace and contentment, prosperity and the saving of losses to the country and would increase the value of holdings from year to year. During the last war Australia spent £500,000,000 in one year on war activities. It was worth that much to win a war, although, whether we have won the last war or not remains to be seen. But if it is possible to spend £500,000,000 in one year to win a war, that ‘amount is not too much to spend to save those on the land and also their stock from possible disaster and to produce the wealth for Australia. Only the lack of: water keeps this country from having 1 a population of 100,000,000 compared with its present population of about 7,000,000. Just as America advanced through its great irrigation schemes, so Australia could ‘do so. Water and more water is what is ‘required. As we provide water for settlements in the country we shall increase prosperity and produce more. We shall also produce power for our’ industrial undertakings by the damming of p.ur
Mr Bernard Corser. rivers. I support any scheme that will produce those results, and I hope that very soon the members of the (government of Queensland and the Australian Government will put their heads together to devise means to dam the waters of the Barambah and the Burnett and their tributaries and make available for the dairymen and cane-growers the provision of electric power for homes. The provision of such power could have the result of keeping the children of the farmers on the land, because it would increase the prosperity and comfort of the farming families.
.- The members of the Australian Country party support this bill because we believe the proposal that it contains is good. It is completely in accordance with the policy of the Australian Country party and with its record of achievement both in the federal and State spheres. I hope that this magnificent conception will be brought to fruition quickly. I hope, also, with the rest of the Opposition, that the Government is serious about going ahead with it. I am not casting doubts upon the Government’s intentions, but I say that it is not sufficient that magnificent conceptions should be brought to the Parliament, and placed before the people of Australia; it is essential that they be translated into actuality. I am prompted to say that by some remarks made by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser). He pointed out that the present Government proposed, at least four years ago, another great and magnificent conception that stirred the people of Australia to great expectations. It was then proposed to expend even more money than is estimated to be expended on this scheme. It was proposed to give this country something that it has long awaited and without which it has suffered great disabilities. I refer to the standardization of railway gauges. More than £200,000,000 was to be spent on that proposal, and the necessary legislation was introduced to this Parliament by a Minister of the present Government. It had the approval of every one in the Parliament and of most people in Australia. But where is that, plan to-day? It is apparently still in -the arid pigeon-holes to which the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) referred when he suggested that the most arid parts of Australia are not the outback but government pigeon-holes. He said; however, that these pigeon-holes were the -pigeon-holes of governments of the parties at present in Opposition.
I do not sneer at this proposal, but I am. bound to draw a comparison, and say ‘ that it will be purposeless to raise the expectations of the Australian people in regard to this great project, if four years hence we are to look back, as to-day we may look back four years at the plan for the standardization of railway gauges, and find that no more has been done to implement this proposal than has been done to standardize our railway gauges. It ill became the honorable member for Parkes to sneer at the right honorable member for Cowper ‘(Sir Earle Page) for his advocacy and support of this scheme. The right honorable member for Cowper, as we all know, has been a great, constant, enthusiastic and influential advocate of water conservation and hydro-electric power schemes in this country. We know that as a private citizen and private member of this Parliament he has brought from the stage of dreaming to the stage of planning a conception for the harnessing of the Clarence River and its tributaries. He has brought that proposal to the actual blueprint stage, where it is now practical politics for a government to say whether it will or will not support the plan for the harnessing of the Clarence River and its tributaries, and so make possible the tremendous advantages that would flow from the production of hydroelectric power and water conservation that would follow. That is a great and unprecedented achievement for . a private citizen and private member of a Parliament. That was not the right honorable member’s first essay into the realm of water conservation. Although the honorable member for Parkes is able’ to string adjectives together in a Ava.y that’ leaves us with mouths agape, he apparently does not concern himself sufficiently with the relation of facts to one another to remind us that it was during the time that the right honorable member for Cowper was Leader of the Australian Country party and Treasurer of Australia, that the first great plans were made and given effect to for the harnessing of the Murray River and its tributaries. For the first time there was achieved in connexion with that scheme an inter-governmental arrangement for the harnessing of rivers and the conservation of water. .
– Was not the principal part of the scheme borne by the three States?
– Yes, but I am saying that for the first time there was achieved the principle of inter-governmental cooperation. The honorable member for Hindmarsh is quite correct in what he has said by way of interjection. I had proposed to mention that aspect. The present proposal copies, to a substantial degree, the procedure conceived primarily in the mind of the right honorable member when, as Treasurer of the Commonwealth, he played an important part with the then Minister for Works and Railways, the Honorable W. C. Hill, in the negotiations for the River Murray agreement that produced the River Murray; Commission of which the present Minister for Works and Housing is president, and of which I have in my time also been president. Under that agreement the Australian Government and the States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia agreed to a concerted plan to harness and regulate the waters of the Murray and its tributaries with the Commonwealth contributing a quarter of the total financial cost. As a result of that agreement there was built the Hume Weir, which is still the,, greatest dam in the Southern Hemisphere. , It was built to conserve immediately 1,250,000 acre feet of water, but the .design provided that, by the insertion of ad ditional bars in the spillway, the total amount of water impounded could -be., increased to 2,000,000 acre feet. That undertaking was carried out as part of the policy of the present Opposition parties when they were in power, and,41 . represented only the headwork of a still vaster project which provided for the construction of twenty dams and locks along; the Murray. It is hard to. break, the firstground. Never before had a scheme -been undertaken involving the surrender by sovereign States of some of their powers. They surrendered those powers to the Murray River Commission, and in that scheme there was set the pattern which is now being followed. It was a good pattern.
I know nothing of the engineering implications of the present proposal, and probably no layman is capable of understanding them. I accept the advice which the Government has received that it is a feasible engineering proposal, and on that hypothesis I support the scheme. It differs from the Murray scheme in that that scheme was designed primarily to conserve water for irrigation, but also to make the river navigable by raising the level by means of locks. The Snowy Mountains scheme is intended primarily to produce hydro-electric power but, concurrently, it will conserve water for irrigation. That brings us to a consideration of the two great requirements of Australia. It is beyond argument that the one thing that distinguishes Australia from the other continents is the paucity of surface water. When I was in the United States of America some time ago in connexion with some government work, I was able from my hotel window in Chicago to look out on more fresh water than there is in the whole of Australia, and the lake I was looking at is but one of a great system of lakes in that country. When we consider the great waterways of North America, the Amazon and its tributaries in South America, the splendid rivers of Europe, and the Nile in Africa, we realize how badly off we are in Australia for fresh surface water. Therefore, any project the purpose of which is to conserve water, and turn it to fruitful use ought to receive the support and approbation of every one in Australia. In this scheme, it is proposed to conserve water and produce electric power. I have no doubt that the scheme is tremendously important from the point of view of defence, especially in this atomic age, which calls for the concentration of a great amount of cheap power at a single point. Apart from that, anything which will produce more hydroelectric power, and so emancipate men from the need to hew coal underground, represents a forward step. Not only will this scheme have that effect, but it will also emancipate the entire population of Australia, in some measure at any rate, from their present intolerable dependence upon the men who hew, or refuse to hew, coal underground.
This proposal is completely in accordance with the policy of the Australian Country party which believes that every stream in Australia ought to be harnessed until there is conserved all the water that can be turned to a useful purpose. In accordance with this policy, the Goulburn River, in Victoria, has been dammed, enabling a vast irrigation project to he undertaken; the river Murray agreement has been implemented, and we have developed plans for other parts of Australia to which the right honorable member for Cowper has referred time and again. From personal experience I know the unique value of irrigation. Since I was in my teens, I have lived and farmed in the centre of the principal irrigation area in Australia, the Goulburn Valley of Victoria. There I have seen the wonderful transformation which has been wrought by the application of water to land. Together with hundreds of other settlers, I live in an area which, at the end of the first World War, was a sheep station that supported no more than half a dozen families. To-day, the same area supports a couple of towns, besides hundreds of farmers making a total population of thousands of people. The land produces vast wealth in the form of butter and cheese, fat lambs, fruit, tomatoes and all kinds of vegetables. The application of water has transformed land with a doubtful carrying capacity of one dry sheep to the acre into land that is capable of carrying as many as twenty sheep to the acre for eight or nine months of the year. Land that was producing only five or six or seven bags of wheat to the acre’ is now producing crops of canning peaches worth as much as £100 to the acre. In Shepparton, in the Goulburn Valley, there is the biggest single cannery in the British Empire, and it is entirely supplied from an area of land through which one can drive in a motor car in five minutes; yet one could drive for 300 miles along the Goulburn and Murray valleys through country which would be equally productive df only it were irrigated. Since the irrigation of the Goulburn Valley, Shepparton has now grown from a small town until it now ranks as a city, and the water which has wrought these miracles is conveyed in a channel no wider than the space which separates the front Opposition and Government benches in this chamber - about 20 feet. The valley supports a population of 15,000 people. There is one great cannery in Shepparton itself, and just across the river, at Mooroopna, another has been established. It is notable that these canneries have been established by cooperative enterprise, with government assistance. Practically all the settlers began with no capital and no experience in irrigation, but they have succeeded in producing magnificent crops of peaches, apricots and tomatoes, and have established great secondary industries the products of which are worth millions of pounds.
Those are the prospects which open up before us when we consider the proposals in this bill. In addition, vast quantities of hydro-electric power will be produced. Apart altogether from present problems on the coal-fields, we ought all to be pleased at the prospect of obtaining power without requiring men to grovel in the bowels of the earth in what is at best a dirty and unpleasant occupation. Incidentally, the scheme will make it possible to distribute the population more evenly and that should be the objective of every government. It is intolerable that in this continent, which is about the size of the United States of America, more than half the population should be concentrated in the six capital cities. “What is it that makes people choose to live in a particular place ? I suggest that they choose to live where they can earn the best wages or make the greatest profits, or where they can enjoy the amenities of modern civilization. Today, it is generally necessary in order to earn high wages or make substantial profits, to go to the city because there are not opportunities enough in the country. In addition, those who want to enjoy the amenities of civilization, such as hospitals, schools, good roads, &c. must go to a city. One of the factors that contribute to the establishment of amenities is a plentiful supply of power. I speak as one who is fortunate, as a farmer living some miles from a town, to be close to an electric transmission line. I and my employees, as well as my neighbours, share the advantages which are generally regarded as being available only to city dwellers. We must press ahead with works of this kind.
I am glad that it is no novelty for a member of the Australian Country party to say that his party believes such a project as this is to be excellent. Schemes for the harnessing of the Murray River and the generation and reticulation of hydro-electric power throughout Victoria had their genesis in governments composed of members of the’ same political complexion as* the two parties now in Opposition in this Parliament. The production of cheap electrical power from the vast brown coal deposits in Victoria was planned executed by those governments. A government of the same political complexion was responsible for the harnessing of the tremendous resources of the Kiewa River in the Australian Alps. I do not want to dwell in detail on these past achievements. I mention them merely to show that it is nonsense for honorable members opposite to sneer at the members of the Australian Countryparty ‘ and their political colleagues by saying that during the many years in which non-Labour governments were in office they achieved nothing. Electricity generated at Yallourn from rich brown coal deposits is supplied, not only to the City of Melbourne, and to farms situated many hundreds of miles away, but also to the City of Albury and other cities and towns located in the electorate of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Puller). When the work of harnessing the headwaters of the Kiewa River and of the snow catchment areas which feed that stream has been completed the cost will run into scores of millions of pounds. The Snowy Mountains scheme has not yet progressed beyond the talking stage. In my electorate there are hundreds of men who have been working for years on the Kiewa project which, although of much smaller dimensions, is closely comparable with the Snowy Mountains scheme. The Kiewa project had its genesis in governments formed by the Australian Country party and the United Australia party in Victoria. So, we are glad to support this proposal to utilize the waters of the Snowy River. In deciding to proceed with this scheme, the Government is merely following the pattern adopted by the Bruce-Page Government in an intergovernmental agreement between the Commonwealth and the States of Victoria and New South Wales to harness the waters of the Murray for irrigation purposes thus permitting a great area of valuable land to be translated into an irrigation province. It is also following the excellent example set by non-Labour governments in Victoria in utilizing the vast brown coal deposits of Victoria for the generation of electrical power. «I express the hope that in the future we shall not look back over the history of this project to find that it has made no more progress than has the vast proposal for the standardization of railway gauges which came from the same stable as has this proposal but which .during the last four years has proved to be utterly barren.
– This proposal should have been treated on a non-political plane because it is designed to benefit the whole of Australia. The speeches made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser), the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) and other Government supporters were so charged with political poison that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that many of the public works proposals brought forward by this Government are designed as windowdressing in preparation for the forthcoining election. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has directed attention to the fate of another stupendous proposal, the standardization of railway gauges, which was proclaimed by this Government with a great flourish of trumpets just prior to the last election. That project was estimated to cost £284,000,000 or £234,000,000. After all, a few dozen millions of pounds is neither here nor there while this Government remains in office. It was said that £78,000,000 would be expended almost immediately. A few months ago I asked the Minister for Transport - the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was then administering that portfolio - a question relating to the progress of the work and I elicited the information that not one yard of railway line had been standardized. The budget papers presented by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) at the beginning of this financial year show that only £78,000, and not £78,000,000, was to be provided for that purpose this year and that only £50,000 had been provided in the preceding year. When I asked upon what work or services the £50,000 had been expended I was informed that it was utilized to maintain an office staff. If the proposal now before us meets with no bettor fate than has the proposal for the standardization of railway gauges, there is little prospect that the difficulties which we are experiencing to-day in providing Australia with adequate electric power and water will be overcome while this Government remains in office. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon “I has been good enough to circulate widely his booklet relating to this scheme. It is grand for us to have comparisons of the project with the Tennessee Valley scheme.
One of the matters upon which the Government has not informed us is how it proposes to undertake this work at present or within the immediately foreseeable future having regard to the labour situation. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said that the Australian Labour party is pledged to a policy of full employment. With tongue in cheek he said that that party is the only political party which believes in a policy of full employment. He neglected to mention the fact that almost all of the national works that have been undertaken in Australia were begun and completed under the direction of governments formed by the two parties now in Opposition, and that the state of full employment which now prevails is by no means confined to Australia. Full employment exists in many other countries which were smitten by the war and in which arrears of production have not yet been overtaken. On what reservoir of labour does the Government propose to draw to man this vast project? Thousands of unskilled workers and countless hundreds of skilled tradesmen and professional men will he needed. How can these men he provided at a time when every newspaper in Australia regularly publishes pages of advertisements seeking men and women to sta.ff our factories and workshops?
– The position is quite different from what it was when governments that were supported by the honorable member were in office.
– C an the honorable member say from what source the labour required to implement this project will be drawn? Will the Government depend on the importation of displaced persons for another year or two? We are all aware that the supply of displaced persons is likely to run out within the next twelve or fifteen months. If that be so, from what source does the Government expect to obtain the necessary labour to commence this project?
– The honorable member need not worry about that.
– My friend the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) solved all his problems as a farmer by getting off the land.
– At least I paid my workers full award wages.
– The honorable member paid his workmen so much that they left bini to decide what wages they should receive.
– Order ! If the honorable member addresses his remarks to the bill he will have a much easier passage.
– The honorable member for Wannon himself told us that story only recently.
-Order! The honorable member must discuss the bill.
– I direct the attention of the Minister and of the Government to another consideration associated with such undertakings. It has already been pointed out that the Government’s proposals for the standardization of our railway gauges have not been implemented, and the Government has not given any indication of the exact means which it proposes to employ to translate its plans for the Snowy Mountains project into actual achievements. I am convinced that one of the most efficient means that the Government could adopt to implement its plans would be to spread the idea that there is nothing discreditable in doing a good day’s work. Of course, the Government sedulously promulgates the philosophy that one need not work hard to get on in Australia. It must be obvious that if we are to carry out this project with our present labour resources there will have to be a greater application to hard work. A project which will in wl ve the expenditure of £1S4,000,000 will require an army of skilled and unskilled labour. According to the Government every employable man in this country is already at work, and statistics released by the Department of Labour and National Service show that 100,000 jobs are available at the present time and cannot be filled because of the scarcity of labour. If the Government is sincere in its proposals to implement the Snowy Mountains scheme it must have given some consideration to the practical difficulties which will require to be overcome.
Of course, many of our greatest industrial undertakings were the products of necessity. The Yallourn electricity scheme in “Victoria was discussed for many years but nothing was done until 1916, when a major coal strike occurred in New South Wales. The hardship occasioned by that strike convinced the Government of Victoria of that time of the need to provide some alternative means of coal supply. To-day, in 1949, a similar argument : is being hammered into tho community by the present Government, which says that we must establish ‘some alternative source of power supply to the Newcastle coal-fields. Officers of the Department .of Post-war Reconstruction have stated that our current annual requirements of black coal are approximately 15,000,000 tons. Since production has remained static at about 11,0.00,000 tons, we have had an annual deficit of 4,000,000 tons. According to the figures supplied to the House by the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) in the course of the second-reading speech which he delivered .on this scheme it will provide power equivalent to that which could be generated by about 4,000,000 tons of coal. Of course, the Minister did not mention that even if the work were completed in the time proposed, it will be 20 or 25 years before Australia’s current requirements of electrical power are overtaken. Moreover, if even some of the other hopes which are entertained for our national development are realized, our population will have increased substantially and our requirements of power will have risen correspondingly.
The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) rightly pointed out that almost all the great schemes of national development have been conceived and executed by governments of a different political complexion from that of the present Administration. However, the political complexion of the administrations which carry out important national works is not of’ any great moment. After all, the process of national development is an extended one, and everything cannot be accomplished in a single century, or even in a century and a half. Progress is achieved by stages. It is evident that we are now at one of our developmental stages. We have reached the “blueprint “ stage. The proposals put forward by the Minister lay great emphasis on the fact that agreement has been reached between the Australian Government and certain State governments to carry out this work, but they do not emphasize that men and materials must be found if the scheme is to be implemented. Steel, cement, .and other building materials must be manufactured. Although the ordinary requirements of individual home-builders and manufacturers and industrialists io-day cannot be supplied, the Snowy Mountains project will necessarily require extraordinary quantities of goods of many kinds.
Whilst I give full support to the proposals advanced by the Government, I do not believe that there is any hope of realizing them unless the Go- vernment alters its attitude towards the necessity for workers to do a full day’s work in return for a full day’s pay. It goes without saying that our limited population of approximately 8,000,000 prevents us from achieving miracles, and that if the proposed scheme is to be carried out it will require the maximum effort by the men engaged on the work. The application of scientific knowledge and the employment of modern machinery and mechanical aids will undoubtedly assist considerably, but in the last resort the tunnels will be dug, the dams will be built and the power stations will be erected by the hands of the workers engaged on the job. It will not be possible to change the attitude of organized labour towards hard work until some of the problems of labour relationships which at present confront us are solved. I certainly hope that in proposing this great scheme the Government is not anticipating the occurrence of another depression and merely planning to mitigate its effects. I again emphasize that the attitude of organized labour and the necessity for hard work are two considerations that are intimately connected with the realization of the Snowy Mountains project. The policy pursued by the present Government is designed, at least in some degree, to create an artificial surplus of labour by restricting individual output.
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks are not related to the bill, and he must confine himself to the discussion of the measure.
– Is the reservoir of labour that will be necessary for the construction of the great works which form the Snowy Mountains project to be found in an artificial surplus of labour which the Government intends to create ? If not, how is the labour to be obtained? Is it to be supplied by the displaced persons of Europe who will be brought to this country for that purpose? There are approximately 100,000 Baits, Poles and Yugoslav migrants in this country at present, apart from a number of other acceptable migrants from various countries. I make no criticism of those migrants, but I point out that they are all employed at present. Is it proposed that the labour requirements of the Snowy Mountains scheme will be met by .the importation of, say, another 200,000 displacedperson migrants? I point out, of course, that displaced persons will be available as migrants only while the International Refugee Organization continues to function, and, as honorable members are aware, that body will cease to function in approximately eighteen months’ time. I appeal to the Government, therefore, to give some definite indication of the practical means by which it proposes to implement this project. Otherwise, I am afraid that all that will be done with regard to the scheme will be to display huge placards at the forthcoming general election and to arrange for great speeches to be made in the Eden-Monaro electorate by the illustrious member thereof about his participation in the scheme. They will probably salvage the EdenMonaro seat for the Chifley Government, but after that there will be a deathly quiet about the Snowy Mountains scheme.
.- I suggest that the debate be adjourned.
– The debate will proceed.
– We want to make a start on the scheme.
– The thesis of my very brief speech is that, on the present basis, the scheme may never be completed. Like other honorable members on this side of the House, I express the heartiest support of the proposal to begin the development of this scheme for the utilization of the waters of the Snowy River to provide water for irrigation and’ the generation of electricity. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), in purporting to answer a statement by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), said that the suggestion that the Government’s methods were likely to meet with legal difficulties was paltry and hair-splitting. I do not think that I do that honorable gentleman an injustice when I say that that sums up his criticism of the observations of the Leader of the Opposition. In my view, so far from being paltry and hairsplitting, the objections that have been raised to the bill in its present form will ultimately be found to be fundamental. If it is the Government’s intention to proceed with the scheme on the basis of this legislation, the scheme is likely to fail altogether.
– The honorable gentleman has been wrongly advised.
– Time will tell. It would be foolish to indulge in dogmatic forecasts of what the highest legal tribunal in the land will do. I do not propose to do that, and I hope that the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) will not, from the depths of his inexperience, do so either. I suggest that there are indications that if the Government attempts to go forward on this footing it will not go forward at all. It is because honorable members on this side of the House want the scheme to go forward that we have presumed to direct attention to the weaknesses that are inherent in the bill, which is based, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, upon the defence power in the Constitution. The preamble to the bill contains several recitals. The first two are as follows : -
And whereas the construction of further defence works and the establishment of further defence undertakings will require additional supplies of electricity:
And whereas it is desirable that provision should be made now to enable increased supplies of electricity to be immediately available in time of war.
The next two recitals refer to the Australian Capital Territory and the desirability of having uninterrupted supplies of electricity in time of war. On the basis of those recitals, it is proposed to establish the authority that is referred to in the bill.
The first observation I make is that a government does not bring something within the ambit of the defence power in the Constitution merely by reciting that it is within the ambit of that power. On several occasions the House has witnessed the spectacle of the government of the day attempting to bring legislation within the ambit of a power in the Constitution by declaring that the activity with which the legislation deals comes within the ambit of that power. That is a fallacy that has been exposed again and again in the courts of the land, and I venture to say that it will be exposed in this instance. It may be asked, Who will challenge this legislation? True, the Australian Government will not challenge it, because it is seeking to stretch but its hands and take power. It may be that some of the States will not challenge it, but some of them may do so. One or two of the States may not be content to allow this usurpation of authority by the Commonwealth. It may well be that in due course, perhaps not so long hence, legal action will be taken by one of the States if the Government attempts to take steps to implement this scheme, which is, of course, only in embryonic form at the moment. Even if the States do not challenge the legislation, and are content with a position in which they have no financial responsibility but are merely customers of the Commonwealth, that will not be an end of the matter. There are private citizens who may be dispossessed as the result of resumptions of land by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority. Scattered throughout the bill are all kinds of powers that will be given to the new authority, including power to resume land and to pay compensation for it. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) nods his head. I suppose that he does so’ because he derives some comfort from clause 33 of the bill, sub-clause 1 of which reads as follows: -
In the exercise of its powers under this Act, the Authority shall cause as little detriment and inconvenience and do as little damage as possible.
If the honorable gentleman is deriving some comfort from that provision, I tell him that those words mean exactly nothing. They will have no, ( meaning whatever in a court of law. Any authority is bound to do that in relation to the citizen unless it has been given tyrannical power under some extraordinary -section of an act.
– The authority will be bound to acquire on just terms.
– I agree. Clause 33 (4) makes the Lands Acquisition Act applicable in relation to claims for compensation against the authority. The point I am seeking to make is that there are private citizens whose right may be interfered with- by the. authority) and it is a- guinea to a gooseberry that some of those citizens will seek to preserve their rights.
– They will not.
– The honorable member foi- Eden-Monaro says, “ They will not “. I suppose the Government thought that that would not happen in the case of the banks, but it did. I suppose the Government thinks that it will not happen in the case of the shipowners, but it will. Every time a government secures the passage of legislation that purports to interfere with people’s rights, there is always some citizen who takes a view different from the view of the government and seeks to. protect his rights by litigation. It is likely that the validity of some of the provisions of this legislation will be challenged in the High Court of Australia. That is the warning that I give. If a citizen does challenge the legislation, it will be a question of constitutional interpretation, and it will be useless for counsel for the Commonwealth, arguing in favour of the constitutional validity of the legislation, to say that in the preamble it is stated that the scheme is for the purposes of defence. It will be for the High Court to decide whether the legislation comes fairly and squarely within the defence power. ,i
– Surely electrical power- has something to do with defence.
– That is a fair interruption. That would be a valid argument if certain of the provisions that are now in the bill were not in it. As has already been pointed out, there is in the miscellaneous section at the end of this measure, a very significant clause - clause 39 - which gives the authority power to sell electricity. That obviously has no relation to defence. Attention has already been drawn to the fact that only about 10 per cent, of the power to be generated under the scheme will be absorbed by defence undertakings and by the Australian Capital Territory. The rest will be available, as is undoubtedly intended by certain clauses of the bill, for general ..consumption by the States.
– What is wrong with that?
– There is nothing wrong with that. It- is quite a good idea to, have a hydro-electric undertaking which will make power available to the States. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), unfortunately, was not in the chamber a few minutes ago when I pointed out that what was wrong with the proposal was not its objective, but the manner in which it is intended that that objective should be reached. The point that I emphasize is that certain provisions in the measure obviously have nothing to do with defence and that these may he challenged in the High Court. In the event of such a challenge being successful, ‘ the entire legislation might become inoperative, which is something that no one desires. If wo are all agreed that a scheme such as this is desirable, it is then only a matter of determining the best way to implement it. The obvious suggestion has already been made by the Leader of the Opposition. Let it be done by intelligent and sensible State cooperation. Why should not New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia get together to establish a joint authority? Why is this attempt being made to juggernaut something through by the will and separate authority of the Australian Government? Honorable members opposite, I suppose, are so blinded by the desirability of having a Snowy Mountains scheme, a proposal with which we all agree, that they are oblivious of the possibility that unconstitutional action on the part of the Government may nullify all their efforts. Throughout Australian political history, there are ample illustrations of what may be achieved by cooperation among the States. I remind honorable members opposite that nearly all Australian governments have found themselves confronted with difficulties owing to the division of power under our federal system, and that most attempts to amplify Commonwealth powers in certain directions have failed. In recent years, people who have devoted any thought to constitutional matters have come to the conclusion that most difficulties can be overcome, not by the Commonwealth fighting against the States, but by it co-operating with them. The Government should realize that any plans that it may hare for the further centralization of authority, or for wiping the States out of existence altogether, will not be tolerated by the citizens of this country. In fact, so little would any such proposals be tolerated, that even desirable alterations of the Constitution might meet with opposition. I suggest, therefore, that in order that the scheme may not fail altogether, the Government should reconsider its attitude. It should approach the problem afresh and by a new method, the method of co-operation. Should Labour be returned to power at the next general election - a highly unlikely contingency - sooner or later it will have to amend this legislation If, on the other hand, the parties now in Opposition are elected to office, they will be faced with the same necessity. In view of the constitutional difficulties, it would be unwise for the Government to proceed further with this scheme in its present form. Why not act now to place the scheme on such a basis that constitutional difficulties will be unlikely to arise? If the powers of the Commonwealth were supplemented by those of the States, the scheme would not be in danger because a challenge on constitutional grounds would be unlikely. I 90und that warning with all humility, because I believe that if the Government does not act now to avoid constitutional complications, it may be very sorry at a later date when a challenge is made in the High Court.
.- Long before I became a member of this chamber I was a supporter of all proposals to increase water and power supplies in this country. Therefore, I support this measure. However, certain features of the bill are not at all pleasing to honorable members on this side of the chamber, and I ..propose to direct attention to some of them. If I thought that the people who will be settled on the land as a result of this scheme will have to live in a socialized state because of this bill, I should disapprove strongly of the measure. I dislike clause 39, which provides that the proposed authority may sell any power that is not required for immediate defence purposes or by the Australian Capital Territory. When a Commonwealth government speaks of fixing the price and selling, I am always wary, because I have in mind the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), at various conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers, has suggested that the States should increase the charges made by some of their public utilities. I am afraid that should this scheme be put into effect without any amendments to the bill, the Commonwealth may be inclined to make high charges for electricity and, by so doing, endeavour to further its policy of socialism. I represent more fertile country in the Murray Valley than does any other federal member. Therefore, I am most interested in the proposed diversion of water under this scheme. Both the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) and the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) visited towns in my electorate last weekend. They did not inform me that they intended to do so. I am the member. Neither of them had the courtesy to mention their projected tour to me.
– Order ! Will the honorable member address his remarks to the bill?
– I am speaking the truth when I say that the two Ministers did not inform me of their intention to visit my electorate.
– Order ! The honorable member must relate his remarks to the hill.
– They visited my electorate in connexion with the Snowy Mountains project, but they did not extend to me the courtesy of telling me about their intentions. That is the truth.
– To what towns does the honorable member refer?
– I am referring to Kerang and Swan Hill, both of which are situated in my electorate. I understand that the Minister for Works and Housing made a speech at Kerang.
-. - A good speech, too, I am told.
– I hope that the Minister did make a good speech. 1 believe that his audience drew the inference from his speech that, under the Snowy Mountains proposal, the addi tional one-third of the water will be diverted to the Murray River.
– I said that I thought that statesmanship would prevail.
– If statesmanship does prevail, the Murray Valley will receive the additional one-third of the water. Along the Murray Valley is a fertile belt of country that, under irrigation, could be given great productivity. Recently, in the electorate of Darling, at Euston Homestead, I inspected country, which, when irrigated last season, yielded £1,000 worth of tomatoes to the acre. The Murray Valley has wonderful possibilities. Sunraysia is the most progressive decentralized area in the whole of the Commonwealth, and it can be extended. I hope that the Snowy Mountains project will be approved, and that it will provide additional hydro-electric power and water for the Murray Valley.
– More power to socialism !
– Not more power to socialism, but more power to Australia. I believe that a government consisting of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party wil,! have charge of the administration of the Snowy Mountains scheme after the next election. Before my train of thought was diverted by interjections, I was referring to the Murray Valley, and to the advantages that would accrue there from additional water and power. Honorable members opposite are treating this subject facetiously at this hour, but -
-Order.’ The honorable member should proceed with his speech before he wears out his welcome.
– The hydro-electric power that will be generated under the Snowy Mountains scheme should be made available to towns in the Murray Valley in order to encourage the decentralization of industries that are now located in Sydney and Melbourne. Frequently, the serious drift of population from the rural areas is deplored by responsible authorities. According to the census figures, the population of
Victoria between 1934 and 1947 increased by approximately 287,962. Unfortunately, the cities in that State gained the whole of the increase of population with the exception of two people.
– Four people.
– A simple arithmetical calculation shows that as the increase quoted amounted to approximately 12 per cent. of the population, the increase of rural population for the whole of Victoria would have been only seventeen persons on a 100 per cent. increase within the period mentioned.
– Will the honorable member explain that?
– I shall not trouble to explain it to the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) because he would not understand it. He has no knowledge of the great primary producing industries of Australia.
– Order ! Will the honorable member address his remarks to the bill?
– I shall certainly do so. Some honorable members have expressed the opinion that this bill is ultra vires the Constitution. I am satisfied to allow any constitutional difficulties to be met when they arise. I believe that the Government has a chance to launch this great undertaking. If the predictions that are made in the pamphlet Wealth from the Snowy about the potentialities of the scheme are borne out, a new era will dawn in the progress of Australia. I am one of those who believe that productivity can be increased by improving the country that we have already developed in preference to opening up outback areas where conditions are less favorable for agricultural and pastoral industries. In the areas that receive a satisfactory rainfall and particularly those districts in the southern parts of Victoria, the pastures have been improved by top dressing almost to a point beyond which our present knowledge of agricultural and pastoral pursuits will not allow us to develop them. Therefore, the productivity of the drier areas in the northern areas of Victoria and in parts of New South Wales must be increased by the use of irrigation.
– What about Queensland?
– Queensland is able to take care of its own development. At present, we are discussing the Snowy Mountains project.
– The honorable member would not be in favour of settling exservicemen in the Northern Territory?
– The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) according to an answer he gave to a question recently, does not know how many ex-servicemen have been settled anywhere on the land. At present the Murray Valley is the most suitable place for that purpose. In a previous debate, I have referred to the thriving new settlement at Robinvale. Many more men could be established on the land in that district, and I believe that they would prosper to a greater degree than those in other areas that have been suggested for the land settlement of ex-servicemen. Referring to dairying, I point out that Swan Hill and Kerang–
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to discuss those matters. He must relate his remarks to the bill.
– I am trying to point out what a benefit–
– The honorable member is making a bad job of it.
– I will judge whether I am making a bad job of it or not. It is a matter of opinion. The occupant of the Chair does not judge whether I am making a bad job of it or not.
– Order ! The Chair is the judge of whether the honorable member’s remarks are relevant to the bill. The Chair considers that they have not been related to the measure.
– The Minister has not explained where the constructing authorities will obtain the necessary labour and materials for the works in the Snowy Mountains area. Perhaps when he replies to the second-reading debate, he will clarify the position. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr.
Fraser) is the only speaker who has referred sarcastically to happenings in the past. His statements have no foundation in fact, but he has tried to make some party political capital out of this debate. His speech has not impressed. Some honorable members opposite have claimed that non-Labour governments should have completed the Snowy Mountains project years ago. Their submission is as empty as it would be a contention that the present streamlined motor car should have been invented fifteen years ago, or that airmen who flew from Europe to Australia fifteen years ago should have travelled as quickly as men do in modern aircraft. Since the necessities of war hastened the development of many great inventions we have been able to obtain bulldozers and other kinds of mechanical devices that make possible the completion of a project such as the one for which the bill provides. Furthermore, some of the money that we are now obtaining as the result of high world prices for primary products can be invested in schemes of this character, that will increase the productivity of our land. Many things that are possible to-day were not possible ten or fifteen years ago.
– That is what happens under a Labour government.
– The Labour Government has had nothing to do with it. It seeks to obtain kudos on account of the high world prices for primary products when, in fact, it has only hindered progress by many of its actions as well as its inaction to which we are obliged to direct attention at every sitting of this House. I support the bill. I hope that the States will never he wholly dependent upon the Canberra government. I hope also that in relation to hydro-electric power for the Snowy Mountains scheme they will not have to be satisfied with what is left over after the requirements of the Australian Capital Territory and defence projects have been met.
– What does the honorable member mean by that ?
– I hope that there will be greater co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States, and that the States will be given a chance to play an active part in the implementation of this project. The Minister for Works and Housing has said that, in his opinion, the final stages of the undertaking will be reached twenty years hence. It may be longer than that. However, I hope that before then the States will have the opportunity to become partners in the project and that the Snowy Mountains scheme will finally bring to the citizens of the future a greater measure of prosperity in the Commonwealth of Australia.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Lemmon) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate: -
Without requests -
Appropriation Bill (No. 2) IH4.8-4H.
Without amendment -
Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill (No. 2) 1048-40.
The following paper was presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Department of Civil Aviation purposes - Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
House adjourned at 11.2S p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Northern Territory: De, V. H. Webster.
asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
asked the Minister for Information, upon notice -
Will he consider a thorough overhaul of the department’s activities with a view to
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
(a) The average cost for the past five issues for printing of Fads and Figures has been £379 2s. 2Jd. per issue. (5) Cost of distribution in all parts of the world is approximately f200 per issue.
The statistical information in the publication is not out of date and is found extremely useful by its recipients. It does, however, suffer from the inevitable time lag between (a) the end of a quarter and the compilation of figures for that quarter; and
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Fuel, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Fuel has supplied the following information : - 1 and 2 -
s asked the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows ; -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 June 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1949/19490622_reps_18_203/>.