19th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.45 p.m., and read prayers.
-On Tuesday, the 30th May, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory asked me whether Iwould give consideration to the broadcasting of debates on the daily motion for the adjournment of the House, and I indicated to him that I would place the matter before the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee. I now wish to inform the honorable member that the committee has considered the matter and has decided not to recommend any alteration of the existing arrangements.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is possible for him to give the House a little more information than has been made available yet about the withdrawal of Australian occupation troops in Japan. Reports have stated that the operation may take a considerable time, and I ask the right honorable gentleman to indicate the rate of withdrawal if he can do so without affecting security.
– I shall -be very glad to consult the service Ministers and ascertain whether a statement can be made on this matter to-morrow. If a statement can be made, I shall certainly make one.
– I ask the Minister for Supply to inform the House of the present position of ‘Commonwealth salvage control. Has the organization been wound up? If not, what is being done about iti
– The Commonwealth salvage control organization is being wound up. The control itself was terminated on the 31st December or the 1st January last, and the winding up of the organization was placed in the hands of the Department of Supply. A small clerical staff has been dealing with accounts and other bookkeeping matters for the last few months, and I hope that its work will end very soon.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Army concerning the activities of the committee that has been appointed to investigate claims for the payment of subsistence allowance to ex-prisoners of war. It has been reported in the Western Australian press that a preliminary sitting of the committee will be held in Sydney to-morrow. The committee has invited all organizations of ex-servicemen to be represented at the sitting, but it will be. very inconvenient for Western Australian organizations to be represented. Therefore. I ask the Minister to announce whether the committeeintends to conduct sittings in all States during its investigations. Will a sitting of the committee be held at Perth ?
– The Government, in accord alice with a promise which was made during the recent general election campaign, has appointed a full, competent and impartial committee to investigate the claims of ex-servicemen’s associations for the payment of a subsistence allowance to cx-prisoners of war. The inquiry will be conducted by three ex-servicemen. The chairman is Mr. Justice Langer Owen-, of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, who was a sapper in World War I., and was twice wounded. The other two members of the committee are men who have had extensive military experience. The Government has made the terms of reference very broad in-order to ensure that the fullest possible investigation shall be conducted. The. committee has been placed entirely outside the control of any service department, and is now within “ the jurisdiction of the Attorney-General’s Department. Mr. A. R. Neaves, of the Crown Solicitor’s Office, is the secretary of the committee, and I am quite sure that he will be pleased to place before it any representations that the honorable member may care to make. I am also confident that if the members of the committee consider that they should go to Western Australia and to other States in order to hear the submissions of ex-servicemen’s organizations on this matter, they will do so. I repeat that the inquiry is entirely in the hands of the personnel of the committee.
– Ls the Minister for Health aware that goitre is prevalent in the Hunter River Valley area and in the surrounding districts of northern New South Wales ? Can he inform me of the percentage of people throughout the Commonwealth who have been affected by goitre and thyroid gland trouble during the past ten years ? Is the right honorable gentleman aware that, in Great Britain, the Government, on the advice of the medical research council, has launched a two-year drive to rid the entire population of the United Kingdom of those diseases by adding iodine to salt? Will the Minister examine the possibility of having all table and cooking salt which is used in Australia iodized, as has been done in New Zealand, Switzerland and parts of America, where goitre used to lie a common disease among the people?
– I am not able at the moment to give the exact statistics relative to the incidence of goitre in Australia. The use of iodine in salt has proved to be very effective in other countries in curing goitre. I shall discuss the matter which the honorable gentleman has raised with the health authorities of the various States with a view to ascertaining what can be done in Australia.
– Will the Minister for Health state whether the Government of Western Australia has made any representations to the Commonwealth with a view to obtaining the necessary finance for the building of a general hospital at Midland Junction? If representations have been made to the right honorable gentleman, will he inform me of the outcome? Will he also give the details of the process by which, I understand, the States can obtain financial assistance from the Commonwealth for the erection of hospitals?
– I am not aware that any representations have been made to the Commonwealth by the Government of Western Australia for financial assistance to build a general hospital at Midland J unction. At present, there is no procedure by which the Commonwealth can assist in the construction of a particular hospital. That matter may be considered at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, which will probably be held later this year.
– I desire to address a question to the Minister for External Affairs. In support of the preamble of the United Nations Charter in relation to the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and in an endeavour to give practical expression to it, thereby helping to further our friendly relations with our near neighbours, will the Minister give consideration to the extension of the system of libera] scholarships, which were founded by the Chifley Labour Government on the initiative of the then Minister for External Affairs, Dr. Evatt, on a reciprocal basis, or financed directly from the abundant reserves of the Treasury, which would enable Australian students and diplomatic cadets to attend universities in Asia and South-East Asia ?
– I shall he glad to give consideration to the honorable member’s question, but I assure him that from knowledge that has been conveyed to me there are no abundant reserves in the Treasury.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honorable member claim that he has been misrepresented ?
– Yes. Last Thursday night, during the debate on South and South-East Asia, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) said -
With some of the arguments of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) I disagree strongly. I remember his speech very clearly, and I believe that nobody here has any right to say that he made any reference whatever, either complimentary or otherwise, to those killed in the last war. It is a vicious distortion of his words by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) to say that there was any such reference.
Thereupon, I made the following interjection : -
I did not say “ those killed “.
The honorable member for Fremantle replied to my interjection as follows: -
If the honorable member has the decency to look to-morrow at the Hansard ” flat “ ‘containing his speech, he will see that what I lui ve said is correct.
I have had the decency to examine the Hansard “flat” carefully, and I have found that I was correct in saying, “ J did not say ‘ those killed
– I rise to order. On the front of every copy of the Hansard “flats” there is a notice in very heavy type which states that they have not been revised and must not ‘be quoted from in the House, as the honorable member is now doing.
– I am not aware that the honorable member is quoting from a Hansard “flat”.
– I repeat that I have had the decency to examine the Hansard “ flat “ as the honorable member for Fremantle requested, and I have found that I was correct in saying, “ I did not say ‘ those killed ‘ “. There was absolutely no truth in the words that were used about me by the honorable member for Fremantle.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. If. I misrepresented the honorable member for Mallee, I had no intention of doing so. I believed that he had made those references to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) that he has mentioned. If I was mistaken, I unreservedly apologize.
– On the 19th April last I asked the Minister for External Territories a question regarding the encouragement that might be extended to ex-servicemen to assist in the development of New Guinea, particularly in primary production. Has the Minister had an. opportunity to consider that matter? Is there any likelihood of a scheme being evolved to encourage ex-servicemen and others to go to New Guinea to assist in its development and thus help to maintain that area as a strategic zone?
– I indicated in the course of the speech that I ‘have made upon our external territories, the only immediate action that can be contemplated is that of making available certain expropriated properties which are under the control of the Custodian of Enemy Property. Those areas will be made available shortly to ex-servicemen. It will take a considerable time to evolve a scheme with respect to the broader question of encouraging exservicemen to go to New Guinea. In that matter we must start, as it were, from taws but it is ‘being considered by my department in conjunction with the Repatriation Department and as soon as I am able to give any information con cerning such a scheme, although I do not expect to be able to do so in the .immediate future, I shall inform the honorable member.
– Does the Prime Minister recall that on the 2nd March last I asked him a question about what progress, if any, had been made since the 10th December last in putting value back into the £1? Does he also recall that in his reply he said -
I expect to be able to inform the House and the country from time to time of the steps that are being taken to achieve that general result?
As more than three months have elapsed since the right honorable gentleman made that statement, when will he be in a position to make the first of his promised reports to the Parliament of the progress that he has made towards putting value back into the £1?
– I should like to point out to the honorable member that in addition to other matters that have been announced the Government, believing that production is vital to the reduction of prices and realizing that the activities of Communists are inimical to production in Australia, presented to the Parliament a bill to deal with the Communists. That bill is not yet on the statute-book. The delay has been due entirely to the activities of the Opposition in both Houses.
– In view of the importance and urgency of providing tractors ‘that are needed for various developmental works, can the Minister for National . Development indicate the estimated demand for crawler tractors in Australia? Are such tractors manufactured in this country? What are the present sources of supply?
– A short time ago my department published a conspectus of the tractor position in Australia which revealed the very big back-log of demand of more than 3,000 crawler tractors, the value of which was estimated’ at £10,000,000 at current costs. That backlog is being increased each year by the demand for between 1,000 and 2,000 crawler tractors. No crawler tractors are made in Australia. Those of the smaller type are built in Great Britain and other soft currency countries whilst those of the larger type have to be obtained from America. That is one of the factors that is having an appreciable effect on the development of Australia.
– My question to the Minister for Health concerns a class of people in this country, which includes many ex-servicemen from World War I., whose physical ailments are not regarded by the repatriation authorities as attributable to war service. The particular case that I have in mind is that of a blinded returned soldier from World War I., 59 years of age, who receives a war pension of £4 6s. a week on which he has to keep himself, his wife and a child eleven years of age. He has developed a very bad heart condition but cannot be accepted as a patient in a repatriation hospital. He cannot afford to pay taxi fares for transport to and from hospital and, owing to his heart condition, he is unable to sit at the hospital for two or three hours waiting for attention. He already owes his doctor seventeen guineas, and cannot afford to ask the doctor to visit him again. He has to pay £1 a week for tablets for his heart condition and for drops and powders for his eyes. Will ‘the Minister put into operation the MoKenna National Health Service Act so that this unfortunate man, and others in his class, will be able to get medical attention without cost to themselves and to obtain all the pharmaceutical benefits to which the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act entitles them, but which they are denied to-day because of the inability or the failure of the Minister to put into effect an act of Parliament which is supported by the Austraiian people ?
– I think that the honorable member’s memory has failed him. There are no provisions in the McKenna National Health Service Act that would enable all these benefits to be extended to the person concerned. The only part of the health and medical services scheme of the previous Government that was in operation was the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act which was described by the High Court as unconstitutional and held to be invalid in certain respects. It has been found impossible to operate the formulary contained in that act and Senator McKenna has said that he will resist any attempt on the part of this Government to alter it without his consent.
– In view of the consistent denials of the Minister for Health of the accuracy of press reports, including statements allegedly made hy himself about the proposed national health scheme, and having regard for his continued contempt of the Parliament in refusing to make any statement to it about that scheme, or to give the details of it to honorable members, will he now lay on the table copies of all the press releases which he has made relative to this matter since he became Minister for Health, or of any notes or . reports of speeches which he has made to outside bodies about the scheme?
– I have no more intention of complying with the honorable member’s request than he would have had of complying with a similar request when he was a Minister, because he denied’ every report which was attributed to him.
– Will the Minister for Immigration state what inducements are offered to United States ex-servicemen to settle in Australia? Has the scheme for assisted passages been extended to United States servicemen who wish to settle in Australia ? Has any special provision been made for American exservicemen who have married Australian girls ?
– A scheme designed along the lines referred to by the honorable member has been in operation for some considerable time. Indeed, since September, 1947, parties of young Americanexservicemen and their families have crossed the Pacific to find a new homeland in Australia as a result of a scheme that was put into operation by the previous Government. Those of pure European descent who served in a fulltime capacity in the armed forces, the merchant navy, the mercantile marine or the home services and American ex-service personnel are eligible for assistance under the scheme, which also covers their dependants and unmarried children and the widows of exservicemen and their dependants. The Australian Government contributes to the cost of bringing such migrants to tha Commonwealth, on a sliding scale ranging from 40 to 50 per cent, of the tourist class fare which varies from £17 10s. to £30 a passage.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Immigration a question regarding the accommodation which sponsors are supposed to provide for a period of twelve months for the migrants whom they nominate. Has the Minister seen in this morning’s newspapers a report concerning a Scottish family which is living in a cowshed? I understand that the members of this family were nominated by a sponsor who guaranteed to provide them with accommodation for a period of twelve months. If the accommodation of these people is the responsibility of the State government will the Minister confer with the government concerned in order to have this nomination system policed so as to ensure that promises given by nominators will not be broken?
– The case to which the honorable member has referred has received some prominence in the press, largely, I think, because my predecessor in office arranged some special celebration on the arrival of a child who was a member of the family. As I have stated publicly, I have adopted the practice of not dealing in that way with any one under the age of eighteen, and I think that ihe experience of my predecessor shows the danger of the course that he adopted. Inquiries which I have had made indicate that the Saxelby family was nominated by relatives who were living in Australia, and in the first instance, they went to live at Yallourn with their nominator, as arranged. Unfortunately, as happens in the best regulated families, personal disagreements occurred and the Saxelby family left their sponsors in order to seek accommodation elsewhere. Their present unsatisfactory accommodation is that which they were able to secure after they left the accommodation that had been provided by their nominators. I understand that the State electricity authorities are sympathetic to the family who, from their photos in the press, appear to be a very fine family and I hope that Australia will not lose them and that some satisfactory solution will be found to their problem. However, the Government cannot legislate to provide for cases of this kind, where nominators have adequate accommodation. The accommodation may be found to be satisfactory when it is examined, but these personal domestic difficulties occur, and the migrant family then has to make the best arrangements that it can under the circumstances.
– Will the Minister for Immigration inform me whether it is a fact that a riot which recently occurred in what is known as one of the holding camps for migrants as a result of the objections of migrants to being obliged to eat in common dining-rooms? Is it also a fact that the so-called holding camps are places where migrant families are accommodated so that the breadwinner may go out and earn sufficient money for the purpose of maintaining the family pending better arrangements for their disposal. In view of a statement which was made earlier to-day by the Minister that sometimes’ relatives disagree, and also in view of the fact that it is the policy of the Government to encourage the growth of strong family ties which, according to the democratic theory, arc the basis of the nation’s strength, can he inform the House whether it is possible to make arrangements _ for families to live as normal families do, and have their meals in the privacy of the family?
– The statement of the honorable member at the end of his question is, of course, the objective of the Government. The arrangement that has been made for migrants during a temporary transitional period in this country is a better practical scheme than has been devised in any other country. I am happy to say that Sir Arthur Rucker Deputy Director-General of the Internation Refugee Organization, and other persons associated with that body who have examined what has been done in Australia have stated that our scheme for the handling of migrants has been more successful and better than corresponding schemes in any other country. The holding centre to which the honorable member has referred is not normally the centre from which the breadwinner goes out to work. The breadwinner is accommodated either by his employer or at one of the migrants’ hostels and the holding centres are reserved for the wives and dependent children of migrants until such time as the breadwinner can make arrangements for his dependants to join him. There are periodical movements of wives and children who join their husbands as the latter become settled in the economy. The facts to which the honorable member has referred call for some explanation in view of the serious outbreak that occurred for some hours during last week-end at the holding centre that he mentioned. At that centre it has been the practice for some time past for mothers to take food from the dining-rooms to their sleeping quarters to feed their children. That practice has been known to be the cause of epidemic illnesses among the children because unconsumed portions of food, such- as milk, are stored in the sleeping quarters and are given to the children later. Acting on the advice of the health authorities we have attempted to put an end to that practice. It is essential that any possibility of an epidemic be removed and the action of the director of the centre in endeavouring to prevent the storage and later consumption of food in the living quarters is fully justified. In addition to the danger of infection among children as the result of consuming contaminated food, there is also the very real danger of encouraging the spread of vermin when food scraps are left in the quarters. In a communal living establishment, such as an army camp, rats can become a grave menace unless they are carefully watched. When’ the new arrangement was put into effect most of the mothers concerned were quite happy about it, but some disagreement arose between those who understood that it was in the interests of better hygiene and, therefore, were prepared to adopt it, and others who were not prepared to adopt the arrangement. As in all such disturbances among these people, who are somewhat excitable, the main point at issue became obscured in national and personal rivalries, but the situation is now in hand. Now that the objective of the new arrangement is well understood, it is not anticipated that there will be any further trouble.
– I address a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service which concerns the pensions paid to retired miners from New South Wales. I point out that no amendment of the act under which such pensions are paid may be effected except by agreement between the New South Wales Government and the Australian Government. Is it a fact that the New South Wales Government has approved of an increase of the pensions paid to retired miners, but that the matter has been held in abeyance pending the approval of the Australian Government? Is it also a fact that pit top meetings are to be held this week throughout the coal-fields to discuss this Government’s attitude in this matter? As the existing discontent may result in stoppages of work at many mines, will the Minister consider the advisability of having the question dealt with as early as possible?
– Later I shall provide the honorable member with a detailed reply to his questions, but I point out to him at this stage that the matter to which he has referred was fully examined by the Government some time ago. A number of recommendations were submitted to the Government by the New South Wales Government, which indicated amendments that might be made to the appropriate legislation. Most of those proposed amendments had been considered by the previous Australian Government. They were rejected by the present Government for the very same reasons that had led to a similar decision by the previous Government. Our own attitude on the matter has been conveyed to the Premier of New South Wales and I am not aware that any further communication has been received from him since that time.
– I ask the Minister for Works and Housing -whether any housing subsidies are being paid, or whether any form of financial assistance, direct or indirect, in relation to housing, is being given to, or on behalf of, senior members of the staff being assembled in Canberra for the Australian National University. If any such assistance is being given will the Minister indicate to the House its form, and the estimated amount involved? Will he also state the name or names of the staff member or members concerned? Is Professor M. L. Oliphant to occupy a house now being erected beyond the city area of Canberra in the direction of Weetangera? If so, what part, if any, is the Commonwealth taking in the erection of that house? Is the house being built in an area already serviced by water, sewerage and electric light? If not, is there, any intention to extend those services to the house; and when will that work be done?
– I have no knowledge of the matters to which the honorable gentleman has referred. However, it is possible that they come within the purview of the Minister for the Interior who, I have no doubt, will obtain information on the points raised by the honorable member and advise him accordingly.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that many pensioners throughout Australia are of the opinion that the Government has already decided to increase age and invalid pensions by an amount of from 5s. to 7s. 6d. a week? If the right honorable gentleman is not aware of that fact will he take my assurance that letters that I am receiving indicate very clearly that many people believe what I have stated to be the position? Will he inform the House whether the Government has made any decision regarding the rate of such pensions, or whether there is any justification for people believing, that the Government has made such a decision? Will he also say whether the Government has considered this matter and whether anything is likely to be done about it in the near future?
– I am aware that many speculations about the ma’tter referred to exist in the minds of people. I accept at once the statement by the honorable member that such speculations have been conveyed to him in correspondence. The rate of pensions is, as the Treasurer has said previously, a matter that he will deal with as part of the financial policy of the Government. When he is in a position to make a statement on the matter he will do so. In the meantime I inform the honorable member that all statements of the kind to which he has referred are purely speculative.
– Will the Minister for Immigration inform the House what steps are being, taken to send Kozinsky and Jedicke back to their country of origin. More importantly, will the honorable gentleman say what extra precautions are being taken to prevent any further undesirable visitors from entering this country?
– It would be necessary for me to make a long statement to deal with all the details of the matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred, and I do not propose to take up the time of the House at this stage with all those details. I have had the matter thoroughly investigated by the officers of my own department. It appears that the two men to whom the honorable gentleman has referred illegally boarded in Europe the American transport ship General Hersey, which was under charter to the International Refugee Organization. They remained illegally on the ship when it sailed for Australia. We propose to make suitable inquiries to ascertain why the master of the vessel permitted them to remain on board and also to discover how they were able to enter Australia from the vessel without having passed through the checks normally made by the Australian customs authorities. As to the action proposed these men are, from the reports that have reached me, very good types, but they have entered the country illegally. It is the- practice to charge such people as prohibited immigrants and arrange for their deportation, particularly when they are stowaways. That action will be taken in this case. The system of checking migrants is reviewed from time to time, but I think that honorable members who held office in the previous Government and who are, therefore, familiar with the security practices that are adopted will agree that the checks that are made on people who enter the country legally are as thorough as they can be at the present time. The only checks that can be made on people who enter the country illegally are the kind that are being made in this case.
– In view of the importance of the New Guinea area in the strategic defence plan of Australia can the Minister acting for the Minister for Defence inform the House what progress has been made on defence works at Los Negros? Does the Minister consider that the work should be expedited in order to ensure that the reclamation of much valuable material and equipment which was left on Los Negros will he salvaged before it is rendered entirely useless by the overgrowth of the jungle?
– I think that it must be accepted that most of the work that is being carried on at the present time is not going ahead as quickly as we should like. The improvements at Manus Island and the establishment that will ultimately he based there, are matters for a good deal of careful examination in relation to the overall defence strategy of Australia in the Pacific area. At the moment Field Marshal Sir “William Slim is in this country for the purpose of discussing this and many other questions. I can assure the honorable member that every step will be taken to ensure that as much of the equipment and as many as possible of the buildings on Manus Island will be salvaged or renovated.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy whether it is a fact that when ratings of the Royal Australian
Navy commit criminal offences and are convicted and sentenced in a civil criminal court and have served the sentences imposed upon them, they are rearrested by the naval authorities on their release and are held for further penalty even though their period of naval enlistment has expired? If that is a fact does the Minister subscribe to the policy of double penalties adopted by the naval authorities ?
– If the honorable member will give me an example of the type to which he refers, I shall have it examined. It has been my experience to date that the suggestion contained in the honorable member’s question is not in accordance with fact.
– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture any information which indicates that the United. Kingdom Government is prepared to pay the increased prices for eggs and egg products exported from Australia to the United Kingdom which are necessary to cover the present cost of production as determined by the Division of Agricultural Economics? If the United Kingdom Government does not agree to pay the increased prices, will the Minister give some consideration to the payment of a subsidy by the Australian Government on exports of eggs and egg products to Great Britain to ensure that egg producers receive the cost of production prices for their products?
– The latter part of the honorable gentleman’s question involves a decision of policy that I cannot anticipate. In regard to the main question, which relates to the negotiations between Australia and the United Kingdom on new prices for eggs for the coming year, I can say that negotiations have been proceeding with the United Kingdom Government since last February, and they have not been dilatory negotiations. The length of time over which they have proceeded is an indication of the difficulties that have been encountered. Before commencing the negotiations I had discussions with the chairman of the Australian Egg Board from time to time.
A week ago, I had discussions with the chairman and two producers’ representatives of the board. The honorable member and the whole of the industry may rest assured that every effort is being made to conclude, in these negotiations, an arrangement satisfactory to the Australian poultry industry.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. By way of explanation I point out that advice has been received from London that the British Ministry of Food has purchased wheat from Australia at a price below the maximum International Wheat Agreement price, and flour for considerably less than the International Wheat Agreement price. In view of the fact that world parity price is higher than the International Wheat Agreement price, will the Minister advise the House of the price paid for (a) wheat, and (&) flour? Does the fact that flour instead of wheat was exported suggest an error of judgment on the part of the Australian Wheat Board in allowing too much wheat to be milled in Australia instead of being exported as wheat, thus causing loss to the growers ? Does this sale indicate that the International Wheat Agreement price will not be maintained on a falling market? As has been seen, when the world’s parity is higher the term9 of the agreement have been implemented. Will these transactions tend to disturb the confidence of the growers in international agreements ? If the board wants to make concessions to overseas countries, does the Minister not consider that the cost of the concessions should be borne by all the people instead of by one section - the wheat-growers ?
– I am sure that the honorable member would not expect me to engage without notice in reply to some of the argumentative aspects of his questions; but I am able to assure him that all sales of wheat by the Australian Wheat Board have been made according- to the best judgment of the board and without any interference by this Government. I remind the honorable member that a majority of members of the board consists of producers. Therefore, I think that we may assume that any transactions arranged by the board will be designed in the best interests of the growers. I understand that some sales of wheat have been made to the United Kingdom at prices lower than the maximum set for the current wheat year under the agreement, but those sales are in respect of the next wheat year under the agreement and the prices are within the bracket of the upper and lower prices fixed for that year. Sales of flour have been made to the United Kingdom at a concessional rate as the result of an arrangement under which the board has agreed to grant a concession in respect of wheat for gristing for export. The objects of the board are to maintain the volume of the Australian flour trade, to meet the competition of North American flour, to maintain employment at as high a level as possible in Australian flour mills, and, finally but of considerable importance, to maintain in Australia as great a flow as possible of flour mill offals, upon which certain other primary industries depend. All of the transactions have been made according to the best judgment of the Australian Wheat Board.
– Has the Prime Minister made any progress towards the appointment of a joint parliamentary committee on foreign affairs? If not, in view of the urgency of the international situation, will he endeavour to establish the committee before the Parliament goes into recess or will he consider, as an alternative, the appointment of a parliamentary fact-finding committee to visit Malaya and other parts of South-East Asia with which Australia’s future is concerned in order to use to advantage the considerable volume of talent on both sides of this House, which made its presence felt during the debate on international affairs last week, and thus help the Minister for External Affairs in his many arduous duties?
– The Minister for External Affairs will answer the question.
– I think - that the honorable member will ascertain upon inquiry that the Government has been in-touch with the Leader of the Opposition and the right honorable member for Barton in an endeavour to reach final agreement on this matter. 1 am not saying this in any critical sense. I know that the Opposition has been engaged upon what it may consider to be matters of greater importance during the last three or four weeks, but I indicated that if agreement were reached before the House adjourns for the forthcoming recess I would move the necessary motion.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that, according to the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures, prices of clothing increased by 25.3 per cent, during the last eighteen months, and that 25 per cent, of the increase in the cost of living during the last quarter was on account of clothing? Has his attention been drawn to a statement in the Sydney press to the effect that Mr. Ashley Buckingham had said that most consumer goods were in plentiful supply and that practically all types of men’s and women’s underwear and outerwear were as plentiful now as before the war? Is the right honorable gentleman also aware that industrial disputes in the clothing industry have been practically negligible? In view of the fact that production has apparently overtaken demand and the fact that Communist influence has not been conspicuous in the clothing trade, how does the Prime Minister explain the continued increase of clothing prices?
– As I understand the honorable member he has said that the supply of clothing is adequate for demand, that there have been no interruptions in the clothing industry as the result of Communist influence, and so on, and that therefore he assumes that there has been a breakdown of prices control. If that assumption is correct, I suggest that, as the honorable member’s information has been derived from a source in Sydney, he should take the- opportunity to put his question to Mr. McGirr, who is in charge of prices control in New South Wales.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Health. On the 27th April. I suggested to the Minister, in the course of another question, that a committee of scientists be appointed to investigate the origin and the best means of treatment of poliomyelitis. I stated that, in my opinion, Australia had scientists equal to the world’s best. My attention has been drawn to the fact that medical men in ‘South Australia are rendering most skilful attention to patients at the Northfield Infectious Diseases Hospital who are suffering from poliomyelitis. I have seen press reports to the effect that the Minister has requested that a committee of ten be formed to deal with epidemic diseases, including poliomyelitis, and that all of the proposed members of the committee are residents of the eastern States. In view of the splendid work that they are doing, did the Minister invite any members of the medical fraternity in South Australia to join the committee? If not, why did he not do so? Does this omission indicate that the right honorable gentleman considers that the best medical brains are in the eastern States?
– The names of the persons whom I accepted for appointment to the committee were submitted by the National Health and Medical Research Council, which made its selection at a full meeting at which delegates from every State were in attendance. South Australia was represented by its official medical head as well as by other scientists. It was suggested that the function of that committee should be, not to carry out the work of investigation completely, but to co-ordinate the various investigations hi the several States. I am sure that it has in mind the utilization to the full of the extraordinarily useful work that is being done in South Australia by several men.
– Has the Prime Minister seen the reports of the results of the British Socialist Government’s ground nuts scheme in East Africa? According to those reports approximately £30,000,000 has been wasted in terms of money, men and materials on a project which, to date, has produced precisely nothing in return? Will the right honorable gentleman and the Government encourage enterprises by private persons who will, first, test such schemes in order to ensure that the taxpayers’ money shall not be wasted?
– Any schemes which are sponsored by the Government will, of course, be investigated by the best practical minds. I cannot profess to know very much about the celebrated ground nuts scheme, but I gathered that the overheads were so great that the plants would not grow.
– I should like to ask the Prime Minister a question about his management of the business of this House. Can he see his way clear to allow the motion which stands in the name of the honorable member for Curtin, on the subject on the social advancement and protection of aborigines, to go to a vote, so that honorable members may record their opinions of the important principles which are contained in it?
– I am glad that the honorable member for Fremantle has raised the matter of the business of the House. There are now listed a half a dozen bills, which are either appropriation or supply measures, and two or three motions the debates on which are unfinished, including the one to which the honorable gentleman has referred. It is the view of the Government that there is no reason why the House, if it attends to those matters, should not be able to complete its business by Friday night.
– This week?
– Yes. I am speaking of the House of Representatives.
– Well, that is different.
– Will the Prime Minister report progress?
-Such a motion, which should be submitted to the Chair, would depend entirely on the state of affairs in the Senate; but there is really no reason why, by next Friday, we should not conclude the business to which I have referred and give a reasonable opportunity for debate on all matters of importance on the notice-paper.
– by leave - The Prime
Minister (Mr. Menzies) has intimated that the Government desires to conclude the business of the House of Representatives by next Friday; but, in my opinion, the fulfilment of that intention would call for too much haste, because some difficult matters might arise. I do not propose to discuss them at length now, but I shall take the opportunity to refer to them later. Mr. Speaker may allow the House to consider the two appropriation bills and the two Supply bills to be debated together; but I point out that those measures provide a wide field for discussion and members of the Opposition feel that they should be given replies by the Government to a number of matters, as I shall later indicate. I consider that from the Prime Minister’s point of view, it is politically unwise to intimate that the Government desires to conclude the business of the House by the end of this week. Certain measures which are now before the Senate will be returned to this House in due course.
– What does the Leader of the Opposition mean by the words “ in due course “?
– The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) should know the answer to that question.
– I am not permitted at this juncture to embark upon a detailed explanation of possible events, but those bills will certainly not be delayed for a very long period. The Senate will require an opportunity to convey to this House its views on certain bills which are now before -it, and will seek an expression of opinion from this chamber about its desires. Consultations may even be necessary between the Senate and the House of Representatives on amendments that have been, or may be, made to various bills. It appears to me that it will be quite impossible for the Senate to conduct its business within the Standing Orders if this House goes into recess at the end of this week. The Opposition protests very strongly against any suggestion that the House of Representatives should go into recess this week, next week, or even the following week, because there are certain mattrs which should be discussed at some length.
– The House has already been in session for approximately four months.
– After all, honorable members are paid to attend here.
– Some of them are overpaid.
– “Why do not some of them work while they are here?
– In four months the Senate has passed only one bill.
– The Prime Minister himself, when he was in Opposition, was one of those who violently protested, as did his satellites, the press, on various occasions, about what they claimed was the Labour Government’s anxiety to adjourn the Parliament.
– The Leader of the Opposition cannot claim that the present Government has been over-anxious to conclude the present sittings, because this session has already lasted approximately four months.
– I consider that it is nationally unwise, legislatively unwise, and, from the point of view of the Prime Minister, politically unwise to adjourn the House of Representatives at the end of this week.
– I move -
That Order of the Day No. 1, Government Business, be postponed until a later hour this duy.
If the motion is agreed to, the House will commence consideration of the Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1949-50. I suggest tha* it would save overlapping and, perhaps, some confusion if Orders of the Day Nos. 2. 3, 4 and 5 could be debated together, although, of course, ultimately each item would have to be voted upon separately.
– I support the suggestion of the Prime Minister. I believe that honorable members, particularly new members, will find it to be more convenient if they are permitted to debate the four items together. The arrangement suggested has bcc:i followed on previous occasions.
-(Hon. Archie Cameron). - I may intimate to the House that, so far as I, personally, am concerned, it is a matter for the House itself to decide how it shall transact its business, but the practice that has been adopted over a period of years with regard to the founding of Supply bills has, in my view, been wrong. “When I was a private member, I strongly contested the procedure. I am of opinion that grievances should be ventilated in Committee of Supply which is the first step towards the founding of Supply bills. In the past, the House has followed the procedure now suggested. However, I suggest that before the next financial year it would be well to examine the Standing Orders with a view to seeing whether the present method actually gives the best results.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 8th June (vide page 3988), on motion by Mr. Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I am very disappointed that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has not seen fit to present to the House a general financial statement that would have enabled honorable members, particularly new members, to survey the Australian economy as a whole. The appropriation and Supply measures now .before the House are purely formal and do not attempt to provide any explanation at all of the country’s financial position generally. I shall mention a number of matters which the Opposition and the public believe should be dealt with in a general financial statement covering the matters now before the House. First, traders and manufacturers are disturbed concerning the question of the appreciation of the Australian ?1. I do not propose to deal with that subject in detail. I mention it because the Treasurer, when introducing these measures, referred to rising costs. The appreciation of the Australian fi is linked with that problem. Nothing could be more disturbing to the national economy than a lot of loose talk with regard to the possibility of changes being made in the value of the currency, and that is particularly true when the Government itself has not attempted to make any statement on the matter one way or the other. I realize the difficulties that are associated with this problem. It is not possible for the Government, or the Treasurer, to make statements about the currency in advance of arriving at a decision on the matter because there is a danger that if a premature statement is broadcast it would present an opportunity to certain people to make profits.
It is disturbing bo the commercial life of the whole . community not to have a general indication from the Government of the economic and financial position of the country. I should have thought that the Treasurer would present a financial statement prior to the introduction of these measures. During the general election campaign the leaders of the parties now in office made a definite promise that if they were given power, they would restore value to the £1. That promise was made foolishly in an attempt to catch votes. No indication was given of the means by which that end would be achieved. When I saw the original advertisements covering that aspect of policy which were jointly signed by the leaders of the .parties now in office I naturally assumed that if they were successful in their appeal to the people they would take immediate steps to honour their promise. This Government has been in office for six months and it has done nothing to honour its obligations in that respect. This afternoon the Prime Minister spoke of the approaching parliamentary recess. Does he intend that the Parliament shall go into recess without having received any indication from the Government of the manner in which it hopes to carry out that promise ? Nobody need imagine for a moment that I am not fully aware of the difficulties that confront the Government in giving effect to that aspect of its policy, even though the promise may have been made recklessly. I should not raise this question if the
Government had been in office for only two or three months. It has had six months in which to make up its mind about this matter and during the whole of that time the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has had the assistance of some of the finest financial brains that this country has ever produced. He has not even made a statement on the financial position to assist the commercial community. The questions that have been asked concerning the Government’s pre-election promise to put value back into the £1 have invariably been side-tracked. Only to-day when the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) asked a question on that subject the Prime Minister referred to the effect of the provisions of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill on rising prices. The honorable member for Yarra was very concerned about the rising prices of women’s apparel. There have not been any strikes in the clothing or weaving industries, and women’s apparel is in plentiful supply. How, then, could that legislation affect the prices of women’s apparel ? It cannot be said that the rising prices of women’s apparel have resulted from Communist interference or from industrial disputes in the clothing trades. I have always tried to be realistic about this matter. I realize that the loss of stability that followed the abolition of wage-pegging in the United Kingdom made difficult the control of clothing prices. Another factor which has greatly militated against the maintenance of reasonable prices for clothing as of other commodities was the action of the parties opposite in opposing the proposals placed before the people by the Labour Government in the rents and prices referendum which was held some time ago. That the defeat of the referendum proposals struck a very serious blow at the economic stability of Australia is now admitted by every State Premier. The claim that the States would be able to control prices efficiently and effectively has been proved to be a complete myth. That was admitted by Mr. Finnan, the New South Wales Minister in charge of pices control at the recent conference of State Ministers on that subject.
It is perfectly true that we cannot effectively control the payment of subsidies in respect of certain commodities unless at the same time we can control wage lev.els and prices. Wages and prices generally have shown a steeply upward trend. The people of this country may very easily be deceived by statements made in this House by Ministers of the Crown. A statement was recently made, either in this House or in the Senate, that the Government intends to remove customs duties from a number of items for a period of twelve months or longer with the object of increasing the supply of such goods in Australia, the implication being that the removal of customs duties would also help to reduce the prices of those items in this country. It is true that the waiving under by-law of customs duty on certain essential items, as was done by the Labour Government, resulted in price reductions. The removal of customs duties on imports from the United Kingdom and the admission of similar goods from continental sources will not reduce the .prices of the articles in Australia. The importation of steel from France or from other continental countries at prices considerably above that for Australian steel must inevitably increase the prices of steel products in this country. The same argument applies to timber and other imported commodities which are used for the manufacture of goods in this country.
The Government cannot claim that it has not had sufficient time to deal with its pre-election promise to put value back into the £1. It has failed in its duty by not presenting to the people a comprehensive review of the economic and financial position of this country. The appropriations sought under the measures are to cover a period of four months and supply if they be granted the House will be able to remain in recess for a a period of two or three months. Does the Prime Minister propose that Parliament should go in recess for such a long period without being informed of the methods by which the Government intends to honour its promise to put value .back into the £1? Has one word been said by Government spokesmen about the method proposed to be followed to achieve that end? At most the provisions of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill could have only an indirect effect on the value of the £1. Is it suggested that the provisions of that legislation will reduce the price of wearing apparel ? Those who make such a suggestion merely attempt to deceive the people. Let us consider the plight of age and invalid pensioners who rely solely on the pension for their means of livelihood. I do not make any great appeal on behalf of those married couples who may earn sufficient to bring their total combined earnings up to £7 5s. a week. Costs are rapidly rising and will continue to rise despite all the statements from the Government about putting value back into the £1. So far the Government has done nothing a’bout increasing the value of the £1, or if it ha3 taken such action it has not informed the House of it. I realize that the money required to increase pensions would not be appropriated under any -of the measures now before the House. It would come from the National Welfare Fund that was established and nourished by a Labour Government so that there should be no doubt about the capacity of the government of the day, at any time, to provide reasonable social conditions for the people who require assistance. The amount in that fund grew until it reached a total of about £120,000,000 which was available for the relief of members of the community who required assistance by way of pensions or other social service benefits. I am appealing now on behalf of people who have little or no income other than pensions.
Another matter that was brought before the Labour party when it was in office was the effect of rapidly rising costs upon service pensions. I have in mind in that regard particularly the position of people like totally incapacitated ex-servicemen and others who have to rely on their pensions as a means of existence. I do not refer to service pensioners who are in full-time employment and who are therefore receiving a wage as well as a service pension. People who rely on service pensions for their existence have a claim to some consideration from the Government. Up to date the Prime Minister has talked a,bout adjourning the House on Friday of this week for the winter recess. While the House is in recess the costs that bear upon service pensioners will continue to rise. I shall be very much surprised if they do not continue to rise despite anything that the Government may say to the contrary. I consider that promises, made during the general election by the parties now in office, that they would put value back into the £1, were made merely as a means of winning votes for their Candidates. I do not think that while those promises were being made any honorable member now on the Government side of the House knew of any Scheme by which the promises were to be realized.
We have heard a great deal from honorable members opposite about how an increase of production generally will lead to a reduction of prices. A reduction of prices does not necessarily follow an increase of production. I admit that an increase of production might be followed by a reduction of prices if the workers of the country were employed under conditions of slavery or if the persons in charge of industry and production engaged in violent competition. Such competition would, of course, force many business people into bankruptcy. The economic history of the world, particularly of America, has not shown that greatly increased production has resulted in a reduction of prices. In fact, America has achieved excess production without producing such a result. The reason for that fact is that unless the manufacturer’s margin of profit is very great he cannot afford to reduce his prices. It is perfectly true that in this country, which has a system of industrial arbitration and a rigid wage structure, it is very difficult for labour costs to affect the general coststructure to a great degree. I have mentioned those points merely to support my contention that the Treasurer, as a matter of courtesy to the House, as well as of information to the country, should have made a financial statement of the economic position here and of the overseas tendencies.
One matter that has apparently been overlooked by this Government is that the present Labour Government in Great Britain, after the very great efforts that it made for a number of years, has brought the United Kingdom’s financial position to a stage that is the reverse of what it was only a year ago. That result was achieved ‘by depriving the British people of many of the things that might be considered as almost essential- to everyday life. A year ago, and perhaps not even so long ago as that, the British Government’s dollar and gold reserves amounted to only about £340,000,000 or £350,000,000. By pursuing a fixed policy and by maintaining, rigid control of prices, as well as by obtaining the cooperation of the trade unions in regard to wage stability, the British Government to-day has altered its financial position to what it and the American Government regard as the desirable minimum insofar ez Britain’s gold and dollar reserves are concerned. It now has nearly £2,000,000,000 in gold and dollar reserves’. What the country ought to do is to erect a memorial to the present Chancellor of the British Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, who, by his persistence, courage and determination, and by refusing to be swayed by the vote-catching clamour of his political opponents, has adhered to a policy that is bringing Britain back to financial and economic stability. Those are facts and not surmises gleaned from some street-corner talk on the matter. I consider that the Government should have given the House a full statement of what has been happening in Britain as well as a full statement of Australia’s dollar position. When I was Treasurer of the previous Government nobody knew better than I the great difficulties the dollar problem, presented to the Australian Government. For that reason I do not intend to be critical of the present Government’s dollar policy or to say that it could have done better than it has done in relation to that policy, or that it has pursued a policy worse than any other government would have done. I know that all sorts of people clamour for dollars for all sorts of purposes and give all sorts of reasons for requiring them. Some people have even asked for dollars so as to be able to take their wives abroad as secretaries on business trips. I am familiar with the Treasurer’s difficulties in respect of dollars, but I should like some statement to be made to the House for the information of honorable members about the exact dollar position. The Treasurer should inform us of the amount of dollars that Australia is earning and expending, so that the House may know what Australia’s own dollar balance position is. I am not concerned with the dollar .position of the sterling area as a whole, because sterling credits are published every month or so and we have an opportunity to study them. We are not so sure, however, about where Australia is tending in regard to dollar earnings and expenditure. It is perfectly true that the British Government has improved Great Britain’s dollar position immensely and because of that fact it is in a far -better position to help us than it would have been otherwise. That improvement, as I have said, has stemmed from the determination of the Chancellor of the British Exchequer, despite the unpopularity that it earned him and the clamour that it aroused, to regain economic stability for Britain. His efforts have had their reward and in turn are of benefit to Australia.
When we were in office we heard a great deal about all the millions of pounds that the Government had tucked away here and there. For some reason or other those sums do not seem to have turned up, because I judge from the very ‘brief statements that the Treasurer read in submitting these financial measures to the House, that despite increased revenue which has been counteracted by increased expenditure, he will have to obtain about £30,000,000 from loans this year. At one time the right honorable gentleman was a very severe critic of the previous administration. He made many statements that were without any concrete br sis, to the effect that the Government cf which I was Treasurer had tens of millions of pounds tucked away in various funds, ready to be produced as a bribe to the taxpayers. The right honorable gentleman himself has not brought them out. I believe that he may have found by now that those sums never existed hut were only a figment of his imagination. The financial accounts show that although revenue has increased the increase has been offset by an increase of expenditure. I am able to appreciate the fact that rising costs have sent the Government’s expenditure far beyond what might have been anticipated. However, the fact remains that for the first time for some years the Australian Government will not .be able to do this year what was done in recent years in regard to finance. I have no desire to be deceptive about this matter. The Government will not be able to meet its expenditure and the cost of capital works out of revenue. At present, despite their prosperity, there are countries whose governments have deficits. I do not think that that is good finance. When a country is prosperous it should completely pay its way. I know that there are a great number of capital works which may have considerable value as far as the community is concerned but which do not result in any direct financial returns to the Treasury. Therefore, the object should be, not only to meet expenditure out of current revenue, but to meet the cost of capital works also.
I am not going to condemn the right honorable gentleman for the fact that capital works will have to be financed from loan funds to the extent of .some £30,000,000. That has become necessary because circumstances have arisen during the year which have increased costs. Newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald state that the Government should prepare a complete statement of its* finances before the financial year commences, but the right honorable gentleman has not taken the advice of his mentor in this matter because such a thing cannot be done. These financial pundits outside the House who tell Treasurers how to run the country are not so good themselves at telling their shareholders what they will do during the coming year. I do not blame the Government for not being able to produce a complete account of its financial programme for the next financial year. Such, a statement could not be accurately prepared.
The Treasurer has stated tentatively that during the coming financial year the Government will be unable to pay ordinary working expenses, net charges and capital expenditure out of revenue and that it will have to use loan funds amounting to some £30,000,000. This is the first time in a number of years that that has had to be done. Of course, nothing that the right honorable gentleman could have done during the six months that he has been in office could have changed that position, but some of bis friends have always said that the Government should be able to provide a full financial statement of its affairs by the 1st July in each year and that it should be able to say, by that date, what it intended to do about such matters as taxation. It is not always mathematically possible to do that.
When I was Treasurer the right honorable gentleman constantly stated that I was hiding away millions of pounds. I did not take that money with me.
– That right honorable gentleman reduced the treasury bill indebtedness.
– Of course I did. But there was a time when it was said in this House that, in a party room, or somewhere else, motions had been passed calling upon me to direct the Commonwealth Bank to provide hundreds of millions of pounds’ of bank credit. That was proved to he false because during the later years of the Labour Government’s administration it paid back to the Commonwealth Bank over £130,000,000 worth of treasury bills. The money was repaid to the bank despite the fact that it had been alleged that caucus had passed resolutions to the effect that the bank should be directed to make another £100,000,000 available. In prosperous years, the Labour Government endeavoured to reduce indebtedness in respect of money borrowed from the Commonwealth Bank in war-time. That is sound finance. In war-time, when revenues are not sufficient to meet the demands of the nation, the Commonwealth Bank credit should be brought to the assistance of the Government at a low rate of interest. The Labour Government pursued that policy and when the war was over and the drain on revenue was reduced it set out to repay over £100,000,000 which the Commonwealth Bank had lent the Government. That is sound finance. In times of prosperity, any country should completely pay its* way from its revenue, though at times there may be some programme of extensive public works which cannot be financed from revenue. In the years ahead, when work on the Snowy Mountains scheme is accelerated, it may not be possible to meet the expenditure necessary on that scheme from revenue, but in these highly prosperous times it should be possible to maintain taxation and other revenue at a sufficiently high level to enable the Government to meet its current expenditure and to make a very substantial contribution, at least, to capital expenditure and, to build up reserves for days when conditions may not be quite so prosperous.
Reports have appeared in the press concerning proposals to appreciate the Australian £1. That is a question to which I have given a great deal of thought over the years and which I have discussed with some of the most eminent people in the financial world. On the evidence that has been made available .to me, there is no economic justification at the present time for appreciating the Australian £1 in terms of the £1 sterling. It is possible to state the pros and cons of this matter, and to show the benefits and the defects of appreciation, but when they are all considered it is difficult to see that they justify the appreciation of the Australian £1 under the present circumstances. Appreciation in terms of the £1 sterling means appreciation in terms of the dollar which, in turn, appreciates against the British sterling. There is very grave disquiet in this country in connexion with this matter. Not only primary producers but also people engaged in other industry, including manufacturers, are gravely disturbed by the suggestion that the Australian £1 may be substantially appreciated. I think that the Government should make a statement in order to allay those fears. When, as Prime Minister, I was asked a question on this matter I made a very simple statement to the effect that while sterling was remained at its then relationship to the dollar the Government would retain the existing relationship between the Australian £1 and the £1 sterling. The Treasurer should make a similar statement on this occasion. I know the position because I discussed it at some length with very eminent financiers, Government and otherwise, in the United Kingdom when unrest was created prior to the devaluation of sterling.
There is one other matter on which I wish to speak and which should be dealt with by the Government. I do not see any difficulty about the
Government deciding upon the amount of Commonwealth roads aid to the States. There arc two forms of assistance; one of them is a grant to the States to be spent in whatever manner they choose, and the other is a grant to country shires and municipalities. The previous government introduced the new system of Commonwealth roads grants. That was done because one of the complaints made by many shires and municipalities was that the money granted to the States went to the main roads boards, and that the shires and municipalities in outlying and sparsely populated areas did not get a fair share of the available money. That complaint had much truth in it. I know something about this matter, and the fact is thai, the shires in the outer areas, and some municipalities administering outer roads, were not able to maintain some of those roads because they did not have the proper plant available. That situation was also in evidence hefore the war when there was no shortage of plant or man-power. During the war of course, many shires and municipalities could not spend the money made available to them because of such shortages. I am sure that the Treasurer’s figures will indicate that a good deal of the money remained unspent because of the shortage of men and material.?. My government instituted a three years’ experiment in relation to such grants. In road development it is necessary that the authorities should be able to plan well ahead. The authorities should not be kept waiting until the last moment to know whether a certain sum of money would be made available, because unless they have a long-range plan and know when the money is coming and what the amount Will be they cannot go ahead with their essential road work. According to the Treasurer’s speech on these measures the Government has done nothing-
– I mentioned that the present arrangements would be maintained for the time being.
– Yes, that is correct. The Treasurer said that the Treasurer’s Advance would be increased from £10,000,000. Apparently the Treasurer now needs £16,000,000, whereas I was able to carry on with £10,000,000.
He said that one of the reasons for the increase is that the Government proposes to carry on the present arrangement until further legislation is brought down. I approve of that proposition, but I prefer to see a concrete plan put forward by the Government. Developmental plans have been mentioned but it is quite apparent that in some cases the main roads boards have spent an unnecessarily large amount of money on straightening out curves, reducing gradients and giving better vision on the highways to the drivers of fastrunning motor vehicles.
– That saves lives.
– It is impossible to prevent some people from trying to kill themselves.
– And some people ought not to be prevented.
– It is only necessary to visit my electorate . to see what kind of roads the speedway racers prefer. If a straight road is provided they will not be grateful. To really enjoy themselves they must have devil’s elbows and suicide corners and that sort of thing. That applies to only some of the people, of course. It is of no use to say that only straight roads should be built. Straight roads might be all right for father and mother out on a Sunday afternoon drive, but they are of no use to the modern youth, who loves a few curves and twists. I do not want to enlarge on the amenities side of motoring, I only want to say that although the Treasurer has said that the present arrangement will continue until the Government brings down legislation, I should have preferred to see-
Mi”. Fadden. - We must confer with the States later, because the agreement has expired. A general election will be held in New ‘South Wales on Saturday and it has not been possible to arrange for a conference.
– That may be the reason why the Treasurer did not arrange a conference.
– This Government may have to confer with the incoming New South Wales Liberal Government.
– It may. If the Treasurer had spent less time away from Canberra losing the Queensland election for his party and less time in New South Wales losing that election for his party, lie would have had more time to deal with this matter.
– Nobody can lose elections more effectively than the right honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Chifley).
– I suggest that the right honorable member cannot, in fairness, say that. I think that he is digressing a little. At least I was able to obtain a draw, and as far as I am personally concerned I got six votes out of nine, so that up to date the rubber points are with me. Coming again to this particular subject, finance for roads, I am of opinion that it would be preferable for the Government to put by perhaps £2,000,000, or whatever the Treasurer thought that the matter “warranted. I make that suggestion because I realize that heavy floods have occurred “in New South Wales and Victoria, and also I think in Queensland, which have caused great damage to roads. The Treasurer should have taken action immediately and not put it off for six months. The only effective way of dealing with the States is by conference with them to obtain their views, and by being as sympathetic as the Treasury resources will permit. The States cannot make up the Treasurer’s mind for him ; he must make it up himself.
I have read a good deal about the £250,000,000 developmental scheme under which that sum is to be allocated over a period of five years, and” 13 to come from the proceeds of the petrol tax. In fact, after a time, the petrol tax would only pay the sinking fund and interest on £250,000,000. Therefore, no surplus would be available to give away. At first I understood that the £250,000,000 was to be spent entirely on roads. Now the Minister for National Development has indicated that some of it Will be used for other developmental projects. Moreover, I read a paragraph in the press, which, I admit, is a very unreliable source of information, in which it was reported that the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) has indicated that .some of the money will be used to build hospitals.
In view of those conflicting statements I think that the time has arrived for the Government to give a definite indication of what it proposes to do with the money.
– Never at any time has the Government said that the money is to be used exclusively for roads.
– The Government gave the impression that all the money from the petrol tax was to be used t” provide a developmental loan oi’ £250,000,000. The fact is that the sinking fund payments, and interest on £250,000,000, at the end of five years would absorb the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax. On the question of whether road grants should come from loan funds, I suggest that the shire councils do not want any more loan money. At present they are loaded down with debt. Apart from being given special grants for specific purposes, they want free gifts to help them in their work. The same thing applies to hospitals. An enormous amount of money is needed for hospitals.
A real deficiency of the Supply bills before us is that the only information they give the House is that the Government i* asking for money for the next four months at about the same rate as it has been spending money during the last four months. The Treasurer has not given very much information to the House. We are merely asked to grant Supply for the next four months on the basis of the same rate of expenditure as has been maintained over the earlier part of the financial year. I do not complain about the fact that the rate of expenditure has not been reduced. My complaint, if it can be described as such, relates to the absence of any real information. The people, the members of the Opposition and, indeed the supporters of the Government are entitled to have some information about the general economic situation. I have referred briefly to pensions because members of the present Government and their supporters told the electors last December that, when in office, they would wave a magic wand and everything would be all right financially. But now the Treasurer has merely introduced certain formal financial bills without telling the country anything about the Government’s intentions. In fact, the Government has not given effect to any of the promises that won the favour of the people at the election. It said that it would put value back into the £1 an l would reduce public expenditure at a great rate.
The figures contained in the measures tb at we are now debating give no indication of reduced public ‘ expenditure. We were told all about the overburdened Public Service during the election campaign, and members of this Government declared that a great number of bureaucrats would have to go. Yet the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures for March show that the Public Service has increased by 1,400! All this talk about surplus public servants seems to be meaningless. During the last parliamentary recess, when I was working on the Opposition side of Parliament House, one Minister had a whole gang of men working downstairs on Saturdays and Sundays at overtime rates so that his offices could be made a little more comfortable. I do not blame the right honorable gentleman for wanting to be move comfortable, but the fact indicates that all the talk on behalf of tho Government about cutting down on public expenditure was a little overdone. [Extension of time granted.] The figures show that the upward trend of public expenditure has been maintained. I know why that is so and I acknowledge the necessity, but I object to responsible public nien making lavish promises to the people with the object of winning votes when, if they had any sense or knowledge of the facts, they would ‘know that they could not fulfil their pledges. Either the leaders of the present Government parties wore ignorant of the subject or they were intentionally deceptive. I do not want to suggest that they were intentionally deceptive. I say that they must have been ignorant of the facts when they made their promises about putting value back into the £1, reducing costs and cutting clown the size of the Public Service. The functions of the Commonwealth are increasing every month, and it is not possible to reduce public services to the standards that existed before the war or even five or six years ago. I do not complain about the Government having to increase expenditure or expand the Public Service, but I do complain about the futile promises that were made with the object of catching a few votes. I shall never be a party to statements of that kind. When I was Treasurer, I never made a promise that I was not positive that I could honour. Speaking personally, not politically, I believe that, in the long run, it is unwise from the point of view of public morale and confidence in the institution of Parliament to make promises if there is any likelihood that they cannot be carried out to the full. There is a cynical belief in many sections of the community that politicians will promise anything in order to gain power. Unfortunately some politicians will do so. In this instance, members of the present Government have made promises that they cannot honour and I presume that their supporters have echoed their words. I do not blame the supporters on that account because they would not know any better. They would not have the knowledge necessary to enable them to decide whether the promises could be carried out. That statement is not a reflection upon their intelligence or ability. ‘They naturally thought that their leaders would not make promises that could not be honoured.
Six months have passed since this Government came into power and, although the Prime Minister has announced that he wants the Parliament to rise this week or next week, it has not made one obvious attempt to give effect to any scheme to put value back into the £1. All questions on the subject are answered with some vague references to anti-Communist legislation or other proposed measures as though such things would cure all the country’s economic ills. Everybody knows that it is very silly, to put it mildly, to try to evade the issue in that way. In France to-day, notwithstanding that country’s great difficulties, secondary production is 20 per cent, above the prewar level and agricultural production has regained the pre-war level. But that has not established complete economic stability in France. Production has increased in Belgium and Italy as well, but .this state of affairs has not brought about prosperity and full employment
Shibboleths are shouted and cliches are used time after time, recklessly and without any real thought, so that many people have become extremely cynical about the promises of politicians. It is true that the electors sometimes swallow these baits, but I remind the Government of the old saying about fooling the people all the time. Great promises were placarded across the hoardings by’ the present Government parties during the election campaign. They assured the people that they would put value back into the £1. Has anybody noticed any additional value in the £1? Do we not all know that the value of the £1 will be even further reduced? The purchasing power of the currency is affected by certain factors that are beyond the control of this Government. It can do nothing to counteract those influences. I repeat that I do not complain about that fact, but that I do complain about the making of promises that the Government has not made any attempt to carry out.
– It has given effect to its promise to abolish petrol rationing.
– I shall deal very briefly with that interjection. Had the United Kingdom Government adopted the same attitude towards the abolition of petrol rationing as this Government adopted, it would never have been able to make the remarkable achievement in relation to petrol that it recently announced.
– Six months after the Australian Government abolished petrol rationing, the United Kingdom Government did exactly what it had said could never be done.
– The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) . will understand exactly why the United Kingdom Government was able to abolish petrol rationing if he will study the report of a debate that took place in the House of Commons about the 27th May last.
The Government of the United Kingdom had been fighting for twelve months to gain its end. It had informed the American oil companies that, unless they supplied refined petrol for sterling or sterling goods, it would not be able to allow the rate of dollar expenditure on petrol to be increased even by one dollar and that it would, in fact, attempt to reduce the dollar content of petrol in the United Kingdom by establishing its own refineries. Both members of the Government and members of the Opposition in the House of Commons paid great tributes to the skill and determination of the Minister for Economic Affairs, Mr. Gaitskill,. who was formerly Minister for Fuel and Power, for the magnificent arrangement that he had made as the result of his negotiations with representatives of the parent oil companies in the United States of America. Under that arrangement, the present rate of United Kingdom dollar expenditure for petrol will not be exceeded and, in fact, will be reduced as rapidly as possible. Even during the British election campaign, Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. Gaitskill declared that they would not abolish petrol rationing unless the American oil companies agreed to their terms. The companies finally yielded to that pressure and agreed to accept sterling good in nearly 1,000 different varieties in payment for petrol. They even agreed to accept British-built tankers of a type that was being constructed in the United States of America and to establish oil refineries in England with American dollars. I shall not discuss the subject in detail. The main fact is that United Kingdom dollar expenditure on petrol will not be increased as the result of de-rationing.
– The abolition of petrol rationing in the United Kingdom will cost Great Britain another 10,000,000 or 15,000,000 dollars a year. That is the estimate.
– I do not know what estimate-
– That is the official estimate. It does not coincide with the right honorable gentleman’s statement.
– I am relying upon the statements that were made in the House of Commons. High tributes were paid to Mr. Gaitskill by members on both sides of the House for the magnificent agreement that he had concluded. He and Sir Stafford Cripps were highly praised because they had courage and determination and wore not prepared to yield to any popular clamour merely for the sake of catching a few votes.
I again express my regret at the lack of information from the Treasurer. Perhaps the sinner may yet repent and we may have the opportunity to hear from the right honorable gentleman or the Prime Minister some general statement about the economic situation. What plans has the Government made to deal with some of the problems that confront it? I know the problems are difficult, and I am aware that many of them cannot be solved by any country acting alone. ‘I remind the Treasurer that Australia is tied to other countries in the sterling area.
– Order! The right honorable gentleman has exhausted his extended time.
– I merely ask in conclusion that we be given the opportunity to hear some authoritative statement about the Government’s economic proposals.
– We have had the opportunity to listen to the comments of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) upon the measures now before the House, the object of which is to grant Supply to the Government for a period of four months. It is significant that the criticism expressed by the right honorable gentleman related to a period of time for which he, as the former Treasurer, was primarily responsible for making financial provision. We are still in the financial year covered by the last “budget that was brought down . by the right honorable gentleman. It is also significant that he was quite wrong in saying that, under the management of this Government, the first deficit in recent years would be recorded. The truth is that the right honorable gentleman bud.geted for a deficit of £35,000,000, an estimate that this Government has been able io reduce to approximately £30,000,000. Therefore, it does not lie in his mouth to say that we should be budgeting for a. surplus at this time.
The Leader of the Opposition also said that he expected that the Treasurer would have presented to the House a statement on economic policy, and he complained that little had been revealed to honorable members to enable this debate to proceed. The truth of the matter is that he himself has revealed very little about the subject that is now under consideration. I hope that the right honorable gentleman will forgive me for saying that when he speaks about the problem of the cost of living and of inflation in this country, he refers to a matter with which he was intimately associated while he was the Treasurer, yet he did not advance one idea in the course of his inconsequential and, if he will again forgive me for saying so, his rambling speech. He began with a false premise, namely, that this Government had promised to put value back into the £1. If we made that promise, we referred to the Chifley £1, as it had become known. When the Chifley Government was in office, the value of the currency of Australia had steadily diminished. I could even use the word “ destroyed “. When the Leader of the Opposition referred to the promises that were made by the Liberal party and the Australian Country party during the last general election campaign, he should have gone to the proper source, namely, the policy speech of the right honorable gentleman who was chosen to lead the government of this country. I shall read an extract from that speech, because it is well that the country should be reminded of the precise terms of the policy that was announced on behalf of the Liberal policy and the Australian Country party. It is as follows : -
Perhaps our greatest charge against the financial and economic policy of the present Socialist Government is that while it has paid a good deal of attention to increasing the volume and circulation of money, it hae largely neglected the problem of what and how much that money will buy.
Every housewife knows how grievous this problem is.
The statistician will conservatively allow that the pound of 1939 is now only worth 12s. 2d. in purchasing power. But on the true cost of household requirements it would be nearer the mark to say that it is worth only 10s. The greatest task, therefore, is to get value back into the pound, that is, to get prices down.
That is the only elective way of increasing real wages and salaries and, indeed, all monetary payments. High prices are not a cause; they are a result of an abundance of spending money and an insufficient supply of things, to buy.
That statement was made by the present Prime Minister, and, in truth, it applied then as it applies to-day. Our greatest task is to restore value to the fi, which had been depreciated in terms of currency values when the present Leader of the Opposition was the Treasurer. From time to time, members of the Liberal party and of the Australian Country party, when they were in Opposition, directed attention to the dangers of the financial policy of the previous Government. If that policy had been deliberately pursued to produce inflation in this country it could not have been more effective. We also directed attention to the fact that when the currency was so buoyant and opportunity occurred to control expenditure, the Chifley Government did not Lake advantage of those conditions. When this Government came into office, it inherited a budget, a system, a condition, and a set of circumstances from which it is not easy to escape and to cure which will necessarily take time. It is quite true, as the Leader of the Opposition said, that the task of putting value back into the £1 is not simple. I suppose that he would be the first to concede that it could not be achieved by legislative action. Of course, some legislative measures can be taken as a part of a general plan to achieve that objective, but it would be idle to seek to solve the problem merely by legislative action, as I shall proceed to show. I remind the Leader of the Opposition that, when he was the Treasurer, he made a number of decisions that directly contributed to the serious inflationary conditions that had already taken hold of the community and of the economy when the present Government assumed office. When the referendum on prices was defeated, the then Prime Minister immediately abandoned all Commonwealth measures to control them, and threw the responsibility on to the States, which, at that time, had not the necessary machinery for operating the system.
– The Commonwealth did not abandon the control of prices immediately the referendum was defeated.
– The Commonwealth abandoned prices control within a matter of weeks after the referendum had been defeated.
– That was not immediately after the prices referendum.
– What was the next step that was taken by the Chifley Government? Almost immediately, it withdrew the subsidies that had been paid in respect of many items the cost of which was included in the calculation of the cost of living. To support that decision, the argument was advanced that the Commonwealth could not continue to pay those subsidies because the prices referendum had been defeated. That contention was quite spurious, because the Chifley Government continued to pay the subsidy on tea. If that payment were constitutional, the subsidies could have been continued on a number of other items.
The Leader of the Opposition was also primarily and directly responsible for the depreciation of the Australian £1 in terms of dollars at a time when the problem of dealing with the currency was much easier than it is to-day. I contended when that decision was announced, and I continued so to contend, that the depreciation of the Australian £1 would inevitably increase the cost of living. I emphasize that the right honorable gentleman made that decision at a time when the income from the sale of our exports was buoyant and high, and when our financial position in respect of overseas funds was as satisfactory as it has ever been in our history.
– What would the Minister for External Affairs have done if he had been called upon to make a decision upon that matter?
– I made my attitude perfectly clear at the time when the previous Treasurer announced the decision to depreciate the value of the fi. I said that it was fundamentally a bad, economic mistake. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) may not be aware of that, because he was not a member of the House at that time. I am not referring to the present situation, because the depreciation of the Australian £1 has produced an entirely different set of circumstances and an entirely different problem.
– Were the primary producers in favour of depreciating the Australian £1?
– Interjections will not deter me from saying what I propose to say, namely, that the policy of the Chifley Government contributed to the serious inflationary conditions that this country is now experiencing. Features of that policy were, first the sudden transfer of the responsibility for prices control from the Commonwealth to the States, which had no machinery to deal with the matter; secondly, the withdrawal of Commonwealth subsidies on various items that are taken into consideration in the calculation of the cost of living: and. thirdly, the depreciation of the Australian £1.
The Leader of the Opposition complained that the Government had not given to the House any information about its plans for putting value back into the £1. I remind him that the Leader of the Liberal party said, during the last general election campaign, that his party and the Australian Country party, i; they were returned to office, would face up to the task of restoring value to the £1. Since the present Government, has been in office, it has made two important decisions in that matter. It granted an additional subsidy in respect of butter so that the price of that commodity would not be increased to the public. It also .gave an additional subsidy in respect of wheat so that the cost of bread would not be increased to the public. Furthermore, as other matters come into my mind, I remind the Leader of the Opposition that the Government introduced into this chamber the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950. I have stated repeatedly that the Labour party pretends to agree in principle with that measure, and that if it had been speedily passed by the Parliament, the country would have already felt its effects upon production. The views of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who is interjecting, are plain enough. Hp is opposed to the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950, but he has not. the courage to state in the House his true attitude towards it. He pretends, as do so many of his colleagues, that ho agrees with the bill in principle, but he has sought to give it the death of a thousand knives by having it amended in this chamber or elsewhere. What hypocrisy it is for members of the Labour party to complain of the House adjourning at the end of this week and to state that they wish to remain here for another two months ! The people should be told that honorable members of the Opposition are endeavouring to take the control of the Parliament out of the hands of the Government in this chamber, and to vest it in the Senate, the members of which were not elected in such a way as to represent the views of the people on the 10th December last. This House represents popular opinion, and the Liberal party and the Australian Country party were elected to govern. During the last four months the Labour party has had ampin opportunity to discuss all the matters that they claim, give them ground for grievance, but they have done their utmost to frustrate the democratic government of this country and to destroy the various bills that have been introduced to the Parliament.
The Leader of the Opposition has asked for a statement of the Government’s proposals for reducing the cost of living. I remind him that the Government has already given effect to many of the promises that were made on behalf of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party during the recent general election campaign, and that it- is trying to fulfil its promise to pay endowment at the rate of 5s. a week for the first child of a family under the agc of sixteen years. What has been the attitude of the Labour party to that proposal? “Any political joss to beat” is good enough for them. The Chifley Government strongly resisted a proposal that was made by members of the Liberal party and of the Australian Country party, when they were in Opposition, for the payment of endowment for the first child of a family under the age of sixteen years. When we made that promise during the last general election campaign, members of the Labour party opposed it on the hustings. The Government introduced the Social Services Consolidation Bill 1950 for the purpose of honouring its pre-election promise to grant endowment for the first child, and the Labour party immediately agreed with the principle, but advocated the payment of, not os., but 10s. a week for the first child. Obviously, Opposition members were playing party politics, and were not in the least concerned with the merits of the proposal. I agree that the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950 will not solve the Government’s problem of putting value back into the £1, but it will contribute to the solution of that problem. If production can be made to run smoothly, the supplies of goods and services will be increased, thereby reducing the margin or the lag between demand and supply. That is sufficiently clear to a thinking person. Yet, week after week, the Labour party has engaged in manoeuvre after manoeuvre that are designed, not to make that measure more effective, to strike at the Communists and to increase production, but, under cover of hypocritical suggestions, to destroy it. Members of the Labour party have been indulging in those tactics here and elsewhere. I am sure that the honorable member for East Sydney would say, if he were free to do so, that he is opposed to that bill as a whole. The attitude of the Labour party may be described thus: “We shall make it appear that we support the bill, but we shall make it look so silly that it will not be worth the paper on which it is printed when it becomes law “.
– The Government has treated the Parliament with contempt.
– The Labour party lias treated democracy with contempt. It is well that the honorable member for Hindmarsh should be reminded that this Government was elected to give effect to the will of the people, as expressed at the general election on the 10th December last. The Labour party, in opposition, has done it3 utmost to treat with contempt the instrument of democratic government. However, I ‘believe that the people are sufficiently wise to estimate the position truly. They know precisely how the Opposition has conducted itself.
I expected that the Leader of the Opposition would examine the basic causes of inflation, but since he failed to do so, and to suggest a solution of that problem, I shall ‘briefly adumbrate the position. Clearly, the basis of our problem is the vast demand that has been caused by the available investible funds that are seeking an outlet. ‘ That, in turn, springs from a demand that is made upon the community for goods and services. It is clear that the demand for goods and services cannot be fully satisfied, and, consequently, investment is stretching out here, there and everywhere in search of ways and means of meeting it, yet there is insufficient in terms of labour and material to satisfy it. That arises from a number of causes. I suppose that it is correct to say that our wealth in terms of income from the sale of our exports contributes very largely to the present inflationary conditions in this country. Those factors cannot be swept aside by legislative act. As I said, those investible funds are seeking an outlet to meet demand, and they are confronted, as it were, with the shortage of labour and materials. To-day, there is a demand for over 100,000 people in industry. That fact, itself, is indicative of the nature of the problem that confronts us. We cannot produce 100,000 employees to fill that number of jobs. We are confronted also with the result of action that was taken not by this Government but by the Chifley Government. That action has generated forces which this Government is not seeking to stop, because it cannot do so, but is seeking to condition. I should have thought that if the Leader of the Opposition were really as concerned as his approach to this mattei would indicate that the average person was, he would, have advanced some ideas, if he has any, about how the problem could be dealt with. He asked, “ What are you going to do about appreciating the £1 1 “ What the Government will do about that matter will be announced at the appropriate time. I do not indicate what will he done about it, in one way or another. But when the Loader of the Opposition suggests that it is proper that the community should be told whether the £1 is, or is not, to be appreciated, I remind him that Sir Stafford Cripps, whom he holds in high, esteem, denied more than three times - more times than St. Peter denied his Master - that the British Government intended to devalue the £1 sterling and yet it suddenly did so. In the light of that experience what is the use of statements of the kind that the right honorable gentleman made? The fact is that the present Government is faced with a set of circumstances that has resulted from eight years of Labour administration. Labour governments expended money like drunken sailors and incurred liabilities from which the present Government cannot legally escape. We can deal with, and finally solve, this problem only little by little.
The Leader of the Opposition cried, “ What about pensions? “ I shall remind him of some facts about that, subject. Deputations representative of ex-service personnel waited upon him from time to time when he was Prime Minister and Treasurer and asked his Government to liberalize service pensions but, Invariably, they were sent about their business empty-handed. There is a right and proper time “when a government should indicate the economic policy and the financial measures that it proposes to take, and that observation applies particularly to a government that has just assumed office. That time is when the Government introduces its budget. Under these measures the Government is seeking to obtain supply to meet expenditure at a rate that was determined under the last budget that was introduced by the Chifley Government. When this Government introduces its budget it will give proper consideration to the claims of pensioners and ex-service personnel. That is the proper time to balance all the economic factors that are operating in the community and to indicate the economic and financial means that the Government proposes to adopt for the remainder of the financial year in order to meet the problems with which it is confronted.
T rose simply in order to draw attention to the complete fallacies to which Labour has subscribed for years. Its first, fallacy was that, a government can solve inflation by controlling prices. One might as well attempt to put a lid on a volcano, because the dangerous forces have already been generated. .By controlling prices, one does not produce goods. The Government, must seek to equate the supply of, and demand for, goods in a developing economy. At present, it has in train an extensive developmental programme with which it must proceed if Australia is to become a great land. We must provide for a large number of migrants, but they in turn engender demands for capital goods in an economy that is short of such goods. All those factors are a part of this problem. It would be improper to suggest that the National Parliament could by legislative action solve inflation but the Government has already taken certain action. It has introduced one special measure for that purpose, and that measure is still being considered by the Senate. Other measures that will be indicated in due course by the Government will be designed to contribute to the solution of this problem.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to the National Welfare Fund. It is just as well that the Parliament and the. country should be informed precisely of the facts about that fund. When it is said that there is over £100,000,000 in a fund one imagines that one can find that money in the fund or assets to that value. I should have thought that in a time of inflationary conditions, the previous Government would have invested that money in Commonwealth loans in order to stabilize the national economy. But what is the position with respect to that fund ? There is no cash in it at all. And what of the assets? There are only treasury bills which are simply I.O.U’s that the Government has given for moneys that it has borrowed. Therefore, to-day, when we seek to reimburse the National Welfare Fund we can do so only by methods which in themselves will be inflationary in character in some degree. The Chifley Government’s financial methods produced problems which the present Government must solve by means some of which in themselves must be inflationary in character if it is to meet the commitments for which the National Welfare Fund was established. The Opposition has invited the Government, to tell the Parliament what it proposes to do to deal with our present economic problems. In this debate we invite honorable members opposite to tell us what they believe the Government should do. If they say that we have no ideas and have not advanced anything worthwhile, let them tell the Government what they would do if they were in office and had the responsibility of dealing with these problems?
.- This afternoon the House was treated to the extraordinary spectacle of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) begging the Opposition to. allow him to close up the Parliament this week. We witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of a government that has just returned from the electorate and has been in office for only six months wanting to close up the Parliament for a period of four months. It is not that supporters of the present Government did not have plenty of ideas or plenty of promises to make when they went to the electors. At the last general election, they submitted a long list of expensive pro.mises to the people. The Government cannot say that it has not sought or that it. has not received a mandate to do certain things. The truth is that it has done nothing. During the six months that it has been in office it has not tried to give effect to its , election promises that intimately affect the majority of the people. First, it made the promise that it would put value back into the £1, but it has done nothing to honour that promise. In answer to a question without notice this afternoon the Prime Minister refused to say when he was going to make the first of the reports to the Parliament and the nation of the Government’s programme to put value back into the £1 in accordance with the promise that he made in this House on the 2nd March, last. After side-stepping the question that was directed to him he proceeded to talk about the efficacy of an anti-Communist piece of legislation in promoting production.
– The Minister for External Affairs has just indicated that he wants to appreciate the £1.
– Yes. Both the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Spender) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) arc on record in Hansard as favouring appreciation of the £1. But this is one of the horns of the dilemma upon which the Government is impaled. The Australian Country party does not want the £1 to be appreciated and neither does the Collins House group or the Associated Chambers of Manufactures; but the importers, the newspaper proprietors and many other people want the Government to appreciate the £1. Thu? we are now faced with one of those historic contradictions that always emerge in the forces of capitalism when they are charged with the responsibility of government. That is the problem that this Government must solve. The Cabinet sat in special session all last week-end in an effort to solve it. Then, in order that divisions in the Cabinet might not be ventilated before the public, an iron curtain was drawn down upon the whole of its deliberations. We shall hear something more about them later. Whatever government happened to be in office to-day would have to face up to the problem of whether or not the £1 should be appreciated, and would have to decide its policy in the matter. Bur. it is not the Opposition’s job to give advice to the Government. It is the Government’s job to govern, or get out. It should make up its mind what it wants to do and, having done so. it. should stand by its policy. A little more vacillation and pusillanimity and the Government will be completely discredited and humiliated.
In November last, in all the newspapers of Australia the Liberal party, using, of course, the money provided by the trading banks, published advertisements urging the people to vote for it. That’ party’s poor relations - the Lazaruses of the piece - literally got the crumbs that fell from the table after the victory. The Government is in power because of the clear, definite and unequivocal promises that it made to the people. Those promises were not made in the way that election promises are sometimes made; they were presented in the form of definite offers. One of the Liberal party’s advertisements read -
Australian Women! This is what we offer
And the first offer that that party made was -
An end to shortages and blackmarkets.
Has there been any end to shortages and blackmarkets since the last general election? Is it not a fact that there are iuotc shortages now than there were then and that black markets are blacker to the degree to which their depredations affect society ? The second offer was -
Lower prices … a £l’s worth for every £1 you upend.
Are prices lower to-day than they were on the lOth December last? The Government has admitted that prices are rising at the rate of 1.0 per cent, a year, but they are really rising at a faster rate than that and the problem of inflation, frankly, has the Government so worried that the Minister for External Affairs to-day, in an unguarded moment, .said that there was no money left in the Treasury. I do not know what the reaction of the taxpayers’ associations will be to that statement because they expect the Government to slice taxes heavily. And the Government realizes the danger of concentrating on satisfying the wealthy sections and doing nothing for the pensioners. The thi i’d” offer that was made by the Liberal party was -
Child endowment for the first child (and no reduction in the basic wage).
The Government now does not want to honour the last part of that promise. The Liberal party’s fourth offer was -
Preventive medicine . . diagnostic clinics.
Only a master mind could get the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) to give to the House one scrap of information about his famous peregrinations throughout the Commonwealth and his Ku Klux Klan-like deliberations with the British Medical Association and other ‘bodies whose main interest in the Government’s proposed national health scheme is solely financial. We can get no information from the Minister about that scheme or about any of his alleged health schemes. If I were to lapse into the vernacular I should say that even the Government has given him away. It does not know what he is doing and it is prepared to allow him to run to the length of his tether. Soon we shall have a new Minister for Health, but we shall not obtain free preventive medicine through the agency of this Government unless its record over the last six months, which represent one-sixth of the life of the Parliament, is improved considerably during the lifetime that remains to it. I do not know how long its life will be; it could not be too short to suit me. We shall hear nothing more about the provision of diagnostic clinics. This .was merely another promise that was scandalously made to win the electors. The Government does not appear to have the slightest idea of providing the money or the materials for the erection of diagnostic clinics or of obtaining the services of members of the medical profession to enable them to function properly. We were also promised new hospitals and schools. How many new hospitals were included in the national development plan about which the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) has said so much? We shall hear nothing more about that plan until the Parliament has re-assembled after the recess. I read in the press recently the statement that within two months the national development plan will have passed beyond the blueprint stage. When it has reached that stage, it will he dealt with by Cabinet. If the Government advances as rapidly in giving effect to that plan as it has in connexion with its proposal to appreciate the £1, we shall not hear much about national development for a long while.
– The Government has eight years’ lag to catch up.
– It has inherited the benefits of eight years of wise administration by Labour governments which attracted to the. Public Service the best brains in this country. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) cannot complain about the quality of the brains we recruited and left to the Govern in the administrative sphere.
– Order ! The honorable member must address the Chair.
– I am trying to address the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and at the same time to meet the objections of those who seem to think that this Government should be allowed eight years in which to carry out its programme. We believe that after the expiration of six months from the Government’s assumption of office it should be able to report some progress in the implementation of its promises to the people. It has not even started to implement one half of them. It promised homes and home ownership at reasonable cost. It nas done nothing whatever in that regard beyond continuing our programme. Under the Commonwealth and States housing scheme, the Australian Labour Government, in conjunction with the States, had 40,000 houses built in 1947, 50,000 in 194S, and 54,000 in 1949. If this Government maintains our record, it will not improve on what we did.
– The cost of homebuilding has increased tremendously and the difficulties of home-seekers have increased proportionately.
– As the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has reminded me, prices are getting higher and not lower and it is becoming even more difficult for those who want to buy a house to fulfil their desire.
In bigger and heavier type the Liberal party advertisement to which I have referred carried this pledge -
We are pledged to full production, higher rural wages, expanded social services.
Not even the most enthusiastic member of the Liberal party who sits on the Government side of the House - most Liberal party members are not so enthusiastic as they were six months ago about the possibility of the Government remaining in office for very long - would claim that value is not evaporating from the £1. All the talk about putting value back into the £1 was designed to delude the electorate. The value of the £1 is shrinking daily. One of these days we shall hear about the Menzies-Fadden £1. It will probably not be worth 5s. in real purchasing value. We kept the purchasing value of the £1 as high as we could in all the circumstances. We governed wisely. We taxed big incomes in this community and distributed the national income more equitably than it had ever previously been distributed in the history of this country. A married man with a couple of kiddies in receipt of an income of £500 a year pays no income tax to-day. Such a concession would never have been made by an antiLabour government.
– What about indirect taxes ?
– All the people in the community have to pay indirect taxes.
The Treasurer will admit, I am sure, that during the general election campaign he promised the people that if he were returned to office he would reduce indirect taxes.
– I said nothing of the kind.
– In his moments of aberration the right honorable gentleman made all sorts of promises.
– I” made one promise that will be carried out.
– I do not know what it was. The promise to put value back into the £1 has certainly not been carried out. During the general election campaign the right honorable gentleman made outrageous statements. For instance, he said -
This might be the last free election the country will ever know.
On another occasion he said -
The Australian coat of arms will disappear and the hammer and sickle will take its place.
He is a remarkable gentleman in every way. During the general election campaign he was totally irresponsible; and when he sits in this Parliament he is still slightly irresponsible. He and all those associated with him, then said that they intended to implement the policy which I have outlined. I have stated the heads of policy clearly so that not only you, Mr. Speaker, but also the people who are listening may hear them.
– Order ! The honorable member will proceed with his discussion of the bills before the Chair.
– Am I not to be permitted to refer to the intelligent electors who may be listening to me?
– This is the first occasion on which I have heard it said that an honorable member may not allude to the listening public. Be that as it may, although the pensioners of Australia, the aged, the invalid, the widows, and all those in receipt of social services benefits, are finding it increasingly difficult to live, the Government says, “ We shall close the Parliament for four months. You will have to do what you can in the meantime. If you cannot continue to enjoy a reasonable standard of existence, that is your .bad luck. We shall consider all our plans and after the expiration of four months we shall be able to tell you something more about what we propose to do “.
The Treasurer caused some articles to be published in the Melbourne Herald. Probably somebody wrote them for him and he read them for the first time only when he saw them in that journal. In one of the articles he indicated that unnecessary controls may go so that production can be stepped up and the free development of the country encouraged.
– Does not the honorable member agree with that statement?
– I agree with it in part, but I do not agree with the manner in which the Treasurer proposes to implement that policy. All he did was to abolish capital issues control and as a result several millions of pounds of accumulated reserves have been capitalized and issued as bonus shares to compete with other investible funds for labour and materials. That has merely accelerated the inflationary trend. Further, the abolition of that control has resulted in the investment of an additional £11,000,000 in new companies, thus bringing about greater competition for labour and material and increasing the inflationary spiral.
The Minister for External Affairs has said that we cannot control prices by price fixation. It is obvious that the Government cannot control prices without price fixation. It cannot control them by any means. We are asked to wait and see. The Government says, “ Wait until the situation develops “. Are we to. wait until it develops in such a way that the working classes and those on small incomes are ruined? In the same article, the Treasurer also said -
The objective of restraining inflationary pressures and putting value back into the fi is one to which the new Government has given considerable attention.
That statement was made in March last. Since then, three months have gone by. What attention has the Government given to the matter ? What are its plans ? Why has it not told the Parliament what it proposes to do to put value hack into the £1 and to halt the inflationary trend ? A government that either cannot or will not carry out its promises is a fraud on democracy. The people will know in due course what they should do to such a government. The Government is not short of advisers. Indeed, it probably wishes that it did not have so many of them. One of its advisers, Mr. Kimpton, former president of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, has said -
The 40-hour week has proved a tragic failure.
His solution of the problem is the restoration of a 44-hour week, for he said -
The Federal Government should ask the Arbitration Court to increase weekly working hours to 44.
His view would normally carry much weight with this Government, but so far it has not taken much notice of it. The Associated Chambers of Manufactures, another body which put a lot of money into the coffers of the Liberal and Australian Country parties during the general election campaign, wants to check the present boom by raising interest rates, which would accentuate the great distress that now exists among the poorer people in -the community. The Curtin and Chifley Governments deliberately adopted a policy of lowering interest rates and of providing cheap money. Orthodox economists - I do not like the use of the term “ orthodox “ in this connexion because it means right thinking - advocate making money available at dear rates in times of prosperity and at cheap rates in times of depression. By providing cheap -money in times of prosperity we proved conclusively .that the old-fashioned orthodox economists were wrong. It would be inimical to the interests of this country for the Government to resort to a policy of fixing interest at right rates.
– With £1 worth only 5s.?
– The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Treloar), who represents a rural electorate for the time being, should be the last to try to dissuade the Government from maintaining low interest rates. High interest rates were one of the factors that financially killed the farmers by driving them into insolvency. The low rates of interest which we forced the trading banks to adopt, as well as the general prosperity that marked the administration of Labour governments, enabled the farmers to extricate themselves from the toils of the private financial institutions. The Associated Chambers of Manufactures recently issued the following statement : -
There should be restoration of peace in industry by firm government and enforcement of Arbitration Court decisions, and the disastrous results of the 40-hour week must be acknowledged and the trade unions must consent to longer hours or to more overtime being worked at less prohibitive penalty rates.
The Government says that the whole burden of rehabilitating our economy from the effects of inflation must be thrown on the masses of the people. It is idle for the Prime Minister to say, and for the Treasurer and the Minister for External Affairs to repeat in chorus, that if the Communist Party Dissolution Bill is passed, production will be increased. Even if all the effects which the Government hopes to achieve by this legislation become a reality, the resultant increased production will not be sufficient to meet the great demand that is being made at present on all sections of our economy in all spheres of production, distribution and exchange. A better and more permanent solution must be provided than that which has been suggested by the Prime Minister.
This House includes members who are prominently identified with graziers’ organizations. The Graziers’ Federal Council of Australia suggested in March how -inflation could be met. One of its resolutions suggested that we should cease the flow of immigration to this country because the arrival of immigrants in large numbers had an inflationary effect. That may be partially true, but it is not the whole truth. Whilst bringing to this country large number of workers from overseas might cause an inflationary tendency it also tends to have a deflationary effect because it results in increased production. The graziers also suggested that the payment of £70,000’,000 in war gratuities, which falls due next March, should not be made in cash. A report of the resolution of a sub-committee of the Graziers’ Federal Council of Australia, that was published in March last, read as follows : -
If war gratuity payments might aggravate inflation, as they probably would, the best thing would be to offer a conversion loan to those entitled, bearing a fair rate of interest - with the option of taking cash for those who are relying on it.
At the same time the sub-committee suggested the deferment of payment of graziers’ own profits derived from the sale of wool under the Joint Organization scheme. It suggested that those profits should be sterilized and that the distribution of the final profit should be deferred. I do not know whether the Government intends to take any notice of any of the advice of the sub-committee of the Graziers’ Federal Council of Australia, but if it contemplates postponing the payment of war gratuities it will be in for a lot of difficulty, both political and other. The problems confronting this country are not easy of solution. That will be admitted by any one who has given any thought to the matter. The Government itself deliberately released a great deal of capital into financial channels when it permitted various companies to issue bonus shares. That action has led to benefits being obtained by monopolies and to profits being made by people who might better have made their investments in the well-being of this country. Let us take one instance. G. J. Coles and Company Limited, on the 25th February last, announced that it intended to make a bonus issue of ordinary shares on a three-for-ten basis. That announcement sent the prices of its shares up. Later, on the 5th April, it announced, after the distribution of the bonus shares, that it intended to amalgamate with Selfridges (Australasia) Limited.
– Where did it take the bonus shares from ?
– It took them from its undistributed profits. I do not know just what taxation advantages it derived from that procedure, but these bonus shares represented undistributed profits and therefore excess charges that had been made to the public in. other years. That is how all profits are made. Surely the honorable gentleman will not suggest that a great deal of that kind of thing does not happen in all spheres of industry and that big business houses do not employ accountants for the purpose of advising them on just how to evade the taxation laws. After thi* announcement that Selfridges and Colo.- contemplated an amalgamation the price of Selfridges’ shares on the Sydney Stock Exchange rose to 110s. each, which represented an increase of 34s. That increase meant that the shares had increased by a total of 63s. 9d. in a fortnight. So we get inflation and demands for opportunities to make bigger profits and to get better returns. There must be something in the profit-making business when people can pay 63s. 9d. more for a share in a fortnight and still get a better return from the investment than they would have got if they had invested in Commonwealth stock so as to help the country, as the Treasurer is advising the people to do. About that very time the Treasurer asked the people to make application for an investment in the Security Loan. What happened in the case of Coles has happened in a lot of other oases. The Treasurer has supplied me with figures, which show that £2,000,000 worth of bonus shares have been issued since the present Government came into power. The previous Labour Government did not allow any company shares to be issued and I suspect that the present Government, in allowing tho.ae shares to be issued, has been more anxious to support its friends than to protect the interests of the nation. The workers of this country have no illusions about where all this is tending. They do not believe that they are getting a fair deal in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court or under our present system of society. They complain of the long delay in the hearing by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court of their claim for an increased basic wage. Their viewpoint is expressed by a resolution that was passed by a meeting of trade unions convened by the Australian Council of Trade Unions in recent months.
– Who moved it?
– A very intelligent person. Would the honorable gentleman like to meet him? The resolution read -
We are not unmindful of the deliberately designed tactics of the employers5 representatives which resulted in the hearing of the 40-huur week case taking fifteen months to complete, which caused the 40-hour week to become inoperative until January, 1048.
In the light of the frequent pleadings by employers for industrial co-operation, we note and deplore the delaying tactics against om claims- for n just basic wage.
We resent the introduction of judicial technicalities during the currency of the basic wage hearing, which we believe are designed to frustrate the early termination of the case.
We declare that the admission of barristers to the basic wage proceedings is against the intended letter and spirit of the act, unnecessarily prolonging the hearing.
It then resolved as follows in its final paragraph : -
We resolve, therefore, to support the Australian Council of Trades Unions in any efforts deemed necessary to -
Ensure the speedy and satisfactory conclusion of the present basic wage case, and, with this end in view, pledge ourselves as trade unionists to abide by any decision that may be made . . .
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has castigated the Government for what he described as its failure to carry out certain promises. He has read, from a certain pamphlet, promises that were made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and by the Government parties prior to the last general election. One of those promises was that the Liberal party would take steps to maintain a state of full employment. After the Prime Minister had made that statement the honorable member for Melbourne and many of his colleagues went from platform to platform, from stump to stump, and called out the catchcry, “Vote for Bob and lose your job “. I remind the honorable member that more people are now in employment than were in employment when either the Curtin or the Chifley Ministry was in office. A condition of full employment that was never achieved under either the Curtin or the Chifley Administration now exists. The Liberal party and the Australian Country party have fulfilled that particular promise to the letter. Everybody employable is in employment and 100,000 jobs are waiting, to be filled.
The honorable member then referred to another pre-election promise made by the parties now in office. That was the promise to take steps to end shortages. One shortage that has been ended is the petrol shortage. While Labour was in power people found it impossible to obtain their full petrol requirements because of the Labour Government’s legislation and actions. Every industry, every carrier and every private citizen is now able to obtain all the petrol required. That is another promise that has been kept.
The honorable member for Melbourne also contradicted the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Chifley, who earlier in the afternoon had referred to the fact that clothing was now in ample supply. The Leader of the Opposition asked how, as clothing is now in ample supply, the Government accounted for the fact that the prices of clothing have not fallen. Yet, the honorable member for Melbourne has suggested that the Government has not carried into effect its policy of ending shortages. I remind the House again of the shortages that have been ended. They include shortages of petrol, clothing and galvanized iron. Large imports of galvanized iron have come into the country and industries are now able to obtain wire for various purposes. They certainly have to pay a higher price for it because it is imported, but the fact remains that it is available for purchase whereas it was not available before. To certain people the availability of such materials is more important than the fact that they cost slightly more ‘than the locally produced article, substantially more in some instances.
The honorable member then referred to the promise that we would take stops to assist in relation to the housing problem. I remind him that far more houses have been built in the first six months of .1.950 since this Government has been in office than were built in any of the eight years during which the Labour party was in office. In addition to that, steps have been taken to import thousands of prefabricated houses.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! The interjections coming from the Opposition side of the House are disorderly and are not intended to elicit information but merely to interrupt the proceedings. I ask certain honorable members to remain quiet.
– Steps have been, and will be, taken to import prefabricated houses in thousands. They will play a very important part in relieving the very difficult housing position.
The honorable member for Melbourne also mentioned subsidies. The present Government, in an endeavour to prevent an increase of prices, has provided for the payment of subsidies on butter and tea. So far as its undertaking to take steps to. put value back into the £.1 is concerned, I remind honorable members “ that the Government parties did not make any such promise as certain honorable members opposite have alleged they made and have referred to in questions in this House almost every day since the beginning of the present Parliament. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) has recited the actual promise that the present Prime Minister made in his policy speech before the general election. Because this matter is so important and has been so misrepresented over the last few months I consider it incumbent upon me to repeat one of the promises made by the Liberal and Australian Country parties prior to last December. On page 28 of the joint policy speech of the Liberal and Country parties the following statements appear under the heading “ Prices “ :- ‘
Perhaps our greatest charge against the financial and economic policy of the present Socialist Government is that while it has paid a good deal of attention to increasing the volume and circulation of money, it has largely neglected the problem of what and how much that money will huy.
Every housewife knows how grievous this problem is.
The statistician will conservatively allow that the pound of 1939 is now only worth 12s. 2d. in purchasing power. But on the true cost of household requirements it would be nearer the mark to say that it is worth only 10s. The greatest task, therefore, is to get value back into the pound, that is, to get prices down.
The 1939 £1 was the Liberal £1 and the 1949 £1 was the socialist £1.
That is an exact statement of the undertaking given prior to the last general election. That speech indicated that the problem of putting value back into the £1 was one of the greatest tasks that any government would have to face. It was broadcast and was reported in the press and in pamphlets as the policy of the Liberal and Australian Country parties. It is useless for honorable members of thu Opposition to make false statements in regard to what was promised when it is in black and white for everybody to read.
There is one way of putting value back into the £1 which I want to examine, without indulging in party politics. It is the way that the Scullin Labour Government used in 1930 when.it reduced all wages and rates of interests and thereby put value into the £1. If honorable members of the Opposition want to adopt that method, they should say so. It is one way of putting value back into the £1, but it is not the way in which it should be done at the present time. It is the belief of the Liberal party that the best way of putting value back into the £1 is by taking such measures as are necessary to enable supply to keep up with demand. Whenever there is a problem to be solved its causes must be examined. It is generally admitted that ever since 1941, when the Labour Government took office, prices have been increased and the cost of living has risen. I admit that since the present Government assumed office there lias been no sign of any lowering of prices. High prices are a natural corollary of boom conditions. Whenever, in the history of the world, there has been a boom, prices have been high. I do not know whether honorable members of the Opposition want to revert to depression . conditions. Do they want to see lower prices caused by a depression? If they do, I do not. I should much prefer boom conditions, even if they do entail high prices, to conditions of depression or recession, as the Leader of the Opposition calls it, accompanied by ali the hardship and cruelty of low prices and unemployment.
There is no reason to be so very miserable about this condition of high prices. In one sense, the people should be extraordinarily happy in the knowledge that conditions are so buoyant in Australia that higher prices than ever before are being obtained for Australian wheat and wool, that wages are higher than they have ever been before, that every person is in employment and that jobs are easy to get. There is a tremendous amount in our present economic situation to be extraordinarily happy about and if the passing of legislation with the object of putting value back into the £1 might destroy those buoyant conditions let us do without it.
The problem that the Government faces is one of making the supply of goods equal to the demand. Once supply equals demand there will be a stable economy. From time immemorial, so long as demand has been greater than supply, there has been a condition of increasing prices.
The causes of this condition are not hard to find. They are the acute shortage of goods that was occasioned by the war ; the higher prices being paid for Australian exports, mainly wheat and wool, a condition which has ‘been brought about by world shortages; full employment, which has produced a keen demand for goods and services; and the shorter working week, which was introduced at a time when goods were in short supply. Another cause of high prices is the Government’s immigration policy. Thousands of men and women are coming into this country from overseas and producing a very substantia] demand for goods and services and one that is far greater than they can possibly offset in the initial stages of their settlement in this country. That immigration policy was introduced by the previous Government and is being carried on by this Government and I believe that it is essential to the security and welfare of this country. But such a policy brings difficulties with its benefits.
Another cause of the inflationary tendency is the reduction of taxes and the increase of social services payments. All these things have caused a great demand which, in its turn, has tended to force up prices. Another cause of increased prices is the lack of balance between the production of capital goods and goods which are normally consumed. That tendency, of course, was corrected during war-time by a policy of conscription of man-power. I do not think that any honorable member would suggest that that remedy should be applied in times of peace, but, inevitably, at a time like this, without it industry must, to a certain degree, get out of equilibrium. It is apparent that an undue proportion of the available labour is engaged in the production of luxury items instead of very necessary capital goods.
How can the supply of goods be increased until it is equal to the demand?
One way of achieving that objective is by producing more with the resources at our disposal. The Government has already taken measures to bring about this very desirable result. One of the main causes of decreased production during recent years has been the strikes that have been caused by Communists. The introduction of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950 has already had a very appreciable effect upon the quick settlement of industrial disputes. Although that bill has not yet been passed by both Houses, the mere fact that it has been passed by this Househas had a salutary effect upon the community and there is much less keenness to support political strikes than there was during the eight years of Labour rule. The promptitude with which the Government brought the Crimes Act into operation alsohas kept the wheels of industry turning. If the industrial problems of this country can be solved and stability of employment maintained much will be done to increase the supply of goods and services and bring about stability of prices, but it is utterly futile for honorable members of the Opposition to accuse this Government of not taking measures to put value back into the £1 while their party is doing everything in its power to sabotage the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950 in another place.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must not allude to the other place or to proceedings in it.
Mr.WILSON. - Very well, sir. I shall say that if the Labour party would only do all in its power to expedite the passage of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950 so as to enable the Government to bring about peace in industry it would assist in a very substantial way to prevent the. spiralling of prices and to put value back into the £1.
An increase of the volume of imports is also necessary if value is to be put back into the £1. Fortunately, as a result of the very high prices that are being received for Australian exports, this country has very large sterling balances lying in London. It is possible to utilize those balances for the purpose of bringing into this country such articles as prefabricated homes, iron and steel, wire and netting, and other products which are in exceptionally short supply. That would increase the quantity of goods in this country without in any way affecting its already over-taxed man-power and other local resources.
I ask for leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
– I move -
The purpose of this resolution is to enable a charge to be levied to provide funds for a reserve price scheme for wool that may succeed the existing Wool Disposals Plan. In its present form the Wool (Contributory Charge) Act authorizes the imposition of a charge for the purposes of that plan, but its terms would not permit money to be raised for a successor scheme.
The resolution now before the committee and associated legislation are designed to impose a levy on wool in anticipation of a scheme of reserve prices for wool being secured which is acceptable to growers and the Government alike. It is proposed that the levy shall -operate in the next wool year, but the legislation will not be proclaimed unless and until the Government is satisfied that the woolgrowing industry generally has indicated its acceptance of the principle of a levy. Two of the organizations representative of Australian wool-growers have already communicated to me their approval of the imposition of a levy. However, the senior body representative of woolgrowers - the Australian Wool Growers Council - has not yet advised the Government of the attitude of its members.
For reasons of equity it is necessary, if a levy is to be imposed, that it shall operate from the commencement of the wool year, which is the ordinary financial year. In the circumstances, the only practicable thing to do is to have the lulls passed during the current parliamentary session - subject to the reservation about their proclamation - so that the Government shall have authority to impose the new contributory charge immediately it is satisfied that the levy principle is acceptable to wool-growers generally.
A bill to amend the Wool (Contributory Charge) Act 1945 is one of three bills that are being introduced. The bills a re complementary. In order that honorable members may understand what is the purpose of each bill and the scope of the legislation as a whole, it is necessary to give a brief explanation of the field covered by the other two bills. The proposed amendment of the Wool (Contributory Charge) Act necessitates a simple amendment of the Wool Realization Act. That amendment is to ensure that a distinction shall be maintained between moneys collected for the Wool Disposals Plan and those collected for any new scheme that may be evolved and that may be found acceptable by the Government and by Australian wool-growers generally. The second bill is the one that is designed to effect a consequential amendment of the Wool Realization Act 1945-1946. The purpose of the third bill - the Wool (Reserve Prices) Fund Bill - is to give effect to the undertaking which the Government has given that money collected by a levy to provide funds for a post-Joint Organization scheme shall be repaid if there is not a scheme acceptable to both the Government and the growers.
As honorable members know, the Wool Disposals Plan, under which the Joint Organization was set up to dispose of the war-time accumulation of dominion wool, came into operation on the 1st August, 1945. The details of the plan - under which the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa are partners - are contained in the schedule to the Wool Realization Act 1945. This plan operated with such success that, long before its termination, leaders of the Australian wool industry were turning their minds to the problem of how its benefits could be continued after war-time stocks had been sold. As early as July, 1947, the senior wool-growing organization - the Australian Wool Growers Council - appointed a committee “ to investigate fully the question of wool marketing in the period following the termination of Joint Organization’s operations and to submit such recommendations as are considered practicable, designed to minimize violent fluctuations and to bring about stability in wool values”. The other wool-growers’ organizations were also thinking along similar lines. As a result of these deliberations, three plans were produced. The Australian Wool and
Meat Producers Federation and the Australian Primary Producers Union - who were responsible for two of these plans - subsequently decided to integrate their proposals. In April, 1949 - after nearly two years study of the problem - the special committee of the Australian “Wool Growers Council published its report; and in July, 1949, the proposals of the committee wore adopted by the Australian Wool Growers Council. The different proposals had many fundamental points in common. What was proposed in each case was a scheme, embracing the four partners in the existing arrangement, for the maintenance of reserve prices. There were differences principally on the means of obtaining funds to finance buying-in operations. While all this was happening in Australia, woolgrowers in New Zealand and South Africa were also thinking of plans for wool marketing after completion of the Joint Organization’s task.
With the termination of the Wool Disposals Plan in prospect a conference was convened in London in January last to review its operations. It was considered by the Governments and growers in the three Dominions that this conference presented an appropriate opportunity to consider whether some suitable arrangement, on similar lines to the Joint Organization,’ could be continued, after the disposal of war-time stocks had been completed. The present Government approved of an Australian delegation attending the London Wool Conference, and approved the principle of Australian participation in a wool reserve price plan on the general lines of the proposals put forward by the industry. The delegation that went to London included representatives of the three wool-growers’ organizations. In addition, the president of the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia was a member, as an adviser, of the Australian delegation. Before the delegation left for London, the Government stipulated that in any scheme it would require that the industry should provide the main capital, and it was on this understanding of the Government’s position that industry representatives participated in the London talks. The Government set out the essentials of the kind of scheme that was contemplated. These were : - First, the auction system of wool selling was to be maintained; secondly, that reserve prices should be determined annually; thirdly, that the three woolgrowing dominions should ‘be partners to the scheme with the United Kingdom as the fourth partner if possible; fourthly, that the wool-growing industry should have an effective voice in the controlling authority in Australia and should be at least as strongly represented as it is on the present Wool Realization Commission; fifthly, that the principal capital should be provided by the industry; and sixthly, that any acceptable scheme should be backed by the ultimate guarantee of the Government.
In regard to the last point, representatives of the wool-growers’ organizations were informed that such a contingent liability as they had asked the Government to undertake could be assumed only if it was agreed that the Government should have the final voice in the determination of the reserve price. As a guarantor, the Government would obviously be concerned with the rate at which bought-in wool should be re-offered. The growers’ representatives agreed with this point of view. As these two points would be virtually the only matters upon which Government authority would be exercised, in no sense can it be said that the Government is seeking to exercise any direct, control over the affairs of the wool industry. I remind honorable members at this point that this Government is quite fixed in its intention not to deal arbitrarily with other people’s property. It is necessary to point out, however, that the Australian economy is closely bound up with the fortunes of the wool industry. The Government relies with confidence on the wool industry itself recognizing this fact and realizing that avoidance of violent price fluctuations in wool is a matter of concern to the whole Australian community as well as to woolgrowers. Existence of a wool plan devised by the industry, which would protect the Australian economy against the effects of violent price fluctuations, would be the best insurance against arbitrary intervention on the part of a future government. Initiation and successful operation of such a scheme would be a most powerful means of providing against the possibility of direct governmental control of the industry.
As substantial capital will be needed for a reserve price scheme for wool, the advisability of starting to raise money while prices are high makes it obvious that a levy should operate from the commencement of the next wool year. That explains the need for the urgent introduction of this measure during this session of the Parliament. At the moment there is no post-Joint Organization wool scheme. It should be understood by honorable members that the sole purpose of this legislation is to raise funds which will be ready for use in connexion with any scheme, acceptable to both growers and the Government, which is evolved as a result of the further international discussions proposed in the report of the London Wool Conference. That conference reviewed the operations of the Joint Organization and noted that its disposals operation was nearing completion. The conference recommended that the Joint Organization should continue its existing functions until the 30th June, 1951, unless before then it was superseded by another organization.
The conference examined the desirability and means of limiting wide price fluctuations such as have occurred in the past. In view of the proposals which had been made by the wool-growers’ organizations in the three Dominions, the conference paid particular attention to the question of whether a practicable and desirable reserve price scheme might be devised. The Dominion delegations pointed to the benefits which such a scheme would have for consumers as well as producers of wool. In the proposals drawn up at the conference it was not intended that the reserve prices would follow the market up. It was therefore contemplated that before the reserve prices became effective a substantial fall from the present high market levels would have occurred. The effect of the reserve prices would be to stiffen the market at a time when prices were falling. Wool bought in at reserve prices would, when re-sold, tend to modify upward price movements. The conference did not seek to devise a scheme which would make wool prices run counter to the general trend of world commodity prices j it was generally agreed that such a scheme would not be desirable. It was also agreed that a plan involving ceiling prices would be inconsistent with a system of marketing wool by auction.
The conference considered the amount of the funds that might be needed to support reserve prices by the buying in of wool which did not fetch the reserve price at auction. The estimate made by the conference of the funds that might be needed and the administrative structure of the scheme, as well as other aspects, are all matters which can be further examined by the governments concerned. They will be further examined by the Australian Government in consultation with the wool-growers’ organizations.
The London Wool Conference was of an exploratory character, being empowered to make recommendations only, but I point out here that the main principles of a reserve price scheme set out in the report of the conference followed closely the lines of the proposals submitted prior to the conference by Australian wool-growers’ organizations. They are notably similar to the recommendations contained in the report of the special committee of the Australian Wool Growers Council. Before the conference had concluded, the United Kingdom Government made it clear, through its delegation, that it would be unable to participate in any kind of post-Joint Organization scheme unless the scheme had general international consent. It therefore made the suggestion that the three wool-growing dominions should take the initiative in placing the proposals before the International Wool Study Group. This group is composed of representatives of the governments of countries interested in production, consumption, or trade in wool. The group, which was set up in 1947, was intended to be a forum for the discussion of wool questions on the international plane. The group as such has no power to make any decisions that could bind governments. Its conclusions are merely recommendations to governments. The Australian Government, after it had considered the report of the conference, which I had previously discussed with leaders of the woolgrowers’ organizations, decided that an approach to the study group was the best course possible in the circumstances and informed the growers’ organizations that it would do so subject to the following provisos : - First, that the Governments of New Zealand and the Union of South Africa also favoured that course; secondly, that the wool-growers’ organizations desired the Government to approach the study group; and thirdly, that the wool-growers’ organizations should agree beforehand to the principle of a levy so that the Government would have the assurance that growers were prepared to provide finance.
There are two reasons why the woolgrowers’ organizations were asked to give a decision on the principle of a levy at this juncture. In the first place, it would be unreasonable to summon an international meeting, go through the business of international negotiations, secure acceptance of Australia’s proposals, and then find that Australian growers were unwilling to contribute through a levy to a scheme of their own designing. In that eventuality, Australia would be made to look foolish in the eyes of the wool world. In the second place, legislation for the levy, or contributory charge, would have to be passed during this session if the charge were to operate during the next wool season and so take advantage of current high prices. The Government gave a great deal of thought to the method of providing the finance necessary for a scheme of the kind proposed by the woolgrowers’ organizations. It examined their suggestions and discussed them with representatives of the industry. It finally came to the conclusion that as the growers were to be the principal beneficiaries - at least so far as Australia was concerned - they should be prepared to back a scheme of their own designing by providing the first and principal capital. After examining all methods of finance for such an undertaking the Government decided that the most equitable way of securing adequate contributions from growers was a contributory charge prorated to the sale value of each grower’s clip.
I inform honorable members that the wool-growers’ organizations have all indicated that they approve an approach being made to the International Wool Study Group as soon as possible. In regard to the levy, the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation and the Australian Primary Producers Union have indicated that they accept it on the conditions that the Government has laid down. I shall repeat those conditions so that the attitude of the Government will be clearly understood. They are as follows : -
Acceptance of the principle of the levy by wool-growers’ organizations will not, of course, bind them to agree to’ any scheme that may be evolved. That will beclear from the conditions that I have just stated. Their right to examine on it? merits any scheme that is internationally acceptable is fully safeguarded.
The Australian Wool Growers Council, which had not previously considered a levy as one of the issues, recently referred the question to its constituent associations in the various States. In New South
Wales, the Graziers Association has conducted a ballot on the question among its members. The council undertook to convey its decision to me at the earliest possible date, and not later than the 15th June, after it had received the views of its constituent associations. It has not yet been possible for the council to give its decision. I can understand, and I fully appreciate, the wish of the council and of its associations to seek the views of their members on so important an issue. The Government considered what course it should .take in view of the fact that, if it awaited the decision of the Australian Wool Growers Council, it would be impossible to have the proposed legislation dealt with during this session. Nor could the Government be unmindful of the fact that the decision of the Australian Wool Growers Council might be one that would place upon the Government the responsibility of having further consultations with the industry with a view to determining, in a manner acceptable to the industry, whether a levy for a post- Joint Organization scheme is approved by wool-growers generally.
I have been at pains to explain the context in which the proposed legislation is being introduced because .the bills have been drafted to include the assurances that I gave to the wool-growers’ organizations on behalf of the Government. They include the provision that the legislation shall come into force on a date to be proclaimed. Since that provision has been expressly included to enable the Government to take cognizance of the decision of the Australian Wool Growers Council, 1 want to make it abundantly clear at this point that the Government will not proclaim the legislation unless and until it is satisfied’ that the principle of the levy is acceptable to wool-growers generally. I give that assurance now. In the circumstances, passage of the legislation now would mean that if growers approved of a levy it could be imposed. Otherwise, in the absence of legislation, it would be impossible to collect a levy during the next wool season. The legislation must be passed during this session since it would be grossly inequitable as among growers to impose a levy in mid-season. For this reason I seek the co-operation of all honorable members in ensuring that the legislation shall be dealt with expedi tiously. In a few words, the position is that, unless the legislation is passed during this session, no levy can be imposed in respect of the next wool season. The Government fully appreciates that woolgrowers do not want Government control of the sale of wool. Nor has this Government any wish to have that control. I stated that to the growers’ leaders in what I thought were the clearest possible terms. What the Government has said is that, if it is to back a post-Joint Organization scheme by giving a guarantee, it should have the final voice in the determination of the level of reserve prices and should be concerned with the rate of re-offering of bought-in wool. But the Government will not seek to exercise authority beyond the obvious necessity to protect the Treasury. If and when a scheme is finally evolved, the Government will know, and the industry will know, the points at which some authority will have to be reserved to the Government. Those points and the manner in which the Government’s interest will be safeguarded can be examined by the industry before it accepts or rejects finally any scheme that is placed before it.
I wish now to draw the attention of honorable members to two points in the resolution. The first is that it lays down a maximum for the rate of the charge that may be imposed in any season. The maximum rate is 10 per cent. This maximum applies to the sum of the charge for the existing Wool Disposals Plan and the charge to be imposed for a new scheme.
– Is any minimum provided ?
– No. The other point is that the Government will consider the views of the wool-growers’ organizations, as well as of the Australian Wool Realization Commission, in fixing the actual rate of charge that is prescribed for a future scheme. The proposed additional charge, if made, would be raised in the same way as the present contributory charge. No amendment is1 necessary, therefore, of the Wool (Contributory Charge) Assessment Act, which sets out the manner in which the charge is collected. There is a further point related to the contributory charge that I should mention here. I have already mentioned it to the wool-growers’ organizations. It is that the levy could be made to operate continuously so as to establish a revolving fund, If this were done, a maximum for the fund would be decided, and then, as collections exceeded this amount, repayments would be made in the order of contributions. As the prospect of an acceptable scheme becomes more clear, the Government will seek the growers’views on this point, but I might mention that the result of a revolving contributory fund such as I have referred to would be that at any time the capital used in the operation of the scheme would, broadly speaking, be contributed by those then in the industry.
In concluding, I remind honorable members that the resolution before the committee and the associated legislation deal with the greatest of the Australian primary industries. Some 10 per cent. of the national income and about half the value of exports now come from this one great enterprise. The legislation, therefore, while being of direct concern to the wool industry, is also of concern to the whole of the Australian community. The Government did not decide to introduce the legislation until it had given the matter long and serious consideration and until it had satisfied itself that a reserve price scheme for wool would be of benefit not only to the wool industry but also to the general economy of Australia. That can be said whilst recognizing - as this Government does - that thewool-growing industry must itself decide whether it wishes to have such a scheme. TheWool Disposals Plan has been an outstanding success and has established a model of international cooperation for the mutual benefit of producers and consumers. The measures that the Parliament is being asked to pass during this session are designed to provide a sound financial foundation for a scheme to extend the benefits of that plan to wool-growers in the future. At present, thanks tohigh prices, the wool industry has never been more prosperous. Now is the opportune time to make provision to secure the future, for the opportunity may never occur again under such favorable conditions.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Wool Realization Act 1945-1946.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. McEwen and Mr. Fadden do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. McEwen, and read a first time.
Mr. McEWEN (Murray- Minister for
Commerce and Agriculture) [8.33]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
As I have already informed the House, the proposed amendment of the Wool Realization Act is simply a consequential one that arises out of the proposed amendments to the Wool (Contributory Charge) Act 1945. Section 16 of the Wool Realization Act deals with the appropriation of moneys that are raised under the Wool (Contributory Charge) Act. The amendment is to ensure that a distinction shall be maintained between moneys that are collected for the existing Wool Disposals Plan, and those that are collected for the purpose of a possible new scheme. The treatment of the charge that is collected for the latter purpose is dealt with in the Wool (Reserve Prices) Fund Bill. I shall refer to that matter when that measure is before the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Governor-General’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to establish a fund for the purposes of a scheme of reserve prices for wool, and to make provision for the distribution of the moneys in the fund if the scheme is not in operation on a certain date.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. McEwen and Mr. Fadden do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. McEwen, and read a first time.
. -I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I have already, in speaking on the resolution in connexion with the Wool (Contributory Charge) Bill 1950, informed honorable members of the reason why the Wool (Reserve Prices)Fund Bill 1950 has been introduced. I propose, therefore, to confine myself to making some brief observations on the salient points that are covered by the bill.
It is intended to establish a fund into which will be paid the amounts that are collected by means of the contributory charge for the purpose of a possible future scheme of reserve prices for wool. If such a scheme, acceptable to the Government and to wool-growers generally, is established, then the moneys in the fund will be used for that purpose. As clause 5 (1.) of the bill indicates, the fund will, in that event, be applied in pursuance of a future act dealing with the scheme.
If, on the other hand, there is not in operation by the 30th September, 1951, a reserve price scheme that has the general approval of Australian wool-growers, the contributory charge that will have been collected will be repaid. Consultations with wool-growers’ organizations would of course, be necessary to determine whether any future scheme was acceptable to the growers. The bill specifically provides for these consultations, and is, therefore, consistent with the policy of the Government that there shall be close association between it and the wool- growing industry in further negotiations for a future scheme of reserve prices for wool.
Payment of the charge will be made in the manner that is prescribed in the Wool (Contributory Charge) Assessment Act 1945. The proposed legislation does not necessitate any amendment of that act. If the charge that is collected for the purposes of the new scheme has to be refunded, the method of refund will be related to the method by which the charge is collected, as the bill provides.
The measure also provides for moneys in the fund to be invested, and for the interest to be added to the fund. In the event of a refund having been made, the interest would be used to meet the expense of distributing the refund, and any balance would be used for the benefit of the wool industry. I consider that this would be the most equitable manner of treating the balance, having regard to the fact that the period during which interest would have been earned would be short, particularly in the case of those growers whose wool was marketed late in the season.
Finally, I again direct the attention of honorable members to the fact that the bill provides that the act shall come into force on a date to be proclaimed. It will not be proclaimed unless and until the Government is satisfied that the principle of the levy has the general approval of wool-growers. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 4142).
. -Before the sitting was suspended, I was dealing with the statementby the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley), and by other members of the Labour party, to the effect that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) had not carried out his pre-election promise to restore value to the £1. I reminded the Opposition that the Prime Minister had not at any time made that promise. The statement in which he dealt with that matter is published in a report of his policy-speech, and if honorable members will refer to it they will see that the right honorable gentleman said -
The greatest task, therefore, is to get value hack into the £1, that is, to get prices down.
The right honorable gentleman did not say, during the last general election campaign, that if the Liberal party and the Australian Country party were returned to office, the new government would restore value to the £l in six months, twelve months, or any other period. During the comparatively short time that it has been in office, it has taken a number of steps in an endeavour ultimately to bring a bout stability of prices. By abolishing petrol rationing, the Government stepped up transport activity, thereby enabling costs of production to be reduced. It has substantially increased imports, and, in that way, has made available many commodities that had been in short supply while the Chifley Labour Government was in office. When goods are imported from sterling countries, they are paid for from the substantial balances that Australia holds in London, and become available to our community without taxing man-power or materials that are in short supply. The Government has subsidized tea and butter, thereby assisting to prevent an increase of the prices of those two commodities. During the last six months, Australia has enjoyed a greater degree of peace in industry than was experienced fit any time under the previous Government, and that position will improve a3 soon as the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950, the passage of which members of the Labour party are obstructing, becomes law. The Government has reduced customs duties on many commodities that are in extremely short supply, and I have not the slightest doubt that, as soon as all the plans that it has evolved are given effect, prices will be stabilized. However, I suggest that the Government should consider certain other measures for achieving that objective. During a financial and economic depression, all political parties prepare plans for stabilizing prices, and say, “ If another depression is to be avoided, we must save in times of prosperity and expand our spending power in a period of economic difficulty”. Unfortunately, those views are always voiced in times of depression but it is seldom that they are carried into effect in times of boom or prosperity. During the next few years, while we have boom conditions, we should take the most active measures to encourage a policy of saving throughout the country, and that must be done by more than the mere use of words or newspaper advertisements. Our objective should bf to establish at the earliest possible moment a scheme of compulsory saving. It is useless in times of depression to talk about saving unless we actually encourage saving in times of boom, i believe that the people would accept a scheme of compulsory saving provided that the portion of their income withheld from them was paid into the Commonwealth Bank in the name of each individual. Such deposits would bear interest in the ordinary way and individuals could collect the interest as it fell due, but the capital sum could not be withdrawn until the Government issued a proclamation that it was necessary to expand spending in order to prevent a depression or recession. That would be similar to the scheme that was introduced during the war and proved acceptable to every serviceman whereby a certain proportion of the serviceman’s income wa.’ set aside as deferred pay and was paid to the individual on discharge from the service. Amounts so paid in the form of deferred pay provided a wonderful nest egg and assisted service personnel to establish themselves in civilian life. I am confident that if the Government introduces a scheme of saving of that nature, it would be acceptable to the great majority of the people if it were properly understood.
The Government, at the earliest possible moment, should also introduce s scheme of national insurance against oic age, sickness, widowhood and other contingencies of life. The present is the opportune time to bring in such a scheme, and I believe that if, in conjunction with any reductions of taxes that may be made, we implemented a scheme for compulsory saving and national insurance we could arrest the present inflationary movement. Furthermore, we should, and must, give every encouragement te employees to increase production by thi- provision of incentive payments. It cannot be denied that the one way to prevent present shortages is to increase produc-tion and that only by removing shortages shall we arrest the inflationary movement that has been going on for the last eight years.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The record of the Government since it assumed office six months ago has been entirely barren of any achievement in the interests of the people, particularly needy sections of the community, such as exservice pensioners and war widows whose welfare, one would have thought, would have been the Government’s primary concern, and also the age, invalid and widow pensioners. They have been awaiting the fulfilment of the promises that supporters of the present Government made to them at a recent general election, by which so many of them were misled and consequently voted for honorable members opposite. Those people have been hoping for some relief from the ever-rising cost of living which has made it almost impossible for them to keep body and soul together on the meagre pension that they now receive. Government supporters blame the Communists for everything, even the Government’s failure to put value back into the £1 as its members and supporters promised to do at the recent general election. The startling fact is that the Government has not attempted to do anything for those sections of the community.
Furthermore, the Government has failed to implement a national health scheme which the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in his policy speech at the recent elections, promised to establish. That failure also shows just how much concern the Government has for the needs of the great mass of the people. No Communist-inspired strike can be said to be holding up the implementation of a national health scheme, but members of the British Medical Association who were levied at the rate of £10 10s. per capita to provide financial support for the present Government at the recent general election have been holding up the implementation of the Chifley Government’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme for which legislation was passed some years ago. At the same time, it can be said to the credit of approximately 200 doctors that they have been co-operating in that scheme. It is quite obvious that the present Government is submitting to dictation by the British Medical Association in the same way as it submitted to dictation from private financial institutions. The object of the very first measure that the Government introduced when the Parliament met in February was to shackle the people’s bank, the Commonwealth Bank, and place that institution under the control of a board which will be dominated by representatives of vested interests.
The Minister for Health (,Sir Earle Page) on the 19th December, the day on which he was sworn in as a Minister, promised that in February he would introduce a measure to establish a national health scheme, and he immediately launched numerous conferences with the object of obtaining the views of the various interests concerned in the implementation of that legislation. However, it is apparent that at that time he did not have any scheme actually in mind and that all his references to the subject at the recent general election were 30 much bluff. The attitude of supporters of the present Government was purely negative insofar as the Chifley Government’s scheme was concerned. The Minister spoke merely in generalities. He said that his proposal would be implemented on the basis of self-help, but, apparently, it was a case of persons able to do so helping themselves and the devil taking the hindmost. After the Government assumed office, we witnessed the Minister, like the elusive Pimpernel, coming and going to and from conferences in the capital cities. At the same time, he indulged in kite flying in the press, being quick to withdraw statements attributed to him as he ascertained that various proposals he had put forward were not acceptable to the interests concerned. Then followed a spate of assertion and counter assertion about whether the Minister had any definite proposals and denials and counter denials from various interested bodies about whether the proposals put forward were acceptable to them.
In the meantime the Government has not consulted the Parliament on this matter. Honorable members have been kept in the dark and have not been given any authoritative statements by the Minister. All the replies that the Minister has given to questions asked in the House, on the infrequent occasions on which he has given us the opportunity to address questions to him in this chamber, have been so evasive and incoherent that it would need a Philadelphia lawyer to interpret them. In those circumstances, honorable members have been obliged to rely upon press reports for information about the Government’s proposals. In order to give to the House some indication of what is being done by the Government to implement a national health scheme, I shall quote some of those reports. On the 12th January last, the Sydney Morning Herald published the following report: -
Canberra, Wednesday. - The Commonwealth Government will begin the first of a series of conferences in Melbourne next Tuesday in an attempt to evolve a new national health scheme.
Apparently, supporters of the Government had no definite scheme in mind before the recent general election, and it was not until January that the Minister attempted to evolve a scheme. That report continued -
The Minister for Health, Sir Earle Page, said to-day that the talks would be between the Government, Federal Council of the B.M.A., Pharmaceutical Guild, and Friendly Society organizations.
He would discuss individual problems with each organization. At present he had no definite plan, but from the conferences he and officers of his department would prepare a scheme for Cabinet. This scheme, if approved, would replace the Chifley Government’s scheme.
That was the main objective that the Government then had in mind. The report continued -
Sir Earle Page has also called conferences with doctors, dentists, chemists, pharmaceutical and nursing professions, friendly societies, hospital managements, and hospital insurance organizations–
Apparently, plenty of talk was to take place -
These will probablytake place in Sydney and Melbournebefore Parliament meets on
February 22. Sir Earle hopes to present amending legislation in the first session of Parliament.
It would appear that at that juncture the Minister had good hopes of implementing a national health scheme. But on the 2nd February, the following report was published in the Sydney Morning Herald : -
Page, said last night that when the full new medicine scheme was given to the public he was satisfied it would have practically unanimous support.
In Melbourne on Tuesday the Federal President of the Pharmaceutical Guild of Australia, Mr. Eric Scott, said the new medicine plan would be hard to sell to the public (as only 5 to 8 per cent. of the people would get free medicine under Sir Earle Page’s proposed new formulary of life saving and life preserving drugs).
The General secretary of the B.M.A., Br. J. Hunter,, said yesterday he disagreed with Mr. Scott’s statements.
The Government, in its wisdom, has accepted what the medical profession believes to be the best answer to medical and pharmaceutical benefits, he said. The Chairman of the Manufacturers Association Ltd., Mr. Paul Spragson, said yesterday, Australians spent no more than £5,000,000 a year on proprietary medicines.
Mr. Spragson was commenting on a statement by Mr. Scott that about £86,000,000 was spent annually on these medicines.
Mr. Spragson said many wild guesses had been made to the question, but Mr. Scott’s was the “wildest yet”.
From those reports it is clear that right from the outset of these talks sharp conflict arose among the various vested interests involved despite the Minister’s assurance that the scheme would have their unanimous support. Whilst he held out that expectation he did not seem to worry about what would be the reaction to the scheme on the part of the great mass of the people because only from 5 per cent. to 8 per cent. of the people were to receive any benefit under it. Finally, the Minister popped up in Brisbane at. the Federal Conference of the B.M.A. and again honorable members had to rely upon press reports to obtain any information about the progress of the negotiations. The Sydney Morning
Herald published the following report on the 30th May last : -
B.M.A. APPROVES HEALTH PROPOSALS.
brisbane, Friday. - The British Medical Association has decided to co-operate with the Federal Government in its National Health Scheme.
The Federal President of the B.M.A., Sir Victor Hurley, said to-day that the Federal Council had advised the Minister for Health, Sir Earle Page, that it approved the principle of a scheme of subsidized, voluntary, contributory medical insurance.
Sir Earle Page said tonight that the B.M.A. had approved of the scheme he outlined last week and no amendment had been sought.
The way was now open for a detailed examination of the scheme and preparation for its full consideration by Federal Cabinet. Legislation would be introduced into Parliament this year– not in February, it will be noted - - but he could not say when the scheme would he brought into operation.
– Despite the assurance of the Minister that there was practically unanimous support for his scheme, at that juncture a spanner was thrown into the works by the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association. Under the heading “ Health Scheme Opponents - Doctors, Chemists Critical” the Sydney Morning Herald of the 25th May, published the following news item: -
HEALTH SCHEME OPPONENTS.
Doctors, Chemists Critical.
Spokesmen for doctors and pharmacists yesterday criticized the new national health scheme, but a friendly society official said it would give as complete a medical service as would be possible to arrange.
The President of the Victorian branch of B.M.A., Dr. Robert Southby, said in Melbourne last night that the scheme outlined by the Minister for Health, Sir Earle Page, in Brisbane, was entirely different from the plan proposed by him ten days ago.
Dr. Southby said the B..M.A. strongly favoured the first scheme, which was a close approach to the ideal, but it opposed two major points in the new plan.
These were: -
Extension of contract practise -
Method of payment of doctors’ fees.
Sir Earle Page’s second outline indicated that organization was to be in the hands of Friendly Societies, Dr. Southby said - “ The B.M.A. is strongly opposed to this. One of our main objections is to any extension of contract practice.”
The Federal President of the Pharmaceutical Guild, Mr. Eric Scott, said last night in Sydney that pharmacists supported the B.M.A’s. opposition to handing control of doctor’s fees to medical societies and other non-government bodies.
Apparently the pharmacists are prepared to accept a socialized scheme, such as that evolved by the Chifley Government, but they object to the friendly societies having any voice in its implementation. The report continued -
But the cat was let out of the bag by the SydneySun in a report headed “ Even Doctors Can’t Work Out Page’s New Health Scheme “ that appeared in the issue of the 4th June and read as follows : -
This week in Brisbane, the B.M.A. Federal Council heard Federal Health Minister Sir Earle Page present a “ broad concept “ of the scheme.
The doctors asked for more details and the Minister referred them to the Treasury officials.
The Treasury officials were unable to give the details the doctors wanted. They admitted the scheme was still in the blueprint stage.
Because of the paucity of information, the doctors deliberated a long time before they agreed to the “ general principles “ of the scheme.
These pointsemerged from the discussions: -
Combined voluntary insurance and Government benefits will provide 90 per cent. of medical costs for many people.
Apparently there will be different scales of fees based on the patient’s income.
From middle-income group patients the Government subsidy will be about 45 per cent. and the patient’s share 10 per cent.
In the higher income groups, the Government subsidy will probably be 36 per cent.
The doctors said they were concerned at the army of sick people for whom no provision had been forecast.
Friendly societies and life insurance companies would not accept sick people as members, they said.
These sick people urgently needed a health scheme, and provision should be made for them, the doctors added.
Sir Earle Page replied that it had not been decided how these sick people would be brought into the scheme.
He added that pensioners would probably receive free treatment.
The Minister revealed that doctors could prescribe life-saving and disease preventing drugs under the scheme.
The very people who need free medicine were given no consideration whatsoever in the Minister’s proposals. Since the right honorable gentleman has returned to the fold and resumed his duties in the Parliament his explanations have been significantly more incoherent than ever. In fact, he has now almost reached the gibbering stage. Honorable members are completely bewildered and in the absence of an authoritative statement on the matter they will be unable to report to their constituents during the recess what the Government intends to do to alleviate the distress that exists among the sick and suffering people of the community.
It is obvious that certain interests are desirous of sabotaging any health scheme organized either by a Government, such as the Chifley Government’s health and medical services scheme, or by a movement such as the friendly societies movement. That illustrates the danger of the Government being beholden to the vested interests that helped it to attain office and naturally look for their reward. The situation in which the Government and the Minister now find themselves is pathetic and the plight of those who urgently need medical care and assistance to relieve their sufferings is tragic. If the Government is not able to reconcile the conflicting interests of those concerned in implementing its national health scheme and is sincerely desirous of tackling the problem, it could at least introduce an interim scheme covering the more needy sections of the community, including pensioners who are unable to pay for medical treatment and medicines, and in particular exservicemen whose illness or disability is not regarded as being due to war service, pending the adoption of a permanent scheme. At present ex-servicemen in that category are unable to obtain medical attention in a repatriation hospital. Most of them cannot afford to pay for medical attention and consequently they have a very good claim on the generosity of the Government. Such an interim scheme should also apply to children who are in urgent need of milk. I suggest that a scheme should be evolved based on the lines of that put into operation by the McGirr Labour Government of New South Wales, which provides £140,000 a year for the distribution of free milk to school children in public and denominational schools throughout New South Wales. This Government might well follow that worthy example and establish a free milk scheme for children on an Australia-wide basis. I understand that such a children’s scheme was in the mind of the Minister some time ago. When the Chifley Government introduced the first free medicine scheme to the Parliament in 1944 the right honorable gentleman was full of ideas about the sort of pharmaceutical benefits scheme that should be evolved in the interests of the health of this nation. Speaking during the secondreading debate on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Bill the right honorable gentleman is reported in Hansard, volume ITS, at page 2430, to have said -
The object of a Commonwealth health programme should be to prevent the incidence of disease . . . In such a programme, the provision of a bottle of medicine is the last requirement . . .
The amount that the nation would need to expend on medicine could be very considerably reduced if an orderly health programme were carried out by the Government. Much of the funds that would be spent on medicine would be saved if an equivalent amount was expended in inaugurating a national health plan along the lines that medical experience has indicated to be necessary. Such a plan would ensure the nutrition of pregnant and nursing mothers and children by reducing the cost of essential protective foods such as milk, oranges, &.c. Priority in securing these essential foods, and, in fact, essential clothing for these women and children, should also be given. Otherwise they must stand in queues, or risk missing supplies altogether.
Let me illustrate the requirements of an effective health plan by dealing with the case of a common disease. Infantile scurvy frequently develops in children between the eighth and fifteenth month of life, lt takes time to develop, and usually occurs in infants who have had solely boiled, pasteurized or dried milk. Latent scurvy, not immediately recognizable, may be made active by infection. The treatment of scurvy, both preventive and curative, is the supply of foodstuffs rich in vitamin C. If there were an abundant supply of orange, tomato, pawpaw, pineapple, or black currant juice, sufficient to give 30 mmg. of ascorbic acid daily, children would not develop scurvy. The quantity necessary is roughly-
If these quantities are not available, we are forced to rely on a very inferior substitute, synthetic ascorbic acid, which, in fact, must be used for a fraction of the number of infants who, for financial reasons, or because of geographical difficulties, or a shortage of supplies, cannot obtain those other juices. Under the Government’s free medicine scheme, I take it that the synthetic ascorbic acid, the inferior substitute, will be supplied free as a medicine. Surely, it is much more sensible to include in the formulary under the bill these indispensible concentrated juices, which are much more curative than the synthetic medicine, and would prevent the necessity for using ascorbic acid. For other infantile diseases, such as anaemia, rickets, tuberculosis and other infections, fresh milk and eggs are equally essential.
Those were the views of the right honorable gentleman when he was in Opposition. Now that he is in power we look to him to give effect to them. His willingness to do so will be the real test of his sincerity. No difficulty would exist in the financing of such a scheme. The Chifley Government left millions of pounds in the National Welfare Fund for that purpose and it also left on the statute-book the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act which contains the necessary machinery to give effect to such a scheme. All that would be necessary would be an amendment of the formulary to cover the additional items which the right honorable gentleman had in mind.
The introduction of an interim scheme should not be subject to the whims and selfish ends of sectional interests while people continue to suffer and die needlessly. The Government is answerable only to the people. Whilst co-operation with all interests is desirable, any government worthy of its salt would act courageously in the interests of the people as a whole and not permit itself to be dominated by sectional vested interests. It should also consider the subdizing of State national fitness schemes and should assist municipal councils to establish olympic swimming pools and the like. It has been truly said that we cannot have a healthy mind without a healthy body. Some assistance in medical research is also desirable. There is no need for the Government to delay the introduction of such a scheme. The matter is entirely in its hands. The machinery has already been provided and .funds are available. Outside bodies are already willing and anxious to assist the Government and are waiting for some encouragement of that kind. For instance, the Prince Henry Institute of Epidemiology has been looking for some time to the Australian Government for financial assistance to carry on its work in the treatment of poliomyelitis. In January last the Sydney Sun had this to say on the matter -
The Medical Superintendent of Prince Henry Hospital, Dr. E. J. Walters, said to-day that although a polio epidemic has been in existence in Australia for some time, no attempt has yet been made to take up laboratory research into the fundamental aspects of polio.
I asked the Minister why assistance had not been extended to that body and in the reply given to me unofficially in one of the corridors of this building he indicated that those connected with the institute are held in disfavour by the National Health and Medical Research Council. The expenditure of the institute is met by the taxpayers, who are entitled to know the facts. I ask the Minister to state authoritatively why such assistance and encouragement have been refused. There may be very good reasons why assistance has not been forthcoming; if so, the Minister should state them. It is possible that our health authorities are on the wrong track in regard to the treatment and incidence of poliomyelitis just as they appear to be hopelessly bogged down in their efforts to propound an acceptable national health scheme. The present epidemic of poliomyelitis has been unduly prolonged, and its effects are much more devastating than were those of previous epidemics, but the Government and the responsible authorities are able to offer no solution of the problem. The Minister has appointed a committee of ten medical men to examine and report on the incidence and treatment of poliomyelitis. I understand that all the medical men appointed come from the eastern States and that no representation has been given to South Australia, in which State good work is being done by the State Government in conjunction with the medical faculty of the University of Adelaide. There is no justification for the establishment of a committee so constituted to deal with a matter of such great importance. We should establish a joint parliamentary committee similar to the Parliamentary Committee on Social Security that was in operation for some years, which would be answerable to the Parliament and the people and would not be beholden to any outside vested interests. It should also not be hindered by official red tape in its deliberations and investigations or be restricted by any ethical or trade ties such as those that apply to the British Medical Association. If doctors composed such a committee they would naturally be restricted in their inquiries, particularly in cases that might require investigation of the methods of, or collaboration with people outside the medical profession. The parliamentary committee could investigate such treatments as naturopathy, osteopathy and chiropractic treatments, that are not recognized by the medical profession. I notice that Sister Elizabeth Kenny, originator of the Kenny treatment for infantile paralysis, is again on her way to Australia. The joint parliamentary committee that I have suggested could interview her about her methods. When she was here last year the various health authorities and the leaders of the medical profession could have interviewed her about her methods and the success they had achieved in the United States, but none of them did so. She has been practising her methods in the United States, where she is highly regarded. In fact, she has the honour of being the second person in history to receive a vise from the United States Government that enables her to move in and out of the United States at will. Yet in her own country she seems to be unhonoured and unsung. The committee that I have suggested would have an opportunity to interview Sister Kenny when she came here and also to give her a proper reception on that occasion. It could investigate her methods of treatment. The . Kenny clinics in the United States are doing good work, as, I understand, is a similar clinic in Queensland. The Kenny clinic at the Royal
North Shore Hospital in Sydney, however, is not receiving the assistance and encouragement that it is entitled to have.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- Former Australian prisoners of war and their relatives, as well as those who have fought for their rights-, are delighted that the Government has appointed a committee of three to investigate fully the claim for the payment of a subsistence allowance to former prisoners of war who were captured by the Japanese. They are especially pleased that the committee consists of three ex-servicemen, and also at the terms of reference, which include the question “ Should a payment be made to former prisoners of war, and if so, to what amount?”. A comparison of the present Government’s action in that regard with the action of the previous Government, is interesting. During the term of office of the last government we asked consistently month after month for four years that the Government should make the payment claimed or should at least establish a committee to investigate the claim fully. The then Prme Minister (Mr. Chifley) refused bluntly on every occasion to do so. We pointed out that America had taken, in regard to its former prisoners of war, the action that we desired should be taken here, but the then Prime Minister said that the subject was closed. That is why prisoners of war all over the country are now delighted with the action of the present Government.
– The Labour Government would have done the same thing also.
– We have had concrete evidence that the Labour Government would have nothing to do with this claim. The honorable member who has just interjected would not have spoken in the terms that he used if he had been a member of this House during the Chifley Government’s term of office, but he is a newcomer. When I first brought the claim for a subsistence allowance for Australian prisoners of war before this Parliament, a few members of the then Government party supported it but they did so once only, because they were soon quietened by the Caucus or the Labour party Executive, and did not speak again on the subject. I say without any fear of contradiction that although the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) interjected with the best of intentions, there was never any chance of a committee being established to investigate this claim while a Labour government was in office. When we were in Opposition we did not ask that the payment claimed should be made straight out, but that the claim should be investigated. It is now being investigated by a committee that will report to the Government on the correct procedure.
I turn now to the Postmaster-General’s Department. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) has proved himself to be quite a “ racket-breaker “ recently. His department has found as many as nine telephones in one home. Those instruments must have been there when the Labour Government was in office, and in fact were probably installed during its term of office. Did not the Postmaster-General of the Labour Government think enough of the interests of the people to make- investigations of such matters? All the time we who were then in Opposition were asking for more telephones to be made available to assist in the decentralization of production, these racketeers were using telephones-
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order! Members of the Opposition had better cease interjecting. Some of them are interjecting altogether too consistently.
– If the members of the Opposition do not agree with the action taken by the Postmaster-General, there is ample time for them during this debate to rise and say so without trying to prevent me from speaking on the subject. So as to provide a contrast between the action of the former PostmasterGeneral in allowing the racket to which I have referred to take place, with the actions of the present Postmaster-General, I shall read briefly from a report that the present Postmaster-General has made about his intentions regarding the provision of telephones services to people in rural areas. The honorable mem ber for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) is one honorable member who, during the term of office of the last Government, consistently asked for the provision of telephones to people in distant areas as an aid to decentralization and increased production. I supported him on most occasions when I had the opportunity to do so and I also brought the subject forward myself on a number of occasions in the four years during which I have been in this House. Until the present Government was elected last December nothing was done about it. Now the Postmaster-General has announced his intentions in that respect in the following terms : - . . assuming that the premises of six applicants are located at distances between 2 and 3 miles from an exchange, and there is no existing departmental pole line on the route, the department will erect the lines for the full distance. Under the former basis the departmental construction would terminate about lj miles from the exchange and the applicants would .be required to erect lines for distances of from 4 mile to 1£ miles, at a total cost of about £200. For ten applicants situated between 3 and 4 miles from an exchange, the department will erect the lines for the full distance. Under the old basis they would bc required to erect lines for distances of from J mile to lj miles, at a total cost of about £400. Where an applicant resides 10 miles from the exchange and a departmental pole line exists for the whole distance, he will not be required to make any cash contribution. In the past, the applicant would have been called upon to pay about £150 towards the capital cost.
That is the kind of action that the Australian Country party has been fighting for. Good telephone services are among the amenities that will be a magnet to draw people from the city areas. There is a great deal of talk about decentralization but the good conditions available in the cities must also he decentralized if people are to be kept away from the city lights. The present Government is very conscious of that fact.
– People in my electorate are still waiting for telephones.
– That may be so, but people who live in the electorate of Gellibrand can obtain the use of a telephone by walking two or three hundred yards at the most. I am speaking of people in the country who are 10 mile3 from the nearest post office and telephone. It is little inconvenience for a city dweller to have to walk a few blocks to get to a telephone, but the man in the country cannot be expected to walk 10 or 12 miles to a telephone. If the country people had the same amenities as the city people have they would not make complaints. I saw two newspaper photographs recently which illustrated the difference of outlook between the citydweller and the country-dweller. One of the pictures showed a flooded city street in which was a man who complained that the flooding made it necessary for him to walk along to the next tram, stop in order to catch a tram. The other picture showed a countryman beside a swollen river who said, “ Oh, well, it can’t be helped. It is only 10 miles round to the ford “. That difference in outlook also illustrates why city dwellers never seem to realize just why we fight on behalf of the country people and why it is essential that country dwellers shall be given a better deal in connexion with telephones, such as the Postmaster-General has envisaged in the paper that he has submitted to the House.
– I should like to get my hands on some of those wool cheques.
– Order ! I have asked members of the Opposition to observe order and I should like my direction to be observed.
– Many honorable members opposite would like to get their hands on to some of the money that woolgrowers have been earning. But how many people now earning wages in the city as wharf labourers or on the coalfields as coal-miners would have gone back into the Mallee when times were bad and faced dust storms and droughts? The primary producers in the Mallee fought their way through all their troubles until better times came, and now members of the Opposition who represent city interests always seem to find some way of speaking against those people, who so richly deserve the little profit they are now receiving.
– Did the honorable member say a. little profit?
– Yes, it is only a little, because it has to be spread over many years. It is not fair to assess the profit for three good years whilst forgetting the previous years of bad seasons and droughts. If city-dwellers realized what the primary producers have to face in order to make a profit members of this House who represent city electorates would not make such more or less jocular interjections.
– Well, pay trade union wage rates.
– Order ! If the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) interjects again, I shall have to deal with him. He must learn to control himself.
– I listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) to-day when he dealt with the Federal Aid Roads Agreement. That is another subject that we have debated or: many occasions in this House. He stated that too much money was being spent by rural roads boards in straightening out roads. I directed his attention to the fact that the straightening of a road might save lives, but the right honorable gentleman did not reveal knowledge of the existence of a certain fund which is set aside for use by the Road Safety Council and is used especially for straightening roads and for the implementation of other methods of preventing accidents on the high roads. One of the best jobs that the country roads boards are doing is that of straightening out roads. That saves many miles of travel, many gallons of petrol, and much wear on vehicles, which suffer more wear and tear in negotiating sharp curves than in travelling on a straight road. Consequently this money is being expended in an economic and farsighted way. Main roads are being maintained at a high standard, thus avoiding considerable wastage of cars and petrol.
As far as the Federal Aid Road’s Agreement is concerned, I advocate that most of the £18,000,000 collected by means of petrol tax should be paid to the State and municipal bodies in order to enable them to continue with the construction and maintenance of roads throughout Australia. I believe that roads were very much neglected while Labour was in power and that there has been a drift to the city because people in the country cannot travel into the towns on reasonably good roads. Many people are going to the cities, in which there are exceptionally good roads. The Government is continuing the Federal Aid Roads Agreement until it is able to introduce a new scheme which I hope will provide that most of the money from the petrol tax will be used in road construction and maintenance throughout Australia.
The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) said that, at the end of six months, the Government should be able to report some progress, but he knew that the Opposition in another place is delaying all the legislation that this chamber sends to it. That is one of the most serious occurrences in Australia to-day. The will of the people is being frustrated in another House.
The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) said that the Government should act for the bulk of the people and not be dominated by sectional interests. I hope that he will apply that principle to what is happening in another chamber, because the Opposition there is representative only of sectional interests and the bulk of the people are behind the Government. Every honorable member on both sides of the House knows that very well.
The Government has given back to the primary producers the control of their products. This applies particularly to wheat and wool. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) has said very definitely, on many occasions since he has become a Minister in this Government, that the Government will merely act as an agent for the primary producer and that the primary producer boards such as the Australian Wheat Board will make sales and deal with the produce that the primary producer puts into their care. What a difference there is between that policy and the policy of the last Government ! While the Chifley Government was in power the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture would make a sale of wheat and the Australian Wheat Board would not hear of it until it had been made. To-day the Australian Wheat Board makes the sale in co-operation with the Minister. Under that scheme a sale such as the New Zealand wheat deal could not take place. No scheme will be set up in respect of the wool industry unless the whole of the industry is behind it. That is a better state of affairs than that of having a Minister dictating what shall be done with primary products Honorable members on this side of the House have always maintained that the man who grows a product owns it. That is one of the basic principles of free enterprise which we stand for. Socialists believe that the product belongs to all the people. According to their policy, the Minister may sell it without consulting the growers and give them whatever he thinks fit. Legislation that has been introduced to this House reveals the attitude of Government supporters to subjects of that nature.
The honorable member for Melbourne said this afternoon that there are some graziers in this House and that they belong to the graziers’ organizations. Perhaps they do. He also said that graziers’ organizations wanted to retard immigration. I have not heard the graziers’ representatives on this side of the House speaking in that manner and, after all, they are the persons who voice the wishes of the grazing community. I think the honorable member for Melbourne must have become confused and that he meant to refer to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) because that honorable member was the one who wanted to retard immigration. Whether or not he has had instructions from the graziers I could not say definitely but I should not think so.
I believe that one of the best ways of getting this country on to an even keel and defeating inflation would be the achievement of harmony between employer and employee. If one were to visit the workshops in Australia, go into the big stores, or travel anywhere at all, one would find that there is harmony between employer and employee in at least SO per cent, of the cases. What is the Opposition trying to do all the time? It is trying to stir up strife between employee and employer. The member for Melbourne-
– The honorable gentleman should refer to the honorable gentleman as the honorable member for Melbourne
– I am sorry, sir. The honorable member for Melbourne said this afternoon that the workers were not convinced that they were getting enough out of the industry of this country. M.any workers are very satisfied with what they are receiving. It has been proved in this House on many occasions that the basic wage fixed by the court is not the real wage at the present time. The average wage is at least £2 above the amount fixed by the court. It is the object of honorable members of the Opposition to stir up strife and they are aided in that respect by the Communist leaders of the trade unions. Those leaders resort to direct action and honorable members of the Opposition support that action. After the workers have lost a lot of wages and production has been lost to Australia, it is generally decided to refer the dispute to the Arbitration Court. That would be done at the outset, before much wages and the loss of production, if it were not for the Communist agitator and agitation by honorable members of the Opposition. There is general harmony in all the stores, workshops and factories where men work. It is the men and women of this community who will make or mar Australia and if honorable members of the Opposition would co-operate with the Government to preserve the harmony that now exists in industrial relations instead of trying to stir up strife they would be doing much more for Australia than they are doing at the present time.
– Did the honorable member never see the representatives of commercial interests lobbying in the precincts of this House?
– What is the mattei with the honorable member’s eyesight?
– I have seen the leading ‘Communist in Australia lobbying here and he did not approach the
Australian Country party, but after he “.-.d been here the opposition to the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950 hardened to some extent. This Labour Opposition need not think that it can hoodwink the people by saying that it is against communism. It always has a “but” in its argument. It says, “You must not do this and you must not do that. We are ‘ against the Communists but you must not touch them. You must allow them to co-operate with us in destroying industry, in making the employee dissatisfied and in bringing down production.”
There is one primary producing industry in Australia that is having a very bad time. It is the dried fruits industry. The agreement for the sale of dried fruits that has been made for a period of five years with Great Britain has not proved to be so good as it was thought to be when it was made through a Labour Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. I believe that, at the time, he thought it was a good deal and that the dried fruits industry thought so too, but the cost of production has caught up with the men on the dried fruits blocks. In the Mildura area a big meeting was held recently and was attended by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Under the agreement that I have mentioned, dried fruits producers can ask for a rise in the price of fruit only as from next season’s crop. Last season’s prices are not sufficient to support the industry and therefore the growers have asked the Government to pay a subsidy of £15 a ton. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture pleased the growers when he went to Mildura because he said that he would instruct the Division of Agricultural Economics to make a survey of the industry. The following report in this connexion was handed to me recently by the Minister: -
Field investigations which began in South Australia have now extended to all three Murray River States and will shortly embrace the industry in Western Australia as well. Investigating officers who are receiving the full co-operation of the industry have been in the following key areas : - Berri, Barmera, Waikerie, Renmark, Mildura, Nyah-Woorinen and Curlwaa.
Field work must be completed for a large sample of farms before the Bureau can present a complete report. Besides field work, moreover, all statistical records of the industry over a long period are being examined, district by district, to examine the effect of varying seasonal conditions on yields and costs.
This is the first major investigation of the economic structure of this industry for over twenty years and the final report of the Bureau (which may take some two to three months to complete), will provide the necessary factual material for dealing with the economic problems which are facing the future of this industry. 1 am pleased with the Minister’s immediate action in dealing with the situation that has arisen in the dried fruits industry. Honorable members of the Opposition are right in saying that most primary-producing industries are enjoying prosperity ; but the dried fruits industry is not, and in asking for a subsidy of £15 a ton -producers are not, I believe, over-estimating their requirements. Those engaged in the industry hope that when the Division of Agricultural Economics makes its final report to the Government, the Government will see fit to grant to them the amount of subsidy that has been revealed to be necessary. Although this Government is endeavouring to carry out some great works such as the Snowy Mountains scheme, we need to do something to increase the primary production of this country in a very short time. There is a great opportunity for the growing of foodstuffs along the banks of the Murray River, which would assist this nation almost immediately. A scheme could be put into operation within twelve months, through which more vegetables and goods of that type could be produced for the people. I hope that the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) will consider some scheme along those lines. There are zillions of tons of water flowing down the Murray River and being wasted in the sea. That water could be used for irrigation purposes. Any scheme to use the water of the Murray River would perhaps cost £1,000,000, but it would return to the people a full equivalent by raising available abundant fresh vegetables and many other basic necessaries that the people in the cities and elsewhere require very urgently. This Government has been in office for only about six months, but during that time it has endeavoured to embody the wishes of the people in its legislation. The Opposition, in this House an in another place, has opposed all measures that have been introduced by the Government. The greatest difficulty facing the present Government is the refusal of the Opposition to endorse the legislation desired by the people. That attitude is the negation of all the wishes of the electors. I hope that it will not be very long before the Government will be able to clear the decks as far as another place is concerned and put through legislation that will give effect to the will of the people.
.- For six months the Opposition has waited with interest for the introduction of a financial statement by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden). It has been particularly interested in such a statement because it has been intrigued by the reluctance of the Government to implement a number of its election promises, especially those relating to financial matters and that all-important problem of putting value back into the Australian £1. It is significant that the statement submitted by the Treasurer is a very poor one which proves conclusively, even to the casual observer, that the Government made promises last December without any intention of carrying them into effect, and for the express purpose of attaining office. Honorable members on the Government side have occupied considerable time to-day in endeavouring to explain away the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer who. promised definitely and clearly to the people that they would put value back into the £1 have not done so.
I shall deal first with the contention that has been put forward that the promise to put value back into the £1 was not made. It is significant, however, that this promise was made not only in policy speeches, to which I shall direct attention later, but also in advertisements that I shall read. I shall also put all doubts at rest by quoting from the speech that the Governor-General made in this Parliament not long ago. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) said to-day that the Prime Minister did not make the promise to put value back into the £1. I refer the House to the Sydney Morning Herald of the 15th November, 1949. In that newspaper honorable members will see a very beautiful photograph of the right honorable gentleman, and the caption “This is our policy”. The advertisement reads, in part -
Reduced living costs and increased living standards. Put the shillings back into the £s.
Referring to the Prime Minister’s joint Opposition policy speech delivered on the 10th November. 1949, this statement will be seen at page 29 -
The Statistician will conservatively allow that the £1 of 1 039^ is now only worth 12s. 2d. in purchasing power. But on the true cost of household requirements it would be nearer the mark to say that it is worth only 10s. The greatest task, therefore, is to get value hack into the £1, that is to get prices down.
And at page 28 this appears -
While encouraging production to the full, we shall hold ourselves ready to pay price subsidies in appropriate cases: as, for example, in respect of items affecting the cost nl’ living of basic wage earners.
The joint Opposition parties were not content at that time with newspaper advertisements and statements to the women of Australia and so on, because at page 4 of the Governor-General’s Speech these words appear -
My Government realizes that the increase in the cost of living is actuating the difficulties with which age and widow pensioners in particular have to combat. My advisers realize, also, that the present system, under which various benefits are paid subject to a means test, gives rise to problems of which there is no easy solution. My Government, however, is closely investigating the most pressing anomalies to see what can be done to remove them. It believes, moreover, that the application of its financial and economic policy will result in improvement in the purchasing power of the currency, so that pensioners, as well as other fixed income groups, will benefit.
– The Governor-General must be disgusted with his Government now.
– Yes, he must be. Those promises were definitely made, as honorable members will see from the advertisements, and the failure of the Govern ment to carry them in common knowledge not only to honorable members of this House but also to every citizen of Australia. The housewives and other people who to-day pay exorbitant prices for goods can see a striking example of the present Government’s inefficiency and its inability to carry out even in one small way the policy that it so broadly placed before the people during the last election campaign. We did not expect the Government to do that in six months, but, being conscious of our responsibilities as the Opposition, recognize the difficulties associated with such a project.
– The Opposition did nothing in eight years.
– And we recognize further that the first rush of inflation was caused by honorable members on the Government side who were instrumental in defeating the prices referendum submitted to the people in all sincerity by the previous Government. But the Opposition considers that the Government, six months after the election, should have presented some concrete scheme to the Parliament for putting value back into the £1. Honorable members on the Government side have spoken about measures being rejected in another place. The Opposition has not had an opportunity to reject any proposals to put value back into the £1. In fact, the Opposition will welcome proposals of that nature. However, nothing of that sort has been in the legislative programme of the Government. The bills that have been introduced deal with nothing that is as important as putting value back into the £1. We all are eagerly waiting for some constructive suggestion from the Government. Let it also be said to-day that there has been a rise in the cost of living during the last three months of about 2.9 per cent., which means that there will be a rise of 11.6 per cent, for the coming year. Therefore, the method of putting value back into the £1 adopted by the Government is apparently to reduce the Chifley £1, as they called it, from 10s. to a little under 9s. On that basis the Government is certainly moving backwards in nutting value back into the £1.
– Order ! I must ask honorable members to maintain silence. The honorable gentleman is entitled to a fair hearing.
– I mention these facts, Mr. Speaker, because it is idle for members of the Government to tell this House that no promise was made to the people about this important matter. We do not believe that all the answers to the problem are simple and can be easily obtained, but we do expect that some statement will be placed before us on this important issue. We all appreciate the fact that our Prime Minister is a gentleman of considerable talents and that he generally has the answers to all questions submitted to him. However, every person in Australia knows that he is on very weak ground when he answers questions that are put from this side as to how he is going to put value back into the £1.
To-day the right honorable gentleman mentioned the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950, and said that the Opposition was holding it up and was thereby delaying the Government’s plans to put value back into the £1. To those who might think that the Opposition has held it up, I say that I have taken the trouble to ascertain the reason for the delay in the passage of this most important piece of legislation which we were expected to rush through at once. Up to the present time 35 amendments to the hill have .been submitted by the Government. Do not honorable members think that legislation of that kind requires careful attention? The Opposition also saw fit to submit fourteen amendments. Legislation of that kind, which has been criticized in a far-reaching fashion throughout Australia, cannot be rushed through the Parliament without careful review. It is idle to think that production will be increased and the costs of goods will be lowered when Communists have been banned. The real cause of industrial unrest is the inability of the wage-earners to purchase the ordinary necessaries of life because of the failure of the Government to take the necessary steps to increase the purchasing power of money. What does the Government intend to do about this very important problem? It is all very well to blame the State governments or other authori-ties, but you have the control of the purse strings.
– Order ! The honorable member will address me.
– The Government has the control of the purse strings, and is apparently in a position to pay subsidies on all goods if necessary. That is a reasonably sound policy, where it can be properly controlled, because the money that the Government collects comes from taxation and those with the highest incomes would make the greatest contribution towards keeping the prices of goods down to within the ranges of income of those on lower scales. When the previous Government withdrew subsidies, for good reason, the strongest criticism was levelled at it by the then Opposition. If honorable members opposite honestly believed what they put forward then, there is no reason to-day why subsidies should not be paid again. In fact, the payment of subsidies is a vital necessity.
– Do not talk drivel.
– The honorable member who interrupted is a. member of the Australian Country party. The country people are the most subsidized section of the community, yet when a subsidy is suggested to allevate the conditions of other sections their representatives in this Parliament cry out against it.
-Order! The honorable member will address me.
– It is apparent, from the remarks of honorable members on the Government side, that the Government does not intend to pay subsidies. It does not believe in them., therefore the people of this country will shortly pay about 6s. per lb. for tea and 3s. per lb. for butter. That is because the Government will lift subsidies on these commodities as soon as the New South Wales general election is over. For sheer political purposes the Government is maintaining only a form of rationing so that it will not become unpopular in New South Wales and have an adverse effect on the prospects of the Liberal party at the general election. Recently, I asked a question in this House about the payment of subsidies on tea and butter and to-day the Treasurer informed me that the estimated cost of the subsidy on .tea for the year ending the 30th June, 1950, was £7,000,000, and on butter for the same period, including subsidies on cheese and processed milk products, £8,000,000. That is a total of £15,000,000, which assistance keeps the prices of these vital commodities at a reasonable level. I challenge the Treasurer to tell the House whether or not it is hi3 intention to lift those subsidies as from the end of June of this year. It is significant that Government supporters are very quiet about that. The lifting of subsidies on tea and butter is supported by honorable members on the Government side. The honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne), who is not in the House at present, did a very unwise thing. It is unwise to write a lot of letters and it is dangerous to write books. The honorable member decided to write a letter, which was published in a journal called the Aeroplane Press in October, 1949, under the heading “A Cup of Tea “. This gentleman, presuming to represent all sections of the community, and particularly those electors whose incomes do not enable them to pay high prices for goods, wrote -
Personally, I would prefer them to let tea merchants buy their own tea and sell it at its true market price. Then the Government could cut the taxation which we have to pay to keep the subsidy going, and save what Ave have to pay to keep the unnecessary rationing people in jobs.
In other words, this supporter of the Government advocated the lifting of tea rationing and the discontinuance of the subsidy for the express purpose of affording relief to people who can well afford to pay high taxes so that the man on the basic wage and other workers may enjoy a cheap cut of tea.
We were told that this Government would cut down the size of the Public Service in. order to save costs and reduce the number of people employed in unproductive avenues so that more workers could engage in useful production. But what has happened? On the 31st December last, just after this Government had gained power, 196,665 persons were employed in all sections of the Public Service. When we checked the total later, expecting to learn of a substantial reduction, we found that the number of public servants em- ployed on the 23rd March last was 199,692, representing an increase of a little over 3,000. I do not advocate the retrenchment of public servants; for all I know, every public servant may be essential in the post that he occupies. However, I mention the facts in order to demonstrate to the people that this Government is not sincere and has not taken any practical measures to reduce public expenditure and increase production in accordance with the promises that were made by its members during the election campaign.
The Prime Minister has demanded that people sweat more, and even work longer hours if necessary, in order to increase production so that the cost of living may be reduced. I notice that the right honorable gentleman has made no such calls upon the primary producers who are receiving vast sums for their products as the result of the high prices that are ruling in other parts of the world. We may well ask why only those who have their labour to sell are asked to make sacrifices in order to achieve a higher rate of national production. The primary producers, who constitute a large section of the Australian public, could well afford to make some contribution to check the inflationary trend that threatens our economy. We have heard rumours about a proposal to appreciate the Australian currency, and we should like to have some clear statement of policy from the Government on this subject.. It. is common knowledge that the Treasurer and the party that he leads are opposed to the proposal, but the attitudeof the other part of the coalition Government is not clear. It is freely suggested that one Government party wants to appreciate the £1, and the other party does not. We are. entitled to demand an unequivocal statement. We should not bekept in the dark about the Government’s plans for restoring value to the £1.
An important part of the policy declaration that was made on behalf of the present Government parties was a promise- to put value back into the £1 and all the matters that I have mentioned have an important bearing on that- pledge. I approach this subject in a non-party spirit because inflation represents a challenge to every citizen and we all must do our best to keep prices down. But inflation is a particular challenge to the Government of the day. Every shilling of increased costs means that the worker can put less aside into his savings for a rainy day. Retiring allowances become worth less, and the value of war gratuity for ex-servicemen shrinks. Every section of the community will suffer unless inflation is checked. The deplorable fact is that a Government that was elected on the strength of a promise to put purchasing power back into the ?1 has revealed an utter lack of responsibility on this important issue. After having been in office for six months, it has not made one concrete proposal in relation to an economic trend that is vital to the nation.
I have here a series of questions and answers that were published on behalf of the Liberal party during the election campaign for the benefit of women. One of the questions is as follows: -
Will you make further reductions in taxation ?
The answer to that very reasonable question was in the affirmative, as were most of the answers given to the people by the Liberal ‘party during the election campaign. This is the reply that was published -
Yes . . . the rates of tax will be steadily reduced, including the indirect taxes affecting. the cost of living, housing, and home fittings and furniture. There will be tax allowances for education costs.
I also have a pamphlet bearing an excellent photograph of the present Treasurer and including the policy speech that he delivered during the campaign. Dealing with his financial policy, the right honorable gentleman stated -
If the Socialists are defeated, therefore, rates of taxation, both direct and indirect, can and will be steadily reduced. In short, our policy is a progressive reduction of taxation on individuals and the community in general, commensurate with national economic and financial policy.
Yet, although the Government has been in office for six months, it has not issued one clear statement on the subject of its taxation policy! Apparently the parties represented on the Government side of the chamber stop making promises only when they are in office. The Melbourne Age published a fine leading article on the subject of taxation only a few days ago, and- most of it will bear repetition. Under the heading, “Unredeemed Pledges on Taxation “, it stated -
The announcement made by the Federal Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) that income tax instalment deductions will continue in the new financial year without change is the most disappointing political event since the general election. There can be no dispute that many thousands of taxpayers, after hearing the election policy speeches of the Prime Minister, and more emphatically from the Treasurer, voted for a change of Government in the firm expectation of a substantial reduction of taxation.
Mr. Fadden’s words were unequivocal: ; “Hates of taxation, both direct and indirect, can and will be steadily reduced . . .” Reduction of taxation was put forward as a basic means of checking inflation by reducing production costs. The same policy speech envisaged increased pensions, endowment for the first child, a national health scheme, compulsory military training and other defence charges. It was known that war gratuity payments were falling due, and would need to be met from funds set aside for the purpose. Even after the discrepancy between reduced taxation and new commitments was pointed out, the party leaders from every platform persevered with the undertaking to reduce taxation.
The people want to know when the Government intends to reduce taxes. The Labour party had a firm tax policy that was designed to check inflation as well as to serve other purposes. But this Government has been completely irresponsible on the issue. As the article that I have quoted from pointed out, its members promised the taxpayers from every platform in Australia that substantial tax reductions would be effected. The Labour party is not required to determine how reductions can be made. That is a problem for the Government to solve. But the Labour party wants to know why it has not given effect to its promise. The electors have a right to demand that it honour its pledge.
It is significant that the Prime Minister makes most of his statements on important policy matters outside this Parliament. In fact, he has just announced his intention to make another such statement in Sydney to-morrow. Referring again to the propaganda that was issued to the women of Australia by the Liberal party during the election campaign, I quote the answer that was given to a question on social services. This reply was very firm. It stated -
Not only will we maintain them and increase their value, but we will remove present injustices arising from the means test.
After six long, weary months, the people who depend upon pensions as their only means of support are able to see a ray of hope only because a State general election is imminent. The Prime Minister has decided to come out of his shell. A brief paragraph in the stop press section of a newspaper to-day announces that the right honorable gentleman intends to make a statement about socialservices at an election rally in Sydney to-morrow night. The Government is merely using the pensioners as pawns in its game of political chess. It is regrettable that the Prime Minister shoulduse them merely in an endeavour to win a few votes for his sympathizers and supporters in the New SouthWales general election. The right honorable gentleman owes a responsibility to this Parliament to advise it of his intentions before he makes public statements elsewhere on matters of such great importance. Some form of relief for pensioners is long overdue. The right honorable gentleman should have followed the lead that was set by the Chifley Government. Although that probably did not do everything that was necessary, at least it maintained a steady progression of pensions increases throughout its short period of office until the rate of age and invalid pensions had been doubled. The Government should not have waited for six months to elapse before coming to the aid of the pensioners. Their problems required no further investigation. A promise had been given to them on behalf of the present Government parties, and it should have been honoured as soon as possible in order to mitigate the hardships from which they are suffering.
It is significant also that the Government has remained silent about its promise to eliminate the means test. The McGirr Government in New South Wales increased the rate of superannuation payments to certain retired public servants of that State by 25 per cent., but this Government, which asserts that it believes in the abolition of the means test, promptly reduced their pension payments by 7s. 6d. a week and has refused to reconsider its decision notwithstanding the numerous appeals that have been made to it, even by some of its supporters. Such actions betray the insincerity of the parties that promised to give justice to the pensioners. The Liberal party published definite answers, in its election propaganda for women, to such questions as these -
Will you help us to own our own houses?
Will your Government maintain full employment?
What will you do about public health?
The answer to the last question remains one of Australia’s great mysteries to-day. The reply to the question about full employment was as follows : -
Yes . . . and we will encourage incentive payment and profit-sharing plans as well.
I have noticed that the Government has not yet introduced any measure to provide for profit-sharing. In answer to another question, the Liberal party assured housewives that it would provide them with domestic help. The whole list is a score-board of the unfulfilled promises that the present Prime Minister made to the women of Australia last December, evidently without the slightest intention of carrying them into effect. I hope that the people of New SouthWales at least will not fall a second time for the confidence trick that was put over them at the general election last December, when they were gulled by a. lot of promises that were made by men who were anxious to win their votes at all costs. The Opposition has exposed the utter insincerity of this Government, which has neglected all the obligations that it took upon itself when it was elected to office.
The Government has challenged the Opposition on the ground that it is using its majority in the Senate to delay legislation. I had always believed that its members and supporters, like the framers of the Constitution, regarded the Senate as a place where legislation should be reviewed. In the past, the Senate was criticized for having been a chamber that merely “ rubber-stamped “ the decisions of the House of Representatives. Government supporters have criticized the Senate during this session because, they claim, it has unduly delayed important legislation. The Labour majority in that chamber will constructively review all legislation that is submitted to it by this Government. Recently, the House of Representatives passed a bill, certain provisions of which are repugnant to every decent Australian who believes in the principles of British justice. The Labour Opposition in the Senate has a responsibility to amend that measure so that it will conform to the Australian concept of justice, and ensure that the people of this country shall receive the same measure of justice as this Government is extending to Japanese and other Allied prisoners who are being tried for war crimes. As I stated, the Senate will constructively review any bills that are transmitted to it by this House, or are introduced in that chamber by the Government.
If the Menzies Administration would introduce measures to put value back into the fi, reduce taxes, provide more hospitals, safeguard public health, abolish the means test and improve the social services generally they would be sympathetically considered by the Labour Opposition in the Senate. But we shall not support any proposals that are designed to destroy any existing system merely because the Government may consider that it has obtained a mandate from the people to legislate on those matters. Members of the Labour party have a bitter recollection of how upper houses in the various States destroyed constructive measures that were submitted to them by duly elected Labour governments. Those legislative councils did not even pretend to review those bills constructively. Thousands of people in New South “Wales would be homeless to-day if the Labour party had not gained control of the Legislative Council, in which the anti-Labour parties had. held a majority for nearly twenty years. The Labour party in the Senate will consistently and constructively review all legislation in that chamber in accordance with our conception of democratic principles, and, of course, in keeping with what is in the interests of the people of Australia. Therefore, it is futile for Government supporters to criticize the use that the Labour party is making of its majority in the Senate.
– Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
– The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) addressed the House fluently for 30 minutes, and although I listened to him most carefully I was not able to detect in his speech one constructive contribution to the debate. However, I noted in passing that he made some eulogistic references to the Government of New South Wales, and particularly that he commented on the fact that it had recently increased the superannuation payments of retired public servants by 25 per cent. What the honorable gentleman completely omitted to inform the House was that nearly two years ago, that Government increased the superannuation of public servants by 25 per cent., but specifically rejected a motion that had been submitted by the honorable member for Newtown, a member of the socalled Lang Labour party, for the purpose of ensuring that retired railway employees should receive a similar benefit. As a kind of death-bed repentance, the McGirr Labour Government granted to those unfortunate people, many of whom retired from the service of the Railways Department on pensions of approximately £2 a week, an increase of 25 per cent. The complete neglect of those former employees of the Railways Department, and, indeed, of all railway employees in general, is one of the most despicable things that has ever been done by any government. I shall elaborate that statement. Locomotive drivers and others, many of whom had retired from the service on attaining the age of 60 years, because they were not able to carry on their arduous work, were not eligible to receive the age pension. At a time in the past, when the £1 had not been depreciated by reckless Labour extravagance, those people had committed themselves to receive a pension of £2 a week, and they paid their contributions at a time when the £1 was at a premium of ls. in relation to sterling, and sterling was paid in gold. When those men retired from the service of the Railways Department, they received a pension of £2 a week, and were not eligible for the age pension. Yet the McGirr Government consistently refused, until the eve of a general election, to increase their pension by 25 per cent., although it had increased the pensions of retired State public servants by that figure. Of course, the McGirr Government needed to see that the axe was hanging over its head before it would grant to them that tardy measure of justice.
The honorable member for Grayndler also referred to the subsidies that are paid to primary producers. I shall analyse the position. When the price of wheat was the lowest that the world has known since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Australian wheat-growers, through the beneficent offices of a government of which the present Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) was a member, received substantial assistance from the Commonwealth. According to the report of a royal commission, they were paid, up to 1941, the sum of £32,000,000. By the end of 1948, when legislation that was complementary to Commonwealth legislation was introduced to the Parliament of New South Wales, the wheat industry had contributed to the Australian people an amount of £70,000,000. In other words, the Australian people had received at the expense of the wheat industry a nett subsidy of £38,000,000.
– How does the honorable member arrive at those figures?
– When members of the Labour party refer to the subsidy that is paid on wheat, are they speaking in sheer ignorance, or with their tongues in their cheeks? They should know that wheat is selling to-day at prices ranging from 15s. to £1 a bushel in markets outside Australia. Are they not aware that the Australian people are receiving the cheapest possible wheat? I inform the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), who is interjecting, that the wheat-grower has never cavilled at the policy under which the people of Australia are permitted to purchase wheat for human consumption at the home consumption price because he remembers that during the financial and economic depres sion of the 1930’s, the public came to his assistance. The position at the present time is that this Government is paying a subsidy for the purpose of keeping down the price of bread, even in relation to the cost of production in this country. I hope that the Government, as a measure of tardy justice, will ensure that these subsidies, when they are so paid, shall be labelled for what they are, namely, subsidies to the consumer to keep down the cost of living, and, as the honorable member for Grayndler so glibly stated, to put value back into the £1. I have not the slightest doubt that the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Eggins) could inform the House of the details of the subsidy that is paid to consumers by the Government for the purpose of keeping down the price of butter. The statement that that payment is a subsidy to the dairying industry is always an affront to the dairy-farmer.
– Of course it is a subsidy.
– The Australian consumer is able to purchase the cheapest and best butter in the world. Indeed, the price of butter on the local market is at least ls. per lb. less than the cheapest butter in any other country. However, I do not propose to allow my attention to be distracted from the principal purpose that I have in mind in participating in this debate, and I shall make a few constructive remarks about putting the value back into the £1. The latest complete statistics that I have been able to obtain indicate that in 1947, when the Chifley Government was in office, and, of course, when peace and harmony ruled supreme in the industrial world, 919,414 working days were lost with a total loss of wages to the workers of £1,360,000. A dissection of those figures is extraordinarily interesting. The total number of industrial disputes in Australia in that year was 982, of which 921 occurred in the star State of New South Wales, which had then been under the beneficent rule of Labour governments, including Mr. McGirr’s Administration, among others, nine years. I go a little further, because my figures have a direct bearing on the matter of putting value back into the £1. Of the 921 industrial disputes that occurred in New South Wales in 1947, no fewer than 809 were in the coal-mining industry and resulted in a loss of 344,000 working days, and a loss of wages amounting to £547,000. Let us consider for one moment the impact of that loss of coal on the economy of this community, the influence on the cost of production of every article that was manufactured in this country, and, particularly, the influence on the cost of home building, because that gives us a fair indication of the reason why the £1 has lost value.
I regret that I have not been able to obtain the relevant figures for later than 1948, because I always like to be thoroughly impartial, and give all the facts. Howeever, in that year, 1,655,838 working days were lost in Australia, and the loss of wages amounted to £2,284,418. That was the result of industrial disputes under the streamlined efficiency of the arbitration system as remodelled by the former Attorney-General, Dr. Evatt, and his colleagues when they were in office. I shall analyse more closely the figures for New South Wales. The number of working days lost was 644,961 or roughly 35 per cent, of the total, whilst wages lost amounted to £1,155,940, or approximately 50 per cent, of the total. That record was achieved under Labour governments in the parliaments of the Commonwealth and of New South Wales, and it accounts for a substantial part of the depreciated purchasing power of the £1. Members of the Labour party claim that the Government, having been in office for six months, should be able to restore the wreckage that Labour wrought in the economic system by their policy of laisserfaire in the control of industrial matters. They pretend that the Government should be able to stop in six months all the gaps that they made in the dyke in six years. Such criticisms are downright hyprocrisy and humbug, and nobody knows that better than do Opposition members.
– Did not the Government claim that it could put the value back into the £1 within six months of taking office?
– The honorable member for Dalley knows perfectly well that, normally, a government goes to the country every three years, when it gives an account of its stewardship to the people. Believe me, before this Government has been in office for anything like three years, it will have impressed upon the people that it has1 a constructive policy, short range and long range, that will restore the purchasing power of the Australian £1, and give it some measure of security. If honorable members will examine the various factors in the cost of living in Australia, they will find that the principal one is the serious shortage of black coal. According to an authentic document that I hold in my hand, the total output of black coal has increased from an average of 12,400,000 tons annually in the period 1937-39 to 15,000,000 tons for the financial year 194S-49, an increase of 21 per cent. On a superficial examination those figures may appear to be quite satisfactory, but honorable members should not forget that the population of Australia has increased by more than 1,000,000 in that period of 12 or 13 years, and also that, according to the leaders of industry, an increase of at least 10 per cent, per annum in the production of coal was required, in order to keep abreast of the requirements of industry and to meet the needs of the people in respect of goods for their own comfort, and for the development of this country. What are the facts ? It is estimated that production of black coal in Australia is at least 3,000,000 tons annually ‘below requirements. Leaders of industry have said that since 1937-38 they have not been able to obtain more than 70 per cent, of the quantity of coal that they require to carry on. That fact has an important bearing upon the cost of living and upon the purchasing power of the £1. Since 1939, Australia has lost through strikes five times the equivalent number of per 100 man days that has been lost in the United States of America and, as every one is aware, there have been frequent dust-ups in the coal-mining industry in that country. Members of the Opposition have cavilled at the suggestion made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that communism has had much to do with the reduction of the purchasing power of the £1. However, it is clear that the coal miners are led by a man who is an avowed Communist in association with other persons who are avowed Communists. The Communist faction has been the ruling and deciding factor in the industry. No one has stated that fact more plainly than has the Leader of the Opposition (Mi1. Chifley) and some of his colleagues, particularly the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), when they were in office and, finally, had to face up to the Communist menace. The activities of Communists in industry have had a severe impact upon our industrial life generally. Therefore, the statements of honorable members opposite do not make sense when they complain that the Government during the six months that it has been in office, has been unable to repair the damage that was caused by governments which they supported.
Another factor in the cost of living and the purchasing power of the £1 is the fact that loading rates for general shipping cargo have decreased in this country from 28 tons to 14 tons per gang hour. Overseas cargo vessels now spend on the average from three to four months annually in port compared with from one to two months that they used to spend in port before the outbreak of the recent war. Surely, it cannot be denied that the Australian consumer must ultimately bear the additional cost arising from that cause. When honorable members opposite were in office, neither they nor the Labour Government in New South Wales ever denied that it cost on at least one occasion £3 10s. a ton to unload potatoes sent from Tasmania to Sydney. When we realize the tremendous increase that has taken place in the cost of transport of merchandise to and from Australia and that vessels now spend onethird of each year instead of from onetwelfth to one-sixth of each year in port, it becomes obvious that the premium thus imposed upon all goods handled will retard any attempt by any government to restore the purchasing power of the £1. Who controls the waterside workers in this country? Their leaders are avowed Communists. When honorable members opposite study the relevant figures they will admit that the tremendous increase of costs in respect of shipping and of the importation and exportation of merchandise is a disgrace to this country. Yet, it is due to the fact that the unfortunate waterside workers are led by men who are using them for the ulterior purpose of furthering the objectives of the Communist party.
Agricultural production also exerts a tremendous influence upon the purchasing power of the £1. Since 1939, the number of persons engaged in primary production in this country has decreased by 60,000, despite the fact that in the intervening period Australia’s population has increased by 10 per cent., whilst 500,000 more persons are now employed in other occupations. When honorable members opposite talk about the necessity for restoring the purchasing power of the £1 they must have regard to the facts that I have just- given from authentic records. That is a serious decrease in the numbers engaged in the production of food and it occurred during a period for the greater part of which Labour was in office.
– It was due to the fact that primary producers refused to pay decent wages to their employees.
– That interjection by the honorable member for Dalley shows that he is living in the distant past, because the wages of employees in primary industries are determined, first, under arbitration awards and, secondly, by the availability of more remunerative employment in other industries.
– Did not the Government of New South Wales that the honorable member supported cancel the rural industries award in that State?
– As a. primary producer, I have always paid my employees the wages prescribed under rural awards, and I have always observed the conditions imposed by them. However, I shall not canvass the honorable member’s objection because it is beside the point. The fact remains that all employees now engaged in primary production receive considerably more than the basic wage. I turn now to farm equipment. In 1937-38, which was a year of prosperity, Australia imported 11,000 tractors, whereas during the war imports dropped to 3,000 annually. In 1941 Canada, which has an area under cultivation three times greater than that under cultivation in Australia, had 160,000 tractors compared with from 40,000 to 50,000 in this country, but by 1947 Canada had added another 150,000 tractors to its holdings, whereas we have added only 30,000 new tractors to our holdings since 1939. Whilst both Canada and the United States of America have . leaped ahead in this respect, Australia has lagged, although Australians are the finest workers if they are well led. To-day, however, they are not well led. In the United States of America industrial production indexes, including rural production, showed an increase of 70 per cent, and in Canada it showed an increase of from 50 to 60 per cent, between J93S-39 and 1947-48, whilst industrial production in Australia increased by only from 20 per cent, to 25 per cent. As a primary producer I can speak with some authority on this subject.
In pa wang, I mention that one of my machines broke down about three month;’ ago and I have only just received advice that the part required to effect repairs is now available. Primary producers throughout the country are having similar experiences. Machinery has ‘ broken clown and farmers are awaiting repair parts for tractors whilst the quantity of agricultural machinery available as a whole is utterly inadequate. How can we increase agricultural production if the farmers cannot obtain the machinery that they urgently require? If wc could free industry of the Communist grip, primary producers would be able to obtain their requirements and the community would benefit. What are our needs? We require greater production of coal, the lack of which is the cause of the present shortage of steel. Under-production of those two commodities has seriously affected housing and slum clearance; the provision of power generally, including hydro-electric power ; the construction of railways from the coast to the hinterland ; the provision of water conservation, telephone and power transmission systems and supplies of galvanized iron, wire, wire-netting, steel posts and silos.
We need cement and steel for road and dam construction. We need steel rails and rolling stock for our railways. However, even if we could get maximum industrial efficiency, I do not believe that we could overtake the shortage of goods in the community. In order to overtake the grievous shortage that exists it is necessary, first of all, to muzzle the Communists. But even when that has been done, I believe that the Government must rid itself of the outdated theory advanced by the unorthodox economists who misadvised the Curtin and Chifley Governments and have driven us into a bad mess. They advised those administrations that they must increase taxation in order to prevent inflation. The consequence of that stupid and destructive policy has been a slackening of effort throughout the community. What is the ma jor means of combating inflation ? Is it not increased production? Yet how can we increase production when we tax heaviest those who work hardest in the community a and stimulate production. I am not inferring now to wealthy individuals, but to the. average member of the community. When we tax the working man in the community beyond a certain point, he-, sits back and ceases to worry about earning more money. Every member of the House knows that that is the case. I believe that if the Government has the courage to disregard the stupid theory of imposing excessive taxation it will release productive forces that have been steadily poisoned by the attitude of laisser-faire Every one knows what is going on.
We must also import capital goods on a great scale. However, I do not suggest that we should import those goods at the expense of any Australian industry that can supply them with reasonable efficiency and at a reasonable price. In conjunction with the vast programme of migration, under which hundreds of thousands of people are pouring into this country. it is vitally important to match our increase of population by a corresponding increase of the importation of capita] goods. There is no chance of increasing production and of combating inflation with the limited quantity of capital goods that we already possess, and there is no chance of us remedying the shortage of goods mentioned in the list to which I referred earlier unless we import the necessary manufacturing equipment and capital goods. Every nation has to do that. The United States cf America itself had to purchase capital goods from abroad, and was a debtor nation up to the outbreak of the last war. The only nation in the world to-day that can supply our need of capital goods is the United States of America. I believe that it would be to the advantage of that country and of Australia if the Americans were to pour a good deal of the gold they have hidden in Port Knox in the form of dollars into this country, which is the bastion and outpost of white civilization and is menaced by the Communist drift from the Middle East and from Asia.
I seriously suggest that the Government should seek a substantial dollar loan from the United States of America. In making that suggestion, I realize that I shall be told that the present rate of currency exchange will not permit us to borrow dollars. Of course, we cannot borrow dollars unless we can obtain them at an interest rate of approximately 1 per cent. If we were able to obtain dollars at such a rate of interest I believe that it would pay us to borrow up to 500,000,000 dollars, to be expended on American equipment to accelerate developmental projects in this country. I believe that for us the sands of time are running out, and I also believe that the Communists are aware of that fact. I believe that they have spragged our efforts to develop this country because they know that the sands of time are running out and they want to keep us weak as long as they can. v It would be to the advantage of the United States of America to confer with the Australian Government on the proposal that I have made, and I was pleased to note that it has been suggested that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) may go abroad in the recess to discuss the matter with the American Government. I do not know the terms upon which it is proposed that the right honorable gentleman should discuss the matter, but as a private member I have considered our present economic situation. I realize that we cannot continue to pour immigrants into the country at the rate that we are bringing them here and employ them efficiently unless we have sufficient capital goods to accelerate our developmental programme. Unless that programme is accelerated we have no chance of holding this country as an outpost of the white race. We have our chance now to con- solidate our hold on this country in the face of the impending challenge to our possession of it. We justify our retention of this country by the knowledge that it will be happier for the white races, and ultimately for other races, if we remain in sole possession of Australia. But if we are going to retain sole possession of this country, we must do something more than lay bricks at 400 a day, and operate our blast furnaces at only 70 per cent, of their capacity. We must do more than talk about restoring value to the fi, as members of the Opposition are doing at present. Undoubtedly, a challenge confronts us, but I believe that the Government will accept that challenge, and that before the Government’s term of office has expired, the people of Australia will have reason to be grateful to it.
.- The Opposition had expected when the debate began that a complete review of our national economy, including the increase of prices, would be made, and that the Government would present proposals to the House to meet the position. We not only expected it to make such a statement, but we had a right to expect it to do so. The disclosure of its economic plans and proposals is a most important duty of any administration, and it is much more important in the present situation than at any previous time. We are confronted by a situation which we know to be grievous, when prices are rising sharply every week, as the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) pointed out. Yet, the Government has introduced an appropriation bill, in what it hopes will be the dying days of the session, without giving to the Parliament a scrap of evidence of what it proposes to do or of what ideas it has in mind. That is a scandalous disregard of the Parliament and a failure of duty. It shows a lack of appreciation of the real problem that confronts the Government. Honorable members opposite who have spoken in this debate have dealt with economic generalizations. Members of the present Opposition knew the magnitude of the problem of inflation that now confronts us and for years they had been taking steps to check the drift in our economy. During the last election campaign they realized that whatever political party was elected to office it would be confronted with the difficult and complex problem of checking the rise of prices and the continuing threat of inflation. Because we realized that fact, we made no grandiose promises and we did not give assurances, such as the antiLabour parties made, that we could speedily restore value to the £1. On its own statements the Government stands condemned. It is idle for Ministers to say in answer to questions that these are matters of policy that will be dealt with during the budget debate in September. The problem is too great to be put aside.
With every passing day rising prices constitute a still greater threat to the immediate comfort and the future security of the people of Australia. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) devoted a very lengthy speech to the appreciation of the Australian £1 which seemed to me to indicate the policy of the Government. I believe that whether or not the honorable gentleman stated the policy of the Government his speech was most unwise. The financial columns of the daily newspapers indicate that day after day vast sums are being poured into this country in anticipation of the appreciation of the Australian £1. I read in a banking and financial publication in the Parliamentary Library that the amount of money transferred to Australia in anticipation of an announcement being made that the Australian £1 is to be appreciated will be approximately £80,000,000. It may well be even greater than that. At least that amount of money will be repatriated overnight. Such movements of money are being encouraged by speeches such as that made by the
Minister for External Affairs. If, in fact, the Government decides to appreciate the Australian £1 the speeches of the Minister in this debate and in the debate on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply will have been very largely responsible for a great influx of money to Australia that will earn great profits for speculators but which will disrupt Australian economy and disturb the stock exchange. Even if it is the policy of the Government to appreciate the Australian £1 it is wrong for the
Minister to make advance statements of that kind. Throughout the six years of my membership of this Parliament prior to the 10th December the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who was then Leader of the Opposition, insisted that no Minister should speak on important matters of policy except as the spokesman of the Government. Unless the Minister for External Affairs was speaking on behalf of the Government in the speeches to which I have referred, he broke the definite rule that had been laid down by his leader. Whether or not he acted as spokesman for the Government he has done a grave disservice to the Australian community. I propose to deal more extensively with the appreciation of the £1 at a later stage of my remarks. I leave that subject at present by saying that I do not believe that it would provide a len] cure for the ills that beset Australia and from the inflation which appears to be growing daily in this country.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond), following the Current line pursued by honorable members opposite, spoke to the electors of New South Wales rather than to the members of this Parliament, when he criticized the attitude of the Opposition to the wheat industry and said that the wheat-growers had subsidized the consumers to a very large amount. Whatever balance be struck, we all agree that the primary producers have rendered yeomen service to this nation and that although they have had a very raw deal from time to time their most difficult situations have been brought about not by the action or inaction of governments, but by the commercial set-up in this country. Throughout the years the farming community has been ruthlessly exploited by the banking institutions of Australia. I remember in my early youth how great a tribute the primary producers then paid to the private banks of this country. I remember, too, how easily the wheat market was manipulated to force wheat-growers in precarious financial circumstances to dispose of their crops at prices far below world parity price. The wheat industry of Australia has more to thank Labour governments for than it has the present Liberal-Australian Country party Government or any of its predecessors of that political complexion. To-night the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) introduced a bill which I believe will commend itself to honorable members on this side of the House. When the Labour Government was in office it introduced similar legislation for the stabilization of the Australian wheat industry in the face of bitter opposition by the present Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) and the members of the Australian Country party, and despite the concerted might of the members of the Liberal party. The Labour Government satisfied a long-felt want of the farmers of Australia that would never have been satisfied by the members of the Australian Country party who claim to represent them in this Parliament. In addition, it introduced a type of banking structure which satisfied a long-felt want among the primary producers when it established the Mortgage Bank Department of the Commonwealth Bank. In those two measures alone it did more for the primary producers than has any Liberal-Australian Country party government, throughout the years of Australia’s political history.
The honorable member for New England has also said that during the regime of the Labour Government the coal industry of this country lost more man-hours than were lost during the periods when this country was governed by Liberal and Australian Country party governments. He cited figures in an attempt to prove his case. Although I have not the precise figures before rae, I know that tribunals for the rectification of the grievances of the coal miners and the consequent stepping-up of coal production were established, not by Liberal and Australian. Country party governments, but by a Labour government. The nonLabour government attempted to bring about peace in the coal industry by bribing the Communist leaders of the coal miners in New South Wales to maintain continuity of production. I hate to have to refer to that matter because it has been re-hashed in this Parliament on so many occasions, but when we are told that during the regime of the Labour Government more man-hours were lost in the coal industry than during the regimes of anti-Labour governments we are forced to remind the people of the methods adopted by anti-Labour governments to maintain coal production. The Labour Government’s record in this connexion will stand comparison with that of any anti-Labour governments in the State or Commonwealth sphere.
The findings of a royal commission which was appointed to inquire into the offer of a bribe to the Communist leaders of the miners’ federation stand as an indictment of those members of the present Government who resorted to such unworthy tactics. The honorable member for New England has also said that it has taken the present Government six months to repair the wreckage left by the Labour Government. He has claimed to be frank and fair. How can he substantiate such a claim when he knows only too well that when th« Labour Government vacated office, after eight years of administration, it left the finances of this country in an eminently sound position. The credits in the National Welfare Fund were sufficient to enable the new Government to finance its social services commitments for at least twelve months. Industry was re-organized and operating on a scale undreamed of before the war. Instead of wreckage, this Government inherited a sounder economy than has been inherited by any other incoming government in Australian history.
Let us consider the state of affairs that existed when Labour governments have come into office. When the Scullin Government assumed office the country was in the midst of a great depression. When the Curtin Government, came into office we were involved in a terrible war and its task was made all the more difficult because it had to face the problems that had resulted from the ineptitude and incapacity of its predecessor. Therefore, it ill behoves the honorable member for New England, speaking to his New South Wales constituents, to accuse the Chifley Government of leaving wreckage that this Government has now to clear up. The honorable member also said that increased agricultural production would be the main means of bringing value back into the fi. Apparently he fails to appreciate the fact that the high volume of primary production together with the high level of prices for primary products constitutes the greatest inflationary medium in the Australian economy.
– The high prices, not the high volume.
– The high prices and the high volume. Australian production figures are high. The point is that every additional bushel of wheat or bale of wool that we sell overseas is paid for in Australian currency, and because of the difficulties of supply from Great Britain and other countries, the increased purchasing power is not taken up by an increased volume of goods. The honorable member claimed also that the Chifley Government was responsible for depletion of rural labour. Honorable members who have engaged in rural production, and most city members as well, will know that increased mechanization has been largely responsible for the reduction of the number of employees in the agricultural industries. As mechanization grows, so will employment in the agricultural industries further contract, except in areas where intensive farming is carried out. In the wool, wheat, and dairying industries of which the honorable member was speaking, the mechanization of farms has been mainly responsible for the reduction of rural employment. The honorable member said that wages and conditions of employment had nothing to do with the number of worker,” in rural industries. I have been informed by some of my New South Wales colleagues that the honorable member wara Minister in a Liberal government of that State which over-rode the New South Wales Industrial Commission, and arbitrarily reduced the wages of rural workers. So, if the honorable member is seeking to score for the Liberal and Australian Country parties in New South Wales, that, I suggest, is one action that his electors will never forget. I repeat that a government of which he was a member actually rescinded a rural award promulgated by the Industrial Commission.
Another argument advanced by the honorable member for New England was that the Chifley Government erred in accepting the advice of unorthodox economists to maintain taxes at high levels. He said that if taxation were reduced sharply, an incentive would be given to produce, and production would increase substantially. In reply to that argument, I quote a statement made by the present Treasurer on the 25th July, 1946. Speaking in this chamber, the right honorable member said taxation was the greatest safeguard to inflation.
– That depends on what the Government does with the money that it collects in taxes.
– The right honorable member did not place any qualification on his statement. If the honorable member for New England believes that the Chifley Government’s economic advisors were wrong, then he must admit that his leader- was equally wrong. The honorable member said that the Government should borrow dollars to purchase machinery from the United States of America. The wisdom of such a course would depend on the purpose to which the machinery would be put. If we were to borrow money to import machinery to help solve our dollar problem, it is clear that such machinery would have to assist us to earn dollars by producing more good? for export to dollar countries. Otherwise, borrowing of dollars to purchase even capital machinery would not help to solve the dollar problem. The proposal that we should obtain a loan from the United States of America should be examined in the light of the information that the Government possesses.
Urgent attention should be given to our dollar situation. About six or eight weeks ago. I asked the .Prime Minister what the current dollar position was. I had read a statement by the Commonwealth Statistician that our dollar deficit was growing day by day. I asked the Prime Minister whether that was true, and what was being done to earn more dollars or to save dollars. The right honorable gentleman said that it was too early to make a detailed statement, but that he hoped shortly to make such a statement. We are now in the closing stages of the present sessional period. We have come, indeed, to a financial measure which seeks the granting of supply to the Government for the next four months; but not one word lias been vouchsafed to us about the dollar situation. Surely that is most cavalier treatment of the Parliament. The dollar situation is desperate throughout the world. All indications are that in Australia the problem is not improving, but is growing worse; yet the Prime Minister has not a word to tell us about it.
A national health plan was a feature of the policy speech of the present Government parties at the last election. Previously, the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) had said on not one but three occasions that with minor amendments the two schemes that had been placed on the statute-book by the Chifley Government could be made to work. He promised that if a non-Labour government were elected, free medicine would be given to the people of Australia. That could be done, he said, virtually in five minutes. The right honorable gentleman also said that the Chifley Government’s health plan could he made to work if only the Government would agree to some of the submissions of the British Medical Association; yet, all we have had from the right honorable gentleman since he became Minister for Health is statement after statement. Nothing ha3 been done to implement a health plan for the people of this country. There is in existence a fund, established by the Labour Government, from which such a scheme could be financed, but our only information, which comes to us at second, third or fourth hand, is that the Minister for Health expects every wage-earner or every head of a family to pay an extra 3s. a week as a contribution to the health scheme that he has in mind. The present Government parties were specific on this subject in their election policy speech which stated -
The Government has approached the great problem of public health by looking for votes rather than from remedies. It has also got itself into fighting the medical practitioners. A Commonwealth government approaching this matter with common sense will work for the co-operation for the States, of the municipalities, of hospital managements, of friendly societies, and of the medical, dental, pharmaceutical and allied professions.
All I can say is, that if the Government has worked towards that end, it has made very little progress. I talked to my own chemist in Perth on Monday, and he told me that he is fearful as, he says, all his fellow chemists are fearful, of the proposals announced by the Minister for Health. He said that it looked to the chemists as though the profession of the independent family chemist would be doomed if the Minister’s plan were put into operation. ‘ I informed him that I should endeavour to obtain some information from the Minister for Health, but that is indeed difficult to do. Those people are entitled to know what part they are to play in the Government’s scheme. They are entitled to know whether their interests are to be safeguarded. Members of this Parliament are entitled to know and, in fact, demand to know, what the Government’s health plans are. We suggest to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that if they cannot produce some workable plan they should at least ask the Minister for Health to have the decency, or at least the dignity, to remain silent until he has some plan to place before, the Parliament. In this matter the Government has also fallen down on another of the promises that it made to the electors.
I turn now to the subject of prices, which is now commonly termed “ putting value back into the £1 “. The Government can have no complaint in respect to criticism that is levelled at it on that matter, because the increase of the purchasing power of the £1 was a problem that the parties now in office embraced willingly and that they told the people they could solve speedily if they were returned to power. The Prime Minister said in his policy speech -
The Chifley Government withdrew most of the Commonwealth’s subsidies which had been created to keep down the cost of living, and were therefore destroyed in order to force up the cost of living
Since the States took over price control, prices have risen; but at exactly the same rate as that at which they had been rising during the last twelve months of Commonwealth control.
While encouraging production to the full, we shall hold ourselves ready to pay price subsidies in appropriate cases; as, for example, in respect of items affecting the cost of living of basic wage earners.
While there remains a case for . artificial , price control, that is, while shortages continue, we sliu.ll, instead of standing back hoping for their failure, co-operate with the States and do all in our power to make their price control effective.
Yet, to-day a suggestion regarding prices control is made that is in direct contradiction to the solemn pledge that the Prime Minister gave to the electors. He now washes his hands of the matter, like a certain biblical character, and says, “ We do not believe in prices control “. I turn now to the question of the subsidies about which honorable members on the Government side have prated so much in the past. During the election campaign honorable members opposite said, as they have also said in this Parliament ad nauseam, that the Chifley Government had abandoned prices control suddenly in a fit of pique and that the parties now in office would hold themselves ready and willing to pay prices subsidies again. Yet the Government has rejected the first suggestion of that nature that was put to it bv a conference of State Premiers. The premiers approached the Government confidently because of the present Prime Minister’s election pledge about subsidies, but it rejected their suggestions. The Sydney Daily Telegraph of the 11th March carried an article under the following black type headline: - Government abandons subsidy plan.
The news item under that headline contained the following paragraphs in relation to a decision of the members of the Menzies Cabinet : -
They decided that any authority granting subsidies must first control other factors in determining costs, or its commitments would become unlimited.
The Chifley Government had reached a similar decision and for that reason had abolished subsidies as soon as it lost control of price-fixing.
I again point out that in that matter the Government has shown no regard for the solemn pledge that it made to the people during the last general election campaign.. , Are we not entitled to criticize the Government and demand the. honouring of the promises by which it deliberately bought votes with no regard for whether those promises could be honoured or not? Are we not entitled to assert, that the Government deserves the condemnation of the Opposition? When, in addition, the Govern ment refuses, by using the excuses that certain subjects are policy matters, to make any statement to the Parliament on such subjects, we say that it is condemned, must be condemned, and will be condemned if it goes to the people.
Honorable members opposite have repeated to-day that the passage of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill which is now before the Parliament will solve all the problems that face this country. I shall quote again from the Prime Minister’s policy speech during the election campaign. A newspaper report of the speech read in part as follows: - “ If the only charge Mr. Chifley can bring against me is that I have changed my mind, about banning the Communists, then I plead guilty to being a chameleon “, he said. “ The alternative would be to be a fool. I have seen enough in this world of the threat of Russia to peace, and the diabolical work of the Communists in this country, to say that these are our enemies and we are going to deal with them.”
Mr. Menzies said that he had been benign and tolerant about the Communists before his trip abroad.
Yet he made that trip only in late 1948, returning in 1949. But now the benign and tolerant Mr. Menzies tells us that the passage of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill will bring industrial peace to Australia and lead to an increase of production. He refuses to face this situation now as he has done in every other instance. The history of the world makes it clear that ever since the industrial revolution, when increases of wages have been followed by increases of prices, industrial unrest has always occurred. The Prime Minister may achieve something with the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, but we believe from experience that he will not achieve anything. The fact of the matter is that there is no answer in the passage of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill to the general, situation that confronts Australia and no answer to the problem of prices. To say that when that bill has been passed the present position will vanish overnight is begging the question and deceiving the people, even if the right honorable gentleman is not deceiving himself.
I return now to the question of the proposal for the appreciation of the Australian £1. I do- not believe that such a step would be very effective in combating present price rises. The money from overseas that is now coming into the hands of the primary producers and other is so great that even a revaluation of the £1 to its previous parity with sterling would not have any substantial effect on the purchasing power that is now in the hands of those primary producers. It would merely mean that they would be able to add less money to the accumulated wealth that they have to-day. I believe that it is absolutely wrong to use the exchange rate to lower or raise prices in Australia. It could never be justified. Unless we work out our exchange on a sensible basis instead of using it as a convenient means of subsidy, we shall never get anywhere in currency matters. I believe that Australia’s action in devaluating the £1 in 1932 was wrong. The proper approach on that occasion was to pay subsidies. It is also wrong to-day to use the exchange rate as a means of lowering farm income. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) to-night suggested to the House a much more realistic method of approach to the problem. The only real basis for determining the relative level of our currency with other world currencies is the cost structure of this country based on the prices entering into the manufacture and production of goods generally. While we use the structure of the exchange as a means of lowering or raising prices, we are not only defeating our aims but involving ourselves in further currency chaos.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Davis) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Early in 1948 an application was made on behalf of certain officers employed by the Australian Dairy Produce Board for a revision of the Dairy Produce Control (Staff) Regulations. The object of the revision requested was to ensure that those clerical officers received similar remuneration to that paid to clerical workers doing similar work on other boards and in the Public Service generally. Correspondence that I have contains admissions that the claim was just, but up to date those officers have not secured any rectification of their grievances. On the 27th January, 1949, the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) wrote -
My officers have already revised the existing Dairy Produce Export Control (Staff) Regulations so as to bring the salaries and conditions of the staff of the Australian Dairy Produce Board into line with Public Service rates and conditions. The revised regulations will, of course, have to be reviewed by the Commonwealth legal authorities and approved by the Governor-General before they become effective.
On the 27th April, 1949, the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture wrote -
The date of the commencement of the revised Dairy Produce Export Control (Staff) Regulations has not yet been decided. I will advise you when a decision is reached.
On the 13th October, 1949, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture wrote -
With reference to your letter of the 4th October, and previous correspondence regarding the revision of the salaries of the staff employed under the dairy produce export control staff regulations, I desire to imform you that the amended regulations are still being considered by the Commonwealth Public Service Board and the Attorney-General’s Depart- ment. I will inform you as soon as the regulations have been promulgated.
On the 21st December, 1949, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture wrote -
A set of approved regulations has been submitted by the Public Service Board and is now being considered by the Dairy Produce Board. The matter is also being examined by officers of this committee and every effort will be made to reach finality at the earliest possibledate.
That is the process over two years of an application to an ordinary tribunal of the Public Service by some of the lowerpaid temporary employees of that Service for an improvement in their wages to equality with the wages paid to other temporary employees, but still the matter is not finalized. Still there is delay and procrastination and people wonder why employees become dissatisfied. The Government should see that this matter is expedited and that these employees receive remuneration under the approved regulations back to 1947, when they made their application, and when it was admitted by those in authority that their grievance was just and that they should have been receiving a higher remuneration than they were receiving. 1 know from remarks I have heard from members who have sat on the treasury bench for the last few months that they desire that all matters between employers and employees should be amicably settled in a satisfactory, orderly and regular manner with all the due processes of law. Because they believe that, I think there is a responsibility on them to see that this matter is finalized and that these people get what is due to them.
– I wish to draw the attention of the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) to the condition of the bank notes that are in circulation. I do not know whether any honorable members have noticed that during the last few months, and not necessarily since this Government took office, there has been a noticeable deterioration in the condition of the notes that are in circulation, I do not know whether this is the result of some direction by the Note Issue Department of the Commonwealth Bank, or whether it is due to the fact that the private trading banks are not employing sufficient staff to sort out properly the notes returned to them in the ordinary course of business. Before the war, provision was made for a continual changing of the notes as they were received by the various banks, and I suggest that that system should be re-instituted. The employees of the private banks have been in touch with me and have asked me to raise this matter in the House and point out that serious discontent exists in the minds of some employees of private banks because of the filthy condition of notes that they are compelled to handle each day in the course of their work.
Honorable members interjecting,
– There is no need to be flippant about this matter. 1 am not trying to be funny. The condition of the notes is very bad, and honorable members should be sensible about the legal tender of the country. Far too many notes are dirty, greasy, worn out and, in some cases, badly mutilated. It is not easy to keep notes in good order, particularly in parts of Queensland, where the humidity is such that even the best of paper will show the strain of continual handling, but I ask the Treasurer to give this matter his earnest consideration.
– That will be one way of putting value back into the £1.
– It may be the way of the private banks of showing their contempt for the present Government’s efforts to put value back in the £1, but I for one do not relish handling and having my family handle notes that are dirty, greasy, filthy and dilapidated. It is well known that such notes are unhygienic and not in the best interests of the community at large. I urge the Treasurer to ascertain whether any direction on this matter has been circulated by the Note Issue Department of the Commonwealth Bank and if so, whether that is responsible for the large proportion of notes in use being dirty, greasy, worn out and mutilated. If a direction has been given will the Treasurer ascertain whether it is possible to raise the standard of the notes at least to that of the pre-war period ? If the Note Issue Department is not responsible, I would like the Treasurer to ascertain whether the poor standard of notes is due to the refusal of private banks to employ sufficient staff to sort the notes out properly. I commend my suggestion to the Treasurer for his attention.
[11.2S J. - I promise to bring to the notice of the appropriate Minister the matter raised by the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters), and I hope that the procrastination that has occurred since 1947 can be remedied expeditiously. The matter raised by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), has already been brought under my notice but T have not yet had an opportunity to discuss it with the Governor of the bank. There is real substance in the honorable member’s complaint. I will have it investigated and obtain a report.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of Works and Housing - K. J. A. McIlvride.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act -
National Security (Rationing) Regulations - Orders - Nos. 168, 169.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1950, No. 24.
Judiciary Act - Rule of Court, dated 28th April, 1950.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Defence purposes - Wacol, Queensland.
Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Regulations - 1950 - No. 5 (Lottery and Gaming Ordinance).
The House adjourned at 11.29 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
e asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
Has the Government made any effort in the past three months to provide extra shipping to northern Tasmania for the lifting of potatoes for mainland markets.
– The Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport has supplied the following information : -
The lifting of potatoes from northern Tasmanian ports to mainland markets is under constant review by both the Combined Traffic Committee and the Tasmanian Traffic Committee on which both the private shipowners and the Australian Shipping Board are represented. I am advised that adequate space is being provided for the shipment of potatoes.
e asked the Minister representing the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport has supplied the following information : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 June 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1950/19500613_reps_19_208/>.