19th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy SPEAKER (Mr. C. “E. Adermann) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister, in the absence of the Minister for External Affairs. In view of the fact that Formosa is likely to become a very real trouble spot in the near future because of the unsettled’ state of Asia, and because its future status and control is at stake, will the Government, through the Minister for External Affairs, he prepared to recommend to the United Nations the establishment of a United Nations commission similar to that which operates in Korea, which could proceed to Formosa and, after careful and impartial analysis of the situation there, make recommendations to the United Nations that could lead to a solution of the tension in that area and so probably avert armed conflict ?
– The problem of Formosa is one of many problems which I anticipate being able to discuss with the Minister for External Affairs on his return to Australia next week. No purpose would be served by making an interim statement on the position.
– In view of the statement alleged to have been made by the Queensland Treasurer last Tuesday to the effect that taxing rights should be returned to the States, will the Prime Minister indicate whether a similar attitude was adopted by the Queensland Premier at the recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honorable member has referred, but it would certainly seem surprising that it should have been made, because at the recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers the Premier of Queensland undoubtedly made it quite clear that he did not wish taxing rights to be returned to Queensland.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether the Government has given any consideration to an increase of the pensions payable to the widows of men who were killed, during the wa’r period, while in the service of the Allied Works Council? I have in mind a pension of £2 2s. a week that has been paid since 1943 to the widow of a member of the Allied Works Council staff who was killed iri Queensland. In view of the Government’s intention ‘ to increase all other pensions will it give similar treatment to the recipients of the kind of pension that I have mentioned?
– I shall direct the attention of the Treasurer to the point raised by the honorable member. I myself have certainly not considered’ it before.
– Will the Prime . Minister inform the House whether the Government intends to introduce legislation during the present sessional period to give effect to its published anouncement that it will increase pensions for aged and invalid persons, widows and cx-servicemen ? If so, when- does it propose to introduce that legislation ?
– The answer to the first part of the honorable member’s question is “Tes”, and the answer to the second part is “ As soon as possible “. In fact, I hope that legislation will he introduced within the next few days.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government will, give favorable consideration to an extension to recipients of widows’ pensions of the present sickness benefits payable to age and invalid pensioners under legislation introduced by the Chifley Government ?
– That matter is, of course, one of policy, but I shall arrange to have it discussed.
– As the use of oxygen gas is an absolute necessity in some cases of chronic illness and of childbirth, will the Minister for Health give consideration to its inclusion among the life-saving drugs provided under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act? I point out that although oxygen cannot be considered a medicine it is widely used in connexion with multiple and premature births, and is a costly addition to the outlay caused to parents by childbirth that should not have to be borne by them.
– The Government has given a great deal of consideration to this matter and is still considering it. Provision, of oxygen for hospitals is fairly simple because the hospitals have appliances to use it continuously. The difficulty in providing it for private homes is not the cost but the provision of tent? and appliances associated with the us& of the gas. Only ten cubic feet might be used in a home out of a cylinder holding 100 cubic feet. The Government is trying to find some means whereby it can make these appliances available in a way that will permit of their, use in private homes.
– I remind the Minister for Health that some time ago, when his scheme to provide free lifesaving drugs came into operation, there was such a big demand for certain drugs that shortages occurred in various parts of the Commonwealth. Will the right honorable gentleman inform me whether it has been possible to increase the supply of those drugs, so that doctors who desire to prescribe them for their patients may be able to do so in the knowledge that they may be obtained from the pharmaceutical chemists in their respective districts?
– Three or four life-saving drugs were most ‘difficult to obtain because they were in short supply, and came from the dollar area. However, a committee has been appointed in each State to determine, in consultation with Hie doctor who prescribes those drugs, whether they are indespensable in the treatment of a patient, and if it is considered that they are essential for that purpose, an attempt is made to obtain them. It has been found that, as a result of the discretion and co-operation of doctors, pharmaceutical chemists and drug houses, there has been no shortage of other life-saving drugs during the last month.
– I ask the Minister for Air’ whether he uses a Royal Australian Air Force aeroplane for travel on official business? If so, on how many occasions has he used it? What mileage has been covered and what amount .of petrol has been used? Does this action represent a change of mind by the Minister in regard to the use of Royal Australian Air Force aeroplanes by members of the Cabinet?
– I am sorry that the honorable member has brought up this question, because it is a bit of past history. Unlike my predecessor, I do not use Royal Australian Air Force aircraft to transport me to meetings of Parliament. A Royal Australian Air Force aircraft is only used by me on unusual trips such as that which I made yesterday when the Service Ministers made a special trip to Sydney to meet the Director-General of Recruiting. Such aircraft have been used on other special occasions when the Prime Minister and other Ministers have needed them. When I have visited Royal Australian Air Force stations in outlying parts a service has also been used. In travelling to Canberra I use the airlines - either Trans-Australia Airlines or Australian National Airways.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that the installation of the new automatic telephone extensions in Rockhampton has been held up because some vital part of the equipment was not forwarded with the original shipment from England? I understand that the missing parts are to be shipped from England and will arrive in Australia very near to the Christmas holiday period in which case they are likely to be held up in Brisbane. Will the’ Postmaster-General consider having this equipment brought from Brisbane to Rockhampton by motor vehicle as soon as it arrives so that it can be installed before the Christmas holiday period?
– I shall give consideration to the suggestion that has been made by the honorable member.
– Can the Minister for Civil Aviation say whether a plane was forced down yesterday by bad weather and that, had it not been for the extraordinary skill of the pilot, a very serious situation would have arisen? Is he aware that the plane was carrying nine passengers and was not equipped with radio navigational aids, and that it was licensed only for visual flying ? Will the Minister consider the advisability of refusing to license planes to carry passengers thai are not fitted with radio navigational aids?
– The plane that the honorable member has in mind was a small Anson aircraft. On routes where the main air routes are not crossed aircraft are not equipped with radio aids. If they were so equipped their passengercarrying capacity would be reduced so much that it would not be possible to run the service satisfactorily. I have received a note on this subject from the Regional Controller and I shall give the statement in full to the honorable member. The note states that the full radio communication and navigation equipment is not carried by this aeroplane because the equipment is too heavy. The meteorological forecasts were such that a visual flight should have been possible, but the weather deteriorated1 during the flight. Any one who knows what the weather was like last night can appreciate that fact. The pilot apparently allowed himself to be trapped while returning. When he found he could not land at Cowra he reported by radio to Mascot that he was in a heavily wooded area and was hemmed in cri all sides by low cloud. Mascot control told him to land in the most suitable paddock he could find rather than to try to fly out with the risk of hitting a hill. The landing was a great credit to him and shows the excellence of the pilotage of the aircraft of the various airlines;
– Will the Minister for Air say whether it is a fact that on the Northern Tablelands route between Newcastle in New South Wales and Brisbane, in Queensland there is not one aerodrome capable of being effectively used for military aeroplanes other than those of the trainer type? Is it a fact that there is not one aerodrome that may be classed as an all-weather aerodrome except one at Glen Innes, which has neither equipment, hangars, or safety devices? Is it also a fact that the only aerodromes between Sydney and Brisbane which are equipped for both day and night flying are situated in the most vulnerable places for attack by hostile raiding parties, right on the seashore ? If these are facts will the Minister endeavour to speed up the development of well-equipped aerodromes and landing strips at Tamworth, Walcha, Armidale, Glen Innes and. Tenterfield with a view to serving the defence needs of Australia on the one hand and the reasonable air travelrequirements of these important districts on the other.
– The defence needs of Australia are not served by the aerodromes at Tenterfield and Tamworth. I was on the Tamworth aerodrome with the honorable member a few days ago and I am sure that he knows the conditions which exist there. A first-rate aerodrome is available at Coffs Harbour, in the area that he mentioned, and it is suitable for any aircraft of the larger size. The Royal Australian Air Force strategic aerodromes in Queensland, which is a vulnerable part of Australia, are in good order, as are the aerodromes at Darwin and Manus Island. They can accommodate any aircraft and they have the best possible equipment. Last night an honorable member whose electorate is in another State was complaining that the Department of Civil Aviation was doing too much. The Department of “Works and Housing is developing over 100 aerodromes at present. On Saturday at Devonport I opened a new aerodrome which will be the alternative landing field for air services in northern and southern Tasmania. The development of Mascot aerodrome is being pursued under a long-range plan. I think that the honorable member has little to complain of if some aerodromes like that at Armidale are not all that they ought to be. The Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to land on that field this week, but because it has not been improved by the local authorities he will have to make other plans. If the honorable member will see me later for half an hour or so 1 shall prove to him that all the aerodromes in his own district are generally satisfactory.
– Although many airstrips were constructed during the last war in various country districts of “Western Australia at considerable cost and with bitumen surfaces, they are not now being used. In view of the need to prepare proper defences for this country, will the. Minister for Air say whether consideration has been given to maintaining and repairing those airstrips so that they may be taken into use again? “Will the honorable gentleman also indicate whether the Department of Air is considering constructing suitable roads to the strips, many of which are located in areas in which the passage of heavy vehicles during the wet season would be impossible if proper roads are not provided? I point out that large quantities of stores and material will require to be transported by road to those airstrips if they have again to be taken into use. Will the Minister say whether the various aspects of the matter that I have mentioned are receiving the attention of his department, and, if not, whether the department will give consideration to them?
– During the war many airstrips that will never be used again were laid down. Many of them were short and were used only for a short, time. They do not service any districts and are not near any particular towns. There are many of them in different States. I have a report on all those strips, and such of them as are likely to be required for defence purposes arebeing retained by the Royal Australian Air Force. In some instances they arebeing retained but not in a completestate of maintenance. However, the aerodrome construction squadron can quickly make them serviceable if they should be required. As I said in reply to an earlier question, the main aerodromes that are used by modern longrange heavy military aircraft are in. good condition, and Australia can throw heavy bombers and fighters into the frontline within 24 hours.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. It has cometo my notice that recently postal unions were informed that departmental approval had been given to raise the status1 of the post office at Hawthorn “West in Victoria from non-official to official status, but due to outside representation to theGovernment that decision has been reversed. If this is so, is it a sign that a change of Government policy has taken place? Members of the Victorian branches of the postal unions fear that the policy initiated by the Labour Government of raising post offices to official status as soon as their financial level sowarranted, is being altered. Could the Postmaster-General allay the fears of the postal officials concerned?
– I have no recollection of the specific position that existswith respect to the Hawthorn “West Post Office. Possibly, that matter has comebefore me as one of hundreds of matters that fall into the same category. Therefore, I am unable to say what has been done at that post office. I shall obtain the information for which the honorable member has asked and furnish it to him. With respect to the raising of non-official post offices to official status, effect is normally being given to that policy. However, certain difficulties arise. For instance, full consideration must be given to the rights of persons who have performed duty as non-official postmasters for many years. It would not be just merely to dispense with their services without making some attempt to place them at other non-official post offices. To the degree that provision can be made in that respect, non-official post offices ar, gradually being raised to official status.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that for the past sixteen years there has been very keen agitation for up-to-date postal facilities in Cessnock, which is the centre of a district with a population of 25,000? Three of the Minister’s predecessors visited. Cessnock and agreed that it should have a new post office, and the Postal Department has gone so far as to resume a very important block of land on which stood a church. It has also drawn up plans and specifications for a new post office building, but nothing further than that has happened. The agitation for a new post office is very keen because the largo population of the district deserves better facilities and because the present post office is in an old converted home that was not originally constructed for the purpose for which it is now used.
-Order! The honorable member has made sufficient comment on the question that he proposes to ask. He should now put his question.
– All that has been added to that old building is a number of leanto structures. “When will the erection of a new post office in Cessnock be proceeded with?
– I appreciate that the condition of many post offices all over Australia is similar to that of the post office described by the honorable member. We have blueprints in the department for the erection of new post office buildings that will cost a total of about £60,000,000. It will be quite a long time before we shall be able to obtain the materials and labour that will be necessary to carry out that constructional work. I shall, however, examine the matter that the honorable member has raised, and if it is possible to expedite the construction of a new post office at Cessnock I shall do my best to see that that is done. Unlike my predecessors, however, I shall not make any prophecies about the matter.
– Recently I received a letter from one of my constituents who employs two New Australian families, in both of which there are a number of young children. This gentleman has explained to me that these New Australians have just purchased dual-wave radios in order to listen to news from overseas stations which, they say, they are compelled to do because they cannot understand broadcasts in English. As the station which they find it easiest to tune into is Moscow, the implication is obvious. Will the Postmaster-General confer with the Minister for Immigration and ascertain whether immediate steps can be taken to institute a news broadcast at appropriate times daily in a language that New Australians can readily understand and accompany such broadcasts with a simple explanation, or commentary, in English?
– It would be difficult to choose a language which would be readily understood by all New Australians, except, possibly, Esperanto, and I doubt whether that would serve the purpose that the honorable member has mentioned because migrants coming to this country are of many nationalities. Of course, broadcasts are now being made in Scotch and Lancashire. Periodical broadcasts are made in the Thai and Indonesian languages, but New Australians would not readily understand them. I shall take up the matter with the Minister for Immigration with a view to seeing whether special short-wave broadcasts can be provided through Radio Australia in order to meet the position to which the honorable member has rightly drawn attention.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware of the discontent that has been caused among employees of the Australian. Broadcasting Commission as the result of the commission’s sudden decision, of which it has advised rostered employees, including announcers, news readers, typists and others, that it will no longer pay loading or overtime rates for work performed by them during week-ends? As the result of that decision special announcers will lose up to £7 and some typists will lose up to £2 10s. weekly in wages. Can the PostmasterGeneral give any reason for the commission’s sudden decision? Is it a fact that some announcers who are members of industrial unions are talking of seeking an injunction from the High Court to restrain the commission from acting upon its decision which arbitrarily disturbs their rates of pay? Will the PostmasterGeneral endeavour to ascertain the causes for the commission’s decision to cut the wage rates of its employees so drastically?
– I have no knowledge of the circumstances to which the honorable member has referred. The Australian Broadcasting Commission manages its own affairs and I do not interfere with it, or direct it, in any way. The taxpayers provide approximately £2,000,000 annually to finance the commission’s operations and it has an obligation to manage its affairs as economically as possible consistent with the observance of awards covering the conditions of employment and rates of pay of its employees.
– This appears to be a breach of the award.
– The rates of remuneration for persons occupying many positions which require service from midnight on Friday until midnight on Sunday are frequently time and” a half and double time. Therefore, the commission has an obligation to preserve the revenues that are made available to it in the best possible way. I shall ask the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to give me a report on the matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred, and I shall provide him with a reply later.
– Will the Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior inform- me whether it is a fact that,, when he was approached by a deputation of politicians from the Government and Opposition parties who reside at; Hotel Kurrajong, he consented to a re-institution of the bed-and-breakfast tariff previously in operation- at that hotel for interstate politicians? If that statement is correct, will the honorable gentleman reconsider the grossly inequitable incidence of the increases in the hotel tariff that are about to operateagainst public servants’ on basic classifications, who are compelled to reside in government hostels in the Australian Capital Territory?
– It is correct that a deputation of honorable members waited on me yesterday to discuss the tariff at Hotel Kurrajong. For many years, it has been the practice for members of the Parliament who reside at that hotel to pay a bed-and-breakfast rate, and to have their other meals in the parliamentary refreshment rooms.. It was proposed to abolish that arrangement, but I have consented to another arrangement under which the bedandbreakfast rate will be considerably increased without altering the financial results to the Hotel Kurrajong management.
Mr. Deputy Speaker having called for any ministerial statements,
– I wish to amplify an answer that I made to a question asked this morning by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, in case there might be some misunderstanding about the matter to which he referred. The position in respect of honorable members who reside at Hotel Kurrajong is that, under the new arrangement that was made, they were required to pay the full board rate of 17s. 6d. a day. The bed and breakfast rate that they formerly paid has been abolished. Many honorable members desire to retain the benefit of the concession that is represented by the bed and breakfast rate. A rate hastherefore been fixed for bed and breakfast at 15s. a day, which is only 2s. 6d. a day less than the full board rate, and is about 50 per cent, higher than the former bed and breakfast rate.
Mr. Ward rising in his place,
– Order ! I had called for ministerial statements before the Postmaster-General spoke.
Mr. Ward interjecting,
– Order I If the honorable member for East Sydney does not behave himself he will know what is coming to him.
– I- am behaving myself.
– The honorable member will apologize to the Chair for that remark.
– I apologize.
– Order ! The honorable member will stand in his place and apologize to the Chair.
– I was on my feet. I apologize.
– Is the Minister for Supply aware that employees in the various factories under the control of the Department of Supply are dismissed on attaining the age of 65 years? In view of the existing shortage of labour, does the Minister believe that such a policy is sound, or that it assists the effort to secure greater production? Will the honorable gentleman give instructions that such a policy shall cease and that employees who are at present under notice of dismissal shall be informed that such notices are withdrawn?
– The Minister for Supply is not able to be here this morning, but I shall ask him to treat the honorable gentleman’s question as being on the notice-paper, and supply an answer later.
– My question to the Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior refers to the disposal of the army ordnance area at Harristown, Toowoomba. As the Department of the Army and the Department of Labour and National Service have reached a decision on the portion of that area which they desire to retain for different projects, will the Minister indicate whether the Department of the Interior will now negotiate with the Toowoomba City Council, which is desirous of acquiring the remainder of that property urgently for use as a council workshop?
– I shall have the honorable member’s request investigated, and inform him of the result.
– Will the Minister for National Development consider sponsoring a scheme to increase the production of vegetables and other basic foods by developing the fertile Murray valley? Will he also say whether such a scheme could be operated without great cost? Will it be practicable to obtain pumping plants and cultivating machinery from the United States of America from the dollar loan that was recently arranged ? Will the honorable gentleman also indicate whether it is a fact that foodstuffs so produced will reduce the cost of living?
– I believe that consideration of any project such as that mentioned by the honorable member is a function of State governments.
– I want the Australian Government to sponsor the project.
– I still believe that a project such as that mentioned by the honorable gentleman is a matter for the State governments concerned. Of course, agricultural machinery and equipment can only be imported from the United States of America, and it is the duty of State governments to inform us of their requirements. Those governments have already submitted their estimates of requirements of agricultural equipment to be obtained from dollar sources, and all steps have been taken by the departments concerned to have the orders fulfilled. I appreciate the motive of the honorable member’s question, but I cannot believe that the sponsorship of vegetable-growing projects on a large scale can be regarded as a function of the Australian Government.
– Will the Treasurer inform me what Australia’s net dollar deficit was for the financial year that ended on the 30th June last?
– I shall obtain that information for the honorable gentleman as soon as possible.
– Can the Prime Minister state the Government’s reason for its decision to make the announced increases of the salaries of members of the judiciary, and of top-ranking public servants, retrospective to the 1st July last, although the increase of age, invalid, widows’ and war pensions is to apply only from the 1st November ?
– I understand that the honorable member’s question relates to a bill that is either about to come before the House or is already before it. Provision will be made for any debate in which honorable members wish to engage in connexion with that bill.
Customs Tariff Amendment (No. 1.)
In Committee of Ways and Means. Consideration resumed from the 11th May (vide page 2521), on motion by Mr. MCBRIDE -
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff Act 1933-40 be amended. . . (vide page 251S).
– The motion before the committee was introduced on the 11th May and was designed to give effect to the tariff concessions agreed to by Australia during negotiations at Annecy in 1949. That proposal did not fully implement the tariff concessions granted by Australia, as in some instances concessions in primage duty were involved. Those have been effected by primage proclamation. In other instances, concessions were accorded by use of the intermediate tariff rates. As it is some time since the tariff negotiations at Annecy were concluded, I should perhaps trace the events that have occurred in the meantime. On the 11th October, 1949, the then Minister for Post-war Reconstruction made a statement regarding the results of the Annecy negotiations, and circulated for the information of honorable members schedules that gave details of those negotiations insofar as they affected Australia. The present proposals are identical with the proposals referred to in those schedules. At the Annecy conference ten countries sought to accede to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, and at the conclusion of the negotiations the contracting parties decided that the accession of the new members, and the putting into effect of the concessions, should be carried out in two distinct stages. The first stage required the approval by a two-thirds majority of the then 23 member nation.? by ‘ the 30th November, 1949, for the admission to the agreement of the ten new countries. That decision was taken by the previous Government and the United Nations Secretariat was advised that Australia agreed to the accession of the ten countries. The second stage required each government to notify the United Nations by the 30th April, 1950, of its intention to apply the Annecy concessions. The application of those concessions had to take place within 30 days of that notification. Australia is at present provisionally applying the general agreement and has also agreed, to the accession of the further ten countries. Taking these factors into consideration, it was decided to offer the Annecy tariff-
– What is the Annecy tariff ?
– It resulted from a conference held in Havana for the further consideration of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade proposed. Taking these factors into consideration, it was decided to offer the Annecy tariff concessions and the secretariat of the United Nations was notified accordingly on the 28th April, 1950. A memorandum has been distributed to honorable members which shows the proposed duties compared with those operating under the Customs Tariff Act 1933-1949. It will be noticed that no substantial reductions have been effected in respect of particular tariff items. The tariff concessions negotiated cover over twenty items. I commend the motion for favorable consideration by the committee.
– “What the Minister has said covers ground that has been dealt with previously to some extent. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction to whom the Minister has referred attended a conference in Geneva and later one in Havana and these negotiations were later carried to a further stage at Annecy. The general provisions tabled by the Minister have been the subject of previous consideration by honorable members. The general principles associated with the matter were the subject of long consideration by a sub-committee of the last Cabinet and by a very able body of public servants who were associated with that Cabinet sub-committee. I take the opportunity of paying a tribute to the work that has been doneby the Department of Trade and Customs, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, and other departments which have taken an active part in connexion with the various negotiations which commenced at Geneva, and were continued at Havana and Annecy. I have no doubt that they are concerned also with the negotiations at present taking place at Torquay. I understand that the proposals set out are provisional. In view of the fact that the previous Government gave its general support to the provisional application that the Minister has mentioned, the Opposition will continue that support. It would take a long time to deal with all the individual items. It has never been found, in parliamentary procedure, that a discussion of individual tariff items ever provided a clear exposition of the difficulties associated with the tariff on that particular item. The Opposition will not oppose this measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
Motion (by Mr. McBride) proposed -
That Mr. McBride and Mr. Anthony do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution. [Quorum formed.]
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr. McBride, and passed through all its stages without amendment or debate.
Consideration resumed from the 11th May (vide page 2521), on motion by Mr. McBride -
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff (New Zealand Preference) 1933-1949 be amended ( vide page 2520 ) .
.- This tariff proposal was introduced on the 11th May, 1950. The action proposed is necessary to fulfil Australia’s treaty obligations with New Zealand and is supplementary to the resolution which covered the negotiations at Annecy. I commend the proposal to. the favorable consideration of the committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
That Mr. McBride and Mr. Fadden do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. McBride, and passed through all its stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 12th October (vide page 802), on motion by Mr. Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I do not wish to say very much on this measure. One or two points in the bill might have been more clearly explained by the Treasurer for the benefit of honorable members. The £29,000,000 mentioned is transferred from the system of payment from revenue to that of provision of funds by loan. As this is a loan bill I do not want to comment on that matter. I do not suggest that there is anything irregular about what is being done because in this matter the Treasurer is following the ordinary procedure. However, the item, of £25,000,000 to be appropriated for the building of war service homes will no doubt be discussed by some honorable members at some length. Four million pounds is to be provided for the acquisition of land for war service land settlement purposes. The Treasurer, in his speech on this bill, said that in 1949-50 the expenditure on war service homes amounted to £16,000,000 and that there would now be an increase of 55 per cent. I would point out that that does not mean that there will be a 55 per cent, increase in the number of houses erected. It could be taken to mean 55 per cent, additional houses, but it actually means 55 per cent, increase in the amount of money to be made available.
– It means what it says.
– But it could be misleading because the people might think that it meant a 55 per cent, increase in the number of houses. The Treasurer, if he replies to speeches on this matter, could perhaps state the number of new homes made available last year and the number which it is expected will be made available this year. Another matter to which I desire to refer is the provision of money for the States responsible for war service land settlement. The Treasurer spoke about providing capital for cV. States, other than Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania which will act as agent .States. I take it that the Treasurer implies that the Commonwealth will supply the loan money even though the capital outlay is a matter for the States. Therefore, the £4,000,000 to bc made available for war service land settlement provides the necessary capital for those States which are making the capital outlay or acting as agent States.
I presume that the £4,000,000 covers, in general terms, the whole of the capital expenditure of the States. I ask whether the Treasurer would be kind enough to inform the House of the position with regard to the acquisition of land for the settlement of ex-servicemen in various States. I understand that there are rulings of the court about prices to be paid for land acquired under the scheme for land settlement of ex-servicemen, and I am curious to know what price will be paid by governments and upon what basis these prices will be paid. In considering the expenditure of loan money on capital projects by the States it must be remembered that the Australian Government is always interested in the amount spent by States because the Commonwealth has a certain responsibility to contribute to sinking funds. I hope that the Treasurer will inform the House of the prices which will be paid for land acquired for the settlement of ex-servicemen. I do not need to examine the difficulties that have arisen with respect to the original basis that was laid down in 1924 as the result of the decision of the High Court relating to the liability of the States when they acquired land for soldier settlement. However, fantastic prices are now being paid by private individuals for rural land, and I presume that those who have the responsibility of advising the governments with respect to acquisitions will be influenced by that trend. Perhaps, the Treasurer might be able to inform the House of what is happening in that respect. I am not offering criticism in any way, but I can easily imagine that the payment of abnormally high prices for land could ultimately place ex-soldier settlers in a very difficult position should the prices of primary products fall considerably below their present levels. I trust that the Treasurer will be able to give some information about the effects of those factors upon soldier land settlement generally.
I should like to raise a matter that relates to the selection of applicants for participation in ballots for blocks. Several complaints have been made to me in that respect and I thought that the most practical course that I could take was to discuss the matter with the
Minister for Lands in New South “Wales, which was the State concerned. I was informed that certain men who had applied to be admitted to ballots in that State were told that they had been excluded because they had already obtained permanent positions in the Public Service or elsewhere. I shall not raise this matter at length until I have received a reply on the subject from that Minister, who has promised me that he will personally investigate it. What I am concerned about at this juncture is whether any of the State governments arc deviating from the conditions that wert ]aid down in the original agreement between them and the Australian Government. That agreement was made by the last Labour Government as part of its plan for the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel. I believe that the Treasurer will agree with me that it would not be fair to deprive ex-servicemen of the right to enter a ballot for blocks on the ground that they have already obtained permanent employment in the Public Service or elsewhere, particularly as they obtained such employment at a time when they did not know whether they would have an opportunity to participate in a ballot.
– That aspect of the administration of the scheme in New South Wales does not directly concern the Australian Government.
– I am not suggesting that. However, if individuals are being deprived of the right to participate in ballots for the reason that I have mentioned, surely the Australian Government, which originated the scheme, would want to do something about the matter.
– I shall not comment further on the matter until I receive a reply from the Minister for Lands in New South Wales after he has concluded his investigation of it. Under this measure the sum of £25,000,000 is to he raised for the construction of war service homes. No doubt, honorable members generally wish to know what progress is being made in that sphere. I should like to know the number of war service homes that were constructed last year and also the number that it is estimated will be constructed this year, although, due to the many unpredictable factors that are operating in the building industry, I am rather sceptical about estimates. The Opposition will not oppose the bill.
Mi MACKINNON (Wannon) [11.37]. - The purpose of this measure is to authorize the raising of a loan to finance, the land settlement of exservicemen and the construction of war service homes. We should have clearly in our minds the degree to whichthe Australian Government is actually participating in the scheme that has bee. undertaken for the settlement . of exservice personnel on the land. Whilst under the agreement the three most populous States of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland are principal States and act entirely on their own initiative whilst the Australian Government accepts only a residual liability in respect of losses that they may incur, the less populous States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania are acting as agents for the Australian Government, and are, in fact, simply administrators of the scheme. The prevailing high prices for primary products must materially affect the outlook of the Government in respect of ex-soldier land settlement. As at the 31st July last 3,545 exservicemen had been established on holdings whilst 14,592 exstervicemen had received agricultural loans. Included in the latter number would be many who although they have been enabled to purchase farms by governmental assistance have acquired their holdings in the normal way. Hence the numbers that are included in the larger figure take into account a considerable number of men who have been relieved from the general scheme in acquiring land.
The principal question that we must ask ourselves at the moment is, are we satisfied with the progress of the scheme ? Comparisons have been made between the present scheme and that conducted after World War I. Every one will agree that the foundation of the current settlement scheme is probably more satisfactory, and will cause the settlers less trouble and, possibly, the States less financial difficulties at a later date than the previous one, but a comparison between the relative speeds of the two schemes is greatly to the disadvantage of the post World
War II. scheme. Therefore, we must expect, if we are to have a really sound form of land settlement, that progress will be slow.
There are various other factors that should enter into .the actual settlement scheme, and they present far greater difficulties at the present time than were caused by similar factors in, say, 1920 and 1921. I refer particularly to the shortage of many of the materials that are required to improve and develop farm land. One of the most important questions that we have to answer now has been mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) and by myself. It is, what is to be our decision in relation to the enormous increase of land values? It is safe to say that, to the commencement of this year, most of the land that was acquired for the settlement of ex-servicemen was purchased on extremely favorable terms - I repeat the words, “ extremely favorable terms “ - because national security regulations pegged land values at the levels that existed in February, 1942, and it was obvious that land was later acquired for the settlement of ex-servicemen at values considerably below the real market price. In fact, the vendors of such land were directly subsidizing the settlement of exservicemen. Since those regulations were repealed, the market for land, in keeping with the demand for the products of the land, has risen considerably, and as a result of the increasing prices for wool and other primary products, it is difficult even to estimate with any degree of accuracy when the ceiling of land values will be reached. I have a knowledge of that matter, and I believe that any person who attempts to forecast how high land values will soar, deserves a gold medal. One of the most complicated features of land values is that under a system of averaging returns over a period of years, they cannot be related either to the present return, or to the possible future return, from that land. Although that statement may sound paradoxical, it is, nevertheless, a fact. One of the most difficult problems that may arise in respect of the acquisition of land in the future will be to determine what that land will be worth, and whether its purchase will be a reasonable proposition in relation to all the other associated factors. Any scheme of this kind must be considered in terms of its broad, practical, national importance. The Governments of Australia, Commonwealth and State, decided after World War I. and World War II. that an extensive system of closer settlement should be conducted. Very wisely, they decided that the persons who merited the opportunity to take up land were those who had taken it on their shoulders to bear this country’s burden in battle. Every true Australian must support the scheme for the land settlement of ex-servicemen. It cannot be regarded as an act of charity to them, and even if some persons look on it as an expression of gratitude to them, its economic value from the stand-point of the national economy as a whole will far exceed the actual costs of it. If we are to have a reasonably balanced economy throughout all the States, we must carry a much bigger population in the rural areas, and particularly in those parts of the country which enjoy a. satisfactory rainfall and in which settlers have a reasonable expectation of success. Those two factors may bc considered jointly. The governments of Australia, Commonwealth and State, have a liability to the servicemen who took the .country’s burden on their shoulders in battle, and a responsibility to spread the population and industries throughout rural areas. That, probably, would be one of the greatest counters to the drift of population from the rural areas to the large cities. I believe that an obligation devolves upon governments in Australia to increase the population, develop land settlement, and establish in the country districts a satisfied and happy population that has reasonable expectations of success. If such a programme can be managed, Australia will be well on the way to solving a great national problem. The point that I wish to emphasize at this juncture is that, if we are to have a system of closer settlement which will benefit the national economy as a whole, and if we are to proceed with that programme while land values are so high, we are required to make a most difficult decision. We must face this position courageously.
It is obvious that the States, particularly New South Wales and Victoria., encounter immense administrative problems in controlling the land settlement of ex-servicemen. Large and efficient staffs are required in order to ensure that waste shall be avoided, and that the work shall be undertaken expeditiously and in the proper way. The problem of administration, therefore, is most important. I referred previously, and I shall refer again later, to the matter of the purchase of land. That, again, presents great difficulties. Another problem that has been, and still is, a serious cause of delay in proceeding with land settlement schemes arises from the shortage of surveyors. It is all very well to say, “ We shall cut up this place into a number of blocks and settle a number of fellows on them “, but if there is not a sufficient number of qualified surveyors to make the correct lines, estates cannot be subdivided. That, in itself, is one of the mechanical difficulties which is being overcome very slowly. I referred previously to the difficulties associated with the supply of materials for building and housing. Although priority is given, I understand, to the supply of building materials to ex-servicemen’s land settlement organizations, ex-servicemen, in common with other people, are experiencing considerable difficulty in obtaining sufficient supplies of those materials.
I propose to say something now concerning the selection of ex-servicemen for land settlement. Honorable members may have assumed that the general principle observed throughout Australia is that ex-servicemen are allotted blocks as the result of ballots. That is not so in Victoria, where a very elaborate points system has been introduced. Points are awarded for length of service overseas, matrimonial state and personal characteristics of applicants, such as evidence of previous experience in rural industry.
– What about an applicant’s qualifications as a farmer?
– That is taken into account in considering his experience in rural industry, and is regarded as a matter of considerable importance. The system is almost watertight, and we may rest assured that those who have obtained blocks for settlement under that system have not only played their part in the war but also proved that they have the necessary background of rural experience. I think that that system is far more satisfactory than the system that obtained after World War I. I realize, of course, that it is open to criticism because some ex-servicemen who had no service overseas have received blocks. The explanation of that fact is that it frequently happens when large estates are subdivided for settlement that particular blocks are not highly regarded by applicants, and blocks that are not acceptable to applicants with a high number of points may be taken up by those who possess a lesser number of points.
The difficulties experienced by exservicemen who settle on the land are aggravated by the delay in the delivery of building and housing materials, and, in consequence, many of them are living under most unsatisfactory conditions. In the electorate of Wannon, which I represent, many married men and their families are living in caravans and other makeshift shelters. However, most of them and their wives realize that they cannot have everything at once, and that the opportunity presented to them by the allocation of a settlement block compensates for the temporary discomforts that they are undergoing. Furthermore, most of them believe, like myself, that before very long the lag in the supply of building and housing materials will be overcome.
Another matter of importance to new settlers is the provision of necessary amenities. In some shires, particularly in remote areas, there is a tremendous need to provide good roads so that the country may be properly developed and to enable the new settlers to live under reasonable conditions. Indeed, the hardships experienced by many new settlers who have to live in makeshift shelters are due in very large measure to the, absence of good roads over which heavy building materials can be transported. A telephone service is also a necessary amenity in country areas nowadays, and I am pleased that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) is making definite efforts to provide telephone services for country settlers. The provision of adequate education facilities is also vitally necessary, and I am pleased that bus services are being provided in many areas to transport children to and from the schools.
In common with many other persons, I consider that the present inflated value of land directly concerns the future of land settlement. Fortunately, the land already acquired by the war service land settlement authorities has been purchased at prices which, although higher than 1942 values, must be regarded as reasonable in view of more recent developments. Extraordinarily and, in some instances, unjustifiably, high prices have been paid for land sold on the open market since the war, particularly during the last twelve months. However, because the land settlement authorities acquired most of their land for considerably less than it would have realized on the open market, I consider that the operation of the scheme will prove economical. The difficulty that now confronts any one who is concerned with this matter is that a great deal more land must be purchased in order to settle the large number of applicants who are still waiting for blocks. If that land has to be purchased at the present inordinately high prices that are paid for land, the question arises whether the taxpayers of Australia should reasonably be called upon to expend large sums of money, much of which will have to be written off as a dead loss when prices subside later. Naturally, our first inclination is to delay the purchase of additional land until it can be obtained on more reasonable terms. However, there is another very important consideration to the contrary, which vitally affects the future development of Australia. After all, the development of our inland, and particularly of remote areas, by exservicemen, who are splendid types, must ultimately have the effect of strengthening our rural economy. For that reason 1 am convinced that we should continue to purchase land in order to proceed with our land settlement schemes without interruption, notwithstanding that its purchase at the present time will result in some financial loss. After all, in the long run the development of this country will more than compensate for any temporary pecuniary loss.
.- The bill proposes to authorize the borrowing of £25,000,000 for the erection and purchase of war service homes and an additional £4,000.000 for land settlement of ex-servicemen. My purpose in rising to discuss the measure is to point out that the present Government apparently intends to pursue the old policy of borrowing money for land settlement from the general public at an interest rate of about 3£ per cent, and advancing it to. exservicemen for the purchase of land and houses at an interest rate of approximately 3-J per cent.
– The interest rate charged is 3f per cent.
– I think that the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) is correct in saying that the interest rate charged is 3 per cent. The point that I am endeavouring to make is that there should not be such a big margin between the rate of interest paid by the Government and that charged to exservicemen, because the repayment of advances made at such a high rate of interest as 3$ per cent, will involve exservicemen in considerable hardships. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Mackinnon) has explained to the House the conditions under which land is being purchased to-day, and has directed attention to the highly inflated prices that are being paid as a result of the present prosperity of our primary industries. None of us, however, believes that that prosperity will continue indefinitely. When it ends the land settler will find himself in difficulties through having purchased land at a highly inflated price and also through having to pay interest at the rate of 3$ per cent, or 3 per cent, on the purchase money that he obtained as an advance. The same circumstances apply to the purchase of war service homes by ex-servicemen. I know that the conditions under which advances are made to ex-servicemen for the purchase of homes are better than those that can be obtained under any other homepurchase scheme, whether it be controlled by the Government, by a co-operative building society or by a private financial institution. Under present conditions exservicemen have to pay almost twice as much for a house as they would have to pay for a similar one built three or four years ago. Sooner or later the present inflated prices will fall, and those ex-service home purchasers are liable to be left with a burden of debt that it will be almost impossible for them to meet after money values have returned to normal.
It is time that very serious consideration was given to the adoption of another method under which ex-servicemen could obtain the money necessary for the purchase of a war service home so that they will not be saddled with a heavy burden of interest. If we could reduce to a reasonable level the interest rates on advances made in respect of such- homes, then the inflated cost of the home would not be such a severe burden on the purchaser. When interest rates are as high as they now are the amount to be repaid in interest alone over a period of years can be as high as 50 per cent of the total amount that the purchaser will pay fer the house. Therefore, we must find ways and means to provide money to intending war service homes purchasers at low rates of interest so that the scheme will have the success that it deserves. I believe that it is possible to evolve a system under which advances can be made to exservicemen at interest rates of between 1 per cent, and 2 per cent. The financing of such a system could be conducted through the Commonwealth Bank instead of by means of borrowing from private sources. If such advances were made by the Commonwealth Bank the rate of interest that it charged would only have to cover the administrative costs of advancing the money and receiving the repayments, and could therefore be about lj per cent. We could feel assured that both the war service homes scheme and the land settlement scheme would be successful if ex-servicemen were able to borrow the necessary capital at such a low rat* of interest, instead of having to pay 3J per cent, or 3f per cent., as at present, and that, ex-servicemen already taking advantage of those schemes would have a reasonable chance, of eventually owning their properties.
Houses that could be built in 1940 for £1,000 now cost £2,000 or £2,500 to build. When normal times return their value will fall by about 50 per cent., but each ex-servicemen will still have to pay interest of 3J per cent, or 3$ per cent, on the advance of £2,000 or so that he had to borrow to purchase the house. If we are not very careful we shall have a recurrence of the conditions that we had during the 1930’s, when many exservicemen had to sacrifice their homes because they could not continue to pay interest and to make repayments of the advances that had been made to them. It is possible that we shall return also to the conditions that existed in 1935, when the then Government took action to evict many ex-servicemen from their homes because they had committed the unpardonable crime of being unemployed during a depression and so were unable to keep up the payments on their homes. We have to ensure that such a state of affairs shall not recur. Low rates of interest constitute the first precautionary step that should be taken against the recurrence of such conditions.
I direct the Government’s attention to certain steps that have to be taken before we shall be able to house our ex-servicemen properly within a reasonable time. I appreciate the fact that the demand for war service homes is very great, and that many thousands of married exservicemen with young families are now living in appalling conditions, although they have the necessary money to provide the deposit that is required under the war service homes scheme. They are willing and anxious to have houses built for themselves, and it is the duty of the Government to see that they are provided. I know that my remarks will be met, as they have been met time after time, with cries about the shortages of materials and labour. We have heard those excuses for a long time, but surely the steps that have been taken in the last few years have remedied that position to some considerable degree. Those steps include the immigration programme under which we are bringing to this country many skilled building tradesmen and other people suitable for employment in the basic industries that produce building materials. A number of ex-servicemen are also being trained under the rehabilitation scheme as building workers. We must intensify both those schemes in order to ensure that when an ex-serviceman signs an agreement for the purchase of a war service home it will be built within a reasonable time. I have complained before about the delay in the construction of houses, and I do not wish to weary honorable members by repeating my complaints too often. However, I have seen some war service homes settlements where houses are being built by private contractors but are not being completed within a reasonable time. I have already referred in this chamber to the war service homes settlement in Pascoe Vale, in my electorate, where there are houses which, in normal, pre-war days, would have been built in two or three months, but which are taking considerably longer than that to build now.
I told honorable members on a previous occasion about my having been asked to assist a home purchaser to have his house completed. It was a four-roomed weatherboard house which had been in course of construction for two years and four months. There is absolutely no valid excuse for such a delay. The builder offered varied excuses for the delay. According to him, one of his troubles was that he could not obtain a particular kind of timber. Yet the ex-serviceman was able to go along to the timber yard and purchase supplies of that timber. Another of the contractor’s excuses for the delay was that he was unable to obtain the necessary fencing; yet the ex-serviceman himself was able to purchase that fencing at another timber yard. The contractor also made the excuse that he could not finish off the inside walls to specifications which provided that a certain type of kalsomine should be used, because he was unable to obtain that special kind. His alleged inability to obtain it had held, up his work for six weeks. Yet he could have purchased, in any paint shop in Melbourne, as many packets of it as he required. Such delays are unnecessary. The instance that I have mentioned may be out of the ordinary, but there are many houses in that settlement the foundations or frameworks of which have been in position for eight or nine months without any more work having been done on them. In other parts there are weatherboard houses that have taken considerably more than twelve months to construct. I consider that the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Works and Housing should ensure that, when contracts are let for the construction of war service homes, they should provide for a time limit to force the builder to complete the houses contracted for in a reasonable time. Such a procedure might assist in overcoming the lag in construction. Many of the contracts let by the division contain a clause that permits the builder to recoup himself in respect of any extra cost caused by increases of the prices of building materials or of the wages of his employees. Incidentally, when costs increase the builder’s profit also increases, because he works on a percentage basis. It is possible that certain builders take an opportunity to lengthen the time that it takes to complete a house so as to make additional profit. It is not reasonable to let contracts to builders who have not the necessary material and man-power to build in a reasonable- time the houses contracted for. If a builder were given a contract to complete six houses he might be able to build them in a reasonable period - perhaps six months - whereas if he were given twelve to build the first six might not be completed for about six months and the last six might not be completed for at least a year. That is one way to ensure that, after the Parliament provides this loan money for the building of war service homes, the exservicemen will obtain them in a reasonable period. I know that the Government does not control the production or distribution of building materials. The Commonwealth does not receive special priorities in that regard. I know that supplies are limited; nevertheless it is reasonable to suggest that before contracts are let for the building of houses the War Service Homes Division should ensure that the necessary materials and man-power shall be made available so that the ex-serviceman will not have to wait for a couple of years before taking possession of his house. In Victoria and, I think, in other States of the Commonwealth, the ex-serviceman receives a substantial preference from the State Housing Commission. I believe that, of the houses completed by the State Housing
Commission in Victoria, 73 per cent, are allotted to ex-servicemen. If exservicemen are entitled to a preference of that kind under State systems of house building for rental and eventually for purchase it is reasonable to give to them a similar preference when they build a house under the War Service Homes scheme. This scheme is the very best under which exservicemen can obtain houses having regard to the amount of the loan, the conditions of repayment and the rate of interest. Ex-servicemen should be given a preference in the supply of materials and man -power which would speed up the completion of many of the houses.
The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) when introducing the bill, gave an estimate of the number of houses that would be commenced during the currency of this loan. I am not interested in the number of houses that will be commenced. My interest centres entirely in the number that will be completed in the next twelve months as a result of the £25,000,000 loan. It is no good starting the construction of 20,000 houses if only 4,000 or 5,000 will be completed this year. If 20,000 houses are to be built the material and man-power should be available for their completion and steps should be taken to ensure that the builders to whom the contracts are let will do the job as it should be done. When those builders accept the contracts they should be in a position to complete the houses within a reasonable time. If these conditions are not observed proper use will not be made of the loan money that will bo made available as a result of the passing of this measure.
I do not complain about the conditions under which loan money is made available to ex-servicemen because the scheme is working very successfully except in one direction. When an ex-serviceman makes an application for a loan for the purchase of a house which has already been built he runs up against too many difficulties and it takes considerably longer than it should take to make the necessary money available. I have found, in a number of cases that were brought under ray notice, that where an application for a loan, possibly of £1,500, has been made, alter an investigation which usually is made in a -very reasonable time, the War Service Homes Division has approved of the loan; but, in many instances, there has been a long delay between the date of approval of the loan and the date on which the money has been made available. In many of the cases that were brought to my notice two months and more had elapsed between the date of application and the date on which the money was made available, although, in a number of these cases, the prospective purchaser knew within a short time that the loan had been approved. Delays of this nature cause great worry to the applicant and, in many instances, great inconvenience. Within the last few weeks I have had to take action on behalf of an ex-serviceman who wanted, to borrow money. The provision of the money meant a great deal, not only to him, but also to several other people because three or four transactions were tied up with the purchase of the house. As a result of the ex-serviceman agreeing to buy the house, the seller was able to buy a business which included the freehold of a residence and the seller of that business was, in turn, able to purchase a home for himself. Because of the delay in the provision of the money the purchase of the businses and the other home was delayed for considerably longer than it should have been. There should not be any great difficulty in altering the system under which the War Service Homes Division is working in order to expedite the provision of loan money. These matters can be expedited on occasions. At a time when the prices of houses were pegged and there was no great difficulty in ascertaining values, I knew of cases of the money having been made available in a matter of weeks. To-day, the period seems to be two months or more.
If these two points could be attended to and if the Government could use a little vision and decide, as I suggested earlier, to make money available to ex-servicemen at an interest rate of 1-J- per cent, instead of 3-£ per cent, or 3$ per cent, in view of the very high prices of houses at the present time, it would assist exservicemen in a manner which their service to their country entitles them to expect.
.- This debate has been conducted in a very reasonable way and it is not for me to say anything that is not in keeping with the .calm spirit of these deliberations, but I should like to refer to one or two statements that were made by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson). The .honorable member put forward the proposition that moneys should be lent to applicants for war service homes and other beneficiaries in this category at an interest rate of l£ per cent. Were that possible, it would be of great benefit to these people. At the same time, I think it is only right to recall that the Government is budgeting for a record expenditure and I do not think that the making available of loan money, which has been provided by the taxpayer, at the rate of li per cent, is warranted. If the honorable member for Wills now thinks that it is warranted, he did not think so this time twelve months ago. When this subject was debated after the introduction of the last budget the honorable member made no mention-
– I was not here.
– I withdraw that remark. It is true that the honorable member was not here, but others of his political opinion failed to take any action of the kind that he is recommending now. The honorable member suggested that, .. in some ‘ curious way, it was the fault of Liberal governments that thousands of ex-servicemen were evicted from their war service homes when they were unemployed. That is a ridiculous statement which is hardly worth answering. The truth of the matter is that this terrible thing occurred because the Scullin Government did not take adequate steps to protect the returned soldiers and the ex-Servicemen settlers. The honorable member went on to point out, quite rightly, that houses in many of the war service homes areas are not being constructed in what might be described as a reasonable period of time. The honorable member must be aware of the reasons for that. He was good enough to say that he did not blame the Government for this state of affairs. That is quite true. But somebody or some factor must be responsible. The honorable member knows that .among the main reasons for the delays in housing .construction are costly strikes, particularly in the railways, and the go-slow tactics of those who are doing the bricklaying and other work connected with building. The honorable member knows the limits that are put on the number of bricks that may be laid in a day. Those limits necessarily increase the time taken to build a house and raise the cost, because men are paid the same for laying two or three hundred bricks a day as for laying 800 or 1,000. So it would become the honorable member to say quite plainly what he knows must be the truth. The only way to’ have cheap houses is to build them cheaply and one of the first essentials in building houses cheaply is that they shall be built speedily. The head union official in the building trades in Victoria is - or was until recently - a declared Communist. One step which honorable members of the Opposition might have taken to improve the building situation would have been the passing of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, which would have put that man out of office. The Opposition delayed the passage of that legislation for nearly twelve months. It is no good honorable members of the Opposition shedding crocodile tears about the delay of house building and the high cost of construction when they know the reasons for the trouble as well as I do but are not prepared to do anything about them.
– Tell us about cost-plus.
– I am glad that the honorable member made that interjection. I do not believe that the whole blame for the slow rate of construction rests with those who do the building with their hands. I am aware, as is the honorable member, that a lot of these factors are aggravated by managerial inefficiency and, to a certain degree, by the profiteering that is going on in the building industry at the present time. Everybody knows that one cannot get a straightout quote or contract for any form of construction work; it is always on the cost-plus system. The builder must take his share of the blame through profiteering and straightout managerial inefficiency.
My main object in rising was to speak about land settlement of ex-servicemen.. When one looks at the contents of the bill, the amount of the loan and the policy behind it, one has certain cause for satisfaction. The number of men settled on the land is increasing, and. again, there is some cause for satisfaction in that the scheme, so far as it has gone, has been of high -quality. During war years I knew many men who have since been assisted in whole or in part to settle on the land. I have not yet met one who has a real complaint about the quality of his land or the terms upon which he entered into possession of it as owner or lessee. The Government may take reasonable pride in that, as may the preceding Government. But is is now five years since the termination of the war and I think that the scheme has fallen far short of fulfilling our obligations to ex-servicemen. During the war the Australian Government clearly stated that after it had terminated those ex-servicemen who desired to settle on the land and who had the necessary experience or training would have land made available to them as soon as possible. That statement may be variously interpreted, but I do not think that the Government intended it to mean that men would be settled on the land at a time much later than five years from the date of termination of the war. It is disturbing to note the large number of these ex-servicemen who are perfectly qualified but are not yet settled. There are men still, working as boundary riders and station hands, or working in the city at jobs they do not like, while waiting for land. That is strong- criticism of the scheme and, to some degree, of this Government and the preceding Government.
As the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Mackinnon) pointed out, it has always been accepted by this House and the people of this country that exservicemen should have some sort of .right to settle on the land for which they fought. It is inexcusable to-day that the scheme should bo so far behind, because now there is a much better opportunity to settle men on the land in a profitable way than there was after the first world war. Since the last war, and during the war, great changes have occurred in the economy of this country, particularly in relation to our primary industries. At one time we were accustomed to have a permanent exportable surplus of. the goods produced by farmers and ex-service settlers. In those days the prices for primary products varied greatly and the general level of prices for meat, butter, wool, wheat and so on between the two last wars was very low. Now we are entering a new phase of development. I do not say that the prices of primary products will always remain at their present level, but as regards meat and butter at least we are rapidly approaching a time when there will be no exportable surplus, but all production will be consumed in Australia. The world has never produced less wool and wheat in proportion to population than is being produced at the present time, and I find it difficult to imagine that these primary products which we expect ex-service settlers to produce will ever reach a stage when they will be as unprofitable to produce as they were in the past. Therefore, a firm foundation exists on which we may erect a scheme for the settlement of our exservicemen on the land. Also there is a great need to do so because the time is coming when in this country there will be no exportable surplus - that may happen in seven years time - and if we are to feed our own people and expand our secondary industries more men must work in primary industry. At the present time those men are available.
To feed the people of our cities, and to fulfill some part of our international obligations by feeding the people of less fortunate countries, we should make every effort to increase our internal production. The best way to do so is not by initiating great schemes for the development of the north, by organizing great government primary producing schemes or by allowing great English companies to ^acquire large tracts of land, by increasing the settlement in areas of good rainfall. That well fits in with the general idea of closer settlement.
I shall now touch on the reasons behind the need for closer settlement, and the rather poor performance discernible at the present time when there is a great necessity to get on quickly and finish the job. One of the first causes of our failure lies in the previous Government’s initial refusal to finance the single unit farm. That played a considerable part in slowing down the scheme. Another cause was the idea that we could acquire land indefinitely at the 1942 valuation. Sir John Latham, in his judgment on a valuation case before the High Court, said, “ It is apparently the intention of the Government to acquire land at a price which is not a fair price “. That was the basis upon which the Government embarked on its undertaking. It was a policy of settling men on the land on the cheap. That has caused tremendous delays. Every day in newspapers, particularly in country newspapers, areas of land which are eminently suitable for closer settlement are offered for sale. There are also men who wish to take advantage of the Government’s scheme and work this land. We therefore have the land and the people to work it. Time and again such suitable land is bought, not for ex-servicemen, but for private companies and by people who are already land holders. I do not criticize those people because every one is entitled to do the best that he can for himself. However, because of the need for closer settlement, I criticize the Government for allowing such a state of affairs to arise.
Of course there are practical difficulties in the way of the Government purchasing land. If the vendors know that the Government wishes to buy land at auction or by tender, they exact an absolutely scandalous price. With a little thought that could be overcome and the Government could set up a tribunal or by some other mean3 arrive at a fair valuation. I am sorry to disappoint the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) but I am not in favour of wholesale acquisition of land, because such action is just not necessary. There is plenty of suitable land for sale at the present time which could be purchased to* fulfil all our needs for closer settlement. This land settlement scheme is one of the greatest schemes in Australia and I hope that its scope will be gradually widened until we can ultimately settle all those so entitled because of their war service. I also hope that it will become a permanent system and that the opportunity to take up land will be extended to all permanent members of our Navy, Army and Air Force, as well as to those who are serving in Korea. Moreover, every year the prices of land and stock rise, and it becomes more difficult for the working man to get himself into a position where he can afford to buy land. Quite apart from the ex-service aspect, I think that a closer settlement scheme should always have the support of the Australian Government and should be continued whether we have ex-soldiers to settle on the land -or not.
Sitting suspended from 12.41 to 2.15 p.m.
– The purpose of this bill is to authorize the raising of a loan of £25,000,000 for the construction of war service homes and a loan of £4,000,000 for war service land settlement. It represents a departure from the policy that the last Labour Government pursued. That Government provided for expenditure in respect of war service homes out of the revenue, and rejected the policy of raising loans for purposes of this kind. I agree with the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Mackinnon) that many difficulties are likely to arise in the future in the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land. I was a member of the South Australian Parliament when it originally considered this problem. At that time, the State was practically obliged to rely upon its own resources in the implementation of soldier land settlement schemes. About five years ago it appointed an all-party parliamentary committee to advise it with respect to the settlement of ex-servicemen. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) said that although World War II. finished over five years ago large numbers of exservicemen are still waiting for the opportunity to take up land. Recently, I read reports in which a member of the South Australian Parliament criticized the Government of that State for the manner in which it was administering the war service land settlement scheme. He said that its showing compared most unfavorably with the record of the New South Wales Labour Government. I do not wish to introduce party politics into my consideration of this matter. However, the honorable member for Henty blamed the last Labour Government for the delays that he alleged have occurred in the provision of war service homes. I shall deal more fully with that aspect later.
Many mistakes were made in ex-soldier land settlement schemes that were undertaken after World War I. Generally, it was a case of putting square pegs into round holes, because many of the men who took up holdings were totally unsuited for life on the land. However, most of the failures under those schemes were due to the fact that settlers were obliged to take over land that had not been developed to a stage that would give them a reasonable chance of success. The huge losses that resulted from those failures had to be borne by governments.
– Many of those men were settled before they even started.
– That is so. Overhead charges were so excessive that they did not have the slightest hope of succeeding. Under the present war service land settlement scheme the value of land that is made available to ex-servicemen is based, not on its cost price, but on its average productive value over a period of years. Whilst that is a wise provision, certain difficulties are likely to arise from it having regard to the substantial increases that have taken place in the price levels of primary products within recent years. I should like to know to what degree that development will affect ex-servicemen who obtained blocks when the scheme was commenced and who engaged in the raising of sheep and lambs. Will it affect the ultimate costs that they will be obliged to meet in respect of their holdings? I am also concerned about those ex-servicemen who applied for holdings four or five years ago and are still waiting for blocks to be made available to them. Those men are being denied the opportunity to benefit from the prevailing high prices for primary products.
The policy of the South Australias Government is not to allow ex-servicemen to take over land until it has been developed in a manner that will give them every prospect of success. That is a wise precaution. Otherwise, settlers would be confronted with charges that would accumulate before the land became productive. The South Australian Government also refuses to hand over land to ex-servicemen without first erecting a house on each holding. Under ex-soldier land- settlement schemes that were undertaken following World War I. settlers were not provided with living accommodation with the result that most of them were obliged for many years to live in tin huts. The former honorable member for Wannon, Mr. McLeod, on several occasions in this chamber described the difficulties with which he and other exsoldier settlers were confronted when they took up land at that time. Fortunately every precaution is now being taken to ensure that mistakes of that kind shall not be repeated. I disapprove of the policy that was followed in the past when governments acquired for the settlement of ex-servicemen large holdings upon which very little developmental work had been done. I agree with the honorable member for Henty that those who have fought in defence of this country should be given every opportunity to settle on the land and that they are entitled to have made available to them land of the bed quality. They should not merely be allotted holdings in what might be described as marginal areas on which they must inevitably be obliged to work under almost impossible conditions.
For many years it has been the policy of the Labour party that persons who own or control areas too large for them to develop properly should be obliged to make some of their land available for the settlement of other persons. Even today much land within that category could be made available for the settlement of ex-servicemen. Under any war service land settlement scheme settlers should be assured of being able to earn a reasonable living. It is also of great importance that those who take up holdings should not do so primarily with the idea of becoming wealthy. In many instances, settlers are provided with areas expressely for the raising of sheep whereas mixed farming on holdings of half the area allotted for that purpose would return settlers a very reasonable income. We never cease to hear the cry. “ Stop the drift to the cities “. Unless the basic idea underlying war service land settlement is to give settlers the opportunity to make a reasonable living rather than to get rich we shall not succeed in stopping that drift. We should discourage any idea that ex-servicemen should be given the opportunity to become wealthy land-owners.
The policy that I have mentioned was strongly advocated by a member of the South Australian Parliament who was elected to that legislature originally as a Labour man but who subsequently joined the Liberal party. I do not blame him for changing his party allegiance. He did so on one of those occasions, about which the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes) has some knowledge, when differences of opinion arose within the Labour party. That gentleman used to advocate what he called the peasant system of land settlement. I would not accept that description as at all suitable for our war service land settlement schemes, but I agreed with his view that if we want to make Australia great and. to be assured of maintaining this country’s position as a food producer we must make the greatest possible use of our land. However, in areas in which settlers could make more than an adequate living on small holdings, much of the most valuable and productive land is occupied by a relatively small number of people,
A few months ago, I visited the Naracoorte district in South Australia. The richness of the land at Mount Gambier and Millicent is almost proverbial. I had a conversation with an old identity, and the subject turned to the size of the properties in that district. He was not complaining that other land-holders had more property than he possessed. He was in a financial position to take a trip round the world if he so desired. I mention that fact to show that he was not jealous of other ‘people. In the course of our conversation he recalled that huge tracts of country in the Naracoorte district had been taken up by settlers before the area had been drained, and when pasture improvement such as top-dressing and sowing with subterranean clover was unknown. Forty or 50 years ago, that land carried an average of one sheep to 2 acres, whereas it now carries four or five sheep to the acre. He pointed out to me that some of the property-owners still had as much land as they possessed when it was capable of carrying only one sheep to 2 acres. Such a situation must be effectively tackled by governments, Commonwealth and State, if a profitable and efficient system of land settlement is to be followed.
The honorable member for Henty expressed the hope that the scheme for the land settlement of ex-servicemen would not be confined to men who had served in World War II., and that Australians who had subsequently enlisted in the services would be eligible to participate in it. I recognize that the man who has risked his life for his country in battle is entitled to priority in the allocation of blocks, but I am mindful of the fact that perhaps, the children of some servicemen who were killed in battle desire to engage in primary production. The governments of Australia, Commonwealth and State, must give careful consideration to the productivity of our lands, and ensure that they will be utilized to the best advantage. More can be done in that matter than has been accomplished in the past. The Commonwealth, by means of moneys that it makes available to the States, should be able to bring some pressure to bear, if necessary, upon a State government which is not settling men on the land as rapidly as possible. Near Adelaide, there is a rural training centre at which men are given intensified instruction in the science of farming. They acquire the theoretical knowledge, but they find, when they desire to put it into practice, that they are unable to secure farms. Some of them feel that when eventually they are successful in obtaining land, they will be too old to cultivate it. I earnestly hope that the States will accelerate the present rate of progress of land settlement.
I realize that the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Works and Housing has done an excellent job, but I cannot be blind to the fact that the housing position is still most difficult. 1 assume that honorable members, when they are in their electorates, are approached in the same way as I am by people who desire to obtain houses, and, therefore, my experiences so far from being unique in this matter, are doubtless common to us all. I have received applications from many people who want war service homes. They inform me that .they made application to the War Service Homes Division over two years ago, and that when- a grant for the construction of the dwelling was approved, contractors would not undertake the work. That position has now changed. Contractors are now prepared to build houses for them, but the cost of construction has become prohibitive. The difference between the amount of the advance that the War Service Homes Division is prepared to make, and that which the contractor requires before he will begin to build, is so great that those people have no prospect of ever owning their houses. The very man for whom we should be doing the most is now prevented from obtaining a war service home. Honorable members may ask why I make that statement. I shall explain my reason. An ex-serviceman, who has a wife and two, or three children, probably has very limited capital resources. His weekly salary or wage is absorbed in providing the necessaries of life for his family. He has no chance of saving sufficient money to pay a deposit on a war service home. Therefore, he is obliged to take a house that has been erected under a State housing trust scheme. The honorable member for Wills mentioned that 73 per cent, of the houses that are being erected by such an authority in Victoria are allotted to exservice personnel. A large proportion of dwellings that are erected by the South Australian Housing Trust are made available to ex-servicemen, but they are not in a position to purchase those dwellings, and are obliged to become the tenants of the trust. The position, briefly, is that ex-servicemen receive a degree of preference in the allotment of houses, but they are obliged to rent them.
– A co-operative building society in Victoria has raised the limit to £2,500.
– That may be so, but I recall that when the State Savings Bank of South Australia raised the limit of the advance that might be made on workers’ homes from £600 to £700, I expressed the opinion that the result would be an increase of the price of the house by exactly £100. Subsequent events justified my appreciation of the position. A similar state of affairs exists to-day. Government instrumentalities are obliged to increase the limit of the advance that may be made to people who desire to build houses for themselves, but the effect is that the price of the dwellings is increased by a corresponding amount. In that way, the plight of a man with a family is made worse. He simply cannot own a house. 1 do not know whether it is possible for the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Works and Housing to do more than it is doing at the present time in that matter. When I was a member of a commission which investigated housing problems a few years ago, I listened to a great deal of evidence on the building of houses, and to suggestions for enabling people on small incomes to purchase them. Some witnesses advocated the granting of marriage loans, or advances on the basis of the number of children in the family. The underlying idea of those proposals was that the amount of the loan would be reduced as the number of children in the family increased. I do not know whether the War Service Homes Division, or the Government, has considered these suggestions, but a scheme under which a loan could be reduced or even written off in that way would substantially assist the people who had family responsibilities. I submit that those persons are doing more than any other section of the community for Australia.
One of the principal worries of a tenant arises from the fear of being asked to vacate the premises. People said to me, in effect, “We are going to get out of the house we are renting “. I asked them, “What is the matter?” They replied, “ We have five children, and we do not know when this place will be sold. We should be worried to death if we were suddenly called upon to vacate the premises in order to allow the purchaser to occupy them. Therefore, we have paid a deposit of £50 on a war service home “. I said to them, “ You will not be required to pay a deposit if you remain in the house which you now occupy”. They replied, “We know that, but it is worth it,. Once we occupy a war service home, we shall pay only a weekly amount to the Government “. They do not expect ever to be in a position to own a war service home outright. They do not realize that they will be helping themselves if they own their home. Their sole anxiety is to obtain a permanent shelter and to be free from the fear of eviction orders or notices to vacate the premises. That position is becoming accentuated.
The honorable member for Henty attacked the honorable member for “Wills, and said that he should know that the lag in overtaking the housing shortage was due, in some measure, to the fact that bricklayers were laying only 200 bricks a day instead of from 800 to 1,000 bricks a day. I believe, from my knowledge of the position, that the blame for the delay in completing houses is not attributable to the tradesmen. Government buildings in Canberra remain uncompleted for months after the walls and the timber framework for the roof have been constructed. I am appalled that, in the Australian Capital Territory, and in many other parts of Australia, hundreds, and even thousands, of houses remain in an unfinished state for months. Government supporters may attempt to blame the Labour party for that position, and claim that we should urge the tradesmen to work harder. I do not blame the Labour party or the trade union movement for the delay in completing the construction of houses. I agree with the honorable member for “Wills, who has said that only a certain number of houses can be erected in a given time. I believe that contractors should not start to erect new dwellings until they have completed the construction of others. I addressed a meeting of builders in South Australia a couple of years ago, and I emphasized to them their responsibility in that matter. I pointed out that a builder might have half a dozen houses in the course of construction, and he would take tradesmen from one dwelling to another during the day. Some persons may claim that such transfers of tradesmen are necessary, but I contend that the construction costs are being increased greatly as a result of the time that ‘is lost in transferring tradesmen from one job to another in the course of a day. It behoves building contrac- tors, and not the actual workmen, toavoid that waste of time. I make nobones about saying that I believe that theworker who does not give a fair return of labour for a fair day’s pay is doing theworst possible turn for his fellow men. I have always contended that a man, no matter where he is working, should do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. I know that many of the employees in the building trades fiddle around in order to spin out a job until 5 p.m., because of a shortage of materials. The tradesman on the job should not be blamed for all the delays that occur in erecting houses, when improved methods of management and of supervision would avoid waste of time.
I am gratified that an amount of £25,000,000 is being provided for thewar service homes building programme; but when I read in the newspapers that the recent increase of the basic wage may have the effect of increasing the cost of the average brick house by £400 or £500, 1 believe that the amount of £25,000,000 will not finance the erection of many more houses than were financed by the amount of £16,000,000’ that was made available last year. Although it may appear that the present Government is doing more for exservicemen than its predecessors, I think that the final result to ex-servicemen will be that they will not receive any additional benefits, but that, on the contrary, they will find themselves saddled with huge financial burdens. Nevertheless, I am pleased that the present Government is continuing to make advances for war service homes and for the land settlement of ex-servicemen. After all, in a matter of this nature we should endeavour to put aside party political prejudices and endeavour to do the best that we can for the men who did so much for this country during our darkest hours in the recent war.
, - The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has expressed his views on this matter in a manner that must find acceptance amongst all political parties. He stressed the need to settle more men on the land, and undoubtedly the future of this nation depends upon the progress that we can make in land settlement. However, apart from economic considerations, nothing but the best is good enough for the men who made such sacrifices for us in our time of need. It seems rather extraordinary that although tins measure proposes to provide £25,000,000 for the erection and purchase of war service homes, only £4,000,000 is proposed to be provided for land settlement. Statistics recently prepared by the Department of Repatriation strengthens the impression that the Australian Government is not doing all that it might do to promote the land settlement of exservicemen. For example, part 2 of the tabulated statistics to which I have referred, shows that whilst the Commonwealth has expended nearly £11,000,000 on the acquisition and development of land for settlement by ex-servicemen in South Australia, Western Australia and T (ismailia, no funds have been provided for that purpose for any of the other States. Of course, T know that :he agreement made by the Commonwealth with the various States during the recent war permitted New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland to implement schemes for which the Commonwealth finds the funds as well as their own schemes for the settlement of exservicemen. Queensland was not confronted with the problem of having to acquire land from private owners, as was the case in other States, because the land law? of that State have for many years prohibited, the alienation of Crown’ land. In consequence 92£ per cent, of the land in Queensland, which is a rich heritage, belongs to the State and could be made available for the settlement of exservicemen. Of course, considerable expenditure must be incurred by the Queensland Government in opening up new areas for settlement and in providing facilities for settlers. Ex-servicemen in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania appear to have been treated reasonably well by the Commonwealth, which has expended nearly £4,000,000 in South Australia, approximately £4,670,000 in Western Australia and approximately £1,096,000 in Tasmania on advances to the governments of those States for the acquisition, development and improvement of land for settlement by exservicemen. Altogether, throughout three States which as agents administer a Commonwealth scheme, the Government has provided nearly £13,185,173 for the acquisition and development of land, the payment of living allowances and the provision of credit facilities for settlers, and in agricultural adminstrative expenses. For that expenditure the States have allotted, or have prepared for occupation, 3,445 holdings with a total area of 5.806,316 acres. I point, out straightway that the number of holdings allotted appears to be disproportionately small in comparison with the total expenditure. The following table sets out the areas submitted by the several States under the Commonwealth scheme as suitable for occupation by exservicemen, the total area approved by the Commonwealth for settlement in each State, and the number of holdings allotted and ready for occupation: -
I draw attention to the substantial efforts, as evidenced in that table, being made by the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria, which are operating their own schemes, to promote the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land. The area of land recommended by New South Wales for settlement was nearly seven times as great as that recommended by any other State. In view of the fact that New South Wales and Victoria do not appear to receive any direct payment from the Commonwealth to cover the cost of acquiring and developing land, it seems extraordinary that they should have been able to accomplish so much. However, the number of holdings allotted in Queensland is only 289, and it seems most disappointingly small. One cannot help wondering why only such a poor effort has been made.
– What does the honorable gentleman think is the reason?
– I do not know. I notice from the statistics that I have quoted, however, that even Western Australia has settled more ex-servicemen than has Queensland. Those statistics also lead one to conclude that the three minor States must be acting as agents for the Australian Government.
When we recall the hardships and heartbreaks associated with the land settler ment of ex-servicemen after World War I. we realize how well ex-servicemen generally have been treated in the aftermath of this war. I am thinking particularly of ex-servicemen in New South Wales who have been fortunate enough to obtain settlement blocks. The statistics of land settlement of exservicemen in New South Wales, as revealed by Mr. Sheahan, the former Minister for Lands in that State, prove conclusively the soundness of the scheme introduced by his Government.
– The honorable gentleman realizes, of course, that that Administration is a Labour one?
– That is so, but honorable members will at least give me credit for putting party politics on one side in discussing this matter. Indeed, it is a pity that more matters of vital importance to the nation cannot be discussed without reference rc party politics. However, I point out that the efficient working of the New South Wales scheme has undoubtedly been facilitated by a succession of good seasons and the unprecedentedly high prices received for wool, meat, wheat and other primary products. The statistics cited by Mr. Sheahan show that many settlers who are now in the fourth year of occupation of their blocks have completely repaid their debt to the Government. In addition, it is common knowledge that many of them have substantial bank balances, and at least some fortunate individuals have been able to create assets of as much as £40,000. Unfortunately, despite the successful operation of the scheme in New South Wales only a portion of those who desire blocks have obtained them. I pay tribute to the generosity of the scheme, under which land valued at as much as £7,000, may be provided for a settler, and stocked with cattle or sheep. Advances of up to £2,000 are made for settlers to build homes for themselves, and further advances are made to provide fencing. No repayments have to be made in the first year. A settler with a wife and child also receives an allowance of about £7 a week during that first year. After the first year has elapsed he pays only 2-J per cent, interest, on the capital value of his land. Under these circumstances, and given good seasons, it would be easy for people to make a success of such holdings, and to rid themselves of the debts with which they started off. Only about 3,500 men have been settled on the land under the scheme, but there are between six and ten times as many young men who are waiting to go on the land. Many applicants get tired of waiting for the luck of the draw in land ballots, and take up other careers. Some of them, however, manage to buy land with the aid of relatives, but they are not regarded as soldier settlers and therefore obtain no assistance from the grants that this Parliament has provided to the States. It is the duty of the Governmen to give some time and attention now to the needs of ex-servicemen who are unable to get on to the land except by buying a cheap block in the circumstances I have stated. The Government should assist those men by providing them with facilities, giving them a share and a preference in relation to the supply of farming and home-building materials, and extending to them the assistance in regard to stock that is at present denied under the act to anybody who is not regarded as a soldier settler. I think that if the provisions of the act were broadened the number of soldier settlers could be extended from 3,500 to four or five times that number. This would increase substantially the number of soldier settlers on the land.
– This measure is designed to distribute £29,000,000 for war service homes and land settlement activities in the States. I point out to the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) that £4,000,000 of that sum is intended for land settlement in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, and has no relation to land settlement in the other States, which are financing their land settlement schemes from loan funds. I agree with the honorable member’s statement that much more should be done to encourage land settlement of ex-servicemen, in which there has been a lag since 1945. However, I wish to speak mainly on the subject of war service homes and shall give the House some statistics that will be useful and informative in relation to past achievements. Since the War Service Homes Act was passed in 1919 60,350 war service homes have been built or bought. At least 29,000 of that number were specially built as war service homes, and about 31,000 were existing properties that were purchased. The construction and purchase of the total number has entailed an expenditure of £61,803,000. I point out that the provision of that sum represented neither an expenditure nor a gift. It was purely an investment. In fact it has proved to be the safest investment that any Government has ever made, because £44,250,000 of that total outlay has been repaid in principal and interest by the purchasers of the homes. I emphasize that the provision of money for war service homes i3 a good risk.
I was sorry to hear the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) raise again the old cry about evictions in the past. Until the beginning of the present session he had been out of the Parliament for three years and probably is not aware that that subject has been traversed time and time again here. All sorts of erroneous statements and allegations have been made about how during the depression years, the Government ill treated exservicemen who occupied war service homes. Of course, such statements are sheer nonsense and quite astray from the facts. During the depression, when many men were unable to keep up their payments on their war service homes, the
Government gave them the benefit of a moratorium on rents and established a commission to inquire into the equities held by ex-servicemen, in relation to war service home9 and whether capital costs and rates of interest should be reduced. That commission was a very efficient body that was established by the then Minister for War Service Homes, who is now the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis). I am sorry that he was not in the chamber to hear the statements made by the honorable member for Wills. As a result of that commission’s inquiries, the rates of interest on war service homes were considerably reduced during the depression years. Many men were moved into smaller homes because there was an abundance of houses available at that time, but there was actually only one eviction. The man concerned was in government employ and he had refused to pay his rent. Over the years that one eviction has been magnified into scores of evictions. That shows the amazing way in which the Labour party can arrange its propaganda. But it is of no use to dwell on the past. Our problem is with the present. We have to do what we can for the thousands of men who are still waiting for war service homes.
I shall give the House some figures to show the increasing speed with which houses are being built by the War Service Homes Division. That is the only federal authority that deals with the construction of houses. The States have their own housing schemes. In Victoria, 50 per cent, of houses built under the State housing scheme are allotted to exservicemen. In some of the States the tenants of State Housing Commission houses can never be anything but tenants, but under the Commonwealth’s war service homes scheme every occupier may buy his home. He has an equity in his home as soon as he starts to purchase it, and can ultimately own it.
The following figures show the increase of the number of houses that have been built since the war by the War Service Homes Division: -
Ta-day, the division is enabling more than 1,000 ex-servicemen a month to become the owners of their own homes. To be more precise, 15,000 war service homes are either being built or bought on the market every year. In spite of rising prices I say to the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), who fears that the increase of prices may mean fewer houses, that the figures show that there is no ground for his fear. It is certainly deplorable that prices are increasing, but there are many factors connected with such increases. There have been inordinate delays in home construction for many reasons. One is that State governments are sometimes more interested in their own housing schemes than they arc in the Commonwealth’s war service homes scheme. Another reason is the scarcity of materials. Sometimes merchants cannot or will not supply materials, to complete war service homes until construction has reached a certain stage. They will not supply roofing tiles until the roof timbers are in place, or fibrous plaster sheets until the flooring is in place. Those are the physical reasons for delay, but there is another one. Industrial disturbances have been a big factor. I do not know how enthusiastic honorable members opposite may be for their own trade unions, but I should be sorry to think that any of them would agree with the actions of men like Don Thomson, who goes from job to job and pulls men out on the flimsiest pretext ; or of Chandler, an officer of the Building Workers Industrial Union who has persecuted the members of his union because they were not “ red “ enough for him, and who called a strike because a union member did not leave work to attend, a meeting of a peace movement or some other movement.
– What case is the Minister referring to, or is he only drawing on his own imagination?
– The honorable member ought to know, because he is in touch with the “ reds “. I refer to the case of Miller, who was a member of the’ union and was working for the Government. He was persecuted in the union by Communists such as those I have mentioned. Had the Labour party in this Parliament been as opposed to the Communists in our midst as it pretends to be - and those Communists are the friends of the enemy that our soldiers are fighting now in Korea - it would have given a swift passage to the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, and some of those Communists would not now be able to jeopardize and retard the building industry. It is all very well for honorable members opposite to make pious utterances about ex-servicemen deserving the best. We all agree that they should get the best, and should be provided with homes as quickly as possible. But we should examine the reasons why they are not getting them quickly. One of the reasons with which the Government is trying to deal, is the lack of production of coal and steel to enable the components of houses to be manufactured in sufficient quantities.
– Easter, faster !
– Fatuous utterances like those of the comedian member opposite will get us nowhere. Let him put his mind to seeing whether some of the men with whom he is acquainted in the trade unions can get more work done in industry. I am not criticizing the working man, but there are too many people who call themselves working men and who are preventing the real working men from giving their best work. If those officials in the trade unions who are being urged and egged on by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), whose utterances in this Parliament over the years have been so close to the Communist line, will change their tactics, more coal and steel will be produced and the men in the trade unions covering the building industry will be free. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of the workers for their trade unions is being exploited and prostituted, and building work is being held up. If we could get more cooperation and effort, if there were freer and more human relations between employers and employees, and if honorable members opposite like the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) and others who are moderates. in the Labour movement and who have gone to great lengths to try to drive the “ reds “ out of the trade unions were supported by other Labour party members, the figure of 15,000 homes that I have mentioned could be doubled. I recommend the bill because it provides an increase over last year’s grant of £16,000,000 which was all that the previous Government could do in its last budget. I am sure that the War Service Homes Division will use its endeavours to see that the maximum number of homes will be built.
.- My contribution to the debate will be extremely short; but I am constrained to make some observations because I have been requested by one of my electors, who is a returned soldier, to bring certain matters to the notice of the Government. I shall first refer to the maximum amount that is advanced to an intending purchaser of a war service home. A few weeks ago I asked the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) whether the Government would be prepared to increase the maximum amount, which is now £2,000, and he said he was not prepared to do so because the present conditions had been laid down for some time and were satisfactory. All I can say is that he cannot know the facts if he says that those conditions are satisfactory.
– I did not say that.
– I am sorry if I have misinterpreted the Minister’s remarks. “When the act was first passed, in 1919, a certain maximum advance was fixed. Over successive years that amount has been increased, until, on the 1st July, 1949, when the government of the day, realizing the extent to which costs were increasing, raised the amount to £2,000. It is about fifteen or sixteen months since that happened, and there has been a remarkably sharp increase in building costs over the last twelve months. Wages and the cost of materials have gone up and the increase in the basic wage will not improve matters. I should have thought that the Government would have recognized the necessity for increasing the maximum amount that could be advanced. The building authorities in Victoria have recognized the necessity for such an increase. Recently, the building societies in Victoria, which are run by very hardheaded men, raised the maximum of their advances from £2,000 to £2,250, while the Victorian co-operative building societies, which operate under government statute, were recently given permission by legislation to increase the maximum amount of their advances to £2,500. I hope that, at an early date, the Government will increase the maximum amount of finance available from the War Service Homes Division. It might be said that this would put a millstone around the necks of applicants because they would not be able to repay the loans, but the director has a statutory obligation to grant assistance only to those applicants who have a reasonable prospect of carrying out the terms of repayment. Before a large amount is granted, the director makes a very stringent inquiry into the borrower’s capacity to pay over the years for which the loan is required.
I notice that the federal conference of of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, which was held in Hobart a week or so ago, was of the opinion that the maximum amount of advances should be raised. There seems to be a general recognition of that fact, and I hope that the Minister, in his wisdom, will see fit to raise the amount.
Another matter that has been brought under my notice by a representative of returned soldiers in my electorate concerns those who wish to purchase existing homes. In the purchase of these homes returned soldiers meet fierce competition because when a home is advertised for sale there is generally a stampede to the estate agents to secure the house first. Certain estate agents seem reluctant to deal with returned soldiers who intend to purchase homes through the War Service Homes Division. Possibly that is because it takes such a long time for the war service homes authorities to effect a settlement. I understand that the war service homes authorities will grant 90 per cent, of the valuation of the property but sometimes the valuation and settlement takes so long that some estate agents who want a quick sale in order to enlarge their turnover are not prepared to do business with, returned soldiers. I am not indicting the estate agents as a fraternity on this issue, but, in Melbourne, at all events, there is a tendency on the part of a number of them not to touch any sale to a returned soldier who seeks to buy a house through the War Service Homes Division. I hope that the Government will expedite these proceedings so that no returned soldier may be deprived of a home under these circumstances. It is difficult to purchase an existing home at any time and it is to be deplored if, due to the dilatoriness of the division, estate agents are not prepared to sell a home to returned soldiers.
Representations have also been made to me concerning the reluctance of builders to enter into contracts for the building of war service homes. There appears to be a tendency on the part of some builders to have nothing whatever to do with war service homes. I am not criticizing the War Service Homes Division with regard to this matter. Possibly the trouble is due to the fact that a much stricter supervision takes place now than was exercised after the first world war. I remember a. number of war service homes being jerry-built in the mid-1920’s and it is possible that the war service homes authorities do not wish to permit this type of home building and have embarked upon more stringent supervision. If that is so I think that the authorities should make every endeavour at least to assure reputable builders that if they do a good job they will not be annoyed and pinpricked. It is most annoying to a returned soldier to be told by the division that no tenders have been received for his house. Recently, the authorities advertised three or four times without receiving any tender. In Victoria, the officers concerned have entered into an .agreement with three or four big firms under which houses are not built on a tender basis but on a “ cost plus a fixed fee “ basis. I am not too enamoured of any scheme which has “ cost-plus “ for its basis because I recollect experiences of the cost-plus system during the war. But it may be that this is the only solution. I hope that the Government will endeavour to ensure that the erection of homes for returned servicemen will not be .prevented because of the reluctance of certain builders to tender.
Representations have also been made to me by interested parties to the effect that the War Service Homes Division-, should consider building homes not only for those people who wish to purchase them but also for people who, because of pressure of circumstances, do not desire to purchase a home. I should like the Government to consider building a number of homes for rental to returned soldiers under certain circumstances. Quite a number of men are employed in vocations which necessitate their transfer from one place to another after four or five years and it is not satisfactory for them to purchase a home. If they could rent a home that had been built by the War Service Homes Division it would mean the elimination of a lot of trouble for them. There is no reason why the number of houses built for this purpose should be large, but if a certain percentage werebuilt for rental to returned soldiers it would be very pleasing to quite a number of them.
When a home is being erected progress payments are made to the builder during the course of construction, which is often a lengthy period. Interest has to be paid on these progress payments and in some cases, because of the long time it takes to build the home, such payments amount to a comparatively large sum, but serve no purpose as far as the ends of the home-owner are concerned. I understand that before the war, when a home was built in twelve or fourteen weeks, those payments were not very large, but, at the present time, when homes take from eighteen months to two years to build, the interest charges on progress payments can amount to a large sum. The Government should examine that matter in order to obviate this burden on returned soldiers.
I commend the War- Service Homes Division for the remarkably good job it has done under adverse circumstances. It is easy to be critical under present conditions when there is such a shortage of men and materials and when all sorts of difficulties arise which normally would not be dreamed of. I hope that the authorities will at least give some attention to the requests that I have made.
.- This bill, as honorable members know, provides for the expenditure of £25,000,000 on war service homes in addition to £4,000,000 on war service land settlement. This is only a relatively small proportion of the total amount that the Government is proposing to provide for housing under various headings. The total amount of money that the Government proposes to spend on housing in this financial year is about £70,000,000, of which £25,000,000 is for war service homes; £26,000,000 is for advances to the States under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement; £7,500,000 is intended for the housing of Commonwealth employees; £1,500,000 is to be spent in subsidizing prefabricated houses for the States; and about £11,000,000 is to be spent on housing for immigrants. The very large total of £70,000,000, which represents nearly 10 per cent, of the total budget of £735,000,000, is to be used for housing purposes or the encouragement of housing.
The “War Service Homes Division has shown continuous and dramatic development over recent years. During this financial year it will be difficult to hold its total financial commitments down to £23,000,000. The last budget provided £16,000,000 for expenditure by the “War Service Homes Division and the previous budget provided £8,500,000 for the same purpose. These figures are very large and they reflect the constantly increasing rate of activity in the several branches of the “War Service Homes Division. The branches are concerned, broadly, with the building of nc-Av homes by or on behalf of the “War Service Homes Division, and the taking over on behalf of returned servicemen of existing homes and mortgages. Under these principal headings there is a constant increase. The figures relating to the last financial year and those for this financial year under those headings show that the new homes built in 1949-50 numbered 3,171. It is estimated that 5,4.00 homes will be built during this financial year. The number of existing properties acquired and mortgages taken over in the last financial year was 7,132 and it is estimated that the figure for this year will be 9,600. These figures mean that finance was found last year by the “War Service Homes Division for 10,300 ex-servicemen. It is estimated that finance will be found for 15,000 during this financial year, an increase of about 50 per cent.
Under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement over 60 per cent, of the houses built in the various States which operate under that agreement are allocated to returned servicemen. The obligation on the part of the States is that 50 per cent, should be allotted to ex-servicemen. In practice over 60 per cent, has been allotted.
– Are not some of those included in the bigger numbers that the Minister has cited ?
– In the total cost, yes. But the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement provides for houses for a variety of classes of people, and in practice over 60 per cent, have gone to exservicemen.
– Many ex-servicemen have had homes supplied through the War Service Homes Division.
– There are two distinct methods of financing ex-servicemen’s homes. The War Service Homes Division aims at allowing them to own their own homes under the rent purchase system, but under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement homes are allotted on a rental basis. Recently a provision for the buying of homes under the latter scheme has been introduced, but that has been availed of to only a limited extent. If one adds to the number of ex-servicemen provided with rented home. under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement the number of exservicemen provided with homes by the War Service Homes Division during the last financial year, the total is 22,250. That is a very large figure for a population the size of ours. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), who has just resumed his seat, spoke of the reluctance of agents to deal with the War Service Homes Division. Perhaps there is a certain reluctance on the part of some agents, but it cannot be a very marked or general reluctance when one considers that the number of homes which came to the War Service Homes Division in the last financial year through agents was almost 7-1 0/1
– That reluctance has manifested itself in the last eighteen months or two years.
– A considerable number of agents bring propositions to the War Service Homes Division that are not good from the point of view of the exserviceman. I believe that Mr. Lucas, the director of the War Service Homes Division, and his officers, consider it to be an important part of their duties to protect exservicemen against people who may not be as scrupulous as one could desire. It is quite easy to give a large organization such as the War Service Homes Division a bad name because certain people, for their own reasons, do not want to deal with it, but I do not think that there is much wrong with the division and I do not believe that the strictures from certain types of agents are at all justified. The honorable member for Batman mentioned the amount of £2,000, which i9 the maximum advance which could bc made to ex-servicemen. The advance reached its present level a couple of years ago. Time marches on and economic conditions alter. That amount is under periodical observation and examination by the relevant departments of the Government, which are the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Works and Housing. At this moment I have nothing to say on behalf of the Government about the amount of the advance, except that it is being constantly considered. Those are the broad matters which I desired to mention in order to put this bill into its proper perspective.
.- The discussion on this bill reminds me that the longer I live the more I am convinced that all governments are alike, and that most cabinets are identical. Ministers throughout this debate have sat smiling because of the success of the war service homes scheme, although that success really belongs, not to governmental action, but to a series of fortuitous circumstances of which we have taken advantage. However, there are still anomalies in the methods of supplying homes for ex-servicemen and of settling ex-servicemen on the land. In considering this matter one must look at the history of the matter and try to recall the very bitter past. There are many men in this House, and many more outside it who suffered because the Government could not rise above the circumstances which caused the disastrous and shameless failure adequately to settle ex-servicemen on the land after the 1914-18 war. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) told me that after 34 years he now owns 400 acres and that he had to get into Parliament in order to make enough money to pay for his property. The previous honorable member for Wannon, Mr. McLeod, whom we christened “ the hero of Gringegalgona “, had some very difficult land in western Victoria, and only through his rugged Scotch guts was he able to survive and triumph. The circumstances of many of our 1914-18 ex-servicemen were truly horrifying. To-day the land settlement of ex-servicemen scheme is so successful that we are inclined to think that it will continue being a great success; but most of its success is founded upon the prevailing phenomenally high prices being received for our primary products.
Two very fine things were done by the Chifley Government. First, it gave the settler a better chance of paying his way; and, secondly, it gave him better land. There was a great struggle to prevail on owners to supply good land, but the State and federal authorities have worked out the matter very satisfactorily in my own State of New South Wales, and I am sure in other States also, and good blocks of land have been made available as living areas. Lessons were learned through the unfortunate happenings after the 1914-18 war. The plan that is now being adopted was forced upon us for the sake of our moral outlook. I say now for the historical record that the ex-servicemen who are settled on the land or who are in war service homes to-day have benefited by the difficulties experienced by the ex-servicemen of the 1914-18 war. Moreover, there are now much greater prospects of success on the land because of the splendid properties that have been cut up. The provision of amenities for people on the land must be expedited. There are settlers on good properties “who now have their women and children with them, and proper living amenities must he provided for them. They should, if possible, have electricity, telephone facilities, community centres and all the amenities which make life worth living in the country. Let us not have a repetition of what happened after the 3914-18 war when 8,000 men walked off their properties, from poultry farms to grazing areas, in New South Wale3 alone, and 5,000 gave up the ghost in Victoria. I believe that in other States the figures were just as high.
I notice that already many ex-service settlers have paid off a good deal of the capital cost of their holdings and have money in the bank. That is a fine contrast to what happened after the 19.1.4-18 war. Let us ensure that we organize country areas that have been more closely settled under this scheme into happy and prosperous communities. In the acquisition of land there has been talk of generous sellers and miserable owners. Some people have made good farming land available quite generously, and others have fought by all means in their power against making land available for ex-servicemen. I admire the generous effort by one of the Ministers who made splendid land in South Australia available for ex-servicemen as practically a gift.
With regard to the recent High Court judgment, arising out of land acquisition, it is not valid to say that settlers are getting land on the cheap. Assessments have been made at a low figure not comparable with the inflated prices of to-day. But we must remember that inflated land prices caused great trouble in the past, and we must profit by our past mistakes. Land should be allocated to settlers only at the proper economic price. To say as the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) has said that land is being sold too cheaply, is quite wrong. Whatever the soldiers are getting is a concession that we should give them. The owner of land which is to be resumed may be harassed financially, or he may be overburdened with costs or mortgages, and that should be taken into consideration. The honorable member for Henty also said that areas which are already settled should be more closely settled. I agree with that view; but, surely, many ex-servicemen would like to exploit their capacity in places like the Northern Territory, New Guinea or any of the islands that are controlled by Australia, and they should be given the opportunity to do so. It would be too narrow a view to take to restrict the settlement of exservicemen to areas that are already thickly populated. However, should the Government decide on a policy of broad settlement in the Northern Territory or New Guinea, it should plan such settlement as efficiently as the last Labour Government - and I say this without party bias - planned the existing war service land settlement scheme.
The provision of war service homes of an acceptable standard and in adequate numbers still remains an urgent problem. Admittedly, the current figures are encouraging. Some honorable members deprecated the fact that only 109 war service homes were constructed in 1045-46. I remind them that at that time the Labour Government was engaged in the huge task of demobilizing members of the forces. It was also faced with the problem of establishing industrial units, and with the problem generally of changing over from a war-time to a peace-time economy. The construction of 109 homes under such conditions was an heroic effort. The same observation applies to the construction of 502 homes in the following year and of 2,525 homes in 194S. Last year 3,170 war service homes were constructed, and it is estimated that 5,400 homes will be constructed during the current year. However, the current figures represent a natural extension of the planning that has been done during the last few years by the War Service Homes Division and the Minister of the day.
No ground has ever existed for criticism of the work that the division has been doing except in respect of the slow ness that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has mentioned. However, the maximum limit of advance of £2,000 for a war service home is insufficient, particularly in New South Wales where bulding costs have risen probably to a greater degree than they have risen in the other States. “Whilst the Minister may say that he will see what can be done to go beyond that limit, the fact remains that its existence frustrates the building of homes and something should be done about it at once. Having regard to the levels of building prices to-day in Sydney, one could not construct more than a shelter for the sum of £2,000. At a time when the Government is prepared to toss off millions, as it were, in a budgeteer’s dream, the homeless digger will most likely finish up with fi.bro-cem.ent structures that will look more like beehives than houses. I have not the slightest doubt that builders will be obliged to pare and prune to the utmost in order to keep within the limit imposed by an advance of only £2,000. Consequently, this provision threatens to destroy the division’s plans as a whole. I understand that applicants for war service homes have the choice of 250 plans that have been designed by departmental architects. The provision of houses of varying designs in group settlements is wise, but if builders are obliged to squeeze construction within so rigid a limit the Government may thus become responsible for the beginning of slums. After the houses have been constructed other amenities, such as, roads and gardens must be provided. Let us not fail to provide such amenities on an adequate scale and thus avoid repeating the mistakes that were made in the past owing to lack of adequate planning.
The honorable member for Batman has made a very valuable contribution to this debate. He drew attention to the delays that are being caused by estate agents. That complaint is particularly applicable to New South Wales. A racket is being carried on in the sale of houses of which purchasers are guaranteed vacant possession. Under such conditions ex-servicemen cannot keep pace with their competitors. Indeed, in my view preference to exservicemen has never taken the right road. For instance, preference in employment to ex-servicemen at a time when 100,000 jobs are chasing men is of no value whatever. Similarly, the ex-serviceman is losing in the race for homes, although I admit that his prospects have been improved by the provision that 50 per cent, of all new homes shall be balloted for by ex-servicemen only, whilst they can also expect some relief under the war service homes scheme. Generally, however, the ex-serviceman is being left well behind. To-day, estate agents do not evince interest in any transactions that relate to war service homes. They did so when they could afford to be more casual. But, to-day, business is done at a much faster tempo, and so the exserviceman suffers a fatal handicap when he tries to purchase a house. That observation applies also to the difficulties that confront new Australians in their endeavours to obtain homes. They come from lands of harsher contrasts and where conditions were more difficult than they are in this country.
There are -certain loyal contractors in New South Wales who, through thick and thin, have co-operated in the building of war service homes even though they have Lad the opportunity to operate in more profitable spheres. Those contractors are noted for their workmanship, and they can be relied upon to build solid structures. I know of three contractors of that kind who since the inception of the war service homes scheme have engaged almost exclusively in the building of homes for ex-servicemen. However, the average building contractor will not look at an invitation to tender for a war service home unless, as the honorable member for Batman has said, he can undertake the work on a sort of cost-plus system. The sooner we get away from those conditions and revert to the normal tender system the better it will be for the community as a whole.
The greater of the two problems with which this measure is concerned is that of the building of war service homes. War service land settlement has reached a stage at which it can practically be left to take care’ of itself. In that sphere we have reason to be proud of what has already been achieved. At the same time, the Government must not adopt the attitude that after establishing ex-servicemen on properties it has no other responsibility in respect of them because it might be claimed that they are making a lot of money. In this matter, the Government must not forget the interests of the women folk. The wife of every settler must be provided with adequate amenities, or within a few years she will begin to ask herself whether she did the right thing in going on the land. The woman is the core not only of the home but also of civilization.
I repeat that the limitation of the advance for a war service home of £2,000 will seriously jeopardize the war service homes scheme as a whole. The Minister for Works and Housing should say at once what he intends to do about that matter. Is he prepared to increase that limit by at least £500 in respect of war service homes that are constructed in New South Wales? The objection may be raised that ex-servicemen will not be able to afford to pay so high a price. But the Government should not approach the building of war service homes merely on a business basis. There is really no credit in being able to say that since the inception of the scheme war. service homes have been constructed at a total cost of £61,800,000 of which £44,000,000 has been repaid. The important question is how many ex-servicemen own their own homes? We know that the sum of £44,000,000 includes interest and other charges that have been paid by occupants. We also know that in many instances after one occupant has been unable to pay off a home it has been taken over by another occupant. In my view it would be better if the fund from which the scheme is being financed were consistently in deficit to an amount of £5,000,000 or £6,000,000. In that event the Government would be obliged to reduce exorbitant rates of interest and other charges which inevitably arise in the ebb and flow of economic change.
Ex-servicemen should be charged only an economic rental and they should be allowed to pay off their homes at rates commensurate with their incomes. If the ordinary worker, whether he is an exserviceman or not, is obliged to pay prevailing rates of interest and other charges in respect of the repayment of a sum of £2,400, he will be loaded down with debt and will be able to pass on to his children only an equity in his home. I believe that in respect of not only war service homes but also housing schemes generally, State and federal housing authorities must one day face the inevitability of writing off a substantial proportion of their book charges. What the attitude towards such action would be on the part of people who had paid off their homes, I cannot forecast. However, this matter is entirely within the control of the Parliament. The Ga.vernment should retain some moneys in suspense for the purpose of writing off exorbitant charges under a scheme of this kind. If the Minister is intimidated by the fact that the sum of £2,500, or £3,000, is too high for a home he should follow the example of private enterprise and write off charges that occupants of homes cannot afford to pay. If the cost involved in providing homes of a decent standard is considered to be too high, it is useless to burden ex-servicemen with charges that they can only undertake in the sure knowledge that they will never be able lo pay off their homes.
After all, when, we remember the huge expenditure that the Government is incurring in other spheres we should ask ourselves whether money, in itself, matters so much. Provision should be made through an amortization pool to grant relief to ex-servicemen in respect of charges that they cannot afford to pay. If provision Ls not made along those lines we shall again witness the spectacle that followed World War I. when exservicemen walked out of their homes because they were unable to meet their commitments and when, as a result, the Australian Government and the State governments were obliged to write off millions of pounds in respect of those commitments. If the Government is prepared to grant relief to ex-servicemen in the way that I have suggested, the war service homes scheme will prove to be a glowing success and ex-servicemen will be enabled to live in homes of a standard in keeping with the Australian way of life. I have been impressed by the resolutions that have been passed on this subject by the federal congress of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia that recently sat in Hobart, and which I commend to the Minister. Under present conditions, young couples who are about to marry. or who have just married, are completely frustrated in their efforts to obtain homes. When they find that the prices of homes that come to their attention are beyond their means they continue to potter about and toy with the question whether they should take part in ballots for homes. Thus, they increase the number of hopeful souls on the sea* of applicants for houses.
I conclude by commending the efficiency of officers of the War Service Homes Division in New South Wales. I daresay that my observations on this point apply to war service homes activities in other States. I commend the quick wittedness with which officers of the division have acted in cases that I have brought to their attention. When difficulties for which provision has not been made under the act have arisen, they have made a sympathetic approach and given quick decisions. Due to their co-operation, I have been enabled to help many exservicemen out of their troubles. I applaud the high efficiency of those officers. Since the inception of the war service homes scheme they have probably been confronted with every difficulty that could possibly arise, and to-day they appear to know the answer to every problem. I again ask the Minister to increase the limit of £2,000 as the maximum advance for the purchase of a war service home. That limit is entirely inadequate and will only frustrate the building of homes. The Minister should be able to persuade the Cabinet to increase that limit by at least £500 in respect of bornes that are constructed in New South Wales. Probably, an equally strong case exists for the making of a similar increase in respect of homes that are constructed in other States.
.- The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) commended the State Government of New South Wales for its efficiency in placing ex-servicemen on the land.’ Whilst I agree that to-day an ex-serviceman can take up life on the land with every chance of success, I do not agree that any of the State governments have exhibited high efficiency in this matter. A comparison of statistics covering land settlement after World War I. and World War II. respectively makes us realize that a great opportunity has been lost in Australia during the last few years. After World War I., more than 37,000 ex-servicemen went on to the land.
– How many of them remained on the land?
– Approximately 26,500 of them were still on the land ten years after the end of World War I. Figures which were supplied to me this morning by the Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior, show that 3,807 men who served in World War II. have been settled on the land. Approximately 1,000 other exservicemen who have not been issued with permanent licences have not been included in that figure. For the purposes of this debate, we may assume that approximately 5,000- persons have gone on the land under government schemes in all States since the end of World War II.
– All of them are still on. the land, too.
– Most of them are still on the land, because they have a much better opportunity to make good 4h.an soldier settlers had after World War I. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Mackinnon) pointed out in his speech this morning that approximately 14,000 other ex-servicemen have been granted assistance by governments to settle on the land, and the governments are claiming that those men have been established under the land settlement scheme for ex-servicemen. All that such assistance boils down to, in some instances, is the granting of a loan by a State banking instrumentality, when, in all probability, such a loan could have been obtained from any other bank. I do not believe that it can be claimed with justification that governments have succeeded in settling those ex-servicemen on the land.
The last five years have been wasted insofar as the land settlement scheme is concerned, and it is regrettable that such a failure has occurred. Had ex-servicemen been settled on the land at the proper time, the results would have been much more successful than they have proved to be up to date. Many ex-servicemen were placed on the land while World War I. was in progress, but little was done in the land settlement scheme for exservicemen for years after the cessation of hostilities in World War II. Had exservicemen been placed on the land during the recent war, they would be in a magnificent position to-day. They would have purchased their holdings at low prices and would be reaping the benefit of the high prices that are now ruling for wool and wheat. An ex-serviceman who had been settled on the land four or five years ago would receive more from his wool cheque in one year than the amount which he paid for the property. Had there been an expeditious settling of ex-servicemen on the land immediately after World War II., those men would be reaping the benefit to-day. The agricultural indus tries are losing many men who intended to settle on the land, but who have become fed up with waiting. I understand that qualification certificates have been issued to 33,202 ex-servicemen. Every one of those men who applied for such a certificate must have been interested in settling on the land, yet only some 3,000 have been established up to date, although hostilities ceased five years ago. Many of the men who have become tired of waiting would have made excellent settlers but they are drifting off to other work. I cite, by way of example, a man in my electorate who had a brilliant war record. He enlisted with the 6th Division and won the D.C.M. and the M.M. He is probably the most highly decorated man in my constituency. He is a farmer of great experience, and has been engaged in putting in share crops for farmers, because he has not been able to obtain land under the settlement scheme for exservicemen. Two years ago, he won a prize for the best grown crop in the southern Riverina. He would certainly make good on his own land, yet he has waited in vain for five years for a block. Victoria has much that it can teach New South Wales in these matters. A man is selected to settle on the land in Victoria on the basis of his ability. All applicants have their credentials carefully examined, and the most capable man is selected for each block that becomes available. The system in New South Wales is different. It does not matter whether a man volunteered or was called up for war service, or whether he served overseas or remained in Australia. The man to whom I referred a few moments ago has fought for his country, and deserves to have a stake in it, yet he has not been able to obtain a block. Many persons who were called up for military service and did not leave Australia during World War II. have been successful in ballots. I believe that Australian governments, Commonwealth and State, since the end of World War II., have failed badly at a time they should have been able to succeed in settling ex-servicemen on the land.
What are the reasons for that failure? I believe that there are three of them. In the first place, it was possibly due to excessive caution, brought about largely as a result of experiences with the land settlement of ex-servicemen after World War I. It is generally admitted that at that time, many ex-servicemen were placed on unsuitable land, and that unsuitable men were chosen to settle on the land. However, excessive caution has run to extreme lengths. I was interested in a small property which was taken over for the purpose of land settlement for exservicemen. Two years and two months elapsed from the time all the necessary documents were signed until that property was finally made available. During that period, a host of inspectors descended on the place. They were agronomists, surveyors, soil erosion experts,- land valuers, Closer Settlement Board members, inspectors, and so on. I lost count of them after I had seen a dozen. Each one of them put forward a new plan. At the outset, the land was to be a two-farm settlement. Later, it was to he made into a three-farm settlement. So the process went on. There was no reason why that property should not have been taken over in one week, had there been a desire on the part of the Government to act with reasonable expedition. The property had been surveyed by a registered surveyor a short time before the acquisition, and there was no reason even to check that survey. That example is typical of what happens in the land settlement of exservicemen. I realize that delay is sometimes caused by a shortage of registered surveyors, but it is often due to excessive red tape.
I come now to the second reason for the failure, up to date, to place a larger number of ex-servicemen on the land. Many governments have complained that they have not received co-operation from land-holders, but I point out that they possess power, under existing laws, to compel landholders to give them the co-operation that they require. The Parliament of New South Wales passed legislation after World War I. which empowered it to reduce any holding to a £20,000 retention rate. That act was amended shortly after the end of World War II., and that amount was reduced to £14,000. Therefore, it is useless for governments to complain that land-holders are not cooperating with them. Large areas of land are now available for acquisition. I should like to know why the States have not purchased more land, and made greater progress in settling exservicemen on it.
The third reason for the failure, up to date, of the land settlement scheme for ex-servicemen is the dual control between the Commonwealth and the .States. I have heard it claimed that there is no overlapping between the two authorities, but I believe that overlapping has occurred on numerous occasions. For example, a plan is put forward by a State Minister, who says, in effect, “ We believe that a certain property can be cut up into thirteen farms The Commonwealth Minister replies, “ No, it is only sufficient for seven farms A year passes and the State Minister says, “ Well, we shall compromise with ten farms “. The Commonwealth Minister repeats, “No, we want seven farms “. The position has become hopeless in some cases. Properties have remained completely idle for years, during which nothing has been produced on them, and the rabbits have multiplied. The land, when it is eventually taken over, is in a far worse condition that it should be in. I refer honorable members to the following statement which appears in the 70th report of the Department of Lands in New South Wales for the year ended the 30th June, 1949 :-
The difficulties inherent in dual control of the scheme continue to Blow up operations and protracted negotiations have failed to produce agreement upon some aspects of settlement. In the case of the dairying industry, particularly, there still remains a wide differenceof opinion between Commonwealth and State as to the production necessary to ensure successful settlement.
An ex-serviceman who is settled on land in New South Wales or in Queensland is not permitted to purchase the property. He continues to occupy it on the perpetual leasehold basis, and even though he may live on it for many years, he cannot own it.
– Of course he can.
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) is incorrect. It is true that since the Menzies Government assumed office, the system of land settlement has been altered in the three so-called agent States, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, and it is now possible for an ex-serviceman settler to become the owner of his property. An ex-serviceman settler in Victoria has had that right for some time, but exservicemen settlers in New South Wales and Queensland are not permitted to convert their blocks into freehold. I believe that from the stand-point of putting men on to the land, the leasehold basis is excellent. A person who has not Id. in his pocket may take up a property, and is required to pay only the lease rent. But I believe that if the settler has been successful, he should be permitted to convert into freehold, should he desire to do so.
– So that he may sell the property to some one else later?
– I agree that it would be necessary to impose a residential qualification, under which, -a settler would be obliged to live on his property for a specified number of years, before hewould be permitted to convert to freehold. But he should be allowed to purchase the property, and pass it on to his children, and to his children’s children.
Before I conclude my speech, I should like to correct a statement made by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). He prefaced his remarks with, a statement that he did not desire to indulge in party political propaganda in this debate, but he proceeded to state that a much larger proportion of exservicemen had been settled on the land by a Labour government in New South Wales than had been settled on the land by a Liberal government in South Australia. I remind the honorable gentleman that, of the number of persons who have applied to settle on the land in South Australia, one in every eight has succeeded in obtaining a block, whereas only about one in every twelve has obtained a block in New South Wales. However, the difference between the two States is even more marked than is revealed by those figures. Settlers in New South Wales are put into virgin land. Frequently, a block has not been fenced and has no house. But the Government of South Australia fences the land, and,’ if necessary, provides water and erects a comfortable house, before the exserviceman settler goes on to the block. I submit, for those reasons, the honorable member for Port Adelaide has stated the position incorrectly when he claims that New South Wales has done a better job than South Australia has done in settling ex-servicemen on the land. I believe that governments should push ahead with land settlement as rapidly as possible, and I commend the bill.
.- I should like to make a few remarks on this bill, partly because I am, possibly, the only member of this Parliament who was established on the land under the settlement scheme for ex-servicemen after World War I., and partly because I have a vivid recollection of the tragic circumstances which accompanied the land settlement schemes for ex-servicemen of World War I. In Victoria, of a total number of approximately 13,000 settlers, only 4,700 survived. The Curtin Labour Administration, which prepared the present scheme of land settlement, had the advantage that it was able to draw upon the experience of the mistakes of the earlier scheme. In consequence, the present scheme has been, in the main, eminently successful. In fact, it is hardly possible for settlers of the right type to fail. Nevertheless, I agree with the honorable member for Farrer (Mr.
Fairbairn) that delays in settling ex-servicemen on the land are, in. many instances, inexcusable. A big contributing factor to many of the delays is that three States were not prepared to co-operate wholeheartedly with the Commonwealth in this matter by yielding to it their sovereignty over the disposition of . their land. In consequence, a dual system of land settlement obtains in those States, with its accompanying red tape. I emphasize that point for the. benefit of those who still oppose any extension of the powers of the Commonwealth. The States of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania agreed, probably because of their inherent financial weakness, to co-operate completely with the Commonwealth, and to yield their sovereignty over their lands for that purpose. By contrast, the Government of Victoria insisted that it should itself administer every detail of land settlement in Victoria. The Commonwealth cannot be blamed for the delays that have occurred in that State in consequence. I know that the allegation has frequently been made that Commonwealth departments have been responsible for delay in implementing land, settlement schemes. However, in my capacity of Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the previous Administration, it was a part of my duty to collaborate with the then Minister for Postwar Reconstruction, the Honorable J. J. Dedman, who was administering the Government’s land settlement policy. I know from my experience that most of the delays that occurred were caused, not by Commonwealth departments, but by the wish of State governments to make available for settlement particular areas which were not suitable for that purpose. The officers of the Division of Agricultural Economics examined the proposals made by various State governments, and in many instances they opposed settlement on those areas because, in their expert opinion, the land was unsuitable. I carefully considered all those cases and, in many instances, I took the trouble to make an inspection of the subject land. In every instance my independent judgment convinced me that the Commonwealth officers were right and the State authorities wrong.
After all, the Commonwealth has a duty, not only to protect prospective settlers from embarking upon unsound ventures, but also to ensure to the taxpayers that public money shall not be wasted in unsound settlement propositions. I remind honorable members that the Australian Government was committed to meet half the losses incurred in settlement schemes. The Curtin Administration, and its successor, the Chifley Administration, decided, as a matter of major policy, that areas should not be resumed for settlement unless expert opinion convinced the Commonwealth that the area was suitable for settlement. That attitude contrasted with the haphazard policy adopted by State governments which sponsored land settlement schemes after World War I. In many of those schemes the blocks were too small. After some years experience of the unsuccessful operation of those schemes, the State governments were waiting on .the doorstep of the Commonwealth seeking funds to defray their losses. Whilst I agree with the honorable member for Farrer that the machinery for land settlement should operate as expeditiously as possible, I repeat that a major cause of friction and delay in dealing with applications in the duality of governmental control in respect of land settlement in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The former Government, of which I was a member, asked the people .to eliminate that duplication, when it appealed at a referendum for an extension of the Commonwealth’s powers. It is notorious that the anti-Labour parties opposed our proposals, and therefore they cannot fairly complain now about the situation for which they were so largely responsible.
As the honorable member for Farrer has pointed out, it is deplorable that many thousands of ex-servicemen who desire land cannot be settled on the land, although they are entitled as of right to obtain land. Of course, a number of factors are aggravating the present situation, such as inflated land values, due to the present state of economic unbalance, and the serious shortage of expert stall in government departments that are administering land settlement.
– In addition, there are a lot of greedy land-owners.
– That is so. Many large land-holders have refused to cooperate with the authorities, and many others have certainly not facilitated the acquisition of land by the Government, notwithstanding that they have been offered very generous prices for it. In reply to the observations made by honorable members about the nature of the title to land on which ex-servicemen are settled, I point out that the nature of the titles is not a matter in which the Commonwealth Government can intervene because that is governed by the land laws of the various States.
I commend the bill, and repeat that my reason for taking part in the debate has been to point out that the Commonwealth authorities, and .their staffs, have not been responsible for the heartbreaking delays that have occurred. On the contrary, they have, to my knowledge, done everything possible to expedite land settlement of ex-servicemen. Some delays have doubtless been caused by the Commonwealth, but I emphasize that the States have been responsible for most of the delays. Many instances have occurred of State governments seeking to jockey approval for the acquisition of land for subdivision into areas so small that the settlers could not possibly succeed on them. Finally, I appeal to those exservicemen who are still awaiting tha allotment of blocks not to lose heart but to continue to press their claims with the State governments until their applications are granted. I also emphasize my belief that in the entire history of land settlement in the British Commonwealth no scheme has ever been introduced that was as generous as the present one, which was, I remind honorable members opposite, introduced by the Curtin Labour Administration.
.- The measure that we are discussing proposes to provide £25,000,000 for the construction and acquisition of war service homes and £4,000,000 for the purpose of settling ex-servicemen on the land. I shall deal first with the land settlement project. Some honorable members have suggested that land is being acquired by the authorities at prices that are too high. Whilst there is no land available for settlement purposes in the Sydney electorate that 1 represent, I know from my professional experience that one of the real troubles in land settlement is not that the State authorities are paying too much money for the land which .they acquire but that, on the contrary, they are not prepared to pay sufficient money.
– Two powerful factors apply in New South Wales and ensure that excessive prices shall not be charged for land for ex-soldier settlement. The first is the fear of compulsory acquisition, which is always present. The other is that under the New South Wales Crown Lands Act a declaration that any particular land is required for ex-soldier settlement prevents that land brom being disposed of except to the Government.
I direct the attention of the House to “the view expressed by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson), that the present rate of interest under the War Service Homes scheme is excessive at 3£ per cent. I do not think that it can be argued an interest rate of 3f per cent, on a home that is acquired on terms that provide for repayment of capital and interest over a period of 45 years constitutes an exceptional burden.. . If, as the honorable member has suggested, the interest rate were to be only 1 or 2 per cent., the Government would be embarking on this scheme on even worse terms than those on which it is now embarking on it, with the result that the amount of money available for advances for the purchase of war service homes would have to be reduced. I should rather have the available amount of money lent on a sound financial basis, and, in fact, have that amount increased beyond the £25,000,000 now provided for under this measure, than have the rate of interest lowered so that less money would be available. I do not think that it is reasonable for honorable members to suggest that loans should be made on terms that would eventually mean that less money would be available for the building of war service homes.
This scheme has an aspect wider than that of merely providing for the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen through making houses available to them. The very wide class of people to whom the benefits of the scheme are available comprise a largs proportion of the community. The definition of ex-serviceman applies to a large number of persons, including munitions workers who served abroad, and many persons who were not actually in the fighting services. The widows of any persons entitled to benefit under the scheme and the mothers of deceased unmarried ex-servicemen, may also obtain assistance.. Therefore the money that is advanced by the Commonwealth for the building of war service homes is a substantial factor in the general housing programme. I do not have to remind honorable members of the importance of the provision of homes, because that subject has been discussed in this House frequently, and 1 consider that it should be debated even more frequently, because there is no greater social problem than the housing problem. The Government is to be congratulated on its proposal to increase the expenditure to £25,000,000 from the £16,000,000 that was provided for the purpose last year. Notwithstanding the fear that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) has expressed that the entire increase will be absorbed by the increase of building costs that has occurred since last year, it was encouraging to hear the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Casey) say that it is anticipated that 50 per cent, more homes than were built last year will be built this year because of the proposed increase of the total amount to be advanced.
I suggest that the Government increase the number of agencies through which advances are to be made to ex-servicemen. The War Service Homes Division has been the object of a certain degree of commendation during this debate, and I do not wish in any way to detract from that commendation, but the fact remains that the expenditure of a large fund of this sort, administered by a single government department, inevitably becomes hedged round with restrictive regulations and red tape. There are two ways in which the Government could extend the availability of this money. The first is to permit advances to be made through existing private financial institutions as well as through the “War Service Homes Division itself; and the second is encouragement of the formation of ex-servicemen’s building societies. Many ex-servicemen now join building societies, but if it were made known that advances under this scheme could be made through the agency of exservicemen’s building societies, such building societies would be established and their activities would be very beneficial in speeding up the construction of homes.
The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) cited examples of delays that have occurred in connexion with the construction of war service homes, and pointed out that such delays are caused by the shortage of some material or other that the home purchaser could readily obtain for himself if he were allowed to do so. Anybody who has made an attempt to build a hou«e under present conditions knows that it is almost impossible to obtain a fixed contract price for that purpose. It is even undesirable, in some circumstances, to attempt to do so, because if the builder knows that he is to be tied down to a contract price he invariably loads that price to such a degree, in order to insure himself against unforeseen difficulties such as cost and wage increases, that the price finally determined is in excess of that which would be paid under a cost-plus contract, At least, that is the opinion of a number of architects engaged in the building industry in Sydney. I suggest that it is necessary under present conditions to devise some scheme for the building of war service homes on a cost-plus basis rather than to require a contract with a fixed price in every instance. That matter was dealt with by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), with whom I agree that the problem of obtaining tenders to-day is militating against the success of the scheme. I hope that the Government will consider adopting a variation of the regulations in that respect.
Another matter to which I wish to direct the attention of the House is the position of war widows under this scheme. The regulations provide that the director may refuse an application by an eligible person if he is not satisfied that the applicant has a reasonable prospect of carrying out the terms of the purchase agreement. It is the practice of the division, which no doubt is in accordance with the regulations, to hold that a war widow who has no assets other than the widows’ pension has not a reasonable prospect of carrying out the purchase terms. As a result, war widows without other means cannot buy war service homes. I suggest that the war widow is in the forefront of the class that this scheme is intended to benefit yet she is excluded from its benefits. The Government might well undertake the risk involved in the advance of money for the purchase of war service homes to widows who have no means other than their pensions. I suggest that it would be a very small risk, because the period allowed for repayment is 45 years and experience during this century has shown that the continuing appreciation of the value of land and .buildings is such that it would be extremely unlikely that the value of the Government’s security in the house and the land would diminish in the course of time. I suggest therefore that the Government give earnest consideration to an amendment of the regulations to enable war widows without means other than their pensions, to benefit under the scheme. To do so would be to ensure that many war widows would be able to have proper accommodation for themselves and their children at a lower cost than that at which they could obtain rented accommodation. I have been informed that the council of Legacy intends to approach the Government on this matter and I hope that the Minister will give its representations all the consideration that they deserve.
.- I refer to the two matters covered by the bill, one of’ which is the provision of £25,000,000 for advances for war service homes and the other of which is the provision of £4,000,000 for land settlement of ex-*servicemen. I wish to put it on record once more that any criticisms that are levelled against the actions of the Chifley Government in relation to the building of war service homes are unjustified, as a comparison of that government’s record in that respect with the record of the Hughes Government after World War I will show. From the 1st July, 1945, to the 31st July, 1949, the Chifley Government was responsible for the building of 4,579 war service homes, and at the 1st July last year a further 4,111 war service homes were under construction. Contracts for another 1,069 war service homes had also been signed. So that in that period 9,759 war service homes had either been build or were in the course of construction. That is certainly a better record than that of the Hughes Government in the period following World War I. It is true that there are 900,000 exservice men and women who are eligible for war service homes. That fact used to inspire in me the thought that if we used our defence power to have houses built through a Commonwealth authority for ex-service men and women we should solve the housing problem through this Parliament, and the States would not need to bother about building houses at all. If we could only settle in homes all the ex-servicemen who require them, there would be no housing problem left to be solved. This Government proposes to continue along the same lines as we were following and the present measure makes no departure from the Chifley Government legislation.
– Except that it will get things done twice as fast.
– It will not get things done twice as fast. As a matter of fact, not many more than 60,000 houses will be built this year under all the schemes that are operating. We built 54,000 houses last year, whilst in 1939, when plenty of labour and material was available, the total construction of houses in Australia was only 30,000.
– What does the honorable member mean by “We built 54,000 “ ? Those houses were built mostly by the States.
– Yes, under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement.
It was a combined effort. I do not want to take the sole joy and approval for the Chifley Government. I am talking of the Commonwealth Parliament as a whole and am comparing what was done before with what is being done now.
From the 1st July, 1931, to the 30th J une, 1941, the Labour party was in power in this Parliament for only six months. The Liberal party and the Australian Country party governments of Lyons and Menzies were in office, with the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) hanging on somewhere. He was in a later government, but not in the first, because the Liberals thanked their lucky stars that they had sufficient members to carry on without the aid of any Australian Country party members. In that ten-year period only 136 war service homes were built.
– Divide that by the number of people put out of homes.
– As the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) knows, in 1934 I published a paper called the Clarion. I published the facts concerning a lot of persons whom the honorable member for Chisholm evicted when he was Minister in charge of sustenance in the Victorian Government. One exsoldier was evicted from his home in Gallipoli-street, Coburg. The Minister for Air (Mr. White) was one of the evicting authorities of that period because he was a member of the Ministery.
– I rise to order. What the honorable member has said is offensive and untrue, and I ask that it be withdrawn. I had nothing to do with evicting anybody.
– What statement does the Minister ask to have withdrawn ?
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) said that I was one of the evicting authorities.
– The Minister has said that that statement is offensive. I ask the honorable member for Melbourne to withdraw it.
– I will withdraw anything that is regarded as offensive.
– I rise to order. I recollect that on one occasion in this House Ilansard was produced-
– There is no point of order involved.
– I withdraw my observation concerning the evicting authority, but I say that in that period returned soldiers were evicted by the Lyons and Menzies Governments, and that the present Minister for Air, and the Minister for the Army and Minister for the Navy (Mr. Francis) both were members of that Government.
– Order ! The honorable member’s statements may or may not be correct, but he is getting away from the bill.
– I am speaking of returned soldiers. If I understood the honorable member for . Evans (Mr. Osborne) correctly, he argued for an increase of interest rates. I hope that the Government will never consider increasing interest rates.
– He spoke against a reduction of interest rates.
– I may have misunderstood him. I have heard the honorable member for Lowe (Mr. McMahon) advocate higher interest rates on other occasions.
– Order ! Honorable members are making too much noise. The honorable member for Melbourne has the floor.
– There is a feeling in some quarters that the interest rate ought to be raised. That would be disastrous to ex-soldier settlers and to those who are buying war service homes. Interest is the killer. Why did so many men fail after World War Lt Because they had to pay 5 and 6 per cent, on first mortgages and 8 and 9 per cent, on second mortgages. The former honorable member for Wannon, Mr. McLeod, used to tell this House of the struggle that he had as an ex-soldier settler. He said that half the sheep that he bought died and he nearly died with them. He also said that it would take him 99 years to pay off his farm under the terms under which ex-soldiers after World War I. were settled. They were settled, all right. They were properly settled. .Thanks to tha beneficence of Providence in providing good seasons as well as to the good Labour government he was able to pay off his farm this year and is now £5,000 in credit. He is a capitalist against his will. A lot of other ex-soldier settlers after World War I. could not see out the distance and were therefore not so lucky. I believe that this Government should keep interest rates low, continue to make advances, and work on the programme on which the last Government worked with the various States. I believe that, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria were the principal States and that the agent States were Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. I believe that in South Australia the interest rate has-been kept as low as 2 per cent, and that the highest rate charged anywhere is no more than 3f per cent. The Commonwealth has agreed to pay one-half of any losses incurred in making these advances. That is a much better scheme than the one that was brought in after World War I. It is idle for honorable members opposite to contend that ex-soldier settlers were better treated after World War I., than after World War LT. or that the latter are not being treated as generously as the economy of Australia will permit. There are very few complaints about the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land.
I hold strong views on the need for breaking up estates periodically.. An agrarian revolution is needed every generation because the ownership of land always tends to accumulate in a very few hands. There is no better method of land settlement than closer settlement and no one is more entitled to be settled on the land than the ex-serviceman.
I have here an article that appeared in one of the organs of the capitalist press, the Sydney Sun, on Friday, the 1st September, 1950. It answers any criticism by honorable members opposite of the land settlement scheme that, was propounded and executed by thi” Chifley Government and is being carried on -by this Government. The article begins with this statement, -
We are profiting by our mistakes and looking after the men who fought for us. The soldier settlers aTe far better off this time. lt tells the story of an English immigrant named Tom Stacey who came here before the war and joined the Australian armed forces. He entered a ballot for a block of land under the ex-soldier settlement scheme, and although burdened with debt, faced the future confidently. He owns his land already and has a Chevrolet car and his credit is good with the banks. The article also relates the experience of Mick Larkins in the following terms : -
Mick walked off his property penniless after years of heart-breaking struggle. He prospered in other fields and is “retired now. At the moment he is in Sydney after staying on Tom Stacey’s property and it is he who told about Tom. First of all, for the sake of contrast, it is as well to hear Mick’s story first. Born and bred in the hush he fought the Kaiser, returned home and won a ballot for a returned soldiers’ block. His block was 1,800 acres of mallee scrub country between Hillston and Griffiths. Average rainfall was about 10 inches and he was supposed to grow wheat. Total Government assistance was £640. This, with the money he had in the bank, gave him a total capital of a shade over £7,000. He was a trained farmer, but poor country and drought conditions were too much for him, and after men years during which he lost his £7,000, he decided that there must be easier ways of losing money. “ I was one of hundreds put on land that should have never been settled,” he said.
He found employment elsewhere. The treatment meted out to him after World War I. provides a contrast to the treatment of ex-servicemen after World War II. in the same State. Stacey’s story is typical of many others. The New South Wales Government, which has been criticized in this House to-day, has put 1,554 ex-servicemen on the land since its scheme came into operation in 1946. The former Minister for Lands in New South Wales, Mr. Sheahan, was a very good administrator and a soldier in the first world war. He had to fight certain big interests in New South Wales. A Mr. Falkinder who already held a block of land entered a ballot. The land that he won was taken from him and the case went to the High Court. The present Minister for Lands in New South Wales, Mr. Renshaw, is also doing a good job. The amount of £3,750,000 has been made available to finance returned soldier settlers in New South Wales and most of it has been lent since _ June, 1948. Those exsoldier settlers have already paid back £1,500,000, or 42 per cent, of the total lent to them. The State of New South Wales made a very sound investment when it lent that money. That is because the men have been settled scientifically. I hope that all the ex-servicemen of this war will be as successful as the man whose story I have related, and that the future will not be marked by any of the tragedies that were a part of the aftermath of World War I. I trust that the men who are buying war service homes will all own them at an early date. There is no greater guarantee against revolution in any country than that of every man owning his own home.
.- I feel a little more qualified to deal with that part of this bill which relates to war service homes than to other parts of it. Some interesting discussion has already taken place on matters affecting the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land. The proposal to advance £25,000,000 for the erection of war service homes is one for which the Government should be commended. T believe that the increase will not be sufficient to meet the demand that will be made on this fund during the year, but it represents a move in the right direction. I believe that the War Service Homes Division has been very efficiently administered, as departments go. Ex-servicemen who require homes have not the full opportunity of obtaining those that they would like to have. Continuing rises of the cost of building have stultified the wish of the people to acquire homes of their own. The figures relating to house construction in 1949 are interesting. I should like to know whether the Minister can explain those that I have. New South Wales, of course, is the most populous State in Australia, yet the number of applications received by the War Service Homes Division in it falls far short of the number received in Victoria. The number of applications made in the State of Queensland is almost as great as the number made in New South Wales. That seems to be an extraordinary anomaly. The percentage of applications approved is less in New South Wales than in any other State. I do not understand why that should be, but the facts and the figures are incontrovertible. Not only are the rising costs of construction a deterrent to home building but there is also a great shortage of land in good suburbs where persons wish to live, particularly in the City of Sydney. One of the factors causing the shortage of land is the extraordinary attitude of the New South Wales Housing Commission which comes into competition not only with the War Service Homes Division, but also with private builders and with the citizens at large. The New South Wales Housing Commission resumes wholesale large areas of land because of its suitability for home-building purposes, without any hope of being able to use it for many years.
I wish to bring to the notice of honorable members an unfortunate personal experience in regard to this matter. I am a director of a company that owned certain land in the desirable residential areas of Lane Cove. The company provided all the guarantees necessary to have the services of sewerage, water, roads and so on extended to the area, and eleven contracts have been tentatively arranged for the building of homes for ex-servicemen. While those negotiations were proceeding the New South Wales Housing Commission resumed this land over the head of the building company and in spite of the negotiations that were proceeding between it and ex-servicemen. To my way of thinking that is not resumption, it is confiscation.
– What was the price per foot of the land?
– It was reasonably priced land and it was resumed more than three years ago. Only about half the land has been built on by the New South Wales Housing Commission up to the present time, and the company that owned the land has not yet been paid a penny in respect of its resumption. That is an instance of the prevailing competition between the New South Wales Housing Commission and other bodies which wish to obtain land. Amongst those bodies is the War Service Homes Division.
I believe that it will be to the advantage of New South Wales when most of the operations of the War Service Homes Division in that State are carried out by individual contract. I disagree with the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) with regard to this matter. A great deal of danger is inherent in the system of building on a cost-plus system or a fixed fee system. I know of the difficulties associated with obtaining a firm contract; nevertheless, contracts can be entered into which will allow of variations of terms from time to time. It is better to have such a contract system than to allow the War Service Homes Division to drift into a system of cost-plus. I regret that the War Service Homes Division is not providing for the ex-service family man with a limited amount of money an opportunity to obtain a home. The limitation to £2,000 of the maximum amount that may be advanced, means that only those with substantial capital can avail themselves of the opportunity of borrowing from the War Service Homes Division. Therefore, I impress upon the Government the absolute necessity for increasing that amount from £2,000 to £2,500. If the Government investigates the matter it will find that this limitation does considerable injustice to men who are entitled to homes. That is apparent because an ex-serviceman must put a substantial sum of money into his home, if he wishes to build it subject to the usual costs and to make use of the facilities of the War Service Homes Division.
The low advance limit is causing a considerable number of ex-servicemen to rely on building societies which, of course, are doing an excellent job. However, although the building societies can advance more than ex-servicemen can obtain from the War Service Homes Division, they are forced to pay higher interest rates. In those circumstances many of them have been deprived of the opportunity of becoming home owners and have been driven into making application to various housing commissions for houses to rent. I disagree entirely with any suggestion of an increase of the rate of interest. I urge the Government to review now the interest rate charged to ex-servicemen who wish to borrow from the War Service Homes Division to buy a house. The interest charged by that body is 3f per Cent. The interest charged upon the money provided by the Australian Government to the States in connexion with the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement used to be at the rate of 3 per cent, but is now at the rate of 3£ per cent.
– The administration of the system costs a certain amount of money.
– I do not know what the cost of administration is in bodies such as the New South Wales Housing Commission, hut the interest charge to the ex-serviceman is 3$ per cent., and the charge to the housing commission is 3£ per cent. It is on the basis of -interest charged that the formula is established for the calculation of the rent to be charged the tenant. Therefore, the ex-serviceman finds that he is better off by renting a house through the New South Wales Housing Commission than by buying a house through the War Service Homes Division. That illustrates one of the most deplorable tendencies in this country, and it reminds me of the disgraceful statement made by an exmember of this House, and a Minister in the previous Government, that we do not want to make a lot of little capitalists. If the Labour party stands for that type of thing, and I am sure that a lot of its members do not, then Australia has a sad future before it. To-day we are living in an era in which all political parties recognize the need for the welfare state up to a point, and we know that every party recognizes the necessity to provide social services to the people. I believe that there is no greater social service than the provision of homes. That is because there is no greater social instrument than the home. The home is the basis of the structure of our civilization. It is much more than a mere shelter, it is the place in which the ideals of the nation are nurtured and developed. Consequently any government worth its salt must look upon the provision of housing as being different from a cold commercial business. Housing must be placed in the category of social welfare. Because housing is so important and because it is not something than can be dealt with to-day and dropped to-morrow, or something the policy towards which changes with changes of Government, the Government would be well advised to provide money at a low interest rate to enable the people to become home owners rather than tenants.
– Order ! The House is not debating the matter of housing in general.
Mr. Curtin interjecting,
– Order ! The honorable member for Watson must remain quiet. He has been interjecting too often.
– I suggest that the Government should consider the consolidation of all -the moneys obtained by loan, from whatever the source, in a national housing fund. Then housing could be segregated from other forms of national undertakings and could remain as a part of the permanent structure of our State. Out of that fund money should be available to enable people to own their own homes. The interest paid by exservicemen who obtain their homes through the War Service Homes Division is 3 per cent. With the cost of home building at its present level the payment of that interest makes their position difficult. The least that the Government can do in an endeavour to ameliorate their condition ia to consider my suggestion. There are certain features of the activities of the War Service Homes Division that I do not think are quite fair. After the 1914-18 war certain areas of land were acquired by that division and during the depression they could not be utilized. Some of it is still lying idle. Roads were made and were handed over to the local government bodies concerned, but because the land remained in the ownership of a Commonwealth instrumentality no rates were chargeable in respect of it during all that time. Consequently, the local government body concerned was placed at the disadvantage of not being able to maintain those roads in good order. In my electorate, over 100 ex-servicemen have constructed homes in a group settlement through the War Service Homes Division, but the Lane Cove Council has not sufficient funds to provide roads, curbing and guttering to serve that settlement. The Government should make an ex gratia payment to that body in order to enable it to carry out those works. Many local government authorities throughout Australia are in a similar position. In the instance to which I am referring, the sum required would not be substantial. The Government should honour its promise to do justice to ex-servicemen by enabling them to rear their families’ under proper conditions. I again stress the urgent need to assist individuals to acquire the ownership of their own homes. For lack of that encouragement they should not be driven into renting houses. I again urge the Government also to increase from £2,000 to £2,500 the maximum amount that may be advanced’ against the cost of a war service home, and to reduce the interest rate of 3J per cent, per annum that is now charged to occupants of war service homes.
.- Evidently, the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) is one who is always anxious to do what h» can for ex-servicemen so long as he can profit by such action. He criticized the Labour Government of New South Wales for its handling of the war service homes scheme. In doing so, he referred to the experience of a company that owned certain land in the Lane Cove district. At the same time, he complained that the rate of interest that is being charged to occupants of war service homes is too high. I agree with him on that point and I shall have something further to say about it later. However, the honorable member would have been more interesting had he indicated the rate of interest that it was proposed to charge exservicemen tenants under the eleven contracts that he said the company in which he was interested was negotiating. I venture to say that that company proposed to charge a rate in excess of that which is now charged to ex-servicemen by the War Service Homes Division and certainly much in excess of the figure to which he suggested the division should reduce its rate.
The honorable member seems to be the victim of some obsession with respect to matters in which the Labour Govern ment of New South Wales is involved. Invariably, he places the blame for all the nation’s difficulties on that Government. He said that although three years have elapsed since the New South Wales Government took over certain land from the company in which he is interested for the purpose of building houses under its housing scheme, it had not yet made payment to the company for that land. Is it not possible that the company was not willing to accept the price that the Government offered to pay for the land, that it wanted to extract its last penny of profit and, in turn, increase the charges that exservicemen would have to pay and thus add to the difficulties of ex-servicemen in acquiring the ownership of their homes? It is sheer hypocricy for persons who make substantial profits in land deals to talk about the difficulties that prevent persons from owning their homes. Apparently, the honorable member for Bennelong is prepared .to render every possible assistance to ex-servicemen in that respect so long as the company in which he has an interest can continue to make profits. Although the honorable member said that the New South Wales Government had not utilized the land to which he referred, he qualified that statement later by saying that half the area was built on. As he did not state the area of the land in question, he should have indicated how many homes have been erected on it.
As a member of the Labour party, I urge that every encouragement and assistance be given not only to ex-service personnel, but also to all sections of the community to acquire ownership of their homes. What real difficulty exists that prevents the .Government from reducing the rate of interest that is now charged to occupants of war service homes? Some honorable members opposite have said that not money but the lack of materials and labour is the great difficulty in the construction of war service homes. The Commonwealth Bank could provide sufficient money to finance the construction of all the houses that it is at present within the capacity of industry to construct. When money is advanced for the purpose of providing an asset the transaction is not inflationary. As the bank would not run any serious risk, it should charge interest only at a rate that would be sufficient to meet the cost of administration and of issuance of the loan. If supporters of the Government argue that it is not possible to make money available on those terms for the construction of houses through the Commonwealth Bank, how is it that that institution is financing all classes of business undertakings? The fact of the matter is that the Government wishes to perpetuate the system of private borrowing in order to give the opportunity to its supporters, who cannot invest their money in other spheres, to invest it in Government loans at a remunerative rate of interest.
The Minister for Air (Mr. White) had much to say about the increased cost of building, which he attributed mainly to increased labour costs and to the fact, as he alleged, that the workers are not working as hard as they used to work. He proceeded to make charges against certain trade unions, which he did not attempt to substantiate. He spoke about the need to effect savings in building costs. Is it not a fact that whilst the Government continues to charge interest at the rate of 3f per cent, in respect of the cost of war service homes, it could arrange through the Commonwealth Bank to finance the construction of those homes at an interest rate not greater than lj per cent. ? Would, not that alteration represent a greater saving to occupants of war service homes than would any of the suggestions that the Minister has made? He attributed all the difficulties in the building industry to trade unions. He is a trade union hater. On a previous occasion in this chamber, it was stated that the Minister was associated with a company that was prosecuted for failing to pay award wages to its employees.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The statement that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has just made is untrue. It is offensive to me and T ask that it be. withdrawn.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has the Chair given a new ruling that because an honorable member may say something that ruffles a Minister the latter is entitled to in terrupt the honorable member who has the floor?
– I said that the statement that the honorable member for East Sydney has just made is untrue.
– When an honorable member makes a statement that gets under the skin of a Minister, whether the statement be true or not, is the Minister in order in rising to order and asking that the statement be withdrawn? If that is the ruling of the Chair, we are reaching a funny pass. The Minister for Air (Mr. White) has risen to order on two occasions this afternoon.
– Order! I ask the honorable member to state his point of order.
– The Minister for Air has interrupted the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) to take exception to a statement that th, latter has made. The House does not know whether the statement is true or not. That being so, I suggest that honorable members are just as much entitled to accept the statement as true as to reject it.
– I repeat the ruling that I gave earlier which was that personal reflections upon an honorable member are unparliamentary au’.i must be withdrawn. I also pointed out earlier that merely because an honorable member disagrees with a statement thai, another honorable member makes he is nor in order in asking that it be withdrawn. However, should an honorable member regard a remark as being offensive to him he may ask that it be withdrawn. I ask the honorable member for East Sydney to withdraw his statement.
– I withdraw it. I repeat that the Minister for Air has proved by the attitude that he has adopted in this House that he is a trade union hater, and that he would like to see the trade union movement destroyed.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.
– I shall content myself by saying that the Minister for Air is a supporter of company unions but not of genuine trade unions.
– Company unions as against timber unions.
– That remark is offensive.
– I would not ask the Minister to withdraw it ; but I invite him to say outside the House what he has just said here.
– Order !
– Honorable members opposite who invariably trade on what they parade as their concern for exservicemen, but do not demonstrate it by their actions in this Parliament or elsewhere, are very sensitive when their own activities are examined and criticized.
– What front were you on ?
– I was not on the front the Minister was on ; he spent most of his time in a prisoner of war camp because of his inability to fly a ‘plane.
– Order f I ask the honorable member to address the Chair and to confine his remarks to the bill.
– The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) made a constructive contribution to the debate. However, he complained that exservicemen who were allotted holdings on perpetual leasehold land would not be given an opportunity to acquire ownership of those holdings. As the term of a perpetual lease is nominally 99 years, ex- servicemen who are allotted holdings that come within that category are, in fact, given security equal to that which is given to ex-servicemen who are allotted freehold land. The difference between the two classes of land tenure is not so great as the honorable member suggested it was. Furthermore, ex-servicemen who are settled on perpetual leasehold land can leave the property to their heirs. No State government would prevent them from doing so. What State Labour governments have endeavoured to avoid is trafficking in properties much of the value of which has resulted from the expenditure of public moneys.
Honorable members on both sides of the House have urged the Government to increase from £2,000 to £2,500 the limit imposed on the advance towards the cost of a war service home. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Casey), in replying ,to a question by an honorable member envisaged tremendous difficulties which, he said, would prevent the Government from taking such action. What are those difficulties ? If the Government can find money’ quite easily for all other purposes, surely there can be no difficulty that would prevent it from making advances to ex-servicemen at reasonable rates of interest in order to enable them to purchase war service homes.
I should like to make another suggestion about the present position. The mere provision of money for housing does not automatically mean that the rate of construction will be increased, because that is governed by the availability of labour and materials. However, the Government can examine whether it would be preferable for the Commonwealth to establish its own organization to construct war service homes instead of leaving that work to contractors. That has not proved the most satisfactory system, and, in my opinion, it would have been preferable after World War II. to establish a Commonwealth constructing organizations to engage in the building of houses for ex-servicemen. Even now it is not too late for the Government to revise its ideas and plans in that respect, because ex-servicemen wish to obtain houses within a reasonable period after they lodge their applications, and they require advances at such a rate of interest as will permit them to became the owners of their properties within a reasonable time. The Government should review the whole scheme with the object of making those changes which are so necessary in the interests of the men concerned.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the Minister for Air (Mr. White) claim that he ha3 been misrepresented?
– Yes. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) said that I was associated with a firm which, at one time, had been fined on a charge of having underpaid its employees. The honorable member has made that statement many times in this chamber, and. I have corrected it in the past, and I do so again now. It was made originally in 1930 by a former member for Corio, who was a supporter of the Australian Labour party. A few minutes after be bad spoken, be discovered that he had made a mistake, and he made an abject apology to me in the House. The record of that incident appears in Hansard, as the honorable member for East Sydney is aware, because he has read it. He said that it was an industrial matter in which certain conditions were involved. The position was that the trade union concerned lost the case, and costs were awarded against it. I repeat that explanation again, and I add that the fact that the honorable member for East Sydney has referred to that incident again shows his true standard.
– I support the request that has been made to the Government in this debate to increase the limit of the amount that may be advanced in respect of war service homes from £2,000 to £2,500. Many exservicemen are approaching the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Works and Housing to purchase dwellings on their behalf. Under present conditions, a house of a very poor type, which would not conform to the standards of the War Service Homes Division, might cost approximately £2,000, and it would not be satisfactory for an ex-serviceman with a family. For that reason, as well as for the other reasons that have been given in this debate, I consider that the limit of the amount of the advance should be increased to £2,500.
It has been said that contractors are not willing to tender for the erection of war service homes. I say, with regret, from my experience in Western Australia, that such a statement is true. The reason for that unwillingness is to be found in the departmental system of inspection whilst the houses are in the course of construction. A contractor who is building a dwelling under the supervision of a- private architect, telephones the architect when the work has progressed to a certain stage, and within a short time, during which the normal building activities of the tradesmen are not interrupted, the architect’s inspector goes to the job and approves or disapproves of it. But a contractor who is erecting a house for a government department finds that hours or even days elapse before the inspector arrives to examine the work. In the meantime, the construction of the building may be delayed. Some contractors have openly acknowledged that when they submit a tender for a war service home, they add between £50 and £100 to the price in order to compensate themselves for the loss of time that results from the government system of making inspections. That is why contractors do not readily tender for war service homes.
If there is one field in which dissatisfaction exists throughout Australia today, it is in respect of the land settlement of ex-servicemen. I go so far as to say that I doubt whether any other field of governmental operations in the post-war period has caused a greater measure of discontent, utter disgust and complete distrust of political promises than has the land settlement scheme. A glowing picture was painted during the war to inspire servicemen, although they did not need that inspiration, to do their best in battle, but it faded in the post-war period. The land settlement scheme may suit those who have succeeded in obtaining a block. The system is like winning a lottery. The trouble is that it is “ a little too much for too few “. Faults occur in administration, and in many other respects, but the real weakness is that the complete scheme for the land settlement of ex-servicemen is based upon a rotten foundation. In 1943-44, the Rural Reconstruction Commission, the members of which were four eminent and highly respected gentlemen, conducted an investigation of land settlement. Honorable members, if they read its second report, will discover that the Commonwealth has based its land settlement scheme entirely upon the recommendations in that document. Unfortunately, that commission was completely pessimistic about the agricultural prospects in Australia. One paragraph of its report states -
There are no vast areas of Crown land to be opened up by the States, in the development of which both governments and citizens might again share ill-founded optimism.
I gave the lie to that opinion in 1943, and I was associated with the drafting of a bill which incorporated what we considered to be the desirable elements of land settlement. It was not our idea that the scheme for the land settlement of ex-servicemen should be based on the idea of removing an established farmer from the land, and placing an exserviceman on that holding. Such a policy certainly benefits ex-servicemen, but it is not to the advantage of the country as a whole. We also did not expect that excellent markets for our produce in the post-war era would be lost as a result of a system of dual control, and that inspections would delay the operation of the scheme. Yet that is the position. I look to this ‘Government to overhaul the land settlement scheme immediately, because such a review is urgent.
The matter of freehold and leasehold tenure has been mentioned in this debate. The Parliament of Western Australia, when ratifying the agreement between the Commonwealth and that State, made provision, as a result of an amendment submitted by the Country party which was in opposition at that time, that subject to the approval of the Commonwealth, tenants should be permitted to convert their leasehold into freehold. We knew that ultimately a non-Labour government would assume office in the Parliament of the Commonwealth, and would regard that proposal favorably. It is time that this Government took action to provide for the transference of the properties of ex-servicemen under this scheme to a freehold basis, should they so desire.
I suggest, too, that a completely new outlook must be adopted towards the land settlement scheme. We must take a realistic view of the matter, and recognize that large areas of country still await development. We must develop them if we are to feed our increasing population in the future, and provide the food that other countries look to this vast continent to grow for them. The reports of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization on the prospects of the world’s supply of food in future make a lamentable picture. A government that lies down, and refuses to recognize the tremendous potentialities in Australia for meeting the food requirements of the people of other countries, is not fit to remain in office, regardless of its political views. I agree with the statements that were made by honorable members yesterday during the debate on the States Grants Bill 1950 about the need for a balanced economy in the Commonwealth. Those opinions are correct, but they must be viewed in the proper perspective. I point out that whilst one can live without a shirt, one cannot live for long without food. Every endeavour should be made without loss of time to increase the productive capacity of this country. Such efforts, in order to be successful, must begin with a complete review of the scheme for the land settlement of exservicemen. As I have stated, that scheme is causing wide-spread dissatisfaction.
Another matter that should be examined is the valuation of properties that have been allotted to ex-servicemen. The report of the Rural Reconstruction Commission states that the price to be charged must be based upon the economic capacity of the farm under normal efficient management, and in normal seasons. What is the economic capacity of a farm to-day? What is its value? Wool and wheat are bringing high prices, but the prices of some other primary products are below the cost of production. How can the economic capacity of a farm be established to-day? Does one take, as a basis, the prices that were prevailing before World War II., or the .present-day prices ? All that the settler wants to know is, “ What do I have to pay for thi3 land ? “ The Division of Agricultural Economics of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, to which reference was made this afternoon, is dodging the issue, and is not “ game “ to state exactly the economic value of the land, and the basis on which it will be made available to ex-servicemen. I recognize that this Government has inherited difficulties from the preceding Labour Government because of the rotten foundation upon which the land settlement scheme was based. Are we to believe that the future of agriculture in this country is so limited, so dark and dismal that we just dare not take the risk of establishing ex-servicemen on the land? Yet that was the position a few years ago. As a result of a decision that was reached in Canberra by the Division of Agricultural Economics, some Crown lands were “ scrubbed “ for the purposes of land settlement for ex-servicemen. The division decided that, because soil features, rainfall and so on were not in accord with its ideas of what was done 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, such land should be excluded from the scheme. The fact that within the last ten years agricultural practices have been completely revolutionized and that much of the land that was previously considered unproductive is now regarded as possessing a high productive potential, and of producing animal fats and meat which are bo badly needed to-day, has apparently escaped the notice of the Commonwealth’s so-called experts. Only recently I heard a statement made in the course of a wireless broadcast that stock could be raised only in an area that had an annual rainfall of 30 inches. The fact is that to-day some of the best quality stock are produced in areas that have a rainfall of only ten inches annually.
I appeal to the Government to tackle the problem of land settlement on the scale on which it should be tackled. Let us overhaul our whole approach and remove dual control. Let us get down to basic values and view in proper perspective the problem of developing land. Let us restore the faith of men who served their country so well in its hour of need but have since become embittered by the failure of governments to keep their promises to them. The attitude of cynical disillusionment has become so widespread that many ex-servicemen have been told that even if they waited until they grew beards as long as that of Methuselah they would not have a chance of getting a block for settlement. It is rotten that such men should be treated so badly. In conclusion, I say that whilst I support the bill and commend the Government for having introduced it, I do not think that the Government has gone far enough in this matter. What we want is not more money from the Government for land settlement of ex-servicemen, but a complete overhaul and review of the land settlement of exservicemen in all States, and I appeal to the Government to undertake that investigation immediately.
., - in reply - Although many criticisms of the land settlement scheme for ex-servicemen have been advanced by those who have taken part in the debate, most of the points raised have been answered adequately by succeeding speakers. For that reason, I do not propose to detain the House by traversing ground that has already been well beaten, and shall confine myself to replying to the concluding portion of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley). Apparently the right honorable gentleman is under the impression that the bill is intended to provide finance for all the requirements of the States in respect of land settlement of ex-servicemen, and, indeed, the general debate has proceeded very largely upon that assumption. The fact is that the sum of £4,000,000 which the Commonwealth proposes to maks available to certain States, i3 intended to cover the expenditure of only those States that have co-operated fully with the Commonwealth in the land settlement of exservicemen. The sum of £4,000,000 will be distributed among those States as follows: .South Australia, £1,795,000; Western Australia, £1,350,000; Tasmania, £855,000. Most of that expenditure will be incurred in developing land which has been purchased by those governments at comparatively low prices, and is now being brought to high productivity by modern agricultural methods before it is allocated to ex-servicemen. The requirements of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have been met in the loan programmes that were approved at the recent meeting of the loan council.
– How much money will be provided for land settlement?
– I cannot furnish the relevant figure off-hand. The right honorable gentleman referred to the inability of certain ex-servicemen in New South Wales to participate in the ballots for soldier settlement blocks. Since he mentioned that he intended to obtain certain official statistics before pressing the matter with the Government, I hope that when he obtains that information he will communicate with me. The right honorable gentleman realizes that New South Wales is entitled, under its agreement with the Commonwealth, to fix the terms and conditions of land tenure and the conditions generally under which applicants are selected to take up holdings. Those conditions are set out in the Closer Settlement Act of New South Wales. The right honorable gentleman referred to the prices that are paid for land resumed by the authorities for the settlement of ex-servicemen. The Commonwealth and the States are well aware of the problem caused by the steep rises of prices that have occurred, and he may rest assured that the situation is being kept continually under review. However, the Commonwealth does not fear that any very serious financial losses will be incurred because of depreciation of the value of land bought at present prices. In most States the policy adopted has been to buy undeveloped land at relatively cheap prices and to develop it to productive levels before subdividing it for settlement.
I shall refer now to a point made by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who took the Government to task for not providing sufficient money for land settlement. He said that the Commonwealth had almost unlimited resources in the Commonwealth Bank of which it could avail itself, and he urged that the Government should not be deterred from borrowing all the money that it needs in order to provide war service homes. I remind the honorable gentleman that during the last eight years he was a member of Labour administrations, and, although they may be unpalatable to him, I shall cite the official statistics of expenditure by those administrations on the provision of war service homes. In 1945-46 they provided £372,168; in 1946-47, £2,136,000; in 1947-48, £4,439,000; in 1948-49, £8,566,000; and in 1949-50, £16,154,000. This measure proposes to provide £25,000,000. Those figures tell their own story, and I think that the honorable gentleman should be the last to criticize the Government for allegedly neglecting to provide sufficient money for this purpose.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.54 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 19th October (vide page 1101), on motion by Mr. Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Although this bill bears the title of Wool Sales Deduction (Administration) Bill, in view of the fact that it and its accompanying ways and means resolution are taxing measures it should be called the Wool Sales Tax Bill. The reason why the Government has attempted to hide the real nature of the bill behind a false title is that its members made certain promises to the electors. This bill constitutes a breach of those promises. Since the bill was introduced I have heard honorable members say that it is not a taxing bill. It is a taxing bill but, as I have said, the word “ tax “ has been omitted from its title because the parties that now compose the Government gave a pledge to the people that they would reduce taxation. But now we find that the 91,000 wool-growers of Australia are to be treated as a separate section of the community, and to no less an amount than £103,000,000 in this financial year. If any honorable member doubts that this is, in actual fact, a tax measure, I need only refer him to the closing words of the speech that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) made when he moved the second reading of the measure, in which he said -
The bill will give effect to an arrangement for the earlier payment of taxes. . .
Any measure that gives effect to an arrangement for the earlier payment of taxes is clearly a taxing measure. Nobody can dispute that fact.
Now let us seek the motive that actuated the Government. We all can recall that the Government parties pledged themselves to take all the necessary measures to restore the purchasing power of the £1, or, they termed it, “ to put .value back into the fi “. They pointed out repeatedly that one of the reasons for the decrease of the value of the £1, which was likely to continue unless vigorous measures to halt it were taken, was the excess income that was flowing into the hands of the people while consumer goods were in short supply. At a time when no general election was looming on the horizon one of the Government’s advisers, probably in an unofficial capacity, launched, through the press of this country, a proposal that the wool-growers of Australia should have 33 per cent, of their unusually high incomes taken from them by parliamentary action. That proportion of income was to be set aside for return to the wool-growers in the less prosperous days that might lie ahead. The author of that proposal was Professor Copland. But as time went on and public antagonism, particularly among wool-growers, was aroused, the Government, which had originally given the proposal a favorable reception, ran away from it. At the same time the suggestion made to the Government was strongly supported within its own ranks, and was that the Australian £1 be revalued. But after some quarrelling among the discordant factions that constitute the Government it was decided to abandon that proposal, although it had been approved by a majority of Liberal party supporters, in favour of a compromise wool tax plan. The bill now before the House gives effect to that compromise.
Unfortunately it would appear that the Australian Country party wing of the Government is supporting this wool tax plan. I am very doubtful whether the wool-growers of this country, let alone the Australian Country party’ members of this House, are fully aware of the plan’s obnoxious features. The Treasurer’s budget speech contained a revealing reference to it. After referring to the inflationary tendencies in terms that I shall condense, he said that high wool prices added to our international reserves and had a favorable impact on those reserves. That was a complimentary reference to the effect of the high wool prices. He also said that it was to the national advantage to add to our inter national reserves, but that high wool prices could be internally disruptive because of the high and excess purchasing power in the community that would be caused without a corresponding quantity of goods being available for purchase. He promised to introduce a measure to restrain the effect of that excess purchasing power while at the same time safeguarding the interests of the wool-growing industry. This is the measure to which he referred. It is designed to take away 20 per cent, of the gross income of the wool-growers, exempting only those who have’ a wool clip of a value of less than £20. In order to appease the wool-growers because he realized that they would perhaps criticize the Government on the ground that they were the only section of the community that was being penalized, he went on to say that there had been excess business profits. He said that many sections of commerce and industry had made abnormal profits the existence of which added to inflationary forces, and added, “We have measures under consideration “. I wish the wool-growers and supporters of the Australian Country party in particular, to note that he said that the Government had measures under consideration to draw off some part of the excess profits that were going to business and industry. He went on to say -
We shall devise the best methods so as not to injure commerce and industry. Those measures are receiving close examination so that they may be fair and equitable.
Consideration promised of measures to deal with excess profits in commerce and industry! Time required in order that the measures to be introduced to deal with those excess profits may be fair, just and equitable! But when the wool-growers, who are the principal earners of our overseas income are concerned, we find a measure introduced that does not give any evidence of any consideration having been given to the devising of fair and equitable methods to drain off the increased purchasing power now in the hands of the wool-growers. After all, the wool industry is of vast importance to Australia. It is probably the most important of all our industries. Conservative governments have given to it practically no assistance whatever. It has stood on its own feet and has been entirely independent in its outlook. It is quite prepared to bear its share, when it comes to a matter of drawing off excess purchasing power in a fair, just and equitable way, with all other sections of the community, including commerce and industry, and wage and salary earners.
The wool industry’s importance to Australia is best illustrated by the fact that although we have only about 91,000 wool-growers they produce annually approximately 3,250,000 bales of wool. In this .current year it is estimated that wool sales abroad will yield a revenue of £380,000,000 for Australia. Over a long period of years the earnings of our wool in overseas markets have accounted for 44 per cent, of our overseas income. They have never been less than 30 per cent., and on occasions have been more than 50 per cent. After all, the wool-growers, who are treated as a sectional interest under this bill, have in the past never sought to obtain any favours. They have had their ups and downs, their hardships and droughts, they have faced low prices and hard conditions. We should realize that 73 per cent, of them grow individually only between 1 and 30 bales of wool a year. In other words, most of them are growers in a small way who have from 40 to about 1,200 sheep. They have either small holdings of rich soil texture or large holdings of comparatively poor soil texture, and they have suffered for many years from dreadfully low prices. It is no exaggeration to say that, partly through ignorance but more often through economic desperation most of the nourishment in the rich soil content has been drained away from the wool-growing areas of Australia. The ravages of erosion in Australia to-day are dreadful and if ever any section of industry should be left something substantial of the returns that it is enjoying as a result of more prosperous times, to provide against the actualities that menace it, it is that section. We do not have to go far from the environments of Canberra to see the ravages of soil erosion. Probably for the first time in the history of this country our wool-growers are so happily placed that after a decade of educational work on the menace of soil erosion they are able, because of their present high incomes, to take the necessary measures topromote the return to the soil of that which has been taken out of it during thelast century.
– It will be the first time they have put anything back into the soil.
– That is true. Let us consider the prices in the 1920” season when wool was £21 a bale. In saying that it was worth that to shear it, I speak as one who knows. In 1931-32^ the price fell to £11 a bale. The impact of that low price, not only on the woolgrowers, but also on the economic life of the people of the Commonwealth, was terrific. Partly as an outcome of those conditions, up to one-third of the population was unemployed, and practically destitute. What chance was there for the wool-grower in those days to put anything back into the soil, get rid of rabbits, or deal with his other problems? In 1936, the price was £17 a bale. In 1946-47 it was £30 a bale ; in 1948-49, £60 a bale ; and in 1949-50, £68 a bale. It may be that before this season has finished it will be £100 a bale, and that money will go to a great industry which needs it for the regeneration of its property.
The Treasurer pointed out that the international reserves were increased by these vast wool payments. Whilst it is true that inflation is dangerous, it is desirable that no industry should be robbed of an incentive to improve its productive capacity, and to establish further overseas reserves. I noticed in a newspaper yesterday the report of Dr. Roland Wilson on the overseas trade situation. The total adverse trade balance for the first quarter of 1950-51 was £37,000,000, despite the fact that these high incomes have been received from overseas. The value of our exports amounted to £133,000,000, and of our imports to £171,000,000. This Government now proposes to rob the woolgrower of an incentive to continue his efforts to add to overseas earnings. Exports in 1950-51 increased by 23 per cent, on the 1949-50 figure. Imports increased by 52 per cent. Whilst Australia has sterling balances totalling £615,000,000, if its trade position deteriorates at this rate it will not be long before it will face an adverse trade balance overseas. The Government proposes to rob an industry of incentive.
– Talk sense .’
– I know that members of the Australian Country party become irritated and have to say “ Talk sense “ when they hear these statements, but these things have happened before, and I remind the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) that this country has been exceedingly fortunate in the last three or four years in its overseas earnings. Australia has achieved record production of wheat, wool, and many other products, and the time cannot be very far distant when we shall strike hardships, with lean years and droughts. I realize that in an inflationary period there is some cause for a government to drain off excess revenue, but it should be drained off justly, fairly and equitably, not sectionally. Whatever governments have been in power previously have at least endeavoured to make the incidence of taxation bear on the people in accordance with their ability to pay. There is no endeavour to do that in this measure. The Government proposes to take 20 per cent, in tax out of the gross income cf every wool-grower. A lame excuse has been offered that the Government is following the system that has been applied to the wage-earners. Let us examine that story. It is a bedtime story. It is quite true that almost since the inauguration of uniform taxation the wage-earner of this country, at the end of every fortnight, has had deducted from his income his tax liabilities. When the Commissioner of Taxation sends out his assessment the necessary deduction has already been made. For that reason, the tax imposed is a tax on net earnings, and most wageearners last year received a refund of a portion of the amount deducted. The same policy ha? not been applied to the wool-grower. The facts are not. as supporters of the Government have stated thom. The excuses that they make are not warranted. There are in Australia 1.700,000 wage and salary earners, who, bv weekly deductions from their earnings, p’s.:d :(-:S4.000,000 in. the financial year 1 04(5-47. The Government says that it is enabling the wool-grower to do the same thing. According to the report of the Commissioner of Taxation, there are in Australia 354,000 employers and individual enter.preneurs such as professional people who pay their tax when they obtain their assessments, and they paid £51,000,000 in the. year that I have cited. There are 136,000 farmers, who paid £15,000,000 of that sum of £51,000,000, on an estimated net income. Fifteen thousand companies paid £44,000,000 in tax. Five hundred and sixty-one of them were pastoral companies, and they paid £1,100,000. Outside the wage income group a total of 360,000 persons paid tax annually instead of at the end of each week. The Government proposes to tax 90,000 of these - the wool-growing section - 20 per cent, of their gross income. That will leave 270,000 others apart from the woolgrowers who will not pay extra taxation of any sort.
– Should they do so?
– The Treasurer said in his budget speech that he was exploring ways of taxing equitably the people in commerce and industry. Why did he not explore methods of taxing the woolgrowers equitably? He picked them out and arranged with the Australian Country party to put this 20 per cent, tax on the wool-growers, who are a section within a tax group, as the price of abandoning the appreciation of the Australian £1. How can one compare the treatment of wool-growers with the treatment of other income-earners? Honorable members know that the Treasurer has not been game to say in reply to questions put to him during this week that he will introduce an excess profits tax this session.
– I said that I would do so.
– The Treasurer can verify from Hansard proofs that he said that he intended to introduce it. I challenge him to say that he will introduce it during this session. The honorable member for Mallee (“Mr. Turnbull) and the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Charles Anderson) may laugh hollowly, but until the Treasurer does that his Government will stand condemned as one which, for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, has singled out a section of the community within a group for sectional taxation. Let ns have a look at something else that is wicked.
– The honorable member’s argument is as weak as water.
– The honorable member for Mallee will be weak.
– Order !
– Let the honorable member try to disprove this when his turn to speak arrives.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! If honorable members do. not obey the Chair, some one will go out. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson), who is still interjecting, will remain quiet.
– Will you make those who sit on my left remain quiet?
– Order I The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) will apologize to the Chair for disobedience.
– Having had the pleasure of saying what I said, I apologize.
– This Government has proposed that the wool-growers of Australia shall pay income tax three times within one financial year. During this financial year the wool-growers will be placed in an entirely’ different position from that of any other section of taxpayers. I have been a wool-grower. Let me assume that I was one this year. Normally I should receive my income tax assessment in respect of my ordinary farm income about October or November, at the earliest. When I had paid it T should have almost discharged my tax liabilities. I might have to pay a small additional amount or might receive a refund.
– Not on a substantially increased income.
– The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) had better start worrying about his constituents. I should, perhaps, have more than met my liabilities for the financial year 1950-51. But I shear my sheep in November and my wool is rostered to be sold about March. Yet when I sell my wool in March of the same year, I find that my woolbroker, on the instructions of the
Treasurer - an Australian Country party Treasurer - has deducted 20 per cent, gross from my wool income. No consideration has been given to the cost of earning the income. No consideration has been given to my interest liabilities, to the gentlemen who hold the mortgage on the farm. No consideration has been given to my essential expenditure after long, lean years, nor to the necessity for purchasing fodder. No consideration has been given to my obligations to my trading bank, or my family obligations - whether I had had quadruplets or triplets. A second tax has been imposed upon me in respect of the financial year 1950-51. In addition, there is a deduction from my wool cheque of 7i per cent, which has been authorized by this Parliament in anticipation of a continuation of some scheme which is similar in its incidence to the Joint Organization scheme. Out of all the sections of the community the 91,000 wool-growers of Australia are to be singled out for this injustice by a Government that is supported by the Australian Country party. That is the price of the retention in the Cabinet of Australian Country party members such as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), the Treasurer and the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), and the throwing overboard of the wish of the Liberal party section of the Cabinet to appreciate the Australian £1. Nobody can deny that that is the price, and that I have stated the facts correctly. When the Liberal party becomes . strong enough in this Parliament it will throw over the Australian Country party. The Australian £1 will then be appreciated, but the woolgrowers will have made in one year three payments of income tax. The Government has stated that provision will be made for cases of hardship among the wool-growers. That is not what is needed in legislation such as this; it is justice. To-day, very few wool-growers are suffering actual hardship, hut there are numbers of persons engaged in the wool industry, both on and off the land, who are doing very important ancillary work. I refer for instance to the re-stocker. I am a wool-grower and I live on land that is excellent for grazing in the spring. For six months in the colder part of the year there is no growth. It has been my lifelong practice in September of each year to buy store sheep at market value. Many other wool-growers are in the same position, and, because of the lush spring growth, have to pay up to £11 at the market for sheep in the wool. Yet 20 per cent, gross is to be taken off their returns in exactly the same way as it is to be taken off the grower whose sheep stand in his books at about the price of 10s. a head.
– The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Treloar) is a prosperous country storekeeper. He does not care a damn for the wool-growers.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw the unparliamentary word “ damn “.
– Very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I thought that that word is used in the best literature. I am detailing undeniable facts. Then there is the case of the dealer who has accommodation paddocks and buys sheep at the present high ruling prices and puts them in the paddocks. He shears the sheep and in due course is robbed of 20 per cent, of the gross return.
– The Government shears him in his turn.
– Yes, that man also is shorn. The Labour party realizes that in an inflationary period it is necessary to drain off excess spending power in the community to the degree that that can be done without inflicting hardship. But I wonder what the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) thinks about such a thing, because no doubt he still believes in his often-stated maxim “ The produce of the land belongs to the man on the land “. I wonder why he stands loyally behind this Government now. Ministerial control was his bugbear when I was a Minister in the previous Government. I do not know how he will react to this form of ministerial control which heavily taxes one section of the people and allows to escape the 270,000 other taxpayers who are engaged in business activities of a different sort. The Treasurer has not been heard even to whisper that he will bring down a bill this session to deal with excess profits. He fleeces the woolgrowers of £103,000,000 in order to balance his budget and has the effrontery to say that such an action is antiinflationary. Then he uses the money for current governmental expenditure. Is there anything anti-inflationary about that? For the benefit of the honorable member for Gippsland, the honorable member for Riverina, the honorable member for Hume, and the honorable member for Mallee, I shall show that he does what is even worse than that. He assumes authority under this measure to impose the tax not for one year only, but for a number of years. That is the reason why he can take it into the budget as a receipt and use it for current expenditure. It is a slick cheapjack trick and in effect it means that the Government says to the wool-grower, “ Lend me £1 for twelve months”. It then repays the £1, but because the bill is to have a continuing incidence, at the end of twelve months it again says to the wool-grower, “ Lend me another £1 “. As long as that process is continued, notwithstanding that in the next year that tax’ is paid in the normal way, by a slick crook method £103,000,000 is taken in as budget revenue and the people are persuaded that this is an anti-inflationary measure. The whole thing is a sham. It is a continuation of the sorry record of the conservative forces in this country in their dealings with the wool-growers. Wool-growers have never had justice or assistance from the conservative parties. The anti-Labour governments, under an agreement, sold the wool-growers’ wool at the outbreak of the last war for 13s. 4d. per lb. There was a provision in the agreement that the contract could be reviewed in May of each year. One May passed by without a review and it was not until the Labour Government took office in 1941 that the agreement was reviewed and a price of 15s. 4d. per lb. was obtained. In 1936 an anti-Labour Government levied a tax for the establishment of a wool publicity and research organization.
– What about the £7,000,000?
– I suggest that the honorable member should wake up and realize what is going on. He was horn in ignorance and will no doubt die in ignorance. In 1945 a Labour government provided for the collection of a tax from the wool-growers towards wool publicity and research and provided a £l-for-£l contribution. For the first time in our history a government found £200,000 towards the expense of that organization and the wool-growers found the other £300.000. In 1945 a Labour government established an Australian Wool Realization Commission which arranged for the orderly liquidation of the excess Australian wool purchased by the United Kingdom. In 1948 a Labour government introduced a bill to provide for the distribution of” the profits of that organization, and in fact, distributed £25,000,000. Now there is £40,000,000 available for distribution, and I ask whether the Treasurer intends to distribute that or whether he intends to keep it in the Treasury together with the proceeds of the 20 per cent, robbery that is to be perpetrated by the Government.
At present the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) and. the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) are talking about a scheme to provide preferential treatment in the sale of wool to the United States of America and probably to the United Kingdom and other Continental nations. Under that scheme it is proposed that certain nations shall get their wool without buying it at public auction. What do the honorable members for Hume, Gippsland and Mallee think about that? The effect of this measure will be substantially to destroy incentive to produce, to lower respect for government and to destroy the prospects of the establishment and acceptance of the new joint organization scheme because there will be a reluctance to give any more authority to .this Government. Among wool-growers it will diminish keenness for improvement by purchasing new plant. It will destroy faith in the Government’s impartiality as between groups of taxpayers. Above all it will have no effect at all on inflation. This bill is so disgraceful and iniquitous that if a Labour government is returned to office at the next general election it will repeal it.
.. - I listened with interest to the eloquent speech of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). I admire his eloquence, but I deplore his logic. He would have the House believe that a tax is being placed upon the woolgrowers as a section, but nothing could be further from the truth. This bill is no more than it purports to be. It is a bill to collect at the source 20 per cent, of the proceeds from the sale of wool. The honorable member referred to a suggestion by Professor Copland that an export tax of 33^ per cent, should be placed on wool, and suggested that that was the idea behind this measure. I inform him that Profesor Copland i3 not an adviser of this Government, although he was an adviser of the Chifley Government. I have no doubt that had he made a suggestion of that nature to the Chifley Government, and had Australia been unfortunate enough to still have the Chifley Government in office, the wool export tax would have become a reality. The honorable member went on to say that as a wool-grower he would be charged his 20 per cent, in March when the first wool was sold and would pay income tax three times in the one year. If he did not sell his wool until March nine months of the financial year during which the levy was payable would already have passed. Some honorable members opposite are endeavouring to prevent me from being heard. They will come to realize that I can shout as loudly as they do. The principle to which the honorable member for Lalor objected so strongly to-day has been applied to 1,500,000 taxpayers for the last ten years. The honorable member’s synthetic sympathy for the woolgrowers is amusing. He did not show the same sympathy for the rouseabout, the shearer and other classes of workers who are employed by the wool-grower when they were compelled to pay their income tax in fortnightly instalments so that at the end of each financial year they had paid their tax in full. Even after the wool-growers have paid this £103,000,000 they will still be liable to pay on this year’s income an additional £60,000,000.
One point upon which the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and I are in complete agreement is that Australia probably owes more to the woolgrower than to any other section of the community.
– Then why slug him?
– I have already pointed out that under this proposal the wool-grower will not be treated differently from other classes of taxpayers. Let us inquire further whether this proposal will cause hardship to the wool-growers. During the year ended the 30th June, 1948, they received for their wool an average price of £60 a bale and in the following year an average price of £80 a bale, whilst on the basis of sales that have already been effected it is estimated that the average for this year will be £140 a bale. Therefore, after 20 per cent, of the total proceeds from the sale of wool is withheld from him the poor, starving woolgrower will receive on the average this year as much as £112 a bale. So how can it be said that this proposal will cause him hardship? Under it, the woolgrower will be obliged to pay his income tax in the way in which every other primary producer and individual who earns income is obliged to pay his tax. Therefore, members of the Opposition have uo ground for claiming that this proposal constitutes a discriminatory tax to the detriment of the wool-growers. Such a statement is sheer humbug. In 1939, Australia’s total wool cheque amounted to approximately £60,000,000, but it is estimated that this year it will amount to approximately £500,000,000. In those circumstances it is not unfair for the Government to say to the wool-growers that as otherwise they would have a purchasing power out of all proportion to that possessed by other sections of the community’ at a time when it must curb inflationary trends, it wishes to withhold 20 per cent, of their income from the sale of wool and to place that money in a fund in order to assist it to maintain economic equilibrium. I know the woolgrower as intimately as does any other honorable member. When the growers realize that they will not lose one penny under this proposal but are simply being asked to make the money available to the Government at a time when it sorely needs it, not one voice will be raised in opposition to it.
I have already referred to the great debt that this country owes to its flock masters and sheep breeders. Australia occupies a unique position in the world as a wool-producer. The quality of our merino wool is unexcelled, and the evolution of the merino breed has primarily been due to the efficiency of our flockmasters and sheep-breeders. Therefore, it is silly to say that the Government proposes to treat that section of the community, or, indeed, any other section, unjustly. The honorable member for Lalor made me smile when he appeared in the role of a supporter of the primary producers. I wa3 reminded of remarks that he made in different vein when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the Chifley Government. Speaking at Ballarat, in April, 1948, he said -
The Labour party has a master plan for total socialization. We will go on and on,’ until eventually in Australia you will have a great co-operative Commonwealth. Its wealth will be owned by the people, and will be operated in a socialistic manner for our people as a whole.
Whilst many honorable members opposite say, “ Hear, hear ! “ to that statement, T notice that the honorable member for Lalor does not join in the chorus. Does he still hold the view that he expressed on that occasion at Ballarat?
– I warn the woolgrowers that if the Labour party is again returned to office it will oblige the woolgrowers to produce wool at prescribed wages and will seize the proceeds derived from the sale of their wool. I have no doubt that the growers would much prefer the proposal that is embodied in this measure to any system that a socialist government would introduce to their detriment.
I frankly admit that wool-growers, in common with other primary producers, experienced difficult times during the year3 that immediately preceded the outbreak of the recent war. However, during the last three seasons they have received tremendous prices for their wool. What are the reasons for the present fantastic prices that wool is realizing? They are attributable, first, to the aftermath of World War II.; and, secondly, to the threat of a third world war. Recent events have shown that this country must take more adequate steps to defend itself than it has taken in the past. Does any honorable member say that the woolgrowers are not prepared to contribute their share of the cost of adequate defence or that they do not consider that their assets are worth defending? Honorable members opposite insult the intelligence of the wool-grower when they pretend that the Government is singling him out for unfair treatment compared with that of other taxpayers.
It has been said that cases of hardship will arise under this scheme. I admit that possibility, but, at the same time, I believe that the number of such cases will be infinitesimal. However, amendments that the Treasurer has circulated indicate clearly that cases of hardship will be dealt with speedily and justly.. Those amendments provide that any application for relief that is not dealt with by the Commissioner of Taxation within 30 days shall automatically be referred to an independent board of review that the Government proposes to set up for that purpose. Obviously, cases of hardship will arise mainly in respect of losses that may be caused by fire, flood, drought, or disease in stock. In addition, provision will be made in respect of cases of hardship that may arise from the fact that individuals have bought stock at excessively high prices in the hope of being able to recoup their outlay having regard to prevailing high prices for wool. In any instance in which hardship is proved, income withheld from a grower under this scheme will be immediately refunded to him. The objection may be raised that the Government proposes to expend this money in the year in which it is collected. Can that be regarded as a valid objection when we remember that the Government is committed as the result of decisions made by the preceding Government to find £67,000,000 this year to be paid as war gratuity to men who have defended this country? Does any honorable member suggest that the Government should repudiate that obligation ? Honorable members are also aware that the Government will be obliged this year to incur substantial expenditure on defence. Would any of them say at a time like the present that the Government should not take adequate precautions to ensurethe safety of Australia? I do not think that he would.
When the wool-grower realizes that the Government wishes to protect him against those who would socialize his industry and would oblige him to work solely for the State he will wholeheartedly support this scheme. He will realize that it is much better to have in office a government that does not wish to extract from him one penny more in income tax compared with the tax that it levies upon the ordinary taxpayer than to have a government which during the last three yeai’3 of its administration endeavoured to introduce socialization in this country. I remind the honorable member for Lalor that the people of Australia on the 10th December last showed in no uncertain way what they thought of the various schemes that the Labour party put forward during the last general election campaign. This Government has been given a clear mandate by the people and it intends to give effect to it without fear or favour. When the people realize that the Government will do nothing that would react unfairly upon any section of a community they will readily accept and applaud this proposal. Australia is a great country with a splendid future. We have grave responsibilities and it is about time we told the people the truth and did not try to deceive them as the Labour party has done by talk of the kind in which the honorable member for Lalor indulged to-night. He endeavoured to lead the wool-growers to believe that they have been” singled out for unfair treatment compared with that accorded to other classes of taxpayers in the community.
.- The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) at the outset of his speech declared that he was able to shout just as loudly as could the honorable member who preceded him and other honorable members on this side of the House. He has just proved that shouting is a poor substitute for logic. In the course of his emotional outburst he said, in effect, that the wool-growers should be responsible for financing Australia’s defence expenditure, the payment of war gratuity and, in fact, all the new expenditure to which the Government is committed. Such a claim will sound strange in the ears of at least those members of the Australian Country party, who, in fact, are farmers and have known at first-hand the dangers, losses and struggles of the man on the land. However, too few of the representatives of the primary producers in this Parliament have engaged in the toil of the man on the land or experienced fire, drought, flood, and periods of temporary high prices and of inevitable low prices. Australian wool-growers happen to have experienced all those disasters and vicissitudes, yet a member of the Liberal party, who, it is. true, represents the country electorate of Corangamite, claims that they should bear the whole cost of Australia’s defence expenditure.
– I did not make that statement.
– I made a note of the honorable gentleman’s words. He asked, “ Are not their assets worth defending? The poor, starving woolgrowers!” They are informed that Australia has vast defence commitments, and they are asked to pay this sectional tax in order to meet that cost. The honorable member said that Australia has to meet its sacred trust in respect of the payment of the war gratuity to ex-servicemen. He then asked, “ Will the wool-growers refuse to pay the wool sales deduction, which will be a contribution to the cost of the war gratuity?” As a matter of fact, the honorable gentleman missed the crux of this problem. It is true that the wool clip this year is not substantially bigger than last year’s clip but it is bringing a greatly increased return. However, that money does not remain in the pockets of the wool-growers. It is not buried in the coffers of a select group of large graziers and squatters, who have enriched themselves over many years. It circulates throughout the Australian community. The woolbrokers immediately deduct a substantial amount in commission from the wool-growers’ cheques, yet they have not been asked to pay a sectional tax as a contribution to the campaign against inflation. The great stock and station agents, who, for many years, have handled Australia’s wool clip and have waxed fat on the proceeds, will not be asked to pay a sectional tax. The honorable member for Corangamite supplied to the House the information that the woolbrokers, in the year preceding the outbreak of World War II., sold our wool clip for £60,000,000. They will sell this year’s clip, without reducing their rate of commission, for £550,000,000. If the Government considers that a sectional tax should be imposed upon wool-growers as a means of combating the inflationary condtions, I should like to know why it has not announced its intention to impose a sectional tax upon the wealthy woolbrokers for a similar purpose. Where is the so-called equality of treatment as between the wool-growers and the woolbrokers? Stock and station agents and woolbrokers generally are garnering a rich, harvest from the vastly increased value of the Australian wool clip. It is true that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has announced that the Government proposes to introduce legislation to impose a tax on excess profits. I contend that such a measure should accompany the Wool Sales Deduction (Administration) Bill 1950, which the House is now considering. All those sections of the community that are reaping greatly increased profits from the current prosperity should be required to pay a tax on excess profits.
The influence of the prosperous conditions that are attributable to the vastly increased returns from the sale of the wool clip, extends even beyond the woolgrower, the woolbroker and the stock and station agent. Have Government supporters examined the balance sheets of the firms that sell farm machinery, motor vehicles and tractors? They are disposing of fewer vehicles and implements this year than they sold before the outbreak of World War II., yet their profits are swollen beyond recognition. Does this bill even attempt to extract from those companies a part of the excess profits that they have derived largely from the wool-growers and from other primary producers? Of course it does not! The honorable member for Corangamite endeavoured to assure the House that the wool sales deduction was not a new tax, and that, in due course, after it had been paid, the wool-growers of. Australia collectively would still have in hand many millions of pounds. The honorable gentleman was careful to use the word “ collectively “. He studiously avoided use of the word “ individually “. Some wool-growers will pay to Consolidated Revenue by way of the wool sales deduction less money than they will pay as income tax, whilst others will pay by way of wool sales deductions more than they will ultimately pay as income tax. The small wool-growers, who can least afford to pay the wool sales deduction, will be relatively in a worse position than the wealthy squatters.
I shall probe deeper into the matter, and examine the circumstances of the growers to whom the honorable member for Lalor referred. Some persons buy sheep “ in the wool “. The vendor does not make an allowance, in the price that he charges, for the wool sales deduction that must ultimately be paid. When the buyer sells the wool in due course, he will bear the burden represented by the wool sales deduction. The honorable member for Corangamite referred to the prosperous condition of the wool industry. The wool-growers deserve that prosperity. They have experienced many lean and hungry years. From time to time, floods have devastated their properties. Drought has destroyed 10 per cent, of the sheep population. Wool-growers, in common with many Opposition members, have had lean times; for example, when wool prices did not repay the cost of production. They have suffered from the depreciations of the dingo, the fox and other vermin, and from poisonous vegetation. Many wool-growers, up to the outbreak of World War II., did not own the land upon which they depastured their sheep. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) smiles at my statements. Having led a sheltered, almost a cloistered life, he is not aware of the opinions of the wool-growers in his own electorate. He has no knowledge of their experiences, and does not understand their reactions, because he has not pioneered in any part of Western Australia.
As I have stated, many wool-growers, up to the outbreak of World War II., did not own the land on which their sheep were depastured. The holdings were owned by the great trading banks and by the stock and station agents, and the woolgrowers from the far north of Western Australia to the most southern point of that State were virtually caretakers for them. If I may repeat an expression that has been freely used to-day, the returns from Australia’s great wool clip have been pre-empted, not by the United States of America for defence purposes, but by the trading banks and the stock and station agents. To-day, the great squatter and the small wool-grower alike are enjoying a period of great prosperity, and the cry is raised to the heavens by the Government that the wool-grower should be made to bear this most vicious form of sectional tax. Yet the woolbrokers, who also are enjoying conditions of great prosperity from the sale of the wool clip, and do not have to work hard in order to obtain that income, are not to be required to pay the sectional tax.
The Government and its supporters do not understand the situation that has arisen as a result of this great increase of purchasing power. They do not dare to face the real issue, and take the measures that are required to combat the inflationary conditions.
– What measures should be taken to combat that problem?
– I have referred to them in other debates. I had intended to restate them in my speech on the budget, but the application of the gag prevented me from doing so. Of course, I am precluded to-night from discussing them because I must confine my remarks to this bill.
I have said that the Government does not understand the economic problems of the country. It has been “ bull-dozed “ by statements published in the press at the instigation of vested interests to the effect that only an attack on the new purchasing power represented by the returns from the sale of the wool clip can combat the inflationary conditions. The honorable member for Corangamite said that Professor Sir Douglas Copland did not guide or advise this Government, but that he had advised the Chifley Government. I did not intend to import the learned professor into this debate, if that could have been avoided, but I point out that the statement by the honorable member for Corangamite, like so many of the other statements in his emotional outburst, was contrary to the facts. It is true that the professor advised the Curtin Government, and a number of preceding tory governments, on economic matters, but he was the Australian Minister to China for most of the time during which the Chifley Government was in office. When he returned to this country, he became the vice-chancellor of the Australian National University in Canberra. It is significant that when Professor Copland announced his famous wool tax plan, the Government scurried to take steps to give effect to it in a general way, although the details were altered in some respects. However, I have discovered a statement by an economist, Mr. C. V. Janes, B.A., M.Com., who has supported this Government consistently for some years, and who played a big part in the controversy over the nationalization of banking. In fact, he was the economic adviser to the Bank of New South Wales and a lecturer at the University of Sydney. Mr. James, in a reference to export incomes, and the money that has come into the hands of the wool-growers and the primary producers generally, said -
A considerable proportion of the additional incomes being received by these producers is being used to pay off indebtedness and to build up bank balances.
If that is an accurate estimate of the position, I welcome it. Every person who considers Australia’s economic future experiences a feeling of fear of another financial and economic depression that might be brought about, or accentuated, by the policy or the inaction of this Government. If, when another depression occurs, our primary producers are able to confront the situation clear of indebtedness to the banks, Australia will not again be confronted with the grievous and ruinous outlook that characterized our economy in the early ‘thirties. If this country is confronted with another depression, the primary producers will not thank the present Government for having introduced this measure. Mr. Janes went on to say -
The pressure on prices would have been considerably greater, and more value would have seeped out of the pound, if those in receipt of this additional income had spent it. The extent to which they have not done so constitutes a potential danger, in that at any time this pent-up spending power could become effective demand for goods and services.
Of course, the primary producers will not. in fact, have expended the additional income that they received. Later he stated - lt is fortunate indeed that most of those who arc in receipt of these high prices are pursuing a cautious spending policy. This, to a great extent, is forced upon them by the continuing shortage of many of the materials required for maintenance of properties and developmental works.
Then he went on to make a most significant comment, which was, that the present Government cannot face up to the fundamental issues, because of the vested interests that profit from spiralling prices.
Time does not permit me to say all that could be said about this measure, which I believe to be the worst that has ever been introduced into this Parliament. The effect of its passage will be to extract from the farming community sufficient money to enable the Treasurer to finance his budget. It is important to notice, of course, that the Government does not propose to levy a similar special tax on stock and station agents, brokers, wool finance companies and all the other bodies that are fattening on the man on the land. The Treasurer says that the wool-growers are being called upon merely to pay in advance the tax that is levied on other income earners. He might have added that the brokers and the big pastoral companies will not also be called upon to pay their taxes in advance. The money that is to be taken from the wool-growers will be used to finance the Government’s budget. This is undoubtedly the most iniquitous scheme that has ever been introduced by any government. Have we ever heard of a more sectional tax?
The Government now proposes that those wool-growers who pay their taxes in advance shall have a certificate issued to them, and at the end of the financial year those who have paid more than the amount actually owed to the Commissioner of Taxation will have the difference refunded to them. I remind the right honorable gentleman that a considerable portion of the amount of £103,000,000, which he expects to collect from the woolgrowers, is based only on estimates. When the tax assessments are prepared it will be found that many wool-growers will have paid more in tax than they should have paid. If the number of wool-growers who pay excess amounts in tax constitute only 10 per cent, of the total number of wool-growers, the probability is that the Government willhave to repay to them approximately £10,000,000, and that money will have to be paid out of next year’s revenues. Although the budget for the current financial year is based on the estimate that there will be a surplus of revenue over expenditure, it is obvious that but for the money that will be extracted from the wool-growers there would be a heavy deficit.
Another important factor in any consideration of this proposal is that the wool-growers will undoubtedly contest the constitutional validity of the measure. Many aspects of the scheme appear to be open to challenge in the courts. What will happen, for instance, if a wool-grower retains the proceeds of the sale of his wool in his woolshed? How does the Government propose to overcome such a difficulty as that? Undoubtedly, the wool-growers will ask the High Court to declare this measure invalid. After all, the measure proposes to take away from one section of the community a substantial part of their property, and we do not need to be lawyers to know that the Commonwealth can acquire property only on just terms. It is obvious, therefore, that there is every possibility that this measure will be declared invalid by the High Court.
Let us consider now the effect upon our economy of this allegedly antiinflationary measure. The wool-growers have accumulated fairly large bank balances during the last few years, and if they were permitted to retain the entire proceeds of the sale of this year’s wool clip it is extremely doubtful whether they would spend a penny more than they did last year or during the preceding years. It is difficult, ‘therefore, to understand the Government’s claim that this measure will counter the present inflationary tend- ency, because the Government admits that it proposes to expend the money that it intends to take from the wool-growers. The Treasurer said, in the course of his second-reading speech, and the honorable member for ‘Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) repeated to-night, that the Government will eventually repay to the wool-growers the amount that it collects from them in tax during this financial year. In view of that statement, I should like to know how the Treasurer will record in Commonwealth accounts the money collected by the Government. After all, moneys collected by the Government must be acknowledged. I presume, therefore, that treasury-bills will be issued in respect of the amounts collected. But the Treasurer and the honorable member for Corangamite have asserted that treasurybills are not money. I have not time now to deal with that argument, which is most dishonest, but I 3hall do so on a more appropriate occasion. The honorable member for Corangamite claimed that £30,000,000 will have to be raised on treasury-bills in order to pay war gratuity and that those treasury-bills will have to be redeemed by the payment of cash. By the same reasoning, it is obvious that any money that is. credited to woolgrowers, either under the proposed deduction from wool sales or under the proposed stabilization scheme, must ultimately be paid out of the revenues of the Commonwealth.
The Opposition condemns this measure, not merely on behalf of the wool-growers, but also on behalf of the next administration, which will inherit these commitments from the present Government, and on behalf of all sane thinkers, of whom we heard so much from the anti-Labour parties when they were in Opposition. We condemn it in the name of sane finance. We also condemn it because it is not, as the Government claims that it is an anti-inflationary measure, but is, in fact, a measure that will aggravate the present inflationary trend, and will, in years to come, produce a greater depression than would occur if a sane and sensible policy of finance were employed. We condemn it as a device that is being used by the so-called Australian Country party to avoid appreciating the Australian £1, but it is more dishonest in intention, and will be more impracticable in operation than would be the method which that party seeks to avoid applying.
.- Probably few measures that have come before this House have been more clouded by misrepresentation by pressure groups than has been the “Wool Sales Deduction (Administration) Bill. A good deal of misrepresentation is attributable to the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). He traversed the preliminary discussions that led up to the introduction of the bill, and revealed what he claimed to have been the thoughts of members of the Government. His speech was not worthy of an ex-Minister of the Crown. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) shed crocodile tears over those whom members of the Labour party are fond of describing as the ‘ squattocracy “. Now, because it suits their party political convenience, they profess to believe that the Government proposes to do something terrible to the graziers. I am myself n farmer and grazier, and I never knew the Labour Opposition to show us much sympathy in the past. The honorable member for Lalor professed to reveal what was said and thought by members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party when discussing this subject. He also claimed to know what occurred in Cabinet, and to be familiar with secrets which are not known to any one outside the Cabinet and the party rooms. I remind him that members of the Cabinet, and of the two parties which support the Government, are representatives of the people. They make their own decisions, and do not accept those made for them by some outside authority.
Let us review the situation, and consider what the Government had to take into account before this measure was framed. The world has passed through a very serious war which left some countries ruined, and others with their economy seriously upset: Fortunately, Australia escaped serious material damage during the war, although it lost many members of the fighting forces, and its economic structure was shaken. When the war ended, the people of Australia were in possession, of considerable purchasing power, but there was a scarcity of consumer goods upon which to spend money. In the circumstances, prices naturally rose, and thus provided a logical reason for an increase of wages. In that way, there was developed a rising spiral of prices- and costs. The degree of inflation has not so far been serious, but many of the features of an inflationary condition are present. One of the features of inflation is that it does not progress in a simple mathematical order. Rather does it progress in the order of rises in a. poker game, that is, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and so on.
Our first duty, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) pointed out, is to check inflation, and then to suppress it. However, in the meantime, the Government must carry on and meet its commitments. So far, those commitments have been met out of current revenue without any increase of taxation. I remind honorable members that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden), this year has to provide for some extraordinary and non-recurring item3 of expenditure. I refer to certain defence preparation, and to the war gratuity. Both are connected with war, one with circumstances arising out of the last war, and the other with the security of the country in the event of another war. War gratuity payments will amountto £67,000,000. Defence expenditure is divided into two sections. Provision must be made for accelerating the defence programme, and that will cost £83,000,000. It is also proposed to stock pile strategic material at a cost of £50,000,000. That, must be done before the outbreak of war because, once war commences, certain necessary materials will be available no longer. Those items of extraordinary expenditure aggregate £200,000,000, of. which at least £100,000,000 must be found during the current financial year.
The export trade of the country isbuoyant, and prices are high. There is nothing to object to in that; it is a sign of a healthy economy. I join with the Treasurer in congratulating the woolgrowers upon sharing in the wave of prosperity. It has been said that the price of wool is fantastic, and certainly current prices were unthought of some years ago. No one believed that it would ever-he possible for wool to be sold at such prices. Between 1936 and 1939, the average value of Australia’s wool clip was £50,000,000. That grew by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Last year’s record return was more than £300,000,000 whilst the return for the coming season is estimated at £550,000,000 or about eleven times the pre-war figure. I remind the House that the average price per lb. of wool last year was 63d., which was considered then to be an amazing price and was then an all-time record. The last figures that I have been able to. obtain, which are up to the middle of last month, indicate that the price per lb. this year will average about 115. 2d. The average is still rising. Those high prices have been received even though at this time of the year the. fine wools are not being sold. When they come on the market we can expect a further increase of prices.
So now this country is enjoying those most bountiful prices that are due, in some degree, to one of nature’s foibles. I refer to the fact that the possibility of international conflict has caused the remarkable increase of the price of wool. The world came out of the last war hoping for an era of peace, but the unrest and tension in Western Germany, Malaya, Tibet, Korea and other parts of the world have caused the nations to take precautions, and they propose, as we do, to stockpile stragetic materials, such as wool. I do not say that fear of war is entirely responsible for the high price of wool, but it is certainly a main contributory factor. I consider that in those circumstances it is logical, when we are faced with a huge expenditure for defence purposes, and for the payment of war gratuity, to use for our own defence nf.eds some of the buoyant returns that we are getting for our exports because of the defence needs of other countries. Obviously our high overseas income could increase the inflationary trend in Australia, and naturally the Government had to decide to deal with that matter quickly. Before any definite course of action is taken it is necessary that all possible courses be explored. It is not unreasonable that the Government should have first considered certain propositions that had been canvassed in the metropolitan press, and freely discussed outside the Parliament, purport- ing in some instances to be decisions that the Government intended to make. These propositions not only clouded the issues as far as people intimately associated with the Parliament were concerned, but also had a very deep effect on people outside who were not aware of the full facts, and did not understand the true nature of the propositions that were said to be likely to come up for discussion. Consequently they were seriously prejudiced in their views about what the Government intended to do. The first proposition discussed was the appreciation of the £1 Australian. I do not propose to embark on a long discussion of the merits or demerits of the various propositions, but we must examine them briefly, because they are all a part of the general picture.
One immediate result of the appreciation of the £1 Australian, would be that the financial return from our exports would be reduced according to the degree of appreciation. In other words, whilst the primary producer now receives £125 for goods sold abroad for £100 sterling, he would receive only £100 for them after appreciation of our £1 to parity with sterling. That might be offset to some degree by a corresponding cheapening of our imports, although that cannot be taken for granted, because it is only a possibility. The main point to remember is that there would be a definite cut of one-fifth in all our export returns immediately our £1 was appreciated to parity, with sterling. Would that have any effect on the cost of living? Admittedly, it would have some effect on the inflationary trend, but that would not be immediate. Probably some time would elapse before its full impact would be felt. I remind the House that the cost of living is made up of three elements, namely, the cost of foodstuffs, the cost of clothing and the cost of housing. Most of our foodstuffs are locally produced, and are sold at a fixed home-consumption price. Appreciation of the £1, therefore, would have no direct effect on the cost of such foodstuffs to Australian consumers. It would have a very decided effect, however, on the producers of the foodstuffs, in that at the moment they have the benefit of high export prices to offset the loss that they suffer from low home-consumption prices, hut would lose much of that benefit after appreciation. For instance, the overseas price for wheat is 17s. 6d. a bushel, while the home-consumption price is 7s. Id. a bushel. The same remarks apply to other products such as sugar, butter, dairy products generally, poultry and dried fruits. The effect of appreciation on the inflationary trend would be largely offset by its lack of effect on the cost of living. Another proposition that was mooted related to an increase of taxation. Even the honorable ‘ member for Lalor suggested that he was in favour of increasing taxes.
– Be fair! He did not say that.
– If he did not say it, I must have misunderstood him. It is possible, however, that an increase of taxation would enable us to pay the debts with which we are faced. Honorable members opposite have stated that the present measure . will be repealed if they are returned to power at the next general election. I should like to know where the Labour party would obtain the revenue that this measure is intended to raise, if it repealed the act. Judging by some of the remarks that have come from honorable members opposite from time to time about their belief in socialization - and the honoraable member for Lalor, in reply to the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald), said that he supported socialization - it would seem that some form of socialization of the wool industry would be included in the Labour party’s socialization plans. It is rather interesting to note that State Labour politicians bold other views with regard to this particular measure. I have noticed, for instance, that the New South “Wales Minister for Lands, Mr. Renshaw, objects to the proposal, but is mainly concerned about the settlers under the War Service Land Settlement Scheme. He says that those persons should be granted exemption from the plan provided they agreed to pay the equivalent of the proposed deduction to the Department of Lands in reduction of their advance indebtedness. That is a most interesting observation because Mr. Renshaw apparently would not find any fault with the plan provided the money was devoted to purposes with which he is primarily concerned. The Government’s proposition is that the proceeds of the proposed deduction will meet two debts that are now confronting this country. The payment of those debts will not have any inflationary effects. They are non-recurring debts and they must be met. No one will suggest that they should not be met. If this scheme were abandoned, the Government would be able to meet those debts only by means of an internal loan, or by issuing treasury-bills. Each of those courses would be inflationary, and would add to the problem with which we are now attempting to deal. On the other hand, by obtaining, in advance, tax revenue that would have to be paid, eventually, and applying it to the payment of the two debts that I have mentioned, inflation will be curbed, and there can be no suggestion of unfairness.
The bill is perfectly logical. It does not impose any additional tax on any section of the community. It proposes merely to make’ a deduction from the proceeds of the sale of a product the price of which is greatly inflated, mainly because other countries wish to provide themselves with defence stocks in case of aggresssion. The revenue obtained by means of the deduction is to meet costs incurred in a previous war, and to provide security against a possible future war. Numerous objections have been raised to the plan. All of them have been given consideration. Most of them have already been met in the bill itself, and the rest will be met by amendments which the Government proposes to insert in it. No valid objection that has not a perfectly logical answer has been raised in this House against any provisions of the bill. The honorable member for Lalor said that it was unfair to make the deduction from the gross sum. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) has pointed out that the proposed deduction, together with the provisional tax to be paid in the current financial year, will be just sufficient to meet the tax that will eventually be assessed. I cannot see anything unfair at all in imposing a levy, whether on the gross proceeds or the net proceeds, provided that it yields sufficient to meet the eventual commitments.
It has been argued that two taxes will be paid in respect of the one year. That is not so. The making of this provision against a future assessment does not mean that an additional tax is being imposed. Speaking as one who grows a certain quantity of wool, I personally shall be very glad to know that, when I receive my assessment next year, it will have been met by the deductions from the proceeds of my wool sales this year. Otherwise, I and hundreds of other small wool-growers would find it very embarrassing to have to meet assessments levied on income derived as a result of the unprecedentedly high wool prices. The assessments would be beyond our comprehension to-day.
The honorable member for Lalor said that the proposed tax would be imposed for an unlimited time. It is proposed that the amount of the deduction shall be reviewed annually and it will be within the competence of the Parliament to decide that no deduction at all shall be made. Hence, it cannot be said that the tax will be imposed for an unlimited time. Obviously, it would ‘not be reasonable to provide that the tax should end on a certain date, because, human nature being what it is wool-growers, knowing that the imposition was to cease, would be liable to withhold their wool from sale in order to escape the provisions of this legislation. It is to be left to the Government to decide when the economic condition of the country is suitable for the repeal of this legislation.
The honorable member for Lalor referred to the proposal that the United States of America should be given some prior consideration in the purchase of Australian wool. That is not a subject for discussion in this debate; but I remind honorable members that the efforts of our Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) overseas are worthy of the highest commendation. He has protected, if protection be needed, the vital wool industry. He has assured the House that no promise has been made of prior allocation of wool to America. The whole matter is in the melting pot, and this -is not a suitable time to discuss it.
I understand that, next Monday, consideration will .be given by representatives of the wool industry to the representations that have been made by the Minister for ‘Commerce and Agriculture and that, at a later date, the matter will be further discussed.
The honorable member for Perth, after freeing himself of his worries about the wool-grower, suggested, I understand, that there should be some imposition on the wool-grower as one who is enjoying unprecedentedly high prosperity.
– The honorable member should have a shorthand writer to provide a report of what is said. That is not what the honorable member for Perth said.
– I regret that the honorable member for Perth is not in the chamber. I shall be interested to learn whether my impression of his remarks is correct. I put it to the House, first, that, the honorable member for Lalor said that the Opposition party, if returned to office, would repeal this legislation ; secondly, that he said that he was all for socialization ; and thirdly, that we have on our notice-paper a bill for the holding of a prices referendum. I should like to know whether it is contemplated that the price of wool should be fixed. I support the bill. It is designed to overcome a very difficult situation. It is quite fair, and I believe that it will achieve its objective.
– I compliment the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) on his endeavour to give an honest interpretation of this bill. Judged by some of Msconclusions, he is a little innocent on the subject of public finance, but I appreciate his honesty, because I consider that there has been a lot of misrepresentation in the presentation of this matter. The honorable- member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) stated in very loud tones that the measure does only what has been done to the workers for the last ten years.
I regard this as one of the most deplorable measures in public budgeting. It has been a recognized principle that in times of prosperity a government should pay its way and strengthen its finances in order to meet its needs when circumstances decline. This bill proposes to do what is the direct opposite of that principle. The Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) proposes to use £103,000,000 of a future year’s revenue to meet this year’s expenditure. The honorable member for Lawson gave a resume of measures that could have been taken to balance the budget, such as appreciating the Australian £1 or floating a loan, but said that this was the best way to do it. In my opinion, this is the first step that the Government has taken to pave the way for a future depression. The justification for that statement is very simple. It is ridiculous to say that this measure proposes only to do something that has been done for the last seven years. Honorable members will recollect that when pay-as-you-earn taxation was introduced those wage-earners who had paid income tax yearly had to pay, for three years, thirteen months’ taxation. The statement that the woolgrower has not in that way been paying as he has earned and that this measure proposes to bring him into the scheme only now, is designed merely to hoodwink him. I ask any primary producer in this House whether he will deny that in a month or two he will pay a provisional tax for the present financial year. What will the amount that he will pay be based on? It will be based on the averaging system or, alternatively, on what he received during the previous year. He will pay, this year, on the basis of his average income for the last three years. He will pay his provisional tax in January or February but, in addition to that, if this bill comes into force, the merchant who has sold his wool for him will have to send one-fifth of the gross proceeds to the Treasurer. He will pay two amounts to the Treasurer and they will be kept there until after the 30th June ‘of next year, when he will make out another income tax return. The woolgrower will have to pay this 20 per cent, tax on the gross amount that he receives for his wool. In other words, he will have to pay it on the amount that he has paid to hi3 shearers and in respect of every other expense incurred in producing that wool.
– Will he receive any interest on it?
– No. Next year,, when he sends his income tax return in for the present year, the averaging will take place again. Then, if he has a balance to his credit it will be returned to him and he will have to pay his provisional tax next year on the average value of his wool for this and the last two years. Let us look two or three years ahead because this system will continue. In two or three years’ time, if there is a drop in the price of wool, the Government may not think it fair that the wool should not be realizing what, according to some persons, is a ridiculous price. It may then cease to deduct the 20 per cent. Directly it did that the Treasurer’s receipts would be reduced by £103,000,000 which would have to be paid back to the wool-growers. That is where the foundations of a depression will be laid - immediately there is a drought or a recession of overseas prices.
– What about releasing government bonds ?
– I say to the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) that it has been recognized in all parliaments that a government should pay its way in prosperous times. It should not in prosperous times involve itself in commitments that will have to be repaid in succeeding years. That is what the Government proposes to do. Australian Country party members accuse honorable members of the Opposition of shedding crocodile tears for the woolgrower. I am not shedding crocodile tear9 for the wool-grower. I appreciate that out of the fantastic prices, as they have been termed, that wool is bringing a certain amount could be applied to the benefit of the country. But the Treasurer knows that the amount collected by way of taxation during recent years is not sufficient to meet the big increase of the cost of government services. Honorable members were told yesterday, when another matter was being discussed, that when increased price? were charged the people who received the benefit for some commodities must expect to pay increased prices for other commodities. To-day steep increases are occurring in the costs of government, yet the Government is not prepared to obtain sufficient revenue this year to meet its expenditure. Why *i** that ? Honorable members have said that it is because of the necessity to pay war gratuities. Honorable members on the Government side of the House ask where the Government will get the money to pay war gratuities if this proposal is not accepted, yet the same honorable members speak about a balance in the National Welfare Fund. Where is that money? And where is the money that was provided for in previous budgets but was not expended? The honorable member for Lawson said that the Treasurer had to find a way of meeting his commitments. It is rather significant that he said that when he was talking about interest rates and I believe that he did so for the benefit of thu wool-grower. He said that if the Australian £1 was to be appreciated to parity with sterling the wool-growers would receive one-fifth less for their wool. In such an event it would be consistently onefifth less. It would be taken not from the future, but from the present. It is significant that the Government has fixed on the figure of one-fifth of the wool cheque. That adds weight to the statement that this measure is a substitute for appreciation of the £1. I regret that honorable members should attempt to capitalize on this proposal by saying that the wool-grower will now do as the worker dose, and pay as he earns. I admit that the honorable member for Lawson was correct when he stated that, under the averaging system, although there has been a big increase of wool prices this year, sufficient money will not be available to meet the amount required next year. I understand that, but I contend that the wool-grower who receives such high prices for his wool and does not place sufficient money in the bank to meet his taxes next year is neither a successful businessman nor a successful wool-grower. Although it is correct to say that the payment of this tax now will ‘ assist the woolgrower next year, because he will then have the additional amount available, he must, nevertheless, pay it this year instead of next year. Even if this bill does not become law, the wool-grower will still be required to pay provisional tax. Wool-growers and farmers should bear in mind that, regardless of the provisions of this bill, they must still pay provisional tax on their average incomes of the last three years when their assessments are forwarded to them.
The honorable member for Corangamite stated that for the year ended the 30th June, 1949, the wool-grower received for his wool £60 a bale and for the year ended the 30th June, 1950, £80 a bale, whilst for the current financial year he is receiving £140 a bale. I do not say whether that is right or wrong. If it is correct, it means that the wool-grower is receiving this year £60 a bale more than he received last year, and should therefore be happy to pay this tax. When I say that I am not shedding any crocodile tears for the wool-grower, but do so becaus I believe that he is at present able to afford it. My objection is to an attempt to balance the budget in such a manner. It is remarkable that when the £103,000,000 to be acquired from the wool-growers is taken into account in the budget, the credit balance at the end of the year is estimated at less than £1,000,000. It seems to me that that has been worked out most efficiently. The Government has not been honest in preparing its budget in that way. By doing so, it will merely store up difficulties for the future. The honorable member for Lawson stated that the Government must make provision for the payment of debts incurred during a past war, and that it is also preparing for a war that may come in the future. If the Government intends this year to use money from next year’s revenue, how does it consider that it is preparing for a future war ? I suggest that it will make it more difficult than ever to meet the cost of a war and to provide for the additional expenditure needed at such a time.
The statement has been made that this measure may be reviewed from year to year. My reading of the bill is that if the amount is not altered by the Government or the responsible Minister, it will remain at 20 per cent., or one-fifth. I take it that the figure could be increased or decreased, whichever the Government or the Minister desired. That emphasises my statement that this is a “ pushoff “ for the time when there is a drought, a recession in overseas markets or a fall of the price of wooli. If any of those calamities occurs, this measure will be used to push the people deeper into the depression.
I think it was the Treasurer who stated that nothing much more in the way of social services can be provided because there is no money with which to do it. I suggest that if the Government intends to continue to mortgage the future, it is adopting a financial policy that is far from sound. The Treasurer has often been referred to in the newspapers as a sound financier, but I consider that his finance is not sound in relation to this measure. He is caught up in his own toils and is in the position of wanting to balance his budget but not being prepared to do so in the way in which itshould be done. Instead, he intends to borrow and to mortgage future income.
I do not consider that any one could honestly deny that this measure proposes the imposition of sectional taxation. If it is said that the wool -grower is receiving so much for his wool that he is in a specially privileged position, and therefore an extra tax should be imposed on him, well and good. I use the word “ tax “ because the honorable member for Lawson constantly referred to it in that way. I would refer those people who say it is hot a tax to the statements of thu Treasurer and other members of the Government. When the Chifley Government was in power there was income tax and a social services contribution. When the Government of the day referred to the latter as a contribution, it was told that it was no such thing and that it was merely a tax under another name. The man working in industry on a weekly or a fortnightly wage has a deduction made from his pay envelope, and it does not matter what that deduction is called. To him it is a tax, although he may receive half of it back by way of refund in the future. He does not consider it as a payment in advance, but says, in effect, “ They have taken out my income tax”. Whatever this bill may be called, the persons to whom it applies will consider that it im poses a tax. The wool-grower will have no option but to pay it. The woolbrokers are to be compelled, under penalty for failure to do so, to pay to the Treasury the requisite amount. The wool-grower therefore will be obliged to pay it willy-nilly, whether he likes to do so or not.
Wool-growers are not the only members of the community who are receiving an exceptionally high return for their products at the present time. I recollect that recently a large motor distributing company in Melbourne was able to pay a dividend of approximately 66 per cent. When companies are able to pay a dividend of that size, and, in addition, to make ample provision for reserves, they are in much the same position as the wool-growers are in at the present time, but although they are receiving an excellent return for their production, no provision is made for a sectional tax on them. However, I do not wish to camouflage the position, because I admit that the high prices being received for wool-clips to-day justify the imposition of sectional taxation.
It is rather significant that we have been told that something will be done about a subsidy for wool. It will be quite remarkable if the sale of woollen goods in this country is subsidized from general revenue, but if a home-consumption price is fixed for other articles the primary producer will have to pay his share of the expense. The honorable member for Mallee asked why the wheat-grower should have to sell his wheat at a price to the consumer lower than that which he can get in overseas markets. To-day, when the wool-grower can get the same price in Australia as he can get overseas, that honorable member is prepared to advocate the proposal he has put forward. Yet the wheat-grower has to pay his part of the general taxation in order that the subsidy on woollen goods may be paid here.
– That is not right.
– The amount that, will be paid as subsidy to keep the price of woollen goods down in Australia will come from revenue. The honorable member cannot deny that.
– I can deny it.
– The honorable member will not be correct if he does deny it. The general taxation that the wool-grower is paying, irrespective of the high price that he is getting for his product, is in the same ratio as that paid by everybody else in the community. That is right according to the members of the Australian Country party, and yet they say that we must try to keep prices down and that, therefore, woollen goods should be subsidized. Who will pay those subsidies ?
– -The wool-grower.
– He will pay for them to no greater degree than anybody else. The subsidy will be taken out of the general revenue which comes from general taxation. It is not popular for any government to talk about increasing taxation, but I believe that when we are very prosperous and have the means to dc it is our bounden duty to pay for our current needs and not to load them on to those who come after us. I know the difficulty that confronted the Treasurer. The honorable member for Lawson mentioned difficulties such as appreciation of the fi. One of the big difficulties confronting the Treasurer is that in the policy speech of both himself and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) it was stated definitely that if the Government parties were elected to office they would reduce taxation. In the light of that promise they cannot increase taxation without putting themselves in a false position. Therefore, a few millions were given away by certain provisions in the budget. The biggest gift was made to companies through a reduction of company taxation. The people who arc in the best position to pay higher taxes, whether it is those on salaries or primary producers, should pay tl eni. If the exigencies of the country require that I and others who can afford it shall be taxed in order to balance the budget, then we should be taxed, and a forced loan should not be taken from the wool-grower for that certainly must mortgage the future.
This levy is neither more nor less than a forced loan. The wool-grower can get his money back the year after it is taken from him if it is not required to pay his tax bill. But then another forced loan will be levied on him. This legislation will enable the loans to be enforced each year for an indefinite time. This year the wool-grower will be paying two amounts to the Government. Next year he will not notice it so much, and I do admit that when he is called, up to pay his tax the payment this year will be of benefit to him. In a year of drought when he has not much wool to sell the fact that he has paid in a good year will be an advantage to him. I want to be fair and to recognize that while he is penalized this year he may be assisted in later years. My great objection to this measure is that in prosperous times the future revenue of the Government is being mortgaged. I hope that the Treasurer can answer my charge because I do not think that he will be Treasurer when the matter of repaying these sums comes up for decision. It seems as though the Labour party will have to do in the future what it has done in the past. It will have to re-organize the disorganized finances of the country after the Liberal Government has left them in a parlous state. I was first elected to a State Parliament in 1930. At that time the departing Liberal Treasurer said,. “All that you will find in the Treasury is a bottle of smelling salts “. I am inclined to think that if we continue with the type of finance indulged in by this Government Labour will find, in the Treasury, when it is returned at the next election in two years’ time, only a bottle of smelling salts. That smelling salts will be there to enable the incoming administration to recover from the headaches left as a legacy by the departing government.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. I have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson).. The honorable member stated that I have, always objected to a home-consumption price for wheat. That is only partly true. I have not objected to a home-consumption price for wheat for human consumption, but
I have objected to sales of wheat at concessional prices for other purposes. I have been quoted incorrectly because the honorable member said that I agree that woolgrowers should pay a subsidy on woollen goods. 1 have not agreed to that. When 1 make my speech on this measure -I shall state my views, and 3>do not want them stated before I am ready to give them personally.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. I think that the honorable member has unintentionally misrepresented me as having misrepresented him. My statement was that the honorable member objected to the primary producer financing this special homeconsumption price instead of the money coming from the taxpayers. I think that the honorable member has not understood the position correctly.
.- Having listened to the outbursts of some honorable gentlemen opposite in discussing this bill, I found the honesty of the honorable member for Port. Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) most refreshing. He was honest’ enough to admit that he did not care two hoots for the wool-growers. The new-found solicitude for the woolgrowers of some members of the Opposition is, in view of their previous remarks about the “ squattocracy “ and the wool barons, hard to understand.
– I did not use the phrase “ two hoots “. I would not bring myself down to that level.
– I admit that the honorable gentleman did not use those words, but he admitted that he had no concern whatever for the wool-growers.
– I said I would not shed crocodile tears over them.
Mi-. FREETH.- The honorable gentleman admitted that he was not greatly concerned about the woolgrowers. He went on to say that he believed that taxes should be increased in times of prosperity. The wool-growers are passing through a prosperous period. Therefore, it is logical to assume that the honorable gentleman believes that it would be right to increase the taxes imposed on them. But the Government does not propose to do that. A govern ment that takes money from a person is unpopular with that person, and it was only to be expected that members of the Opposition would attempt to make political capital out of that fact. They have seized that opportunity to attempt to gain stray votes. That is the only feasible explanation of the crocodile tears which they have shed and the- sob stuff in which they have been indulging about the poor unfortunate wool-grower. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke), in a wonderful effort, described the droughts, hardships, dingoes and everything else with which the pioneer woolgrowers had to contend, and then, posing as a constitutional lawyer, attacked the validity of this measure. We are justified in seeking the motive of the honorable gentleman for adopting that attitude, because when we examine the stories about the hardships of wool-growers we find that there is no substance in them.
Let us examine the objections that have been raised by honorable gentlemen opposite to this measure. First. they have said that the Government should not interfere with wool-growers’ incomes. The Australian economy to-day is, for reasons that are well known to the Opposition, in a very strained condition. A further strain could be imposed upon it as a result of the tremendous prices that are now being paid for wool, which exceed considerably the prices that were paid last year. The net taxable income from wool in Australia last year was £225,000,000. That was a record figure. It is expected that in the current year the net taxable income from wool will be approximately £3S0,000,000, or £155,000,000 more than last year. The injection of that sum of money into the Australian economy would add tremendously to the stresses and strains to which the economy is already being subjected. I should be the last person to say that any man engaged in business in Australia should be taxed heavily merely because he was prosperous, but to permit the wool-growers to retain the whole amount by which their income this year will exceed their income last year - the increase being quite fortuitous and due, not to extra effort and skill on the part of the wool-growers, but only to world conditions - would be like giving a small boy a surfeit of plumpudding. The Australian economy would suffer from violent indigestion unless action, such as that proposed by the Government, were taken.
It is generally admitted by those who take a realistic view of the present position that the surplus spending power occasioned solely by increased incomes from wool must be drained off. When honorable members opposite rise, apparently in righteous indignation, and suggest that the Government has no consideration for the wool-growers and is imposing a levy upon their gross incomes without having regard to their debts, mortgages or family obligations, they are quite unmindful of the actual figures. As I have said, the net taxable income of woolgrowers this year will be £155,000,000 more than it was last year. The Government is seeking to remove £103,000,000, or about two-thirds, of that increase. The wool-growers, after paying provisional income tax, a 71/2 per cent, wool stabilization levy and a 20 per cent, wool deduction on their gross incomes, will have more cash in their hands than they had last year.
I turn to the reason why the Government wishes to remove the surplus spending power to which I have referred. Honorable gentlemen opposite have been very vocal about the tendency of prices to rise. They have suggested, and I agree with them, that it is the Government’s job to solve the problem of rising prices. The honorable member for Perth, by a peculiar process of reasoning, suggested that the Government was being prevented by vested interests from doing anything about rising prices because only vested interests profited from them. I suggest that the only section of the community to-day that stands to profit from rising prices is the section composed of honorable gentlemen opposite. They know that if the Government succeeds in preventing price increases they will not have a chance of being returned to power again. They will be intensely disappointed if any measures adopted by this Government to reduce prices are successful.
The second contention on this measure raised by the Opposition is that if woolgrowers, as such, have their incomes inter fered with, the income of every other section of the community should be interfered with also. There is some validity in that contention, but it can easily be met. Wool has an over-all and dominating effect upon the Australian economy and measures must urgently be taken to deal with the inflationary effect of the present abnormally high prices prevailing for wool. No government in the past, when the interests of the nation as a whole were at stake, has hesitated to take action simply because it would affect only a particular section of the community. In that respect I need only refer to the fact that whilst the price being obtained for gold on the free world market is approximately £30 per oz., the Australian Government acquires all gold produced in this country at a price of approximately £15 per oz. The gold producer is not permitted to take advantage of the world price for gold. Yet, members of the Opposition did not protest, that the legislation that empowered the Government to do that was sectional in character. Likewise, the Government prevents the exportation of rare metals that; are valuable for defence purposes.Do honorable members opposite say that producers of those rnetals should be allowed to sell them on the world market? Of course not. They have too much sense to make such a claim.
When honorable members opposite endeavour to create the impression that under this scheme the Government will penalize the wool-growers in a way that it does not penalize any other section of the community, they lose sight of the fundamental principle on which payasyouearn and provisional taxation is based. The original basis of both those methods of collecting taxes was that at the 30th June each year taxpayers should meet a. substantial proportion of their tax liability. I do not support this scheme simply by saying that under it the woolgrower will pay his income tax on the same basis as the wage-earner pays his tax, or on the same basis as a person who pays provisional tax. The point is that provisional tax is assessed on the income that a taxpayer received during the preceding year. It would be more logical, perhaps, to assess provisional tax on the commissioner’s estimate of an individual’s income for the following year. Having regard to the variation of the prices of wool from year to year, no one would suggest that the income of the wool-grower in one year normally approximates that which he 13 likely to receive during the following year. In the future a wool-grower will pay provisional tax based on his income for the preceding year, plus the 20 per cent, deduction from his gross income from the sale of wool. Therefore, the principle underlying this scheme approximates the intention of the Government of the day when it introduced pay-as-you-earn and provisional taxation, that is, that at the 30th June each year a taxpayer should have paid the greater proportion of his tax liability.
The small wool-grower or the man who has just entered upon his property and is confronted with special commitments must be protected in certain circumstances. I had hoped that the Treasurer would have been able to work out a sliding scale in respect of this proposed deduction such as is applied in respect of the imposition of death duties and gift duties. However, the right honorable gentleman has given the assurance that the small wool-grower will be adequately protected under this scheme. Any grower who proves hardship to the Commissioner of Taxation due to his liability for special commitments or due to causes such as drought or fire will be entitled to a refund of a proportion of the amount deducted from his gross income from the sale of wool.
I was amused to hear the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) say that this scheme will destroy the incentive of the wool-grower. A study of Australian averages during the last few years, shows that a man with 400 sheep, which is comparatively a small flock, would have received last year a net income from the sale of wool of £732, whereas this year, after paying his provisional tax, the 20 per cent, gross deduction from his income from the sale of wool and 7& per cent, of that income as a stabilization levy, he will receive a net income of £1,007, an increase of £232. How can honorable members opposite suggest that under this scheme the Government is destroying the incentive of the wool-grower when, although he received record prices last year for his wool, he will receive a greater net income from that source this year? The corresponding figures in respect of a wool-grower with a flock of 1,000 sheep are even more startling. On the basis of averages for the Commonwealth he would have received £1,700 last year, whereas this year it is estimated that he will receive £2,300, after meeting all the commitments that I have mentioned, an increase of £600. Yet, honorable members opposite have said that under this scheme the Government is penalizing the wool-growers and is not paying due regard to the hardships that they have suffered in bad seasons in the past. That argument is quite illogical. The new-found solicitude of members of the Opposition for the wool-growers obviously arises from what they regard as the opportunity to snare stray votes by criticizing a scheme which to some degree will bc unpopular. However, I recall that in the past they had much to say about squatocracy and the wool barons. I also recall their declared wish to socialize all production.
Alternative steps that the Government could have taken with the object of withholding excess purchasing power from the community in order to curb present inflationary trends are worthy of examination. .Some honorable members opposite have said that the Government should have revalued the currency. The woolgrowers would not have received that proposal with equanimity because if the Australian £1 were appreciated to parity with sterling their incomes would automatically be reduced by 20 per cent. The second suggestion was that there should be an increase of taxation. Even if that course were taken it would be quite ineffective to meet the present threat to our economy from the enlarged wool cheque. The Taxation Branch would not receive the money forthwith. It would not be withdrawn from the community until some time in 1952. Another suggestion, which was advanced by Sir Douglas Copland, was that there should be a straight-out tax on wool. Irrespective of whether that was a good plan, I do not suppose that it would have found much favour with the average’ wool-grower, because he would have been relieved of a third of his income by a straight-out tax. The final suggestion was that there should be introduced a compulsory savings plan, under which the wool-grower would be compelled to save, or put aside, or pay into the Treasury, 20 per cent, of his wool cheque in order to meet his liability for taxes in the following year. In effect, that would be a compulsory saving for a particular purpose.
– The Government would spend his money for him.
– The honorable member who has just interjected has drawn attention to an interesting sidelight. It is perfectly true that the Government would be forced to spend the money in any event on certain non-recurring expenditures. I am sorry that the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has left the House. Although he was not greatly worried about the woolgrowers, he was very concerned about the budgetary aspect of this measure. He took the view that the Government was doing something that would impose a great strain on the country in future. The whole point is that during this financial year the Government will be faced with certain very heavy non-recurring expenditures, which must be met. during this financial year. I refer to the payment of the war gratuity, to the stock piling of £50,000,000 worth of material for defence purposes, and to various other defence expenditure that will impose a heavy drain on. the Treasury. Regardless of how the money is obtained, the Government will have to meet those expenditures. To say that the wool-grower is simply giving money to the Government to expend is a wrong conception of this plan. The Government will be expending money that the wool-growers would be spending in any event if no attempt were made to drain off their excess incomes. I consider that when alternative suggestions are examined honorable members opposite will be at least honest enough to admit that, in view of the extraordinary prices being received overseas for wool, the extraction of a part of wool-growers’ incomes is, for the time being imperative, in the national in terests. The Government has adopted the means which, in all the circumstances, will be the least harmful to the wool-growers, and which will hurt them and their pockets the least. I have endeavoured to prove to honorable members opposite that there is no doubt whatever that the courseproposed is justified.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Daly) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate: -
Without amendment -
States Grants Bill 1950.
Without requests -
Customs Tariff Bill 1950.
Customs Tariff (New Zealand Preference) Bill 1950.
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I wish to make an appeal to the Government to try to save the small fruits industry in Tasmania from slow strangulation. That industry is situated mainly in the south of Tasmania, and employs hundreds of Tasmanians in growing raspberries, loganberries, youngberries and black currants. Financially, it is worth approximately £1,240,000 annually to the retailers, but the return to the growers, who take all the risks, approximates only £450,000 annually. The industry is being starved out of existence, and many growers are intending to dig in their bushes if the prices paid to them by the processors, especially for raspberries and black currants, are not increased. Admittedly, the British Ministry of Food will not purchase pulp this season because there is a surplus of pulp unsold from last year, and competitionby European countries has increased. Surely, with the enormous margin between the retail price and the’ price paid for the fruit, the processing companies could pay more. A decrease of id. per lb. for raspberries this season has been decided upon by the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. A. cost of production committee should be established to help to convince the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee that growers’ costs for fertilizers and labour have spiralled even since last year. The big weakness in. this industry is the fantastic organizational establishment, controlled and dominated by the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee and the processors. The growers have- no- voice whatever in this organization.
– Where would they be without it?
– They would be a lot better off without it. On the other hand, the Stone and. Berry Fruits Board was only a. sop- to delude growers and employees into thinking that it was their mainstay and mouthpiece. That board has no executive authority whatever, and is at the mercy of the other body. It is indeed extraordinary that the processors of the small fruits, help to fix the prices that they will pay the growers. For too long commercial interests have had a stranglehold on this important industry, which involves skill and hard work by both growers and employees. A new deal is desperately needed for this industry, but in my opinion that cannot come about until the growers are represented on the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee and thereby have a direct voice in the management and welfare of the industry. This Government is pledged to support the principle of grower control. I have cited an instance in which the Government may get to work immediately, and assist a valuable industry. For a century, fear has dominated the producers in the great Derwent valley and in other southern parts of Tasmania, but small fruitgrowers and bop-growers, and their employees, are at last awakening and organizing against unjust exploitation. They deserve the support and protection of the’ Government,, because Tasmania cannot afford to lose the small fruits, in dustry. I urge the Government to examine the situation which is developing in that industry, and to offer- assistance to the growers, even if it is only to open new markets in order that the surplus crop may be- sold overseas. That action would assist to relieve the present situation. Approximately 100 growers attended a- meeting at Sandfly, in southern Tasmania, two days ago, to discuss the position, and the opinion was expressed that they could not carry on a:t the prices now ruling for small fruits. Many of the growers said that they would pull out their vines, and engage in other forms of agriculture unless prompt action were taken by the Government.
..- I desire to bring to. the notice of the House a matter that has been engaging the attention of’ Victoria for a considerable period, and for the latter part of 1hai time, of South Australia anc! the other States, with the exception of WesternAustralia. I refer to the railway strike in Victoria. It has not completely paralysed Victoria, but it is hardening the arteries of the State’s agricultural, industrial and commercial transport. It is most difficult to gain even an idea of the fantastic amount of money which has been lost in every quarter as a result of the continuation of that strike. This is a time when every effort should be made to increase production. Many speeches were made- in> this House last week on that subject, and I believe that every honorable member is: in agreement on the necessity to maintain- continuity of production. Manufacturers have been endeavouring to increase their stocks- in order to meet the Christmas shopping rush, and their business has been completely dislocated. Deliveries of primary products, are held up because of the lack of transport. As time passes, Australia as a whole will be definitely affected in many ways by this strike. I had a personal experience of its effects to-day, when I was informed that certain kinds of paint which are manufactured in New South Wales cannot now be transported to Victoria. A section of the painting industry in that State will not be able to replenish its stocks until the trains run again. The smooth rhythm of the delivery of the goods on which production depends has been disturbed. A production line, if it runs jerkily or breaks, increases overhead costs. In the same way, the railway strike in Victoria will undoubtedly cause an increase of costs in all businesses, which will be reflected in the prices of consumer goods. The strike has continued for so long that the cause of it has been forgotten by the public in the maze of technicalities, discussions and arguments, which date from the time the conciliation commissioner, Mr. Hall, refused to ratify an agreement that had been reached between the Victorian Railway Commissioners and the trade unions concerned. At that point, a blow was dealt in some respects to conciliation and arbitration.
– I rise to order. I do not desire to be discourteous to the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman) but I point out that the railway strike will be considered by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court next Monday, and I should like you to rule, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether that matter should be considered sub judice.
– I think that it would be advisable for the honorable member for Corio not to touch on the aspect of the strike, which will be considered by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.
– I shall avoid it.
– The honorable member will be better off if he does so.
– Order I I ask the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) not to interject. The Chair has given a ruling which, I am sure, is satisfactory to the House.
– There has been a considerable amount of masterly inactivity, and what appears to be inexplicable delay in submitting the matter to the court. ‘ An agreement between the parties was reached this week, and the railway commissioners appealed to the maintenance men to return to work immediately for the purpose of inspecting the permanent way, points and signals. The idea was that, should a satisfactory arrangement be reached before the Commonwealth Arbi tration Court, work could be immediately resumed. However, the Australian Railways Union has flatly refused to heed that appeal, and the commissioners are considering the advisability of making a direct approach to railway men in the northern districts of Victoria, where the danger of bush fires is acute, particularly if trains run before the dry grass is burnt off. Any one who has experienced the disastrous effects of bush fires and grass fires will understand the apprehension that now exists because of that danger. The return to duty of railway employees who are normally engaged on maintenance work would not affect the prestige of the union to the slightest degree, and those men would have been able to earn money which, they admit, they urgently need. They have suffered ‘ considerable hardship as a result of the strike. Certain union officials who profess to have the interests of the men at heart have failed in their duties to them. So little attention was paid to railway employees in Geelong that the matter of paying strike money to them was overlooked, and a union official had to travel to Melbourne for the purpose of making inquiries about it. The union leaders are ostensibly working in the best interests of the railway men, yet they overlook them so easily in the matter of strike pay. Had the maintenance men returned to work, the union would not have suffered loss of dignity or prestige, but the executive of the organization ordered them to remain on strike.
We have not far to look for the vital cause of the delay in bringing the parties to the dispute before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The Australian Railways Union is controlled by the Communist, Mr. J. J. Brown. It is his objective, and the Communist objective, to prevent peace in industry. The Communists believe in disrupting production generally, and their policy is revealed in all its nakedness by the tactics of the union in the present strike. The leaders of the union, whilst claiming that they are working to obtain improved conditions for the men, give a pointblank refusal to an appeal by the Railway Commissioners to make preparations in anticipation of the settlement of the strike. If any additional evidence irequired to show that the efforts of the Liberal party and of the Australian Country party to drive the “ reds “ from the control of the unions are worth while, it is provided by the tactics pf the Australian Railways Union in the present dispute. The policy of the Communists is clearly defined. They will seize every opportunity to obstruct production and increase costs.
.- I shall mention only two matters. The first relates to a statement made by Judge Berne in the Quarter Sessions Appeals Court, Sydney, on the 2nd November, when His Honour is reported to have stated in relation to two appeals against convictions for overcharging, that he took a. dim view of persons who overcharged for the goods they supplied. The judge added -
U is my own experience that it is absolutely vital to our existence that there should be some control over prices.
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to discuss a matter which is the subject of legislation that is now before the Parliament.
– I merely wish to express my commendation of the remarks made by the judge and to point out to the House that we should be given an opportunity to discuss and to vote upon the measure in connexion with the control of prices that was passed by the Senate, but lias not yet been debated by this House. This House should not obstruct any measures passed by the Senate. It is grossly unfair to attempt to interfere with the prerogatives of the Senate. Under the Constitution the two Houses have powers except that the Senate cannot initiate money bills and cannot enjoy the honour of having the Prime Minister as one of its members. In all other respects, the Senate’s powers are equal to those of this House, and I think that we are treating that chamber most discourteously by not discussing the legislation that it has passed.
The other matter to which I shall, refer is a letter written to the Sydney Mording Herald last week by the Honorable J. P.
Abbott, as chairman of the wool stabilization referendum committee. In that letter, Mr. Abbott complained of the conflicting statements made by Ministers and other authorities in connexion with the allocation of wool to the United States. Mr. A.bbott. who was formerly the honorable member for New England and was a Minister in the second Menzies Administration, wants an answer to the protest that he has made, but so far no Minister has deigned to take any notice of his protest. Therefore, as a friend of the wool-growers, and as a supporter of the wool-growers and of all other sections of the community, I draw the attention of the Government to his protest in the hope that a reply will be furnished to it. In the course of his letter Mr. Abbott said -
The statements made by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), Mr. .1. H. Moolman, Chairm all of the South African Wool Board, and the United States Under Secretary to the Army, Mr. Archibald Alexander, are in a large degree contradictory.
He quoted the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) as having said in the Parliament on the 1st November that any suggestion of an international allocation of wool had been dropped. However, Mr. Abbott points out that only four days previously the Prime Minister is reported to have stated -
In this connexion a system of pre-emption of enough wool to meet the emergency needs of the United States will be examined by missions to be sent from the United Kingdom and the United States to the southern Commonwealth countries.
He is also reported to have said -
If a practicable and acceptable system can be devised the three Commonwealth countries are willing to introduce it with the least possible delay.
To add to the confusion of views expressed, Mr. Abbott quoted Mr. Moolman, chairman of the South African Wool Board and a delegate to the London conference, as haying stated at Pretoria on the 13th October that-
A fixed amount (to be specified, later) of wool at Dominion auctions is to be set aside for strategic war needs.
Mr. Abbott’s letter goes on to point out that the Under Secretary to the United
States Army had .said on ,the same day at Washington-
Arrangements have been - completed for the purchase by the Commodity Credit Corporation of 100.000.000 lb. of raw wool and woollen textiles as a strategic reserve.
Mr. Abbott also pointed out in his letter that the same figure was mentioned by the Prime Miniser, and in view of those differing statements he wanted to know whether the Prime Minister could say definitely whether any allocation for. preemption of wool, or the principle of such, had been agreed to by the Commonwealth wool-purchasing nations. Mr. Abbott then wrote -
When wool prices fall this nation immediately feels the -effect. In the Australian economy today it represents over 50% o.f our exports, but in the United States it is approximately 1% of the total economy. Surely a great, iri eli country like the United States can afford to buy her requirements at open auction, as every nation has to do.
He concluded his letter with the following words : -
Another danger to the wool industry has already been mentioned by Mr. McEwen when he. said that France was asking for similar treatment. If France, next the United Kingdom, then Italy, Belgium, and so on ad infinitum to the end of the auction system.
In view of the interest which Mr. Abbott has displayed in this matter, and his right to speak with authority on the subject of wool, which is reinforced by the experience that he gained as a member ofthe Royal Commission and Monetary and Banking Systems and on other bodies established by Federal and State governments. I think that he is entitled to an answer to his written inquiry.
– I regret that I am again compelled to refer to a matter that I have previously raised in the House on a number of occasions, which is the inordinate -increase of tariff charges in some of the hostels in Canberra. That increase is causing very considerable embarrassment to many people on the basic grades of classifications in the Public Service, who are finding it absolutely impossible to maintain their status in the local community. K need not recite the facts that led the Public Service Arbitrator recently to award substantial increases of salaries to public servants, ;nor do I need -to refer to .the instruction that have been issued by the Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior to make the increases of accommodation charges in the hostels effective as from to-day. However, for the benefit of honorable members who are not aware of the situation, I invite their attention now to the facts. I have also in mind that the effect of increased charges may not have been realized even by the Public Service Board. I shall cite the case of a married officer on a base rate salary, who is receiving £21 13s. 6d. a fortnight. He and his wife are accommodated in a government hostel, and he now finds that the payment that he is called upon to make for their accommodation has been increased from £14 to £20 a fortnight The effect of the increase in his case if that only £1 13s. 6d. will be left for that man and his wife to maintain themselves apart from their board and lodging. If .they have any children their position will be even worse. I do not need to labour the consequences of the increases to officers generally. It seems inevitable that many public servants, who are domiciled in Canberra, not by their own choice but because of their duty to the Commonwealth, will be compelled to forsake their employment in order to seek employment in fresh woods and pastures new. I have asked numerous questions of Ministers about this matter, .and I have perused the report of the Auditor-General on the financial position of government hostels in Canberra. That report do.es not show either an operating account or a profit and loss account in respect of any individual hostel. Will the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) consider the advisability of laying on the table of the House a completely dissected operating account which will show the profit and loss in respect of each hostel controlled by the Department of the Interior, so that we may discover what justification, if any, exist” for imposing the proposed inordinate charges upon the public servants who live in those hostels.
.- I wish to bring to the notice of the .Government a matter upon which urgent action is required. Wheat harvesting operations are about to begin in Western Australia, and a great deal of the wheat is threatened with destruction by an ^invasion of’ emus. Recently, I visited the north-eastern parts of my electorate, and in almost every paddock of more than .200 acres there was a mob of emus. The local vermin ‘.boards, with the co-operation of the farmers, are trying to deal with the menace, but the situation is becoming worse. The emus are travelling down the rabbit-proof fence, and flocks varying in size from 20 to 300 birds are invading the crops. It is not the amount they eat that matters, but the damage they do to crops that are just ripening. During the harvesting season, it is customary for farmers to station some one on roads near their properties to stop traffic that might otherwise drive mobs of emus through the wheatfields. The only effective way .df destroying the emus is- to shoot them. The vermin boards and the State Government offer rewards for the destruction of emus varying from ls. to 4s. per beak. I know some mon who have killed between 3,000 and 4,000 in a season, but there is, unfortunately, a grave shortage of .303 ammunition, -which is the only’ effective kind for use against emus. Apparently, the ammunition is obtainable only from the Department <of the Army, and I ask .that some tens of -thousands of rounds be released immediately for distribution in Western Australia, if not through ordinary trade channels, at any rate through local governing authorities and district vermin boards.
– I wish to bring to your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the lighting of this chamber. At first I thought the dimness in the chamber -was duc to the gloom from the countenances of the defeated Opposition, but I notice that, even after the Opposition has -succeeded in evading a double dissolution of the Parliament, the chamber is no less gloomy. The lighting is bad. and many of us find it difficult to read. Indeed, the lighting system seems to have been designed for the benefit of -optometrists. I suggest that a light meter be placed in ‘the chamber, and if that be done I am sure that the lighting -will .be found .to be below standard. The power .of the existing lights should fee increased, .or extra lighting installed.
– The -honorable member :for Moore (Mr. Leslie) has referred to an invasion of emus in certain parts of Western Australia. It is certainly no laughing matter for the farmers concerned. History seems to he repeating itself. Many years ago, when the Scullin Government was in office, a similar complaint was made, and so eloquent was the honorable member who raised the matter that he prevailed on the Government to supply a detachment of soldiers in armoured vehicles to hunt the emus with machine guns. I know from experience that emus can run at 35. miles an hour, and apparently the vehicles were not capable of that speed. At any rate, after expending a great deal of ammunition, and wearing out the tyres of the vehicles, the party had to report that very little execution had been done amongst the ‘ emus. The name of the officer in charge of the party appeared in the honors list that year. He waa awarded the O.B.T5., which some one suggested stood for one something emu. I hope that’ the marksmanship of the local farmers will be better than that of the machine gunners. I believe that, in spite of the advent of atom bombs, guided missiles and supersonic aircraft, the rifle is still a very useful weapon. I shall ask the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) to make supplies of .303 ammunition available if possible. Perhaps the honorable member for Moore will be a marker, and report the number of kills.
– in reply - The matters raised by honorable members will be brought before the Ministers concerned, and will receive attention.
– What about Mr. Abbott’s letter i
– I was astonished to learn that Mr. Abbott has a new agent. I am sorry if he has found that his only avenue of approach is through the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). Mr. Abbott knows where he can get the information he seeks. I am sure that he has already been in consultation with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), who is dealing with this very important matter at the present time. A conference willbe held in Melbourne on Monday next, and. Mr. Abbott may rest assured that the best interests of the wool industry will be safeguarded. He has no need to rely upon the advocacy of the honorable member for Melbourne.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.25 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : - “ South-West Pacific.”
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 November 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1950/19501109_reps_19_210/>.