20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Eon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., end read prayers.
-I have received a letter from the Australian Council for ihe “World Council of -Churches which Z think, in the circumstances, I should read to the House. The letter .states -
Dear Mr. Speaker,
On Sunday, November 18th ut 3 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Church, Canberra, the Australian Council for the World Council . of Churches will hold a Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving in connexion with the assembling together of the Parliament in Jubilee Year. As far as possible we have extended personal invitations to members of both Houses of the Federal Parliament.
The preachers will be the Most Hey. Cyril
Garbett, Archbishop of York, and the very Kev. J. R. Blanchard, the President of our Council. The lessons are to be read by His Excellency the Administrator and tine Right Honorable the Prime Minister.
We should be most grateful to you if you would draw the attention of the House of Representatives to the fact that this service is being held and that it is the hope of the Member Churches of our Council that as many Representatives as possible will honour us by being present.
– A few days ago the honorable member for Hindmarsh asked me whether! the Australian Broadcasting Commission could arrange to tell listeners in advance who would be participating in debates in this House. The matter has been examined by the Parliamentary Broadcasting Committee and it has been decided that the present system provides all the information that the announcer can reasonably give to listeners.
– I should like the Minister for Territories, who recently returned from Nauru, where he performed an important ceremony, to tell the House about the progress1 of rehabilitation work in that territory, which is held on trust by the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia and which is administered by the Australian Government.
– I returned from a visit to Nauru yesterday. The principal reason for the visit was the unveiling of ii memorial which the previous Government had decided to erect in honour of the former Administrator, officials and other inhabitants of the island who were killed by the Japanese. The ceremony connected with the dedication of the memorial was, I think, wholly successful, not only in paying tribute to men of whom we should be proud but also in demonstrating publicly the way in which the islanders and Australians have been linked both in suffering and in victory. So far as the general condition of the island is concerned., a very remarkable recovery has been achieved from the almost total destruction wrought by the Japanese during the war. The phosphate works and diggings have been restored to a point where they are now producing over 1,000,000 tons of phosphate a year, most of which is exported to Australia. The re-housing of the local populace has reached a point at which about 250 houses have been completed for the native Nauruans and are occupied and about 100 more houses have either been commenced or have been planned for early commencement. With the completion of that building programme the whole of the native population will ‘be housed on a scale far superior, I think, in material terms, to any that will be found in any other part of the Pacific. The health of the islanders has also reached a remarkably satisfactory condition. Leprosy has been reduced. I think that the leprosarium now contains only about ten patients. Tuberculosis has been combated to the extent that there are now only seven patients in the tuberculosis hospital. In other respects the general health of the community is very sound. If there is one matter on which I may not be :wholly satisfied, it is the general education of the Nauruans. Although we have given them very substantial material benefits, I am not wholly satisfied that we haTe succeeded in fitting them to use to the full their opportunities. That is a matter not only of school work, but also of education for living, in the broader sense. I am considering that factor very carefully, and I hope that we will be able to reach a clearer understanding of the nature of that particular task and bring about a more satisfactory result in the future.
– The question that I address to the Minister for Labour and National Service concerns the approaching harvest in the dried fruits areas of South Australia. Some apprehension is felt by growers at the prospect of harvest labour being, in short supply. Will the Minister do everything in his power to ensure that sufficient numbers of immigrants are made available to that important industry during the forthcoming summer? Unless adequate labour is available it is futile for the Government to expect the production of dried fruits to be increased.
– The honorable member has .touched on one of the very real difficulties that we face in regard to immigration. Immediately we reduce the intake of persons who can be directed to certain kinds of work, as has been done in former years, we find that, due to conditions of full employment, there is very little movement on the part of Australian workers in the direction that the honorable member has indicated. My department knows that in earlier years immigrants have brought in the harvest, and I am quite certain that the position is being actively examined at the moment. I hope that, as in the past, our joint efforts will succeed in getting the harvest in. I shall obtain the facts for the honorable member. I regret that I have not got them with me.
– I wish to direct another question to the Minister for Health concerning sirex wasp. I am sorry that it is necessary for me to do so. Six or eight weeks have elapsed since the Minister announced that a committee had been appointed to investigate the danger of this menace to Australia. I now ask him whether it is not a fact that there were only two questions for the committee to decide. The first was whether this menace has been imported into Australia from Europe with cargoes of timber. The second was whether the sirex wasp thrives in seasoned timber or only in live timber in forests, or both. I consider that’ those questions could have been reasonably settled within a week. Does the Minister consider that the committee has taken its commission seriously? If not, will he replace the present members by other persons who will do the job? Has the committee furnished a report? If so, why has it not been mentioned in the Parliament?
– I assure the honorable member that we have been able to appoint an expert committee of men with impartial and judicial minds who are taking their duties very seriously. The problem that they are considering is one of the utmost importance to the whole of the Australian timber industry, the furniture industry, and, indeed, to every other industry associated with the manufacture of household goods. Therefore, it is necessary that they should obtain all the facts which they require to enable them to make a proper decision that will be in line with government policy on timber quarantine.
– How long will it be before a decision is reached?
– The committee has not given any indication of that, but is using every endeavour to reach a conclusion at the earliest possible time.
– In view of the fact that the Treasury has found it impracticable to allow concessional deductions for income tax purposes to those taxpayers who have made donations to the Boy Scouts Association, will the Prime Minister give favorable consideration to having a suitable federal grant made to thi* very worthy organization?
– I shall have the suggestion made by the honorable member considered.
– Last week I asked the Prime Minister whether he would investigate the proposed closing of the copper and brass strip mills at Finsbury. The Prime Minister then informed me that the matter was being dealt with and that he had arranged to receive representatives of the firms concerned during that week. Notices have been exhibited at the mills indicating that they will close on the 31st January. The men concerned in the closing of the mills are still very much upset about the matter, and I now ask the right honorable gentleman whether he can give me any further information about the matter, and whether there is any prospect of keeping the mills open?
– On Friday of last week I saw the trade representatives to whom I referred in an earlier answer, and since then I have had several discussions with Tuy colleagues who are involved in the problems that have to be considered. I am not in a. position to-day to make any final statement, but the matter has engaged some portion of my attention each day this week.
– My question has reference to the fact that there are no doctors carrying on private practice in the Northern Territory, and that consequently the medical services there are not as satisfactory as those in the rest of Australia. In order to encourage other than government doctors’ to take up practice in the Territory, particularly at Alice Springs and Darwin, will the Minister for Health allow any private doctor practising there to use the facilities of the hospitals? Will he also allow government doctors to give anaesthetics for private doctors? Alternatively, will he allow the government doctors in the Northern Territory to undertake private work in their spare time so that the people who are prepared to pay for medical attention will not have to line up in a long queue with aborigines and half-castes ?
– The Government has no objection to private doctors practising in the Northern Territory, and in fact would heartily welcome well-qualified men taking up practice at Alice Springs h rid Darwin. If such well-qualified men do go to the Territory, they will be able to use the hospital facilities that are there and will also be able to get the assistance of the government doctors in the administering of anaesthetics. The matter of allowing government doctors to practise privately raises some very difficult problems, because it leads to all sorts of administrative difficulties. I should have to give serious consideration to the matter before I could consent to government doctors practising privately.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Health. Because of the inadequate provision for the maintenance of young invalids that is made in regulations issued under the Social Services Consolidation Act, numerous cripples and spastics under the age of 21 years are disqualified from receiving invalid pensions, and, because they are not pensioners, they are also deprived of the advantage of free medical benefits. Will the Minister for Health consider amending the Government’s health scheme so that such persons affected by such unfortunate disabilities may be brought within the scope of the free medical benefits scheme?
– As the matter that the honorable member has raised must really be decided by the Department of Social Services, I shall direct the attention of the Minister for Social Services to it.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of the difficult and complex problems that will arise as a result of the resumption of trade with Germany, Japan, Italy and other former enemy countries, he will consider the establishment of a parliamentary standing committee to discuss trade and tariff problems in order that honorable members might become well informed upon them and pass on to the Australian public generally the information that they obtain?
– I shall, of course, think about the suggestion that has been made by the honorable gentleman, but at first glance I see a few difficulties about it, owing to the circumstances that attend the discussion of tariff problems and the making of tariff changes. Doubtless the honorable gentleman fully appreciates those difficulties.
– A week ago or longer, I asked the Minister for Defence a question, upon notice, about Korea. On the Tuesday following the day on which I first asked the question, I made an inquiry about it and the honorable gentleman said that he would ascertain why an answer had not been furnished. Some days have elapsed since then. I now ask him whether he has done so and if he has, whether he is now able to give me any information?
– The answer to the honorable gentleman’s question is, of course, “Yes”. I assure him that my department is energetically engaged upon obtaining the information that h* requires.
– Has the Minister for Defence read a recent report in the press to the effect that Australia requires more troops in Korea and more ammunition and supplies for the troops that are already there? I am aware that the strength of the forces in Korea is a matter of Government policy. However, in view of the assurances that have been given to the House on several occasions that requirements of ammunition and supplies for our troops have been met, will he investigate that charge, and, if necessary, give urgent attention to the matter? The statement to which I refer was attributed to Lieutenant-General Sir Horace Robertson, who was formerly commander of the British Commonwealth Occuption Force in Korea.
– I have read the statement to which the honorable member has referred, but as I have received reports from time to time about the adequacy of supplies and equipment for our forces in Korea, I did not take it to be in criticism of the existing forces position there. Honorable members will remember that Lieutenant-General Sir Horace Robertson, in the course of his statement, said that the Communists were building up their forces and bringing in more equipment and greater gunpower, and he implied that the United Nations required more forces and equipment to meet the added strength of the Communists. I shall ascertain whether that is the correct interpretation of his statement.
– The. Prime Minister has doubtless read the report of the warning which has been given by LieutenantGeneral Sir Horace Robertson about the growing seriousness of the situation in Korea. In view of the need for members of this Parliament to have first hand, and not second hand, information of such matters when they return to their electorates, will the Prime Minister arrange for Lieutenant - General Robertson to address honorable gentlemen before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, so that we may get a factual account of a most confused situation?
– I had a conversation yesterday morning with LieutenantGeneral Robertson, when we discussed how he could put himself in contact with a variety of persons, including members of this House. I must say that the idea of getting him to address honorable members did not occur to me. I believe the suggestion to be worthy of investigation, and it will be considered with a view to finding out whether it is feasible.
– Has the attention of the. Prime Minister been drawn to : report of a commission that was established by the British Government to investigate monopolies and restrictive practices, in which it is stated that an international agreement exists under which the life of electric light bulbs is limited to 1,000 hours and. that any member of the ring who makes longlived cheap bulbs will be fined by the racketeers who are responsible for the agreement? If the right honorable gentleman has not read the report, will he do go? Will he endeavour to ascertain to what degree Australian manufacturers who are members of this international ring have been guilty of anti-social acts of the kind which the commission established by the British Government has stated are occurring in every country? In particular, will he cause an immediate investigation to be made of the practices that are being adopted by Philips Electrical Industries of Australia Proprietary Limited, Condor Lamps (Australasia) Proprietary Limited, British General Electric Company Proprietary Limited and Australian General Electric Proprietary Limited, which are the principal companies in Australia associated with the ring? If necessary, will he geek an alteration of the Constitution to give the Commonwealth power to protect the Australian community against the depredations of members of monopolies, trusts and combines, all of which are guilty, in respect of the products that they sell and through which they exploit the general public, of anti-social acts much the same as those of the companies that manufacture electrical appliances?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable gentleman has referred. I shall ascertain whether a copy of it has been received by my department. If it has, I shall read it. T hope that the report is not too wrong.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Prime Minister, by pointing out that since July. 1948, the Commonwealth has expended upon the provision of amenities in coalfields over £500,000 in New South Wale? and only £2,000 in Western Australia
Will the right honorable gentleman inform the House of the reason why less than a half of one per cent, of the. sum that has been expended in New South Wales has been expended in Western Australia? Is there any formula under which funds, that are available for the provision of amenities in coal-fields can be distributed equitably?
– Some of the matters raised by the honorable gentleman may be the subject of discussion at a later stage of this day’s business. Such of them as are not raised in debate to-day, I shall cause to be examined, and I shall furnish him with a full reply to them.
– I address a question to the Leader of the Opposition. Is the right honorable gentleman in a position to state the attitude of members of the Opposition to the proposal to establish a standing committee on foreign affairs? May the question that the honorable member for Parkes asked a little while ago on tariffs be taken as an indication that the Opposition is more favorably disposed to the establishment of committees of that kind than it was a few weeks ago ?
– I do not often have the opportunity to answer a question, and I am therefore pleased to do so now. The honorable gentleman will remember from the debate which took place a few weeks ago that the Opposition suggested some positive amendments of the scheme. Mr. Spender, who was Minister for External affairs when the scheme was first introduced last year, indicated in an official Government statement that he would set up a committee which would of itself be able to undertake an examination of any international dispute or international matter. In addition, under the proposed scheme the Minister would be able to refer specific matters to the committee. Accordingly, when the Casey scheme came before the House the Opposition endeavoured to get the House to agree to an amendment which was based precisely upon Mr. Spender’s proposal. That amendment was opposed and was voted down. The Opposition put forward constructive proposals in the hope that they would be accepted or, at any rate, that some of them would be accepted by the House in order that a satisfactory arrangement might be arrived at. That is still my wish, as I indicated that it was last year. At the present moment, the matter has not even been considered by the Senate. I hope that the honorable member will be able to persuade those who are interested on his side of politics in the Senate to take a slightly different attitude when the matter is considered by the Senate. If he is able to do that a. satisfactory result may come from the proposals.
– I address to the Minister for Territories a question relating to reports of an epidemic of influenza among aborigines, which has led to seven deaths in one week. Would it be possible for the Minister to consult with the State authorities, and also to exercise his authority in mainland territories, in order to ascertain whether the services of new Australian medical practitioners could be utilized to safeguard the health of aborigines, in the same way as they have been utilized with great success in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea ?
– No doubt, the honorable member is aware that matters relating to the registration of medical practitioners are not wholly within the control of my department or, indeed, within the control of the Australian Government. It is true that in our external territories, where the registration of medical practitioners is controlled by the territorial administrations, some new Australian doctors who could not obtain medical registration in Australia have obtained local registration after discussion with the medical authorities in Australia and have given very satisfactory service, especially to the native peoples. I shall consult with my colleague, the Minister for Health, concerning the possibility of an extension of such registrations in order to include Commonwealth territories on the mainland.
– I preface a question to the Prime Minister by referring to an opinion, often expressed in this
House, to the effect that if possible Australia should sell goods to the United Kingdom at slightly cheaper prices than that country is able to secure them from other countries. My question is based on a letter which I have received from London, I quote the following passage f rom it : -
These low prices do not reach the consumer; they only leave ample margins for the lood pirates. . . . Have no sympathies where rood prices are concerned, because you are only helping trade groups who deserve no sympathy.
Has the Prime Minister any knowledge of this matter? If he has not, will he cause investigations to be made?
– I have no direct knowledge of the matter to which the honorable member has referred. I shall have the subject-matter of his question examined, particularly by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who has just returned from the United Kingdom where he has discussed exactly that kind >f problem.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is it not a fact that the Commonwealth-State Consultative Committee on Electric Power has reported favorably on the immediate and speedy completion of the power schemes which are being undertaken in Victoria but which have been severely curtailed as h result of the reduction of the loan allocation to the Victorian Government? If that is not a fact, will the right honorable gentleman make available to the House the report of the consultative committee on those particular projects?
– The reports which are made by that committee are submitted to the Premier of each State, and to myself. It is not proposed at this stage to table those reports, practically all of which at the present stage are of an interim character. It is quite true that each State government regards its power works as of intrinsic importance, and they arc so regarded by this Government and by the Australian Loan Council. The real question which had to be determined by the Loan Council at its last meeting was whether it was possible to carry out all the good jobs that were available to be done. The Loan Council was overwhelm ingly of the opinion that it was not so possible, and, therefore, decided that the programme must be curtailed. Victoria has a programme which includes not only power projects, but also other works. There has been a disposition on the part of the Premier of Victoria during the last few weeks to speak as if the only works on his list are power projects which have some spectacular political appeal. The fact is that he has a great variety of works on his programme. The order in which he chooses to do them is a matter for him to decide, and, in that respect, he is not subject to any control either by thic Government or by the Loan Council.
– I desire to address a question to the Prime Minister, and I point out, by way of explanation, that I find myself for the first time in line with the right honorable member for Bradfield. I asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council, in the unfortunate and unavoidable absence of the Prime Minister recently, whether he would confer with the Minister for Shipping and Transport with a view to securing shipping to deliver steel products for Queensland. Thai State is in a most precarious position because of the shortage of steel and many large constructural jobs are held up. Like the right honorable member for Bradfield, I have not received an answer to my question. I now ask the Prime Minister whether he will be good enough to consult the Minister for Shipping and Transport with the object of seeing whether shipping can be provided without delay to transport steel to Queensland
– I desire to ask a question of the honorable member for Fisher about an incident that occurred during a division while the Broadcasting Bill was being considered in committee.
-If the honorable member’s question is addressed to a private member it must relate to something for which that member is responsible in this House.
– It does.
– To what does it relate ?
– I ask the honorable member whether he has a financial interest in a radio broadcasting station?
– The question is out of order because it does not relate to a matter for which the honorable member for Fisher is responsible as a member of this House.
– The legislation that was being considered at the time did not refer to commercial broadcasting stations.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether any complaints have been received at the Melbourne office of his department in relation to the accommodation that is reserved for the reception of new Australians at the port of Melbourne? As the accommodation, or lack of it, has allegedly been responsible for a number of distressing scenes, and in one instance, of a police court action, will he cause inquiries to be made in order to ascertain the correctness, or otherwise, of the allegation? If the allegation is well founded, will he take the necessary action to obviate the cause of the trouble?
– I should like to be clear about the honorable member’s question. Is he referring to the facilities thatare provided for persons to visit the wharf in order to meet incoming immigrants?
– Yes. Space is reserved on the wharf for persons who wish to greet incoming immigrants.
– And the honorable member referred to the Maltese incident?
– My attention has not recently been directed to any complaint in that respect. I recall the incident to which the honorable member has referred. If I remember rightly, we requested the Department of Trade and Customs to see whether arrangements could be made to enable persons meeting their wives and relatives, whom they would naturally be anxious and impatient to see as soon as possible, to reach vessels on their arrival more quickly. It was largely because of that circumstance that the unfortunate episode occurred. I shall see whether any further developments have occurred that would enable me to give more details to the honorable member.
– by leave - I desire to make a statement on two subjects that have been mentioned recently in this House.
Yesterday, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) asked a question about a Fijian native, George Wangasaqa, known as “ George Jackson “. The records of my department show that George Wangasaqa, or Waquaqa, or Waguaga, a Fijian native, arrived in Australia as a member of the crew of SS. Suva in 1944, and was permitted to sign off for repatriation. He left here on the 20th August, 1944, returned again in March, 1946, and left again in 1946. There is nothing in the department’s file to show, as claimed, that he was brought here by the Australian Government to work on defence projects. I am not aware that any one came here during the war from another country for that purpose. It is not known when he came back to Australia again, but apparently he returned as a stowaway, and managed to escape detection until March, 1951, when he was charged with being a prohibited immigrant. He was convicted on that charge on the 1st June, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, pending deportation.
Wangasaqa, who had assumed the name of George Jackson, lodged an appeal against his conviction, but this was later withdrawn, and his solicitors asked that he be released from prison on the understanding that he would leave voluntarily within a specified period. His release was agreed to, provided that he left within one month, or as soon as a passage could be arranged. Representations were then made that Jackson be allowed to remain permanently on the ground that he was married to an Australian-born woman. His wife is of island extraction. As he did not come within any of the classes eligible for permanent admission, his request was refused.
The department was next advised that Jackson had taken out a Supreme Court writ against a New South Wales police officer for assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, and permission was sought for him to remain until the case had been completed. It was Ascertained that the writ had not been served on the defendant, and that fifteen months would elapse before lt came up for hearing. Jackson’s solicitor was therefore informed that Jackson would have to leave when arrangements could be made for his passage, but that the question of re-admitting him temporarily when the case came on for hearing would receive careful consideration. As I have stated, Jackson has been declared by a court of law to be a prohibited immigrant. He was released from prison over three months ago to afford him the opportunity of leaving voluntarily. He has failed to avail himself of that opportunity. A report has been made that Mrs. Jackson is expecting a child in May next, but no official advice to that effect has so far been received by my department. As the birth of the child is not expected until May, Mrs. Jackson should not be incapacitated in travelling with her husband at this stage if she wishes to accompany him. My department will, if necessary, pay the cost of her passage.
This restrictive aspect of Australia’s immigration policy has been a settled policy of this country for many years and has been endorsed by all sections of the Parliament. The policy is sufficiently flexible to enable merchants, tourists and students to come to this country under approved conditions. I have endeavoured to administer the policy reasonably and sympathetically. Wc have ample cause to believe that this approach has been appreciated in the countries of Asia and the Pacific, whose nationals have been affected by it. I have given full consideration to the present case, but the facts are that this man entered the country illegally, he has been declared by a court of law to be a prohibited immigrant, and he has been given every opportunity to leave voluntarily. As he is not eligible to remain, steps will have to be taken to enforce his departure unless he is prepared to leave of his accord.
– Will the Minister pay for the passage of the wife?
– Yes, I have undertaken to do that.
The next part of the statement relates to certain general allegationsthat have been made in this House,, and also in the Senate by Senator O’Byrne, that some Nazis have been amongst the German workers brought to Australia by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. The security screening of German “ special projects workers “ is probably more complete and thorough than that applied to immigrants from other European sources, because not only are the full facilities of the intelligence services of the occupation powers available to our own highly trained Australian intelligence officers stationed in Germany, but also the latter have complete access to German records, which were captured intact after the last war and which are held by the Allied occupation forces. It is easy to make general allegations, which are difficult to disprove in the absence of the names of the immigrants concerned. Where any specific allegations are made regarding individuals,, action is immediately taken by the Department of Immigration to have thesecases re-investigated in Germany.
The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) recently furnished me with the names of a few immigrants said to beNazis, who are employed by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. The honorable gentleman acted in a manner that I recommend to otherhonorable members. Instead of publicly making charges against individuals that could not be officially examined, he submitted details of the information in his possession to the department and thusgave to it the opportunity to make a full examination of his complaints. These names have been sent- to the immigration authorities in Germany for urgent inquiry to determine whether, in fact, the allegations have any substance. This inquiry,, which will be exhaustive, will take some time to complete and when the results are known I have every confidence that, as has been the case before, the allegations will be disproved. In any event, I remind-: honorable members that ample powers exist to return to Europe immigrants who are found, for one reason or another, to be undesirable.
Honorable members may consider that the department has submitted the facts in these statements in such a way as to place itself and its actions in the most favorable light. Therefore, I propose to supplement the statements with comments that have reached me from sources which, I believe, will be respected in this Parliament. Earlier this week I received an interesting report from Mr. Oberg, who was appointed by my predecessor in office as a member of the Immigration Advisory Council and who has been making a thorough study of conditions in Europe. In the course of his report, Mr. Oberg stated -
Cologne: Had most interesting two days with the Australian Mission in charge of Mr. G. V. Greenhalgh, where full details and records were made available respecting health and security checks, and where we had a complete summary of all the work done by I.R.O. in Western Europe, especially as affecting Australia.
The detailed information received, and records actually seen at Hamburg, Cologne and Salzburg, should qualify one to answer effectively most of the uninformed criticism occasionally directed against our arrangement with I.R.O.
The Australian Mission has done an outstanding job, and no praise could be too great. Particular mention should be made of Mr. G. V. Greenhalgh who is personally most highly regarded throughout the I.R.O. set-up in Western Europe.
In his final summary Mr. Oberg had this to say -
Arising from all the contacts advised, and having regard to what I have seen of the I.R.O. staff and machinery, I make the following observations: -
Australia has consistently secured the highest standard migrants, as evidenced by the fact that only about 10 per cent. of those passing through I.R.O. hands for re-settlement abroad were accepted.
The Australian Organization, especially with respect to health and security safeguards, was the best in the field.
The standard of the officers in the Australian Mission, was not excelled (and in few cases equalled) by other countries’ representatives.
The Australian method of assimilation was regarded as the best in the world and a pattern for other countries to follow.
The reports received from those settled in Australia disclosed how enthusiastic they were about their country of adoption. There were, of course, the very few who were destructively critical - and probably had only themselves to blame.
The system adopted to safeguard Australia’s interests, both with respect to health and security and closely integrated on the latter aspect with the British and U.S.A. Zones, ensured full protection of our country’s interests.
– Did Mr. Oberg have anything to say about the special projects men?
- Mr. Oberg dealt primarily with the International Refugee Organization scheme. I have a copy of the official report of Mr. R. D. Huish, State president of the Queensland branch of the Returned Sailors Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, who was requested to inquire into this matter by the federal executive of that body. The report has a close bearing on the special projects men to whom the honorable member for Parkes has referred, and I invite honorable members who are interested in the subject to study it. I shall not detain the House by reading the whole of the report. I shall confine myself to the passage that has a bearing on the point raised by the honorable member for Parkes, and which, I think should be made known to honorable members. It reads as follows : -
The most assuring and pleasant feature of my visit to each centre was to obtain the confirmation, on the highest level, that any information which they have is available to the Australian Security Officers attached to the Overseas Immigration Organization.
I inspected numerous files of information that had already been made available to the Australian Organization. The Security Officers attached to the Australian Migrant Organization have 14 sources of established Security Centres from which to obtain information, in addition to district and provincial centres, and their own records builtup during the period the Australians have been operating in Germany, Holland and Austria.
I believe I have a very complete pictureof the security system which is in operation and which is made available to the Australian authorities and which, in my opinion, provides every reasonable safeguard in the screening of German migrants. I doubt if any other part of Europe could supply us with greater protection than that which is available in Germany. I am of the opinion that the security side of any German mass migration scheme can be adequately taken care of.
Public statements that the acceptance of the German mass migration scheme is detrimental to the interests of Australia on the grounds that all Germans are in fact Nazis, and that security measures; are inadequate, are not only unfair but unfounded and are quite contrary to the traditional Australian sense of fairness.
I saw statements republished in newspaper? in Europe which created unfavorable comment from high officials of other nations, who have worked for years in Europe on behalf of their respective countries.
The reputation of Australia was very high in the opinion ofmany people I came in contact with, and there is ample evidence that the Australians working in Europe have contributed in no small measure to the building up of this reputation. Such statements reflect upon their integrity and ability and are most unfair to the men who, in my opinion, are undoubtedly just as anxious, even perhaps more so than the critics, to ensure that not only Nazis but Communists and other undesirable people are not allowed to obtain entry to Australia.
I add only that other countries in the British Commonwealth have been most active in this field. Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and, I think, South Africa, and certainly the United States of America, are all now selecting suitable German immigrants for employment in those countries. I concludeby reminding the House, as I have done on other occasions, that in any event we have ample power under our immigration laws to return immigrants to Europe, and certainly to Germany if they had been selected from that country, who are found, for one reason or another, to be undesirable.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment: -
States Grants Bill 1951.
States Grants (Administration of Controls Reimbursement) Bill 1951.
States Grants (Special Financial Assistance) Bill (No. 2) 1951.
Message received from the Senate, intimating that it had agreed to the amendment made by the House of Representatives in this bill.
-(Hon. Archie Cameron). - I have received from the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The threat to coal production by the recent decision of the Joint Coal Board (constituted under the Coal Industry Act of1940) and the Commonwealth Government to sell the productive equipment owned by the board and to terminate the establishment and successful policy of arranging in appropriate cases for the hiring of such equipment in order to expedite vital production of coal and the progressive development of the industry.
I call on those honorable members who approve of the proposed motion to rise in their places.
Eight honorable members having risen in their places,
– Before proceeding to the discussion, I wish to call the attention of the House to the announcement that I made yesterday, because a departure from procedure is involved. It is my opinion that the procedure adopted hitherto has been wrong, and that there may not be any decision on a motion of this sort. The relevant standing order says that such a motion is for discussion. If a decision is required it must comply with Standing Order 152, which reads -
No Member shall, except by leave of the House, or unless it be otherwise provided by the Standing Orders, move any motion except in pursuance of Notice openly given at a previous sitting of the House and duly entered on the Notice Paper.
I call the attention of the House to the fact that in my view this motion is for discussion only. If the debate proceeds for two hours the motion lapses and no decision can be made. I suggested yesterday that if it is the desire of the House to terminate the debate the proper procedure is not to move -
That the question be now put, but to move -
That the question be not now put, which is the previous question. I further call the attention of the House to the fact that since I have been the occupant of the chair I have never proposed a question from the chair on a formal motion for the adjournment of the House.No question is proposed from the chair in such a case. It is simply a matter of eight honorable members supporting a motion for a discussion. It is my view that as soon as that discussion has terminated - by whatever means if not my business - then there should be no vote on the matter before the House, because honorable members have not been given due notice in accordance with Standing Orders.
– I rise to order. After the closure had been moved in the way that you have suggested, Mr. Speaker, how would you put the question? Would you say, “ Those in favour say ‘ No ‘ : on the contrary ‘Aye’”?
– When the previous question is moved in the form -
That the question be not now put, those who desire it not to be put should rote “ Aye “, and those who desire it to be put should vote “ No “. If that is carried, then, obviously, no question could be put by the Chair, the motion would automatically lapse and the discussion would have ended.
– I merely wish to intimate, in fairness to you, Mr. Speaker, io that you shall have an opportunity to clear your thoughts on the matter, that it is my intention at that stage to move dissent from your ruling.
– I should expect that.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
On Wednesday last, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made a statement about a new policy that had been adopted by the Joint Coal Board. In substance, under that policy the board will sell its plant and equipment, and cease to hire such plant and equipment to companies and other interests engaged in the production of coal. The Opposition believes that a review of this policy should be made urgently. The Prime Minister made it very clear that the Joint Coal Board and the Australian Government had reached agreement on this new policy, without prior consultation with the Government of New South Wales, which of course, is one of the two parties concerned in the operations of the Joint Coal Board. That omission was, we believe, contrary to the spirit of the coal industry legislation passed by the Australian Government and the Government of New South Wales in 1946. Certainly, it was contrary to some of the legal impli cations of that legislation. The nature of the arrangement made in 1946, is: perhaps, best illustrated by section 18 of the Coal Industry Act. From that section one can only draw the conclusion that the Joint Coal Board should, at all times, remember that it is in fact a joint organization acting in the interests of New South Wales and of the Commonwealth, and that both government? should be kept fully informed of its operations. I shall not undertake a legal analysis of the section because its meaning is clear. Obviously, the intention of the act is that on matters of policy, the board must act in accordance with the joint directions of the two governments concerned. It is implicit in the act, and certainly it is implicit in the intention of the governments which are parties to the agreement, that there should not be any substantial change in policy without the prior consent of each of those governments. From the point of view of a sound political arrangement, unless that course be followed, the joint system can no longer operate satisfactorily. In this instance, there has been a departure from the accepted practice. There baf been no consultation with the Government of New South Wales, although the Parliament of that State is in complete control of coal production in New South Wales, which is the only production dealt with in the 1946 legislation. Apart from all questions of legality - and 1 shall not pursue them at this juncturethe board has successfully followed the practice of hiring plant and equipment to coal-owners in both the open-cut and underground fields. That practice ha? now been abruptly and arbitrarily terminated, and in our view, without any justification or excuse. The Joint Coal Board was established to increase coal production in New South Wales and so to ease Australia’s acute coal shortage. Production in New South Wales alone is governed by the act, but distribution is dealt with under the act on an Australiawide basis. The ‘point is that the Joint Coal Board has complete power to make ‘provision for the introduction or replacement of machinery, plant and equipment for New South Wales production, and it is fair to say that the board pioneered the development of open-cut mining, largely under the inspiration of the late Mr. Chifley. He was tremendously enthusiastic about the development of open-cut fields and as one result of his enthusiasm 2,000,000 tons of coal have been produced in New South Wales this year which will help to create a record in coal production. If development is not obstructed by measures such us the one that we are now examining there is every chance of a steady increase of coal production in New South Wales.
In 1947, a board was appointed with a complete charter to do what it thought necessary to re-organize the New South Wales coal industry. The board was faced with the tremendous task of complete rehabilitation. A royal commission of inquiry was appointed by the Chifley Government with Mr. Justice Davidson as commissioner. He described the position by saying, “ The threatening crisis demands bold measures”. I shall not go into the industrial causes of the crisis. The history of employer-employee relationships has always been turbulent in the coal industry. The board was- empowered to develop the coal resources in New South Wales and it was given authority to own mines itself and to import equipment which it could hire or sell. The board commenced its operations by making investigations to determine whether the coal owners had any individual plans for the development of the industry. I shall quote from the hoard’s report on that subject -
With a few outstanding exceptions, no plans for future development had been prepared, and in the majority of cases, none were contemplated.
The board ‘decided that it should prepare and implement a programme for the development of the industry. There were two branches of its programme. First, there was a long-term plan to rehabilitate and mechanize underground mining. The capital expenditure involved in that plan was estimated to be £20,000,000 at 1948 costs. It appears from the Prime Minister’s statement that the figure would now be £40,000,000. This would cover the provision of the necessary equipment for the mechanization of the underground mines which are the main part of the industry. In addition, the board deter- mined to supplement its long-term programme of underground development by the development of coal from open-cut operations. The facts are clear. Many colliery proprietors, having no plans, could not or would not develop their mines because of the lack of adequate equipment. The board did not treat this as a matter for praise or blame. It simply stated it as the factual position. In view of this situation the board entered upon an operation of tremendous importance. It built up a pool of the most modern types of mining machinery. It sent its agents abroad and it obtained dollar finance from the Australian Government. The late Mr. Chifley was then thi Treasurer of the Commonwealth. The board’s object was to have a pool of machinery which would include the best in the world so that coal owners could obtain modern equipment by purchasing it from the board, by having the board sponsor purchases, or by hiring their requirements from the board.
Fifty collieries obtained equipment iri these ways. The board obtained the machinery at a low price because the £1 had not then been devalued. The value of the equipment, as stated by the Prime Minister, is now over £10,000,000. It was an essential part of the planning operation that equipment should be available for hire because certain operators did not have sufficient finance to buy it. The board, with the approval of the Government, has now terminated the hiring arrangements. That action must interfere with production. Small operators who were unable to purchase plant developed open-cut fields by hiring equipment from the board. Why has the board suddenly ceased to hire equipment to these people ? No real reason has been given by the Government in the statement which was issued on the subject. The change of policy will not bear examination. It has been said that the new policy will be more efficient, but no evidence has been produced in support of that statement. The Opposition contends that production will be prejudiced. The Government has proposed that a private organization should carry out the repair and maintenance now effected by the board. Why should such a course as that be adopted? Up to the present time, satisfaction has been expressed with the existing arrangement and the proposal will nullify the board’s plans to increase open-cut production by making machinery available to small operators.
Apparently the Government has no thought of increasing production because the Prime Minister did not mention that subject in his statement. He mentioned finance, but not production. The Government’s decision constitutes a repudiation of the policy of the board. The same pattern may be observed in other fields. The people’s shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited have been sold. Some people seem to consider that the same principle should be applied in this instance. Trans-Australia Airlines is still threatened, apparently by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who sees in every successful phase of governmental administration an opportunity to carry out his pet political theories. Why could the Government not allow the system that has been successful to continue? The New South Wales Government has not been consulted on this matter. I believe that this action has been initiated, not by the Joint Coal Board, but by some Minister of the Government, probably the Minister for National Development. There was no evidence in the board’s report that the existing system had been unsatisfactory. The small operators wanted it to continue. The Opposition does not insist that coal owners should have no right to purchase machinery from the board. If they wish to purchase equipment from the board, they should be able to purchase it. But, if others wish to hire equipment from the board, they should be able to hire it.
I ask the Government to review this matter at once and to confer with the New South Wales Government, which knows a great deal about the production side of the industry. I ask the Government to restore the former practice. There has been record production in the open-cut fields this year, largely due to the operation of this system. The Government’s administration in this respect seems to me to be almost wanton. I cannot believe that the action has been taken deliberately to interfere with production. Is it the
Government’^ purpose to establish some monopoly of the sale of mining machinery so that a levy can be imposed on the coalowners and on the public ? I do npt know. Honorable members have not been told. The reasons given by the Government for its action are completely unsatisfactory and I hope that the House will debate this matter from the viewpoint of increasing production, maintaining the administration of the Joint Coal Board, and obtaining a review of this matter.
– The motion before the House rests on an entire misconception of the position. It is also a melancholy illustration of how far astray a party may be led by doctrinaire notions. As I hope to show, there is nothing more in this proposal than would commend itself to any ordinary, prudent group of businessmen or other people concerned with economic and efficient administra-‘ tion. The right honorable gentleman has said by implication that this is an instance of governmental intervention,, and that this is a new policy. Those ure false premises.
– But the Government i? terminating its hiring policy !
– It is obvious that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has misunderstood the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies).. Ever since the Joint Coal Board has been in operation it has sold plant and machinery. No less than £975,000 worth of machinery has been sold at various times by the Joint Coal Board, which is continuing selling on a larger scale, for reasons that I shall explain in a moment. An appreciation of the fact, that the board is continuing a policy that it has followed since its inception would. I am sure, cause the right honorable gentleman to withdraw his charge that some startling new policy has been initiated.
– It is a new policy of terminating hiring.
– If the Leader of the Opposition can indicate where, in the Prime Minister’s statement, that was said, I shall be happy to withdraw. The Prime Minister stated -
The Commonwealth accepts the position that such plant as is necessary to provide the coal required must be obtained, and that, accordingly, it may be necessary to provide additional funds for that purpose in the future. But it is not willing to find funds unnecessarily.
This matter has come before Ohe Government because it was necessary that there should be a guarantee to the Commonwealth Bank in respect of hire purchases of this plant. The board decided that it was desirable, for financial’ reasons, that as much as possible of this plant should be sold, rather than that the board should continue to hire it out. But that does not mean that we are discontinuing hiring, or that this is a new policy. To clear up any misapprehension that exists about there being anything revolutionary or sinister in this proposal, I point out that the Joint Coal Board is an independent body, wnich has enormous powers. Sections 10 to 17 of the Coal Industry Act 1946 make it clear that the board is an autonomous body. It was constituted by a joint agreement between the Commonwealth and New South “Wales. By and large it was always intended by Mr. Chifley and Mr. McGirr that it should bo autonomous. The substantial qualification is contained in section IS (2.) of the Coal Industry Act 1946, which reads -
The Prime Minister may, in agreement with the Premier of the State, issue directions to the board on matters of policy and it is to be the duty of the board to observe and carry out any direction so given.
But the crux of the matter is that a direction on a matter of policy did not arise, because this was a decision by the Join Coal Board itself, in the course of its administrative duties, although on a somewhat larger scale to what it had been doing from its inception, namely, selling plant.
– There is no objection to the selling of plant. We object to the termination of the right to hire out.
– I inform the right honorable gentleman that there is no termination of the right to hire out.
– But the Prime Minister has said so.
– The Prime Minister stated -
It is not difficult to imagine how the board -came to the conclusion that it woul-1 be advisable for it to make strenuous efforts to sell plant rather than to continue to own it and hire it out, with all the attendant heavy responsibility for spare parts and servicing over wide areas.
The Leader of the Opposition has been barking up the wrong tree. The board contends that where it can sell, it should do so rather than continue to hire’ out plant and machinery. Surely that is good business ? To say that there is not going to be any hiring out in the future is irrelevant. That is not what the Prime Minister has stated, and it i3 not in accordance with the facts.
As a matter of ordinary common sense, if we can sell the machinery to the operators it is better from the point of view of the people of this country. The reason is obvious. Although £10,000,000 worth of plant has been bought already by the Joint Coal Board, its advisers estimated that £40,000,000 still needs to be expended on equipment and development in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales alone. The board had to decide whether it should go on buying plant and hiring it out more and more - not £10,000,000 worth, but by next year £15,000,000 worth or £20,000,000 worthwith a mounting liability on the taxpayers of Australia, or whether it should endeavour, while continuing to improve the coal mines in New South Wales, to get rid of its assets to people in the e >al industry who would continue to use the plant and equipment. The board has stipulated that the assets to be sold to the coal-owners and the operators in the open cuts shall continue to be used in the industry. The Government cannot understand what all the bother is about. What is wrong with selling this plant to people who are going to continue to use it in the industry? Surely they would look after it better than if they were merely hiring it! That is the crux of the matter. Does a tenant look after a house as well as does an owner? Does a hirer of a motor car look after it as well as its owner would?
– If they cannot hire the plant they cannot produce.
– It is good business, and common sense, and stimulates production to let them buy it and have it as their own, so long as the machinery will still be used by the coal industry.
– Should not the State have been consulted?
– I am glad that the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) has raised that aspect of he matter. This is a decision of the Joint Coal Board. It has nothing to do with the State of New South Wales, and, indeed, has nothing to do with the Commonwealth except for the fact that because of the amount involved, and because most owners could not raise sufficient cash, it was necessary to decide to permit purchase on terms, and somebody had to guarantee payment. The board entered into negotiations with the Commonwealth Bank and the trading banks, whAt will provide hire purchase facilities for operators to purchase plant from the board.
This matter should be viewed as an ordinary business proceeding by the Joint Coal Board, and not as an attempt to pass over the plant and machinery to the private enterprises which are operating the mines. The deep mines of New South Wales are owned by private enterprise, and the open cuts are operated by big companies. In the ordinary course of business, bodies doing that sort of work would own the plant they operate. The sale of plant and equipment by the board will take a load off the taxpayers of Australia. I remind the House that the Commonwealth has put up all the money necessary. It has financed the Joint Coal Board to the amount of about £15,000,000.
– Has the Government’s policy changed?
– I do not know what the honorable member means by that interjection; the Government is trying to get more coal. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we are definitely getting more coal.
– Is the Minister prepared to undertake that if an operator wishes to continue to hire machinery, and not purchase it, he will not be prevented from doing so.
– I cannot give that undertaking, but I know of no proposals under which there shall be no hiring whatsoever. The matter of hiring or not hiring is a matter for the Joint Coal Board.
– Every sentence of the Prime Minister’s speech shows that he has adopted a new policy on this matter.
– The right honorable gentleman is world famous for the interpretation of legal documents and words, but I suggest that he is leaning a little towards metaphysics if henuts that interpretation on this matter. The Australian Government has put £10,000,000 into coal-mining plant. £5,000,000 into developmental work, and another £1,000,000 into amenities for miners. Moreover, we must continue tofind more money for the coal industry. Nearly £40,000,000 will probably have to be spent. In those circumstances is it not common sense that wherever possible we should pass over the ownership of this machinery at a proper price, not at bucket shop rates, to private operators, on the condition that they guarantee to continue to use it in the coal industry?’ We suggest that there is nothing sinister about that, but that it is a mere following of common business practice. We think that the taxpayers of Australia will’ understand the common sense of allowingsomebody else, namely the coal owners, to carry as much of the burden as possible in order to avoid an everincreasingburden being laid on their own shoulders.
.- I desire briefly to reply to the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), who indicated that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) did’not say that the Joint Coal Board will’ stop leasing machinery to the coal’ operators. I refer honorable members to the Prime Minister’s statement about thismatter, although I shall not read it because it will take up too much of my time. The Prime Minister said that the ownership of this machinery is hamper ing the Joint Coal Board’s activities. He also said that rent collecting and other activities of that nature were hamperingthe work of the board, and that that wasthe reason why the Government want? to dispose of this plant.
The Minister for Supply has stated’ that the Government needs more coal. T assure the honorable gentleman and the House, and indeed the country, thai there is great dissatisfaction among- mine-workers because of the proposal to disposal of the machinery owned by the Joint Coal Board. They have adopted the attitude that they do not propose to work machinery in mines unless they are assured that adequate safety precautions will be taken. I suggest that the mineworkers themselves are the best judges of the efficiency of safety precautions, because they are the men who have to risk their limbs and lives in the mines of this country.
I have travelled in most of the important countries of the world, except Russia and America, and I have studied the methods of operating coal mines in those countries. Adequate and proper stowage is a matter of great importance in both the efficient working of the mines and the safety of the mine-workers. In Great Britain 9S per cent, of the coal seam is extracted by the adoption of a pneumatic stowage system, which is a safe way of extracting pillars. Germany and Prance adopt similar methods. I am very interested in this particular matter, because after my international investigations I wrote a report about it. Australian miners are determined that they will not extract pillars by the use of mechanical units unless their lives and limbs are adequately protected by a proper stowage system. The New South Wales Government has set up a coal conservation committee, which comprises men who know something of the mining industry. The members of the committee are Dr. D. W. Phillips, Professor of Mining Engineering in the New South Wale3 University of Technology; M.r. J. B. Barrett, miners’ district check inspector; Mr. Arthur Donne, superintendent of J. and A. Brown’s Abermain-Seaham Colliery; Mr. C. D. Durham, senior inspector of collieries in the New South Wales Mines Department; Mr. F.. Hemmingway, a well-known mine manager and mining engineer; and Mr. J. W. Seward, district engineer of the Joint Coal Board. It has been said that the Joint Coal Board has recommended that its machinery be sold. That does not agree with the report of the above-mentioned committee. I have not a copy of the report of that committee, but I can say that it has strongly recommended that we should extract the maximum amount of pillar coal and that the preparatory exploratory decisions of the Joint Coal Board should be translated into action as soon as- possible.
I strongly disapprove of the disposal of the Joint Coal Board’s machinery, and I am sure that the mine-workers also will disapprove. It is important from a national stand-point that the cost of experiments in coal extraction should not be borne by individual colliery owners, but by industry in general or by the Government. Those, in effect, are the concluding words of the report of the New South Wales coal conservation committee. The Greta coal seam, in oil and gas content and calorific value, is the largest and richest seam in Australia and, in fact, in the world. Private operators have left behind in that seam pillars containing 291,582,000 tons of coal. That coal will be destroyed by spontaneous combustion unless it is soon extracted. The machinery of the Joint Coal Board could have done something towards the extraction of that vast amount of good coal. There are also 368,452,000 tons of coal in virgin country not yet exploited.
The coal-owners of Australia have consistently adopted a get-rich-quick attitude. They have sunk holes in the ground and dragged out as much easy coal as possible, and have never given a thought to the conservation of what really is a great national asset. At the present time the nation’s water supplies are controlled by government utilities, its production of other commodities of a national character are supervised by the Government, and therefore it is high time that the Government ensured that our coalmines shall be used for the nation’s advantage. Our coal should be conserved in the same way as Great Britain is conserving its coal supplies. I was in Great Britain when the nationalization of the British coal industry was being discussed in the British Parliament. Under nationalization, that industry is producing greater quantities of coal than it produced before. [ have no hesitation in saying that iti this country wc are permitting some of !.he richest coalfields Lii the world to be murdered - -I use that word advisedly - by present methods of coal extraction. Throughout the area that I represent in. this Parliament, millions of tons of coal are on fire. There is an underground fire f rom Greta to East Greta, and from East Greta to Bellbird and Paxton. The attitude of the coalowners is that it is not their pigeon. The Government should provide finance for the preservation of the national asset that we have in the form of coal deposits. We must endeavour to conserve them. Future generations will curse this generation, as well as the coal-owners for their get-rich quick methods and the lack of concern for the nation’s future coal supplies which is evidenced by their lousy exploitation of coal resources.
-Order! The word “ lousy “ is unparliamentary.
– We should adopt scientific methods to prevent spontaneous combustion occurring in coal seams. I have asked the Prime Minister questions about an American company in Utah that proposed to come to this country. It knows at least something about the control of spontaneous combustion. Is it not time that the Government took control of our coal resources and prevented them from being exploited as they are under the present ownership ?
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I congratulate the Joint Coal Board upon a very sensible piece of administration. In my opinion, this policy should have been adopted earlier.
– The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) agrees that there has been a change of policy.
– There has been no change of policy. There has been a change, not of fundamental policy but of the degree of sales of equipment. . I remind the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) that the conditions of sale of this equipment will ensure that those who purchase it will use it in the coal industry. For all practical purposes, the sale of the equipment will make no difference to the use to which it is put. The important point is. that, under the new organization, more coal will be produced. That, is the object of the sales. The Joint Coal Board was established for the purpose of organizing the coal industry in New South Wales on a basis that would enable that industry to supply the quantity and quality of coal that we require to meet our own needs and for export purposes. It was not intended that the board should become a mammoth owner of all means of producing coal.
The Labour party should be the last political party to talk about coal production. Although it was in power for eight or nine years, and, during that time, had its say about the activities of the Joint Coal Board, the production of coal in this country was not increased until this Government assumed office. I pay a compliment to the present Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) for the way in which he has handled the coal problem. So also do the people of Sydney and of other cities. Since the war ended, our power stations have not had such great quantities of coal in store as they have at the present time. Under the regime of the Labour party, the people of Sydney and of other cities were starved of coal.
It was almost humorous when the Leader of the Opposition placed emphasis upon the partnership that exists between the New South Wales Government and this Government in respect of the Joint Coal Board. The right honorable gentleman said that the title Joint Coal Board meant that a partnership existed between New South Wales and the Commonwealth. Can he cite one instance of the New South Wales Government having done anything to make the Joint Coal Board successful? Is there any case on record of the New South Wales Government having done anything but undermine the board? Recently this Government asked the New South Wales Government to give its consent to the appointment to the board of an excellent man to fill the vacancy caused by the death of the late Mr. Jack, but that consent was withheld and the position is still unfilled. I know of my own knowledge that the J oint Coal Board recommended to the New South Wales Government that the leases of two private mining companies operating in the Burragorang Valley be extended.
– It is crook coal.
– It is the second best coal in New South Wales. The Joint Coal Board was willing to sell to those two mining companies machinery that would enable them to double their production. The McGirr Government refused to do what the board recommended should be done.
– The coal clinkered the boilers at Bunnerong power station.
– It is apparent that the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) is completely ignorant of the facts of this matter. The coal produced in the Burragorang Valley is the most suitable coal for use at Bunnerong power station. But for the attitude that was adopted by the McGirr Government, Sydney would have had an additional 1,500 tons of coal a day, half the blackouts from which the city has suffered during the last few years would not have occurred, and a considerable loss of production would have been avoided. That is the kind of co-operation that is received from the New South Wales Government.
This is a matter of common sense and of business acumen. In the name of goodness, how could a government establish the organization necessary to maintain £10,000,000 worth of machinery, and later between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000? The maintenance of such a vast mass of material would entail the establishment of a major organization in or near the coalfields. It could not be done in any other way. Under the new arrangement, individual operators will maintain the plant they have purchased, which will be under their control. The hiring of plant of this kind gives rise to difficult problems. It is almost impossible to ascertain precisely how the machinery is being used by the hirers. It is known that at the present time the Joint Coal Board is encountering difficulties in that connexion. I do not want to mention names, but a number of hirers of machinery owe between £15,000 and £20,000 to the Joint Coal Board in respect of hire charges. The Government is making arrangements for financial assistance to be given to those people. The matter is one of pinning responsibility upon those who carry om; the work. Indeed, an incentive to produce coal is being given to the people who accept contracts from the Government. It should be remembered that in only two or three instances does the Joint Coal Board itself operate open-cut mines. For the most part the operation of open-cut mining is carried out by contractors. Is it not better that such contractors should be enabled to conduct continuous operations, with an incentive to adopt economic methods and to obtain the benefits of those methods? Is it right that the Government or the Joint Coal Board should develop an enormous organization by means of which the Government or the board may control the activities of everybody in the industry and say to them, “ You cannot get machinery, but we can. You cannot do a certain thing, but we may”? I submit that such a position would be intolerable.
The reason for the sale of this plant, from the point of view of the board, is that it will result in the production of more coal. It is a business-like arrangement which does not cut across the previous policy of the board. I suggest that it is merely putting into effect a business arrangement which will enable the industry to become stabilized and which will place responsibility where it should be placed. In addition, it will obviate the necessity for the board to employ a huge maintenance staff and an equally huge staff to police hirings. The expenditure that would be involved in maintaining such staff would be unnecessary and wasteful. Surely it is economically better for the industry, for the operators and for this Government that the plant be disposed of!
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– I support the protest of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) against the Government’s proposal to dispose of the assets of the Joint Coal Board. Although the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) and the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) have claimed that the proposed policy will not be a new one, in my opinion that claim will be believed only by the honorable gentlemen themselves. This Government has failed to appoint a third member to the board and thus have it properly constituted, although the previous third member died approximately fifteen months ago. I consider that this legislation represents a step towards the complete abolition of the board. The Minister for Supply has stated that the Leader of the Opposition based his arguments on false premises. He has also said that no new policy is being enunciated and that the Government does not propose to end the hiring of th« plant concerned. I point out that almost every paragraph of the statement that was made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) refers to the selling of the plant and equipment of the board. In fact, it states that -
The plant has now been operating some time and the board is running into a fresh set of problems due to the need to collect rentals for it from hirers and in connexion with its repair and maintenance.
The responsibilities of purchasing plant and then subsequently keeping it in good repair should not be a function of the board. There is always the risk that unsuitable plant may be purchased and disputes arise upon the amount of hire rental payable when the board accepts responsibility for repair and maintenance. And there is no doubt but that an owner of plant will maintain and operate it more efficiently and economically than a hirer of plant with consequent increased’ production efficiency. . .
It is not hard to imagine therefore, how the board came to the conclusion that it would be advisable for it to make strenuous efforts to sell plant rather than to continue to own it and hire it out with all the attendant heavy responsibility for spares and servicing over wide areas.
I ask honorable members opposite to read the statement. I doubt whether the Minister for Supply has yet done so.
The action which the Government proposes to take will retard the work for the performance of which the board was established. The honorable member for Bennelong has stated that increased production of coal did not occur until after this Government came to office. Let us examine the improvement that has been made in the production of opencut mines. Between 1948 and 1949, when a Labour government was in office, nineteen diamond drillings which totalled 6,716 feet, were made, and in 1949-50, nineteen holes which totalled 6,370 feet were sunk. The footage drilled therefore decreased by 346 feet. Percusion drilling in 1948-49 consisted of 680 holes of a total depth of 49,624 feet, and in 1949-50, 343 holes were sunk of a total depth of 38,887 feet, or almost half as many holes as were sunk while a Labour government was in power.
The activities of the board during the last fifteen or eighteen months have destroyed the interest that the Chifley Government fostered in the development of the coal-mining industry. On its establishment, the board took over the task of rehabilitating and developing an industry of which the Honorable Mr. Justice Davidson had said -
A stage has been reached . . . which borders on disaster, and threatening crisis demands bold measures.
I propose to read to honorable members the following extract from the third annual report of the Joint Coal Board for the financial year 1949-50 : -
When the board was appointed in 1.947, it was given a charter to take whatever steps were necessary to organize the New South Wales coal industry so that it would provide sufficient coal for the internal requirements of the Commonwealth and the development of export trade to other countries. It was also given other powers, such as those relating to research, price control, distribution, health, community welfare, &c, which, though important in themselves, are clearly subservient to the main problems of producing enough coal of the right types to meet the needs of industry.
It will therefore be seen that the board controls the functions of many coalmines, both open-cut and of a deep-seam character. When it is appreciated that the board controls twelve open-cut mines which have been fully developed, in addition to a number of deep-seam mines which are fully mechanized to-day, it is reasonable to ask the Prime Minister to state the intention of the Government in regard to the future development of those open-cut mines and to say whether it intends ultimately to dispose of them to private enterprise and thus shackle the development of the coal industry in New South Wales. It is interesting to note that the Prime Minister has stated -
Moreover, although the board has made substantial investment in plant, much more is required. The board estimates that £40,000,000 needs to be spent on equipment and development in the coal-mining industry in Kew South Wales.
I suggest that the last .sentence indicates the fundamental reason why the Government is to-day Tunning away from acceptance of responsibility for the Joint Goal Board.
Two phases are involved in the development .of the coal industry. One concerns the requirements of coal for the nation as ‘a whole, and the other the conservation of the industry. Approximately seven mines are fed from the famous Greta seam. .Spontaneous combustion occurs in that seam, and it is only necessary to rub two pieces of coal together to make them ignite. Because of the .damp courses in the mines and the heating that takes place in various sections of that seam, crushing occurs and barricades collapse. If the Australian Government does not accept responsibility for the supervision of that seam of gas coal, in a very .short time the people of Australia will be without gas. The New South “Wales Government appointed a committee to inquire into that matter and that committee made certain recommendations. The Joint Coal Board, in its own report, has accepted responsibility for stowage in the future. A sum of at least £40,000,000 will be required to protect the Greta seam .alone. But nothing has been .said about the seam in other pits where no attempt has been made to mine millions of tons of coal that remain in pillars. In the Aberdare Central Colliery, the tonnage in virgin area is estimated at 238,700,000 tons .and the life of that colliery is estimated at 1,009 years. The seven collieries .that I have mentioned produce 9,300 tons of coal a day, and it is estimated that they have in .them ‘291,582,000 tons in barriers and pillars. Every ton .of that coal will be lost to the nation unless this Government and the New South Wales Government accept the responsibility of saving it. That must be .done, because the problem of coal production transcends every other problem. This Government has just as much responsibility as has .the New South Wales Government to conserve that most valuable national asset.
– Has the honorable .member any confidence in the Joint Coal Board?
– No, not at present ; because it has altered its policy. It undertook to develop .coal resources ‘on .a national basis in the interests of oar economy as a whole, but it has now abandoned that objective. If we got on the right track we could eventually produce coal for export. It would then devolve upon the Government to subsidize the industry in respect of the difference between the overseas .selling price and the home market price. As the Government subsidizes various primary industries, I can see no reason why it should not subsidize the coal industry in order to place it on a sound footing. If it had done so in the past, there would not now be 200 fewer men employed in the industry than were employed in it in 1948-49. There is work sufficient for an additional 10,000 miners in the industry.
– The Communists are .the trouble-makers.
– As the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) said, the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) was frightened .stiff when he went down a coal mine.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
. - I congratulate members of the Opposition on their -enthusiasm -for the production of coal. That is a new development, indeed ; but the House should be very grateful for it. I know that some captious critics will say that the Opposition’s present enthusiasm for coal production is as sincere as is Stalin’s campaign for peace. However, let us not think along those lines, but take the words of honorable members opposite at their face value and conclude that they have been converted and have abandoned their longstanding policy of sabotaging coal production. Let us accept the view that they are now prepared to co-operate with the Government on a non-party basis in order to increase the production of coal.
As the honorable member for .Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) has said, the production of coal is, perhaps, the most important single problem that confronts Australia to-day. When we consider the step that the Joint Coal Board has taken we naturally ask .ourselves whether it will help to increase, or decrease, coal production. That is the test that we must apply in this matter, and I believe it to be the test that the country will apply. We are aware of what the miners’ federation thinks about the board’s decision. I have in mind the latest issue of Common Cause, which is the official journal of the federation. That journal reports Mr. Idris Williams, the Communist president of the federation, as having said, in effect, that the miners must not produce coal because it will be used in a war against Russia; that they must hinder coal production and sabotage the Government’s attempts to increase it. He added -
Let us look at the things that the Government has done to get coal. Indiscriminate development of open-cut has taken place, and now the Joint Coal Board proposes to sell to private enterprise, equipment and machinery.
Of course, such steps will help to increase coal production. Whereas honorable members opposite oppose the board’s decision on the ground that it will tend to decrease coal production, the Communist leaders of the miners’ federation oppose it on the ground that it will help to increase coal production.
The board’s decision will not mean that less machinery will be made available to the industry now, or in the future, because the board will reserve its right to import machinery and to sell, or to hire it out, to the industry. The board retains a free hand in that respect. Not only has the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that the board will do whatever is necessary to obtain machinery for the industry ; in the teeth of opposition on the part of the Labour party, he has also obtained a dollar loan in order to enable the board to purchase such machinery. It may still be necessary for the board, as it has done in the past, to develop new means of production, particularly by the open-cut method, and to continue to import machinery. The board will not change its policy in that respect. Perhaps, in the future it may hire out machinery to the industry. The hoard has not enlightened us on that point, but it has said that more efficient production could be achieved by enabling contractors to own the machinery that they use. Approximately 22 open- cut mines are being worked in New South Wales at present, and of those only two or three are being worked by the Joint Coal Board or its subsidiaries. The remainder are being worked by either private industry or contractors. In every instance in which the board has hired out machinery, efficiency has decreased because of divided responsibility in respect of that machinery. I know, personally, of instances in which contractors have said, in effect, “ We need not pay our hire charge to the board because the machinery was out of order for certain periods. It is the board’s responsibility to keep the machinery in order “. So long as the responsibility is divided in that way, contractors will resort to all sorts of pretexts to try to chisel down the hire charge, and all sorts of delays will be experienced while inspectors visit different coal-fields in order to try to sort out the facts.
The first requisite for efficiency in production is to decentralize control and to place responsibility directly in the hands of the man on the spot. That is the most effective way to get maximum production from the machinery that is now available and from any that may be imported in the future. Of course, the miners’ federation is opposed to this move because it is designed to increase production by ensuring that the machinery shall be operated to the fullest possible degree by minimizing breakdowns and by obviating red tape and “ passing the buck “. In this coal problem, as in other problems of administration, simplicity is of tremendous importance, if efficiency is to be achieved. There is no industry in which red tape and “ passing the buck “ have had a greater effect in reducing pro: duction than in the coal industry. The simple decision to sell certain plant and equipment has been taken, not by this Government, but by the J oint Coal Board. It is true that that authority was established by legislation that was passed by this Parliament and the Parliament of New South Wales. But the charter of the board to which both governments have agreed, provides that it shall have the right to make independent decisions, which can be overruled only if the Commonwealth and the Government of New South Wales concur in vetoing them.
In the present instance, the board has made an independent decision to sell certain plant and equipment and I believe that such a decision is correct. Whatever the Government of New South Wales may do, I believe that the Commonwealth should in no sense concur in vetoing that decision. The Joint Coal Board owes the Commonwealth approximately £9,750,000. Most of that money is represented by plant and equipment, in which the Government of New South Wales has only a small stake. Why, then, should the Commonwealth concur with the Government of New South Wales in vetoing a decision of the board that will not only lead to an increase of production of coal, but also protect Commonwealth assets, which, at the present time, are wasting because they are being hired out under an inefficient system, instead of being used, as they should be used, by the responsible people in the coal-mining industry ?
The Joint Coal Board already has many great achievements to its credit, but much remains to be accomplished. Its efforts should be concentrated on those matters, and particularly on the exploration of reserves of open-cut coal. Its attention should not be diverted, and its time should not be absorbed by the hiring of plant, and by the disputes that necessarily arise under that system. Concentration by the board upon its proper functions will do as much as anything to increase the production of coal - an objective that Opposition members profess to support.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I rise to support the motion. It is appropriate that this House should consider the proposal for the sale of between £9.000,000 and £10.000,000 worth of public property. Neglect to do so’ would be to fail in its bounden duty to the people of Australia. The attitude of the Government in this matter does not astonish me. because it is in keeping with the declared policy of Ministers to sell the heritage and the assets of this country, and everything else that they can lay their hands on, and convert them into ready cash. Despite the fact that the
Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has budgeted for a surplus of £114,500,000 for the current financial year, the Government is concerned more with selling the assets of the people at bargain rates than with grappling with the problems that confront the nation.
I remind the House that the Joint Coal Board was established as a result of legislation that was passed by this Parliament and the Parliament of New South Wales. This Government, without consulting the Parliament or the Government of New South Wales, concurs in the decision to dispose of certain assets of the Joint Coal Board. The Parliament was similarly ignored when the Government decided to sell the Commonwealth’s holdings in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. Even the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes), who at that time was one of the directors of that organization, was not given a hint by the Government of its intention. Therefore, the decision to dispose of plant and equipment that belongs to the Joint Coal Board, without reference to this Parliament or to the Government of New South Wales, does not astonish me. However, I point out that such a decision must be disturbing, and even damaging, to the relations ‘ between the Commonwealth and the States generally. The State of New South Wales is a party to the establishment of the Joint Coal Board, yet it is not consulted by the Commonwealth about the sale of valuable assets. That State has co-operated magnificently with the Commonwealth in the past,” and although the present Government in Canberra is an anti-Labour Administration, the McGirr Government of New South Wales has continued to co-operate with the Commonwealth in order to ensure that the production of coal shall meet the requirements of the nation.
The assertion that supplies of coal are still insufficient to meet the demand falls easily from the lips of Government supporters, but the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has stated that the output this year is an all-time record. That magnificent achievement is due, not to the fact that an anti-Labour government occupies the treasury bench in this House, but to the calculated policy and planning by previous Labour governments in the past so to organize the coal industry that production would reach record figures. The potentialities of coal-fields were explored, and technical men were sent abroad to study the latest methods of coal-mining. Of course, those efforts did not yield results immediately. Increased output could be achieved only after years of study, thought, and planning. But the early spade work was undertaken by the Labour Government that was led by the former Prime Minister, the late Mr. J. B. Chifley. He planned the establishment and operations of the Joint Coal Board, and made the present record production of coal possible.
It is not my purpose, in participating in this debate, to sing the praises of the Joint Coal Board, and say that it has invariably adopted the right policy, because I have disagreed with the board on a number of matters. The sophistry that has been uttered by Government supporters to the effect that the board is responsible for the decision to sell nearly £10,000,000 worth of equipment, will not be accepted by members of the Labour party, and by the people of Australia. Clearly the policy of the Joint Coal Board is different to-day from what it was when the Chifley Labour Government was in office. At that time, the hire of equipment to contractors was the accepted policy of the board. Apparently, that authority has now changed its policy. I warn the Government that there is an uneasy feeling in the coal-mining industry, and in high places in the Joint Coal Board, as a result of the change of government. I know for a fact that responsible people are afraid to make purchases, expand the operations of the board, and take definite action on various matters, because they are uncertain about the measure of support that will be forthcoming from the present Government. All those matters convince me that the Joint Coal Board has not made the decision to dispose of £10,000,000 worth of plant and equipment.
I asked the Government a positive question about the policy of the Board. I endeavoured to ascertain whether it was the intention of the Government to “condi tion “ in any way the operations of the board, or to suspend any of its operations or those of the New South Wales Mining Company, which is the operational division of the board. The answer that I subsequently received was to the effect that the Commonwealth had no intention of changing the operations of the board or of “ conditioning “ it in any way. Yet, out of the blue, without any reference to the Parliament, a decision was announced that some of the assets of the board were to be sold. That information should have been given initially to this Parliament, but the first intimation that honorable members received of the decision was that which was published in the press. Of course, it is the practice of this Government not to take the Parliament into its confidence, but to announce its policy in the columns of the press. It is always “ an observer “ says this, or a “ well-informed government spokesman “ says something else. The same procedure’ has been followed in regard to the assets of the Joint Coal Board. A Government supporter suggested that most of the equipment had been bought out of the dollar loan from the International Bank, but that is absurd. Most honorable members are aware that that loan was obtained comparatively recently, whereas most of the walking draglines and other heavy equipment leased by the Joint Coal Board to the coal-mining companies was on the field before the loan was raised. The Government should be honest, and concede that to be a fact. Ministers cannot fool the House over this matter, and they certainly cannot fool those engaged in the industry.
Members of the Opposition are very much concerned over the production of coal. Because of the wise policy applied over the years by the Labour Government the production of coal has steadily mounted. In the western district of New South Wales alone, 3,000 tons of coal is won each day in excess of the tonnage that can be handled by the transportation systems of the State, and we can thank the Labour Government for having made that possible. We should not be satisfied with the bald statement from the Government that the assets of the people are to be sold. We should be told how the sale is to be effected, whether it is to be by tender, and whether the Government will insist that a fair price shall be obtained.
– There is only one group of buyers, so we all know what kind of price will be obtained.
– I am grateful for the interjection. Only yesterday, I referred to a certain English firm-
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Sitting suspended from 12.42 to 2.25 p.m.
.- Coal is generally acknowledged to be of Australiawide importance. Up to the present, only members who come from New SouthWales have spoken inthis debate and it is fitting that we should leave the boundaries of that State for the time being and discuss the subject from the point of view of other parts of Australia. Western Australia contributes a not insignificant amount of coal to the total volume of Australian production. The industry in that State does not operate under the Joint Coal Board, although, since the war, it has continued to work under the terms of the National Security (Coal Mining Industry Employment) Regulations. Notwithstanding all the optimistic forecasts that were made when the Joint Coal Board was established by the former Labour Government, it is an indisputable fact that the industry hasbeen conducted more harmoniously and successfully in Western Australia than in any other part of Australia.
– I desire to inform the House that His Grace the Lord Archbishop of York and Primate of England the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Dr. C. F. Garbett, a member of the House of Lords, is within the precincts of the chamber. With the concurrence of honorable members, I shall invite him to take a seat on the. floor of the House beside the Speaker’s chair.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
Dr. Garbett thereupon; entered the chamber, and was seated accordingly.
– I extend to Dr. Garbett a welcome as a churchman, as a statesman and as an Englishman.
– This happy occasion recalls to us the announcement that you made this morning, Mr. Speaker, about the church service on Sunday next in connexion with the jubilee celebrations, at which our distinguished visitor will be the preacher. I have had a talk with the Leader of the Opposition, and we both agree that it would be in conformity with the general sense of the House if we asked you, if you were agreeable, to represent this House at the service.
– I endorse the request that the Prime Minister has made to you, Mr. Speaker.
– I assure the House that I shall comply with the wish that has been expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
– The first question that we must consider is whether we can win more coal by allowing the Joint Coal Board to hire out machinery to mineowners than by selling the machinery, as is now proposed. That is the only point in dispute. The record of the Western Australian coal-fields proves clearly that it is not necessary to have a system of hiring out machinery in order to produce coal. Members of the Opposition have not been able to produce a single instance to demonstrate that coal production can be increased by the use of that system. Obviously, the same machinery will be used in the mines whether it is hired by the Joint Coal Board or whether it is owned by the mining companies. The only remaining question, therefore, is whether the Joint Coal Board, to which this Government contributes substantially, will be saved expense and administrative difficulty and yet retain efficiency if the machinery is sold. If that is so, there can be no doubt that the correct course to follow is to sell the. machinery. Who is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the machinery under the hiring system ? Obviously, the hirers are not sufficiently interested to undertake that responsibility, and, therefore, it is thrust upon the. board. The hiring out of machinery to mines all over New South Wales makes it necessary for the Board to employ inspectors in order to control its use. The board must also employ officers to supervise the collection of hiring fees and to keep records of accounts. This involves administrative organization that is .entirely unnecessary. The work would be done by the mineowners if the machinery belonged to them.
Although the Joint Coal Board has from time to time given to Western Australian owners and miners the benefit of technical advice and assistance in the purchase of machinery, manifestly it would be impossible for it to operate a hiring service in all coal-producing States. One member of the Opposition spoke of subsidizing the coal industry. If any section of the industry in Australia has been neglected in that way, it is the Western Australian section. According to the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), the Australian Government has expended over £1,000,000 for the purpose of providing amenities for mine-workers in New South Wales. In reply to a question that I asked recently, I was informed that the expenditure on amenities alone in New South Wales since July, 1948, had been over £500,000.
– Does the honorable member object to that ?
– No. If the honorable member for East Sydney will be patient, he will soon learn the nature of my grievance.. During that period, only £2,000 was expended on the provision of amenities for miners in Western Australia. The late Mr. Chifley, when he was Prime Minister and Treasurer, promised to make a grant for the provision of amenities for Western Australian miners, but no such payment was made until this Government last year provided the sum of £2,000 that 1 have mentioned. Had Mr. Chifley honoured his promise and based the grant on the proportion of Australia’s
Total coal production that comes from Western Australia, an amount _ of £40,000 would have been provided. I put.it very strongly that if we expect the harmonious industrial record of the miners of Western Australia to continue they must be treated fairly. Despite the fact that the Collie field is not operated under the administration of the Joint Coal Board its record has been outstanding. Apart from a few misguided weeks in 1949, when the miners employed there joined the strike then being staged by the miners’ federation, not a single shift has been lost as the result of an industrial stoppage. That record is unique in Australia. All the thanks the miners have received from the Government is expressed in the £2,000 granted by it. As the Joint Coal Board has pointed out in its report for the year ended the 30th June, 1950, the record of the New South Wales coal-mines is a very different one. In its general summary of the industry for that year, under the heading “ Production “, the board stated - i
Unfortunately, with the commencement of work in 1050, the all too familiar pattern of minor industrial stoppages - occurring first at one mine then another - was once again in evidence. These will-o’-the-wisp outbreaks are most difficult to handle because before any authority - either from within the trade unions concerned or otherwise - is able to deal with the trouble is has vanished only to break out almost immediately in some other form at some other mine.
The difference between the Collie field, which does not operate under the board, and the coal-fields of New South Wales, which come under its control, is that the coal-miners of Western Australia are eager to increase the production of coal whereas1 the coal-miners of New South Wales are less interested in production than they are in political action.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Honorable members opposite claim that the proposal to dispose of the assets of the Joint Coal Board is in accordance with the Government’s desocialization policy. They can, however, only justify their action if they can show that, as the result of the sale, coal production will be increased. No honorable member opposite has yet been able to satisfy the House that that result will -flow from this proposal. This Government is earning a reputation for conducting bargain sales of the people’s assets. That is what is proposed oil this occasion. The board has in its possession public assets in the form of plant and equipment valued at £10,600,000, which it now proposes to sell. To whom is this plant and equipment to be sold? At present the board hires out the plant and equipment and decides where it can be placed to the best advantage. Under the present arrangement a small mine-owner with inadequate financial resources is able to hire the most up-to-date plant and equipment for the working of open-cut mines. If plant and equipment is disposed of, as no doubt it will be, to the bigger groups in the industry, it may suit their purpose, as it has done in the past, to restrict’ coal production. Indeed, they may buy the plant and equipment for the express purpose of preventing the development of open-cut mining to the extent that is desired.
Let us examine some of the peculiar arguments that have been advanced by honorable members opposite in support of this proposal. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has said that the coal-owners have acted dishonestly, in that they have obtained the plant and equipment from the board and used it, and have subsequently refused to pay the hiring charge on the ground that the plant had broken down, and that they were unable to use it. The honorable member contends that such dishonesty would be prevented if the machinery were sold to the very persons whom he has condemned out of his own mouth as being guilty of dishonesty. What a peculiar attitude!
Mr. Cramer interjecting,
– The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) appears to object to what I am saying. I have heard it said that he has interests in certain coal mines in this country. No doubt he, too, has cast hungry eyes over the people’s assets and hopes to secure them, at a bargain price.
The first move in this matter was made, not by the Joint Coal Board, but by the Government. Having suggested the sale, and having induced the board to take the initiative in the matter, the Government discussed the proposal with the banks and arranged for the plant and equipment to be disposed of under a hire purchase arrangement, the banks being guaranteed by the Government against any loss arising out of the transaction. To say the least, this is a most peculiar arrangement. It savours of the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers by an anti-Labour government many years ago to the “ noble “ Lord Kylsant, the chairman of directors of a large and influential British shipping line who was subsequently gaoled for the falsification of the company’s balance-sheets. The ships were never paid for. No doubt the honorable member for Bennelong hopes that, likewise, the company with which he is associated will be one of the beneficiaries in the distribution of these public assets.
The New South Wales Government has always been eager to develop and extend coal production, but not under the conditions sought by the honorable member for Bennelong who endeavoured to foist on it coal for use at the Bunnerong power house that was totally unsuitable for use in the boilers installed there. When a sample of coal produced by the Nattai coal-mining company, in which the honorable member then had, and probably still has, some interest, was sent to Bunnerong for experimental purposes, it was proved by experts to be unsuitable unless mixed with first quality coal obtained from the northern coalfields of New South Wales.
– Utter nonsense !
– The honorable member has conducted a vendetta against the New South Wales Labour Government because it would not agree to the proposition he had put to it on behalf of the coal interests that he represents in this Parliament. He has contended that the miners’ federation is opposed to this proposition. Why should the federation oppose it? The federation has always pressed for the adoption of the most efficient methods in the industry and the utilization of mechanical aids to minimize, as far as possible, the arduous nature of the work of the coal-miner. The honorable member has not produced any evidence to prove his contention that the federation is opposed to the proposed sale. Again, he has introduced the old Communist bogy because of some idea in the back of his mind that the Communist party is behind a move to restrict coal production. During the 1949 general election campaign, and indeed in the Governor-General’s Speech, the Government announced as a plank of its platform that no Australian government should be permitted to enter the field of industry or commerce unless it bad first obtained the consent of the people by way of referendum to do so. Why has it not adhered to that policy and taken steps to consult the people on this matter?
-Order ! The honorable member is now getting beyond the scope of the subject-matter of the motion.
– I submit, Mr. Speaker, that what I am saying is pertinent to this proposal to dispose of public assets, because I was going to suggest - I am making only a passing reference to this - that if the Government proceeds with its proposal for the adoption of a constitutional provision that a referendum of the people must be held before the Commonwealth can enter into the field of commerce and industry, then it would necessarily be implicit in that principle that once a publicly owned industry had been established, and its assets had been built up as a result of the expenditure of public money, with the approval of the people given at a referendum, the Government could not later dispose of those publicly owned assets without the consent of the people at a further referendum. That would mean that it could no longer have bargain sales of the type that I mentioned. The Government is turning its attention from one publicly owned asset to another. To-day it is coal-mining machinery. Yesterday it was the Commonwealth’s interests in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. To-morrow it may be TransAustralia Airlines. As a matter of fact, I am quite certain that if the Government thought it could get away with such a proposition it would dispose of the Postal Department’s assets and functions. Rut the only item of its election policy with which the Government is proceeding today is its so-called policy of deserializa tion. lt has completely forgotten all its other election promises. Not one honorable member on the Government side has been able to show that the people will benefit from this proposed sale of the Joint Coal Board’s mining equipment. As a matter of fact, a lot of the machinery that will be affected by the proposal has not yet even been unpacked. What is to happen with regard to open-cut mines which are operated by the board itself? A great deal of the costly work on those open-cuts has already been carried out at government expense. The overburden has been removed, and the mines are now ready to be put into production.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) implied that I had some connexion with, or some interest in, coal-mines or coal-mining machinery. It is quite usual for that honorable member to make such untrue statements. I inform the House, however, that I have no interest whatever in any coal-mining venture, or in machinery associated with coal mining.
– Directly or indirectly?
– Directly or indirectly.
.- Honorable members on this side of the House, led by the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), have pointed out that the decision by the Joint Coal Board to dispose of its coal-mining machinery was made by the board itself, and that it is a. reasonable venture. As has been said, no important change in principle is involved in the proposal. The board will continue to own and operate its own mines and to own the equipment in those mines. It will continue to hire out such equipment as is not sold under the present scheme. In past years one of the board’s main activities has been to order and pay for mining equipment from overseas, then resell it in Australia. Honorable members opposite are protesting too much against the proposal of the Joint Coal Board, which will prove to be a reasonable and profitable proposition. After having listened to the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), in support of the views that had been expressed by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), I can see the reason for the Opposition’s protests. A number of undeniable advantages were associated with the establishment of the Joint Coal Board during the Chifley regime. It is obvious now, however, that under the camouflage of these advantages the Labour party intended to socialize the coal industry as far as possible. It knew that it could not hope to nationalize the industry outright, because the people would not stand for such a proposition. However, it thought that it could get a stranglehold on the industry, under the guise of the undeniable good that the Joint Coal Board could do. The Labour party now see, in the decision of the board to make equipment available to coal mines, that are operated by private enterprise, that it is losing the opportunity to get a hold on the coal industry in the future. It is obvious that that is the reason why honorable members opposite are protesting so much about the scheme.
In support pf our contention that this is a reasonable business venture which should be proceeded with, I shall name some of the advantages that will accrue from it. The honorable member for East Sydney said, untruly, that in no instance had an honorable member on this side of the House shown how the scheme would increase the production of coal. I reply to his assertion by pointing out that it has been shown that under the scheme the Joint Coal Board will be relieved of the responsibility for, and cost of, maintaining the equipment concerned. The equipment sold will go into private ownership’ for use in mines.
– It will still require maintenance.
– That maintenance will, be the responsibility of the new owners. In addition, when the equipment is privately owned there will be no time-lag in having maintenance work done on it. All honorable members who have coal mines within their electorates have no doubt heard of instances of machinery that had broken down lying idle while inspection and instructions from outside the mine have been awaited. Under the scheme the maintenance staff of the privately-owned collieries will he in a position to effect immediate repairs on the machinery that they have purchased instead of waiting to arrange with the board for such repairs to be carried out, as has been the case when the machinery has been on hire from the board. Production will therefore be increased, because machinery that has broken down will not be lying idle for so long as has been the case. The second factor in the scheme which will lead to an increase of production is that the sale of the machinery will make more money available to the board for the purchase of more machinery the use of which will enable coal production to be increased.. A third factor is that we shall have more efficiency in the coal-mining industry. I gather from the remarks of honorable gentlemen opposite that they are in agreement that we need more efficiency within the industry.
One other point which has not been stressed so far, but which should be stressed, is that the development of underground mines depends to a great degree on the success of the mechanical extraction of pillar coaL I remind the House that the Davidson commission in 1946 found that the use. of machines: makes’ for greater safety and more speed in the extraction of pillar coal. That opinion was supported by the three independent, experts whom the Joint Coal Board asked to report on the matter. Honorable members will also recall that the Coal Industry Tribunal, Mr. Gallagher, also concurred in that view. Unfortunately, the miners’ federation has constantly rejected propositions for the mechanical extraction of pillar coal and it has been suggested - I speak from memory - by either the Joint Coal Board or the Coal Industry Tribunal, probably the former,, that the sole purpose of the constant rejection by the miners’ federation of that proposition was; that the federation would retain the issue as a bargaining weapon in future disputes. Not until such time as we achieve further co-operation between the two sides in coal-mining can we hope for progress in the industry. Honorable members opposite will agree that co-operation between both sides of the industry is essential for its progress.
It is well known that im recent, years the1 profits made from the coal-mining industry ha*ve been so slight that no extra: capitalization has taken place. Therefore, tha industry has not been able to develop as it should have developed, to meet the needs of our national economy. The responsibility for achieving progress in the industry lies on both the owners and the miners. The’ miners must be made to realize, as’ the owners, now realize, that only by co-operation between owners and miners will the industry become prosperous and so benefit itself, the people engaged in it,, and. the national economy.
.- Government spokesmen have failed to answer the submission that has been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). In simple terms, the position is that, the hiring of machinery for opencut mining in New South Wales has made possible an increase of coal production by 2,000,000 tons annually. That increase has. enabled the- Joint Coal Board, which was set up by the Australian Government and the Government of New South Wales,, to ensure a fairer distribution of coal throughout the Commonwealth. If the Government really wants- increased pro.duction - and there can be no doubt that production on the coal-fields has already increased - why does it seek to interfere with the industry by restoring to private enterprise the right to sabotage coal production as it did when it had complete control in the industry? This Government is basking in the success of the Chifley Government’s plan to improve coal production. Nothing could be more dramatic than the manner in which Mr. Chifley was able to get heavy equipment for open-cut mining from the United’ States of America and other sources. That equipment was brought to this country quickly and efficiently, and was assembled in record time. Increased production was achieved not by the propaganda nonsense of the then Opposition, or by the persecution talk of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), but by good solid planning by Mr. Chifley who, first as Treasurer of the Commonwealth and then as Prime Minister, was devoted to the belief that increased coal production was the key to the development of this coun try.. Unfortunately for aM of us,, the right, honorable gentleman did not live to see his plans come to complete fruition.
Now we find that a paltry attempt is being1 made by an anti-Labour government, to introduce a. middleman into the coal industry. The pattern is; clear. A board of middlemen has been brought into the operations of the Commonwealth Bank. There, is talk of allowing middlemen to share in the profits of TransAustralia Airlines. Amalgamated Wireless* (Australasia) Proprietary Limited is now entirely a private concern, and Commonwealth Oil Refineries. Limited is, about to be dominated by the major1 oil companies.Clearly the Government^ object is to unscramble the socialist egg:- Its1- propaganda is glaringly untrue. The technique is to “fly a kite” by indicating that- certain action is in contemplation! and then, in the Parliament, to deny all knowledge of the proposal1.. Finally, when- all the1 shouting and turmoil has died down, the denial is- retracted and1 the plan proceeds. That of course was the Goebbels technique, which became well known to the civilized world. On this occasion, a statement was made1- by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) in the Senate,, that something, was to be done about, the open-cut coal mines. That announcement was followed by a stout but evasive denial in this House. None of the specific ques-tions asked by the Leader of the Opposition have been answered. The Opposition wants to know whether the hiring system is efficient and whether production is satisfactory under that system. Obviously those questions; can only be answered in the affirmative. Then why interfere with the- present plan? That question has not been answered, and, in the absence of an answer, is it not logical for the Opposition to believe that there is something sinister in the Government’s proposals? Is the Government really seeking increased production or is it endeavouring to sabotage production? The propositions submitted by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) are valid and have not, been countered by the Government Clearly if there is to be any interference with the mining industry, it is to be to the advantage of the private mine-owners. Once again the Government is implementing its policy of “Back to private enterprise “.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has told us this morning that two-thirds of the available and irreplaceable coal deposits of New South Wales are blazing underground. What a reflection on the efficiency of private enterprise on the coal-fields! The history of coal-mining in this country is a long and dark story. The persecution complex of the coal-miners is due almost entirely to the inefficiency and grabbing tactics of the mine-owners. Because the Chifley Australian Government which participated in the establishment of the Joint Coal Board is no longer in existence, the tinkering fingers of the Minister for National Development are at work. This super tory said in a public address recently that the estimated budget surplus of £114,000,000 would not be touched. It would not be used even to underwrite loans. It would be drawn off and it would stay off. That is the supreme arrogance of the liquidator. No planning is needed. The scheme is pure acquisition.
Years ago, our coal mines were seriously inefficient because the development was not planned and because they lacked machinery. As I have said, the machinery arrived with miraculous speed from the United States of America and from other sources when Mr. Chifley set to work on the problem. It was put in the right place to do the right job. Any interference now might have widespread repercussions such as the strikes which once were so prevalent. The coal-miner is more politically wise and job conscious than he has ever been. He knows that his livelihood can be taken away from him by various means, one of which is the inefficiency and waste of private enterprise. What this Government resents more than anything else is the fact that the Joint Coal Board, a governmental instrumentality and in fact, a happy example of Commonwealth and State co-operation, has operated efficiently and has improved coal production. The board is a monument to progress in the coal-mining industry: but now apparently, the inevitable middleman is coming into the picture. Reference has been made in this debate to repair and maintenance work. Is it suggested that there has been some difficulty between the authorities who lease the machinery and the employees who service it”? If so, how much greater will such difficulties become with the introduction of middlemen who will try to force the machines to do more, than they are capable of doing. When the inevitable break-down occurs, who is to be adjudged responsible for the fall in production and the consequent discrediting of the open-cut system ?
In all this “kite flying” there is a threat to the very existence of the Joint Coal Board. The Government should bear in mind the circumstance that an important factor in improved production is the better feeling that has been produced in the industy by the expending of hundreds of thousands of pounds on amenities. An endeavour has been made to make’ the coal-miner feel that he is no longer employed in a Cinderella industry, and that his sons and daughters will be able to find employment in light industries in the towns or cities in which they live. Because of this new feeling, the coalminers have done a much better job. They no longer feel that their industry is blighted by governmental neglect. For that reason it is difficult to. understand the Government’s motives ‘ in this matter. The efficiency of machinery in the coal-mining industry will be destroyed if it is placed in the hands of individuals whose only thought is to make greater profit out of it. Such a move is undesirable both from the accountancy and business points of view, and certainly it will do nothing to improve production. Why is the Government bothering to interfere at all? It is regrettable indeed that, even at this stage, we are unable to get a lucid answer to the lucid question asked by the Leader of the Opposition. Probably, the Joint Coal Board would have been abolished altogether had such action not required the consent of the Government of New South Wales. The Government’s plan is to abolish all the systematic controls over government property that were established by the Curtin and Chifley Governments. If honorable members opposite want the national economy to fall down around their ears even faster than it is falling to-day, they have only to persist in this grossly incompetent and stupid interference with an industry which to-day is functioning well. The Government is fortunate indeed to have been able to reap the benefits of the plans that were made as the result of the close study of the coal-mining industry made during the long years when Labour was in office. In those days, the only assistance that we received from the then Opposition was destructive criticism of the coal-miners who were accused of being the dupes of the Communists.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I want to make it clear that the Government’s decision will not affect the coal-mining industry in Queensland. The history of this matter dates back to the time when the Joint Coal Board was set up. At that time the present Premier of Queensland did not trust the late Mr. J. B. Chifley, who was then Prime Minister of Australia. I think that the distrust was mutual and Queensland refused to co-operate- in the plans of the Australian Government for the development of the coal-mining industry. I am at a loss to understand why the Opposition has made this complaint. If the Government’s decision will cause an increase in the production of coal, surely it will benefit the economy of the country. Perhaps the most disconsolate member of the Opposition is the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), because he knows that one cannot put feathers back on a plucked fowl. In the event of the Labour party returning to office within the next fifteen years, it will find that Liberal governments have desocialized Australia to such an extent that Labour governments will not be able to socialize it again. The object of the previous Government was to control coal-mining throughout Australia, and in New South Wales in particular, and it therefore denied assistance to the coal industry in Queensland and refused to develop the great open-cut mines in that State. The previous Administration did not lift a finger to help open-cut coal-mining in
Queensland because it knew that that would enable a reserve of coal to be established which would impede its plans to assist the Communists to gain control of the trade union movement and suppress the industrial groups in the coal-miners’ union.
Australia will now be able to obtain more coal and everybody will benefit. The plan to desocialize the industry will meet with- the approval of every one in the community who is Australian in outlook. Not one convincing argument has been put forward by Opposition members. All that they have been able to say is that they suspect that there is a nigger in the wood pile. The only reason that they have that suspicion is that they hid niggers in wood piles during the eight and a half years before this Government came to office. There is a great coal problem in all States. The Government’s decision will not directly affect the coal-mining industry in Queensland because the operations of the Joint Coal Board do not extend to that State and none of its machinery has been available in Queensland. However, the decision will indirectly assist that State because Queensland will be called upon to send les3 coal to the normal markets in New South Wales and will, therefore, be able to build up local reserves. I ask the Government to do everything it can to try to change the viewpoint of the Queensland Government in regard to the Joint Coal Board. I cannot see any reason why Queensland should be deprived of the benefits available from that body. The coal-miners in Queensland want the board to extend its activities to that State. Every coalminer in my electorate to whom I have spoken has expressed a desire to enjoy the benefits that are offered by the Joint Coal Board.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 92.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies, through Mr. Eric J. Harrison) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Public Service Act 1922-1050.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Apart from amendments in 1945 which provided a new system of promotions appeals and introduced employee representation at certain points in service administration, no substantial changes have been effected in the machinery of control provided under the Public Service Act since 1922. Changed conditions and especially the increased size and complexity of the Service have confronted the Public Service Board with problems which cannot be handled satisfactorily under existing legislation. Pending the completion of a comprehensive review of the act, which will take some time, certain immediate amendments are necessary. These amendments have the general purpose of better equipping the board to discharge its managerial functions.
The most important amendments proposed are those relating to section 29, which deals with the creation and abolition of offices and the determination of salary classifications for those offices. The bill does not change present procedure for the creation and abolition of offices which are approved by the GovernorGeneral, but it seeks to permit the board, after obtaining a report from the permanent head of the department concerned, to vary the salary classification of offices as required. This will relieve the Executive Council of a considerable volume of purely formal business and will place the board in the same position as other wage-fixing authorities in the Commonwealth. The second amendment to this section will enable all positions of similar designation and classification to be reclassified without requiring the positions to be declared vacant and the occupants to bc individually promoted to them.
The sections of the Public Service Act relating to payment of salaries have been simplified and consolidated. A new section has been proposed to permit the board to determine, by notice published in the Commonwealth Gazette, the conditions of advancement in certain cate gories of employment. At present these conditions are ^prescribed in a schedule to the Public Service Regulations, but as they require frequent amendment and affect only those officers in the positions concerned, it is considered that a simpler procedure is desirable. A similar change has been proposed in the section dealing with advancement examinations.
Amendments proposed to the sections of the act dealing with leave of absence other than annual recreation leave will give the board more adequate powers in these matters. The provisions for leave of absence for defence service have been extended. A concession on furlough has been proposed for officers who are retiring with at least twenty years service. At present furlough is granted only in respect of completed periods of five years5 service but the new provision will enable service of more than twenty years to be calculated on an annual basis instead of on the five-yearly basis. A further amendment will permit the grant of recreation leave according to the period of actual service rendered during the year or years when furlough is taken.
The bill proposes an amendment to section 84 to enable the board to make permanent appointments of returned soldiers as long as it is satisfied after medical examination as to their state of health. At present the decision to make an appointment rests on the certificate of the medical practitioner and the amendment will give the board the same discretion it already has in regard to nonsoldier entrants to the service. All other suggested amendments are intended to promote administrative efficiency in the management of the service. They will have no adverse effects on officers’ rights, but have been found necessary in the course of dealing with particular problems. Proposed new section 8a, for instance, will clarify the (board’s power to exempt staff from the provisions of the Public Service Act and to determine conditions of employment for exempted staff. The amendment to section 21 will relieve the board of its impossible task of publishing a comprehensive staff list every year arid, instead, permit it to publish lists as it thinks necessary or whenever so directed by the Prime Minister. Provision is also made for additional promotions appeal committees to be created as need arises. A full explanation of all the amendments will be given at the committee stage.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies through Mr. Eric J. Harrison) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act toamend the Commonwealth Employees’ Furlough Act 1943-1944.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to remove certain anomalies which arise in the grant of furlough to Commonwealth employees who have completed at least twenty years’ continuous service, and who are not covered by the Public Service Act. A corresponding provision, relating to permanent officers of the Public Service, is included in the Public Service Bill 1951 which is now before the House. Under existing conditions, a Commonwealth employee who has been employed continuously for at least twenty years may be granted furlough only in respect of each completed period of five years’ service. Thus, an employee who has completed, say, 24 years’ service, receives no greater benefit in furlough than an employee who has completed only twenty years. The bill is designed to overcome these anomalies by providing, instead, for the grant of furlough in respect of each completed year of service, where the service exceeds twenty years. This will ensure that an employee with service in excess of twenty years will receive a furlough benefit more appropriate to his length of service. The maximum entitlement of twelve months’ furlough on full salary, or its equivalent, as provided in the Act will still be maintained. I suggest that the proposal is most reasonable, and I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to make provision with respect to the importation of tea into the Commonwealth.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
. - by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to establish an authority to purchase tea abroad, to import it, and to sell it to primary wholesalers. The new authority, which will be called the Tea Importation Board, will take the place of the present Tea Control Board, which was established under National Security Regulations, and which thus depends for its authority on the defence powers of the Commonwealth. When the Tea Control Board was established it was given much wider powers than are necessary to-day, and although the Board dealt primarily with matters of procurement and first distribution, it was indirectly concerned in secondary and retail distribution, the establishment of security stocks, rationing, and the fixation of maximum and minimum prices. That board was composed of three representatives of the wholesale tea trade, a representative of the retailers, a representative of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, a representative of the Department of Supply and Development, the Director of Rationing, the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner, as deputy chairman, and the Minister for Trade and Customs, as chairman. The functions of the proposed new authority will, as I have mentioned, be confined to the purchase, importation and first distribution of tea. There is now no need for such a large board as the present one, and it is proposed that the new board shall consist of a chairman, a representative of the wholesale tea trade, a representative of the Treasury, and the Tea Controller.
The reasons for the existence of any authority are twofold. In the first place, there is an unsteadiness in the price of tea in producing countries, and consequential difficulties in maintaining supplies. Australian consumption of tea is about 60,000,000 lb. per annum, which costs approximately £15,000,000, of which the Government contributes slightly more than half in the form of subsidy. In the two years before the war the average importations were 47,000,000 lb. at an average cost of £3,000,000 per annum. It will be seen that there has been a big increase in consumption as well as in cost.
About half of Australia’s requirements is purchased on forward contracts at fixed prices, and the remainder at auction, or by private treaty, at current prices. In an unstable market, private enterprise would be hesitant about entering into forward contracts, and there would be a danger of periodical or even continued shortages, or of a lowering of the quality standard. In the absence of forward contracts, the bulk of supplies would be purchased at auction, and local distributors would be competing with one another and forcing prices up against themselves and against the interests of Australian consumers. Until the tea market settles down, the best interests of Australia will be served by a single purchasing authority. In the second place, tea is heavily subsidized. The present subsidy is about 2s. 6d. per lb. It would not be possible to continue this subsidy and to maintain uniform prices throughout the Commonwealth except by a process of averaging costs. When it is remembered that requirements would be of different types, purchased at different prices, by different people, in different countries, and at different times of the year, the task of averaging would be a practical impossibility. If purchasing were in the hands of various importers, either the uniform price or the uniform subsidy would have to be abandoned.
During the present year tea has been sold by the Tea Control Board at a uniform price of 2s. 8£d. per lb. Some of that tea has cost as much as 6s. per lb. in the producing country, and some as low as 4s. per lb. A uniform subsidy would result in a payment of a certain sum per lb. on all types of tea imported and would impose on the State prices authorities the responsibility of continually changing prices in order to reflect changes in costs. On the other hand, the maintenance of a uniform price would necessitate the adoption of a subsidy system, with payments varying with costs and grades, and the establishment of a checking and testing organization at all Australian ports. The Government could not agree to a subsidy system which would involve it in unlimited liability, nor would it favour the establishment in all ports of the checking and testing organization that would be necessary to operate a fluctuating subsidy scheme. The subsidy plan can operate only as long as the Government controls the purchasing of tea.
The bill provides machinery for the smooth transfer of control from the Tea Control Board to the Tea Importation Board, and contains the usual provisions for staff and finance. It is the policy of this Government to abandon controls, where such a course is possible, and to vacate the field of tea procurement at the earliest possible moment. As soon as conditions become more stable, the tea industry will be asked to take over the task of supplying requirements. For that reason, tLe bill will have a limited life. It will expire on the 30th June, 1952, unless the Governor-General exercises powers embodied in the bill to extend it for periods noL exceeding one year at a time.. The necessity to continue the control will, therefore, be reviewed periodically, so that it may be abandoned as soon as possible.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. E»rc J. Harbison) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Beer Excise Act 1901-1950.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
It has been deemed advisable to amend the Beer Excise Act 1901-1950 on the lines indicated in the bill which I now present for the consideration of honorable members. As honorable members are doubtless aware, payment of the excise duty on beer is effected by means of beer duty stamps affixed to the casks or, in respect of bottled beer, to the cart notes concerned. The proposed amendment of section 26 of the act will clarify the position, regarding which some doubt previously existed, as to the rate of duty payable on beer prepared for delivery by invoicing and attachment of the requisite beer duty stamp, but not delivered from brewery premises at the time of operation of a tariff alteration. The departmental practice, in such circumstances, of regarding stamped undelivered beer as liable to the changed rate of duty will be supported by enactment.
Section 37 of the act requires beer duty stamps affixed to casks containing beer to be cut at the time the vessel is opened, and it names the persons held responsible, according to the circumstances, for failure to comply with that provision. A weakness in the law has been revealed in that, although a liability rested in respect of uncut beer duty stamps found on empty casks in course of return transit to a brewery, no breach could be proved if the omission to cut the stamps was discovered after the cask had actually been received onto brewery premises. This anomaly will be removed by the amendment.
In the past, difficulty has arisen in connexion with the cutting of stamps on” bulk beer sold by hotelkkeepers to customers by the cask, and the amendment will enable licensed publicans to cut the stamp immediately before the vessel is removed from his premises provided he keeps a written record of the transaction. He may thus be relieved of the liability hitherto imposed by the law for an omission to cut the stamp, on the part of persons to whom the beer had been sold, at the time of opening the vessel.
Section 61, in effect, makes it an offence for beer to be bottled by a hotel-keeper for the purpose of sale, unless every bottle is labelled as prescribed. In some instances where proceedings have been taken for failure to affix labels to beer bottled from bulk supplies the department has had difficulty in proving that the beer had been bottled for sale although there was little doubt of the purpose of the bottling. The deletion of the words “ for the purpose of sale “ from the section will facilitate administration and will be in keeping with the intention of the act.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. McBRIDE through Mr. Francis) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act 1946-1050 and the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act 1950.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to give the force of law for a further year to a small number of surviving National Security Regulations and Orders, the operation of which, by virtue of the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act 1946-1950, would otherwise cease on the 31st December, 1951. While most of these regulations would normally no longer be needed except for transitional or winding-up purposes, the new exigencies of this period of the “ cold war “ and rearmament will in some instances make it undesirable to dispense at present with the surviving war-time provisions. This aspect of the bill finds expression in the third recital in the preamble.
The majority of the regulations and orders which will be continued in force under this bill must eventually be placed permanently on the statute-book, and it is the intention of the Government to proceed progressively with this task. Some have been already dealt with this year. It is hoped that certain bills which have been or will be introduced during this session of the Parliament will remove the necessity for the continuance of others which will then be repealed by Executive action.
The substance of the National Security (Industrial Property) Regulations will be incorporated in the revised patents and trade marks acts, upon which a committee appointed by the Government is working but which are not yet ready. It is essential however, that, until permanent legislation has been enacted to replace the regulations in this first category, they should be continued in force so as to maintain the efficacy of acts done under them during the last war. As an example I cite to the House the National Security (War Deaths) Regulations, which provided a special procedure for presuming the death of persons who were missing as a result of enemy action. These regulations will be continued in order that certificates given under them in the past shall remain in full force and effect.’ Some other regulations will be continued for precisely the same reason.
There is a second class of regulations. As honorable members know, the degree, of control over the civilian community during the war was extensive. In connexion with some of those controls, there is still, a residue of administrative business to be completed. Some- of these regulations are being continued to enable a small caretaker staff to continue to dispose of matters which still arise as the result of war-time activities. As an example, I instance the National Security (Apple and Pear Acquisition) Regulations. For some years, those regulations have not permitted any new acquisition of fruit, but until every claim for compensation by fruit-growers in each of the six States in respect of war-time acquisitions has been determined, it will be necessary to continue the regulations. Only a small residue of claims still require any administrative action, but the regulations are to be continued in force so that those claims may be properly dealt with. I add that the continuance of the activities of the Apple and Pear Board in relation to war-time marketing will require also the National Security (Staff of War-time Authorities) Regulations to be kept in force, as some of the small staff still employed on the administrative work of the board is employed in accord.ance with this latter regulation.
There is one set of regulations that I should like to mention specifically - that is, the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations concerning interest rates. Our expanding defence programme makes control of interest rates essential. These regulations are being continued in force to deal not so much with a winding-up of the previous war as with a new and ever-increasing emergency. I have mentioned these regulations specifically because they are exceptional. Perhaps the Jute Goods Order could be placed in the same category.
On the whole, and subject to the exceptions to which I have referred, the regulations are being kept in force solely for the purpose of maintaining the force and effect of acts done during the war, and to regularize the residue of administrative work that must still be done1 in connexion with the winding-up of intense war-time activities. No new powers or provisions are sought or are in issue. In so faT as the regulations and orders continued in force require to be embodied in a permanent statutory form, the Government will push on with that task as quickly as possible.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Townley) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in- a bill for an act to amend the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1033-1950.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
[3.40J. - by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time..
The purpose of this bill is to amend section 5 of the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act to permit of increases being made in the salaries and sitting fees of the chairman and members of the commission. In 1933, the government of the day, feeling the need for a permanent body to inquire into claims from the States for financial assistance under Section 96 of the Constitution, established the Commonwealth Grants Commission to inquire and report upon all matters relating to such claims. The commission was not only to examine specific requests of claimant States, but also to strive to establish, some principle that could be used, as a criterion by which future claims could be judged.
Since 1933, Commonwealth-State relations have not been static, and the growing complexity of those relations has been most marked in the realm of finance. The work of the Commonwealth Grants Commission has, on this account, grown considerably both in importance and in the scope of its activities. War-time and post-war conditions have caused considerable disturbance of Australia’s economy, and the work of the commission to-day is further complicated by factors arising from the huge expansion of social services, the developmental and defence works on which the country is engaged, and other elements which are present in the Australian economy.
Although the responsibilities of the commission have increased, there has not been a corresponding increase of the salaries paid to the members of the commission. The salary of the chairman, fixed at £300 in 1933, and that of the members, fixed at £200 in the same year, have remained unaltered. The sitting fee of £5 5s. a day payable to all members has not previously been altered. This bill is designed to increase the salary of the chairman to £600, with a sitting fee of £6 6s. a day, and the salary of the members to £400, the sitting fee remaining at £5 5s. a day.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
– I move -
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Eric J. Harrison and Mr. Francis do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Eric J. Harrison, and read a first time.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the resolutions that I have just introduced is to recover by means of an export duty, the amount of the subsidy that the Government has paid in respect of any tea sold in Australia, if such tea is subsequently exported from the Commonwealth. To reduce the cost of tea for the Australian user, the Government is purchasing tea overseas at the normal world price and is reselling it at a lower price within Australia. In effect, a subsidy is paid upon it. Tea is exported from Australia mainly as ships’ stores. It is not equitable that tea consumed or sold outside the Commonwealth should be obtained at concessional prices that are intended only for local consumers. If provision were not made for the recovery of the difference between the domestic price of tea in Australia and the cost to the Tea Importation Board, the result would be that any overseas consumers who obtained tea from Australia would be in receipt of a price subsidy from the Commonwealth Government. I am certain that the necessity for the proposed export duty will be readily appreciated by honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 4th October (vide pasre 318), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- On behalf of the Opposition I move -
That all words after “That” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide that all persons in receipt of eight units or less shall be included within the scope of the measure and in order that further consideration be given to representations by public service organizations.”.
The bill has some good features; but the Opposition protests against the determination of the Government to pass it within the next one and a quarter hours. This bill is so important that honorable members are entitled to an opportunity to consider it thoroughly. I protest that in spite of the fact that the measure was introduced by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) nearly six weeks ago, the Government has, at this late stage, just circulated amendments that occupy four pages of print. I do not know whether blame for that fact should be laid upon the Government, the Superannuation Board or the Parliamentary Draftsman. In any event, the Government has treated the House with great disrespect in this instance.
As I have said, the bill has certain merits; but it also has certain defects which, indeed, are very apparent. The primary object of the measure is to provide relief to certain superannuated public servants who are in receipt of more than eight units of benefit. In these days of ever-increasing costs, nobody will object to the Government’s decision to afford relief to any section of taxpayers. However, under the measure no relief is to be given to public servants who are in receipt of eight, or fewer, units of benefit. It is true that persons within that category received additional benefits under the amending legislation that was passed in December last. The Government now says that because of that fact no need exists to give to those persons any further relief at this time. However, those persons have to live as well as those who will benefit under this measure. The Treasurer, in his second-reading speech, said that persons in receipt of eight, or fewer, units of benefit were accorded additional benefits in respect of social services. That contention is hotly contested by a number of retired public servants, who, because of family commitments, limited salary, or for a variety of reasons, were not able to contribute for more than eight units. A number of those persons have informed me that m.any, if not most, of them when confronted with the application of the means test in respect of social services benefits, will find that they have gained little or no additional benefit at all, and that many of them have already been debarred under the means test from qualifying for social services benefits. Those persons, who represent approximately 80 per cent, of superannuated public servants, will receive no benefit under this measure.
I protest against the casuistical way in which the Government tries to argue itself out of its responsibility to those sections of the community that are most in need. It says that persons who are in receipt of more than eight units of superannuation benefit are entitled to an increase of benefit because of the increased cost of living. There can be no doubt about that but all these people benefited in respect of their first eight units by the amending legislation last year. When that measure was before the House last December, the Treasurer stated that persons in receipt of eight, or fewer, units of benefits were entitled to relief at that time because age and invalid pensioners had been given an increase of pensions under the budget proposals last year. However, whilst those pensioners have received further increases under the budget for the current financial year, the public servants to whom I have just referred are not to receive any additional benefit on this occasion.
The Public Service organizations have registered protests on this matter and the Government should have given more consideration to those protests. I have not had an opportunity to peruse the amendments that have just been circulated on behalf of the Government. Therefore, I am unable to say whether some of the requests that have been made to the Government by the High Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organizations will be met under those amendments either in part, or in whole. However. I propose to put on record the requests of individuals and organizations which the Opposition endorses. The first of these requests from the High Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organizations suggests for serious consideration that the proposed increase of pension from 5s. to 7s. 6d. weekly payable to children of a deceased contributor, and from 10s. to 12s. 6d. weekly in the case of orphan children, is inadequate in comparison with the proposal under the proposed legislation to amend the Common wealth Employees’ Compensation Act to pay 15s. weekly to children of an employee totally incapacitated for work by an injury. The suggestion of the High Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organizations is to increase the amount to 10s. and 15s. a week, respectively.
That body is also perturbed by the fact that under this measure the amendment of section 13 of the principal act to relate the pension unit to salary ranges of £62 per annum instead of £52, will prevent many public servants from contributing for additional units for a considerable time to come. There is merit in that point. I believe, however, that we should worry not so much about the position of younger public servants who desire to contribute for additional units, as we should worry about the claims of those who are about to retire. If under this provision persons who are about to retire are precluded from contributing for additional units for which, otherwise, they would be able to subscribe, they will be unfairly penalized and will feel aggrieved at the action of the Government. At the same time, I appreciate that the superannuation fund must be maintained on an actuarily sound basis. It would be foolish to start giving benefits which cannot be financed by the present contributions of the Government and the public servants. If more benefits are to be provided, presumably the Government will be obliged to increase its contribution, and, maybe, the public servants affected will be obliged to increase their contributions.
The Treasurer has intimated that in 1952 the whole question of superannuation will come up for review by the Parliament, following, I presume, the quinquennial investigation which is either taking place or is to take place. At that time honorable members will be able to put forward a number of proposals when, I understand, more elaborate legislation will be before the Parliament. Insofar as this legislation gives relief to public servants, it is to be welcomed. Insofar as it can be amended to mete out justice to people who will be denied justice under its provisions, it should be amended accordingly. I cannot understand why, if people in receipt of eight units or less last year were entitled to a benefit which the beneficiaries affected by this legislation also received, additional benefits should now be given to public servants who have contributed for more than eight units and not to those who have contributed for eight, or fewer, units. The argument of the Government that such people may obtain additional income under social services legislation falls to the ground. I do not believe that the majority of them could obtain any such benefit.
I consider that to some degree this bill is class-conscious. The Government should not increase its bad reputation, earned in respect of other legislation, by insisting on enacting .the class-conscious features of this measure. If the amendment is defeated it will not hinder the passage of the bill. Before I resume my seat, however, I again emphasize that the Opposition protests strongly against the discourtesy to which the whole Parliament has been subjected in being asked to pass a bill of this kind, in an hour and a quarter, right through the second-reading and committee stages. The Government must have known that during the committee stage a whole sheaf of amendments will have to be moved. Apparently, these, in turn, will be sent through the legislative processes like sausages through a sausage machine. That is not a proper manner in which to enact legislation. As a result of it, probably next year, honorable members will find that other amendments will be necessary in order to amend illconsidered amendments which the House has not been given sufficient time to digest properly.
– I am delighted to see this bill come before the House. Last December, legislation was introduced for the purpose of increasing the value of superannuation units up to and including eight in number. On this occasion the proposal is to give that benefit to public servants who have contributed for more than eight units. No section of the community has been harder hit by increasing prices than have former civil servants. For all the years of their service they have been compelled, by operation of law, to contribute good money towards provision for their old age. When the time arrives for their retirement and to draw upon the proceeds of their enforced savings, they find that the money which they contributed will buy only a fraction of what it would have bought at the time that it was paid into the Superannuation Fund. Many of these people are little better off than they would have been had they received at the time the full benefit of their earnings and had saved nothing. It is, therefore, most gratifying to see that their claims have been recognized and that their superannuation is to be increased in order to provide for higher living costs.
The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has asked : Why eliminate from the provisions of this legislation persons who have contributed for eight or fewer, units ? The answer to that question is that no practical benefit would accrue to such persons if they had been included. If a married man on superannuation had contributed for, say, six units, giving him 15s. a unit, he is provided with no more income than he could obtain from the age pension, plus superannuation. Because of the liberal increases of the age pension that were recently made by the Government, persons of pensionable age, if married, are now entitled to receive up to £9 a week by way of pension and permissible income. If those persons are also in receipt of superannuation, to give them the benefit of this legislation would merely increase the amount of superannuation to which they are entitled and decrease the amount of pension which they may claim. Therefore, the Government would take away with one hand what it gave them with the other. I suggest that that would be a kind of fraud which the Government would not practice.
I agree with the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) that something must be done for such people, but under our existing legislation the only way that we can help them is to abolish the means test. I do not propose to mention again in this House the iniquities of that test. I have- continually referred the matter to the Government. However, it is apparent that once again we come up against the same anomaly. The main objection of the honorable member for Melbourne to this bill is that its provisions will give liberal increases to public servants who have contributed for superannuation of eight units or more, but will do nothing for those who have contributed for less. I suggest that people who have contributed for eight, or fewer units cannot be helped practically until the means test is abolished. I wholeheartedly support this bill because it will give substantial assistance to people who are in receipt of income which is very little above the age pension and who have been hit terrifically hard by the increased cost of living. They are now living entirely on pensions which they have helped to provide from their earnings. Because I also wish to help public servants who have contributed to eight or fewer units of superannuation, I ask the honorable member for Melbourne to assist the Government in working out a practical scheme for the abolition of the means test.
– I assumed that this debate would provide us with a welcome respite from the ragings of the commodores, the colonels and commanders who are members of the Government’s committee of ex-servicemen. In fact, T believed that this bill would provide » field day for the minority group on tha Government benches - the less fortunate or less glorious 25 per cent, who were not servicemen. But my assumption has not been borne out so far, and, presumably, it will not be. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, has said, the Government should increase the value of the first eight units of superannuation pensions to 17s. 6d. each, in order to retain the advantage of the 2s. 6d. a week which has been enjoyed by pensioners in receipt of eight or fewer units. Despite what the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) ha3 said, the abandonment of the practice of keeping those units at 2s. 6d. a week above the general rate will impose a definite hardship on public servants who are approaching the retiring age, while retired public servants in that bracket will suffer a distinct financial loss. The maintenance of the advantage of 2s. 6d. a week would have assisted to restore the value of the pensions of those persons.
Public Service organizations have made approaches to the Government about this bill. While they agree that it does much that needs to be done, they suggest that certain amendments are necessary. They submit that the increase of pensions in respect of children other than orphans should be greater. The increase from 5s. to 7s. 6d. a week, they contend, is inadequate, and they suggest that it should be 10s. a week. They also consider that the pensions payable to orphans should be increased, not by 2s. 6d., but by 7s. 6d. a week; that is to say, the pension should be not 10s. but 15s. a week. They claim, in addition, that the widow’s pension should be increased from one-half to two-thirds of the pension to which the husband was entitled. I point out that under the retirement benefits scheme for members of the Parliament, the widow of a member receives 62-J per cent, of the pension to which her husband was entitled.
Members of Public Service organizations oppose the widening of the scale from £52 to £62 in the lower ranges of salary and from £104 to £125 in the higher ranges of salary. Perhaps I should explain that units of superannuation are taken under the existing arrangement as the salary of an officer passes into each £52 group in the lower ranges of salary, and into each £104 group in the higher ranges of salary. The bill alters the number of units for which officers are contributing by placing their salaries into a lower group entitlement; that is to say, each officer who is now contributing for the full number of units will be over-contributing under the new proposal by two or three units. An officer in receipt of a salary of £800 a year is entitled, under the existing arrangement, to fifteen units; but he will be entitled to only twelve units under the new arrangement. His salary will have to increase by £150 per annum before he will become entitled to fifteen units. I point out, for the information of honorable members who may not have studied the Superannuation Act, that an officer must contribute, up to the age of 40 years, for every unit to which his salary entitles him. The decision to widen the scale means than an officer will not be entitled to contribute for as many units as previously, so that the assurance that had been planned for his years of retirement will be reduced by the Government’s own act.
The amending bill increases the value of the unit of superannuation, but that increase has been largely nullified, and, in fact, almost completely cancelled, by the increases in the graduation from £52 to £62, and from £104 to £125. I believe also that the Government, by its decision to make changes of rates and of scales effective from the 1st November, is depriving many of its employees of a right. The date - the 1st November - coincides with the date on which the last cost of living adjustment of the basic wage took effect. That, adjustment, of course, is reflected in all Public Service salaries. Member? of the Service win are approaching the age of retirement, would have been entitled to an additional unit but by the decision of the Government to make these amendments effective from the 1st November, the date on which this cost-of-living increase became operative, they will be deprived of that extra unit and that added security in their retirement. I suggest that the provisions of this bill should become operative from the date on which the legislation receives the Royal assent. Further, I suggest that contributors be given the right to decide whether they will take extra units when their salaries are adjusted in accordance with the cost of living. For some time to come, cost of living adjustments may be completely, or almost completely, absorbed by increased superannuation contributions.
I support the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne about the haste with which this measure is being rushed through the House. I remind honorable gentlemen that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his second-reading speech on the 4th October last, said that he would deal with many provisions of the bill in detail when it was being considered in committee. I suggest that the right honorable gentleman will find it extremely difficult to deal in detail not only with the 27 clauses of the bill but also with the four pages of amendments that have been circulated. I support the proposal that the bill be redrafted, and that full consideration be given to the views of the Public Service organizations that represent the people who are most affected hy it.
.- 1 do not propose to cover the ground that has been traversed by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), because he gave a full explanation that completely justified the attitude of the Government in respect of the first eight units of pension, to which Opposition members have referred. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) deplored the haste with which this bill is being rushed through the House. I share with him the wish that we had more time to examine the four pages of amendments that have been circulated to-day, but I have glanced at them hurriedly, and find that they appear to be purely formal. It is a sad commentary upon the way in which bills are drafted in these days that almost immediately after a measure has been introduced, it becomes necessary to circulate a number of proposed amendments.
It is clear that this bill contains no new proposal. The objection that was voiced by the honorable member for Melbourne and the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) involves a matter, not of substance, but of detail. The general principles were laid down long ago, but the legislation was almost completely rewritten in 1947, when, under the then Labour Government, there was a revision of the superannuation and pensions systems. I understand that a further revision is due in 1952, when the Government will have an opportunity to review the conditions under which pensions and superannuation payments are provided, and to consider any new developments. This bill increases pensions payable to members of the Public Service; it deals with problems that arise when public servants are re-employed after their retirement; and it contains provisions for facilitating administration. The honorable member for Sturt pointed out that it was futile to increase the value of eight superannuation units because the benefit accruing to pensioners by so doing would be lost under the provisions of the social services legislation. The benefits of increased social services payments will accrue to public servants in receipt of the lower superannuation pensions, and the young children, if any, of superannuated public servants will also be entitled to benefit.
The honorable member for Melbourne asked whether the solvency of the Superannuation Fund could be assured if pension rates payable from the fund were increased. It is important to limit the number of units that may be taken out by officials in the higher salary brackets. If that were not done, the amount which the Commonwealth would be required to contribute would be very much greater. The Commonwealth’s contribution is being reduced on the higher levels to 50 per cent, of the total amount of the pension. It has been as high as 62 per cent., and but for the pro- posed amendment, it could have gone as high as 75 per cent, or 80 per cent.
The degree of solvency of the Superannuation Fund will be determined shortly by an actuarial investigation. If the Commonwealth continues to pay its share only when officers retire, the solvency of the fund may be affected by the constantly increasing number of pensioners who will be drawing from it. It should not be forgotten that the Commonwealth superannuation scheme is the most generous in the whole of Australia. It is operated on a different principle from that qf the State superannuation scheme in New South Wales, and difficulty might be encountered if economic conditions changed.
The bill varies the conditions that govern the re-employment of superannuated public servants, and I should have liked to see a more positive policy laid down in this regard. A great reserve of labour could be tapped if superannuated officers could accept employment throughout the Commonwealth without loss of pension. The bill provides that a superannuated officer may draw up to £429 in pension whatever he earns, but that he will suffer a progressive diminution of pension, up to 50 per cent., as his pension exceeds £429. The new provision is a departure from the general principle which was previously applied, but I commend it, and believe that it should be broadened.
When one is discussing superannuation, it is important to remember that the public servant is in a position different from that of other people. I have always claimed that the Public Service is sui generis. The public servant has to accept a limitation of opportunities that are available to persons engaged in commerce and trade. He has to live laborious days, and shun the delights of evening. For those sacrifices he should be recompensed. The pension which he may draw when he retires has a very definite influence upon the character, quality and efficiency of the Public Service. If the best officers are lost to the Public Service by resignations ‘ because there are wider opportunities outside, the efficiency of administration will be seriously affected. For those reasons I applaud the action of the Government in bringing down this legislation. Whilst the public servant enjoys security of tenure, notwithstanding recent retrenchment, there remains the problem of whether we can provide within the Service some alternative to the advantages that attach to other occupations. At a time like this, when many officers are leaving the Service, and when general conditions outside, it approximate those inside, there is every justification for ensuring that pension rates for superannuated officers shall be adequate.
.- I support the amendment of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). The value of the first eight units of superannuation should be increased so as to bring pension rates in the lower categories more closely into line with the rapidly increasing cost of living. Cost of living adjustments that are made from time to time to the salaries of public servants are subject to deductions for superannuation purposes when the recipient is under the age of 40 years. Those adjustments are made in order to compensate officers for costofliving increases, not for the purpose of making further superannuation contributions. A time may come when the cost of living will begin to decrease and, in that event, a series of awkward adjustments will have to be made to superannuation contribution rates unless the present policy is changed. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) spoke of the security of tenure of public servants, but the fact that the Government has recently dismissed 10,000 employees of the Public Service indicates that their security is not so firmly assured as the honorable member contends.
One matter in which I have been specially interested for many years arose from the re-employment of numbers of retired officers during World War II. I was the president of a Public Service organization before I became a member of this Parliament and I became gravely concerned about an injustice to which such re-employed officers were subjected. When they returned to the Public Service, payment of their superannuation pensions, for which they had contributed in the normal way prior to their retirement, was stopped. I have agitated consistently for the payment to such officers of the amounts that were withheld from them in that way. Therefore, I am glad that the Government has included in this bill a provision for such payments to be made. It may require some clarification, however. Some of those officers retired at the age of 65 years ten years ago, and no doubt many of them have died since. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) did not indicate in his second-reading speech whether the deferred payments would be made to the next-of-kin of those deceased members. That should be done, and I hope that the Government will announce its intention to do so.
The Treasurer stated in his introductory speech that, in order to prevent the pension entitlement from increasing in future to an undue proportion of final salary, the bill provides for an alteration of the contribution scale so that the pension entitlement will amount to 62.4 per cent, of salaries not exceeding £1,248, the maximum then falling to 50 per cent, of salary at £1,197. This is to he effected by relating the pension unit of £39 to salary ranges of £62 per annum, instead of £52, up to nineteen units. The Treasurer said that it would be unwise to permit pension entitlement to increase to as much as 75 per cent, of the salary of a contributor. Most of the officers affected by this provision are in receipt of salaries of about £12 a week at present.
If their contribution is to be restricted so that they may qualify for a pension equivalent to only 50 per cent, of their salary, they will find themselves in difficult financial circumstances when they retire. Therefore, I contend that this provision should be abandoned. When a married public servant contributes for more than four units of superannuation he begins to deprive himself of the future right to social services benefits. When the scale of contributions rises to twelve units, his entitlement to the age pension or any part of it upon retirement is completely eliminated. The latest report of the Superannuation Board indicates that the average pensionable life of retired public servants is thirteen years. Thus, a man with a wife who retires upon a superannuation pension, having sacrificed the eligibility of his wife and himself to the combined age pension of £6 a week, effects a saving on behalf of the Government of £4,000. The provisions of the superannuation legislation should . be liberalized for the benefit of such persons. I repeat that I approve very heartily of the provision in the bill for the payment to pensioners who were reemployed during the war of amounts that were then withheld from them.
– The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) adhered to the inflexible policy of the Opposition that it must oppose in all circumstances when he submitted the amendment that the House is now considering. It is futile for honorable members opposite to pretend that the proposal is based upon some alleged injustice to persons who are in receipt of eight units or fewer of superannuation pension. The fact is that special provision was made for such persons in previous legislation. I have no doubt that, even if the Government had provided in this measure for further liberalization of the pensions of those persons, the honorable member would still have said, “ It is not sufficient “. Whatever the Government does, it never succeeds in satisfying the honorable gentleman. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) explained the bill carefully in his second-reading speech and also reminded the House of the improvements that had been effected by means of the legislation that was enacted last December. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) have since given further clear explanations of the situation, and there is no need for me to elaborate now upon the merits of the bill. The Government is not prepared to accept the amendment.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Mr. Calwell’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 18
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma; progress reported.
Messages recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of Administrator’s messages) :
Motions (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to amend the Superannuation Act 1922-1930, and for other purposes.
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of amendments to be made to, and new clauses to be inserted in, a bill for an act to amend the Superannuation Act 1022-1950, and for other purposes.
Resolutions reported and adopted.
In committee: Consideration resumed.
Clauses 1 to 13 - by leave - considered together.
Clause 3 -
Section four of the Principal Act is h mended - (l») by omitting sub-sections (4.), (5.) and (-6.) and inserting in their stead the following sub-sections : - “ (0.) Where a person employed by an approved authority is required by the terms of his employment to give the whole of his time to the duties of his office and -
the person was, immediately prior to commencing his employment with the approved authority, a State employee as defined by Section sixty an of this Act,
Amendment (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) agreed to -
That, in proposed new sub-section (6.), paragraph (6), the words “a State employee as defined by section sixty an of this Act,”> be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ a contributor to a State Fund as defined by section sixty an, or a Public Service Superannuation Fund as defined. by section sixty au of this Act,”.
Clause 4 verbally amended.
Clause 5 (Scale of units of pension).
Amendments (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) agreed to -
That, in sub-clause (2.), after the word “shall”, the following words he inserted: - “he deemed to have”.
That sub-clauses (3.) and (4.) be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following sub-clauses : - “ (3.) Where the number of units of pension (not including reserve units of pension) for which a contributor was, immediately before the first day of November, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-one, contributing exceeds the. number of units specified in column two of the scale contained in sub-section (1.) of section thirteen of the Superannuation Act 1922-1051, opposite to the salary-group within which the salary of the contributor fell on that date, the contributor shall, subject to section fifteen of that Act, contribute for that firstmentioned number of units as from that date to the date upon which his salary falls within a salary-group which requires him to contribute for a number of units greater than the first-mentioned number of units. “ (4.) Where, immediately before the first day of November, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-one, the time within which a con- tributor who had a right to elect under paragraph (a), (6) or (c) of sub-section (4.) of section thirteen of the Principal Act had not expired, the right of that contributor to make the election shall, notwithstanding the amendment effected by paragraph (a) of sub-section (1.) of this section, be deemed to have continued, or to continue, until the expiration of that time and, if, before the expiration of that time, the contributor has made or makes an election under any of those paragraphs, the number of units for which he contributes as from the date of his election shall, for the purpose of the last preceding sub-section, be deemed to be the number of units for which he was contributing immediately before the first day of November, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-one.”.
Clause 6 -
Section seventeen of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - “ 17. The contributions payable by au employee for units of pension for which he is required or permitted to contribute are as follows: -
Where the obligation to make contributions came into existence after the date of commencement of the Superannuation Act 1942 or comer into existence after the date of commencement of the Superannuation Act 1951, the contributions shall be in accordance with the tables of contributions contained in Schedule V., VI., VII. or Viti., as the case requires, to this Act.”.
Amendment (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) agreed to -
That, in proposed new section 17, paragraph (l>), the words “comes into existence after the date of commencement of the Superannuation Act 1951,”, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “ came or conies into existence on or after the first day of November, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-one,”.
Clauses 1 to 13, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 14 -
Section fifty a of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (1.) and inserting in its stead the following subsections : - “ (1.) Where a pensioner is employed by’ the Commonwealth or by an approved authority and is in receipt of a pension at a rate exceeding Four hundred and nine pounds ten shilling!’ per annum, the pension payable to the pensioner during any period for which he is paid salary or wages in respect of that employment is, in lieu of the pension which would otherwise have been payable under this Act, a pension at the rate of -
Four hundred and nine pounds tcn shillings per annum; or
.- I move-
That, in proposed new sub-section (1.), the words “ Four hundred and nine pounds ten shillings “, first occurring, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “Four hundred and twenty-nine pounds.”.
The amendment is necessary to conform to the new salary scale provided in the bill, a pension of eleven units being increased from £409 10s. to £429.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause further consequentially amended and, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 15 to 20 agreed to.
Clause 21 (Definitions).
– I move-
That the clause be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following clause: - “21. Section sixty an of the Principal Act is amended by omitting the definition of State employee ‘ and inserting in its stead the following definition: - “ State employee “ means a person who became an employee before the first day of November, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-one, and was. immediately before becoming an employee, a contributor to a State Fund;’.”.
This amendment inserts a new definition of “ State employee “. It is necessary in order to confine the present provisions to State employees who joined the Commonwealth Public Service before the 1st November, 1951. The present provisions were intended to apply to State officers who were transferred when the Commonwealth took over certain functions from the States; for example, taxation. There is no justification for the retention of the same privileges for those who transfer voluntarily and who for the most part do so for their own advancement.
I should like to make it clear that the proposed amendment does not affect present members of the Public Service, but will apply only to State officers who join the Public Service in future.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 22 verbally amended, and, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 23 and 24 agreed to.
Clause 25 (Pensions payable to persons whose names are specified in the schedule to this act).
– I move-
That, at the end of the clause, the following sub-clauses be added: - “ (5.) Where a person whose nameis specified in the Schedule to this Actis employed by the Commonwealth, or by an approved authority as defined by section four of the Superannuation Act 1922-1951, and that person is in receipt of a pension at a rate exceeding Four hundred and twenty-nine pound’s per annum, the pension payable to that person during any period for which he is paid salary or wages in respect of that employment shall be reduced to a pension at the rate of Four hundred and twenty-nine pounds per annum. “ (6.) Where a pension payable to a person whose name is specified in the Schedule to this Act is reduced to the rate specified in the last preceding sub-section, the Commonwealth shall pay to the Fund during the period for which pension at the reduced rate is payable, in lieu of the amount payable under paragraph (a) of sub-section (4.) of this section, an amount at a rate ascertained by deducting, from the amount specified in the third column of that Schedule opposite to the name of that person, the amount by which the pension payable to that person is so reduced.”.
The purpose of sub-clause (5.) is to bring into line with other pensioners those whose names are set out in the schedule and who are re-employedby the Commonwealth. As is provided elsewhere in the bill, a pensioner who is re-employed by the Commonwealth will not receive a pension that exceeds £429 per annum, or 50 per cent. of the pension, whichever is the greater.
The proposed sub-clause (6.) provides that where the pension payable to a reemployed pensioner is so reduced, the Commonwealth proportion of the pension is to be reduced accordingly.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 26 agreed to.
Clause 27 (Refunds of certain amounts cancelled from pensions).
– I move -
That, at the end of the clause, the following sub-clause be added: - “ (2.) The Commonwealth shall pay the amount payable under this section and the Consolidated Revenue Fund is, to the necessary extent, hereby appropriated accordingly.”.
The effect of the proposed new sub-clause will be to appropriate from the Consolidated RevenueFund the amount payable by the Commonwealth in respect of special pensioners whose names appear in the schedule to the bill.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Schedule agreed to. [Quorum formed.]
New clause 2a.
– I move-
That, after clause 2, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 2a. Section three of the Principal Act. is amended by inserting after the words -
Part IVd. - Special Provisions in Relation to Certain Former State Employees.’ the words -
Part IVe. - Special Provisions in Relation to Certain Former Contributors to Public Service Superannuation Funds.’.”.
The proposed new clause will insert a new part, which is necessary in view of the enactment of new provisions in relation to State employees who have joined or will join the service of the Commonwealth or of an approved authority after the 1st November, 1951.
New clause agreed to.
New clauses 21a and 21b.
– I move -
That, after clause 21, the following new clauses be inserted: - “21a. Section sixtyao of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-sections (1a.) and (1b.). “ 21b. After Part IVd. of the Principal Act the following Part is inserted: -
Part IVe. - Special Provisions in Relation to Certain Former Contributors to Public Service Superannuation Funds. 60au. In this Part, “Public Service Superannuation Fund “ means a fund or account established under the law of a State to provide superannuation or other similar benefits for persons employed in the Public Service of that State and includes such other funds or accounts as are specified by the regulations to be Public Service Superannuation Funds for the purposes of this Act. 60av. - (1.) An employee who became or becomes a contributor on or after the first day of November, One thousand nine hundred and fifty-one, and, immediately before becoming an employee, was a contributor to a Public Service Superannuation Fund may, within three months after the date of his becoming an employee, elect to pay to the Board the amount refunded to him from the Public Service Superannuation Fund upon his ceasing to be a contributor to that Fund. (2.) The amount refunded to a contributor from the Public Service Superannuation Fund shall not, for the purposes of the last preceding sub-section, include the amount (if any) refunded to him in respect of contributions paid by him to that Fund for reserve unite of pension. (3.) Upon payment to the Board of an amount referred to in sub-section (1.) of this section,, the actuarial member of the Board shall certify the number of units (including, where necessary, a fraction of a unit) the present value of which is, in his opinion, equal to three times that amount and the contributor shall be deemed to be a contributor for that number of units, but is not required to make contributions in respect of those units. (4.) An amount paid to the Board under this section -
New clause 21a amends section 60ao of the principal act by omitting from it subsections (1a.) and (1b.), for the reason that those sub-sections are no longer required.
New clause 21b inserts a new part which will apply to State employees who join or have joined the Service of the Commonwealth or of an approved authority after the 1st November, 1951. [Quorum formed.] The original provisions relating to certain former State employees were incorporated in the act when State departments were taken over by the Commonwealth in 1945 and 1946.
State employees were permitted to contribute to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund at the rate, at which they were contributing to the State funds, subject to refunds of contributions received, from the State funds being paid to the Commonwealth fund. This Government reimburses the Commonwealth fund any losses which may occur by reason of a State employee being permitted to continue his State rate of contribution instead of contributing at the Commonwealth rates. The new pro- visions will enable a State employee who in the future voluntarily transfers to the, Commonwealth or to an approved authority to pay his State refund to the Commonwealth fund, and thus provide for fully paid-up unit’s, and will enable him to receive a rebate on the contributions payable by him. at the Commonwealth rates:
New clauses agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments ; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by. leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr: ERIC J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House, do now adjourn.
.- The matter that I wish to bring to the notice of the Government is of great importance. It is the report published in to-day’s press that the Communists in Korea, have committed vicious atrocities against members of the United Nations forces. Unfortunately the report is incomplete. The number of prisoners of war against whom the atrocities are alleged to have been committed is 5,790. The people of this country would like to know whether the prisoners of war referred to are civil or service prisoners, and whether any Australians are included in the list. The fact that acts of barbarism have been committed by the Communists against members of the United Nations forces is a matter of grave moment to all of us, but naturally we are most: concerned to know whether atrocities have. been, committed against our own Australians: The free world has been shocked, by to-day’s report, and there is an urgent need for more information about the matter. If the. report proves to be true,, the Australian Government should join, with the governments of other members of the United Nations in making the strongest possible protest and, if necessary, in. taking severe reprisals in an endeavour to force the Communists to act in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention that relate to prisoners of war. I should like to know what step the Government proposes to take to acquaint itself of the facts of the incident, and what, protest it intends to make to- the. Communists in Korea. I hope that- the Minister for the Army (Mr: Francis), will- be able to provide more detailed, information than has been given in the newspaper report;
– Naturally, I am gravely concerned at the report that appeared in to-day’s press. The Government is doing everything possible to obtain detailed information. Special signals have been despatched to Korea to-day, hut neither official nor unofficial advice has been received of any atrocities having been perpetrated by the Communists on Australian soldiers. This has been confirmed to-day by General Sir Horace Robertson, who has just returned to Australia after having relinquished his position as Commander-in-Chief of the British Commonwealth Forces in Korea. Only two Australian soldiers have been reported as being prisoners of the Chinese. They were members of a patrol of five which was captured. The other three were subsequently released by the Chinese, and returned to our lines. Only three other soldiers are missing, and not otherwise accounted for, so that not more than five Australian soldiers altogether could possibly be prisoners of war. United. Nations and British Commonwealth authorities in the- Korean theatre have made persistent efforts through the International Red Cross to get the Communists to act in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention, and to furnish particulars of the location and state of prisoners held by them. Unfortunately, in nearly all cases, these efforts have so far not been successful.
It is perhaps unnecessary to add that the enemy has been furnished with all necessary particulars pf prisoners held by the United Nations forces. The enemy has made full use of the International Red Cross to establish contact with these prisoners. However, in view of the statement which has been attributed by the newspapers to Colonel James Hanley, Chief of the American Army’s Judge Advocate Section, that the Chinese and North Koreans had murdered 5,790 United Nations prisoners, I have communicated with Lieutenant-General Bridgeford, Commander-in-Chief of the British Commonwealth Occupation Fore in Japan, and have asked him to let me have the fullest possible information on this report and, in particular, to supply to me all the information that is available about the five Australian soldiers who have been reported as missing or prisoners of war.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Defence purposes - Albion, Victoria.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department of Works and Housing - J. S. Cahill, A. E. Drake.
House adjourned at 5.4 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
y asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The Attorney-General has supplied the following answers: - 1, 2, and 3. I think the honorable member’s reference was to the preparations for the challenge which, under the name of “ The Call “, was issued to the Australian people on Remembrance Day, 11th November, 1951. But the honorable member was under an entire misapprehension as to the nature and purpose of these preparations. “ The Call “ is not in the ordinary sense an organization at all, or even a movement. The preparations have in no way whatever been along “ New Guard “ lines. “ The Call “ was signed by a number of leading Australian churchmen and judges. It may bedescribed as a challenge to Australians in every walk of life to face up to their moral responsibilities as citizens in a free democracy. It was commended to the people of Australia by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The gentleman, Mr. Paul McGuire, mentioned by the honorable member was particularly named by the Chief Justiceof Victoria, Sir Edmund Herring, as having assisted in the preparations for the issue of “ The Call “.
D asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
If so, is the Prime Minister able to statewhether the activities of these two individuals are in any way associated?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 November 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1951/19511116_reps_20_215/>.