20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.3.0 a.m., and .read prayers.
– I desire to address .a question to .the Acting Prime Minister .in the absence of the PostmasterGeneral. Why .is the Australian Broadcasting Commission permitted to continue to broadcast two songs which are at present heard almost nightly! One of them is “ I’d .like to get You on a Slow Boat to China “ and the other is, “ Why Did I tell Ya I was Gain’ to Shanghai”? In its zeal to discover a “ red “ under every bed, does . not the Government recognize that ‘the continual broadcasting of those two songs must be the work of wicked Communist agents in the Australian Broadcasting Commission, who are endeavouring to en’tice innocent -people behind the bamboo curtain? What action does the Government propose to take about a serial broadcast by the commercial networks entitled, “ The Burtons of Banner Street “, which depicts one John Burton, as .a decent,. honorable Australian, . in obvious defiance of this Government’s determination to smear every honest idealist for peace in this country?
– Tie question -is not worthy of an answer.
– Will the Treasurer have a statement prepared to show how ‘the recent dollar loan which wa, negotiated by ‘the Prime Minister with the International Bank has been expended? Will he have another statement prepared of the expenditure of normal dollar -earnings hy this country, and, in .particular, any variation of the dollar ^expenditure from dollar earnings compared with the position in the year prior to the raising -of the loan ?
– I shall ascertain whether it is possible to supply the information for which the honorable gentleman has asked.
– Last Tuesday, I asked the Minister for Supply whether it would bc possible to give prior warning of any atomic explosions off the coast of Western Australia, and the honorable gentleman was good enough to say that he would .furnish a reply later. Is he .now in a position to make that reply?
– I have had the matter examined. The question .arose out of some anxiety expressed by photographers .and others that radio active matter might damage hypersensitive photographic material. I point .out to the House that the atomic experiment at the Monte Bello Islands is a British, not an Australian, project,’ although the Australian Government is rendering a good deal pf assistance in connexion with it. .1 shall bring the matter raised by the honorable member for -Oxley to the .notice of the British Government, but I think it quite unlikely that, in the circumstances, .it will feel disposed to give a warning just before the test takes place. Representations have been.made to me on this matter by various people, and I propose *o write to them, out anybody concerned should take this answer as an intimation that it is not likely that it will he possible to .give a prior warning of the explosion, and, further, that they .should take whatever protective measures they .think should be taken .in -the circumstances.
Mi’. CALWELL,- I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether, in -your opinion, Parliamentary Under-Secretaries . are officers of this House or of the Crown? I should like to know also, whether you have given any decision about their status and functions. I also desire to know whether you have refused to recognize these offices in any way, and if you do not mind my further inquisitiveness, I.’ should like to know any reasons that you may desire to advance in regard to any decisions that you have given. Will you inform the House of the identity of the honorable members concerned in any decisions that you have given ?
– I have .devoted some time to this matter because I have been requested to -do so on -more than one occasion. In my view the officers concerned are not officers of this Parliament; they are officers of the Crown. For that reason I have refused to recognize them in this House. I went so far, and I think that I was in error in doing so, as to provide certain -accommodation for them in this building. As the House knows, I am a small farmer and not a lawyer, but I think that I can read English. My view of the situation is that the appointments are unconstitutional, that no Minister has the power to delegate his authority to anybody and that any administrative act made by or done by a Parliamentary UnderSecretary is unconstitutional and illegal. Furthermore, I hold the view that a member of this House who accepts a position as an Under-Secretary, renders himself liable to the vacation of his seat under the Constitution, and also liable to the penalties entailed for wrongfully holding a seat in this House, having accepted an office of profit under the Crown.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! Silence must be maintained while I am addressing the House. It is also my view, and T have stated it in the right quarters, that the position of the Under-Secretaries has not been altered by the failure of the Government to pay them salaries. The lest is that the office has been accepted and not that the holder of the office has made a profit. I further hold, and I have said so, that the payment of expenses to these honorable members is completely unconstitutional .and unlawful.
– I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for that information.
– Following your very important ruling on constitutional law and practice in relation to the office of Under-Secretary, Mr. Speaker, I ask you whether you will indicate what steps should be taken, or whether you will initiate steps, to declare vacant the following seats in the House of Representatives: - Canning, Darling Downs, Calare, and, regretfully, Franklin.
– I have given m, ruling on the interpretation of the Constitution. That is a matter for the High Court lOt Australia. I did not attempt to give a ruling. I was asked to state my reasons for views that I had expressed, and I did so. The method of declaring seats vacant is, as I am sure the right, honorable gentleman fully understands, laid down in the Constitution.
– Having regard to the doubts that have arisen with respect to the validity of appointments of Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, and the possibility that they may be responsible for actions that may .subsequently be found to be illegal and, consequently, may become liable for heavy damages, and having regard also to the possibility that persons who may be called upon to observe the direction of such honorable gentlemen may be involved in loss which they may not be able ‘to recover at law, will the Acting Prime Minister take steps to remove all doubt about whether the appointment of Parliamentary Under-Secretaries are valid or otherwise?
– The Government will accept full respossibility in respect of the matter which the honorable member has raised.
– Arising out of a question that was addressed earlier to you, Mr. Speaker, I ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he has received any salary for the office of Leader of the Opposition ?
– In whatever I may have received in respect of my position as Leader of the Opposition, I have followed the illustrious example that was set by the right honorable gentleman who is now the Prime Minister.
– Will the Treasurer inform the House whether the Government has an account from which it can make contributions to funds used for the purchase of homes for aged and homeless diggers? Is there any other way in which the Government can suggest that payments may be made to such funds free of tax?
– I know of no such fund nor do I know of any constitutional authority that will allow the Government to take the course suggested by the honorable member. I shall have the matter investigated.
– My question to the Treasurer arises out of the payment of refunds of superannuation contributions in the case of officers who returned to duty during the war years and who are being paid refunds under the provisions of the recent amendment of the Superannuation Act. I have received a complaint from one person who was reemployed for a period of about eight years. He ceased duty about November last and was notified by the Superannuation Board that he would receive a refund of £1,038 12s. Id. to cover a certain period of years; but the cheque that he got was for an amount of only £768 12s. Id. Upon making inquiries, he’ was informed that £270 had been deducted for the payment of income tax. In another instance that has been brought to my notice, an exofficer was informed that lie would receive a cheque for £294, but received a cheque for only £244. The difference of £50 had been deducted for income tax. As the sums involved had accumulated over a period of years, I consider that the tax deductions were exceptionally high. Does the Treasurer know the system that is applied in calculating such deductions? If not, will he have the matter investigated and ascertain whether a more equitable arrangement can be made?
– The matter will be considered. I shall consider the honorable gentleman’s questions as being on the notice-paper, and will provide him with a detailed reply.
– The question that I direct to the Treasurer in the absence of the Postmaster-General is supplementary to the question that was asked yesterday by the honorable member for Brisbane with reference to the notices of dismissal issued to certain employees of the Postal Department in Brisbane. Are the dismissals to be made as part of a staff retrenchment plan, or are the men concerned to be replaced by persons who have passed examinations to qualify for appointment as permanent, public servants? If the men are to be replaced, does the right honorable gentleman agree with the decision of the Public Service Board? I have been interested in this matter for some time, and I have learned that most of the men who are to be dismissed are receiving pensions on account of war disability. Furthermore, most of them are between 50 and 60 years of age and, on that account, would find it difficult to obtain employment elsewhere. Does the right honorable gentleman consider that such men should be dismissed?
– I shall have the matter investigated and will then reply to the honorable member.
– My question is addressed to the Acting Prime Minister. Is it a fact that a general strike is threatened in Japan as a protest against the introduction into the Japanese parliament of bills to alter laws that were sponsored by the allied authorities during the occupation? Is it also a fact that, amongst other things, such changes will restore the Japanese national police force to the position which it occupied before the war? Does the Minister consider that this evidence of the early resurgence of undemocratic forces in Japan is very disquieting? Has the Government made any protest against the proposals, or does it intend to do so? Does the Government intend to revise its opinion that Japan, during the occupation, had been converted to the way of democratic government, or, alternatively, does it approve of the action that the Japanese Government proposes to take, against the wishes of the Japanese workers?
– As the question is based upon a press statement, the contents of which I am unaware, I have nothing to say, except that I shall not answer hypothetical questions.
– Will the. Minister for Air say whether the Government recently obtained a lease of land in the Ferodale, Duck Hole and Medowie area of New South Wales for use as a bombing and rocket range? Is the honorable gentleman aware that numerous small farms of from 10 to 20 acres are situated in that area, and that farmers and workmen have expressed the fear that explosions on the range will affect the incubation of chickens and constitute a danger to the lives of persons employed in the area ? Will the Minister consider the possibility of selecting another site for the range, a few miles to the north or north-west of the present site, so that it will not be necessary for farmers to vacate their farms, or to interfere with primary production?
– I have received no protests about the Royal Australian Air Force taking over a bombing and rocket range in the area mentioned by the honorable member. I do not think it has taken over such a range. However, I shall make inquiries into the matter. If I find that the honorable gentleman’s statements are correct, and that chickens are likely to be disturbed in their roosting, or in any other occupations, I shall consider whether I can take action to restore harmony in the hen roosts.
– In view of the importance of health to the community and the rapid alterations of health schemes, will the Minister for Health inform the House why this Government, since taking office, has held only one conference with the State Ministers for Health? In view of the general public ignorance of the Government’s health schemes and of the importance of such schemes to the State governments, does the right honorable gentleman not think that, if he had called a meeting of the State Ministers for Health, they, at least, might have understood the nature of the plans that are of such vital importance to their States?
– The honorable gentleman has misstated the facts. Two meetings of Ministers for Health have been held.
– My question, which is directed to the Acting Prime Minister, relates to an organization known as the Committee of Peace in the Pacific, which has been mentioned in this House recently. Is a member of the New South Wales Cabinet the chairman of an organization known as-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is getting very close to the brink.
– If I may be permitted to continue with my question, its relevance will be immediately obvious to all. Have the activities of the Committee of Peace in the Pacific been stigmatized by many honorable members of this House, including the Leader of the Opposition, as probably subversive and disloyal? If that be so, will the Acting Prime Minister make representations to the Premier of New South Wales and point out to him the possible embarrassing consequences of the fact that a member of his Cabinet is chairman of a body that has been stigmatized in that way?
– I am certain that the Premier of New South Wales is fully conversant with his responsibility in connexion with the matter that has been raised.
– I direct to the Acting Prime Minister a question that arises from a number of suggestions which have been made in the House recently,
– My answer to the last part of the honorable member’s question is obviously and emphatically “No”. In answer to the major part of the question I can only reiterate my statement on the 20th May in answer to a similar question that was asked by the honorable member for Henty. I said then that the Government would follow the very wise procedure that was laid down by our predecessors, and would give no information about the activities of the security service.
– Last week a statement was made by the Minister for Territories to the effect that the recent discovery of minerals in the Northern Territory would result in a considerable influx of people to that area. In view of the importance of developments of that nature to Australia, will the Minister for Territories arrange for an all party delegation to visit the Northern Territory so that honorable members may acquaint themselves with the difficulties that exist there in connexion with mineral, agricultural and pastoral production?
– With due respect to the honorable members of this House and to the honorable member for the Northern Territory in particular, I think that at the moment geologists, mining engineers and investors are able to contribute more to the development of the mineral resources of the Northern Territory than can the political representatives of the people. Nothwithstanding that statement, I shall do what I fan to- ascertain whether a parliamentary party can bo. formed to visit t<he Northern
– Is the Treasurer aware that under a recent taxation decision, newsagents who wish to transfer their goodwill by way of sale, have almost the entire financial value dissipated by taxation? I can give the right honorable gentleman details of cases. I ask him whether he will inquire into this matter.
– The matter of goodwill and the general incidence of taxation .in respect to it has been referred to the Commonwealth Committee on Taxation. I’ have asked the committee to expedite a report on the subject.
Mi-. CLARK. - I ask the Acting Prime Minister whether it is a fact that the Taxation Board of Review recently decided, that income that members of the forces received in war-time from their civilian employers as supplements to their military pay is not required to be assessed as income for taxation purposes. Is it further a fact that the Commissioner of Taxation has appealed to the High Court against that decision? In the event of the appeal being decided in favour of the ex-servicemen, does the Government intend- to take immediateaction to repay the amounts that were paid in tax by members- of the forces on such pay supplements?
– The honorable member’s question obviously concerns a matter” of Government policy, which will receive consideration as,, and when, the occasion arises.
– Can the Treasurer inform me whether it i3 a fact that persons who engage in gold mining are exempt from taxation on their earnings? Are the earnings from the mining of any other mineral similarly exempt? Is the Treasurer aware of the acute shortage of scheelite, a mineral from which, tungstic acid is produced for toughening steel?. In view of the importance of this mineral for armament purposes, will the right honorable gentleman give consideration to a proposal that the earnings of persons, who win this mineral be exempted from taxation, as an incentive to production?
– I understand that scheelite is not in. short supply. However, the general purport of the honorable member’s question will receive consideration.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Air whether it is true that the attention of the various governments which provide the United Nations forces in Korea has been drawn to a threat by the North Korean forces that airmen who are captured after using napalm bombs will be burned in retaliation. If this is true, has the Australian Government taken any action to protect Australian airmen ? Who determines the nature of the weapons used, in the campaign in Korea? Is that a matter for purely military decision or are the constituent governments consulted concerning .the political effects of the various weapons upon opinion in the Far East and particularly upon opinion in friendly nations such as India?
– I have not heard a statement of the kind that has been mentioned by the honorable member for Fremantle and to the best of my knowledge no such statement has been issued. There has been a considerable amount of misunderstanding about the use of napalm bombs. I understand that the matter was recently discussed in the United States of America at some length. I think that only one unit has used the napalm bomb, and then not against personnel but against bridges and other structures. I shall look into the matter because it has important political implications. I am glad that the honorable member has raised it and I shall try to give him a. detailed answer in. the course, of the next few days. To the best- of my knowledge, napalm bombs are not being used at present for anti-personnel purposes. I think that they are used at the discretion. - and. the wise discretion - of i he- milita ry commanders in the field.
– I again refer to the decision of ‘the Labour Government to acquire an area of nine and a half acres in ‘ Melbourne as a site for the construction of Commonwealth offices. Can the Minister for the Interior say whether this Government has made any move to complete that acquisition? If so, lias any expenditure been incurred in tha i respect ? Does he consider that the important area in question should be used to provide accommodation for private enterprise? If so, will he take steps to cancel the scheme and thus ensure that public money shall be expended only for the benefit of the public?
– It would be very difficult to unscramble this egg, if one desires to do so. Owing to the fact that the Victorian Government has not permitted office buildings to be constructed in Melbourne since the end of the recent war, the shortage of public and private offices there is becoming so acute that the only way in which the Australian Government can obtain such accommodation, without prejudicing private requirements, is to construct its own offices. It can only do so on sites that it controls.
– Is the Acting Primp Minister aware of the strong criticism that delegates expressed recently at the annual conference of the Australian Country party concerning the Government’s attempt to bring about the nationalization of industry -by increasing the influence of bureaucracy, and without first obtaining a mandate? Is not such action an attempt to nationalize industry by stealth and by the betrayal of promises that the Government parties gave to the people during the last general election campaign?
– Thanswer to the honorable member’s question is “ No “.
– Is the Minister f o.i: Commerce and Agriculture aware that primary producers who purchase barley for stock-feed are obliged to pay a price of over los. 2d. a bushel for their requirements, whereas maltsters are able to purchase a superior quality of barley for the requirements of breweries at a price of only lis. 2§d. a bushel ? Does he approve of this system whereby the producers of barley are called upon to subsidize the breweries to the extent of 4s. a bushel? If he does not approve of it, what action does he propose to take to remedy this anomalous state of affairs?
– The facts are, substantially, as the honorable member has indicated. I do not approve of the system to which he has referred. I regard it as being outrageous. I can only suggest that he should consult Mr. Cain in Melbourne, in order to ascertain whether he can do anything in the matter, because he has a good deal of influence with the Victoria Government, which is responsible for the fixation of prices in that State.
– I address to the Minister for Immigration a question that relates to the position of some schools in New South Wales that are overcrowded as a result of an influx of children from hostels for immigrants. Will the Minister make available to the New South Wales Government a sum of money to enable it to provide increased accommodation at the schools affected?
– I point out to the honorable member that the formula under which the Government provides financee to State governments takes into account additions to population. The moneys so paid to the States are in the form of a reimbursement in respect of additional population, and out of those additional revenues the States have their own obligations to carry out the services that they would normally render. To the best of my knowledge the amounts so paid should be adequate for the purpose to which the honorable member has referred. However, I shall examine the matter in detail and ascertain whether I can supply the honorable member with the figures relevant to the amounts that are actually paid to the States under the reimbursement formula.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister give any information to the House regarding the progress, if any, of the work of the committee of inquiry into the sugar industry? Can he say when it is expected that a report will be received from the committee, and could he also forecast, in view of the importance of the committee’s prospective findings, how long it would take after the receipt of the report to determine whether there should be an increase of the price of sugar?
– I have had no official information on the progress of the committee’s work, but I have been informed unofficially that it is unlikely that the committee will be able to complete its investigations and present the requisite report, as was desired, before the 30th June. I have no other information on the matter at this juncture, but I shall keep the honorable member informed in connexion with it.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for the Navy, arises from the fact that the Commonwealth has given two scholarships to young men in Western Australia to enable them to be trained for service in the air arm of the Royal Australian Navy. Why is the number of scholarships allotted to Western Australians so few? Does the Minister consider that a career in the Naval Air Arm, which entails the handling of jet aircraft, can be a long career for a young man? If it must necessarily be a short career, is not the turnover due to age and the strain of service so great that the Government, if it desires to have a Naval Air Arm, should offer more than two scholarships to a State which has a population of approximately 600,000?
– The number of scholarships which are granted depends upon the total number of personnel required for the Naval Air Arm for permanent purposes. I think that Western Australia has been just as fairly treated in the awarding of those scholarships as any other State. Personnel who engage in air operations in the Royal Australian Navy have not a short career. The record of H.M.A.S. Sydney in Korean waters is truly remarkable. The number of airmen who have been lost in operations from that aircraft carrier has been very small indeed, and, consequently, a great number of the pilots, fortunately, has come back to Australia. It may well be that the operations of personnel in the Naval Air Arm are restricted, or are carried on for only a restricted period, but the men have ample opportunities in the permanent force of transferring to another branch of the Royal Australian Navy in which they may continue until they attain the normal retiring age. I think that as many scholarships as we can award have been granted to Western Australians, but I shall examine the honorable member’s question with a view to ascertaining whether the number can be increased.
– Can the Treasurer state whether imports by State governments and governmental instrumentalities are subject to import licensing? If so, will he take steps to prevent delays in the issue of import licences to such bodies?
– The matter that the honorable member has raised has already received attention, both in respect of the prompt issuing of licences to State instrumentalities and of facilitating imports on their behalf, having regard to the merits and urgency of applications.
Formal Motton fob Adjournment.
-(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 operation and administration of the import restrictions as imposed by the Government on 8th March last in relation to the United Kingdom and the sterling area, and of the import restrictions announced by the Government on 20th March and 9th May last in relation to the dollar area.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported ?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– The subject-matter of this motion relates solely to the actual operation and administration of the import restrictions, especially in relation to the restrictions imposed on goods from the United Kingdom. I shall not discuss on this occasion the general policy of import restrictions, or such matters as whether there was neglect on the part of the Government which allowed the situation with respect to our balance of payments to drift for too long, so that a flood of imports entered this country, or whether the adoption of an orderly system could have prevented the necessity for the introduction of those restrictions. I shall assume, in other words, that import restrictions of some kind had to be applied.
At the outset, I ask the House to consider the following questions: - 1. Is the operation of the restrictions fair and equitable? 2. Should the Government or the Parliament either directly, or, better still, through an appropriate committee of the House, examine the licensing and quota systems with a view to recommending any necessary improvements and safeguards? A complicated question of interpretation arises in this matter. Imports from the United Kingdom have been divided into three classes. In category A, the quota is based on the actual importations during the financial year 1950-51 and is 60 per cent, of the individual’s importations in that year. Category B is more drastic. The quota is 20 per cent, of the imports of a firm or individual during the base year. The third class, which is called Administrative Control, gives to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) absolute discretion in the determination of a quota. That class includes an enormous number of items. The quotas are allocated on a quarterly basis, and may not be carried forward.
Such a system practically invites, or almost compels, trafficking in licences. Importers who made heavy purchases abroad during the base year are given thiright to use their quotas, yet they may be heavily over-stocked as from last March, and may be unable to handle profitably the quotas allocated to them. Other firms that did not import heavily in the base year may be in desperate need of goods in order to fulfil their orders. No provision is made for a hardship rule, under which special consideration could be given to those cases. But those businessmen who need goods and have not a sufficiently big quota, because they conducted their affairs in a normal or conservative way, have to endeavour to obtain supplies. They naturally turn to importers who have big quotas or who, not having big quotas, are prepared to hand over to them the right to deal with the quotas in the way I have mentioned. That system not merely permits but practically invites dealing and trafficking in licences. 1 quote from the Australian Financial Renew of the Sth May last, as follows: -
There are some traders fortunate enough to Iia ve quotas for the current quarter for Category B (SO per cent, cut) goods as a result of heavy buying in the base year. If t hose particular goods, textiles, for example, are moving slowly, the trader, naturally, will make use of the quota on other Category B items which are, or may be, in short supply, and on which there is no price control.
There are cases, however, where traders who have established a quota on, say, textiles, are offering to sell the use of that quota for a premium of as much as one-third of its value in the regular distributors of, say, crockery, artificial jewellery, toys or cigarettes. Or they are approaching the retail trade direct and offering to import similar lines.
The landed coat value of high-duty goods such as cigarettes can be as much as two and a half times the face value of the import licence. If a trader agreed to use a £5,000 licence on cigarettes for a premium of onethird of the landed cost value, plus duty, he would clear something over £4,000 for his trouble.
The operation of the system encourages that state of affairs. It invites, and practically compels, trafficking, and it is very detrimental to the whole purpose of the import cuts, which is to economize in sterling. It is very difficult to measure the extent of trafficking without full investigation, but it appears to be considerable, and it is the direct result of these restrictions so hastily applied and =o broadly drafted. The restrictions have been imposed .on British trade to a quite unparalleled extent. Such restrictions have .never before been equalled in time of peace or war. The Parliament was sitting on the day that Cabinet was deciding this matter, but as soon as the Parliament rose the restrictions were imposed. It should be remembered that no regulation has been passed. Every regulation that is made under a statute must come before each House of the Parliament in order that honorable members may be given an opportunity to debate it and to disallow it if necessary. That was not done in this case. Such a procedure has been avoided by the use of the Customs Act according to practice that has been followed for ten or fifteen years. Under this long applicable provision of the customs legislation, which has been practised for a long while despite repeated warnings by the courts, the legislative power of the Parliament is not exercised directly, nor have honorable members a chance to review such acts by the ordinary process.
– The previous Labour Government availed itself of this procedure.
– I agree that this method has been practised for about fifteen years, but it is a practice that should be reviewed because of recent decisions of the court. Under this procedure all that is made known is a Gazette notice by the Minister. He does not say what is to be done. He simply alters the exceptions of classes of goods to the application of a general overall ban on all goods. In 1938 the Senate criticized that procedure and indicated that such an action should be discussed by the Parliament. The position now is infinitely worse than it was at that time because then a regulation could be brought before either House of the Parliament and could be disallowed.
The most recent case in which -this matter has been discussed is what is known as the Poole case, and it is reported in 75 Law Reports. In that case the basic regulation was attacked as being beyond the power contained in the Customs Act. Three justices of the High Court decided that it was invalid, and three decided that it was -valid. The then Chief Justice, Sir John Latham, was one of the justices who held that it was valid, ..and therefore by a majority decision the legality of the regulation was upheld. However, a three-three decision is not binding on the High Court, and I desire to quote a few lines from the judgment of the present Chief Justice who dissented from the majority verdictHe said -
It [the regulation] places the entire inward trade of the country under the control of his [the Minister’s] particular discretion or that of his delegate. .. . . There is, of course, no doubt that the Parliament . . could enact a law in the form of the regulations if it thought fit to do so.
Such a regulation was considered to be invalid, not because it was ultra vires the Constitution, but because the Parliament had not authorized such a wholesale delegation of authority. That should be accepted as a warning that this type of action might be challenged.
There is bound to be criticism of the administration of this action. I think that that is because a very great burden has been thrust on the departmental officers. I do not think that they could have been prepared for it, and their confusion and uncertainty have led to loss and disturbance in many directions. Many contracts have been repudiated. There are bottle-necks in administration, and there is no chance of a proper examination of the needs of industry. There is discrimination in connexion with goods on order. Under the provision, where an irrevocable letter of credit lias been established, or a commitment of an equally binding nature has been entered into for goods that were on order at the 8th March, a licence will be issued. The Minister for Labour and National .Service (Mr. Holt) stated yesterday, in answer to a question, that an irrevocable letter of credit would not authorize importation by automatic licence. That is true. There must be a firm order, but such an order is only a business name for a contract, and it seems that under that ruling it is possible that so long as there is a contract or a letter of credit for a considerable sum of money then the goods escape from the quota system. That is the meaning of clause 14 of the Department of Trade and Customs Licensing Instruction 1952/18, so it should be clarified and amended.
There are two classes of firm orders. The first, where there is a letter of credit, and the second where there is not. The practice of allowing bulk letters of credit may lead to discrimination in business, and thus cause differentiation between persons. It is impossible to justify such a situation. Why should there be discrimination in a binding contract that involves a sma 1 sum of sterling as against a contract that involves a very large sum of sterling for less essential items? The less essential items can get through under the escape clause which is “ the goods on order “ clause. I ask for clarification of this matte]-, and for uniform treatment of all persons. The Government should adopt -the principles of essentiality and economy in sterling as dominating principles. It should nol give preference as can be done under the clause that I have mentioned. It. is a serious matter to suspend a letter of credit, but it is an equally serious matter to repudiate a contract where there is no letter of credit. I ask the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to revise the application of these restrictions, and I think that such a review would be best done by a parliamentary authority. There is an advisory committee in existence that consists of outside bodies, but a committee of this House should investigate these matters to ascertain whether there should be a complete review.
The avoidance by the restrictions of many contracts, while maintaining other obligations involving business of a les? essential character, is discriminatory and anomalous. We want equal and just treatment for all, but the present regulations do not allow that. The incidence of quotas governing the supply of raw materials to Australian industries, the maintenance of reserves of essential goods and the re-equipment of basic industries are all affected by this provision. 1 have already referred to the puzzling and differential conditions as to goods on order. The adoption of the year 1950-51 is open to grave criticism and has led to trafficking in licences. In conclusion, may I say that the supreme test in the operation of restrictions, if we must have them, and we are assuming that they are necessary, is to make the essential character of the goods imported the primary test of entry. No other test is fair and equitable and the present system does not ensure its application.
Sir ARTHUR FADDEN (McPherson-
Acting Prime Minister and Treasurer) [11.25]. - The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has taken advantage of the procedure for submitting a formal motion for the adjournment of the House in order to clarify various aspects of the import licensing system, and also to assist, if possible, in its administration. His sincerity is appreciated by the Government, which is aware that he has had experience of import licensing as it. was carried out for many years by governments of which he was a member. The present system has been based on the experience gained by trial and error in those days of the difficulties and complications of import licensing. Nobody, by any stretch of the imagination, could reasonably expect perfection in any licensing system designed to meet the extraordinary circumstances that were thrust upon us. However, the Government constantly keeps in mind the interests of the importing community and the general public so as to prevent injustice wherever possible. It has appointed an interdepartmental committee, which works in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Customs in laying down the rules by which the restrictions shall be applied. Furthermore, in order to obtain the benefit of outside opinion on various aspects of the plan, the Government has formed a consultative committee which consists of the Commonwealth Prices Consultant, Mr. M. E. McCarthy, as chairman ; Mr. E. F. Atkins, president of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia; Mr. “W. J. Allison, president of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia; Mr. W. S. Kelly, a well-known grazier and former member of the Tariff Board; Sir Norman Nock, federal president of the Australian Council of Retailers; and Mesdames Herbert Brookes and E. F. Byth, representing the National Council of “Women.
Import licensing was made necessary by the rapid dwindling of our sterling balances overseas. The Government had to find a means of preserving those balances while, at the same time, permitting essential goods to enter the country. The Leader of the Opposition spokeof anomalies and weaknesses of which advantage could be taken by persons who were not fully conscious of the national significance of the import licensing system. He wrongly stated that goods covered by irrevocable letters of credit escaped the quota system. The truth is that such goods come within the quota system. The important point to bear in mind is that, even if goods covered by irrevocable letters of credit were banned, the money would still have to be paid and would be lost to the banking system. Therefore, it would be unwise to refuse licences for such goods. The Government cannot suspend a letter of credit after the supplier has complied with its conditions, because he can demand his money from the bank under the terms of the letter. The right honorable gentleman is aware of that fact. The experts who are responsible for the administration of the licensing system have given consideration to anomalies and hardships that could be caused by the cancellation of firm orders that have been lodged with vendors overseas by Australian purchasers who have established such satisfactory trading relations over the years that they consider letters of credit to be unnecessary. Such transactions are based on confidence. Careful consideration is given to all cases on their merits. Many goods on firm order prior to the 7th March, which were covered by irrevocable letters of credit were licensed automatically, but such consignments will be debited against future quotas. I emphasize that fact.
– What does the right honorable gentleman mean by that?
– The goods will be permitted to enter Australia in anticipation of the granting of future quotas under the licensing system.
A letter of credit is considered to be irrevocable if it has been drawn up by an Australian importer in favour of an exporter in another country. Licences are issued to cover goods that are to be paid for under the terms of such letters of credit because the suppliers can automatically demand and obtain payment for their goods upon fulfilment of the conditions of the letters of credit. If the money is to be lost to the Australian banking system in any case, we may as well have the goods. A letter of credit drawn up by an Australian merchant in favour of a branch of his company in another country is not considered to be irrevocable because there is no third party to insist upon the fulfilment of the terms of the letter of credit. . Goods on a vessel which had reported at its first port of call in Australia before midnight on the 7th March are subject to licensing, but licences are issued without debiting the goods against the quotas of the importers concerned. They are considered to be virtually in the warehouses. The Government would have liked to license all goods on firm order as at midnight on the 7th March, but the volume involved was so great that to have done so would have prejudiced the success of the whole operation.
Licensing was imposed in order to ensure that our overseas funds should not fall below the level necessary to finance essential imports, and it would have been foolish to operate the system in such a way as to jeopardize its prospects of achieving that purpose. Although some damage may be done to Australia’s prestige by refusing to honour firm orders, greater damage would be done if, as a result of honouring all firm orders, we were compelled at a later date to refuse payment for the goods because of a lack of funds overseas. When importers are able to establish that hardship is caused by the refusal of licences for goods on firm order, action is taken to issue licences. However, no over-all ruling can be laid down for such cases. Each application must be dealt with on its merits. Adjustments have been made already in a number of cases in order to prevent hardship. The task of administering the system involves great difficulties, but I repeat that it is being carried out on the basis of experience that was gained with the import-licensing system introduced by a former government. Advantage has been taken of lessons learned in the past, and the authorities are being assisted constantly, by a consultative body repre* sentative of organizations that have a most intimate knowledge of customertrader relations. The operation of the plan will be subjected to the most careful and vigilant supervision. Obviously, there must be delays and there must be flexibility. Special cases must be treated on their merits, having regard to the essential needs of the country and to the wish of the Government to avoid hardship. However, the objective of the licensing system must be kept in mind at all times. We must preserve our ability to pay for the goods that we import, and that ability can be preserved only by the methods that the Government has introduced.
.- I strongly support the request of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) for the establishment of an all-party parliamentary committee to examine the administration of the import restrictions scheme. I believe that the committee not only should attempt to prevent discrimination in the future, but also should examine the administration of the scheme by the Government up to the present time. In my opinion, discrimination in favour of certain wealthy firms in this country has already taken place. Honorable members will recall that, two weeks ago, I referred in this House to what I considered to be discrimination that had occurred in the implementation of the scheme. On that occasion, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said that the statement that I had made was entirely untrue. But .he lias since had to retract that accusation. In a subsequent statement, he admitted that the letter to which I referred, and which I stated was in the possession of the Department of Trade and Customs, actually exists. The right honorable gentleman said that investigations were proceeding with the object of ascertaining how the information leaked out of the department. If my statement had been entirely untrue, as the Prime Minister originally suggested it was, obviously there would have been no leak; but the fact that the Government is endeavouring to discover how I obtained my information is a verification of the accuracy of the statement that I made.
There is no doubt that David Jones Limited has obtained a great advantage. According to the Prime Minister, that is due entirely to the- business acumen a-nd’ good judgment of that firm. Let us examine the position. The right honorable gentleman, in his- reply to me, adopted his usual attitude of trying to smear any honorable member who raises a matter that is embarrassing to the Government. Then the press of this country, joining in the campaign, said that I had been repudiated by my own leader and my own party. The fact that the Leader of the Opposition is now pressing for the establishment of an all-party parliamentary committee to examine the administration of the import restrictions scheme is an answer to the charge that L was repudiated by my own party. The members of the Opposition decided unanimously to press for the establishment of this committee. What justification had the Prime Minister for saying, before he had made any investigations,, that my statement was entirely untrue? The matter was a very simple one. The right honorable gentleman said that he had no knowledge of the transaction. Could not he have telephoned officers of the Department of Trade and Customs in Sydney? He is the Prime Minister of this country. He could have made such a telephone call in a few moments, because he could claim priority. When lie had to admit subsequently that there was evidence confirming what I had said, he stated that he had been too busy to do that. Does any honorable member believe that that was so? One would naturally assume that, when a serious allegation had been made, the Prime Minister would take every possible step to investigate the matter.
Honorable members will remember that 1 said that I had been informed that a letter had been written to the Department of Trade and Customs in Sydney by the Bank of Australia and New Zealand, on behalf of David Jones Limited, advising the department that that firm held irrevocable letters of credit to the amount of £2,400,000, at the rate of £200,000 a month, extending over a period of twelve months. I said that my informant had advised mc that the date of the letter was either the 6th or the ‘7th March. The Prime Minister quoted a letter dated die 19th March, which he then admitted was in the possession of the Department of Trade and Customs. But that date is not the most important one. “The important dates- are those on which the transaction was- negotiated and completed. According to my information, the period of twelve months during which David Jones Limited’ will be given preferential treatment will expire on the 5th March, 1953. It is rather significant that the decision of Cabinet was made on the 6th March last. That may be only a coincidence, but it is rather remarkable that the period of twelve months covered by the letters of credit began on the 6th March: and that the decision of Cabinet was arrived at on the 6th March.
Let us consider what Commonwealth officials have had to say about this matter. Honorable members will recollect that the Prime Minister, in his second statement to the Parliament on this subject, said it was quite true that David Jones Limited had negotiated letters of credit covering a period of twelve months, when previously the practice of the firm had been to negotiate such letters for periods of only six months. The Sydney Daily Telegraph of the 9th March stated -
Commonwealth officials said to-day that it was not usual foi- banks to send letters to the Customs Department about letters of credit arranged with their clients.
If. that was an unusual practice, obviously there must be suspicion that there was some special reason for it. Another remarkable feature of this matter is that on the 28th April Senator Ashley and myself asked the officer in charge of the Department of Trade and Customs in Sydney whether the Bank of Australia and New Zealand had written to the department on behalf of David Jones Limited in the terms I have stated, and that the officer said that he had uo knowledge of such a letter and would be astonished if it; had. been written, because that was not the usual practice. He then rang another officer on the internal telephone system and asked him whether such a letter existed. That officer, in turn, said it did not exist, that that was not the usual, practice, and. that he did not know of any previous occasion when any firm: had negotiated letters of credit covering a period of twelve months- and had advised the Department of Trade and Customs of that fact.
Let me examine for a moment the past practice of David Jones Limited. If the second statement that the Prime Minister made to the House can be accepted, David Jones Limited will not be affected by the import restrictions at all. The right honorable gentleman said that the firm had been importing at the rate of £200,000 a month, or that it held letters of credit for the importation of goods to that value, and that, because of its great business acumen, it would be permitted to continue to do so. No matter’ how serious our overseas financial position may be, the business of David Jones Limited will go on as usual. I ask the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden) to ascertain, not the value of the goods covered by the letters of credit that David Jones Limited held, but the quantities and value of goods that the firm has actually imported in recent years. The exchange control department of the Commonwealth Bank has no record of irrevocable letters of credit entered into between importers in this country and manufacturers overseas. Therefore, the information cannot be obtained from that source.
I turn now to a rather significant matter. The Prime Minister admitted that on the 6th March, the very day on which Cabinet arrived at its decision, he received a letter from Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, the managing director of David Jones Limited. The right honorable gentleman quoted only a portion of that private letter. He did not table the document so that honorable members could examine it. He said that, in the letter, Sir Charles Lloyd Jones protested against the rumoured intention of the Government to impose import restrictions, and said that he was greatly concerned about it and was bringing his views to the notice of the Prime Minister. Significantly, that letter arrived on the 6th March, just after Cabinet had made its decision. The Prime Minister, in trying to destroy my case, said in his speech -
This is rather strange conduct for a man who, on Mr. Ward’s suggestion, had already been given warning by me that he had better whip in and arrange his letters of credit.
If- Sir Charles Lloyd Jones had not arranged any letters of credit, there might have been some basis for that argument. But is it not rather remarkable that Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, holding letters of credit to the value ‘of £2,400^000, was so worried about his trade competitors-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The debate has taken an extraordinary turn and it must cause much suspicion in the minds of honorable members on this side of the House. We know that this is a return to the previous smear campaign that was launched by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) when the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was in the House. The honorable member for East Sydney waited until the Prime Minister had gone overseas to rise again in his place and continue the same campaign. I invite honorable members to reconsider what has happened.
– That is one of the right honorable gentleman’s gagging tactics.
– Order! The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) is out of order!
– I shall quote from the -statement that was made on this matter by the Prime Minister in this House. He said -
David Jones Limited first started its practice of taking out letters of credit in June, 1949, when the honorable member for East Sydney was a member of the Cabinet. . . . Periodically, from June, 1949, the company obtained letters of credit for very substantial monthly sums of money. In September, 1951, . . the company established letters of credit at the rate mentioned by the honorable member for East Sydney - £200,000 a month. It obtained those letters of credit for the six months’ period which expired on the 1st March last. When the period was about to expire, the company renewed its letters of credit for a period of twelve months to the 1st Mardi, 1953.
When the charges were levelled in this House, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) completely dumped the honorable member for East Sydney, who has risen to-day to continue his smear campaign. The Leader of the Opposition said -
Thirdly, I accept, without qualification, the Prime Minister’s own statements of the position so far as he has outlined it, but I ask the Government to examine the circumstances - a letter was mentioned in the course of the speech - to ascertain whether there is any basis for inquiry by Commonwealth investigators or anything of that kind.
The Leader of the Opposition accepted without qualification what the Prime Minister had said, but the honorable member for East Sydney renews his smear campaign. Let me tell the House and the country finally that this matter did not begin at the time of which the honorable member for East Sydney has spoken. I have in my hand a letter which was sent to me by a. friend of mine, who made it very clear that he - and not only he, but all those who had the interest to read the January, 1952, issue of a journal called Outdoors and Fishing - could see events foreshadowed. In the journal to which I have referred, this paragraph appeared on page 178, and I remind honorable members that the issue is dated January, 1952, and must havebeen in preparation for publication before that -
There’s a rumor drifting about Sydneytown and we have reason to believe it isn’t an idle one, that import licensing restrictions are soon to be re-imposed - which means that sports goods stores retailing imported guns, rifles, ammunitions, fishing rods, &c, may find existing sources unable to supply in the near future. If the above rumor proves true, it is almostinevitable tha.t wholesalers will commence tightening up on stocks-in-hand and almost certainly place customers on a quota system. In view of this, we feel that those retailers who are in a position to do so would be well advised to stock up now while supplies are available.
The letter added -
This, in my view, gives the lie direct that prior knowledge was given or, indeed, necessary to be given to any alert business house to avail himself of establishing overseas credits in view of former experience, in dealings by governments in restricting credit. Even I, who have not the ramifications of an organization such as David Jones, have taken advantage of the rumours and established a token letter of credit.
Trusting that the above information will give Mr. Ward the lie direct.
– What is his name ?
– Let me also tell the House what are the views of officers of the Department of Trade and Customs on this matter. The departmental officers have examined the irrevocable letters of credit of David Jones Limited. This is what the officers of the department have had to say about the matter -
The David Jones type of letter of credit is, in effect, a letter of credit drawn by David Jones in favour of David Jones. If David Jones elected to withhold action under the letter of credit, there is no other party who could compel payment against the letter of credit. This form of irrevocable letter of credit is therefore not the type against which licences would be automatically issued. David Jones applications for licences in respect of goods on order prior to the 7th March, 1952, are being dealt with on their merits.
Where does the case of the honorable member for East Sydney lie now? It lies where he. got it from - in the gutter. It has been taken from the gutter and the honorable member for East .Sydney should put it back there. I have read to honorable members printed comments which were circulating in trade circles. Airy person who was alert enough in business to study the trend of overseas balances, must have come- to the conclusion that controls of some, sort were in the offing. Numerous irrevocable letters of credit have been established by business houses. Honorable members can see for themselves that those which were taken out by David Jones Limited were not of a type which would give that organization any preference whatever with regard to imports. The honorable member for East Sydney could have learned those facts if he had made inquiries, but it did not suit him to do so. He preferred to follow his usual tactics and to conduct a smear campaign. Let me depart now from that unsavoury subject, because I have nailed the, honorable member and have traced his charges to their source in the gutters of East Sydney.
The Leader of the Opposition, who opened this debate to-day, referred to the method of import licensing. He said, in effect, pointing a finger across the table, that no regulations had been brought down with regard to that matter. He implied, of course, that regulations should have been drafted and that the Government had been remiss in not having submitted regulations which might be disallowed by this House. Then, after an interjection by myself, the right honorable gentleman acknowledged that this form of licensing had been introduced under the Customs Act about seventeen years ago.
– Fifteen years ago.
– I direct the attention of the House also to the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, while Attorney-General in the Labour Government, used that method of handling import controls. He admitted that that was so. The only difference between the import controls that this Government has exercised and those that were adopted by the Labour Government is that we made no total prohibitions, as the Labour Government did. Yet honorable members on the Opposition side have the temerity to criticize this Government’s methods of administration which were adopted by them and were used by them in similar circumstances during the war with this difference only - that they enforced total prohibition whilst this Government has not done so.
– But this Government has discriminated against Great Britain.
– I direct attention to these facts which are now history, only in order to remind honorable members that this Govern ment was forced to impose import controls. Can the Leader of the Opposition deny that the financial circumstances of the country required such action? The right honorable gentleman is silent because it does not suit him to acknowledge the fact that London funds were running out. He would like to have seen a complete collapse.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! I must ask the House to maintain order.
– The Leader of the Opposition knows that he would have had to act as the Government did had he been placed in similar circumstances. Instead of playing a political game in a time of financial crisis, he could have been big enough to acknowledge that this situation affects everybody in the country and not only the section from which he can seek political advantage. The danger was obvious. Australia was running out of London funds. The financial position had taken a new turn because of the fall in export prices which forced the Government to take action to safeguard the security of the Country. As is the case with a household a nation cannot live above its means.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– I rise to order. The Minister who has just resumed his seat, quoted from a document. I ask that under Standing Order 317, the Minister be required to table that document.
– It is a confidential document.
– I must ask the Minister either to table the document, or to state the reasons why he should not do so.
– The document is confidential. I am already in communication with my correspondent to ascertain whether he has any objection to my tabling the letter. If he has no such objection, I shall table it.
– I must, point out to the honorable member for Perth that since I have been a member of this House there have been many occasions on which honorable members have requested that a document be tabled, and Ministers have declared the document to be confidential. So long as that declaration is made, I can do nothing about the matter.
.- The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) shed more heat than light on this subject. He complained that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) had waited to raise this matter until the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) had gone overseas. The Minister knows very well that the Opposition was prevented from discussing the subject earlier, because the Government applied the gag. The Government must, therefore, accept responsibility for the fact that the matter has again been brought forward while the Prime Minister is abroad. The Minister also maintained that the Leader of the Opposition had accepted the Prime Minister’s statement on this subject in its entirety. That is completely incorrect. The Minister merely quoted a few sentences out of their context from the statement that the Leader of the Opposition made previously. It is true that the Leader of the Opposition accepted the Prime Minister’s personal assurance that he had not been responsible for “ tipping off “ any individual with respect to the imposition of these import restrictions; but he did not accept the remainder of the Prime Minister’s statement, which was to the effect that no necessity existed to investigate, not the position of David Jones Limited in particular, but that of big business generally in relation to import restrictions and the degree to which big business has had the inside running in this matter.
Regardless of what honorable members may think about how David Jones Limited and the department may apply the letters of credit that have been issued to that company, one fact that calls for investigation is the greatly increased volume of buying of shares in the Myer Emporium Limited and David Jones Limited that took place a few days before the import restrictions were announced. Those are two of the largest companies in Australia, and for some unaccountable reason the value of their shares rose significantly, while that of shares in other similar companies declined. In view of the fact that when the Government announced its import restrictions a few days later those companies found themselves in a very favorable position, and having regard to the significant increase that occurred at that time in the value of shares in those companies, the House is entitled to ask the Government to hold an investigation of the position of big business in relation to this matter. Supporters of the Government who have been making representations to the Department of Trade and Customs on behalf of small companies and businesses which found themselves in difficulties as a result of the imposition of import restrictions, know that big business always finds it much easier than do small businesses to get their requests through governments and departments. Whilst David Jones Limited and the Myer Emporium Limited do not find themselves in difficulties as a result of these import restrictions, the businesses of small importers and traders have been thrown into chaos. The latter are unable’ to obtain any information that would indicate what is likely to happen to them in the immediate future.
The House is quite entitled to ask the Government to make available any document that relates to the imposition of these import restrictions. As the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, control of the whole of the internal trade of the country has been placed in the hands of one man who, however upright or able he may be, must obviously find it impossible to supervise the actions of all the members of the staff of the Department of Trade and Customs. Indeed, it is impossible for him to cope with even one-tenth of the problems that now confront bini daily as a result of the .imposition of these restrictions. I make no allegation against officers of that department. No one envies them their task. However, when control of the whole of the internal trade of the community is placed in the hands of one man, and he and his staff are called upon at a moment’s notice to impose an almost total restriction upon imports, the road is obviously opened wide to racketeering and graft. For that reason the Government should allow the searchlight of publicity to be thrown upon all the actions of the Minister for Trade and Customs and his department in this matter. I have the utmost confidence in the integrity and probity of the Minister and. the permanent officers of the department; but, in order to cope with the situation that has arisen, the department has been obliged to call in all sorts of persons to assist it to get through the jamb of work that has resulted from the imposition of these restrictions. Thus, in this matter, we are dealing not only with ordinary permanent officers of a department, in whom, I repeat, all honorable members have the utmost confidence, but also with a temporary staff that has been assembled hastily. Consequently, the road is left open to abuses; and we can deal with such a situation only by ensuring that the utmost publicity shall be given to the actions of the Government in this matter.
I do not question the principle of imports control; but the Government imposed these restrictions with such unjustifiable severity and haste that one would have thought Australia was on the brink of bankruptcy and disaster. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in the financial statement that he presented to the House some time ago, said that it was expected that Australia’s overseas balances at the end of the current financial year would amount to £300,000,000. Prior to the abnormal increase of the price of wool, our overseas balances amounted to only £135,000,000. Yet, at that time, we considered that we were very well off financially and even talked about repatriating our overseas loans. Whilst it is true that imports were flooding into this country and that our balance of trade was becoming increasingly unfavorable, it is not true to say that we were on the brink of disaster, or that we were in such a position as would justify the Government’s action in imposing, indiscriminately, an overall ban on imports without any consideration at all being given to the need to continue the importation of essential goods. The Government had ample time to consider this matter calmly and to take less drastic action to rectify the position. I have no doubt that, capable officers in the Department of Trade and Customs, if the Government had instructed them to do so, could have perpared a scheme of restrictions that could have been implemented without throwing our internal economy into chaos. The Government should have paid attention to the relative importance of imports instead of imposing an overall restriction based only on the value of imports. It had ample time to evolve such a scheme. Instead, it imposed an overall ban under which, for example, a bottle of champagne was placed in the same category as goods that are urgently required in this country. In that way it caused disruption and chaos. Yet, the Government still attempts to justify its action. The Vice-President of the Executive Council said that the Labour party had. introduced an even worse scheme, since it totally prohibited the importation of certain classes of goods. Of course it did! In the first place, it took that action in time of war; secondly, total prohibition of many classes of imports that have entered this country in recent years would have been a wise step at the present time. The Labour Government drew up a list of the goods that it considered to be the least essential to the country’s economy and prohibited the importation of them. Had this Government followed a similar policy we should not now find ourselves in our present position. Had its import restrictions been imposed on the basis of the value of certain classes of imports to the economy of the country and the needs of the community generally, instead of on the basis of money values alone, the present chaos would not have occurred and we should not have vital industries clamouring for commodities that they require for the production of goods in Australia, but “which they are unable to obtain. All that the Government has succeeded in doing, as a result of the comprehensive nature of the restrictions, which it is now trying to alter because of representations received by Ministers from their constituents, has been to throw industry into chaos and to make it obvious that the business community cannot have any confidence in the future as long as the parties opposite remain in office. The Treasurer has now assured ns, of course, speaking no doubt on behalf of the Minister concerned, that firms which can prove hardship as a result of the restrictions may put their cases to the Minister and have them duly dealt with, and that any anomalies that may have occurred may also be put to the Minister. Apart from the fact that the Department of Trade and Customs is completely swamped with work at present, and anybody who sends documents to ‘ it in the expectation of receiving an urgent reply is indulging in very wishful thinking-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) has stated that had the Labour party been in office it would have adopted a different procedure in relation to imports from that which the Government has adopted. He said that it would have drawn up a list of goods considered to be inessential and would have prohibited their import. He went on to say that had the Government acted in that way the present difficulties would not have occurred. I venture to suggest that the honorable member for Yarra was speaking without any real knowledge of what, in fact, occurred, or of what was involved in the problem. The Government’s policy - and it was a very wise policy, too- was to encourage to the limit of our ability the importation of goods. That policy was based on the belief that if we could import a considerable volume of goods, the production of which did not involve the use of Australian labour and materials, but involved the use of labour and materials abroad, the effect would be deflationary, and would put a brake on the rapid rise of prices. “We went out of our way, in fact, to encourage imports. Unfortunately, we were too successful. We did not have the right to discriminate in relation to the kinds of goods that could be imported. We could not instruct importers that they must import machinery and not import other goods just because somebody regarded those other goods as inessential. In the first place, the United Kingdom Government was not in a position, and is still not in a position, to supply us with capital equipment. So we were not able to say to the United Kingdom that we intended to establish an order of priority, and that only the goods that had top priority would be permitted to enter Australia. Secondly, the decision about what goods should be imported was in the hands of the importers themselves. We could not tell a particular group of importers or wholesalers what kinds of commodities they should import. Importers rely upon consumer demand to indicate what goods they should import, and if a wholesaler considers that the consumers want a particular kind of commodity, then we have to permit him to import that commodity. Apparently the honorable member for Yarra was not aware of all the implications of his argument. In fact, he advanced a proposition that could not be maintained. The actual provisions that relate to import licensing are controlled under the provisions of Section 52 (g) of the Customs Act. That section has been in force for many years, and has been used by both Labour and Liberal governments, so it cannot be said that we are engaging in any kind of discriminatory or arbitrary action under it. Section 52 of the act makes provision for the prohibition of the importation of all goods the importation of which may be prohibited by regulation. Under the Customs Import Licensing Regulations provision was made in 1939 by Statutory Rule No. 162, as follows: -
The importation of any goods shall he prohibited unless -
a licence to import the goodsis in force and the terms and conditions (if any) to which the licence is subject, are complied with ; or
the goods are exempt from the application of these regulations.
The important feature of those regulations is that they have been in force, and have been used by both Labour and Liberal governments, for many years. There would be no alternative way of operating a control of this kind, because when we wish to introduce customs or tariff restrictions it is essential that we proceed with the maximum of secrecy and haste. If we were to broadcast our intentions to the world at large traders would be able to gain advantage from their previous knowledge of the proposed import restrictions. They could obtain irrevocable letters of credit or enter into binding agreements that would result in a flow of goods into the country.
I should like to make it clear that our action in imposing the restrictions was based on the resolution adopted by the Finance Ministers of the British Commonwealth at their recent conference in London. TheFinance Ministers, including the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, decided unanimously that every country in the Commonwealth should live within its income; in other words, that it should balance its trade and avoid having a deficit on its current trading accounts if it could be avoided. The conference was told that the sterling area had then about 1,500,000,000 dollars in its dollar pool which were being drawn on at the rate of 300,000,000 dollars a month, and that unless restrictions were imposed the pool would be drained dry in about five months. The figures that I have given are entirely from memory, so I shall not vouch for their complete accuracy, but I believe them to be fairly accurate. Each of the countries agreed to reduce its dollar expenditure. That decision meant that the countries of the Commonwealth had to trade, to as great a degree as possible, within the sterling bloc. We had no alternative, therefore, but to impose restrictions along the lines and to the degree to which we did. We had a clear-cut mathematical problem, and we dealt with it on a clear-cut mathematical basis. We had to adopt and, in fact, we did adopt, the broad policy agreed upon by the governments represented at the London conference, including the United Kingdom Government.
The next matter with which I shall deal is the accusation that the Australian Government has taken discriminatory action against British goods. The simple implication, from what I have already said, is that there cannot possibly have been discrimination, because principles were enunciated at the Conference of Finance Ministers in London, and we cannot depart from its decisions. It is nonsense to allege that the Australian Government has discriminated against British goods.
– That is not the British view of the import restrictions.
– It is the view of the British Government. Some controversy has arisen on the matter, and a difference of opinion exists among members of the United Kingdom Parliament, but the British Board of Trade has made it quite clear that it does not disapprove of the action of the Australian Government. The Leader of the Opposition has expressed the view that we should have discriminated on this occasion, yet, as the Prime Minister pointed out, he was one of the greatest apostles of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which provided, among other things, that the parties thereto should not discriminate in matters of trade against one another. I believe that, so far as is reasonably possible, there should be non discrimination. The wider the area of trade, the greater is our prospect of getting goods more cheaply, reducing prices in this country, and improving our standard of living. I take that argument a little further. What would have happened if we had introduced the principle of discrimination, and the United
States of America-
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
– It is almost astonishing to discover how completely the statements of Ministers in this debate have vindicated the ventilation of this subject in the House by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), and the operation of the parliamentary process in this matter. The statements of the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) this morning reveal a complete change of Government attitude compared with the statement of Government policy made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on the 13th May last. I omit from those comments the speech of the Minister for the Navy (Mr. McMahon), because it appears to me that for some reason or another he has evaded the real issue, which is the administration, not the merits of the import restrictions as applied to goods from sterling countries.
The Vice-President of the Executive Council was so unhappy that, as the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), pointed out, he fell into the most extraordinary error of accusing the Opposition of having waited until the Prime Minister was out of the country before launching this attack. As is- well known to every honorable member, the fact is that the Prime Minister, after having announced to the House that he would be leaving Australia within an hour, refused to grant leave to the honorable member for East’ Sydney to continue the discussion of the matter. The Vice-President of the Executive Council was even more unhappy in his selection of a quotation from the January issue of Outdoors and Fishing, in an endeavour to prove the absurdity of the contention that news of the Government’s intention to impose the import restrictions had leaked out. Actually, the writer of the article stated that he had inside information indicating that import restrictions were to be imposed.
The Acting Prime Minister announced this morning a ruling of the Government concerning letters of credit. To me, that ruling appears highly satisfactory as far as it goes. Irrevocable letters of credit will be honoured when they are directed to a specific importer in relation to a firm order for specific goods, and the exporter is in a position to make a demand on the banking system for the money involved in the transaction. The Acting Prime Minister has said that even if goods covered by irrevocable letters of credit were banned, the money would still have to be paid, and would be lost to the banking system, and, therefore, it would be foolish indeed not to take the goods. The second part of that ruling is that irrevocable letters of credit, so called, when they have been directed by an importing house to its own branch office in London, will not be honoured in the administration of the import restrictions. That the letters of credit possessed by David Jones Limited come within the second category is clearly shown in the statement of the Vice-President of the Executive Council. I am sure that I do not misinterpret his words when I say that he has informed the House that the Department of Trade and Customs will not honour, as irrevocable, letters of credit accompanied by firm orders, the £2,400,000 worth of letters of credit taken out by David Jones Limited at the beginning of March.
That is an extraordinary reversal of the attitude of the Government compared with the statement of the Prime Minister on the 13th May. Honorable members will recall that the right honorable gentleman completely defended the procedure followed by David Jones Limited as a legitimate business transaction and a proper use of the letter of credit method as a means of ensuring that it should be able to import the goods that were required. The Prime Minister stated on the 13th May -
David Jones Limited would have been very foolish indeed if it had not learnt the lesson of I94.7.
According to that lesson, the way in which to obtain exemption from restrictions on imports was by the establishment of letters of credit. The right honorable gentleman defended the use by David Jones Limited of that method of establishing for twelve months ahead letters o’f credit for its full requirements of imports for that period as a means of avoiding restrictions on its imports. Yet, clearly, according to the statements of Ministers in this debate, that is not a legitimate method of avoiding import restrictions. ‘ The Government has announced, for the first time, that it regards that method as illegitimate, and will not honour letters of credit given in those circumstances.
– It is not an illegitimate method.
– The VicePresident of the Executive Council hai stated that those letters of credit will not be honoured.
– The honorable gentleman’s contentions are inconsistent.
– My time is so limited that I cannot reply to interjections. Other honorable members will have an opportunity to express their views. The position was made perfectly clear by the Prime Minister on the 13th May after he had had time to examine the matter. He justified up to the hilt the action of David Jones Limited, and regarded it as a legitimate process. He was at pains to refer to the controller of David Jones Limited as his personal friend of twenty years’ standing. The reversal of Government policy since the matter was raised recently by the honorable member for East Sydney has completely vindicated the action of that honorable member. Even more, the ventilation of the matter here has done a great deal to ensure the healthy working of the import restrictions system. The contrast between the statement made this morning by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and that made by the Prime Minister before his departure from Australia, provides further justification for the request of the Leader of the Opposition that not only this transaction, but also the whole operation of the administrative system, shall be examined by a joint parliamentary committee.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has completely distorted-
– Order ! Does the Minister claim that he has been personally misrepresented ?.
– Then the Minister is not in order in making a personal explanation.
– The attitude of the Labour party to the import restrictions astonishes me. I recall that the founders of the Labour party fought strongly for a policy of high protection in order to foster secondary industries in Australia, yet Opposition members have studiously avoided any reference to the assistance that the import restrictions will give to them. Members of the Labour party choose to ignore the fact that the policy was adopted by the Government following a decision by the Finance Ministers of the countries that constitute the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Government was obliged to impose the restrictions in the national interest. The claim has been made by Opposition members that the Government has acted hastily, and that the restrictions are unnecessarily severe. I remind them that import restrictions must, of necessity, be imposed hastily. The Labour party has complained because the Government did not inform the Parliament of its decision to impose the restrictions. I point out that, in such circumstances, no government, irrespective of its political views, can give advance notice of its intentions regarding an alteration of tariff policy. The conference of Finance Ministers, which met in London early in the year, decided that drastic action must be taken to safeguard the sterling bloc.
– The honorable member is anti-British.
– The Opposition claims that the import restrictions should not have been imposed when the Parliament was in recess, and that the Government should have taken the Parliament into its confidence regarding its policy. If Opposition members will give a few moments’ thought to the matter, they will recall that the Treasurer arrived in Canberra from the London conference only one day before the Parliament went into recess. .The right honorable gentleman subsequently conferred with Cabinet on action to give effect to a policy that had been formulated by the representatives of Great Britain and other members of the British Empire. I use the word “ Empire “ purposely for the benefit of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin). Apparently he does not believe that we should remain within the British Empire.
– The Australian Government is blockading Great Britain.
– Probably nobody in the House is more disloyal in some respects that is the honorable member for Watson. He sometimes provides, not an iron curtain, but a gas curtain-
– I rise to order. The statement by the honorable member for Wide Bay about the honorable member for Watson is most offensive to me, and I ask that it be withdrawn. No member of the House is more loyal than is the honorable member for Watson.
– Order ! It is for the honorable member for Watson to object to the. words that have been used, and to ask that they be withdrawn.
– I object very strongly to those words, and ask that they be withdrawn.
– The honorable gentleman is insincere.
– I am a good Australian, and, therefore, a good British subject. I strongly object to the statement that the honorable member for Wide Bay has made about me, and ask that it be withdrawn.
-Order! I ask the honorable member for Wide Bay to withdraw the statement to which the honorable member for Watson has objected.
– I withdraw it. I said that, in some respects-
– I rise to order.I point out to you, Mr. Speaker, that the honorable member for Watson had previously accused the honorable member for Wide Bay of being anti-British.
– Let me deal with him.
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Wide Bay to resume his seat for a few moments. Did the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Berry) raise a point of order?
– I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) just accused the honorable member for Wide Bay of being anti-British. I believe that the honorable member for Wide Bay was quite justified in his remarks.
– Order! If the honorable member for Watson made such a statement he must withdraw it.
– I said that the statement made by the honorable member for Wide Bay was anti-British.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw that remark.
– I rise to a point of order. Your ruling against the honorable member for Wide Bay has not yet been obeyed.
– Order! The honorable member for Wide Bay withdrew his remark.
– He has not yet withdrawn it.
– Order ! The honorable member for Wide Bay has indicated that he withdrew his remark.
– I rise to a point of order.
– Order ! No point of order may be taken until the honorable member for Watson withdraws his statement.
– I did not make a statement that requires withdrawal.
– Order ! There can be no argument. The honorable member for Watson must withdraw.
– I rise to a point of order-
– Order ! Does the honorable member for Watson withdraw?
– The honorable member for Watson said that he did not make the statement.
– Order ! The honor able member stated previously that he did make the objectionable statement.
– He said that he did not.
– Order ! The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) will withdraw that statement and will not argue with the Chair.
– I withdraw.
– I withdraw.
– The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Berry) took the point of order that the words used by the honorable member for Watson were objectionable to him. Is it not necessary for the honorable member for Wide Bay to object? Up to the present he has not intimated that he heard the statement attributed to the honorable member for Watson.
– Order ! The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, not the honorable member for Watson, called attention to the remarks of the honorable member for Wide Bay. Nevertheless, I called for a withdrawal.
– I used-
– Order ! The honorable member for Watson had better remain silent.
– It is not my intention to use up my time in dealing with interjections. It does not worry me whether the honorable member withdrew his remarks or not, because nobody takes any notice of his stupid statements.
– Order ! The honorable member should treat the incident as closed.
– It was essential that the Government should consider this vital intra-Empire position without delay, and with all secrecy. One of the complaints of the Opposition is that officers of the Department of Trade and Customs were not told about the Government’s proposed move, and were not ready to take action in accordance with it. If it is not wise to take the Parliament into the confidence of the Government, then it is certainly not wise to confide in public servants. The greatest secrecy is always essential in such matters as this. If it had not been taken in the way in which it was taken, the action would not have been successful. It is hoped that we shall soon be able to remove the inconvenience that has been forced upon our people by import restrictions. It would have been difficult for us to continue importing as we were previously, because by the 30th June, 1952, the value of our imports from Great Britain would have exceeded £500,000,000. The importation of British products cannot remain unrestricted because we have always been the greatest market for those products. Australia’s action has been criticized in the British Parliament. That was only to be expected, but it should be remembered that in the British Parliament the criticism would be directed against the British Government.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the motion of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The Labour party’s policy provides for control of imports, and indeed the last Labour Government restricted imports during its term of office. However, during that time very few complaints were made about the way in which the restrictions were administered, and the restrictions themselves had no detrimental effect on industry. The Labour Government administered its policy with wise judgment and industry was kept operating on sane lines. The object of Labour policy was to prevent the importation of non-essential goods.
During the last general election campaign the Government made great play of the fact that it would abolish all restrictions. When it attained power it abolished import restrictions in a wholesale fashion, and that action was one of the causes of our present unsound economic position. At present we are passing through a difficult period. We are losing our overseas trade balance, unemployment is growing and industry is in the unhappy position of not knowing what to do, because of the policy of the Government in lifting import restrictions and then re-imposing them. This Government has been forced by its own action to impose the restrictions that we are now discussing,- but instead of doing so in a wise fashion, it took action in a hasty and ill-considered manner, and restricted the imports of all goods whether they were essential or nonessential. The Labour party is not opposed to a policy of import restrictions, but it is opposed to the Government’s present policy; that is, to restrict imports in a wholesale manner, without consulting the Parliament and without even taking action by government regulation.
This action has been taken upon the decision of the Minister, made after consultation with a body that has been mentioned to-day by the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden). That is the committee that has been set up to advise the Government about import restrictions. That committee includes a number of persons who have vested interests, and if they had fore-knowledge of what was to be done, then the Government acted unfairly in doing what it did. Those persons who had pre- knowledge of the matter would be able to get the greatest benefit out of the Government’s action, and, indeed, would be able to advise their friends about what the Government intended to do.
– The committee was formed after the Government’s action had been taken.
– An action such as that taken by the Government should have been taken without anybody having prior knowledge of it. Where prior knowledge is obtained by certain interests, advantage is given to those interests, usually rich firms, to the disadvantage of those that are not so wealthy. Then when the latter firms come to the Government to obtain quotas for the import of their goods, they find that those quotas have already been taken up, and that they have been left on the beach and cannot get their requirements. Another bad feature of this Government’s administration is that it is not flexible and does not allow for the allocation of quotas for essential goods. Goods that do not seem to be so essential to-day may become of the highest importance in six months’ time, but the inflexibility of the Government system will prevent their importation.
The Government’s policy of lifting the restriction of imports almost ruined the textile industry, and now its policy of reimposing restrictions in this way is Causing inconvenience and financial loss to others. For instance, there are many manufacturers in Australia who have to import some articles- or components. Restrictions placed, upon the importation of those articles by the recent action of the Government will prevent them from carrying on their businesses economically. I suggest that the whole policy of the Government, with regard to imports and their control, has been unsound, and has done much to bring about our present unsatisfactory economic conditions. Any restrictions that are to be imposed by the Government should first be considered by this Parliament, and if the Government has to act when the Parliament is not in session, it should act by regulation which may be challenged in the House according to the rules. The method adopted by the Minister in this case is completely wrong, and that is one of the chief causes of the complaint made by the Opposition. A certain privileged few have been stated to have had prior knowledge of what the Government intended to do, and they were consequently able to take financial advantage of this action. Other interests, which import perhaps more important goods, have had to suffer losses through the Government’s policy. The weight of evidence has been shown in this debate to be strongly against the action of this Government, and any future action that it intends to take should be taken through the Parliament so that the Parliament can accept responsibility for it. Ministers should not act on their own initiative and cause chaos in the community.
Sitting suspended from .12.^5 to 2.15 p.m.
– The Government’s policy of import restrictions has been made the subject of this debate as an urgent matter of public importance, on the motion of the Leader of the Opposi tion (Dr. Evatt). However, the righthonorable gentleman and other members of the Opposition who have spoken up to date have emphasized the fact that they do not challenge import restrictions. They are satisfied that the system is essential in the circumstances which have suddenly developed and over which the Government has had no control. All that the Leader of the Opposition wished to do was to criticize some minor details of the administration of the policy. Import restrictions are not new. The Chifley Government introduced a licensing system to limit the importation of goods from dollar areas. I acknowledge at once that the experience gained by experts of the Department of Trade and Customs, the Prime Minister’s Department, and the Treasury in administering that system has been of invaluable assistance to the Government on this occasion. The Chifley Government’s plan had to be tested by trial and error, and the know.ledge. that was acquired in the process was used by the Government when it framed the present policy. The undertaking was not rushed. Numerous consultations took place before the policy was determined. An expert committee of departmental officers, a Cabinet sub-committee, and Cabinet as a whole, considered the. plan carefully in the light of experience of the former scheme.
The Government decided that the policy must be flexible so that it could be varied in order to meet altering circumstances. Machinery was set up to cope with delays and complaints of hardship, and, having regard to the magnitude of the whole task, we can rightly claim that the machinery has worked with a high degree of efficiency. No serious complaints have been made about it. The diminution of our sterling funds overseas was so serious that quick corrective action was required. Therefore, the Government acted promptly to impose general import restrictions. Had the problem not been so urgent or so substantial it might have been tackled in some other less sweeping fashion. However, in the circumstances, the plan decided upon by the Government provided the only means of protecting our overseas balances. Imports were divided into three categories. Those in the first category were reduced by 20 per cent., and those in the second category were reduced by 60 per cent. Those in the third category were reserved for special administrative action. They could not be dealt with arbitrarily because of the risk of imposing hardships. Each individual case that falls within that category is dealt with on its merits without delay. The Leader of the Opposition has raised no major problem, and he has not challenged any of the principal features of the Government’s plan. What he wants primarily is the appointment of an all-party committee of this Parliament to examine, the problems of import restrictions. I remind the right honorable gentleman and his colleagues that the Government has already appointed various committees which keep this matter constantly under review.
There is an inter-departmental committee, which consists of experienced officers of the Treasury, the Prime Minister’s Department and the Department of Trade and Customs. These officers have been dealing with such matters for many years, and any major problem that arises is referred promptly to them so that they can remove all causes of obstruction, hardship and delay. In a major operation of this sort, which involves a complete upheaval in the ordinary procedure of the Department of Trade and Customs, some delays are inevitable. However, the committee and the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) are concentrating their efforts on the reduction of delay to a minimum. The Cabinet sub-committee devotes its attention to the scheme at ali times, and Cabinet gives immediate attention to any problems that are referred to it for advice or direction by its sub-committee or the inter-departmental committee even when the Parliament is meeting. Every effort has been made to ensure that the restrictions shall be applied with the least possible degree of friction. In addition to this organization within the framework of the Government and the Public Service, a committee of representatives of commerce, trade, industry and other sections of the community has been formed by the Government. The members of that committee are able to bring their own specialized knowledge to bear on the various problems that arise. The committee meets frequently in order to advise the Government.
The Opposition has not justified the appointment of another committee. I remind the House that a Labour government introduced drastic prohibitions in 1930 during the economic depression without consulting the Parliament. The Minister for Trade and Customs at that time increased duties on some classes of goods by 100 per cent, or more without reference to the Parliament. The government of the day did not appoint an allparty parliamentary committee to consider its actions, and any attempt by members of the Opposition to discuss the proposals in this House was immediately gagged. This Government has not stifled discussion in that way. In fact, it is allowing the fullest possible discussion consistent with the provisions of the Standing Orders. Did the Chifley Government appoint an all-party parliamentary committee to advise it when it applied restrictions to imports from dollar countries 11 Of course not! There is no justification for the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition on this occasion. The Government has done a good job in difficult circumstances, and it deserves the commendation of every honorable member. The Opposition has not submitted even one .constructive proposal but, as usual, has dragged all sorts of red herrings across the trail. The operations of David Jones Limited have been dragged into the field for the purpose of trying to embarrass the Government. But allegations made by certain honorable gentlemen opposite on that subject have been completely discounted. Their case has been shattered. The Opposition has completely failed to make any useful suggestions.
.- Three points were made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in his speech, but only one of them has been dealt with, and even then inadequately, by one of the four Ministers who have already spoken in the debate. It is not often that four Ministers are thrown into the breach in an effort to save the Government. Such heavy artillery is brought up only when the Government is in great difficulties. The first point made by the Leader of the Opposition was that a parliamentary committee should be appointed to deal with problems that arise under the Government’s import licensing policy. The second point was that trafficking was possible under the present licensing system, which the Government introduced in a panic-striken manner following a Cabinet meeting on the 6th March last. The third point was that no statement had been made of the value of the irrevocable letters of credit that had been issued to those businessmen who, by their prescience and their perspicacity, were able to anticipate the Government’s decision and thereby secure great trade advantages over their commercial rivals.
I shall discuss the three points in the order in which I have mentioned them. The Opposition believes that the non-parliamentary advisory committee appointed by the Government, which consists of worthy and reputable citizens, cannot be expected to appreciate the repercussions of the Government’s policy as well as members of this Parliament appreciate them because individuals who have been affected by that policy naturally bring their problems and explain their difficulties to us. A parliamentary committee should be appointed immediately. If the Government refuses to do so, it will lay itself open to the suspicion, either that it has something to hide, or that it has made such a horrible mess of the trading activities of the nation that it dare not risk an exposure of its own incompetence and ineptitude. On the second point, I merely say that trafficking is possible, that it probably has taken place already, and that it will continue to take place. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the opinion of a reputable journal to support his claims on this point. The lack of confidence that will be engendered in banking and trade circles as a result of trafficking can have the most unfortunate effects upon our economy. In relation to the third point, surely it must be obvious to every honorable member on the Government side of the House that, unless and until the people are informed of the value of the firm orders covered by irrevocable letters of credit, the effect of the Government’s policy on our London funds and the magnitude of the unfair advantage gained by some businessmen over others engaged in the same lines of business will continue to mystify and perplex all except Ministers and departmental officials! But the result will be even worse than that. Existing suspicions will be nourished, and new ones will be born.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said recently that the Sydney firm of David Jones Limited had negotiated irrevocable letters of credit for £2,000,000 worth of goods before the import restrictions were applied. But his deputy, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison), admitted this morning that the company did not finance its purchases overseas with irrevocable letters of credit, but merely asked its bankers to draw on its London funds in order to pay the vendors. The debate has at least elicited that informative statement about the affairs of David Jones Limited. No doubt other companies are similarly placed. The Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden) said that the Government had ruled that irrevocable letters of credit would be honoured if they were directed to a specific exporter in respect of a firm order for specific goods and if the exporter concerned was in a position to demand payment of the money from the banking system. As the purpose of the regulations was to conserve sterling, he said, if we were to lose the money in any case we might as well have the goods. Naturally there cannot be any opposition to that argument. He also said that where letters of credit have been directed by an importing house to its branch house in London, those letters will not be honoured. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that the letters of credit of David Jones Limited come into the category to which I have just referred and will not be honoured. That is the only interpretation that I can put upon the latest ruling of the Government. “Where does the Government stand now upon this matter? It has a case to answer. All the attacks made upon individuals by honorable members opposite will not get it out of its difficulties. Let me read an extract from the Sydney Morning Herald of the Sth March, the day after the announcement of the Government’s decision was made. It is as follows: -
MARKET Tends Downward.
Thu investment market lost its strengthening tone in early trading yesterday and closed with a downward tendency. Retail stores had an uncertain tone. David Jones, however, swept up by 2s. 9d. to 39s. 9d.
Let the Government explain why that happened at a time when other firms were in difficulties. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that the Opposition is playing a political game in a time of crisis. He ought to know all about that, because he did it during the war years and the postwar years when he was in opposition. This Government has created its own crisis. We had an adverse overseas trade balance last July, and each succeeding month saw it become progressively worse. The honorable gentleman said that we were running out of London funds. Of course we were. Who but the Government would have expected us to be doing anything else? The Government is not only running out of funds. It is also running out of prestige and public confidence, due to the hasty manner in which it has imposed these import restrictions. If drastic restrictions were justified in March of this year, less drastic restrictions were justified earlier. They would have been far preferable to those now imposed by the Government, and which have caused many people in this community to suffer inconvenience and dislocation of their business activities. Many Australian citizens are labouring under grave economic disadvantages in consequence of these restrictions.
Let me state our main objections to the Government’s action. Import restrictions require administrative and arbitrary decisions, which afford vast opportunities for inefficiency and human failing. Import licences are always based upon a “ base “ year, and small business men are thereby placed at a grave disadvantage compared with big importing houses. Direct controls of this kind make goods scarce without raising their import prices, so that either big profits can be made by those importers who have licences, or goods at a low price become scarce, which creates a need for queues, rationing, waiting lists and purchases by preference. An importer may try to sell his quota and make his profit in that way. Import restrictions give rise to a temptation, if not an easy opportunity, to indulge in black-marketing. Finally, Australia has broken faith with decent reputable firms in Britain. The Government has forced reputable businesses in this country to repudiate £70,000,000 worth of firm orders which they had placed with reputable overseas firms, and which they had financed by the use of the sight draft technique. Those overseas firms are now in difficulties and as a consequence unemployment has been created in Britain. Many British firms which have goods to sell have to look for markets in places other than Australia. All that trouble could have been avoided if the Government had acted earlier.
Reference has been made to the Myer organization. That firm was caught flatfooted, like most other firms. It approached me, and I made representations to the Government on its behalf. It had placed huge orders overseas and, because it has a London office, is now faced with the risk that actions for breach of contract will be brought against it by British exporters. The attempt of the Government to explain its view on the repudiation of contracts did not explain anything.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- It was obvious from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) that the object of the Opposition in moving the adjournment of the House to discuss the subject of import restrictions was to support the allegations that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made against the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) referred to the present position of David Jones Limited and to a recent rise in the price of its shares. Presumably, now that he has brought to light the fact that that firm will not get the goods that it wants from overseas, the price of its shares will drop, and the honorable gentleman will have done what he wanted to do. A parliamentary committee of the kind suggested by the Opposition would be composed of men with the same human failings as those possessed by the members of the present advisory committee and, therefore, would be subject to the same criticisms as those which may be levelled against the present committee.
Before the import restrictions were imposed, the textile industry of this country was faced with the risk of a grave recession. Undoubtedly, there could have been much unemployment in the industry. Some weeks ago, honorable gentlemen opposite, indulging in their usual exaggerations, talked of thousands and thousands of workers in the industry being unemployed. We know that many of the difficulties of the textile industry have been caused by bad management and bad judgment on the part of many importing firms, which have over-bought. When we are talking of contracts with overseas firms being broken, let us not forget that many Australian firms whose imports were cancelled broke their contracts with Australian textile firms, and cancelled their orders overnight. The textile industry felt that it was tumbling into an abyss, but it is now optimistic and confident about the future, and has hopes that the gap will be bridged. There is real understanding between management and employees in this industry. It is to their credit that during the recent difficult period, textile firms did their utmost to keep the wheels turning, in the hope that action would be taken by the Government which would enable them to face the future with renewed hope and confidence.
It is well to bear in mind that the decision of the Government to permit huge quantities of goods to be imported from overseas helped us in our fight against inflation. There is no doubt that, just prior to the imposition of import restrictions, there were indications that the fight was being waged successfully. The comparative smallness of the last basic wage increase was a ray of light in that respect. As a result of the after-effects of World War II., we are faced with tremendous problems in our economic and industrial life. There has been a phenomenal growth of secondary industry in this country. To-day, governments have to act quickly to meet rapidly changing circumstances. There was a flood of imports into this country because there were indications that there was likely to be a falling off of business in other countries. The Government was, therefore, forced to take action promptly. It has been alleged that basic materials required by some Australian industries have been affected by the import restrictions. That allegation reveals a lack of knowledge by the Opposition. If any Australian industry cannot obtain the basic materials that it needs to keep its wheels turning and its employees in work, the Department of Trade and Customs will give immediate and sympathetic attention to any representations made to it on the matter.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 92.
Motion (by Mr. Holt, through Mr. Eric J. Harrison) agreed to -
That leave he given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904-1951.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen, through Mr. Eric J. Harrison) - by leave - agreed to- ‘
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to provide for the payment, through the Australian Wheat Board, to growers of wheat of a certain season of certain moneys in the Wheat Prices Stabilization Fund.
Bill presented by Mr. Eric J. Harrison, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I am introducing this bill on behalf of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), who, unfortunately, cannot be present this afternoon as be is sitting on an important conference. The bill makes provision for a refund of the wheat tax collected on exports from the 1949-50 wheat crop delivered to No. 13 wheat pool, together with accrued interest. The 1949-50 crop was one of a series of excellent crops produced during the post-war years. Deliveries from it to the Australian Wheat Board reached a near record, and totalled 201,930,000 bushels. Exports from the pool were 140,700,000 bushels, the rate of tax was 2s. 2d. per bushel, and the amount of money collected was £15,245,000. The basic feature of the wheat stabilization plan is the financial contribution made by the wheat industry towards its own future security. This contribution is made by growers while export prices are above production costs. The Commonwealth, on its part, has undertaken that, for the duration of the plan, wheat-growers will receive a guaranteed price equal to the cost of production determined for each season. The Commonwealth guarantee, which applies to wheat exported up to a limit of 100,000,000 bushels each year, is made possible by joint legislation enacted by all State governments, under which the same price is assured for all wheat sold for manufacture into food for consumption in Australia. An amendment to this legislation towards the end of last year made it possible for the Australian Wheat Board to secure an increased price for wheat used for stock-feed in all Australian States except Western Australia.
The tax collected on exports of wheat from No. 13 pool has been held in a trust fund on behalf of the wheat-growing industry, and it is now proposed to repay it to growers through the Australian Wheat Board as a payment from the pool early in the new financial year. This is in accordance with the declared policy of the Government, and our understanding with the wheat industry that amounts in excess of the requirements of the stabilization plan would not be held in trust.
At the end of April, 1952, the amount held in the fund was £27,343,000, which was made up of tax proceeds from No. 13 pool and No. 14 pool, and the first instalment from the 1951-52 crop which is now being sold. The repayment of No. 13 pool tax of £15,245,000 will leave less than two seasons’ contributions in the stabilization fund, but this amount is considered adequate in present circumstances. The succession of good seasons in Australia has coincided with high prices for export wheat. As a result the stabilization fund has been buoyant, and it is intended to repay the whole of the amount received from the 1949-50 crop and adhere to the principle of first in first out. That principle has been endorsed by growers’ organizations as the most satisfactory way of arranging refunds to the industry.
It has never been the policy of thi3 Government to ask wheat-growers to contribute more than a reasonable sum to the stabilization fund for the benefit of their industry. The fact that this bill is being presented to the House at the earliest possible moment is evidence of the Government’s intention to stimulate increased primary production and to give every possible help to Australian wheatgrowers in the food production drive, which is so important to the welfare of this country. The amount to be refunded from No. 13 pool, spread over the crop from which it was collected, would average ls. 6d. a bushel on the 202,000,000 bushels received into the. pool. It may be recalled that the tax that was imposed- on No. 12 pool, which amounted to £13,000,000, was repaid in December last, so that this refund means that growers will receive, within seven months, approximately £29,000,000 refund from the stabilization fund. This will help wheat-growers in their present efforts to increase acreages and the production of wheat by providing ready cash against the expenses which they will incur in this year’s wheat-growing operations. Payment of the refund early in the financial year meets the wishes of the growers as they have been expressed by the executive of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. I am confident that the bill will meet with general support, and I present it for the approval of honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Mr. KENT HUGHES (Chisholm-
Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works and Housing) [2.48]. - I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1951, the following proposed work be again referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report, namely: - The erection of the National Library andRoosevelt Memorial, Canberra.
Plans for a building for a new National Library and Roosevelt Memorial were examined by the committee in 1949 and the committee reported, inter alia, on the 19th October, 1949, as follows : -
In view of the magnitude of the building programme already approved in the Australian Capital Territory, the committee saw no probability of the building, as then planned, being completed within a reasonable time.
On the grounds of economy, and to provide against future changes in library policy and practice, a plan should be evolved so that instead of aiming at the erection of a building in one unit, a section could be built to cater for needs for the next ten to fifteen years and leave adequate room for extension later.
In designing the new building, special atten tion should be paid to the fact that it is to be on an island site and to ensure that the structure has an attractive elevation from all angles.
That provision for a cafeteria and film unit be eliminated and that the provision of a theatre unit be postponed for the present.
To avoid the necessity of demolishing the existing building on the site, consideration be given to the availability of an alternative site for the new proposal.
Plans incorporating the committee’s recommendations have now been prepared with the exception that, although the committee recommended that the provision of a theatre unit should be postponed for the present, theatrette facilities on a much reduced scale have been allowed for in the revised proposal as some facilities of this nature were considered essential by the committee responsible for the planning of the project. The present proposal provides for the erection of a building to accommodate the full library services and a section for the Roosevelt Memorial, the general administration, reference and lending library and exhibition units, stack areas, archives and film divisions. The buildingis to be erected on the site which has been reserved for the purpose in King’s-avenue. The plans do not take into account the existing library building which, for the time being, will continue to operate its present functions.
Construction of the new building will be of reinforced concrete framing, faced externally with precast stone. The accommodation consists of basement, ground, first, second and reserve stack floors with four mezzanine floors. Provision has been made for the storage of approximately800,000 books. The building to the first floor mezzanine level will be fully air-conditioned. The remainder of the accommodation is to be mechanically ventilated, including bookstack areas which also are artificially lighted, having in mind the deleterious effect of sunshine and dust on books, manuscripts, &c. The revised plans have received the approval of the National Planning and Development Committee. The estimated cost of this proposal is £1,300,000. I lay on the table of the House the plans ofthe proposal and recommend that the House resolve that the project be again referred to the committee for investigation and report.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
SUPPLY (“ Grievance Day “).
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Archie
Cameron). - As it is now past the time which is provided for “ Grievance Day “, order of the day No. 1 will not be called on this afternoon. The Committee of Supply will be set down for the next day of sitting.
Debate resumed from 21st May (vide page 643), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) referred to some actions against the Communist party that had been taken by the Australian Labour party. There is no doubt in the minds of honorable members on the Government side of the House on the action of the Labour party in relation to communism. A small section of the Labour party has done something in that matter with a measure of success. I refer particularly to the victory that was achieved by Mr. L. Short in the case of the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, but that minority group in the Labour party is very small. Some months ago in South Australia at a conference of the Labour party it was shown that the only weapon that the Labour party was able to use inside the party against Communists was a few industrial groups. And that position is unchanged. These minority groups, which are frowned upon by the Labour party generally, and have been avoided by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) who has never regarded them with favour, gained their success against communism by virtue of legislation which was introduced and passed by this Government.
– That is completely incorrect.
– If it had not been for legislation introduced in this House by the Government, there would have been no victory for the minority group of the Labour party.
– Mr. Short has not said that.
- Mr. Short has gone on record as saying it. He has given full credit for his victory to the tools that were put into his hands by this Government.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! These interruptions must cease.
– I know, and other honorable members on this side know perfectly well where the Labour party stands in regard to communism, and so do the people who are fighting communism inside the Labour party. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) said that he was proud to belong to the socialist Labour party. He came directly to the point and I give him credit for showing no hypocrisy. I was glad to hear him make .that statement because I recall that before the 1949 election, honorable members opposite, and some gentlemen who are now absent from the House by the grace of the electors, denied that they were socialists. They found that the term socialist was very difficult to swallow although they had sworn to work for socialism through the platform of the Labour party which they signed before they could become candidates foi election to this Parliament. They liked to say that they were not socialists. Now we see a complete reversal of that attitude. I hope that Australia will never forget it. Certainly I will not allow it to be forgotten among the people with whom I come in contact. The honorable member for Ballarat said, “ I am proud to belong to the socialist Labour party “. I invite honorable members to consider what happened overseas under the socialist Labour party. That party has created chaos in industry in Great Britain during the past five or six years. It set out on a plan of campaign which was designed, as the late Sir Stafford Cripps made clear, to bring about the liquidation of the British Empire. Its plan would have succeeded had the party been allowed to continue in office. Yet, honorable members opposite say, “ Hear, hear ! “ when one of their members proclaims that he is proud to belong to the socialist Labour party.
What has happened in Australia ? The socialist Labour party brought Australia to the verge of communism at the end of 1949. It was the mouthpiece for the Communists to lead the trade unions in Australia. Communist doctrine and policy were expressed in this House by the socialist Labour party. Yet, an honorable member now claims that he is proud to belong to that party. Socialist Ministers in this House did all they could to smash rural production in Australia. The country has not recovered yet, and the present near famine in Australia is the direct result of the socialist Labour party’s policy, which was put into action before this Government came into office. I cannot understand how an honorable member can claim to be proud to belong to the socialist Labour party and how his colleagues can say, “ Hear, hear ! “ to that statement when their party brought tha rural production of Australia to the low ebb that it has reached to-day. If that result had been achieved by ignorance it might have been excusable, but it waa a planned operation, which emanated from the Communist party and was expressed through the socialist Labour party.
What other damage was caused by the socialist Labour party in Australia? It disrupted the shipping along the coast of Australia. One honorable member opposite who laughs at that statement should be the last to do so because no part of Australia has suffered more from the policy of the socialist Labour party than Brisbane and other Queensland ports. Official figures show that the turn-round of shipping in Brisbane was disastrous and that the position at ports north of Brisbane was not much better. That was one result of the socialist government’s policy and its failure to engage the Communist party in open combat.
The socialist Labour party, to which honorable members opposite say they are proud to belong, stood idly by while the Communists attempted to smash the coal industry. Communists inside this country, who are the tools of Communists outside Australia, realized, perhaps before Australians themselves did, that adequate coal production was vital to Australian industry. Consequently, the Communists set out to disrupt the production and distribution of coal by promoting strikes at every . possible opportunity. The sorry history of the industry during the last ten years has been the direct result of planned action by Communists both outside and inside Australia and of the socialist Labour Government’s failure to deal with them and obtain the maximum production of coal at a time when, economically, this country had the ball at its feet. That is the root cause of the difficulties that now confront Australia. After the recent war ended, the socialist Labour Government practically ruined primary production in this country in its endeavour to switch our economy to a basis of secondary production. Although, in that process, it launched many unprofitable industries, honorable members opposite still boast about its achievements.
That is what happened inside Australia under a socialist Labour government. Let us see what effect its policy had upon our relations with other countries. When the present Government assumed office, it had to contend with the antagonism that the socialists had engendered between Australia and our neighbours to the north. The fact of the matter was, of course, that Labour’s foreign policy was dictated not by the government of the day but by the Waterside Workers Federation. What attitude did the socialist Labour Government adopt towards countries that had been our allies in the recent war. Whereas, previously, the United States of America had demonstrated its great faith in Australia, history will record that by the time the Australian people had had enough of the socialists, our relations with that country were so bad that the American Government refused to share atomic and other defence secrets with us. That is the whole sorry story of the effect of the socialist party’s administration inside and outside this country.
The honorable member for Ballarat (Hr. Joshua) hailed the establishment of Trans-Australia Airlines and similar enterprises as great achievements. I have no time whatsoever for socialistic ventures. I wish this Government would get rid of every one of them that it hae inherited from its predecessor. However, there is the difficulty of unscrambling the egg. The Government recognizes that it has been saddled with these enterprises and must make the best of the state of affairs that now exists. But let us examine on their merits the enterprises that the socialist Labour government established in this country. Despite the faith of honorable members in socialism, those enterprises found it impossible to operate at a profit. It was not until this Government assumed office and applied sound business methods and common sense in respect of TransAustralia Airlines, that that organization was enabled to show a profit. The same observation applies to the shipping industry. The Australian Shipping Board was established by the socialist party, as its particular pet and darling and as a part of its campaign to bring every ship on the Australian coast under its control. Despite the efforts of that Government to ensure the success of that venture, it remained for this Government to enable the board to show a profit on its operations. This Government has shown that if it cannot rid itself of the socialist enterprises that it has inherited from its predecessor, it can a least place them on a sound business basis.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! I must ask the House to maintain order. It- proved on Tuesday night that, when necessary, it can do so. Unless order is maintained, I shall have to see whether it oan repeat that performance.
– As the result of the actions of the socialist Labour Government, which ruled the country ruthlessly, Australia is now passing through its Gethsemane. This Government must recover what it can from the wreckage. Prior to the general election in 1949, many people made such remarks to me as, “It is a pity that the Menzies Government is going into office for only three years, because the job of unscrambling the terrible mess that the socialists have left will take at least ten years “. Persons who are proud of the record of the socialist Labour Government either .cannot see or they delight in the mischief that it perpetrated. Many members of the socialist Labour party are looking forward to the day when they will swagger in the streets of our cities as commissars and crack the whip over the serfs.
The Government has done much to encourage the production of coal by the open-cut method at the Callide field, which is situated in my electorate. Although that seam was discovered at the turn of the century, nothing was done to develop it,, or to export coal from Queensland, until this Government assumed office. As the result of the Government’s actions, coal from Callide is now being exported to Victoria in an increasingly greater volume. As more equipment is obtained, production will be increased. The Government made this development possible by subsidizing production. Over 160 trucks are now* hauling coal from that field to Gladstone, whence it. is shipped to Victoria. The people in that district are thankful to the Government for having saved this industry, and they will do everything in their power to co-operate in the development of the field. A long-term plan is being evolved to export coal to other countries, including India, Japan, China, Indonesia, Malaya, Pakistan and the. Philippines, where valuable markets are available for coal of the quality that can be won cheaply at Callide and also at Blair Athol. Unfortunately, however, the development of the Callide field is being held up because of the shortage of shipping. Here again, we see the influence of the Communists, who are in control of the Seamen’s Union of Australasia, the members of which refuse to man certain vessels if they are sent to Gladstone to load coal. The result of this shortage is that stocks of coal in Gladstone are becoming unwieldy, although plans are being made to stock up to 50,000 tons at that port in order to obviate delays in loading when ships become available. The Government is now engaged in remedying that bottleneck.
I commend the Government on its prompt and generous action to develop the Callide field. If the Seamen’s Union would co-operate with it in this project, success would be assured. However, when ships were not available, and it became obvious that valuable time would be lost in the construction of suitable ships, the Government placed orders for two second-hand vessels, the first of which is due to be delivered next month. In addition, the Government has placed orders for two new vessels for use on this run. The Government has expended millions of pounds on this project. A steamer of the “ River “ class, which is capable of carrying 9,000 tons, could, be used for the purpose of temporarily reducing the stocks of coal that are now awaiting shipment at Gladstone. However, officials of the Australian Shipping Board rejected such a proposal on the ground that it would be hazardous for vessels of that class to enter Gladstone harbour. I am not an expert in this matter, but I know that on two previous occasions much larger vessels were able to berth at Gladstone. In a short time, perhaps next week or the week after, one of the British India Steam Navigation Company’s vessels, will call at Gladstone to load 7,000 tons of coal for Hong Kong. The dimensions of that vessel are similar to those of the “ River “ class vessels, except that it has a deeper draft. I should like to know why, if that vessel can enter Gladstone harbour, swing at anchor, load cargo and leave without any trouble, the “ River “ class vessels, which have almost the same carrying capacity and dimensions, are not allowed to use the harbour. I cannot understand the attitude of the board’s engineers in that respect. I ask the Government to pay attention to the matter, if only on a purely financial basis, because we are subsidizing at great cost the purchase by Victoria of coal from Callide, India and South Africa. It is plain common sense that every ton. of Callide coal used in Victoria, which involves a low subsidy from the Commonwealth, will mean the importation from abroad of one ton less of coal and avoid the payment of the higher subsidy that is paid in respect of foreign coal. I believe that the refusal to allow the “ River “ class vessels to put into Gladstone harbour is based on a mere technicality. Something should be done about it.
The potential of the Callide and Blair Athol coal-fields is still unknown, because no adequate attempt to gauge it has been made. We know, however, that that potential is almost unlimited. Callide coal is reasonably good in quality, and Blair Athol coal is even better. The development of harbours at- places from which that coal may be shipped, particularly at Gladstone, would ensure the supply of Queensland coal to Victoria and would eventually enable us to export coal to eastern countries. Many people believe that we should not plan too far ahead in relation to our fuel resources because we are entering the atomic age and our source of power may change from coal to atomic energy. Evidence that has been produced by committees of engineers and by economists in America does not indicate any prospect in the near future of transforming atomic energy into industrial power. It will be years before we can expect such a development. The ideas that some people have on the matter are undoubtedly without a substantial basis. It is interesting to note that if we were able to obtain free of charge all the electric power we wanted, we should raise our real national income by only between 2 and 3 per cent. So there is no golden era of unlimited power immediately ahead of us. For at least another two decades we shall have to rely on our coal-fields to supply the bulk of our power requirements.
I urge the Government to do all it possibly can to secure the development of the Queensland coal-fields, and also to overcome the shipping bottle-neck that prevents the removal of the coal produced in Queensland to the markets in the south. I also urge it to ensure that the Queensland coast is serviced by better ships than is the case at the present. The hold-up of ships in Sydney and Melbourne as a result of trouble with trade unions also directly affects the more remote parts of the Commonwealth. Freight charges are also too high, but private shipowners are not entirely to blame for that position. Figures which I have studied show that the cost of running privately owned ships, taking the cost as 100 in the base year of 1939-40, has risen to 180, and the freight charges imposed by the owners have risen from 100 to 220 in the same period. Those figures have been published for some time and have not been challenged. The increase of freight rates is having a bad effect on the economy of people who live in the more remote parts of Australia, far away from the sources of manufactured goods. If necessary, the shipping board’s powers of control of shipping should be used as a lever to prevent further increases of freight rates unless they are completely justified. Such action has already been taken during the Government’s term of office, and I believe that it should be taken again. The use of the board’s powers would overcome, to some degree, the difficulties caused by high freight rates. Another great difficulty which places an immense burden on people in remote areas is the hold-up of ships in the southern ports. In my opinion these hold-ups are due to Communist influence in the various trade unions that are connected with the shipping industry.’
– What is the Government doing about it?
– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) is one of the people who stand condemned before the bar of Australian public opinion as having gone before the people last September and urged them not to grant the Government power to deal with Communists. That remark applies to all but a few of the honorable members opposite. Yet, the honorable member has the audacity to ask what the Government is doing about Communists in the trade unions. All that the Government that he supported did was to encourage communism, particularly in the Waterside Workers Federation and in the Seamen’s Union. The Government is doing all it can to overcome the menace of communism in Australia. Thanks to its efforts and its wise legislation-
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I do not know what terrible thing, deserving of punishment, I have done in this House, because it seems that I am destined always to follow the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) in debates. On the last occasion that that occurred somebody told me that I had made a good speech. I replied that my speech had not been good, but had appeared to be good only because 1 had followed the honorable member for Capricornia. The honorable member obviously has a complex about Communists. As a matter of fact, I have been informed that when he goes into the cities he is always accompanied by a bodyguard because he is afraid to go around corners by himself lest a Communist rush out and attack him. I was caught up in this kind of argument on the last occasion on which I addressed the House, and 1 do not intend to be caught in the trap again. I shall, therefore, not waste much of my time in dealing with a speech that was completely irresponsible, substantially untruthful, and uninteresting. However, the honorable member referred to several matters that I shall deal with. The first was his statement that the Chifley Government, the “ socialist Labour Go vernment “ as he chose to call it, was responsible for the decrease of primary production.
– Quite right!
– His colleague says that he was quite right. A moment or two before the honorable member for Capricornia rose to speak the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) introduced the Wheat Industry Stabilization (Refund of Charge) Bill. The Minister said in his secondreading speech that the bill makes provision for a refund of the wheat tax that was collected on exports from the 1949-50 wheat crop. That was the last year of the Chifley regime. The Minister went on to say that the 1949-50 crop was one of a series of excellent crops that had been produced in the post-war years, and was a near record. The honorable member for Capricornia should compare the 1949-50 position, as the VicePresident of the Executive Council described it, with the present position. If he did so he would realize that the present position compares very unfavorably with the position under the Chifley regime. That is one of the untruths that he used in his speech. He also spoke about one of my colleagues who had made it quite clear that he was happy to be a member of a “ sop cialist Labour party “. So that there shall be no confusion so far as I am concerned, let me say at once that I also am very happy to be a member of a “ socialist Labour party “. The Labour party should not be confused with the socialistic Communist party, as the honorable member is so capable of confusing it. The Government itself set out to confuse the Labour party with the Communist party in the minds of the people, and came a cropper, so it is a wonder that its supporters have not ceased to revert to that tactic. I believe that the Government’s propaganda in that respect, to which I propose to refer later at more length, has substantially, at any rate, been the cause of the great problems that confront the nation to-day. - I shall waste no more .time on the statements of the honorable member for Capricornia except to refer to his remarks regarding the general elections of 1949 and 1951. The honorable member would be well advised to concentrate on the 1954 general election, because he will have more interest in that one than he had in the two previous general elections. All the propaganda of which he is capable, filthy as it is, will be of no use to him in the 1954 general election, because it is now completely worn out.
When a Supply measure is before the House it is proper that honorable members, before granting further funds to the Government should voice their views about the way in which it has expended the Supply that it was previously granted, and examine its administration and activities. One could be forgiven for offering at least some degree of condemnation of the Government for the manner in which the last grant of Supply had been expended. Let me say at once that I am not one of those people who believe that some of the factors that are now operating and embarrassing the Government would not have operated had another government been in office. It would be foolish for any member of the Opposition to contend (hat if a Labour government had been in office instead of this Government, some of the factors that now operate would not have existed. For example, we should still have received high prices overseas for our exports, and we should have had to face the same results and problems as this Government must face. Wool prices would have increased just the same under a Labour government and we should have had the same droughts that have caused such unfortunate havoc. We could not have prevented those factors from coming into play. My quarrel with the Government, however, is that it knew that those factors would enter the situation, because it had been warned of them.
– Of droughts?
– Not of droughts, but of many of the other factors that are operating to-day. Time and time again the Government was warned of the problems that would Confront it, but, in an endeavour to confuse the minds of the people in order to ensure its return to office, it deliberately ignored the warnings. Instead, it went on with the business of confusing the minds of the people, just as the honorable member for Capricornia has attempted to do to-day. Despite many excuses and long-drawn-out apologias, the Government stands discredited and disgraced, because it has allowed this country to drift into terrible economic trouble.
– It is not so terrible.
– It is not so terrible for honorable members, who receive juicy salaries, but it is terrible for the unemployed. I am glad that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) is in the chamber, because my remarks on unemployment will be directed particularly to him. Members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party promised the people at the general elections in 1949 and 1951, that they would accept the advice of the late Mr. Ben. Chifley to the effect that the fundamental requirement for a stable economy was a condition of full employment. From the Prime Minister down to his lowliest supporter, honorable gentlemen opposite promised the Australian people that they would do their utmost to maintain full employment. The Minister for Labour and National Service has made several statements recently about the employment position in Australia. I realize that the information on which he bases his statements is collected and supplied to him by officers of the Department of Labour and National .Service, but I am bound to say that the employment figures which he gives to the House from time to time are not true. They are completely inaccurate. If the Minister desires to give the Australian people the true picture, he should investigate the actual position so that he will have evidence with which to support his statements in future.
– Will the honorable member indicate one figure which I have given that is not accurate?
– I shall do so in a few moments.
– Why not answer my question now?
-Order ! The honorable member may put his case his own way.
– The Minister informed the House a few days ago that the employment situation in Australia was much better than it was in any other part of the world.
– In any other industrialized country.
– I accept the correction, but the Minister’s assurance is not sufficient in view of the fact that there are thousands of unemployed persons in Queensland at the present time. In the Lower Burdekin area and the Herbert River area many hundreds of seasonal workers are without employment. The Minister, when he refers to unemployment in Queensland, chooses to shelter behind the fact that there are many seasonal workers in that State. He informed me, in reply to a question that I asked him, that he realized that there was a slight degree of unemployment in Queensland, but that position was due to the seasonal nature of industries in that State. I remind him that the sugar industry was always a seasonal industry. At slack times in the past, many employees in the sugar industry found jobs on government and semigovernmental projects, but the credit restriction policy of this Government, and its refusal to provide money for the works programmes of the States in country areas, have made it impossible for those workers to obtain employment on governmental projects. Hundreds of persons are unemployed in the Herbert River area alone. This Government continues to bring almost countless thousands of working men and women to Australia, although it is not able to provide employment for our own people. We all concede that Australia requires immigrants, but any government worth its salt would ensure that, before it placed immigrant labour anywhere in the country, the Australians there had jobs. But the reverse has happened. I. say, with the utmost respect to the Minister, that he should examine the unemployment position before he brings more immigrants to Australia. I realize that, in the busy season, immigrant labour is probably required in various industries.
– The sugar industry has asked for immigrant labour.
– The Minister has stated from time to time that the Govern ment will provide employment, although not necessarily in places to which people would desire to go. Immigrant labour may be required by the seasonal industries, but when the work has been completed, they should not be permitted to remain in those districts during the slack periods. Unfortunately, they have been allowed to do so in the past, and the result has been most unsatisfactory. Australians who have their wives, families and homes in north Queensland have been compelled to seek employment in the southern States. I have stressed that point in this House over a long period. There is no reason why immigrant labour should remain in a district to which it has been transferred in order to assist a seasonal industry, after the completion of the job. It is the responsibility of the Government to arrange for the removal of immigrant labour from north Queensland to the southern States during the slack periods, so that any jobs that are available in the off-seasons may be filled by Australians who have their homes in that part of the Commonwealth.
An article published in a Brisbane newspaper last week gives an indication of the unemployment position in Queensland, and will enable the House to judge whether the figures released by the Minister from time to time are accurate or otherwise. Mr. C. Westbrook, who is the secretary of the Boot Trade Union, stated that 833 members of that organiation had been dismissed in the last few weeks. Mr. S. L. Mills, an official of the Leather and Allied Trades Union, announced that 110 employees had been dismissed in the same period. Mr. F. O’Brien, a representative of the Sheet Metal Workers Union, said that 700 members of that organization had been dismissed during the last two months. Mr. J. Ryan, of the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation, stated that 500 members of that body had been dismissed from their employment. Mr. J. Bukowski, of the Australian Workers Union, announced that 500 employees in the textile industry Were working parttime. Mr. F. Faloon, the secretary of th: Storemen and Packers Union, stated thai 500 members of his union had been dismissed in recent times. Those examples are sufficient for my purpose. Approximately 2,300 members of a handful of industrial organizations have been dismissed in Brisbane in a few weeks.
– Will the honorable member indicate now any of my figures that he considers to be inaccurate?
– I suggest that all the figures which have been given by the Minister are npt in accord with the facts His statements about the unemployment position have been inaccurate. I desire to make it clear that I do not say that they are the Minister’s figures, but he must accept the responsibility for information that he obtains from the Department of Labour and National Service. If an official of that department has made a mistake, the Minister must bear the responsibility for it. An official of the Department of Labour and National Service in Brisbane said recently that approximately 2,500 persons in that city were in receipt of the unemployment benefit. He added that that number represented only about 50 per cent, of the unemployed in Brisbane. Of course, a similar condition prevails in many other places in the Commonwealth. The Government considers that the only persons who can be described as unemployed are those in receipt of unemployment benefit. A person who has no job, but is not receiving the unemployment benefit, is classified as disemployed. It is distinction without a difference. A person who has no job and is unable to buy the necessaries of life for his wife and children is in a serious plight, irrespective of whether the Government regards him as unemployed or disemployed. In reply to a question yesterday, the Minister said that the House could be assured that the Government was keeping a close eye on the employment position in Australia. I should like to know whether that statement means that the Government has a plan to forestall economic conditions that produce mass unemployment. Mr. Forgan-Smith, a former Premier of Queensland, once said -
If you balance the workers’ budget, the national budget balances itself.
That statement is as true to-day as it was when it was first made. I fear that this
Government is prepared to stand idly by, displaying all the arrogance and conceit of which it is capable, while mass unemployment occurs. The Government is discredited now, but its present reputation in the eyes of the people will be as nothing compared with its reputation if it permits widespread unemployment to occur. The Minister has said that the Government is keeping a close eye on the employment situation. I hope that he has a plan to prevent the worsening of the present situation, and to absorb the thousands of people who are already without jobs. The House, will be interested to know whether he has such a plan, and if he has not, whether he proposes to formulate one. He will not provide employment merely by quoting figures willy-nilly, whether they are right or wrong.
Honorable members may recall that I asked the Prime Minister, in relation to continuation of the peace negotiations in Korea, whether, in view of the conflicting opinions that had been expressed by leading public men, including military leaders, throughout the world, that the war in Korea was inadvisable, he would make a statement to the House about the stage reached in the peace negotiations. The Prime Minister said that there was nothing that he could tell the House. He said that all that he knew I knew, because I read the newspapers just as he reads them. There are thousands of the best of our young Australian men in Korea, and the Prime Minister is the political leader of this country. He has a responsibility to ascertain, to demand if necessary, some information about what is taking place at the peace talks in Korea. He should know that that is a matter of vital interest to the young men who are fighting in Korea, as well as to their mothers and kinsfolk. However, when the Prime Minister was asked about that important matter he said that all he knew about it was what he read in the newspapers. That is an indictment not only of the Prime Minister but also of the Government that he leads.
I read in the press recently that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), one of the big three in the Pacific, is so big that he is not able to indicate to the elected representatives of the people in this Parliament Australia’s attitude towards the peace negotiations in Korea. I do not accuse anybody of holding up the talks. All I ask is that the leaders of the Government should find out what is taking place and tell us about it. I know how difficult it is to deal with a country that constantly talks about peace while all the time it is preventing peace from being achieved, but I also know that the Prime Minister and the Government have a responsibility to the Australian people and to the boys in Korea. If the Prime Minister cannot give us the information in public session perhaps he could do so in secret session.
If the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) believes the reports that he makes to the press from time to time that all is well with the troops in Korea and that they are obtaining all the amenities that they need, he has been misinformed. I have made arrangements with him, to tell him some details of this matter and all that I say to the House is that a member of my family, who is a man in whom T have a lot of faith, is in Korea, and that we have received letters from him in which he has told us many things that do not please us. I am reluctant to mention that matter because another member of my family once served in New Guinea. He wrote home about the unsatisfactory food and amenities and he was then paraded and transferred to the hygiene section of his unit. That sounds very pleasant, but his work in that section consisted of emptying slop tins. He was victimized because he had the audacity to write and tell his mother that there was something wrong. I do not want that to happen to this boy, and I say that the Minister is in duty bound to examine closely what is taking place in Korea.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will not accuse me of trying to tell you how to run your business, but I want to refer to a deliberate attempt to evade your rulings regarding expressions used by honorable members in this House. The evasion was made by an honorable mem-, ber who ought to know better. I refer to the honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann).
– Order i If the honorable member desires to object to a statement he must take exception to it at the time it is made.
– I am not taking exception, Mr. Speaker. I am drawing attention to a deliberate attempt to evade your rulings.
– Order ! The honorable member cannot discuss that matter on this motion. Anything that affects the conduct of the Chair must be brought forward by way of substantive motion.
– I am not challenging the conduct of the Chair. I am referring to the conduct of an honorable member. The honorable member for Fisher quoted a passage from the Bible-
– Order !
– I suggest that that was a subterfuge in order to circumvent your ruling, and I am trying to point out that it should not have been done. I am not challenging anything done by the Chair. I am challenging a statement made in the House by the honorable member who is Chairman of Committees. I take exception to being called a liar, and that is what I was called last night by the honorable member for Fisher.
In 1949 and 1951 we heard nothing but challenges from the Government to get out on to the hustings. Such challenges are completely absent to-day, but I intend to put the challenge into reverse and say that the Opposition wants to get the Government on to the hustings a”s soon as possible.
-Order 1 The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) was entitled to range over all sorts of matters in a debate of this kind so long as it affected the Government, but I doubt whether he realizes how irresponsible he is or how irresponsible are the implications of his remarks about the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt). It is within his competence to impugn the integrity of the Minister, but if he says that the
Public Service is deliberately supplying the Minister with incorrect information
– I said that the Public Service is doing it. I did not say it was being done deliberately.
– -When the honorable member does that he is helping to make impossible the carrying on of responsible government. We must trust the people who are working for Ministers or we must deny that the Public Service can be separated from the political functions of parliamentary government. For complete irresponsibility the honorable member has hardly an equal in this chamber where sometimes a great deal of irresponsibility is shown.
To-day we are dealing with Supply and, as the honorable member said, he was entitled to challenge anything that the Government has done. However, we should examine the bills that we are dealing with rather than speak on general subjects, as has been done by so many honorable members opposite. There are bills before the House that will provide Supply for four months to a total of £246,000,000. There are also details of Additional Estimates of Expenditure necessary to carry on tha government to the end of this year.
It is within the knowledge of all honorable members that we have recently had a very long debate on the economic condition of this country, and I suggest that that should really have served the purpose of even the most ardent grievance-hunters, or critics of the Government. It seems to me that here we have an entirely different set of circumstances. These measures give us a preview of things to come during the next financial year. Instead of the House being drenched with generalizations such as those of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) and being wearied by the long dissertations of other honorable members, it should have been informed of the implications of the figures in the bills for all of us, and particularly for the taxpayer and the elector. Here is a series of bills that provide for the payment of £246,000,000 during the next four months, excluding additional estimates of expenditure to the end of the 1951-52 financial year. We are thus committed, almost irrevocably, to another budget of £1,000,000,000. If we are to be committed to that degree, there will be no possibility of any reduction of taxation and, indeed, the resources that we used last year having dried up,, we commit ourselves in these measures to taxation even heavier than that imposed during this financial year. That should be considered by honorable members who are debating these measures. ‘
The bills are of different kinds. There are first the measures associated with the additional estimates, and here one might pay a compliment to the Public Service as well as to the Treasurer, for having estimated so accurately the amounts that have been required to be expended this year. The difference between the amount that the Treasurer estimated and the amount that he will have to make up is negligible, which is a great compliment to the Treasurer, considering our present unstable times. The Estimates provide us with a pattern of our economic and social life during the next fifteen months, because we are to-day making conditions under which this Government will be supplied with funds to September, 1953. That is a very important matter. What we are doing to-day is. to give authority to the public servants and the Government to go ahead for the next sixteen months, and I suggest that we shall ,be stopped from changing the measures that the Government will bring down in, say, October. The budget provisions will hardly be settled until the beginning of October, and so until that time we shall have committed ourselves to what we are to do next year. That is why these bills are so important. At the present time we should be making our budget speeches and not be making speeches on the extraneous subjects that so many honorable members have mentioned in this debate. What we do to-day will determine the character of the budget that we 3hall vote for at the end of October next. The three principal items of expenditure to which the bills relate are defence, payments to the States, and the National Welfare Fund. The problem of defence has worried us constantly for the last three years. Unfortunately, we can only pray that the activities that we are pursuing -will he adequate to meet the threat which, though it is receding perhaps, is still serious. Let us hope that, should the danger materialize, we shall not be caught unprepared. I do not say that we should reduce defence expenditure in any way. In fact, if anything, we should renew our activity so that our industrial effort shall be directed increasingly to defence production and we shall not be found wanting when the tale of bricks that we have laid for our share of the protection of the world against the common enemy is measured.
The problem of payments to the States falls in a different category from that of defence. I have not the slightest doubt that those payments will become greater and greater because, under present conditions, the States are entirely irresponsible. Their governments know that the more they demand the more they are likely to get. Because they do not have to suffer the obloquy that attaches to the raising of the money that they spend, they conduct their affairs with a complete lack of responsibility. For that reason, there is no hope that payments to the States will diminish. Unless we can devise some way of settling the differences between the Commonwealth and the States on financial issues, this Government will continue to receive the abuse while the States enjoy all the benefits. We are developing a wasteful system of finance because the authorities- that are responsible for raising revenue have no control over the method of its expenditure. I want the States to regain their independence, and I hope that the Government will see fit even now to renounce all the benefits that it has gained under the uniform tax system and simply say to the States, “ We are prepared to let you re-enter the taxation field. Now do what you like”. I realize that such an action by the Australian Government would cause a financial crisis. It might even mean the end of federation. Howover, I am prepared to go to any lengths in order to ensure that the condition that has developed under the uniform tax system shall be changed.
Social services expenditure is another large item. Here, also, the likelihood is that the rate of expenditure will increase, and, if it does so, we shall be faced with another serious problem. The large numbers of recipients of various social services are becoming vested interest groups, and, if their ranks are swelled, they will increase the pressure of their demands upon the Australian Government until, finally, it will be crushed between the upper and the nether mill-stones. The beneficiaries of the social services system will call the tune, and we shall have to pay the piper. I am- gratified to know that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley), with the approval of Cabinet, is preparing a plan for the abolition of the means test and for the re-establishment of some social services on a contributory basis. The problem of increasing expenditure on social services is on the lap of the gods, and one hopes that it will be straightened out before it becomes completely unmanageable.
When I consider our method of budgeting, I am forced to the conclusion that we should adopt an entirely new approach to it. There was a time, which most of us recall with nostalgia, when conditions were reasonably stable and we could go to sleep at night and wake in the morning to find the world just as we had left it. But times have changed. Formerly, it did not matter whether budgets were brought down early or late. Events moved slowly, and the individual was able to accommodate himself without trouble to the vagaries of government because government did not press very hardly upon him. We were never greatly worried about parliamentary control, and budgets were presented half-way through the financial year when parliaments had no chance of making an impression upon the programmes that governments had undertaken. In this instance, I am referring. to the Parliament in the collective sense, and to the Government in the specific sense, well knowing that both are fictions. The general notion was that parliamentary control was only lightly etched in the background. But the situation to-day is entirely different. Parliamentary control is very much less secure now than it ever was before- in the history of parliamentary government.
This raises a further problem in relation to the survival of our parliamentary institutions.
Under modern conditions, when budgets are presented months after the commencement of the financial year, everybody who is affected by the budget provisions has just cause for complaint. Some individuals may gain advantages, but the general result is that businessmen, members of Parliament and others who have to involve themselves in specific commitments, are caught out by the retrospective effect of the budget provisions, which are made operative from the previous 1st July. Citizens who make commitments in good faith are often embarrassed because their circumstances are altered as a result of unexpected budget proposals. This situation would not arise if budgets were presented as early as they might be presented. The Treasurer has informed the House that he proposes to bring down the next budget earlier than usual. I should like him to go further than that and agree to bring down the budget each year at this time. I know that all sorts of objections will be raised against my proposal. I shall be told that estimates cannot be prepared in time, and that all sorts of other difficulties will arise. But the fact is that there should be no more difficulty about preparing a budget for presentation in May than there is at present, when the budget is usually dealt with in October. The difficulties would be outweighed by the advantages that would be gained if people knew at the beginning of each financial year what their commitments would be for that year. Under the present system, unexpected commitments are often thrust upon us in the middle of the financial year.
– Could we not change the date of commencement of the financial year to the 1st October?
– I do not care when the financial year commences so long as the budget is brought down at the commencement. . The actual time of the year does not matter, except, perhaps in relation to seasonal conditions. Budgets are usually presented at a time when the Government knows what seasonal conditions can reasonably be expected and, therefore, can predict fairly accurately the probable; returns from primary industries.
In the United States of America, the budget for the next financial year is started in January, and is completed by July when the new financial year begins. Therefore, everybody in the United States of America can decide exactly where he stands at the beginning of the year. I know that it is more difficult to forecast eighteen months ahead than it is to do so nine months ahead. Perhaps Treasurers like to ensure greater accuracy by leaving a period of only six or eight months for which to budget in advance. In New South “Wales, a former Treasurer brought down one budget in May, only a few weeks before the financial year to which it related expired. That budget was effectively balanced, of course, because he knew exactly what revenue he would receive.
– A few Supply bills had to be passed, I suppose?
– Yes, that government worked on Supply. The Treasurer also knew exactly how to manage Supply. My concern is that we should change our approach to the problems of budgeting so that the Parliament would be in possession of all relevant facts and the public would be aware of its individual obligations before the commencement of the financial year. Such a change is necessary because the whole character of our system of finance has altered since the old days when conditions were reasonably stable.
Consideration of the problems of expenditure brings to mind the related subject of revenue, which is based upon taxation. We should also adopt an entirely new approach to taxation, its incidence, its nature, and the purposes for which it is levied. The Treasurer yesterday provided us with figures of expenditure in various categories. That information may throw some light upon ways in which the burden of taxation may be re-adjusted upon the shoulders of the people. There was a time when taxation amounted to only a few pence in the £1. To-day, the rate rises even higher than 18s. in the £1, and, therefore, taxation has an entirely changed significance. In the old days, taxation was levied merely for the purpose of providing revenue with which to finance the ordinary activities of government. Those activities scarcely changed from year to year, and everybody knew exactly where he stood.
To-day, taxation is used as a social instrument. It is a means of redistributing national income and of penalizing certain groups in the community. Revolutionary changes have been made to the whole tax system. It is well worth considering whether death duties, land tax and sales tax have not come perilously close to the line of confiscation. They discriminate against individuals in a way that I consider to be decidedly unfair.. The methods of levying taxation, the character of taxation, the incidence of taxation, and the purpose of taxation all seem to need re-examination in the light of modern conditions.
I am glad that the Treasurer has established a committee to which he refers various taxation problems ai they arise. Nevertheless, I wish he would take more drastic action than that. I hope that he will heed the suggestions that I have made. I remind honorable members of the famous dictum of Chief J ustice Marshall that the power to tax is the power to destroy. I think that he also said it was the power to keep alive. That power, if exercised wisely, can be used to encourage the thrifty, to ensure that the legitimate expectations of the deserving shall not be disappointed, and to protect those who have been willing to devote all their resources and energies to activities that foster the development and aid the prosperity of the nation. The whole problem of taxation must be studied afresh in the light of the force with which it falls upon different sections of the people.
There are two other matters which are, I think, related to the issue with which I am dealing, I compliment the Government upon its undertaking to establish the Public Accounts Committee. I am sorry that the committee has not yet been established, because it could be a most potent influence in public affairs. The Auditor-General, in his last report, which was distributed yesterday, said that while he was overseas he had investigated the activities of public accounts committees in other countries of the British Commonwealth, and generously offered to put himself unreservedly at the disposal of the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament, when established, so that it could take advantage of the knowledge that he had acquired and keep the government and government departments on their toes. I hope that the committee will be established shortly.
The last report of the Auditor-General covers the year that ended on the 30th June, 1951. It is well known that, in these days, government departments have a habit of producing annual reports that are two years, or even longer, out of date. One wonders whether the information contained in those reports is, at that stage, of very much use for anything other than record purposes. The AuditorGeneral’s reports contain much useful and interesting information. Those who are interested in what the Government has been doing in relation to private and public enterprises will have read with interest, on page 142 of the last report of the Auditor-General, a full statement of the shares owned by the Commonwealth in companies. That is a very revealing statement. I did not know that the Commonwealth had invested so much money in so many companies of different kinds. But I feel that a better service would be rendered to the Government and the Parliament if the Auditor-General could publish his report as soon as possible after the conclusion of the financial year to which ii refers. The Audit Act of New South Wales requires the Auditor-General of that State to present his report within three months of the end of the financial year. It might be difficult for the Commonwealth Auditor-General to produce his report so quickly, owing to the scope and area of the operations that are covered in it, but it would not be impossible for him to produce it closer to the end of the financial year than he does now.
These bills reveal the existence of a set of conditions to which we must make an entirely fresh approach. We cannot talk in generalities when we are dealing with a proposed expenditure of £250,000,000. That indicates the nature of the budget that will be presented at the end of October. I suggest that, as the public i3 now affected by the budget to a greater degree than previously, the budget should be introduced at the beginning of the financial year, not at a time when a great deal of the expenditure for that year has been disbursed. I should like the policeman, as I regard the Public Accounts Committee, to be appointed as soon as possible, so that he may go about his task of pointing to faults and defects that require examination. It would be of great advantage to the Parliament and to the community if the financial activities of the Government were reviewed by that committee.
.- The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland), in a learned and constructive contribution to the debate, spoke from the viewpoint of, as it “were, the patrician. I shall attempt to present the viewpoint of the plebian. The honorable gentleman suggested that the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds), in criticizing certain figures that were supplied to a Minister, made an attack upon the Public Service. I do not think that that construction can justifiably be placed upon the remarks of the honorable member for Herbert. The record of the Public Service of this country compares favorably with that of the public service of any other country. We are indebted to our public servants for their work in the development of this country. But, although the standard of the Service is high, the conclusions at which- senior officials arrive are from time to time incorrect or at variance with the facts. If a government acts upon the advice of senior officials, it must accept the responsibility for doing so. It was from that viewpoint, and from no other, that the honorable member for Herbert made his criticism.
The honorable member for Warringah referred to irresponsible States. I do not know what the Premier of South Australia will say when he reads the remarks of the honorable gentleman. Under the uniform taxation scheme, the States are completely dependent upon the Commonwealth for finance. Everything that is happening in the States to-day can be attributed to the policy that this Government has adopted. Therefore, it has become rather fashionable for honorable gentlemen opposite, in an attempt to divert the minds of the people from the real issues, to make attacks upon State governments, particularly upon the Government of New South Wales. It has been said that the authority which controls the finances of a country controls the government of that country. The Commonwealth controls the finances of this country. Therefore, all that the States are being compelled to do in the way of reducing their commitments stems directly from the actions of this Government in implementing its financial policy. The Government is trying to evade its responsibilities to the States. Not long “ago, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in an attempt to justify some action by the Government, stated that it had acted in accordance with a decision of the Australian Loan Council, and therefore, should be absolved from all responsibility in the matter. A few weeks ago, the Australian Loan Council made a decision which, because it is not acceptable to this Government, will be sabotaged. That is an understatement of the position. The States asked for a certain sum of money which they required to enable them to carry out their works programmes. The Australian Loan Council agreed that that sum should be made available to them. But, because the Commonwealth controls the finances of this country, the States will be unable to obtain the money that they require, and which the Australian Loan Council decided that they should have. Consequently, State activities of every kind will have to be curtailed. In those circumstances, it is, I submit, unfair to refer to the States as irresponsible.
The honorable member for Warringah congratulated the Government upon its undertaking to establish the Public Accounts Committee, and expressed the hope that that committee would begin to function very soon. The fact that the committee has not yet been established is proof of the unwillingness of governments to forgo any of their powers. When the establishment of the committee was discussed by the House, some honorable members thought that it would be an excellent safeguard against undue or wasteful expenditure and hoped that it would begin its activities within a short time, but months have passed and the committee, has not yet begun to function. Therefore, the congratulations of the honorable member for Warringah were somewhat premature.
People in receipt of pensions or with fixed incomes represent one of the most deserving sections of the community. It is no credit to the Government that, although it is making provision for mammoth expenditure upon defence preparations, it has almost completely forgotten the claims of pensioners. I admit that the Government has increased pensions, but age and invalid pensioners now are worse off than they have ever been. To-day, the age or invalid pension is 26 per cent, of the basic wage. I do not know of any other period in the history of Australia when the percentage relationship was so low.
Housing is a matter of great national importance. Some Government supporters have cited figures for the last five years, and have claimed that they show that the rate of construction of houses has- increased. One honorable member cited figures for the years 1944 to 1951, and said that the fact that those figures showed that 14,000 more houses were built in 1950 than were built in 1944 was a vindication of the housing policy of the Government. All that need be said about housing and the attitude of the Government towards it can be said in one reference te the Government’s policy on war service homes. Over the last three months, building in that sphere has been brought almost to a standstill. It is idle for honorable members on the Government side to try to make out a case in their defence in that field of housing when the effect of their policy is considered. The Government’s financial policy has also had catastrophic effects on the housing programmes of the States. While more and more people are requiring homes, the New South Wales Government has had to reduce its building activities by 25 per cent, because of the reduction that has been made by the Government in financial grants for that purpose. In the last four months no newgovernment housing contracts have been let in New South Wales. The Government of New South Wales is concentrating on finishing existing contracts and has let no new ones. In .that State, this Government’s policy has reduced housing construction by 25 per cent, for onequarter of the year.
I am perturbed by the announcements that have been made from time to time on the subject of shipbuilding. I believe that I am justified in looking askance at the answers that are given to honorable members by members of the Government on this subject, having regard to other replies that I and others have received in the past. Some time ago I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) a question relating to shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and his answer warranted the assumption that the Government had no intention of disposing of the shares held by the Commonwealth in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. Three months after my question had been answered, those shares were sold. The Prime Minister has given parallel assurances to honorable members on the subject of shipping, but past experience leads me to believe that I am entitled to receive his answers with reserve. The position in relation to statements on the Commonwealth shipping line is just as ridiculous. On the one hand, members of the Government have pointed out the necessity for developing the defence potential of the country. Yet merchant shipbuilding has ceased and the Government has cancelled orders for new ships. It is true that the Government is developing a shipbuilding programme in relation to defence but it has not increased the programme that was laid down by the Chifley Government. It has cancelled orders for the construction of certain classes of destroyers and has substituted orders for frigates. In view of the importance of merchant shipping, the Government should make an early pronouncement of its intentions in that regard.
Immigration is a national problem and must be approached from that standpoint. The criticism that I have to offer on that subject, therefore, will be presented in the hope that it will lead to an improvement of the immigration policy. One cannot be happy with the intake of immigrants in recent years from certain parts of Europe. In some respects, Australia is responsible for that state of affairs. It has been said that other countries have received a larger percentage of better quality immigrants than Australia has received from Europe. The Government should have examined such statements in order to ascertain whether they were correct. In the matter of the assimilation of immigrants, I believe that the Government should try to learn from the experience of other countries, particularly of the United States of America. If my information is correct, Australia is trying to employ methods of assimilation which were tried in the United States of America 30 years ago and were discarded. The Government of the United States of America completely changed its approach to that matter.
I believe that Australia is among the most backward countries in its approach to the subject of research. Notwithstanding the importance of primary industries, the avenue of research has not received the attention that it deserves. New Zealand is far ahead of Australia in research into the dairying industry. Undertakings are being planned in the hope that they will place Australia ahead of New Zealand in that respect, but I believe that Australia is lagging in its approach to research in many fields, and that unless there is a change of heart among those who are responsible for research programmes, it will continue to lag behind other countries. As a consequence, we shall also lose the fight to retain markets in the face of increasingly keen competition overseas.
What has happened in relation to dollars is indicative of the Government’s failure in other ways. After it came into power, it was able to show a surplus of 51,000,000 dollars in 1950-51. It tried to prove to the world that it had solved Australia’s dollar problem. It did not hesitate to take full credit for the surplus of dollars, but it has been strangely silent on the debit of 30,000,000 dollars which was shown for the eight months that ended in February, 1952. Dollars will always remain a problem in Australia unless existing financial arrangements are so altered as to place them in line with those in other parts of the world.
This Government has embarked on a policy of borrowing. It hopes that that is the answer to its problems. I have never been able to accept the idea that anybody can borrow himself out of debt, yet that is the policy that this Government is following. Even if it succeeds in getting a dollar loan, the chances of Australia repaying the loan are remote. No future government will be without its dollar problem. The Chifley Government had a dollar problem, but it did not mortgage the future of the country and its methods should commend themselves to the present Government. Instead of borrowing, the Chifley Government bought dollars. Up to a point, this Government has also followed that course, but now it intends to go on the loan market, and if late reports are to be believed, Australia is to be saddled with a dollar debt which cannot be repaid. Australia showed a dollar surplus only because other countries were stockpiling wool. The United States of America was the main factor in that respect, but anybody who studies our dealings with the dollar area must be impressed by the limited possibilities that exist in that field for Australia. We are completely dependent on the readiness of dollar countries to do business with us. If they do not want goods from us, there is no deal. We must find a suitable customer. So we are back in the position that we occupied three years ago in relation to dollars. The grimmest aspect of this problem is that apparently no solution is forthcoming from the Government. Whilst we are responsible for contributing to the sterling pool for our dollars, that pool is in such a condition that we cannot go on for ever making demands upon it. Notwithstanding this fact, we shall continue to have limited opportunities for trade with dollar countries while the present arrangements exist in the financial world for dealing with dollars and sterling.
I shall make one reference to the flood of imports that was allowed to enter this country. One would have imagined that the imports problem developed overnight. On the contrary, the difficulties have been growing for months. I am not astonished at Australia having finished in the position that it now occupies. No member of the Government has attempted to address himself to the question why the problem was permitted to go on over such a long period of time and to accelerate as it progressed. The Government cannot brush aside its responsibility in this matter. Australia was flooded with imports, with the result that our sterling balances were reduced. The Government must also answer for the fact that whilst on the one hand, it cried out about the necessity to develop our industrial and defence potential, on the other hand, it permitted imports to flood this country. Only 13 per cent, of the immense value of those imports represented purchases of capital goods. Such neglect on the part of the Government was criminal. It simply frittered away our sterling balances; that is the principal cause of the difficult position in which it now finds itself.
.- Invariably, it gives me great pleasure to speak immediately after the mildmannered and gentlemanly honorable member for Martin (Mr. O’Connor). If all socialists were like him, we should have no cause to fear, and a great deal of what has happened in the immediate past would have been avoided. Unhappily, the honorable member is a rarity in his party. I listened to his speech with interest and pleasure, but I cannot say the same about speeches that other honorable members opposite have made.
From time to time, like other supporters of the Government, I have directed the attention of the Parliament to the problems of supreme importance that confront this country to-day after eight years of socialist rule and a period of two years of restoration of democratic rule by this Government. Because I have directed attention to these problems, honorable members opposite have admonished me. Only a few weeks ago the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) did me the doubtful honour of devoting an entire speech to criticizing observations that I had made concerning them. But I have been in goodly company when I have directed the attention of the House and of the people to such matters. The late Mr. Chifley, when he was Prime Minister, did like-. wise. He said that whatever government was in office, regardless of its party affiliations, would have to make unpalatable decisions and do unpalatable things. He advised the people to go back to work. I direct the attention of the House to a speech that was made by no less a person than Mr. J. E. Duggan, who is Deputy Premier and Minister for Transport in Queensland. His remarks were published in the Toowoomba Chronicle on the 17 th May last. I should like, if I could, to provide every member of the Australian Labour party with a copy of that speech. However, as it is not possible for me to do so, I shall quote the salient passages of his remarks. Mr. Duggan said -
The nation was faced with problems of supreme importance - problems which, because of Australia’s geographical position, should cause the people to think not in terms of whether they were Labourites or Liberals,-
Unhappily, he omitted to mention members of the Australian Country party - - or whether Jews or Gentiles, but whether or not they were good Australians. . . . . . In Australia, people were doing as little as they possibly could in their occupations, doing all they could to catch the Government or to filch something from some one else . . .
We are developing an undesirable atmosphere in this country. People will pilfer from the stores, pilfer from the employer, pilfer time on the job, and neglect the obligations of facing up to reality. Farmers don’t want to grow crops, men want to work as little as possible, and every one it seems wants to live for himself and not for any one else.
These remarks were made by the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labour party in the Queensland Parliament. He continued -
Men must be prepared to go out and tell the truth about these things. The law of diminishing returns is needlessly operating in Australia as it never did before, and there will come a time when we will have to pay for the folly. If it goes on, sooner or later we will cease to be a strong reliant people, and we must be a strong reliant people, facing up to all our obligations, if we are going to hold this country. I shall endeavour to play my small and humble part in that direction.
I wish that an honorable member opposite would make a speech couched in similar terms. Mr. Duggan has put his finger on the great problem that confronts us to-day. He stressed the necessity for us to stand up to our national, social and industrial responsibilities. I believe that we are capable of doing that. This Government, in spite of all the difficulties in its path, has contributed very largely to the process of recovery.
My mild-mannered friend, the honorable member for Martin, referred, in the course of his speech, to Australia’s sterling balances, but, whereas he was accurate in every particular, the references of other honorable members opposite to that subject, made either in ignorance or designedly, were entirely inaccurate. In the course of this debate and other debates, members of the Opposition have spoken of our favorable trade balance as though it represented accumulated funds that belonged to the Government, which could, or should, use them at any time to achieve some political objective. That conception of trade balances is entirely incorrect. Favorable trade balances are not of that nature. They are established by means of exports and are depleted by means of imports, but in no sense can they be regarded as funds accumulated in some other part of the world which can be used for any purpose whatever. I wish to make that point clear. I refer to what I shall call the myth of sterling balances. Favorable trade balances are established, as between one country and another, when exports, or sale, exceed imports, or purchases, in terms of value. Conversely, trade balances as between one country and another become unfavorable when the value of imports, or purchases, exceeds the value of exports, or sales. Favorable trade balances have no cash virtue except that they indicate to the vendor country that exchanges are available in the purchasing country. Nor do unfavorable balances have any grave disadvantages except that they indicate to the purchasing country the degree of exchange shortage in the vendor country. Honorable members should understand those facts. It is entirely incorrect to say that a. country can expend favorable . trade balances, because they are only barometers of trade. They can be used by the favoured country only in making exchange available for cash to traders in the favoured country. Before we can use £1 of our favorable trade balance in, for instance, the United Kingdom, some one in this country must pay £1 5s., allow- ing for the rate of exchange; and before the people of the United Kingdom can reduce their unfavorable trade balance by £1, some one in the United Kingdom must send to Australia goods to the value of £1. Both favorable and unfavorable trade balances are caused by goods and/or services which have to be paid for by some one in cash. So it is a delusion, either wilful or born of ignorance or despair, that our sterling balances belong to the Government or are accumulated funds that can be expended for any purpose whatsoever. Indeed, our favorable trade balances, if they can be said to belong to anybody at all, belong to our export industries.
Having endeavoured to make that point clear, I pass to what I have referred to on previous occasions as the breakdown in our production in all its phases - primary, secondary and tertiary. A government can so design its secondary and tertiary industries as to enable them to enjoy all sorts of preferences which for a period of time are denied to primary industries. If our primary industries were designed according to the old laws, under which people entered into possession of an area of land, raised it to a state of maximum production as rapidly as possible and maintained it in that state regardless of the social and economic consequences, then it would be possible to establish secondary and tertiary industries that could enjoy all sorts of favorable conditions that were denied to the primary industries. I suggest that that is what has been done in this country. It would not have mattered very much if our secondary and tertiary industries had been content with the circumstances that they have enjoyed for many years; but at no stage have they ever been content. They have made frequent demands on every government, regardless of its political character, and have so altered the balance of our affairs that the corruption that has permeated and pervaded our secondary industries now threatens our primary industries also. And whereas all these things, as applied to the secondary and tertiary industries, are harmful, they can be disastrous, if they are applied to the primary industries. It is that aspect of the matter with which I shall now deal. We stand possessed
Of an island continent and in 1939, if my memory serves me aright, our papulation approximated 7,000,000 people. Since 1939 there has occurred not only a natural increase of population, but also an increase due to immigration, the latter having given rise to frequent criticisms from honorable members opposite. Last year we had a population of 8,311,000 and since that figure was compiled no doubt the population has increased proportionately with the previous increase. The time has come to direct attention to the fact that, despite our increase of population, we still have a comparatively small work force of 3,450,000 people. The comparative smallness of that figure is due largely to the proportion of young, aged, indigent and sick people in the community. Nevertheless, the disparity between it and the total population is still great. That work force, whether we like the fact or not, has to undertake all the economic financial and social responsibilities of the whole population. In addition, it has to make some sort of provision for the effective occupation and development of the whole of our country, and also for our immediate future. Because of that fact, the time has come to recognize the tremendous strain that has been placed on our work force throughout the whole of our history, and is being put on it to an even greater degree to-day.
Latterly governments have shown a tendency to achieve their political ends by raising all sorts of obstructions to the discharge of those responsibilities. The allegedly responsible Government of New South Wales arbitrarily reached a decision to introduce the 40-hour week at a time when a case in relation to that very matter was before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Its action precipitated a crisis the manifestations of which are only now being felt, and are likely to increase as time passes unless we do something to remedy the situation. It is remarkable that our secondary industries, which have been developed as a result of the fiscal policies of governments, and have been nurtured and suckled at the impoverished bosom of the primary industries at a time when the primary industries were plunged in the depths of despair because of low export prices for their goods, to-day employ 1,500,000 people. That fact means that since 1945 the work force in our secondary industries has increased by 175,000 people.; that is to say, since the end of the war a work force of 175,000 people has marched into the manufacturing and secondary industries. The total secondary industry work force of nearly 1,000,000 people is engaged in the production of goods that are needed in this country and which we had hoped to be able to sell at competitive prices in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, the secondary industries have already broken down. They are utterly incapable of providing even the people of this country with the secondary goods they require; they are therefore utterly incapable of meeting any export demand for their goods, no matter what the price factor might be. But that is unimportant.
To the less informed, and more credulous, of our people it may seem good to have 1,000,000 people engaged in secondary industries. But that is not all! There are no fewer than 1,870,000 people who are engaged in our tertiary, or service, industries, which include the distributing trades, education, the Public Service, and all other services that cannot rightly be held to belong to the secondary or primary groups. Those workers in tertiary industries are engaged in doing the unproductive jobs in the community, yet they form nearly twothirds of our total work force. Since the end of the war, no fewer than 500,000 people of our work force have marched into the secondary industries and tertiary industries combined. Yet those industries are to-day incapable of providing the people with the services that they require, largely, of course, because they are prohibited from doing so by our stupid, excessive and untimely industrial laws and obstructions. Summarized, the position is that we have 1,000,000 people engaged in our important secondary industries, nearly 2,000,000 engaged in the unimportant service industries, and 580,000 people, including men, women and children, engaged in the primary industries, who are belting out all the wool, wheat, dairy products and other primary products that are produced in Australia, not only for our immediate needs, but ako to earn us the money to build up our sterling balances. Admittedly, the work force engaged in the primary industries has increased by 40,000 people since 1945, but, compared with the number so engaged in 1939, it has actually decreased by 50,000 people. For all practical purposes, therefore, the primary industries are losing their work force in terms of numbers.
But there is an even graver aspect which ought to be recognized by those of us who love our country. That aspect is, that many of the 580,000 people who are engaged in our primary industries are very old and many are very young. They all are farming land that has been in production for many years. There is a point of exhaustion in the fertility of soil. Up till now no serious attempt has ever been made to restore the fertility of our soils or even to keep it constant. I say without fear of contradiction that if the industrial excesses and abuses that have been evident in our secondary and tertiary industries were made to apply to the primary industries, the economy of this country would collapse. There would be a complete breakdown in about twenty-four hours. If that paltry 580,000 people who form our rural work force decided to engage in their industry to only the same degree of activity as people in the secondary and tertiary industries engage in their industries, precisely the same thing would happen to primary industries as has happened to the secondary and tertiary industries. Comparatively little wool, wheat or any other primary commodity would be produced. Any review of the position of our country must, therefore, take cognizance of the absurd lack of balance in our work force, which is expressed in the figures that I have cited and which I shall repeat. They are: 1,000,000 people in our important secondary industries; almost 2,000,000 people in our completely unimportant service industries; and a paltry 580,000 ageing and very young people in our primary industries, farming the same land as has been farmed ever since it was put into production.
So far as I can judge, the solution of the problem is twofold. We must restore our secondary and tertiary industries to the position in which they will be able to supply the goods and services that the people need. There was a time, fifty years ago, when we could supply transport services, mail services and services of every description to our people, no matter where they lived or in what occupations they were engaged. Now, half a century later, when the task should be fifty years easier, we find that such services are breaking down all over the country. The railway services in every State were establised many years ago, but in this modern age they cannot be maintained in efficient operation or even on a scale that would compare favorably with the worst period of our past. What applies to the transport industries applies also to our service industries. Only a few years ago people could go to any store and buy the commodities that they required. To-day, except in respect of a relatively few items, that is almost impossible. A person is obliged sometimes to wait for years before he is able to buy the goods that are required to maintain the status quo aud to meet the needs of the immediate future. Such conditions are a recognition of the fact that our industries have broken down, and that the burden placed on 3,500,000 people is too great for them, consistent with the impositions that have been loaded upon them by governments, particularly in the immediate past in the Commonwealth sphere, and by other governments from time to time, not for any purpose likely to be of value to this country, but purely for party political purposes, naked and unashamed. If, for Australia’s sake, we wish to meet these circumstances with any sense of reality, we must put more people -into the primary industries, and make available more land for arable and pastoral production.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) has gone to great pains to tell us about the problems of the primary producer. I sincerely hope that his plea for the adoption of a better system to attract labour to the primary industries will be successful. Perhaps he will be able to use bis influence with this Government to put into effect a plan that is urgently needed to increase primary production. I wish that he would use his influence, if he has any, with the Liberal-Country party Government in South Australia to amend the industrial code, so that an award may be obtained that will provide reasonable wages and conditions for employees in the dairying, wheat-growing, and other primary industries in that State. The only award that is applicable to rural workers at the present time is the pastoral award which, however, has a limited coverage. Probably, employers in country districts are paying the penalty for having treated their employees badly before the outbreak of World War II., and now cannot attract to the land many workers who’ were employed in the rural industries years ago. Numbers of those men would willingly return to rural employment if they were granted reasonable wages and conditions, and were given amenities similar to those provided in the large cities. But those conditions will not be provided until an industrial award is made covering the wages and conditions of rural workers. Attempts have repeatedly been made in South Australia by the Labour party and the trade union movement to have the industrial code amended in order to include those workers, but the Liberal-Country party Government refused to allow the alteration to be made. Until that amendment is made to provide reasonable wages and conditions for rural workers, people will not be induced to seek employment in country districts.
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) devoted almost the whole of his speech to taking the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) to task for having said that he was proud to be a member of the socialist Labour party. The honorable member for Capricornia vowed that he would tell the Australian people that we were socialists, and would remind them that the preceding Labour Government, which was in office for eight years, had adopted a socialist policy. All Opposition members are proud to be members of the Socialist Labour party. I can understand the panic of the honorable member for Capricornia, because he has already felt the chilly blast of public opinion in the political field. He knows that if a general election were held to-day, the people would return to office the same Socialist Labour party that did such a grand job during the last war. I remind the House that the Curtin Labour Government took the reins of office when leaders of the present Government walked out on their responsibilities and were willing to allow the Socialist Labour party to bear the responsibility for the conduct of the war. The result is a matter of history. The socialist Labour party Government brought the war to a most successful conclusion, and gave effect to a progressive policy in the postwar years.
As the result of the vicious propaganda poured forth by the experts of the press and radio to mislead the people, the Labour Government was defeated at the general election in 1949. That is a relatively short time ago, yet the people are awaiting the opportunity to return the Socialist Labour party Government to office. They know now that a Labour government, which did such a grand job in the dark days of the war, can successfully overcome the economic crisis. I can forgive the honorable member for Capricornia for having spoken as he did, because he knows that, probably, he will not be a member of this Parliament when the numbers go up after the next general election. He wasted his time when he attempted to trot out the bogy of communism. To-day, the people are concerned about their own conditions at home. They have found, to their dismay, that unemployment has again become a serious problem in Australia. They are anxious, because the policy of the Government appears to them to be causing unemployment. Their principal consideration is the maintenance of their own security. The honorable member for Capricornia wasted his time, because the bogy of communism will not save him at the next general election.
This bill has been presented to the House at a time when most Australians are feeling dissatisfied with the Government. Of course, the Government will be granted Supply, because it has a majority in the Senate and in this House. If the people had an opportunity to say whether Supply should be granted, their decision would be in the negative, and the Government would be compelled to resign. This Parliament is probably the only place in which the Government has a majority of supporters. It certainly has few supporters among the general public, and is fortunate to have majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives to enable it to pass its legislation.
Supply is sought at a time when inflation has run completely wild.’ At the general election in 1949, members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party promised the people that, if they were returned to office, they would put value back into the £1. Their policy, in practice, has been to take value out of the £1, and the people are most concerned about the situation. Supply is sought at a time when many people are unemployed, and when a Commonwealth loan has proved a miserable failure. The people have no confidence in this Governvent. Every State government is critical of it. Even Liberal governments in the States have lost confidence in it. The import restrictions policy has thrown the business community into disorder. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) should seize the first opportunity to summon a. meeting of the Australian Loan Council in an endeavour to resolve the bad relations between the Commonwealth and the States. To-day, all the States are alined against this Government. Such a condition of affairs is deplorable, because this great undeveloped country, which has vast possibilities, can progress only if there is co-operation and goodwill between the Commonwealth and the States. The recent loan failed, not because money was not available in the community, but because investors no longer had confidence in the Government. The Commonwealth’s insistence that the States reduce their loan expenditure has compelled them to abandon most important projects. Supplies of electricity and water are insufficient to meet the demand. The lag in housing has not yet been overtaken. Many commodities and goods are in short supply.
– Are we to blame for all those shortages?
– I do not contend that the Government is to blame for all those shortages, but it must accept the blame for much of the trouble. This Government, when it was elected to office in 1949, seemed to believe that merely by waving a magic wand it could accelerate the housingprogramme and provide more power and water. But domestic conditions, instead of improving, have become worse. The construction programmes of the States, which are essential to national development and prosperity, have been reduced by at least one-half, because investors have no confidence in this Government and will not subscribe to Commonwealth loans. Every large city, town and hamlet requires improved school facilities, but the States cannot provide them because of a lack of loan funds. My reference to schools reminds me of a matter that I raised with the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis). An oldtime drill hall at Somerton, in my electorate, was made available by the Chifley Government to a community progress association for use as a kindergarten by day, and a centre for youth clubs and social gatherings by night. This little building, which is situated on a small area, has accommodated approximately 80 children in the kindergarten for some time. The fathers of at least 70 of the children are ex-servicemen. The Army has given notice that it intends to take possession of the drill hall by the end of June, and these children will then be left without any other accommodation because it is impossible for the State Government to build additional schools. The children will therefore be forced to wait for some time before they recommence their schooling. I do not believe that the requirements of the Army are such that it urgently needs this building. I believe that it wants the drill hall to bolster the failing recruiting campaign because the excuse has been made that drill halls are not available in various districts for training purposes and that consequently men will not enlist. Various municipal councils, when asked why recruits have not been forthcoming in their districts, have said that local drill halls are not available. The fact has been used as an excuse to take possession of other buildings similar to the one that I have mentioned. The local progress association spent £450 in improving this building in anticipation of having the use of it for some time. There is no doubt that the building belongs to the Government, and that the Government has a right to take possession of it. However, I say that the Government could have shown more consideration for the people who are now using the hall.
All our schools are overcrowded, and there is very little chance of the States improving that position unless this Government can again obtain the confidence of the people and float suceessful loans. Hospitals are overcrowded, and again the States are not able to build additional hospitals unless the Australian Government stands up to its obligations. Rollingstock is urgently needed by State railways, as are pipe-lines and reservoirs, but all these projects will have to be postponed because of the failure of the Australian Government to provide the necessary money. Housing projects in South Australia are suffering through the people’s loss of confidence in this Government. Indeed, many building projects have had to be abandoned. The only solution of all these problems is for this Government to play iti part and adequately assist the State governments.
To some degree the Government, by its import policy, has solved the problem of the slow turn-round of shipping. Men employed on the wharfs will soon lose their jobs because there will not be enough ships carrying goods from overseas, calling at Australian ports. In order to cope with the needs of shipping, the South Australian Government had embarked on an extensive wharf reconstruction programme. It was building new berths to take the place of those that were old and dilapidated, and in some cases, dangerous. Again the State will not be able to continue with much of that work because this Government cannot, or will not, provide the necessary finance. I suggest that in this time of unparalleled prosperity we have a great opportunity to carry out the work that should be done. If it is not done now, when will it be done? Shall we have to wait until we are again in the midst of a depression, when again the cry will be, “We have no money”? If, during the last depression, we could not provide work for the unemployed because we had no money, surely now is the time to provide the money to carry out the works that are so urgently needed.
Another important project in South Australia is the West Beach airport. When that work was started several hundred people were employed on it, but suddenly this Government decided to dismiss 10,000 public servants and overnight most of the work on that project ceased, and only a small skeleton staff was retained. During the last six months little or no work has been done on that airport. The men who are left spend all their time on maintenance work. The completion of the West Beach airport is so urgent that it would not go amiss to pay for it out of some of the money that has been allocated for defence. This work is important, and when completed will probably be very useful in the defence of Australia. During the last few weeks all sorts of representations have been made to the Government about this matter. I took up the matter personally with the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Anthony) some time ago, in order to try to ascertain whether it would be possible to use this airport as an emergency landing place next winter. The Minister said that the matter would be investigated. The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Kent Hughes) said that he had no objection to its being used as an emergency landing place if the civil aviation authorities were, agreeable. After several statements on the matter purporting to have come from civil aviation authorities to the effect that it could be used and that it could not be used, that the money was to be taken from some other department to finish the job, and so on, finally the Minister for Civil Aviation informed me by letter last week that it would be impossible to use the airport next winter, but that one runway had been completed and the other was two-thirds completed, and was expected to be finished in September. He also said that the airlines in South Australia had indicated that even if facilities were provided at West Beach comparable to those at Gawler airport they would prefer to continue to use Gawler.
I shall now quote from a report of a statement by the South Australian manager of Trans-Australia Airlines. The report was published in the News of the 19th May, and reads -
T.A.A. Manager (Mr. R. Recliner) said to-day : The Minister seems to have been misinformed about our attitude.
We want to use West Beach, in preference to Gawler, as soon as comparable facilities with those now at Gawler can be provided there.
It would be more convenient for passengers, easier to maintain schedules, and cheaper, to use West Beach.
Mr. Recliner said he had recommended to the conference that, for passenger convenience, West Beach be made available for temporary use as soon as possible, and for certain by next winter.
Not much money or labour would be needed to finish this second runway and put the airport in a useable condition for next winter. If the Government put men to work immediately it would be only a matter of weeks before the airport would be in a fit condition for emergency use. With the labour that is available to-day the job could be. completed immediately. The airport at Parafield is falling into complete disrepair. The civil aviation authorities know that in the near future “West Beach will be completed and are not doing anything, about the maintenance of Parafield airport. Consequently, .it is deteriorating every week. By the end of the winter Parafield will not be of much use to aircraft. That will mean that aircraft will be diverted to Gawler airfield, which will cause a colossal increase of costs to airline companies because of the additional time and petrol that will be used. I hope that the Government will do something to provide money and labour to put this airport into a fit state to be used as an emergency landing place next winter. I hope that the Minister will reconsider the matter in the light of the statement of the Adelaide manager of Trans-Australia Airlines, and will realize that he has obviously been misinformed by somebody.
I now desire to mention the very good work that is being done by those who have set up, and are administering, community hospitals in various districts. Community hospitals have done a magnificent job. They have relieved the State governments of heavy responsibilities, and the Australian Government of the responsibility of providing more financial assistance to the States. Recently the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) exempted them from sales tax. I suggest that he could go further and exempt them from pay-roll tax and income tax. The loss of revenue suffered by the Government would be very small, but the gain to the hospitals would be tremendous. It would enable them to balance their budgets, buy urgently needed equipment, add to their over-taxed accommodation and continue to give to the people a hospital service which at the present time neither the States nor the Australian Government can give.
The matter of war service homes is another that is causing me concern. I am not satisfied with the attitude of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) in classifying certain new soundly built houses as “existing” homes. Nobody has yet lived in these houses. They were built by the Housing Trust of South Australia, they are solidly constructed and are. comparable with houses built by the War Service Homes Division. Yet because they have not been built by the War Service Homes Division only £2,000 is made available by the Government to purchasers of them. Ex-servicemen are treated very liberally by the trust in the matter of the allocation of houses. The War Service Homes Division cannot build quickly enough to cope with the demand, and, therefore, many houses become available to ex-servicemen from the trust. Unfortunately, as the division will advance only £2,000 for such a house, the ex-serviceman concerned must find an additional amount of between £500 and £800. Many of them are obliged to obtain a second mortgage in order to complete the transaction. It is time that the Government reconsidered this matter. Ex-servicemen in South Australia should be provided with the maximum sum payable under the war services homes scheme.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I shall be astonished if members of the Opposition who have taken part in this debate are able to raise their arms’ to-morrow morning, because they have worked the parish pump so vigorously to-day. Not one constructive argument has emerged from their remarks. They have concentrated solely upon criticism of the Government without regard for their duty to offer useful suggestions for the solution of the great problems that confront Australia to-day. Every member of this House is morally bound to concentrate hi3 energies upon the tasks of government, irrespective of his party political affiliations. Apparently the Opposition intends merely to obstruct the Government.
– The electors decide what we shall do.
– The electors have sent us to this Parliament to dc a job, but members of the Opposition are neglecting that responsibility. They are annoyed because the Government has tackled its tasks successfully. The honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) said that the socialist Government had prosecuted the war to a successful conclusion.
Opposition Members. - Hear, hear !
– That is the sort of thing that I cannot tolerate. Our soldiers, not the socialist Government, won the war. I have never yet heard any member of the Labour party give credit to our fighting men for their courage and selfsacrifice. Had those men not gone forth to meet the enemy, honorable members opposite would not be sitting in comfortable seats in this chamber to-day. Some pf them, of course, might have been in the Kremlin trying to do a good job there. I object most strongly to the Labour party’s boasts about its contributions to our war effort. The honorable member also said that communism was dead.
– Who said that?
– The honorable member for Kingston, who is a colleague of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin). Communism is just as rife today as it ever was.
– What are you going to do about iti
-Order ! I shall not tolerate a barrage of interjections. The last three or four speakers were accorded a good hearing, and the honorable member for Griffith must be treated likewise.
– The honorable member said that communism was dead. It would be dead if members of the Labour party had not gone out with the Communists during the referendum campaign to defeat the Government’s proposals. Some members of the .Labour party actually distributed propaganda leaflets side by side with Communists. As a result of their efforts, the Government was prevented from putting the Communists where they ought to be. Strikes occurcontinually in the mines, on the waterfront, and in almost every other key industry in Australia because the trade unions are tied up and dominated by Communists. This disruption has contributed considerably to the rising cost of living. How could any government restore value to the fi if all its efforts were frustrated by an Opposition party that helped the Communists? Honorable members opposite should be devoting their energies to the welfare of Australia instead of assisting their Communist associates.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) criticized the budget provisions for the current financial year and said that the Government would probably close its operations for the year with a deficit of £5,000,000. I was astonished to hear that statement because, if my memory serves me correctly, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) attacked the budget originally on the ground that, although it envisaged a surplus of £114,500,000, the total surplus would be about £200,000,000. Who is wrong?
– Both of them.
– Exactly. That is the sort of parish pump politics that we hear from the Opposition. First it contends that we shall have a surplus of £200,000,000, which will be too much. Then it says that we shall have a deficit of £5,000,000, and criticizes the Government on that account. The Government’s financial position would have been much stronger had it not broken new ground by underwriting the loan programmes of the States. The Labour party has never attempted to do anything like that and I prophesy that it never will have the opportunity to do so because I cannot imagine it regaining power.
A great deal has been said by members of the Opposition recently about tax reimbursement payments and special grants to the States. They accuse the Government of niggardliness, but their statements assume a sickly complexion when they are considered in conjunction with the facts. I shall make a comparison between payments made to two of the States by the Chifley Government in 1948, the last year of office of that Government, and payments made to the same States by this Government during the current year. In 1949-50, the Chifley Government provided £2S,250,000 for New South Wales and £11,500,000 for Queensland. In 1951-52, this Government has reimbursed almost £48,000,000 to New South Wales and £19,000,000 to Queensland. State Premiers who complain about their treatment by this Government would scarcely welcome a return to power by the Labour party in the Commonwealth sphere. ‘ The figures show that this Government has almost doubled the amount of payments to the States since the Chifley Government was defeated. The truth is that honorable members opposite are merely playing at politics. They make no attempt to be constructive. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.
Bill presented by Mr. Holt, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The broad purpose of this bill is to improve existing machinery for dealing with industrial disputes. At the present time we have a system in which arbitral functions are divided between the Judges of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and a number of conciliation commissioners. The Government proposes to add an appeal process. By that means, we expect to obtain co-ordination on large questions of industrial principle and a more authoritative decision on large industrial issues.
As honorable members are aware, the function of preventing and settling industrial disputes within the federal jurisdiction is, except as to certain special industries to which I shall refer later, divided between the Full Bench of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and a number of individual conciliation commissioners. The court has power to deal with the basic wage for males and females, standard hours of work, and leave with pay of various types. Beyond those matters it cannot go. All other matters that arise in industrial disputes must be dealt with by the conciliation commissioners who, on their part, cannot touch the matters that are within the court’s jurisdiction. Thus we have a system in which the court and the conciliation commissioners are, so to speak, sovereign, each in their own sphere. It is a system which has come to be described in the rather esoteric circles of the arbitration jurisdiction as a dichotomy. That is a big word which I have never quite understood, but I think that my earlier explanation has made its meaning clear. That state of affairs was brought about by the 1947 amendments to the act, introduced by the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), who was then Attorney-General. I do not say that in any undue critical spirit, because, as one who has encountered his own problems in this jurisdiction, I realize that from time to time a government has to assess the needs of the future on the experience of the past. I am not here to-night to make a case for a return to the pre-1947 system. Apparently, the Labour Government of that day based its policy upon certain assumptions. The first assumption was that only the matters to which I have referred, on which the court was given jurisdiction, were the really important issues in the industrial sphere, and, therefore, needed to be handled by the court. The socond assumption was that the conciliation commissioners would handle the bulk of industrial disputes in an atmosphere of conciliation, free of legalities. The third broad assumption seems to have been that consistency between the decisions of conciliation commissioners could, if necessary, be sacrificed to achieve speed in the settlement of industrial disputes.
In our judgment, experience, has demonstrated that those assumptions were not well-founded. We predicted that when we were in Opposition in 1947, and we warned the government of that day of the likely consequences, but our views were brushed aside. First, as we all know, some matters .that come before conciliation commissioners do raise issues or principles of great significance to the national economy and to our general industrial well-being. It is no reflection upon any conciliation commissioner to say that it is quite unfair to place on the shoulders of any one man the sole responsibility of making a decision which can have far-reaching effects on the national economy and be of vital personal importance to literally hundreds of thousands of wage-earners. Secondly, it is quite impracticable to approach the settlement of industrial disputes on a rule of thumb or an expediency basis. Conciliation commissioners have acted somewhat like judges in their approach to the problems that have come before them. I have heard some trade union officials refer to them rather irreverently as “ dilutee judges”. Thirdly, lack of consistency between decisions of individual conciliation commissioners can itself be just as provocative of industrial trouble as can delays in dealing with disputes. We have seen that only too clearly from the varying decisions of different conciliation commissioners about margins. Fourthly, the very division of responsibilities between the court and the conciliation commissioners has provided a feast for the lawyers. Technicalities concerning questions of jurisdiction abound in the present set-up. Honorable members who are familiar with the industrial arbitration system will recall the very intricate problems which have had to be solved in order to separate some parts of the wage question from others. Fifthly, these very legal problems have themselves caused delays in the settlement of industrial disputes.
The Labour Government of 1947 rejected the recommendation we made, when in Opposition, that some system of appeals should be introduced. But what has happened is that both sides to disputes, whether they have been representatives of employers or of employees, have used, not infrequently, the only way open to them, that is, to .go to the High Court in an attempt to escape from unpopular decisions or the rigidities imposed by the 1947 act.
I want to stress that the Government has not presented these proposals hastily. We have given the proposed amendments a great deal of consideration. We have been in office since 1949, and we have had in our minds the views that wo expressed when we offered our criticisms of the 1947 legislation. We felt that we should give a fair trial to the system that was introduced in 1947 by a Labour government, and that we should see for ourselves how that system was working in practice. We have studied carefully how the 1947 system has operated over the last five years. We have noted the views expressed in the annual reports of the Chief Judge of the Court and the Chief Conciliation Commissioner. We have considered the views of many representative organizations of employers and employees. We have had detailed discussions with leaders of these organizations, and with, counsel experienced in the industrial field. It should be said here, and I say it gladly, that these organizations, as well as ourselves, have approached the ‘problem of federal arbitration with no desire other than to devise the most effective machinery possible. There are, however, very wide divergences of view. There are those who say, and they are to be found primarily in the ranks of employers’ organizations, that we should return to the situation as it existed before 1947, and there may still be some who are quite satisfied with the present arrangements. Perhaps some members of the Opposition are included in that group. Many variations between those two extremes have been put to us.
Employers’ organizations, speaking in general terms, have sought to revert, with some modifications, to the pre-1947 system. They would like to see a system in which each of the judges of the court had assigned to him a group of industries and in which, functioning under each judge, there were a number of, conciliation commissioners who had been allotted to particular industries or disputes. But the pre-1947 system has, we believe, some of the disadvantages that obtain to-day. The Full Court then, as now, determined the basic wage and standard hours, but it was left to a single judge or to a conciliation commissioner, just as it is now left to a single conciliation commissioner, to decide claims for margins and other matters. Whilst an appeal lay at that time from a decision of a conciliation commissioner, none lay from a decision of a single judge, any more .than it lies to-day from a decision of a conciliation commissioner.
There can be little doubt in the minds of those who have had experience of the working of the system that the Full Court should be placed in a position to deal with the whole wage. Otherwise, we suggest, anomalies will develop, as has been the experience during recent years. We certainly believe that the Full Court should be empowered to examine the whole wage. But, under the system suggested by employers’ organizations, it could happen that on some aspects there would be three hearings : first, before a conciliation commissioner; secondly, before a single judge who had a particular industry assigned to him ; and thirdly, if an appeal lay from his decision, as would still be considered desirable, before the Full Court, in order that a final decision might be reached. In a jurisdiction where delays can easily become inflammatory, which is certainly true of the industrial field, the frictions of such a process could prove disastrous and destructive.
I have indicated the general view that has been expressed to us by certain employer organizations. No specific recommendations have reached me officially from the Australian Council of Trades Unions, although my understanding of the matter is that the official view taken sometime ago, which was opposed to appeals from decisions of conciliation commissioners to single judges or the Full Court, still holds good. But individual unions have, from time to time, officially asked this ‘Government to provide a system of appeals.
– How many unions?
– I could name three or four off-hand, but I do not think that the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), who perhaps has a more detailed knowledge than anybody else of what goes on inside the trade union movement on these matters, will deny that a very strong difference of opinion upon this matter exists in the trade union movement at the present time. If the press reports that I have received are even partially correct, many trade unions are very dissatisfied with the present system, particularly so far as the role of the conciliation commissioners is concerned.
– I think the Government’s proposals will cause trouble.
– If I understood the recommendations made by Mr. Horan, of the Transport Workers Union, they were more or less along the lines of the pre- 1947 system, at least insofar as it maintained a group of industries under a judge and the conciliation commissioners functioned under that judge. I speak with some knowledge of what has been going on inside the trade , unions on this matter when I say that there is undoubtedly a great deal of dissatisfaction with the system now in operation. The fact that no particular recommendations have come forward to me does not mean, in my opinion, that there is not a widespread desire for some useful reform inside the ranks of the trade unions and among officials themselves.
– This will worsen the position.
– If the honorable member is sincere in his own contribution to this matter, he will join me in expressing the hope that it will succeed.
– Why did not the Government seek the co-operation of the Opposition in drafting the bill?
– I have sought the cooperation of many people, and I have strong reasons for believing that the scheme which the Government has drafted will be far more widely accepted inside the trade union movement and outside it than the honorable member would believe. I can recall the attack that was made in this House upon the Government when its secret ballot legislation was introduced. The Government was told that the trade unions were opposed to secret ballots. It was told that it was trying to smash the trade unions and to create “ tame cat unions “. I am prepared to let the facts speak for themselves and let the widespread and growing support inside the trade union movement for the Government’s secret ballot legislation demonstrate not only the Government’s good faith, but also an accurate assessment of trade union interest.
– The trade union movement is still opposed to it.
– Apparently that does not deter many important unions inside the trade union movement from availing themselves of the opportunity to take advantage of the secret-ballot legislation. I am quite certain that trade union executives have been delighted to see the success with which the secret-ballot system has worked.
– What union executives ?
– I have apparently not met with a very happy reception from the Opposition in expressing my own hope publicly that there can be a nonparty approach to this problem of industrial legislation on the arbitration system. I say in all sincerity that this legislation does represent such an approach on the part of the Government. I am in a position where I can have thrown at me by employer organizations, and many people on my own side in politics, the kind of statements which were made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and myself when we were in Opposition and were criticizing the 1947 legislation. In the amending legislation that is now before the Parliament, we are not imposing our own views, as we held them at that time, on the trade union movement and on the country. We have sought to take the existing system as we find it, retain what seem to be the best elements in it, and, at the same time, graft on to it the revisions which we consider to have been made necessary by the working of the system.
– The delays will be dangerous.
– That remains to be seen after the legislation is in operation. I suggest to honorable members on the Opposition side that at least they should let me explain the bill before they criticize what is in it. They can have no real knowledge of what it contains until I tell them, and they should not rush in until they know the provisions of the bill. We believe, and I have said this repeatedly, that we should attempt to approach our industrial legislation in a non-party spirit. It is obviously important that there should be continuity in the machinery devised for the solution of our industrial problems. Because of that, the Government has decided on a course of action which will, we hope, retain the best features of the 3 947 act. We now graft on to the existing structure those adjustments which experience has indicated to be desirable.
As the Government sees it, some cardinal principles should be embodied in our industrial machinery. First, it should be such as to provide for the speediest possible handling of industrial disputes. Secondly, it should provide for the application of consistent principles in the settlement of industrial disputes and for uniformity of treatment in comparable situations. Thirdly, the arbitral machinery should be, as far as possible, self-contained, and appeals to the High Court on such matters as jurisdiction should be reduced to the absolute minimum. Fourthly, we should avoid violent changes to the machinery, but should attempt to profit from the experience of earlier reforms. That is the point that I was making earlier when I said that the Government was trying to graft something useful on to the present system, and not to involve itself in some sweeping or radical reforms or changes. The search for a perfect system has been going on almost continuously ever since the original act of 1904 was passed. This bill represents the twenty-sixth amending bill to the first act. The amendments have come from both sides of politics and virtually every parliament which has had to deal with the original bill since 1904 has added . something to it. There are, as is generally known, certain constitutional limitations on our industrial power. In the search for the most effective system, six attempts have been made by way of constitutional referendum. - all unsuccessful - to widen that power.
The foregoing principles have been applied in the provisions of the bill that is now before the House. The court will continue to have an exclusive jurisdiction in relation to the fundamental matters of basic wage, standard hours and long service leave. All other issues will continue to come before the conciliation commissioners in the first instance. The important adjustments that we are making to the present system can be summarized as follows : - First, an organization or person bound by an award made by a conciliation commissioner will be able, within fourteen days after the date of the award, to apply to the Chief Judge for leave to appeal to the Full Court against the award. The Chief Judge is to be empowered to grant leave to appeal only if, in his opinion, the award deals with a matter of such importance that leave to appeal should, in the publicinterest, be granted. If the Chief Judge gives leave, the Full Court will hear the appeal. Secondly, let us take the case where an industrial dispute is before a conciliation commissioner and one or more of the parties desires to have the matter determined by the Full Court. The conciliation commissioner may, upon application by a party, if he is of the opinion that the dispute is of such importance that in the public interest it should be dealt with by the court, refer the dispute or a part of it to the Full Arbitration Court. He must, first, however, have obtained the concurrence of the Chief Judge. Thereupon the Full Court will deal with the matter. Thirdly, if a conciliation commissioner rejects the application, the party aggrieved by the commissioner’s refusal may appeal to the Chief Judge. If the appeal is upheld, the matter will go to the Full Court.
– Is that the application for leave to appeal?
– No, not for leave to appeal, but for leave to have the matter dealt with, in the first instance, by the Full Court. Fourthly, where a matter gets to the Full Court, either by appeal or by reference, then the Full Court may remit such matters as it determines back to a conciliation commissioner for investigation and report. I hope that it will be clear from that provision that the Government is trying by that means to preserve the advantages of the existing system and also the advantages of the appeal system.
Now, I want to make a few observations about these points. First of all the bill does not give an unlimited right of appeal such as there is, for example, in the New South Wales Industrial Arbitration Act. Honorable members might ask why the Government did not add that provision to this legislation. It must be borne in mind that in these days, generally the Full Court has to deal with vital issues, and the tendency has been for the State courts to follow the federal tribunal in matters of principle. We recognize that serious delays could develop if there were a multiplicity of appeals, and we have no wish to create that situation. There will, therefore, be an appeal to the Full Court only where the Chief Judge is of the opinion that the matter is of such importance that, in the public interest, it should be heard by the court. We do not intend that the Full Court shall deal with matters which the conciliation commissioners can, and should, handle. They are much more mobile than is the court; they can deal promptly with issues in which human relations are involved, or which relate to a particular establishment or section of industry ; and they can work out the detailed application to particular industries of principles that the court enunciates. Those are all useful ways in which conciliation commissioners can function more quickly and satisfactorily than a court, and the Government desires to preserve that kind of function for the conciliation commissioners.
– Can the Minister say whether, in the case of appeals, the award of the conciliation commissioner will stand pending the determination of the appeal?
– That is set out in the bill. The provision is that, except with the consent of both parties, the award of the conciliation commissioners will not operate for 21 days in cases where the parties have any intention of appealing.
– Supposing the Chief Judge gives leave to appeal. Will the award be suspended then pending the determination of the appeal?
– Yes. To continue: We believe that the court should decide the major issues of industrial principle and issues which are likely to recur in proceedings before a number of conciliation commissioners. By this means, we aim to get some real consistency in the handling by individual conciliation commissioners of the same issues arising in comparable situations. By providing that the conciliation commissioner may, with the concurrence of the Chief Judge, refer a matter of the Full Court instead of completing the matter himself, we are ensuring that matters of great importance will be disposed of in one hearing instead of two hearings. Again, the court’s power to refer particular matters back to the conciliation commissioner will make for a speedier treatment. We are, incidentally, giving back to the conciliation commissioners original jurisdiction in relation to all matters of leave with pay, with the exception of long service leave. We are leaving this for the moment in the hands of the Full Court because it is largely an uncharted field and a matter of widespread importance. Finally, in order to reduce any likelihood of delay, the Government is proposing to appoint some additional judges to the bench of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The bill permits more than one Full Court to sit at one time.
– How many more judges does the Government propose to appoint ?
– At the moment we have in mind two, making a total of seven, which would give two Full Benches and one judge over, in case of illness or other need.
– They will be real tories, too.
– I do not think that that is fair comment. All governments in this Parliament in making appointments of judges have tried to appoint men who would deal fairly, honestly and impartially with the issues put before them. I should say that the judiciary generally throughout Australia, whether it be in the arbitration sphere or in other spheres, has acted in accordance with the highest traditions of the British judiciary. The interjection that the honorable gentleman just made would not come from senior members of his party.
– We know them much better.
– The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) might have more cause to know the judiciary than have most of his colleagues; but, if I were he I would not boast about that fact. We do not want the Full Court to be cluttered up with matters which will delay its dealing with the really important issues, whether in its original jurisdiction, or on appeal or reference from conciliation commissioners. The bill provides, accordingly, that single judges of the court shall have wider powers than they have at present. These powers are enumerated in clause 8 of the bill, which deals also with certain technical and machinery provisions that flow from the general arrangements for which the bill provides.
While I am on the subject of detailed technical matters, I also point out that clause 7 is designed to deal with the problem that emerged as a result of the untimely death of one conciliation commissioner recently. It could occur again if conciliation commissioners were unable to continue hearing matters because of expiry of their appointment, death, prolonged illness or some other cause. The provision is along the lines of that which the Parliament made when one of the judges of a Full Court was unable to complete the hearing of a dispute. Clause 10 of the bill substitutes a new section for section 26 which deals with intervention by the Attorney-General; but it is a logical extension, having regard to the changes that are made whereby more important matters are now to come before the Full Bench. Section 26 of the principal act authorizes intervention only in relation to matters in respect of which the act gives exclusive jurisdiction to the Full Court, namely, basic wage, standard hours and so on. It is our view that the
Attorney-General should be able to intervene in other matters which are before the Pull Court, for example, whether by way of reference or appeal from a conciliation commissioner. It flows from what I have said already that only matters of real public significance will get to the court on reference or appeal from a conciliation commissioner. It is only right and proper that the Attorney-General, as representing the public interest, should have the right of intervention in such cases if that is believed to be desirable. I suggested before that we should seek to make our arbitral machinery as self-contained as possible and reduce to the absolute minimum appeals to the High Court on matters of jurisdiction. There have been repeated appeals to the High Court in relation to that division of jurisdiction between the court and the conciliation commissioners which exists in the principal act. We believe that industrial disputes should be settled promptly. We do not believe that there should be interminable legal argument or uncertainty about where jurisdiction does. lie assuming that there is an interstate dispute. We have, we believe, met this situation by amendments proposed in clauses 6 and 9 of the bill. I propose to explain them at the committee stage.
As I have said, there is a small group of industries which are not under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. One of these is the stevedoring industry which is the subject of a special act, the Stevedoring Industry Act 1949. Under that act, full responsibility is committed to a single judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. A similar situation exists in respect of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric undertaking. Conditions of employment there are also regulated by decisions of a single judge of the court. The coal industry is in a special position. The final arbitral authority for that industry is the Coal Industry Tribunal constituted by legislation of the parliaments of the Commonwealth and New South Wales. Crown employees of the Commonwealth have their terms and conditions of employment regulated by a special tribunal, the Public Service Arbitrator, who functions under the Public Service Arbitration Act.
It is the Government’s belief that the activities of these separate tribunals cannot be regarded as something apart from the activities of the court and the conciliation commissioners operating under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. There is just as much need for coordination in matters of large industrial principle and of great public significance in these- cases as in the case of activities of the tribunals under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Accordingly, it is the intention of the Government to bring down legislation this session to amend the Stevedoring Industry Act, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act and the Public Service Arbitration Act to provide for a system of appeals and references to the Full Court along the same lines as those I have already described.
– Would it be possible to introduce that legislation in order to enable the House to discuss it in conjunction with this measure?
– It is a part of the same programme, but I think that the right honorable gentleman will find that those measures, with the exception of that which deals with the coal industry, are consequential in the sense that the same scheme will apply to them.
– Does the Minister propose to give to the House the opportunity to consider those measures in conjunction with this bill?
– No, with the exception of the Coal Industry Bill, under which we propose to deal with the special problems that relate to the capacity of the Coal Industry Tribunal to deal with matters that come before him. I may say for the benefit of honorable members who have had special reason to examine the position of the coal industry in this respect that the Government will continue the present Coal Industry Tribunal.
– But will give the right of appeal from it to the court.
– The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is jumping his hurdles before he comes to them. He should wait until he has examined the details of the Government’s proposal before he forms any opinion about it.
There is an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State of New South Wales that neither will amend its coal industry legislation without the eonsent of the other. The Acting Prime Minister has written to the Premier of New South Wales seeking the concurrence of his Government in an amendment to the Coal Industry Act which will enable us to have a uniform system affecting all federal arbitral tribunals. We believe that the Government of New South Wales will recognize the merit of our proposals, more particularly because in New South Wales the Industrial Commission, as the supreme body in that State, already has power to review decisions of subordinate industrial tribunals.
I have been speaking in some detail of the reforms we are making by this bill. There are many other amendments, some of which are important and can be dealt with more conveniently at the committee stage. It should not be thought, however, that the system as it has existed from time to time has not provided a practical and useful method for determining industrial issues. I also apply that observation to the system as it operated when the Labour Government was in office. I say that for those who have been prepared to approach the court in good faith and have their problems dealt with fairly, and who have willingly accepted the decision of the umpire, the machinery has been useful down through the years. It is quite clear that whatever the imperfections of our federal industrial machinery may have been at any point of time, the overwhelming majority of employers and wage-earners have found in the arbitration system an umpire able to hear and determine the issues which have arisen. A great majority of those affected by these decisions have consistently accepted them and abided by them. More and more is it being recognized by rank and file unionists that conciliation and arbitration should take the place of direct action and that with an arbitration system in a modern community strikes should be as obsolete as trial by battle. This is true to-day of most industries and nf mo«t wage-earners. I emphasize that no ‘‘arbitration machinery, however perfectly it may be devised, can function efficiently if there are persons who, while using it for their own purpose when it suits them, lose no opportunity to damage it and remain determined to destroy it. eventually.
The industrial lawlessness that has been so evident in some sections of industry during the last decade can be attributed only in very small part to deficiencies in the arbitration system. The system has been blamed for- much of this lawlessness, but no one who has followed the history of these events and has watched the working of the system will believe that it has been responsible for more than a fraction of this lawlesness The true answer is to be found in the widespread influence which communism has been able to gain in the basic industries and services of the Commonwealth, and in our key industrial establishments. The Communists have made no secret of their hostility to the arbitration system.
– Does the Minister believe that only the Communists have been dissatisfied?
– No ; but I believe that the Communists, principally, have bypassed the system. They have used it only when it has suited them to do so, whereas on other occasions, without any regard for the welfare of the community as a whole, they have resorted to direct action when they have believed that they could make greater gains by that means. I am astonished that the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) should make such an interjection, because he was formerly an official of the Australian Workers Union. That union is numerically, and, perhaps, in significance, the most important union in this country. Yet, whatever view it may have entertained from time to time about the arbitration system, it has always upheld it and abided by the decisions of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I believe that that is the attitude also of the majority of Australian workers towards the court. However, some key unions, under Communist leadership, have refused to take that point of view, and much of our industrial trouble has been due to that fact.
The Communists’ position was expounded in authoritative terms by the then president of the Communist party, Sharkey, in his pamphlet entitled, The Trade Unions. This -was first published in 1942 and remains a standard text-book for Communist party members. The following is an extract from the pamphlet, which sums up the attitude of the Communist to the arbitration system -
The reformist trade union officials-
And I am quite certain that Mr. Sharkey, or Comrade Sharkey, as he might prefer to be called, would include, in that term reformist trade union officials like honorable members opposite, who have become members of this Parliament after having served as trade union officials - wholeheartedly support arbitration. . . . They do not want strikes and struggles to disturb their peaceful salaried existence. . . The Communists regard the Statecontrolled arbitration system as a pernicious, anti-working class institution, whose objective is to keep the workers shackled to the capitalistic state. . . . Strikes, properly led and conducted and properly timed, are a revolutionary weapon. Strikes develop the Labour movement, organise and unite workers, and win the intermediate social strata to the side of the revolution. . . . Political strikes are a higher form of struggle than economic strikes. Such strikes challenge the Government. [Extension of time granted.]
Those are the words of Comrade Sharkey, and Australia has had many opportunities since that pamphlet was published to see the practical application of Communist doctrine as expressed by him. It is a reasonably accurate estimate that 90 per cent, of the working days lost in Australia through industrial disputes are a direct consequence of Communist leadership or influence in the trade unions. These facts are. not sufficiently widely known. Their implications are certainly not sufficiently widely understood, but an examination of the strike records of the coal industry unions, the waterfront unions, and the seamen’s union, as well as of the. unions in the metal trades group, and some sections of the transport unions - and those unions in terms of numerical strength, have only a fraction of the total trade union membership - will show that almost the entirety of days lost through industrial trouble were lost in the industries in which members of these unions are engaged. It is in those trade unions that the Com- munists have sought, and found, strength, because it is in the key industries in which their members are engaged that the greatest damage to our economy can be inflicted. One implication of that fact is that the overwhelming majority of Australian workers to be found in industries which have escaped Communist control endorse and abide by the arbitration system, which major political parties of the Commonwealth have consistently supported.
The Government has already tried to counter in two important ways this attack by communism on the arbitration system. We have strengthened the powers of the court to enable it to deal in appropriate cases with wilful defiance of awards. But we realize that such a power should be sparingly used in a sphere in which the primary functions are those of conciliation and arbitration. This power, which is, as it were, a reserve power and was primarily inserted to deal with the kind of challenge that has come from the Communists, must not be permitted to become principally a punitive weapon. But if the court is to be continually subjected to attacks having, not industrial objectives, but political objectives that are primarily aimed at its destruction, and, in the final analysis, at the free society that is our heritage and that we are determined to preserve, then it must be suitably armed to protect both itself and the community.
The second direction in which the system has been strengthened has been in the introduction of secret ballots for the election of trade union officials to be conducted under the auspices of the court. This system does at least provide some assurance that the will of the majority of union members can be expressed in an honest and democratic manner. We have seen how the responsible elements in the trade unions have seized the opportunity that we gave to them to purge their unions of Communist leadership. Honorable members will have noticed in recent days the expressed determination of other unions to follow the lead of the ironworkers’ and clerks’ unions.
Whilst we are under no illusion that much of the criticism against the arbitration system, as well as much of the attack on it, comes from the people whom
I have mentioned, who have no other purpose than its abolition, there remains an obligation on governments to ensure that the working of the system shall be made as speedy and efficient as circumstances will permit.
– Will the bill provide for the possibility of an appeal against decisions, in relation to margins, which are now operating?
– We have not made the bill retrospective in its effects, therefore, in that sense, it would not be possible to challenge under it decisions that have already been given. In the particular
Sense to which the right honorable gentleman has referred, the margin issue, I think that it would be found, in practice, that an appeal would lie, because there are cases relating to margins, in which the issues that have been decided by certain conciliation commissioners earlier are now before other conciliation commissioners. If, after the passage of the bill, a decision is given which raises that kind, of issue, it would be open to one or other of the parties to seek leave to appeal against it.
– Leave to appeal to whom!
– To the Full Court ot the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. .1 am not able to say, of course, whether the Chief Judge would deem a matter such as that to be suitable for the exercise of his discretion. It would be left to him to decide whether an appeal should be heard
– The bill does not provide for any direct appeal, for instance, in relation to what is known as the “ Galvin judgment “ on margins ?
– No. Neither in specific terms, nor by retrospectivity of its provisions, does the bill do that, but I believe that it would be possible for one of the parties to request the Chief Judge, in a suitable proceeding which is now perhaps part-heard, or is awaiting hearing, for leave to appeal.
It is from the practical workings of the system, as we believe them to be, that improvements have suggested themselves. The proposals which this bill makes are a reflection of needs that have been revealed by experience. I say to honorable members opposite, and I ask people outside this Parliament who may be interested in this bill that, before rushing in with criticism, or predictions of unhappy consequences as a result of the bill, they should give to our proposals a fair trial. We have tried to give a fair trial to the proposals that were brought into existence by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) when he was AttorneyGeneral in the Chifley régime. We have waited for more than two years before seeking to put this kind of provision into effect. So, I ask all concerned to give to our proposals a fair trial. I am- bold enough to forecast that, if that be done, the provisions of this bill will at no very distant time receive the same acclaim and support as are now given to our secret-ballots legislation. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.
Bill presented by Sir ARTHUR Fadden, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill provides for a number of farreaching amendments of the law relating to income tax. Some of its most important clauses deal with provisional income tax. It has become popular, in recent months, to attribute to the provisional tax system many of the ills and difficulties, real or imaginary, that beset our national economy. Provisional tax has been blamed for the lag in food production. According to its critics, it destroys the incentive to produce, it absorbs capital needed to develop properties and businesses, and makes forward planning an impossibility. These misconceptions extend both to the principle of provisional payments of tax and to the actual operation of the system.
I should not need to remind honorable members that provisional tax was introduced in 1944 as an essential feature of the pay-as-you-earn system of taxation. Provisional tax paid by businessmen and primary producers represents the counterpart of the weekly or fortnightly tax instalment deductions paid by wage and salary earners. One rarely hears complaints regarding the deductions made at the source from salaries and wages, but a continuous stream of criticism comes from people who pay provisional tax. Perhaps the most frequent complaint about provisional tax is that it is a payment that is required to be made in advance. That, of course, is not so. It is a payment that is required to bo made during the year, out of the income of that year, of an amount of tax estimated to be attributable to the income of that year. If the exact amount of tax on a regularly accruing income were paid on the 31st December of the relevant year, there would be neither payment in advance nor payment in arrears, but a complete relativity, with weekly deductions from a regularly accruing income from salary or wages. Any person who is not called upon to pay provisional tax until after the 31st December in the year concerned - and most people are not asked to do so until April, May or June of the next year - would not be justified in claiming that payment in advance is being made. It is, in fact, a payment in arrears. There should be an end to this talk of provisional tax being a payment in advance, for it is not so.
Although most of the criticism of provisional tax is thinly veiled propaganda directed to other ends, there are cases of genuine confusion. These have their origin in the fact that, whereas deductions from salaries and wages can be made factual, an arbitrary basis has to be adopted for provisional tax because of the inability to determine a net income until after the end of the year. In the case of both wages and business income, an adjustment after the close of the year is necessary but, in the case of wages, there is the actual net income each week upon which to base deductions, whereas with business income no such net income is calculable. This is why an all-party parliamentary committee recommended the basing of provisional tax on the previous year’s income. The committee recognizedthatinyears of rising in comes the amount provisionally paid would fall short of the actual amount, and that when incomes were falling the amount collected would exceed the correctly calculated amount. But it concluded that over a period of years the over-payments and under-payments would even out, so that neither the taxpayer nor the revenue would be seriously inconvenienced. The committee might well be pardoned for not having foreseen the increasingwool prices in Australia in the years 1945-51, culminating in the extraordinary peaks of 1951, and one may speculate on whether, even if it had done so, it would have made any other recommendation, because it would have realized that under-payments of provisional tax in the years 1945-51 would have been balanced by some overpayments in 1952, and thus equity would have been maintained. But the lesson which has been learned is that it is one thing for the revenue to wait for adjustment, but quite another to expect over-payments to be made by taxpayers on the basis that a later adjustment would put matters to right. Sensing the difficulties which were inherent in this matter when -wool prices rose so spectacularly in 1951, the Government introduced the wool sales deduction legislation, which provided for a deduction of 20 per cent. to be made from wool proceeds, and to be later credited to the income tax assessment of the year. This legislation met with fierce criticism at the time, but the Government’s timely action has enabled many wool-growers substantially to bridge the gap between provisional tax for 1950-51 and their actual tax for that year.
For the year ending on the 30th June, 1952, the reverse position is being met, particularly in the woolgrowing industry. Instead of a deficiency of provisional tax, we find that the taxpayer is called upon to pay an amount which will exceed the actual liability as finally determined. This situation, too, has been faced by the Government, and, last March, I announced the Government’s decision to grant to wool-growers whose income in 1952 had declined from the 1951 level, the right to defer up to 40 per cent. of the 1951-52 provisional tax payable. That decision has already been put into effect, and there is a provision in the present bill to validate these deferments. Honorable members will appreciate the magnitude of these deferments when I state that the amount of 1951-52 revenue which will be foregone if all wool-growers take advantage of the Government’s decision, will be in the vicinity of £50,000,000.
The effect of the proposal, as embodied in the proposed legislation, is) briefly, that a wool-grower is enabled to defer up to 40 per cent, of the 1951-52 provisional tax payable by him, so long as he forwards to the Taxation Branch of the Treasury an estimate of his 1951-52 taxable income, and so long as the amount deferred is justified by that estimate. The woolgrower is not required to submit details of his income and expenses, or of his financial position, in order ‘to have 40 per cent, of his provisional tax deferred. Where a wool-grower has already paid, during this year, provisional tax in excess of what he would be obliged to pay if he had been granted deferment, the overpaid tax will be refunded to him. Deferment of a greater proportion than 40 per cent, of the provisional tax may be granted, but, in such cases, applications are required to be supported by particulars of the taxpayer’s financial position so that the Commissioner of Taxation may decide the amount to be deferred.
Because of the experiences of the years 1951 and 1952, in which remedial measures to adjust the shortcomings of the provisional tax system have been so grossly misunderstood and misrepresented, it has been decided to alter the law relating to provisional tax in order to give to all taxpayers liable to provisional tax the right to estimate the income of the year which should be taken into account in calculating the provisional tax. The new system will operate in the income year commencing on the 1st July, 1952. The details of the new system are as follows: - Provisional tax will be calculated by the Commissioner of Taxation on the income of the previous year as at present. Upon receipt of his assessment notice, the taxpayer may estimate the income he will receive in the current year and may calculate the provisional tax which should be paid on the basis of that estimate. He will have the right to substitute his calculation for the amount of provisional tax which the Commissioner requires him to pay in the notice of assessment. If, however, his income has increased by more than 20 per cent., the taxpayer will be required to estimate his current year’s income, and to pay provisional tax on the basis of that estimate. With his notice of assessment the taxpayer will receive a separate calculation form explaining how to calculate provisional tax on his estimated income. Provision will be made in the notice of assessment for him to insert his estimated taxable income and the provisional tax payable on that estimate. He will substitute his estimate of provisional tax for the provisional tax shown in the notice of assessment, and will adjust the total of the notice. He will be required to pay the adjusted amount.
This plan, as honorable members will observe, provides for a voluntary adjustment if the income has not increased by more than 20 per cent. If the opportunity to make a voluntary adjustment is not accepted, provisional tax must be paid on the basis notified by the Commissioner; that is, according to the present system. A taxpayer will be allowed a margin of error of 20 per cent, when estimating his income. He will be liable for penalty if this error is more than 20 per cent. This will apply whether the underpayment is due to an underestimate or to the taxpayer’s decision not to furnish an estimate of his income. The Commissioner of Taxation will be given power to remit the penalty wholly or partly if he is satisfied that the underpayment is due to circumstances of which the taxpayer could not be expected to have had knowledge when he adjusted his provisional tax or paid the amount notified by the Commissioner.
To prevent exploitation of the 20 per cent margin of error, the Commissioner will be given power to reject any selfassessment and to substitute his estimate for that of the taxpayer. A taxpayer who submits an estimate of his income will do so on the due date for payment of his assessment, or the 31st March, whichever is the later. Thus no taxpayer will be expected to form an estimate of income until nine months of the year have passed and, in most cases, until ten or more months of the year have expired. It is confidently expected that this new method of arriving at provisional tax with the co-operation of the taxpayer will provide the. means for overcoming the deficiencies in the present system as typified, by its failure to protect the revenue when incomes were rising between 1945 and 1951, and to protect taxpayers against overpayment when incomes fell in 1952. Though the new method will increase administrative difficulty in the Taxation Branch and will require some additional staff for its implementation, the advantages gained in smoothing the incidence of income tax are considered amply to warrant the increases.
I shall now deal with the allowance for depreciation on plant and buildings used in the agricultural industry. The Government has been very active with plans to stimulate agricultural production. On the financial side it is proposed, through the medium of tax concessions, to assist primary producers in the purchase of necessary farm machinery and in the construction of necessary farm buildings and other structural improvements. This bill, accordingly, contains a provision for allowing depreciation at the special concessional rate of 20 per cent, per annum in respect of certain plant installed and structural improvements completed on agricultural and pastoral properties between the 1st July, 1951, and the 30th June, 1955. The concession will extend also to structural improvements completed up to the 30th June, 1956, if they are commenced by the 30th June, 1955. The 20 per cent, deduction will be allowed in the year when the plant is installed, or the improvement is completed, and in each of the next four years. With, the exception of motor cars, the concession will apply to all plants on which depreciation is now allowable, provided that the particular item of plant is wholly and exclusively used for agricultural, or pastoral purposes. Besides machines which are designed specifically for these purposes, the 20 per cent, rate will be allowed on such plant as motor lorries, tractors, electric motors, bulldozers and so on, if used for farm or station work only. The concession extends also to structural improvements such as fences, shearing sheds, dairy buildings, fodder conservation buildings and housing provided for employees, tenants or share-farmers.
At present, the cost of dams, earth tanks, bores, wells, irrigation channels, and other structural improvements for the conservation and conveyance of water is allowable in full in the year ia which it is incurred. Plant used in conserving and conveying water, such as pumps, windmills, water piping, sprinkler systems, and overhead tanks and troughing will be subject to the 20 per cent, concessional rate, of depreciation. This allowance will permit the cost of this plant also to be written off over a period of five years. Primary producers will receive the first benefits from these concessions in. the assessments upon their incomes of the current year. Those assessments, of course, will issue and be payable during 1952-53. For the first year of operation, it is estimated that the total value of the concession to primary producers will be in the vicinity of £6,000,000. In later years, when the special depreciation is allowed on plant purchased over a longer period, the value of the concession will be progressively greater.
The bill also deals with the discontinuance of the special initial depreciation allowance. Honorable members will recall that on the 19th July last, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) announced the Government’s decision, as an essential feature of its anti-inflationary plans”, to withdraw the special initial depreciation allowance from the 30th June, 1951. The continuance of that allowance would have been quite inconsistent with other steps taken by the Government towards discouraging excessive and .somewhat indiscriminate private investment in capital goods. At the same time, the Prime Minister intimated that legislation would be introduced during the current financial year to give effect to the Government’s decision. Provision for the necessary amendment is included in the present bill. .
The Government’s decision has been criticized on the ground that it is retrospective in application. This criticism is also based upon a misconception. Up to the present time, no taxpayer has paid a penny more tax because of the discontinuance of the special initial depreciation allowance. The first assessment to be affected will be that payable during next year - the financial year 1952-53. So, far from this being a retrospective enactment, the Prime Minister, in effect, gave twelve months’ notice of a very necessary change in the method of computing 1952-53 tax. Nevertheless, the Government has sympathetically considered representations for the modification of its decision in two respects. In the first place, a taxpayer whose income year 1950-51 ended on a date later than the 30th June, 1951, will be allowed special initial depreciation on plant acquired and used or installed ready for use up to the end of his accounting period. Secondly, the Government has considered those cases where, at the 30th June, 1951, plant had already been purchased by the taxpayer, or had been ordered by him and actually appropriated to the contract of purchase. Special provision will be made to preserve the allowance of initial depreciation in these cases, so long as the plant is used, or installed ready for use, by the 30th June, 1952.
Yet another proposal in the bill will be of benefit to primary producers. I refer to a provision regarding the taxation of insurance recoveries received by them on the loss of livestock. The present law requires such a recovery to be included in the income tax assessment for the year in which it is received. As a result, the primary producer frequently finds that, after being taxed on the insurance moneys, he has insufficient funds left to finance the necessary replacement of his destroyed stock. The problem of alleviating these financial difficulties became urgent when the full extent of the disastrous fires which ravaged large areas of eastern Australia early this year was known. The Government inquired into the problem and decided to adopt a plan whereby the primary producer, if he so desired, could spread his liability to tax on the recovery of such insurance money over five years instead of being taxed wholly in one year. The bill, accordingly, includes a provision to grant primary producers a. right of election whereby only one-fifth of insurance moneys received since the 30th June, 1951, may be in cluded in the year of receipt and in each of the four succeeding years. This provision will apply not only where the loss has been caused by bush fires but also where it is due to flood, drought, stock disease or any other disaster.
Another proposal in the bill is linked with the national need to overcome the present shortage of fertilizers, particularly sulphate of ammonia. The main source of sulphates is the mineral known as pyrites. However, pyrites is often recovered in conjunction with gold and copper. A provision in the present law exempts income that is derived from working a mining property principally for the purpose of obtaining gold. The exemption applies also if the mine is worked to obtain gold and copper, as long as the value of the gold produced is not less than 40 per cent. of the value of all minerals obtained from the mine. By selling pyrites to fertilizer treatment plants, the proportion of gold produced by a mining concern might be reduced to less than 40 per cent. of the total production. Under the present law the mining concern would be faced with the alternative of not merchandising its pyrites or of losing its exemption for the gold mined by it. Provision is made in the bill to preserve the exemption of gold-mining concerns in these circumstances, while taxing the profits on the production and the sale of pyrites.
Reference must now be made to provisions which have been designed to give effect to recommendations made by the Government’s expert committee which is examining our taxation laws with a view to removing anomalies. The committee has recommended two amendments to the provisions of the law dealing with the taxation of amounts received or paid in connexion with lease transactions. These recommendations have been adopted by the Government, and appropriate clauses are included in this bill. One of the proposed amendments will enable purchasers of weekly or other indefinite tenancies to elect to write off, over a period of two years, premiums paid for the tenancy or consideration paid for local goodwill associated with the tenancy.
The other amendment concerning leases will exclude from the operation of the special lease provisions of the income tax law those Crown leases which are granted for terms of 99 years or longer. This will apply particularly to Canberra business leases, which, in their nature, are akin to freehold. It is anomalous that consideration received in connexion with the sale of such leases attracts taxation while consideration for the sale of freeholds does not. There are several additional provisions in the bill which are designed to effect minor changes in the principal act. These, however, may be more adequately dealt with in an explanatory memorandum which, in accordance with custom, will shortly be circulated among honorable members.
I commend the bill to honorable members.
– Will the explanatory memorandum mentioned by the right honorable gentleman be circulated among honorable members before they leave Canberra at the week-end?
– If it be at all possible, it will be circulated.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 772).
.- Before the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with tax reimbursement and Commonwealth financial grants to the States. I had mentioned certain figures which prove conclusively that the Menzies Government is. now adopting a very different attitude towards the States than the attitude that was adopted by the Chifley Government. For the benefit of honorable members who were not present at that time I shall cite those figures again. In 1949-50, the last year of office of the Chifley Government, New South Wales received £28,500,000. This year, under the Menzies Government, it will receive almost £48,000,000. In 1949-50, under the Chifley socialist Government, Queensland received £11,500,000 as reimbursement. This year, under the Menzies Government, about which it has complained bitterly, it will receive £19,000,000. Those figures speak for themselves, and prove that State Pre miers have entered upon a spending spree in order deliberately to waste the money given to them by the Australian Government believing, like the children of the old woman who lived in a shoe, that they have a very indulgent mother.
I had a conversation with the Premier of Queensland when he attended the last meeting of the Australian Loan Council. He happens to be one of my constituents, but after I make this statement I fear that he will not vote for me at the next general election. However, he said to me, “I am so disgusted with the Australian Government that I am seriously considering an attempt to get taxing rights back for the State of Queensland “. When Queensland had its own taxing rights it was the most highly taxed State in Australia, and well the people of Queensland know it. Moreover, that State was the most backward of all States in regard to the operation of secondary industries. Manufacturers who wished to sell goods in Queensland found it cheaper to establish their industries in New South Wales or Victoria, make the goods there and then transport them to Queensland and sell them there. Because of Queensland’s high taxation it was cheaper to do all that than it was to make and sell the goods in Queensland. It will be a sorry day for Queensland if it ever returns to the system of State taxation because we know from past experience what the Queensland Labour Government will do.
– The people of Queensland have elected Labour governments for 23 years.
– Yes, but I could tell the honorable member something about the electoral rolls in that connexion. The Premiers also complained about the approved borrowing programme. In reference to that matter also I shall cite a few figures. If honorable members are honest they will agree that the people should know what the States were allotted by way of grant under the Chifley Government in 1949-50, and what they got from this Government in 1951-52. In 1949-50 under the Chifley Government New South Wales received £29,467,000 for its approved borrowing programme. In 1951-52 under the Menzies Government it received £64,000,000. In 1949-50 the Chifley Government opened its heart and gave Queensland £7,844,000. This Government, the so-called flint-heart of Australia, gave £22,500,000 this year.
Under the Commonwealth and State housing scheme, New South Wales received £6,300,000 in 1949-50. This year it will get £8,514,000. In 1949-50 Queensland got £1,250,000 and this year the amount that the Premier, Mr. Gair, complained go bitterly about, is £4,489,000, or more than twice as much as was given by the Labour socialist Government. Yet the Premiers complain about the treatment that they have received from this Government. In many cases the States have become irresponsible spenders compared with their actions when they had their own taxing rights.
– It is a pity that the honorable member does not take his genius to the Queensland Parliament.
– It is a pity that the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) cannot keep quiet. When the States had taxing rights they did very little in the way of public works. Now that they have an indulgent mother to look after them they have pigeon-holed almost £100,000,000 worth of capital works, and complain that if it wore not for the Australian Government they would be able to carry out those works. Every State in Australia is doing the same thing. To use a common expression, they are passing the buck to the Australian Government. Honorable members opposite scream about high taxation. So do Mr. Gair and Mr. Cahill. But where can the Australian Government get the vast amounts of money for the States’ spending sprees? It can get the money in only one way, that is by taxing the people. The wageearners of Queensland are being deliberately robbed every week because the State prices authorities submit fictitious prices to the Commonwealth Statistician. Those prices affect the “ C “ series costofliving index and are reflected in the quarterly basic wage adjustments. The alleged retail prices submitted to the statistician are, in some instances, below the wholesale prices, as I can prOve.
Shopkeepers and merchants are instructed to sell goods at low prices. This is an old stunt that the Labour Government practises in order to make the Queensland cost-of-living figures look good on paper. It claims that Queensland is a cheap State to live in. That is not true. The cost of living there is not lower than it is in New South Wales. But for the manipulation of figures, the basic wageearners of Queensland would be almost on a par with their counterparts in New South Wales, where the basic wage is £11 3s. The present basic wage in Queensland is £10 7s. I repeat emphatically that the wage-earner in Queensland cannot buy the items that are included in the “ C “ series index at the prices that are supplied officially to the Commonwealth Statistician. The blame for this disgraceful state of affairs lies fairly and squarely at the feet of the State Labour Government.
– But the State Government does not supply the figures to the Commonwealth Statistician.
– The cost-of-living calculations are based on the figures that are provided by the State prices authority. Workers in New South Wales receive a much better deal than do their fellows in Queensland when the quarterly basic wage adjustments are made.
Much has been said about the inflationary spiral. Inflation will continue for some time to come if present indications are reliable. Basic wage adjustments have not compensated the people for the adverse effects of this economic trend. The only solution of the problem is greater production, which will bring down costs. The Communists, aided by their socialist friends on the other side of the House, have done their best to restrict production, and the result has been that prices have continued to rise steadily. This Government, fortunately, has been able to make some headway in the fight, to increase production, and I hope that it will maintain its efforts. If we can only root out the Communists in the trade unions, so that the honest-to-God unionist can buckle down and do his job as he wants to do it, we shall be within reach of success in the struggle to combat inflation.
My argument in favour of increased production does not envisage sweating of the workers, because I believe that, if we had sufficient production, it would not matter if the basic wage rose as high as £20 a week. Increased production will reduce the cost of living and check the inflationary spiral. Honorable members opposite have had a great deal to say about inflation, but they have never attempted to do anything about it. They merely encourage the State governments to go on wilder spending sprees and abet the Communist-dominated trade unions in their efforts to reduce production. If they sincerely wished to help the people, they would co-operate with this Government and try to help it in every way.
The Government’s defence programme is designed to guard the security df Australia. The last Labour budget introduced in this House provided for defence expenditure amounting to £42,000,000. The budget provision for defence for the current year is £182,000,000. It is a pity that the Government could not have made the figure £382,000,000. I recently visited Manus Island, and I was grieved to see what could have been done there if the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), when he was Minister for External Affairs, had not rejected, the offer that was made to him by the United States Government. Now, we must set to work and use the taxpayers’ money in order to re-establish a naval and air base at Manus Island. The new base will not be nearly so well-equipped as was the base that the Americans originally established there. However, we must prepare it for use in case of need. I do not think that members of the Opposition believe in defending Australia. In fact, I believe that they would welcome to this country many persons whom you, Mr. Speaker, will not allow me to name. I do not make that charge against all honorable members opposite, but I can say it truthfully of many of them. Crime does not pay, we are told. The Australian people to-day are paying for the crime that was committed by the present Leader of the Opposition when he allowed the defence establishment at Manus Island to go to rack and ruin. He let the Chinese take over when, in the first place, the Americans had presented to him on a platter an offer to maintain an efficient defence base there free of charge to Australia.
.- Before me I have a picture of the Prime Minister of Australia (Mr. Menzies) shaking hands with the President of the United States of America, Mr. Truman. I gaze wistfully at that picture, because President Truman is about to resign from his high position. The Prime Minister of Australia also is about to resign. At any rate, unless he does so in the very near future, the people will unceremoniously boot him out of office. “ Australia for sale “ is the shingle that our Prime Minister hangs out in every part of the world that he visits. He has been absent from this House for considerable periods during the last two years, and at such times I have marvelled at the enthusiasm and relish displayed by honorable members on the Government side of the House in their efforts to pay off their wealthy supporters. The landed aristocracy, for example, will benefit as a result of the recent passage of two measures in relation to land tax. Valuable assets belonging to the great Australian people have been sold out of hand. The time has come for us to make a detailed examination of such transactions during the last two years.
In the first place, the Hotel Ainslie, at Canberra, was sold, notwithstanding a serious shortage of accommodation.
– The Government gave it away.
– Yes. It virtually made a gift of that government establishment to a syndicate that included no less a personage than the president of the New South Wales branch of the Liberal party. That syndicate bought the Hotel Ainslie for £80,000, although the Valuer-General’s valuation was £130,000. Next, the Government decided that it would play ducks and drakes with an Australian asset at a place called Glen Davis. The shale oil plant at Glen Davis was of first-class importance to the nation, especially in view of the seriousness of the international situation of which Government supporters talk so gloomily. The disposal of that plant was merely a repetition of what had been done at Newnes a few years previously. All the appliances and machinery for the production of oil from shale at Glen Davis were sold to a private company, at bargain rates, of course. Not to be outdone, certain members of the Government decided that they must appease other wealthy supporters who had provided funds that helped the Liberal party to gain power. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were expended on radio and newspaper propaganda in support of this tragic Government. The Commonwealth’s share holding in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited had to go at bargain prices. A personal friend of a Cabinet Minister received favorable treatment in this deal. Unfortunately, in view of the commotion that occurred in this House last week, I think that it would not be wise for me to mention the name of that Minister. However, J. B. Were and Son, a big Melbourne company, was given the job of selling the Commonwealth’s share holding in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. It did the job so well that even yet we do not know who bought the shares. Mystery still shrouds the transaction. The people of Australia were robbed again.
– The honorable member can buy a list of the shareholders for a “bob”.
– The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) is one of the most virulent of anti-Australians - a fascist without a distinguishing shirt. He does not like these facts to be brought before the people.
– I said that the honorable gentleman could obtain a list of the shareholders from the Titles Office for a “ bob “.
– The coal mine-owners were the next wealthy supporters of the Government to be appeased. For their benefit, £9,000,000 worth of machinery owned by the Joint Coal Board was offered for sale. The terms of the sale would have been attractive to many organizations, but everybody but the mine-owners was barred. The Government even made finance available so that they could make the purchase. That was another example of downright, bare-faced robbery of the public.
Now I come to the subjugation of Trans-Australia Airlines, the greatest airline in the world. Its aircraft have flown 4,000,000 miles without an accident. The wealthy ship-owning interests had to fee appeased. They were losing the money that they had sunk in Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. That wonderfully efficient private organization could not compete with the great socialist organization called TransAustralia Airlines. With nice words, the press softened the people and made them very happy to accept the Government’s decision in regard to Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. That organization was offered all kinds of concessions, but it was not satisfied with the offer. Trans-Australia Airlines, of course, had no voice in the matter. After prolonged negotiations, Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited was placed on a par with Trans-Australia Airlines in connexion with the carriage of air-mails and other matters. But we find now that even the members of the Liberal party are afraid to travel in the aircraft of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. Week after week. Trans-Australia Airlines takes from and brings to Canberra every member of this Parliament who travels to and fro by air. Last week, every such member of this House refused to travel in aircraft of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. That cannot be disputed. Perhaps some of the aircraft of the shipowners are like the coffin ships that they run round the coast. The ship-owners were satisfied with the Government’s decision, because their money was returned to them from the pockets of the people. Again, there was forthright and downright robbery of the people’s assets.
As soon as the Labour party regains power, and that will not be long delayed now, we shall run Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited out of the air and make Trans-Australia Airlines) a Government monopoly. This Government has failed to take proceedings against Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited for the recovery of the sum of nearly £1,000,000 that that company owes. to the Commonwealth in respect of landing charges and air route charges. Another £1,000,000 has been given to the wealthy ship-owners who run Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. That debt has not been paid yet, and it is not likely to be paid while this Government remains in power.
I turn now to the proposed sale of ships owned by the Commonwealth. Honorable gentlemen opposite, who warn us of the danger of a Russian invasion, say that they want us to build warships to protect our mercantile marine. But the Government is trying to sell our mercantile marine. The Government is building warships here to protect ships that it proposes to sell, and which, if they are sold, will leave the Australian coast. If that occurs, we shall not need the warships after all. I can speak about the Commonwealth shipping line with a little authority. Honorable gentlemen opposite seem to be quite nappy about the assets of the Australian people going into the maw of their wealthy supporters, but I am perturbed about the matter. As a shipbuilder myself, I am perturbed about what will happen to other shipbuilders in shipyards around the Australian coast. When I was working in the shipbuilding trade before the war, wealthy ship owners did not hesitate to send their ships to be repaired in shipyards at Yokahama and, by so doing, to take the bread and butter out of the mouths of Australian shipbuilders. At the present time, the vessel Lautoka, which is trading round the Islands, is booked to go to a Japanese shipyard to be repaired. Perhaps honorable gentlemen opposite will smile at that. The bread and butter will be taken out of the mouths of the Australian workers and given to the Japanese.
– Perhaps the fellows over there will work.
– The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) is an old squatter type. He wails at the wall of more production, but he has never done a stroke of work in his life. He has insulted the great Australian people. Our servicemen who fought in New Guinea and the Middle East were promised a new order when they returned from the war,, but now they are told in insulting language that they are too tired to work.
Let me deal with the strangulation of the Commonwealth Bank, the object of which is to enable the financial interests in Australia to get a stranglehold on the Australian people and to. run Australian industry as they like, to close and open factories when they wish to do so, and to tell the workers when they may and may not work. I ask the people to remember what happened in 1929, when Sir Otto Neimeyer came here from England and told us that there was no money available for developmental work in Australia, and good Australians were thrown on to the dole. The same carpet is starting to unroll. From day tq day, more of the pattern is to be seen. It is the pattern of the Liberal party, which knows nothing but misery, poverty, confusion, chaos and disorder. The people of Australia do not know where they are. They are confused, and afraid of what will happen next. The housewife has to pay 4s. per lb. for steak, 10s. or 12s. for repairs to her children’s shoes, an extortionate price for milk, and 6d. for an apple. But, despite that, honorable gentleman opposite ask us to look at the achievements of this great Liberal party-Australian Country party Government. To adapt the words of a great statesman, never has so much damage been done to so many by so few.
I want to refer to a matter that has a great bearing on the international situation, that is, the discovery of great quantities of uranium ore in Australia. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) is afraid to tell us how much uranium has been discovered, and how rich the deposits are. He is afraid also to tell us what percentage of the deposits will have to be sent to the United States of America under international agreement, thereby depriving the Australian people of the benefit of one of the greatest discoveries of modern times. There is to be a sell-out to financial interests in the United States of America. I notice that honorable gentlemen opposite are very quiet now. Uranium must be sent from this country to the United States of America under an agreement that was negotiated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). It will have to go to the United States of America, whether we like it or not.
I ask the House to keep in mind the very favorable treatment that has been accorded to some people by this Government as a result of the recognition of letters of credit. I am not permitted to mention the names of the persons concerned to-night, but I think the names are known throughout Australia. Letters of credit are not issued to the man with a little corner shop, but a big company with a big corner shop has no difficulty in getting irrevocable letters of credit’ which permit it to obtain whatever goods it wants from overseas. That is a part of the pattern of the strangulation of the small Australian shopkeeper and the small Australian manufacturer. The owners of the big firms which receive favorable treatment send letters to the Prime Minister, demanding such treatment. That was admitted in the House a fortnight ago, just before the Prime Minister ran out and denied the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) the right to reply to his filthy insinuations.
I appeal to honorable gentlemen apposite, although I think the appeal will be hopeless, to show more enthusiasm for assisting the helpless members of our community. I refer to age and invalid pensioners. During the last two or three weeks, not a word has been said in this chamber by Government members about the old people in the community. Do honorable gentlemen opposite think that an age or invalid pensioner can live on a paltry £3 a week? It is impossible to do so. Something should be done for pensioners, because their plight is tragic. Although I believe that the complete abolition of the means test is eminently desirable, I think that the most urgent problem with which we are confronted to-day in the field of social services is the basic rate of pensions. If we increased the basic rate to about £4 5s. a week for a single man and to £8 10s. for a married couple, the income of a married couple, if they earned the permissible income, would be about -£11 a week. The basic wage now is about £11 3s. a week.
– How does the honorable gentleman suggest that the necessary money should be found? Does he suggest that it should come from taxes?
– The revenue from taxation is sufficient to enable us to expend £165,000,000 for war purposes. Let us expend some of that £165,000,000 upon social services. Let us have fewer guns and more social services. I say that deliberately. All that honorable gentlemen opposite think of is defence, but their defence effort is so much baloney. The Government is hiding behind a security screen. We are not permitted to mention this or that. Dar- win is the gateway to the East, but we have not yet built a new wharf there, although berths for ships are an essential part of any defence plan. Something should be done to assist our aged people. In Australia there are only 406 age pensioners and 82 invalid pensioners in every 10,000 people spread over the population. Finance should be available to give to those pensioners some comfort in their old age and their sickness. If Australia cannot keep 488 people in every 10,000 in some degree of comfort, I do not know what the country is coming to. Sixty-five per cent, of age pensioners are in receipt of no other income. Only 15 per cent, have private incomes of 5s. a week or less and they are not affected by the means test. Twenty per cent, of the total number of pensioners have incomes, apart from pensions, of more than 5s. a week. A survey has shown that only about 5 per cent, of the total number of pensioners would benefit to a marked degree by a substantial relaxation of the means test. That is something with which the ‘ Government might conjure. It is high time that something was done for those people. In 1948 a married couple who were pensioners were permitted a total income of £7 5s. a week. That was 29s. above the basic wage. Now with the basic wage £11 3s. a week, a married couple who are pensioners may receive only £9 a week, including the pension. Therefore they receive at the best, £2 3s. under the basic wage.
The unemployment sustenance payment is 25s. a week. It has not been increased by successive governments and everybody knows how much can be bought now for 25s. Something suspicious lies behind the refusal of the Minister to increase that amount. The real purpose of the Government has been to create an army of unemployed. The Treasurer refused to increase the unemployment benefit in the last budget so that the unemployed would be forced into the Army. Some substantiation, of that statement is provided by no other person than the Director-General of Recruiting, Lieutenant-General Sir Horace Robertson, who said in Melbourne -
No man who fears that a recession will cost him his job need worry unduly because the services have a secure, well-paid job for him . . .
He could offer no better advice for the oura of ‘”’ recessionists “ than “ Join up now “.
That gentleman is in close conclave with Government members, for from day to day he announces what the Government policy is going to be in regard to recruiting and the Army in general. I believe that he is overstepping his job. In a statement that he made recently, he insulted the younger fellows in the Australian community between the ages of nineteen and 26 years when he said they were shirking their duty. The Director-General of Recruiting did not take into consideration the fact that at the age of nineteen, all those boys would be serving their apprenticeships and learning the trades which are so essential to the defence of Australia in war. Lieutenant-General Robertson should be pulled up. He has a job to do in recruiting and he should stick to that job. If he is incapable of doing it, let him get out and let some man who is capable of doing so fill his well-paid post. LieutenantGeneral Robertson would not agree that Australia needs tradesmen, dentists, chemists, carpenters, plumbers or lawyers. At nineteen years of age, young men are in the middle of their studies. That would not occur to LieutenantGeneral Robertson in his eagerness to spill somebody’s blood. If he would take a walk round the technical colleges and get some experience, he would find that the young people whom he accuses of shirking their duty are not shirking but are learning trades for our defence, which includes, in the words of a Minister, “ armed might “. I would say to the Government, “ Take a grip on Lieutenant-General Sir Horace Robertson “.
I turn now to the inadequate provision for maintenance. No consideration hasbeen given to the invalid children of married couples when the father is earning £12 a week.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the Supply Bill and shall begin by saying something to the honorable member for “Watson (Mr. Curtin), who has just completed what I can only describe as a somewhat nauseating attack’ on a number of decent people under the privilege of this House. Honorable members have tolerated the honorable member for Watson for the last several years, and he has somewhat improved, but I think that I should remind him that there are times and places for certain attacks and that this House is not the place for all of them. Honorable members should maintain some standard of decency. If they reduce the Parliament of the Commonwealth to the level of a common battleground, Australians will lose faith in democracy. The attack of the honorable member for Watson on LieutenantGeneral Sir Horace Robertson was most unfortunate and uncalled for. LieutenantGeneral Robertson is well known throughout Australia, particularly to those men who fought with the Australian Imperial Force, as a man of great integrity, courage and capacity. We are particularly fortunate in having him as Director-General of Recruiting. Many problems are confronting Australia, and he is doing a job of which Australians ought to be very proud. I am confident that he will get as many people to appreciate their real responsibilities in relation to the Citizen Military Forces as anybody else could possibly do. I can dispose of that subject there, because, after all, it was quite unnecessary to have even mentioned the matter in view of LieutenantGeneral Robertson’s great reputation.
The honorable member for Watson referred to the alleged stifling of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) in his murderous attack on the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) recently. I have read carefully the comments that were made by the Prime Minister at the time. The right honorable gentleman made it patently clear that he would appoint a royal commission to look into the matter that had been raised by the honorable member for East Sydney provided the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) associated himself personally with the charges of the erudite person from East Sydney, and, secondly, if the honorable member for East Sydney would go into the witnessbox and submit himself to examination. Once before, the honorable member for East Sydney was involved in a matter that involved the appointment of a royal commission, and he refused then to give evidence. He claimed privilege then as his right as a member of this Parliament.
I direct the attention of honorable members to a statement that was made by the honorable member for Watson, which, in effect, was, “ We are pledged to run Australian’ National Airways Proprietary Limited out of the air “. I ask honorable members to bear that statement in mind because there speaks the voice of the real socialist and a member of the Australian Labour party who is pledged to the socialization of production, distribution and the means of exchange. There speaks the voice of the advocate of a planned economy, though it is somewhat raucous, I agree. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), who is sitting at the table, is a moderate and well-liked member of this House, but he is pledged in a similar way. I should be interested to hear from the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) whether he believes that his party leader would give his imprimatur to the statement that was made by the honorable member for Watson, “ We are pledged to run Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited out of the air”. I believe that if honorable members opposite will come into the open and say, “ We are the people who believe in the planned economy. We believe, not in private enterprise, but in socialism and the com plete domination of the State”, at least the political picture will have been clarified for the people of Australia. It is of great importance that we should know just where we are going politically.
The comments of the honorable member for Watson on uranium are in keeping with his unfortunate, misinformed, inaccurate and ignorant comments on defence. That the threat of war is receding is due solely to the fact that the enemy - Soviet Russia - is no longer confident that it can attack at will. That is because the democratic nations of the world have got together and have made a real effort to get their defence forces ready for war. If we had left our defence forces in a reduced condition, we should have found ourselves in the middle of a third world war. I believe that in the future we shall face important days. Australia is on the threshold of big events. The economic trends of the world, due to a certain lack of balance in economic efforts, have forced us to review our economy so that it will be organized to give the best results. If honorable members look back over the last twelve years, they will recognize the trend towards economic instability in the modern sense of the term. There were six years of war in which much money and effort were channelled into the production of those things that were virtually of no value at all from a peace-time point of view. The enormous concentration of purchasing power in the community meant that when the war finished an enormous flood of currency was allowed to compete for all sorts of consumer goods and materials. As a result, we have inflation which is a flat tax spread throughout the community. There is a world shortage of food. The United Nations has addressed itself to that problem, and, as a primaryproducing country, we are looking at our own economy and wondering whether we are making as substantia] a contribution to its solution as we should be able to make. During six years of war. the production of building materials necessarily was greatly reduced, but during the period from 1945 to 1949 the Labour Government of the day had every opportunity to plan development. During the war capital equipment as a whole was allowed to run down, and, subsequently, urgent attention bad to be given to overtaking the lag in maintenance. This point brings me to a particular aspect of the outlook of the Australian Labour party. It is significant that from 1945 to 1949 that party concentrated upon industrial expansion in the big cities. Of course, from the stand-point of Australia’s economy as a whole, such action was a tragic mistake, because it would have been better had that Government concentrated on the expansion of primary production. As the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) pointed out this afternoon, only 580,000 persons out of our total population of 8,311,000 are now engaged in primary industry, whereas 1,000,000 are engaged in secondary industry and 1,850,000 are engaged in tertiary industry, which embraces services such as transport. That makes up a total labour force of 3,430,000. The significant point, however, is that 30,000 fewer persons are engaged in primary industry to-day than were so engaged in 1938, when our population was only approximately 6,750,000. More seriously still, that decline is continuing. Thus we are now less able than we were hitherto to contribute to the world’s food supply.
From 1945 to 1949 the Labour Government of the day realized that by concentrating upon industrial expansion in the cities it could gain for itself a great party political advantage, because it is from the densely populated industrial areas that ‘the socialists derive their greatest support. It would not be to their advantage if our economy were decentralized and based mainly upon primary production. Over 3,000,000 of our population of 8,311,000 live in Sydney and Melbourne. The greater the degree to which our population is decentralized, the more unfavorable will be the spread of population to the political prospects of the Labour party.
I do not suggest that personalities do not play an important part in the political arena. I do not believe that all members of the Opposition would endorse the statement by the honorable member for Watson that it is the object of the Labour party to run Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited out of the air. The former member for Fremantle, the late Mr. John Curtin, was not a socialist in the sense that he wished to do with the same speed and violence the things that the former member for Macquarie, the late Mr. Chifley, set out to do.
I turn now to the money problem that confronts Australia at present. As a supporter of a Liberal government, it is with some sadness that I observe that the Commonwealth Treasurer controls 33 per cent. of the national income. That is socialization by a slow process, to which there does not appear to be any effective answer. When a government goes on taxing and taxing, it reduces initiative and, eventually, absorbs all the assets that are used to produce the wealth of a country. Once those assets are destroyed, the profit motive is destroyed; and then a government must rely upon the fear motive, which is the driving force in all totalitarian systems. No supporter of a Liberal government wishes to see such a system arise in this country. Last year, the Government expended £300,000,000, or one-third of its income, on the provision of repatriation and social services benefits.
There was much truth in what the honorable member for Watson said about the position of aged people in this country. Supporters of the Government have urged it to do more in the interests of that section of the community. However, the fact remains that we are now expending that huge sum annually on social services. Honorable members opposite should say exactly what they want the Government to do in this matter. Do they contend that the Government should expend £500,000,000 on social services? If they do, let them say so; but they must admit that the Government, if it does so, must increase taxation accordingly. Or do they believe that the Government should utilize central bank credit in order to meet the additional expenditure? That, of course, would involve unlimited inflation. However, members of the Opposition never put forward any concrete suggestion when they discuss this matter. They remind one of a yahoo yodelling after a tram that he has just missed. The point I make is that if the present trend in Government finance is not checked, Australia will eventually find itself with a planned economy.
When one peruses the figures in respect of Commonwealth payments to the States under all headings, one must blame the Commonwealth for the attitude that the State Premiers have now adopted towards it. The Commonwealth is morally culpable for the financial irresponsibility of the States, which is now apparent, to a degree previously unknown in the history of this country. So long as the States are allowed to expend without shouldering the responsibility of raising public money, we shall deserve what must inevitably be our fate politically. We must establish sane standards in this matter. If we want to retain State governments and local government authorities, let us have them by all means; but let us say to them that they must take direct responsibility for the imposition of taxes in order to produce the revenues that they require. The people could express their views at the polling booths as elections were held. If that were done there might be a more rapid turnover of members of Parliament.
Unless we can do something in the near future to entice people into primary production, and unless we can obtain a considerable increase of the rural earning capacity of the country, we shall find ourselves unable to sustain the defence effort which is vitally necessary if we are to hold this country. I believe that we have a distinct lack of appreciation of the importance of a defence effort. That lack is understandable, because those who know what it means to take part in a war were obliged to go far away from Australia in order to engage in actual fighting. They are the people who would say, “Do not let war come to this country. I should prefer to go overseas and fight in it there “. The’ sensible man would prefer to go anywhere, if necessary, rather than that war should come to his homeland.
Two world wars have been fought, and to all intents and purposes Australia, as a country, remains untouched. It is true that people were killed and that misery was experienced in the community as the result of tragic casualties. But when one thinks of Bremen, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Berlin, of the Russian Ukraine, of Poland and, indeed, of Europe itself, and considers what it means to be subjected to occupation and enemy attack, it is possible to appreciate that it is nonsense to say that Australia has been affected by two world wars. Because that statement has been made so often, many people have been led to say, “ I shall leave it to George to join the military forces and train himself to fight, if necessary’”. Here, again, responsibility rests primarily with the Australian Government, because it is responsible for the defence of the country. It is its duty to make the citizens of Australia aware of their share of that responsibility. Having seen volunteer forces fighting in two world wars, it is my view that the maintenance of the voluntary system of enlistment amounts to a continuation of an improper practice, because it permits too many people to shed themselves of their responsibility. I remind honorable members that many people are prepared to do so with great alacrity.
– And some of them talk a great deal !
– I agree that that is so.
I wish now to deal with the subject of banking. Those who heard the honorable member for Watson state that the Australian Labour party is pledged to drive Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited from the air perhaps thought to themselves that the time has come when we must make up our minds whether we are to be a government-controlled country or not, or whether or not we intend to maintain a system of free enterprise. A man by the name of Karl Marx is at the core of this problem. He was the great apostle of socialism, of planned economy, and of government-owned, directed and controlled banking. He stated very clearly that banking should be the first thing to be controlled. He believed that if control of the money in the community could be attained, all private enterprise secured, all diversion of control removed, and complete control of banking achieved, one would have everything. Ultimately it would be only a matter of time when, by devious means, it would be possible to. remove all free enterprise from the community. If that is what the. Australian people, want, it is. all right with una. My concern is that the people realize what they will receive. In all fairness - and the honorable member for “Watson made the matter perfectly plain - that is what members of the Opposition stand for. In 1949, they went to the country with a proposal for an alteration of banking policy which was credited to the late Maurice Blackburn, who was formerly a member of this- Parliament. They said to the people, “We did not really mean to. control banking. After all,, we are not thorough economic planners. We merely say that there should be a certain amount of economic planning”. It should be remembered that it is. not possible to half-plan an economy. One either believes in an economic policy or one does not believe in it. The people must be allowed to choose the policy that they want. I believe that a day, tragic to a degree that I cannot assess, will dawn when this good country of free people will decide that the government is the organization to do all the thinking and planning. Many people are very happy because the Government has imposed import restrictions. In doing so, it. has intervened between them and exporters, overseas who otherwise, may have been obliged to take certain Australian importers to law.
I believe that banking is the basic factor in the democratic way of life, as I see it. The late Mr. Chifley made it very clear that his aim was to drive the private banks out of business. He and his party wanted to do so because they desired complete control over banking institutions in order to be able to weld them into one great institution. They made overtures to the staffs of the private banks and told them that they would be all right, that they would be compensated and that their future conditions would be even better than those provided by the private banks. It was obvious that the human problem had to be overcome. The result was to be a completely governmentowned, directed and controlled banking system. The aim of the government of the day was to eliminate, completely, all competition from banking. At some later date I hope to have an opportunity to spend a little more time on this, interesting topic. Banking is by no means a kind of witchcraft, as so many people seem to believe. The man in the street is able to understand a. certain amount about banking and the elements, of fail- competition. I have always understood that to the average Australian the principle of a “fair go” is vital and something customarily associated with Australians and Australia. I believe, as do the leaders of the Government,, that it is wrong that a great central banking institution should have trading bank departments. It is obvious that if one is- to be the referee and a player as well, at some stage there may be a temptation to favour oneself. For that reason,. I consider that a Commonwealth trading bank, which, would function on precisely the. same conditions as normal trading banks, should be established in Australia. That seems to be very fair.
– But the Commonwealth Bank does not function in that way.
– The honorable member is referring to the general banking division of the Commonwealth Bank. I am suggesting an entirely new entity, a Commonwealth trading bank,, which would be different from a mere division of the Commonwealth Bank. I believe that the central banking function should be completely separate from the suggested trading bank. There should be no connexion between the staffs of the two banks, each of which should have a different chairman or governor. The governor of the central bank would have responsibility of a measure that no other Australian appointment would carry, except that of Prime Minister. His integrity and capacity would be of an importance to be rivalled only by that of the Prime Minister. We shall probably bear more of this matter, because I know that the Government is aware of those facts.
I turn now to the extraordinary and unfortunate criticisms that were voiced by the honorable member for Watson in relation to banking. Let us be quite frank. Anybody in Australia who knows anything about banking really wants the private banking system to have a “ fair go “ and a proper opportunity to function. Let any necessary limitations be imposed on it, but let them apply equally to the trading operations of the Commonwealth Bank. Let all the trading banks, including a Commonwealth trading bank such as I have suggested, function in free competition with one another. Honorable members opposite, and their supporters outside, believe that government control should reach into every aspect of banking. They believe that the economy of the nation should be allowed to function only if governments are allowed to get their hands deep into its very entrails. I think that the time will come when they will have to change those views, because they are completely wrong.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham) has endeavoured to make great capital from the statement of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) that the Labour party was pledged to drive Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited out of the sky. The honorable member for St. George knows just as well as honorable members on this side of the House know, that the Opposition stated that if the merger of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and Trans-Australia Airlines that was proposed had taken place we would, when we were returned to office, restore the separate identity of Trans-Australia Airlines. The only way that the Labour party will perhaps drive Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited out of the air will be by the use of free competition.
– And concessions.
– Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited was established before Trans-Australia Airlines was established, but, apparently, because of the efficiency with Which TransAustralia Airlines conducted its business, Trans-Australia Airlines has been able to operate more successfully than has Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. It is true that Trans-Australia Airlines had a monopoly of the mails. We say that when we are returned to office Trans-Australia Airlines will again be given that monopoly. It was apparently all right, in the view of honorable members opposite, for the big shipping lines and other interests that are associated with Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited to squeal because the governmentrun airline was receiving custom from a government institution. I say again, quite definitely, that when Labour is returned to power Trans-Australia Airlines will be restored to the position that it held prior to the completion of the agreement that the Government has negotiated in relation to it and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited.
I wish to correct a misstatement that was made by the honorable member for Griffiths (Mr. Berry), when he cast a reflection on the prices officers of the Queensland Government by stating that they had compiled the “ C “ series index figures and forwarded them to the Commonwealth Statistician. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is well known that the Commonwealth Statistician employs field officers who take a cross-section of the business done by various firms, and check and re-check the figures obtained before submitting them to the statistician. They are the people responsible for the data on which the “ C “ series index is compiled, and it cannot be justly said that the workers of Queensland have been robbed through having money taken from their pockets because incorrect figures have been submitted.
– They have been robbed by the butchers and the black marketeers.
– That is so. Despite all the protests that Government members may make to the effect that the Government is not responsible for the nation’s present economic unbalance, the fact remains that history cannot be altered. History shows that when the Labour party left office in 1949 this country had the soundest economy of any country in the world. This Government, shortly after it took office in 1950, announced that capital issues control was to be removed. With its removal big industrialists, financial institutions and business houses obtained all the capital they wanted. They ran riot. They obtained letters of credit and were able to order and import goods, including luxury goods. Motor cars came into this country by the thousands. Whereas previously people had had to wait three or four years to obtain new motor cars they were then able to obtain them in three or four days. At the same time the Government allowed a black market to grow in the sale of second-hand motor cars. It was not until the textile industry had been severely hit and had commenced to retrench staffs, and after the Opposition had started to complain of the effect that the flood of imports was having on employment and on the national economy, that the Government began to take notice. I remember full well that the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) time and time again raised the subject of the happenings in the country as a result of the removal of capital issues control. There is therefore no doubt that the Government must accept the whole of the blame.
Under the circumstances that I have outlined, the Opposition would be justified in opposing the granting of supply to the Government, because not only has the Government failed to honour its election promises, but it has also brought discredit to the nation ; poverty, unemployment and insecurity to many of our people; and a general atmosphere of uncertainty to everybody. Many invalids and infirm people are almost starving as the result of the inflationary situation. Honorable members will recall that the Government parties were elected to office on the 10th December, 1949, after their candidates had convinced the people that the Chifley Labour Government had failed to arrest inflation and had failed to remove controls. They told the electors that if the Labour Government were returned to office the people would lose their homes and their savings. They promised to reduce the cost of living. At that time, the basic wage was £6 12s. a week. They also promised to check inflation, and to put value back into the £1. The Prime Minister promised the housewives that he would take steps to ensure that the £1 of those days would buy as much as the pre-war £1 had bought. He promised to stabilize the Australian economy and to increase production, both primary and secondary. The people were told that full employment would continue, and that they need never again fear unemployment.
History now records that inflation was not checked. The basic wage has sky-rocketed to the staggering figure of £11 3s. a week and possibly, within the next few months, it will rise to at least double the amount when Labour left office. The economy has not been stabilized, nor has value been put back into the £1. Instead of buying more commodities to-day, the £1 is buying less than ever. Unemployment is growing. Government supporters continue to blame the Opposition for the failure of this Administration to live up to its election promises. As the occasion suite, they shift the blame from the Opposition to workers in industry, to the Communists, or to some one else. So that the House may be able to follow the happenings since this Government took office, I shall make a few quotations from the Prime Minister’s policy speech of 1951. He said-
This is not the occasion for a new policy. What we ask for is a fair chance to carry out our existing policy.
The Government has not even tried to carry out its so-called “ existing “ policy.
– It never had a policy.
– As the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) reminds me, the Government has never had a policy. Speaking of full employment, the Prime Minister said -
At the last election, the Labour party told you from every platform that we were the “pool of unemployment” parties! It said: - “ You’ll all be cool, in Menzies’ pool “. In fact, there is more than full employment.
I wonder how many people are being cooled off to-night because they have no jobs. It is easy to see that unemployment, or as the Government calls it, “ disemployment “, will continue. Speaking of the coal position, the Prime Minister said -
But the coal problem will not be solved until Communist misleadership has been ended.
Not one word has been said by the Government in commendation of the high rate of production that has been reached in the coal-mining industry this year. The output so far has been 1,500,000 tons greater than that for the corresponding period of last year. The miners are attacked often enough when such attacks suit the Government, but when their output reaches record figures, they are not given one word of credit. Dealing with social services, the Prime Minister said -
We made no cash promises to pensioners . . the pensioners need not be lead away by election cash offers. We will look after them. We may be relied upon to do full justice to their needs, as we have done before.
The pensioners realize now just how willing the Government is to look after them. All Labour’s prophecies about this Administration have proved to be justified. It is deplorable indeed that, although the Prime Minister is prepared to attack the coal miners continually, he is unwilling to give them one word of praise when they are producing more coal than ever before. The right honorable gentleman ako promised to co-operate with the States in relation to electricity supplies, production, transport, agriculture and development; but he has failed to do so. The result is that not only have the people lost confidence in the Government, but also the State Premiers have arraigned themselves against the Commonwealth.
In this debate, as in many others, we have heard it said repeatedly that the Loan Council determines loan allocations and interest rates. Yet this Government has ref used to recognize the council’s most recent allocations of funds to the States. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) contends that the loan market is’ incapable of meeting the requirements of the States. I believe that if the Government is to retain the uniform tax system, and to continue as the only public borrowing authority, it must respect the requirements of the States. It is useless to say that the loan market cannot provide the money that is required. If the Government were to guarantee par values to investors for all investments that they seek to redeem, there would be no loan failures. Recently, an old lady interviewed me and asked why she could not obtain an age pension. I found that she had been able to save £1,100 during her lifetime, and that, because she had that sum invested in government securities, she was ineligible for a pension. I told her to go to a bank and cash one of her bonds so that she could start to live in greater comfort. When she went to the bank, however, she found that bonds due to mature in 1958 were valued at only £92, plus interest for the period for which they had been held. One can well imagine her reaction to that information. How many people will invest money in government loans, knowing that they are liable to incur a substantial loss if they wish to sell their bonds before the maturing date?
I believe that if the confidence of the people in the Government were restored, all the money that is needed could be raised. We are informed that savings bank deposits alone amount to £873,000,000, and that figure is still growing. Deposits in the trading banks amount to approximately £1,400,000,000, and much more is held in trust accounts, co-operatives, &c. The Government’s refusal to provide the States with the loan money that they require will accentuate unemployment, and cause a further deterioration in the national economy in the next year or so. The Government ha3 challenged the Opposition to say which items of expenditure it would reduce to provide more money for other purposes.
I have no hesitation in saying that I would cut defence expenditure. Had the Government followed the Chifley defence plan since 1949, with progressive increases of expenditure to suit altered conditions, I have no doubt that the national economy would be in a far healthier state than it is in to-day.
In order to estimate defence needs, we have only to recall the statement of Mr. Yoshida, the Prime Minister of Japan, after the ratification of the peace treaty, that the Japanese Government would not be in a hurry to rearm the nation and that the defence of Japan would be left in the hands of the United States of America. He expressed the opinion that the first duty of his Government was to rehabilitate Japan and to care for the Japanese people. I claim that the first duty of any Australian government is to look after its people, and to develop the internal defences of the nation. We have been allowed a breathing space since the end of World War II. The Chifley Government paved the way for industrial and rural expansion by the expeditious manner in which it changed the nation’s economy from a war-time to a peacetime basis, but this Government’s policy of making preparations for war and imposing general restrictions on trade has altered the whole Australian scene. Production has declined instead of expanding as the Chifley Government planned that it should do. Thousands of young men who are now undergoing national service training should be working in industry. They could assist to provide the goods and services that are required by the people; they could fabricate the steel needed for the expansion of industry; and they could help to build ships for commerce, and highways capable of carrying heavy military transport, especially in war-time.
The railway systems of Australia are now in a worse condition than they were in 30 years ago. Rolling stock and tracks have worn out. Three or four different gauges still exist and there is no sign of action to standardize them. Yet there are modern diesel-electric locomotives in Australia that could reduce b,y one-half the running time between any two points in Australia if the condition of the tracks was improved and the gauges were standardized. Young men, instead of marching about the country in military uniform, should be engaged on work of that kind. I should like to know what the position will be if there is no war before 1960. Who will be required to defend Australia at that time? The young men who are now underging national service training will not be called upon to fight after that year, and the nation will never again have such a breathing space between wars in which to develop its resources. Advantage has not been taken by the Government of the present breathing space. The Government, by its policy and also by its refusal to allow the States to raise the money that they require for housing programmes, water and sewerage projects, educational facilities and public works, shows that it has little regard for the internal defence of the nation. The State of New South Wales has a big population, yet funds are denied to the State Government for the development of railways and highways, the construction of power houses, and the expansion of social welfare services.
Newcastle, the second largest city in New South Wales, has a population of more than 250,000 persons, and is the industrial bastion of the Commonwealth, yet little regard is paid by the Government to its defence value. Funds have been refused for the provision of a civil airport or for the improvement of harbour facilities so that coal, steel and general merchandise may be loaded and handled efficiently. I venture to say that in no other port in Australia can a ship be cleared from the harbour to the sea as quickly as it can at Newcastle. It is possible that in any future war the great port of Newcastle will be of the utmost value to the nation because of its resources of coal and steel. If funds were made available to complete the- Sandy Hollow-Maryvale railway, and to build a modern airport, Newcastle could meet the needs of more than 750,000 people. What would happen in war-time to areas north of Sydney if the Hawkesbury River Bridge were destroyed and the port of Newcastle were allowed to silt up so that large vessels could not manoeuvre quickly in the harbour and clear the entrance if they were attacked from the air? The Government has no appreciation of the defence value of that great port.
Recently I read in the press that an American firm is building one of the largest and most powerful dredges in the world. I understand that it is a diesel-electric dredge which is capable of removing between 400,000 and 500,000 cubic yards of silt a month. The firm specializes in the reclamation of land. Two of its executives have come to Australia to ascertain the prospects of securing contracts here. If the Government is so concerned with production problems why does it not jump at the opportunity to expend some of its money on dredging the great rivers of Australia and making thousands of acres of land available for primary production or for industries? It is appalling to see how large rivers in New SouthWales have deteriorated-. From the Tweed River to the Hunter River, and even further south, the coastal rivers have silted up, but practically nothing is being clone to improve that position. The residents of the northern rivers districts, particularly farmers, have protested in vain. The greatest loss has been sustained, as the result of floods, in places such as Maitland, Kempsey and Lismore. If the rivers are permitted to remain silted up, each new flood will be worse than the preceding one. The Treasurer is well aware of the hostility of the residents of Kempsey who suffered so disastrously from two floods that occurred within fifteen months of one another a couple of years ago. I saw hundreds of head of cattle that had been drowned in the Kempsey district in the great floods of 1949. It is all very well for members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party to laugh. Had they heard the condemnation of this Government that was expressed during the Lyne by-election recently, they would not laugh so readily at a disaster which befell the residents of Kempsey. Roads and bridges which were damaged by floods some time ago have not yet been repaired. I recall that during the Lyne by-election one of the candidates, who claimedto be an independent Liberal, spoke at length about the way in which this Government had allowed the country to drift, and uttered trenchant criticism of the Treasurer, who is the leader of the Australian Country party.
The plight of pensioners, who have no income other than their pensions is to be deplored. They live in tragic circumstances. Their pensions are at an alltime low in purchasing power. Pensioners are now receiving less than 26 per cent. of the basic wage. When sales tax and the high prices which are charged for articles of low quality are taken into consideration, the pensioners are receiving only about 20 per cent. of the basic wage. High rents also reduce the value of their pensions. The Government has let the pensioners down badly, and it is plainly its duty to give them relief.
The people of Newcastle are the victims of the “sock the people” policy of the Government-. The Government has found it necessary to increase postal and telephone charges twice in the last twelve months. These increases were undoubtedly severe, but even then, the Government wasnot satisfied. Various telephoneexchangesinthe Newcastle area were added to the automatic system, and the number oftelephone subscribers in the network was increased to a few in excess of 10,001. Therefore, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) has decidedto increase this rentals for telephones in the Newcastle area as from next June. I understand that such increases are in conformity with the regulations, and Iprotest against them. It appears that the people of Newcastle are the victims of vicious regulations that should be amended without delay. I do not suppose that any city in Australia, apart from the capital cities, is in the same category as Newcastle. Telephone subscribers of Newcastle are paying much higher charges for the service than are persons who use public telephones at a cost of 2d. a call. The regulations provide that ina network outside the metropolitan area, within a 10-mile radius, and with more than 10,001 subscribers, the rental shall be £11 10s. for a telephone for business purposes and £10 5s. for a telephone for private use. The call fee is 3d. I know of no other place outside Newcastle where this applies. In Sydney and Melbourne, within a 15-mile radius, a rental of £12 5s. a year is charged for a telephone for a business and £11 for a telephone in a private residence. In country areas the rentals range from £4 7s. 6d. to £7 where there are up to 5,000 subscribers lines and the call fee is only 2½d.From 5,001 subscribers’ lines to 10,000 the charge is £5 8s. for a private telephone and £7 5s. for a business telephone Where the radius of Call is 5 miles. The rental charge is £9 15s. for a business telephone and £8 10s. for a private telephone where the radius of calls is 10 miles. My complaint is that there are more than 761,000 telephones in the metropolitan areas of the Commonwealth and the people of these areas enjoy the use of many thousands of lines more than do the people of Newcastle. Yet they pay only 15s. more for the service. In the country, subscribers pay only 2½d. a call, yet because the people of Newcastle have a few more than 10,001 lines they have to pay an additional £115s. a year in rental and they have to pay a minimum of 6d. for a trunk-line call and 3d. for each call within the Newcastle network. Subscribers in the metropolitan areas enjoy the use of thousands of extra lines for only a few shillings more. I ask the Government to review the regulations and treat the people of Newcastle fairly.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Davis) adjourned.
The following bills were returned from the Senate without amendment : -
High Commissioner Bill . 1952.
Spirits Bill 1952.
Whaling: Industry Bill 1952.
Australian War Memorial Bill 1952.
Air Force Bill 1952.
Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill 1952.
Naval Defence Bill 1952.
Northern Territory Acceptance Bill 1952.
Aluminium Industry Bill 1952.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- On the 15th May, during the debate on the subject of land settlement of exservicemen, I took the opportunity to protest against certain action that had been taken by the Lands and Surveys Department in Western Australia. I was particularly concerned with the case of a soldier settler who had been given a property 25 miles from Kojonup by the Lands and Surveys Department two and a half years ago. He had no transport and had to live on the property in a tent with his wife and attempt to clear the land, which he did. During the period that he was there a great many events occurred which would support a charge of maladministration against the State
Lands and Surveys Department. At the end of two and a half years, without having been previously advised by letter that his work was not regarded as satisfactory, he received a letter advising him that he would have to vacate the property within fourteen days. He received that letter five days after it had been posted, because of the inaccessability of his farm. This man had an outstanding record as a soldier. I took the case up with the department concerned, but could not obtain an assurance that he would be permitted to remain on the property until such time as the charges that I had levelled against the department had been investigated. In the edition of the West Australian which was published to-day, the Minister for Lands and Surveys in “Western Australia is reported to have criticized me.
– The acting president of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia said something, too.
– He based his comments on. the very abbreviated version of my comments which appeared in the W est Australian. I have received a number of telegrams from returned soldiers’ organizations throughoutWestern Australia which indicate that the charges I make have even wider application than I had indicated. If the Minister for Lands and Surveys would devote his energies to righting the wrong that has been done to this soldier settler it would be better for all concerned. Officers of the department have retreated from the case against them on theWoolridge issue by heaping untruth upon untruth and half-truth upon half-truth. I make the charge that the Lands and Surveys Department has accepted untrue reports. I charge that department with maladministration and with victimization. I charge it with having requested a person who was in no way concerned in this case to write a letter which was damaging to Woolridge to the department. I charge the department with having taken into consideration during the allocation proceedings an entirely irrelevant matter and one which establishes beyond doubt that the allocation proceedings were farcical and without any semblance of justice. I charge the department with the practice of deliberate premeditated and wilful falsehood and with requesting that Woolridge drop a certain matter. I charge it with having refused Woolridge permission to remain on the property until such time as the Kojonup branch of the Returned Sailors Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia could conduct its own investigation into the matter. I charge the department also with having sought to avoid the setting up of an appeal board and with having studiously avoided an investigation of any kind by an authority that would be acceptable to Woolridge or myself.
I canvassed most of these matters in the course of the remarks that I made on the 15th May, and I do not propose to do so again. However, there are two or three items on which I consider that I should enlarge. The first concerns the contacting of an outside person who was in no way concerned with this case. After I had been promised an inquiry into this matter, although I indicated that the suggested procedure would be unsatisfactory, an inquiry took place. An officer spent a very short time on Woolridge’s property and then went to a neighbour’s property. A fortnight after this visit from the officer, the neighbour wrote to the department stating that Woolridge was an unsatisfactory neighbour and asking that he be removed from the districtWhen I contacted an officer of the department in regard to this matter he said, without making any attempt to establish the correctness of the charges contained in the letter, “Woolridge will never get the farm now”. That officer had made no attempt at any time to hear Woolridge’s side of the argument. The charge was that certain of Woolridge’s sheep had gone onto the neighbour’s property. Woolridge had 125 sheep on 2,000 acre’. Yet this charge was made against him by his neighbour. Woolridge has informed me that the position was the reverse of that alleged. Indeed, this statement was a deliberate and premeditated falsehood. The officer who made the investigation reported that the Kojonup sub-branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia had “ given Woolridge away”. He reported also that Woolridge was off the property - two statements which were calculated to stop any further action. I contacted certain people in the district and was informed that that matter had never come before the Kojonup sub-branch of the league, but that league officials had waited for the officer in the town, but he had not met them. Yet he went back to Perth and made a statement, which was a wilful lie. He stated that Woolridge had left the property. Yet four weeks afterwards the Western Australian Government had to issue an eviction writ against him returnable in the Supreme Court.
Several years earlier, Woolridge was living in a different district, and he bought an article from a certain storekeeper for about £6. There was a difference of opinion, and letters are still proceeding between the two men. The storekeeper wrote a letter which was placed on Woolridge’s file in the Lands and Survey Department and was taken into consideration in its deliberations. When I visited the department, the first thing that was said to me was, “ You should hear what a certain storekeeper has to say about him “. That incident occurred years earlier, and has nothing to do with the case. Moreover, if that storekeeper had a claim .against Woolridge he should have taken the matter to the courts. Instead of that he wrote to the department and the department made no attempt to ascertain whether the complaint was justified, but did take it into consideration. Until an appeal board is set up in Western Australia ex-servicemen settlers will have no redress against unfair decisions of. departmental officers.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Some honorable members may consider that the subject referred to by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Grayden) is not a Commonwealth responsibility. It is true that it is a local matter concerning one ex-serviceman settler which is being handled by one member of the Parliament, but there is a vital principle at stake, and I ask the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison), who is present in charge of the House, to refer this case to the Minister for the Interior (Mr.
Kent Hughes), who administers .affairs iia relation to the land settlement of ex-servicemen. The Australian Government is responsible for the reestablishment >of ex-servicemen, and neither it nor this Parliament can escape the
Responsibility by saying that we have provided the money, and that it is the responsibility of the States to administer the scheme. Ex-servicemen cannot be as lightly -brushed aside as that. If there is ,a mere .suspicion that any exserviceman has been receiving unfair treatment by this -.Government, or the ,government of a State, his case should be dealt with by the highest authority. I believe that this matter is >one into which the Minister for the Interior should inquire. The honorable member for Swan referred to an .appeal board. Honorable members should be aware that in the agreement between the Commonwealth and .the States in connexion with the land settlement <of ex-servicemen, provision has been made for the setting up of an appeal board. Repeated requests to the State Government for the establishment of such an appeal board have been refused. If such a board had been in existence it .would have been able to. deal with this and similar cases, -and place the issue beyond doubt.
I suggest that it is a responsibility of the Australian Government to inquire into this matter >and to request Western Australia to inquire into it, or to allow an impartial and independent inquiry to be held by an appeal board, Ex-servicemen in Western Australia are anxious that such an appeal board should be established as ‘a safeguard against injustice. If such a board emerges from this matter, the action of the honorable member for -Swain in having brought this case to notice will have served an excellent .purpose.
.- T regret that owing to the somewhat turbulent and busy procedure of the last two nights in the Parliament it has not been possible for me to bring before honorable members an outrageous and unprecedented exercise of ministerial power. The matter refers to the termination of the appointment of Mr. C. W. Anderson, M.L.C., as a mem’ber of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. After inves tigation, I have .come to the conclusion that no more glaring ;or contemptible abuse of ministerial power has occurred in this country in our time. It is ‘one that will require the fullest explanation -from the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), -and .1 ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison), who is in charge of the House, to .request the Postmaster-General to give me an opportunity,, on the adjournment of Che House next week, to. lay these charges against him, and to be here so that he can answer them. I .suggest that my charges can be fully substantiated. Next week I ;shall raise this matter on the motion for the adjournment, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will be present to explain, if possible, .an undoubted .grave miscarriage of justice and a most contemptible case of political victimization of the worst kind.
.- Some time ago, arrangements for medical treatment of patients in repatriation hospitals were changed. Previously, the system followed was the same as that in public hospitals. ‘There was a panel of visiting honorary doctors who were responsible for the treatment of patients, the difference being that, whereas the honorary doctors in the repatriation hospitals receive a fee for each visit, Chose in public hospitals do not. After a -conference, which was called to discuss the matter, the department decided to appoint medical officers to the staffs of the repatriation hospitals, and ‘the honorary doctors have been relegated to a secondary position. It. is true that medical officers in repatriation hospitals may call in an outside doctor as a consultant, but for the most part patients are under the care of the permanent medical officers. I believe that the standard of medical attention in repatriation hospitals has suffered as a result of the change. It stands to reason that when there is a panel of doctors to call upon, the patient receives better and more skilful treatment. The same treatment cannot ‘be given when n medical officer is responsible for all the patients in a ward. I do not know why the change was made. Experience in public hospitals has shown that the best results are obtained by the employment of honorary doctors. Now, the activities of ‘honorary doctors in the repatriation hospitals have been restricted. They have been pushed into the background, and are called in only when the full-time medical officers wish to consult them. I hope that the position will be re-examined with a view to restoring the former system.
– in reply - The matters raised by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Grayden) and the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) will be attended to by the Minister concerned. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) discussed matters pertaining to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I am sure that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) will be glad to accommodate the honorable member one evening next week at the appropriate time. The honorable gentleman’s challenge will be conveyed to the Minister. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. O’Connor) discussed the treatment of patients in repatriation hospitals. I do not represent the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), but I assure the honorable member that his remarks will be brought to the notice of that Minister.
Question resolved in the affirmative. PAPERS.
The following papers were presented : -
House adjourned at 11.31 p.m.
d asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
Is ita fact that the head of the German migration mission in Australia,Dr. Frans Wolff, was an honorary member of the notorious S.S. (Black Guards) and that Bernard Ehmke and Kurt Brunhoff, members of the mission, were members of the Nazi party?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
Persons duly accredited to the Government of the Commonwealth and who are sent by their Governmentto Australia on a special mission are not subject to the provisions of the Immigration Act. The persons referred to in the honorable member’s question come within that category.
t. - On the 14th May, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) asked me the following question : -
Is the Minister for Labour and National Service aware that 26,000 tons of steel products intended for South Australia are detained in New South Wales - 10,000 tons at Newcastle and16,000 tons at Port Kembla? In view of the urgent need for steel products in South Australia will the Minister investigate the reason for the delay in these shipments and ascertain what can he done to expedite their departure for South Australia?
My colleague, the Minister for Shipping and Transport, has now supplied the following information: -
As at the 16th May there were 14,713 tons of steel at Newcastle and 8,714 tons at Port Kembla awaiting shipment to South Australia. At Newcastle vessels allotted to lift the steel were Iron Prince 5,100 tons and Iron Warrior 5,100 tons and at Port Kembla Iron King has completed loading 5,100 tons, so that of a total of 23,427 tons awaiting shipment at both ports tonnage has been allotted to lift 15,300 tons. At Port Kembla 2,500 tons are located at the works of the Australian Iron and Steel Company, and cannot be moved because of an industrial dispute, so that the quantity at both ports available for shipment but for which ships have not been allotted is 5,618 tons. The Combined Traffic Committee keeps under close review the necessity to allot shipping whenever practicable to move steel cargoes, but the industrial dispute which has stopped work at the Australian Iron and Steel Works at Port Kembla since the9th May will delay shipment from that port until the dispute is settled.
n asked the Minister for Works and Housing, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. Neither this Government nor its predecessor had any continuing demand for the importation of prefabricated houses; contracts being placed as the requirement’s arose from time to time. The first contracts let by tho Federal Government were placed in June, 1950, after it became apparent that the Australian building industry was fully committed in endeavouring to cope with house construction. So far contracts totalling 3,407 houses have been let of which 2,9S1 houses have been received in Australia, 72 arc on the water and the balance of 354 is cither awaiting shipment or in course of manufacture. Tn addition to the above and in order to meet an urgent requirement for housing for migrant coali)i i ner s in the southern coal-fields of New South Wales 300 imported prefabricated houses were purchased from the Victorian Railways. Subsequently this number was increased by taking over a further 200, making 500 in all from that source.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following information : - 1 and 2. -
Statistics concerning importations of books are not separately recorded.
s asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has furnished the following information : - 1 and 2. -
N asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What is the annual interest payable in each of the above categories?
Sir ARTHUR FADDEN.-The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - ]., 2 and 3. At the 31st December, 1951 (latest available date), the figures were -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Is he in a position to make a Statement on the question of a grant in return for services supplied by local governments?
– The answers to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
D asked the Treasurer, upon notice - 1.. Was the last Commonwealth loan undersubscribed; if so, by what amount?
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 May 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1952/19520522_reps_20_217/>.