20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Archie Cameron) took tho chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have to announce to the House that, during the absence abroad of the Postmaster-General and Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Anthony), the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) ‘will act as PostmasterGeneral, and the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator MeLeay) will act as Minister for Civil Aviation. Senator McLeay will be. represented in this chamber in both his capacities by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck;.
– Can the Prime Minister say whether negotiations are taking place for the sale of some or all of the_ ships belonging to the Commonwealth shipping line? If such negotiations are in progress, with whom are they being conducted, and what stage have they reached ?
– At a suitable time 1 shall make a statement on the problem of the Commonwealth shipping line. I arn not able to do so at the moment.
– Can the Minister for the Navy inform me whether the Government of the United Kingdom has instructed the Commander-in-Chief of tho British Ear Eastern Fleet at Singapore to render assistance to the Australian Government to investigate the movements of Russian submarines near the Solomon Islands? If such an offer has been made, will it be accepted? If no offer has been made, will an approach be made to the Admiralty?
– So far as I am aware, no instruction has been issued by the Admiralty to the CommanderinChief of the Far Eastern Fleet to render assistance to the Royal Australian Navy. T do not think that such assistance is necessary at present, because we are perfectly capable of carrying out reconnaissance and investigation in this area . ourselves. However, I shall ascertain from the Department of the Navy in Melbourne whether duy offer has been made, and, if so, what has been the reaction, of the Royal Australian Navy to it. I may say that we maintain the closest liaison with the British Navy in the Korean and Singapore areas, and wherever else cooperation is necessary. However, I point out to She House, because I believe it to be highly desirable, that, these unfortunate rumours should he squashed, that we have a most effective admiralty reporting organization, and efficient coastwatching stations in operation.
-Order ! The honorable member is departing from the subjectmatter of the question.
– Perhaps I am getting a little bit away from the subject. However, as I have 3aid, it is necessary that these unfortunate rumours should bc squashed. I repeat that there is a highly efficient organization operating in our northern- waters.
– On how many occasions during the past two years.has the Department of the Navy received reports of the presence of foreign vessels in waters adjacent to Australia or to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, without the authority or knowledge of Australian naval officials? “What was the nationality of the , vessel reported in each instance ? Were these, reports investigated, and if so, by whom and with what result? If the investigations proved to be negative, is there any reason why the reports of the investigations cannot be tabled in tha Parliament? “Will the Minister state whether, with his knowledge of the security measures taken, he would deem it impossible for foreigners to go ashore anywhere in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea without detection? Have any reports been received of Indonesian infiltration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. from Dutch New Guinea? If so. have’ the reports been investigated, end with what result?
-Order ! Before the Minister replies I point out that the honorable member’s questions relate to matters that could be dealt with in the Committee of Supply.
– So also could the matters covered by the earlier question which was addressed t» the Minister.
-Order! l am not prohibiting the Minister from answering the honorable member’s questions.
– I am happy to furnish a reply even though the questions covered many matters. The honorable member has not-very clearly distinguished between the various kinds of operations which he thinks . are taking place. He has displayed rather lamentable eonfusion over the matter. If he wanted to ascertain the facts, he should at least have told me-
– Order ! The Minister may not state his opinion of the honorable, member for East Sydney.
– I am not interested in the honorable member’s opinions. El is rather extraordinary that such questions should he asked by an honorable member who, in the past, has not shown very great interest - - -
– Order ! The Minister is getting off the track.
– I shall deal with the first question, which, indeed, is theonly one that I can remember, in which the honorable member referred to the presence of foreign vessels in waters adjacent to Australia or the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Offhand I. cannot state the exact number of vessels in respect of which reports have been made. I assure him that each report has been thoroughly investigated and that we have not, received one report of sufficiently high security grading to lead us to believe that submarines are, in fact, operating in Australian waters. The last occasion on which a high-grade report - it was n P>2 grade report - was made was on the 5th May. 1950. Since then we have not received any high-grade security reports that would give us grounds for suspecting that submarines were operating in Australian waters. At present a patrol is being carried out in the area. It is improbable that submarines are in fact operating in waters adjacent to Australia or the Territory of Papua and New Guinea.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy whether his complacent confidence that all is well, peacefill, secure and happy in our northern waters has any better basis than the similar confidence which was expressed by a former. Minister for the Navy in 1940 in respect of all warnings, and which proved so tragically misplaced ?
– I am not aware of the confidence expressed by a former Minister for the Navy in 1940, but I have complete confidence in the Royal Australian Navy and its personnel. I believe that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, if he had ever had the good fortune to come into contact with members of the Royal Australian Navy, particularly the senior officers, would have an abiding faith in them. As T stated earlier, the Navy has a splendid reporting organization in our northern waters. Being the organization best fitted for the purpose and being responsible for patrolling those waters, the Navy has decided to undertake spring cruises round the coastline of Manus Island and New Guinea, with a “ turnabout “ to the western coast of Australia: I shall ask representatives of the Navy for their comments about the cruise, and the strange reports that have emanated from some sources, and I shall certainly convey their remarks to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who pan then make un his mind about the situation. If he wishes to meet some of the officers of the Navy,’ I shall be the happiest man in the world to effect tho introduction.
– My Questions, which are addressed to the Minister for the Army, relate to his recent decision to send selected Citizen Military Forces officers, one from each State, to Korea for a short period to act as observers. Is it intended that this practice “shall continue :it. intervals during the period of hostilities in Korea? Is there any possibility that this scheme will be extended to allow greater numbers of Citizen Military Forces personnel to gain the benefit of such experience, and if so, will the Minister consider the inclusion in the scheme of other ranks? It has been stated that full repatriation and other benefits will apply to the selected officers during their period of duty in Korea. Does that mean that Army records will show such service against the personnel concerned as active service in Korea?
– Order ! This, too, is a matter which could, be discussed in the Committee of Supply.
–I shall deal with the matter fully in the Committee of Supply if honorable members so desire, and accordingly I shall give only a brief reply at this stage. Every honorable member will appreciate the important part that the Citizen Military Forces play in Australian defence, particularly if we should be called upon to mobilize our forces at any time. For that and for other obvious reasons that will come readily to the minds of honorable members, it is of the utmost importance that officers of the Citizen Military Forces, who are. parttime officers only, should be given every opportunity to learn how the war is being conducted in Korea against the “ reds “. The honorable member has asked whether consideration will be given to the sending to Korea of other ranks in the Citizen Military Forces to act as observers. When the six selected officers return to Australia from Korea they will furnish a report on their appreciation of the wisdom or otherwise of the continuance of the practice. I shall also ask Brigadier Daly, who is commanding the brigade in which both the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment are fighting, for his appreciation of the practice and whether he would recommend that it be continued. The honorable member asked also whether the selected Citizen Military Forces officers would be considered to. be on active service if they should meet with injury or death while in Korea or in transit to and from the war zone. If those officers are unfortunate enough to meet with an accident while on tour of duty, they will be entitled to hospitalization and all repatriation benefits.
– I wish to address a question to you, Mr. Speaker. Does the decision of the House last week on the position of under-secretaries affect in any way your ruling that the appointment of under-secretaries is unconstitutional ? If it does affect your ruling, what action or fresh plans have you in mind to enforce your ruling?
– It is not my practice to comment on the decisions of the House.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that there is a serious shortage of clinical thermometers in Sydney? If so, does he attribute the shortage to the methods of administering the import restrictions ? If his answer to either or both of those questions is in the affirmative, will the Minister inform the House what steps he will take to correct the position?
– I do not know whether or not there is any shortage of clinical thermometers. If there is, I shall consult the Minister for Trade and Customs to ascertain if any import restrictions are interfering with the supply of thermometers. I should think that import restrictions are not interfering with supplies because all equipment necessary for the sick is admitted to the country freely.
– I wish to address a question to the Minister for the Interior in relation to tenders for the erection of buildings on behalf of the Department of Works. ‘ By way of explanation, I inform the Minister that tenders have been invited for the erection of 192 sleeping units for immigrants at Newcastle. Other contracts are for the erection of 130 units at Holdsworthy and from 60 to 70 units in other places. The smallest contract is for sixteen units at Richmond for the Royal Australian Air Force. Some building contractors are unable to finance or provide equipment for the bigger projects. Is it possible to reduce the number of units or buildings specified in the contracts for the benefit of smaller contractors?
– I have no details of the tenders or the contracts to which the honorable member has referred. I shall look into the matter and give the honorable member an answer later.
– Is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in a position to indicate whether there is a possibility that the back lag in orders for agricultural machinery, particularly harvesters, will be overtaken this year and whether it will be possible to meet the current demand ? Is the shortage of this type of machinery general among the manufacturers of agricultural machinery, particularly harvesters, in Australia? In view of the importance of . agricultural machinery in speeding up rural production in Australia, has the Government taken any measures to assist and encourage an increase in the output of machinery?
– The Government wishes to encourage agricultural production, and it is very conscious of the fact that production cannot be increased unless farmers are able to get equipment of the kind, and in the quantity, that they need. There is a shortage of certain kinds of agricultural machinery in Australia. There is no shortage of tractors, but there is still a shortage of headers and some kinds of harvesters, though not of all. Some of the scarce kinds are being exported, but only to South Africa, a country which has been traditionally dependent on Australia for such machinery. A small, controlled export trade has been permitted with South Africa in recognition of that country’s need, as well as of the need to maintain a trade connexion. Australia, in turn, has had the benefit of importing from other countries goods of which those countries were themselves short. I have been negotiating with the more important manufacturers of agricultural machinery, and for a- considerable time past the Government has been supplying those firms with equipment and skilled local and immigrant labour, as well a3 with metal, machine tools, and equipment needed to expand their production. However, more harvesters are still being imported into Australia than are being exported.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that 1,000 rubber workers are unemployed in Victoria, and that for the period of five months ended on the 31st May, 1952, a total of 259,000 tyres of all varieties were imported into Australia? Can the Minister see the association between those two facts, and will he do his utmost to ensure that the importation of rubber tyres is stopped?
– -I think the honorable member’s question should have been addressed to me. Unfortunately, I did not hear the whole of it because I did not at first realize that it concerned my department. However, I shall not put him to the trouble of repeating the question; I shall read the report of it, and supply him with an answer as soon as possible.
– When replying to a question last week, the Minister for Social Services cited figures concerning the number of persons throughout Australia who had made application for unemployment relief. Can the Minister now inform the House of the number of persons who are drawing from this fund at the present time?
– I am sure the House will be pleased to know that the number of applications for unemployment relief is still falling. As I have already informed the House, the number of applications dropped by 613 during the week before last and at the end of last week there had been a further drop of 683.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for National Development able to inform me whether it is a fact that the Joint Coal Board is negotiating secret contracts with open-cut coal-mining contractors overseas? Is it also a fact that in some instances when tenders have been called, contracts have been let to those contractors at such low rates that economic mining operations would be impossible and that the board lias made secret adjustments to increase the rates ? If so, will the Minister explain why such contracts are not publicly negotiated in the usual way, and will he also table details of contracts in which secret changes have been made during the last two years?
– I am afraid that. I did not become seised of all the points that the honorable gentleman sought to make. In any event, it will be necessary for me to obtain the requisite information from my colleague, the Minister for National Development, which I undertake to do.
– In view of conflicting and confusing reports in relation to the number of German immigrants coming to this country, is the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration able to clarify the position by informing the House of the policy of the Government in this connexion, and the number of Germans coining here, particularly during the next two or three years?
– The Minister for Supply may answer the question although questions which deal with policy should go on the notice-paper.
– Recently it was reported that 15,000 Germans were being brought to Australia. I have already told the House that that report is unfounded. Within the last day or so another report has been circulated to the effect that 10,000 Germans are coming here. I have received a cable from my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, and I am able to inform the House that the figure of 10,000 is also wrong. Mr. Holt has just concluded an agreement-
– Order ! The names of individuals must not be mentioned during question time.
– The Minister for Immigration ‘has just concluded an agreement with the Bonn Government. The agreement does not specify any numbers or a term. It is, however, intended to bring in not more than 1,500 skilled tradesmen and experienced rural workers to Australia this year. In addition, there will be approximately 2,500 persons who are dependants of the immigrants to whom I have referred, or dependants of German settlers already in Australia.
– Can the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration state whether it is a fact that the amount nf workers’ compensation paid to injured immigrant workmen who reside in government hostels is much less than is the amount which they are obliged to pay for board and lodging, with the result that a debt is accumulated during the time they are incapacitated? By way of example, a nian who has a wife and three children is required to pay a total of £11 a week for board and lodging. Will the Minister endeavour to reduce the amount of board which must be paid during incapacity, or move for amendment of the law relating to workers’ compensation so that compensation payments in such instances may be increased ?
– My impression is that a fairly flexible sliding scale of payments operates in respect of immigrants in hostels arid is intended to cover cases such as that to which the honorable member lias referred. Naturally, I do not carry the precise figures with me. I shall have that matter investigated and let the honorable member have a reply as soon as possible.
– I preface a question to the Prime Minister by saying that I understand that the week immediately preceding the 21st September has been gazetted as Air Force commemoration week and that during that time, particularly on the loth September, which is Battle of Britain Day, wreath-laying ceremonies will be held in the various capital cities.. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that in Queensland the National Fitness Council has chosen that week as “ youth week “ and that it is the intention of the council to- have dancing and physical training displays in the streets at approximately the same time as the wreath-laying ceremony on the 1.5th ? Will the Prime Minister use his influence with the National Fitness Council with a view to having the dancing and display that it has arranged postponed until after the 15th September?
– I am obliged to the honorable member for the information that he has given. I was not aware of those facts and I shall ha “9 the matter examined.
– Will the Minister for Social Services advise the House whether the Government has any intention to raise the income available to recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits? At the present time, any amount over £1 a week received by single or married persons from other sources is deducted from the benefit. Will the Minister arrange for the conditions attaching to this benefit to be made uniform with those relating to age. and invalid pensions and permit the full benefit to be paid to single persons who receive 30s. per week and married men who receive £3 a week from other sources ?
– The honorable member’s question concerns a matter of policy. However, the Government has doubled the unemployment benefit rate payable to both single and married persons and it will now be possible for a person to receive £2 a week from a friendly society without this income affecting the amount of unemployment oi sickness benefit received.
– Will the Minister for Social Services consider increasing the pensions payable to the widows of men who were killed during their service with the Civil Construction Corps during the war period ?
– The matter that the honorable member has raised has already been under consideration and I hope to make an announcement concerning it in the near future.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether he will assure the House that the Government has no intention to interfere in any way with the present system of open auctions for the sale of wool?
– I can give the honorable member an unqualified assurance on that matter. From, discussions related to the discontinuance of the activities of the Australian Wool Realization Commission there, has emerged a proposal that what has been designated a “Wool Ma rketing Service “ should be established. That body would be no more than a statistical service for the purpose of analysing the composition of the Australian wool clip and the value of the various types of wool. The employment of the term “ Marketing Service “ has, I think, led some people to believe that the Government intends to take some active part in the marketing of wool. The Government has not the faintest intention to interfere with the traditional system “f marketing wool. I have agreed to meet a deputation from wool-growers’ organizations for the purpose of discussing the structure and general desirability of establishing this statistical service.
– Is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in a position to indicate the result of negotiations n bich have been in progress between himself and representatives of the wheat industry foi’ the organization of a wheat marketing scheme to succeed the present marketing arrangement which is due to terminate with the current harvest?
– I had a conference with representatives of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation on this matter last Friday. I advised them that the Australian Government, in accordance with the policy declarations that it has made from time to time, was prepared to arrange for an ‘extension of the wheat stabilization scheme on terms acceptable to the industry, the Australian Government and the State governments without which there cannot be a stabilization scheme. The growers indicated the conditions that they wish to attach to a stabilization scheme. It may be said that the most important of those conditions is one designed to establish very much higher local selling prices of wheat for both human consumption and stock feed. The growers acknowledge that that matter is completely within the control of the State governments, and they have asked me to convey their viewpoint on the matter to those governments. I shall do that in due course.
– I address a question to the Under-Secretary for Commerce and Agriculture-
– Order ! According to a decision made .by the House last week, the honorable member’s question is out of order.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether he is aware that the production of butter has decreased after the granting of each increase of price? Will he take that fact into account when calculating the price to he paid to growers of wheat under the new wheat agreement?
– The honorable member’s so-called facts are wrong - as usual.
– In view of the reply that the Minister has given to my question, I a#k him whether he is aware that the official figures compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician show the decline of primary production during the first five months of this year as follows: - Wholemilk, 9 per cent., butter 21 per cent., wool 6 per cent., cheese 4 per cent.-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must not give information when he is asking a question.
– I am only asking the Minister whether he is aware that the official figures released by the Commonwealth Statistician show that, on. the basis of the decline which occurred in the first five months of this year, that percentage reduction of primary production may be expected in the next twelve months. If he is not aware of that position, will he make himself aware of it in order that he may take action to prevent such a catastrophic decline?
- Mr. Speaker—
– I point out that the Estimates in respect of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture appear first on the notice-paper for consideration to-day.
– Broadly, I am familiar with the picture that the honorable member for Yarra presented.
– Why did the Minister tell lies in making a reply to a question?
– Order ! The honorable member’s remark is completely unparliamentary, and he must withdraw it.
– I withdraw it.
– I ask the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service to state the amount of the fees that are being paid to the two Melbourne business men who are directors of Commonwealth Hostels Limited ? One of these gentlemen is the managing director of a prosperous Melbourne hotel and the other is an industrial consultant. Are the fees paid to these gentlemen comparable with the remuneration that one of them receives from his hotel directorship?
– I have not the figures in mind, but I shall obtain the information that the honorable mem ber has asked for and convey it to him..
– Is the Minister for Territories aware of the very great general interest in the future of pastoral leases in the Northern Territory, especially in view of the widely acknowledged need for the security of land tenure in that area? Will the Minister inform the House when the new conditions to be attached to leases in the territory will be known throughout Australia ?
– A bill to amend the Northern Territory Crown Lands Ordinances was introduced into the Northern Territory Legislative Council to-day. The proposed new ordinance will be fairly comprehensive, and after consulting the Administrator I prepared a summary of its main provisions. Later I shall distribute copies of that summary to honorable members.
– In the interests of the proper conduct of this House and the prevention of personal attacks, which ire not unknown in the Parliament, will you, Mr. Speaker, ask the Standing Orders Committee to give consideration to a new standing order which could be modelled on the practice of the House of Commons? This practice is mentioned in May at page 433 as follows : -
The House of Commons will insist upon, all offensive words being withdrawn, and upon an ample apology being made, which shall satisfy both the House and the Member to whom offence has been given. If the apology be refused, or if the offended Member declines to express his satisfaction, the House takes immediate measures for preventing the quarrel from being pursued further.
I draw particular attention to the fact that the House of Commons takes “ immediate measures “ to prevent any such quarrel from being pursued further.
– I assure the honorable member for Franklin that I am acquainted with the paragraph in May to which he has referred. The conduct, of the honorable members of this House is very largely a matter for themselves. The best form of control in this assembly is self-control, and if self-control he exercised the functions of Mr. Speaker or the Chairman will be very limited. ‘ The opinion seems to be held in some quarters that Mr. Speaker or the Chairman can prevent offensive statements from being made. I am sure that that is something beyond my capacity. The Standing Orders merely provide sanctions in the event of such statements being made. At the next meeting of theStanding Orders Committee I shall raise the matter that has been mentioned by the honorable member for Franklin.
– Is the Treasurer aware that another motor vehicle distributing company has declared a dividend of 40 per cent.? This concern is distributing more than £300,000 in dividends, which is 122 per cent, of its paidupcapital? Does he agree with me that such almost unearned increment-
– Order ! The honorable member may not ask a Minister toexpress an opinion.
– Will the right honorable gentleman, if he is of opinion-
– Order !
– Will the right honorable gentleman assess the effect of such unearned increment upon the inflationary situation, and, if necessary, will hepublish the details of taxpayers’ incomes and the sources of those incomes, as is done in Norway, so that the general public will be able to make its own assessment of the effect on the economy of various categories of income?
– The course of action that I shall take on behalf of the Government will be consistent with Australian law, not with the law of Norway. Companies are taxed according to the laws that have been enacted by this parliament and have been obeyed faithfully by this Government since it has been in office.
– Have any matters been referred by the Minister for External Affairs to the Foreign Affairs Committee that was appointed by this House nearly twelve months ago? If so, what were the subjects of such references? Has the committee made any reports to the Minister on those subjects, and, if so, why has the House not been notified in accordance- with the terms of the resolution by which the committee was established? Has either the Minister or the committee considered the implications of the reported agreement between the Netherlands Government and the Government of Indonesia for the settlement of 2,000,000 Indonesians in western New Guinea, or any other matter’s that are relevant to the future security of Australia’s northern coastline ?
– The Foreign Affairs Committee has been actively at work since it was established. It has dealt with matters that it has selected for consideration and also with certain matters that I have ventured to suggest to it. It has made no formal report to me, although I believe that such a report is contemplated. There is one very simple way for the honorable member to obtain complete information on this subject, and I am sure that it must have occurred to him. It is for the Opposition to co-operate with the Foreign Affairs Committee. In that event, honorable members’ opposite would be on the inside in the same favourable situation as members of the Government parties. I still cling to the hope that this matter may be fixed up sensibly and intelligently in the relatively near future.
– Will the Minister for Health explain how he proposes to reconcile his statement in this House on the 27 th August that, although the population of Queensland has increased substantially, the Government of that
State has taken no action to extend its hospital facilities, with the fact that, since 1946j £4,147,000 has been expended in connexion with new hospitals in Queensland ?
– Order ! The honorable member is giving information instead of asking for it.
– No, Mr. Speaker. I am merely asking the Minister whether, when he made the statement last week, he was aware of the fact that I have just stated. The right honorable gentleman made an untrue statement in this House. I now a3k him whether he is aware of the facts. Is he aware that, since 1946, £4,147,000 has been expended on new hospitals in Queensland, and that new hospital construction has been completed at Townsville, Mossman, Atherton, Mareeba, Cairns, Batinda-
– Order ! The honorable member is not asking a question.
– Yes, I am.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is giving information about the provision of hospital accommodation in Queensland.
– With the greatest respect to you, Mr. Speaker, I am asking the Minister a question. He made a statement in the House last week to the effect that the Queensland Government had not done anything to increase hospital facilities in that State. I am merely asking the right honorable gentleman whether he was aware, when he made that statement, of the existence of the facilities that I have mentioned. I also ask him whether he is aware that, apart from the places I have enumerated, a new hospital, in which 720 patient’s will be accommodated, is in the course of construction in South Brisbane?
– Is the Minister aware that, to-day, not one person who desires to obtain hospital accommodation in Queensland is obliged to wait until a bed becomes available?
– The honorable gentleman’s quotation of my remarks are absolutely wrong. What I said in this chamber, as the Hansard report will substantiate, was that the population of
Australia is now approximately 25 per cent. greater than it was before the outbreak of “World War II., but that in the intervening period, the total hospital accommodation throughout the Commonwealth had increased by less than 8 per cent. That statement is true of the position in every State. From my own observation of conditions in Queensland, I have found that it is necessary in the Brisbane Hospital to have 66 patients in award that was built to accommodate 40 persons ; that in certain other hospitals within 20 or 30 miles of Brisbane the existing conditions in many respects were obsolete 50 years ago; and that the provision for the care of the domestic staff, for instance, at a place like Ipswich, is almost a disgrace to civilization.
Motion (by Mr. Townley) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Social Services Consolidation Act 1947-1951.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
In Committee of Supply: Considera tion resumed from the 29th August (vide page 828).
Proposed vote, £1,481,000.
Proposed vote, £2,146,000.
Proposed vote, £1,025,000.
Proposed vote, £194,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- Last week, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) referred to an unfortunate state of affairs that exists in this country and is calculated most seriously to endanger our great wool-growing industry. The honorable gentleman rightly pointed out that, in spite of prolonged agitation by representative pastoral and wool-growers organizations and considerable research on the subject by various government departments, this Government has not yet taken any action to implement existing regulations to ensure that all textiles imported into Australia shall be labelled to indicate their composition. The attention of the Chifley Government, and, I have no doubt, that of preceding governments also, was directed to the practice that had grown up in all textile-producing countries whereby manufacturers worked up as woollen goods old clothing, clippings from new material, and all sorts of fibres. Unfortunately, that practice is being followed in Australia. In this process, manufacturersusing wools weave those materials into products that are placed on the market and sold to consumers who are led to believe that they are buying products that consist solely of pure virgin wool. The Chifley Government was concerned about that practice and, after much investigation and acting upon the advice of the best authorities on the subject, it came to the conclusion that the Australian Government possesses adequate power to pass regulations to require exporters of textiles to Australia to label such textiles to show distinctly whether they have been manufactured from virgin wool or wool that had not previously been worked or mixed with synthetic fibre or any other kind of fibre. A regulation was drafted under the Customs Act. By virtue of the fact that wool came within the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, I, as Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and the officers of my department assisted the Minister for Trade and Customs to draft a regulation to stop this nefarious trading practice. It was considered by both the then Government and the Australian Wool Board, which was then presided over by Mr. Douglas Boyd, to be adequate. The Government realized that, although the regulation would require the exporters of woollen goods to this country to label their products as to their composition, after the products had been distributed within any Australian State the Commonwealth had no power to enforce labelling by tailors, local woollen manufacturers, or other people through whose hands the products passed before reaching the consumers. For this reason there was a slight delay while the State governments were informed of the degree of co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States that would be necessary if the regulation were to be effective.
News reached the United Kingdom that it was the intention of the Australian Government to take action to require the labelling of woollen goods. Subsequently the then High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in Australia, Mr. Williams, waited upon me and informed me that his government considered that if the labelling of textiles was to be insisted upon by the Australian Government, there would be an adverse effect on the textile industry of Bradford and the United Kingdom generally. I differed from that opinion. His chief executive officer also interviewed me, and he was informed in a forthright manner of the intention of the Government to proceed with the drafting of a regulation. Thereafter the regulation was duly drafted and gazetted. I do not know w hether or not the present Government has interfered with it, but for some strange reason, although it was due to operate from the 1st January, 1950, it has never been applied by the Australian Government.
It is true that, at that time, representatives of the Bradford Mills sent a cable to the Australian Government to the effect that they proposed to send a delegation to interview the1 Australian Government on this subject and to oppose the regulation. A reply cable was sent by the Chifley Government stating that it would be futile for the delegation to visit this country for that purpose, as it was our intention to gazette a regulation which would ensure that the people would know exactly what they were buying, and would also protect the woollen industry from a continuance of the deception that had been practised in relation to the composition of various materials that had been brought into this country. However the delegation subsequently came to Australia, and inter viewed me in this building. After a very interesting discussion, during which the delegates stated their case very well, I made it clear that the Australian Government intended to gazette the regulation. It was duly gazetted, and it is a mystery to me that, during the two years that have since elapsed, it has not operated. It may be said that the regulation would not be adequate unless all the State governments co-operated with the Commonwealth by introducing coordinating legislation or regulations. The fact remains that at least some protection would be given if the Commonwealth insisted that every roll of material that came into this country should bear a label stating whether the material was composed wholly of virgin wool, or whether it contained a certain percentage of synthetics or of re-worked wool. But no action has been taken. I believe that in one Commonwealth department there is an officer - I shall not mention his name - who, for some reason, takes the view, as he did in discussion previously, that a. regulation requiring the proportions of the various fibres used in textiles to be stated could not be effectively policed because, in the event of a prosecution for an alleged false statement or labelling, it would be impossible analytically to determine the proportions of the fibres other than those of pure virgin wool in the material. On one occasion, I told that officer that, in a test case, the onus would be upon the Commonwealth to establish that it was possible, by analysis, to determine the percentages of various fibres contained in certain material. I said that it was the business of the Government to attend to that matter, and that he had done his duty by pointing out the difficulties.
It was pointed out to him also that, even if it proved to be impossible to determine the percentages of various fibres in material, there was no reason why British exporters of textiles should not be required to attach to every roll of material exported to Australia a copy of the carding instructions that had been given to the operative on the machine. Every operative in woollen mills in Bradford and other centres of textile production in the United Kingdom is handed by the manager or the foreman of the mill a card which shows the percentages of various materials that are to be woven into the cloth that he is about to make. That was suggested as a .possible method of dealing with the problem. We were told then that dishonesty on the part of textile manufacturers might cause difficulties. There may he an odd dishonest textile- manufacturer in the United Kingdom, but surely it will not be said that, generally speaking, British textile manufacturers would issue dishonest declarations about the percentages of the various fibres contained in a roll of material. Despite all those arguments, the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan), for some reason or other, has not implemented the regulations. I do not know whether the officer to whom I have referred was able to persuade the Minister that the regulations would not be effective, or whether other influences have deterred him from permitting them to operate as from the 1st January, 1950.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) and the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) have raised the matter in this chamber recently, as also has the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mullens). It was raised first in the Parliament some years ago by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod). But we have got no further. Regulations of this type operate in the United States of America. This is a very urgent matter. When I was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, a cablegram was received by my department which stated that in one year the Japanese had purchased abroad, at a price of ls. per lb., approximately 2,500,000 lb. of old clothes,” had mixed the fibres from those old clothes with fibres of pure virgin Australian wool and had sold the cloth overseas as pure woollen material, in competition with material that really was made of pure wool. A member of a delegation from Bradford, after he had thrown onto my table a piece of stained wool, and after I had told him in plain farmers’ terms what it was, asked whether I would claim that material for a suit made from that wool would be a better wearing product than would material which consisted of 75 per cent, good merino wool and 25 per cent, synthetics. I said that I would not claim anything of the kind, and added that if he believed that a cloth made from 25 per cent, synthetics and 75 per cent, pure wool was a better wearing product than one made from stained wool, he had nothing to fear, because the public, on test, would buy the article that had the best wearing conditions. And so we have, unfortunately, a continuation of this period of vacillation, one might almost say of indifference. I do not think that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture is indifferent, but I urge him, with all the persuasive powers at my command, to examine closely not only the relevant file but also the influences that are at work. Not only the British textile industry, but also the United Kingdom Government itself is perturbed. The industry is so concerned about the position that a delegation from the mills at Bradford came to this country to make representations to the Government. Then there is the opposition, or apparent opposition, of a particular officer in the Department of Trade and Customs to the application of the regulation on the ground that it would be ineffective. Despite the fact that the regulation was to operate from the 1st January, 1950, it has not yet operated, and none of the textiles that enter Australia from Japan, th*e United Kingdom, or anywhere else, carry any label to indicate to the wholesale or retail purchaser that they contain virgin wool, no portion of which has ever been re-processed, re-worked clothing, or re-processed clippings. The proportion of syntheticmaterials that they may contain is not. indicated. I consider, in these circumstances, that some strange influence is at work. The State governments have not implemented any regulations in this connexion, but I urge the Government at least to ensure that, as a result of action applied at the point of entry of such goods, people will at least know exactly what materials are contained in imported textiles, and so will gain protection from the risk of purchasing goods that they might not otherwise purchase. When the Government has taken that action, and the manufacturers overseas have- been forced to reveal the proportion of fibres in the materials that they send here, perhaps the State governments will be moved to take some additional action in the matter. I suspect that interested parties have gone the rounds of the State govern ments and have exercised some influence on them, and have persuaded them that it is not desirable to apply regulations or legislation in respect of those imports. I know that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture himself is perturbed about it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The honora’ble member’s time has expired.
– I wish to draw a comparison between the needs of the Northern Territory and the amount of money provided in the Estimates for its devolpment. The proposed vote for the territory totals £2,498,000. In view of the remarks that I propose to make about the territory, I invite the committee to compare that small provision with the budget total of about £1,000,000,000. It is commonplace nowadays to talk about two great needs for Australia. One is tho need to produce more food ; the other is the need to increase the volume and value of our exports in order to increase our external balances and enable us the better to finance imports. I ask honorable members, where in Australia we can look for a sudden increase of food production, or hope .to achieve a sudden increase of our export trade. There is only one part of Australia in which these can possibly be found. It is in the northern part of this continent. There is no expectation of any dramatic change in the volume of food produced in the southern and closely settled parts of Australia. There is also no expectation of any sizeable increase of the volume of export goods produced in industrialized southern parts of Australia.
– There ought to be.
– The honorable member says that there ought to be. As a member of the Labour party he ought to know, far better than I do, the reason why there cannot be any expectation of an increase of production in the south of this continent.
– Tell me why.
– I should tell . the honorable member why, in full detail,, if I had time to do so and were allowed to indulge, during this debate, on a survey of the activities of the Chifley and Curtin Governments during their eight years of misrule. If I were permitted to do so I could easily make quite clear the reason why we cannot expect an increase of pro:duction of food or of goods for export in the south. .However, those matters are outside the scope of this debate. It should be obvious to all of us that the two needs that I have referred to can he filled in our lifetime only as a result of the development of the Northern Territory.
The Northern Territory has immense possibilities for an increase of the production of beef, particularly beef for export, but, at present, the pastoral industries are in the grip of the worst drought that they have ever known. In fact> this year, for the first time in history, the annual mon*soonal rains have failed completely. This is particularly unfortunate at a time when the products of the territory are so badly needed. Disabilities from which the pastoral industries in the Northern Territory have suffered in the past include the lack of assured tenure of land, the immense distances over which the materials required for production, and the produce of the territory, have had to be transported, and the shortage of labour, particularly skilled labour. But perhaps more important than any of those, has been the low price of beef. Until the post-war period, the pastoral industries of the Northern Territory were not profitable because of low beef prices.
An examination of the production problems of the Northern Territory leads inescapably to certain conclusions. I am sure that all honorable members will agree that the first aim of any government should be the closer settlement and full development of the territory by resident land-holders. Clearly, the realization of any scheme of closer settlement is a long way off. There is no prospect whatever of achieving closer settlement of the pastoral lands of the Northern Territory in the immediate future. Enormous capital expenditure will be required before any substantial increase of production or closer settlement in the territory can be achieved. It is fairly well known throughout the territory, which I was privileged to visit during the last recess, that a test settlement was conducted, on paper, to determine the cost of settling an ex-serviceman on the land. An area of land, deemed to be sufficient to support an ex-serviceman, was selected in the vicinity of Alice Springs, and the cost of the improvements necessary to put that land into production was calculated. It was found that approximately £30,000 would be needed for improvements on one property. That did not include the cost of the land itself. It was assumed that the land would be leased to the exserviceman by the Government at an annual rental and that no capital charge would be made. It is clear therefore, that the Northern Territory is not a suitable place for war service land settlement. Much more could be done in southern areas with the same sum.
Substantial capital will be required for the development of the Northern Territory. Whose capital is this to be? Is it to be private capital subscribed by Australians, by citizens of the United Kingdom, and by -Americans, or is it to be Australian Government capital ? To any one who has studied government enterprise in Australia, the answer is obvious. I sincerely hope that the Northern Territory will never become the object of a paternal government which seeks by the expenditure of public money to provide for closer settlement. The development of the territory as a government enterprise would inevitably result in heavy losses, and the prospects of success would be remote. The Australian Government’s function is clear, to me at any rate. It must establish conditions in the Northern Territory, under which private capital - for the reasons that I have given it must be large capital - will be able to develop the territory effectively for the use of Australians. The first need is for transport. There again the role of the Government is obvious. If adequate transport facilities were provided, private capital could be applied usefully to developmental work. The Government must also make conditions in the Northern Territory such that settlement will become popular. People must be attracted to the territory. As I have said, there is at present a serious lack of population and a serious scarcity of labour, particularly skilled labour. The pastoral industry of the Northern Territory has its own peculiar problems which are not known to the industry in southern areas. Those problems arise from the fact that the Northern Territory has a tropical summer rainfall. It receives all its annual rainfall in four or five months, and in those months there is a lush growth of grass. In the succeeding dry months, however, the herbage dries and the movements of cattle are restricted to the areas around waterholes and bores. Stock movements are limited first by distances from water, and secondly by distances from feed, as the grass in the vicinity of water supplies becomes eaten out. Until water supplies are provided in much greater numbers, therefore, the land that is available for grazing purposes, even in ordinary seasons, will be limited. The difficulties are, of course, much more acute in adverse seasons such as the present. Although in some parts of the Northern Territory to-day there are good areas of grass, cattle cannot reach them because they are too far from water supplies.
One may well ask why development of the Northern Territory has not proceeded faster. I suggest that the first reason is that graziers have not had an assured tenure of their holdings. Northern Territory leases have always been the subject of doubt and speculation. Therefore, I welcome the statement made earlier to-day by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), that Northern Territory leases are being placed on a proper basis by a bill that is being introduced into the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory to-day. I have since been shown a summary of the bill, and I notice that it takes the very wise course of providing for a separate agreement for each lease. In future an individual who contemplates entering into an agreement with the administration for the lease of a pastoral area will be able to make his own bargain in respect of the lease. On the one hand he will have a tenure of occupancy of 50 years, and on the other hand he will be required by the administration to carry out certain basic improvements of the property, which will make provision for future closer settlement when the lease is ultimately terminated or is surrendered by the lessee. I trust that the question of security of tenure of leases in the’ Northern Territory will now be satisfactorily resolved. The only doubt I have about the matter is whether a bill passed by the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory will give to Australian investors, and perhaps more particularly to foreign investors, that security which we should like to extend to them. The Legislative Council for the Northern Territory as ‘ we all know, consists of a preponderance of official members. To some degree its membership will be influenced by changing political parties and ideas. Fifty years is a very long time in Australian government and during that period great changes may occur. Perhaps the Northern Territory Administration had that fact in mind when it- provided for agreements to be entered into between the lessee and the administration. I hope that these agreements will give to lessees that essential security of tenure which hitherto has been lacking, and will enable them to expend with some confidence large sums of money on capital improvements.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bowden). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The proposed votes for the Department of Social Services, which amount in total to £2,146,000 include, under Division No. 92, the item “ Medical examinations, £13,000 “. I assume that the item is intended to cover payments to nonofficial doctors who examine applicants for the invalid pension. I also assume - I think rightly - that the remuneration 1)aid to Commonwealth medical referees is covered by the item under the same division, “ Temporary and casual employees. £346,000 “. Whatever be the position, it is eminently desirable that additional medical referees be appointed. I base that statement on the fact that, through no fault of the department, there is an overlong time lag in reaching deci sions on applications for invalid pensions in all the capital cities. The last report submitted by the Director-General of Social Services, which covered the year ended the 30th June, 1951, revealed that claims for invalid pensions received during the year totalled 10,765. Having regard to the number of claims received, one can rightly appreciate the need for the provision in these Estimates of £13,000 for medical examinations. In my opinion that amount is totally inadequate. In order to shorten the time lag in dealing with applications for invalid pensions, the Government should consider the possibility of appointing additional permanent medical referees. I make this request because I have some personal knowledge of the time taken to deal with these claims.
The proposed increase of the pension rates, which brings the maximum rate of pension to £3 7s. 6d. a week, is by no means adequate having regard to the increased cost of living. The old and infirm in the community are experiencing great difficulty in their battle to keep alive. It is frequently said that honorable members in this chamber speak with tongue in cheek, as it were, about deserving cases among the recipients of social services benefits, particularly age and invalid pensioners. That, of course, is not true. Honorable members on this side of the chamber represent a greater number of pensioners than do those who sit on the Government side of the chamber.
– Why ?
– I shall state my reasons for having made that assertion. The principal industrial centres of the Commonwealth are represented in this Parliament by members of the paTty to which I belong, and in our great industrial centres are to be found the majority of persons who,, because of increasing age or invalidity, are forced to rely upon the pension as a means of subsistence. An analysis of the population of the principal industrial centres of the Commonwealth would reveal that it contains a large proportion of persons in receipt of age and invalid pensions. Consequently, as members of the Labour party represent, in the main, the big industrial centres of the Commonwealth, it can be said with truth that we represent a greater number of pensioners than do honorable members opposite. I do not intend to suggest - indeed, it would be indecent for me to do so - that honorable members opposite are completely indifferent to the claims of the pensioners. All I say is that the logical protagonists of the pensioners are on this side of the chamber. In the electorate which I have the honour to represent over 3,500 persons are in receipt of age or invalid pensions. If we multiply that number by the number of other . electorates that contain large industrial areas, which are represented in this Parliament by members of the Labour party, the truth of our claim that Labour members represent a greater number of aged and invalid pensioners is amply demonstrated.
The increased rates of pensions covered by these Estimates are entirely inadequate to sustain, the aged and invalid pen sioners in these days of high costs. Would any honorable member opposite like to see his mother or his father, or both of his parents if they were alive, trying to subsist on the rate of pensions paid by this Government? Would lie like to think that his parents were trying to subsist on a combined income of £6 15s. a week, or that either his father or his mother should have to exist on a pittance of £3 7s. 6d. a week? In their hearts honorable members opposite know Hutt such a prospect would appal them. We, who represent the greatest number of pensioners in the Commonwealth do not like to contemplate i lie fact that the aged and infirm are compelled to live on such inadequate pensions. Other Opposition members have shown perhaps much better than I can show that by comparison with the basic wage the maximum, rate of pension has constantly depreciated since the Chifley Labour Government went out of office in 1949. At the risk of .tedious repetition, I propose to give these figures to the committee. In 1941, the maximum pension rate was 21s. 6d. and the basic wage was 85s. The proportion of pension to basic wage in that year was 25.29 per cent. The percentages of the maximum rate of pension to the basic wage in the succeeding years when a Labour government occupied the treasury bench were 28.41 and 27.42’ in 1942, and 27.37, 27.60 and 27.55 in 1943. In 1945. the percentage of the maximum pension to the basic wage received a fillip which was a credit to the government of that day.
– Which government was in power ?
– In 1945, the Curtin Labour Government was in office and it raised the maximum, pension rate to 32s. 6d. The basic wage in that year was 96s. and the percentage of the pension to the basic wage was 33. S5. In 1947, the percentage had risen to 35.38. It reached a record high level in 1948 when it increased to 36.64 per cent, of the prevailing basic wage. Then the people of Australia decided to elect a new government and they returned to office just such a government as that which now occupies the treasury bench. From that day to this, there has been a depreciation of the percentage of pension to basic wage. In 1950 it diminished from 36.G4 per cent, in the last year of the Labour Government to 30.8 per cent. In 1951 it rose to 31.7 per cent., but even allowing for the proposed increase of 7s. 6d. and remembering that the maximum rate is 67s. 6d. compared with a basic wage of 237s., the percentage of the pension to the basic wage at 28.6 is the lowest for many -years.
– And the basic wage will rise again shortly.
– That is so, and the percentage of the pension to the basic wage will diminish accordingly. Social services are not granted as - an extra payment to people who do not really need the money. To emphasize that point, I draw the attention of the committee to the Tenth Report of the Director-General of Social Services for the year ended the 30th June, 1951. That is the last report available from that source. It shows that 95.7 per cent, of the persons who were in receipt of age and invalid pensions in that year either earned nothing or less than 30s. a week or owned nothing or less than the statutory maximum. In other words, 95.7 per cent, of persons who are in receipt of age or invalid pensions were really in indigent circumstances. The proposed increases will bc acceptable to persons who are practically starving, but it will not be enough or as high as it should be. A reasonable percentage would be 40 per cent, of the prevailing basic wage,
And at that level the pensions should be subject to variations in the cost of living figures as they occur from time to time. The provision of such a pension rate would be merely social justice. On that basis, the maximum pension would be £4 15s. a week. That inadequate sum surely is not too much to give to people who have done so much for Australia. The aged and infirm are the most deserving section of the community. If the Government can spend money for trips abroad and for defence it should be able to help those who have done much to build the nation. I have seen the efforts that are made by humble pensioners to eke out their existence. It is pathetic that these grand and simple people, who are too old to be employable, should have to struggle to put aside small sums to add to the enjoyment of others at certain seasons of the year.
My remarks in relation to age and invalid pensioners are applicable also to those who receive ‘ unemployment benefits. While it is true that provision has been made for an increase of 100 per cent, in unemployment benefits, the rate has not kept pace with increases in the basic wage. If it had done so, the rate of unemployment .benefits to-day would be £3 2s. 6d. for a husband, £2 10s. for a wife’ and 12s. 6d. for each child.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to comment on the proposed vote for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, and first I congratulate the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) on the fact that agricultural production in Australia is rising. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), who does not often make mistakes, asked a question recently on the subject of dairy production. Apparently the honorable member had obtained some old statistics. Changes are so frequent in such figures that one must go to the factories themselves, almost week by week, to discover what is happening. I visited a factory recently and asked for information about milk production. I was informed that it was 86,000 gallons. I replied that that did not mean anything and asked how the figure compared with last year. A comparison snowed that production had risen by 60 per cent.
– Did those figures apply to one factory? .
– Yes. Butter is a commodity which uses surplus milk production. Present indications are that Australia’s butter production this year will be 1S5,000 tons. That is more than 50,000 tons above last year’s output. It, might mean an increase of £20,000,000 of export income. So any honorable member opposite who attempts to deprecate dairy production is out of date, hopelessly inaccurate and has no contact with what is happening in the industry. I compliment the Minister on the results of the past year. I believe that the results in the coming year will be even better. The spring is one of exceptional promise and production in some sections of primary industry will reach unprecedented high levels. This department, which was bequeathed to the present Minister by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), could well be reorganized. I am pleased to see the UnderSecretary for Commerce and Agriculture enter the chamber. He has a sound knowledge of rural matters. We all know that it is necessary to increase rural production. Even if the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) can find uranium in the Northern Territory, and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Grayden) can find other precious minerals elsewhere, it is still necessary to export our primary products in order to provide ourselves with overseas credits. In the United States of America, there is a Department of Agriculture which plays an important and intimate part in rural production. In Australia, although the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture makes a magnificent effort through the Australian Agricultural Council and State departments to increase primary production, his department does not help him very much. The total expenditure on the department this year is estimated to be £1,481,000. Of this, administration will absorb £385,000 or 26 per cent.; the administration of the Commerce (Trade
Descriptions) Act, £632,000, or 42 per cent.: and Commercial Intelligence Service Abroad, £325,000, or 22 per cent. Out representation will cost £18,000 in the United Sta tes of America, £3,000 in the United Kingdom, and about the same amount in Singapore, Ceylon and Pakistan. The Division of Agricultural Economics will absorb £97,000, or about 7 per cent, of the total vote. This section, which is in charge of a very efficient, capable and imaginative officer, Mr. T. H. Strong, does a splendid job, but it is unable to keep abreast of actual production, and therefore cannot play its part in the campaign for increasing production. Finally, there is the Division of Agricultural Production, which is to cost £42,000, or 3 per cent, of the total expenditure. It is evident, therefore, that the department does not allocate a sufficient proportion of its expenditure to actual production. You yourself, Mr. Deputy Chairman, representing as you do the magnificent district of Gippsland, realize the possibility that exists for increasing production in high rainfall areas. It has been suggested that a rural production Minister might be appointed as one of a group under a senior Minister, similar to the group of Service Ministers under the Minister for Defence. Surely food production is as important as are the activities of the five defence portfolios. The rural production Minister could concern himself with the problem, of providing fencing material, superphosphate and other requirements needed for immediate seasonal production. Perhaps the present UnderSecretary for Commerce and Agriculture would he the man to do the job under the distinguished Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
I cannot see that such an arrangement would in any way cut across the work of State departments. It is proper that, State authorities should be particularly concerned with rural production, because they are closest to the actual producers. Indeed, I think it might be a good thing if there were appointed district, production committees as in the United States of America, where there are agricultural extension committees, county committees, &c, which concern themselves with rural production. If our pro- ducers were organized into similar groups, assisted by the State Departments of Agriculture and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, they would be abbto employ organizers who would ensure that production in their particular area-* was stimulated and increased. I am sure that more could be done by encouraging private enterprise in this way than by concentrating on the appointment of boards, such a# the Australian Canned Fruit? Board and the Australian Dairy Produce Board, the members of which draw their four or five guineas on every day they meet. Then we have the Australian Egg Board and the Australian Apple and Pear Board, the members of which draw substantial emoluments. The Australian Hide and leather Industries Board has ten or twelve members, and the chairman. Mr. Anderson, who recently retired, used to draw £1,750 a year. His place ha? been taken by Mr. J. Moroney, of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. This board has become the laughingstock of the hide and leather trade, and it should be .abolished. “We also have the Australian Meat Board, under the chairmanship of Mr. Schute, who draws about £2,000 a year and the Australian Wheat Board with about a dozen members, under the chairmanship of Sir John Teasdale, who is paid £4,000 a year. There is the Australian Wine Board with ten or twelve members, and the Australian Wool Board with half a dozen members. There is also the Australian Wool Realization Commission and the Dried Fruits Control Board.
– It does a good job, too.
– I did not make any comment about the Dried Fruits Control Board, but only about the Australian Hide and Leather Industries Board. I do not propose to join issue with the honorable member on the subject of dried fruits. I believe that primary industries should be allowed to control their own affairs. Control boards were set up when there was a surplus of products, and something had to be done quickly in order to find a. market for them. However, there, is now an assured overseas market for the next ten or twenty years for all our primary products, because the population of the world is growing so fast that within the next generation the number of people is expected to increase by about 1,000,000,000. Another function of the commodity board was to impose government control where Treasury funds were used, and to provide a guaranteed price. These boards could be reconstructed. There is no doubt that the whole set-up is baulking the efforts of the Minister. The position has been bequeathed to us by our socialist friends, including the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who laughs as though to say, “ You cannot make any change in the system,”. The honorable member hopes to get back to office some day and to take control of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture again. If he succeeds, no doubt he will again attempt to socialize the rural industries. I appeal to the Minister, with his fine intellect, to look at his department, to re-organize it, or to split it up, if necessary, and try to get from it a department which can deal with rural production. Production and distribution should be separated. They are highly specialized and separate activities. Commerce should be associated with trade. There is no doubt that primary production can be increased. A little while ago we entrusted work of this kind to the Department of National Development, and its magnificent achievements included an increase of the production of black coal by 16 per cent. Although the production of superphosphate increased by 10 per cent., it is still not sufficient. We require at least 30 per cent, more superphosphate this year for our wheat crops. Electric power increased by 7 per cent, and refined petroleum products by 10 per cent. Those figures prove that the job can be done. I believe it to be proper that the State governments, which are closest to the points of production, should carry out the major part of the job. I congratulate some of the State governments, including the Government of Victoria, for bringing about increased primary production. The black sheep of the family, of course, is the New South Wales Government.
– It is the best government in the country !
– My argument is that, because of the actions of the New South Wales Government, the Australian Government must oversee rural production in order to help the New .South Wales farmei’3 whose efforts have been frustrated by bad railway transport and many other difficulties. The greatly decreased production in New South Wales has offset the increases in other States.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) has stressed the need for greater primary production. I am sure that everyone will agree that, increased primary production is necessary, but not all will agree that the causes of decreased production ure as the honorable member stated them to be. He spoilt his contribution to the debate by his slighting references to the New South Wales Government. He stated that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is doing a good job and is helping to improve farming methods. Whilst I agree that that is so nevertheless it is only a part of the picture. The greatest factor in our decreasing food production is the lack of farmers. It will be recalled that the honorable member stated that socialists have been the stumbling block in the way- of increased primary production. I remind him that only by a measure of socialism we may obtain greater production. I do not know of a financial institution that supports the political party to which the honorable member belongs that is prepared to finance the establishment of young men on the land. The Australian Loan Council, by restricting finance to the State governments, has curtailed the efforts of those governments to rehabilitate ex-servicemen.
Large estate.0, which are used only for the grazing of sheep, should be cut up.
A renner tv fl«oe to my home was subdivided and has more than doubled its production of wool in the last two years. Tn addition, it now produces each year many hundreds of tons of cereals, such as oats, and thousands of dozen eggs. As the years pass, the production of those commodities will increase. I urge the honorable member to do all he can to persuade this Government to make available to the States the finance necessary for closer settlement. Our first duty, of course, is to honour our obligations to ex-servicemen, and then to proceed with a general policy of placing young men on the land. An influx of young men to the land is necessary each year in order to preserve balance between primary and secondary industries.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has referred to the textile labelling regulations. I cannot understand the reluctance of this Government to implement those” regulations which would prevent the perpetration on the public of a fraud which has been going on for many years. I can only conclude that terrific pressure has« been exerted against the Government, and it is not difficult to guess from which direction that pressure has come. There is nothing to prevent persons who import yarns or who manufacture them locally from mixing other fibres with them, the finished article being sold to the public as a woollen article. These fibres that are used are sometimes picked up from rubbish heaps. In my opinion, that practice constitutes a fraud on the public and is also gravely to the detriment of our wool export trade, upon which we depend so much for our national income. The public should be protected against the practice.
A great deal is heard about the competitors of wool, such as materials made from various artificial fibres, but it is strange that none of the manufacturers of those materials wish to see labelling legislation in operation. It seems to me that if those synthetic materials are able to compete with wool, their manufacturers should be prepared to brand them. As it is, textiles are manufactured in such a way that when they are sold to the public it is not possible to tell that they are not all wool. Although they are sold as woollen articles, the wool content is sometimes as low as 15 per cent. If manufacturers wish to make shoddy, or mixtures of wool and artificial fibres, by all means let them do so, but they should be made to label the finished article. Persons who then wish to purchase inferior articles will know what they are buying. Naturally, they will expect to purchase such articles for much less than they would pay for articles made wholly of wool. At the present time, however, the public pays top prices for all woollen goods, whether they are made wholly from wool or not. It has been said that it is difficult to implement the labelling regulations. I remind the committee that similar legislation has been in operation in the United States of America for many years. In that country, of course, wool is not so important to the national economy as it is in Australia, but in the interests of the economy, aud to protect the public against fraud, America introduced textile labelling legislation ten’ or twelve years ago. The Chifley Government also introduced legislation to provide for such labelling, but nothing has been done to implement the regulations. The honorable member for Lalor, who was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the Chifley Government, has said that persons came all the way from England to tell him why the regulations should not operate. Evidently, they represented interests which are more powerful than are the Australian wool-growers. I point out to the committee that the general public is vitally interested in this matter. At the present time very high prices are being charged for woollen goods which may contain only a small proportion of wool. Sometimes this shoddy stuff has been re-woven. If examined under a microscope it is possible to see immediately that the fibres have been broken or fractured. A coat made from such materia] soon wears out. People who wish to sell cloth of this type should not. be allowed to represent to the public that it is made from wool.
This is a very important matter and I should like to know why the Government has not taken the requisite action, where it has been found to be necessary. To sell as woollen material cloth that has been manufactured from artificial fibre is to practice a fraud on the public. Japan has bought millions of pounds weight of rags throughout the world and has turned them into cloth, some of which has probably been brought into Australia as woollen material. People who have bought an English tailored suit for 30 guineas, may have found that half of it was shoddy. It is time that this practice was stopped and it is the duty of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) to make some investigation of it. If it be suggested that regulations requiring the labelling of textiles would be too difficult to implement the Minister should ascertain whether such objections are valid. An American, firm that sells woollen cloth has distributed a book which contains three samples of material, one of which is 100 per cent, pure wool, the second 50 per cent, pure wool and 50 per cent, shoddy, and the third 100 per cent, shoddy. The average person cannot tell the difference between them. The Government should take steps to ensure that there shall be no further delay in acting on this important matter.
Mr. CLYDE CAMERON (Hindmarsh) 1 4.29]. - I shall discuss the proposed vote for the Department of Social Services. I am not satisfied with what the Government has done in regard to this department. The people of Australia generally, find particularly the pensioners, are completely dissatisfied with the Government’s neglect of the requirements of the age and invalid pensioners, the tuberculosis pensioners, the service pensioners and the unemployed. During the financial year 1950-51, 411,724 people were receiving invalid and age pensions in Australia. In addition, 41,962 people received the widow’s pension; and 16,512 people received the service or tuberculosis pension. The position in regard to age and invalid pensioners is rather serious. Since October, 1948, the pension payable to such pensioners in Adelaide has been reduced from 36.64 per cent, to 30.1 per cent, of the basic wage in that city. I cite the figures for Adelaide because I represent Hindmarsh, which is in the centre of that city and there is a large number of age and invalid pensioners in it. My figures will differ from those that were cited by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and other honorable members from New South Wales and Victoria because the basie wage- is on a different level in those
States. Having compared the Chifley ago and invalid pensions of 1948 with the Menzies pensions of 1952 it will be interesting to ascertain whether a statement which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made during the last general election campaign corresponds with his subsequent performance. At that time, referring to pensions, the Prime Minister said -
We will, much more importantly, increase their true value by increasing their purchasing power.
I ask the committee to judge whether the Prime Minister has honoured that solemn undertaking to the people of Australia. Many thousands of people thought that the Prime Minister would fulfil his promise. The pensioners have discovered to their great regret that the promises of the Prime Minister were merely catchcries for the purpose of persuading the people to reject the late Ben Chifley who, in- my opinion, was the greatest Prime Minister Australia has had.
– The honorable member should emphasize that that is only his opinion.
– It is the opinion of the people of Australia generally. According to the Government parties and the press of this country, the late Mr. Chifley was a Communist two days before he died. Immediately after he died he was transformed into Australia’s greatest son. The people of Australia will agree with me when I say that the late Mr. Chifley was Australia’s greatest Prime Minister.
If the Government wished to maintain age and invalid pensions at the same percentage of the basic wage as they represented in 1948 it would be necessary for it to increase the present rate of £3 a week to £4 2s. Yet the Government has proposed that it shall be increased only to the miserable amount of £3 7s. 6d. The age and invalid pensioners have a perfect right to have their pensions adjusted in proportion to the increases that take place in the cost of living just as every one else has the right to have their wages automatically adjusted in proportion to those increases. The adjustments should be made quarterly as the basic wage fluctuates. Pensioners should not have to wait for twelve months, from one budget to another, to have their pensions adjusted to the cost of living. It it; not true to say that pensions rates have ever been adjusted in the way that I now advocate. The Curtin Government repealed that section of the act which provided for a form of automatic adjustment of pensions but the formula that was used by the Lyons Government to effect automatic adjustments had steadily reduced the ratio of pensions rates to the basic wage, as an examination of the relevant figures will show. An accurate formula should be devised and introduced for the purpose of ensuring that pensioners shall not be used as a political football to be kicked round at election time. They should not have promises made to them, merely for the purpose of obtaining their votes. I hope that honorable members on the Government side will give close attention to what I am saying about pensions. Age pensioners are human beings; they are not like cats or dogs, because if cats or dogs are hungry they rummage in garbage tins to get enough to eat. Our old people cannot go to the garbage tins like animals, and when God calls them away the fancy word “ malnutrition “ is inscribed on their death certificates. It is not an exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of age and invalid pensioners who are literally starving because they have not the means with which to buy enough to eat.
It is useless for Ministers, who can travel abroad and spend huge sums on their fancy trips, to say that the Government cannot afford to pay the pensioners enough to live on. If the Government can afford to give to the wealthy landlords of King William-street, Rundle-street, and other city localities about £6,250,000 through the abolition of the land tax, it can afford to help the pensioners. If the sum that will in effect, be handed to the wealthy landholders of Australia, were used to increase age pensions, they could be increased not to £3 7s. 6d., but to about £3 14s. a week. Such an increase would not cost the taxpayers an extra Id. and, consequently, the Government cannot plead that it did not have enough money to increase pensions to a greater degree than is proposed. The age pension rates are cruelly insufficient because pensioners have the same fixed commitments that we all have. They must pay their rent, they must, pay for the light and fuel that they use, and they must replenish their household necessaries. Moreover, clothing and shoes ulti mately wear out and must be replaced. After they have satisfied their most pressing needs there is often not. sufficient left out of their pensions for them to buy the food necessary to keep them in health; and I remind honorable members that the high prices that now prevail are becoming more exorbitant as time passes. Many old people have forgotten what a baked dinner tastes like, because they have not had a satisfactory meal since the present Government assumed office.
– No, and they do not look like getting one for some time to come.
– They certainly do not. I shall now quote from an article that appeared in Bunyip, a Gawler newspaper that has the widest circulation of any provincial newspaper in the electorate of the Minister for Defence (Mr. McBride).
– Is it a Labour news paper ?
– No, it is not a Labour newspaper. The article that it published reads, inter alia -
A drive to obtain clothing lor distribution among old age and invalid pensioners has been instituted by Gawler Apex Club.
Then readers are informed of the places to which, they may send their left-off clothing. That article connotes a disgraceful state of affairs, because the pensioners want only a decent rate of pension ; they certainly do not want charity. They want, justice, and I submit that they are entitled to receive justice particularly from this Government which promised them so much during the last general election campaign in order to get their votes. I venture to prophesy that never again will this Government get the votes of the pensioners, whether it tries to drag across the political path the red herring of communism or any other red herring, because the pensioners, lite all other electors, now know its worth.
Another important matter that I wish to place before honorable members concerns the property qualification for the age pension. I am gratified to see the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) present during this debate because I hope that he will be able to do something about the specific case that I. intend to mention. If an aged person owns two houses and lives in one and lets the other for 30s. a week, he is not entitled to any age pension if the rented house is assessed at a value that is greater than the maximum permissible value of property under the Social Services Consolidation Act. If a person owns two houses in the circumstances that I have detailed, the capital value of the second house should not be regarded as property in order to disqualify the person from receiving the age pension. I suggest that only the income of the second house should be taken into account, and then merely for the purpose of determining whether or not that income is to’ be used as a means of reducing the rate of pension. The plight of an aged couple who live in. Adelaide has been brought to my notice. If necessary I can give their names to the Minister for Social Services, and I ask him in this particular instance to use whatever discretion he i3 given under the legislation. These people, who have had twelve children, were farmers on the west coast of South Australia during the whole of their working lives. When it is known that they were indebted to the Farmers Assistance Board for some time, honorable members will realize the nature of their circumstances. After years of struggle they finally decided to leave their farm. Their four sons had worked on it all their lives and had not received any wages, which circumstance is not unusual with farmers’ sons. The aged couple sold it to their sons for £1,500. They applied for the age pension and were told by the Department of Social Services that they were ineligible for it because the f arm was worth £8,000 when they sold it, and that they had no right to give it to their sons for less than that sum. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter and try to increase the depletion amount allowed in such cases. The farm was sold to the sons because they had spent their whole lives working without pay for their parents.
The Government has announced with great gusto that it has increased the i in eni ploy ment benefit by 100 per cent. In this connexion I desire to cite some figures from the Quarterly Summary of Australian Statistics. The average number of persons who were receiving unemployment benefit each week in the financial year 1946-47 was 9,371 ; in 1947-48 it was 3,939 ; and in 1948-49 it was 1,573. The number of persons who at present receive unemployment benefit is at least 18,000. I remind honorable members to compare that figure with the weekly average of 1,573 which represents the number of persons who received it during the year 1948-49. It should also be realized that more people would at present be in receipt nf unemployment benefit if it were more widely known that unemployed persons who have money in the bank aire still entitled to the benefit. That fact should be made more widely known to the unemployed. At present there are about 100,000 unemployed persons in Australia and they should be made aware of the fact that, although they may have money in the bank- they are still entitled to unemployment benefit under the social services legislation, which was first introduced by the Chifley Government.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It is not necessary to reply in detail to honorable members whose statements are as reckless as those of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). The honorable member is known for his recklessness, not only in this chamber but also outside it, so it is hardly necessary to argue seriously about any of the matters that he raised. I suggest that the honorable member knows more about auctioning promises for votes than do most of the honorable members on this side of the chamber. The honorable member spoke at length about social services, and said, sarcastically, that this Government could be proud of its record. [ suggest quite seriously that the Government is proud of its record in the field of social services, and that any one who takes the trouble to consider the matter dispassionately will be convinced that the Government has honoured all the promises that it ever made about improving social services.
The committee is now considering the proposed votes for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, the Department of Shipping and Transport, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Territories. The activities of the first three of these departments provide me with an opportunity to discuss certain complex problems that will arise from the important decision by the Government to abandon the system of uniform taxation. The services provided by these departments, in particular the Department of Social Services, impose a claim upon the resources of the Commonwealth that is indefinite and almost incalculable. The abolition of the means test is a declared policy of the Government, and when that policy is put into effect an even heavier claim than at present will be made by the Department of Social Services. The activities of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and the Department of Shipping and Transport have grown considerably in recent years. Prior to 1942, like social services other than age pensions, these activities were almost entirely in the hands of the States. The Commonwealth will need much greater resources to finance those .services than it needed in 1939. Thus, when we consider the proposal to abandon the uniform tax system, we are confronted with the problem whether these services should be retained by the Commonwealth or returned in the main to the States. Unless the Government decides to abandon some of the services that it now performs, or to restore them to the States, the difficulty of abolishing the uniform tax system will be extremely complex. At present there is a great deal of overlapping of the activities of the Commonwealth and the States, especially in the fields of transport and agriculture. The developments that have taken place in respect of the overseas representation of Australia can be justified, but’ many items in the divisions of the Estimates that we are now considering refer to aspects of Commonwealth activity that are of doubtful legitimacy.
I suggest that as the weight of taxation becomes increasingly onerous, it will be worth while for the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to approach the duty of estimating revenue and expenditure from an entirely fresh stand-point. Under the present system, the various departments prepare Estimates of Expenditure that are designed to cover the activities that they wish to undertake. These are examined by officers of the Treasury, who decide which of the items shall be approved. Finally, the revised Estimates of all departments are examined by the Government which, having decided how much is to be expended, sets about the task of determining the best ways to raise the necessary money. That system was all right in the days when taxation was light and the Government was not required to provide all the services of the social welfare State. However, the task of the Government has become so onerous that I suggest a new approach to the problem of budgeting is needed. The Government should first decide how much it can afford to expend rather than what it proposes to expend. If it approaches the problem from that stand-point, it can then ask itself : “At what stage will income tax be so heavy that people will refuse to do more than their ordinary share of work? “ We all know that workers in industry generally refused to work overtime when taxes were at their highest levels. They refused to work to the utmost of their ability because they considered that, if they did so, they would be merely earning extra income for the Treasury. The same result is produced by severe indirect taxation. The Government must ask itself, “ At what stage will indirect taxation cause a curtailment of industry on the one hand, or a loss of revenue on the other hand ? “ It should approach the task of budgeting in the same way as any housewife approaches her housekeeping problems. The housewife says, “ I have so much money and that is all I can afford to spend”. The Government should say to itself, “ How much, money can we afford to raise ? “ Having answered that question, it can turn to the people and say, “We have so much money and we propose to allocate it to these services “. It must abandon the old system of determining first how much money it must expend and then how to raise the necessary revenue.
Two thoughts are foremost in my mind when I consider the proposal to abandon the uniform tax system. The first is that the competition and the overlapping of activities in the Commonwealth sphere and in the State sphere must be eliminated before the proposal can be implemented. The second is that this Government must review very carefully the services it provides and decide which of them it will retain and which could be more satisfactorily carried out by the States. The idea that I want to leave in the minds of honorable members is that of the need for an entirely new approach to the task of budgeting. Governments must decide what they can afford to expend, not what they want to expend, and budget accordingly.
.- The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) criticized the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) foi” having made, very properly, a strong plea for the aged and the invalid members of our community. He said that the honorable member for Hindmarsh had been auctioning promises for votes. The policy speech made to the people of Australia in 1949 by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) would outdo anything of which I have heard in the field of auctioning promises for votes. It would take me fifteen minutes to read all the promises that the right honorable gentleman made on that occasion. The honorable member for Warringah apparently would destroy the entire federal system.
– I would.
– The honorable gentleman admits it; yet he has accepted a position in this Parliament. I ‘think he should resign, go back to Sydney and become a parish pump alderman.
I propose to review the last annual report of the Director of Social Services. A little more than ten years ago, the only social services administered by the Commonwealth were the age pension, the invalid pension and the maternity allowance.
The honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean) and the honorable member for Hindmarsh have shown that, in relation to the basic wage the purchasing power of the age pension is less to-day than it was when the pension was introduced in 1910, and that the purchasing power of the maternity allowance to-day is less than it was when it was introduced in 1912. The purpose of those social services was to give social security to all persons in all circumstances. ‘ The field of social services was not extended until 1941, when child endowment was introduced by a Liberal government in such circumstances that the payment could be claimed to have been a trick. At that time, the basic wage was 12s. or 13s. a week less than it should have been, and the Liberal Government of the day, in order to prevent a sharp increase of the basic wage, made provision for the payment of endowment for each child of a family under the age of sixteen years, with the exception of the first child. The rate of endowment payable in respect of the second and subsequent children was later increased by a Labour government.
After the breakdown of the Liberal party-Australian Country party alliance in 1941 - and a similar breakdown is becoming evident to-day - the Curtin Labour Government decided to proceed with a policy of social security. At that time, our national security was gravely threatened by an aggressor, yet the Labour Government decided to give effect to its policy for the provision pf social security in all circumstances. In 1942 widows were brought into the field of social services. Until that time a woman, if she had been left in straitened financial circumstances by her deceased husband, had to provide as best she could for her family and herself. Child endowment was the only payment to which a widow who had more than one child under the age of sixteen years was entitled. In 1.944, the Labour Government, persisting with its plan for the establishment of social security, introduced unemployment and sickness benefits. The rate of those payments has not been increased during the last eight years, although the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has forecast in his budget that it will be doubled during this financial year. However, the relation of unemployment and sickness benefits was greater in 1944 than the increased rate will be in 1952-53. The Labour Government also made provision for free hospitalization, but that scheme is to be destroyed by this Government. Under the Chifley Government’s plan, a patient who occupied a bed in a public ward of a hospital was not charged for accommodation and treatment. This Government has decided to interfere with that scheme, and, in future, patients in public wards will be subject to a means test. Whilst certain persons will benefit from the altered conditions, the cost of the scheme will be met by people who formerly enjoyed free hospitalization.
I now propose to refer briefly to the operation of the unemployment and sickness benefits scheme. As the Chifley Labour Government had adopted a1 policy of full employment, the number of* applications for the unemployment benefit when it was in office was negligible. More jobs were available than there were men and women to fill them. The position, unfortunately, is reversed at the moment and many persons are in receipt of unemployment benefit. A few years ago, the breadwinner of a family, if he became ill, was able to feel financially secure because he was entitled to free hospitalization and medicine, and the sickness benefit, in addition to child endowment, made his income almost equivalent to the basic wage. That position has deteriorated, because this Government has failed to honour its pre-election promise to put value back into the fi, and the income of a breadwinner from the sources I have mentioned is now equivalent to only one-third of the basic wage. Another social service introduced by the Labour Government in 1946 was the allowance payable to the wife of an invalid pensioner. My only objection to the innovation at that time was on the ground of its inadequacy. I consider that the wife of an invalid pensioner is entitled to receive an amount equivalent to that received by any other pensioner, as the woman, because of the disability of h«*** husband, is obliged to remain at home in order that she may care for him, and, therefore, she is unable to supplement her pension. She is not able to earn the permissible income of £3 a week, because she is the nurse in the home. I hope that th,e Minister will examine that matter.
In 194S, the Chifley Labour Government made provision for the rehabilitation of physically handicapped persons. The Tenth Report of the Director-General of Social Services gives the following information about the progress of that scheme : -
From the beginning of the scheme in late 1048 to the end of June. 1951, 2,688 handicapped persons have been found suitable employment. Of this number, 1,037 won* invalid pensioners.
Tt is estimated that for these persons ;i saving of not less than £2,000,000 in the payment of future pensions alone has been affected. This is apart altogether from the payments they may make later as taxpayers and tin* value of their contribution to the national income. The earnings of these rehabilitate”! pensioners may be expected to total some £500,000 a year, whereas previously the cost of paying them pensions and wife’s allowance was nearly £1.50,000 a year. Rehabilitee are drawn mainly from the younger groups nf pensioners.
It has come to my notice that some rehabilitated persons in my electorate, because of their handicaps, are not able to find a place in industry. In my opinion, the Government should evolve a plan to make provision for their employment in suitable vocations. The rehabilitation payment of £1 a week while rehabilitees were undergoing training, and the allowance of £20 to enable them to purchase their tools of trade, remain at the figures determined in 1948. Those amounts should be increased, and, as I have stated, arrangements should be made for the employment of rehabilitated persons, because the report of the Director-General of Social Services indicates that they become of considerable value to the nation.
The funeral benefit of £10, which is payable’ in respect of a pensioner, was determined by the Chifley Labour Government in 1946, and should be substantially increased.
– Because of the high cost of dying?-
– Since this Government lias been in office, it is just as expensive to -die as it is to live. Social security, if it is to have any practical value, must assure to every person social security in all circumstances.
– A man or a woman should be able to feel secure from the cradle to the grave.
– A Labour Government had that idea in mind when it began to extend the field of social services. I support the contention of the honorable member for Hindmarsh regarding the circumstances of elderly people who own more than one property. The eligibility of a man and his wife for the age pension is not affected if they own the house in which they live, but they are disqualified if they own another property, the value of which exceeds £1,000. A person, on becoming a pensioner, is entitled to a number of benefits such as free medical attention and free medicine within prescribed limits, and, in the State of New South Wales, transport concessions. But persons who own property of a value in excess of £1,000 are not eligible to receive those benefits. Yet, I venture to say, their standard of living is virtually lower than that of age and invalid pensioners. In any social services scheme that is worthy of the name anomalies of that kind should not be permitted to exist. Our social security scheme should be expanded to provide additional benefits such as a nursing service for aged people in their own homes. Many aged people, for sentimental reasons, prefer to be nursed in their homes rather than enter hospitals. Marriage and home ownership allowances also should be provided. The Government should establish reciprocity in respect of social services benefits with the United Kingdom Government. Such reciprocity already exists with the New Zealand Government. I am a.ware that the Minister has this matter under review. I urge him to expedite consideration of it. Many British immigrants in Australia are in receipt of a pension from the British Government of 2(i’s. a week, which, plus exchange amounting to 6s. 3d., gives to them a pension of~l 12s. 3d. a week. That is their total income, because until reciprocity with the United Kingdom is arranged they cannot qualify for other social services benefits that the provided in this country, such as age and invalid pensions and medical benefits.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bowden). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. BERNARD CORSER (Wide Bay) [5.7”. - I am happy that the Government has found it possible to increase social services benefits, particularly age and invalid pensions, to the degree set out in the budget. The Government is fully aware of its responsibility to provide the greatest assistance possible to this most deserving section of the community.
– Does the honorable member think that the increase of the age and invalid pension by 7s. 6d. a week is sufficient?
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) and his colleagues do a disservice to pensioners by presenting their claims in a. way that is designed solely to gain some party political advantage for the Opposition. I commend the Government on the increase 5 that it proposes to grant to all classes of pensioners. This is the third successive budget, under which it has increased social services benefits. Whilst the rate of age and invalid pension is to be increased on this occasion by 7s. 6d. a week, that rate was increased by 10s. a week under each of the last two proceeding budgets. This increase will involve a total additional expenditure of £12,700.000 in the current financial year, whilst, it is safe to say that each of the last two increases involved a total additional annual expenditure of approximately £17,000,000. Increases of all classes of social services benefits will involve an additional expenditure for the current, financial year of £26,500.000. The increase of the rate of child endowment, which this Government also increased on previous occasions, will involve an additional expenditure of £0.179,000. It is all very well for members of the Opposition to claim that the rate of age and invalid pensions should be increased to £5 or £6 a week on the basis of the present cost of living. Whilst I admit that the present increase may not be all that could be desired, the fact remains chat the Government is now increasing the rate of pensions for the third time, bringing the total increase since it assumed office to £1 7s. 6d. a week. To-day, an aged couple receive each fortnight by way of pension £5 10s. more than they received under Labour which was in office for a period of eight years. In addition, this Government has increased hospital benefits by £6,500,000 for the current financial year whereas Labour provided only an allowance at the rate of Ss. a day for each occupied bed under a system which permitted persons of adequate means to obtain free hospital treatment and thus limit hospital accommodation for persons in poor circumstances. Under this Government’s scheme, adequate finance will be made available to hospitals of all classes, the management of which will thus be enabled to conduct them on the most modern lines and to pay adequate remuneration to those who devote their lives to nursing the sick. During the current financial year, the Government will also provide the sum of £1,300,000 in respect of child nutrition.
Members of the Opposition, particularly the honorable member for Hindmarsh, repeatedly make irresponsible statements in which they claim that pensions rates should bc directly related to the cost of living. But what did the Government that those honorable members supported do in this matter? On the 14th June, 1949, the honorable member for Mallee (‘Mr. Turnbull) asked Mr. Chifley, who was then Treasurer, whether his Government intended to increase the rate of age and invalid pensions and, if so, whether the increase would be between 3s. and 5s. a week, as suggested in the press, or whether his Government would ensure that the new rate would have some practical relation to the cost of living. The reply that Mr. Chifley gave to that question, which I shall read for the information of the honorable member for Hindmarsh, was as follows: -
No consideration has been given to a further increase of pension rates. The Government considered this subject not long ago and made a general increase, and it is unlikely that a further increase will he considered so soon after that. The law provided at one time that pension rates must be related to the cost of living and must rise or fall according to variations of the cost of living index figures.
I point out that that provision was placed on the statute-book by the Lyons Government and that it was abolished by a Labour government. Mr, Chifley continued -
However, when ‘ C “ series index, figure? fell about three years ago there was a great protest against any reduction of pensions.. . . Therefore, the pension rates are nol now affected by the cost of living.
Yet, the honorable member for Hindmarsh has attacked this Government because it has not related pensions to the cost of living. In view of the fact that a Labour government abolished such a provision after it has been introduced by the Lyons Government, it is useless for honorable members opposite to try to tickle the ears of pensioners in dealing with this matter. It is clear that this Government is making the fullest possible provision for pensioners consistent with its financial .capacity. Of course, the honorable member for Hindmarsh would not agree that, having regard to the present cost of living, drought-stricken dairy farmers should receive 5s. per lb for butter. In the 1949 general election the Australian Labour party promised the people that if returned to office it would increase age and invalid pensions by 10s. a week. In effect, Labour offered to buy the votes of the pensioners. On the other hand, the anti-Labour parties made no promise in this connexion but undertook, to consider at the appropriate time, the claims of pensioners as well as those of every other section of the community. After coming to office this Government increased age and invalid pensions by 10s. a week. Subsequently, it made another increase of 10s. a week, and now a further increase of 7s. 6d. a week is proposed. This proves that the utterances of the honorable member for Hindmarsh, were utterly irresponsible.
The honorable member also stated that persons who had transferred their farms to their sons, or who own two houses, are ineligible for an age pension. I remind the committee that these provisions of the law were in existence when the present
Government came to office. I am not blaming the Chifley Government for imposing the restrictions, because they had existed for years prior to that Government assuming power and were, in turn, handed on by that Government. I hope that the Minister will be able to give effect to his great desire to ameliorate the means test in order to permit the payment of age pensions in all worthy cases. The Opposition cannot hoodwink the pensioners into believing that things are going badly for them under this Government’s administration. In addition to increasing the rate of pension, this Government has introduced a free medicine scheme for pensioners, and they also receive sickness benefits and free spectacles.
– Who provides the spectacles ?
– The people provide them. These services were not provided when previous Labour governments were in office, and the people should not be misled into thinking that they would be continued if honorable members opposite were again to obtain control of the treasury bench. The present Government has a very creditable record in relation to the provision of social services.
– I shall direct my remarks to the relatively small proposed vote for shipbuilding. Rumours are current that the Commonwealth intends to sell its ships. Ministers are reported to have stated that the time is opportune for the Commonwealth to get out of the shipping trade. The Aus- / tralian Country party should be very vigilant in this matter because it is obvious that if the ownership of Commonwealth ships is transferred to private enterprise the farmers will be faced with considerable difficulty in having their produce carried interstate by sea. The sale of the Commonwealth shipping line is almost an accomplished fact. Kites have been flown about the original cost of constructing these ships, and the Government has been very deceitful about their present value. Spokesmen for the Government have stated that this line of old steamers, as they have been termed, is worth only £8,000,000. As I have worked in the shipbuilding yards, I have a good idea of their worth. If the Government sells the Commonwealth ships for £S,000,000 it will blatantly give away to the grasping overseas ship-owners £20,000,000 of the people’s assets. I have before me authentic figures in relation to the cost of the present Commonwealth fleet. They are as follows: -
Their replacement cost would be about £17,795,000. The Commonwealth also owns the following vessels that have not been mentioned in ministerial press statements: - SS. Tyalla, MV. Ransdorp ML Austin, Mr Parker, and the war prize, MV. Nyora. In addition, two bulk carriers, of 10,000 tons each, and two motor ships for the timber trade, of 1,650 tons each, have been ordered from overseas. The market value of the entire fleet, including the ships that have been ordered from overseas but not delivered, is about £22,645,000. The big interests that control Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited ire making ready to grab these assets for a paltry £8,000,000. Honorable members opposite - particularly the younger members of the Liberal party, who have advocated patriotism and stronger defences - should realize that if the Commonwealth ships are sold our shipbuilding yards will close. Ship-building is booming in Japan, as will be seen from the following article that appeared in the Sunday Telegraph of the 31st August : -
Sunday Telegraph Service
New York, Sat. - Japan is on the verge of a full-scale revival of its ship-building industry. . . All the shipyards are building warships as well as merchant vessels….. The
Potsdam ordinance restricting Japan’s armament manufactures lapses on October 20. After that date the Japanese will be permitted to construct certain types of combat vessels. The Ministry of Transportation, and the
Ministry of Security are already drafting a warship-building bill for the next session of the Diet later this week. Japan’s ambitious civilian ship-building plan is already under way. …
This afternoon, the Minister for the Navy (Mr. McMahon) told us that he is gravely concerned about the defences of Australia, but apparently the Government is happy to leave us at the mercy of other maritime powers by scrapping our shipbuilding industry. I speak on behalf of 12,000 shipbuilders, but, indirectly, there are between 50,000 and 60,000 men engaged in the industry. There are engineers, boiler-makers, blacksmiths, moulders, shipwrights, brass finishers, coppersmiths, ship painters, ship joiners, mechanical engineers, and marine architects. They all are members of skilled trades and professions which arc essential to our country in time of war.
This Government stands condemned in the eyes of the world because it has sold most of the protective assets of the Australian people. Now. to cap all. our maritime progress is to be stopped. Our shipyards are to be closed, and thousands of skilled men put on the track, just as they were in the 1930’s. This Government is noted for its deceit. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), who is now overseas, is trying to gull the people again, because he is saying that we need skilled men from Germany and Holland, notwithstanding that the Government is seeking the dismissal of most of the skilled men in the trades associated with the Australian ship-building industry. Where are we going? Most of our assets have gone, and the last and best of them will lie gone also very soon. We stand, as it were, at the front door of the teeming millions of Asia. While the “ Yellow Peril “ is preparing a huge programme for the building of warships and merchant vessels, this Government is proposing to sell the only asset of the Australian people that would protect them from, the “Yellow Peril”. What are we doing to build submarines, aircraft carriers, corvettes, mine-sweepers, and submarine detectors? The £200,000,000 that the Government has put aside for defence purposes is being given to the racketeers who are bleeding the country from day to day. There can be noanswer to that charge.
Because the Government has sold its assets, it stands condemned for all time in the eyes qf the people of Australia and in the eyes of the peoples of the world. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and Trans:Australia Airlines have gone. The Government, before it goes out of office, or before the people have put another nail in its coffin at the forthcoming Senate election, will have completed its programme, and our shipping line will have gone too. How disgraceful! Some Ministers are reported to have said that the Commonwealth ships must be retained on Australian coastal services until existing shipping shortages have been overcome. That is one kite that has been flown. Another is the statement that some Ministers believe that there is likely to be a slump in the Australian coastal shipping trade, but, as usual, those Ministers have passed the buck to the wharf labourers, because they have said that if work on the wharfs could be speeded un appreciably - with 3,000 wharf labourers out of work! - there would be a surplus of shipping on the Australian coast. It is the same old story.
Our vessels will leave the Australian coast, and the Australian taxpayers and farmers will be left at the mercy of exploiters in the form of the overseas shipping combine. A Labour government pegged shipping freight rates at the minimum level in order to protect farmers, who are supposed to be represented by the stockbrokers and other professional men who compose the Australian Country party, but who have not much time for any farmer in the land. We shall be left to the mercy of this overseas shipping combine. I appeal to the Liberals on the other side of the chamber- “
– What about the young Liberals?
– Some are old and some are young. I appeal to them, in the interests of the good name of Australia and of the protection of Australian children from the “ Yellow Peril “ in the north, to tell the Ministers of this Government where they “ get off “ in relation to the destruction of the Commonwealth shipping line. Let them tell the Government that they will have none of it, and that we must preserve our ships and our shipyards at all costs because they are necessary for our defence. Surely even the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Luck) will vote against the sale of the Commonwealth shipping line. I see a smirk on the honorable gentleman’s face, but I remind the committee that three weeks ago he was imploring the Government to ensure that a ship should run between the mainland and Tasmania at least once a week. What a very weak appeal by a man who represents a portion of the island of Tasmania ! If Taroona were removed from the Tasmanian run, practically nothing could be brought from Tasmania to the mainland by sea. If the private shipowners bought the Commonwealth shipping line, freight rates upon the very small quantity of goods that would be brought by sea from Tasmania would be doubled. I ask honorable members from Tasmania and the people of Tasmania to bear that in mind. Will the Government members who represent Tasmanian electorates vote to prevent the people of Tasmania from securing an adequate shipping service? The farmers, apple-growers and potatogrowers of Tasmania are waiting to see how their representatives in this Parliament will vote upon the proposal to sell the Commonwealth shipping line. If that line be sold, grasping shipping interests assuredly will double freight rates upon goods carried between Tasmania and the mainland. People of Tasmania, accept that warning!
Mr. WENTWORTH (Mackellar1!
T5.34]. - We all are grateful that the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) has at last awakened to the fact that this country is in danger, and that money expended upon defence preparations will not necessarily be wasted. It might be ungenerous to observe that the pure flame of his patriotism burns a little brighter when it is fed by the oil of personal or party interest. But let us he grateful for the small mercy that he has awakened to the fact that the country is in peril and that defence expenditure is necessary.
The Parliament may make laws for the Government of any territory surrendered by any State to and accepted by the Commonwealth…..
The Northern Territory comes within the category of territory to which that section refers. It will be noted that the section confers on this Parliament unlimited power in regard to a territory. Therefore this Parliament stands, in relation to the Northern Territory, in the same position as that in which the British Parliament stands in relation to the United Kingdom. Its legislative authority over the Northern Territory is absolute and untrammelled. It is a shocking paradox, however, that the Parliament has abrogated its- legislative authority and has established, under the Northern Territory Administration Act 1947, which was passed during the regime of a previous government, a state of affairs in which laws embodying that unlimited sovereignty without any constitutional trammel can, in effect, be enacted by the Cabinet without reference to the Parliament and become a part of the body of our legislation without the. Parliament having any authority or opportunity to pass judgment on them. That is a shocking state of affairs and it should be altered.
The Legislative Council for the Northern Territory consists of fourteen members, who are the Administrator, seven Government nominated members, and six elected members. It is worth recalling that the Administrator and the seven appointed members hold office “ at the pleasure of the Governor-General “, which is a polite way of saying “ at the pleasure of the Cabinet “. In effect, the Cabinet controls eight of the fourteen votes on the council without any reference to this Parliament. Ordinances which the Legislative Council lias passed come before the Administrator, who may accept them, disallow them, or reserve them for the GovernorGeneral’s pleasure. He is required to reserve some kinds of ordinances. But the Administrator is, after all, .only the creature of the Cabinet, by which he was appointed. He holds office at its pleasure. After assent has been given to an ordinance it becomes law unless disallowed bv the Cabinet should it be so inclined. Once again, the only power is with the Cabinet and not with the Parliament. Honorable members will recall that under section 4z -
Every ordinance assented to . . . shall, as soon as may be after being assented to, be laid before each House of the Parliament.
It is laid on the table but, under this iniquitous act, neither House of the Parliament has the opportunity to disallow it. So we have here the position that any government, acting under powers that were conferred on it by a previous government, has unlimited power to do what it likes in the Northern Territory. It may make any law, confiscate any property, and make anybody subject to any penalty. None of the ordinary constitutional safeguards exisits. That is the effect of the law as it stands, and I” submit that it is a wrong law and should be altered. Every honorable member knows that the present Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) and the present Cabinet would not abuse their powers under this law, but it does not follow that no future Minister or Cabinet will abuse their powers. The Government will be recreant to its duty if it does not have this act amended so that the despotic’ power of the Cabinet in relation to the Northern Territory shall be modified and placed under parliamentary control.
It is easy to advance such a proposal without suggesting the machinery whereby it could be accomplished, but I shall suggest the nature of that machinery. I suggest that, in place of the provision relating to the disallowance of ordinances by the GovernorGeneral, which is contained in section 4.w of the act, we should have a provision under which Northern Territory ordinances shall be on the same footing as are ordinary regulations. In other words, they should be disallowable by either House of the Parliament in the same way as ordinary regulations are disallowed in accordance with the terms of the Acts Interpretation Act. This would restore the authority of the Parliament over the ordinances made in the Northern Territory. Unless we take that action we shall be keeping in abeyance any power of control that the Parliament may still have. I consider this to be an urgent matter.
I suggest also that other amendments be put into practice in regard to the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory. I echo the words that the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) used in another debate when he said that there were too many public servants appointed by the Government to posts on the Legislative Council. I agree that there may be justification for one, two or three public servants to be appointed as members of that council, but there is no justification for a majority of council members to be public servants. I suggest that the Government might well consider appointing to the council, as its nominees, more residents of the territory who have lived there for a long time and so are familiar with its problems, and have more than the transitory interest in it that may typify the attitude of public servants who may be stationed in the territory in one year and in Canberra in the following year. First, the Government should change the method of selection of nominated - members. Secondly, the honorable member for the Northern Territory, whoever he may be at any particular time, should be one of the nominated members of the council. I do not suggest that he be nominated as an extra member but, in order to maintain liaison between this Parliament and the council, it might not be inequitable to embody in the legislation governing the Northern Territory the provision that the person whom the residents of the territory have elected to represent them in this Parliament shall be one of the nominated or appointed members of the council. I consider that that would be a step forward. I suggest thirdly that, as the territory approaches maturity, the number of appointed members of the council’ should diminish and the number of elected members increase. It is important that we should do everything that lies within our power to raise the status of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory. The council is, I hope, the nucleus of a State Parliament for the Northern Territory. There are many ways in which its status can be raised. I have already directed attention to some of them. I believe, too, that more of the parliamentary forms should be adopted by the council, and in this connexion I commend to honorable members the attitude of the Administrator pf the Northern Territory. He is. doing an excellent job, and should be encouraged in every way. We should endeavour, as soon as possible, to establish in the Northern Territory an independent public service that will not be amenable to Canberra centralization. Such an organization could depend in some measure on the resources of the Commonwealth Public Service, but it should have some degree of autonomy. The authority of the Administrator should be increased. He should have direct control over all Commonwealth departments that function in the Northern Territory. The present situation is farcical. The Department of Works, for example, is responsible not directly to the Administrator, but directly to Canberra. All Commonwealth instrumentalities that operate in the Northern Territory should be brought under the Northern Territory Administration as soon as possible. The present divided control, which stems back to the bureaucracy in Canberra, is not in the best interests either of the territory or of Australia. I believe that by those means and by concurrent ones, we should do everything in our power to raise the status of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory.
There is much discouragement abroad in the territory. People are saying, “What is the use? The elected representatives on the council are outvoted, and even then its decisions are subject to ministerial veto “. Much of the talk of discouragement is unjustified. One can see how it arises, but I believe that the people of the Northern Territory are being too easily discouraged by their difficulties. A long road may lie ahead before full maturity can be reached, but it would not be out of place to remind the people of the Northern Territory, and members of this committee, that full political maturity is very often best reached by the process of struggle. The history of our Australian institutions shows that. I do not think that the Northern Territory is yet ready or ripe for full self-government. It will show its readiness very largely by the force of its own struggle towards self-government. However, I believe - and I am sure that in this I have the support of all honorable members - that we should encourage this maturity as far as lies within our power, and that, as soon as possible, we should confer full statehood on the Northern Territory. In the meantime, we should be taking progressive steps in that direction. But, above all, I urge that this Parliament assert its authority over the Executive and take from the Cabinet the despotic power that it holds over life and death in the Territory. That power was conferred upon the Executive not by this Government, but by the preceding Labour Government. I do not believe that the present Administration would abuse that power but I do believe that the time to act is now. Amending legislation on the lines that I have indicated should be introduced.
– Most members of this committee will agree that three great problems face Australia to-day. The first is inflation which, unfortunately, is still galloping; the second is unemployment. which, is emerging in our midst ; and the third is the decline of primary production. Although I represent a city electorate and so have no favours to seek from primary producers, I wish to deal to-day mainly with the problem of declining primary production. Nothing could be more important to the people of Australia than to ascertain the cause of that decline, and to determine what can be done to arrest it. A survey of Australia’s economic needs, and of this country’s future, shows clearly that at no time in our history was an upward trend in primary production more desirable than it is to-day. Our population is growing at the rate of 3 per cent, per annum. Perhaps that increase will not lie maintained, nevertheless, the demand of our own population for food is increasing, and I think it can be truly said that the Australian people have averted food rationing in peace-time during the last few years only by eating into the food surpluses which previously were exported. Those surpluses are falling alarmingly, and adverse seasons might well mean that this great country would have to introduce food rationing in peacetime. In addition to satisfying the food requirements of our own population, we have a responsibility also to send food to our kinsfolk in Great Britain. It would also be very comforting to know that we were sending some of our exportable food surplus to the starving peoples of Asia. Whilst such a contribution might not be very large, it would be worth while, and would do something to assist to raise the deplorably low living standards of these unfortunate people.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Australia depends upon its exports to maintain its living standard. We are justifiably proud of the standard of living that we have built, up in this country over the years but we are now confronted by the stark reality that, if we arc to continue to enjoy that standard, we must not merely maintain, but increase substantially our export trade to pay for essential imports. We have to import capital goods. We need heavy developmental equipment. We are bringing many thousands of immigrants to this country. If our immigration and developmental programmes are to con- tinue, we must maintain our imports of capital goods, and we can do that only if we export goods in sufficient quantities to pay for them. We also import raw materials for essential secondary industries. I am sure that most honorable members have industries in their electorates which have been badly hit by the import restrictions. If the flow of raw materials for industry into this country is to be maintained, we must expand our exports to pay for them. In addition, we are bringing to Australia many commodities that are not procurable here, including petrol, tea, coffee, rubber, and so on. If we are to continue these imports we shall have to bolster our export trade. The crucial question that arises is: What goods can we export in order to provide overseas funds for the purchase of the imports which we need to maintain our standard of living? I do not believe that there can be much controversy on that point. Primary products constitute the great bulk of the commodities we export in order to establish overseas credits with which to finance imports. If we are to maintain our standard of living, we must encourage our primary industries to increase considerably the production of exportable commodities. The latest figures that 1 have seen in relation to our export income reveal that in 1950-5-1 rural products accounted for 90 per cent, of our export income and that only 3.4 per cent, of it was derived from manufactured goods. There seems to be very little scope for increasing our export income by expanding the volume of the output of our secondary industries. In Europe, with industrialized Germany again resurgent, in Asia and the Far East, with Japan rapidly becoming a serious competitor again, and with the huge secondary production of the United States of America there seems to be little prospect of increasing our exports of secondary products. We have been forced to the conclusion that if our standard of living is to be maintained we must stimulate our primary export industries. The figures relating to the decline of rural production that has taken place are well known to all honorable member.::, but some of them are worth repeating.
Compared with, pre-war figures, in 1951-52 our exports of butter declined by 89 per cent., dried vine fruits by 23 per cent., beef by 54 per cent., mutton by 75 per cent., lamb by 82 per cent, and pork by 83 per cent. Our wheat acreage has been considerably reduced, and our sheep population and wool production . have shown very little increase over the comparative figures of the ‘thirties. The startling evidence of an alarming decline of our primary industries poses two questions: First, why have our primary industries declined, and, secondly, what are we to do, not merely to arrest the decline, but also to restore and exceed the former level of production?
– First, we must get rid of the Government.
– The more we analyse the problem the more are we forced to the conclusion that the honorable member has correctly stated its solution. I do not propose to state the reasons for the decline in detail beyond saying that there is little doubt that, in the post-war years, too great, emphasis was placed upon the development of our secondary industries. All of us believe that a sound and wellbalanced economy must include primary, secondary and tertiary industries. Because, during the war, the importance of our secondary industries was overemphasized, primary industries were denied their share of essential requirements, secondary industries flourished and primary industries declined. Our rural industries are in a position somewhat analogous to that of our railways and other transport systems. They are run down. Since the war insufficient capital and equipment have been provided for them.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– What action has this Government taken to achieve essential expansion of primary production? It has done two things and two things only. First, it has given its blessing to a five-year plan whereby it hopes for an increase of primary production by 20 per cent. My only comment on that matter is that the time for talk is long past. Now we need action.
The only other action taken by the Government has been to announce a few piffling tax concessions for primary producers. In doing so, it has merely extended in a small way the tax concessions that have been written into the income tax laws for years, under which primary producers are allowed certain capital expenditure items as deductions for taxation purposes. Those concessions apply to established primary producers and in my opinion they will not make any real contribution to the great problem of primary production. On the land, as in secondary industries, monopoly is being developed in Australia. Established farmers are buying the land next to them and statistics show that there are now fewer farmers in Australia than formerly, although the average size of farms is increasing. That development is contributing to the decline of primary production. What is the real solution? It appears to be obvious. But it has escaped the attention of the Government. Surely if we desire to produce more foodstuffs and expand our exports, we must get more farmers on the land. Australia has the necessary land available and we have the technological resources that are necessary to put men on to farms. About 25 per cent, of the land mass of Australia is suitable for cultivation and intensive pastoral activity. Experts estimate that about 150,000,000 acres could be used for primary production. Much of it is scrub land at present. Surely the big task for Australia is to clear that land and establish thousands of new settlers upon it. Therein lies the solution of two problems - the increase of the nation’s exportable surplus of primary products and the incipient problem of unemployment. We need a vigorous movement back to the land. We need a vast national project of land settlement by which the resources of the country will be developed, new farm.9 will be established and tens of thousands of land-hungry young men will be able to become farmers in their own right.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bowden). - Order! The honorable member’s time ha3 expired.
.- In his speech to the committee, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde
Cameron) endeavoured to make political capital from the great problem of pensions, both age and invalid. His first suggestion was that the pensions should be related to the basic wage. If that matter is examined fairly closely, the Labour party does not appear in very good light. In 1941 when the Curtin Government was elected to office, the pension was related to the basic wage, but in 1943 the same Labour Government abolished that relationship.
– To. prevent a reduction in the pension rate.
– That may be. I am dealing with matters of principle, and if the principle is good enough to-day, it should have been good enough in 1943 when it was abolished by the Curtin Government. How is the basis of the basic wage reached by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court? In 1907, the Harvester award came into force. Under that award, the basic wage was related to the needs of a man, his wife and three children. In 1934 the Commonwealth Arbitration Court announced that it would alter the basis to that which each industry could afford to pay, but it was made clear by the court at the same time that it would not disregard family responsibility. Speaking on this subject in 1941 Judge Beeby said -
The Court has always conceded the needs of an average family should he kept in mind in fixing a basic wage. But it has never, as the result of its own inquiry, specifically declared what is an average family or what is the cost of a regimen of food, clothing, shelter and miscellaneous items necessary to maintain it in frugal comfort or that a basic 1 wage should give effect to any such finding. In the end, economic possibilities have always been the determining factor. . . . What should be sought is the independent ascertainment and prescription of the highest basic wage that can be sustained by the total of industry, in all its primary, secondary and ancillary forms. That no doubt is the object, but the adoption of something like the real average family as the unit to be provided for is not without its use in ‘ the attainment of that object. There is no clear means of measuring the general wage paying capacity of the total industry of a country. All that can be done is to approximate, and one of the methods of approximation is to find out the actual wage upon which well situated labourers are at the time maintaining the average family unit.
An examination of the court’s determinations reveals that not long after the war ceased there was a 7s. a week prosperity rise in wages. That was granted when wage controls were lifted. In 1950 an increase of about £1 was granted. I submit that those increases in wages had nothing to do with the family unit but they were associated with the ability of industry to pay. Pensioners do not have the same responsibility as families in relation to clothing, fares and all the other needs of a. family man. I believe also that in relation to pensions we have to take into consideration the ability of the community to pay. Therefore, it is desirable that the committee should examine certain statistics in relation to this matter. In 1933 there were 256,000 pensioners in Australia and there were 2,600,000 people working to earn an income. The proportion was almost one pensioner to every ten workers. In 1950, eighteen years later, there were 413,000 pensioners and the work force was 3,400,000. At that point of time, the pensioners represented one in every nine workers. Those who have studied statistics will realize that the tendency in that direction has been evident for many years. The number of pensioners in relation to the number of workers employed in the community is gradually increasing. That means that fewer and fewer people can be called upon to meet pension costs. According to the report of the Commissioner of Taxation in 1946-47, which is the last year for which figures are available, of the total number of taxpayers, 1,800,000 earned taxable incomes of less than £1,000 a year. That represents almost 99 per cent, of the total number of taxpayers, so that the major burden of pensions, as well as of all other government expenses, falls upon persons in the receipt of taxable incomes of less than £1,000. In view of that, I seriously raise the question whether the community can really afford to pay more in pensions, having regard to other inescapable commitments. The present age pension of £3 7s. 6d. a week represents £6 15s. a week for a married couple, and each pensioner has the right to earn an additional 30s. a week. As has been pointed out, the total income receivable by a pensioner couple compares favorably with the average family income, when all factors are taken into consideration.
– Let the honorable member tell that to the pensioners.
– I am telling it to them now. I believe that pensioners are realists, which most honorable members opposite are not. It is only necessary to point out that when the Labour party in 1951 offered the- pensioners an extra 10s. a week to vote for it, the pensioners did not swallow the bait. They remembered what happened in 1949, when the Chifley Government refused to increase pensions although the cost of living had increased by 11 per cent.
– The Labour party promised to increase pensions.
– The Labour party has been making promises for years, but has not honoured them. “When we consider the provision made for pensioners in the way of health services, medical benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, &c, it is evident that they have every reason to be satisfied with what has been done for them by the present Government, which has increased pensions by 65 per cent, since it came into office in 1949. Of course, it would be desirable to increase pensions still further if that were possible, but it is not possible, as the pensioners them, selves realize. The only way in which to deal effectively with the problem is to abolish the means test, as the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) proposed in his policy speech in 1949. j hope that the Government will not delay the introduction of a contributory system under which there would be no means test, and every person upon attaining the age of 65, would have the right to draw a pension.
Mr. GORDON ANDERSON (KingsfordSmith) [S.151. - I intend to refer to the proposal of the Government to dispose of the assets of the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool. This proposal has been discussed a great deal in. Sydney, and many persons are interesting themselves in the matter.
Apparently, the Government proposes to sell the assets by stealth, because no .one knew anything of its intentions until the proposal was revealed in the Daily Telegraph last week. If the Government puts its proposal into effect it will act contrary to its announced policy of promoting efficiency on the waterfront, and strike a blow at security and the well-being of the defence forces. Moreover, it will repudiate its responsibility to the ex-servicemen who represent more than 75 per cent, of the -300 men employed in the handling pool. Many of these men are suffering from war disabilities for which they receive pensions. They were trained during rehabilitation .courses to do the work upon which they are engaged, and they have ‘been taught how to take their place in the economic life of the community. They have been working for the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as for private firms. Many big private firms which operate on the waterfront find that, from time to time, they lack special equipment for cargo handling, and they are able to hire the equipment they need, together with trained operators, from the handling pool. This arrangement makes for efficient and economical handling of cargo. The pool was constituted in its present form in 1948, having grown out of the Allied Materials Standing Committee, which came into being in 1943 at the suggestion of the then Prime Minister, with the concurrence of General MacArthur. Its function was to assemble and operate machinery needed for the handling of cargoes on behalf of the defence forces. This is the pool which, according to a recent statement of the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), is. to be disposed of. At the present time the pool has 300 employees, approximately 75 per cent, of whom, are ex-servicemen. It has shown a profit on its operations since 1948. Only recently, in New South Wales, it acquired more commodious premises at Leichhardt. Previously it had been accommodated in an unsatisfactory position at Balmain. The equipment is being hired to stevedoring companies, other large construction companies, local government bodies and government departments which need heavy equipment which is not procurable elsewhere. In some instances it would be- uneconomical for those organizations to buy machinery which might be required for a specific purpose and for a relatively short space of time.
I wish to refer honorable members to the report on the turn-round of ships in Australian ports, recently compiled by Mr. Henry Basten, in the course of which the author states that -
It is desirable that stevedoring companies which are large enough in their operation to own these tools should do so. At the same time, it is true that mechanical handling equipment calls for a good deal of maintenance and only stevedoring companies of some substance can afford to own and maintain it . . . The sensible arrangment is for the companies to own a reasonable amount of equipment and for a pool of equipment to be maintained from which they can hire their additional requirements.
I have read that passage from the report in order to support my contention that ‘it is essential that there should be a pool of heavy equipment which can be called upon by organizations which desire to use it and which do not possess such equipment. Mr. Basten states that he is not prepared to recommend whether the pool should be operated by a company established for the purpose, or by some other means. As far as the waterfront is concerned, he is of the opinion that it is important only that there should be efficient pools in the ports.
The pool is providing a valuable ser-‘ vice to many large industrial undertakings in Sydney to-day by providing equipment for landing, stacking and loading cargoes. The fact that such equipment is readily available renders the handling of cargoes much more expeditious. 1 hope that honorable members who are ex-servicemen will endeavour to prevent the Government from disposing of this equipment. I point out that a number of ex-servicemen who were physically incapacitated during World War II. were trained by this organization to operate and maintain the equipment and have thus become specialists in that work. If the equipment held in the pool is sold, those men will be thrown out of employment. Should a national emergency arise in the future, the government of the day would have readily available n most valuable asset if this equipment is retained. In my opinion, the proposed disposal of the equipment amounts to a wanton disregard of the public interest. Its sale will endanger the defence potential of Australia and will amount to yet another act of betrayal by this Government of its pledges to the people to safeguard the interests of exservicemen and to maintain employment. It seems that the Government is eager to dispose of undertakings such as this and Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited in order to get its hands on some ready cash. In my opinion such a policy is against the best interests of Australia.
.- I wish to address myself to the Estimates covering the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. I hope that my remarks will be factual and of some value to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) and to other honorable members who have expressed, perhaps for the first time, concern at the decline of our primary industries. Largely because the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr.. McEwen) will have to face and resolve the problem that confronts the wheat industry with the termination of the present political subterfuge that is so frequently and erroneously referred to as the wheat stabilization scheme, I wish to refer to that political subterfuge and to relate its history to the committee. The matter is of the greatest importance, not only to the wheat industry but also to cereal agriculture generally in our country. This political subterfuge was devised by an interdepartmental committee set up by the socialist government and was designed to deprive the producers of the export parity value of their products. No other political subterfuge has ever succeeded quite so well. The inter-departmental committee included gentlemen from the Treasury, prices authorities and gentlemen from the Department of Post-war Reconstruction and the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. At their first meeting they agreed that it would be fundamentally wrong for the wheatgrowers to receive any advantage from the rising export parity price. They said - and it is reported in the minutes of the proceedings - that if the growers received an advantage from the rising export parity price in 1945 they would only spend it. They said the producers would discharge their debts, they would improve their properties, buy more land, establish their sons on additional properties, expand their production and repeat all the mistakes of the past. In order to avoid those happenings, this inter-departmental committee, taking its directions from the socialist government, devised a wheat stabilization scheme, or au instrument that is called a wheat stabilization scheme, for the specific purpose of depriving the industry of the advantages that would come to it naturally from any increase of export parity. The original proposal provided, for a stabilized price for wheat of 4s. Sd. a bushel f.o.b. ports. The export parity price at that time was 10s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b. It provided for the stabilized price to be paid for a five-year period during which the export parity price of wheat could reasonably be expected to be above the guaranteed price. That fact in itself should have exposed this subterfuge. Of what value was a scheme that guaranteed a price which was half the value of the commodity and which confined the operation of the scheme to that period of years when the export parity price was likely to remain consistently above the guaranteed price? In order to protect the Treasury further, it was provided that all sales in excess of the guaranteed price should be shared equally between the producers and the stabilization fund, up to a limit of 2s. 2d. a bushel when contributions would cease and the full realization in excess of the guaranteed price would go to the growers. From that point the scheme became an equalization scheme with the socialist government calling the tune and the wheat-growers paying the piper. It has remained an’ equalization scheme ever since. The scheme provided for the unbridled selling of wheat by ministerial direction at prices that did not approach the true market value of the commodity. In that way the growers have been involved in cash losses that have exceeded £250,000,000 in seven years. That subterfuge is still called a wheat stabilization scheme. Can anything hp more absurd ?
Let me state the actual losses that have been suffered by the industry and the nation. In 1945-46, the year in which the scheme was introduced, when the average export parity price for wheat was 10s. 6.5d. a bushel, the growers were required to sell no less than 59,400,000 bushels of wheat at -ls. 7.5d. a bushel through No. 9 pool, a loss of 5s. Hd. a bushel which totalled £17,572,600 in that year. They called it, “stabilization””. In 1946-47, when the average export price of wheat was 15s. S.ld. a bushel the growers were required to sell 58,200,000 bushels through No. 10 pool at 5s. 0.5d. a bushel, a loss of 1.0s. 7.6d. a bushel or £30,859,000 in one year. In 1947-4S, when No. 11 pool operated and the’ average export parity price for wheat was 173. 11. 6d. a bushel, the growers were required to sell 38,500,000 bushels of wheat at 6s. 2.3d. a bushel, a loss to the valiant men and women who grew wheat in that year of Ils. 9.4d. a bushel or £34,966,000. During the operation of the No. 12 pool in 1948-49, when the average export parity price of wheat was 13s. 0.4d. a bushel, the growers were required to sell 61,300,000 bushels at 6s. 7.7d. a bushel, a loss of 6s. 4.7d. a bushel or £19,590,000 in that year. Again, they called it “stabilization’. In 1949-50, during the currency of No. 13 pool, when the average export parity price of wheat was 18s. 9.4d. a bushel, the growers were forced by means of this subterfuge to sell 62,000,000 bushels at 7s. Id. a bushel, a loss of Ils. S.4d. a bushel or £34,203,000. In 1950-51, which was covered by the No. 14 pool and when the export parity price: averaged 18s 6d. a bushel, the growers were required to sell 69,300,000 bushels at 7s. lOd. a bushel, a loss of 10s. 8d. a bushel, or £36,960,000. During the year 1951-52, when No. 15 pool operated, the average export parity price of wheat, was 21s. 6.3d. a bushel, but the growers were forced to sell 63,400,000 bushels at 12s. 6d. a bushel, a loss of 9s. a. bushel.I am sure that that has been the cause of the fall in wheat production. A total of £28,530,000 was lost by- the growers during 1951-52. And they still call it “ stabilization “.
During the last seven years these cash losses by the growers and the nation have reached the staggering total of £202,680,000. This loss has been inflicted on a handful of people who have gone out into the arable areas of this country and brought them into production. The International Wheat Agreement which was designed to reduce export parity prices as a measure of practical aid to a war ravaged world has been made an exclusive charge on these men and women and has involved them in cash losses exceeding £50,000,000. In all the other exporting countries the losses incidental to that agreement were made a charge against the entire community but in this country they were inflicted on this isolated group of people. The difference can only be explained in terms of morality and immorality. I have one admission to make. The originally proposed price was not allowed to remain at 4s. 8d. a bushel, largely because of the advocacy of the organization that I myself had the honour to lead at the time and the advocacy of the people in Western Australia. Against the socialist government’s inclinations the price was increased from 4s. Sd. a bushel to 5s. 2d. a bushel when the export parity average was 10s. 6d. a bushel. The price is now 10s. a bushel, which is lis. 6.3d. a bushel less than the export parity average, and that price is due for adjustment in December.
Now I have another confession to make. The subterfuge, called the wheat stabilization scheme, was accepted ‘ by a majority of the growers in spite of all my exhortations. However, in extenuation of my failure I should say that the credulous wheat-growers of the Commonwealth were terrified, into acceptance of an arbitrary price by the prediction of catastrophic falls in wheat prices, when at the time the prophecies were made wheat prices were rising from their low pre-war level and beginning to give some indication of the fantastic heights that they have reached in the last few years. Wheat-growers were compelled to accept the proposed price because the Labour Government threatened that it would impose an export licence system unless the industry agreed to its socialist ideas. The wheat-growers approved of the plan, which was a mere political subterfuge.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) has just completed a tirade against the previous Labour Government’s administration of the Australian wheat industry. I shall deal with that matter first, and later I shall consider the matter of social services. At the beginning of the last war the first Menzies Government acquired the whole wheat crop of Australia and continued its control of the wheat industry until it was defeated. When the Labour Government assumed control in 1941, the country was strewn with bankrupt and insolvent farmers who had been driven into that unfortunate state by the administration of the anti-Labour government. After ten years of non-Labour control the best price that the then government had been able to get the farmer for his wheat was about ls. 10-Jd. a bushel. In 1941 the Labour Government gave wheat-farmers a guaranteed price for a certain period of years, and for the first time in their lives those primary producers enjoyed a reasonable return for their labour. The farmers of this country will not be hoodwinked by the specious arguments of the honorable member for Riverina that they have been unjustly treated by a previous Labour government. When that government was in office the primary products cost structure was substantially stable, and farmers were able to sell their commodities at a price which would ensure a substantial and reasonable profit. When the- present Government assumed office in 1949 the cost structure commenced to get out of hand. Since then it has gone from bad to worse, and at present the industry is completely unstable. The cost structure is fantastically high, and that is solely attributable to the administration of the present Government. If the international price of wheat were to collapse, its affect on Australian wheatfarmers would be catastrophic because of the high cost structure that has beer built up by this Government. I remind honorable members’ that the history of the wheat industry right throughout the world has been that high prices have caused a surplus of wheat to be produced within a short period, and that that surplus has caused the collapse of wheat prices to a level much below normal. If that should happen our wheat-farmers would very quickly become bankrupt because their returns would not cover their high costs.
At about the time I first entered this Parliament in 1934 an investigation was made into the condition of the wheat industry. The investigating body’s report showed that the chief cost in the production of wheat was the interest on loans paid by the farmers. I remind honorable members that the interest that they pay now is much greater than it was in those days. If the market for wheat again becomes restricted and the price fell, the primary producer would find that his interest bill eating up all his profits. Indeed, it would become the most difficult factor with which he would have to contend. Another factor in the cost of production of’ wheat is the cost of “land. At present primary producers are paying highly inflated prices for land. If they should be faced with lower prices at some time in the future because of international circumstances, not only would they have to contend with inflated interest bills but’ they would also have to continue to pay instalments on the inflated cost of their land. The farmers realize that the Labour party is the only political party that has ever tried to establish a stable market for their products over a period of years, and is the only party that has ever given security to the primary producers. I suggest that primary producers want a. continuing stable market; not a market of inflated prices to-day and a. market of deflated prices to-morrow. In other words, the farmers want security and not insolvency.
I draw the attention of honorable members to the entirely inadequate, amount that is paid by this Government, to age pensioners. Age pensioners have paid, during their working lives, considerable amounts into the coffers of the Government by way of taxation, direct and indirect. In return for that they are entitled, at the age of 60 for women and 65 for men, to a reasonable age pension. It is foolish to say that the age pension is not on a contributory basis because there are two methods by which contributions can be made for pensions. The first method is to charge each person so much a head during his working life. That is the method that the present Government desires to adopt so that rich and poor will pay the same amount for their pensions: The Labour party believes in the second method which is the only just method. That is to contribute to pensions by way of taxation on a sliding scale according to ability to pay. I suggest that it certainly cannot be said that age pensioners have not paid for their pensions. The Government should increase age pensions by more than the miserable amount that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has proposed. In fact, the Government should grant increases commensurate with the increases that have been made in the basic wage. There is no doubt that age pensions, and, indeed, all pensions, have lost considerable value because of the great increases that have taken place, particularly in the last twelve months, in the basic wage.
The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) said that a Labour government altered the system under which age pensions increased or decreased according to the increase or decrease of the cost of living. I inform honorable members that that was done at the request of pensioners themselves. For a considerable time they had enjoyed pensions that increased when the cost of living increased and decreased when the cost of living decreased, but on one occasion when the cost of living decreased by about 6d. a week the pensioners asked the then Government to alter the provision that the pension should rise or fall with. the cost of living. The Government complied with their request. It is unfortunate that the request was acceded to because that small decrease of the cost of living was followed by consistent increases. Repeated requests have been made, through me, to the Govern- _ ment to restore the link with the cost of living, and I urge again that the Government should give immediate consideration to that request and allow the basis of pensions once more so that it could be linked with the rise and fall of the cost of living.
The Government has declared that it will abolish the means test. I have before me an advertisement that was issued on the 10th November, 1949. It is embellished with a very striking photograph of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and it is headed “Answers to questions women everywhere are asking “. It is true to say that to-day questions are being asked everywhere, not only by women but also by men, about the inadequacy of age and invalid pensions. One of the questions asked in this advertisement was -
Will your Government maintain social services ?
The reply was -
Not only will we maintain and increase their value, but we will remove present injustices arising from the means test.
But nothing has been done to alter the means test! A Labour government fixed 30s. a week as the permissible income under the means test, and that rate has never been increased. This Government has decided to abolish the land tax, which will involve a remission to the wealthy section of the community amounting to £6,500,000 annually. The Minister for Social Services has said that, if £6,000,000 were added to the pension fund, the permissible income level could be raised to £3 a week. The point of my argument is that the Government has not carried out its definite election promise to abolish the means test but has given a concession worth £6,500,000 a year to the wealthy members of the community and that, if that amount had been provided for the benefit of age and invalid pensioners, the permissible income could have been raised to twice the present limit. Additional concessions should be granted to the pensioners because of the high cost of living. I have received scores of letters which contain appeals by pensioners for increased payments in order to help them to meet the exceptional costs that prevail to-day. Many of these pensioners have pointed out that they are almost destitute and are unable to provide themselves with adequate food, clothing and shelter. The Government’s continued neglect of this section of the community is disgraceful.
Another injustice is perpetrated under the present system of applying the means test to invalid pensioners and their families. The income of the wife of an invalid pensioner who goes to work as the family breadwinner is taken into account in assessing the invalid husband’s eligibility for pension. The pension of an invalid should not be reduced when his wife is working in order to relieve the financial distress of her family, at least until her earnings reach the level of the basic wage. I have taken up with the Postal Department the case of a woman in my electorate who is working in a post office in order that she may maintain her husband and three or four children. The husband is debarred from receiving the invalid pension on account of her earnings. The woman was threatened with the sack under the Government’s staff reduction policy. I have been informed this week that the department now has decided generously to classify “ her as a single person so that she will not be dismissed at once but will be allowed to work until the 21st September. The best that the department can do apparently is to allow this family breadwinner to retain her job for an extra month ! That sort of grievous injustice is typical of the administration of social services under this Government.
The Government’s policy should be reviewed immediately with the object of increasing pension rates because the pensioners have earned the right during their active lives to a measure of justice in their old age and infirmity. Many other glowing promises were made on behalf of the present Government parties in the election advertisement to which I have referred. It was a misleading statement yet it probably helped them to gain power. The promise in relation to the cost of living is of particular interest. The advertisement included this question -
Will you be able to reduce the cost of living ?
The answer was -
We regard it as one of our first responsibilities to increase the purchasing power of the Australian £1, to increase production and thus bring prices down.
But production has been decreasing since this Government has been in office ! Australia’s output of foodstuffs has never been mare unsatisfactory. Our exports are dwindling and, for that reason, we have been embarrassed by the dissipation of our overseas balances. Severe shortages of many commodities have occurred, and we are able to satisfy demands for home consumption only by denying exports to overseas consumers. This is the direct result of the Government’s unsound economic policy.
The proposed vote for the Department of Territories is under consideration in the group of Estimates at present before the committee. I was shocked to learn that the Government proposed to extend the leases of certain pastoral interests in the Northern Territory. It will do a great disservice to Australia if it extends the leases of poor producers as well as those of the efficient producers. The Northern Territory is potentially rich, agriculturally, but much of the land in the great pastoral holdings is not being used in the interests of the people. Any extension of the tenure of inefficient lessees will be an utter disgrace to the Government. I have been informed that an area of between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 acres in the Northern Territory is capable of producing rice as good as any rice that can be grown in the eastern region of Australia. That land will be wasted if it is to be tied up in pastoral holdings.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I should like to reply to some of what I might euphemistically describe as the rubbish that has just been uttered by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark). However, I have risen for the specific purpose of replying to the statements made by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Gordon Anderson) about the Commonwealth Equipment Handling Pool. One would gather, from the honorable gentleman’s remarks from the platform of his ignorance, that the Government was wickedly disposing of a valuable asset to the detriment of the people, probably at bucket-shop prices and generally in such a way as to reduce the efficiency of the port handling facilities of Australia. In the first place, I point out to honorable members that the Commonwealth Equipment Handling Pool is a collection of machinery with a replacement value of between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000. It is owned by the ‘ Commonwealth and is cither operated by the Commonwealth or, more usually, let out by the Commonwealth to various instrumentalities, chiefly for the purpose of moving cargo on wharfs but also for the purpose of shifting heavy cargoes throughout the country. The pool includes fork-lift trucks worth the better part of £1,000,000, tow motors worth £130,000, light wharf cranes worth more than £360,000, trucks and self-propelled cranes worth £420,000 and crawler trains worth £660,000. Other equipment brings the replacement value of the machinery in ‘the pool to a total of between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000. This equipment, which constitutes the Commonwealth Equipment Handling Pool, is scattered throughout Australia, but is located chiefly in the ports of Sydney and Melbourne. It is not without significance that approximately 380 employees are operating this machinery at the present time, and no fewer than 150 salaried officers are performing the administrative work. Honorable members will be able to gauge the sort of organization that requires 150 salaried officers to do the work of administration in a concern which employs 380 machinery operators.
– Or the sort of Minister who is in charge of the organization.
– Or the sort of administration that occurred under a Labour government, which permitted this fantastic situation to remain unaltered year after year. This Government, when it came into office, had the matter carefully examined, and came to the conclusion that the only criterion to be followed was the best way in which this enormous quantity of valuable machinery could be operated in order to speed up the turn-round of ships and facilitate the moving of heavy cargo and materials throughout Australia. The proposition which is apparently advanced by the honorable member for KingsfordSmith is that, no matter, how high the overhead costs for administration may be, the organization must be conducted by the Government. In his opinion, the Government is sacrosanct, and it is wicked that anybody but the
Government should conduct an ordinary commercial operation. The honorable member criticizes us because we propose that the work of moving cargo and materials should be undertaken by a body other than the Government. We considered that an establishment of 150 administrative officers for 380 men was just too silly to contemplate, because efficiency must be the criterion.
– The Government has contemplated that position for nearly three years.
– Yes, but the Government is careful, in such matters, to make proper inquiries, and does not rush into things in a doctrinaire and foolish way. The Government makes a proper examination of a position with a view to determining whether a certain course of action will be in the best interests of the Commonwealth as a whole. We asked ourselves in this matter whether the organization could be conducted as efficiently, or more efficiently, by private enterprise. We came to the conclusion that the disposal of the assets in the right quarters throughout Australia, at the right prices, would produce a quicker turn-round of ships and a more efficient movement of cargoes and materials. Therefore, we decided that, when the prices and the buyers were right, we would dispose of those assets.
– The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) is a doctrinaire socialist who does not mind whether an organization is run efficiently so long as it is conducted by the Government. He believes that an organization, no matter whether it is bankrupt, must be run by the civil service. When I make that statement, I do not suggest that the Commonwealth Equipment Handling Pool is bankrupt. However, the Government considers that the proper question to be asked in such a matter is, “Who can run the organization most efficiently and cheaply, and produce the best results?”.
– Who does the Minister think can produce the best results?
– I do not think, because I know perfectly well that the organization can be conducted more efficiently by private enterprise. In the circumstances, the Government decided to sell the assets to those bodies that would use them to the best advantage. We found that the Maritime Services Board of New South Wales could use a vast quantity of the machinery. That authority is a State government instrumentality and, as such, should commend itself to Opposition members although I have no doubt that it will not be so, because the sole purpose of the Opposition is to ensure that the Commonwealth will not part with the assets. We also found that the Harbour Trust Commissioners in Melbourne were not only able, but also willing, to take a substantial quantity of the machinery, and operate it efficiently. We had no doubt that, when the proper arrangements were made, there were many other organizations in the main ports of Australia which could make efficient use of the machinery and equipment. Accordingly, we decided that the machinery and equipment should be made available, in the first place, to those bodies which would use it to the best advantage. That is the sole test.
– That is the pay-off to the friends of the Government.
– The Maritime Services Board of New South Wales and the Harbour Trust Commissioners in Melbourne will get some of the machinery if they pay reasonable prices for it. The only criterion is, “ Who can take the machinery, pay a reasonable price for it and operate it most efficiently ? “ The assets are not being disposed of to bodies or persons whom the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) describes as “ our friends “. Private enterprise will be given the opportunity to make purchases only after government instrumentalities have taken the machinery that they require.
– Is a profit being made?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order ! The honorable member for Watson must not interject. The Chair will not warn him again.
– The Government will not sell the machinery and equipment at bucket-shop prices.. When the requirements of State instrumentalities have been satisfied, the remainder of the machinery and equipment will he made available to corporations and others who can use it efficiently.
I close on this note. It is only a matter of whether we can get a quicker turn-round of ships, and whether cargoes and materials may be moved move efficiently than in the past. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith complained that, as the result of the Government’s decision to dispose of the assets, men would be thrown out of work. I inform the honorable gentleman that the sale of the assets does not necessarily mean that men will become unemployed. The Maritime Services Board ofNew SouthWales, if it acquires some of this machinery, will need men to operate it, and, no doubt, efficient’ men who are at present engaged by the Commonwealth Equipment Handling Pool will be first in line for employment. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith evidently considers that the Government should not sell the machinery and equipment under any conditions. He believes that the Government should not, in. any circumstances, make any changes for the purpose of increasing the efficiency of an organization. If those are his propositions, J. for one, do not agree with them, and. I believe that the taxpayers of Australia will not accept his view of the position. Loss of employment need not be a factor in this matter. The question which honorable gentlemen should ask themselves is whether we want this great mass of valuable machinery to be used efficiently. The Government believes, after mature consideration, that the proposals we have in mind will result in a cheaper and quicker turn-round of ships, and a more efficient movement of materials.
Mr.BRYSON (Wills) [9.6].- I desire, in the brief time at my disposal, to refer to the administration of the Department of Social Services, and particularly to the means test that is applicable to various categories of pensions. My remarks will be directed chiefly to Government policy on those matters. I mention, in passing, that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) informed the chamber last week, when these matters arose, that I apparently had deliberately attempted to misrepresent the position. He read certain extracts from the policy speech delivered by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) during the general election campaign in 1949, and he was good enough to provide me with a copy of that speech, lest my memory was not so reliable as it might be. I propose to read a brief passage from that policy speech, not with reference to the discussion last week, but with reference to the administration of social services. The present Prime Minister made the following statement in 1949 : -
We desire, however, to adjust anomalies I have referred to, and to make such modifications in the means test aswefind possible pending a contributory scheme. This great human problem will have our urgent attention as a matter of priority.
Earlier this evening, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) read extracts from advertisements which had been published on behalf of the Liberal party during the general election campaign in 1049 with specific reference to the means test. The Minister for Social Services informed us that the Government’s social services plan, which, incidentally, was to be introduced in 1952, had been prepared. I. am wondering whether it will be implemented this year.Provision is made in the Estimates for increases of pensions of various kinds, but I have searched in vain in the Estimates, in the budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and in the legislation contingent on the budget for any hint of a proposal to liberalize the means test. That is why I have referred to the subject at this juncture. Cabinet is continuing, unashamedly, to ignore the promises that the Government parties made to the people during the last general election campaign. I shall cite a case, which is typical, to ‘show how the social services scheme is operating at present and how the Government proposes to continue to operate it. I refer to the case of a service pensioner whose wife receives an age pension, the’ two rates of pension being equal. Figures that have been supplied to me by officers of the Department of Social Services show that the maximum amount of war pension, service pension and age pension payable in respect of a man and. his wife is £377 per annum. As the total war pension received by this couple amounts to £104 0s. 5d. per annum, the balance of £272 19s. 7d. represents the total pension payable to them, and when this amount is halved, the result is a sum of £136 4s. 9d. per annum, or 104s. 9d. a fortnight, being paid in respect of the husband’s service pension and a similar sum in respect of the wife’s age pension. From those figures it is clear that, because the husband and wife are receiving a service pension of £104 0s. 5d. per annum, between them the service pension and the age pension payable in respect of both of them has been reduced by 15s. 3d. a fortnight. That is the effect of the imposition of the ceiling of £377 per annum. I am aware that the Government proposes to alleviate the position of pensioners in similar circumstances by raising the ceiling rate to £416 per annum, or an increase of £39 per annum. That increase is equivalent to an increase of 7s. 6d. a week in respect of both the age pension and the service pension. Thus, under the Government’s new proposal, this couple will receive by way of pension an amount that is 15s. 3d. a fortnight less than the full rate of age pension. They will remain in the position in which they find themselves at present. In addition, the Government proposes to increase the genera] rate of service pension by 10s. a week whilst partial pensions will be increased proportionately. If the war pension of this man and his wife of £104 Os. 5d. per annum is increased under the Government’s new proposal by £10 per annum., the effect will be that the husband’s service pension and his wife’s age pension will each be reduced by another £5 per annum. Thus, any in- crease of service pension that, may be g) anted to these two pensioners will be taken from them by a reduction of the age pension by a. similar amount. If that is not, in effect, the application of a means test, I do not know the meaning of a means test. The procedure that I have outlined means that although the rates of service pension and age pension are to be increased under the Government’s latest proposal, a couple who are receiving both of those pensions will suffer a reduction of the rate of age pension because the husband is in receipt of a service pension as well as an age pension. In such circumstances, the pensioners’ last position is worse than their first. The Government should ensure that a man who i3 entitled to a service pension as a result of war injuries ‘and cannot earn a livelihood because of his advanced years, shall not suffer a reduction of age pension to which he would otherwise be entitled.
The Labour Government increased the permissible income of age pensioners in several stages from 12s. 6d. to 30s. a week. This Government has not altered the latter figure although, as previous speakers have pointed out, the basic wage and living costs have more than doubled since the permissible income was increased to 30s. a week in 1948. Even under the Labour Government’s legislation it was possible for an aged couple to have a total income of £9 a week, because in addition to the agc pension of £3 a week for each person, the couple were permitted to have a combined private income of £3. However, the ceiling of £377 per annum penalizes an age pensioner who is eligible to receive a service pension. Because he risked life and limb in the defence of this country in World War I. and is suffering from war injuries, he is precluded, under the Government’s latest, proposal, from obtaining the full rate of age pension that is payable to other age pensioners who not only did not sustain war injuries but also did not even offer to fight in defence of their country. I assure the committee that I am not merely finding fault with the administration of these pensions. I earnestly appeal to the Government to re-examine cases of the kind that I have indicated. The amount of additional expenditure that would be involved in assuring that justice shall be done in such instances would be infinitesimal in relation to the total expenditure for which the budget makes provision. It must be obvious that an increase of 7s. 6d. a week, which will bring the rate of age pension up to £3 7s. 6d. a week, whilst it might have appeared to be adequate in 1940. or as late as 1945, will not enable pensioners to meet present living costs. In spite of each increase of the rate of age and invalid pensions, the actual purchasing power of pensioners is steadily being reduced. The full rate of pension does not represent 40 per cent, of the basic wage, which might be regarded as being reasonable in that it would enable recipients to live in frugal comfort and to avoid starvation. Although the Government has increased the rate of age and invalid pensions by 7s. 6d. and 10s. a week under each of its two preceding budgets, the full rate is still inadequate in relation to the cost of living. The Government has failed to honour the promises that it made during the last general election campaign to keep down the cost of living and to put value back into the £1. If the Government had carried out its promise to look after the interests of pensioners it would have ensured for them the maintenance of a standard of living comparable with the standard that existed when Labour relinquished office. If the Government had only partly honoured its promises then pensioners would be in a considerably better position than they are in to-day. The cost of living has almost doubled since this Government came to office. In order to restore the ratio of pension to the cost of living, that is, the weighted average for the six capital cities, that obtained when Labour was in office, it would be necessary for the Government to now increase age and invalid pension to £4 9s. a week, instead of £3 7s. 6d. a week as is proposed. In other words, the standard of living of the unfortunate pensioners has declined, during this Government’s term of office, in terms of the present day value of money, by £1 ls. 6d. a week. This means that although the ratio of pension to the basic wage has decreased by about 10 per cent., the actual reduction of the living standard of pensioners has declined by about 25 per cent.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN”. - Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The remarks of honorable members on the other side of the chamber remind me of a story that used to be told about an elephant that decided to go around doing good. Coming to a broody hen, the elephant said, “ I will sit on your eggs while you go for a walk “.
The point of that simple story is that the elephant meant well. Although honorable members opposite have meant well by their comments, they have broken a lot of egg’s. Unlike an elephant, which is credited with possessing a memory that never forgets, they seem to have forgotten a lot of things. I can best illustrate this contention by (referring again to the passage in Ilansard that was mentioned this afternoon by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser). The attitude of honorable members opposite to pensioners is vastly different to their attitude when they were in office. They have turned a complete political somersault. When honorable members opposite composed the Government of this country they had ample opportunity to do whatever they wished to do in the field of social services. This Government has done many things in that field that the former Labour Government neglected to do during its eight years in office. In June, 1949, the then honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) asked the then Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) whether the Government intended to increase the rate of age and invalid pensions. As reported in Hansard, Volume 202, at page 865, Mr. Chifley .replied -
No consideration has been given to a further increase of pension rates.
He went on - and I emphasize his remarks -
The Government considered this subject not long ago - and I particularly emphasize the phrase, “ not long ago “ - and made a general increase, and it is unlikely that a further increase will be considered so soon after that. The law provided at one time that pension rates must be related to the cost of living and must rise or fall according to variations of the cost of living index figures. However, when “ C “ series index figures fell about 3 years ago. there was a great protest against any reduction of pensions.
It was nine months prior to the late right honorable gentleman making that statement that his Government increased age and invalid pensions by 2s. 6d. a week. “Not long ago”, the Labour leader said. Before that increase was granted, a year and three months had gone by without any increase of the rate of pension. The best way that I can refute allegations of honorable members opposite that this Government has not honoured some of its pre-election promises is to enumerate the actions of this Government, and to read to the committee an extract from the joint policy speech of the Government parties that was delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) during the- 1951 general election campaign. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) has stated that the Government parties sought to obtain votes by promising all sorts of things. However, on that occasion the right honorable gentleman stated -
We made no cash promise to pensioners, whose pensions had not been raised by the Chifley Government, in spite of rapidly rising prices, right through from the latter part, of 1948 to the end of 1949, out we increased their pensions in our very first Budget by 7s. -6d. a week. We do not yet know what the appropriate alteration should be by the time of the next Budget. But we do say that we understand the difficult problem of the pensioners in a period in which prices are rising.
That moderate statement has been interpreted by the honorable member for Hindmarsh as a pre-election promise that was dangled- before the electors to buy votes. :t consider that it was a moderate and honest statement. By its first budget, this Government increased age and invalid pensions by 7s. 6d. a week. That was the biggest increase in the history of social services in this country. Within another year we again increased age and invalid pensions, by 10s. a week. I ask honorable members to contrast the attitude of this Government with the attitude of the former Labour Government, as was revealed in Mr. Chifley’s words -
The Government considered this subject not long ago and made a general increase, and it is unlikely that a further increase will be considered so soon after that.
I remind the committee that this Government’s first increase of age and invalid pensions by 7s. 6d. a week established an ali-time record. Yet that was eclipsed by the 10s. a week increase that was granted during the following year. Now, within nine months of that 10s. increase, thu Government proposes to increase age and invalid pensions again by another 7s. 6d. a week, at a cost to the Treasury of more than £8,000,000.
The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) read to the committee an extract from- a newspaper report to the effect that the Government parties had promised the people that if they were returned to office they would remove all sorts of anomalies associated with the granting of pensions. He stated that the Government had failed to honour that promise. Other honorable members opposite have stated that we promised to abolish the means test in relation to pensions. Let me read to the committee the .promise about the removal of the means- test that was made during the 1949 general elections. It is as follows : -
During the new Parliament, we will further investigate this complicated problem with a view to presenting to you at the election of 1952 a scheme for your approval.
No general election is due to take place in 1952, but I assure honorable gentlemen that the investigation that we promised to make has been made. What of our promise to investigate anomalies and inequities that were causing friction, and do our best to remove them? I have not time to deal with all that the Government has done in that connexion. Let me enumerate some of the ways in which we have liberalized the means test. In our first year of office, we increased the income means test applicable to blind persons from £5 17s. 6d. to £8 a week, and later to £10 a week. This year, for- the first time in the history of social services in this country, the means test hitherto applied to a whole group of persons in the community - I refer to the blind - has been removed completely. When this Government assumed office, a child between the ages of sixteen years and 21 years was not entitled to receive an invalid pension or rehabilitation benefits if the child was deemed to bc adequately maintained. Under the Labour government, such a child was considered to be adequately maintained if the father was earning £3 a week, the mother was allowed £3 a week, and the child £3 a week, or £9 a week in all. First. we increased that sum to £4 in each case, making £12 a week in all, and this year we have removed the means test completely. Under Labour administrations, every article of surgical equipment supplied to a person undergoing training under the rehabilitation scheme had to be paid for by that person. Trainees were required to pay for artificial limbs and equipment of other types vitally necessary to them. This year, this Government has abolished that requirement, and now everything supplied to persons undergoing rehabilitation treatment is supplied free of charge. “We have liberalized the means test by increasing the statutory tax exemption in respect of age pensioners to £507 for a married couple. The value of the property that a pensioner may own lias been increased from £750 to £1,000, and in the case of widows, from £1,000 to £1,250. We have raised the special exemption in respect of life insurance policies from £500 to £750, and similar considerations apply to a reversionary interest in a will. We have liberalized the income means test by increasing the permissible income of invalid pensioners by 10s. a week for each dependent child. I could go on, but I think I have said enough to indicate the honesty of this Government in honouring any promises that it has made.
Several speakers have referred to the relationship of age and invalid pensions to the basic wage. Let me remind the committee that during the years which the Opposition has used as the basis for its argument. Labour governments pegged wages. In fact, they pegged wages and robbed the pensioners because the pension was tied to the basic wage. Honorable gentlemen opposite have made an illogical approach to the problem when they have referred to the relationship of pensions to the basic wage because, as the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) has pointed out, originally the basic wage was calculated on the basis of the needs of a family unit- consisting of a man, a wife and three children. In those days, the working week was 48 hours. Later, it was reduced to 44 hours, and subsequently to 40 hours. Therefore, the committee will see how the basis of the calculation, has been completely altered. In 1947, the interim award of 7s. a week was made, and in 1950, the basic wage was increased by £1 a week. That increase was made, not on. the ground of need but on the ground of the capacity of industry to pay it. When we examine the matter, we find that all the factors on which honorable gentlemen opposite have founded their arguments are completely unstable.
Let me refer briefly to the days when there was a tie up between pensions and the basic wage. When the Labour party was in power, pensions were increased on seven occasions by 6d. a week, or by the coin that one puts in a Christmas pudding. I am not blaming the Labour party for that, lt was due to the tying of pensions to the basic wage, a principle which several honorable members are advocating to-day. Prom the 3rd April, 1941, to the 17th February, 1944, pensions were increased by a total of 3s. 6d. a week. The Labour party increased pensions by 3s. 6d. a week in three years, but this Government has increased them by 25s. a week in two and a half years.
– The pension does not buy as much now as it did previously.
– I know that honorable gentlemen opposite do not like these matters to be referred to. This Government has, in the field of social services, a record that the Labour party cannot approach. Let me remind, the members of the Opposition that, in addition to increased expenditure upon pensions, £8,000,000 a year is being expended upon the- provision of free medicine in which scheme pensioners participate. Then there is the Pensioners Medical Scheme which will cost £1,000,000, to say nothing of medicines which alone will cost about £500,000. This year, expenditure upon social services is at the rate of £173,709 a. year, and, in addition, about £25,000,000 a year is being made available to the -States for expenditure upon their own social services. In the three years before this Government took office, the average annual expenditure upon social services in this country was £S0,000,000. Since this Government came into power, it has been £139,000,000. Our social services programme for this year envisages the expenditure of a sum twice as great as the whole of the Commonwealth expenditure in 1938-39. No reasonable person could expect much more. We have altered and liberalized over 40 of the payments and. restrictions for which the Social Services Consolidation Act provides but not one of those alterations would have been left for us to do if the Labour party, in its years of office, had done the job that it was put into power to do and not neglected its responsibilities.
.- Having perused the Estimates for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, I am profoundly disappointed to find that no provision of a tangible nature has been made to secure an increase of food production. For months, honorable gentlemen on both sides of the chamber have realized that it is necessary to improve our rural production, and many fine speeches have been made about the desirability of an improvement being made as quickly as possible. At length the matter was ventilated so forcibly that a few mouths ago the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) announced, amid much blowing of trumpets, that the Government intended to inaugurate a fiveyear plan to increase food production. The details of thatplan have been shrouded in mystery. It is true that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) supplemented the statements of the Minister “n relation to the plan, but the average member of the public has no knowledge of its details. The Minister claimed in this chamber some time ago that he had consulted producers’ organizations in relation ro the plan. A recent copy of Muster, the iournal of the Graziers Association of New South Wales, sheds some light on that statement. Under the heading -
No Food Programme Details known to Graziers’ Association. thejournal states -
Neither the Graziers’ Association of N.S.W. nor the Graziers’ Federal Council had any details ofa five-year food programme to increase export income by £100 million, the General Secretary of the Graziers’ Association ofN.S.W., Mr. S. Ick-Hewins, told “ Muster “ this week.
-Hewins had been asked to comment ona statement reported to have been made during the course of the Budget debate by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Mr. McEwen, that such a plan existed and that it had been arrived at in consulation with producers’ organisations.
So. apparently the Minister consulted neither the Graziers’ Association of New South Wales nor the Graziers Federal
Council about the plan. In fact, to judge from the lack of information about the details of the plan, it would be true to say that the plan was conceived in mystery and is shrouded in secrecy. When the Prime Minister supported the remarks of the Minister about this plan he said that Australia urgently required an increase of food production, which would require substantial efforts in the direction of the provision of transport, rural accommodation and water supplies, the production of fertilizers and the production and supply of farming equipment. Despite the undoubted fluency of the Prime Minister and the numerous blue-prints that Government spokesmen have spoken about but have not produced, there appears to be no evidence that any progress is being made with the plan. I should have thought that any progress that was being made would have been mentioned in the budget and shown through the medium of the Estimates of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. The Estimates, however, reveal no such evidence.
The Government approaches the necessity to increase food production in a spirit of airy optimism, but the fact is that the increase of production, over recent years, of practically all our primary products has not been commensurate with our increase of population. Wheat acreage in New South Wales has declined over the last few years. That is a serious state of affairs. Recently I read in the press, of the steady decline of New South Wales wheat acreage since 1948-49, when the
Acreage was about 4.000,000 to last year’* sowing of 2,700,000 acres. The newspaper said that this year the total wheat area might not reach 2,200,000 acres. I could produce further evidence of that kindtoprovethatthe sowing of wheat and the production of other vital commodities have declined, but those matters have already been dealt with in detail by other honorable members recently. This country’s economic stability rests on its balance of trade. Because of certain factors that should bo known to all honorable members, a satisfactory balance was retained until about a year ago. Since 1939, however, the volume of our imports has increased by nearly 100 per cent., whilst the volume of our exports has increased by only 10 per cent. We have reached a stage at which the Government has been forced to impose drastic import restrictions, which have had a deleterious affect on the national economy. We have been able to pay our way by our exports in the last ten or twelve years only because the return that we received for our exports was greater than the amount we paid for our imports. That state of affairs is fast changing, and therefore we must utilize every possible method to increase our primary production.
The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) to-day gave details of a method by which, he said, we could increase primary production. Basically, however, there is only one way to do so. First, we must stem the drift of population from the country to the city, which has been in progress, slowly but inexorably, since 1941. It was accentuated during the war and the balance between country and city has not been restored since. The Government’s basic problem now is to get more producers back to the land. But no provision is made in the Estimates for such a purpose. In addition to the drift from the country to the city there is another state of affairs of which the Government should take cognizance. Since 1938-39 the number of people who own rural property has fallen by 2-£ per cent. That is a bad state of affair.?. Instead of an increase of the number of rural property owners, which is desirable, there is a decrease. In the same period the area of land devoted to the production of food has increased by 5 per cent. That means that a greater area of food-producing land is now owned and controlled by a smaller number of people than before. Nobody could seriously suggest that that is a desirable position.
Statistics show that the production of wheat, milk, meat and some other primary commodities, is slightly above the 1939 level. That increase, however, is not commensurate with the increase of population in the same period. In the five years that ended in 1950-51 the. level of agricultural production was about 10 per cent, higher than it was in the five years that ended in 1938-39, but over the same period the population had increased by 22 per cent.
The problem that confronts any Australian Government is not that out agricultural production is declining, but that it is not increasing to keep pace with the rapid expansion of the population. The only way to increase it to the degree necessary is to put more men on the land. The Estimates provide no evidence that the Government proposes to do anything tangible in that direction. We have had absolutely no indication of such a proposal from the Government except a few airy, fluent speeches. Our population has increased by 1,500,000 since 1939, yet rural population has increased by only 1 per cent, or 2 per cent, during the same period. It is obvious that national disaster faces us if that trend is allowed to continue for much longer. The Government should have made an effort to put more producers on the land. Increased production would naturally follow an increase of the number of producers. The war service land settlement scheme has been a. striking success since the end of the last war, and has led to a considerable increase of rural production. Governments were careful to avoid the mistakes that were associated with a similar scheme after World War I. Ex-servicemen settlers, through their keenness to improve their conditions of life, are helping to increase rural production. I think that the Government should have realized this and should have sought to establish some similar scheme. I consider that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture should have convened a conference of the State Ministers for Agriculture, which could have evolved a scheme that would put on the land more people, not only ex-servicemen but young Australians and new Australians. The nation is not now producing enough primary products to meet its own requirements. Too much of our man-power, both Australian and immigrant, is being wasted and frustrated by employment in inessential activities. The two basic requirements for increased primary production - the land and tbv. people - must be joined. Land settlement schemes on a scale never before visualized must be implemented without further delay; yet this Government does nothing. There must be a subdivision of properties that are too large to bp efficient, and a full utilization of their productive capabilities. I have no doubt that if the Government endeavoured to implement such a policy - it has no intention to do so if one can judge by its decision to repeal the land tax - there would be the usual violent reactions from big land-owners who, under existing conditions, are becoming more prone to the evils of excessive land aggregation. There are still large tracts of land that are capable of rauch closer settlement. New techniques of agriculture, and the reclamation of areas which previously were considered ,to be useless, are revealing possibilities that were not even dreamed of a decade or two ago. If the Government were really sincere in its professed desire to tackle the problem of declining rural production - frankly I do not think that it is sincere because its only contribution so far has been wordy platitudes - it would hasten to the aid of potential settlers. The first problem that confronts any potential settler is finance. In the present situation there is supreme irony. Australia faces serious economic difficulties because of declining primary production, yet tens of thousands of would-be rural producers are condemned to frustration because of the Governments’ credit restriction policy. If the Government earnestly wishes to see this country developed, it should consider the following methods of increasing rural production : - New settlers should be given capital assistance in the establishment of their properties; nominal deposits only should be asked, and easy repayment terms should be made available; equipment co-operatives should be established to ensure that farmers shall be able to equip their properties as cheaply as possible; provision should be made for suitable housing for which a nominal deposit only should be asked, and easy repayment terms provided ; free technical advice and information on marketing should be made available to farmers when required ; and lastly, .an equitable system of tax rebates should be introduced.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bowden). - Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I welcome speeches of the kind that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has just delivered. Whilst the’ Government does not agree with everything that he has said, it is a healthy sign indeed that there should be in this Parliament, and in this country generally, a general recognition of the need to expand Australian rural industries, and to restore a balance to the economy. We hear a lot in this Parliament about the desirability of full employment and the need to maintain a high level of social services. Those objectives are shared by members of all political parties, but it should be fairly recognized that, just as a factory cannot maintain full employment unless its wages bill is within its financial capacity, so Australia cannot maintain full employment solely by means of speeches and resolutions. Pull employment, social services, and living standards are, in the long run, fundamentally dependent on the ability of this country to pay for them, and that, in turn, depends. upon not only our local income, but also upon our income from, overseas without which we could not pay for the commodities that we must import. Therefore, whilst I welcome constructive suggestions from either side of politics, I am bound to say that it is quite a novelty to hear from the Opposition in this Parliament support for the subdivision of land and. the re-introduction of the land tax. In 1942, One of the very first administrative acts of the then Labour Government, was to return to the greatest land-owner in this country,. Alexandria Proprietary Limited, a lease of 11,000 square miles” in the Northern Territory. And even that was not sufficient. The same Administration took 600 square miles from a neighbouring station and gave that to Alexandria Proprietary Limited. Therefore, if Labour now favours the subdivision of land, I welcome the change of heart on the part of honorable members opposite, but I have yet to be convinced that Labour really wants to get more people on the land and not merely to fatten the big fellows who are already there.
The aim, of this Government is to stabilize the primary industries. Our first step in this direction is to increase production on existing farms. Clearly it is a much more practical proposition to increase the production on established farms that are already fenced and equipped, than to open up new areas where substantial developmental work is necessary. We believe that the output of existing farms can be increased by giving to farmers the incentive of profitable production. Farmers can be assisted to expand production by making available to them credit for the purchase of machinery and equipment, and by giving to them opportunities to increase their efficiency by the use of new agricultural techniques. Our first objective, therefore, is to increase production on existing farms. However, we know that, with our population rapidly increasing, we cannot depend solely on existing farms to meet our long-term requirements. As the honorable member for Batman has said, we must have new farms as well. Without wishing to “ pass the buck “ in any sense, I remind the committee that land settlement is primarily a State function. When the War Service Land Settlement Scheme was inaugurated, the then Labour Government decided that Commonwealth financial assistance should bc provided for States which considered that their resources were not adequate to finance land settlement schemes on a sufficiently wide scale. That has been done in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. In Queensland, however, which has vast undeveloped areas, the Labour Government rejected the Commonwealth’s offer, and the War Service Land Settlement Scheme has been a pitiful failure in that State. The Commonwealth has indicated to the States that, in view of the present financial emergency, and the heavy calls that are being made upon its financial resources, the States could assist greatly by giving priority to the provision from their own resources of transport and other services that are essential if new settlers are to be placed on the land, and the production of existing farms is to he increased. Unhappily, not one State has reacted favorably to this proposal.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The time allotted for the consideration of the proposed votes for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, the Department of Social Services, the
Department of Shipping and Transport and the Department of Territories has expired.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Department of Immigration.
Proposed vote, £1,340,000.
Department of Labour and National. Service.
Department of National Development.
Proposed vote, £1,180,000.
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
Proposed vote, £3,381,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
– I propose to make some observations in regard to the Department of National Development and the Department of Immigration, the proposed votes for which are now under consideration. Apparently, members of the Government talk about national development with tongue in cheek, and without the slightest semblance of sincerity, because among the many projects that still await development by the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Government of Queensland, is the scheme now known as the Burdekin Valley Development Scheme. If the people of Queensland learned one thing during World War II. it was the importance from a defence and a developmental viewpoint of the completion of that scheme. Having in mind the importance of the scheme, the Queensland Government endeavoured to implement it. When the scheme was originally evolved it was estimated to cost £29,000,000. At that time the people of Australia were in much more fortunate positions than they are in to-day because a Labour Government was in office in the National Parliament. The Chifley Labour Government agreed with the Queensland Government to meet one-half of the cost of the scheme. It is an indisputable fact, however much the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) may deny it, that the late Mr. Chifley informed the then Premier of Queensland, Mr. Hanlon, that the Commonwealth Treasury would advance to the State an amount of £15,000,000 towards the cost of the scheme. Soon afterwards the people were given an opportunity to choose another government and, in 1949, the Chifley Government was defeated and replaced by the tragic Menzies Government. The present Treasurer, during his preelection campaign in 1949 addressed a public meeting at Ayr which will be the centre of the Burdekin Valley Development Scheme. I had the doubtful honour of listening to his speech on that occasion when he told the people that if the anti-Labour parties were elected to office, the scheme would be proceeded with forthwith. The right honorable gentleman said -
Iwant to impress upon youthatifyou elect us to office this scheme will not he pigeonholed as it would be if you returned the Chifley Government to power.
The Treasurer has since denied having made that statement. I have waited in vain for honorable members opposite who represent Queensland constituencies to urge the Treasurer and the Government to honour that promise. The fight for the scheme has been left to Labour members and senators. Not. very long ago we read in the press that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) had passed over the Burdekin Valley. It is true that he did so - at a height of about 5,000 feet in an aeroplane! In the same manner the right honorable gentleman passed over the Tully Falls area. On his return to Canberrahe said thatthese schemes must be proceeded with at all costs because of their great importance. I cannot understand why he did not take the trouble to examine the areas from the ground. The Treasurer has said in defence of the repudiation of his pre-election promise to honour the agreement made between Mr. Chifley and the Premier of Queensland, that as the Burdekin Valley development scheme was uneconomical he could not risk the investment of public money in such a venture. That statement is all the more amazing in view of his later statement that in his opinion the Tully Falls development scheme is an economic proposition and does not need to be assisted. As both schemes are similar, how can the right honorable gentleman claim that, because the Burdekin scheme is uneconomic, financial assistance should not be granted to it, and, on the other hand, that because the Tully Falls scheme is economically sound, no assistance is necessary? It does not make sense. I suggest that he should go into a huddle with his advisers on this matter. He cannot have it both ways. In the last statement which he made on the subject in this chamber he indicated that the Burdekin Valley development scheme, which was originally estimated to cost approximately £29,000,000 will now cost approximately £73,000,000. What an indictment of his Government that he should have to admit in this chamber that because of the delay in granting assistance to the Queensland Government for the implementation of the scheme its cost has risen from approximately £29,000.000 to approximately £73,000,000! If the Government remains in office much longer, Heaven only knows what the scheme will cost when it is finally implemented with the assistance of the next Labour Government. The State Government is totally unable to defray the cost of the scheme without Commonwealth assistance. Ministers of the Government betrayed their insincerity in relation to national development when they refused to assist the Queensland Government to implement this magnificent scheme.
Many statements have been made by members of the Government regarding the employment position. Honorable members on this side of chamber have cited figures relating to the number of unemployed persons in the community. T do not propose to emulate them.I shall content, myself with saying that the unemployment position is very serious. Whatever the number of the unemployed may be. the point I emphasize is that if one person is unable to obtain work within a reasonable time the Government must treat the matter as of serious consequence. Let us consider the employment position in thesugar producing areas of Queensland. We all know that employees in the sugar industry are sure of employment only during certain months of the year. On the average, the sugar season lasts for about six months. In tho past, the State government and local authorities undertook construction works and provided employment for thousands of seasonal workers in the slack periods. “We hoped that the Government would honour its election promises. We did not believe that a responsible Minister could make such promises and yet have not the slightest intention to fulfil them. We looked to the Government’s scheme to absorb many unemployed during the slack season last year. But the Government was not satisfied with failure to keep its promises. It introduced credit restrictions which aggravated the position greatly. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) may grin like a hyena, but thousands of men and women in north Queensland will be unable to get work in the next slack season to provide them with food and comforts. If the Minister thinks that that is funny, his attitude to the problem is different from mine. The people who cannot find employment do not think that it is funny. The effect of the credit restriction policy was feltonly partially last season, but its full force will be evident soon.
Although the Minister has said that thu Government has not contracted to keep immigrants in employment for two years, large numbers of them are working on construction jobs in north Queensland while people who were born and reared there, and have reared families, have been told to leave their homes and go to the big cities where the Government claims that 53,000 jobs are available. Even if it were possible for those men to leave their wives and children and homes in north Queensland to go to Sydney and Melbourne, they would find that the jobs are not there for them. This Government must face that position. If it does not do so now, it will be forced ro do so in the next general election campaign. The Minister for Supply may not be able to grin then when thousands of people are unemployed, and are unable to get work to keep body and soul together.
– I am not grinning. I am fascinated by the honorable member’s statements.
– Let the Minister grin, as he is grinning at the table now, when he faces the unemployed. One honorable member said to-day that the pensioners were .getting a fair deal. Let the Minister for Supply tell the unemployed that this Government is giving them a fair deal. The Treasurer and the Minister for External Affairs have spoken with their tongues in their cheeks. They did not stand up to the promises that were made by the Government. There is not the slightest evidence of the national development scheme that they promised. Whether the Treasurer will be game to go back, during the next election campaign, to the places where lie made those promises remains to be seen. He has not been back since the last election and I challenge him- to go back there now. If he does return it will be interesting to hear what he has to say to the people.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) [ 10.15 J. - I wish to draw the attention of the committee to affairs connected with the Department of Immigration. Reports in the press that are purported to come from the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt), who is overseas, are rather disturbing. Many immigrants are coming to this country under the impression that the way is open for them to be absorbed into the community. They believe that if they do a few weeks, work and live in hostels that have been provided for them, they will soon be able to get suitable accommodation and that within a reasonable period they will be assimilated as Australian citizens. The Government, and particularly the Minister for Immigration, must consider the position of the immigrants who have come to this country. I do not raise the question of the suitability of the immigrants, nor do I object to any immigrant simply because of his nationality. People have come to Australia from all parts of Europe. Among them, as among Australians, there are people who are very good, there are average folk and a percentage who are not as good as we would like them to be. Generally, they are a fine assortment. Many Europeans who have come to Aus- tralia are people of culture and they are establishing themselves in the national life. But Australia has reached an economic position where it is unable to provide employment for immigrants or to give them all the advantages that they have been led to expect.
I wish to refer in particular to British immigrants. Before the present Government was elected to office, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who was Minister for Immigration in the Labour Government, did much valuable work in planning and administering immigration. When there was a change of government, honorable members on this side of the chamber were gratified to learn that the work of the honorable member for Melbourne was to be continued by his successor in office. However, during the period that the honorable member for Melbourne was Minister for Immigration, his attention was directed mostly to mass immigration from European countries. There was practically no mass immigration from Britain. British people who wanted to come to Australia had to be nominated by somebody who could provide accommodation for them and guarantee that there would be work for them also. Ultimately, the system was amended and the Government agreed to take immigrants of British nationality and find work for them. Some literature was issued and I have read copies of pamphlets that were distributed in England. Many people who came to Australia have told me that they sold their homes and arranged to migrate under that scheme. At first the scheme was to be limited to tradesmen whom we needed here, and who could be readily absorbed. I speak of conditions in South Australia, where, at Port Adelaide, the first occupants of the hostel were European immigrants, or displaced persons, as they were called. In Europe, they had occupied concentration camps, and later refugee camps. When they came to Australia they found here accommodation not so different from what they had been used to, but they had freedom and the hope of better things. The first settlements were established in stores which had been built to hold surplus wool during the war. As the wool was sold and exported, the premises were used for the accommodation of European immigrants. After the present Government came into office, I was amazed to find that these same premises were being used for the accommodation of British tradesmen. They were not refugees or displaced persons, but men who had occupied homes in Britain, which they either rented or owned. When I saw that women and children were also being accommodated in the wool stores I felt that something very serious was wrong. It would not have been so bad if they had to remain there only for a month or so, but some of them have been in the hostels for a year, and others for as long as eighteen months. Still, they do not know when they will be able to get homes of their own, and. they are becoming desperate. We have heard of the formation of protest committees, and of the refusal of British immigrants to pay the high tariffs demanded. I do not say that the tariffs are higher than the costs justify, but I know that after the immigrants have paid for their board and lodging they have nothing left with which to provide for their future. I am informed that many of them are now looking forward to the time when they can return to Britain. It is time that we took stock of the situation, and set out to improve conditions. I know that in any large body of immigrants there will besome misfits, persons who cannot adjust themselves to new conditions, and will wish to return to their own country. However, my complaint is on behalf of those immigrants who wish to become Australians, but feel that it is impossible for them to do so under present conditions.
At the beginning of this sessional period I asked the Minister for Immigration to allow British immigrants living in hostels to pay rent for their accommodation and to cook for themselves, rather than pay for their board. The present tariffs are high because wages are paid to people to do the cooking and cleaning, while the wives of immigrants sit around idle. When these people first came .here, the husbands were able to obtain overtime and week-end work, in addition to the ordinary 40-hour week, and sometimes the wives could .get employment, also. In. those circumstances they could afford to pay the tariff, and still save something. Now, however, there is no overtime to be had, no week-end work for the men, and little prospect of jobs for the wives. The attitude of the department has been that if immigrant families are provided with flats, and allowed to do their own cooking, they will not try to get homes of their own. The idea is that if conditions are allowed to remain as they are the immigrants will get out of the hostels as soon as they can, thus making room for others. The Minister for Immigration has apparently acepted that idea, but we know that most of the immigrants just cannot get homes for themselves. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has interested himself in this matter, and has appealed to the Government to allow the immigrants to rent flats at the hostels. I am convinced that that is the only way to satisfy the. immigrants, not only in South Australia, but in other States, also. There is an old saying that an Englishman’s home is his castle, but no-one who see3 the accommodation available to th, British families in immigrant hostels could believe that they have either homes or castles. I plead with the Government :o make conditions more bearable at the hostels. I feel this matter very keenly, and I do not say that members of the Government are indifferent. From time to time, we hear it said that we should make a greater effort to bring British immigrants to Australia in order to maintain the proportion of British blood in the population, but if we are to encourage British immigration we must make greater efforts to provide immigrants with better accommodation. The South Australian Railways Department has provided cottages for its workers, and those immigrants who are employed on the railways are fortunate in that respect, but for the general run of immigrants nothing has been done. It is not possible for the South Australian Housing Trust to give them preference over native-born Australians, many of whom have themselves been waiting for years for homes.
- (Mr. MeLeay). Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
riO-30]- - I do n0* object to the tone of the observations made by the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson). In fact, I think it should be said that he put his case for immigrants, particularly for British immigrants, fairly and temperately. But I am sure that he would be the first to admit that the problem is not a simple one and that what has been done is really a continuation and a development of a long-standing policy. When the previous Government was in office it promoted, I believe to its credit, a vigorous system of immigration, including British immigration. It brought many immigrants to this country, placed them in hostels, and, in the way of things, made mistakes, as this Government has done, and learned from those mistakes. I. believe that we are improving the lot of the immigrants who came here - : -
– I do not think that the Labour Government put any British immigrants in hostels.
– I well remember when I was a member of the Opposition going to a hostel in my electorate which had British immigrants in it at the time. In due course, this Government came to power and continued and developed the same immigration programme with, perhaps, even a little more emphasis on British immigration, although I make no great , claim about that point because it has been a somewhat fluctuating matter. We, too, have been compelled to place British immigrants, with other immigrants, in hostels. However, there has been no misconception about this matter. Before the immigrants left England they were informed that they would have to spend a period of time in hostels. That has always been stated, and I have never heard any authoritative information which suggests that immigrants did not know before they came here that that would happen to them when they reached Australia. We have an obligation to immigrants, but we also have an obligation to our own citizens. I am sure that the honorable member for Port Adelaide would be the first to concede that that is so.
We are endeavouring to do things under a limitation imposed by a shortage of materials at our disposal. We are attempting to do a great deal in a short time) and it is a question of holding a balance between the needs of our own population and the reasonable claims of those whom we are inviting to this country. That is what this Government, in common with the previous Government, has had to face. We have not initiated anything new. We have not done anything less generous or favorable to the newcomers than our predecessors did.
At the present time there are approximately 30 hostels throughout Australia which have British immigrants in them. lt has been said that we should make arrangements under which British immigrants will stay in hostels for only a short space of time and then pass out into houses of their own.
– Or they should bc allowed to rent parts of the hostels.
– I shall come to that point in a moment. The gravamen of the complaint which is made, as I understand it, is that arrangements should be made for British immigrants to get into homes. Recently we cut down the immigration programme from approximately 160,000 a year to approximately 50,000 a year. We did that because economic conditions were such that we felt, obliged to reduce the intake of newcomers. Some restriction in the call for labour and a considerable restriction in our ability to provide houses and accommodation made that action necessary. That ft least is a first step. We have seen fit to reduce the intake in order to lessen the pressure on our local resources of various kinds.
I am sure that if the honorable member foi- Port Adelaide has travelled in his own and other electorates he will admit that the hostels vary considerably. I have been to some of them and I know that some are not as good as others. I suppose that it is because of the nature of institutionalises the world over that there should be such a variation. Much depends on the human element, and a great deal on management. I know of one or two hostels which are, indeed, very uncomfortable for newcomers, whereas others are most admirable. I recently visited a hostel in my electorate from which there had been many complaints. A few weeks ago a new manager was appointed, and within a fortnight or less the complaints ceased. Flocks of people came round me during the morning I was there and told me that conditions were now all right. I mention that matter to illustrate my point that conditions depend a great deal on the human element. I have no doubt that if that “ Admirable Crichton “ leaves that hostel and goes somewhere else complaints may again break out there. The Government is most concerned to pick good men to run these hostels. 1 agree with the honorable member for Port Adelaide that there is a sense of frustration, of restriction and despondency.
– There is also the matter of cost.
– I shall mention the matter of cost in a moment. It is true that British immigrants who come from homes of their own feel frustrated and restricted when they are obliged to occupy a couple of rooms and to share lavatory and bathing conveniences with perhaps 200 or 300 other people. They are also required to eat in a common dining-room. I should not like to do that myself, and no doubt many other people would not like those conditions; but, after all, it was known that that would happen. I do not think that anybody who has the courage and ambition to start a new life in another country could reasonably complain about having to put up with conditions of that kind for a reasonable time - and “ reasonable “ depends upon the circumstances. After all, that is one of he risks immigrants take. It is a part pf the adventure : it might be called a debit entry in this transaction which has both debit and credit sides.
The honorable member has made a point about the fact that immigrants do not like eating in common dining-rooms but wish to take their food with them and eat it in their own sitting-rooms.
– They wish to cook their own food.
– Some do and some do not. I think that that again depends largely upon the individual concerned. I deny straightaway the assertion that a majority of those in hostels have a sense of grievance because they cannot cook their own food and eat it in their own sitting-rooms. On a recent Sunday morning I moved round amongst 316 of these people. I knew about this complaint and asked them about it. It is true that a fortnight previously they had been all in favour of preparing their own meals, because the chef was unsatisfactory, but in the meantime a very good chef had come. Only about half a dozen of the 316 persons were still harping on that string when I was there. The others thought that the arrangement was quite satisfactory as long as, to use a colloquialism, the “ tucker “ was all right. If some one has a very strong sense of privacy he may wish to eat in his own sitting-room, but the Government feels that there are very good reasons against yielding to the clamour of a few individuals. First, such a method would be more expensive. It is not the desire of the Government to turn these hostels into cosy homes which the immigrants will not want to leave. I know that that sounds rather a rough sort of argument, but the Government does not wish to make the accommodation so elaborate that it will be difficult to get the immigrants to use their own initiative in finding accommodation for themselves. There are people in some of these establishments who would remain there for the rest of their lives if they were allowed to do so. Others- have a lot of initiative. Whilst, inspecting such an establishment recently ] met a machinist who had in his sittingroom some beautiful furniture which he had made himself. He said, that he had a block of land on which he would shortly commence to build so that he would have his own home.
– Where, did he get the land?
– Unlike the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) ho had some initiative and did not sit down and ho wl- for the Government to do everything for him. He was the sort of immigrant that we are proud to have in. this country. The Government wishes to provide immigrants with reasonable shelter and comfortable conditions but it also desires to encourage them subsequently to obtain their own accommodation.
– That is a fairy story.
– It is a policy which was practised by the Government of which the honorable member for Watson, thankheavens, was not a member in 1949.
M.r. Curtin. - I was never a member of a government like the present one.
– That is true, and, by the grace of God, I hope that the honorable member never will be. .However, I rose only to reply to the honorable member for Port Adelaide’ who was quite fair in his argument. The Government has not pursued any new, unfair or restrictive policy. The Government is aware of its obligations and knows that conditions in some hostels are uncomfortable. We shall continue to improve them but we believe that it is in the best interests of the immigrants and Australian citizens generally for the immigrants to be encouraged to acquire their own homes.
.- The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) has gone round and round the mulberry bush and said nothing. He has alleged that the protest of the immigrants is just the clamour of a few disgruntled individuals. He said that if the Government made the hostels too cosy most of the immigrants would not want to leave them. That was an inane observation. However cosy and comfortable the hostels were made, the Government would not have any trouble in getting the immigrants out of them while the present rates of tariff are charged. The immigrants cannot afford to pay the exorbitant charges that the Government expects of them. All that, Commonwealth Hostels Limited provides for immigrants is food and lodging. The immigrants have to pay for their clothing and footwear. They have to pay their union dues, medical fees, dental expenses, transport expenses, amusement expenses and school expenses ; they have to pay for their newspapers, insurances, wireless licences, tobacco, haircuts and several other items.
– Does the honorable member consider that the Government should pay for them ?
– No, but T want the Government to leave the immigrants sufficient money to pay for these things themselves. Commonwealth Hostels Limited is only a camouflage for the Government, lt was formed for the purpose of implementing an unpopular policy which the Government was not prepared to implement under its own name. The Government established this fantastic body which is top heavy with “ uo-hopers “ who have been shanghaied into it from the Public Service. Commonwealth Hostels Limited is top-heavy with administrative costs and the immigrants are being forced to pay for food and lighting enormous charges which are far out of proportion to the value of the services that they receive. The Government has decided to leave to a man with a family the grand sum of £2 12s. 6d. a week out of what has been called his “ nominal wage “. The “ nominal wage “ according to Commonwealth Hostels Limited is not the basic wage but the wage that the immigrant receives for a 40-hour week. If the immigrant were a fitter his nominal wage in South Australia would be the basic wage of £11 4s. a week plus £2 12s. 6d. a week which represents the margin and loadings paid to a fitter under the metal trades award. Of that amount these people are allowed to keep only £2 12s. 6d. with which to clothe and provide foot wear -and miscellaneous items foi’ a. family of from two to five children. According to the Commonwealth Statistician the basic wage regimen provides nearly £5 a week to cover the cost of the clothing, footwear, and miscellaneous items that I have mentioned. Therefore the Government has no right to take any more from these immigrants than would leave to them that sum. Any additional earnings in the form of overtime or penalty rates should also be retained by them.
It is humbug for the Minister to say that if the Government makes conditions too cosy it might not be able to get immigrants out of the hostels. Honorable members should make no error about that, because the immigrants are as anxious as they could possibly be to get out of the hostels. They are sick and tired of being robbed and fleeced by this Government through Commonwealth Hostels Limited. I shall refer to a weekly budget that has been prepared by one of the immigrants at Gepp’s Cross, and I challenge honorable members opposite who have incomes of £2,000 and £3,000 a year to point to one item in it that can be described as excessive in any respect. The man who compiled the list of expenditure is employed as a painter, at Finsbury, by the South Australian Department of Education. He says that his basic wage is £13 2s. 3d., but in that respect he is wrong. He means that his nominal wage is £13 2s. 3d. a week.
– The honorable member should not be certain about that.
– I am quite certain about it. There is no need for the Minister for Supply to sit there at. the table and tell me not to be certain about what I am saying, because I am quite certain of my facts. This immigrant has to pay 12s. a week by way pf income tax. He will have to pay more when the provisions of the new budget are applied. He has to pay £S 17s. for board to .Commonwealth Hostels Limited and an additional amount for hia crib. He pays 30s. for heating and lighting and 10s. for the dinners that he has to buy on the job because dinners are not provided for h’im and he cannot eat the cribs that are supplied by Commonwealth Hostels Limited. He pays 6s. Id. a week for fares to and from work, 5s. 3d. a week for insurance, ls. a week as union fees, 10s. a week for tobacco, and 3s. a week for newspapers, although I reckon his newspapers would cost him 4s. 6d. a week. He has to allow 7s. a week for fruit and sweets for his family and 5s. a week as instalments on the radio set that he is purchasing on time payment because he cannot afford to buy it in any other way. For his supper he allows himself ls. a week for tea, 8d. a week for sugar, ls. 6d. a week for butter, ls. a week for biscuits, 2s. 3d. a week for cakes, 2s. a. week for cheese, 3s. a week for toilet soap - because he has to provide his own soap in the hostel - ls. 4d. a week for washing soap, ls. a week for toothpaste and 4d. a week for a razor blade. In addition he has to pay 2s. a week for cosmetics, ls. 6d. a week for haircuts and 8s. 6<3. a week for visits to the picture shows. I submit that that is little enough for amusements. He allows only 7s. 6d. a week for dental attention, medical attention and chemists supplies, and £1 a week for footwear and clothing for his family. In respect of the last item, honorable members would do well to remember that according to the Commonwealth Statistician a man,wife and three children require to expend almost £4 a week on footwear and clothing.
Every man who has a wife and three or four children knows that they cannot be clothed and kept in footwear for less than £4 a week. This man has a wife and two children, and his weekly living expenses amount to £16 Os. 2d. His wages are £13 2s. 3d., therefore his expenses are much greater than his income. Is there any wonder that people such as this man have refused to pay the exorbitant charges that have been imposed upon them by Commonwealth Hostels Limited ? Surely, in the light of what I have said, it is not to be wondered at that 90 per cent, of all the British immigrants in hostels have decided to defy Commonwealth Hostels Limited and to refuse to pay their excessive charges. When certain prosecutions were launched against British immigrants by Commonwealth Hostels Limited it was discovered that that government organization had not had enough common sense to approach the South Australian prices commissioner in order to obtain the right to charge immigrants more than the pegged rate of 35s. a week provided for in the relevant South Australian regulations. If justice be done in the judicial proceedings now in progress the British immigrants will be acquitted of the charges that Commonwealth Hostels Limited have brought against them and Commonwealth Hostels Limited will be forced to refund the amount that it has overcharged them for board and lodging. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who came in on the band-wagon because the British immigrants live in his electorate, said that the Liberal Premier of South Australia was prepared to provide the immigrants with kitchenettes if the Australian Government would make the necessary funds available. On the 5th August, I asked the Minister for Supply the following question : -
Has the Premier of South Australia made a request to the Government for financial assistance to enable the South Australian Government to equip the British immigrant hostels with kitchenettes.
To that question the Minister, with the usual grin on his face, said -
Not that I am aware of.
It is clear that the Premier of South Australia is. playing the same kind of party politics as is the honorable member for Sturt. He is trying to convince the immigrants that he is in sympathy with their cause and that he would have kitchenettes built for them if he could, but no action to help them has been taken. The British immigrants in South Australia are starting to ask whether the tories in the South Australian Parliament, led by Premier Playford, and tho tories in the Australian Government, led by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies)-
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Deputy Chairman. I object to the statements of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). His reference to myself and to the Premier of South Australia is offensive to me, and his accusation of insincerity on my part is definitely untrue. I ask that the honorable member be required to withdraw his remarks.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN”. - Th a statement made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh is offensive to the honorable member for Sturt and must bf> withdrawn.
– If my statement is offensive to the honorable member, I withdraw it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Moreover, the honorable member for Hindmarsh may not quote a statement made in the chamber on a former occasion during the current session.
– I withdraw any offensive statement that I have made. The Liberal Premier of South Australia has done nothing to carry out his promise to erect kitchenettes for the people concerned, and there is no doubt that at the next South Australian general election, which will take place in March, 1953, the British immigrants will let him know just what they think of his treatment of them. I remind the Government that this matter is not the nine days wonder that it was said to be by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) when the protests were first made. On the 25th August, a great protest meeting was held by the British immigrants in the Port Adelaide town hall. The Mayor of Port Adelaide attended the meeting and indicated that he was in accord with the protests that the immigrants were lodging. The hall was filled to its capacity on that night andthe immigrants made it quite clear that they had just about had their fill of this Government and of the South Australian Playford Government. They are waiting for an opportunity to go to the ballot-box and throw out the Playford Government and. this Government, and install in office a Labour government that will relieve them of the tremendous costs and exorbitant charges that are levied through Commonwealth Hostels Limited. The immigrants, at the meeting in the Port Adelaide town hall, carried a resolution demanding that further consideration be given to their request that they be allowed to cook their own food. They did not want to be served by waitresses, cooks and chefs. They decided that they were able to provide their own meals, and they want to cook thorn for themselves and live the lives of ordinary citizens. All that they ask the Government to do is to provide them with an opportunity to do their own cooking. They want the kitchenettes, which the honorable member for Sturt said would be supplied. These kitchenettes must be provided so that the immigrants will not have to depend on Commonwealth Hostels Limited any longer. Unless something is done along the lines that I ha ve suggested, the immigrants will never be able to leave the hostels because they will not have sufficient money to do so. They want the right to rent the hostels that they are occupying and to do their own cooking, and. an opportunity to obtain homes for themselves.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Eric j. Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . . . 21
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Joint House - J. E. Meredith.
Postmaster-General - B. H. Bishop.
Repatriation - I. L. Miller, P. V. Rosen hain.
House adjourned at 11.8 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Minister receive? 4.. If private members are expected to meet all of their expenses in Canberra from an allow ance of £2 10s. a day, is there any reason why a Minister should receive more than that amount?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. It is not the policy to require Commonwealth Hostels Limited to account for details of the discharge of its management responsibilities. Because the Commonwealthhas to make good any operating losses, the company is expected to avoid the accumulation of arrears of tariffs and to take such action as will prevent such arrears accumulating. I am informed, however, that 180 residents have been or are in course of being, proceeded against for recovery of arrears. No process has been commenced against any unemployed resident.
s asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
How many licences for the importation of cigarettes have been issued since the imposition of import restrictions to (a) importers for the importation of more than 20 per cent. of the quantity imported before March, 1952, and (6) agents who had no importations before March, 1952?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information : -
The information requested by the honorable member could not be provided without the examination of thousands of import licences which hnvc been issued in all States since the 8th March, 1.952, and in view of the intense pressure under which the Department of Trade and Customs is at present working it is felt that this would not be justified. For licensing purposes cigarettes are classified in category “ B “. Establishment of a category “ B “ quota is brought about by an importer grouping together the value of importations’ of all category “ B “ goods in the base-year period. To obtain his annual quota for this category the total value is reduced by 80 per cent. Licensing in this category is indiscriminate as to the goods. That is to say the quota may be used to import any goods classified as category “ B “ whether the agent had imported them in the base year or not. Consequently a trader may now devote his entire quota for category “ B “ goods to the procurement of cigarettes regardless of Iris base-year imports of this commodity, or alternatively he may use his cigarette quota for the licensing of other .category “ B “ goods. Representations have been made by “overseas suppliers, in connexion with cigarettes manufactured for the Australian market which, among other things, hare been branded with the name of Australian firms. Importers’ total category “B” quotas in some cases were insufficient to permit the importation of these cigarettes. Of a number of cases which have arisen ill this connexion 25 constituted genuine hardship cases and import licences have been issued with debit to an importer’s future quota in each case.
GOVERNMENT I.oans and FINANCE. ill. Wabo asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Has hu stated that the Government was irrevocably opposed to the financing of capital works by the issue of treasury-bills ?
If so, has treasury-bill finance been used by the Government for the purpose of financing cither its own or the States’ works programmes since the statement was made?
To what . extent has this finance been used?
s. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1’. In the budget speech for 11)51-52 which was framed and delivered at a time when inflationary pressures in the Australian economy had reached an extreme pitch, the statement was made that the Government was irrevocably opposed to the use of central bank credit in order to finance the full amount of the State loan programmes as submitted to the Loan Council. These programmes .totalled £800,000,000 and obviously contained a number of undertakings not of the most urgent character. 2 and 3. The net cash result of the whole of the financial transactions of the Commonwealth Government during 1951-52, including the provision of £169,000,000 for defence services, £153,000,000 for assistance to State works programmes, £111,000,000 for Commonwealth capital works’ . and services and £58,000,000 for payments to wool and wheat growers of moneys . held by the Government, was that treasury-bills were re-issued during the year to a net amount of £45,000,000.
Ali-. Eric J. Harrison. - On the 19th August, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) asked the following question : -
The question that T. direct to the Minister for Defence Production is related to the fact that the governments of all States agreed unanimously recently to adopt a standard system’ of textile labelling in order that consumers should know what materials are included in fabrics that ure offered for said Can the Minister tell mc what attitude the Australian Government has adopted in this . matter, particularly in relation to imported textiles?
Tho Minister for Trade and Customshas supplied the following information : -
The policy of the Government is to ensure that imported textile products are properly labelled or branded with a trade description, indicating the name of the country of origin and the fibrous nature of the material.. TheGovernment considers- the provision in thiCommerce (Imports) Regulations requiring in the trade description a distinction to be madebetween virgin wool, re-processed wool and rc-used wool to be impracticable to administer and consequently proposes to amend theregulations to eliminate this three-fold classification of wool. ft is also proposed toeliminate the present provision in the regulations which requires the percentage marking of all non-woollen fibres. The Government i* of the opinion that this provision if implemented would not serve any useful purpose - but would increase the cost of articles to the public. Under the proposed regulations non- woollen fibres contained in a textile product would bc shown in a trade description in orderto dominance without percentages. As the representative of the Commonwealth Government I conferred with State Minister in Melbourne and explained to them the reasons, for the Government’s decisions and stressed the desirability for uniformity of labelling both as regards imported and locally produced textile goods. State Ministers indicated their intention of meeting again to discuss theproposals advanced’ by the Commonwealth.
s. - On the 27th August,, tho honorable member for Burke (Mr.. Peters) asked the following question : -
Is the Prime Minister aware Mint a complete staff re-organization is being effected at the - Repatriation Hospital at Heidelberg and that the alterations proposed’ will involve the’ dismissal of almost the- -whole of the ex-service male personnel employed as clerical officers and their replacement by female assistants? When he becomes aware of these proposals, if ‘ he has not already been made aware of them, will he issue instructions to the Public Service - Board that the employment - of ex-servicemen’ nt the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital shall be fully protected?’
The Prime Minister replied that thematter raised was one for the Minister for Repatriation who is represented in thischamber by myself! I then informed the honorable member as follows : -
I shall be pleased1 to direct the attention of the Minister for- Repatriation, to the points- that the honorable member has raised and I shall endeavour to obtain an answer for him as early as possible.
The ‘Minister for Repatriation has now supplied the following information : -
My department has recently submitted certain proposals to the Public Service Board for a re-organization of the clerical staff at the Repatriation General Hospital, Heidelberg: These proposals are still under consideration, however they do not involve the dismissal of any male staff. There will be certain female assistants employed in the clerical section of the institution, but as I have already stated this will not necessitate the dismissal of any male employees- ex-service or otherwise.
s. - On the 19th August, the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) asked the following question: -
Some time ago I asked a question relating to the anomalous position arising out of the fact that a British war widow is subject to income tax in Australia whereas a pension received by an American war widow m this country in free of tax. I was informed that negotiations for a reciprocal agreement on the treatment of war widows were being undertaken with the Government of the United Kingdom. Did the Prime Minister discuss litis matter with the United Kingdom authori- ‘< s while he was in Great Britain ?
I now advise the honorable member as follows : -
This matter was not discussed by me with the United Kingdom authorities while I was in Great Britain. There have been no further developments in regard to this question since the honorable member raised the question with ite Treasurer in the House on the 23rd November, 1951. The position is still as stated in the Treasurer’s letter of the 4th December, 1951, addressed to the honorable member.
– On the 12th August, the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) asked the following question : -
I direct the question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Is it a Fact that the Insurance Commissioner has been endeavouring to investigate the affairs of the Associated Dominions Assurance Society Proprietary Limited since April, 1048, and that, so far he has no success? Is the Government soft-pedalling with this company? If not, will it explain why there has been such a ridiculous delay in giving policy-holders the protection that they are entitled to expect from the act? Will the Government see that the matter is finalized without delay? I understand that te a large sum of money is involved.
I note that the honorable member has asked the Treasurer substantially the same question, upon notice. I understand that the Treasurer will give the honorable member a complete reply at an early date.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 September 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1952/19520902_reps_20_218/>.