20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Will the Minister for External Affairs inf orm the House on the attitudethat is being adopted by himself as. Minister or by the Government to the request or suggestion that has been made that Japanese war criminals should be released or that their sentences should be remitted?.
– The matter will be considered in the relatively near’ future by Cabinet. No decisionhas yet been reached.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer regarding the damage that has been done to roads and bridges in my electorate by recent floods. In 1949, the Australian Government made a special grant to the New South Wales Government to enable local government authorities to meet the cost of damage which occurred in that year. In view of that fact, has the Treasurer been able to give consideration to a similar grant to help local councils to deal with the present situation ?
– Consideration has been given to the subject.. As. a matter of general policy, the Australian Government has always subscribed to the cost of repairing flood and bush fire damage on a £l-for-£l basis with the State concerned for the relief of hardship and distress. It is true that in 1950 in, addition a special grant of £200,000 was given to the. New South Wales. Government towards repairing flood damage to roads and meeting the losses that were caused by floods in that year. However, in the present circumstances, the Government sees no reason for departing from the. general settled policy of contributions on a £l-for-£l. basis for the relief of hardship and distress, particularly as the States have been given specific consideration under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act whereby a. special grant is allotted to them for the maintenance and repair of roads and bridges in their territories. New South Wales participation in that grant has been increased from about £1,900,000. in 1948-49 to £4,173,000 in 1951-52.
– Will the. Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration give to the House any information that he possesses concerning the shocking tragedy that took place at the Somers immigration camp in Victoria? In such a statement, will the Minister explain the relevant circumstances and give details of camp organization, including safety precautions?
– With the consent of the House, I propose to make a statement on the matter after the conclusion of question time.
– by .leave - It is with very deep regret that I have to inform the House ‘that five young foreign immigrant children lost their lives in a :fire which broke ©ut in the early hours of ‘this morning in the hospital block of the immigration centre a’t Somers, some 50 miles -from Melbourne. The cause of the fire is not known, but ‘an immediate inquiry by a technical expert of the Melbourne Eire .Brigade is being held into the circumstances, in .an attempt to ascertain how it occurred. I am informed, however, that at 3.20 a.m. a wardsmaid on duty noticed smoke coming from the administrative portion of the building. She at once sounded the alarm, and within five minutes the eight men comprising the volunteer fire-fighting- unit at the centre had arrived .at the scene and were fighting the .flames. In addition, nine senior members of the staff, including the director, and -many other residents of the centre, assisted in fire-fighting and rescue work. Unfortunately, the weather was squally, .and the wind was blowing on to the front of the building in which the administrative section’ was .situated. Efforts were therefore concentrated on confining .the fire to this portion. Thirty children and one adult were in the four wards of ihe hospital. Twentyfive of the children and the adult were removed to safety, but the fire had by then spread to two small wards in which were five children, and the flames and dense smoke made it impossible to effect their rescue. At the outset, the Hastings Volunteer Fire Brigade was notified, and it arrived as soon as possible to reinforce the efforts o’f the centre’s fire-fighters. By 5.30 a.m. the fire had been completely subdued. The Somers Immigration Holding Centre is used for the accommodati on of the wives and children of foreign immigrants whose breadwinners are employed elsewhere. The parents of the children who died arrived in Australia under the displaced persons’. scheme, and have been here f or -varying periods. They comprised three of Polish nationality, one of Latvian nationality and one of Ukrainian nationality. The ages of the children, one of whom was born in Australia, Tanged from eight months to seven years. As a coroner’s inquiry “will be held I am unable to say more at this juncture, but I ‘am sure that honorable members -will ‘wish me, on their behalf, -to express to the bereaved parents the deepest sympathy of this House in the grievous loss that they have sustained,
– On behalf of the honorable .member for Fisher, who is overseas, I wish to direct a. question to the Minister controlling the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. It affects a matter about which the honorable member ..’for Fisher made representations previously with regard to the “provision of experienced officers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to -assist officers o’f the Queensland Department ‘of .Agriculture and Stock in combating the .serious damage that .has .been caused to the .citrus industry in .the Maroochy district in central Queensland by the ,gall wasp. Has any formal request been received from the Queensland Government for technical or other assistance in dealing with the gall wasp in citrus orchards? If so, what assistance ‘‘has been provided’? If not, will the Minister undertake, in view ©T the serious ‘nature of ‘this ‘menace, which may ‘spread ‘throughout Australia, to offer the services ‘of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial ‘Research Organization to the Queensland Government?
– When I was last in touch with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization on this matter there ‘had been no approach by ‘the ‘Queensland ‘Government ‘for assistance to deal with the gall wasp. This pest is localized, but exists in an acute form in an area from 50 to 100 miles north of Brisbane, in the Fisher electorate. The problem so far is the concern of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock, which is, I understand, acting in the matter, but the Australian Government has received no request for assistance, unless one has been made very recently. In the absence of a request through the Prime Minister or myself, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization would have no right to inject itself into the matter. That organization, because of financial limitations and a shortage of technical officers, is at full stretch, but if a request were made for its assistance to deal with the gall wasp pest, it would do its utmost to help.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Works been drawn to a public statement recently made in Brisbane by a leading architect about the cost of the Government’s proposed new taxation buildings in Brisbane? The architect alleged that many architects in private practice could design a similar building, with the same office space and on modern lines, which would meet the threat of atomic blasts, and would cost £1,000,000 less than the official estimate. He further stated that there was something drastically wrong with the estimates prepared for the Government.
-Order ! The honorable member is giving information, not asking a question.
– In view of this serious and alarming allegation, will the Minister have a full investigation made of the whole subject, and will he, after the investigation, make a public statement setting out the full facts of the position, thereby protecting his officials and his department from public criticism ? I add, for the Minister’s information, that the report referred to appeared in the Brisbane Courier-Mail of Saturday last.
-Order! Questions may not be based on newspaper reports.
– Although I enjoy delegated power to authorize this work I believed, in the circumstances, that the project should be further investigated, and I therefore referred it to the Public Works Committee, which I believe to be the appropriate body to consider it. I hope that the committee will take note of the criticism that has been offered, and that it will inquire into every aspect of the proposal.
-I draw the attention of the Minister for the Interior to the fact that, as a result of the notification by the New South Wales Government that it intends to reduce advances to ex-service settlers, a great deal of disquiet has been caused in my electorate, and many protest meetings have been held. Will the Minister explain the position of the Australian Government in this connexion?
– I thought that the matter had been dealt with previously. There is nothing at all secret about it. New South Wales is a principal State, and the Australian Government can have no say regarding the amount of money that a principal State government allocates for war service land settlement. I understand that the New South Wales Minister for Lands recently stated that responsibility for this matter should be sheeted home to the Australian Government. It would have been much nearer the truth had he said that the New South Wales Government has been trying, by means of propaganda, to blanket the fact that it has reduced the proportion of loan funds allocated for ex-service land settlement from 6 per cent, of the overall loan funds to approximately 2 per cent. Although the New South Wales Government claims that the loan programme has been reduced by 33^ per cent., even on its own showing, the amount allocated this year for war service land settlement has been reduced by 50 per cent. However, I am afraid that that is a matter with which the Australian Government cannot deal. As New South Wales is a principal State, it is entirely a matter for the State Government.
– As immigrants at Bonegilla and elsewhere cannot secure employment as rural workers, and as the Victorian war service land settlement authorities, since the -30th J July last, have been unable to purchase land for the settlement of even one ex-serviceman, and are unable to state when they will be able to do so because of the lack of funds, and as an increase of food production is urgently necessary, will the Treasurer take immediate action to assist the Victorian Government to secure funds for land settlement purposes?
– The Government has always taken an interest in the raising of funds for and on behalf of the States. In 1951-52 it adopted the unprecedented method of underwriting loans totalling £225,000,000 for that purpose, in which the Victorian Government was a participant. In the present financial year it has offered to subscribe to the loan requirements of the States an amount of £135,000,000 in which the Victorian Government will again be a participant.
– Can the Minister for the Army inform me why his department is dispensing with the services of reserve personnel aged 55 years, who, only recently, had been signed on for service to the age of 60 years? Does the honorable gentleman appreciate the grave hardship which may be imposed on those who are dismissed, because of their inability to find fresh employment? How long does he estimate that it will take to train men to replace ex-service personnel who have been marked down for retrenchment ? Will the Minister endeavour to have such displaced, reserve personnel engaged elsewhere in the Public Service?
– The honorable gentleman has not stated the facts quite correctly. Members of the services who are in the group to which he has referred, are normally due for retirement when they reach the age of 55 years. In common with everybody else in the community, on reaching the retiring age they must retire, and the Army has no alternative but to retire them. The question of engaging them in other branches of the
Public Service is at present receiving the consideration of my department.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister in connexion with a .radio broadcast which was made on Sunday night last from Station 2HD Newcastle by .the Leader of the Opposition, in the course of which the right honorable gentleman stated that action by the Government had prevented TransAustralia Airlines from expanding in the way intended.
– Order ! I am not at all satisfied that honorable members are entitled to found questions without notice upon broadcasts, having regard to the fact that they are not allowed to found questions on newspaper paragraphs. I think that the Standing Orders are silent on the subject, but it is a matter on which the House should make up its mind.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the action that has been taken by the Government in this connexion, and will he also say whether any action has been taken other than to ensure fair competition between airlines ?
– I did not have the singular good fortune to hear the broadcast to which the honorable member has referred, but if his account of it is correct, as I have no doubt it is, the broadcast appears to have been wrong.
– Order ! I must call the attention of the House to the fact that, as the procedure set out in the Standing Orders is observed at present, an honorable member is precluded from founding a question on a newspaper paragraph. If we are to permit questions to be founded on alleged statements over the radio, then we shall open up an avenue of exploitation at question time which I think should receive the attention of the House. I should be happy to have, in the near future, some guidance from the House on this rather delicate question.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Supply. What is the total cost of the erection and maintenance of the displaced persons’ hostel at Wallgrove’? Is it a fact that this hostel is to be closed, and that immigrants are being asked to’ find- other accommodation.1? What- does tha (Government intend to; do with the building, which is alleged to faa.ve: cost approximately £2O0,OOO ?. The honorable member for Mitchell’ is: inrterested in, this matter,, because the. hostel is situated in his: electorate. I am interested, in the- matter also because I want to know whether the hostel will be- available,, not only for displaced persons but also for many other people, in New- South Wales who desire accommodation.
– The’ administration of hostels- comes within the jurisdiction of the Minister acting for’ the Minister for Labour and National Service. I shall Bring the. question to his> notice, and ask him’ to furnish a1 reply to it as1 soon as possible”.
– I* wish to ask the Minister acting for the Minister for Immigration a question in relation to the unfulfilled’ promises that were made to British immigrants ‘by Immigration Department official’s in’ Great Britain in order to induce them to come to this country. Can the Minister say whether it- is’ ai fact that prospective British immigrants1 were told’ ins England that homes’ would be1 found’ for them on arrival in this: country; and< that’ the rentals’ would be 25s:- a> week.?! Is it a fact that some British “immigrants for whom, homes have not been provided have now been living in hostels.’ in. this country for more than eighteen months and are becoming discontented because of these broken promises:? Will, the Min?ister investigate: the matter a-nd take steps to ensure.- that the promises- tha.t were made to. these people prior to leaving their homeland shall be fulfilled ?
– I am not aware of any such promises’ having been’ made: I recall that certain promises of that kind were made when Labour’ was- in office; but I do not think thai? any have been made since. However, I shall have the matter investigated! and!, provide the honorable member with a> reply as soon as X can..
– As- the question is Based’ on- newspaper reports, it is out of order:
– Then may I put it. in another way?” I ask the Prime Minister whether he will’ guarantee to the House that unemployed’ immigrants at present residing in immigrant camps shall have the right to protest against their conditions, if they desire to do so?
– If the Prime- Minister desires to- reply to; the- question,, he may do so.
– As I understand the question,, it is. whether those: in immigrant camps ha.ve the- right to offer their views to those in- authority?
– That is right. _ Mr. MENZIES- They will’, indeed, be very new Australians if they do- not exercise that right, which is the oldest prerogative in this country.
– Will the Minister for the Army say whether national service trainees are. posted to units of the Citizen Military Forces for unit training when- they have completed three months’ individual training? If that be so,, will he. state how many trainees have volunteered for service overseas and, therefore, are qualified to fill’ vacancies, in the. wai establishments’ of the Citizen Military Forces units ? If substantial numbers’ of trainees have not so volunteered, how does the Minister’ propose to fill the war establishments’ of those units with trained personnel to meet an emergency?’
– National service trainees who have: completed a period of three months’ training are only young men. They are, at the most, nineteen years of age, and it would not. be reasonable to expect them to enlist in great numbers. However, a substantial number have enlisted. Let me direct the attention of the honorable gentleman to our experiences’ during World War I. and World War II. Australians, especially those who have- had1 any military training’, have never failed to- enlist in adequate numbers when they have been asked’ to do so in a time of : emergency. National service trainees receive a substantial basic training. A great number of them, because of their appreciation of what has been done for them in camp and also because of their regard for the defence of this country, have, on completion of their initial training, taken home forms of application for enlistment into the Permanent Army or the citizen forces. In the majority of instances, their parents have said that they will not agree to the young men enlisting then, but that they will not hesitate to do so if an emergency occurs. I pin my faith to that.
– In view of the fact that national service trainees who trained with the Citizen Military Forces may reserve their decision on whether they will serve outside Australia, will the Minister for the Army introduce legislation to enable any person who desires to train with the Citizen Military Forces to do so whilst reserving his decision to serve outside Australia?
–Government policy on this subject is quite clear. Every member of the Citizen Military Forces declares hia willingness to serve anywhere in the world in defence of his country, t do not propose to vary this position in order to make it conform with the position of national service trainees. National service trainees are required to do 98 days’ training in camp. They are then given field and general training in the Citizen Military Forces for three years. I am delighted to inform the House that nearly all national service trainees are honoring their obligations tn this respect.
-], desire to ask the Prime Minister a question about ft: breach of official trust in connexion with the announcement of the appointment of the new Governor-General. I refer, not to the intelligent speculation that occurred some weeks previously but to the specific and definite announcement that was made on the day prior to that fixed by Her Majesty for the making of the announcement. Was the disclosure made without the knowledge or consent of th& Prime Minister? Is it viewed extremely seriously as a breach of official trust?- Have the security authorities been asked to investigate it? Will the investigations be of any use in determining the identity and whereabouts of the real nest of traitors? .
– Ignoring what I take to be the humorous aspects of the question, I say that no announcement was made about the appointment of the new Governor-General until Her Majesty made her own announcement from Buckingham Palace. Until then, no announcement was made here. I can only suppose that, as the hour for the announcement of the appointment drew nearer, the Speculation that had gone on for a fortnight before grew more intense.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether an application has been made to him by the Premier of New South Wales for dollars for the purpose of buying, in the United States of America, power-generating plant for installation at Some future time in a power house that has not yet been erected. I further ask him whether a competent consulting engineer, whose name I shall forbear to mention, in deference to your views, Mr. Speaker, has Claimed that the same kind of plant is manufactured iti France Under licence from the. American manufacturer, and is purchasable without the use of dollars. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the possibility of obtaining the necessary plant from a nondollar Source is fully examined before the expenditure of dollars on similar plant manufactured in America is permitted? Further, will he bear in mind, when dealing with this and other requests for money from the New South Wales Government, the wanton extravagance, in the immediate past, of that Government, which incurred a liability of more than £3,000,000-
-Order I The honorable gentleman is getting on to controversial ground.
– If you will allow me to finish my question, Mr. Speaker, the relevance of the last part of it will become clear, . The New South Wales Government incurred a liability of more than £3,000,000 as a result of its nationalization of an efficient,, privately owned electricity undertaking, whilst at the same time it complained that it had not sufficient money to build schools.
– It is true that the Premier of New South Wales has applied to the Commonwealth for dollars for the purchase of electrical equipment, on a “ turn-key “ basis, from the United States of America. Having regard to the shortage of dollars it has long been- the practice, whenever an application of this kind is received by the Commonwealth, to examine the nature of the work to be done or the plant that it is proposed to huy, in order to discover whether such plant is available on either corresponding or satisfactory terms from a nondollar source. Such an investigation was, of course, at once put in hand by the Commonwealth in this instance. In addition to such investigations as we had to make, it has been put to us and, in particular, to the. New South Wales Government, that the equipment concerned is readily available from the United Kingdom and also from France. However, questions have been raised by the New South Wales Premier regarding the date upon which non-dollar plant would become available for use, which is a matter on which there are contending views. During the present shortage of dollars we do not propose to make large amounts of such currency available for the purchase of equipment that can be purchased satisfactorily from non-dollar sources. I think the Premier of New South Wales recognizes that principle. We therefore had this matter examined by the dollar committee which operates in the relevant departments. The committee has now drafted a report, which is in transit to me, and I expect a decision based on these principles inside a few days, although I do not say what, that decision will be.
– Will the Prime Minister indicate the nature of the plan, if any, which operates in relation to the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen of the Korean war who have been, or will be, discharged from the forces? Has the Government arranged for them similar conditions and employment possibilities as were provided for ex-servicemen of World War II.
– The Minister for the Army , will answer the honorable gentleman’s question.
– The matter comes within the province of the Minister for Repatriation, who is a member of another place, but as I represent him here I can say quite clearly and definitely that the answer to the honorable gentleman’s question is “ Yes “.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Territories in relation to the Commonwealth railways, a subject with which I dealt in a speech last Friday, when I advocated-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman may not refer at question time to anything that happened in committee last Friday.
– May I put it this way? The Minister said, in his reply, that consideration was being given to the construction of a standard gauge railway from Birdum in the Northern Territory to the Queensland border. In view of the urgency of the matter will he consider building a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railway to link with the Queensland railway system whilst, at the same time, making provision for the addition of a third rail should the standardization of railway gauges! ultimately be completed?
– With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, perhaps I should explain that the only reference I made to ranges in the proceedings to which the honorable member has referred was a statement that the question of gauges would have to be settled before any comprehensive scheme of railway development in the north could be proceeded with. I made no other reference to the question of gauges. In answer to the honorable member’s particular question, I can only say that this whole matter of northern railway development is under close consideration by the Government at present and, in due course, an announcement will be made.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs say whether there has been any improvement of the situation in Malaya since he reported to the House on that subject after his last visit to that country?
– Yen, I think it can be said that there has been quite a definite improvement in the Malayan situation in the last twelve months. Sir Henry Gurney was most regrettably killed about October of last year. At that time, the initiative was quite definitely ‘ with the Chinese Communist bandits. More recently, however, and particularly within the last four or five months, the situation has been reversed and I believe that the initiative now lies with the forces of law and order. The number of senior bandit leaders who have voluntarily given themselves up has been progressively increasing and, in the last two or three months, has reached a substantial total. I think that, on balance, we can say that the security and morale of British, Malayan, and Chinese people in Malaya have been strengthened considerably, due largely to the vigorous campaign that is being conducted by General Templer. The position, of course, is not by any means satisfactory yet. Malaya has many problems apart from the security problem. There is, for instance, the economic problem which depends largely on the price of rubber. However, replying in general to the honorable member’s question, I think that the situation can definitely be said to have improved, and I believe that General Templer’s leadership has been responsible for that improvement.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Supply, refers to uranium. Is it the intention of the Government to offer any further reward to the discoverer of the uranium field at Rum Jungle ? If so, what will be the nature and amount of such reward?
– I take it that the honorable member has referred to Mr. White’s discovery, with respect to which a reward has already been paid. As I told the House some time ago; Mr. White was originally paid a sum of £1,000. Since then he has been paid a further sum of £7.000. That is all I need say about the matter at the moment.
– Has the Treasurer made available a specific sum of money for the development of the Lachlan Valley in New South Wales? If the answer is in the affirmative, how much money has been provided for such development, and if the money has actually been paid, will the right honorable gentleman state the authority to which it has been paid? Finally, what special credit assistance has been given for the purpose of flood mitigation and soil conservation?
– The Australian Government does not provide money for specific projects that come under the jurisdiction of State governments. The New South Wales Government has sole responsibility for the matter to which the honorable member has referred.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether the Queensland Government has refused to be a party to this Government’s hospital benefits scheme because that State refuses to put back the hospital clock for 35 years? Does the Government intend to make the payments to the Queensland Government that it would normally make to it even though that Government is not a party to the scheme, or, does it intend to withhold payment of such moneys to the Queensland Government? If the Minister intends to withhold such payments, has he examined the constitutionality of such action?
– I do not regard the honorable member as being a reliable judge of possible constitutional issues. In this matter, I am quite satisfied to accept the advice of the Government’s law officers. The agreement that existed between the Commonwealth and the States with respect to hospital benefits up to a. few days ago caused the hospital clock throughout Australia to be put back twenty years. The reason why all the State governments with the exception of the Queensland Government have come into the scheme is that it will substantially improve their position in respect of hospital revenue.’ . From’ figures that I shall make available to the House later, it will- be seen that this” Government has made available to’ the States in respect of health an amount five times greater than . that which’ they received previously. _ Mr, GRIFFITHS.– Oan the Minister indicate the commitments’ that this Government and the State governments’ will expect pensioners to meet if and when they become inmates of public hospitals?’ Will pensioners who contribute to a hospital insurance fund be ‘ adequately covered by the Commonwealth subsidy, or” will they be required to pay £2 2s. a week towards their treatment and maintenance while they are inmates of public hospitals?
– The Premier of New South Wales has stated quite definitely that the question Of charging in public hospitals is entirely a matter for the State Government He als6 said that anybody who is unable to pay will not; be charged anything at- all.
– Will the Minislui for Health make arrangements with approved organizations’ under the hospital benefits scheme to enable children over the a’ge of sixteen years Who remain dependent upon their parents to qualify Cor the benefits’ that such organizations provide in respect tit an. ins’ured person, and his wife and children under that age?
-I Have discussed the matter itf which the honorable member has referred with various organizations and ‘ some of them have already made provision for inclusion in their benefit’s of children over the age bf Sixteen years who may bb attending a high school or a university. However^ I shall be pleased to take” up with those Organizations’ the general question that the’ honorable member has raised.
– Has the attention of the Minister foi- Health been drawn to the fact that ‘some chemists are charging pensioners for prescriptions that should be free? Is he also aware that some doctors are Supplying pensioners with prescriptions for only a small number of tablets which they are required ‘to take over long period’s, although ‘the regu lations’ provide tha* prescriptions can- W issued for 50 tablets)’ and’ for two’ repeats?’ This practice necessitates’ thé’ frequent return of pensioners- t’o the doctors- for prescriptions, with consequential increased* cost- to’ the Government- for consultation! fees,- and much inconvenience to the! pensioner’s. Will the Minister take action to1 put a stop to these practices?
– 1 should be very; much obliged to the’ honorable member if he would bring to my notice’ a specific instance in which a chemist has charged a pensioner for a prescription that should” be’ free. The Pharmaceutical Guild, which is the chemists’ federal organization, is extraordinarily eager that such apractice should not be allowed to obtain. Special provision has been made in the regulations for the issue of 100 tablets, in special cases, to pensioners who are required to take drugs for long periods. In the light of departmental’ figures, I believe that if the practice that has been mentioned by the honorable member is- pursued by doctors at ail, it is pursued in only a very small number of cases. j Payments by the Commonwealth to doctors throughout Australia are fairly uniform^ with the exception of those to a small number of doctors. This lends colour to the view that the practice that the honorable member has mentioned does not obtain to any appreciable degree.
– I preface a question to the” Minister for Health by pointing out that a number of” c’onflicting versions have been given of the eligibility for membership of hospital insurance societies of elderly persons, pensioners, and unemployed persons. Consequently, a degree of confusion exists in the minds of the public in this connexion. Will the Minister f6r Health arrange for a summary of the conditions of membership of the various approved societies to be published in the press ? Will he also arrange for membership’ rule books, other data relating to the operations of such societies^ and copies of the agreements between the Common.wealth and the -various States to be tabled in the Parliamentary Library for perusal By honorable members ?
– -Very extensive advertisements which contained the names of approved- organizations have already appeared in the press. However”; as many people may not have seen those advertisements; it is our intention to provide a very simple and straightforward statement for publication. Copies will be made’ available to everybody who seeks such information.’
– Many aged people arid invalids who are not qualified under the act to receive the age arid invalid pension have* been granted compassionate allowances. Will the Minister for Health inform the House whether it is a fact that the Commonwealth medical and pharmaceutical schemes do not include provision for such people? If that is a fact, will he state the reason foi* their exclusion?
– The basis oh which the pensions system operates is the basis also on which our social services scheme, operates. If the people that the honorable member has mentioned are within the approved category they are looked after. If they are not within the catergory, they are not looked after.
– Has the Minister for Health read the report of the Joint Committee on Social Security, dated the 15th February, 1944$ which contains details of the hospital benefits scheme that he recently terminated? If the right honorable gentleman has read that report, did lie notice that members’ of that committee included the late honorable member for Flinders, the former honorable member foi- Parramatta, and also the present Minister for Repatriation? If he has not noticed that those persons were members of the committee, will he explain to the House why he constantly misrepresents this is scheme
– Order ! It is not permissible for an honorable member, in a question, tb accuse a Minister of misre presentation.
– If the right honorable gentleman is aware that members of the party that he supports were members of the committee which unanimously subscribed to a scheme which envisaged the abolition 5? the means test, will he explain to the House why he constantly represents this to be a Labour programme ?
Mr.- SPEAKER.- Order I As the honorable” member’s question is controversial, and relates to government policy, the Minister is not obliged to answer it.
– If the honorable member will read the reports of the proceedings of the various conferences at which Mr. Chifley submitted the proposition! to the State Premiers, he will find that there was unanimously expressed objection to the scheme by the State Premiers. There has also been objection by hospitals which have lost much money during the last six years.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that the Women’s Hospital in Melbourne which is the largest maternity hospital in Australia, has 4,000 expectant mothers registered, none of whom will be able to obtain the benefit of 18s; a day for which the Government’s health scheme provides, because of the rules of the various benefit societies? In view of the fact that this hospital has not paid its tradesmen’s bills since last March, arid that diet is of great, importance to these women, does the Minister propose to do anything to enable these women to receive the full benefit of 18s. a day?
– Under the Government’s health scheme, all persons who insure with a recognized benefit society, whether maternity is involved or not, becomes entitled to receive 12s. a day for each day they spend in hospital instead of the 8s. that they would have received previously. I made special arrangements for the full benefit to be paid to insured persons who entered the Canberra Community -Hospital within nine months after the inception of the Government’s scheme.
– My question to the Minister for Health is supplementary to the question that I asked him a few minutes ago. In view of the fact that I have received a letter from the medical Superintendent bf the Women’s Hospital, Melbourne., in Which it is stated that there are some 4,000 women registered with the hospital who will not be able to benefit from the 18s. a day, arid in view of the Minister’s statement that these people will be able to benefit, will the Minister take urgent action to communicate with the hospital authorities in order that their misconception of the position may be cleared up ?
– The honorable member has previously been a member of the Victorian Parliament. Therefore, he must know that the proper authority to address in connexion with the matter that he has raised is the Victorian Government.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs. The belief exists in the timber industry that an excellent opportunity is offering to develop a substantial export market for Queensland sawn hardwoods with New Zealand and other countries provided that doubts that now exist with respect to the exportation of timber are clarified. As a very substantial export market is known to exist in New Zealand for such timber, will the Government encourage the development of this trade by accepting’ responsibility for the issue of export permits instead of leaving that responsibility to the State timber control authority in Queensland?
– I shall bring the question that the honorable member has asked to the notice of the Minister for Trade and Customs and furnish him with a reply in due course.
-I desire to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is a fact that a notice has been attached to the door of an office in this building which indicates that it is occupied by the Under-Secretary to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture? Was this notice placed on the door with your permission? If it was not, do you propose to take any action in order to have it removed, or against the person responsible for this defiance of your authority? If no action is to be taken in respect of this matter can this circumstance be accepted as an indication that you now recognize that your earlier stand of non-recognition of under secretaries on the ground thatthe appointments were unconstitutional, is untenable?
– The notice to which the honorable member has referred is on the door with my knowledge. The rest of the honorable member’s question relates to a matter which cannot be settled in this House.
– In order to alleviate anxiety in the public mind regarding insistent suggestions of wastage and overcharging in some defence undertakings, will the Prime Minister consider the establishment of a committee similar to the all-party war expenditure committee, or set up a public accounts committee of the House?
– The Government announced some time ago that it was willing to appoint a public accounts committee, the establishment of which it. considers is most desirable. It would be glad if the honorable member forReid could persuade his colleagues to agree with this admirable idea.
– Will the Vice-President of the Executive Council state the number of times since the election of the present Government that he or other Ministers in charge of the House have moved “ That the question be now put “?
– I shall give consideration to the matter raised by the honorable member, and if I discover that my standard is not as high as that of a previous Vice-President of the Executive Council, I shall endeavour to raise it by increasing the number of my motions for closure.
Services involving Capital Expenditure.
That the Estimates - Additions, New Work’s and Other Services involving Capital Expenditure 1952-53 - be considered as a whole.
Proposed vote, £100,003,000.
.- The total proposed vote for additions, new works, and other services involving capital expenditure for 1952-53, together with special appropriations, is £106,613,000. This amount is slightly less than the total expenditure for such purposes during 1951-52, and, therefore, it appears that the volume of work undertaken during the current year will be very much less than that which was undertaken during 1951-52. The fact becomes obvious when we recall that prices and costs rose sharply throughout 1951. The situation was aggravated, of course, by the regular and substantial increases of the basic wage. Thus, although the proposed expenditure on new works and other services involving capital expenditure reveals little variation, the truth is that much less work can be done with that sum than was done in 1.951-52. This reduction of Commonwealth works is contemplated at a time when State works, municipal works and other undertakings throughout Australia are being either discontinued or sharply curtailed.
The Government has a responsibility to maintain employment on public works. The correct policy was clearly laid down in a white paper that was published during the term of office of the Chifley Government. If State governments are unable to provide work of a constructive and reproductive character, this Government should expand it works programme. Such an expansion is necessary if we are to provide employment for workers who are already in Australia as well as for other people whom the Government proposes to bring here under the immigration programme. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has spoken of the misery that is caused by unemployment. The presence of unemployed workers in tin’s country, as a result of the cessation of works., and the fact that there are many new arrivals under the immigration scheme and that many young Australians are constantly reaching workins age, provides the Government with a great opportunity to press on with undertakings that will . be of inestimable value to the nation. It should ha.ve regard for both the human aspect and the constructive aspect of the problem that arises from increasing unemployment. Yet, apparently, it has not made any plans to expand its works programme. Its inactivity could be justified only on the grounds that opportunities for work were not available, that works had not been planned or that, even though planned, they could not be undertaken at this time. But such grounds do not exist. Plans have been made for public works in all parts of Australia, and most of these undertakings could be set in hand at once.
The Government has failed in its responsibility again. It should authorize the commencement of many Postal Department works and other governmental undertakings that are Urgently needed. In addition, gigantic schemes like the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric project could be expedited for the good of the whole nation. Clearly the Government is not conscious of its responsibilities. The Public Works Committee has approved of plans for the construction of the proposed Irwin telephone exchange in Western Australia. At this stage, when State governments are dismissing workers, it should push on with such projects. But instead of doing so, the Government is erecting a temporary structure, and is thereby overriding the by-laws of the Perth City Council. Incidentally, some of the temporary structures to which I object are not even new buildings. They are being pulled down and re-erected on other sites within the city limits. Now that labour is becoming available, and building materials are being stacked in many parts of the country, the Government should proceed with the erection of the Irwin automatic exchange.
During the last two years, the Government has been conducting a running fight with the Perth City Council over the repatriation building. The Government has endeavoured to extend the existing temporary buildings on the foreshore of the .Swan River. The Perth City Council has refused to sanction that work, but the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the State Government and the State Gardens Board, can finally override its wishes. Any arguments that the Government, could have advanced three, six, nine or twelve months ago in support of its policy are not valid to-day. Unemployment is increasing throughout the country. I am not certain how many persons are unemployed, and I doubt whether any one has a clear picture of the situation. That is due to the unwillingness of the Government to provide information about any matter that may embarrass it. However, it is certain that tradesmen are available for employment, and that building materials are accumulating in Western Australia in common with other States.
– Not in Western Australia. The Government is unable to jet the materials that are required for the repatriation building. We shall proceed with that work to-morrow if the honorable member for Perth is able to make these materials available.
– The Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes) will be interested to learn that I had an interview in Perth yesterday at 2.30 p.m. with a man engaged in the business of processing timber of the kind that is required for the repatriation building. He informed me that he is unable to get sufficient orders to keep his machines in operation. He sought, through me, to import certain machinery, but it is subject to the Government’s import restrictions, because the machines that are already installed in Western Australia cannot be employed full time, as the result of a falling off of orders. I do not know whether that statement of the situation is correct, but I assume it to be. It seems to disprove completely the interjection of the Minister.
– The State Government controls building materials.
– Of course it does, but the Commonwealth has not made any real attempt to get the work under way.
– That is not true.
– This Government has not made any real attempt to co-operate with the Western Australian Government, and has refused to meet the wishes of the Perth City Council. The Government should have undertaken its own production requirements for the great programme that was contemplated in Western Australia.
– No one will be able to get materials if the nationalization of industry becomes an established fact.
– Obviously, the Minister is restive because he knows that the criticism of the Government that is voiced in this chamber is only a reflection of the growing criticism of it throughout the country. However, the Government cannot shut its eyes to certain facts. Increasing numbers of persons, including building tradesmen are becoming unemployed, and quantities of building materials are accumulating throughout the country. Yet the Government is proceeding recklessly with the erection of temporary structures in the various capital cities. If the situation has been altered by those recent developments, the Government should give evidence of its willingness to review the whole position. Complaints about the erection of temporary buildings have been made not only to Opposition members but also to Government supporters. The Opposition believes in the erection of permanent buildings that will meet the needs of the public, the local authorities, and the staffs who will occupy them. The provision of permanent buildings will save the taxpayers considerable sums of money. The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) was at the meeting when we emphasized that the loss of money will be extremely heavy if the building is pulled down in a few short years.
– What building?
– The building on the foreshore. The newest building is the one in Bulwer-street for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, but the Minister is so unconscious of the sharp change that has taken place in the Australian economy that he continues to mutter the same silly replies that were silly twelve months ago. He has claimed that supplies are not available and that nothing can be done. The Government should review the situation constantly. When the position changes, as it has done in recent months, the Government should re-survey the scene. If there is a possibility that it can proceed with construction, it should examine its plans again. In this case, if it is physically possible, the Minister should take steps to have erected a permanent building that will be in keeping with requirements, will save the Government money and be an asset to Australia.
I wish to draw the attention of the committee now to a matter which comes under the heading of the Department of -Shipping and Transport. Quite a large sum of money is involved. While expenditure is proceeding on construction of new ships and the purchase of ships overseas, there are reports and rumours -that the sale of the Commonwealth shipping line appears to be certain. Members of the Government glibly refer to their desocialization plans. The Government cannot continue with its proposition to sell Australia’s shipping line and, at the same time, claim to have a real interest in adequate defence for Australia.. A shipping line of its own is so vital to an island continent that I wonder that any government could attempt to dispose of ships which it owns and controls. In time of peace, the Commonwealth shipping line is vital for the transport of large quantities of primary products overseas and! to bring imports to Australia, but it is even more important that the country should have a shipping line at a time when the threat of war exists. The Government has announced that within a stated period of years, Australia must be prepared for war. It has stated that we must prepare our defences so that we can resist an aggressor, and that if no aggressor should -come to these shores, we should be able to play a maximum part in assisting our allies if war should come. At the same time the Government apparently is- making every endeavour to sacrifice Australia’s shipping line. Of what earthly use are our defence activities, our stocks of materials, our trained men and all the paraphernalia of war if a conflict should break out leaving us completely dependent upon some other nation for shipping to transport our supplies and war materials ?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Bowden). - Order ! The: honorable member’s time has expired.
– The negative speech of the honorable member far Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) should indicate to honorable members the necessity to think of some positive things which can and should be done. We have to think in terms of expanding Australian production and developing our capital resources so that we can further that expansion to the maximum extent. Obviously there are three or four lines along which we should act. One is the development of heavy industries. Another is the development of primary industries and the third, on which I wish to concentrate, is the development of the mineral industries. I shall refer particularly to the Estimates which are printed on page 199 relating to the Department of National Development. It is essential that some sense of proportion should be maintained in these matters. Honorable members are asked to vote £15,180,000 for that department. Of that amount, £13,600,000 is to be spent on the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme. I am one of those who believe that the scheme should be continued. I am not trying to knock the scheme, but I believe that it should be kept in its correct perspective. If we can allocate £13,600,000 to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, why should we allocate only £250,000, a small amount, for plant and equipment for the Bureau of Mineral Resources. I know that this Government believes in the encouragement of private industry. Every member of the Government parties supports that belief. We wish to use the resources of the Government not to squeeze out private industry but to help it to expand and to give employment and create wealth. Inside that definition, there is room for the expansion of our knowledge of the mineral resources of the nation. I do not mean that detailed prospecting is the province of the Department of National Development. I believe rather that detailed prospecting is the province of private industry, but surely the Government could assist private industry to expand and to provide the general framework of knowledge inside which thi3 expansion could take place. ! believe that we are being negligent - and I do not speak only of this Government but of various governments - in our failure to encourage further drilling. We should encourage in every way exploratory drilling on a strategic scale so as to ascertain, in a general way, in which areas mineral resources are available. Action by the Government should be complementary to the activities of private industry, but what ls accomplished must be determined to some degree by several things including taxation laws. I hope that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) will see fit in the near future to alter the law so that greater taxation concessions will be given for mineral prospecting. I hope that by increasing the field in which private industry will operate, the field in which the Government operates will be decreased. It is mainly from the development of our mineral resources that we can hope for a quick improvement of our overseas trade balance. There is one significant exception - the price of wool. Apart from any sudden rise of the price of wool it is obvious that there can be no quick improvement of our trade position except by an expansion of the mineral industries. “We should pay considerably more attention to this matter by giving taxation concessions, by increasing the services rendered by the Bureau of Mineral Resources, and by increasing the amount of plant and equipment at the disposal of the bureau. Instead of the amount of £250,000, which is to be appropriated for this purpose, the appropriation would be at least ten times greater if we had a proper sense of proportion. I should like to see Supplementary Estimates brought down so that it would be possible to do what needs to be done in order to increase the national wealth by the exploitation of our mineral resources.
Let me refer again to the development of uranium resources, and to the need for more active prospecting. Here, again, opportunities should be afforded to private enterprise to expand in this field. However, quite apart from what private industry could do or should do, there are some things which government services should do, and they are not being done. I have in mind, particularly, air- borne prospecting for uranium. As honorable members know, it is possible to detect the presence of uranium by the radiations that it gives out. It is possible, by the use of a very sensitive instrument in an aeroplane, to prospect large areas, not to give final results, but to discover the areas most favorable for further ground prospecting. This technique has been developed in America. I have here two pamphlets issued by the United States Atomic Energy Commission which describe what has been done in the way of prospecting by the use of aeroplanes in Alaska and Colorado. The equipment is relatively cheap, costing about £1,600. It weighs only about 200 lb., and can easily be transported by a small aeroplane. The information conveyed in these monographs bears out in detail the principles that I have enunciated. The department has a very good air-borne scintillometer, one of the best in the world. I have inspected this instrument which is at present installed in a DC3 aircraft, with all the fine equipment that goes with it. There is also the Shoran equipment which enables the position of an aeroplane to be located accurately. It is well that we have this aircraft, and a few others also equipped for the making of accurate, high grade aerial maps, but there is room also for a number of small aeroplanes equipped with scintillometers, or geiger counters. It would not be possible by their use to produce detailed maps, but it would be possible to obtain a very useful first result. We should at this moment be concentrating on getting out parties of four or five small aircraft, together with ground parties which could go into the field. The aircraft would fly over the various areas without trying to make detailed maps, and when they found what are called anomalies - that is, places where the radiation is out of proportion to that of the rest of the field - those anomalies would be investigated by the ground parties. In this way it should be possible to make a general survey of those areas in which uranium deposits might occur, and we possess more of such country than is to be found in the United States of America. The Australian countryside is in many ways particularly susceptible to this technique. Much of it is flat, and it has not been subjected for millions of years to glacial action, so that the material shed from the reefs has not been swept away over a large surface of land as has happened in the United States of America. There is good reason to believe that airborne prospecting for uranium would be even more practicable in Australia than in the United States of America.
Although I believe that uranium is a most important mineral, and that it is vitally necessary for us to prospect for it. 1 do not think that it is the only valuable mineral. It is somewhat pathetic that we should be going on’ our knees to the International Materials Conference begging for a larger allocation of copper, when we have in Queensland and in the Northern Territory deposits of copper from which we should be supplying ourselves, and exporting to other countries. Copper is a strategic material of great importance, and there is a world shortage of it. It is a reproach to private industry and to governments alike that our resources should remain so largely undeveloped. It is a reproach also to the Bureau of Mineral Resources, which has failed to grasp its opportunity. I do not wish to put the blame on the officers of the burea.u who are capable and efficient, but the fact remains that, the bureau has been starved of equipment and facilities. The amount of £250,000 is not sufficient to provide the bureau with the equipment that it needs, and I hope that, in the near future, the Treasurer will see fit to make ten times that amount available. We cannot afford to wait, or to trifles with this matter. Time is not always on our side. To those who say that we should not be extravagant I reply that we need an immediate expansion of exports, employment and production, and although in the mining industry we have, perhaps, the most fruitful field of all, it is being left relatively unexploited.
.- I have listened with a good deal of interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). I am pleased that some of the honorable members who have had the opportunity to visit the Northern Territory have been able to tell the committee, and also the people of Australia, about the potentialities of that region. For many years 1 have tried to impress upon members of the various governments the necessity for honorable members to be better acquainted with the Northern Territory. We legislate for that wonderful country, but very few of us have any personal knowledge of it. The contributions that have been made to the debate by the honorable member for Mackellar, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) and the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) have been of great value.
I regret that the Australian Government has not done as much as it should have done to make available homes for ex-servicemen. In my electorate a contractor who received a contract to erect several houses, took almost two years to build a house for an exserviceman of my acquaintance. I contend that there is something wrong with a department which allows such delays to occur. It was only after the exserviceman had approached me, and I had contacted the department, that the erection of his home was pushed ahead. The cost of building materials and wages increased so much during the two years that the final cost of the house was £2,700. In my opinion, that is a scandalous thing. No man who earns the basic wage can afford to pay £2,700 for a house. I have always contended that expenditure on the erection of war service homes is really war expenditure and that the cost of such homes should not be borne solely by the ex-servicemen. I have no doubt that the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), who knows something about property, will agree with me that between £2,000 and £3,000 is an extortionate price for a fibro cottage. From inquiries that I have made into the building of war service homes, it appears that administration costs are altogether too high. First, it appears to be necessary to have a design prepared by an architect; secondly, an inspector must be employed. In addition, several inspections by officers of the War Service Homes Division are considered necessary. The cost of the architect’s services and the various inspections must be borne by the unfortunate exserviceman who is trying to settle down in a home. I hope that something will be done by the department to reduce the cost of homes for men who have served overseas on our behalf.
I now wish to refer to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Residents of my electorate, including businessmen, have had to wait as long as four years for the installation of a telephone. Sometimes applicants are told that exchange equipment is not available, and at other rimes they are told that cables are not available. Surely sufficient time has elapsed since the end of World War II. for the department to be able to secure the necessary equipment. Despite the difficulties being experienced by the department, the Government has sold its shares in Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. That organization was sold to private enterprise when it was returning a handsome profit to the people. Honorable members will recall that it was established by the right honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Hughes) when he was Prime Minister. I cannot understand why it should have been sold, particularly when it is appreciated that its activities could have assisted the Postal Department by supplying telecommunication equipment.
During the regime of the Chifley Government, negotiations took place on several occasions regarding standardization of railway gauges. However, this Government has done nothing to bring about a uniform gauge. We all know that standardization of railway gauges is absolutely essential for the defence of the country in the event of war. I was a member .of this Parliament during World War I. and also during World War II. I have no doubt that if a third world war breaks out while this government is in power our defences will be in just as bad a state as they were when other wars commenced. I remember that at the commencement of World War II. there was only one 6-in. gun between Sydney and Newcastle with which to protect the coastline and the vital industries established in that area. Sir Percy Spender, when Minister for Defence, stated in private conversation in this chamber that there was only one 6-in. gun with which to defend ‘the country during the vital stages of the last .war. Rectification of that sorry state of affairs was left to a Labour government. This Government does not seem ito have any foresight about such matters.
I greatly regret that we have brought to this country a large number of immigrants, particularly foreign immigrants,, and have kept them idle in camps.. This Government does not appear tohave any plan for utilizing the great potential usefulness of the immigrantswho have come to this country. We welcome them. We have promised them: employment and homes, but we are not honouring our promise. Only yesterday, immigrants in a camp at Wallgrove, in New South Wales, were asked to find other accommodation. That camp cost nearly £200,000. Surely the Government does not intend that it shall remain unoccupied. Hundreds of people in Sydney are searching for accommodation, and believe that that camp ought to be made available to them. I have been told that it is the best equipped camp of its kind in Australia. The building is excellent, and the kitchen cost nearly £6,000. The immigrants who are living there now have been asked to leave and to take themselves and their families elsewhere, but I do not know where they will find other accommodation.
In other countries which have accepted foreign immigrants, the children of thoseimmigrants have become as good citizens as have the children of persons who were born in those countries. I am referring especially to the United States of America. We only have to look at the names of many of the American soldiers who fought alongside Australians during the last war to know that their forefathers came from middle Europe.
– That is true of the twopresidential candidates in America.
– That is so. I believe that immigrants who come to this country should be welcomed, looked after and given the work they have beer* promised.
I turn to the coal industry. The JointCoal Board, or the governments which
Control it, are -about to dispose of miningequipment which cost between £1, 000,000 and £2,000,000. ‘Why should that equipment, upon which an enormous Sum has been expended, be passed’ over to private enterprise ? It has been of great help in facilitating the production and handlingof coal. The plant at Glen- Davis, which. cost this country millions of pounds, is being dismantled. The Glen Davis project was badly managed in the first place by those who initiated it, and was very poorly handled afterwards. America is spending millions of dollars upon the production of oil from .shale or coal.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired. . Mr. CRAMER (Bennelong) J4.10).- The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Muleahy) criticized “the activities of this Government in relation to immigration. I know there are certain difficulties that must he overcome, but I say that any member of the Opposition - especially the honorable member for Lang, who has been a member of Parliament for a considerable period - should be the last to criticize anything associated with an immigration policy, because it is wellknown that, had it not been for the policy that was adopted by the, Labour party prior to the last war, this country would have received many more immigrants than it has done. Prior to the war, the Labour party was opposed completely to immigration into this country. I give it credit for the very good job that it did ia the short period between 1946 and 1949, when at least some of its members were enthusiastic about immigration. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. -Calwell) was an enthusiast, but always there was a little dog biting at his heel3. This -Government took up the running in 1949. .1 believe that much more would have been done in the field of immigration if a consistent policy had been followed through the years, and if there had been no interruptions of immigration such ae, those caused by objections raised by die Labour party. Plans for the provision of temporary .accommodation and -other facilities were not well laid. However, this Government has done a splendid job.
I deplore the propaganda in -which the Labour party is indulging at the present time, and its attempts to throw cold water upon the immigration policy of this country. A vigorous immigration policy will entail some conscious sacrifices, not only by the people of Australia but also by immigrants. Some times, one is almost led to believe that we should make provision for luxuries of all kinds to be made available for immigrants, but I believe that they should regard themselves as pioneers. If we wish to retain this country, we must increase its population. Any Australian political party that turns its back upon a vigorous immigration policy is acting detrimentally to the interests of Australia. I do not wish to develop that argument further, because it is not strictly relevant to the subject under discussion. I repeat that members of the Labour party, who have adopted a vacillating attitude to immigration, should be the last to criticize the immigration policy of this Government.
The honorable member for Lang referred to war service homes, in the provision of which this Government is doing a magnificent job. Unfortunately, it frequently happens that an exserviceman who orders a house to be built discovers, when the house is ready for occupation, that, because of rising building costs, it has cost very much more to build than he expected. I believe that that is due to the group scheme, under which contracts for a number of cottages are let and the cottages are not completed for a number of years. Sometimes I wonder whether it would be better to give to ex-servicemen a greater degree of freedom to decide where their houses shall be built and what types of houses they should be. In those circumstances, they could make their own contracts with builders for houses to be completed within a specified time, and would not be affected by the delays, and the consequent additional expense, to which the group scheme gives rise. However, I know that the Minister has that matter in mind at present.
I turn now to the need for the establishment of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts, a subject about which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) answered a question earlier to-day. I do not know all the facts, and whether or not the Opposition is .throwing some spanners into the works, as is its usual practice in relation -to such matters, font that would appear to be the case, to judge from the Prime Minister’s reD11 to the question. If that is so, then it is about time that the Labour party took itself to task, because it is extremely important that the committee be established at the earliest possible moment. I appreciate the fact that the Parliament cannot check all the details of government accounts. Indeed, Ministers and departmental heads cannot do so. Nevertheless, the Parliament is responsible for supervising the expenditure of every penny that is disbursed from the revenues. In my opinion that control is too remote. We ought to be in possession of more information when we are considering the Estimates. A joint parliamentary committee on public accounts would enable the Parliament to have such information placed readily before it. The committee should be representative of all parties, because the responsibility in relation to public accounts is not that of the Government alone. It is equally the responsibility of the Opposition to ensure that the revenues are expended properly. Honorable members opposite should be able, as a result of the Parliament being supplied with detailed information on public accounts, to point to any weaknesses that might exist. However, to judge from the debates on the Estimates generally, at the moment they do not appear even to have acquainted themselves with certain things that are going on. Yet, whatever the Opposition’s present showing may be I. repeat that the responsibility in relation to public accounts is a responsibility of the Parliament as a whole, and therefore the committee should be established as soon as possible. I believe a committee of that kind could clarify the figures of past and proposed expenditure that are presented to the Parliament, in my opinion many of the accounts presented to us do not conform, in any way, with commercial practice, and one has to go to a great deal of trouble to discover the full facts relative to certain expenditures and activities. A joint committee could assemble all the relevant facts before the accounts were presented to the Parliament, and so enable the presentation of a clearer picture of how the people’s money is being, has been, and is proposed to be, expended. It appears that we are
Mr. Cramer. expending £1,000,000 in works alone, apart from other services, in relation- to the’ Australian National University. What will be the total final commitment of the nation on that project? We have been given no information to indicate the extent of that commitment. A public accounts committee could no doubt discover the exact nature of the policy in relation to the project, and ensure some degree of consistency in it over a long period, so that it would not be affected by periodical changes of government. The same consideration would apply in relation to other national matters. The Estimates provide for the expenditure of £350,000 to be expended on actual works connected with our offices overseas. Perhaps the Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) know the full facts regarding that matter, but 1 doubt whether many other honorable members are familiar with them.
I am glad that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) is at the table to hear my remarks on the Estimates for his department, which include an item of £1,000,000 for sites in capital cities. I have no doubt that the purchase or renting of those sites is necessary, but most of the honorable members whose electorates are contiguous to the various capital cities would like to know, in advance, the nature of the programme, and the locations on which it is proposed to build public offices. If such information were placed before us we should appreciate the position more clearly. Proposed expenditure in relation to civil aviation works is £4,600,000. I have no doubt that the proposed expenditures that I have mentioned are necessary, but we should know more about them. The amount proposed to be expended in relation to actual works connected with the immigration programme is £2,200,000. I believe that such an expenditure is justified, even though I do not know exactly how and where the money is to be spent.
I turn now to the proposed expenditure in relation to the Department of National Development, and I shall direct my remarks to the subject of the Joint Coal Board. That organization was established during the last war, and is controlled by the Commonwealth in association, and by agreement, with the New South Wales Government. New South Wales is the greatest coal-producing State of the Commonwealth, but it is not the only important coal-producer nor is it the only State that has great deposits of coal. Queensland also has rich coal deposits, many of which have not yet been surveyed. I believe that when the Joint Coal Board was established it was intended to deal with emergent ‘ conditions in war-time and immediately after the war as they arose. There is no doubt that the coal-mining industry was sick at the time of the establishment of the board, and that mining for coal was not a profitable venture. Some stimulation was needed to bring our coal mines up to modern world standards. I do not contend that the original decision to establish the board was not correct, but I do say that it has proved to be in line with the other activities undertaken by governments, whatever their political colour. The tendency of governments is always to establish bigger, better and more costly departments. I believe that whilst a board of a similar character to that of the Joint Coal Board might well serve a useful purpose in the future, we should not allow the present board to grow into a mighty organization upon which a great amount of capital will be expended. The Government has already invested an immense amount of money in this organization, yet the activities of the board are duplicated by a State authority that was established in New South Wales, the State which is our partner in the control of the board. We know little of this State organization. We cannot find out even the location of its head-quarters. The former Deputy Premier of New South Wales’, Mr. Baddeley, who is the head of the State organization, can never be found. The Sta:e coal authority also costs a lot of money. I do not wish honorable members to misunderstand me. I do not contend that the coal industry should not be investigated, or that the Commonwealth should not take part in such investigations; but there is, in my opinion, a serious danger that a body such as the Joint Coal Board could grow into a great octopus with monopolistic powers. There are private organizations in this country which are very well capable of mining the coal that the nation needs provided they receive government assistance, where necessary, and such guidance as the respective governments can give them. We know that the Joint Coal Board is, in fact, itself becoming a considerable owner of coal mines in its own right or through subsidiary companies. I direct the Government’s attention to that fact because I do not like to see this over-development of huge departments which are extremely costly to the nation. I do not wish that statement to be taken as a criticism of any particular person, because the present Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), in whose province the Joint Coal Board lies, has done a magnificent job for Australia in relation to the provision of coal at a time when it was sadly needed.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The honorable members time has expired.
.- As usual, the most uninteresting honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), who shows little or no interest in national problems, has raved about an unimportant matter. All that we ever hear from him is abuse of good administrations that have saved this country in time of crisis. The honorable member has given this Government a boost over its immigration programme. He has said - but he is the only one who has said it - that the Government is to be commended in this respect. I contend that the Government has destroyed the wholefabric of the immigration programme. Immigrants are irritated, and confused, and are beset by fears and worries. They do not know where they are. Every day, honorable members who represent electorates in which immigrant hostels are situated, receive complaints from representatives of committees and other welfare organizations set up by the inhabitants of those hostels, about all kinds of irritations. Many of the immigrants are out of work. A cardinal feature of the Chifley Government’s immigration policy was the maintenance of full employment in this country. Steps were taken to ensure that all immigrants were corn.porta bly housed, well fed, and well paid for the continuous employment that they were able to enjoy. But what do we find to-day? Despite the Government’s cry that this country is in need of skilled workers, immigrant artisans are unable to find employment in the metropolitan areas or in the country towns in which hostels are situated. Immigrants generally, are sick and tired of this Government, its Ministers, .and its administration, including Commonwealth Hostels Limited, the organization that has been set up to control immigrant establishments. Indeed, many of them are so fed up that they want to return to their homeland. The Government lacks the- organizing ability that is inherent in the Labour party. The record of this so-called “ businessmen’s Government “ is such that no businessman in this country can continue to have any faith in it. The Australian people are crying out for good administrators and organizers, and these are only to be found in a Labour government.
The proposed vote for the Department of Shipping and Transport includes the sum of £4,000,000 for the construction of ships but, appended to that item, is the note “less amount recoverable from sale of ships, £3,000,000 “. I am most intrigued about this matter. Where is this mysterious £3,000,000 to come from ? What is being covered up? Many rumours are current about the sale of Commonwealth-owned vessels; is this £3,000,000 the promised, deposit on that sale? If so, will the deposit become the final payment as it did when the Australian. Commonwealth Line of Steamers was sold in the 1920’s? We know what to expect when an anti-Labour government starts to handle the assets of the people. These assets are passed over to the Government’s friends for a nominal initial payment and, after the incident has been forgotten by most people, further payments are conveniently overlooked. Can the Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes), who is at the table now, tell us anything about this £3,000,000? What ships have been sold or axe to be sold? .
– One million seven hundred a:nd fifty thousand pounds of that money was obtained last year.
– The Minister should put his glasses on and read the item again. The sum of £3,000,000, which is described as “recoverable from sale of ships “., is for the year 1952-53. I should: like to know whether the Government hasalready sold some ships and is deceivingthe people of Australia, or whether this- £3,000,000 is a deposit on an intended! sate. I am concerned about this matter for various reasons. The first reason isthat unemployment is already reaching serious proportions in the shipbuilding industry. Last week-end, and on Monday r I walked around the waterfront and T found that quite a number of shipbuilders were looking for work. I waa disturbed to find thai the unemployment, extended to 34 unions. I emphasize that my information was obtained from mem with whom I worked for years. Many of them are looking for jobs. I was told by the proprietor of an engineering company in Sussex-lane, Sydney, that conditions to-day were worse than they were in 1932.
– A business man, I expect ?
– Yes. Several people told me that employment conditions on the waterfront to-day were worse than, they were in 1932, and I know how bad they were then. In those days we walked the “ hungry mile “ in Sussex-street,, day after day, year in year out, looking for work - looking for ships that never came in because they were going straight upthe coast and off to Yokahama where they were being repaired by cheap labour. Qf course, this Government is the apostle of’ that section of the community which believes in. employing cheap labour wherever possible. It does not carewhether the labour is black, brown, or brindle, so long as it is cheap; and as surely as the sun will, rise to-morrow, once the Commonwealth-owned ships havebeen sold, they will be repaired in. Yokahama. and Hong. Kong, thus destroying the efficiency of Australian dockyards, including those at CockatooIsland, Maryborough, Williamstown, and1 Garden Island, which form such a vital’ part of our defence industrial potential.. As, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) pointed out in thi?House recently, artisans are already being- dismissed at Garden Island. What a state of affairs to exist at a time when honorable members opposite, who continually decry the patriotism of members of the Opposition, are constantly saying r.hat already we are vir tually at grips with the enemy ! We read scare headlines in the daily press about submarines near our shores, yet this Government is endangering the future of our maritime industries. Thousands of men from the heavy industries will be dispersed throughout the Commonwealth, and should an emergency arise, it would take many months to bring them together again. Is it any wonder that we are disturbed? Men who have worked in these industries for many years can see only one outcome of the present trend, and that is a return to the depression days <“>f the early 1930’s. The Government apparently has set its mind upon bringing about a depression in the heavy industries. Those industries will be destroyed. I see again all the elements of the picture that confronted us in 1929, just before I was thrown on the dole.
– Another government was then in power.
– The Minister for the Interior, who interjects, has never lacked the wherewithal to line his insides ; but I have gone short of a meal on many occasions, and I have joined hundreds of thousands of my fellow Australians in dole queues. To-day, workless people in the community, men and women, are queueing up at the offices of benevolent societies and charitable institutions, and at churches where hand-outs are given to the needy. They have not the wherewithal to feed and clothe themselves.
– The deposits in the savings banks have been increased by (.8,000,000.
– Inflation results in the transference of money from the many to the few. We are passing through that stage now. Do the Korean veterans have money in the bank ? Recently I appealed to the Minister to find a job for a veteran from the Korean war. Did the honorable gentleman obtain a job for the man ? He asked me to give him the man’s name, but when I supplied it he promptly forgot nil about the matter.
– Has the honorable member ever been interested in the armed services ?
– I am interested in Australia.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order I The honorable member had better be interested in the Works Estimates.
– I am interested in the sale of the Commonwealth ships - those mysterious ships that are mentioned in the Estimates- for £3,000,000. In spite of that sale, provision of £1,000,000 has been made for the purchase of ships from overseas. The Government knows very well that those ships will also be sold. The transaction is bound up in the availability of dollars for the purchase of ships. Certain shipowners who operate in the Australian coastal trade have been unable to obtain dollars for the purchase of ships, and the Government proposes to purchase ships valued at £1,000,000, or 2,000,000 dollars, with the intention to resell them to the shipowners. This is a snide transaction. To use a good Australian expression, this Government, ever since it has been in office, has been “ crook “. I make that charge deliberately.
– I rise to order. I do not mind frank criticism of the Government, but the statement that the Government is “crook” should be withdrawn.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - I uphold the point of order. The honorable member must withdraw the expression to which exception has been taken.
– Then I shall substitute for it another good Australian word and say that the Government is “ crooked “.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order 1 The honorable member must withdraw the offensive term without evasion.
– I withdraw it and 1 say that the Government has not taken one straightforward or honest action.
– I again rise to order. As I have said, I do not object to straightforward criticism, but I do not think that the honorable member should be permitted to say that the Government has not taken one straightforward or honest action.
– I invite the Minister to name one straightforward and honest action that the Government has taken.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order ! When an honorable member objects to a statement made by another honorable member it is customary for that statement to be withdrawn.
– To what statement has the Minister objected?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- He has objected to the imputation of dishonesty against the Government by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin). Let there be no evasion about this matter.
– There need be no evasion. Every one knows that what the honorable member for Watson has said is true.
– The Government has not acted in a straightforward manner in the matter of the sale of government ships or in the handling of the finances of the Commonwealth Bank. All over Australia the people’s hands are raised against the Government. They are waiting for an opportunity to get rid of it and when the appropriate time comes the Government will go out of office never again to disgrace the Government benches in this National Parliament.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN.- Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I shall hot waste the brief time at my disposal by replying to the remarks of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin), other than to say that if he cares to examine the legislation passed by a government of his own political colour he will ascertain the reason for the item “ Less amount recoverable from sale of ships, £3,000,000”, to which he has referred. Nevertheless, it is gratifying to learn that at least one Opposition member appears to support a proposal that the ships built by the Australian Shipbuilding Board should be given away rather than sold. The Western Australian Government would certainly be glad to receive a refund of the amount paid by it to the Board recently for the motorship Kabbarli.
I rise principally to comment upon the remarks made by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) in regard to the construction of the permanent repatriation building in Perth. As the honorable member’s statements were, in some respects, very much wide of the mark, I propose to state briefly the history of that proposal. In 1947, after the termination of hostilities, the Public Works Committee recommended to the Parliament that a new repatriation building be built on a site located at the corner of William-street and Bazaar-terrace. Honorable members will recall that the health authorities, the Repatriation Commission and Commonwealth departments associated with the commission had reported adversely upon the conditions under which the officers of the Perth branch of the Repatriation Commission were working, but that, because of the serious housing situation, the State Government requested the Commonwealth not to proceed with the project. It will be recalled at that time that the State governments controlled the supply of building materials. Later, on the 7tb November, 1949, the then Minisiter for the Interior, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) approved the purchase of a block of land upon which the erection of a temporary building was proposed, subject to the provision of the requisite funds. Before the matter had been completed there was a change of government, but the new Minister for the Interior, the present Minister for Defence (Mr. McBride) decided to go on with the proposal. Objections to the proposal were made by many persona, including the honorable member for Perth and ail kinds of alternative wildcat schemes were submitted to the Government. The Lord Mayor of Perth, whose views have been introduced into this discussion by the honorable member for Perth suggested that the Commonwealth should acquire land in one of the unsavoury quarters of Perth in which houses of ill-fame are located. Would ex-servicemen like to know that their female relatives had to work in a building located in such a quarter? The Lord Mayor of Perth asked why the officers, of the Department of Repatriation should need a building on Terrace-drive other than to enable them to see the yacht races on the glorious Swan River. Finally, tha Premier of “Western Australia interviewed the Minister for the Interior with a view to ascertaining whether it would be possible to obtain an alternative property. A conference was convened to consider the matter. I was invited by the Minister to attend it as his representative. The consensus of opinion among those present at the conference, including representatives of the Department of Works, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Repatriation, the Department of Health, the Perth City Council and the State Government, was that a permanent building should be erected as early as possible. The State Government had requested the Commonwealth not to proceed with the construction of the permanent building because of the shortage of materials and labour. At the same conference, we were faced with other problems. For instance, what could the Commonwealth do in the immediate future to accommodate officers of the Repatriation Department under reasonable working conditions? The conference agreed that the Commonwealth should erect a temporary building and that when the proposed permanent building bad been completed to the third floor officers employed in the temporary building should be transferred to it. This Government never intended to leave the temporary structure remain on that site after it had served that purpose. The temporary structure was to be of a type that could readily be moved to another site. Next, when the State Government was requested to lift some of its controls over building materials, it replied to the effect that the permanent building should be erected, but that it would consent to such work being undertaken only if all the requisite material and labour were imported.
Thus, the Commonwealth found itself back in the position, from which it had started. In a further endeavour to overcome the difficulty an approach was made to the State Minister for Lands, of whom the Commonwealth requested that it be given a tenure for ten years of an allotment that adjoins the present repatriation offices and is owned by the State Gardens Board. It was hoped to erect on that site a prefabricated building to serve as temporary office accommodation until the permanent building was completed. The Commonwealth received the all-clear from the Western Australian Cabinet to go ahead with that temporary building, but when the Perth City Council discovered that the building was to be only a temporary structure the Lord Mayor of Perth called a conference to review the matter. I attended that conference, not as a representative of this Government, as the honorable member for Perth suggested, but as a member of this Parliament. That conference agreed, without taking a vote, that representations .should be made to the Minister for the Interior to commence the construction of the permanent building, and such representations were made in due course. However, commencement of the work would involve removal of the Customs House, which now occupies the land in question ; and the Commonwealth survey and property officer in Western Australia disclosed that he had had difficulty with land-owners and local government authorities in finding a new site for that building. An effort was made to obtain a site at Nedlands, but the owner of the land that was chosen for this purpose did not desire to dispose of it whilst the local government authority refused to grant a permit for the proposed building which, although small, would have been quite respectable. In addition, as it was necessary that the Customs House should be situated within half a mile of a highway or railway, it was not easy to find a suitable site to which to remove the building. Ultimately, such a site was found in the Claremont municipality. The owner of the land was prepared to sell it, but the Claremont Municipal Council objected to the construction of the Customs House in that area.
I remind the honorable member for Perth that at the earlier conference to which I have referred the local government authorities concerned promised to. help the Department of the Interior in this matter, but I have yet to learn that they have lifted a finger to do so. The
Commonwealth, now has in Perth a prefabricated building ready to be erected on the allotment owned by the State Gardens Board which is situated behind the repatriation offices. If that building were erected it would provide sufficient accommodation for repatriation officers to enable additional office accommodation to be made available to private enterprise. But, again, the Commonwealth met with opposition from the Lord Mayor of Perth who threatened to withdraw his support from the State Government if it permitted the Commonwealth to proceed with its proposal. A few days ago, I interviewed the Minister for “Works and told him frankly that we had reached the stage that we should have no alternative but to defy the State Government and proceed with the construction of the new permanent building which, as it would be of concrete, would not make substantial demands upon the local supply of materials but, nevertheless, would make calls upon the available labour force. Although it is claimed that bricks are in plentiful supply in the eastern States, they are very difficult to obtain in Perth. The State brickworks cannot supply orders in less than twelve months even in respect of structures for which a prior permit has been given over ordinary house construction. Private brick-makers in Western Australia are in a similar position. That is the story of the position that now exists in relation to the provision of additional accommodation for officers of the Repatriation Department in Perth. I believe that the Commonwealth will have no alternative but to go right ahead with the construction of the new building regardless of the objections that the State Government or the Perth City Council have raised. I repeat that repatriation officers are working under disgraceful conditions in the existing building, and that every one who has dealings with the department complain about those conditions.
The honorable member for Perth referred generally to the erection of temporary buildings in Perth. A temporary building of the “ H “ type, similar to government offices at the rear of the Hotel Kurrajong, in Canberra, which are on concrete foundations, is being erected in “Wellington-street opposite Wellingtonsquare. I trust that the Minister for Works will press forward with that building. The Postal Department also is erecting temporary buildings on various sites in Perth. When the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) visited Perth recently he conferred with the Lord Mayor in company with the Commonwealth Deputy Director of Works. The Lord Mayor suggested that the departmental buildings should be of brick, and when the Deputy Director informed the chairman of the building committee of the Perth City Council that he could not obtain bricks for that purpose he was merely told that plenty of bricks were available. The Deputy Director replied that the Commonwealth could not go on the black market to get bricks. I say plainly, although it may sound strange to honorable members from the eastern States, that it is most difficult to obtain building materials in Perth. If brickworks in the eastern States could make supplies available to Western Australia they would be welcomed, provided that the freight charges were not exorbitant. I have been prompted to make these remarks by what the honorable member for Perth has stated. I hope that the Government will go ahead with the construction of the building, because we have a responsibility to provide the officers of the Repatriation Commission with adequate accommodation in which to perform their duties.
– I shall confine my remarks to matters of national interest and of considerable importance to South Australia. The proposed vote makes provision for a special appropriation of £2,000,000 in connexion with the construction of the Brachina to Leigh Creek North Coalfield railway. As honorable members are a ware, there has been considerable expenditure on the development of the Leigh Creek coal-field during the last six or seven years. Great credit is due to the Chifley Government for the financial assistance that it provided in that connexion.. It would appear, from the remarks of the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), that the South Australian authorities have been more successful in building power-houses than have the New South Wales authorities. However, if we are to be enabled to utilize fully the additional generating equipment that has been installed, an adequate supply of coal must be available. Efforts should be made to complete as quickly as possible the proposed railway line from Leigh Creek to Port Augusta. There is at present a 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railway line to Port Augusta, where millions of pounds are being expended on the construction of a huge power-house. There is a difference of opinion on whether the proposed new railway line should follow the route of the old line through Quorn, and & committee was appointed to make a recommendation in this connexion. This has been done. I appeal to the Government to push on with the new railway line during the present year. It is one thing to make provision in the Estimates for capital expenditure, but quite another thing actually to push on with the work. [ remind the committee that only £549,120 of last year’s vote of £2,000,000 for this work was expended. Due to the unfortunate incidence of unemployment, men are now available for the work, and [ understand that supplies of material are also available.
– Hear, hear !
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) says, “ Hear, hear.” When he was Minister for Transport in the former Labour Government he very enthusiastically supported the proposal to effect standardization of the Australian railway systems. I know that the honorable member will be pleased that the construction of the new railway will be a step in that direction.
– The honorable member will get on!
– I am not so much concerned that I, myself, should get on, as that the Government should get on with its work.
I shall refer now to a matter that was mentioned regularly in this chamber for a. long time, but of which we have not heard very much lately. As other honorable members have pointed out, the Government should endeavour to overtake the lag in the provision of new telephone exchanges, additional post offices and other postal facilities. About six years ago I pressed for the construction of a new post office at Alberton in my electorate. The South Australian Government approved of this building. However, nothing has yet been done in the matter. This is another urgently needed project that would provide employment for many carpenters and bricklayers who are now unemployed.
The proposed vote of £2,770,000 for capital works and services in connexion with immigration includes the provision of £15,000 for buildings, works, fittings and furniture; £285,000 for reception, training and holding centres for the accommodation of immigrants; and £2,200,000 for hostels for immigrant workers. It is indeed extraordinary that such, a large expenditure should be envisaged on the provision of additional hostels for immigrants, in view not only of the curtailment of the immigration programme, but also of the remarks that have been made by members about the closing of a’ hostel for immigrants in New South Wales. I consider that a portion of the proposed expenditure of £2,200,000 on additional hostels should be applied to improve the conditions of immigrants who are already in this country. On a number of occasions the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has directed attention to the desirability of installing kitchenettes at the Gepp’s Cross immigrant hostel in South Australia to enable the immigrants to prepare their own food. In reply to a question that was asked by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) recently, the Minister who is acting for the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Beale), stated that he did not know the view of the South Australian Government on the suggestion. This matter was raised in the South Australian Parliament during last week when, according to a press report, the Premier, Mr. Playford, stated that South Australia would be prepared to erect 400 kitchenettes at the Gepp’s Cross immigrant centre, provided that the Commonwealth undertook to reimburse the State for its expenditure on the work. Mr. Playford also stated that much building material that was already in the Gepp’s Cross area could be utilized for the purpose. As he pointed out, although some of the temporary dwellings that have been constructed in South Australia are below the standard that it is desirable to maintain in this country, nevertheless, they have been the means of enabling many people to obtain homes in which they can live in reasonable conditions. The South Australian News - which is not favorable to Labour - recently stated in a leading article that the immigrants who are already in this country should be provided with their own homes as soon as possible.
Last week, the Minister for Defence (Mr. McBride) made a statement in this chamber in which he inferred that I wanted the Government to give houses to immigrants in preference to our own people. I had not said that. I had said that I wanted flats to be provided for immigrants so that our own people would not be deprived of houses. I hope that the Government will give further consideration to this matter. I know the departmental opinion concerning it. Both Labour and Liberal governments have had a tendency to allow the opinions of departmental officers to influence their policy. The officers of the Department of Immigration have stated that if the hostels are converted into flats the immigrants who live in them will not want to leave and obtain other houses. That viewpoint has gradually been accepted by the Government. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) did not institute the practice of accommodating British tradesmen in hostels for long periods when he was Minister for Immigration. It is true that he permitted European immigrants who had come from refugee camps to remain in hostels for some time. Those people had been accustomed to such living conditions. The honorable member for Melbourne never contemplated asking immigrants who had been used to ordinary living conditions in England to live in hostels for any long period. If the department cannot convert every hostel into flats it should, at least, convert some of them.
The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) has stated that some immigrants pre- fer to have their meals supplied at the hostels. If that be so the Government should provide both hostels where immigrants can be supplied with meals and others where they ‘ will have facilities for preparing their own meals. Not a week goes past without my receiving letters from people who live in hostels in my State and also other people who know the conditions under which the immigrants are living, asking that this matter be given further consideration. I should like the Government to put an end to the great discontent of these people. I consider that whatever government is in power it is the duty of those honorable members who represent these people to endeavour to obtain better accommodation for them and to provide them with an opportunity to live in the Australian way of life. When government departments were first brought to this city-
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I desire to refer to the proposed vote of £251,000 for broadcasting services. A considerable amount of this money will be expended on the broadcasting of the proceedings of this Parliament. I think that some examination should be made of the result of broadcasting these proceedings in order to determine whether the broadcasts should be continued and, if so, whether they should be continued in their present form. It is arguable whether the broadcasting of the. proceedings of the Parliament has been good for the parliamentary institution or not. Broadcasting undoubtedly upsets the routine of the Parliament. Debates are adjourned in order that important speeches may be made by Ministers or the Leader of the Opposition at the popular broadcasting hour of 8 p.m. In this way the proceedings are delayed and the routine of business is changed. Then, of course, there is a great deal of “ playing up “ to the microphones. I am sure that no observer of the parliamentary scene would contend for a moment that a lot of undue attention is not given by honorable members to the listening public. I am sure that those honorable members who entered this chamber after the general election of 1949 will remember an impassioned appeal that was made to the mothers of Australia by one honorable member. I believe that such incidents militate against the interests of the democratic parliamentary institution. On the other hand, the broadcasting of the proceedings of the Parliament undoubtedly increases the genera] public’s awareness of the political scene, and I consider that to be good for our democratic institutions. Those who have had longer experience of the Parliament than I have had have said that the broadcasting of its proceedings has tended to raise the standard of debate and behaviour in this chamber. If that be the case I shudder to think what might have been had broadcasts not been introduced.
Whether parliamentary broadcasts be good or bad, we might also examine their effect on the provision of a balanced broadcasting service for the Australian public. It is quite apparent that national broadcasting services must have at least two programmes. At page 4 of the nineteenth annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission the following statement appeared :-
Our obligation to provide the best service to the community through the broadcasting medium brings quite clearly to light the inescapable fact that the distinctive tastes of the community require at least two programmes for’ their satisfaction. Since, in 1!)47, we inaugurated two programmes at different levels of appreciation, our experience has further impressed us with the soundness of this method, not as a means of dividing the community into two watertight radio audiences, but as an inevitable approach to existing differences in taste, with a view to introducing listeners in both categories to higher standards both of culture and entertainment.
The report mentioned that during that period of the year when the Parliament was sitting one station of the national service in each State was almost wholly occupied with the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings. This, in the words of the report, -
The Commission Iws given a great deal of thought to this problem, which it regards as fundamental to its task, and has reached the conclusion that the only satisfactory solution is to provide a third channel in the National Service.
The report continued -
Accordingly, the Commission has requested the Broadcasting Control Board, which under the act is the statutory authority controlling the allocation of frequencies, to explore the possibilities of such a development.
There are many people who claim that listening to the proceedings of the Parliament is neither edifying nor instructive. Some time ago I asked the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) whether a third line could be provided so that those who did not want to listen to parliamentary debates could have a choice of two other programmes. The Postmaster-General replied to the effect that he would not agree to establish a third line until all listeners in the Commonwealth were adequately catered for by at least one programme. That is an understandable viewpoint and it is expressed in greater detail in the third annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, at page 8 of which the board detailed its plans for the development of the national broadcasting service. These are aimed at achieving four objectives : First, to extend the coverage of medium frequency national stations so that there will be satisfactory day and night reception for listeners throughout the Commonwealth, except those in distant or isolated areas; secondly, to provide the great majority of listeners who are outside the primary coverage of the two national stations, with satisfactory night reception of alternative programmes; thirdly, to provide a higher signal to noise ratio; and fourthly, to protect Australian listeners from interference with their services by broadcasts in neighbouring countries. Those four objectives can be summarized by saying that the object of the board is to give to existing stations greater power, wider coverage and better reception.
It may be asked whether those objectives can be attained by a further development of the possibilities of the medium frequency field. I am sure that the capabilities of the system of frequency modulation in this country must be examined as a matter of urgency. The medium frequency band is very limited in the number of services that can be allotted within it. Great problems of interference between one station and another, and between stations in different countries, must be overcome. If use be made of the very high frequency band, it will be found that an unlimited number of services can be provided in that band without interference. If a frequency modulation service were established in Australia it could be used to broadcast parliamentary proceedings while the Parliament is in session, and as a vehicle for cultural and technical broadcasts at other times. I have in mind a programme of the type that is broadcast in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s third programme.
It is true that .there would he some technical difficulties associated with the introduction of frequency modulation. The very high frequencies required can be transmitted only in a direct line, like the line of vision. Such broadcasting would require subsidiary transmitting stations. Those stations could be unattended or slave stations, and I have been assured that they would not be costly. The terrain of Australia is very suitable for the establishment of re- transmitting services. “We have wide plains and very few mountain ranges. Compared with the cost of installation in more rugged country, the erection of re-transmitting stations in Australia would be much less. There would also need to be a modification of existing receiving sets, but I have been advised that such modification would be simple and relatively inexpensive. In any case we cannot forever turn our backs on technical discovery and progress. We cannot forever live in the past, and when science moves forward we cannot isolate ourselves from the results of its work. An examination of the third report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will show that our broadcasting services are advancing very slowly and that in fact our efficiency is lagging behind in relation to the standards of the other countries of the world. At page 12 of that report, some reference is made to the progress that has been achieved in Great Britain and the United
States of America through the installation of a system of frequency modulation. Then the report states -
The matter is, however, one which must be very exhaustively considered from both the technical and economic angles.
A system of television has been used in Great Britain since before the last war, and frequency modulation is an essential part of its present television system. In the United States of America frequency modulation has been in use for more than five years. One is justified in asking how many years must pass in exhaustive examination before the point of exhaustion is reached, and whether these suggestions of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board are merely a means of shelving the problem. Technical advice is given to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the Australian Broadcasting Commission by the technical services of the Postal Department. Sometimes one is led to ask whether the technical advisers in that department, because of their concentration on the meticulous examination of an obsolete system while ignoring the advantages of the more advanced system, are not living in an outmoded past. Another important reason why frequency modulation .should be quickly introduced is that it paves the way for television, and that a television system would be of tremendous importance to our national defence. I know that certain social problems would be associated with the introduction of television into Australia. Indeed, as the parent of young children I hesitate to think of the increased difficulties of bringing up children which a television set in the home would introduce. I am inclined to think that the social problems are such that a high degree of control over television services by an independent government authority would be justified. But the importance of a television system in Australia is so great for the defence of this country in time of war that its introduction should be no longer delayed. Unless we have a television service we shall not have sufficient trained technicians able to manufacture and service component parts of the electrical equipment used in television sets upon which our defence services will depend so greatly in any future war. I hope that the Minister will direct an immediate examination of the possibility of installing frequency modulation broadcasting in Australia and thus pave the way for the introduction of television. Such an action by the Minister would almost immediately increase the number of trained technical personnel, who would be of great use in war. It would also provide a means for those who cannot bear listening to the proceedings of this Parliament to avoid so doing by having a choice of programmes.
. - This chamber is at present considering an appropriation of £106,613,000 for capital works and services. I direct the attention of honorable members to the significant fact that this vast sum is to be appropriated out of the ordinary annual revenues. This money is to be appropriated for works which, in ordinary circumstances, might ‘have been financed from loan funds. An examination of the items reveals one sum of £28,000,000 that is proposed to be appropriated for war .service homes and another sum of £13,600,000 that is proposed to be appropriated for the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric project. Those are two examples of expenditure that normally might have been financed from loan funds instead of from revenue.
Financially, the Commonwealth is in a very fortunate situation whereas the States are in an extremely difficult situation. From the point of view of public finance, there can be no objection to the financing of .works of a long-term character, the benefits1 of which will last for more than one yea.r, from the annual appropriations of revenue. Nevertheless,’ this represents a significant departure from practice. The subject is dealt with in an appendix to the recently issued annual report of the Auditor-General. Appendix E of that report refers to the interpretation of the words “ ordinary annual services of the Government” in section 54 of the ‘Constitution. Apparently it had been pointed out to the Auditor-General that some of the amounts that were being expended as a part of the annual outlay of the Government were not, perhaps, legitimate items of expenditure from revenue so much as items of capital expenditure. It was suggested that this method of finance might infringe the provisions of section 54 of the Constitution. The Auditor-General sought an opinion from the Solicitor-General, and that opinion is contained in appendix E. The Solicitor-General came to the conclusion, which I believe to be correct, that it is impossible to draw a fine distinction between normal annual outgoings on the one hand, and items that might be considered, from an accounting point of view, to be items of capital expenditure on the other hand. I repeat that this Government is in a more fortunate situation than are the State governments. The Government has decided that it will allot £106,613,000 from its revenue of £959,890,000 this year for the purposes of what normally might be regarded as items of capital expenditure. The States, however, must appeal to the Commonwealth for revenue, and the amounts that they receive for works involving capital expenditure will be determined only after haggling at meetings of the Australian Loan Council.
There is no means of determining whether the capital works that the Government .proposes to finance from revenue are, from a national point of view, more important than are some of the works of the States, which have to go short of funds. This Government has no difficulty, for instance, in increasing expenditure this year on the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric project, which cost £10,393;000 in 1951-52. The Government proposes to expend £13,600 000, on the undertaking this year. That proposed increase does not have to receive the approval of the Australian Loan Council. The State Electricity Commission of Victoria would welcome an increment of £3,000,000 this year, but it has no sources of revenue to which it can turn as has the Australian Government Consideration of this state of affairs brings to mind the interesting situation that will arise as a result of the vaunted decision of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to return to the State governments the taxing powers that they surrendered under the uniform tax system. He has told them that their powers will he restored to them, but he has not told them how much the Commonwealth’s commitments are likely to be. The amount of revenue that is required annually by this Government seems to be the subject of a rather flexible arrangement that depends on the decision whether amounts such as the proposed vote of £106,613,000 shall be deemed to be expendable from revenue instead of from loan receipts. The decision on that issue has a very important effect on the Commonwealth financial picture.
The State governments should ask the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to answer a number of important questions before they accept the offer to return to them the power to collect income tax. They should ask him whether the Commonwealth proposes to take the first bite from the cherry. Prior to the introduction of the uniform tax system, the States first levied their taxes and the Commonwealth then levied tax on the amounts that remained with the taxpayers.’ I believe that the Commonwealth will riot reintroduce that system and that it will levy its tax first and allow the States to impose their taxes on the amounts that are left in the hands of the taxpayers. The States also should ask the Treasurer whether the Commonwealth will be content with the revenue that it collects at present or whether it will seek to increase its collections in the future. In other words, will the Commonwealth require for its own purposes a greater proportion of income tax revenue than it uses at present? The answers to these questions are of great significance, and the State governments should obtain clear answers from the Treasurer before they agree to accept the return of their former taxing powers. Those powers will be of no use to them if the Commonwealth first taxes the people to the limit of their ability to pay. I have raised this matter as one of great importance and urgency because of the flexible methods of finance that this Government seems to have adopted. Items that may appear in the loan programme in one year are likely to appear in the revenue programme in the succeeding year. The methods that are adopted by this Government are of great importance to the States. I urge the State governments to reflect carefully on this matter before they put their necks into the noose that has been held out to them so enticingly by the Prime Minister.
– Many of the matters that have been raised by various honorable members during the discussion of the proposed vote for Additions, New Works and other Services involving Capital Expenditure do not call for a specific reply. However, the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) chose to make certain charges against the Government which, I believe, resulted from his ignorance of parliamentary practice and procedure. Had he been more experienced than he is, he would have realized that it is very foolish to make such charges unless they are based on facts. He saw in the Estimates an item of £3,000,000, for the sale of ships, and he immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Government proposed to sell the ships that had been built for it and, to use his own words, “ to close down the maritime industry “. He then saw another item of £1,000,000 for the purchase of ships overseas, and jumped to the further conclusion that the Government proposed to purchase ships from the United States of America with dollars, which are not available to private shipowners, in order to sell the vessels to private owners. There are plenty of differences of opinion between honorable members on both sides of the chamber on important issues that can give rise to straight-forward hardhitting debates. An honorable member who makes charges that have no foundation in fact, in the belief that Ministers are uninformed about the Estimates, is certain to cause himself embarrassment.
The item of £3,000,000 for the sale of ships refers to the sale of ships that are already under construction in our ship-yards. The honorable member for Watson will doubtless recall that, under legislation enacted after World War II., when a Labour Government was in office, no private shipowner is permitted to purchase a ship overseas or have a ship built overseas without the permission of the
Minister for Shipping and Transport. Whether or not the provisions of that act have had any bearing on the issue that we are now discussing, the fact remains that the orders to which the item of £3,000,000 refers were placed with the ship-yards by private companies. The ships that are covered by the amount of £3,000,000 are as follows: Four iron ore carriers for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited; one steamer aargo vessel for Huddart Parker Limited ; a motor coilier for Mcllwraith, McEacharn Limited; one cargo vessel for the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Limited; and one B-class motor ship for Macdonald Hamilton and Company. An amount of £300,000 is the balance of payment for Kabbarli, which was sold to the Western Australian Government. All those ships are at present under construction. I think that the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) asked for information about the value of orders that are now placed with shipbuilding yards.
–I did not request that information.
– Then it was sought by another Opposition member. The total estimated carry-over of orders from 1951-52 is to the value of £18.580,000. The ships are now under construction in the various dockyards.
– We know all about that.
– Apparently the honorable member did not know all about it when he made baseless charges against the Government about all sorts of things.
– The Minister has not answered my charges.
– I have answered them. This is a straightout item in the Estimates concerning the sale of ships that are under construction as the result of orders placed by various shipping companies.
– Will the Minister give to honorable members some information about the Government’s proposals for the sale of the Commonwealth-owned fleet?
– The policy of the Government regarding Commonwealthowned ships is a different matter, and was not raised by the honorable member for Watson, who drew an entirely false deduction from a simple item in the Estimates. Evidently, the honorable member considered that the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport in this chamber, Mr. Hasluck, would not have any information about the item, and would not know where to obtain it.
– The Minister is not telling the truth now.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN. - Order !
– The honorable member for Watson should be asked to withdraw that statement.
– I have already asked that the honorable member be required to withdraw similar statements, and I do not intend to persist with such requests. If the honorable gentleman does not know how to conduct himself in the chamber, I shall disregard his behaviour.
– Will the Minister give to the committee some information about the prices that the shipping companies are paying for the vessels?
– I am giving an answer to the baseless charges made by the honorable gentleman against the Government and founded on what he said was a fact in the Estimates. Obviously, he does not like my reply.
– Will the Minister now tell us what is the policy of the Government regarding the disposal of Commonwealthowned ships?
– I propose to give to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) some information about the purchase of ships from overseas sources. The honorable member for Watson made another accusation regarding that matter. He claimed that the Government used dollars in order to purchase ships, so that it could sell those vessels to private shipping companies.
– That is true.
– I wish that the honorable member could get into Mb thick skull
– The Minister should not be personal.
– If the honorable member for Watson is too obtuse to absorb simple facts, I cannot help him. I notice that the honorable member for East Sydney is counting the number of honorable gentlemen in the chamber, apparently with a view to directing attention to the state of the committee. I point out that only a few members of the Labour party are present. The ships to which the honorable member for Watson referred were purchased from the sterling area, and no dollars were involved in the transaction.
– I direct attention to the state of the committee. [Quorum formed.]
– If the honorable member for Watson or any other honorable member requires information about where the ships were built and bought, I shall be only too pleased to supply the details to him. There is nothing underhand about the matter. Everything is straightforward and clear. Even if the honorable member for Watson is not convinced, I am sure that any reasonable elector will be satisfied with my explanation.
I now propose to deal with other matters that have been raised in this debate. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) sought information about the Brachina to Leigh Creek North Coal-field railway. I assure him that the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the South Australian Government, is pushing on with that work.
– A section of the route has been in dispute. Has that difficulty been resolved?
– I understand that a decision has been reached as the result of an investigation by a royal commission, and that the way is now clear for that work, together with the construction of several other standard gauge lines in South Australia itself, to be undertaken. But I am disturbed when I hear some people advocate the construction of 3-ft. 6-in. gauge lines in the Northern Territory and elsewhere.
– That suggestion has been made by some honorable members opposite.
– It has been made by honorable gentlemen on both sides of the chamber and by some persons outside the Parliament, who consider that additional 3-ft. 6-in. gauge railways should be built in Australia. My personal opinion is that no new lines of that gauge should be built in Australia. Railways of the standard gauge of 4 ft. 8$ in. should be constructed in future. For a start, I should like the line from Darwin to Birdum to be revamped, if such be nces.sary. to the 4-ft. 8^-in. gauge. The embankment and the sleepers have already been provided for that width of track, but they have depreciated to some degree and may require a considerable overhaul before the lines can be laid. However, the honorable member for Port Adelaide need have no anxiety about the occurrence of delay in the construction of the Brachina to the Leigh Creek North Coalfield line. One of the reasons why only approximately 50 per cent, of last year’s allocation for that work was expended was the dispute about the route. Matters of this kind often give rise to difficulties. The problem was worked out on the basis that Macarthur-type engines would be used, but suddenly the success of diesel electric locomotives was demonstrated, and it is difficult to know who is right and who is wrong. However, the dispute has been resolved, and I do not think that the work on that line will be delayed.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide also sought information about the works programme for the Department of Immigration. The amount of £15,000 for buildings, works, fittings and furniture, is to cover the normal service that the department has to provide in respect of accommodation for immigrants. An amount of £285,000 has been made available for reception, training and holding centres for the accommodation of immigrants. Most of the accommodation scheduled for construction under this item has already been provided, or is nearing completion. The purpose of the vote is, largely, to enable works that are in various stages of construction to be completed. Provision is also made for a small number of essential new works that are required to improve facilities at some of the existing centres for immigrants. A sum of £2,200,000 is provided for the erection of hostels for immigrant workers, who are employed in essential industries in cities and provincial centres. The details of the works that are to be completed under these items are still under review. The expenditure will probably be directed towards the completion of projects designed to assist production in the coal, steel and other important industries. Some expenditure will be incurred on the improvement of living conditions at some hostels that have already been completed and are now occupied. This allocation is not for the construction of new hostels ; the money is required for * the completion of hostels that are already under construction, and possibly for one or two small ones to accommodate labour to be engaged in essential industries. My principal purpose in participating in this debate was to reply to the statements of the honorable member for “Watson. Having achieved that purpose, I shall leave the other matters that have been raised to be dealt with at another time.
.- Mr. Deputy Chairman–
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That the following resolution be reported to the House: -
That, including the sum already voted for such services, there be granted to Her Majesty a sum not exceeding £100,003,000 for the service of the year 1952-53, for the purposes of Additions, New Works and other Services involving Capital Expenditure, viz.: -
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
Motion (by Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to -
That, towards making good the Supply granted to Her Majesty for Additions, New Works and other Services involving Capital Expenditure for the year 1952-53, there be granted out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum not exceeding£63,499,000.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Sir Arthur Fadden and Mr. Eric J. Harrison do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir Arthur Fadden, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Over amendments to the Social Services Consolidation Act, the community is always divided into three sections. Each is just as insistent and emphatic as the other two. We first of all have the taxpayers who clamour for reductions of taxation. In the last analysis, of course, every -penny paid out for pensions or other social services benefits comes out of the pockets of the taxpayer, either directly or indirectly, and we have a constant yet understandable demand for reduced taxation.
Secondly, of course, there is the pension group. Many pensioners have no income at all except the government allowance, and we must have great sympathy with their point of view. Although it is true that a percentage could have been more thrifty, it is equally true that just as many, for a variety of reasons, never had the opportunity to save. They argue, and with a great deal of justice, that in their years of work in the community, humble though that work may have been, they fulfilled their function as good citizens and, therefore, are entitled to a share in whatever degree of national prosperity may exist.
Thirdly, we have that very big section of our people who, after a thrifty life, have savings which debar them from receiving an age pension. Their approach, too, is quite understandable. “Why should people who have refused, or failed, to save during their working lives be the only ones who receive an allowance ? “ they say. “ The present system penalizes thrift. If there is to be any allowance at the age of 60 or 65, then all should enjoy it, not merely those who have made no provision for themselves.”
These, then, are the three groups - one saying, “ Reduce taxation and reduce expenditure “ ; the second saying, “ We must have more spent on us because we need it more than the others “ ; and the third saying, “If there is to be expenditure on all sorts of benefits, all should enjoy them, and we who have saved a little money should not be penalized for our thrift. Somewhere within the three strong divisions of opinion a government must set its course. Clearly, it cannot satisfy all three completely. It can, however, try to arive at some logical and fair assessment - some degree of equity to all the parties concerned.
A government must keep taxes as low as it can. As far as possible it must avoid penalizing the thrifty person, and it must provide for those in need to the full extent of its capacity. The extent to which a government may go is limited in two ways. First, it is limited by the total amount available from revenue. There are few people in Australia to-day who would suggest that more revenue could be raised by taxation. Indeed, there is strong pressure for reduced taxation. Secondly, a government is limited by its other commitments. The huge amount paid out in these days for social services makes it the major budget commitment, and as such it cannot be considered except in the light of the Government’s overall expenditure.
In order to understand how social services expenditure has increased over the years, let us examine some figures. In 1938-39, total expenditure on the various social services was £16,400,000. Expenditure for 1952-53 is estimated at £173,709,000 for a full year. Since the 1st July, 1950, the commencement of the first financial year of this Government’s term, of office, to the end of the current financial year, expenditure on social services will total £416,771,000, an average of nearly £138,924,000 a year. During the preceding three years, the average was £80,731,000 a year, or a total of £242,193,000.
To £142,500,000, the estimated cost for a full year of benefits under the Social Services Consolidation Act alone, we must add the cost of free medical benefits for pensioners estimated at £1,300,000 a year, and the cost of free pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners estimated to cost £360,000 in order to obtain a true picture of what is being done for pensioners and beneficiaries. To obtain a true picture of what has been done, and will be done, for the whole community, we must take into account new benefits such as endowment for the first child, tuberculosis allowances, pharmaceutical benefits, and nutrition of children, in - addition to the proposed medical benefits scheme, which alone is estimated to cost £7,500,000 a year. All these items combined make the estimated expenditure for 1952-53 nearly £27,000,000 more than, it was in 1951-52, or £36,500,000 more for a full year.
It should not be forgotten too, that the Commonwealth returns to the States amounts that make it possible for them to spend approximately £40,000,000 annually on their own social services. Notwithstanding this tremendous growth in expenditure, there has been, not a lessening of demand, but an ever, increasing demand for more and more social services - more services, more benefits, higher payments in every category. In its three budgets, this Government has made increases of no less than £71,375,000, thus increasing the expenditure from the National Welfare Fund from £92,804,000 in 1949-50 to an estimated £164,179,000 in 1952-53. This is over 900 per cent, increase over the whole budget expenditure on social services in 193S-39.
This bill is further evidence of the Government’s intention to liberalize the conditions under which social services are provided, and to increase rates of benefits. Age and invalid pensions will be increased by 7s. 6d. a week at a cost of £S,400,000 a year.- A married couple may now have an income of £9 15s. a week, including their pensions. In addition they, and all other pensioners, receive free medical services and pharmaceutical .benefits, together with hospital benefits for themselves and their dependants.
Leaving age pensions for the moment, let us pass to invalid pensions. At present, the wife of a pensioner may receive an allowance of £1 10s. a week. Under the bill, this will be increased to £1 15s., making a total social services payment of £6 9s. a week to a family with two children. The means test will be liberalized by permitting all pensioners to have additional permissible income of 10s. a week for each dependent child, together with the present permissible income of £.1 10s. a week, before the rate of pension is affected. Thus, an invalid pensioner, his wife, and two children may have a total income of £10 9s. a week, including pension payments.
Widows, who have one or more dependent children, will also receive an increase of 7s. 6d. a week. This will give to such a widow a pension of £3 12s. 6d. a week. In addition, she will receive endowment, and share in the liberalization of permissible income in respect of dependent children. .She may, if she has one child, receive an income of £5 17s. 6d., of which £3 17s. 6d. will be received from the Commonwealth. Other classes of widows - that is, a widow over 50 years of age with no dependent child, a widow in necessitous circumstances - as well as a woman whose husband is in prison, and who is over 50 years of age or who has a dependent child, will have their payments increased up to £2 15s. a week.
These are the increased rates of age, invalid and widows’ pensions provided for in the bill now before the House. Honorable members will appreciate that all persons now in receipt of a pension will receive from the Commonwealth the full amount of the increase. This will be so because the amount which persons may receive both by way of war pension and civil pension will be raised by the full amount of the increases I have indicated. Many persons not now entitled to a pension will become entitled to benefit.
I turn now to other liberalizations of pensions. It is my pleasure to bring in legislation that has been the ardent wish of all of us. For the first time in the history of Commonwealth social services, a pension is to be payable to a class of persons entirely free of a means test. I refer to the payment of a pension of at least £3 a week, free of means test, to all qualified persons in the Commonwealth, sixteen years of age or over, who are permanently blind and who are not in receipt of a war pension for the same disability. A pension of more than £3 up to the maximum rate of £3 7s. 6d. will, of course, be payable to those blind persons who satisfy the existing means test. I have never hesitated to say, both inside and outside this House, that there are many features of the means test on pensions which are repugnant both in themselves and in their effects. Now, at last, we take the first positive step towards their abolition. We take it at a time when there are heavy demands on our resources. In 1952-53 it is estimated that expenditure on defence services will be £200,000,000, on capital works and services £67,374,000, and on war and repatriation services £111,429,000, to mention only some of the major budget items. Despite these and other commitments, all honorable members will agree that not only must we not lag in social development but that it is right and proper that we should take this worthwhile step in regard to the means test.
There will be many persons other than the blind who have awaited such an announcement concerning themselves. It is my regret that we cannot go further at. present. I trust, however, that, we have planted something that will grow and that the people of the Commonwealth will respond with an expression of their willingness to bring io fruition a complete scheme whereby no man will be debarred from pension because of his thrift or his industry.
The total cost of complete abolition of the means test on pensions would now not be less than £110,000,000 a year additional of course, to our present expenditure. It becomes, therefore, a major problem of finance. It is hard to see, under existing conditions, how such a vast sum could be found. Of course, in 1951-52 the Commonwealth provided for the States a total of £314,000,000, and in the current financial year it will have to provide at least as much. The Commonwealth from its own revenue received from taxpayers, gave to the States for public works £155,000,000 in 1951-52 to which they were not entitled. In the current financial year again, we shall have to take from our revenue not less than £125,000,000 for State public works alone, and in all we shall have to provide for the States £178.000,000 from revenue. Had we not this continual drain upon our revenues we could be rid of the means test.
A provision of our existing pensions legislation of which we cannot be proud is that a person who is aged between 16 and 21 years is denied an invalid pension if his parents adequately maintain him. Also, the Social Services Consolidation Act now provides that in determining the rate of invalid pension for a person under 21 years, the extent to which his parents maintain, or are able to maintain him must be taken into account. Endowment is payable up to the age of sixteen years. Between the ages of 16 and 21 years, an invalid may be thrown solely on the resources of his parents when, perhaps, the expenses associated with his invalidity may be greatest. When this Government took office, the standard of adequate maintenance that had been adopted was £3 a week for an adult. We increased this amount to £4 a week and granted rehabilitation rights to those invalids who are debarred from the pension by the adequate maintenance provisions^ Now we are abolishing this means test altogether. No longer will the financial circumstances of an invalid’s. parents be taken into account. The provisions which have caused much hardship are to be repealed by the bill before the House.
The present residence qualification for a widow’s pension provides that the widow must have resided in Australia continuously for the five years immediately preceding the lodgment of her claim. This has caused distress to widows otherwise qualified who had come here to settle permanently with their husbands and who suddenly and tragically found themselves bereft of their breadwinner and without resources. It is our intention to reduce the residence qualification from five years to one year where the applicant became a widow after she and her husband had commenced to reside permanently i:i Australia. Widows not covered by the new provision may be granted special benefit at the new rate of £2 15s. a week if they have a. dependent child, or £2 1Os. if they have no dependants.
A concession also will be given to class C widows. These aire widows who have no children and who, at their husband’s death, or within 26 weeks thereafter, find themselves in necessitous circumstances. The pension is at present payable only during the 26 weeks following the husband’s death. This period will be extended’ to nine months, for obvious reasons, to cover certain cases of need.
Before we pass from pensions and their associated benefits, i;here are four other matters to which I should like to draw the attention of honorable members. The act now provides that, for pension purposes, a person shall be deemed to be a resident of Australia during occasional absences if such absences do not exceed one-tenth of the total period of residence. En the case of an age pension, the residence qualification is that a person shall have resided in Australia continuously for not less than twenty years. Thus, a person who has actually resided here continuously for eighteen years and has been absent for two years can now qualify for a pension. On the other hand, a person with longer periods of residence, but with insufficient continuity of residence, may fail to qualify.
The treatment of occasional absences has been a problem in the social services legislation of most countries, and no satisfactory formula appears to have been evolved. .It is proposed to liberalize and widen, the present provision by a new scale whereby a person shall qualify for a pension if he has lived here for eighteen years and has been absent for two years. For each year in excess of eighteen that he has lived in Australia, he will be entitled to have a further six months’ absence treated as residence.
As the law now stands, a pension cannot be paid to a person who takes up residence outside Australia or in a territory of the Commonwealth. It is considered that such a provision is unjust and unreasonable. In future, persons in receipt of a pension who move to a territory of the Commonwealth will continue to receive their pensions.
As honorable members know, ceiling limits are now imposed on the total amount that a person may receive by way of pension, wife’s allowance or war pension. It is proposed to raise these limits by the full amount of pension increases and by the full amount of the increase in the wife’s allowance. The new ceiling limits will be -
Unmarried person - £4 7s. 6d., an increase of 7s. 6d.
Married couple, both civil pensioners - - £8, an increase of 15s.
Married couple, one spouse only civil pensioner - £6 5s., an increase of 7s. 6d.
Married couple, husband pensioner and wife in receipt of wife’s allowance - £7 17s. 6d., an increase of 12s. 6d.
In the case of widows, there will be similar increases. The ceiling limit for a class A pension will be raised from £4 10s. to £4 17s. 6d. a week, and for other classes of widows from £3 15s. to £4 a week.
In accordance with the Government’s policy of encouraging people to make provision for the costs of hospitalization by taking out hospital insurance, the means test will be liberalized by excluding from income those payments made by organizations registered under the Hospital Benefits Act, or the regulations made thereunder, where such payments are made direct to a hospital or by an organization to a person to reimburse him for hospital expenses which he has paid. It is unjust that a person should he penalized by receiving a reduced pension or benefit when, by his own thrift, he has endeavoured to protect himself against the devastating costs of illness and accident. The existing provisions have had a detrimental effect on hospital finance, as persons were reluctant to insure when they knew that their insurance would be treated as income for the purpose of the means test. These unreasonable provisions will be wiped out by the bill.
I pass from pensions to the short term benefits. For the first time in Australia, it is proposed virtually to double, by one legislative measure, the basic rate of a benefit designed to give income security in times of sickness and unemployment. The rate of sickness and unemployment benefits for a single adult will be increased by 100 per cent., from £1 5s. a week to £2 10s. a week. A similar increase of 100 per cent, will bring the rate for a married person from £2 5s. a week to £4 10s. a week. Similarly, rates for juveniles will be increased from £1 to £2 a week for the 18-21 years age group, and from 15s. to £1 10s. for the 16-18 years age group. The additional benefit payable in respect of one dependent child will remain at 5s. a week. For sickness benefit purposes, income received from an approved friendly society or a similar organization has always received favorable treatment, in that £1 a week of it has been exempted from the operation of the means test. This amount will be increased to £2. There are some 850 approved societies. The extended exemption will be of considerable importance to persons who ‘ endeavour, by small savings,- to ensure an income while they are disabled by illness or accident. The liberalization will greatly assist friendly societies and similar bodies, many of which will find their position improved, in addition, by the complete exemption of the hospital benefits society payments to which I have already referred. The effect’ of these amendments is that a sickness beneficiary with a wife and child will be able to have an income of £8 a week. As in the case of pensions, payments by hospital benefits societies will be excluded from income in the operation of the means test.
The last, but by no means the least, of our social services is community rehabilitation, whereby the disabled and the unfortunate are restored to a useful, happy and productive life. Rehabilitation has advanced well beyond the experimental stage. In the four years of its history, it has been instrumental in returning to employment over 4,300 persons. The activities of the rehabilitation scheme are becoming well known throughout Australia, and our trainees are proving every day in commerce and industry that a physical handicap is not necessarily a job Handicap. If a person has a disability, we endeavour to place emphasis, not on that disability but on the residual capacity - the latent talent and undeveloped skill that still remains. I believe that every honorable member should avail himself of every, opportunity to examine and. interest himself in this very valuable work.
Three important amendments affecting rehabilitation are proposed. The livingawayfromhome allowance payable to an unmarried trainee for the first four weeks of his period of training will be increased from £1 to £1 5s. a week. In the case of a married man without a dependent child, the allowance will be increased from £2 to £2 10s. a week for the first four weeks of his training, and from £1 to £1 5s. a week for the remainder of the period. In the case of a married man with a child or children, the allowance will be increased from £2 to £2 10s. a week for the whole period during which he is undergoing training. In addition, all rehabilitation allowances will be adjusted in conformity with the increases applicable to the other benefits - invalid pensions, sickness or unemployment benefit, as the case may be - which the beneficiaries would have been receiving if they were not undergoing rehabilitation.
The act now limits the value of books, tools, &c, which the Commonwealth may supply to £20. This will be increased to £30. Finally, a rehabilitee is now required, on resuming employment, to pay for surgical aids and appliances, such as artificial limbs, supplied to him during rehabilitation and retained by him. It is felt that the good already achieved by rehabilitation will frequently be undone if the individual commences work with the knowledge and worry that he must repay a debt incurred in fitting himself for employment. In future, these will be supplied free without any liability for repayment at a later stage. “We feel that this step is justified, and indeed, necessary. Effective rehabilitation is not merely a physical thing. Often, it depends upon the state of mind of the beneficiary. The Government aims to ensure that a person whose rehabilitation has been completed shall, as far as possible, return to a productive and happy life with the minimum of disadvantages, if any.
I have endeavoured to indicate the full proposals contained in the bill. I am sure that honorable members will agree that seldom has a country at such a time attempted such a genera] expansion of its social services programme. The additional cost of all the proposals before the House will be approximately £11,000,000 a year, and will bring the total annual cost of benefits under the Social Services Consolidation Act to over £142,000,000. When one contemplates this figure, it is hard to realize that in the year before the war the total annual expenditure on Commonwealth social services was only £16,400,000, and that the total budget expenditure was only £94,400,000. Together with associated benefits such as tuberculosis benefits and medical and pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners, the total annual cost will now be little short of £150,000.000.
Having heard the proposals now before the House, and knowing the Government’s outstanding record in social services, honorable members may well wonder why, in my opening remarks, I chose to refer to “limitations” and to “critics”. I did so because there are limitations and there are .critics. We, as a Government, arn asking the Parliament to agree to a huge transfer of purchasing power from one croup in the community to another. We are doing so because we believe that the group to which it is to be transferred is the group that is most in need. Whatever the form of words we use, it will not alter the fact that what some one gets, some other person goes without.’ Continual expansion of social services without proper regard for our resources could well throw an intolerable burden on the productive members of the community. Let us forget about money for a moment and let us think in terms of real commodities - in terms of clothing, shelter, bread, meat and coal. When we make a social services -payment, we transfer the right to buy those things from one person to another. In the ultimate, the amount we can transfer is limited by the amount we produce.
It is the producers of Australia, whether they be employees, employers or self-employed persons, who are really giving these social services, not this Parliament, which I believe is only the instrument of their wishes. Real social services are, in fact, a most significant and substantial slice of their production. However, we must never overlook the fact that many of our pensioners during their working lives have contributed their labour and skill. They have helped to build roads, railways, bridges and machinery, and have worked the land. All of those activities have made the present level of production possible. Nor should we forget that child endowment payments help to build a sturdier and healthier race - to strengthen the producers of to-morrow.
I find myself in the somewhat unusual company of Mr. Aneurin Bevan, one of the most left of Great Britain’s Labour leaders. Recently, in speaking to a gathering of trade unionists in England, he said -
How do you expect to get higher wages if production goes down 1 If you tried to get them, all that would happen would he inflation of the worst possible kind. . . . We ought to face the facts and realize that no amount of transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor in Great Britain will make up the result. You cannot have increased social services, increased wages, bigger arms, more armies and a higher standard of life from lower production.
That was Mr. Bevan. .For once, the left is right. Welfare in its highest, sense is a community effort. We are limited only by the extent of that effort.
InaskingtheHouseto accept this bill the implementation of which will involve vastexpenditure,andwhichincorporates liberalizationsthatwillbeacredittothe Parliament,Ialsoappealagaintothe wholecommunitytomakeanefforttoin- creaseproductionsothattheburdenof socialservicesmaynotbetoogreat.Lord Beveridgelistedfive giants for destruction - want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.Wemustdestroythem.I believeweshall.Inconclusion,Iwish to express my thanks to the officers of my department who have assisted me in the preparationof this amending legislation. Their work has been of the very highest order and I should like to record my appreciation of their services. I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (onmotion by Mr. Allan
Mr. KENT HUGHES (Chisholm-
Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works) [8.32]. - Imove-
That bill be now read a second time.
The Government Originally intended to introduce a more comprehensive bill to amendtheLandsAcquisitionAct 19061936; becausemany changes have occurred since the principalactwaspassed in 1906. Many of the provisions of the principal act which deal with, forexample, mortgages; administrative procedure and just terms Of acquisition, have now become antiquated and are difficult to administer. However, when the Crown Law officers and the Parliamentary Draftsman dis- cussed the matter they discovered that a number of difficultlegal points remain to be ironed out before a comprehensive bill can beprepared. Consequently, the Government willnotbe able to introduce the proposed comprehensive bill until the beginning of thenextsession of the Parliament. In the meantime, however, it isconsidereddesirable to introduce the present measure for the purposesof amending certain features relating to the administration of the act. The principal act providesthateveryacquisitionhasto be approved by the Governor-General in Council. Under the presentconditions of administration thatprovision has caused atremendous amountofclerical work and matters relating to land acquisition clutter up almost every meeting of the Executive Council.Instances in which the approval of theGovernor-General in Council has been necessary are the acquisition of land by the Postmaster-General’s Department for the erectionof new post offices or telephone exchanges ; the acquisition by the previous Government of the whole ofDarwin, or by this Government of a large area of land just outside a suburban area of Melbournefor a new explosives factory. Honorable members will readily understand the amount of work and delay that is occasioned by the necessityfor everyoneof those acquisitionproposals to besigned by the Gover- nor-General as well as by the responsible Minister and theAttorney-General.The mainpurposes ofthe bill,therefore, are toamendsome featuresof the present administrativeprocedure in order to accelerate thecompletion of acquisitions, some ofwhich havebeen delayed over a periodofyears and also to give the Minister for theInterior and the Attorney-General power to delegate their authority in relation to acquisitions. No power ofdelegation isprovided in the existing legislation. Imake itclear that the power ofdelegationofauthoritydoes notmean the powerto delegate responsibility. In whateverforma Minister may delegate his authority for the sake of increased administrative efficiency, lie at all timesmusthimself retain the responsibility for such actions as may be taken on his behalf, and will still have the dutyof facing and answering any criticism that may come from any quarter regarding the actions: In other words, the person to whom the authority has been delegated is not to be left tosuffer from criticism that may arise from anything that may go wrong during his exercise of that delegated authority;
Most of the clauses of the bill are intended to amend the principal act by omitting the word “ Governor-General “ from certain sections and insert in itsstead theword “Minister”. The effect of thoSe provisions of the hill will he that, iri future, individual acquisitions will not have to be approved by the Governor-General in Council and be signed by the Governor-General, Honorable members will note that the bill does not propose to alter the provisions’ of the principal act with regard to the acquisition of sale qf surplus lands, Hilder which the particulars of such acquisitions Or sales have to be published in thé Gazette and returns of the lands disposed of have to be laid before both Houses of the Parliament within. 30 days of their disposal. That is to say, the bill contains no provision that seeks to alter parliamentary control over the actions of the Minister, which was previously exercised over the Governor-General in Council
The provisions of die bill will, when implemented, reduce the amount of clerical work in connexion with the acquisition of lands, but the safeguards contained in the principal act are retained. For instance, although a Minis’ter may delegate a certain amount of his authority to the property officers he can still obtain regular returns for the acquisitions that have been made, or of alterations of rentals and can still retain full control over those matters. The bill will enable the decentralization, of administration that has been occurring to a small degree to be carried out at an increased ‘tempo. Clause 8 seeks to “alter section o3 of the principal act by a authorizing the Minister to dispose in such manner as he ‘thinks fit of land vested in ‘the Commonwealth and not required foi- a public purpose. That merely alters the original sub-section (1.) tff section 63, under which the Minister has power to dispose of land so long as its value does not exceed i£50. Clause 9, which deals with ‘power df ‘delegation and notice of signature, is a re-enactment in its _ proper ‘place o’f a similar provision which is eliminated from Section 57 of the principal act. The whole act is now under review, and a completely revised measure will be brought down, I hope, early iti ‘the next sessional period. I commend the bill to :the House.
Rebate (on motion by Mr. POLLARD) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 6th August (vide page 101), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden-
That the bill be now read a second time.
. - This important piece of legislation is essential to validate the llew sales tax schedules which came into operation on the 7th August last. The bill will give relief in certain directions, and for that reason it is Welcome, but I think that a fair analysis of the legislation shows clearly that the relief will be quite inadequate. The burden of sales tax will continue to be excessive. Many anomalies will remain, and attention will be drawn to them in the course of this debate. Undoubtedly, the sales tax, levied at its present high rates, has been a very material factor in causing what businessmen now call “buyer resistance which, of course, really means a reduction of purchasing power in the hands of the consuming public.
Unfortunately, the incidence of sales tax has become a major ingredient in the whole commercial life of Australia. The sales tax is a comparatively modern’ taxing device and it had a very modest beginning. It belongs to that section of the taxation field in which the incidence
Of the tax is very often in inverse ratio to ‘the capacity of the public to pay. If I may use an expression that was used by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) in another debate earlier tonight, ‘this tax hits the groups in the community that are most in need. It is a regressive, as distinct from progressive, tax. Of course, its great advantage from the point 6f view of taxation officials is that the person who pays it is seldom aware that he is paying it. It is true that, as the rates become higher and higher, people become more and more aware of the burden of the tax. Nevertheless, it is an indirect tax and its incidence is not always felt by the purchaser. Originally the sales tax was intended to be a minor imposition. Basic consumer goods were always t6 be exempted from it. The emphasis was to be on luxury ‘goods, and the sole purpose of the tax Was to provide additional revenue. It was not to be like customs duties, which, as we know them in this country, are usually imposed to protect local industries against overseas competition. If anything, the sales tax was liable to have a more injurious effect on local manufacturers than on importers but, while the rates were low, the tax did not substantially injure business. Prior to the war, the general rate of sales tax was only 5 per cent., and the average annual collections amounted to approximately £8,000,000. By contrast, last year this Government collected uo less than £95,000,000 in sales tax, and even under this alleviating measure, the estimated revenue will be £88,000,000 compared with £42,000,000 under the last Chifley budget. In other words, the yield has been more than doubled in a few years, and the tax has become a very important part of our entire fiscal framework. After the war, the Labour Government commenced to reduce the war-time rates, and it was hoped that it would be possible before long to restore the pre-war rates, and eventually to move towards Labour’s policy of abolishing the tax altogether. When the Labour Government went out of office in 1949 the general rate, which covered approximately 75 per cent of all taxable sales, was 8-J per cent., and the maximum rate, imposed on luxury lines, was 25 per cent. The bia;he=t revenue collected in any one year from the sales tax when Labour was in office was a little less than £38,000,000, and the net taxable sales in that particular year totalled £1,000,000,000.
A year ago, there came a revolutionary change in the whole conception of the sales tax. It was quite clear from a perusal of the 1951-52 budget, and from ministerial statements, that the sales tax was no longer to be merely a means of raising revenue, but was to have the definite political purpose of limiting, and even eliminating, industries and businesses of certain kinds. That was one of the avowed purposes of last year’s budget. The Government openly set out to hit what it termed “ less essentia] industries “. It established, as honorable members are aware, the National Security Resources Board. That body has not been formally disbanded. It has merely folded up. Its chief officer has disappeared into the Far East, and is now Australian Minister in Japan. One of the functions of the board was to determine the vexed question of which industries were essential and which were not essential. There was never any proper public investigation of the economic structure or the assets of businesses that were selected for contraction. The matter was not referred to the Tariff Board, which has an. intimate knowledge of every facet of Australian industry. The decision to use the sales tax to contract industries, and, of course, inevitably to contract employment, was taken calmly and cold bloodedly by the Government. Indeed it was the central theme of the “ horror “ budget. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture made that admission as recently as the 9th August, according to a press report of an address that he gave to a conference in Sydney. The report stated -
The Minister for Agriculture and Commerce, Mr. J. McEwen, said yesterday that the Federal Government had increased Sales Tax on non-essential goods deliberately with the intention of depressing those industries which made them. “It had done that to force men back on the land and into the iron and steel and agricultural implement industries”, he said. “The people we hurt hate us like hell, but please remember that it has been done to get labour back on the farms “, he said.
The Opposition pointed out last year that that purpose was impossible of achievement. Employees who are suited to one industry cannot, particularly after they hare reached a certain age, be forced successfully into other industries. If an attempt is made to force them out of employment by contracting the industries in which they are engaged, they will merely be added to the ranks of the unemployed, or as a Government spokesman, on the 31st January, preferred to call it, the ranks of the “ disemployed “, which means exactly the same thing. I say quite deliberately that there has been no outflow from so-called non-essential industries to the heavy industries. The industries that have secured additional labour have got it from other sources particularly from the ranks of immigrants. The extra labour has not come from industries that have been savagely hit by the sales tax legislation. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture completed his assumption by saying: -
The people we hurt hate us like hell, but please remember that it has been done to get labour back on the farms. f do not believe that this policy has resulted in the placing on farms of half a dozen persons who hs.ve previously had no farming experience. The whole plan was fantastic and it Gould not possibly work. This hazardous experiment was undertaken at a time when the Government was budgeting for a surplus of £114,000,000. One admitted object of the experiment was to depress certain selected industries and trades that were alleged to be non-essential . or less-essential. Whom did. the Government expect to hurt? We know now whom it did hurt. Certain businesses became depressed and in many instances serious slumps in those industries were commenced. Business, instead of being buoyant, gradually declined. The experiment was conducted on the living body of the community, and, as every one realizes, it is impossible artificially to destroy an industry by restricting bank credit or by imposing tremendously high sales tax rates for the purpose of throwing people out of employment in the hope that they will be diverted to other industries which the Government regards as more important. That cannot be done. We cannot artificially separate sectors of business for discriminatory taxation without endangering the economy. If we cause a slump in one group of industries it spreads with chain-like reaction to all groups of industry.
The wild-cat sales tax rates of last year are remedied only to a tiny degree by the present legislation. The proposed reductions are welcome, but they are far from adequate. During the war years no one thought that in the post-war period sales tax receipts would reach the colossal figure estimated to be collected under this statute and the other provisions that go with it, of not less than £8S,000,000, compared with the yield of £8,000,000 from that source in the pre-war years. The highest collection of sales tax by the Labour Government was less than one-half of that amount.
This Government has honoured its promise to reduce taxation by more than doubling the sales tax collections! The rates imposed by the sales tax schedules of last year were very savage and dealt a heavy blow at many Australian industries. The results showed either that the Government received shocking^ bad advice, or that it completely misjudged the effect of its impositions. Under the present legislation sales tax rates range from a minimum of 12^ per cent, to a maximum of 50 per cent. But the damage that was done last year will not be repaired by these proposals. The drift cannot be arrested by small concessions. I do not believe that this portion of the Treasurer’s budget proposals will have the desired effect. The new rates of sales tax will still impose a tremendous burden on industry and businesses and will be bad from the point of view of the employment of our people.
It is important to point out to the House that the Treasurer’s estimate of sales tax collections last year was completely wrong. In the budget of last year the right honorable gentleman estimated that such collections would amount to £117,000,000 having regard to the fact that the new rates would operate for only nine months of the year. Actual collections amounted to £95.500,000, or £21,500,000 less than the estimate based on the higher rates for the nine months or £29,000,000 for .the full year. This is a rather startling and significant discrepancy. The erroneous estimate was made despite the fact that throughout the entire year prices were still rising and the collections were made in a period of continued inflation. If the actual physical volume of sales had been maintained the revenues from sales tax should have greatly exceeded- the estimate of £117,000,000. The decline, in terms of finance, was approximately 25 per cent, a very considerable difference. The decline was due primarily to the fall in sales and production, and the impact was felt principally in the secondary industries. The result has been proved by facts and figures relating to employment. The number _ of employees in factories fell from 910,500 in August, 3951, to 868,700 in May of this year, and during the same period, the number of persons employed in the retail trade fell from 248,300 to 238,900. In the wholesale trade the value of net sales recorded under the Sales Tax Acts fell from £172,600,000, in August, 1951, to £149,400,000 in January, 1952. All of these consequences occurred in the period of inflation, and consequently the actual physical volume of sales must have fallen to a far greater extent than is shown by the figures I have cited. These results flowed from the Government’s new economic policy of which the repressive sales tax legislation was an all-important element. Businesses which suddenly found themselves saddled with the 662/3 per cent. sales tax rate soon found that they had not sufficient customers. “Where reductions of staff were made, their employees were certainly not automatically absorbed in other industries. The assumption that such absorption would occur was the basic fallacy of the sales tax increases and other Government measures. The inevitable effect of the new sales tax rates was increased prices. The new schedule was to that extent inflationary in operation. The Government appeared to have forgotten that everybody in the community pays sales tax and that the purpose of the sales tax was to increase the prices of commodities. So we have had the combination of inflated prices with a reduction of general purchasing power in the way I have described.
The Government’s sales tax policy has had a secondary effect which is almost as damaging as its direct impact on business and employment. An aspect of its effect that has been referred to by one honorable member is that merchants and dealers have been forced in very difficult circumstances to finance the Government’s collection of sales tax. Under the Sales Tax Procedure Act payments are due on the 21st of each month. While the tax was only a minor item in the cost structure relatively little hardship was involved in that provision, but when sales tax suddenly became a major cost, wholesale merchants had to find large sums to meet their commitments to the Commissioner of Taxation each month. They could not obtain increased bank accommodation because of the Govern ment’s credit restriction policy, yet in many instances they were called upon to finance the Government in advance of their own debts coming in. When sales tax suddenly became a major cost, wholesale merchants had to find large sums to meet their commitments in respect of it, and, consequently, had either to make their suppliers wait for payment or to insist on being paid earlier by their retail customers.
As I said earlier, these proposals will do something to correct the drift; but they are far from adequate. Apparently, the total amount involved in the reductions is based on the assumption that the volume of business will be maintained at the average level for the last financial year. But if the decline in business continues, as it did during the latter portion of that year, this represents a doubtful estimate and may again be proved to be wrong. On the assumption that the total volume of production and sales will not decline further, the Government estimates that the amount that will be raised by sales tax during the current financial year will be £88,000,000, which will be slightly less than £7,500,000 below the amount that was raised from this source last financial year. That is the total amount of relief that is being granted in the budget under this heading to all purchasers in Australia, wholesale and retail. On the other hand, that sum will be offset as a result of the abolition of land tax for the benefit of a comparative handful of people. The Government could well afford to make a greater reduction of sales tax. ‘ On its own figures it will take from business through sales tax an amount which will exceed by £31,000,000 the total collection of sales tax in 1950-51. The Government will still be exacting 50per cent. more tax than it did prior to the introduction of its “ horror budget “, because it will levy sales tax to an amount that will be 100 per cent. in excess of the total that was raised under this heading by the Labour Government in its last budget when theyield fromsales tax was £38,107,000. This year, the Government expects sales tax toyield £88,000,000. Thatmeansthat the Government is setting out to collect during the current financial year £50,000,000 more in sales tax than the Labour Government collected in 1948-49. “When Labour went out of office, the. general rate was 8^ per cent., but to-day it is 12-J per cent., and that rate covers a vast category of goods, most of which are not luxuries -but basic consumer goods. Many of them have a direct bearing on the ordinary consumer. If the Government is sincere in its protestations that it desires to reduce prices, particularly as it will not assume prices control, it should make a sharp cut in sales tax. Under these schedules the maximum rate of tax will be 50 per cent., whereas in 1949, when Labour went out of office, the maximum rate was 25 per cent., and that rate was applied only to 3 per cent, of the total sales.
My colleagues will deal with other aspects of the bill, particularly anomalies, of which many continue to exist. For instance, ice cream is still subject to sales tax at the rate of 20 per cent, whereas ice blocks, which are flavoured, are exempt. Yet it has always been accepted as a principle of sales tax, since its inception, that foodstuffs in the manufacture of which primary produce is used should be exempt from the tax. In effect, the Government is discriminating against milk in that the application of sales tax to ice cream deprives the dairy farmer of one of his best markets. There is need for a complete review of the incidence of sales tax and its effect upon trade and industry generally. The Tariff Board could conduct such an inquiry. In the light of the alterations being made under this measure, the Government must admit that some trades were unfairly treated last year by being placed in the wrong category. Under this measure, some items are to be transferred from that 66$ per cent, category to the 12$ per cent, category. That is evidence of the fact that the original allocations were made haphazardly. Another industry that is severely hit directly by sales tax and which serves to illustrate the fact that the Government’s desire to ret money from taxation can defeat itself is the motor car industry. In recent months, there have been heavy dismissals in that industry and allied industries.
Comparatively few people on average incomes can now afford to purchase new cars. Consequently, sales are failing and skilled craftsmen are being put off in increasing numbers. It is estimated that 5,000 employees in this industry have been dismissed since March last. One of the principal reasons for the fall in the sales of motor cars has been that sales tax has been too high. The tax on cars in the lower price bracket to-day ranges from £150 to £200. Total registrations of new cars for July last were down 2,583 on the figures for May last. In August last year, prior to the introduction of the “ horror budget “, the total number of new motor vehicles registered was 21,878. In June of this year, the number had decreased to 12,639, and in July last to 12,133. Thus, the Government has lost, in respect of this item alone, sales tax at the rate of £200,000 a month because people are unable to pay the prices of new cars plus the sales tax. Prior to the introduction of the budget last year, sales were increasing each month; but they commenced to drop in September last and that decrease has been accelerating each month in the interim. Motor body production statistics have fallen correspondingly.- Sales tax revenue will continue to decline unless steps are taken to rectify the position. One obvious step that the Government should take is to reduce sales tax rates still further. By restoring the motor car to the general classification, an amount of at least £100 would be saved by the purchaser of a car. If that resulted in increased sales, the amount of sales tax collections would increase accordingly. Furthermore, employment would be restored in the industry and the Government would not .suffer any actual loss of revenue from sales tax.
The story of the Government’s handling of sales tax shows that the tax is a very dangerous weapon if it be used recklessly, and the Government has used it recklessly. When it is used deliberately, as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture admitted in the statement from which I have quoted, to cause a depression in certain trades, that are regarded as being less essential or non-essential, it can be the direct means of causing recessions and slumps; and it is impossible to measure the repercussions because employees who are put off tend to remain unemployed. The present high rates of sales tax ar, responsible for much of the. unemployment that now exists, and the Government should be considering the possibility of making a drastic reduction of the incidence of the tax in order to arrest the drift that is occurring at present. The Opposition supports the reductions to which the measure seeks to give effect, but we believe that they do not go far enough. For this reason, the bill should be withdrawn with a view to’ its being redrafted to grant further reductions of sales tax, particularly in respect pf trades and industries in which full employment has been adversely affected. Consequently, I move -
That all wards after “That” he left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill should be redrafted so as to provide for further reductions of the burdens of the sales tax proposed to be retained with a view to increasing employment and lessening .unemployment in the trades and industries directly affected by the incidence of the tax “.
I sum up the position with respect to sales tax as follows : - It is estimated that sales tax collections during the current financial year will amount to £88,000,000 whereas last financial year they totalled £95,458,719, whilst collections under the Labour Government’s last budget, namely, that for 1949-50, totalled £42,424,580. Under this measure and its allied measures, the Government will take from the people an amount at least £45,000,000 more than was received from sales tax under the Labour Government’s budget for 1949-50. One cannot regard the tax that was imposed in 1949 as being normal, because Labour had made progressive reductions of sales tax. Labour increased sales tax during World War II. in order to help to finance war expenditure. It did not levy the tax for an indirect purpose such 8 S that of reducing the operations of certain industries. Labour increased the tax primarily for the purpose of financing war expenditure, and its sales tax collections were typical of its general taxation proposals in the budget for 1949-50 under which both direct and indirect taxes amounted to only £504,387,096. It is expected that taxa tion imposed by this bill and allied bills, pursuant to the budget will yield £863,650,000, compared with the total revenue of £504,387,096 from taxation in 1949-50. Yet the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has stated that this Government has reduced the level of taxation! The fact is that additional taxes of approximately £359,000,000 will be collected during this financial year, compared with those that were collected under the last budget of the former Labour Government. There has been an increase of more than 70 per cent, of the level of taxation that was impose(. by Labour. Sales tax has been mow than doubled. Personal income tax and social services contributions have been almost doubled, and company tax has been doubled. I am referring to tax imposts under this year’s budget, not those under the “ horror budget “ of last year. Pay-roll tax has been almost doubled. Only customs taxation will be reduced, and that alone accounts in substance for any proposed reduction of taxation this year. This results from the accident that the Government has been compelled through certain circumstances to impose import restrictions. By this measure the Government will enormously increase taxation, rather than reduce it in a’ccordance with its promise to the people. The Labour party considers that indirect taxation should be steadily reduced, with a view to its gradual elimination. It is of no use pretending that it can be done quickly.
Indirect taxation always hits the people who are least able to bear it. Indirect taxation in the form of customs and excise duties, and sales taxation, imposes an enormous burden on the average family. When honorable members who now compose the Government of this country were in Opposition, they criticized as inadequate the enormous reductions that the former Labour Government effected in taxation. After World War II., and up to 1949, the Chifley Government made five separate reductions of taxation. The value of those reductions, expressed in terms of 1949 values, was £280,000,000 a year. Although the leaders of the Government parties promised the people that they would reduce taxes, the Government has . increased taxation enormously, in the way that I have detailed. The imposition of excessive sales taxation has, had the effect of closing down or contracting non-essential and less essential industries. The Government had no plan to absorb displaced persons from those industries in other employment, and therefore sales taxation that was imposed last year to yield about £95,000,000 was not justified. The small relief proposed during this financial year, although welcome, is quite inadequate It is for that reason that I moved the amendment that I have submitted.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has proposed several premises that I am completely unable to accept. He stated that sales taxation is imposed in inverse ratio to ability to pay. From a perusal of the sales taxation legislation, however, honorable members will see that the basic commodities are exempted from sales tax. As it is mainly such commodities that are purchased by the people whom honorable members opposite claim to represent in this House, I believe that it was wrong for the right honorable gentleman to make that statement.
Later in his address the Leader of the Opposition stated that the Labour party believed in the removal of indirect taxes. It would appear thai; the policy of the Labour party is now determined in thi3 House rather than by some outside group. I have never heard any member of the Opposition claim that customs duty should be abolished, although that is an indirect tax. I can imagine the effect that the removal of customs duty would have on industry in this country.
The right honorable gentleman claimed that the proposed concessions are inadequate, and he then compared the yield from sales taxation in 1939 with the expected yield during the present financial year. If that approach is to be made to the matter we must compare the 1939 budget as a whole with the present budget, and appreciate the many problems that we have on the debit side. One is the necessity for an expenditure on defence of £200,000,000, which did not exist in 1939. The right honorable gentleman made the astounding statement that it is impossible to effect diversion of labour from non-essential to’ essential industries as a result of legislation. It has been pointed out in this House on many occasions during the last few weeks that there has been a considerable improvement of both employment and production in the coal, steel, transport, and other basic industries. Therefore, I consider that the right honorable gentleman’s contention that there has not been some diversion of labour in the last twelve months was wrong.
The Leader of the Opposition also stated that the decline of sales has been due to the Government’s policy. I do not believe that anybody with a sense of proportion could agree with that assertion. The people of Australia enjoyed a period of false prosperity about eighteen months ago. As a result of the great increase of wool prices, sales sky-rocketed and doubled within a period of from six to twelve months. Although many people considered at the time that that state of affairs could not continue for long, the right honorable gentleman now has the temerity to claim that sales have declined because of the Government’s policy. 1 do not believe that any one in the community will accept that assertion.
The Opposition is again posing to the House that, in present circumstances, a substantial reduction of taxation should be granted. Opposition members have ako stated on numerous occasions that reduced taxation and increased expenditure are desirable. In other words, in order to give effect to Labour policy a great deal of treasury-bill finance would be required, and that would result in a terrific increase in inflation.
I am very pleased to support the bill before the House and I oppose the amendment. Some months ago, certain committees were formed within the Government parties, one. of which was known as a taxation committee. That committee met on several occasions during the last session and I think that the majority of its recommendations have been incorporated in the bill before the House. The two speakers who will follow me will be the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member-
– Order! The honorable member is not entitled to presume who Will speak after him. That is a matter for the Chair to decide.
– I only assumed that the usual procedure would be observed, Mr. Speaker. You yourself have said that you accept the list of speakers with which you are supplied by the party Whips. However, let me say that I shall probably be followed by honorable members from this side of the House who were members of the taxation committee to which I have referred. I am very pleased that that committee had so many of its recommendations accepted.
– A very bright team!
– I would not like to make any comparison - -
– Order ! Comparisons are out of order.
– The budget has been referred to as an incentive budget. The fact that it is an incentive budget was highlighted in the Government’s sales tax proposals. The Government is to be congratulated on its approach to this matter which is one not of expediency but of practicability. Rates of taxation both direct and indirect were approaching such a high level that if they had continued to increase incentive to produce might have been destroyed. Spending on essential goods might have been reduced and the law of diminishing returns might have begun to operate. The 1951-52 budget had as its’ objective the reduction of “spending power at a time when inflation was skyrocketing. Unless some appropriate action had been taken it would soon have been completely out of hand. At ‘the end of the -financial year economic conditions had changed because of varying ‘circumstances including the influence of the 1951-52 budget and world conditions generally. Honorable members of the Opposition are apt to forget the influence of world conditions. I would remind them of the situation, that faced the Scullin Government during ‘the depression. The present inflationary period and the effect on the
Australian economy of the world demand for wool are further evidence of theinfluence exerted by world conditions 0n Australian affairs.
A continuation of the old rates of sales tax could have had a very detrimental! effect on industry The psychological! aspect of this matter must be consideredWhile there was over full employment,, jobs easy to obtain and money wasflowing freely, a high rate of sales tax did not have the same effect as it would have at present. With the cessation of these conditions a high rate of taxation could lead to serious problems. It would tend to destroy incentive and reduce spending on essential goods, conditions which would finally result in dangerous reverses of business trends. The Government has been very quick to assess the position and present to the House the proposals that are included in this bill. By the reduction of sales tax and other taxation the Government has increased incentive and opened the way for increased spending on essential and desirable goods. Honorable members will remember that in the 1951-52 budget the whole of the Commonwealth contribution in relation to State capital works was financed out of revenue. On this occasion the Government has wisely refused to spend revenue on State capital works and is looking to other avenues of finance for that purpose. In that way it has been able to reduce the taxation burden.
This legislation provides for varying rates of sales tax. Really essential or basic commodities are wholly exempted from taxation. Prom the less essential to the luxury class of goods there is a gradual increase in the rate of taxation. Very few people would object to taxation being levied in that way. Only those with some personal, selfish interest would disagree with that principle. If one does disagree with that principle one must also disagree “with the principle on which income tax is imposed, because the two types of taxation are levied ion (the basis of ability to pay low taxation on low incomes and hugh taxation on high incomes.
By the introduction of its budget and this legislation the Government has restored incentive. People will now be encouraged to spend money on essential goods and the danger that the law of diminishing returns will operate has been avoided. The Government has rightly turned its back on the financing of State capital works from revenue. The number of classifications under which -sales tax is collected has been reduced. Last year there were seven such classifications exempt, per cent., 20 per cent., 25 per cent, 33£ per cent., 50 per cent., and 66£ per cent. It is now proposed to eliminate the 25 per cent, and 66 per cent, categories. I believe that in this proposal the practical experience of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is evident.
I desire now to say something about the -considerable cost involved in dealing with a large number of classifications. The -cost of administration in the Taxation Branch itself is very great, but the main cost with which I am concerned is the cost within individual businesses. I have seen how the sales tax legislation operates, And I know that a great many businesses have a turnover of thousands of invoices each month, and that many smaller concerns also have a large number of invoices. A great proportion of these invoices contain probably 30, 40 or more items. Therefore, in many instances, it is necessary that each invoice be completely dissected so that the exact amount of tax involved can be worked out and paid to the Taxation Branch. I -think that the House will appreciate that work of this type requires large numbers of clerical workers who, as honorable members know, are paid at present at a fairly high rate. There are many businesses in the community which, are called upon to pay thousands of pounds each year in order to keep the returns, make the calculations and draw up the documents required by the Government.. Therefore, I believe that the deletion of the two sales tax categories of 25 per cent, and 66$ per cent, will be very welcome to the community.
There are two items in the bill to- which F. desire to refer specifically. The first is proposed new item 124, which includes, infer aiia,, bassinettes, sleep ing baskets, for babies, cradles and cots. It includes also perambu lator seats, mattresses, pillows, cushions and covers for cradles and cots. The removal of these articles from the 12^ per cent, category to the exempt category will save the people of Australia £75,000 per annum. I mention that matter particularly, because the Parliament has been concerned for a long time with the increase of our population. Without casting any reflection on those who, in recent years, have come to Australia from overseas, may I say that I believe that the best way to increase our population is through our natural increase, and that those born and reared in Australia are the people who will really develop an Australian way of life. They will make the greatest contribution to the development of this country, whether it be in the physical, mental, social, or cultural spheres. The practical approach of the
Government to this national matter is shown by the abolition of sales tax on these particular items.
Although there are many items with which I would like to deal, time permits me to mention only one more. It is also concerned with the items that I have just mentioned. Not only do we desire an increased population, but we desire our population to be healthy. Notwithstanding promises that have been made by the Labor party for many years about the health benefits that it will give to the people, I believe that the whole of the community including honorable members opposite will commend the efforts that this Government has made to increase the standard of health of Australians and to afford them better service in the realm of medical and pharmaceutical benefits and free drugs. A further contribution to the cause of good health is now being offered to the people by the proposed reduction of sales tax on sporting equipment. Sales tax will Be reduced from 33-J per cent, to 20 per cent, on sporting goods used by the adult population. The sales, tax Is to be abolished on sporting equipment used by school children. Last year many criticisms were made by sporting bodies, and individuals, engaged in sport of all kinds about the imposition of heavy sales tax ©u sporting equipment. Many of us believed at. that time that, it was unfortunate that, some discrimination could not be made: between the very expensive and the less expensive types of sporting goods, so that the sports in which the majority of the people were engaged could have been taxed at a rate lower than 33^ per cent. However, I believe that honorable members, and the corn.munity in general, realized that it had to be a case of “ one in all in “. The Government has taken the first opportunity to alter the sales tax on sporting equipment. The community realizes that the Government understands the position, and will applaud its action. Sport has a considerable effect on the physical development of school children and, what is even more important, it develops the team spirit. Therefore, the respective reduction and abolition of sales tax in these two cases will be appreciated by those who will benefit.
While I do not wish to detract in any way from my appreciation of what the Government has done, I desire to bring one aspect of the sales tax before the House. I do not believe that any action can be taken about it this year, but I hope that next year the Treasurer will be able to accept the suggestion that I. shall make. At present the sales tax for the month of June, for example, must be paid to the Taxation Branch by the 21st July. The majority of those who pay sales tax to the Taxation Branch are wholesale traders. Most wholesale transactions are made on a credit basis. Even if the credit allowed be only 30 days, the greater part of the money owing to wholesale traders will not be received by them until ten days after they have paid the Taxation Branch. Knowing something of the economic conditions prevailing in the community at present - the general financial stringency and other factors - I know that many wholesale traders are forced to work on a 60-day or 90-day credit basis.
– Where can those terms be obtained to-day?
– I know that such credit is being given in many cases. I am trying to explain this matter so that the people can understand and appreciate it. En many instances traders have to wait 40 or even 70 days for recovery of the sales tax money. Within that period the wholesaler has paid sales tax to the Taxation Branch out of his own pocket.
The trader is further out of pocket because he has to pay interest on the money that he has paid to the Taxation Branch. Moreover, because overdrafts are strictly limited, many traders are finding it difficult to obtain the cash required to pay their taxes. This amount of interest and the office expenditure in relation to the recording of the details are included in the price that is paid by the consumer. Therefore, I consider that some adjustment of the period of payment is desirable. The. main difficulty from the point of view of the Treasurer is that, if he extended the period for a month in any financial year, one-twelfth of the revenue from sales tax for that year would be lost because it would be carried forward into a later period. If the period were extended for two months, of course, the Treasurer would lose one-sixth of the revenue for the year in which the change was made. Although it would not be possible to extend the period during the current year and although the cost would be about ?6,000,000 in relation to an extension of one month, I believe that the Treasurer will give consideration to the suggestion before he prepares the next budget. I hope that this much-deserved relief will be granted to the business’ community.
I have very much pleasure- in expressing my approval of the bill, and I strongly oppose the amendment that the Leader of the Opposition has proposed. I believe that the people appreciate the complexities of the problems that the Government has been called upon to solve since it was elected, to office in 1949. They realize that, in all its measures, it has acted in their best interests. I am confident that the persons who are required to pay this tax will support the bill whole-heartedly.
- (Hon. Archie Cameron). Before I call upon the next speaker, I must explain to the House that I erred earlier when I failed to ask for a seconder to the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has signed the amendment as the seconder and, if the
House is satisfied with that course of action, I shall be content. . I shall take it that the House does not require the honorable member for Melbourne to be called to the chamber to second the amendment formally.-,
.- Notwithstanding the remarks of the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), the question of the relative incidence of indirect taxation and direct taxation, has been the subject of a pronounced difference of opinion for many years between those who now sit on the right of Mr. Speaker and those who sit on this side of the House. If the honorable member will examine the latest YearBook, which was prepared by officials of the Government that he supports, he will see in respect of budget after budget, comparisons of the percentage of revenue obtained from direct taxation and the percentage obtained from indirect taxation. In pre-war budgets, during the long period of dominance of governments of the political colour of the present Government, a situation was reached in which 76 per cent, of Commonwealth revenue was derived from indirect taxes. Forty-two per cent, came from customs duties, 22 per cent, from excise, and 12 per cent, from sales tax. Only 1 6 per cent, was provided by income tax. In Mr. Chifley’s budgets, the percentage of revenue derived from income tax rose as high as 63 per cent. For good or for ill - and I realize that the issue is debatable - the Labour party in office varied the whole incidence of taxation so that our budgets ceased to be dominated by indirect taxes and were dominated instead by direct taxes, particularly the combined income tax and social services contribution.. Under the Chifley budgets, which were very much smaller than the present budget, never less than 53 per cent, of Commonwealth revenue was derived from income tax. In the last year of office of the Labour Government, the proportion was 55 per cent. The present Government has edged the proportion down to about 40 per cent, and, at the same time, has forced some indirect taxes sharply upward and has increased others gradually.
It is utterly useless for any honorable member on the Government side of the
House to say that the fairest form of taxation on the community at large is not income tax, which is graduated according to the ability of the individual to pay.. The whole policy of this Government is to edge away from the graduated system, with the heaviest incidence falling on the largest incomes, towards some other basis of taxation. Perhaps it will never succeed in restoring the prewar situation, when indirect taxes completely dominated the field, but at any rate it is tending to move towards that end. It .would be futile for any member of the Opposition to pretend that the Labour party in office would be able to abolish sales tax at a blow. Even if we had no conscience in the matter, at least we should be warned against making any such dishonest pretence by the disastrous example that was set by the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who, for three years, gained the applause of the press by complaining that, whenever some article was sold, Mr. Chifley intervened as Treasurer and took some of the money that changed hands. Under Mr. Chifley’s regime, sales tax rates did not rise above 20 per cent. Last year, this Government increased the maximum rate to 66$ per cent. That was a clear move in the direction of increasing the incidence of indirect taxes.
The abolition of sales tax, and the consequent elimination of £88,000,000 from the Government’s budget, would not cause Commonwealth revenue to fall by £88,000,000. I am discussing this hypothesis, not as a practical possibility, but, merely for the sake of emphasizing the point of my argument. “When a person buys an article the basic price of which is £5 and which bears sales tax at the rate of 50 per cent., so that the customer pays a’ total of £7 10s., an amount of £2 10s. is immediately added to Commonwealth revenue. What would happen if there were no sales tax? The customer would pay £5 for the article. He would save £2 10s. but would spend that amount on some other purchase. It would then become a part of another taxpayer’s income, and that taxpayer, in turn, would use the money to buy’ another article. Thus, the money would circulate through the economy. The effect of imposing sales tax is to reduce revenue from income tax, and the effect of abolishing it would be to increase revenue from income tax. That factor should be taken into consideration.
History provides many examples of governments that have gradually piled up various forms of taxes and have ceased to recognize in the course of time that all these forms of taxation have a tendency to become merely competitive so that, eventually, they constitute a vast, crazy and illogical structure such as France had prior to the ‘French Revolution and such as I fear we are tending to erect in this country. A commission should be appointed to make a thorough, scientific survey of the whole subject of the collection of revenue by the Government. All sorts of ad hoc imposts have been added to the taxation structure from time to time. Flour tax, land tax, pay-roll tax, gold tax and death duties all have had the effect of reducing revenue from other direct taxes. One of the worst features of a budget dominated by indirect taxes is the way in which it can crash about the ears of a government if a depression occurs abroad. The Bruce-Page Government followed a policy of foreign borrowing. It borrowed £300,000,000 abroad.
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks are hardly related to the subject of sales tax.
– Some of the remarks of previous speakers in this debate may be open to the same comment.
– .That is not so. I . a.m watching the debate carefully.
– This point is related most definitely to the sales tax, as I propose to show, if yow, Mr. Speaker, will allow me to do so. Customs duties were imposed on those goods as they entered the country, and thereby increased their basic prices. The sales tax was added to the basic prices plus customs duties. Consequently, there was an -accumulation of taxes, and a basically crazy structure of Commonwealth revenue was suddenly ‘exposed. I shall briefly examine the Government’s estimate v>‘£ collections from Bales tax last year. It believed that an amount of £117,000,000 would be ‘collected from that source, but, in point of fact, it received only £95,000,000. Why waa that? At the beginning of the year,, trade was thriving, and large quantities of goods were entering the country. Customs duties were imposed on them,, thereby increasing their basic prices; and the sales tax was levied on the basic prices of the goods plus the customs duties. When the slump in trade occurred, customs revenue fell from’ £113,000,000 to £62,000,000, because fewer goods were entering the country;, and the unanticipated fall in one indirect tax - customs duties - led to an unanticipated fall in yet another indirect tax - the sales tax - which was, in part,, dependent upon the customs duties.
As I stated, receipts from sales tas. were not £117,000,000, as the Government expected, but £95,000,000. TheGovernment found itself with less revenuefrom the sales tax than it had expected. It had budgeted for a large surplus that did not materialize. Commonwealth, revenue, when it depends to a substantial degree on collections from indirect taxes, will rise in times of prosperity, but will’ fall steeply in a slump. An indirect tax has the effect of reducing collections from, a direct tax, and gives the Government rather dangerous delusions about the stability of its revenue.
There is little to be gained from, arguing that the general tendency of the sales tax is inflationary. I do not proposeto labour the point that the incidence of the sales tax is not as fair as is that of” a graduated tax, but I make the observation that every year, regardless of the political views of the Government in office, we have what I ‘can ‘only describeas an example of public service humour. I do not begrudge the public servants their humour, which is always apparent in the schedules to a Sales Tax (Exemp tion and Classifications) Bill. We are told from time to time that non-essential or luxury goods are singled out for heavy rates -of tax, and that essential goods are regarded as worthy of lower rates of tax. An examination of the schedules to this bill, and to previous sales tax. bills, reveals that such a claim is not true.
I suppose thai; we «an concede that opera glasses are a luxury item, yet they bear the same rate of sales tax as mariners’ glasses, which are obviously used in connexion with an occupation. All honorable members will probably concede that hair brushes and combs are necessary in hygiene, but they are subject to the same rate of sales tax as eyebrow brushes. Razor blades and shaving accessories are inescapable necessaries, yet the. Government imposes the same rate of sales tax on such articles as on slot machines, totalizators, beauty spots and artificial eyelashes. So, if great discrimination has been shown in the selection of items included in the schedules to the bill, it is not apparent to me. We all recognize that equipment for gymnastics, athletics and games have some effect on the health of young people, but those articles are subject to the same rate of sales tax as are canary warblers and kazoos, slippery dips and ferris wheels. If that is the best that the public servants responsible for the framing of the schedules can do, it is time that an examination was conducted with a view to determining what they regard as luxuries and essentials. Canary warblers and kazoos bear the same rate of sales tax as equipment for gymnastics athletics and games, and are subject to a lower rate of tax than are razor blades and all shaving accessories.
If the idea is that people are compelled to buy shaving goods, and, therefore, the Government can afford to place a heavy rate of sales tax on them, that is all right, and the tax is clearly a revenue-raising expedient. But the claim that careful discrimination and differentiation has been shown between luxury articles and essential goods immediately becomes indefensible. I hope that the tendency of the Government to make an indirect tax, which is an unfair tas, a dominant feature of the budget, will cease. This bill, is perhaps, a small step in that, direction, since a slight reduction of revenue from sales tax is expected by the Government ; but I am afraid that most of the difference between £95,000,000 and £88,000,000 is to be accounted for by the explanation that the Government considers that imports will be vastly reduced, and, therefore fewer sales will be made and less revenue received from the sales tax. In that event, the reduction is caused, not by slight, concessions in the rate of tax, but actually by a fall in trade turnover.
.- I am sure that every member of the community welcomes this bill. Recently, one of the leading newspapers in Adelaide published an advertisement of a departmental store under the heading, “ Prices of 2,500 items to be reduced owing to reductions of sales tax “. Actually, the prices of hundreds of thousands of items will be reduced as the result of the concessions provided in this bill. To sum up the reaction of the people to the reductions of taxes granted under this budget, I cannot do better than read a paragraph from a letter written by the president of the Taxpayers’ Association of South Australia on the 13th August last to Senator Laught, who was the chairman of the Government Members’ Taxation Committee. He wrote -
I wrote to the Treasurer the other day in reference to the budget for which the Government deserves great credit and particularly the Treasurer, in view of the fact that a reduction of £50,000,000 in taxation is possible at a time when defence expenditure will amount to £200,000,000.
Every man, woman and child in this country will benefit substantially from the tax reductions that have been made in the budget. So far, two members of the Labour party have participated in this debate. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) put forward what perhaps, is the most spurious argument that has ever been heard in this House. He submitted the proposition that, notwithstanding the great reductions of taxes under this budget, the Government will collect more revenue than was received by the Chifley Labour Government in its last year of office. Of course, the Government will collect more revenue than did its predecessor. There are two reasons for this. First, there are nearly 1,000,000 more people from whom whom taxes will be collected during the current financial year than there were during the last year the Chifley Government was in office. Secondly, since the present Government assumed office, the national income has risen by leaps and bounds. When people’s incomes rise, the same rates of tax on the higher incomes bring in greater revenue. In the last complete year the Labour Government was in office, the national income was £1,938,000,000. In 1951-52, however, the national income rose to £3,258,000,000. When people’s incomes have risen at such an alarming rate, as they have since this Government has been in office, even lower rates of taxes on the higher incomes will bring in more revenue than before. I shall relate that situation directly to the sales tax The total market expenditure, as disclosed in the return of national income and expenditure for 1951-52, prepared by the Commonwealth statistician, has risen from £3,251,000,000, in 194.9-50 to £5,080,000,000 in 1951-52. When the taxation that was collected in 1939 and in the last year of the Labour party’s rule is compared with current taxation collections, the spurious nature of the arguments is revealed fully. All that matters, to the individual is the burden of taxation and the amount that is left to him after he has paid his tax. The Leader of the Opposition presented another spurious argument when he stated that the number of motor cars sold had decreased in the last few months because of the high sales tax. If the right honorable gentleman will study statistics, he will discover that the number of motor cars sold during the last few months was far in excess of the number that was sold while he was a Minister of the Crown. Obviously, the number of motor cars sold will not be so high now as it was when wool was 200d. per lb., but it is still exceptionally high and above the level of sales in any year when the Labour party was in office. The Leader of the Opposition said that the purpose of the sales tax was’ to increase prices. I remind him that the object of this bill is to reduce sales tax and that the result will be a reduction of prices.
After the Leader of the Opposition had spoken, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) gave to the House an interesting lecture on economics but his ideas on economics were just about as incorrect as they could be. He suggested that sales tax was a bad tax and that income tax on a graduated scale was a good tax. The whole inference to be drawn from his remarks was that all indirect taxation should be. abolished and that the burden of taxation should . be based entirely on income tax on a graduated scale. An understanding of public finance would reveal to the honorable member the fallacy of that case. If income tax is made too high, incentive and the desire to produce income are destroyed and the law of diminishing returns applies. Sales tax on luxury items is by far a better form of taxation than is income tax. If equity in taxation be the objective, obviously the best tax is a tax on luxury items and perhaps the next best is income tax. A bad tax is sales tax on essential commodities. An examination of the sales tax- that is provided for in this year’s budget and in this bill and of the reductions that have been made reveals that careful consideration has been given to the total exemption from taxation of the essentials of life. A low tax has been placed on items which are essential and a higher tax has been imposed on items of a luxury nature. It is very shallow thinking that leads one to imagine that all indirect taxes are bad. I heartily congratulate the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) on this bill. I also express appreciation of his having taken the rank and file members of the Government parties into his confidence, and of having allowed the taxation committee of Government members to submit suggestions to him. I thank him also for the splendid advice and assistance that he gave to the committee.
The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme”), who took a valuable part in the work of that committee, has already spoken in this debate. When the committee was appointed, it examined the sales tax schedules with a view to simplifying the whole procedure. The purpose of the tax is obviously to raise revenue. If a tax causes much inconvenience and annoyance but does not raise a large amount of revenue, it is obviously a bad tax. An examination of the sales tax rates that have been in operation for many years discloses that, the sales tax on many items has produced’ very little revenue but has caused much annoyance. The committee was able to examine those schedules from the point of view of the man in the street. It sought to learn how the sales tax on various items affected the ordinary man, whereas the aim of the Treasury officials must be principally to discover how much revenue may thereby be raised to meet government commitments. The rank and file members of the Government parties were able to approach this problem from a practical standpoint and I believe that the reductions of tax that are provided forin this bill will give welcome relief to taxpayers. Many administrative difficulties will be eliminated and sales tax will be removed from some items where its imposition has caused friction without returning much revenue. The honorable member for Petrie has dealt with the ‘ recommendation of ‘ the committee to reduce the number of schedules, which is incorporated in this bill. Formerly there were six different specifications and rates of tax covering various items. Those schedules have been reduced to four. As a result the department will be saved much work and industries will be able to reduce book work and administrative staffs.
Many items have been causing administrative difficulties. One of those that received much publicity was ice blocks. A small confectioner manufacturing ice blocks and nothing else, had to be regisstered. He had to fill in forms and pay the tax. The total .amount of revenue that was collected, from ice blocks was infinitesimal. Therefore, I appreciate the action of the Treasurer in removing a tax that could have had no more than a nuisance value.
– What about ice cream for the children?
– I agree that, at the first opportunity, the tax on ice cream should be reduced. It should be remembered, however, that the tax on ice cream is paid by the big manufacturers, of whom there are only a few in this country. All the administrative work is done by them, and a very large revenue is derived, from the sale of ice cream. If that tax were remitted the revenue would have to be made up from some other source. T trust that the tas: remissions provided for in this bill will prove to be the forerunner of many others that will be made by this Government before it leaves office.
The bill provides for the total removal of sales tax on a large number of items previously subjected to tax. These include toothbrushes and brushes for cleaning dentures, articles which are essential to hygenic living. They were previously taxed at the rate of 12^ per cent. Candles, which also bore a tax of 12-£ per cent., are now free of tax. It is recognised that candles are an essential commodity to many people, particularly those who live in country areas where electric light is not available. Many articles used by primary producers are now free of tax, and they will be discussed by the honorable member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson), who took an active part in the work of the committee. Other articles now wholly exempt from tax include basinettes, sleeping baskets, babies’ cradles, cots and mattresses for cots, pillows, perambulators and perambulator covers. The Government recognises that babies are the best immigrants, and has demonstrated its belief by granting the tax exemptions which I have mentioned.
Sales tax has been substantially reduced on another group of items. For instance, household trays, which were formerly taxed at the rate of 66jj- per cent, now bear a tax of only 12^ per cent. It is hard to know why these articles, which are used in every home, should ever have been taxed at such a high rate. The tax on shopping bags made of paper, string or plastic cord has been reduced from 33£ per cent, to 12£ per cent., and a similar reduction has been made on goods used in the processing of cinematograph films. .
This bill might well be described as the kiddies’ delight. The tax on practically everything used by children has been substantially reduced. On party decorations and party novelties sales tax has been reduced from 66$ per cent, to 20 per cent. Last year, we heard much talk from honorable members opposite about taxing the children. I hope that the same honorable members will now have the decency to get up and thank the Government for the substantial tax reductions that have been granted on items used by children. The tax on toys, parts of toys, Christmas stockings and crackers has been reduced from 33$ per cent, to 20 per cent., and a similar reduction has been made in the tax on games and puzzles, fireworks, including rockets, gramaphones, phonographs, musical boxes and musical instruments, wireless receiving sets and gramaphone records. On certain other goods, such as toilet and dressing sets, hair combs &c, the tax has been halved, from 66$ per cent, to 33£ per cent. Articles such as toilet and beauty preparations, safety razors, safety razor blades, shaving sticks, shaving cream and shaving soap have been transferred from the 50 per cent, list to the 33^ per cent, list. Practically all items, which are generally regarded as luxuries, are now to be taxed at 50 per cent, instead of 66§- per cent. This list includes such articles as studs, sleeve links, &c.
From the examples that I have given it will be appreciated how every member of the community will benefit from the tax reductions and remissions of sales tax for which this bill provides. The Government is to be congratulated on the splendid way in which it has checked price movements within the last twelve months. A year ago, our industries were held up because we could not get coal and steel. Now, coal and steel are available in ever-increasing quantities. Our industries are progressing, and the Government can say to the people: “Well done, we have got through this depression, this difficult period, and we may now reduce your burdens so as to stimulate employment and production, and provide an incentive for everyone, while at the same time leaving in your pockets more money to spend “. t hope that the Government will continue the policy that has been adopted on this occasion and again seek the assistance of rank and file members so that at all times in its legislation the point of view of the man in the street may be placed before it and incorporated in legislation brought before the Parliament.
.- It was only to be expected, in view of the extensive public outcry that followed the passage of the 1951 sales tax legislation, that the Government would endeavour to effect some reduction of sales tax this year. Despite the praise that has been bestowed upon the Government by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr.
Wilson), it can be truthfully said that the mountain has laboured and brought forth a mouse. The proposed reduction of sales tax by approximately £5,000,000 will still leave an estimated amount of approximately £38,000,000 to be collected from this source in the current financial year. During the discussion of the last sales tax legislation before the Parliament numerous anomalies were pointed out, and the unfair incidence of the tax upon many industries was freely dilated upon by the members of the Opposition. The fears that were then expressed by honorable members on this side of the chamber were scoffed at. It was said that the members of the Opposition were being unduly pessimistic. However, subsequent events have definitely proved the truth of their assertions. Apparently the deleterious results of the sales tax legislation of 1951 have had at least some effect upon the mind of the Government because it has bowed slightly to public opinion in bringing forward this bill.
Many reasons can be enumerated why sales tax should not be levied on a wide range of goods, including many kinds of consumer goods. Let it suffice to say that the incidence of this tax during the last two years has contravened every sound principle of taxation practice. The practical results of a tax and the manner in which it is accepted by the people who pay it are of the utmost importance in determining the advisability of a method of taxation. Judged by those precepts, the sales tax legislation at present before the House stands condemned. I admit that in certain circumstances the imposition of a heavy rate of sales tax can be justified and condoned. The circumstances that dictated the introduction of sales tax in 1930 are not at all synonymous with the circumstances that operate to-day. As every honorable member knows, sales tax was first introduced by the Scullin Government in 1930, when £3,000,000 was collected. It was introduced in circumstances of . acute economic depression. Not only was it adopted in this country, but it also came into being in almost every other country of the world. Its use became almost universal. Practically every American State, most of the European countries, New Zealand and every other British dom.irj.ioii were forced, from sheer necessity, to introduce sales taxation. Governments found that the hitherto exploited streams of taxation were drying up, and they were forced to tap other channels to acquire revenue with which to carry on the ordinary government services. Sales tax was introduced purely as an emergency measure. Unfortunately, the passage of time has changed that conception, and the tax is now a permanent source of revenue.
I freely admit that in the present financial circumstances it is not possible completely to repeal the sales tax legislation, although I certainly join issue with the Government about; the amount that should be collected from this source. Because sales tax is an indirect form of taxation, taxpayers are not so vociferous against its imposition as they are in respect of more direct forms of tax. When sales tax was introduced during the depression, a wave of unemployment threatened to engulf almost every country of the world, which meant that revenue from income tax would consequently fall to unprecedently low levels. Governments were desperate for money and were obliged to seek revenues from other sources in order to carry on normal services. Surely no one will say that a similar state of affairs operates to-day. We have now more or less full employment, with possibly only 4 per cent, or 5 per cent, unemployed, and there is a high rate of income. The two periods cannot be compared.
During World War II., when large sums of money had to be collected speedily, the rate of sales tax was forced up. No one then objected to the increase because Australians appreciated that money had to be raised for the purpose of carrying on the war. Prior to the last war the total collections from sales tax were approximately £8,000,000 a year, and during the war years they rose to £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 a year. The Labour government of the day recognized the inequitable proportions of sales tax compared with other forms of taxation, and as soon as the war ended the Chifley Government progressively, year by year, reduced the rate of sales tax that had been so sharply increased during the war years.
Naturally, it was expected that the present Government would emulate the example of the Chifley Government and would in turn announce reductions of sales tax year by year, particularly in view of the fact that its supporters were so voluble, during the last years of the Chifley regime, concerning the incidence of indirect taxation. People all over Australia were told that the Chifley Government was impoverishing the community because of the large sums of money being extracted from them in an indirect fashion. It was therefore natural to assume that when this Government came to office indirect taxation would be reduced. However, that has not been the case. In 1950, the Government increased the rate of sales tax, and in 1951 it introduced the most savage impost of sales tax in the history of this Parliament. The modicum of relief offered by this bill is totally insufficient. I make the deliberate statement that sales tax does not measure up to the principles of equitable taxation. The honorable member for Sturt, in a futile effort to justify the imposition of sales tax, stated that sales tax should be imposed before income tax. This is quite inaccurate.
A tax imposed on the purchaser of goods causes the heaviest burden of taxation to be borne by those who are least able to bear it. Sales tax falls upon the taxpayer in reverse ratio to income earned. The less a man earns the greater is the proportion of his income that is absorbed by sales tax. The average wage and salary earner spends approximately half his income on goods on which sales tax is levied. The wealthy man spends on such goods a little less than 5 per cent, of his income. As it is impossible to assess the economic circumstances of those who make purchases in the shops, the same rate applies to all purchasers. A man in receipt of an income of £10,000 a year and an age pensioner whose only income is £3 7s. 6d. a week pay the same amount of sales tax upon any given article. Therefore, the tax ignores the principle that taxes should be levied in accordance with ability to pay.
In the past, especially before the war, when the annual revenue from the sales tax was only £8,000,000, the tax was accepted by the Australian people without marked hostility. It was taken as a matter of course, because it did not inflict undue hardship upon the average citizen. In those days, this indirect tax passed almost unnoticed, because it was concealed and did not cause prices to rise very much. Until 1940, purchasers were almost ignorant of the operation of the tax. The collection of comparatively small sums from a multitude of buyers was a method of painless extraction of a tax, and nobody was very seriously affected by it. But in 1951, there was an almost unbelievable and unjustifiable increase of the rate at which the sales tax was imposed upon many articles. That evoked such a barrage of criticism from all sections of the community, including Government supporters, that the Government has wilted to some degree, and, in this bill, has made provision for decreases of the abnormally high rate imposed upon some articles. But the bad feature of the present measure is that, even though the rate of the tax will be reduced in some instances, the operation of the tax will continue to cause a substantial reduction of consumer purchasing power, with a consequent contraction of the demand for goods and services, which, in turn, will cause further unemployment; It has been reliably estimated that about 80 per cent, of the £88,000,000 which it is hoped will be derived from the sales tax during this financial year will be extracted from ordinary wage and salary earners. Those are the people who are struggling to maintain a very meagre standard of living in a period of high prices. The rates at which the tax was imposed last year caused prices to rise considerably, but the reduction that will be made this year will bring about only a very small decrease.
A reduction of indirect taxes, including sales tax, would be of inestimable value to the average wage-earner. It would be far better than an increase of wages, because, under present conditions, such an increase would be passed on to consumers in the form of increased prices, and the average wage or salary earner would derive no benefit from it. A real decrease of indirect taxation would improve the lot of the wage-earner materially. To-day, the people are clamouring, not for nominally increased wages but for an increase of their real purchasing power. I know of no better method to increase their purchasing power than to decrease the sales tax imposed upon a wide range of consumer goods - not only upon certain articles picked out haphazardly, as is done in this measure. Such a decrease would be a boon to all.
An increase of purchasing power achieved by the means advocated by the Labour party would not have an inflationary effect, because, under present conditions, the additional money that would be put into circulation would be expended upon essential consumer goods. To-day, we are witnessing the spectacle of such goods piling up on the shelves of the shops because the people have not sufficient money with which to buy them, despite the fact that they are necessaries in the home. One of the purposes of the sales tax legislation of 1951 was to discourage luxury purchasing. Unfortunately, most workers in so-called luxury industries have felt the impact of that legislation and have lost their employment. In my electorate, there is a jewellery firm which employed over 100 workers, mostly elderly people or persons who were incapacitated in some manner, including ex-servicemen. That firm, because of the savage impost upon jewellery, was forced to dismiss 50 of those 100 employees. It also employed 50 workers in what may be described as one-man or two-men factories, but now the number has decreased to fourteen. The point that I wish to make is that the people who have been dismissed by that firm have not found employment, in other industries. Tho intention of the Government was to transfer labour from luxury industries to more essential industries, but the people to whom I have referred have not found other jobs. I should be pleased if the Government would tell me how they can become absorbed into industries of the kind that the Government has in mind.
Apparently, the Government has recognized the ineffectiveness of the policy that it adopted last year, because a few concessions have been made this year, but, upon close analysis, it is apparent that they are totally inadequate. A tax of this kind should be judged upon the basis of its contribution to the well being and Stability of our economy. A direct tax upon incomes and wealth appears to be the best available instrument for obtaining revenue without damaging our economic system too greatly. In the absence of compensatory advantages, the sales tax, which is unfair and inequitable in its operation, is repugnant to sound taxation policy. I submit that any tax should be considered from three viewpoints. We should ask ourselves, first, how the burden is spread over the different income groups. The sales tax throws upon the back of the poor a burden that is out of all proportion with their ability to bear it. The taxing of people in accordance with their ability to pay taxes rather than in accordance with their inability to resist them is a tremendous social achievement that should be safeguarded at all costs, but this bill cuts across that principle. The goal of taxation in accordance with ability to pay has been approached slowly and painfully. As the sales tax is the antithesis of that much prized principle, it must be indicted.
The second point of view from which a tax should be considered is that its efficiency shall be measured by costs of administration in relation to the revenue derived from it. To retailers, the sales tax has always been a source of irritation, and it has largely increased their overhead expenses, which have been passed on to consumers. In addition, the Government has been forced to employ a large army of public servants to supervise the administration of the tax, and to ensure that the correct rates of tax shall be charged upon all’ articles, and that the appropriate sums shall be collected. The third point of view from which a tax should be considered is its effect upon the productivity of the nation. I say, without qualification, that, as a result of the Government’s sales, tax policy during the last two years, there has been a decrease of the production, not only of so-called luxury goods but also of goods that certainly come within the category of essential consumer goods. The operation of the sales tax ha.s put large numbers of articles of that kind out of the reach of the average citizen. I do not believe that the sales tax can pass those three tests. Despite all the “ hifalutin “ non sense that has been talked about large decreases, sales tax imposed at the rates proposed will continue to have an insidious effect upon the community at large. The Government, by the puny reductions that a,re proposed, has attempted to trim its sails to the stormy blast of pubic opinion and criticism. Whilst the reductions, such as they are, are welcome, it is almost necessary to use a microscope in order to see them. They are not by any means adequate, and the Government would do well to take the advice of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), withdraw the bill and revise the schedules to it.
I now turn to sales tax on sporting goods. Last year this impost on sporting goods was increased from 8$ per cent, to 33-J per cent. The resultant outcry was such that the Government has decided to reduce the rate to 20 per cent. I am astonished, however, that it has not realized the unfairness of the incidence of this tax on sporting goods which affects a section of the community that is least able to provide for and defend itself. I refer to youngsters who participate in sport. Nowadays youths spend most of their leisure time in sporting activities. Amateur sporting bodies in my electorate have informed me of the serious effect that the sales tax levy of 33-J per cent, on sporting goods that was imposed last year has had on their activities. The reduction of the impost to 20 per cent, will not alleviate the position to any great degree. The endeavours of amateur sporting bodies to provide maximum sporting facilities for their members have been stultified. Many people deplore the growth of the tendency of a large proportion of the public to watch sport instead of participating in it, yet the Government has the temerity to continue to levy an impost that has a most marked effect on the propagation of healthy sporting activities. Even municipal bodies, whose finances are microscopic in comparison with the huge sums that are at the Government’s disposal, have expended amounts of up to £60,000 to provide sporting arenas for the people, and have even run themselves into debt by doing so. Yet this wealthy Government still collects a paltry £400,000 or £500,000 from sales tax on sporting goods. I urge the Government to give consideration at least to reducing the rate of sales tax on sporting goods to the level of 81/3 per cent. at which it stood prior to last year. I appreciate the difficulty that would confront any government if sales tax legislation were completely repealed all at once. The repeal of sales tax legislation would have to he undertaken on a progressive and orderly basis such as was adopted by the Labour party. It would not be feasible to repeal the entire sales tax legislation overnight. The Government, however, should strain every nerve , to decrease sales tax rates by as much as possible. I contend that, from every aspect of equity and justice, this bill is a negation of all taxation principles.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Davidson) adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Lauds Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Defence purposes - Mount Nebo, New South Wales.
Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Ordinances - 1952 -
No. 28 - Crown Lands (No. 2).
No. 29 - Darwin Town Area Leases.
Public Service Act - Appointment - Repat riation Department - M. R. Edgley.
Public Service Arbitration Act - Determinations - 1952 -
No. 55 - Professional Radio Employees’ Institute of Australasia.
No. 56 - Transport Workers’ Union of Australia.
No. 58 - Australian Broadcasting Commission Staff Association.
House adjourned at 10.44 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:- -
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 to 4. Figures of total assets of life insurance companies at the 30th June in each year are not available because companies prepare their annual balance-sheets at varying dates. Most of the companies use a balancing date of either the 30th September or the 31st December, and an approximation to the figures required by the honorable member at the 31st December in each of the years mentioned is given in the following table. The figures include assets held on account of other than life business.
New ‘business written in Australia in respect of those years was -
Figures for 1951 are provisional only.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What were the payments from the National Welfare Fund in each financial year, showing separately the expenditure under each category of social service?
– .The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1, 2 and 3. The information is set out in the following table: -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information: -
y asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Does the Government propose to proceed with its intention announced in 1949 to introduce a bill for the amendment of the Constitution to prevent legislation nationalizing any industry or undertaking without first securing the approval of the people at a referendum?
– The question iswholly one of Government policy which, as the honorable member knows, it is not customary to disclose in answer to questions.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1, 2 and 3. The activi ties of Japanese sailors from Orient Maru while in Adelaide in February last, upon which the honorable member for Hindmarsh made certain observations, were fully investigated at the time by the appropriate authorities, both Commonwealth and State, and it appeared that no further action was called for. Any alteration which the Government may think necessary in the law regarding the movement of persons suspected of espionage or subversive activities will be presented to the House in duo course.
Oil and Petrol.
s. - On the 27th August, the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) asked the following question.: -
Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to threats by the major oil companies in Australia that they will not deliver oil to certain country districts unless an increase in the price of oil is obtained through the State Prices authority? In the event of the threat being carried out, or an attempt being made to carry lit out, will the right honorable gentleman give an undertaking that the resources of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, in which the Commonwealth owns a controlling interest, will be used for the purpose for which it was first instituted, to defeat any attempt by the oil monopolies to blackmail the people? Possibly, Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited could supply adequate petrol to the primary producers in country centres if the other companies refused to supply them.
I now advise the honorable member as follows : -
No. So far as Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is concerned, the terms of the Australian Government’s agreement with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company provide for the technical and commercial management of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited to be toft in the hands of that company.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 September 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1952/19520909_reps_20_218/>.