20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mil. SPEAKER (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– In view of the protracted hostilities in Korea in which many Australian servicemen are participating and a number have already paid the supreme sacrifice, and also in view of the fact that many months have elapsed since honorable members have received any worthwhile information about the conflict, will the Minister for Defence take the earliest opportunity to submit a full and frank statement on the Korean war to the Parliament so that honorable members may be fully informed of the situation!
– I shall examine the honorable member’s proposal, and I hope to be in a position to make a statement on the subject at an early date.
– Can the Minister for Defence inform me what . percentage of the population of this country is represented by Australian troops fighting in Korea? What are the corresponding percentages represented by the troops of other countries fighting with the United Nations forces in that theatre?
– I certainly have not those figures m my mind at the moment, but- 1 shall ascertain whether they .arc available, and convey the ‘information to the honorable gentleman.
– Can the Minister for Civil Aviation inform me whether there is any agreement, written or implied, whereby Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, the present operators of the service between Launceston and Flinders Island, can exclude Trans-Australia Airlines from operating on that run? If Trans-Australia Airlines did come into this field, is there any arrangement or agreement which would require that service to charge higher passenger fares and freights than are charged by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited?
– No agreement exists of the kind described by the honorable member for Bass. Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and Trans-Australia Airlines are competent to operate air services where they like and under such terms and conditions as they themselves think fit, .although there is a common agreement .at the present time that fares, freight rates and the like shall bc somewhat on the same basis. I presume that some airlines operators make variations under certain conditions to customers - and the like, but in general, their terms and conditions are the same. So Far as I am aware, there is no agreement between tho two operators with respect to the Launceston to Flinders Island service;
– In view of the completion of the construction of the two runways at the West Beach Airport in South Australia, and also in view of the progress made with the construction of the hangar there, can the Minister for Civil Aviation indicate when the outbuildings for the accommodation of passengers and for other purposes will be completed? Can he state whether the airport may be used in an emergency during the approaching winter if Parafield is closed on account of wet weather ? Does he consider that the West Beach airport “Kill be available for use during the Royal visit next year ?
– Very good progress is being made with the construction and development of West Beach airport as the main aerodrome for Adelaide. However, I cannot undertake to say when it will be completed because that is essentially a matter for the Department of Works. Representations have been made to me by other honorable members, notably the honorable member for Angas, with a view to having the aerodrome ready for use during the Royal tour of Australia. I shall certainly urge the Department of Civil Aviation and the Department of Works to complete the work “by that time, but I cannot give any undertaking on the point.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Civil Aviation a question supplementary to the question that has been asked by the honorable member for Bass. I refer the Minister to the agreement which now has statutory force under the terms of legislation passed by the Parliament during the last sessional period, when the Minister was engaged on duties overseas. Will the Minister inquire whether, under this agreement, it is impossible for Trans- Australia Air-lines to start a new service without the consent of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited or the arbitrator, and equally impossible for Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited to start a new service without the consent of Trans- Australia Airlines or the arbitrator? In other words, will the Minister examine afresh the point that has been raised by the honorable member for Bass in order to determine whether the basis of his question is not substantially correct, and -whether the direct result of the agreement that I have mentioned is, in effect, that there shall not be any competition in relation to new air routes?
– At the present time, both Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited may start such services as they wish. The two organizations have not yet- reached agreement in relation to the appointment of an arbitrator, although certain gentlemen have been named. When an arbitrator is appointed, he will determine whether there is over-lapping or excessive service to any area. His duty will be to rationalize services so that there shall be the most economic use of aircraft possible.
– Last year I made representations to the Minister for Supply in relation to supplies of tinplate for meat-packing industries in the electorate of Corio as, at that time, an acute shortage of tinplate was adversely affecting their export trade. I now ask the Minister to inform me of the present position in relation to tinplate supplies and of prospects for the coming year.
– The present position in relation to tinplate supplies is very good. Supplies are now more freely available than formerly from Great Britain, and the British Government has abandoned what might be called the rationing plan for Australia so that, for the first time in a long period, Australian users of tinplate, if they can obtain import licences from the Department of Trade and Customs, may huy stocks from British manufacturers as and where they wish. This has enabled us in Australia to abandon the plan under which we pooled all imports of tinplate and distributed them according an an arrangement that was drawn up by representatives of the industries concerned. That plan, of course, caused a great deal of heartburning and I am glad that it has been discontinued. American tinplate also is more freely available now than it was last year, although tinplate is still subject to control in the United States of America, and we are short of dollars. The general tinplate picture is very good, and I have no anxiety about the supply situation during the forthcoming year.
– I asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture some time ago when payment would be made to apple and pear growers for fruit that was taken by the Labour Government under regulation during the war years. I now ask the Minister whether he can inform the House when such payment is likely to be made.
– Payment has been made in very many cases. I explained yesterday that a prodigious amount of work has been done in examining records in order to comply with the formula of settlement laid down by the High Court’. In certain States, growers have been paid completely. Speaking from memory, I think that New South Wales is now the only State in which payment has not been completed, but more than half of the growers there have been paid. I understand that within the next three or four weeks all growers in New South Wales will receive their final payment.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Has the Government been requested to make available a grant of money to build a naval memorial chapel at Flinders Naval Depot, Flinders Island, Victoria,, in remembrance of naval personnel who made the supreme sacrifice in the last two wars? If so, has it agreed to do so? If not, will the Prime Minister investigate the matter, with a view to granting Government assistance?
– I regret that I cannot say positively whether any such request has been received. I shall find out, and shall advise the honorable member accordingly.
– Is it a fact that the Minister for Territories has arranged for the construction of a new wharf at Darwin ? If so, when is it expected that the work will be completed? Has the Minister made any decision about general rebuilding operations in the city?
– Towards the end of last year, Cabinet decided that the construction of a permanent harbour at Darwin should be commenced. The Department of Works was asked to prepare specifications, so that tenders could be called. I understand that tenders will be called this month for a public contract to commence the first stage of the work. Our hope is that within twelve months of the letting of the contract a berth will be available at the new permanent wharf. With regard to general rebuilding operations in Darwin, I think the key to the situation is land tenure. The previous Government, in keeping with its socialist beliefs, compulsorily acquired the whole of the land in Darwin. For a great number of the post-war years, progress in the rebuilding of the town was completely stultified by the fact that nobody could secure any tenure. The first effort of this Government was to grant tenure. I am happy to be able to report that 99-year leases in respect of most of the land in the town have been granted either to previous occupants or to new applicants. As a result of the grant of such tenure, a great deal of building by private enterprise is commencing. Whereas two years .ago only one residence of any size was built by a private owner, to-day there are scores of houses in Darwin built by private owners. In addition, several business people and commercial houses which previously could not rebuild owing to lack of tenure have commenced the construction of permanent buildings. Furthermore, the Government is giving very close and serious attention to the problem of housing in Darwin in order that, by granting assistance that will enable residents to own their own houses, a larger number of dwellings can be provided for the people of the town. The chief indication of the success of the policy of the present Government is the renewed confidence in the town, which was exemplified by a recent sale of town blocks, when the upset price was exceeded on every occasion and was more than doubled on several occasions.
– -Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture give me any information about the intentions of the
Government in regard to the enforcement of the textile labelling regulations?
– I am sure the honorable member knows that the matter is handled by the Minister for Trade and Customs. I am glad to inform the honorable member, if he is not aware of the fact, that the Government has expressed its willingness, over several years, to introduce a practical system, of textile labelling that will protect the consumer and the reputation of Australian wool, and can be policed. The present delay is caused by people who demand that textile labelling shall include the printing of identification marks on virgin, re-used and reprocessed wool, which the Government can find no analyst capable of identifying in a fabric.
– As I have been pressing for the provision of more automatic exchanges in Brisbane. particularly in my own electorate which has suffered from a shortage of both cables and exchanges, and now that an announcement has been made that two new automatic exchanges are in the course of erection in that electorate, can the PostmasterGeneral give me any indication when those exchanges will be completed and able to serve people in the area?
– The Government fully realizes the importance of automatic telephone exchanges, and particularly the importance of having a number of them in the electorate of Griffith. I have authorized- the construction of the exchanges to which the honorable member has referred, very largely as a result of his own pressing representations, but. I cannot give him any undertaking regarding the time by which they will be completed. However, we shall do our best to ensure that they are opened in time for the Royal visit.
– My question is addressed to the Postmaster-General. As the size of the type in which the names and numbers in the Melbourne telephone directory are printed has been continually reduced, and is now so small that persons with average eyesight are frequently mis-reading them, thereby causing much trouble and delay to the tele phone service, will the Minister give a direction that the size of the type be increased, or, alternatively, that a magnifying glass be attached to each directory?
– I do not propose to give a direction for the issue of a magnifying glass with each directory; but the fact is that the number of telephone subscribers, particularly in big cities, has become so great that the size of the various directories has to be kept within reasonable physical proportions. That is why the size of the type has had to be reduced. Otherwise we should possibly need to issue more than one directory for a big city. I recognize that the print i:s smalt, and I do not know whether we can improve the situation. I shall have the honorable member’s suggestion examined.
– I point out to the Postmaster-General that the new edition of the telephone directory which has been distributed in Queensland has been printed in a type that is much smaller than was used in previous’ editions. I ask the honorable gentleman whether, in future, the Postal Department will revert to the use of larger type because the present type makes it almost impossible for aged persons and others with poor vision to read the directory.
– I answered a question on this subject earlier to-day.
– I was not present at the time.
– I shall examine the problem that the honorable member has posed.
– I direct a question to you, Mr. Speaker. Knowing your interest in Scottish history, and that you are steeped in the Scottish tradition, would you kindly tell me what provision is made, when social functions, such as dinners, are arranged in the precincts of this House, of which you are the jealous and rightful custodian, for nonconformists, dissenters or covenanters?
– If the honorable gentleman can assure me that he is either a dissenter or a non-conformist I shall make for him any arrangement that will suit him.
– In view of the wide public interest in the current negotiations for a renewal of the International Wheat Agreement, and the fact that this is the first occasion on which the wheat-growers have been represented at the discussions, representation of the growers having been resisted on all previous occasions, is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in a position to say what progress has been made in those protracted negotiations?
– The negotiations, which began in Washington on the 30th January, are, in fact, a resumption of a meeting of the International Wheat Council that was held in London last April and May in order that the approximately 50 nations that are parties to the present agreement could discuss whether terms could be agreed to for an extension or a renewal of the agreement. The negotiations in London broke down principally because of the wide disparity of opinion about prices between importing and exporting countries. In the negotiations now proceeding, the Autralian delegation includes the general secretary of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. The negotiations have disclosed that there is still a wide disparity in the views on price as between importers and exporters, and in fact there is some difference of opinion about the duration of the new agreement. The discussions have served to narrow the gap between the demands of importers and exporters, but it is still considerable, even after more than two weeks of negotiation. I am able to say that importers have not raised their ideas of price as much as exporters have lowered theirs. I think that it is fair on behalf of Australia,, as an exporting country, to remind the importing countries that under the present agreement the importers have had the best of the bargain over four years because, apart from a very short period, the maximum price for sales under the international wheat agreement during the last 3£ years has been much lower than the open world price for wheat. The Australian Governmenapproves in principle the International Wheat Agreement. It believes that it will give stability to the Australian economy, and that it will be in the interests of the Australian wheatgrowers. We believe that a long-term agreement at a fair price will be as much in the interests of the exporters as of the importers. However, we remind, the importing countries that their longterm interests will not be best served, unless a price is agreed upon which will induce an adequate production of wheat in the world. Considerations such as those actuate the Australian delegation. I believe that the negotiations will be brought to a conclusion in the near future, but the gap in the price is still sufficient to make it not’ yet clear whether a final agreement will be reached.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. In view of the importance of the tobacco-growing industry as a developmental and dollar-saving industry, will the Minister bring down legislation to force manufacturers to increase the percentage of Australian tobacco that is to be blended with the imported tobacco in Australian manufactured tobaccos and cigarettes? Will he also investigate the incidence of customs controls in this matter?
– I am not responsible for the customs side of this matter, though I am concerned with increasing production and stabilizing the tobacco industry in Australia. The Government is most concerned to maintain and expand the Australian tobacco industry, and has already entered into an agreement with the .States under which we are aiming at the production of 16,000 acres of tobacco. The Minister for Trade and Customs has announced that to entitle tobacco to the duty drawback which applies to that blended tobacco it will be necessary to blend twice as much Australian leaf with imported leaf as has been the practice in the past. The amount has already been increased by 50 per cent, and the other 50 per cent, will be imposed when manufacturers obtain a sufficient quantity of Australian tobacco to enable them to carry out the requirements. Unhappily, last year’s tobacco crop in Queensland was grown during a drought year, and much of it is not really suitable to the taste of the Australian smoker. It is not part of this Government’s policy to compel Australian smokers to smoke low-grade leaf. In the latest of the series of negotiations that I have had with the growers and manufacturers, in Melbourne about a week or ten days ago, the growers offered to withdraw from the quantity of unsold leaf all leaf below a certain stated grade and never again to 0ii:d’ leaf of that grade for sale. The manufacturers said that if that were done they would buy the whole of the leaf of the approved grades.
– At what price?
– At a satisfactory price. The growers agreed that the grading of the leaf that remained unsold at the recent Queensland sale, is sufficiently mixed for them not to wish to attempt to negotiate a sale. They have said that they would prefer to take hack the leaf and re-grade it. The manufacturers have assured the Government that if the leaf is re-graded they will buy the whole of it. The Government has indicated that it is prepared to consider a businesslike proposal by the growers for the payment of a monetary advance on the leaf while it is being re-graded. The growers are at present negotiating with my department in an attempt to devise a proposal to that end. I assure the House and the growers that the tobacco industry will be placed on a stable basis.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House what advance is contemplated, the method by which it will be computed, and what particular facts the Government is waiting to obtain before it decides when that payment shall be made?
– Following a recent sale in Queensland, SS) per cent, of the leaf negotiated after the auction was sold to the manufacturers at prices entirely satisfactory to the growers. That left a quantity of leaf for which there were no negotiations, because the growers themselves declined to negotiate. When I raised this matter with, the growers and the manufacturers in conference, the manufacturers said that they had not bid for that leaf, because it had been too mixed in grading. I asked them whether they would negotiate, but the growers themselves said that they were not prepared to negotiate until they had taken the tobacco away and re-graded it. They withdrew from sale certain low grades which, they conceded, were there. The manufacturers then said that they would engage to buy the entire balance above the three low grades when the leaf had been re-graded. This will take some time, and I recognize the financial needs of the growers, and, therefore, I have said that if they can submit a business-like proposal to the Government for an advance upon this leaf, which has a value, though not an identifiable value at the present time because of the mixed grading, I shall submit the request to Cabinet. I received a message from the growers on that point last Tuesday, and the Department of Commerce and Agriculture even now is engaged in discussions with the representatives of the growers with the object of discovering a business-like basis for the proposal that the Government should make in advance. I believe that a business-like proposal will be evolved and that the financial stress imposed upon those growers whose tobacco was good but too mixed in the grading to be properly valued will be relieved. I also believe that, as a result of this experience, there will be no problems of this sort in the tobacco industry next year, and that a full market at highly satisfactory prices will be available for Australian leaf.
– In view of the fact that the last two diplomatic cadet quotas were confined entirely to young men, will the Minister for External Affairs indicate to the House whether his policy makes it possible for young women of the right type and intelligence to regard the diplomatic field as a career?
– I appreciate the honorable member’s interest in this matter. I assure him that no distinction is made between young men and women- applicants for External Affairs cadetships. In fact, if I might venture to correct the honorable member, one young woman of considerable parts was chosen last year. During the course of the last ten years - in respect of the figures I speak from memory - no fewer than seventeen young women were chosen for External Affairs cadetships arid passed into the service of the department. Of these young women, about seven have since left the service, most of them having married. I assure the honorable member that every applicant is judged on his or her merits and that no bias is exercised against the entry of young women into the diplomatic service. I might add, however, that the general conditions of the service, particularly of the consular staffs overseas, are rather hard and are not entirely appropriate for young women. I assure the honorable member that iri the selection of appointees equal consideration is given to both young men and young women of the appropriate qualifications.
– Can the Minister for Defence Production inform me what progress has been made in the production of the F86 Sabre jet fighter in Australia ? Is there any prospect that these machines will be available in numbers before superior machines are available overseas ?
– Considerable progress has been made with the production of Sabre jet aircraft in Australia. As the honorable member for Farrer is aware, we shall install in aircraft of this type an engine the power of which is greatly in excess of the Sabre jet thrust at present in use, and we are of the opinion that this machine, as powered by the Australian Rolls Royce engine, will remain in the ascendancy for quite some period of time. The progress that is being made with the manufacture of aircraft of this type in Australia is quite satisfactory, and the first Sabre jet will come off the assembly line according to schedule.
– ls the Treasurer aware of the very solemn promise made to the people of New South Wales by the leader of the Liberal party in that State during the recent election campaign that the pay-roll tax could and would be abolished soon after the 14th February. In the light of the arguments submitted to the electors of New South Wales by the Liberal party, and having in mind the desirability of maintaining faith with the people, can the right honorable gentleman inform me whether it is the intention of this Government to introduce legislation during the present sessional period to provide for the abolition of the pay-roll tax?
– The question relates to government policy.
– I am not aware that such a promise as mentioned by the honorable member for Blaxland was made during the recent election campaign in New South Wales. If the promise was made, it involves a matter of government policy.
– I refer to the system of self-assessment of provisional tax, which was introduced last year. I understand that it was the brain child of the Treasurer. Can the right honorable gentleman give one valid reason that would justify this mathematical exercise being forced upon taxpayers? Is he aware that, already, hundreds of people in rural areas wish that he had never heard of the Canadian system for the self-assessment of provisional tax?
– I refer the honorable gentleman to the reports of the speeches that were made during the second-reading stage and the committee stage of the relevant bill.
– On previous occasions, I have addressed questions to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture relating to the ban on the export of merino sheep from Australia. Can he indicate now whether it is likely that a decision will be made in the near future, either to continue the ban or relax it?
– On several occasions I have stated in the House my attitude to representations that have been made to me for the lifting of the ban on the export of merino sheep from Australia. In the first place, I submitted the proposal to Cabinet, which decided to take no action in the matter. Further representations from quite influential quarters were made to me that the ban should be lifted, and my reply to those who sponsored the request was that if they could demonstrate that the Australian sheep industry approved the lifting of the ban, I would again submit the matter to ‘Cabinet. I am bound to say that I am not aware of any important evidence that the Australian sheep industry has shown a willingness that the ban should be lifted.
– I address a question to the Treasurer, in the absence of the Prime Minister from the chamber, and ask him to secure the information that I seek if he is not able to give it to me immediately. I desire to know whether the Commonwealth Government can refuse to make available to a royal commission appointed by a State government Commonwealth departmental files which are required in connexion with its investigations. If this is the position, will the Government give an assurance that any official Commonwealth files required by a royal commission recently appointed in New South Wales will be made available? Will the Government also examine the terms of reference of such royal commission to ascertain whether they will enable the commission to inquire into charges made by the honorable member for Mackellar during; the recent State election campaign and repeated in this House last evening? If, upon such examination, it is discovered that the terms of reference are not wide enough for this to be done, will the right honorable gentleman immediately take up with the New South Wales Government the question of having them widened or, alternatively, will the Government appoint a royal commission to inquire into the charges made by the honorable member for Mackellar?
– I shall treat the question as if it has been placed on the notice-paper, and bring it to the notice of the Head of the Government.
– I ask for leave of the House to make a personal statement.
– Is leave granted?
– Is it a personal explanation or a personal statement?
– Does- the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) desire to make a personal explanation ?
– I desire to make a personal explanation.
– It is not necessary to ask for leave to make a personal explanation.
– In the Canberra Times of this morning I am reported as having made the following statement in the House last night: -
In October, 1950, a report was made and a certain New South Wales Minister ‘had been able to get hold of it and make it available to the press-
I did not say that. What I said was -
One date to which I wish to direct attention is October, 1950, when a certain report was made. So far as I am aware, that date was not published, yet, whether by good luck or by good management, a certain New South Wales Minister was able to cite it in the press.
My statement referred, not to the file, but to the date. I have checked the accuracy of my memory of what I had said by reference to the Hansard report of my speech.
A few minutes ago, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) said that I had made certain charges in the House last night. He said also that I had made certain charges outside the House. The first statement is not true. The second is true. As he will discover if he consults the Hansard proof of my speech, what I said last night was that certain matters called for investigation, and that I myself had some doubt about those matters. In all fairness, let me add that, not to myself but to two other persons, Mr. Doyle has named the honorable member for East Sydney as one of his contacts.
-Order ! The honorable gentleman must not introduce Mr. Doyle into this matter.
– I say, in fairness to the honorable member for East Sydney, that I do not necessarily regard Mr. Doyle as a witness of truth in this matter.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must not refer to Mr. Doyle.
– I ask for leave of the House to continue with my statement for two minutes.
– Is leave granted ?
Leave not granted.
– I ask for leave to make a statement with regard to the same matter.
– Does the honorable gentleman ask for leave to make a statement ?
– To make a personal explanation.
– It is not necessary to ask for leave to make a personal explanation. The. honorable member must confine his remarks to the matter about which he alleges he has been misrepresented.
– I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I am not sure whether what I wish to say comes within the category of a statement or a personal explanation. I desire to refer to the accuracy of what the honorable member for Mackellar has said about the charges that he made last evening, which he now denies.
– If the honorable member claims to have been misrepresented by any other honorable member, he may make a personal explanation. It is not necessary for him to ask for leave to do so. But if he wishes to introduce into his explanation anything other than a statement to clarify his own position on some matter in respect of which he claims to have been misrepresented, he must ask for leave of the House to do so.
– Then I ask leave to make a statement.
– Is leave granted?
Government Supporters. - No.
Leave not granted.
– I ask the Minister for Health whether, having regard to the fact that public hospital maintenance costs have at least doubled as a result of inflation since the rate of the hospital benefit was fixed in 1948 at 8s. a day for each patient, he will give consideration to a substantial increase of the present benefit of 8s. a day plus a further amount of 4s. a day for each patient.
– When the rate of 8s. a day for each patient was fixed, that amount represented approximately one-sixth of the total cost borne by the State hospitals for each bed. The present arrangement, under which this Government pays £4 4s. a week for each patient on condition that a further amount is received from an insurance scheme, provides for probably one-third of the total expenditure on each hospital bed.
– The question that I wish to ask the Minister for Health arises from the fact that a number of persons in the Yarra electorate who suffer from tuberculosis of the spine were refused further payment of the tuberculosis allowance recently as a result,I understand, of directions given by this Government to the State governments in relation to the expenditure of the money that is provided for tuberculosis sufferers. What is the reason for this decision ? Will the Minister take speedy action to restore the allowance to such persons who, because of its withdrawal, are now suffering great economic hardship and whose prospects of recovery are gravely affected?
– The conditions under which the tuberculosis allowance is paid are laid down in an act that was passed by the Parliament when a Labour government was in power. They have not been changed in any way. However, this Government has improved the lot of tuberculosis sufferers since it has been in office. Formerly, such persons received only social service benefits, but to-day, those who are infectious receive the most generous tuberculosis allowance: in the world.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services for further information about the draft reciprocal agreement between the Australian Government and the United Kingdom Government in relation to social services, with particular reference to the rates that will be payable in the respective countries. Is it a fact that the Australian. Treasury will bear by far the greater portion of the total cost of payments under the terms of the agreement and that Australian citizens will receive, by far the smaller share of the benefits under the agreement ? Is it correct, for example, that an Australian pensioner couple in England will receive £Stg.2 2s. a week, which represents £A2 12s. 6d. a week, at the expense of the United Kingdom Government, whereas an English pensioner couple in Australia will receive £AG. 15s; a week, of which £A.4 13s. a week will be paid by the Australian Treasury?
– I hope, later to make a statement to the House which will cover the points that the honorable member has raised. At this stage, however, I may clarify the honorable member’smind in relation to two or three matters to which his question relates. His suggestion that the Australian Treasury will have to pay a tremendous sum for this social service is not accurate. It was thought for many years that a reciprocal arrangement of the kind that is planned would cost millions of pounds annually. That was the view of the advisors of successive governments. However, I am pleased to say that the agreement now contemplated will cost a relatively insignificant sum each year. The expenditure involved will be less than £200,000 a year, and the Government considers that, in view of the benefits that are to be gained from it, the money will be well spent. Immigration, cif course, will have an important bearing on this subject, but it is not generally understood that there is two-way traffic between England and Australia and that at, present, for every 100- United Kingdom citizens who take up permanent residence in Australia, no fewer than 62 Australians take up permanent residence in the United Kingdom. The honorable member has referred to the respective pension rates for Australia and the United Kingdom, but other benefits must be taken into account. Reference to the rates of pension alone does not provide a true picture. Furthermore, there, is a distinct difference between the pension systems of the two countries-. The United Kingdom system is entirely an insurance scheme, to which people have contributed over a long period. The Australian benefit, of course, is paid directly from revenue, and there is no specific amount identifiable with the social services scheme. These are all subsidiary matters, however, and I hope to make a full statement to the House on the whole subject at the first opportunity,
– Is. the Minister for Social Services yet in a position to inform the House when the means test in relation to pensioners will be abolished? If the honorable gentleman is not able to say definitely- when the Government’s promise on this subject will be redeemed, will he without further delay review the permissible income and means test provisions, particularly as those regulations unjustly affect recipients of superannuation, miner pensioners, ex-service pensioners and other such persons?
– To the best of my knowledge, the Government has never promised that the means test will be removed. Perhaps the honorable gentleman will inform himself upon that matter by reading the policy speech of the Government parties. I promise that the liberalization of the income means test will be considered when the Estimates for the current year are being prepared, but I point out that such a liberalization would be. a very expensive process. To increase the permissible income of pensioners by, say, £1 a week would cost the taxpayers of this country £4,500,000 a year.
– Will the Minister acting for the Minister for the Interior tell me how many dwellings owned by the Australian Government at Parkes, New South Wales, are unoccupied? Is it true that these dwellings have been vacant for periods of up to twelve: months? Further, is it the. intention of the Government to allow them to. remain- unoccupied and to fall into- a state, of disrepair, or will the Government allow State or municipal authorities to acquire them for the. purpose of housing some of the thousands of families in various parts of Australia who need homes? sir philip Mcbride.- i m ascertain the facts and convey the. information to the honorable member.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service, relates to the serious position that has arisen in the building trade through unemployment. Is it a fact that in New South “Wales over 3,000 unemployed builders are walking the streets, looking for work? Is it also a fact that in the city of Greater Wollongong over 300 carpenters cannot find employment? Is the Minister aware that, while those men are looking for work, hundreds of families are in search of homes, and that some families are living in motor car garages, old sheds and tents under disgraceful conditions? What action does the honorable gentleman propose to take to remedy that unhappy state of affairs ?
– Off-hand, I am unable to cite the figures that relate to the building tradesmen who are unemployed in New South Wales. It is a fact that there is some unemployment in New South Wales, although it is not large by pre-war standards. Unfortunately, at the present time the unemployment in the city of Sydney alone constitutes more than a half of the total unemployment in the Commonwealth of Australia. The honorable member has asked me what this Government proposes to do in the matter. I believe that it might be more appropriate for the Premier of New South Wales to consult with the Premiers of Western Australia and South Australia, in which States there is, proportionately, considerably less unemployment than in New South Wales. For our part, we have created in this country, and have maintained for a considerable time, a situation of economic stability and of encouragement to a healthy expansion of private industry, which provides four of every five jobs in Australia. We feel that in that way we can provide adequate work opportunities. Nothing is more essential to building construction than a stable price level, a stable wage level, and a stable employment level. All those things exist at the present time, and I hope that the building industry will take advantage of them.
– Has the Minister for Supply any information relative to the withdrawal from a departmental sale of goods seized from the residence of the former Japanese Ambassador?
– The honorable gentleman asked me this question yesterday. I caused immediate inquiries to be made, because I did not know the details of the matter at the time. I have ascertained that last year the Department of Works and Housing passed to my department, as the disposing department, for disposal on behalf of the Department of External Affairs, a considerable quantity of cutlery and table linen that had been the property of the former Japanese legation in Canberra. The proceeds of the sale were to be paid to the Controller of Enemy Property in Canberra. The goods were included in a catalogue. The lot numbers were, I think, the numbers indicated by the honorable gentleman yesterday. Prior to the auction sale, the Department of Works, acting in accordance with the advice of the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor, instructed that the articles be withdrawn from the sale, and action was taken accordingly. At present, I have no other information about the matter. The fact that that action was taken at the instigation of the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor leads me to assume that some legal difficulties have arisen, but I do not know whether that is correct. I point out that there is nothing unusual in the disposal section of my department withdrawing goods from a sale. It is done almost every day. I am certain that in this instance it does not constitute an international incident.
– Is leave granted ?
– There is a lack of firm leadership on the other side of the House. The honorable member’s own leader is willing that leave should be given.
– If Government supporters gag members of the Opposition then they will be gagged themselves.
– Firmer leadership is necessary on the other side.
– Order ! The VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) should be setting an example.
– I can set an example in leadership to honorable members opposite.
Leave not granted. i “f .
– I lay on the table the following paper : -
United Nations - General Assembly - Seventh Session (First Part), New York, October to December, 1952 - Summary Report of Australian Delegation. and move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.
– I move -
That a select committee of this House be appointed to examine all aspects of the operation and administration of import restrictions and the effects of such restrictions upon Australian industry.
I point out to the House immediately that I gave notice as long ago as June of last year that I desired to move this motion so it is nearly nine months since the occasion for the debate arose. It was then a matter of supreme urgency. However, the Government has not provided an opportunity until now for the matter to be discussed, which makes it necessary for me to explain briefly, as I shall endeavour to do, the circumstances that occasioned the giving of notice of the motion. Let me sum up the position regarding these import restrictions. 1 shall take the United Kingdom as the typical, or even the most important, case of a “ country of origin “ in relation to our imports. The restrictions were imposed by ministerial order and not by any decision of the Parliament or of either House of the Parliament. The restriction scheme divided imports into three categories. Category A allowed importers a quota which - and this is the important point - was based on their actual importations during the financial year 1950-51. The quota allowed under the original order in that category amounted to 60 per cent, of each individual’s importations during that base year. An importer on producing evidence of the money value of goods that he had imported in that year, would be permitted to import goods to the value of 60 per cent, of that amount.
The restrictions in category B were more severe. The quota permitted under that category was only 20 per cent, of the value of goods imported by an individual in the base year 1950-51. The cut was therefore 80 per cent.
There was a third category, which was known as “ Administrative Control “, the goods under which were outside the quota system. In relation to that class of goods the Minister for Trade and Customs or his deputy, or the Department of Trade and Customs, in some way or other exercised discretion. It is convenient to call that a third category, although it was described by a different name. The basis of the proposal that I have made to the House arose from the fact that the quotas were allocated on a quarterly basis, but if an individual did not use his quota in one quarter it could not be carried forward for use in subsequent quarters. What was bound to happen arose from that fact. The system in operation meant that importers who, in the base year 1950-51, in which there was an enormous and record flood of imports into the country, had imported an unusually great volume of goods, were placed in a strategic business position of enormous .importance. They were given the right to use their percentage allocations even though in March last year, when the restrictions were imposed, they were heavily overstocked and did not require the goods for their businesses or were unable to finance their purchase because of the financial situation which then existed as a result of bank credit control, capital issues control, and other restrictions. Even although they had this availability of goods under quota it was very often the case that they could not handle them to their profit. The result was that they had available to them, through the system of restrictions, a quota which gave them a right to import goods that they did not want to use themselves. That is one side of the picture. Other importers, however, who happened to do a normal business in 1950-51 and had made no extensive importations in that year, having confined themselves to their ordinary requirements, were placed in an entirely different position. Many of them were placed in a desperate need of additional imports to carry on their businesses or to meet competitors. That situation was bound, because of its very terms, to lead to trafficking in import licences. Perhaps some persons had rights to import certain goods and could use those rights more profitably by selling them. Circumstances such as those led to excessive trafficking in licences, which was destructive of the whole system. The method of imposing import control led to a completely illegitimate situation. In order to illustrate my argument I shall quote from an article in the Financial Review of the 8th May, 1952. The article stated that trafficking in import licences had commenced and was causing concern. Then it continued -
There are some traders fortunate enough to have quotas for the current quarter for Category B (80 per cent, cut) goods as a result of heavy buying in the base year. If those particular goods, textiles, for example, arc moving slowly, the trader, naturally, will make use of the quota on other Category B items which are, or may be, in short supply, and on which there is no price control.
That situation arose because certain traders had the right to import goods, but found it more profitable not to import the goods but to sell the licences to those who wanted to import the goods. The report continued -
There ave cases, however, where traders who have established a quota on, say textiles, are offering to sell the use of that quota for a premium of as much as one-third of its value to the regular distributors of, say, crockery, artificial jewellery, toys or cigarettes. Or they arc approaching the retail trade direct and offering to import similar lines.
The landed cost value of high-duty goods such as cigarettes can be as much” as two and a half times the face value of the import licence. If a trader agreed to use a £5,000 licence on cigarettes for a premium of onethird of the landed cost value, plus duty, he would clear something over £4,000 for his trouble.
The Opposition criticized other aspects of import control at the time the controls were imposed. Among those aspects were certain administrative details to which I shall refer later. I asked at that time that an inquiry should be held into this system, but the matter has now gone on for eight or nine months with the import control system completely unchanged.. Trafficking in licences continued throughout that period in the way indicated by the Financial Review. Sp far as administration is concerned, an enormous burden was suddenly thrown upon departmental officers, and confusion, uncertainty and business disturbance was created in many other quarters. If the present method of controlling overseas trade is to continue, it should be put on a much sounder basis. The whole system of ministerial order has been challenged in the courts, and apparently the High Court, in its latest expression of opinion on this power, was equally divided on whether it was within the power of the Executive Council to take the action that the Government has taken under the statute. Of course, the Parliament would have complete power to act in this matter. The doubtful question is the validity of the delegation from the Parliament to Ministers and down through their subordinate officers. The main point of the whole matter is that the system of import control not only invited, but almost compelled in certain circumstances, trafficking or blackmarketing. Originally I wanted the whole matter to be thoroughly investigated, and on the 5th June, 1952, I gave notice of my intention. However, almost nine months has passed by and nothing has been done. If a committee had been appointed the matter could have been carefully scrutinized and methods to prevent such trafficking in the future could have been worked out. The question is whether this system of administration of overseas trade is justifiable in time of peace. These are matters that are well worth the attention of the Parliament, and for those reasons I originally proposed to move the motion for the appointment of a select committee. Therefore, 1 now move the motion standing in my name on the notice-paper.
– I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.
– The apologia of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was very interesting. He said that he put his motion on the notice-paper a long time ago when he had some fears about the method of administering import controls.
– I also gave illustrations to support my argument.
– That may be so, but I remind the right honorable gentleman that when the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) introduced the Government’s decisions with regard to import control he said -
I hope those new controls will not last very long. They are produced by an emergency and will be modified and then repealed as the emergency fades and ends. Just so soon as we are satisfied that the probable volume of imports is no greater than our exports can pay for and that our overseas balances are at a sate level we will bc delighted to get rid of these new controls
The Leader of the Opposition well knew that that was the attitude of the Government. Now he says, in effect, that if we had given him an opportunity of moving this motion when the full impact of controls as being felt by the people, _ he would “have got considerable political advantage out of his action. Does the right honorable gentleman now state openly that his motion was designed purely to gain political advantage, because that is what he has said in effect? He says, in effect, that he could have made an impassioned speech about the matter when the controls were first introduced, but now his motion is not worth the paper upon which it is printed. I would expect such an attitude on the part of some honorable members opposite but I would not expect such an unethical attitude from the Leader of the Opposition. His motion reads: -
That a Select Committee of this House be appointed to examine all aspects of the operation and administration of import restrictions and the effects of such restrictions upon Australian industry.
It is significant that he has made no reference to the effect that such restrictions have had on Australian industry. If he had done so, I would have been happy to quote a number of authorities in our industrial life who hold the opinion that the import controls were necessary both from the point of view of the people and the importers themselves. The manufacturers are also advocating the continuance of the control because under that system their industries are being given an opportunity to establish themselves on a sound and solid basis.
Let me deal now with the Leader of the Opposition’s proposal for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into this matter. The right honorable gentleman failed to advise the House and the country that the Consultative Committee on Import Policy has been established to advise the Government in carrying, out these measures. May I remind him that the committee was established shortly after import restrictions were imposed, That action was taken with the object of bringing together a group of people who, by their knowledge and experience, would be able to help the Government to achieve the smoothest possible working of the restrictions. Let. me quickly run through the personnel of the committee. It includes a representative of the secondary industries in the person of Mr. E. S. Atkins. Does the right honorable gentleman suggest that Mr. Atkins is not a suitable gentleman to watch the interests of the secondary industries? The committee also includes as representative of importing interests Mr. W. J. Allison, the president of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia. Does the right honorable gentleman deny that Mr. Allison is a suitable person to watch the interests of the commercial community in the operation of these restrictions? The committee also includes Sir Norman Nock, president of the Retail Traders Association. “Will the right honorable gentleman deny that the interests of retailers are likely to be satisfactorily served by Sir Norman Nock? The committee also includes a representative of the primary industries in the person of Mr. W. S. Kelly. I venture to suggest that if any action derogatory to the interests of primary industries were contemplated, Mr. Kelly would very quickly express his opinion about it. The, committee also includes Mr. J. Shortell, who, I understand, is federal president of the Australian Labour party, whose task is .to watch Labour’s interests in the imposition of these restrictions. The women’s organizations are also represented on .the committee in the persons of Mrs. Elsie Byth and Mrs. Ivy Brookes, who watch the interests of women and housewives in the application of these restrictions. Does the right honorable gentleman suggest that a select committee could do a better job than that which is being done by an advisory committee of this description, which gives direct advice to the policy-making section of the Cabinet with regard to the operation of these restrictions?
– That is quite a different point.
– Not at all. The right honorable gentleman has proposed that a select committee be appointed to inquire into the matter. Does he think that this House could establish a committee, the representatives of which possessed the specialized knowledge of the members of the existing consultative committee ?
– The consultative committee deals with matters different from those which a select committee would investigate.
– A select committee would merely make an inquiry into the operation of the restrictions. The consultative committee advises the Government on matters of policy. Does the right honorable gentleman contend that the policy evolved by the consultative committee should be censored by a select committee of members of this House ? If he does so, let him say so quite frankly. Let us not move away from the points at issue. The terms of reference of the consultative committee are as follows - («) To meet at appropriate intervals to review broad policy in the import licensing field and the general effects on the economy of the import restrictions in force:
To provide a forum for discussions of any general problems arising in connexion with import licensing;
It should be clear from the composition and functions of the committee that it is capable of maintaining a close watch on all aspects of the operation and administration of import restrictions and their effect upon Australian industries. It is very doubtful whether a select committee could add anything of value to the work already being done by the consultative committee. It would merely duplicate the functions of the consultative committee.
The Leader of the Opposition also had something to say with regard to the percentages allowed in respect of the categories and the effect they have on the commercial interests of Sydney. He failed to point out that experience of the operation of three categories warranted the establishment of a fourth category which was instituted to meet, in the case of imports of the kind which lend themselves to regulation on the quota principle, situations in which licensing on the basis applicable to goods originally classified in category A or category B proved unsuitable. Imports of goods transferred to the fourth category were regulated on the basis of varying percentages of base-year imports. In other words, where the other three- categories failed to establish the even balance of imports that was necessary, the inclusion of the fourth category enabled appropriate adjustments to be made. Let me stress the fact that the administration of import restrictions has been most flexible. “When we found that undue pressure had been applied to sections of industry, we sought to overcome the problem by the establishment of a hardship board to which importers could appeal. In many instances, the Government, having considered the representations made to the board, effected appropriate quota adjustments.
Another point made by the Leader of the Opposition was that the present system of restrictions has resulted in undesirable trafficking, in licences. The right honorable gentleman appeared to gain some satisfaction from his apparent belief that the Government had condoned such trafficking. He knows only too well that these restrictions had to be imposed without warning in order to prevent the trafficking in capital that would naturally have occurred had the community been given prior indication of the Government’s intentions. The right honorable gentleman well knows that there are always people in the community who will circumvent the laws of this country if they can find the mea.ns by which they can do so. The right honorable gentleman had a classic experience of that during the lifetime of governments of which he was a member. He will recall the black-marketing and the undercounter selling that was indulged in when Commonwealth prices control was first imposed. He will also recall that, during the period of petrol rationing, exposure after exposure was made of the falsification of records and dockets, and how certain persons were able to buy forged dockets and, in some instances, original authoritative dockets, which enabled them to augment the sparse supply of petrol then available to them. Now, he comes to us as a Simon Pure and complains that there is trafficking in import licences. His criticism has lost strength if only by reason of his own experience in this regard.
The right honorable gentleman also said that great pressure had been brought to bear on officers charged with the administration of import restrictions. Of course great pressure was brought to bear on them. Out of the blue, controls were imposed covering transactions running into hundreds of millions of pounds which vitally affected the importing community. The very nature of the controls made it necessary that they should be imposed without warning. The pressure brought to bear on officers charged with the administration of the controls interfered with the easy flow of administration. Countless thousands of requests poured in from people who believed that their interests were being adversely affected. Consequently, a certain amount of congestion occurred. However, the excellent work of the Department of Trade and Customs, and the officers who had handled the import restrictions, has won the complete admiration of the commercial and financial world of this country.
I shall now examine some of the statements issued by members of the banking institutions, who financed the purchase of the imports, and various prominent members of the business world who, had the pressure been such as to upset the economic equilibrium, would have been the first persons to voice criticism of the restrictions. Mr. Wilson, who is the general manager of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank Limited, said that the new cuts were imperative. He expressed the opinion that the restrictions constituted the only reasonable action that the Government could take in the circumstances. He also said -
The move will uplift local trade, now largely overstocked, and help Australian industry.
That statement is not an idle one. It was made by a reputable banker and economist who understands the ramifications of the Australian economy and the various pressures that are likely to be brought upon it. Let us now consider the comment of Mr. Upjohn, the secretary of the Clothing Manufacturers Association, because unemployment was pretty solid in the textile industry, which was one of the secondary industries most harshly affected by the cuts. Mr. Upjohn said -
The restrictions will benefit the textile and clothing industry.
The opinions of those people who felt the full impact of the import restrictions are in direct contrast to the political opportunism of honorable members who seek to make party political capital out of the situation. Sir John Black, who is the deputy chairman and managing director of the Standard Motor Company at Coventry in England, also expressed an opinion upon the import restrictions, and I shall read it to the House because much criticism has been voiced about our action vis-à-vis the United Kingdom. Sir John made the following very significant remark about the Government’s decision to impose the restrictions: -
It signals the end of the Australian honeymoon for the British manufacturer.
There is a realist if ever there was one ! Sir John added -
I think it is the logical follow-up to what Britain has already done. I would say your Government’s move shows very sound planning.
Of course, it shows sound planning! I do not wish to repeat all the reasons why the Government imposed the import restrictions, because that information is already public property. However, it may be necessary for me to remind the House later of the circumstances that made the imposition of the restrictions imperative, and should that need arise, I shall be happy to discuss the matter again. Mr. Latham Withall, who is the Director of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, made the following statement about the import restrictions : -
Drastic import cuts will probably end the temporary recession in sections of industry and will restore full employment.
Perhaps it is because the Government has not encountered pressure from Australian manufacturers to withdraw the import restrictions, that the Leader of the Opposition omitted to make any observation in his speech about the last phrase in his submission which is - the effect of such restrictions upon Australian industry.
Mr.. Withall has been one of the Government’s severest critics, but he hasfinally been won over to its policy because he, like many other people, has realized that the preservation of the national economy is of infinitely greater importance than the attainment of some selfish sectional advantage. Let me remind the House, as I remind myself again at this juncture, because it is necessary for us to have in mind a clear picture of the circumstance that had the Government failed to take the action at the time to restrict imports, Australia would certainly have faced international bankruptcy a short time afterwards. Some critics said that the Government took its remedial measures too late. An examination of the import figures over a period enables us to obtain a. clear view of the situation. The information is contained in the following table: -
In October, 1951, the Government began to have fears for the situation, because our overseas balances were being depleted rapidly. The trend needed to be watched very closely, because of the danger that our overseas balances would not eventually be sufficient to pay for our imports. Such a development would have brought about national bankruptcy. When the import figure declined to £68,000,000 in December, 1951, we considered that the flow of goods was beginning to ease, and become adjusted to the changed circumstances. But, completely out of the blue, the value of imports in January, 1952, jumped to £114,000,000 and to £106,000,000 in the next month. The Government was then obliged to impose the import restrictions in March in order to protect the overseas balances. We could not ask the United Kingdom Government to pay for our excessive imports, and we could not live on international credit. Australia had to pay its way, otherwise it would have become internationally bankrupt.[ Extension of timegranted.] The Leader of the Opposition implied that, had he been given the opportunity to discuss the import restrictions some time ago, when there was a good deal of resistance to them, he might have been able to make some party political capital out of them. Now, he considers that it is hardly worthwhile for him to discuss the situation. I shall remind him of some of the relevant facts. At. the end of June, 1951, because of the fantastic price of wool, our export income had become enormous, and our overseas balances had risen to £843,000,000. The result that flowed normally and naturally from that situation was a huge volume of imports, because the money was available overseas to pay for them. The House will recall that in those days, the Government was taking drastic measures to attack the problem, of inflation. One means that was intended to assist its: policy in that respect, was the encouragement of imports. Inflation had been caused by a situation in which too much money was chasing too few goods, and th& flow of imports meant a reduction of the anti-inflationary pressure. The Government- was not unduly worried on that score. If our overseas balances could have withstood the demands made upon them, we should have liked the flow of imports to continue, but the position was that we were trading on overseas balances that had been established as the result, of the fantastic inflationary prices of wool. “When wool prices fell rather sharply after March, 1951, our export income was severely reduced, and our overseas balances could not be maintained at a desirable level. They dropped from £843,000,000 at the end of June, 1951, to £544,000,000 at the end of December, 1952, and the Government became alarmed, and sought the advice of the highest authorities on economics, banking, industry and business.
– Who were they?
– I have already read the names of some of them to the House. The consensus of opinion, was that because of the f all in wool prices and the reduction of the demand, our anti-inflationary policy would, produce a marked reduction in imports from January, 1952. That opinion proved to be wrong, because the flood of imports continued in January and February. I should like to quote some figures relative to this matter, so that the House will be in possession of the facts. It became evident that, in the absence of strong, remedial action, the overseas balances would be less than £300,000,000 by the end of June, 1952. In the first eight months of 1951-52 our imports were valued at £A758,000,000, compared with £A465,000,000 in the corresponding, period in 1950-51. The House will get some idea from those figures of the rapid growth of imports. That situation caused the Government ‘to act. A comparison of those figures also reveals an interesting situation. Our trade balance’ changed from a surplus, of £A108,000,000 in 1950-51, to a deficit of £A318,000,000 in. 1951-52. This adverse trend continued until May this year. But I need not continue in this strain. The reasons for the introduction of import controls were explained clearly by the Prime Minister when the restrictions were announced in March, 1952.
I have reminded the House of the history of this matter so- that honorable members may have the complete picture in their minds. The Government’s policy, which it pursued in the interests of the national economy, imposed severe pressure upon commerce at first, but the restrictions have been flexible and are being relaxed as rapidly as possible. The controls have been eased progressively, and provision has been made to deal with cases of hardship. The Government announced near the end of 1952 that, from the 1st January, 1953, debits against established quotas would be eliminated. It announced recently a further relaxation to permit of an additional expenditure of approximately £50,000,000 a year overseas. Thus, the promise given by the Prime Minister that the restrictions would be gradually relaxed has been honoured. I am sorry for the Leader of the Opposition. He finds that the occasion for political opportunism has passed because the policy which he formerly condemned is now bearing fruit. The national economy is being stabilised, our overseas balances are once more in a healthy condition, industry is employing more labour, and the commercial world is re-establishing itself upon a sane basis. All this is a result of the Government’s import policy, which the right honorable gentleman subjected to unfounded criticism when the pressure of that policy was first felt by the business- community.
-.- The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) has at least proved himself to be a very adept and cunning parliamentarian.. Conveniently for himself,, he has camouflaged the real issue to which the motion submitted, by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr.. Evatt) refers,, and has restricted himself almost entirely to the: issue of policy. I agree with the. Leader of the Opposition that the delay of nine months in dealing with this most important matter is inexplicable. If, uo the Vice-President of the Executive Council has said, this is a dead matter which has long since lost its significance, responsibility for that state of affairs rests entirely upon the Government, which, in arranging the order of business of this House, took care that we should not be given an earlier opportunity to debate this important subject. I do not deny that in March last year, when the Government’s import restrictions were first applied, our overseas balances had been seriously depleted. That situation was due to the neglect of the Government to take action at the appropriate time instead of allowing our reserves to continue to dwindle. It was fully aware that our balances were being rapidly exhausted and, if it had acted earlier, there would have been no need to take the drastic steps that it finally had to take.
The Government’s policy now indicates an amazing attitude towards Australian industries. It is true that the Opposition objects to the flooding of Australia with goods manufactured in other countries when such goods can be produced economically in this country by Australian workmen. Therefore, honorable members on this side of the House believe that import restrictions have bestowed some benefits upon the Australian community. The newspapers have frequently referred to the fact that the operation of the Government’s import restriction policy has led to the establishment in Australia of many new industries and the expansion of many others. Certain importing interests in Australia now argue that such industries are uneconomic. They have applied severe pressure to the Government in order to force it to change its policy quickly and discontinue the restrictions because they fear that some of the new industries will become permanent. The intention of the Government now, in concert with these interests which influence its policies, is to abolish import restrictions so that industries that were established or expanded in order to meet the nation’s requirements during the period of control may be destroyed. The unfortunate Australians who have invested capital in these industries. and the workers who have obtained employment in them, are to be sacrificed because this Government, which the Leader of the Opposition has properly described as a “fits and starts government “, has decided once again to change its policy. I shall not deal further with the subject of general policy, because the motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition does not refer to policy.
The Leader of the Opposition has proposed that a select committee of this House be appointed to examine all aspects of the operation and administration of import restrictions and the effects of such restrictions upon Australian industry. According to the Vice-President of the Executive Council, an expert committee already exists which is charged with this task. That committee represents certain interests, but its functions do not include the investigation of such matters as those to which the Leader of the Opposition has directed attention. I was interested to hear the remarks of the Vice-President of the Executive Council when he spoke of the effects of certain controls under the regime of a Labour government during World War II. He talked about widespread black-marketing ,and underthecounter sales in retail stores. The malpractices of which he complained were indulged in by persons who usually support the anti-Labour parties, and the right honorable gentleman, in fact, was indicting capitalism as a corrupt and crooked economic system. According to him, every section of the business and commercial community engages in questionable and illegal activities whenever they have the opportunity to do so. That is simply a criticism of corrupt capitalism. No wonder more and more people are becoming convinced that socialism offers the only means of suppressing such abuses !
I shall refer briefly now to the endeavours that I have made to have certain aspects of the administration of import controls investigated. Honorable members will recall that certain information came into my possession soon after the controls were imposed and that. I took the earliest opportunity to debate it in this House. I did so because I considered that this House was the proper place in which to ventilate the matter.
I did not make allegations or charges against any individual. I merely directed attention to certain facts that had come to my notice and invited the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and his colleagues to have the whole matter thoroughly investigated. I first raised the matter one night daring the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House. No reply was made to my statements then, and, in fact, I did not expect to receive a reply from the Minister in charge of the House at the time becauseI did not expect him ‘:o have any direct knowledge of the facts:. I simply asked that inquiries be made. But, instead of making some effort ‘io investigate my statements, the Prime Minister came into the House on the following morning, obtained leave to make a statement, and then made a categorical denial of all my charges. He said that my statements wore completely false.
– So they were.
– I shall demonstrate that they were proved to be correct subsequently, and I shall do so by referring to no less an authority than the Prime Minister. Before the discussions on this subject concluded, the right honorable gentleman was compelled to admit that certain of my allegations were based on fact. I referred to a letter which had been received by the Department of Trade and Customs in Sydney from the Australia and New Zealand Bank Limited, which wrote on behalf of David Jones Limited, Sydney, to inform the department that irrevocable letters of credit for £200,000 a month over a period of twelve months had been arranged on behalf of that company. The Prime Minister declared that ray statement was completely false, which meant, in effect, that the letter to which I had referred did not exist, but was a figment of my imagination. Honorable members will agree that the Prime Minister would be most unlikely to engage in debate on such matters without having first informed his mind fully about them. He could have telephoned direct to the customs authorities in Sydney in order to ascertain whether such a letter actually existed and had been received by the department. But apparently he did not do so. He rushed into the chamber and said that the statements that I had made on the previous night were entirely false. The result was that he was obliged to come to the House later and admit that the letter did exist. However, he placed upon it an interpretation that was entirely different from the interpretation I had placed upon it. It appeared to me that there were certain strange circumstances associated with the letter which warranted an immediate and thorough examination. The Prime, Minister said that David Jones Limited had been in the habit of arranging letters of credit for £200,000 monthly but with a currency of only six months, and that this was the first occasion -that the company had departed from that practice. I was informed by customs officials in Sydney that it was most unusual for companies to arrange letters of credit so far ahead as twelve months. In fact, one or two officers of the department told me that they did not know of any previous occasion on which this had been done.
When the Prime Minister made his first statement on the subject in this House, he said that for some months previously he had not had any communication with Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, who, he said, was a personal friend. He admitted later that a letter had been received in his office on the very day when Cabinet decided to impose import restrictions. I think the date was the 6th March, 1952. In fairness to the Prime Minister, it is true that he said he had received that letter after Cabinet had made its decision. He referred to this communication in an endeavour to convince the House that all was well and that there was no need for an investigation. He said in effect, “ It would be ridiculous to suggest that Sir Charles Lloyd Jones would write to me. as the Prime Minister, to complain and protest against a proposal to apply import restrictions when, in fact, he already had in his possession letters of credit which protected his company for a period of twelve months “. Of course the circumstances were unusual. I agree that it was a strange letter for the Prime Minister to receive on the day when Cabinet decided to impose import restrictions, particularly from Sir Charles Lloyd Jones. who must have known at that time that his company was protected by irrevocable letters of credit effective for a period of twelve months. I merely asked at the time that the matter should be clarified. The Government has carefully avoided any proper investigation of this and other matters in relation to the restrictions.
The Prime Minister came to this House just before he departed for a tour overseas on government business and obtained leave to make a statement. That statement consisted largely of a personal attack upon me. Therefore, I asked for leave to make a statement on the subject as soon as the right honorable gentleman had resumed his seat. As honorable members know, under the Standing Orders only one objection is necessary to prevent the granting of leave to make a statement. I cannot recollect any previous or subsequent occasion on which any honorable member, who had been subjected to such an attack as the Prime Minister had made upon me, has been denied the right to make a reply. But, on that occasion, I was refused leave to make a statement in reply. If honorable members will read the Hansard report of proceedings on that day, they will see that the single objection that was needed to prevent me from making a statement was raised by the Prime Minister himself. Another effort was made to clarify this matter a week after the Prime Minister had gone overseas. The Vice-President of the Executive Council said then that it was an attempt to make a cowardly attack upon the right honorable gentleman in his absence.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 108.
Debate resumed from the 4th October, 1951 (vide page 317, Vol. No. 214), on motion by Mr. Swartz -
That this House is of the opinion that the Commonwealth Government should institute an immediate Commonwealth-wide survey of soil erosion, with a view to co-ordinating and assisting the work of soil conservation authorities in the States, and that the full cooperation of the State governments be invited in the carrying out of this survey.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 27th May, 1952 (vide page 820, Vol. 217), on motion by Mr. Calwell -
That the following paper be printed: -
Question resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 12.35 to 2.15 p.m.
Motion (By Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945-51, and for other purposes.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– by leave - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I propose this afternoon, subject to similar leave being given by the House in respect of the next measure, to introduce two bills, one relating to the Commonwealth Bank and called the Commonwealth Bank Bill, and one relating to banking and called the Banking Bill. The bill that I am now about to explain is designed to amend the Commonwealth Bank Act in its principal modern form of 1945, and the other bill is designed to amend the Banking Act of 1945. I shall, of course, explain these bills quite separately. They have, however, one or two elements in common. The bill now before us is the Commonwealth Bank Bill. I might say at once to honorable members that it is designed to achieve two chief objects. There are other objects in it, and I shall refer to them shortly. The first of its two chief objects is the creation, for the first time, of a separately incorporated Commonwealth Trading Bank which will take the place of the existing General Banking Division of the Commonwealth Bank. The second is to protect the trading banks, insofar as that protection can be given by statute, against unfair competition by the Commonwealth Bank. Those are the two chief purposes of the bill. I repeat that thefirst of those is to create a new institution to be called the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia, which is to take over the general banking functions that are at present performed by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. I refer to the general banking functions of the Commonwealth Bank and not the functions of the Rural Credits Department, the Industrial Finance Department, the Mortgage Bank or the Commonwealth Savings Bank.
The Government has not produced this legislation hastily. It is the result of a very long and very close examination of the former legislation and the way it works out, and I want to say at once that we have given the fullest opportunity to various people to offer their views and their criticisms so that we might ultimately be in a position to form a sensible and balanced judgment. “We have come to the conclusion .that the existing- legislation requires amendment if the. position of the trading banks in our banking system is to be protected in the future against unfair attack by a central bank operating- under a government with socialist objectives.
– What would be an unfair attack?
– In my view any attack which used the powers of the central bank, under the direction of government, to close up or cripple the trading banks, would be an unfair attack and, as the opponents of socialism - we recognize that our friends opposite are the exponents of socialism - we considered this legislation in the light of that fact. We are deeply committed, as a government, to the principle of fair competition in the banking system.
Government Supporters. - Hear, hear !
– As in relation to Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and Trans- Australia Airlines,, for instance?
– I did not hear the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) say “ Hear, hear ! “ to my statement.
– No, I mentioned the Government’s recent action in relation to civil aviation.
– We are deeply committed to the principle of fair competition in the banking system, and it must be said of my loquacious friend opposite that he is equally deeply committed to the principle of having a banking monopoly. So the issue is joined. By the re-establishment of the Commonwealth Bank Board, which was done against the opposition of the Labour party, we have already taken a very important step towards ensuring that the Commonwealth Bank will not be actuated by any spirit of partisanship. A broadly constituted board, is, we believe, a great source of protection against purely arbitrary action.
– Who is the Labour party representative on the Board?
– I had not thought of it as a party body. I am glad that honorable members opposite are interjecting freely, because there is nothing hidden that will not be made known by the time they have finished their interjections. “ Who is the Labour man on the board ? “ Honorable members opposite want to convert the board of directors of the Commonwealth Bank into a political party debating machine. That, of course, is the last thing that ought to happen. If I were in the place of honorable members opposite I should not talk too much about that, because the fact that a Labour government placed a direct representative of the trade union movement on the Commonwealth Bank Board did not prevent it from abolishing the board. So why come along moaning that there is no representative of the trade unions on the board? There are no representatives of special interests on it. There ought not to be. I ought to modify that. There is a very great distinction in the community between intelligent people and those who are not intelligent and the people who ought to be represented on the Commonwealth Bank Board are intelligent and experienced people, and that is what we have done.
– Will Lord Bruce be on the board?
– Do not talk about Lord Bruce. The honorable member himself will never be embarrassed by an offer of that kind. I can see that this is going to be a spirited and enjoyable debate.
Our purpose has been to obviate the possibility that the Commonwealth Bank could place its own trading activities in a privileged position through any unfair use of the central banking function, and the conclusion that we have arrived at Ls that the General Banking Division of the Commonwealth Bank ought to be given a separate corporate existence, and that, for the purposes of central banking control, it ought to be on exactly the same footing as are all the other trading banks in Australia, observing the same rules, bound by the same rules, enjoying exactly the same competitive position. That is the central purpose of this bill and it is not astonishing to me to discover that it is this central feature which will be attacked by the socialists in this House. At the same time as we are seeking to achieve that purpose, the proposals that we are making will not interfere with the trading activities that are being conducted by the Commonwealth Bank. We have made clear throughout, as we made clear in our statement of policy in 1949, that we do not stand for the extinction of the Commonwealth Bank as a trading institution. We stand for fair competition between it. and the other trading banks in the country. The right way to achieve that competition is, first, to give it n separate legal existence and, secondly, to make it subject to precisely the same rules as are those institutions which are competing with it for business. The primary responsibility of the Commonwealth Bank - and this, I think, ought to be accepted by everybody - is its function as a central bank acting in harmony with the economic and monetary policy of the government of the day, subject to reference to Parliament under the rules that were introduced on a former occasion. That being the primary responsibility of the Commonwealth Bank, we believe also -and there is great argument about this, there being some who do not agree with it - that the Commonwealth Bank’s general trading activities form a useful section of the commercial banking system and that those activities should be developed in fair competition and not extinguished. We believe that they have great merit, because they act as a source of information to the central bank. They enable the central bank to have an instrument by which it may give leadership in banking policy. It has a great number of advantages that I need not discuss at this stage. Therefore, as a government, we have right through said that we stood for a strong central bank and for a trading bank of the Commonwealth engaged in fair competition with the other trading banks. That is what we have set out to achieve in this bill, and that is what will be achieved by this bill when it becomes an act.
I ought, perhaps, to point out to honorable members something about the existing structure of the Commonwealth Bank. Apart altogether from its central banking activities and its General Banking Division, which is now to become the Commonwealth Trading Bank, the Commonwealth Bank is engaged in three other forms of activity. It has a Rural Credits Department which was established in 1925. As honorable members know, that department was established to provide large short-term loans at concessional rates of interest to cooperative associations, marketing boards and so on, while they arranged the sale of primary products. Numerous transactions are conducted through the Rural Credits Department; for example, on behalf of the Australian Wheat Board. In many instances, the bodies which are responsible for these transactions cannot offer security in accordance with normal banking standards for the financial accommodation necessary for their function. Therefore, in 1925 the Rural Credits Department was established and has operated, as honorable members know, under governments of all political kinds ever since.
The Mortgage Bank Department was established in 1943 to give effect to one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Banking. I concede that its business is not very extensive, although it runs into a. few million pounds annually. It provides long-term loans, repayable by fixed equal instalments, to primary producers, who are accordingly protected against possible pressure for repayment of advances in difficult times. The Mortgage Bank Department was designed, therefore, to engage in a type of finance which does not fit into the normal banking pattern.
The Industrial Finance Department was set up in 1945. It was established to provide assistance to industry, particularly small-scale enterprises outside the ambit of ordinary banking practice. That department is under a statutory obligation to consider, primarily, the prospects of the enterprise rather than the present value of the assets that it may have to offer as security. That department was set up under the 1945 act. Those three departments will, under the proposals contained in this bill, continue to be associated with the central bank and will not form part of the trading bank.
– Without any restrictions ?
– Their operations are restricted by the amount of capital they have at their disposal, because, as the honorable member knows, the Mortgage Bank Department, the Industrial Finance Department and the Rural Credits Department do not receive deposits. None of them is an ordinary bank in that sense. Therefore, in the case of the Mortgage ‘Bank Department and the Industrial Finance Department, they are restricted by the capital moneys available to them for investment. In the case of the Rural Credits Department, it makes special arrangements with the central bank on the revolving fund idea, with which honorable members are familiar. Under our proposals, those three departments are to continue to function in association with the central bank for the very good reason, amongst many other reasons, that if one assumes that their banking operations do not fall into the ordinary banking pattern, then it would be unfair competitively to the new Commonwealth Trading Bank to load it with business transactions which would restrict its capacity to make advances in the ordinary course of hanking practice. Therefore, it is of advantage to the new Commonwealth Trading Bank that it should not be carrying what I shall describe - I hope not improperly - as the burdens which are being carried by these three other special departments.
The Governor and the Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth Bank are, under the present law, responsible for the management of the General Banking Division, the Mortgage Bank Department, the Rural Credits Department, and the Industrial Finance Department, in accordance with the policy laid down by the Commonwealth Bank Board. That is substantially the present set-up. As I have said, under this bill we propose to take power to establish immediately a Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia which is to take over the business of the General Banking Division; it will take it over on a date to be proclaimed, because naturally, all sorts of mechanical arrangements will need to be made; but having been established, it will be a separate body corporate. The bill provides, completely in line with the act of 1945 - and, indeed, it is interesting to note that nobody has challenged this, so far as I know - that the Commonwealth Trading Bank will have a duty to develop and expand its business. It is a purely competitive bank. It has a perfect right and a duty to expand its business. Therefore, quite obviously, it will not refuse business on the mere ground that some other bank has had that business before. In those respects, the provisions of the existing act are repeated. In regard to its capital structure and the disposal of its profits, the Commonwealth Trading Bank will be in exactly the same position as is the General Banking Division of the bank under the present law.
I turn from that to the management of the Commonwealth Trading Bank. The first matter to be considered there is whether it should have, by specific appointment, a general manager and, if so, how he should be appointed. The answer that the bill makes to that question is that the Commonwealth Trading Bank will be managed by a general manager under the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. I shall say more about that matter in a moment. The general manager will be appointed by the GovernorGeneral, which means, as honorable members appreciate, by the government of the day, on the recommendation of the Commonweatlh Bank Board. He will hold office for a period not exceeding seven years.
I shall now elaborate two points about that matter. The first is that there are three possible views about how a general manager should be appointed. Perhaps it could be said that he should be appointed directly by the Government, without intervention from the Commonwealth Bank Board, and quite ignoring the board or its views. Having created the Commonwealth Bank Board we do not believe that it should be completely bypassed when we are appointing its senior officer, who is to conduct the affairs of a large trading bank. Therefore, we rejected that proposition. The second possibility was to provide that the general manager should be chosen by the Commonwealth Bank Board subject to the veto of the Government. The third possibility, which is indistinguishable in substance from the second., was that the manager should be appointed by the Government on the recommendation of the board, thus giving the Government the right to veto a recommendation and call for a second one. As between those three proposals the Government has adopted the proposal that appears in the bill, because we believe that it gives recognition to the proper responsibilities and authority of the board, and at the same time enables the Government to veto the appointment of a person whom it regards as unsuitable, for some reason or other, to carry on this work.
Matters of policy will then arise. Under the existing law, which was altered by the Government some time ago, matters of policy involving differences between the Treasurer and the Commonwealth Bank Board are resolved by the machinery that was then established, with an ultimate reference to, and a resolution by, the Parliament. That provision extends to the whole area of policy in relation to the Commonwealth Bank as it now stands. We have included provisions in the bill to make it clear that the same rules apply to matters of banking policy insofar 3.3 they relate to the new Commonwealth Trading Bank. In respect of the central bank and in respect of the Commonwealth Trading Bank, the capacity of the
Government to insist on policy backed by the Parliament will be precisely the same. We have done that because we would regard it as ironical that the Commonwealth Trading Bank, owned by the Commonwealth, should itself be outside any possible jurisdiction of’ the Australian Government or the Parliament except .by formal act of the Parliament. Therefore, we applied the same rule to the new Commonwealth Trading Bank. I said before that the Commonwealth Trading Bank will be managed by a general manager, who will work under the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. I know that there are some people who believe quite strongly that the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank should be unrelated to the affairs of the Commonwealth Trading Bank. The Government does not share that view. The Government believes that the most efficient management of this new banking organization will be achieved if we have a. proper order of authority. The Governor of the Commonwealth Bank is a very important officer, and he is chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board. It is entirely right and proper that the general manager of the new Commonwealth Trading Bank should deal with the Governor and the Deputy Governor in the ordinary course of the devolution of authority. They will be the instruments through which board decisions on policy will be transmitted to the general manager of the Commonwealth Trading Bank, and his views as to what policy should be will be transmitted through the Governor and the Deputy Governor to the Commonwealth Bank Board. We have designed the bill to carry out those objectives.
Let us now turn to the prospective position of the officers in the Commonwealth Trading Bank. We do not believe that it is desirable that those officers, who are now in the service of the Commonwealth Bank, should be put to a final election as to whether they are on the central bank side or the trading bank side. The Government believes that it should preserve the greatest fluidity of promotion among the Commonwealth Bank’s officers, because the experience gained in both sections of the bank will be of great -value. Therefore, the bill provides that the Commonwealth Bank will be required to make available to the Commonwealth Trading Bank such officers as are necessary to perform the trading bank operations, and officers engaged in the business of the Commonwealth Trading Bank will remain officers of the Commonwealth Bank. Consequently, there will be one service and one series of avenues of promotion, which is a result that the Government considers very desirable.
I previously said that the business of the existing General Banking Division would be transferred to the proposed Commonwealth Trading Bank as from a date to be proclaimed. Of course, there are various provisions in the bill necessary to attain that result. Provision is made to cover persons who write cheques on the Commonwealth Bank in order to make them payable by the new Commonwealth Trading Bank. There are all sorts of change-over provisions of that kind., and I need not worry honorable members by going into them in detail. However, there is one provision to which attention should be drawn. To-day there is some business carried by the General Banking Division which may be thought to be not properly ps.rt of the business of a competitive trading bank. There have been instances over a period of years in which the Commonwealth Bank, through its General Banking Division, has provided financial accommodation for matters of considerable social or industrial importance, but which an ordinary trading bank would not have financed. Therefore, it may well be that at the time of the hand-over the General Banking Division may carry some business that could not be handled practicably by a trading bank. In order to deal with that state of affairs a provision has been inserted in the bill relating to business which it will be impracticable to transfer to the Commonwealth Trading Bank on the proclaimed day. That provision is sub-clause (4.) of clause 18 of the bill, which reads - (4.) Where, before the proclaimed date, the Treasurer, after receipt of a report from the Board, certifies that he is satisfied that it will be impracticable for a portion of the business carried on by, the Commonwealth Bank in its General Banking Division before the proclaimed date to be carried on by the Trading Bank immediately after that date, the Commonwealth Bank may continue to carry on that portion of that business after that date until such time as the Board determines, or the Treasurer certifies that he is satisfied, that it is no longer impracticable for that portion of that business to bc carried on by the Trading Bank and thereupon the Commonwealth Bank shall make such arrangements as are necessary for that portion of that business to be carried on by .the Trading Bank.
That is one of the many indications in this bill that the Government is making an attempt to bring about genuine competition, and is not seeking to load the Commonwealth Trading Bank with burdens that are not borne by the other trading banks. Strange as it may seem to honorable members opposite, we believe, and we have always said, that the Commonwealth Bank and the staffs of the Commonwealth Bank are just as much entitled to protection as are the banks or bank staffs anywhere else in Australia.We are pursuing a course that we believe is just and fair on all these matters.
Mi*. Duthie. - Will the Commonwealth Bank officers be protected under this bill
– Of course they will be. I have been talking at some length about the various provisions of the measure, and I cannot add anything to that at this stage. If the honorable member will read the bill in detail he will realize that these officers will be protected and that what I have said has been set out quite clearly. The special departments of the Commonwealth Bank, such as the Rural Credits Department, the Mortgage Bank Department, and so on, are to remain part of the Commonwealth Bank. I do not want to add anything to what I have said on that point.
I shall . mention some other minor amendments briefly. Although they are minor, they are quite significant and, I believe, interesting. One of them relates to the recruitment of staff to the Commonwealth Bank, and authorizes the Commonwealth Bank to recruit university graduates up to a limit of 10 per cent, of the intake in any one year. That is on a basis comparable with the basis that applies in the Commonwealth Public
Service. I believe that honorable members will agree that it is very important that we should have a provision for the recruiting of university graduates because the central bank has enormous functions to perform which require officers with qualifications of the very highest order. We have been fortunate, indeed, in the Commonwealth Bank in having around its upper register, so to speak, men of great ability and distinction and with high training in the economic and financial fields, and it would be foolish if we said, in effect, that whatever the complexity of the problems of the central bank might be, it could recruit only by an examination at what I shall describe as a minimum level. Therefore, provision has been inserted for the recruitment of graduates as follows : -
The Bank may appoint to the Service of the Bank a person who has not passed a prescribed entrance examination but is -
a graduate of, or qualified for admission to a degree of, a university in Australia; and
Not more than twenty-five years of age.
Then provision is made that the number of persons who are admitted under that provision shall not exceed one-ninth of the number of the male persons appointed to the service during that year after examination which means that they are not to exceed one-tenth of the total intake.
– They will be the whitehaired boys.
– They will be whitehaired boys in due course, because all men of high qualifications who undertake heavy responsibility go white in due course, but I should be astonished if the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) told me that in no circumstances should the central bank of the Commonwealth of Australia recruit to its service a man who had committed the trifling error of taking a university degree. Surely the honorable member is not putting that forward?
– Why should there be privilege for a certain section?
– It is not a privilege. I am tired of hearing assertions that such provisions imply privilege. I have a shrewd idea that most university graduates vote against me. I do not know why the honorable member for D alley (Mr. Rosevear) should grumble, but I should be very sorry indeed, and so also would most honorable members, to think that we should go out on record to the world as having said that in the case of the central bank of the Commonwealth of Australia, no university graduates need apply. That would be pathetic. It would be class politics in reverse with a vengeance. I hope that the Parliament will have no hesitation in agreeing with what I say on that point.
Apart from the provisions that I have already mentioned, certain consequential amendments arise from the separate incorporation of the Commonwealth Trading Bank in many acts of the Parliament as well as the Commonwealth Bank Act. As this is a new incorporation, all sorts of changes have to be made in other acts of Parliament consequentially. The result is set out in the various schedules of the bill and I shall not go into these matters in detail now. If the amendments proposed in this bill are considered in conjunction with the amendments to the succeeding measure, the Banking Bill 1953, they will, we believe, place beyond doubt the continued operation of the Australian banking system in fair and open competition within the framework of central bank policy. We believe that that policy and central bank authority are of great importance. I shall have something more to say about that matter in speaking on the other bill. The general trading activities that are now carried on by the Commonwealth Bank will be entrusted to a separate institution, which, in the matter of central bank control, will be placed in a position no more favorable and no less favorable than the private trading banks. If this is so, as we believe it to be, then we will have produced, in this measure and the other, a scheme which reconciles the proper formulation and administration of central banking policy with true, genuine competition between the banks which attend to what I shall call the retail side of banking. I believe that this principle will receive the full endorsement of the majority of honorable members. I am perfectly certain that it coincides with the views of the majority of the people of Australia because whenever, in the last few years, somebody has sought to destroy competitive banking, he has lived long enough to regret it.
Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an
Ret to amend the Banking Act 1945.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
, - by leave - I move - That the hill be now read a second time.
Although this bill is a separate bill because it amends a separate principal act, it has a great number of things about it which interlock with the former piece of legislation. Last August in this House, my colleague, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) intimated that the Government was reviewing the present banking legislation. The bill now before the House contains the amendments which the Government proposes to make to the Banking Act 1945 as a consequence of that review. In going through the Banking Act 1945 and in considering what experience has taught us about its workings in the years that have gone by since the legislation was enacted, the Government made a very close study of many problems connected with the relations between the Commonwealth Bank, the central bank and the trading banks. They are problems which, of course, must always arise. They are of the essence of central bank and trading bank relations. I want to say at once, because it is as well that, as far as possible, we should fight this matter out on clear ground, that in my opinion there is no cause for believing that the Commonwealth Bank has used its powers under the act otherwise than in promoting economic stability and carrying out its other central bank responsibilities. This is not a question of accusing somebody in the past of bad faith. The Government decided that the present law contains a number of important powers which go far beyond the requirements of proper central bank control. I shall refer to some of them in the course of my speech. In particular, I shall refer to the provisions relating to the calling upof money from the private banks to special accounts. In the hands of a government bent upon dominating thecentral bank for its own political ends, these excessive powers would be a potent weapon for attacking the independent existence of the banks themselves. Therefore, great political issues are involved in these matters. As I have said in relation to the earlier bill, the Government is pledged to preserve competition on a fair and equitable basis as an essential ingredient of the banking system in Australia. I know that my friends in Opposition do not agree with that pledge. They espouse their own socialist theory of a government monopoly which excludes the individual’s freedom of choice and brings on all the evils about which so many heated words were uttered in Australia only a few years ago. I want to say particularly to those who do not espouse the cause of nationalization that in particular two methods - there may be others - present themselves for nationalizing banking and for extinguishing the competitor trading banks. One is the weapon of legislation. That has been tried, and it has failed. The other is the weapon of administration. “We have a state of the law in which there are powers under the act that can be used by the Commonwealth Bank acting as a central bank and dominated by a socialist parliament or a socialist government, to extinguish the private trading banks. Nationalization could be achieved just as successfully, though more crudely, by that means than by the ordinary instrument of statutory law.
– Did that happen in 1945?
– The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) can get little comfort out of this. If I may use a vulgar expression, the honorable member was cockahoop at the prospect of having got rid of the private banks. It was only as a result of lengthy litigation that the attempt to .get rid of the private banks was defeated. The honorable member can claim no credit for not having tried the second weapon because he was too busy using the first.
I turn now to the provisions of the hill, which are, in some respects, not very simple, although explanatory papers have been prepared to help honorable members to understand some of its more complicated parts.
– It will need some explaining.
– I want to make perfectly clear what we are proposing to do. If any one is interested enough to work out the sums involved we have prepared some information which will help him to do so. Our prime task in this bill has been to reconcile two things - proper and adequate powers for the central bank, because if it is to be a competent central bank it must have them, and a proper measure of protection of the trading banks against the possibility of excessive or unjust action on the part of the central bank. In order to achieve our purpose we have incorporated in the bill two very far-reaching amendments. The first of them cancels the enormous uncalled liability of the trading banks to deposit their reserves in special accounts with the Commonwealth Bank. Because that is a tremendously important amendment I shall elaborate the proposal in greater detail in a moment or two. Let me commence by saying that as the law now stands an uncalled liability to pay money into special accounts rests upon the private banks to such a volume that if it were called .up they would all be destroyed to-morrow. It is an . enormous liability-
– How did it come about?
– It came about as the result of the Banking Act 1945, which was introduced by the Government of which the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was a member.
– Nothing of the sort !
– If the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) wants to be reminded of the history of these things I shall tell him about them. The special deposits system was first established as a counteracting factor against what was called normal inflationary demands. In 1941, as the result of a voluntary arrangement made by the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) the system was introduced. Later in. the same year it was converted into a. statutory obligation under the National Security Act.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! I have exercised tolerance to the limit this afternoon. The House is dealing with serious and important matters. I ask honorable members to restrain themselves.
– In 1945, under the administration of the then Labour Government, the arrangement for special accounts was converted into a statutory obligation in the full sense by being incorporated in the Banking Act 1945. Everybody agreed - and to my knowledge the private- banks do not challenge the contention at this moment - that in any system providing for a central bank there should be some power to call up to special accounts and to immobilize some portion of the private banks’ deposits so that, in an inflationary boom, the amount of available credit may be reduced. That is a perfectly legitimate central bank technique. Therefore, nobody quarrels with the existence of a special accounts system. But under the 1945 act, the special accounts liability was fixed at the amount in special account in July, 1945, plus 100 per cent, of the total increase of assets of any bank after that date. If the honorable^ member for Lalor is interested to know who was responsible for this matter, I remind him that as a result of that provision the uncalled liability of the trading banks in October last year was £545,000,000.
– “Why was it not called?
– That interjection is on a level that is unintelligible to any rational being. Does the honorable member for Ballarat believe that the liability should have been called up? He knows perfectly well that, if it had been called up, such action would have smashed the entire banking system. But the point I make is that this Government will not allow to continue in existence an uncalled liability which can still, in mischievous or stupid hands, smash the banking system in the future. Therefore, the first most important thing that is achieved by this hill is that it cancels this enormous uncalled liability and makes a fresh start ; and the fresh start that it makes is associated with putting a ceiling in future on the liability of the banks. Wo ha 4 worked out a proper ceiling and provided a set of rules for determining the liability of the trading banks in the future to make lodgments to the special account. I shall revert to this matter in a moment.
Thirdly, we have made the special accounts provisions and the other central bank controls apply to the Commonwealth Bank by force of law. They never have applied by force of law to the Commonwealth Bank in the past. For a long time, all of the special account procedure which applied with such severity - I do not quarrel with it to the point to which it was actually performed - did not apply to the Commonwealth Bank.
– “Were they observed?
– They were not ; buafter we came into office all the trading banks, by voluntary administrative arrangement, decided that they would make payments to special account.
– Government interference. (
– The honorable member may call it government interference, but it was no more so than the law now makes provision for. The banks did that
– Who? Your friends?
– The private banks did it, and the Commonwealth Bank did it; and the honorable member for Ballarat will be interested to know that what the Commonwealth Bank did on that matter it did unanimously, not only by the vote of the persons whom this Government appointed but also by the vote of the persons whom the preceding Government appointed. t Therefore, by voluntary arrangement, the trading banks paid moneys to the special account. Under this bill, the Commonwealth Trading Bank will start off with a base liability of about £15,000,000 and, in future, have the same rules and the same liability as have other trading banks in respect of it.
It is necessary to say a few more words about the special account provisions because they are, of necessity, as honorable members will see in the bill, complicated.
I may say that we have had prepared for the assistance of honorable members a paper which will be distributed after I conclude my speech. That paper contains the precise working out of examples as to how the new rules will work and 1 am sure that it will be of great assistance to honorable members as I found it to be of great assistance to me. Matters of this kind, when they take a statutory form, are not easy to work out without being illustrated by particular examples.
– Not only members of the Opposition need assistance.
– Oh, jio! Nobody needs more assistance than I do. The only difference is that I always manage’ to get it - thanks very much to honorable members opposite. We V must have the special account provisions. I am a great believer in the special account procedure and a great believer in the proper authority of the central bank. I do not believe that anybody seriously challenges such a system; but we have had to consider what we should do in order to put a ceiling on f the special account. First we have wiped out the uncalled liability. ‘ We have estab1lished as the base liability the amount >i standing in special deposits in October l’ast year and we have provided, first, “that for a period of twelve months the liability is to extend not to 100 per cent, if the increase of assets but to 75 per cent, of the increase of deposits and, secondly, that after twelve months the actual outstanding liability of the trading banks at the end of each accounting period will be limited to a relatively small percentage of their overall deposits. That system is illustrated in the paper to which I have referred.
It has been suggested - I think that it is a view entertained by some eminent bankers in this country whose views I respect - that the right way to deal with this matter is to do what is done by a number of overseas banks and that is to limit the liability of the trading banks to pay into special deposits by reference to a percentage of deposits, say, not more than 5 per cent., 7 per cent, or 8 per cent., whatever it may be. That system has received close consideration in Australia. I have no doubt that it received close consideration by our predecessors. As a
Government we do not find ourselves able to accept it. It is a rather common error to assume that the economic circumstances and pattern for Australia are the same as they are in other countries. The fact is that in Australia we have great and sometimes sudden changes and very wide fluctuations in the economy. We are a country which depends for its overseas income primarily upon exports of wool, wheat and other primary products. Very few other countries are in a similar position. The United Kingdom exports far more on the manufacturing and technical side. As honorable members know, we may have great fluctuations from year to year in the prices of wool or wheat. We may have droughts with most alarming results in the community. But, in. any event, assuming that we have neither of those things, our export income is earned primarily in one quarter of the year and is not distributed over the whole of the year whilst, at the same time, our export expenditure more or less distributes itself over the year as a whole. Therefore, we have not been impressed by the idea that it is reasonable, in our circumstances, to determine the power to call up special deposits merely by reference to the current deposits level. In brief, we believe that we ought to have a good deal of flexibility in this matter but that if we make the central bank’s powers and authority too flexible we may inflict harm upon the community and frustrate -the true purposes of a central bank. I have explained the present position to honorable members. It is, I repeat, that the maximum amount which can be called up to special account from trading banks is the amount which was actually in the special account on the 21st August, 1945, together with the whole of the increase in the trading banks’ assets since July, 1945. I have given the figures. The balance held in special account in August, 1945, when this new law was passed, was £220,000,000. That is. to say, £220,000,000 of ordinary trading bank deposits was held by the central bank in the Commonwealth Bank as special accounts for the anti-inflationary purpose to which I have referred.
If the Commonwealth Bank had called up under that law all that it was entitled to call up, then it would have been able to call up £700,000,000, or an amount of over £500,000,000 in excess of the amount held by the trading banks in special account in October, 1952. I know, from discussions which I have had not only with managers of banks but also with the people who are employed in the banks, that this has hung like a sword over them. I refer to the possibility that, in wrong hands, a liability could be called which could put a trading bank out of business and its employees out of employment. I shall not say any more about the new method which I have described, other than to commend to honorable members the consideration of the paper that has been prepared, which will indicate to them how the 75 per cent, of the increased deposits rule will work, up to what point of time, and how the 10 per cent, limitation thereafter will apply. It is a complex matter, and I am perfectly certain that it would mean very little if I were simply to go through it as a matter of language.
On the other side of the special accounts, w.e have the problem of repayments. At the present time, all repayments from special account are at the discretion of the Commonwealth Bank, and, indeed, the calling up of all these hundreds of millions of pounds is entirely at the discretion of the Commonwealth Bank. We have limited the discretion in respect of the call-up. The bill also provides that the Commonwealth Bank will be obliged to make repayments from a bank’s special account whenever the maximum amount that the Commonwealth Bank might be required to hold in special account is less than the amount which it actually holds. That position may very well occur from time to time. If too much is held in special deposits, the right is provided for the automatic return of .the money. The bank will be obliged to repay. If that is not the case, and if the trading bank is not over-called to special account, then withdrawals may be made, as now, only with the consent of the Commonwealth Bank and on such conditions as it attaches.
The trading banks, of course, have a very lively interest in knowing a little ahead whether any of these things are going to happen to them. They are anxious to know whether in two or three months’ time they may be called up for x million pounds to special account or whether the possibilities are that they will become entitled to withdrawals. They must be able to plan their own lending policy ahead. That is very proper. Therefore, we have provided in this bill that the Commonwealth Bank will, in future, be required to inform the trading banks, including the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia, of the movements which, in its judgment, are likely to occur in the deposits and liquid assets of the Australian banking system. As a further aid to the banking system, the Commonwealth Bank will be required to give reasonable notice of the calls and releases that are likely to be made to and from special account.
There is a provision in the existing law that the interest to be paid on special deposits is at the discretion of the bank, but is not to exceed 17 s. 6d. per cent. The limit of 17s. 6d. per cent, is struck out in this bill.
– What rate of interest is provided ?
– The interest is not named. It will be determined by the Commonwealth Bank, , but will not be subject to the limitation of 17s. 6d. per cent., which now exists. Commonwealth Trading Bank itself is associated with this bill, because it is now made subject to all these rules, and I simply point out that, under the bill, the Commonwealth Trading Bank not only will be obliged to observe all the regulations in relation to bank discount rates, interest rates and so on, but also will be subject to the requirement that the Commonwealth Bank may call on it to surrender surplus earnings of foreign currency in exchange for Australian currency. Those matters are relatively small, and I do not want to take up too much time over them. But I do mention one or two other important amendments that are to be made, because it is proper that honorable members should have their attention directed to them. Section 13 of the existing act provides that the Commonwealth Bank, if it is of the opinion that a bank is likely to become unable to meet its obligations, may assume control of the affairs of that bank. That power was entirely unrestricted. If the Commonwealth Bank thought that a bank was likely to become unable to meet its obligations, it could take over that bank. We think that arbitrary action of that kind should be subject to some safeguard, and therefore, it is proposed in this bill that the power should be made subject to the condition that it can be exercised only after the affairs of the bank concerned have been investigated by the AuditorGeneral. So that, under the provisions of the bill, without the Auditor-General’s report, this power may not be exercised at all.
Another section of the existing law deals with the protection of depositors, and has a rather curious provision, which has been very much criticized in banking circles. That , provision is that the banks, except with the authority of the Commonwealth Bank, must hold assets in Australia at least equal to their deposit liabilities. This might not always be feasible, because a great deal of banking business takes place during the flush export season, in which the actual assets that the banks hold may be, to that extent, outside of Australia and therefore, the banks may find themselves falling foul of this provision. We are of the opinion that this section was never really, and should never really have been designed to deal with the ordinary Australian banks, and that it probably had some relation to so-called foreign banks, in order to give security to the people who deal with them inside Australia. We make that matter clear by retaining the power, but confining it to banks which do not normally hold the bulk of their assets in Australia. That means confining the power, as I have said, rather tersely, to foreign banks.
– Can the Prime Minister give us an example ?
– I do not want to give the name of any one bank, but some banks in Australia are incorporated in other countries. There are one or two French banks, and so on. If they, in fact, do not normally hold the bulk of their assets in
Australia, it is fair to require that they should at any time have assets in Australia equal to their deposit liabilities, otherwise the depositor might be left lamenting. But that provision does not apply to the great Australian banks which always have the overwhelming bulk of their assets in Australia but which may, temporarily, during the export season, have some of their assets, and perhaps a substantial quantity of their assets, outside of Australia. Therefore, we have confined the provision in the way that I have described. Then, there is a provision in section 28 of the principal act which prevents the banks from purchasing government stocks or securities listed on the stock exchanges and so on without the approval of the Commonwealth Bank. That power to control investments by the banks was first taken during the war. It may very well have been necessary at that time, but we do not think it is any longer justified because we believe, in the matter of investment, co-operation between the central bank and the trading banks to be a very much better method of achieving the less restricted objectives that are now existing than the rather stern necessities that were in existence during the war.
I apologize for speaking at length on these matters, but I want to direct the attention of honorable members to them. Then we have provisions about the furnishing of information to the Commonwealth Bank by the trading banks. Those provisions will now extend to the Commonwealth Trading Bank. In addition, the three special departments of the Commonwealth Bank will be required to furnish statistical returns. Having regard to the fears that have been expressed that this may mean that one trading bank will, in effect, be disclosing its information to a competitor, a provision has been inserted in the bill that the information can come to the board and be used by the board only for strictly central banking purposes, so that it is not a matter that will become available to .the Commonwealth Trading Bank.
Section 49 of the principal act deals with reports by the Auditor-General on the affairs of banks, and there is no doubt that a power of that kind might easily prejudice the reputation, and therefore the credit of a bank, and consequently we are providing that the Treasurer may direct special investigations of that kind only on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Bank, which means only on the recommendation, of course, of the board of the Commonwealth Bank.
Banks have been known in the past in Australia to develop schemes of amalgation. We have had several amalgamations in the history of Australia as the banking system has strengthened itself over the years, and in the past there has been provision that these amalgamations cannot occur except with approval. I think that my predecessor, Mr. Chifley, on at least one occasion approved of an amalgamation. It may be that my present colleague the Treasurer (SirArthur Fadden) has approved of one since we we came back into office. It is very desirable that the question whether a bank should amalgamate with another bank should not be the subject of an unrestricted political judgment, and therefore it is proposed that in future the Treasurer’s consent to an amalgamation should not be unreasonably withheld, so that if it is an unreasonable decision it can be canvassed to that extent under the ordinary rules of the law.
There is a provision in the principal act of a rather sadistic kind, which provides that if a bank commits a sin against any of the rules on banking - which might not be difficult, because they are extremely complex - then the chief executive officer of the bank is personally responsible for the offence. We think that that provision adds a new horror to being a chief executive officer and that there is no reason for it in common sense, because any offences that may be committed by a branch or sub-branch may never come within the jurisdiction of the chief executive officer, who should not be made responsible for all offences committed by a bank. Therefore we propose to repeal that provision. We also propose to repeal the provision that a certificate given by the Governor or Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth Bank relating to an offence under the act shall be accepted by the courts as evidence. I have considered this aspect of the matter carefully in view of the arguments that were advanced in this Housie a year or so ago about onus of proof and certificates imposing prima facie evidence of guilt. Finding that my right honorable oppoment had one in the Banking Act of 1945, I decided to encourage! him by striking it out, so no longer will this rule apply. As in the former case, the memorandum that is being circulated shows the effect of the amendment of the principal act.
In conclusion, I think it is desirable for me to restate two or three things briefly, so that honorable members will see the inner substance of the whole of the legislation represented by these two bills. We believe that a strong competitive banking system is one of the pillars of the economic freedom of the individual, and we are resolved to remove any potential threat to that system which is rat present inherent in the banking law. At the same time we recognize the tremendously important pa.rt played by the central bank and the need of that bank of adequate powers to perform its tasks. Having said that, and having outlined the provisions of the bill, it may perhaps assist honorable members if I state, in a few sentences, four enormous benefits which I believe will accrue to the banking structure, the banks themselves, and the staffs employed in them, as a result of these proposals and the amendment that we made at an earlier date in this Parliament. First, there is now a board of directors, which will exercise joint control over the Commonwealth Bank and the Commonwealth 1’rading Bank. We undertook in our policy speech to establish that board. It is, we believe, a real safeguard against arbitrary action. Secondly, there will in future be a Commonwealth Trading Bank, separately incorporated, and bound in law to observe the whole of what I shall call the competitive rules which apply to the other banks. Thirdly, the trading banks themselves will have instant relief from £540,000,000 of uncalled liability in relation to special deposits, a liability which I know has tremendously troubled those responsible for the .management and .control of those banks. Fourthly, a ceiling is imposed on future calls to special account, so that never again can uncalled liabilities of the magnitude that . I have referred to .accumulate.
It is not to be expected that unanimity can be obtained on banking legislation, because from the very many different points of view there will no doubt be a great deal of debate on certain aspects of this matter. All I want to say to those who, like my colleagues, want to pursue a sound course to achieve both of the objectives - central bank and trading bank - that I have referred to, is that this legislation achieves a high measure of fairness and good sense and will, I believe, be warmly welcomed by the majority of the people.
Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 7th August, 1952 (vide page 134, Vol. 21S), on motion by Mr. Beale -
That the following paper be printed: - Immigration Programme - Revision - Ministerial Statement.
For .some years past the subject of immigration has been dealt with in this House above the level of party politics. AH parties have agreed that a well-controlled policy of immigration is essential to the adequate defence and development of Australia, and that immigrants of the best type should be brought to the country.
Successive governments have pursued a progressive immigration policy. Prior to World War II., the government of the day decided that, in view of conditions which then obtained in Europe, Australia should become a sanctuary for large numbers of refugees. Therefore, before the outbreak of war, we admitted some thousands of refugees from tyranny in European countries. After the termination of the war, a vigorous policy under which tens of thousands of displaced persons came into the country was pursued by the Labour Administration. Later, large scale immigration from the British Isles was encouraged, and, later still, Australia became a party to international agreements which provided for the admission to this country of persons from countries such as Holland, Italy and Malta. When the ministerial statement now under consideration was made in August last, about 650,000 persons had been admitted to Australia under the immigration policy that had been adopted successively by the Curtin Government, the Chifley Government, and the present Government.
Events that are taking place throughout the world to-day are causing intense pressure to be placed upon Australia and certain other countries to admit immigrants. For instance, the populations of countries like Holland, Italy, Greece and Malta are increasing so rapidly that those countries are unable to provide proper accommodation and livelihoods for all their citizens. The result is that tremendous pressure is being exerted . by those countries upon such countries as Australia and Canada to open their doors and admit immigrants. Thus, when the Minister for Supply announced last August that immigration into Australia was to be severely reduced, the pressure from countries with expanding populations was becoming stronger and stronger, and bigger demands were being made upon us to admit foreign immigrants. The Government’s new policy will not put an «nd to immigration, but it will lead to » curtailment of immigration, perhaps for some years to come. The Minister’s statement made it very clear to us that the change of policy was the result of economic circumstances. The Opposition contends that these circumstances are entirely the result of the misguided economic policy of the Government. We had said previously that’ the economic policy of this Government was bound to result in serious inflation and in unemployment. When inflation became dangerous and unemployment began to develop, it became necessary in the interests of the nation to review our immigration policy. I shall not have sufficient time to explain why the Government’s economic policy failed. The simple fact is that, in view of our present economic circumstances, both the Government and the Opposition believe that it would be wrong to continue to bring into the country large numbers of immigrants who would have no certainty of employment and who could not be readily absorbed into the pattern of Australian life.
Under the Government’s present plan, 20,000. full fare-paying British immigrants and 20,000 assisted British immigrants will come to Australia each year. The total of 40,000 British immigrants is not a goal towards which the Government is striving. It merely represents the Government’s view that not more than 40,000 persons should enter Australia from the United Kingdom each year. Both in Great Britain and in Italy, a belief that conditions in Australia art? unsettled has developed. People in those countries believe that it is not possible for Australia to guarantee employment to its immigrants. Because of that, the general inclination of most of the European countries to regard Australia as a place for future development has abated somewhat. Probably that fact, and the difficulty that will be encountered in securing boats, will mean that less than 40,000 immigrants from British sources will come to Australia. I think the same can be said about the other 40,000 immigrants to whom I have made reference. With regard to immigrants other than those from Great Britain, it is proposed that some 20,000 persons who hold landing permits and who will pay their own fares will come to Australia. In addition, it is believed that about 20,000 foreign assisted immigrants will arrive. I have very grave doubts whether those figures will be reached. Possibly the Minister for Immigration, during the course of his statement on the matter, will be able to clarify those points.
The viewpoint of the Opposition is that immigration is desirable, but that it should not take place to a greater degree than the economic position of Australia will permit. It is very necessary that immigrants who come to this country shall have an opportunity very easily to weave themselves into the pattern of Australian life. They will be able to do so only if we are able to give to them a measure of security, a measure of confidence and a chance very readily to find some niche in the Australian community. The Opposition believes that a successful immigration policy must be flexible and able to be adapted readily to varying economic conditions.
It is interesting that the amended immigration policy is based upon certain factors that are very important from an Australian stand-point. Full preference is to be given to the wives and families abroad of immigrants who have already settled in Australia. Many of the British full-fare paying passengers whom it is proposed to admit to this country will be the wives and children of British settlers who have already arrived here. The same can be said about the holders of landing permits who will pay their own fares to this country. In the majority of instances, they will be the dependants and relatives of persons who have already settled in Australia. That will be a great advantage to u3, because it will mean that we shall bring to Australia, not people who will be active competitors for jobs in the labour market, but rather people who will form the basis of family life in this country. They will be a source from which, in the future, workers trained in Australia will enter Australian industries and help to increase our skilled labour force.
Emphasis is to be placed upon the immigration to this country of skilled workers who are not available here. It seems to me that, while our immigration policy continues to be conducted upon lines that will not entail the immigration of persons who cannot readily be employed here or make competition for scarce jobs more fierce, it may well succeed. I believe all members of the Opposition, and possibly many members on the Government side of the House, will agree with me when I say that any immigration policy that caused persons to be brought to this country for whom jobs, could not readily be found and which, therefore, increased the number of unemployed persons in Australia would be disastrous from the stand-point of the community. To-day, there is a surplus of unskilled labour in this country.
– I do not propose to enter into an argument about the total number of unemployed persons. It is certain that the unskilled labour market in Australia to-day is suffering from a glut, and that many persons are unable to find employment. During the last six months, I have been amazed at the number of persons living in my own constituency who have come to my door and sought my assistance to find employment. The Minister has asked whether that is typical of all States. It is not. Some States are more highly developed industrially than are others. We must expect that, wherever secondary industry is very highly developed and localized, unemployment will be greater than in places where such industry is not highly developed. If one examines the unemployment figures for Australia from the commencement of this century, it will be seen that unemployment has always been greater in big industrial centres than in sparsely settled areas, with the exception that, where there are seasonal industries of great magnitude, there is great unemployment when the season ends. But if seasonal industries are located in big industrial centres, more often than not seasonal workers can be absorbed into other work in those industrial centres when their seasonal occupations have ended. That point needs to be stressed. It is very easy to say that because there is a certain degree of unemployment in one centre and a smaller degree of unemployment in another centre, the cause of the unemployment in both centres is exactly the same. That is a faulty conclusion.
A further difficulty that we are experiencing in connexion with the very important and, at times, complicated problems of immigration is the difficulty of dealing with rural immigrants. Many people have said, and, I suppose, will continue to say, that the solution of the problem of the development of Australia is to bring1 to this country persons who have been trained in rural industries in other countries and settle them on the land here. Those “people say that, if that were done, our wide spaces could he developed properly. Probably everybody will admit that the capital expenditure involved in settling people upon the land in Australia at this period of our existence, is very much greater than was the case 50 or 100 years ago. It would he folly to talk about bringing people from other countries to settle them upon the land in Australia when, up to the present time, we have shown a total incapacity to settle upon the land our own returned servicemen or the sons of Australian farmers who are eager to hold and own property, as their forbears did in days gone by. That is one of the problems that we find very difficult to overcome. [Extension of time granted.] I thank the House for its courtesy. However, I have almost completed my remarks. Our great problem is how best to develop Australia. Pull employment is the only means by which we can bring about a more vigorous immigration policy than that foreshadowed at the present time. By “full employment “ I mean that there should be more jobs available than there are people to fill them. The suggestion that although 4 per cent, of persons are unemployed there is full employment here does not accord with the understanding of the Australian people. By “ full employment “, most Australians mean that species of economic existence in which for every man and woman who desire to work employment is available. That state of affairs, together with, a vigorous economic policy, can be achieved only by using to the full the resources of private industry and by putting into operation a sound policy of public development on the part of the Commonwealth and the States. If we pursue such a policy it will enable us once again to get back to a sound economy and to bring- to this country the many thousands of people who are needed for both defence and development.
.- The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has dealt with, the question of immigration and. its relationship to- unemployment. He has contended that unemployment is always greatest in areas where the highest degree of industrialization exists. I do not think that that premise is a sound one, nor do I agree that it holds good at the present time. For example, at the moment South Australia is one of the most highly industrialized States of the Commonwealth; yet, per capita, it has undoubtedly the lowest rate of unemployment. The reasons are that the State has been soundly governed, there has been co-operation between employers and employees, and, above all, there is confidence in the stability of the country. I suggest to the honorable member that it is quite possible for immigration and full employment to run along side by side, provided that the situation is watched carefully in order to ensure that immigrants are brought to this country in numbers that we are able to absorb and provide with reasonable housing conditions.
The reason for my participation in this debate is to deal with a matter that I dealt with in the House approximately twelve months ago. Early last year I ref erred the House to the conditions which then existed in the Gepp’s” Cross immigrant hostel. At that time I pointed out that in this newly erected hostel, equipped for some 1,600 people of approximately 400 families, and with four community kitchens, there were 1,600 unhappy people. They felt that there was little hope for them in Australia. They found that after they had paid their board they had little left over and no opportunity to save sufficient money to build their own homes. I put forward the suggestion to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt), which I made after a most thorough investigation and cooperation with persons such as Mr. Anderson, the- welfare officer of the Church of England at Gepp’s Cross, and Mr. Whittle, the local member of Parliament, all of whom had examined the situation, that the only solution to the problem was to- get rid of the community feeding, erect kitchenettes to each flat and so enable the immigrants to do their own cooking. After some difficult negotiations, in December last, an agreement was made between the Commonwealth and the South Australian Government which provided that a kitchenette would be erected in each one of the flats and thai; the administration of the hostel would ha handed over to the Housing Trust of South Australia. The Housing Trust immediately entered into a contract for the erection of kitchenettes. That work has proceeded at a most satisfactory rate, and the situation .to-day is that half of the flats now have a very acceptable kitchenette, half of the immigrants at the hostel have moved into new flats, one of the community kitchens has already closed, another one is to be closed this week, and by the end of March all of those British immigrants will have selfcontained flats,
Several times during the last month I have visited the ho3tel at Gepp’s Cross, and have sat down with those British immigrants. I suggest to honorable members that it would do their hearts good to see the change in outlook of those people. They are now living as happy and contented families, sitting down to meals cooked by themselves, starting to make little gardens around their huts, and feeling that to-day ‘they are Australian citizens, with a stake in the country and with some hope for the future. This excellent experiment which has been made at Gepp’s Cross should be carried out wherever it is practicable in other parts of Australia. I know that it may bo said that a longer period should be given for a trial of this scheme, but I point out that almost every ds.y when we pick up our newspapers we learn that there is trouble in one or ether of the British immigrant hostels. It is significant, however, that there has not been one such incident at Gepp’s Cross since the Minister gave his decision to convert the flats into self-contained units with their own kitchenettes. His Excellency the Gover- nor of South Australia, Sir Willoughby Norrie, inspected those flats before he left Australia recently. On that occasion he said “to me, “ Wilson, see what you can do to give these grand British people an opportunity to live normal lives, with their own flats in which they can do their own cooking”. That remark illustrates the interest which that great and lovable man took in those British immigrants. Every Englishman and every Australian regards his home as his castle. He wants to feel that he has a place where he and his family can be alone if they so desire. He wishes to eat meals of his own choice. If he likes his eggs soft-boiled he expects to have them prepared in that way. He does not want to be served up in a community kitchen with eggs that the community cook says are correctly cooked, and which’ probably are according to the taste of some people, but which are wrongly cooked according to his taste.
We must realize that immigration is an essentially human problem in which we are dealing with human beings, each of whom is different from the others, and we should, wherever practicable, ensure that, as far as possible, provision is made so that the individual tastes of British and European immigrants can be catered for. I do not suggest that conditions of living at the Gepp’s Cross hostel are as good as they would be in a private home, but they are infinitely better than anything that those people have ever had before under community conditions. I hope “that honorable members will have an opportunity to see for themselves the kitchenettes in use at the hostel, and also to talk with the people there and discover how they appreciate the right to live their own lives in their own flats.
I take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the valuable part played during the negotiations to which I have referred by the Minister for Immigration himself, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), who acted for the Minister for Immigration during that honorable gentleman’s absence abroad, Mr. George Whittle, the member for Prospect in the South Australian Parliament who conducted negotiations with the South Australian Premier, the Premier himself, and Mr. Anderson, the welfare officer of the Church of England who ascertained the views and wishes of the “immigrants in connexion with the matter. I also wish to pay a tribute to the officers of the
Gepp’s Cross British Migrants Association who played a valuable part in ascertaining the real wishes of the immigrants.
One of the most memorable meetings that I have ever attended in my life was at Gepp’s Cross hostel when the proposal to convert the kitchen was placed before the immigrants. The hall was packed to capacity by about 700 people, who were all waiting to hear whether there was a proposal which would make the Australian way of life acceptable to them. In the course of my visits to the hostel prior to that meeting it was made perfectly clear to me that unless some arrangements were made whereby those British immigrants could do their own cooking, three out of four of them intended to return to Britain at the first opportunity. In fact, it was common knowledge that a number of such immigrants had already returned to Britain because they could not enjoy living in hostel accommodation. Under the present plan the rents for hostel accommodation and the administration of the hostel are entirely reasonable. The immigrants themselves are engaging in community efforts to improve the area and to provide for the education of their children, and are also undertaking other community efforts that are normally found in the best of our country towns and suburbs. I consider that the experiment at Gepp’s Cross should be examined carefully by the responsible officers to see whether it is possible to extend it to other parts of Australia. If the immigration programme is to be a success we must provide; at the earliest possible moment, independent accommodation of some sort for the immigrants.
– Does the honorable member consider that unemployed immigrants should be repatriated, if they so desire?
– I say that we should not have unemployed immigrants. If a State is conducted efficiently, as South Australia is, there is no unemployment except such temporary unemployment as is caused by workers transferring from one job to another. The honorable member who has just interjected hails from East Sydney, which is in New South Wales, a
State which has far and away the highest unemployment rate in the Commonwealth. [Quorum formed.’) The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) called a quorum because I was referring to the -fact that unemployment in New South Wales is proportionately four times as great as it is in any other State, the reason being that New South Wales has a Labour Government whilst States like South Australia, which is well governed by a Liberal government, have taken the steps necessary to prevent large-scale unemployment. The honorable member for East Sydney, being unable to take such bitter medicine, decided to interrupt proceedings. We are used to his running away from anything that does not suit him. I rose only to draw attention to the success of the Government’s experiment in converting the Gepp’s Cross hostel accommodation into emergency flats, and to point out how essential it is for us to do everything possible to provide immigrants with their own flats in which they will be able to do their own cooking. I congratulate the Minister for his efforts in that direction.
.- The focal point in the statement that is being discussed is the proposed reduction of the intake of immigrants from 150,000 to 80,000. If I understand fully the statements that have been made, even that number may be reduced. Since large scale immigration was commenced at the termination of the second world war, Australia has taken approximately 700,000 persons from all sources overseas, but unfortunately in the la3t year or eighteen months, we have-not been able to absorb all immigrants as we had hoped. Although I support the contemplated decrease of immigrants and even a further decrease if it is warranted by economic circumstances, it must be admitted that immigration proved to be a good investment for Australia until about twelve months ago. Several points should be placed on the credit side of immigration before we add points to the debit side. Immigrants have comprised about 80 per cent, of the post-war increase of the labour force. In 1950 68,000 immigrants entered the labour force compared with 17,000 Australian workers. At that time, those workers were badly needed in industry. Immigrants have altered the age of the population in favour of the younger groups. In 1949, 64.2 per cent, of assisted immigrants were in the age group between 20 and 44 years. The last Australian census taken in 1947 showed that only 37.5 per cent, of the Australian population were in that age group. We should be pleased with that “development in immigration.
The displaced persons who were brought to Australis, were directed to employment for the first two years and although that trend did not increase production to the fullest extent, it assisted primary industry, the output of coal, water and electricity, and road and railway undertakings. However, there has been one very grave defect in the direction of labour. I asked several questions in. this House with regard to the number of persons who were directed to jobs but who disappeared. So far as I could ascertain, no statistics dealing with that matter were computed, and I was unable to discover the percentage of immigrants who did not adhere to the two-year contract. I know that many of them grew tired of their jobs in six months and then went into the middlemen’s group to engage in such activities as the sale of dresses. Their services were wasted from a productive point of view.
Immigrants have brought new skills to this country and they have widened the basis for industrial expansion, but that advantage has been tempered by the marked disinclination on the part of certain professional organisations to help new arrivals to achieve professional status in Australia. We have had the unedifying spectacle of many new arrivals with high academic qualifications who have had difficulty in gaining professional recognition in their established callings. In some cases Australian citizens have suffered as a result. In the field of medicine, many Australians have suffered because efficient doctors were refused recognition by the British Medical Association and had to do pick-and-shovel work. Immigrants have strengthened the demand for home-produced goods, and thus they have stimulated employment. In many cases immigration has been accompanied, directly or indirectly, by large investments from overseas. That must be gratifying because we need an influx of overseas capital.
All the points that I have mentioned must be placed on the credit side of immigration. Honorable members of all parties will readily concede that the immigration programme as it was envisaged by the Labour Government and continued by the present Government was a marked success until the middle of 1951. when it began -to show certain gravedefects. Even before those defects became apparent, the immigration policy was not satisfactory in some respects. The utilization of immigrant labour has been wasteful in many ways. Apparently we began with the idea of getting as many people into Australia as- possible and we succeeded in introducing tens of thousands of new arrivals into the already overcrowded capital cities on the sea coast. I believed that when a vigorous immigration policy was first mooted, it was intended that primary industry would be the first to benefit and that numbers of immigrants would open up large areas of producing land and also relieve the shortage of agricultural labour on areas that were already under cultivation. But such was not the case. Information that I have gathered from various sources indicates that only one in ten of the assisted immigrants was directed’ to farm work. That in itself was a fatal defect.
The figures relating to developmental work were also most discouraging. Statistics with regard to the distribution of displaced persons among the States show that 66,000 went to New South Wales, 44,000 to Victoria, 24,000 to South Australia and the Northern Territory, 14,000 to Western Australia and 14,000 to Queensland. Developmental work is required to a much more marked degree in the smaller States but they received fewer immigrants. Assisted labour was nol sent to the States where large tracts of land await- development. Immigrant have certainly not been utilized to the best advantage in primary industry. Since 1939 the output of the Australian farming industries has increased at the rate of 1 per cent, per annum, but during that period there has been a net gain of population of about 3 per cent, per annum.
While the population is increasing, primary production is not expanding at the same rate. The world is hungry for primary products. All parties recognize that an increase of primary production would improve our overseas credits and lessen the need for import restrictions. Our difficulties in that direction stem from failure to increase primary production.
The post-war movement of European population to .Australia put a severe strain upon the Australian economy. When the scheme was inaugurated we recognized that the assimilation of large numbers of immigrants would create big problems. A number of projects, public and- private^ were put into operation and they provided employment. The whole population of Australia and every immigrant who came to the country was ableto get work. There was no such thing as unemployment. Unfortunately, current conditions are such that many new and grave difficulties have arisen with regard to employment. A further review of theGovernment’s plan last year was at least six months later than- it should have been. However; the Government belatedly recognized the severe strains that our economy is suffering because of unemployment. In a period when there is much competition for money and materials the scale of immigration must be adjusted to economic realities. Everybody who looks ahead - and I believe that all honorable members of this House do look ahead - must regret the need for a review of the immigration policy that was in operation until about eight or nine months ago.. It is well to have a set of ideas and to- work out- how many immigrants we need within a certain- time,, but it is most unfair to bring large numbers- of people into- this country, particularly unskilled persons, when we know that the chances are that they will not be able to obtain employment. It is bad enough for a native born Australian, or one who well knows- the language, to- be unemployed-,, but it is- infinitely worse for a. foreign, immigrant who- knows very little English and has no- friends to help him.
During the last twelve- or eighteen months there has been a radical change in our’ employment position, and whatever jobs- now remain unfilled are for skilled’ workers. To some degree that position1 has been caused by the diminution of government activities throughout the Commonwealth, and possibly because of a reduction of loan money allocations. I know of my own- knowledge that many Melbourne municipalities have been unable to secure loan funds- in order’ to proceed with road construction, and because of that, many men- who would be employed in the unskilled work associated with road construction have- been unable to> ‘find jobs. Even in- private- employment it is impossible to obtain unskilled work. Unless out immigration programme is drastically pruned we will face the calamitous situation of Australians walking the streets seeking employment while- immigrants fill whatever- unskilled jobs there are available. We must take stock of our activities in- these days, because we have recently beheld the unedifying spectacle of ships arriving in Australia filled’ with hopeful immigrants, and the- same ships’ leaving these shores filled with’ discouraged people going home again. Only two or’ three weeks ago I read am article in one of the Melbourne newspapers in which it was stated that a ship leaving Australia was practically filled with immigrants who were returning to Europe. That is a very poor advertisement for this country and for future immigration- programmes. Such a thing has at very bad effect on the’ people of the nations who send immigrants to’ Australia, and on the countries of the world1 in general. At present, instead of trying to bring more people to’ Australia to join the jobseeking queues we should reduce our intake of immigrants. Immigrants now arriving in this country are finding great difficulty in securing work. Those who are- unable to get work should be assisted to go back to their homeland’s. I suggest that if necessary the Government should charter ships for that purpose rather than leave disgruntled immigrants here to- increase the bitterness and hopelessness felt by unemployed’ people. The cost of such a project would be infinitesimal compared with the goodwill that would be- engendered among the people of those countries’ from which workless persons have emigrated.
Another matter that should be considered is that most immigrants must be provided with homes, furniture, sewerage facilities, schools, shops, transport, social services, places of amusements and other amenities that are regarded as necessary in our way of life. It has been calculated that the cost of supplying these services to immigrants works out at about £1,000 a head. Therefore, £1,000 must be spent for each person before he can be established in the community. It will be seen then that to the extent that their contribution to the country is less than £1,000 their establishment in the country ha3 an inflationary effect. Although a substantial number of immigrants have increased our production, a number of them have sought refuge in middlemen’s jobs and have consequently put further pressure on our inflationary spiral. That must also be . deplored.. When all these factors are considered it will surely be agreed by all honorable members that we have now reached the stage when consolidation of our present position without the influx of more immigrants is strongly desirable.
I suggest that it is absolutely futile to bring here further shiploads of immigrants who will only accentuate our already dangerous housing position. The housing position improved last year, but in the last six or nine months it has remained static. People are unable to obtain the necessary finance to build houses and the housing position has now taken a turn for the worse. Two or three years ago it was brought to my notice that new Australians in my electorate were outbidding old Australians at auctions for houses. That caused a certain amount of racial bitterness. An elector said to me, “ What is the good of going to an auction sale when whatever you bid will be overbid by a new Australian?” I deplore such a state of affairs. British immigrants in Australia are obviously unhappy, as the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson)- pointed out. Hostels were intended only for temporary accommodation, but they seem to have been established on a permanent basis. It is practically impossible for these English immigrants ever to contemplate owning homes of their own. “Until better accommodation is available for immigrants it’ will be most unwise to bring- any more to this country. Wot only have difficulties arisen in the housing of British immigrants but also unwelcome incidents, have arisen as a’ result of delays in placing Italian immigrants in’ employment. We do not want a recurrence- of such incidents. I trust that the Government will not contemplate further immigration along present lines until immigrants already in Australia have been placed in industry. All these difficulties make it prudent to scale down the intake of immigrants until the financial position eases and permits capital projects to be completed and brings about an improved tempo in industrial expansion.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I have listened with considerable interest and much appreciation to what honorable members on both sides of the House have had to say in relation to the immigration programme. On this occasion as on other occasions they have been prepared to approach this great aspect of policy in a non-party spirit and to make suggestionswhich, they believe, will be helpful to the Government and to the immigration programme as a whole. That spirit is typical also of the approach of leaders of the community as a whole to this problem. This Government, as did its ‘ predecessor, has tried to make of immigration a great community effort on the basis of cooperation and agreement and. to make the present programme the most acceptable and successful that could be produced as a result of planning. I emphasize that from the outset the programme has been planned and that leaders of the community have participated in it at every stage. We have two important planning and advisory bodies - the Immigration Planning Council which deals with the economic aspect of immigration, and the Immigration Advisory Council which deals- with the social and political consequences of immigration. Each of those bodies functions in an honorary capacity and gives valuable assistance tothe Government in a public-spirited1 manner. They’ have rendered a- great service to the cause of immigration in this country. I take this opportunity, publicly, to express my gratitude to the members of those bodies. In addition, each year the Government has taken a much wider representation of community leadership into its confidence with respect to details of the immigration programme. The Government has heard what community leaders have had to say on this matter and has given active attention to resolutions that have been presented to it by the citizenship conventions that are held annually in Canberra. Consequently, with that assistance and with the spread throughout Australia of the good Neighbour movement, every immigrant can readily find a friend and a helping hand in any part of this country to which he or she may go. Thus, we have been enabled to achieve wholehearted cooperation in the carrying out of a great national policy.
The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) urged the Government to make the immigration programme sufficiently flexible to meet changing economic conditions. I assure him that the Government has done that. We recognize that in a country like Australia rapid and violent fluctuations very often occur in our economy and that it is most important to ensure that an immigration programme, which has such an impact upon our economic and social circumstances, shall be kept as flexible as possible. But, in putting that broad proposition, I hope that no honorable member will underestimate the difficulties which may arise when we are dealing with a programme that relates to people who are situated thousands of miles from this country, who speak different languages and who are confronted with special problems in their own countries. It is not easy to halt, or resume, a programme which has so many complexities. Con-“ sequently, although we endeavour to keep the programme as flexible as we can, honorable members should realize that we cannot simply get a strong flow of immigration and, overnight, bring it to a halt and, at the same time, hope to get immediately afterwards a comparable flow. Ships have to be chartered, arrangements have to be made for the transport of immigrants from one country to another, and the immigrants themselves have to terminate their employment and wind up their affairs in their own countries. All these things take time. That fact has been illustrated by events that have occurred in this country during the last twelve months. Towards the end of 1951 there was an acute shortage of labour in Australia. In August of that year the Department of Labour and National Service had 140,000 unsatisfied vacancies for workers. About that time we entered into arrangements with various countries for the introduction into Australia of thousands of workers of various kinds, not only skilled but also unskilled, because there was then a large unsatisfied demand throughout all sections of industry for workers. Suddenly, Australia ran into economic difficulties which are now a matter of history. We were confronted with the tremendously involved problem of dealing with the consequences of a sharp decrease of imports into this country. The position was reversed almost overnight. At one moment there had been an unsatisfied demand for tens of thousands of workers ; the next moment, that demand had dried up. I shall cite a typical illustration. The railways commissioners informed my department that they would require within the following twelve months up to 17,500 railway workers from overseas. As the conditions to which I have referred developed and more Australians became available for this class of work that demand fell right away, and, in the result, we were able to place only 3,000 immigrants instead of the number that the railways commissioners told us that they would be able to employ. One repercussion from those circumstances was the difficulty we experienced in placing the last of the shipments of unskilled Italian immigrants. However, so dramatic can these changes be that my department advised me only yesterday that it is now having difficulty in getting sufficient persons to meet the needs of the harvest at Mildura. Indeed, it is doubtful whether we can get sufficient Italian immigrants to satisfy the demand that has just been made to my department. At the same time, there are not sufficient Australian workers offering to fill the gap. Consequently, when the honorable member for Bendigo speaks about difficulties of employment in respect of immigration, it is proper for me to remind him that although there might be a surplus of unskilled labour in certain parts of Australia there is not a surplus throughout the country. Unskilled labour in Sydney is not sufficiently mobile to meet a situation which now exists, for example, at Mildura. Had it not been for our ability to move hundreds and, indeed, thousands, of European immigrants to various parts of the country as seasonal demands developed, much of our sugar and fruit would not have been brought in and processed as we have actually been able to do. I assure the House that the Government is keeping the immigration programme constantly under review.
Although we have had to go through what has proved to be the most difficult period since World War II. it is remarkable how little difficulty has arisen in relation to immigrants. I cannot recall any serious difficulty having arisen in the placing of British, Dutch or German immigrants. It is true that we have had some difficulty with a certain group of Italian immigrants. However, I was extremely interested to ascertain the volume of remittances which Italian immigrants, who have already settled here have been able to send to their dependants overseas. It has grown from £4,000,000 in the last financial year to a present rate of approximately £6,500,000 per annum. These remittances represent sums over and above what the immigrants require to look after themselves. The volume of the remittances indicates that a very considerable number of Italian immigrants have become well established here and are in a position to make substantial contributions to the support of their dependants.
The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) contended that there has not always been a successful utilization of the labour we have brought to Australia. The honorable member referred in particular to the comparatively few immigrants who have gone on the land. It must be remembered that the rural labour force represents only one-eighth or one-tenth of the total work force of the Commonwealth, and that during this year, and certainly during most of the months of last year, we have been able to meet all demands that have come to us for rural workers from farmers already established on the land. We have brought out men specially trained in farm work and placed some thousands of them on farms in AustraliaThere still remains the unsolved problem - and it is a very difficult one - of placing a much larger number of immigrants on the land, preferably by means of land settlement. The problem is difficult of solution for reasons with which honorable members will be familiar. Very many of our ex-servicemen want to be placed on the land and many civilians are also eager to settle on the land. They claim that in the distribution of such funds as we are able to allocate for that purpose they should have priority over immigrants. While I realize that top priority must be given to ex-servicemen and that reasonable opportunities must also be given to Australian civilians to settle on the land, we would adopt a shortsighted policy if we did not include in our land settlement programme a proportion of immigrants. That aspect of policy is at present under active consideration by the Government and I hope that an announcement on the subject will be made in the not too distant future.
In answer to the charge that there has been inefficient placement of immigrant labour I remind honorable members opposite that we are now enjoying adequate production of nearly all the basic requirements of our economy principally because we have been able to place immigrants in industries where they were sorely needed. To cite an example, more than one-fifth of the total work force of the steel industry is made up of European immigrants. One could cite industry after industry to show how the labour of immigrants is contributing to this very useful result. It has been suggested by honorable members opposite that we have been compelled to restrict the immigration programme because of the unemployment position. That is not strictly true. One of the factors that influenced the Government to restrict the intake of immigrants of certain types at this time was the difficulty we met in placing unskilled labour in employment. It would be wrong from many points of view to bring new settlers to Australia for the special purpose of taking up unskilled work when we could not provide work opportunities for them. We have reduced the flow of unskilled immigrants until the employment situation for unskilled workers improves. We have never accepted the view that immigration represents a sort of unfair competition to the Australian worker. The history of every country that has grown from immigration has been that the flow of immigrants has itself created work opportunities throughout the length and breadth of the land. That has also been our experience in Australia. Only the remarkable and abnormal drop in our export income caused the serious halt to the expansion that was otherwise taking place in our economy as a result of the contribution made to it by immigrants. I am certain that in the revival that is taking place immigrants are contributing greatly to the restoration of the buoyancy of our economy.
The fundamental reason why we deemed it to be necessary to restrict the flow of immigrants, is of great importance. I wish that time were available to me to develop my views on that subject in detail because it is one which will become increasingly important as time goes on. For many reasons Australia is not well equipped, in a constitutional or a political sense, for rapid development. Most of our great public utilities and services are in the hands of governments. Without embarking upon an ideological argument as to the respective merits of socialism and private enterprise I can say with truth that the State ownership of public utilities and services has a restrictive effect upon our growth and development. The reason for that becomes fairly obvious after a moment’s analysis of the factors involved. An immigrant builds his own home and thus creates a demand for electric light, gas, water supply and sanitary services. He may also want a telephone installed. In addition, roads and footpaths giving access to the dwelling must be provided. When new areas are opened up for agricultural or industrial development a similar process goes on. In Australia, in contrast with the United States of America during the period of that country’s great development, nearly all of these facilities are provided by governments. As our population grows demands for all types of services commensurately increase and there is a consequential increase in the demand for hospitals, schools, and other public amenities. The extent to which these demands have increased is reflected in the very remarkable growth of the works programme of the State governments in recent years. The provision of these services and utilities by the State is a limiting f actor to expansion in Australia. The problem is to get into the hands of the governments of the Commonwealth and the States the funds that they require to meet the rapid expansion that a vigorous immigration programme brings in its train. The Government is directing its very close attention to that aspect of the problem.
I do not want to make a long speech to the House on the subject of immigration at this time and I shall close on the note that while it is true that immigration brings in its train some discomfort, some risks, and many difficulties, every person who studies the national interests must agree that those discomforts, risks and difficulties are small by comparison with the dividends in development and security that immigration gives to Australia. I should like, by way perhaps of encouragement and inspiration, to direct the attention of honorable members to the recent history of the United States of America, because the great development that occurred there has been of comparatively recent growth. We tend to think of America as a country some hundreds of years older than Australia, and it is true that the foundation there can be traced back to the 1600’s. [Extension of time granted.] The period of our own history runs along about the same period as that of America in the sense that the first census of the United States of America was taken in 1790, some fourteen years after the Declaration of Independence. It revealed that the population of the United States of America was less than 4,000,000 people. I believe that the precise figure was 3,900,000 people. I direct the attention of honorable members to tho fact that the year 1790 was only two years after the first settlement at Botany Bay in New South . Wales. In the intervening period the population of America has grown to 150,000,000 people, while that of Australia has grown to less than 9,000,000 people. If it is suggested that in those days standards were lower and that people were dumped in America and had to look after themselves, I ask the House to consider the recent history of California, which, at the outbreak of World War LT., had a population of about 7,000,000 people, which was comparable with tha t of Australia. The population of California is now about 11,000,000 people, compared with Australia’s 9,000,000. In the period between 1942 and 1952 the population of California grew by about 50 per cent, as the result of natural increase and immigration. This shows that when favorable factors are present, capital investment is available, and there is a will on the part of the people to expand and to make use of the enterprise that is within them, there can be this remarkable rate of progress with an all-round strengthening of the security and economy of the country concerned.
Finally, although Ave think in statistical terms, we must never forget that immigration is essentially a problem of human beings, and although we have brought some hundreds of thousands of people here in the post-war years I hope that we will never cease to think of them as human beings who have human problems com.parable to, and indeed even more difficult than those that we ourselves have had to face. In my judgment, from my firsthand experience of these things, there has been a wonderful achievement by the Australian people. Our character has revealed itself at its best by the manner in which we ‘have absorbed so warmheartedly, so generously, and so successfully these hundreds of thousands of new settlers from the United Kingdom and from the countries o’f Europe during the post-war years. It is my very fervent hope that we can go on in the same way from strength to strength.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Thompson) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I shall refer to a. subject-matter that I have raised on a couple of occasions in this House. I have directed questions to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), and I am not suggesting that I could have expected replies so soon, but I do expect to receive replies next week. The questions concern investigations which have been instituted by the New South Wales police and the appointment in that State of a royal commission. I have asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to give some attention to taking up with the New South Wales Premier the question of extending the terms of the royal commission to cover a number of important matters. If he does not intend to do that, I ask him to consider the appointment by the Commonwealth of a royal commission, clothed with complete and extensive powers, to investigate every allegation that has been made which may affect members of the Australian Government, members of the Commonwealth Public Service, or any member of this Parliament.
Rather significantly, there has not been a great deal of play by the anti-Labour press of this country upon the warning that was issued by the New South Wales police, stating .that the wanted man, who had not then been apprehended or given himself up, had in his possession a Commonwealth cheque with a forged signature of the Secretary of the Department of the Treasury. That is a most serious and important thing. It was also indicated that he had in his possession a number of genuine Commonwealth Bank cheques which had been over-stamped with a particular account number. I understand that this information was given from a Common-wealth source. I have asked to be informed of the source of that information, and that matter is being investigated. No doubt I shall receive a reply from the Prime Minister next week.
However, since that happened, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), in this House, has attempted once again, as is his usual practice, to “ run away “ from charges which he had made earlier. He stated this morning that he had made no actual charges. I made a note of what he said, and it is perfectly true that he interspersed his remarks with what might be called escape clauses, as we have heard about frequently in connexion with legislation in this Parliament, in order to give himself a way out. All I am attempting to do is to afford the honorable member for Mackellar an opportunity to prove any allegations he makes, to give whatever information he has to the New South Wales police, or to give his evidence before a royal commission appointed by the Australian Government. Last night the honorable member for Mackellar stated in referring to myself -
I have no doubt there are many files which he would be unwilling to have see the light of day.
Here is my open invitation to the Government, and there will be no protest on my part. Let the Government produce any file which shows any improper conduct on my part. If there is any basis for what the honorable member for Mackellar has said, is it likely that the Government regards me so highly that, if it had any information or files showing anything that could be turned to my disadvantage, it would not long ago have made use of them? It is obvious now why the honorable member for Mackellar, who was very aptly referred to by my colleague, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), as “hit low Bill”, is regarded as the McCarthy of Australian politics. Let us examine what he stated in regard to the last Labour Government, because it is only by innuendo and smearing that he makes his attacks. He said -
Another date - and it is a very significant date - is the first week in March, 1050. when certain motor cars were illegally landed in Australia. Arrangements were made for those motor cars before the change of government, and there is some reason for belief . . . that they were only the tail-end oi a swindle which had been going on under the Labour Government for some years.
That swindle was chopped off, according to the honorable member, by the incoming government. He added that the arrange- ments for those cars had been made before the change of government by somebody who had not believed that the government would be changed. Only one construction can be put on those words, and that is that the honorable member is suggesting that protection by some minister in the last Labour Government was necessary to carry on this swindle. If that was not the case, how would a change of government affect the position ? There can be no doubt that that is a specific charge, which reflects upon some member, or members, of the last Labour Government. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) will insist upon the appointment of a Commonwealth royal commission, or some other form of investigation or inquiry, with the fullest possible terms of reference, in order to give the honorable member the opportunity, if he wants it, of proving whether there is any basis for these allegations.
The honorable member for Mackellar made some reference to me. He does not. come out and make specific and direct charges, but leaves himself, as I have said, with various escape clauses. I shall repeat what he said from my recollection of his remarks this morning. He said, “ In all fairness let me add that not to myself but to two other persons, Mr. Doyle has named Mr. Ward as one of his contacts “. I now ask the honorable member for Mackellar a simple and direct question: Has he given the names of these gentlemen to the New South Wales police who have been investigating this particular matter, or does he propose to do so when he gives evidence before the royal commission? That would be rather interesting. Perhaps the honorable gentleman may be induced to say to-day who are the two gentlemen who, he says, conveyed this information to him. He proceeded to provide an escape clause for himself in the following words : - “ I say in fairness to Mr. Ward that I do not necessarily regard Mr. Doyle as a witness of truth in this matter “. Of course, having made the filthy insinuation, he then backs out of it by saying that he is not suggesting that Mr. Doyle is a witness of truth. All I want to say to the honorable gentleman now is that he is earning a great reputation, if it can ‘be called great, for smearing reputable members of the community with allegations and charges by innuendo which he cannot prove. As a matter of fact, it is not so long s.go that he had to publish an apology to a well-known authoress in this country because he had made unfounded allegations against her. The honorable gentleman should give a little attention to his own record, and relate some of it, such as his association with the armed forces of this country and the circumstances in which he left them; his association with Communists on the south coast of New South Wales when he was running a newspaper in that area; and his activities during the period of the last war when he attempted to build hotels, theatres and the like on the south coast of New South Wales, using, up labour and materials that were in short supply and regarded as necessary for our defence effort, and using every device to get round the Commonwealth controls. The honorable member should pay a little attention to his own record inside and outside the Parliament.
I conclude by saying to him that I do not care how many royal commissions may be appointed. They can examine the files.
– The honorable member would not give evidence before one royal commission.
– When my own integrity and honesty and my good name and reputation were concerned, I stood in a witness-box at a royal commission and defended my honour for weeks on end.
-Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
– I move -
That the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) be granted an extension of time.
-Order! An honorable member may not be granted an extension of time on a motion for the adjournment of the House.
– I assure the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) that we on this side of the House regard him as a cross between a delicate flower and a sensitive plant. A moment ago, he suggested that I might name the two men to whom reference has been made, either in this Blouse or before a royal commission. Well, I shall split the difference. I shall name one of them now, and the other at the royal commission. That seems to be a fair thing. The honorable member for East Sydney first raised this matter. The first point he made about it this afternoon was copied from the front page of the Tribune. If one compared the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney regarding the particular cheques for £27,000 or £28,000 with the reference to the matter published in the Tribune, it will be found that one is a copy of the other. The issue of the Tribune to which I refer is dated the 11th February, and the honorable member’s remarks are made approximately eight days later. Be that as it may, the important thing at this juncture, although, of course, it is not the most important thing in the long run, is the specific matter under consideration. I have raised it because it was first brought up by the honorable member for East Sydney, who was asking, whether in good faith or bad faith, for the widest inquiry into the matter. Therefore, it is proper for me to suggest subjects of inquiry, even though one may not have complete proof of them. In point of fact, the complete proof, in some instances, lies in files resident in the custody of the Government of New South Wales. I said this morning that two gentlemen had said that Mr. Doyle had named the honorable member for East Sydney as one of his contacts. One of those gentleman was a Mr. Bissett, who is connected with the Mutual Acceptance Corporation, in respect of which Mr. Doyle alleges that he borrowed money on non-existent cars. One would not necessarily take Mr. Doyle’s own account of his activities. Mr. Doyle said to Mr. Bissett, so Mr. Bissett informs me, that Mr. Ward was his associate in certain shady deals-
– Order ! An honorable member should be referred to by his constituency.
– I apologize, Mr. Speaker, and substitute the words “ the honorable member for East Sydney “ in the sentence “ his associate in certain very shady deals “. But one would not take that association between Mr. Doyle and the honorable member for East Sydney as established simply on Doyle’s word. Now, in this case, there does happen to be a little bit of corroborative evidence which could be examined. Here again, the date becomes important. Mr. Bissett said that when Mr. Doyle came to him, he had with him a large amount; of money, and he said, “ This money is the proceeds of a timber swindle which will be taken over to America by Eddie Ward in the course “-
Opposition members interjecting ,
-I quote the words that were used. Mr. Bissett did not say, “the honorable member for East Sydney “. He simply said,, “ Eddie Ward “. The important thing is that, according to Mr. Bissett, that statement was made before any public mention had been made of the timber affair, and at a time when there was no public knowledge of it. Therefore, it would seem that, if Mr. Bissett’s memory of the matter is correct, at the time Mr. Doyle was linked with the timber affair and Mr. Doyle alleges that he was associated with Mr. Ward in it-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman may not refer to the honorable member for East Sydney by name.
– Again, I am quoting the words that were used. He did not say, “ The honorable member for East Sydney “. Those are his allegations.I am not saying that they are correct, but I am saying that there is some little bit of corroborative evidence which needs to be weighed even though it is not conclusive evidence.
There is another matter. Here again is something which I am not in a position to verify, but which, perhaps, could be a subject for inquiry by the royal commission. It is alleged by Doyle that on more than one occasion he travelled between Australia and America in a rather irregular fashion with some government concessions. At that time, as honorable: members will recall, it was very hard for a private individual to travel between Australia and America. If Mr. Doyle’s statement is borne out by inquiry - and I do not accept it at its face value - some kind of link will be established between him and governmental sources at that time. Here, again, there is a little corroborative evidence because Mr. Doyle was asked by one gentleman to buy in America some medical tablets of a particular brand, the name of which I cannot remember, which were unobtainable in Australia, and he brought some back within ten days. That is not proof, but it leads one to think that- investigation is justified. Two facts are clear. The first is that Mr. Doyle had very intimate connections throughout the State labour party in New South Wales. That has been established beyond doubt. The second is that the Government of New South Wales has not been entirely bona fide in issuing instructions to the police force, and through the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, in its efforts to. uncover the truth of the Doyle affair. It has been covering up rather than trying to uncover. That appears to have been established beyond doubt, also. These are matters which, in my view, require investigation, and, I am happy to join with the honorable member for East Sydney in suggesting that they be investigated. I am not in a position to say that all these things have been established, and I have never claimed to be in such a position. However, I have said that some facts have been established. The intimate association of Mr. Doyle and members of the State Labour party in New South Wales, for example, I consider to have been established. There are other facts, too, which I consider to have been established. The matters of which I have spoken to-day require inquiry. I have discussed them because I think that they should be discussed inview of the challenge that was issued by the honorable member for East Sydney in this House earlier this week..
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put-
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr-. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority .. .. . . 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Elections 1951 - Statistical Returns showing the voting within each Subdivision in relation to the Senate Election and the General Elections for the House of Representatives,1951, viz.: -
New South Wales.
Order to be printed.
Broadcasting Act - Twentieth Annual Report and Financial Statements of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for year 1951-52.
Canned Fruits Export Charges Act RegulationsStatutory Rules l953, No. 9.
Commonwealth Grants Commission Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1953, No. 8.
Cotton Bounty Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1953, No. 5.
Customs Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1953, No. 10.
InterimForces Benefits Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1953, No.7.
Land Acquisition Act -Land acquired for -
Defence purposes -
East Sale, Victoria.
Postal purposes - Bentleigh East, Victoria.
Public Service Act - Appointments - PostmasterGeneral’s Department - D. I. Anderson, P.D. Barnes, J. Brown, M. H. R. Buckley, P. C. Burder, A. R. Gillett, G. Morris, P. M. Murton, D. G. Rodoni.
Repatriation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1953, No. 6.
House adjourned at 5.25 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
-In a letter dated the 7th November, 1952,I conveyed to the honorable member the following information in answer to his questions: -
During November and December it is estimated that approximately 5,000 British migrants, including Irish and Maltese, will arrive under Commonwealth assisted passage schemes. It is further estimated that there will, during these two months be an intake of approximately 5,400 non-British landing permit holders travelling at their own expense. All these migrants, who will comprise mainly family units or dependants of breadwinners already established in Australia, will be travelling on the nomination of friends or relatives already here and, in some cases, on the sponsorship of their prospective employers. A prerequisite to the acceptance in the first instance of these nominations will have been in each case the pre-assurance of accommodation and employment for the nominees concerned. It is expected that there will also be an intake of approximtaely 3,600 British migrants travelling as full-fare paying passengers. These people, as yon know, are generallyin a position where necessary to make theirown arrangements in regard to accommodation and employment. The intake during November and .December under the Dutch and German migration agreements is not expected to exceed 2,000 and 1,500 respectively. These will comprise largely skilled metal and rural workers, accompanied by their families, for whom there is still a current demand in Australian industries. The intake under the Italian agreement during these two months will be 981 workers, largely for rural industries . into which they should bc placed with little- difficulty. There will also be, in this group, a limited number of- Italian unskilled workers whose placement into employment may provide some initial difficulty. i have, however, already explained on several occasions the circumstances which have given rise to our accepting this final group of unskilled- workers from Italy. In the case of Dutch, German and Italian migrants travelling under our agreements with their respective countries, government-provided accommodation will be provided where employer-found accommodation is not available.
4;Ward asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following information : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 February 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1953/19530219_reps_20_221/>.