20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr.. SPEAKER (Son. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. JOHNSON presented a petition from certain citizens of the Commonwealth praying that the Parliament will rectify an injustice which they believe is being done under the Superannuation Act.
Petition received and read.
– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture any information to give to the House about the results of the sale of Australian meat in hard currency areas last year?
– I am unable to reply to the honorable member in detail now. Broadly, the facts of this matter are that quantities of beef, mutton and lamb were exported- to North America last year by the Australian Meat Board. A substantial loss was incurred on the sale of meat of each type. A substantial quantity of each kind of meat is still unsold. I shall supply the honorable member later with a detailed statement of the position.
-Is the Prime Minister . aware that the only clock factory in Australia, which is situated in Melbourne, is to cease production as a result of high costs arising from prolonged inflation! Will the right honorable gentleman indicate what the Government proposes to do to prevent . .further factories from closing or restricting their production for the same reason?
– I have read press reports about the closing of this clock factory, and I have seen reports of statements by the management to the effect that it is closing because of high costs, but I do not remember having read that it is closing because of inflation.
– The same thing!
– Well, really, one lives and learns ! I noticed that it was closing because of high costs.. That seemed to me to present quite a problem to a number of people.
– My question, which’ is addressed to the Prime Minister, relates to a joint statement alleged to have been made by the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition in Japan regarding the re-armament programme to be adopted by that nation. Has the right honorable gentleman any knowledge of the statement? If so, does he consider it to be in conformity with the provisions of the Japanese peace treaty?
– I have not seen an official report of the statement. When I receive a report, I shall ascertain how the statement stands in relation to the matter mentioned by the honorable member, and I shall inform him accordingly.
– In view of the eonfusion that now exists in relation to the organized marketing of wheat in this country, will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether he has changed his views about the desirability of the Commonwealth Parliament having power to deal with orderly marketing in Australia? If he has changed his views on that matter, what does he propose to do to establish orderly marketing arrangements?
– The right honorable gentleman has asked a question that was addressed to me in almost identical terms recently. My view then was, as it still is, that there exists in this country ample constitutional authority to establish satisfactory arrangements for the orderly marketing of wheat, by a combination of Federal and State powers. The fact that certain State governments are unwilling to negotiate such arrangements with the governments of other States does not constitute a reason why the Australian Constitution should be altered to suit them.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether’,’ in view of the concern of wheat-growers over the Victorian Government’s lack of co-operation in relation to the orderly marketing of wheat, he can say whether the Australian Wheat Board, as at present constituted, will have authority to receive this season’s crop. Could he also give the House any information regarding the outcome of the difficult negotiations regarding this matter between the Commonwealth and the States?”
– I am not able to report any progress in respect of the negotiations between the Commonwealth and the State governments. The only point in dispute which prevents agreement on an Australia-wide orderly marketing scheme for wheat is the question of the home-consumption selling price, the decision on which is exclusively within the authority of the State governments. I should like to make it clear that that fact is clearly recognized and conceded by the State governments. On every occasion on which I have had a conference with State Ministers for Agriculture to deal with the orderly marketing of wheat and wheat stabilization, I have told the State Ministers, when the conference reached that subject, that it was not a matter in which the Commonwealth had authority to make a decision. I have asked them whether they wished me to leave the conference and allow them to discuss the matter among themselves. The record of every conference that I have held shows that I have made that statement, and asked that question. The records also show that on every occasion the State Ministers have asked me, unanimously, to remain and to chair the meeting when it was discussing this matter, in an endeavour to bring them into agreement. The Commonwealth’s position, therefore, is clear. The Australian Wheat Board, as constituted under the present statute, will not have authority to receive the forthcoming wheat crop. After to-morrow the board will exist only as a realizing authority in respect of past wheat crops. I shall make clear to the House any future developments, and I shall certainly make the Commonwealth’s position clear, at as early a date as I possibly can do so.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture explain the position in relation to the supply of wheat to Tasmania in the future, having regard to the present deadlock in negotiations for a stabilization plan?
– The total plan for orderly marketing, which is held up only on the issue of a local selling price, makes complete provision for the supply of wheat to Tasmania at the agreed domestic price level. However, in the absence of a comprehensive agreement, or in the event that finally there should be a partial orderly marketing plan involving different prices in different States, there is no provision for the supply of wheat to Tasmania. This situation will have to be faced if the current negotiations break down through the failure of the State governments to resolve the one outstanding point.
– I address a further question to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture’ while the honorable gentleman’s thoughts are still floating around in the wheat fields. Is there any foundation in fact for the reports that are circulating that certain wheatbuying companies, which formerly engaged in speculative wheat buying, are preparing to re-enter this field and intend to secure selling contracts from wheat.growers immediately on the termination of the existing stabilization scheme? If so, what effect will this have on any organized marketing scheme that may be adopted eventually at the request of the wheat-growers, through their organizations ?
– I do not know whether merchants are making arrangements to buy wheat, or propose to do so. I only know that to-day there exists no statutory authority, State or Federal, with the power to receive, market or realize the forthcoming Australian wheat crop. I am informed that the first, deliveries of wheat from the new crop are expected within four weeks. This fact points to the urgency of the State governments reaching unanimity on a price so that all these outstanding problems, which are of great importance, can be resolved and thus provide some prospect of stability in the wheat industry.
– I address a question to you, Mr. Speaker, concerning the petitions that have been presented to the House recently in increasing numbers. In explanation of the question, I point out that there is a growing tendency for petitioners to present arguments in support of their cases in their petitions, although the presentation of such arguments is a function of honorable members. Is this practice to le permitted to develop, or will a limit be placed on the amount of argument that petitioners may include in petitions presented to this House?
– I shall have a look at the matter thoroughly and give the honorable gentleman a reply to-morrow. I think I can say that as far as we have gone up to the present I have insisted on the provisions of the Standing Orders being observed. That -is why I have refused to allow the presentation of certain petitions to the House.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he will have a discussion with the Leader of the Opposition with a view to the calling of a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee at an early date for the purpose of considering a number of desirable and very necessary alterations to the Standing Orders, the need for which has made itself so apparent, and which, if made, would enable members of the Parliament to discuss public matters with greater benefit to the people and would avoid the incomprehensible restrictions placed on honorable members who desire to seek information and to offer to the House, or the Committee of the House, the benefit of their views?
– There are several respects in which I, myself, am not satisfied with the present shape of the Standing Orders, and I know that you, also, Mr. Speaker, have various matters in your own mind relating to them. Just as soon as it could be done conveniently to those concerned I was proposing to suggest to Mr. Speaker that a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee be held.
– Will the right honorable gentleman discuss the matter with the Leader of the Opposition?
– Certainly, with great pleasure. I think that we ought to have a meeting of the committee as soon as possible and, because there are some general matters which, I know, give a good deal of dissatisfaction as they now stand to honorable members.
– I direct to the Minister for the Army a’ question that relates to a complaint made by the Metropolitan Rifle Markers Association which claims that the payment of £2 3s. a day that markers are to receive in the forthcoming Queen’s Prize rifle shoot is insufficient. The association is asking for a payment of £2 10s. a day. It states that a payment of £2 3s. a day is far below the basic wage daily rate of pay, and has asked’ me to request the Minister to intervene and see whether it would be possible to increase the daily rate to something in the vicinity of the basic wage daily rate.
– I shall be very pleased to give consideration to the representations that the honorable gentleman has made. I shall examine any specific cases brought to my notice, and shall be very happy to do the right thing in the matter, whatever it may be.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Health been drawn to a statement by the federal president of the Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia, in which he said that chemists had voted, by a 99 to 1 majority, to withdraw from the pensioners’ medical service scheme? If his attention has been drawn to that statement, has he yet received an ultimatum from the president of the guild to the effect that on and after Thursday, the 1st October, members of the guild will discontinue the dispensing of medicine and drugs to pensioners? In view of the seriousness of the ultimatum, which will affect pensioners, and also in view of the repeated statements of the Minister that the chemists were highly satisfied with the agreement between them and the Government, I ask the Minister how he now contemplated by members of the reconciles his statements with the action guild ? Further, has the Minister any statement to make to the House on this serious and important question so that the fears of pensioners may be allayed?
– When I left Australia about five weeks ago there was no acute position insofar as any difference of opinion between the Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia and myself was concerned. At that time the matter of pensioners’ payments was not being discussed at any length. There had been discussions with regard to the general matter of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. That matter, apparently, . has been satisfactorily settled during my absence abroad, so there is no question now about the major scheme. I understand that the Minister who was acting for me in my absence has been carrying out negotiations with thu Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia with the intention and the hope of securing a satisfactory agreement. He has been making progress, as is shown by a telegram that I found on my table when I arrived in Canberra to-day. It came from Mr. Scott, the president of the guild, and it reads -
Protest strongly against hasty decision in announcing direct to individual chemists interim pensioner payments while negotiations supposedly proceeding and thereby ignoring guild which is recognised by your Government as negotiating body.
As honorable members may have read in the press last Saturday, the Government has made substantial concessions of an interim nature, and negotiations for an agreement should be completed. Yesterday morning Mr, Scott telephoned me and said that he was anxious to interview me. I made an appointment for him to see me to-morrow morning when I expect that he will put. his case to me.
– Did the Minister for Health assert, during a recent interview overseas, that his national health scheme is “ just what the doctor ordered “ ? If so, whether he was speaking literally or metaphorically, will he say why he intends, as announced by him, according to the report, to insert a further provision in the legislation to provide that the scheme cannot he revoked for three years, and thus deprive the people of the opportunity of giving their mandate on it at the next general election? In other words, why does not the right honorablegentleman give the patients, as. well as the doctors, a say?
– The quotation that the honorable gentleman has mentioned is from the New York Times, which stated in a special article that all the American doctors who returned from the international conference at The Hague said that the Australian scheme was just what the doctor ordered and would be adopted, they thought, by everY free country. The honorable gentleman will be able to find the statement in the New York Times if he cares to look for it. I shall send the honorable member a copy of the speech I delivered at The Hague. I do not remember his second question.
– I asked why the Minister intended to provide that the scheme shall not be revoked in less than three years.
– At the last Senate election the people indicated to the Government that it should not be revoked for three years, because they gave the Government a majority in tha Senate for at. least that time.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Army. Have all Australian prisoners of the Korean war been repatriated? If that is not so and some Australian soldiers are still held prisoner by North Korean or Chinese forces, is some action being taken to obtain their names and notify their next-of-kin? Can a complete and immediate check be instituted with tb» United Nations Korean repatriation authority about servicemen who have not been repatriated and who were previously posted as missing, believed prisoner of war? I have knowledge of one such case, and I know that the parents concerned are most anxiously waiting for. some information.
– The matter of the release of prisoners of war has engaged the closest detailed attention of the Army, both in Australia and in Korea. The
Communist authorities have stated that all prisoners of war who were in their hands have been repatriated. Intense investigation is proceeding concerning personnel previously classified as missing, or missing believed prisoner of war, with a view to obtaining definite evidence which may warrant their inclusion in another category. All United Nations prisoners of war who have been released have been interrogated about other prisoners of war whom they may have known, and the evidence obtained from them is being collated. When that has been done, further information will be available to us.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether the Australian Government has any power to control or prohibit the publication in the States of comic strips and other forms of scurrilous literature ?
– The power of the Australian Parliament in relation to publication, is a power over only the importation. of matter into Australia. Matter :that is printed and distributed in Australia falls within the jurisdiction of the 5§tate parliaments and within such laws as they care to make and have administered in relation to it. That is why, as the honorable member has occasionally observed, prosecutions have been launched against certain publications or publishers under State law. Except in relation to importation, the matter is essentially and solely a State problem.
– I ask the Minister for Supply whether arrangement’s have been made for members of the Parliament to view a screening of the film made of the Monte Bello atomic explosions? If so, when may the film be seen ?
– Another honorable member asked me a similar question about this matter last week. Since then I have seen the film and have made arrangements to make it available for exhibition to honorable members. A difficulty has arisen, however, because the film which is a 35 millimetre film, is not suitable for use with the kind of projector that is installed in Parliament House. If honorable members so desire, I shall arrange to have the film screened at the theatrette of the News and Information Bureau at a suitable time. The film is an admirable documentary which is beautifully produced and really most impressive.
– Will the Minister for Supply state whether it is a fact that Australia receives only £1 Os. 3d. a (unit for its uranium whereas Canada receives £1 19s. 0$d. a unit for its uranium? Will the Minister initiate discussions with members of the United Kingdom Government now in Australia with a view to obtaining a more equitable price for our valuable uranium products ?
– The prices mentioned by the honorable member have also been stated in the press. I repeat my earlier statement, that the prices mentioned are hopelessly inaccurate. I do not propose to answer further questions on the prices of uranium because I do not think that they can be adequately answered at question time-
– Why not?
– They could not be adequately answered at question time. The proposed vote for the Atomic Energy Commission will be before the Committee of Supply later. If necessary a more comprehensive statement may be made when the proposed vote is under consideration.
– Will the Minister for Supply inform the House of the cost to the Commonwealth of the installation of uranium-mining equipment and oretreatment plants at Rum Jungle and Radium Hill respectively? Is the Combined Development Agency carrying out the installations? What per cent, interest is charged on the dollars involved? Will the Minister supply to the House the names of the directors of the Combined Development Agency and state whether that agency is a private or a government monopoly?
– I think that the honorable gentleman is suffering from a certain confusion of mind about this matter. The Combined Development Agency is an instrumentality of the British and
American governments. A year or two ago it sent representatives to Australia to negotiate an agreement whereby Australia would sell uranium to the two governments. I think that I have answered the honorable gentleman’s question regarding the directors of the agency, which is not a private organization but is a joint British and American government association.
– What about the installation costs?
– If the honorable gentleman will furnish me with a copy of his question I shall have the matter examined and see whether a reply can be furnished to him.
– I address a question to the Leader of the Opposition. Is it with the approval of the right honorable gentleman that his colleague, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, has been publicly advocating compulsory unionism in the federal sphere? Is compulsory unionism a plank of the platform of the federal Australian Labour party? Does the right honorable gentleman subscribe to that doctrine, and does he therefore support the Labour Government of New South Wales in its present intentions? Will the right honorable1 gentleman give consideration-
– The- question is obviously out of order.
– -Order! I shall decide that matter.
– -Will the right honorable gentleman give consideration to the facts that compulsory unionism is contrary to the principle of freedom of contract, which has been approved by the International Labour Conference, and that a necessary and obvious corollary to any system of compulsory unionism would be the obligatory abstention of trade unions from party politics so that persons who are obliged to join unions shall not be obliged to see their union dues spent in the support of party policies with which they do not agree?
– I understand that the honorable member has finished his speech.
I have not seen a report of the remarks of the honorable member for EdenMonaro.
– I shall be glad to make it available to the right honorable gentleman.
– Speaking federally, the matter does not arise, because the decision of the New South Wales Government relates only to State trade unions within that State. I understand that the State Government is contemplating the enactment of a law similar to the law which has been in force in Queensland for many years. Such a law could not apply federally because the power of the Commonwealth Parliament in matters of this kind is limited to ‘ the settlement of interstate disputes. I understand that the principle of the proposed law in New South Wales is that, with regard to purely New South Wales unions, preference is to be given to members of unions, and that those who object to the payment of union contributions may, if they satisfy the appropriate tribunal, escape from their obligation to do so. I am content to say that I believe that 99 per cent, of the workers of New South Wales would welcome this legislation, and so also would most employers.
– Can the Ministor for Civil Aviation say whether the annual . reports of the governmentowned airlines, Qantas Empire Airways Limited and Trans-Australia Airlines will be made available for the information of honorable members? If those reports are not yet available, can the Minister say whether they will be presented shortly. In the meantime, can he say whether the operations of those two airlines for the year 1952-53, which ended on the 30th June last, again show a profit ? Is it the intention of the Government or the Department of Civil Aviation, in view of the fact that AustralianNational Airways Proprietary Limited has been given the use of £3,000,000 of the taxpayer’s money and is advertising this news in to-day’s press-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is founding a part of hi? question on a newspaper paragraph. Hf is not in order in doing so.
– Then I shall omit the reference to the newspaper report. Can the Minister say whether it is the intention of the Government to introduce legislation to compel Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited to disclose its working accounts, so as to inform in embers of the public of the way in which that sum of £3,000,000 is to be used? If the Government proposes to take this action, can the Minister state when the legislation will be introduced?
– I am not sure when the reports of Qantas Empire Airways Limited and Trans-Australia Airlines for the year ended 30th June last will be available. I think that the practice is to make such reports .publicly available when they are ready. As far as I am aware, the ‘ operations of both organizations show a slight profit for 1952-53. Trans-Australia Airlines has a small profit, and Qantas Empire Airways Limited has a more substantial profit. I remind the honorable member for Maribyrnong that Qantas Empire Airways Limited and Trans-Australia Airlines are statutory bodies and, as such, are required to make their accounts available publicly. Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited is a proprietary company, and is not required to make ‘its balance-sheet publicly available either to this Parliament or anybody else. The manner in which Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited uses its money to further its business and its activities is its own concern. The advertisements that it publishes in order to secure business are equally . a matter for its own determination.
– Is the Minister for Civil .Aviation aware that the single fare for the journey between Griffith and Melbourne was £5 when Trans-Australia Airlines was operating on that route and that now, when only Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited is operating, it is £10 19s. 6d.? “Will he do something to prevent this outrageous exploitation?
– With due respect to- the honorable member, I am extremely doubtful of the accuracy of the statement that he has just made’. I cannot believe that any airways company would more than double the fare for a particular journey when it took over the operation of that route. Unless I receive very definite proof of the accuracy of the statement, I shall not consider it further.
– Is it a fact that recently I made representations to the Minister for Civil Aviation on the necessity to improve Armidale aerodrome? Is it also a fact that, subsequently, officers of his department visited Armidale and made a report to him about improvements of the aerodrome and the probable cost ? ‘ Will the honorable gentleman inform the House of the present position in this matter, and of the action .that probably will be taken ?
– I acknowledge that the honorable member has made persistent representations for the improvement of Armidale aerodrome and that I have sent officers of my department to Armidale and instructed them to furnish me with a report on the matter. There are some difficulties associated with the provision of adequate aerodrome facilities at Armidale. The site previously selected is the only one that can be developed satisfactorily. Other sites have been inspected, but, for various reasons, have been rejected. My officers have reported to me that, in order to construct a runway of sufficient length to serve the purposes of the district, it would be necessary to acquire additional land and extend the aerodrome. I understand that the land is available. Unfortunately, the cost of the extensions would be in the neighbourhood of £15,000, and I am afraid that I cannot promise the honorable member that that sum will be available for this purpose in the current financial year.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House of the approximate balance in the Dairying Industry Stabilization Fund at the present time? What type of drawings were made from the fund during the previous financial year? Who authorizes such drawings?
– The balance in the Dairying Industry Stabilization Fund at the present time is more than £2,000,000. Drawings from the fund during the financial year 1952-53 were made only in respect of cheese. The fund consists almost entirely of the profits which were made when the preceding Labour Government was in office from the export of butter and cheese to the United Kingdom and other countries. That money was not paid to the dairy-farmers, but was retained in a special account. The present Government has made that money available in full to the Australian Dairy Produce Board-
– The preceding Labour Government promised to do so. Mr. McEWEN. - But the preceding Labour Government did not carry out its promise.
– Order ! Interjections are disorderly. I ask that the Minister be heard in silence.
– That money has been made available by statute to the Australian Dairy Produce Board to use at its discretion in supplementing returns to dairy-farmers additional to the value of their sales and the Government guarantee. In other words, the fund is drawn upon, as the hoard decides in order to supplement the returns on exported butter and cheese so as to bring them up to the level of the guaranteed price, or else it is added to the annual returns. The guarantee of stability to the dairying industry, towards which the Australian Government contributes very substantial sums is quite a separate arrangement. Those funds are voted in the budget each year.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Air. What has become of the prize money allocated to the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy following the cessation of hostilities in World War II.? Is it true that the share of the Royal Australian Air Force of this money is not to bo distributed to members in view of some supposed difficulty of establishing individual records ? As this difficulty did not arise with the Royal Australian Navy and a just distribution was made to naval personnel, will the Minister inform the House whether any Royal Australian Air Force associations were asked to pass judgment on this matter? Who was responsible for the decision which prevents Royal Australian Air Force personnel from securing this benefit?
– Most of the prizemoney received by the Royal Australian Navy has already been distributed. Some small amounts remain unclaimed. If we can find out to whom they belong we shall distribute them immediately. In the case of the Royal Australian Air Force, it has not been found practicable to evolve a scheme that would permit of the distribution of prizemoney to individual members or to their families.
– If the honorable member will be patient I shall clarify the position for him. The Government, and the ex-servicemen’s committee that it has appointed, have given the most careful attention to this matter. It has been decided to bring before this House a bill that will validate the payment of the money to an ex-servicemen’s homes committee in order to provide homes for indigent ex-servicemen or families of ex-servicemen. A comprehensive explanation of the scheme will be given to the House after the bill has been introduced, and I have no doubt that it will meet with the complete support of all organizations of ex-servicemen.
– Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, of the great difficulty that is caused by your insistence that names must not be mentioned in questions? I hasten >to add that I appreciate the reasons for your ruling. Nevertheless, how can I, as a seeker after information, adequately strike the proper note in referring to a person unless I name that person? How can I couch a question satisfactorily under such conditions? Must I, for example, ask whether a certain typist on a certain week-end became accommodating, whether the driver of a certain car was accommodating, and whether a certain gentleman connected with a certain newspaper in Sydney made a certain prophecy about the 2s. in the £1 reduction of the rate of company taxation? You must see from that example the difficulties that confront honorable members, Mr. Speaker, when they cannot name individuals.
– I am bound by the Standing Orders. Standing Order 151 states -
Notice must be given of Questions regarding the character or conduct of individuals other than Ministers or Members of the House. l t is just as evil, in my view, to give a bad advertisement to a good man as it is to give a good advertisement to a bacl man. Each is equally reprehensible. In relation to questions upon notice, Standing Order 14.4 provides that the following general rules shall apply : -
Questions should not contain -
statements of facts or names of persons unless they are strictly necessary to render the question intelligible and can be authenticated:
That is the rule. I shall not depart from it.
– Will the Minister for Air inform me whether he agrees with the interpretation of sections 9 and 9a of the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act, as interpreted by the delegate of the Commissioner for Employees’ Compensation, in the case in which certain national service trainees were injured last year near Helidon, Queensland? If he does agree with the delegate, will the honorable gentleman say where trainees who have been taken hundreds of miles from their homes in order to carry out their training are to sleep at night if they are deemed not to be on duty when they remain in camp and are not covered by section 9a when they leave camp or are returning to camp? Does the Government intend to deny liability in the case of these trainees, especially those who are crippled, or will it amend the regulations in order to provide coverage for all trainees who may be injured during any period for which they are away from home and carrying out compulsory military training?
– It is not for me to agree or disagree with the ruling of the
Crown Law authorities and the Treasurer. The law is that, if national service trainees are injured otherwise than in the course of their duty, liability is not accepted by the delegate under the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act. I am not prepared to say what my personal opinion of the law happens to be. It is the duty of the Crown Law authorities to carry out the law as they find it. I have no further comment to make.
– What about section 9a?
– My answer applies to section 9a, too.
- Mr. Speaker-
– An apology for Geelong !
– I do not mind criticism of my politics, but I do object to an attack upon the football team that I support. But for misfortune to Bill McMaster, Geelong would* have won by four goals. On various occasions, the Minister foi’ Supply has kept the House informed of the extent to which it has been possible for local companies to fulfil service requirements of clothing, footwear and other equipment. Can the honorable gentleman inform the House of the present position and of the degree to which industry has co-operated with the Government ?
– The honorable member has raised this matter with me from time to time and, as all honorable members realize, has maintained a keen interest in the subject, no doubt because he has a number of textile industries in the electorate that he represents. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the very satisfactory results in the manufacture of equipment which were achieved last year have been maintained this year. I -have some figures that relate to the period between .January and June. They show that enormous quantities of clothing, footwear and tentage, ordered in January, have been delivered already.
– It is extraordinary that the Minister should have these figures with him.
– It is not extraordinary, because the honorable member for Corio asked me about this matter previously. In the six months to which I have referred, we received 118,000 battle dress blouses, 43,000 greatcoats, 245,000 trousers, 229,000 military shirts, 85,000 hats, 737,000 boots and 11,000 tents. The last item is very big. Most of that equipment was made in the factories of private industry in Australia. This very excellent result - excellent in the sense that it represents the fulfilment in a short period of orders placed with private industry - was achieved by co-operation between the Department of the Army, my own department and private industry, which has played its pari very well. Several of the private organizations concerned are in the electorate of the honorable member for Corio. I hope that that is a slight consolation for the disappointment that he suffered last Saturday.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that, contrary to normal practice and to previous announcements, the news commentary broadcast by the national stations on Wednesday, the 16th September, was confined to two Victorian stations, 3LO and VLR, and was not transmitted over the national network? Is he aware that, in accordance with the usual practice, interstate channels were booked for this commentary, so that it could be broadcast _ over the national network, but that the arrangements were cancelled when the commentator submitted the script of his commentary, which dealt with the disabilities that would be incurred by the admittance of red China to the United Nations? Was the broadcast restricted to Victoria by the Minister’s direction, in accordance with the policy of the Government of softening public opinion to accept the recognition of red China? If not, will the Minister ascertain the reason why, despite previous announcements and the booking of channels, the bookings were cancelled and the broadcast confined to two Victorian stations?
– I assure the honorable member that the services of the Australian Broadcasting Commission are not used by this Government, as they were by the preceding Government, as a propaganda vehicle. I gave no directions in respect of the broadcast to which the honorable member has referred. Until he raised the matter, I was not even aware that such a broadcast had been made. There was no intervention of any kind by the Government. I am sure that the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which is composed of people representative of various parties and sections of the community, would not lend itself to biased broadcasting. However, as the honorable member has raised this question, I shall ascertain the facts of the matter from the commission and inform him accordingly.
– Will the Prime Minister request the Treasurer to reconsider his decision not to exempt from income tax the pay of trainees in the Citizen Military Forces? If it is not possible for the Treasurer to do that, will the Prime Minister ask his colleague to request the taxation committee to investigate the possibility of evolving a scheme under which the trainees would not be placed at. a disadvantage because their military pay put them in a higher income tax bracket?
– I should be glad to take this matter up with the Treasurer, who is, unfortunately, unable to be here to-day. I regret to say that he is ill and will be absent for the rest of the week.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that, during recent court proceedings in Sydney arising out of litigation between two newspaper organizations, a witness attested on oath that he had secured pre-knowledge of the budget in respect of company taxation-
– I rise to order. There is a growing tendency in this House to distort the facts on which questions are based. We have had two illustrations of that tendency in recent weeks.
– What is the point of order?
– I am stating facts.
– Order ! The Minister rose, not to state facts, hut to raise a point of order.
– Is it proper for an honorable member to distort the facts on which he bases a question, and to give the impression that he is honestly putting facts before the House, when he is not, in fact, doing so ? The honorable member for East Sydney has incorrectly stated the facts.
– Order ! I am not responsible for the accuracy of statements made by honorable members. I have declared repeatedly from the Chair, that, in my opinion, 90 per cent, of the questions asked in this House are out of order. The House, if it wished to do so, could amend the Standing Orders, and ensure that abuses did not occur. If I were to try to control matters of this kind from the Chair, I should have an impossible task, because I could not foresee what honorable members would say.
– Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for ruling that my question is among the 10 per cent, that are in order. I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that, during recent court proceedings in Sydney which arose from litigation between two newspaper organizations, a witness stated on oath that he had secured pre-knowledge of the budget proposals in respect of company taxation, which he had obtained during a visit to Canberra, and which he had been able to turn to the advantage of the interests with which he is associated. If so, has any inquiry been made into this matter? Did it include a check of the persons with whom this gentleman was in contact during his visits to Canberra who would have been in a position to have some knowledge of the budget proposals? If such an inquiry has been made, when does the Prime Minister expect to be in a position to make a statement to the Parliament regarding the result of the investigation? If no inquiry has yet been instituted will the right honorable gentleman say whether i* is proposed to take any action in that direction?
– It will not surprise honorable members when I say I understand that the “fact” alleged by the honorable member is not a fact.
Mi-. ANDREWS.- I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether he is satisfied with the means adopted by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to establish the average cost of production in order to determine the average price. Does he not consider that such averages should be founded on production in zones rather than on an Australiawide basis or a State basis?
– I presume the honorable gentleman is referring to wheat?
– I am referring to agricultural products.
– Within the limits of my technical knowledge, about which I make no great claims, I am satisfied with the procedures of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in respect of costing. My opinion on this matter is supported by the fact that the findings of the bureau in. relation to such matters as wheat and butter prices, which involve legislation, are subject to the closest scrutiny of the Commonwealth Treasury and come before the full Cabinet for consideration. The bureau’s findings in relation to wheat are subjected to scrutiny by the Superintendent of Agriculture in the Victorian Department of Agriculture, who is the State official nominated by the six State governments to watch the interests of the States. It is also subject to the scrutiny of the general secretary of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. All the interests that I have mentioned unanimously reached an agreement that the bureau’s conclusions regarding wheat were sound and justified. I can make almost the same remarks in regard to butter, which was dealt with a year earlier. The findings regarding butter were scrutinized by meeting after meeting of the State Ministers in charge of prices, and the figures were accepted. It can certainly be argued that costing on a regional basis would most certainly produce evidence of rather startling differentials in costs as between zones in one State and as between different States., but it has not been considered practical to bring the result of such regional examination into effect by having different prices for wheat or butter, whether produced in Gippsland in Victoria or on the south coast of New South “Wales. I cannot see how on earth such a system could operate satisfactorily.
– I nsk the Prime Minister whether the Australian National University has let one of its furnished houses in Canberra to the Minister for Territories. “Will the right honorable gentleman say whether it is customary for the university to let its cottages to persons other than members of its staff? Does the Prime Minister know of this arrangement and, if so, will be state what is the appropriate rent for this house furnished, what would be the appropriate rent for it unfurnished, and what rent the Minister for Territories is paying ?
– This is all news to me, but I shall find out about it and advise the honorable member accordingly.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the Vice-President of the United States of America will be visiting Canberra in a short time? Has the Government arranged any function to welcome the Vice-President, and will members of this House be allowed to join in any such welcome?
– The Vice-President of the United States of America is com.ing here on a brief visit during the court’ of a world journey that he is making. I do not carry in my mind at the moment all the arrangements that have been made, but I shall be very glad to find out what they are and to inform honorable members about them to-morrow.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) - by leave - agreed to -
That Mr. Costa and Mr. Joske be appointed members of the Standing Orders Committee, in place of Mr. Rosevear and Mr. McDonald, -deceased.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harbison) - by leave - agreed to -
That Mr. Joske be appointed a member of the Committee of Privileges, in place of Mr. McDonald, deceased.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) - by leave - agreed to -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Act 1048-1052, Mr. Morgan be appointed a trustee to serve oil the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Trust, in place of Mr. Rosevear, deceased.
– I desire to make a personal explanation concerning a statement that I made in the committee last Friday. At that time I was deploring the fact that the Queensland Government had announced that it did not propose, for the time being, to continue with the land settlement of ex-servicemen in Queensland. During the course of my statements I said -
The .Government’s announced intention in regard to those properties is bad enough, but it is made even worse by the statement of the Premier, on his recent return from his visit overseas to attend the Coronation of Her Majesty the Queen, that he has a wonderful scheme in hand designed to bring immigrants to Queensland for. settlement on the land. Normally, I should wholeheartedly favour such a scheme, but, in the present circumstances, the Premier knows quite well that he will not be able to attract immigrants of the kind he wants from the United Kingdom but will be forced to bring them from Germany, Italy and Holland, which are the most likely sources of supply, I cannot regard it as anything but n tragedy. To contemplate the bringing of immigrants to Queeusland from foreign countries for settlement on the land at a time when the Premier is misusing money received from the Australian Loan Council for the land settlement of ex-servicemen - of whom so:vc thousands have been waiting for year? - is disgraceful.
Last Saturday afternoon I attended ti function at which the Premier of Queensland was present. I discussed this matter with him,.’ and discovered that only the previous day he had made a statement in the Queensland Legislature to the effect that the report on which I had based my statement was incomplete, and that he had, at the time when that statement originated, said specifically that Queensland’s own people’s land requirements would have to be met before those of immigrants. In view of that, I express my regret to this House that I implied a completely incorrect motive to Mr. Gair on that particular matter.
In Committee of Supply: Considera tion resumed from the 25th September (vide page 713).
Department of the Interior.
Proposed vote, £3,510,000.
Department of Works
Proposed vote, £2,274,000.
Department of Civil Aviation
Proposed vote, £10,858,000.
Department of Trade and Customs
Proposed vote, £3,370,000.
Department of Health
Proposed vote, £1,281,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- I desire to direct my remarks to the Estimates of the Department of the Interior, and more particularly to war service land settlement. This is a matter upon which questions, no doubt collusive questions, have been asked in the last few weeks by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), and the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe), in reply to which the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) has made unctuously hypocritical replies.
Government supporters interjecting .
– Order ! The honorable member knows that the term he used is unparliamentary. I therefore ask him to withdraw it.
– I withdraw the term “ hypocritical “. I also asked a question about this matter. So far from receiving an unctuous reply, I received a most surly one that occupied two columns of Hansard, and was not very informative. The matter has been the subject of speeches on the Estimates by the honorable member for Lilley and the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm), and I regret that the honorable member for Bowman did not see fit to take the courageous stand in regard to war service land settlement that he some time ago took in regard to war service homes. On that occasion he abstained from supporting the Government of which he is ordinarily a supporter. The Minister, in his replies to questions on this matter, has taken good care to blame the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland for the reduction of war service land settlement, and has refrained from criticizing the Government of Victoria for taking similar action. Of course, that may be because land settlement of ex-servicemen was first curtailed fifteen months ago by a government of Victoria which was of the same political complexion as his own. It was a government of the party which, in Victoria, has long been rent by schisms and corruption. It may well be that the Minister for the Interior is tender towards Victoria, because his own arrogant conservatism first came to flower in the tortuous politics of that State. I hasten to agree with a former Minister, and no doubt a future Minister, the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford), that in Victoria there are now the beginnings of the only democratic parliamentary system in this country, State or Federal. But that was not the case when the Minister for the Interior first emerged in that State.
– Tell us something about the land settlement scheme in Werriwa?
– It might be just as well that I should not disclose the state of land settlement of ex-servicemen in Werriwa, or in the neighbouring electorate of the honorable member who interjected. The scheme has been in operation since the last war, when it was initiated by the Curtin Government. It is divided between the three principal States, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, and the three agent States, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. One reason for not bringing the latter States into the category of principal States is the difficulty of getting any form of closer settlement legislation through the legislative councils of those. States.
That is because those legislative councils arc dominated by the very oligarchies which resist closer settlement. During the war the Legislative Council of Western Australia rejected a bill designed to give servicemen a vote in the elections of that body.
It is a useful beginning to a speech on war service land settlement under the administration of this Government to quote from the joint policy speech of the leaders of the anti-Labour parties of 1949, a document the cynicism of which would have delighted Machiavelli. On page 24 of the authorized version appears the phrase -
We will encourage and speed up soldier land settlement.
The leaders of the present Government should either have not made that statement if they did not think it could be honoured, or, having’ made it, they should now try to honour it.
The present problem of war service land settlement arises from the meeting of the Australian Loan Council in 1952, when, Cor the first time, the Australian Government refused to make available to the States the amount of loan moneys to which the States unanimously decided they were entitled and which they decided could and should be raised. That is a fact of which the Minister is unaware, for, on the 12th August of last year, he stated that at the Australian Loan Council meeting that had recently been held New South Wales had agreed to reduce its loan programme from 170,000,000 to £53,000,000. It did not agree to do anything of the kind, nor did Hie other States agree to the reduction of their loan programmes. On the 5th January last the Minister said that New South Wales had received its highest postwar allocation of loan funds in that year. Of course it did - from the Australian Loan Council, but this Government reduced the allocation. Whereas, from the Australian Loan Council, New South Wales would have received £70,370,000 last year, as compared with £64,000,000 in the previous year and a lesser amount in preceding years, in actual fact it received £51,178,000, although in the previous year the cost of living index had risen by 24 per cent. A similar illusion is shri red by the Parliamentary Under-Secre tary to the Minister, or, if that title is disorderly, by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), who based his attack on New South Wales and the other States for having cut war service land settlement on the. fact that they were getting amounts that had been allocated to them by the Australian Loan Council. They got nothing of the sort. Last year they received less than they received in the previous year and this year they have received less than they received in 1951-52. This reduction led to a great exchange of remarks between the Minister for the Interior and the State Ministers for Lands which did no possible good but only showed up the evils and the inefficiencies of the federal system under which we still labour after having nominally been one nation for half a century.
The climax came in a speech which the Minister made on the 13th November last. My recollection of it is that he said that he would summon a conference of State Ministers - he had no power of course to summon one - and that he would offer them an opportunity to operate on an agent-State basis during the coming year. He said that, in the unlikely event of them not accepting that offer, the Commonwealth would have to institute and operate a scheme of war service land settlement in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. He also said that ho had been advised that under the defence power the Commonwealth had the constitutional power to acquire and develop land for the re-establishment of ex-servicemen. Honorable members will note that the Minister resorted to the vulgar practice of making and issuing press statements about certain persons before he had written to them. Following his usual form, on the day following that upon which he had issued the press statement, he wrote to the State Ministers and invited them to a conference. The conference was not held until the 31st March this year. In the meantime, he continued to issue statements to the press that were written in most intemperate and vituperative tones. It is true that many of them were issued from his sick bed. The Minister has suffered ill health in recent years not least because of the gallant service he rendered in two world wars; but he should realize that there can be no political future in making statements from one’s bed, whether it be in Iran or Australia.
The Minister for Defence (Sir” Philip McBride), who acted for the Minister at the conference of the 31st March, said that the administration of war service land settlement by the States had been completely satisfactory and that the Commonwealth did not intend to go ahead with its offer to take over the schemes of the principal States on an agent-State basis. lie said that he could give no guarantee that more money would be made available for war service land settlement if the Commonwealth operated the scheme than if the three principal States continued to run it, and that a further meeting with the State Ministers would be held before the meeting of the Loan Council in May. That meeting with the State Ministers was not held. At the meeting of the Loan Council in May the decision of the States on the amount of money they needed for war service land settlement and for other purposes was again ignored. The Minister is again synthetically indignant in answering questions, when he speaks of the flouting by the States of their moral and legal obligations to their fellow States and to the Loan Council. The fact is that the Australian Government has flouted for the second year its legal obligations to the Loan Council. The States indicated to the council the amount of money that they would expend on war service land settlement on the assumption that they would receive the amounts which the Loan Council had approved; but the Loan Council’s approval was not sufficient. This Government last May made it clear that so far from making available to the States the £231,000,000 which the Loan Council approved, it will give them only £200,000,00. . Thus, for the second year it is impossible for the States to expend on war service land settlement the amounts which they told the Loan Council they would expend on the scheme. Only one body is responsible for their inability to do so. That body is the Australian Government, under which we continue to suffer. The States - Victoria under a Liberal government last year, and a Labour Government now, and New South Wales and Queensland under Labour governments - said that they had been compelled to cut down their war service land settlement programmes and that they would expend such money as they could obtain on publ icworks and other employing activities. It is hypocritical-
– Order! The word “ hypocritical “ is unparliamentary.
– I do not use the word to describe any person.
– It is still an unparliamentary word.
– Then I say that it is unrealistic to suggest that the States could have maintained their war service land settlement schemes in these circumstances. Ex-servicemen are just as susceptible to unemployment as are other people. The States have done very well in this matter. In New South Wales to date the Commonwealth has spent o-i war service land settlement £778,000 and the New South Wales Government has spent from its loan funds an amount of £25,000,000. In Queensland the Commonwealth has spent £212,000, but the State Government, from loan funds, has spent £3,727,636.
– Is the honorable member including loans from the Agricultural Bank of Queensland?
– I have excluded loans from, the Agricultural Bank in Queensland and from the Rural Bank in New South Wales. If the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) had been paying attention, he would have heard that the figures which I cited related to expenditure from loan funds for closer settlement purposes. The subject of closer settlement, and of the settlement of war veterans on the land, has agitated people since the days of the Gracchi. It ill becomes the Minister to make threats and not to carry them out. He says that the Commonwealth has the power to carry on war service land settlement. I contend that the Commonwealth should either undertake that activity or ensure that the States receive sufficient money to enable them to do so. The States certainly have the machinery for that work. The Commonwealth, if it took on this activity, would encounter difficulties, and duplication would result; but, nevertheless, the Minister has said that it can be clone. This is just another instance of the Minister making idle threats and hurling bruta fulmina. War service land settlement is one field in which the Commonwealth can take a direct part in more closely settling the land and increasing food production. It can only do so under the defence power, apart from closer settlement in the Northern Territory and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, which the Minister also mentioned in his statement of thi? 13th November. Characteristically, he has done nothing since to implement it’. No one who has travelled through the Murray Valley or to some country towns like Narrabri, where closer settlement has been undertaken, can fail to be impressed by the way in which land-locked towns have become prosperous. Those areas of Australia in which food production has increased most are those where war service land settlement has taken place.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I congratulate the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) on his enthusiastic third maiden speech in three or four weeks. His choice of language was delightful. I cannot remember all his expressions, but he used the word “ unctuous “, and said that I was a member of a government or State, which was full of cynicism and corruption-
– I referred to the party, not to the State.
– Oh, the party ! I do not care. The honorable member also said that I was synthetically indignant, and guilty of arrogant conservatism. He said something else about bacteria and germs, and accused me of hurling bruta fulmina. I do not know the meaning of that expression, other than that it has something to do with b.f. The honorable member said, in short, that I was to be treated as a hostile witness. I can remember only one other occasion when I was treated as a hostile witness, and that was in a court of inquiry just after the end of World War II. A certain gentleman was appointed to assist His Honour the commissioner. At least I thought that he had been appointed to assist the commissioner, but, because I gave evidence in favour of some one to whom he seemed to be opposed, namely, my ex-General Officer Commanding, the learned gentleman treated me as a hostile witness in a criminal prosecution. I think that the honorable member for Werriwa has been sitting at the feet of that learned gentleman, in order to learn his language, his methods and everything else. I refer to Mr. Dovey.
– Mr. Justice Dovey.
– Yes, he is Mr. Justice Dovey now. Criticism did not worry me then, and it does not worry me now. The statements of the honorable member for Werriwa are just as wrong as were the questions that were hurled at me by the learned barrister.
I do not intend to spend a great deal of time in a discussion of war service land settlement, because that subject will be raised again when the Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill 1953 is under consideration, but I feel that I should answer a few of the remarks made by the honorable member for Werriwa. His main fault was that he accused this Government of having decided the policy of the Australian Loan Council. Does not the honorable member realize that five of the seven members who attended the last meeting of the Loan Council were Labour Premiers, and that, accordingly, they constituted the majority in voting and in every other way?
– Who decided how much loan money should be raised during the current financial year?
– That decision was made by the Loan Council, and, as I have stated, five Labour Premiers constituted the majority of the members who attended that meeting. They could determine the rate of interest that was to be paid and how much money the Loan Council would try to borrow. When T make that statement. I do not mean that they accepted the advice given to them by various authorities available to the
Commonwealth about the amount of money the loan market could provide. The honorable member for Werriwa, obviously, has no knowledge of the procedure followed at meetings of the Loan Council, and apparently he does not care anything about its operations, because he persists with the statement that this Government has been responsible for the decision of the Loan Council. This Government did not make the decision. The representative of this Government said, in effect: “In view of the present state of the loan market, the Commonwealth is prepared to guarantee the States a certain amount of money in addition to the loan money that can be raised “. The honorable member for Werriwa could well have said that no preceding government in the history of the Commonwealth had made such an offer.
– Did not the representative of the Commonwealth tell the States, “£200,000,000 or nothing”?
– The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) had to guarantee that the Commonwealth would provide a large part of the requirements of the States, because every member of the Loan Council knew that the money could not be raised wholly on the loan market. That is the reason why the honorable member for Werriwa has become confused. He has not attended a meeting of the Loan Council, or examined its procedure, and he does not know the difference between a loan that can be raised on the market, or, perhaps I should say, the amount that the Premiers decide can be raised on the market, and the sound and generous gesture made by this Government to keep State works in progress. A portion of the money for war service land settlement, for which the three principal States asked, was guaranteed by this Government. Therefore, the honorable member for Werriwa errs when he says that the Commonwealth has flouted its legal obligations to the Loan Council. In what respect has the Commonwealth flouted its legal obligations to the Loan Council? The honorable member appears to be much more learned in the law than I am. I do not profess to have a thorough knowledge of methods and procedures of the Loan Council, but I know that the Australian Constitution does not impose upon a government the obligation to guarantee the States £135,000,000 in one particular year in order to enable them to have additional money for their works programmes. Yet the present Government gave that guarantee gladly. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I remind the honorable member for Werriwa of the success of that policy. However, it cannot go on for ever. It was an emergency gift, one might almost say, from the gods, although the honorable member for Werriwa probably does not regard this Government asthe gods.
– The twilight of the gods.
– The honorable member has not even reached the dawn. He is still in the darkness, and is encountering considerable difficulty, as a mariner who has newly arrived in these somewhat stormy waters, in steering between the Charybdis of East Sydney and the Scylla of Barton.
– Let the Minister mind that he is not wrecked on the rocks of Tarpeian.
-I add a word of advice in that respect to the honorable member for Werriwa. If he wants to have a fly at the Government on the Estimates, he would have been far better advised to take the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Gordon Anderson) as a mascot than other members of the Labour party. It is also not true to say that Victoria has reduced its percentages in respect of war service land settlement to the same degree as have Queensland and New South Wales. I think I am correct in saying that Victoria provided approximately £5,000,000 for war service land settlement last year compared with an allocation of £2,000,000 by New South Wales. I point out that Victoria has had substantially less money than New South Wales. Queensland, although it allocated £676,000, the largest amount in its history, to war service land settlement
– The figure of £676,000 was the original amount, and did not include moneys for irrigation projects and advances by the Agricultural Bank. Those sums were previously included in an amount of £4,500,000, but I understand that only 50 per cent, of it was expended. However, the figures are available, and the subject may be discussed again when the Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill 1953 is under consideration.
Some honorable members have commented favorably, and others have commented critically, on the administration of the Department of Works and the Department of the Interior. I desire to reply to some of those comments. I shall discuss them under six main headings. First, I shall refer to investigations by the Public Accounts Committee of certain matters related to the administration of the Department of Works and the Department of the Interior. Secondly, I shall refer to Public Service methods that have been described as outmoded in the light of modern conditions. Thirdly, I shall refer to the method of charging the costs of certain services to various government departments which, according to some honorable members, gives a lopsided view of the financial position of the Department of Works and the Department of the Interior. Fourthly, I shall refer to the system of acquisitions and the re-organization of that administration in order to establish greater efficiency, speed up payments for acquisition and improve public relations. Fifthly, I shall refer to government commercial enterprises, particularly in the Australian Capital Territory. Finally, I shall discuss the current reorganization of the programme of Commonwealth works, the objects of which are to promote a smoother running machine, to establish priorities well in advance of the commencement of such works, even at the planning stage, and to enable budgetary estimates to be presented in a more realistic form.
I congratulate the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) upon the thoughtful and generally excellent speech that he made in this chamber last week. Instead of adopting the usual procedure of treating a deb#ate of this nature as a grievance day, the honorable gentleman delivered a well-considered speech that contained constructive criticism and suggestions, which I, as the Minister concerned, considered to be helpful, with relation to several phases of the administration of the departments that I control. Although we may not agree entirely with some of the honorable gentleman’s comments and may hold the view that the Public Accounts Committee has not yet developed full working efficiency, I am sure that Ministers and honorable members in general will applaud the zeal and energy which the members of the committee have brought to what might well be described as their Herculean task. I do not say that we agree with all the criticism that they have expressed, but I acknowledge that, in their enthusiasm for their work, they are not afraid to divert a river if they think that the garden hose will be insufficient to cleanse the antiquated administrative stables with which they are dealing. I think that the committee has already brought a greater prestige to this Parliament and has fostered a greater interest in accounts and the methods by which accounts are presented. Its work has been beneficial, though of a particularly critical character, especially in relation to some activities of the departments that I control, according to statements which have appeared in the newspapers but which have not been presented to me yet in the form of official reports. Criticism of that nature is good for everybody, and if the ministerial head and the departments cannot answer it, perhaps there is more substance in it than we originally thought.
The committee has brought to public administration and public accounting a breath of fresh air as well as an occasional bucket of cold water, constructive criticism as well as a few shocks here and there. In this respect, the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, whose speech last week was vastly different from the speeches one usually hears from members of the Opposition, is to be congratulated upon his presentation of the points that he raised. His remarks were critical, but they were also thoughtful and constructive, and they were national in their perspective.
– “What is the Minister going to do about them?
– If the honorable member will have a little patience, he may learn, if that is possible.
– I am eager to learn.
– Then, if the honorable member is able to learn, he should be a wiser man when I finish my speech than he wa3 when he entered this chamber to-day. I think that the quality of the speech made by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith was due largely to the fact that he, too, has the advantage of being a member of the Public Accounts Committee. Other honorable members have made interesting and valuable contributions to the discussion of the Estimates. The honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) discussed the planning of works, the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) spoke of office accommodation under the control of the Department of the Interior in the State capital cities, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) referred to war service land settlement, and the honorable member for Farrar (Mr. Fairbairn) raised other important issues. Their speeches were of great benefit as well as of great interest. All these voices are no longer voices crying in the wilderness. They add to the chorus in the market place to which the Government lends a sympathetic ear. All government departments have passed through two extremely difficult eras - the war era and the post-war era - and have now reached a stage which, for want of a better term, one might call a more normal period. The change-over, first from the war era to the post-war era, and then from the post-war era to the present period, has been extremely difficult. During World War II., we developed a certain attitude of mind in relation to acquisitions. The tendency then was to get on with the job regardless of the toes that might be trodden on in the process. After the war, there were all sorts of handicaps, as every honorable member knows, in relation to labour and materials and the securing of contracts. Now we have reached a stage in our history that needs new thoughts on issues of public administration, particularly in relation to the departments that I control- the Department of the Interior and the Department of Works.
The next phase of my speech deals with what have been described as outmoded Public Service methods. In my view, certain methods employed in the Public Service have been outmoded for a very long time. They were efficient in the past, but they are certainly not efficient under present conditions, and they lead to general inefficiency and lack of economy which it is the duty of all members of this Parliament to try to rectify. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith referred to hidden charges incurred by two branches of the Department of the Interior - the Electoral Branch and the Meteorological Branch. Many other instances could he cited. The honorable gentleman referred to postage which isnot shown in the accounts of the Electoral. Branch and the cost of telegrams which is not debited to the Meteorological Branch. My own opinion is that this method of accounting is pernicious and that it tends to give rise to a sense of irresponsibility not only in individuals but also in instrumentalities and departments. I think that we should make a non-party approach to this matter, in the same way as the Public Accounts Committee has approached its inquiries. Let us consider first the charges for telegrams transmitted ‘ on behalf of the Meteorological Branch/ which are debited to the Postal Department. All honorable members know that, if we do not have to pay for a telegram, we are not careful of the number of words that we use in it. In fact, some of the telegrams that I receive are almost letters. Very often if a man does not have to pay the cost he will sand an urgent telegram when an ordinary telegram would suffice, or an ordinary telegram when an air-mail letter would suffice. One of the first arts that is taught in the Army is how to compose a telegram clearly and yet concisely so that the strain on signal traffic will be reduced as much as possible.
– The Army’s pupils are not very apt.
– I. have had a long experience in the, Army and I am convinced that soldiers are much more apt as pupils than are members of Parliament. I am convinced that, if a similar system of education were established in the Public Service, so that officers could be instructed on when a telegram should be sent and how it should be composed, the Government would save, not thousands of pounds, but tens of thousands of pounds annually. I make that statement without any criticism of individuals.
There might be more justification for charging postage on electoral matter to the Postal Department than there is for charging the cost of meteorological telegrams, but, after all, the Postal Department is a business concern and I cannot see why it should have to pay for the costs of other departments. If we examine this matter .further, we find that these antiquated methods lead to new economic pitfalls. In the old days, weather forecasting affected, not only test cricket captains, primary producers, and those who went clown to the sea in ships, but also in a minor degree, the entire community. The cost of meteorological services then was not very great and it was paid by the Meteorological Branch. However, if honorable members will examine the Estimates for successive years since the end of World War II., they will find that there has been a vast increase of expenditure by the Meteorological Branch, both for capital works and for services. This is due to the development of air services, which have become a vital part of the transport system of this community. I am not critical of that development, but air services require a great deal more meteorological information than was needed in the old days. The weather on the ground is important to those who go down to the sea in ships. What is happening in the upper atmosphere is of vital importance’ to those who go up in the air in kites. For the purpose of obtaining information about conditions in the upper atmosphere, we have been asked to establish numerous radio-sonde balloon stations. The velocity of the wind in the upper air is of great importance to the captains and navigators of aircraft, and therefore these stations, which are costly to establish, and also to service and maintain, have been - established not only throughout Australia but also at Norfolk Island, Heard Island, and probably a few unheard of islands. Stations will soon be established in the Antarctic. This is a part of the air transport .system.
Railways systems have to pay for the construction and maintenance of their stations, their tracks, their signalling systems, and even their fences. Their subsidies are not hidden. We know, when wo pay for their deficits or write off their capital, the amount of the subsidy that is paid for that form of transport. It may bc desirable that the full subsidy should continue to be paid for our air transport systems, but for goodness’ sake let us know what the subsidy is and not hide it. It should not be hard to make an approximation of the proportion of the costs of the Meteorological Branch that are attributable to the needs of civil aviation as distinct from what might be described as ordinary general weather forecasting for the community. That amount should be charged against the air transport services as such, whether the Government continues to pay the subsidy or not. ‘
– Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited would not allow the Government to do that.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) is so bigoted and so blighted that he cannot see any good coming out of Nazareth at any time. Now that the jet age has arrived, these radio-sonde stations will cost very much more than they have cost hitherto. Investigations are in progress with the object of establishing such units on a larger scale than was mentioned by the honorable member for Kingsford Smith.
The Department of the Interior is responsible for the payment of rents. I think it is correct to say that, with the exception of the Defence Departments, the Repatriation Department and the Department of Civil Aviation, which make provision for their rents in their own Estimates, all rents are lumped together in the Estimates for the Department of the Interior.
– Does that apply to the Department of External Affairs?
– I believe that the rents of overseas buildings used by the Department of External Affairs are provided for in the estimates for that department.
– Ordinary rents for the Department of External Affairs are included in the Estimates for the Department of the Interior?
– Yes. The proposed vote in respect of rents for this year is £557,000. In this instance, wo have a repetition of what is happening in respect of telegrams, hut in a much bigger way. This procedure must have a psychological effect upon departments. If a department is not responsible for the payment of its own rents, does it matter to that department whether the rent of a building is 5s. or 25s. a square foot? Docs it matter whether amenities for the building cost £10,000 or £1,000? Under the present system, departments are inclined to say, “The Department of the Interior pays for this building. Why should we bother about the cost?” Consequently, everybody wants nothing but the very best all the time.
A ridiculous situation arose recently when I was asked seriously to acquire one of the biggest club promises in one of the big capital cities. Needless to say, that proposal did not get past first base when it was submitted to my department. But the fact that it was put forward seriously indicates the state of mind that developed during the war years and the post-war years. During the war, it was reasonable for a department to take the first building available that suited its purpose, so that it could get on with its job. In those days, it was not feasible to consider whether cheaper premises could be acquired, farther out from the centre of the city, but now we are making every endeavour to shift as many departments as possible from expensive city space if they do not really need to be in” the centre of the city or in a shopping area. In t 1 at way, we hope to save a great deal of money, but the task is not easy. We are trying also to return buildings which were taken over in war-time and which, in many instances, were made available tn ns by patriotic owners at very low rents. I have mentioned these matters because the problem of rents falls into much the same category as does the problem of telegrams, mentioned by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith.
I hope that soon we shall be able to establish what the Swedes call a Government Real Estate Agency Trust Fund. Under such a system, every building owned by the Government will be debited with charges for maintenance, depreciation,, insurance, cleaning and other matters of that nature.
– What about rates and’ taxes ?
– We are paying a sum equivalent to the rates chargeable in respect of every building that we are using for dwelling purposes, but we are not doing so in respect of, for example, airports. Unless each department pays the costs of the buildings it occupies, it is receiving a hidden subsidy. We are inclined to forget sometimes that we are all members of a company called Taxpayers Limited. The system now in operation with respect to rents and telegrams makes it easier to forget that fact.
Let me deal with the problem of acquisitions, which, as are the other problems to which I have referred, is a hang-over from the post-war era. Recently we approved a system for the re-organization of the methods of making acquisitions, with the object of speeding up payments for properties acquired, improving public relations and, in general, promoting more efficient administration. I discovered recently, when I had to act as an arbitrator in a dispute between landlord and tenant in respect of a flat, that we owned three flats in a. Sydney suburb- When I made inquiries to find out why the flats had been acquired, I discovered that they had been acquired when acquisitions were being made during the war in connexion with dockyard activities. When I asked what the flats had been used for, I was informed that they had been used only as flats for civilians, and had never been utilized by the department concerned. I communicated immediately with tripMinister for the Navy (Mr. McMahon). and we decided that the Government had to get rid of those flats. We are doing so.. A classical example of what I have in mind is the acquisition of a property in Sydney in September, 1918, and the leasing of the property to a civilian for 50 years in the next month.
As a result of these discoveries, the Treasury and the Department of the Interior conferred and called for returns showing all property owned by government departments, the dates of acquisition, the purposes of the acquisition, the use to which they had been put, and the purposes for which they were intended to be used. Early reports have revealed sonic very remarkable facts. As far back as 1906 - I have not yet discovered one that goes as far back as 1901 - properties were acquired for certain purposes, probably justifiably at the time - I am not criticizing what was done; I am merely stating facts - but were never used for those purposes. I hope that, in the near future, we shall have a really grand clearance sale, but I hasten to say there will not be any star bargains. We are getting rid of properties that departments acquired and appear to have forgotten. It seems that government departments are more acquisitive than mere men. Perhaps the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) will tell me who said that. It was either Aristotle or Hobbs. The lumber rooms, so to speak, of government departments are full of properties that were acquired at one time, but which, apparently, are quite useless to us now. They are expensive to maintain, and there is no purpose for which they can be used in the near future. We are endeavouring to recondition the machinery of acquisition so that, in future, propertyowners will not be worried by being told flint their properties are to be acquired, even before the works project for which they are required has received approval. Quite often a government department informs the owner of .a property that his property will be acquired but, ultimately, the works project for which it is required is not approved. As a result, the owner endures a lot of quite unnecessary mental anxiety.
– That was done often in the past. It is a bad thing.
– I agree. That is one of the reasons wiry we are overhauling the system I hope that we shall be able to reduce the number of cases of that kind.
– What about the prices paid for resumed properties?
– The Department of the Interior endeavours to reach an agreement about the price with the owner of the property involved. When agreement is not possible, the property is acquired compulsorily. If an owner is not satisfied with the price offered, he can go to the court. When only a small sum is involved, I endeavour to persuade the owner, if he will not accept the price that we have offered, to agree to the appointment of an outside arbitrator, so that he will be saved the expense of going to the court. Under the act, the court is the final judge of these matters. I do not think that one case has gone to the court during the last two or three years, but I must point out that many cases have not yet been settled. We are endeavouring to settle all outstanding cases, some of which go back as far as 1943 and 1944. I hope that all outstanding cases will be cleaned up fairly soon.
I turn now to government commercial enterprises. I cannot see why the Government, if it wants to run commercial enterprises such as the brickyard, sawmill and electricity undertaking in Canberra, cannot run them on a commercial enterprise basis. All government departments are run on an annual cash basis, and apparently they believe that all government commercial enterprises should be run on a similar basis. But there is no reason why we should not publish ordinary commercial balance-sheets for enterprises such as the brickyard and saw-mill. On the basis on which they are conducted at the present time, efficient management is impossible. If they were run on an ordinary commercial basis and published ordinary commercial balance-sheets, honorable members would be in a position to know the profits they had made or the losses they had incurred, but, under the present system, the results of the operations of these enterprises are hidden in the departmental estimates. I hope that eventually they will be run on a commercial basis. It reay be said that the Department of Works should be run as a construction company. At the moment that is outside the realm of practical politics. But that does not apply to government commercial enterprises. I think all members on this side of the chamber agree with the slogan,
More business in government, and less government in business “. I know that that principle is anathema to the Labour socialist, but it is a very wise principle and one which, I hope, will be acted upon in future as far as is possible.
The Department of Works, like other departments, passed through the very difficult war era and post-war era. In 1951, we were in what I regard as the post-war era. We were suffering from a shortage of materials and skilled labour. The difficulty of getting materials from the materials procurement control authorities in the States led to frustration and uneconomic work. The Department of Works was blamed because projects did not go ahead fast enough. It became the general Aunt Sally. However, it was not responsible for all the delays that occurred. Some of them were caused by officers of other departments changing their minds. The telephone exchange in Russell-street, Melbourne, has been held up badly, but I doubt whether any department could have done better than the Department of Works has done. The contract for the building was let to a private contractor, but when it was let we could not get steel or cement except by importing it. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Anthony) will agree with me that the delay in connexion with the Essendon airport was caused by alterations of the plans for the tower, which were made necessary by information received from overseas after the plans had been prepared.
The activities of the Department of Works in the Northern Territory have been criticized. Until recently, we could not persuade contractors to go to the Northern Territory. It was very difficult to get workmen to go there. We had to offer all kinds of inducements to them, and we had to do all jobs with day labour, the most expensive form of construction. On Manus Island, work was being done by both service personnel and civilians, which caused a very difficult position. With the help of the Minister for the Navy, that problem was solved and work on Manus Island is being done now by a services construction unit. In the Department of Works, we have filing cabinets full of plans which, although they have been almost completed have never been used because departments have changed their minds. Now we are charging the ordinary professional fees for plans drawn and not used. That is the only way in which to overcome all that waste of effort, which leads to loss of morale in the department and to a great deal of inefficiency and waste. Buildings being erected for the Postmaster-General’s Department, such as the one in Russell-street, Melbourne, are proceeding satisfactorily. The Russell-street building is being built faster than finance can be found for its construction. The same statement applies to the administrative building in Canberra. Even that white elephant of the Australian Capital Territory is growing so fast, and eating so rapidly, that the Treasury is finding it difficult to provide the financial hay that it needs each year. I am almost tempted to suggest that we might leave one of the existing concrete-pouring towers in position, and surmount it with a heraldic white elephant, as a reminder of the expense of the cost-plus system.
A little over twelve months ago the department informed the Master Builders’ Association that it had decided to cut out cost-plus and return to the firm contracts system. The association told, the department that it could not do so successfully because it would get no tenders. The gist of the department’s reply was that it could not care less. To-day, only a few contracts are not firm price contracts, and before long they all will be, because every new contract is on a firm price basis.
– Does that apply to the whole of the administrative building?
-Up to stage 1 at the moment, it is all on a firm contract basis. We have only two or three day-labour contracts for jobs for which we could get no tenders. Even the riseandfall clause is now going out. I think that 1?he department has done very well and has cut its expenses considerably. The department has received one bouquet, instead of a brick-bst. only recently. It came from the Department of Supply. One of the senior officers -of the Department of Works was recently seconded to the Department of Supply for work in connexion with preparations for theforthcoming test at the Long Range Weapons Establishment at Woomera. I have been told that he did excellent
Work, yet he is one of the same group of officers that has been receiving a great deal of criticism from other directions. Conditions have altered and it is now possible to get a job done more quickly and cheaply than under the old system. The cost of construction of the National University Medical School has been reduced by £750,000, and the job could be clone in eighteen months, if finance were available, instead of the estimated time of three or four years. That change is a result of the action of the Department of Works.
I now turn to the final point, which concerns the revision’ and reconstruction of the whole works programme, and the presentation of works estimates in future. It has taken much hard work for such radical changes to be effected smoothly and with due regard to the personnel involved. The present system of works approvals has been described aptly as a “highly organized system so very good that it has regularly produced the most unsatisfactory results with singularly little criticism “. That fact was realized, and the Treasury and the Department of Works conferred on the basic principles of the revision. To-day the Government has almost completed a drastic revision and reconstruction of the whole works programme and the presentation of works estimates in future budgets. The basic principle is to ensure much stricter government and Treasury control and supervision over proposed works before they receive approval, or even reach the planning stage. It is hoped that this system, in conjunction with what is being done in respect of. acquisitions, to which the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) referred, will be the answer to such suggestions as that made by the honorable member for Farrar (Mr. Fairbairn). It will enable general priorities to be established, and provide for greater decentralization and delegation of authority once the work is on the current programme. This does not mean the abandonment of the pool of work. Far from it. It means that in future the current works programme will be realistic, and will not contain many works that have been approved but have no chance of being planned, much less started, in the current financial year. This is the first time I have given the House an overall picture of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Works. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith has now entered the chamber. I have been referring a great deal to his remarks and have thanked him for his contribution to the debate. Much has been done but much remains to be done. I think that every officer of the departments has given loyal service in the very difficult time in which this change-over has been under way. The officers realize that much remains to be done, but they are getting on with the work without any slackening.
– The Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes) has been most informative in his speech, which has lasted for three quarters of an hour. I think any honorable member could be informative if he had as long a time in which to express his views. Other honorable members who are not Ministers are allowed only fifteen minutes speaking time on each item of the Estimates. That is not a very long time in which to express opinions on important matters. The Minister for Works and Minister for the Interior did his best to anticipate many questions and criticisms that might be directed at his two departments. I wish to direct, attention to the fact that the Department of Civil Aviation is responsible for more expenditure than any department other than the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. That is as it should be because I hold the view that, the Department of Civil Aviation is the chief instrument of rapid development that we have in this country. It is our cheapest and most effective tool for developing our outback areas in the initial stages. If my party were in office I should induce it to develop the Northern Territory, the north-west of Western Australia and the northern part of Queensland, by building aerodromes in those areas. I would ensure that the aerodromes built would not be so close to one another as to. interfere with each other’s potential traffic. They would be located in places where they would be of great value in providing aerial freight and passenger services to areas that are at present not served by roads, railways or air services. I do not decry the efforts of private enterprise airways in the northwest particularly Connellan Airways Limited, which is being subsidized by the Government. When I became Minister for Civil Aviation in 1941, the total amount of subsidy paid to that company was £4,500, a year. Now it is in the vicinity of £40,000 or £50,000 a year. So it should be. I do not wish to make a political speech on this matter, but I wish to say that I consider that the increase of subsidy is doing a great deal of good, and is making life much more bearable for people in remote areas in the north- west and Northern Territory. Transport services, other than air services, to that area are poor indeed. The difference of opinion that exists between the Government and the Opposition is whether private enterprise should be encouraged by means of subsidies to operate air services to remote areas, or whether such air services should be established as a result of direct Government action. There is no need for very great enmity between us in that direction. The Minister has indicated that Qantas Airways Limited, which is more a govern: ment company than a commission, is likely to pay its way again this year. Trans- Australia Airlines is also likely to make a profit again. That will give a great deal of satisfaction to all Australians, whether they believe in private enterprise air services or in government operation of airlines.
Not many honorable members have paid much attention to civil aviation as an agency of development. Provision is made in the Estimates for the expenditure of £10,S3S,000 for the Department of Civil Aviation. That is a great deal of money. I know that the Public Accounts Committee has recently been inquiring into departmental expenditure. 1 venture to suggest that, whilst such an investigation into any department would show that some money may have been expended foolishly, the money expended I by the. Department of Civil Aviation has been, for the most part used in the best interests of Australia. I think that thu Department, under its present ministerial head, would do more than it has done so far if more money were available to it.
I.know of no government activity that would be of greater assistance to defence than would the extension of civil aviation. Sir Edward Ellington, who was brought out here in 1938 by a non-Labour government, made it clear in his report that the department of Civil Aviation was a second arm of the Department of Air. The more we do to facilitate the work of that department by making more money available to it, the more effective will it be as an aid to our defence. Whilst I should prefer to see civil aviation developed by the Government, because Trans-Australia Airlines has proved conclusively that a government airline can give the best service obtainable, .1 feel that the Government should in any case give more attention to developing areas that are at present undeveloped. We cannot undertake to develop such areas quickly by means of railways, as we did years ago, because it takes too long and costs a lot to build a railway. 1 do not wish to decry the use of railways for the transport of stock and road-making materials, but the provision of railways is a much slower means of development than is the establishment of air services. Recently the Government enacted legislation which had as its objective the assistance to a private-enterprise airline which was operating in competition with the Government’s own airline, Trans- Australia Airlines. One of the results of the rationalization of air services that proceeded from that legislation can be seen in the Riverina at the present time. Services to that area have been curtailed. Perhaps some of the services were redundant. The way in which similar problems are dealt with in the home of private enterprise, the United States of America, might well provide a lesson for Australia. The United States of America has an authority called the Civil Aeronautics Board which makes investigations in order to determine which of competing companies shall conduct an air service to a specific area. If there is not enough business in the area for two airlines the board confines the service to one airline. If that airline is likely to lose by running the service it is subsidized by means of payments for transport of mail to enable it to pay its way. If an airline show3 itself to be incompetent the board can put it out of business. We have no such » authority here. The Department of Civil Aviation can regulate some things. It cannot regulate fares. At one time I thought that both Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited should have been allowed to charge increased fares, hut other companies were prepared to undertake services at cheaper rates and for that reason fares did not increase to a payable level. I should like the Minister for Civil Aviation to investigate whether there are constitutional powers for the establishment of an organization similar to the Civil Aviation Board of the United States of America to ensure- that fares and similar matters can be determined properly on a non-political basis.
In 1949, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said on behalf of the Liberal party, according to the Brisbane CourierMail, that his party, if elected to office, “ would maintain and expand full and developing air services “. The expansion of civil aviation that I advocate is in accordance with that promise. The Prime Minister can give effect to his promise by taking a broader view of the need for expansion of civil aviation than he has done so far. Perhaps the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Anthony) has been pressing the Government to do so. Having been a Cabinet Minister I know that no Minister can get all his own way. The Government would be wise to consider more rapid development of air services in out-back areas where it has been proved that the country can be more quickly developed by that means than by any other means. The Prime Minister also said in 1949 that his party would put airlines on a true competitive basis, with no preferences either in cheap capita] or dollar expenditure. Public opinion is known to be against the proposed sale of the Commonwealth Shipping Line. I think that no government which had a concern for the future of this country would permit interference with Trans- Australia Airlines, which has as great a reputation as has any airline in the world.
Complaints have been made to me by people living in the Riverina about the curtailment of services under the agreement between Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and TransAustralia Airlines: The following cuts have been made in the weekly number of planes serving some of the Riverina centres : Sydney-Griffiths, previously thirteen, now eleven; SydneyNarrandera, previously ten, now six; SydneyHay, previously nine, now six. I do. not know whether these were paying services for both Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian National Airlines Proprietary Limited, but I know that until TransAustralia Airlines went into the Riverina Australian National Airlines Propietary Limited was not very enthusiastic about operating services there. My strong feelins is that the Government should be prepared to separate the airlines that are operating in the high population density areas from those which are operating in low population density areas, and have developmental airlines in the areas of low population density, and competitive airlines in the areas of high population density. And I remind honorable members that that is done in most countries. Of course, our airlines are ‘ doing great work for this country, but they will do greater work for it if the Government will allow them to. The Riverina, could be treated as a developmental area, and I suggest that the Government’s approach to that matter is completely wrong. The Minister for the Interior roamed all around the compass in his speech, and although I enjoyed what he said, there are many other honorable members who are also anxious to speak within the next half hour. Moreover, the Minister will want to make some sort of reply before the debate closes, so that not many honorable members will have an opportunity to put their views before the .committee. The £10,858,000 provided in this section of the Estimates is not enough money to permit of all the developments of our airlines that I consider to be desirable. Of course, not so much development is called for in Victoria and in the outback of New South Wales and Queensland Butler Air Transport ProprietaryLimited is operating. However, those areas could be much further developed. Butler Air Transport Proprietary Limited are largely owned by Bungonia Investments-
– That is not correct.
– It certainly is correct. Inquiries have elicited that Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited has a preponderating influence in the Queensland Airlines Proprietary Limited and Airlines (Western Australia) Limited. Gradually a situation is becoming established similar to that which made the previous government establish Trans-Australia Airlines. The Chifley Government had to pay £2,540,000 for the carriage of airmails during the war years, and it was necessary for us to set up Trans-Australia Airlines as soon as possible to prevent a private monopoly from growing up. Honorable members on the Government side should investigate all these matters a little more closely. For instance, the Public Accounts Committee should be given the power to investigate the working of Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. In saying that, I have in mind a statement by the Minister that Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, being a proprietary company, could not be forced to disclose its profits. In view of the fact that public money is being used by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited surely we have a right to know something about its financial affairs? I hope that the Government does not intend to do to Trans-Australia Airlines what the New Zealand Government proposes to do to its own public airline, that is, sell it just when it is paying its way. Last year the New Zealand national airlines earned £320,000 profit and the year before £149,000 profit; yet Mr. Holland, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has declared that he will sell out the whole concern.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. ANTHONY (Richmond- Post.masterGeneral and Minister for Civil
Aviation) [4.49]. - The speech of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakef ord) interested me very much. He was Minister for Civil Aviation for seven or eight years, and during that time he did a considerable amount to develop civil aviation in this country. He said that he did not suppose that any government would seek to abolish TransAustralia Airlines. I consider that that statement is quite correct. The present Government has already passed legislation to preserve Trans-Australia Airlines, although when we assumed office it was forecast that one of our first actions would be to liquidate that organization. The honorable member also said that if the previous Labour government had not set up a national airline, then Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited would have become a monopoly. That may be true, but the point is that the previous Labour government did everything in its power to destroy the private organization, Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, and to institute a government monopoly in the air. If I have to make a choice between a government monopoly such as the New South Wales Government railways, and a private monopoly such as the private motor vehicle transport system, I believe that I Would choose for most of the people of Australia if I chose the private organization and not the government monopoly. However, it is not a matter of choosing between a private and a government monopoly, because this Government does not believe in monopolies at all. We believe that once an organization, whether it. be government or private, becomes possessed of sole rights against which the public have no redress, then efficiency is lost and the public suffer. It is quite obvious that the previous Labour Government, as the honorable member for Maribyrnong admitted, tried to introduce a monopoly where there was no need for one. ,
It was provided in the Airlines Agreement Act, passed last year at the instance of this Government, that both Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and Trans-Australia Airlines were to continue to, exist. Under the previous Government, Trans-Australia Airlines enjoyed certain advantages over private airlines. For instance, it had almost exclusive rights to carry mails, for which it received a subsidy of £600,000 a year. This Government divided that sum equally between Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, by giving each organization £300,000 a year. Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited said, in effect, “ We need capital f or development and for the purchase of new planes. What chance have we to get that capital from investors, if those investors believe that a succeeding government will put us out of business “. Consequently, this Government had to take steps to guard against a possibility of that kind, and we had passed through the Parliament the Airlines Agreement Act whereby we made available to. Australian National Airways ProprietaryLimited from £3,000,000 to £4,000,000, as might be required, repayable at interest over a term of years commensurate with the life of the aircraft purchased. That legislation was designed to enable the company to purchase aeroplanes. Big transport planes are very important in the defence of Australia, and in time of
Avar they would perhaps be more useful to us than bombers. Therefore, one of the matters that must be borne in mind by any government is that the civil aviation industry should be so well supported by the Government that it will be encouraged to produce or buy big commercial aircraft so that in time of war we shall have aeroplanes that can be converted to war service. The Government took that matter into consideration when it determined to lend money to Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited for the purchase of aircraft. Of course, the same thing applies to the big transport aircraft owned by TransAustralia Airlines. This Government supports both organizations in an endeavour to keep them competing one with the other, so that the people may get the best possible service and the lowest possible fares. The Government has succeeded because Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited has now sufficient confidence in the future to embark on an extension programme, and has placed orders for new large aircraft. The best vindication of our policy, and the answer to those who said that the Government was seeking to destroy Trans-Australia Airlines, is that although we have administered Trans-Australia Airlines’ affairs for only a few years, for the first time it is earning profits.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong would surely agree that during his administration of the Department of Civil Aviation - and I do not attribute the fault to his administration, because the new airline was in the developmental stage - Trans-Australia Airlines showed an accumulated loss of about £800,000. Despite all the criticism of this Government’s policies, and despite high petrol costs due to the loss of the Persian oilfields, during the last financial year Trans-Australia Airlines made a small profit. Surely that is the best answer to the critics of this Government’s civil aviation policy ? The honorable member for Maribyrnong suggested that cut-throat competition should be permitted to continue on certain routes. One of the reasons why Trans-Australia Airlines has made a profit recently, and why Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited has renewed its confidence, is that we have rationalized air routes and cut costs in many directions. Those actions have been profitable to both organizations.
– The Government has given Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited a monopoly in the Riverina.
– The Government has not given a monopoly to anybody. What has been done in the Riverina has been as the result of agreement between the two organizations. That agreement was confirmed by the arbitrator, Sir John Latham, when Captain Holyman, of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, and Mr. Watt, the chairman of Trans- Australia Airlines, waited on him and asked for his confirmation of. their decisions. One of those decisions was to rationalize the services in the Riverina. Good business reasons prompted such a decision. I participated in the discussions at certain times because, as Minister for Civil Aviation, I was interested in the economics of the services provided by both operators. I found that both were losing approximately £80,000 a year on the Riverina services.
Each operator despatched aircraft from the Riverina filled only to about 50 per cent, capacity. It was decided that the requirements of the district could be adequately met by a greatly reduced service. It was realized that one operator could handle all the business offering and make a small profit out of it. A perfectly logical and common sense arrangement was made under which the service was provided by one operator. Air services to country centres, whether operated by a government or a private airline, can be maintained only if they are conducted under reasonably economic conditions.
– Would the Minister not agree to the establishment of airline services in developmental areas?
– We are conducting developmental services. As the honorable member well knows, the Commonwealth is paying substantial subsidies to airline operators for that purpose. In this instance the Riverina district was known to be over-serviced. Both TransAustralia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited agreed that the services to the district were more than necessary having regard to the business offering. One operator now provides a service which is showing a small profit.
– I rise to order. Should I be in order, Mr. Chairman, if I asked the Minister to conclude his speech at this stage so as to give to honorable members who wish to take part in the debate on the proposed votes of the other departments before the committee an opportunity to do so? The Minister has already spoken for about fifteen minutes. He followed soon after another Minister who spoke for almost an hour. In view of the limited allotment of time for the consideration of these proposed votes, I appeal to the Minister to conclude his speech.
– No point of order is involved.
– I refrained from participating in the debate at an earlier stage because I desired to give to honorable members the greatest opportunity to express their views on the proposed votes before the committee. As Minister in charge of the Department of Civil Avia tion, the administration of which has been made the subject of certain criticism by honorable members opposite, I must explain some of its activities in answer to that criticism. I have devoted a good ‘ deal of my time to answering statements made by the honorable member for Maribyrnong who is the authority on the Opposition side on matters pertaining to civil aviation. The honorable member was Minister for Civil Aviation for almost eight years and accordingly his views must be given due consideration by the Government.
The honorable member mentioned the desirability of setting up a. body such as the Civil Aeronautics Board which has been established in the United States of America to exercise authority relating to fares and the routes which airline companies may operate. The honorable member should know that, due to the defeat of the aviation proposal submitted to the people at a referendum held in March, 1937, the Commonwealth has no constitutional power to establish such a body.
– A majority of the people voted an favour of the proposal.
– But not in a majority of States. The Commonwealth must seek the concurrence of the States in relation to the issue of licences for the commencement of air services. The Commonwealth’s sole responsibility is to ensure that proper safety provisions arecomplied with by the operating companies. I should be glad if the proposal made by the honorable member could be given effect, but that could be done only by appropriate and sensible alteration of the Constitution. Possibly we may get the people to agree to such an alteration one of these days.
I wish to mention some of the activities of the Department of Civil Aviation which should be known to all honorable members. The airlines of Australia, which is one of the great civil aviation countries of the world, now carry a greater number of passengers a head of the population than do the airlines of any other country. Australia is the third largest carrier of freight and passengers by air. That is a remarkable achievement considering the tremendous volume of air traffic in the United States of America and Canada. In 1952 Australian airlines carried eighteen times the number of passengers and 80 times the volume of freight carried in 1937, at about the time when I first became a member of this Parliament. Those who criticize the administrative costs of the Department of Civil Aviation must realize that our airlines provide a modern and popular form of transportation which no government can hold back. Probably the best tribute to the effectiveness of our administration of civil aviation in Australia is our wonderfully good flying record. For a great part of that achievement I pay tribute to the honorable member for Maribyrnong who laid the foundations for the installation of extensive navigational and directional flying aids. The provision of these facilities has enabled Australian airlines to boast that they provide the safest air services in the world. During the last twelve months Australian airlines carried no fewer than 1,900,000 passengers without the loss of a single life. I invite honorable members to compare that record with the record of road and rail transportation.
– What about the record of Australian National Airlines Proprietary Limited in that regard?
– In spite of the implication contained in the interjection of the honorable member, during the last eighteen months or two years, Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited has shared equal credit with the other airlines for the safe transportation of passengers and freight.
– I rise to order. If my point of order cannot be sustained, Mr. Chairman, will you give me some advice? The time allowed for the consideration of the proposed votes under discussion has been very severely restricted. Is it fair for the Minister to take up 25 minutes of the restricted time to the exclusion of all other honorable members who still wish to take part in the debate on the proposed votes?
– As the Minister is in charge of one of the departments, the proposed votes of which are under discussion, there is nothing that I can do about the matter.
– If the limited time allowed to consider these proposed votes is taken up by Ministers, private members will have no opportunity to express their views.
– The honorable member knows as well as I do that a Minister is entitled to unlimited time in which to discuss the proposed votes of his department.
– I commenced my speech at about ten minutes to five. It is now ten minutes past five. In spite of the interjections that have taken up a considerable part of the last ten minutes-
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order ! Interjections must cease or I shall send some honorable members out of the chamber.
– Excluding capital works, the administrative costs of the Department of Civil Aviation amount to approximately £11,000,000 per annum. That may seem to be a large amount of money, but it must be remembered that approximately £3,500,000 of it is accounted for by payments for mail services of which £3,200,000 is recouped by the air-mail surcharge. Thus, of the £3,500,000 involved in the provision of mail services, the Commonwealth has to meet only approximately £500,000. However, the receipts are not offset against the costs of the Department of Civil Aviation. In addition, an amount of approximately £4,500,000 is expended on services such as the maintenance of aerodromes, the installation of navigational aids and the provision of offices and the like. The administrative costs of the department include, for example, £300,000 for meteorological services, which is rebated back to the Department of the Interior.
– Order ! There is too much audible conversation.
– It must also be remembered that the airlines companies pay to the Commonwealth in petrol tax approximately £1,500,000 a year, but that amount is not shown in the accounts of the Department of Civil Aviation. In addition, the department maintains firefighting services at all principal aerodromes at a cost of approximately £300,000 per annum. Fire-fighting equipment has not been called out except for minor mishaps during the last two years. The department also provides £110,000 a year for the encouragement of flying and for subsidies to gliding clubs.
– That is excellent work.
– I agree with the honorable member. Aero clubs provide a reserve of young men who, in the event of war, possess at least the preliminary training to fit them for a flying career. The department also collects air route charges from the airline companies.
– But not enough.
– We reduced by 50 per cent, the air route charges that were imposed when the honorable member for Maribyrnong was in charge of the department, but the airline companies still pay in air route charges approximately £300,000 a year to the revenues of the Commonwealth. As far as the supervision of aerodromes is concerned-
– Order ! The time allotted for the consideration of the proposed votes for the Department of the Interior, the Department of Works, the Department of Civil Aviation, the Department of Trade and Customs, and the Department of Health has expired.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Department of Commerce and Agriculture
Proposed vote, £1,619,000.
Department of Social Services
Proposed vote, £2,411,000.
Department of Shipping and Transport
Proposed vote, £1,049,000.
Department of Territories
Proposed vote, £159,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- I propose to discuss the policy of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and in doing so, I must express my regret at the lack of a positive plan for the increase of food production. If words counted for anything, Australia would certainly have prodigious primary production. However, we need more than words toenable us to attain our objective in this matter. A couple of years ago, the Government realized that it had a serious problem on its hands, and the whole matter was considered by the Australian Agricultural Council, which consists of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), and the Ministers for Agriculture of the respective States. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture recently published a booklet entitled Agricultural Production Aims and Policy, in which he described the plans approved by the Australian Agricultural Council in April 1952. I shall read a passage from the preamble, which was written by the Minister, because the aims expressed therein are in marked contradiction to the policy followed by the Government since the publication of the booklet. The statement is as follows : -
The Commonwealth Government has decided to adopt as its policy objective a Commonwealth-wide programme on agricultural expansion, not only to meet direct defence requirements, but also to provide food for the growing population, to maintain our capacity to import, and to make our proper contribution to relieving the dollar problem.
Every honorable member will agree with those principles. The food production problem of Australia has become increasingly grave. The population has increased by 24 per cent, since 1939, yet agricultural production has increased by only 12 per cent. The need for an increase of exports of agricultural products has increased, because the higher purchasing power of the Australian public since 1939 requires increased importation of capital and consumer goods. Those imports can only be financed from the proceeds of the sale of our primary products overseas; otherwise, we shall need to borrow abroad, and no honorable member is in favour of that kind of policy. Therefore, the Government must give a lead in the fundamental task of expanding primary production in order that we may be able to feed our increasing population, and increase our purchasing power overseas to buy the goods that we require for our requirements. That, briefly, is a statement of the facts.
In 1952, the Australian Agricultural Council, over which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture presided, agreed to -a resolution in which it recognized that the Commonwealth and the States shared the responsibility for increasing primary production. The council also expressed the opinion that, in order to achieve the objective, the problem must be approached as a national undertaking. In other words, the Australian Agricultural Council recognized that such a policy had to be carried out by a combination of Commonwealth and State activities. I naturally thought that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, supported by this Government, which controls the purse-strings and doles out money in niggardly sums to the States, would have shown some imagination in the formulation of its policy, and given a lead that would have stirred the whole nation. However, I regret to say that the Commonwealth, through the medium of the Minister, is not tackling the fundamental basis of the problem. The Government, admittedly, is engaged in a number of activities which are calculated to increase primary production, but, candidly, I am not satisfied with them, because they are too limited in scope, and the net result is not likely to bring about a large increase of primary production. The Minister has explained, in the booklet to which I referred a few moments ago, that Commonwealth money amounting to several hundreds of thousands of pounds is being expended to promote efficiency in various branches of primary production. I do not complain about that. I am merely stating that the Commonwealth, in expending a small sum of money for this purpose, is only touching the fringe of the problem. In my opinion, the crux of the problem is centred in the production aim, which is stated in the booklet to be based, inter atea, on the following general assumption : -
That work on lami development schemes, including irrigation projects, will be intensified.
I should like the Minister to give me some information about any large development schemes that have been inaugurated by this Government, and, indeed, whether any plans have been formulated for them, because the initiative for land settlement must, of necessity, come from this Government. Under present conditions, this Government controls the purse-strings of the nation, and our inability to place additional settlers on the land affords a very frustrating paradox. The stage has been reached at which the production of more foodstuffs is not only a national necessity, for far-reaching reasons, but is the surest means of putting the economy in a more healthy state of balance. I do not think that even the Minister will claim that the existing balance between secondary production and primary production leaves nothing to be desired. Young men who served their country in World War II. are denied the opportunity to make their contribution to larger harvests, or the output of primary products. Only recently, a question by the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) elicited the information that 34,000 exservice personnel were eager to settle on the land. However, the limited amount of money provided by this Government for that purpose is denying those men the opportunity to realize the ambition that, metaphorically, they are eating their hearts out to achieve. If we can provide more producers, increased production will follow ‘as a logical consequence. When I refer to increased production, I have not in mind an increase of one-half of 1- per cent. I mean an increase of great magnitude, because time is running out for us in respect of primary production, and unless the Government is prepared to inaugurate large land settlement schemes in the near future, Australia will suffer severely from its shortsighted policy.
The laud settlement scheme for exservicemen, which was inaugurated by the Commonwealth after World War I., was somewhat limited in scope, yet it has proved a striking success, and illustrates what can be done iri that direction. Exservicemen have benefited from earlier experiences, even mistakes, and their commonsense approach to farming, and their keenness to better themselves, are producing results. I am disturbed that the land settlement scheme for ex-servicemen conducted by this Government has been cif such meagre proportions. The blame can definitely be laid at the door of this Government, because of its lack of eagerness to .give a lead to ex-servicemen who are eager and willing to settle on the land and make a tangible contribution to an increase of food production. What is required is a large capital investment in farming. Such a policy much be adopted by a far-sighted government in the Commonwealth sphere. It is not enough for the Government to claim that it has halted the decline of food production. The Government appears to believe that it has achieved wonders because the retrogression has been checked. What is really required is a large increase of volume compared with that in 1939. The Government should not be satisfied to adopt a policy of stagnation, but must be prepared to add substantially to the volume and value of shipments overseas. Such an objective can only be obtained by land settlement schemes on a large scale. Unfortunately, this Government, for one reason or another, seems to be unwilling to launch such schemes.
To-day, there are many ex-servicemen who are prepared to settle on the land as soon as a favorable opportunity presents itself. A large labour force is “ straining at the leash “ to produce more food. The British Commonwealth of Nations, at economic conferences which are held from time to time, looks to Australia for a substantial increase of production. Yet young men who are thoroughly screened and tested for their fitness to grow wheat, raise fat lambs and produce milk, butter and bacon, are told that they will have to wait indefinitely before they can engage in those activities, which are of vital importance to the welfare of Australia. This country must realize frankly that much of our good land is not producing anything like the maximum of which it is capable. The Commonwealth itself must take the lead to solve the problem. Too much of our man-power, both native-born and newcomers, is being wasted and frustrated in non-essential activities, although many of the persons so engaged are praying for the day when they will be able to establish themselves on the land .
The problem confronting the Government is not easy of solution. I realize that it is easy to state a problem, and that it is much more difficult to offer the solution, but every one must realize that the two basic resources - land and people - must be conjoined. In other words, there must be a trek back to the land. Land settlement schemes on a large scale must be implemented without further delay. This Government is prepared to give us grandiose land settlement schemes on paper. The Australian Agricultural Council has expressed the viewthat work on land development schemes, including irrigation projects, must be intensified. But the Government does not embark on big land development schemes.
The Government must also realize that properties which are too large for efficient working, and the full utilization of their productive capabilities, must be subdivided. Doubtless such a policy would produce the usual violent reactions from hig land-owners, who, under existing conditions, are becoming more prone to the evils of excessive land aggregation. There are still large tracts of land which arc capable of much closer settlement, yet. this Government has not done anything to remedy that situation. This Government must give the lead to Australia with new techniques in agriculture, and the reclamation of areas that were previously considered to be useless. Some of this ground is now revealing possibilities that were not even dreamed of a decade ago. Under the credit policy of this Government, potential settlers suffer a headache in completing their financial arrangements. It is supremely ironical that whilst this nation faces a serious economic trouble because of the declining primary production, thousands of wouldbe producers are condemned to frustration. I do not propose to quote many figures to illustrate my claim, because everybody knows that primary production has declined to a marked degree. I read recently a report of the speech delivered by the Queensland Minister for Agriculture,. Mr. Foley, in which’ he stated that Australia would face a food famine in 1960 unless primary production could be increased in conformity with the increase in population. Honorable members may not be aware that our population is increasing at the rate of 2 per cent., whilst primary production is increasing at the rate of only 1 per cent. Obviously in seven years’ time we shall be in very serious trouble.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mi. EREETH (Forrest) [5.30].- I refer to the subject of flax production under Division No. 90. Proposed expenditure on flax production by the Department of Commerce and Agriculture for the current year is £672,000. This is a selfbalancing item in the Estimates. Offset against it is an equal amount estimated to be recoverable from the sale of flax fibre. However, since the Estimates were prepared, the situation of the flax industry has changed considerably as a result of price fluctuations. Flax fibre will be sold at a loss, and the Treasury will be called upon to bear that loss. Everybody who is interested in the flax industry should be familiar with the circumstances that have led to this situation. The price nf flax overseas has fallen by more than £100 a ton, and the Flax Production Committee has decided that, in order to compete with Belgian flax, the domestic price must be reduced. A difficulty arises from the fact that the Flax Production Committee, which still operates pending the appointment of the Flax Commission, is not the only body in Australia that produces flax fibre. In Western Australia there is a co-operative flax mill at Boyup Brook, and that company will be very hard hit by the sudden reduction of prices. I directed the attention of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) to the situation of this company last March, when the Parliament debated the Flax Industry bill. The Minister then explained that the Government proposed to establish the Flax Commission solely ‘because the maintenance of flax production was essential to the nation’s defence preparations and because the efforts of the Government, like those of the Chifley Government, had failed to achieve an arrangement under which flax production would be carried on by private enterprise, co-operative or otherwise, or by State governments. He said -
The industry is far too important in our defence preparations for us to allow it to disappear so we are forced to find some way of ensuring its continuance. That is the reason for . this bill. The flax industry must be retained in Australia because flax fibre is an important raw material in the manufacture of equipment for the fighting services.
Aeroplane fabric, parachute harness, hangar canvas, gun and boat covers, fire hose, tents and other camp equipment, yarns and twines for cordage, and all linen sewing thread for boots and uniforms for the services are made from this essential fibre, for which no effective substitute has yet been found.
During the debate, I pointed out to the Minister that, unless the Western Australian industry was represented on the Flax Commission, growers in WesternAustralia might find themselves in a precarious situation if the commission decided to reduce the price of flax fibre in order to compete with foreign fibre. In such circumstances, the Western Australian industry could be left high and dry. The honorable gentleman was then good enough to give me his personal assurance that there would be the closest possible co-operation and consultation between the Flax Commission and the Western Australian industry. He said -
I am able to assure the House that the Flax Commission will continue the policy that has been followed by the Flax Production Committee, and invite the representatives of this growers’ co-operative to consult with it in determining the price to be offered to growers for the straw, and the price that spinners will be charged for the fibre.
That was a specific assurance. Therefore, when the price was reduced by the Flax Production Committee, I was asked to ascertain whether, in fact, there had been consultation. The Minister assured me that consultation had taken place. However, I have been informed by the growers’ co-operative that it was not advised of the price, reduction until the reduction had been agreed upon by the committee, the spinners and the weavers. I now ask the Minister to examine the correspondence on this matter.
My information is that the Flax Production Committee sent a letter to the growers’ co-operative at Boyup Brook on the 21st August last. The letter arrived on the 25th August. Attached to it was a copy of a letter that had been sent to the Australian Rope, Cordage and Twine Association in Melbourne on the 20th August. The letter to the association confirmed an agreement made by telephone between the association and the committee on the previous day, the 19th August, to sell B-class flax fibre, which is the ruling class of fibre on which prices are determined, at £300 a ton. These facts indicate that the “price reduction was made by the Flax Production Committee without maintaining close consultation with the “Western Australian industry in accordance with the undertaking given by the Minister. These circumstances lead me to inquire what attitude the Government has adopted towards flax production. ‘Does it still adhere to its declaration that the flax industry is essential to defence? If so, why has the Treasury agreed to provide what is tantamount to a subsidy upon the output of the Flax Production Committee, by carrying its loss, though it will not carry the loss that must be incurred by the growers’ co-operative in “Western Australia? The situation of that company is serious. As the Minister knows, the industry operates in such a way that prices are announced to growers twelve months in advance so that they will plan their flax planting accordingly. The growers’ co-operative is committed in advance to pay to the growers the prices for flax straw that prevailed before the price reduction. The co-operative has large quantities of last season’s flax fibre on hand and is waiting for an opportunity to sell those stocks. It can sell the fibre now only at a loss, which it is unable to bear because of its financial position. If the flax industry is essential to our defence programme, as the Minister has said, there is an excellent case for the growers’ co-operative to receive exactly the same treatment as the governmentcontrolled organization is to receive.
I should be the last to insist that anybody who engages in private enterprise must be protected in all circumstances against financial loss. Such a proposition could not be sustained. However, this company has” received assurances at all times that the industry will be kept in existence ‘ because of its defence importance. I am aware- that a Tariff Board inquiry is either in process or in prospect for the purpose of determining whether some special measure of tariff protection should be provided for Australian flax fibre. Many months will elapse before the result of that inquiry is made known and, in any case, the degree of protection that the Tariff Board will recommend is not known and we have no guarantee that the Government will adopt the board’s recommendations. In the meantime, the Flax Production Committee will be able to go gaily ahead and sell its flax in the knowledge that it will be able to recoup all its losses from the Treasury, but the Boyup Brook cooperative company will have to decide whether it can hang on by withholding its flax from sale, or whether it should sell its flax now and continue to operate on a day-to-day basis. Apparently the Government has decided to continue with -its policy of preserving the flax industry under government control because I notice that it plans to provide £155,000 for capital expenditure by the Flax Production Committee. That is a considerable sum to expend if, as was suggested recently in reply to a question that I asked, the Government intends to conduct another review of the flax industry. In any event, it is completely inequitable to expect the growers’ co-operative, which, as he has said, was the only body that this Government and the Chifley Government had been able to persuade to undertake the processing of flax straw, to carry on without help. It should not be allowed to go out of business or suffer serious loss while the government instrumentality, backed by all the resources of the Treasury, is able to continue without difficulty.
I again ask the Minister to examine the correspondence that has been exchanged on the subject of flax prices so that the close consultation that he promised will take place in future. I also ask him to consider means of providing a guarantee for the growers’ co-operative in order to prevent it from suffering the heavy financial loss to which it has become liable as a result of the action of the Flax Production Committee. The difficulty that has arisen could have been avoided in various ways had the promised consultation taken place. For example, it would have been possible to restrict flax imports. The stocks held by spinners and weavers are such that they would have had to purchase Australian flax at the reasonable price asked by the Australian flax mills. The growers’ co-operative in Western Australia should have the opportunity at least to state its views to the Flax Production Committee and to obtain a satisfactory answer to its representations.
.- I address my remarks to a few items of expenditure that were neglected in the budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). The maternity allowance is one important social services benefit which, in the opinion of the Labour party, should receive urgent attention. It was ignored by the Treasurer in his budget speech. This allowance was introduced by the Labour party in 1912, at the rate of £5, to assist mothers when their children were born. The amount was increased, again by the Labour party, in 1943 when the rate fixed was £15. I consider that the allowance is due for another review. A payment of £15 may have been very helpful in 1943, but I think that every reasonable person will agree that now, as a result of inflation, the sum is totally inadequate. The Government should take action to increase it as soon as possible. Another item that I have in mind is child, endowment, which the Treasurer also ignored in his budget speech. The rate of endowment should be reviewed in the light of the fact that the cost of living ‘has increased steeply since it was last varied. The Treasurer declared that the budget had been designed to help families. If we are to help families, we should spend something on the 2,500,000 children that we have in Australia and make provision for those that we expect to come into the world in the future. This so-called family budget has left out of consideration the mothers who,- we hope, will have plenty more children in order to populate Australia. “We urgently need children, and everything should be done to encourage mothers.
Another important item of social services that has been overlooked, although I have brought it to the attention of the Government several times, is the allowance paid to the wife of an invalid pensioner. An allowance of only £1 15s. a week is paid to a woman who is unfortunate enough to have an invalid husband whose only source of income is the invalid pension. A payment of £3 10s. a week to an invalid pensioner . is totally inadequate, but that is all that the Government is prepared- to pay, and I suppose the pensioners will have to suffer. The invalid pension is inadequate, but a woman who is responsible for looking after her invalid husband is expected by this Government to battle through on a mere £1 15s. a week. The allowance for such a woman should be at least equal to the invalid pension. Her responsibilities are greater even than those of a widow, because, in most instances, the widow has only herself to battle for. The wife of an invalid pensioner, saddled with the responsibility of nursing and caring for a sick husband, gets a mere £1 15s. a week. That is scandalous. The allowance should be reviewed and increased so that it is at least the equivalent of the age or invalid pension.
I turn now to the funeral benefit, which was introduced by the Labour party in, I think, 1943.
– We initiated all social services.
– I agree with the honorable member for Wilmot ‘ (Mr. Duthie) that the Labour party initiated all social services.
– That is not correct.
– I do not expect the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) to accept my word on this matter, although I put myself forward as a very reliable authority on it. I invite the Minister to study the history of social services. If he does so, he will find that all social services benefits spring from the Labour party. The age pension was introduced first in New South Wales, admittedly by an anti-Labour government
– As the price of our support.
– The Labour party held the balance of power in the New South’ Wales Parliament then. We said that if the government then in office did Certain things for the people we represented’,’’ we would do certain things for it. One ‘of the things upon, which we insisted was that a pension be- given to aged people. Child endowment was introduced in New South Wales by a Labour government iri 1920. Eventually that example was foi-‘ lowed by the Federal Parliament, but the. payment of child endowment by the Com;.,monwealth was only a sop. Instead, there should have been an all-round increase of the basic wage..
– The Commonwealth Arbitration Court gave the Commonwealth the tip to pay child endowment.
– That is right. Otherwise, the employers would have been compelled to make a contribution to the welfare of their employees in the form of an all-round increase of the basic wage. When the funeral allowance was introduced by the Labour party, £10 was paid by the Commonwealth as a contribution to funeral expenses. That represented a large proportion of the cost of a funeral at that time, but, as I said in my speech on the budget, the cost of dying has increased much more than the cost of living. To-day, the cheapest funeral costs about £60. From where could a poor invalid pensioner or age pensioner get a lump sum of £60? I believe that the funeral benefit should be increased to at least £30, so that a pensioner who paid for the funeral of a wife or husband would be reimbursed at least 50 per cent, of the cost.
Some social services benefits not now being paid by the Commonwealth should be brought within the scope of the Commonwealth social services legislation and -.treated as a national responsibility. The Government of New South Wales, through its Department of Labour and Industry, is doing many good deeds in the social services field, notwithstanding that it is skimped of money by this Government. It is, in fact, looking after citizens of the Commonwealth who live in New South Wales. The Commonwealth should pay more attention to the problem of helping old people who need hearing aids, surgical aids, dentures, spectacles, special foods, special footwear and, from time to time, extra clothing. They cannot buy those things with their small pension payments. Some States give Christmas grants to old people. The Commonwealth should widen the scope of its social services legislation in order to help old people in the directions that I have indicated. Young people could be assisted by following the example of the New South Wales Government, which issues baby outfits in some cases. The cost of all the things that old people need has increased considerably. We could buy a set of dentures for £5 or £6 at one time, but we are lucky to get them for £30 to-day. From where could a pensioner get £30 for dentures? The price of spectacles has increased, not by 100 per cent, but by 500 per cent, or 600 per cent. The Australian Government frames the monetary policy of the country and controls the national economy. 1 believe that our financial policy should be modified to enable the Commonwealth to become more active in a wider field of social services. New South Wales, under a Labour government, is providing many social services benefits not provided by the Commonwealth, but, owing to a lack of funds, it is unable to do as much in that direction as it would like to do. It has been forced to apply a very strict means test, because it cannot afford to give benefits to everyone who applies for them. I believe that activities of the kind now undertaken in New South Wales should be the responsibility of the Commonwealth.
I want to refer to the degree of incapacity necessary to qualify for the invalid pension. The degree of incapacity must be at least 85 per cent, incapacity. I have had many cases brought to my notice of persons who are physically strong and appear to be capable of any kind of work, but who are not so capable mentally. Some of them suffer from an inferiority complex to such a degree that they are unable to mix with other people. Although many people whose mental capacity is such that employers will not accept them apply for the invalid pension, their applications are rejected because the medical referee says they are physically strong. People of that type, who should be cared for by the community, are completely neglected. This matter requires serious examination. We should reconsider the degree of incapacity required to qualify for an invalid pension so that it covers people who, although physically well, are not mentally strong.
The Government proposes to increase the value of the property that a person may own without affecting his right to receive a pension. Yesterday I had brought to my notice the case of a service pensioner. He and his wife were in receipt of a pension until the ValuerGeneral assessed the value of the property they owned as being £500 more than previously. Although the rent derived from their property had not increased, the Social Services Department, having been notified of the decision of the ValuerGeneral, cancelled the pension. Their only income now is the rent of £2 6s. a week that they receive from their property. That is a very serious matter. Many thrifty people who saved, and scrimped in their younger days to buy a little property from which they hoped to derive a small income in their old-age, are being penalized because they tried to do what they thought was the right thing.
– They are being penalized by the Victorian Government.
– I am not talking about State governments. The Commonwealth pays the pensions, lt is the responsibility of the Commonwealth to look after these people.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Sitting suspended from, 5.57 to 8 p.m.
Mr. SWARTZ (Darling Downs) Is.01 - No government in Australian history has done” more for the dairying industry than the present Government has done, long-term stability, with the best possible financial return to the dairy-farmers, is the aim of the Government. As actions speak louder ‘than words, let us examine the Government’s record of service to the dairying industry. One of the first acts of the Government after it was sworn in on the 19th December, 1949, was to announce, on that same night, an extension of the operation of the dairying industry guarantee, which, by the decision of the previous Government, was to operate at the existing level only until the end of that month. Within a matter of weeks after that action was taken, discussions were held with representatives of the dairying industry to discuss modifications of the existing stabilization plan, in order that the return to the industry for the balance of the plan should be adequate, and provide an incentive to maintain an increased production. The Government also indicated that it would bo, prepared to introduce a new stabilization plan, for a further five-year period, if that was the desire of the dairy- i n <r industry. It should be made clear at this stage that the long-term contract with the British Ministry of Food, cover ing the sale of surplus butter and cheese, was signed by the previous Labour Government for a period of seven years, ending in 1955. Under this contract the Australian dairy-farmers receive approximately ls. per lb. less for butter than the Australian home-consumption price.
Following discussions in 1952 with the representatives of the industry, and with the State governments, agreement was reached by the present Government on a new five-year plan for the stabilization of the dairying industry. In the previous stabilization plan the cost factor was based on a 56-hour working week for the dairyfarmer, and the rate of interest on the farmer’s own invested capital was set at 3$ per cent. The allowance on the farmer’s invested capital, even at this low interest return, was calculated only on the valuation of his herd, equipment and land, on the basis of valuations prevailing in 1942. This cost formula of the Labour Government was inequitable and unrealistic, and this Government took action to produce a new formula for the present stabilization plan. The managerial status of the dairy-farmer is now recognized, and costs on the basis of an annual salary, as for any other manager in industry, are allotted. The rate of interest allowed on the farmer’s equity investment was brought into line with the higher prevailing security returns, and the valuations for farms and herds were brought to the level of valuations used by the Commonwealth Bank for ite own purposes.
These, and many other benefits, were entirely acceptable to the dairying industry, and meant a tremendous increase in the financial return to dairy-farmers. The Dairying Industry Stabilization Fund was freed for use by the industry in whatever manner it considered desirable, to meet losses on exports not covered by the guarantee. Butter and cheep’ exported during the currency of thi? stabilization plan are guaranteed by the Commonwealth to the extent of an annua) tonnage, being an amount equal to 20 per cent, of the tonnage locally consumed. The Government is also maintaining th<» hin-h subsidy of 10¾d. per lb. on butter during this year, although it had been the previous intention to reduce the subsidy this year by .approximately 3d. per lb. The decision to retain the high subsidy this year will cost the Government approximately £15,500,000, which is approximately £3,000,000 more than had originally been estimated. This is a substantial contribution to the stability of the dairying industry during this year, and is intended as an encouragement to maintain the volume of consumption of butter on the Australian market, which is the most profitable market for the dairyfarmer.
The following summary will indicate clearly to honorable members the progressive action that has been taken by this Government to maintain stability in the dairying industry, and to assist the dairyfarmer to obtain the maximum possible return for his products.
On the 1st January, 1950, a subsidy at the rate of 2-Jd. per lb. commercial butter basis was granted to dairy-farmers supplying milk to processors, to enable payment of a guaranteed return. This provision was to have retrospective effect to the 1st July, 1949. That was one of the first progressive major steps taken by the Government to assist the industry.
On the 1st January, 1950, the Government decided to meet the increased cost of production of butter and cheese, and to continue the payment of additional subsidy of 2M. per lb. commercial butter for a. further six months until the 30th January, 1950. It was further decided to increase the subsidy by a further £d. per lb. commercial butter, on account of increased manufacturing costs on butter and cheese locally consumed. The total subsidy paid in 1949-50 amounted to £8,000,000.
On the 1st July, 1950, the guaranteed return to the farmer was increased to 2s. 6.27d. per lb. commercial butter, which included increase of subsidy to 10.9d. per lb. United Kingdom contract prices were increased to 339s. 4£d. per cwt. for butter and 188s. 9d. per cwt. for cheese. In accordance with the Government’s policy, representatives of the Australian Dairy Produce Board assisted the official negotiators in discussions with the United Kingdom Ministry of Pood.
On the 1st December, 1950, the guaranteed return to the farmer was increased to 2s. 8.44d. per lb. of commercial butter, to cover increased labour costs’ and the subsidy was increased to ls. 1.3d. per lb. The total subsidy paid in 1950-51 amounted to £15,000,000. I am citing these progressive steps to show the great assistance that the Government has given to this important industry.
On the 1st July, 1951, the guaranteed return to the farmer was increased tq 3s. 6.02d. per lo. on commercial butter. This involved an increase of the subsidy to ls. 11.4d. per lb. until the States increased consumer prices. The subsidy was then paid at the rate of ls. 1.3d. per lb. At the same time United Kingdom contract prices were increased to 365s. per cwt. butter and 201s. 10-Jd. per cwt. cheese. Despite top level pressure for an increase of prices to cost of production, the United Kingdom refused to increase the prices in excess of the maximum provided in the contract. However, a substantial increase was obtained in the quantities that could be sold outside the contract. The total subsidy paid in 1951-52 amounted to £17,800,000.
On the 1st July, 1952, agreement was reached with the industry and the States on a new five-year plan for the stabilization of the dairy industry. The guaranteed return, in respect of,, production covered by guarantee, increased to 4s. 1.29d. per lb. on commercial butter and the subsidy paid was approximately lO¾d. per lb. The cost for the year was approximately £15,700,0G0.
At the same time the Dairy Industry Stabilization Fund was freed for use by the industry, in whatever manner considered desirable by it, to meet losses on exports not covered by the guarantee. United Kingdom contract prices increased to 392s. 6d. per cwt. butter and. 220s. per cwt. cheese. The increase is the maximum permissible under the contract for butter. The new cheese price represented an increase of 9 per cent, and restored partially the unfavorable relationship which has existed for many years between cheese and butter contract prices.
On the 1st July, 1953, the guaranteed return in respect of production covered by guarantee continued at 4s. 1.29d. ner lb. on commercial butter, and the subsidy at approximately 10¾d. per lb. The
United Kingdom contract prices increased to 407s. 6d. per cwt. butter and 228s. ltd. per cwt. cheese. These prices represent an increase of approximately 3$ per cent.
The’ Government also makes available to the States an annual grant for the purpose of promoting improved farm practices in the dairying industry. This is known as the dairying industry efficiency grant. ‘ The new scheme will continue for a period of five years from the 1st July, .1953, and the grant is on the basis of £250,000 per year.
On the 9th July, 1952, the Government agreed that a grant of £200,000 should be made available for the expansion of extension services to assist primary industries. During April this yea the Government agreed to continue thi; grant for a five-year period, and also decided that additional amounts of up t<> £100,000 during this financial year, ami up to £300,000 in each . succeeding year of the five-year period, would be made available, subject to matching contributions by the States and the industries concerned. Many other incentives in the form of tax concessions have been introduced by this Government during the la3t two years to assist primary producers, including dairy-farmers. After considering this record of service to the dairying industry, I think my original claim that no other government in Australian history has done so much for the dairying industry is fully substantiated.
.- I direct my remarks to the subject of shipping. When this Government passed through the Parliament a bill providing for the guarantee, by the Government, of a loan of £3,000,000 to a private shipping line, it did a most scandalous thing, because the money to be paid over to that private -company belongs to the taxpayers. When the Government sells out the Commonwealth Shipping Line, which it is ruthlessly and determinedly trying to do, the legislation to authorize the sale will be the second most scandalous piece of legislation to go through this Parliament. We on this side of the committee will do everything in our power to prevent such legislation from being put into effect. T-he Minister for Shipping and Trans port (Senator McLeay) has been trying for months past to get a bid for the ships owned by the Commonwealth. He has been yelling at the top of his voice, “ What am I offered ; who will give me the first bid for the Commonwealth line of ships ? “ But he is also saying, not quite so loudly, “ Little fellows need not apply”. He is intent on selling out the line of ships, although perhaps his Cabinet is not so keen. It appears that he and the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) are to-day the voices of the big shipping combines in the Cabinet. They are determined that the 38 Commonwealthowned vessels, none of which is more than twelve years old, shall be sold out to private enterprise. The three companies that are negotiating with the Government for the sale of the ships are the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited, in which one Minister is very interested, Mcllwraith McEachern Limited, and Huddart Parker Limited. We may have news any month now that the deal has been completed. However, we cannot get much information from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) or thd Minister for Shipping and Transport, because all the negotiations are being conducted in secret, behind closed doors either in Canberra or in the offices of the shipping companies. ‘Some day the news will break on a startled Australia that the Commonwealth line of ships has been sold out.
The line is worth £22,000,000, and from the information that I have received over the - grapevine, which, of course, is not always reliable, I believe that the Government is prepared to take £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 as a deposit, and the rest of the money in easy instalments over 20 or 25 years. No doubt honorable members will find that when the final agreement for the sale of the ships is introduced into the Parliament it will propose that the Australian Government shall be bound for ten or fifteen years - as happened with the airlines legislation that was introduced last year - so that this Government will again dictate to future governments as to what shall be done by them. Then any future government will be tied up by the actio]’ s of this Government for ten or fifteen years.
The Prime Minister made it quite clear during the recent Senate election campaign that his Government is attempting to sell the Commonwealth line of ships, and that the only reason it has not done so before this is because the private shipping companies cannot raise the necessary money. No doubt the companies will overcome that difficulty, because this Government will do its best to ensure that they do so. Moreover, the Government will make sure that the ships are sold before the next general election, because if it does not do so, when the government is changed in the middle of next year, there will be no further opportunity to dispose of the ships. So, between now and May of next year this magnificent shipping line that belongs to the people will be sold out to private enterprise, and there will be one great shipping combine controlling all the ships that trade around the Australian coast.
The Commonwealth ships were built at the instigation of Labour governments during the last war, and they filled a long-felt need in the Australian transport system. I challenge this Government to put the matter to the people and ask them for permission to sell the ships. Why should the people not have a voice in a matter like this, because after all the people own the ships? The vessels were built with taxpayers’ money, and all Australians have a right to be heard on the question of whether they should be sold. This Government has not enough courage to put the matter before the people by way of referendum, because it knows that if it did so85 per cent. of the people would reject the proposal. If a referendum were held the people would censure this Government for its activities with regard to our ships, as no other Government has ever been censured. Every organization in Tasmania is opposed to the sale of Commonwealth ships. Even supporters of the Government who are hiding in the Tasmanian farmers’ organizations, the retailers’ associations and the chambers of commerce, are all opposed to the sale of the ships. Indeed, a delegation of representative bodies met the Prime Minister in Hobart to protest against the proposed disposal of the ships, but it could not get any decision from him.
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! There is too much disorder among honorable members. This is not a cheer session, and if honorable members do not behave in a more appropriate fashion I am afraid that some one will have to leave the chamber.
– The Government parties promised the people that no industry in Australia would be nationalized unless the matter was put to a referendum. That promise is contained in the Government parties’ policy speech of 1949, and it was repeated in 1951. If the Government believes that no industry should be nationalized without a referendum, is it not logical for the Government to believe that national assets should not be sold without a referendum? I put that matter to the Prime Minister for his careful consideration. If he is sincere in his democratic beliefs, then he will hold a referendum to decide whether the ships shall be sold. Of course, we know what the people’s verdict would be if the matter were put to the vote, but there is such great pressure on this Government from private monopolies that the Government will surely give way to them in the end. If the ships should be sold, several disastrous results would follow. The first would be a reduction of the total tonnage of ships trading on the Australian coast. That would occur because, of approximately 180 ships that are owned by 80 private shipping companies, about half are more than twenty years old. They are out of date and inefficient, with obsolete handling gear in many cases. The turn-round of such ships is very slow, they are fitted with shockingly cramped accommodation for their crews and have other out-of-date features. Their private owners will soon be forced to replace them, and so they are looking forward to getting the Commonwealth ships for that purpose. If that should occur, then the out-of-date vessels will he laid up and there will be a reduction of the total tonnage operating around our coasts. That is a very disturbing prospect in the light of our shortage of shipping and our dependence upon ships. Shipping is the core of our transport system, and we cannot afford any reduction of tonnage.
Secondly, at present many of the D class ships of 2,500 tons are carrying coal, ore, gypsum, cement, timber, wheat, pyrites concentrates, potatoes and so on. The freight-earning potential of some of these cargoes is very low, so the Commonwealth ships have to carry most of them. If the Commonwealth ships should be sold to private enterprise, the private organizations would not bother to carry goods of low freight-earning capacity, and those goods would lie idle on the wharfs until the higher freight-earning goods had all been disposed of. Private enterprise always puts profit before service, but the Commonwealth ships serve the public in preference to making profit. I suggest that it would be a national tragedy and a national crime if this Government should sell the Commonwealth line of ships.
Tasmania has much to be thankful for because of the service rendered to it by Commonwealth vessels. Tasmania, the State which I represent, is the only State without a railway system as an alternative to sea transport. The Commonwealth line of ships has given us splendid service and a refrigerated cargo service between Hobart and Brisbane. It has given us a direct service from South Australia to Devonport for the carrying of gypsum and salt. It has also given us a direct service from S tralian to Melbourne for pyrites concentrates and other cargoes, and has provided a tanker for the carriage of sulphuric acid between Hobart and South Australia. We have never had service such as that from private enterprise. It would be a calamity for Tasmania if the ships were to be sold to private owners, because they would trade where the profits were highest and not where the service was needed.
Recently the private ship-owners decided that freights should be increased by all vessels throughout Australia. The Australian Shipping Board approached the Minister for Shipping and Transport and informed him that such increases were unjustified, but the Minister told the board that it had to raise its freights to the level of the- freights charged by private ships. That happened under the regime of this Government and, accord ing to the direction of one of the Ministers, the Commonwealth ships are now charging the same freight rates as those charged by private ships. Recently the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) has been crying out about the way in which we are being priced out of world markets, not only because of our high costs of production but also because of our rising freight rates. Yet, in the face of that protestation, one of his own colleagues has directed the Commonwealth line of ships to increase its freight charges. I suggest that such action constitutes a betrayal of the interests of the farmers, the importers, the exporters and the people in general who are dependent on ships to get their goods to the States where they are needed. I now refer to Rydge’s journal, which recently published certain figures about the profits o’f companies. I refer to pages 223 and 224 of Rydge’s journal of March this year. Huddart Parker Limited paid a 12 per cent, dividend on ordinary shares and 6 per cent, on preference shares. Its ordinary share dividend is exceeded by only ten other companies out of 110. Other companies such as the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited, W.’ Holyman and Sons Proprietary Limited, and Howard Smith Limited all paid between 5 per cent, and 6 per cent, dividends on their shares. Yet, shipping freights have been increased and are strangling the trade of Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia, retarding our economic progress and - driving industry away from Tasmania. Many industries have been established in Tasmania because of the low cost of hydro-electric power. The effect of that low cost has been offset by increased shipping charges, and, consequently, the general tendency now is for those industries to leave Tasmania. Since 1939, freight on items such as potatoes, timber, jams, fruit and general cargo has increased by 550 per cent. In the same period, the wages of seamen have increased by only 330 per cent.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Honorable members have just listened to a remarkable speech by the honorable member for “Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), a speech that was founded on supposition from start to finish. He said that he could not obtain any information about the proposed sale of the Commonwealth line of ships, but then he proceeded to detail the terms on which the sale would be made. Consequently, he has proved by his own words that everything that he said was founded merely on supposition. He said that he really knew nothing about what was happening, but then said that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) was travelling up and down the country looking for buyers for the Commonwealth line of ships. Then he said that all negotiations about the ships was conducted in secret behind closed doors.
– The honorable member for Wilmot was only joking.
– That may be so, but it is surely past a joke when an honorable member makes a. speech founded on nothing, and during his speech admits that it is wholly suppositions.
I come now to the proposed votes for the Department of Shipping and Transport. People who reside in the Mallee and Wimmera, in the south-east of South Australia and in southern Riverina, are all intensely interested in the development of the port of Portland, in Victoria. The Government should do everything possible in the interests of decentralization to assist in the development of the port so that we may be able to send our products there for shipment abroad and unload at the port imports for distribution in the hinterland. I ask the Government to ascertain what can be done in that direction. The people of my electorate and of adjacent electorates are also interested in the construction of a railway from Hay to Ouyen and linking Ouyen with Patchewollock to serve the area that will become more productive when the Snowy Mountains scheme is completed. The construction of such a railway would be a very progressive step. Developments are going on at Portland, but the rate of progress is not fast enough. Portland is a good deep water port which should be utilized to the fullest possible extent now. More ships should call there. Honorable members who represent electorates which embrace the areas that I have mentioned should stand solidly behind me in this appeal. We have to fight for these things if we are to get them.
I come now to the proposed votes for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. I pay a great compliment to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) for his untiring efforts and persistence against great opposition in trying to bring about satisfactory wheat stabilization. I shall briefly trace what has happened in connexion with this matter. At the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council, which was held at Canberra on the 27th July, a resolution was passed in favour of a stabilization scheme to operate for the benefit of the wheat industry. This afternoon, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), who represents a Victorian metropolitan electorate, made an appeal for greater production. I wonder whether, cushioned in the comfort of his metropolitan seat, he is aware that even while he was speaking the Victorian Labour Government was striking a blow at the wheat industry, which is the second largest export industry in Australia. I think that he did not know it. At the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council to which I have referred, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture exercised his casting vote in favour of the continuance for five years of stabilization for the wheat industry. At that meeting the Ministers for Agriculture for New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia, favoured the continuance of’ stabilization, but their opposite numbers from Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania opposed it. The situation was saved for the time being by the casting vote of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Shortly afterwards Tasmania, which is a consumer State, indicated that it favoured the continuance of the stabilization scheme. Under the scheme as approved by the council the Australian Government undertook to guarantee a return to growers of the co3t of production of 100,000,000 bushels of wheat exported in each of the five years of the proposed plan, subject to the condition that a stabilization fund should be established by contributions by the growers in the form of a tax of ls. 6d. a bushel of the realizations on export sales in excess of the cost of production. It was further stipulated that the fund should not exceed £20,000,000 and that should the contributions exceed that figure the excess would be repaid to the wheat-growers. A further condition was that an amount of approximately £9,000,000, which had been collected as export tax on the No. 15 pool, should be retained’ as a nucleus for the new stabilization fund. The only factor that is now preventing stabilization of the wheat industry is the inability of the States to agree in regard to the homeconsumption price. The majority decision of the council was that the local selling price for both human consumption and stock-feed wheat should be 15s. a bushel, or export parity if the prevailing export parity should be below 15s., but that the local selling price should not, in any circumstances, fall below the cost of production. Later, it was suggested that the price be reduced to approximately 14s., but Queensland and Victoria, both under Labour administrations, still refused to agree. Recently, I heard a prominent member of the Labour party in this chamber say, “ Members of the Australian Labour party in Canberra are only a. part of the great Australian Labour party that is in command of affairs in all States of the Commonwealth but one “. I have not heard a word from any Opposition member in this chamber, not even from the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), regarding the stabilization plan. I hope to stir the honorable member into action to-night. I am sure that he will rise to defend himself. Indeed, bc will be forced to do so.
– The honorable member must address the Chair. He must realize that an honorable member cannot address the committee until the Chair ha’s given him the call to do so.
– I hope that the honorable member will have something to say on this matter later.
– I shall certainly do so.
– .The wheat industry, which is Australia’s second most important export industry, has done more to help the Australian economy during the last six or ten years than has any other industry in Australia. It has contributed to the economy more than £200,000,000 by making available wheat for home consumption at a price much below the export price. It has made wheat available at 10s. a bushel and even less at times when the International “Wheat Agreement price was 16s. Id., and when the open market price was as high as 21s. 6d. a bushel. The amount paid to the wheat industry by the Australian Government and the State governments by way of drought relief and other assistance during the last 20 years was approximately £50,000,000. Thus, if the wheat-growers repaid to the governments all the money that has been paid to them, and the governments in turn repaid to the wheat-growers the amount which they have contributed to the economy, there would be a balance in favour of the wheat-growers of £150,000,000. In these circumstances, it seems strange that the government of a State like Victoria should refuse an increase of a. few additional pence iri the homeconsumption price and thereby jeopardize the continuance of wheat stabilization for the next five years. What are its reasons for so doing? During question time to-day, I heard a former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the honorable member for Lalor, say things would be different if a. Labour government were in office in Canberra.
– And they would be. too.
– Of course they would be. The State Labour governments would agree with Labour in the federal sphere, and Liberal or Country party governments in the non-Labour States would regard it as their duty to accede to the wishes of the majority. Everything that is for the good of the country is now condemned by Labour if. Labour has not been responsible’ for it.introduction.
– The statements made by the honorable member are completely untrue.
– Not at all. The budget which was introduced recently by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) would have been regarded by Labour as an excellent budget if it had been introduced by a Labour government. But no Labour government could possibly have introduced a record-breaking budget of that kind.
Government members who represent wheat-growing constituencies believe that wheat-growers should be paid their cost of production plus a reasonable margin of profit. The price of wheat should, I believe, be at least 15s. a bushel. The only chance the wheat-growers have of building up a reserve is to have a scheme which will guarantee a reasonable margin of profit over cost of production. They need some reserve against the possibility of crop failure, in order that they may remain in production. Even under the scheme as approved by the Australian Agricultural Council on the easting vote -of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, if world parity price fell below cost of production the price for export wheat and wheat for home consumption would be only the cost of production. When the world’s price of wheat is soaring it is only fair that the wheat-grower should get some advantage from the sale of his wheat on the home markets. The small margin between the home-consumption price favoured by the majority decision of the Australian Agricultural Council and that acceptable to the Victorian Government would represent an increase less than one penny in the price of a loaf of bread. Yet the Victorian Government has the audacity to say that the acceptance of the scheme to which the Australian Agricultural Council agreed would accentuate inflation. It should be unnecessary for me to point out that a great deal of the legislation that is being passed by the State parliament at the instigation of the State Labour governments results, in much greater inflation than is represented by the possible inflation caused by the increase of the price of a loaf of bread.
– Let us into the secret about this State legislation.
– I refer, for instance, to legislation dealing with long-service leave, which is to have retrospective effect.
– That explanation shows exactly i where the honorable member stands in relation to the workers.
– Order! The honorable member for Lalor must obey the Chair and cease interjecting.
– A prominent member of the Labour party, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. “Ward), has said that wheat-growers, who have been enjoying good seasons, should pay back to the governments of the Commonwealth and the States the £50,000,000 which those governments had provided for the assistance to the wheat industry. I should agree to that repayment being made if in return the governments paid to the wheat-growers the £200,000,000 which they have contributed to the economy in the last six or ten years. That would more than square accounts in. favour of the wheat-grower. The failure of the State governments to agree on a wheat stabilization plan will jeopardize our economy. As the result of the action of the Victorian Government already wheat-growers are turning their activities to the raising of sheep.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– In the short time at my disposal I propose to deal briefly with the proposed votes for the Department of Social Services. I am one of those who was indeed disappointed at the decision of the Government to increase age and invalid and other pensions by the niggardly amount of 2s. 6d. a week. I also assure the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) that every pensioner in Australia is grievously disappointed with this paltry provision for his needs. Expressed as a percentage of the basic wage, the pension payable to aged and invalid persons and widows is much lower than it has ever been since the introduction of pensions. I was amused when the .honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) again tried to hoodwink the unfortunate pensioners. This honorable member follows the same tactics whenever the subject of pensions is under consideration. On this occasion, he tried to make the pensioners believe that the paltry increase of 2s. 6d. a week provided in this budget will bring the pension in closer relationship to the basic wage than ever before. Such a statement is untrue. The honorable member for Sturt, in an effort to bolster a weak case, cited figures which he had compiled regarding the rate of pension based on the 0 series index. That basis has not been used before. But even if the honorable member for Sturt is allowed to use that basis, I claim that his figures are fallacious. As a matter of fact, the pension to-day is lower than it has ever been in relation to the basic wage.
On an examination of the figures, I find that in 1948-49 when the Chifley Labour Government was in office, the basic wage was £5 16s. a week and the pension was £2 2s. 6d. a week, or 36.6 per cent, of the basic wage. Honorable members are well aware that the basic wage is computed on the frugal needs of a man, his wife and one child. The members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, during the general election campaigns in 1949 and 3951, promised the pensioners the moon, yet the pension is lower to-day, expressed as a percentage of the basic wage, than it has ever been in the history of pensions. The basic wage in 1951 was £9 13s. a week, and the pension was £3 a week, or 31.1 per cent, of the basic wage. Thus, in approximately two years, the pension in relation to the basic wage had declined from 36.6 per cent, to 31.1 per cent. The basic wage in August, 1952, was £11 15s. a week, and this Government increased the pension to £3 7s. 6d. a week, or 28.7 per cent, of the basic wage. The basic wage at the present time, based on the six capital cities, is £12 a week, and the pension is. to be increased to £3 10s. n week, or 29.1 per cent, of the basic wage. Yet Government supporters, particularly the honorable member for Sturt, try to convince the pensioners that they are better off under this budget than they have ever been at any time in the past. finch a contention is completely untrue. The increase of 2s. 6d. a week is a downright insult to those unfortunate people, many of whom pioneered this country and made it possible for we members of Parliament to sit here to-night.
I am most disappointed that the Government has not seen its way clear to give every recipient of social services benefits even the niggardly amount that is to be granted to age and invalid pensioners, and widows. The budget does not make any provision for an increase of the allowance payable to the wife of an invalid pensioner. The Chifley Labour Government recognized the justice of her claim, because she is not even, in the position of the wife of an age pensioner. The wife of an invalid pensioner is compelled to remain at home in order to care for her husband, and, therefore, is not able, to take a job. I contend that the allowance payable to the wife of an invalid pensioner should be increased. I cannot for the life of me understand why this worthy section has been overlooked.
Child, endowment has not been increased. The mother of children under the age of sixteen years is entitled to an increase of endowment for the same reason as certain other social services benefits have been increased. No provision has been made for an increase of the unemployment and sickness benefit. A person who, through illness, is unable to work, will continue to receive the same paltry amount of sickness benefit as was provided in the last budget. Unfortunate persons who are unemployed-
– There are many of them, too.
– I agree with the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds). Many persons are unable to obtain employment, and many others are not able to retain jobs for very long, because they are not physically fit to work. They are elderly persons, and,. from time to time, they are obliged to apply for the unemployment benefit. This Government has treated pensioners cruelly and scandalously by granting them an increase of a paltry 2s. 6d. a week. The figures which I have cited have been compiled by men who understand this matter, and I defy the honorable member for Sturt to refute them. The pension, if the Government were to restore its relation to the basic wage that existed in 1948-49, would be at least £4 a week, instead of £3 10s.
I now propose to refer briefly to war service homes, which come under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Social Services. On a number of occasionsI have referred to the position of unfortunate ex-servicemen whose applications for approval to buy houses have been rejected by the “War Service Homes Division. More than once I have submitted to the Minister applications that havebeen brought to me, and he has invariably replied that the money appropriated for that particular purpose has been exhausted. I recall that in January, 1952, I had at least twenty applications of ex-servicemen who had applied to purchase existing dwellings. I understand that the list grew until between 400 and 500 applications had been received before the presentation of the budget last year. In other words, hundreds of ex-servicemen who were eager to buy houses were prevented from doing so. I have submitted to the Minister a number that I have received during the last four or five months. I notice that the amount of £35,891 provided in this budget is only slightly bigger than the provision last year. I sincerely hope that the Minister will ensure that a larger amount shall be made available for the purchase of existing dwellings, as distinct from money to finance the erection of new houses, becauseI find that the majority of ex-servicemen to-day are eager to purchase existing houses rather than build new ones through the agency of the War Service Homes Division. The list of applications which, I understand, is now in the hands of the division in Brisbane, totals many hundreds, and it appears to me that unless action is taken promptly-
– I rise to order. I have no desire to interrupt the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) when he is dealing with the estimates of the four departments now under consideration, but I submit that war service homes should be raised when the pro- posed vote for War and Repatriation Services is under discussion.
– I agree that war service homes should be discussed under theheading of War and Repatriation
Services. However, the honorable member for Brisbane has almost exhausted his time, and he may proceed.
– My colleagues and I have always understood that war service homes are administered by the Department of Social Services.
– The financial provision for war service homes appearsunder War and Repatriation Services.
– I contend that I am perfectly within my rights in mentioning these matters now.
– The honorable member may proceed.
– The Minister has admitted that there is a long list of ex-servicemen who desire to purchase houses. Some of them have even paid deposits. Unless more money is made available for the purchase of existing homes, the unfortunate applicants will not he able to complete negotiations to buy dwellings during this financial year. This situation will continue in future. I urge the Minister to examine this matter with a view to ensuring that all the applications now in hand will be dealt with expeditiously, and will be granted.
– I inform the committee that I uphold the point of order taken by the Minister for Social Services. I hope that succeeding speakers will not discuss war service homes until the proposed vote for War and Repatriation Services is under consideration.
.- I shall also address my remarks to the estimates for the Department of Social Services. I was particularly interested in the speech of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson). One of the passages that I remember most vividly from the compulsory learning of poetry as a child are the lines-
I would rather see a sermon,
Than hear one any day.
Members of the Labour party utter a mass of platitudes about the relationship of the pension to the basic wage, but I point out that very little effort is made by a Labour government to improve the position. The Labour party has never done justice to the pensioners, although it has had plenty of opportunities to do so. Of the pension of 70s. a week that will be payable when legislation is enacted by this Parliament soon, 48s. will have been provided at the instance of governments of the same line of politics as the present Government. That cannot be refuted. It is a simple fact which cannot be disguised by argument. The Labour party has had plenty of opportunities to put into practice the proposals of which it prates now, but during its years of office it has contributed by its own acts only 22s. to the total of 70s. a week that will soon be payable.
All this nonsense that honorable members opposite talk about the pensioners is merely a device by which they seek to take advantage of the position of the pensioners for their own political purposes. When I think of the pensioners there are two groups of people whom I absolutely loathe. One group consists of those who leave their aged parents in government homes or charitable institutions and do not bother to visit them, send them presents or - let them know that anybody cares for them. The other group, which I loathe equally, consists of politicians who try to use pensioners for party political purposes. Honorable members opposite cannot even speak with one voice when they boast of what they will do for the pensioners if they are returned to office. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) ran away into a place of solitude and caine back with a mass of papers, which he strewed across the table in front of him, and from this litter he produced an offer that was not even acceptable to his followers and for which he was taken to task at the next caucus meeting. Members of the Opposition do not know where they stand on the pensions issue, or where they want to go. They have merely said to themselves, “This is’ a popular buggy, let us hop on; it may win us votes “. Pensioners are people of flesh and blood, human people who have done a lot for the community and to whom Australia owes much. They, should be above party politics in their plight.’ I am not ashamed to support this Government which, after less than four years of office, has added 5s. 6d. a week more than the Labour party ever added to the pension when in office. The total amount contributed by Labour as a government has been 22s. In a little over three years, this Government has added 27s. 6d. a week to the pension rate. Therefore, we can stand proudly behind the efforts that we have made for the pensioners. Apart from increasing the rate of pension, this Government has extended the services provided for pensioners and has modified the means test so that the pensioners may earn more by their own efforts and so that additional people have been rendered eligible for benefit. The social services scheme in Australia to-day reaches out to every member of the community who is in need of help. I am proud of the Government’s record.
I am particularly pleased with the extension of the rehabilitation services for invalid pensioners. This work deserves the commendation of every member of the Parliament, regardless of party political affiliations. If I have one regret in relation to the rehabilitation scheme, it is that too few members of the Parliament take an active interest in it.
– How does the honorable member know that?
– I should like to know whether that honorable member has visited the rehabilitation centre in Queensland many times.
– How does the honorable member know that I have not done so?
– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) would be the first to talk about it if he had. I want to keep this matter free of party politics, and I say to him that it would do him good to visit the rehabilitation centre and take an active interest in its work, because it deals in human souls and restores people to a useful place in the community. It enables invalids to obtain jobs and regain their self respect. This is a splendid service. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) has extended the scope of these activities in Queensland during the last year by opening a modern rehabilitation centre in Brisbane. This is an excellent institution. and I am glad to be able to recommend it to invalid pensioners in mv electorate, especially young men and women, who can obtain basic training there in order to fit themselves for a full life. Since the budget for 1952-53 was introduced, the field of rehabilitation work has been widened to include young people who previously were excluded, and we have been able to show good results with them.
Youthful invalids, whose homes are in the country centres, can go to Brisbane, where they are provided with proper accommodation, adequate supervision of their activities in leisure hours, and vocational training in addition to therapeutic treatment for their complaints. After completing a course of training and treatment of that sort, they can return to their home towns where social workers pave the way for their establishment as useful self-supporting members of the community by helping them to find jobs. The results of these activities are extremely gratifying. However, I have a. suggestion for the improvement of the work which I commend to the attention of the Minister. In my opinion, it would be better to leave the work of finding employment for rehabilitation pensioners in the hands of the Department of Social Services, instead of leaving it to the Commonwealth Employment Office. The officers who look after invalid trainees at the rehabilitation centre understand their difficulties, their needs and their abilities better than Commonwealth employment officers can be expected to do. Another matter that I direct to the attention of the Minister arises from the infrequent failure of a rehabilitation course to achieve satisfactory results. I believe that the rehabilitation centre should accept the blame for any such failures, and that the pensioners concerned should be allowed to draw the rate of pension that they received prior to entering upon rehabilitation training.
The Department of Social Services follows the practice of sending out officers to inquire into complaints made by pensioners. This system may work satisfactorily in the capital cities, but in country towns, particularly in Queensland, embarrassment is frequently caused because inquiry officers arrive in motor cars that bear distinctive Commonwealth number plates. The ordinary motor vehicle in Queensland has a single number plate at the rear, whereas Commonwealth vehicles carry two number plates, one at the front and one at the rear, with a large letter C prefixing the number. The appearance of such a vehicle in a country town excites a great deal of attention. When an inquiry officer, in a. Commonwealth vehicle calls on a widow, for example, the sticky-beaks immediately cluster around. This may be a small matter, but reputations can be ruined by small things, and I suggest that consideration be given to my suggestion that a different method of making inquiries be adopted.
Over the years, the Department of Social Services has adopted the practice of paying attention to complaints about pensioners that are made in anonymous letters. In my opinion, which I believe most honorable members will endorse, the anonymous, letter writer is one of the most contemptible members of the community. Unless the writer has the courage to put his or her name to a letter, that letter should not be written. The practice of the department has encouraged many people to write anonymous letters. The fact that attention is paid to such communications incites the writers to make further efforts. It is easy to steal reputations by writing anonymous letters. ‘ I have been told by officers of the department that 80 per cent, of the complaints about pensioners on which they act are received in such letters. I consider that they should be torn to pieces and thrown into the wastepaper basket. It has been brought to my attention that a person living next door to a widow pensioner, after having had an argument with the woman, wrote an anonymous letter to the department which led to official inquiries. An “ officer of the department visited the street where this woman lives.
– How did he know where to go ? Did the writer, give his address but refrain from signing his name?
– Apparently I cannot make the explanation simple enough for the honorable member to understand.
– Make sense !
– Order! The honorable member for Herbert must cease interjecting.
– Anonymous complaints may do great harm, although they may have no foundation in fact. They lead to inquiries, which sometimes have the effect of destroying a pensioner’s reputation. I urge that instructions be given that anonymous letters be destroyed and disregarded as soon as the absence of ii signature is detected. If the honorable member for Herbert disapproves of the suggestion, perhaps an exception can be made in his electorate.
I pay a warm tribute to the Minister for Social Services for the sympathetic way in which he administers the department. The fact that he has vested discretionary power in the Director-General of Social Services in relation to certain borderline cases is a matter for gratification. I know that every honorable member has reason to be thankful to theMinister and the officers of the department for the splendid service that they render. Any honorable member who has a reasonable case to submit to the Minister is assured of very sympathetic attention.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– We all are in complete agreement on that point. We are indeed fortunate to have such an understanding Minister. The officers of his department, from the Director-General down, are almost without exception good officers and worthy of our esteem.
.- I am interested in three matters that I am sure, you, Mr. Chairman, in your wisdom, will find relevant to the proposed votes for the Department of Shipping and Transport. The first, of course, is obviously relevant. As this is an island continent surrounded by other islands, including that which is so ably represented by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), who has stated Tasmania’s point of view in relation to shipping, it is natural that shipping should be in the front line of our economic structure. Therefore, it should be mandatory upon any government worth its salt to retain, in every set of circumstances, the Commonwealth line of ships for the service of the Australian people. This observation leads me to my second point. The war in Korea is finished, and Australians who are in enemy hands are about to be released. I hope that all of our resources of shipping, including the Commonwealth Shipping Line, will be available for the speedy, safe and comfortable transport of the prisoners of war back to Australia. It is an ironic commentary on the crazy world of to-day that now, when these people who so ably represented us in the wastes of Korea are about to come back to Australia - I repeat that I hope transport for them will be provided speedily - and when their task has been accomplished, there is, even in this fair country of ours, an air of half respectability and half approval surrounding the work that they have done. I put it to the Government that impetus and stimulus should be given to the spirit of our people, and that there should be due recognition of what these men have accomplished in the wilds of Korea.
If the blame for this deplorable, regrettable and serious state of apathy and semi-appreciation can- be laid validly at one door, it lies to-night at the door of the notorious Wilfred Burchett, war correspondent from Peking in Korea. I may be asked whether what I am saying is relevant to the estimates for the Department of Supply or the Department of Shipping and Transport. I am trying to draw a comparison between the destination of our troops who are about to come back to Australia and, in a flight of fancy, if you like, Mr. Chairman, the destination to which I and every other decent person in Australia would provide shipping and transport to take the venom-encrusted Wilfred Burchett. Ear be it from me to suggest his final destination. In the struggle which involved the loss of valuable lives of good men, this court jester flaunted his stupidity and barbarity in the face of his own kith and kin. I suggest to the Government that the Department of Shipping and Transport should devote a little attention to the problem of where this modern Marco Polo should go. What part of the earth’s wide crust is worthy to welcome this delectable specimen of Australian journalism ?
– Gellibrand would reject him with contumely and disgust. I am not a bitter man. Far be it from me to suggest that, as a contrast to the icy wastes, blizzards and snow of Korea, he should be transported in one of our Commonwealth ships to the warmth of Stromboli or the geysers of New Zealand. Inasmuch as I do not believe in capital punishment, even for traitors - and he is a self-confessed traitor - I do not suggest such a destination for him. But where is the environment favorable to the fruition of the peculiar talents of this individual? Where is the habitat and where are the peculiar surroundings that will do credit to his venemous outlook? Where is the country in which the reign of terror prevails and the grotesque struggles with the terrible that would be fit to welcome such a person? Where should he go? Should he return to Australia in one of the Commonwealth-owned ships? I put it to the Government in all sincerity that if there be an environment in which such u man would nourish, if there be any place where terror stalks that would give full play to his peculiar talents, if there be any spot on this glorious earth from Greenland’s icy wastes to the South Pole that is worthy to welcome this man, it is to be found in either Moscow or Peking.
Honorable members may wonder what has animated this spontaneous outburst. In the current issue of Time there is published the extraordinary statement that Burchett appeared in the serenity, peace and undoubted comfort of his own home in Panmunjon in the role of a news leak for the Communist party, offering to act in a species of blackmail concerned with whether Australian soldiers and American soldiers would be released by the Chinese Communist Government. Trace this man’s devastating career. He was a correspondent for Ge Soir in Paris. He appeared at Kaison in the role of an agent provocateur. He saw the banners streaming from the American ‘planes in the sky. This monster of colossal egotism saw evidence of germ warfare on the ground. Thi3 paragon of virtue saw American hands steeped in the blood of the maltreated North Korean prisoners. In the final depths of his iniquity, he interviewed Australian soldiers sent forth by the United Nations and this Government and tried to break down their morale and condition them for the souldestroying barrage of their Communist enemies.
Is Australian shipping to be used willy nilly as a form of conveyance for this
Mad Mullah, this modern prophet of sedition, conspiracy, slimy treachery and betrayal? Should not we leave his newfound friends, his hosts - the hosts to-day of the unspeakable and the untouchable - in the resting place of the renegades of the earth, to welcome him? Should not we say that no Commonwealth vessel,, no privately owned vessel, no aeroplaneand no other means of transport from this country will be used to bring back, to Australia one who has been a blighton our name, a menace to our people, an insult to our generation and a means of retarding the advancement df our race?
– He was no friend of mine who grouped1 these Estimates for discussion. The Estimates for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Shipping and Transport and the Department of Territories have been grouped together. I, like many other honorable members, want to address myself to the Estimates for each of those departments but, owing to the time factor, I can: address myself only to the Estimates foithe Department of Commerce and Agriculture.
I want to refer briefly to the crisis in the wheat industry which has been precipitated by the uncompromising attitude of two socialist Premiers in refusing topay a reasonable price for wheat for local consumption. Perhaps the magnanimous attitude of the other socialist Premiers can be explained by the certainty that, as it is impossible for socialists to agree, it is comparatively easy for some socialist Premiers to talk hi terms of 15s. a bushel for wheat for home consumption, well knowing that the other socialist Premiers will refuse to move above 12s. 8d. a bushel. These dreadful wheat price discussions, which, have been going on for more than 30 years, demonstrate, as nothing else has ever demonstrated, the shabbiness of the- socialist attitude to the question of prices for primary products covering the entire range of primary production. For thefirst 30 years of the history of commercial wheat-growing in our country, the public consistently refused to pay Id., or even a fraction of Id., more than the export parity price for wheat. The export parity price of wheat was determined by the supply of wheat in the world, measured against the demand for wheat in the world, tempered by the capacity of importing countries to pay for that wheat. If the supply of wheat in any one year was adequate to meet the demand, and if the capacity of importing countries to pay for it was unimpaired, the export parity price was determined in the markets of the world on what can be described as just and equitable terms. But if the supply was greater than the demand, or if the capacity of any major importing country to pay for wheat was impaired for any reason, the export parity price was determined to the prejudice of this and other exporting countries. Conversely, if the demand was greater than the supply, and if the capacity of the importing countries to pay was unimpaired, the export parity price was determined in favour of this and every other exporting country. That was the arrangement. Human nature being what it is, it was as good, or as bad, as any other arrangement.
The answer to low export parity prices was a natural contraction of production. The answer to high export parity prices was an expansion of production by the exporting countries. Importing countries had their own devices, and they used them. When prices were high, they could contract their purchases to meet only their basic needs or expand their local production. They could expand their purchasing beyond their basic needs when prices were low. In that way, the range of export parity prices was kept within reasonable limits. All our primary industries - I suppose there was a time when this applied also to all our secondary industries - were established on the basis of export parity prices. Then the secondary industries fabricated an Australian price structure, completely divorced from the export parity price level, which was intended to be exclusive to goods manufactured in our country. From that moment onwards, all our primary industries became, for the first time, vulnerable and defenceless. They have remained both vulnerable and defenceless ever since. When export parity prices were remunerative the -com munity had no great difficulty in paying the Australian price for secondary and tertiary goods and services.
– I rise to order. It is obvious that the honorable gentleman - and lie i3 not the first honorable gentleman to do so to-night - is reading his speech word for word from a manuscript. Is he in order in doing so?
– It. is in order for the honorable member to quote from copious notes. That practice has always been permitted.
– I asked you, Mr. Chairman, whether the honorable gentleman was in order in reading his speech word for word from the manuscript that he holds in his hand. Why do> you not ask the honorable gentleman whether he is quoting from notes or reading word for word from a manuscript?
– Order ! The honorable member for Riverina is in order.
– If it were not for the time factor it would give me the. greatest pleasure to speak without notes, but, because I wish to reach a reasonable conclusion of what I have to say, I am referring to my notes, and I am perfectly justified, in doing so since they are my own notes.
– The honorable gentleman is reading them word for word.
– At least the words were not written for him by somebody else.
– Order ! Interjections at the table, from either side, are disorderly and must cease.
– Put them both out.
– Order ! I require no assistance from the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin).
– I am . well aware of the tactics employed by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). He wishes, at all costs, to prevent me from saying what I rose to say for the everlasting good of the people, including the honorable member for Lalor.
– I rise to order. I ask that that statement be withdrawn.
Nothing was further from my mind. I had no such intention. The remark is offensive to me.
– There was nothing unparliamentary in the remark.
– It is offensive to me. The honorable gentleman said that at allcosts I desired to prevent him from making his speech. That is untrue.
– I had reached the point of saying that when export parity prices were remunerative the community had no great difficulty in paying Australian prices for secondary and tertiary goods and services. When, however, export parity prices for primary production were unprofitable, the community found it impossible to pay the Australian price for secondary and tertiary goods and services. That fact has been the cause of all of our economic depressions and near depressions, and there has never been any other cause. The Australian primary producers, agricultural, pastoral and mineral, were expected to sell on the world’s markets, be they ever so low, and buy exclusively on the Australian market, be it ever so high. In. that way our primary industries were chained to the export parity price structure, and our secondary and tertiary industries were lashed to an Australian price structure. These circumstances have caused our economic confusion. The evil stems from the political interpretation of the Harvester Award which was delivered by the late Mr. Justice Higgins, who said that an industry that could not comply with the rates and conditions laid down by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court had no right to survive. If that judgment had been applied to all our industries - and it ought to have been applied to them - much of what has happened might have been avoided, but it was made to apply to the secondary and tertiary industries exclusively. Had it been followed to its natural conclusion every primary industry would have been completely obliterated.
When the price of wheat fell to ruinous levels in conformity with the prices of every primary product, the community could see no reason for taking steps to correct the situation. The community had a complete answer in the false inter pretation of the Harvester Award. That interpretation was, that if the wheat industry, the wool industry, or any other primary industry could not operate withinthe Australian price structure, it had no right to survive. It was that attitudethat terrified the politicians of the period. They knew, as they have always known, that the primary industries are vital toour economy, that without the primary industries we could have no economy. In desperation they screamed for increased production. The community was utterly bewildered, and has been allowed to remain utterly bewildered insofar as its obligations to our primary industries are concerned. That is the tragedy. If the community had been told frankly twenty years ago, when these price discussions first began, that every attempt to- save the wheat industry was, in stark reality, an attempt to save the community from, disaster, these discussions might have terminated years ago. But the community was not told that. It was told the very opposite. It was told that assistance would have to be provided to save the wheat industry.
– Order ! There is too much audible conversation.
– It should have-, been told that whatever assistance was made available would be designed to save the nation’s economy.
– Order! When I ask honorable members to keep quiet’ I expect to be obeyed by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Greenup).
– I was not speaking.
– The honorable member was speaking.
– The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) referred to the fact that over the previous 30 years the community, in order to save the economy and to keep the wheat industry at maximum production, supplied in measures of relief and assistance a sum that aggregated £27,460,000. But during the last seven years since 1945-46, when wheat was first sold below its export parity value, the industry and the nation lost £17,572,000. The ‘community wasnot informed of that fact, nor was it told that in 1946-47 the industry and the nation lost £30,859,000, in 1947-48, £34,966,000, in 1948-49, £19,590,000, in 1949–50, £34,203,000 in 1950-51, £36,960,000, and in 1951-52, £28,530,000. Those amounts total £202,680,000, with the figures for 1952-53, the last .pool, not yet available. The addition of the figures for the final pool of this spurious stabilisation scheme, which was introduced .by the honorable member for Lalor, who is sitting at the table to-night, when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the Labour Government, will mean that this confidence trick perpetrated by t he socialist Government on the innocent wheat industry will involve the industry nui the nation in a loss of about £220,000,000 over a period of seven years. That is not the worst feature of the whole wretched business. It is insignificant compared with the calamitous situation of th.. Australian people who, for the first 30 years of the commercial history of the industry, were told that it was utterly impossible to pay a penny, or a fraction of a penny, more than the “ coolie “ price of wheat, and are now being told that it is beyond their means to pay as much as the “coolie” is anxious and willing to pay. Because that price is profitable, not only to the industry itself but also to people dependent on it, the socialist Premiers of
Two of the States are encouraging people to say that the “ coolie “ price is beyond the capacity of those States to pay. That 1? the cause of this crisis, and until the crisis is resolved - and it can only be resolved by the valiant efforts of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and as a result of a complete understanding In the community of the true position - these wretched discussions will continue ad infinitum.
– . Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) spoke in relation to the wheat stabilization proposals and the lack of an agreement between the States. “We know that in this House and in other places the honorable member has advocated an open market. He is prepared at all times to sacrifice the wheat-farmer. I shall read to the committee a letter that I have received from a prominent farmer in my electorate. I think that his views should be given here as representing the views of farmers in his locality. He wrote to me -
Regarding the wheat stabilisation question, I can say without hesitation that every wheatgrower I have spoken to is concerned that there hae been so much dilly-dallying on the part of the various governments. They are all agreed that the only scheme which” gave any satisfaction to the grower and stability to the industry was the one supplemented by” the Chifley Labour Government.
The farmers in this district are worried. They realise that directly wheat goes out of the hands of the Wheat Board it will again be the pawn of speculators with the growers going back to bankruptcy. It is only the confidence engendered by the knowledge that the wheat Stabilization Plan has made wheatgrowing a secure industry, that has brought prosperity to districts like this.
If the Commonwealth Wheat Stabilisation Scheme is allowed to lapse it will be a blow to the economy of every wheat producing district in Australia and spell ruination to thousands of young men who have put large amounts of money into plants and equipment and placed their confidence in an organised marketing scheme.
The writer of this letter also observed that he could speak with some knowledge of the industry, as he was secretary of his local branch of the Wheatgrowers’ Union for five years. This letter went on to state -
We expect you and your colleagues to plug for orderly marketing by the Wheat Board. The old Plan might have had its bad points, but they were outweighed by far by the good ones. Altogether it was balanced in favour of the grower.
That letter answers the points advanced by the honorable member for Riverina.
– Read out the writer’s name.
– It is not relevant. 1 have previously, in this chamber, endeavoured to direct the attention of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) to the absolute necessity for this Parliament to have constitutional power to deal with the problem of orderly marketing. It has been demonstrated in Australia over the years that it is difficult to get agreement by all the States on any particular issue. For that reason the powers necessary to .achieve orderly marketing should rest in the hands of this Parliament. This could be achieved by an agreement under which the State governments would hand over the necessary powers, or by submission of a referendum to the people for an amendment of the Constitution, to give those powers to this Parliament. Last week I asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture a question about this matter, but he seemed determined to allow the position to stay as it is, because he wants to be in the position to pass the buck to somebody else, and is not prepared to accept the responsibility of orderly marketing. Such responsibility should rest on the shoulders of the Commonwealth because any scheme to be successful would have to be on a nation-wide basis.
Another matter to which I wish to direct the attention of the committee, is the lack of development of roads in country areas, and the lack of consideration that has been given by this Government to the requests by local governing authorities and organizations throughout the country for additional funds for road works. This great country must be developed, and substantial amounts of money must be expended for the provision of trafficable roads that can be used in all conditions. The Government received £26,500,000 from petrol tax in 1951-52 but it disbursed to the States for road works only £14,500,000.
– I rise to order. The honorable member is referring to the petrol tax, which has nothing to do with the items we are debating.
– The petrol tax and road construction are connected with transport.
– I think that the subject is connected with transport. 3 shall listen to the. honorable member for Darling on it.
– I rise to order. I suggest that the honorable member’s remarks refer to the Treasury, which is not a department to be considered at this stage.
– Order ! I shall allow the honorable member to continue for the time being.
– The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) is endeavouring to stifle criticism, and prevent honorable members of the Opposition from trying to persuade the Government to have more funds made available for road construction. During 1951-52 the Australian Government made only £14,000,000 available to the States out of the £26,000,000 that it collected. For the year 1952-53, out of £27,000,000 collected only £15,000,000 was allocated to the States for expenditure on State roads, while £12,000,000 was retained. in the Commonwealth Treasury. I suggest that all the money collected from this tax should be made available for road development throughout Australia. Defence roads and other essential roads should be made trafficable in all weathers. That could be done only by the expenditure of an adequate amount of money. The amount: of money made available by the Commonwealth to the States for roads is inadequate, and many requests have bees made by local government authorities for additional funds. However, to the present time the Government has failed’ to accede to their requests. In a speech delivered in Brisbane during the 1949’ general election campaign, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said -
We shall pay much-needed attention to moreremote and undeveloped areas.
Over a period of five years we shall raise loans totalling £250,000,000, the interest and sinking fund on which will be provided out of the petrol tax.
The amount to be raised and spent each year will be conditioned by the men and materials available. General administration will be under the National Works Council and the work will include feeder roads, soil conservation, the development of rural housing embracing the construction of groups of’ workers’ homes in seasonal labour areas, flood’ prevention, the provision of water, light and power, …
That promise has not yet been carried out, and this Government has done nothing to promote the development of roads and similar works as outlined by the Prime Minister. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) was not satisfied with that statement, because he said in Brisbane on the 17th November, 1949 -
We propose a gigantic and vigorous scheme of rural development. It will be implemented here and now . . .
– Order! Thismatter is outside the scope of the present debate because it refers to national development.
– I was trying to draw the attention of the committee to the necessity for the expenditure of more money on roads. The Government should give further consideration to the needs of outlying districts, particularly those in the far west of New South Wales where a considerable scheme of road construction is required. Special grants should be made to the States from the £12,000,000 to £14.000,000 that the Government retains from the petrol tax each year so that their communications may be adequately developed. A petition, signed by about 12,000 residents of Broken Hill for presentation to the Parliament was recently sent to me, but as it did not conform to the Standing Orders. I could not do so, and I presented it to the relevant Minister. The petition urged that the Government should improve roads in that area. There is a particular problem in this and .other border areas, because the local authorities in those districts are faced with the problem of improving roads that continue across the borders into other States. In such cases the Federal Government should ensure that sufficient money is made available to enable the governments of the contiguous States to carry out proper road development as between States. Every public body in the area supported the petition which was sent to me, and there has been continual agitation there for some considerable time to try to persuade the Government to take ‘some notice of the needs of the district.
The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) dealt fully with the meagre way in which the Government has treated the pensioners. It is disgraceful to offer the small increases to pensioners as envisaged in the budget, in view of the greatly increased cost of living. I therefore appeal to the Government to reconsider, even at this late stage, its attitude towards the pensioners, and to award them further increases.
Persons of pensionable age, that is men of 65 and women of 60, are entitled to certain taxation exemptions. The statutory exemption in those cases is £375. However, when they send in their income tax forms the returns must include all income, including pensions. But persons who receive payments for invalidity such as workers’ compensation and so on, receive no concessions unless they are over pensionable age. I suggest that such persons should be included in the exemption that is allowed to persons of pensionable age. The provision for invalid relatives is well stated in the taxation form S as follows: - “ Invalid relative “ means a person who is in receipt of an invalid pension or for whom a certificate of invalidity has been obtained from the Commonwealth Department of Health, or a doctor approved by the Director-General of Social Services.
Those who are receiving pensions of invalidity on account of their service in industry or in the mines, must furnish full information about their pensions, and are not allowed the exemption thai, is allowed to those of pensionable age. I brought this matter to the notice of the Government, and was informed that thu exemption could not be allowed because there was no way in which such persons could be identified. I now draw the attention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) to the definition of an invalid relative in the taxation form S, and suggest that if the same provision should be made for persons who receive invalidity payment’s, they could be identified and given the relevant exemption from income tax. Most of such persons need special foods and are not in h position to pay taxes from the small incomes that they receive. L earnestly suggest that the Minister should consider that matter.
.- The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) referred to the social services increases as proposed in the recent budget. Two of those honorable member? attacked me because I supported the very substantial liberalization of the means test for age pensions and because of my support of the general increases of pensions. The honorable members described the proposed increases as miserly. I point out that under the reforms proposed in the budget a married couple of pensionable age can now receive an income, inclusive of pension, up to £11 a week compared with an income of £9 15s. under the previous act. Are those persons going to say that the increase of 25s. a week is miserly? I also refer to the 120,000 people who, under the present act, ar? entitled to only a part pension, but who, as a result of the reform proposed in this budget, will get an increase ranging from 12s. 6d. a week to 32s. 6d. a week. Will they say that this budget will provide a miserly increase? Obviously the honorable members who have criticized this budget in its social services aspect did not understand the reforms that it has proposed. Therefore it is necessary for mo to detail the provisions connected with social services. The pension for a single man will be increased from £3 7s. 6d. to £3 10s. a week and for a married couple from £6 15s. to £7 a week. The income provisions of the means test have been liberalized from £1 10s. to £D a week in the case of a single person and from £3 to £4 a week in the case of a married couple. The property means test has been liberalized by increasing the statutory exemption from £100 to £150 for a single person and from £200 to £300 for a married couple. The maximum property means test has been increased from £1,000 to £1,250 for a single person and from £2,000 to £2,500 for a married couple. Surely that is not miserly. I have received letters from dozens and dozens of pensioners and from dozens and dozens of superannuated officers who have expressed great gratitude to the Government for its very substantial easing of the means test. As against the actual reforms that have been carried into effect by this Government, let us look at the nebulous promises made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I refer to a press statement prepared by the right honorable gentleman himself, duplicated under his instructions and handed by him to the press. In that statement he said -
I declare that the future Labour Government will take steps to restore the purchasing power of pensions and social services provided for when it left office. The exact amount of adjustment thus required will have to be worked out at the time on the cost of living increases then prevailing.
If we consider those cost-of -living figures as they were in 1949, and a pension of £2 2s. 6d. as it was in 1949 and adjust those figures according to the costofliving index, we find that the pension to-day would be £3 Ss. 3d. or ls. 9d. a week less than this budget provides for.
Therefore, whereas this Government actually gives an increase, all that the Labour party can do, according to this extraordinary formula of the Leader of the Opposition, is to offer the pensioners ls. 9d. a week less than the Government intends to give under the budget. Let us examine some further statements that were made by the Leader of the Opposition. The right honorable gentleman endeavoured to create the impression in the minds of the people that he proposed to abolish the means test. T shall quote his actual words in order to show how deceptive was his statement and how he has misled many members of the public in regard to his intentions. The truth is that the right honorable gentleman did not promise to abolish the means test at all. This is what he said -
The Labour government will remove without delay the present vicious operation of the means test to the extent necessary to restore the more advantageous position that prevailed in 104!). We shall act energetically towards the elimination of the means test.
I suppose that he intends to act as energetically as he did during the eight years of Labour rule when the government of which he was a member did nothing worthwhile to ease the means test. Let us examine the next statement made by the right honorable gentleman. Making a pledge and a promise on behalf of the Australian Labour party, the right honorable gentleman said -
I confidently believe that we can terminate all its vicious and evil features-
He was still referring to the means test - within the lifetime of a single parliament.
He did not promise to do so.
– Yes, he did.
– He said that he believed that it could be done. The phrase.ology that he used gave him an opening to get out from under his implied promise that he would do so. Let us consider what the right honorable gentleman did promise. He said that he would equate the child endowment to the purchasing power of the £1 in 1949. According to actuaries and statisticians that would mean that he would raise child endowment to 16s. a week. They compute the cost of such an increase at £57,380,000 per annum, and the cost of his proposals in relation to the liberalization of the means test at a miserable £1,100,000. The right honorable gentleman has committed a future Labour government to an annual expenditure of £58,380,000 on those two items alone. To be fair to the right honorable gentleman I have to admit that an amount must be offset against that proposed expenditure because he promised to reduce the pension rate to £3 8s. 3d. a week, which would save a future Labour government £2,000,000 annually. So, the net cost of his so-called social reforms would be £56,380,000. Last week, I asked the right honorable gentleman whether he had estimated the annual cost to the revenue if the social service reforms promised by him on behalf of the Opposition were given effect. He admitted that he had not done so. He had made an idle promise to raise child endowment to 16s. a week at a cost of £57,380,000, but the only relief he would give to the pensioners - the aged and invalids in the community - would be in the form of an alteration of the means test provisions at a cost of approximately £1,000,000. Furthermore, he indicated that he would reduce the pension rate and thus save £2,000,000 a year.
Every one knows that the Labour party lias not the slightest intention or plan to abolish or ease the means test. It is’ obvious that if the abolition of the means test is to depend upon a huge expenditure provided for in the budget, it will never be abolished. The means test provisions as they relate to aged persons could, in fact, be abolished without charge upon the budget. I have pointed out on other occasions that if, as a first step, we abolished the means test at the age of 70 years, so that every person of 70 years and over would be entitled to a retiring allowance of £3 10s. a week without the application of a means test, such a scheme could be made self-supporting by the contribution by all persons under the age of 65 years of 3d. in the £1 of their income. The means test must be abolished, but it can be abolished only on the basis of a contributory scheme to which every person under the retiring age shall contribute and from which every person over the retiring age will be entitled to draw a retiring allowance. When the ages of 60 years for women and 65 years for men were introduced into our social services legislation as far back as 1909, the average expectation of life was fifteen years less than it is to-day. Therefore, in considering the retiring age, we must take into account the fact that now the average person is able to earn something after he or she has attained the age of 65 years. If and when we abolish the means test, we should, as a first step, establish the retiring age as an age beyond which it is not reasonable to ask a person to do any kind of work. On other occasions I have placed before the Parliament a reasonable and actuarially sound proposition which would result in the abolition of the means test. All we have heard from the leader of the Australian Labour party is a series of idle promises to do something without any thought of the sources from which the money to meet the cost involved is to be obtained. I do not believe that more specious promises have been made in this Parliament than were those made’ by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech on the budget. Is it any wonder that the Labour caucus should be up in arms about these promises which it knew could not be given effect?
Let us ascertain the true attitude of the Labour party towards the means test. In February, 1944, when I was a member of the Senate, I proposed a motion during the discussion of the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Bill which would result in the abolition of the means test.’ If honorable members will look at Hansard of the 23rd February, 1944, at page 413, volume 177, they will see that in speaking to clause 20, which related to sickness benefit, I said -
I shall oppose the clause because the means test is completely unjustified.
A Labour Government was then in office and in power in both Houses of the Parliament. Listen to what the leader of the Australian Labour party in the Senate had to say in reply to my words. Senator Keane, who was the leader of the Senate at that time, said -
Those who have money do not need the benefits.
– Order ! The honorable members’ time has expired.
.- I join with the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) in condemning the Government for its decision to sell the ships of the Commonwealth shipping line. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who endeavoured to ridicule the suggestion of the honorable member for Wilmot that these ships are being hawked for sale, would have us believe that their sale is not contemplated, but the projected sale has been publicized in the press which has given details concerning the terms under which they are to be sold. They are very good terms, indeed. In fact, they are very much better than are the terms which the Government offers to the diggers who purchase war service homes. The ships are to be sold at bargain prices. The honorable member for Mallee should join me in endeavouring to prevent this sale which is one of the greatest disasters that is facing us. The sale of these ships is tantamount to sabotage. It will not only adversely affect our economy, but will also jeopardise the future of our primary producers. Honorable members who represent farming constituencies well remember how freights were increased after the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was sold many years ago. The ships of the Commonwealth Shipping Line will be bought by the great, powerful shipping monopoly at bargain price’s and increases in freight rates will inevitably follow. However, I am even more concerned at the defence aspect of the proposed sale. It is all very well for Government spokesmen to claim that precautions will be taken to ensure that a certain number of the ships shall be retained in the Australian coastal trade. How can the Government bind the purchasers of the ships to retain some of them in the Australian coastal trade? When the ships are sold, they will be beyond the control of the Government. How could the Government compel a private company to send a ship to, say, Wyndham, or some other remote port? The story that a number of the ships will remain in the Australian coastal trade is put about merely to soften up the people. These ships may be urgently needed here in the event of another war. If the projected deal goes through the ships may soon be on the other side of the world engaging in most profitable trade. The
Government could not take any action to force the owners to return them to Australian waters, let alone to provide services to remote ports on the Australian coast. The people of Australia should be made aware of the dangers inherent in this further sale of the people’s assets. It has no mandate for such a sale. Its claim that it received a mandate from the people to sell the ships during the last general election completely falls to the ground in view of the reduced votes for Government candidates at the subsequent Senate elections. The sale is contemplated by the Government for very good reasons. There are powers behind the Government which control all its actions, and the shipping monopoly is one of the greatest of them. The honorable member for Mallee apparently does not realize that his constituents will be among the greatest losers from this move. He should join with us in protesting against this terrible decision, not only in the interests of his farmer constituents but also in the interests of defence. The Government is acting under pressure from a great and powerful shipping combine. It has been truly said that he who finances a government controls it.
– What was the amount of the honorable member’s wool cheque last year?
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) knows that when the Government decided to dispose of its ships, which stand between the people and exploitation by the shipping monopoly, there was a reason for its decisions. This Government has to sell the ships, because it is dominated by the great interests that finance it. I have lived long enough to know that, when I was subject to a mortgage, he who controlled me financially directed my affairs. The Government is in a similar position. I urge honorable members to give serious consideration to the consequences of the sale of Commonwealth-owned ships. I recall that a former Prime Minister, the late Mr. John Curtin, was extremely worried during World War II. because Australia could not obtain a sufficient number of ships to transport troops, arms, equipment and food to New Guinea. A similar crisis could arise again. Yet this Government takes such a grave risk in order that the interests and the profits of the great monopolies may be served. In my opinion, such a policy is tantamount to sabotage. I have protested against the Government’s intention to sell those Commonwealth ships. The Government does not deny the sale of the vessels. There is no reason why the ships should be sold. I want to know the motive of the Government in following this policy. It is all very well to call the Commonwealth shipping line a socialist enterprise. That’ argument will not deceive anyone. The line is operating at a profit, and competes with the great shipping monopolies. The sooner the people are apprised of the facts, the better it will be.
The honorable member for Mallee has referred to the development of the port of Portland. This port would have been constructed 30 or 40 years ago, had Labour governments been in office. The Labour party stands for progress. However, the great monopolies in Melbourne, which have always been favoured by anti-Labour governments, opposed the development of the port of Portland. The first practical step in this developmental work was taken in 1945 by the Cain Labour Government, which engaged leading engineers overseas and, on their advice, started the work. The project was continued by the incoming McDonald Government, which had the support of the Labour party in the Victorian Parliament. I have seen the work. It is a magnificent project, which is run by a trust, and full value has been obtained for every £1 spent on the job. Many other departments could well take a lesson from the administration of those in control of the construction of the port of Portland. I am amazed at the progress that has been achieved for the expenditure of a comparatively small amount of money. The reason for this success is, partly, that the men in control of the work are idealists. They want to see the work completed, and their only worry is that the limitation of money available to them will retard the progress of the job. The work would be much further advanced to-day had more money been available to them. However, if restrictions on loan moneys are retained, the excellent start that has been made with the construction of .the port of
Portland may be lost. My friend, the honorable member for Mallee-
– I am glad that the honorable member describes me as his friend. He would not have thought to raise this matter.
– The only fact that the honorable member for Mallee has omitted to state is that the Menzies Government, which he supports, has placed restrictions on the amount of loan money available for this project, and is leaving the job to the State authorities. The honorable gentleman has spoken of national development. We are all concerned with that matter. The port of Portland, when it is completed, will be the most modern port in Australia. The turn-round of ships which call at that port will be much faster than it is in Sydney or Melbourne.
– The Labour Government also built wool stores there.
– I recall that. I played a part in having a wool appraisement centre established at Portland. I could speak at length on this subject from any platform. The then Treasurer, the late Mr. J. B. Chifley, came to me and said, “ I have given approval for that work. I ‘ do not know whether I have done the right thing “. I assured him that he had done the right thing, because the economics of it were sound. The saving of freight on butter alone is Id. per lb. A saving is also made on the freight on wool. Of course, such a scheme was economically sound. Anything that is economically sound stands alone, and pays for itself. The Government cannot claim, with justification, that work on the port of Portland must be retarded because of a lack of funds. This job must be completed as rapidly as possible. Do not allow engineers and staff to be delayed through lack of money. Even a delay of twelve months or eighteen months will cause a serious loss.
I should like to obtain some information from the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) about the distribution of Joint Organization profits. I asked the Minister recently to state when the Government intended to pay the profits to the Joint Organization that are owed to wool-growers. Honorable members will recall that -when members of the Australian Country party were in Opposition, the Labour Government could not pay primary producers quickly enough to satisfy them. As a matter of fact, the present Minister was demanding that his predecessor, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), pay some growers money three years before it was duc to them. Now, payment is overdue of money owing to wool-growers. When I asked the Minister a perfectly reasonable question, he gave a smart Alec answer. The wool-grower expects a straight answer. The Minister could easily have given an approximate date. He evaded my direct question, and I think he said that I was out of touch with the wool-growers. Presumably 1 was supposed to be put out of countenance by such a reply. Why does the Government retain this money? When members of the Australian Country party were in opposition, they were vociferous in their demands that wool-growers and wheat-growers should be paid any money that was owing to them. Why is the Government “ hanging on “ to the woolgrowers’ money on this occasion? When a man will not give me a straight answer to a simple question, I begin to suspect him. Does the Government propose to pay this money to the wool-growers immediately ? The Minister should be able to give a straightforward reply. In the absence of a definite reply, we can surmise many things. I have become a little anxious about the motives of the Government in retaining this money, particularly when its members have been the champions of prompt payment to the farmers. I expect the Minister to give me an early reply to my question.
.- I shall refer briefly to the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. In one part of my electorate, there is a substantial number ‘ of wheatgrowers. It is an important producing centre. I congratulate the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) on his unremitting efforts to bring the problem of wheat marketing to a satisfactory conclusion. I do not propose to traverse the ground that has been covered by my colleagues, but I point out that the stupid attitude .adopted by
Labour governments in Victoria and Queensland may easily throw the marketing of wheat, which is our principal export commodity, apart from wool, into confusion, and in that event, the responsibility will lie at their door. The Minister has kept faith in respect, of everything he has done through his department, and the promises made by the Government. I recall that Labour party whisperers told wool-growers, “ You will never get back the 20 per cent, that the Government has taken from you “. Of course, that deduction was only a temporary measure, and the wool-grower was repaid every penny of it. The Minister attempted to introduce a marketing scheme, for which wool-growers’ associations had asked, and the whisperers again told wool-growers “ You will never get the money back “. The woolgrowers were repaid the money within the specified time when they rejected the scheme. When the Joint Organization moneys were in the balance, the same whispering campaign was begun, but wool-growers have already received substantial sums, and will get the balance as the scheme is wound up. I am very gravely concerned, as everybody must be who looks at the present trends in the primary producing world, and the impact that those trends, notably in the United States of America and Canada, might have upon the welfare of our own industries. I am gravely concerned that a sound and safe proposition, which would give a degree of stability to the industry, appears to be sabotaged by the failure of certain persons, some of whom are leading primary producers, and certain State governments who should know better. The representatives of State governments, together with the Minister for Commerce a.nd Agriculture, reached a decision for the introduction of a fiveyear plan to increase primary production. An increase of primary production will not be obtained if chaos occurs in the marketing of products, and a great deal of work that has been done, and the plans that have been made, will be placed in jeopardy.
I shall now refer to the Department of Social Services. I have nothing but praise for the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley), who has administered ‘the department with singular sympathy, insight and understanding of what is required. My remarks to-night must not be taken as criticism of the Minister’s administration, but rather as criticism of the present method by which he is carrying out his work, and the system that was adopted by a previous government. The proposed vote for the Department of Social Services for the current financial year is £2,411,000. I suggest that the time has come for a complete review and overhaul of the means by which his department is administered. When I became a member of this Parliament, I had had the experience of administering many social services before the Commonwealth assumed control of them. I had to administer widows’ pensions, child welfare and other social services that I need not mention tonight. Employment was handled by State labour bureaus. In the remarks that I am about to make, I do not speak of any particular government. I shall be referring to the possible economic administration of the Department of Social Services. I gravely doubt that the Commonwealth, when it took from the States control over many social services, acted wisely in building up big departments which duplicate, to a major degree, the work of State departments. Speaking for New South Wales, with which I am most familiar, I must certainly express my view that certain additional expenses were incurred, or alternatively certain services were contracted that had been for the benefit of the people.
I shall cite a case in point. 1 can think quickly of half a dozen places in my own part of the world where, following the policy adopted by the Commonwealth, the clerks of petty sessions were withdrawn from a number of towns. Why were they withdrawn? Why were the people of those districts put to the unnecessary expense of travelling to other towns when they had to consult such officials? Those officers were withdrawn because the services taken over by the Commonwealth reduced the work that State authorities had to carry out in those centres. Had the Commonwealth acted wisely and used the States as the agents for’ many of the services that it took over from them, the overall cost of administration would have been much lower than it. is to-day. It could have relied upon the experience of State officers at the time when it took over these activities from the States. Without suggesting for a moment that school-teachers and police officers should act directly as agents for many of the services provided for pensioners and others, I point out that a certain body of knowledge comes to the Department of Education, either directly or through the Child Welfare Department, as an incidental feature of its own administrative work, which would enable it to check many abuses that occur under the present system of social services administration. Furthermore, from its direct contacts, it could check on many things that ought to be done but which, because of some administrative failure, are not done. In outback districts throughout this wide continent, local policemen, who are good fellows and know everybody in their districts, could be used to obtain certain necessary information. But the Commonwealth overlooks these means of effecting economies and sends its own officers out to distant areas in motor vehicles at considerable expense in order to obtain information that could be obtained more quickly and efficiently’ from the sources that were formerly used.
I realize that there must be a different basis of organization in large centres of population, but I make an emphatic plea for the use of State officers in other areas for the purposes qf. Commonwealth services. I do so in the knowledge that the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee is present. The- time has come to reconsider the entire organization, of the Department of Social Services, not from any party political point of view, but from the common-sense point of view that every Australian is called upon to pay for waste and inefficiency in any branch of the Public Service. I know that it was gall to many taxpayers in my electorate, and probably elsewhere, too, to see Commonwealth officers engaged on such duties during the period, not long ago, when labour exchanges were advertising jobs for which men and women could not be found. I believe that a study of State departmental ‘machinery would show that State instrumentalities could serve our . purposes much better than Commonwealth officers do from a distance. By adopting my suggestion, we can restore a measure of reality, effectiveness and economy to the administration of the Department of Social Services which is not possible under the present long-range system of administration. When I first entered this Parliament, I said that most Commonwealth departments, and the administrative capacity of their heads, ought to be judged, not by the magnitude of their staffs, but by the economy of man-power that they observed in discharging their functions. My belief is that the major problem of Commonwealth departments is identical with that of Whitehall, which has a relatively small planning group that farms out administrative work to local governing bodies, which can perform that work much more sympathetically and effectively than could a centralized administration. I repeat my earnest suggestion that the time has come for a review and change of the present procedure of the Department of Social Services in the interests of economy and sympathetic administration.
– An examination of the proposed’ vote for the Department of Territories must force any intelligent observer to the conclusion that the amount proposed to be allotted for the department this year will have a disastrous effect upon our territories. These territories, of course, are the Northern Territory, on the continent of Australia, and the combined Territory of Papua and New Guinea. I appreciate the fact that a tight rein must be kept on expenditure, but the Government will be hard pressed to justify the decrease of proposed expenditure for the current year below the amount appropriated in 1952-53. Can anybody justify this proposal at a period of Australia’s history when our territories are vitally involved in our economic prosperity and also, which is most important, in our defence security? We all know that we live in troublous times. Yet the department that is charged with the responsibility of administering and developing the regions that lie on our very frontiers is being strangled by the lack of funds with which to carry out its duties. The amount appropriated for this important department in 1952-53 was £194,000. The proposed vote for 1953-54 is £159,000, which represents a decrease of £35,000. At this time the Government should be extending and expanding the activities of the department in order to take full advantage of the ground work that was so slowly and painstakingly carried out in the years immediately following the cessation of hostilities in World War II. We could reasonably expect the Government to endeavour to capitalize on those efforts. A wonderful start was made with the work of developing the territories, hut it appears now that the advantage gained by all that patient endeavour will be frittered away.
I agree that no department should extend its activities merely to satisfy the whim of some bureaucrat who wishes to increase the size of the empire over which he presides. I know that money can be, and has been, wasted in that way and I agree that we should resist such extravagance at all costs. However, I point out to the committee that the Department of Territories was established because the departmental arrangements that prevailed previously, under which the Northern Territory was administered by the Department of the Interior and Papua and New Guinea were administered by the Department of External Territories, were not conducive to effective development or control. I support the principle that led to the establishment of the present Department of Territories only two years ago. The people of the Northern Territory and of Papua and New Guinea thought then that they had entered upon a new era of development. The Government ushered in this supposedly new era with an announcement made through the medium, of the Governor-General Speech at the opening of the present Parliament. I shall quote extracts from that speech in order to show what the Government then intended to do and to compare that intention with the plans indicated by the size of the proposed vote in the Estimates for 1953-54. His Excellency said -
My advisers, feeling that our responsibilities for the development of both the Northern Territory and external territories, and for the welfare of their peoples, will be the more promptly and effectively discharged by making them the special task of one Minister and department, have established a new Department of Territories.
That represented a big. step forward in the administrative affairs of the territories, and it was hailed with gratification by every body who was interested in their development. Certainly the Government’s plans at that time did not satisfy all our wishes, but they represented a great improvement upon the old administrative system.. However, after reading that extract from the Governor-General’s Speech and studying the current Estimates, one could be pardoned for gaining th, impression that the responsibilities mentioned in the speech are now considered by the Government to be diminishing, rather than increasing, responsibilities.
Times seem to have changed in the Government’s view. What was urgent and important two years ago appears to it to be less important now. The Estimates reflect its attitude. It is elementary to assume that any economies in administrative expenditure for the Department of Territories must be followed by reductions of developmental expenditure. Such an assumption is borne out by an examination of the proposed expenditure on works and services, for which drastic cuts are contemplated by the Government. The people of the territories fear that widespread unemployment will result from the Government’s plans. I hope at a later stage to deal more fully with the proposed expenditure on works and services. It is apparent that the Government, in order to give concessions to other sections of the Australian community under what has been described as its election budget, proposes to impose stringent economies upon the territories. By cutting expenditure on works and services, it can make money available for such concessions. Huge concessions are to be handed out to some sections. Apparently they will be financed in part,, at any rate, at the’ expense of the territories that are vital to Australia’s security. T warn the Government that it is playing with fire and that Australia in the future will regret the action that the Government proposes to- take. At a most critical period in our history it will put an end to the development that has been undertaken in those regions since the end of the war. It is one thing to halt the impetus of development. It is another thing altogether to restore that impetus once it has been lost. The people of the territories will long remember the 1953-54 budget of the Menzies Government. Its propsal to reduce administrative expenditure for the Department of Territories by £35,000 is mean and will lead inevitably to results that it will regret.
I support the remarks of the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark), who protested against the miserable half-crown increase that is to be handed out to pensioners. The basic wage in the Northern Territory is one of the highest in Australia because the workers and the community at large in that area suffer from disabilities that do not occur in the southern part of Australia. Yet we find that the pension rate in the Northern Territory is the same as in other parts of Australia. It is high time that pensions were linked in some respects -with the basic wage, in order to off-set, to some degree, the disabilities from which pensioners in the territories suffer. Honorable members who visited the Northern Territory recently saw the conditions under which pensioners live in that part of Australia. I believe every one of them agrees that those conditions are shocking. There are no homes for aged people in the Northern Territory. When men pass the age of usefulness, they are thrown on to the scrap heap like pieces of old iron. They have to fend for themselves. Sometimes they live under trees. It is not right that pioneers who went out to the territories when amenities there were few and far between, or non-existent, have to spend their declining days in such shocking conditions. Let me read an extract from a letter that I have received from an age pensioner, in which he refers to some of the difficulties of pensioners in the Northern Territory. The extract is as follows : -
We have both been drawing the age pension for two years. I am just on 70 years old now. In addition to ground rent, last year we paid £37 10s. for electricity and water rates, £11 for building insurance and over £100 for the installation of sewerage and plumbing. Paying for those on a pension of £6 15s. a week shows that we were not trying to dodge our obligations.
I plead again with the Government to be more liberal in its treatment of the pioneers of this country. It would do the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and other Ministers good to visit outback areas and see the conditions under which pensioners are living in those places. They would get an idea of the cost of commodities that are needed to keep body and soul together. I believe that the Treasurer, having seen for himself what is happening would be much more merciful in his treatment of pensioners.
– I do not want to intervene in the debate unduly, but one or wo statements made by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) call for immediate correction. The honorable member suggested that there will be a great reduction of expenditure in respect of the Territories this year. The reduction of £35,000 to which tie referred relates only to the part of the Department of Territories situated in Canberra. That reduction is, I think, completely defensible and should receive the support of all advocates of decentralized control of the territories. I see no reason why we should build in Canberra an expensive and everexpanding department rather than extend our activities in the territories themselves. I am amazed that the honorable member for the Northern Territory has advocated a policy of building up the centre rather than one of expanding activities in the territories. If he will examine the items in respect of expenditure in the territories themselves, riot those in respect of expenditure in Canberra, he will see that there has been ‘ ari increase. The increase in respect of the Northern Territory, in which he is particularly interested, is £300,000. He complained of a reduction by £35,000 of expenditure in Canberra, but he omitted to mention that expenditure in respect of the Northern Territory itself shows an increase of £300,000. In addition, expenditure on works in the territory by other departments may be increased also.
The inference that he invited the committee to draw from his remarks was that in some way this Government has less regard for the needs of the Northern Territory than had the previous government. Let me cite comparable expenditure on the Northern Territory by the previous government and this Government. In 1946-47, under a Labour government, the grand total of expenditure on the Northern Territory was £1,248,000. In 1947-48, still under a Labour government, it was £1,157,000. In 1948-49, again under a Labour government, the total was £1,669,000. In 1949-50, the transition year, it was £2,060,000. In 1950-51, the first full year of office of a Liberal party and Australian Country party Government, it was £3,’.107,000. In 1951-52, it was £3,253,000, and in 1952-53 it was £4,280,000. Let the honorable member for the Northern Territory draw an inference from the facts that in the last year of office of the Labour government the total expenditure in the Northern Territory was £1,669,000 and that in the year just ended it was £4,500,000, or three times as much.
– I call the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight).
– I rise to order. The normal practice is for the Chairman to call an honorable member from each side of the chamber in turn. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) was extremely brief, Mr. Temporary Chairman, but you departed from the normal practice by calling an honorable member on the Government side of the chamber after he had spoken. I submit that you should give the. call to a member of the Opposition. If you do not do so, I shall formally register . my protest against a departure from the normal procedure.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.If the Chair were to accept what the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has said, his point of order would be counted as a speech from the Opposition side of the chamber. The Minister for Territories intervened to answer the honorable member for the Northern Territory, and he took only four minutes to do so.
Mr. Haylen. - I rise to order. I agree that the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) was extremely brief in his remarks, but I point out that Ministers Iia ve had a field day to-day. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) spoke for three-quarters of an hour and the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Anthony) spoke for 40 minutes. Whilst I commend the brevity of the Minister for Territories, I say that the call should be given to an honorable member on this side of the chamber.
– The Chair will determine that matter. I treat honorable members on both sides equally fairly.
– I rise to order. The ruling does not meet with the approval of the Opposition., and only the fact that the moving of a motion of dissent would curtail our debating time prevents me from moving such a motion.
.- I desire i.o address my remarks to the Estimates for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and, in so doing, to refer to the Australian tobacco industry. I think all honorable members will agree that the development of that industry has not been all that could be desired. One of the outstanding features of the industry is the lack of trust between tobacco manufacturers and tobacco growers. Both sides have been at fault. On some occasions the growers have tried to out-smart the manufacturers by mixing the quality of the leaf- in the hands, or the quality” of the hands of the bales. At times the manufacturers have capitalised on accidental mistakes, whilst at other times deliberate attempts have been made to outsmart the manufacturers. Both sides have been at fault. In order to explain the suggestion that I shall make to the committee I shall refer to three medium grades of tobacco leaf known as Bright Mahogany 3, Mahogany 1, and Mahogany 2. Grades are assessed on the average quality in a particular category. For instance, the middle grading of these three grades is Mahogany 1. Some of it would he. of the poorer quality leaf of Mahogany 1 and therefore of the quality of the superior leaf graded as Mahogany 2. Similarly, the superior quality leaf of Mahogany 1 would overlap and be similar i:o the lower quality of leaf graded as Bright Mahogany 3. That leaves a com- . ponent whereby the tobacco manufac turers are able to condemn qualities of leaf and gradings of leaf and thus cause frustration to the growers when they try to sell their leaf.
Honorable members will recollect that a system was introduced which it was considered would provide an incentive to the tobacco manufacturers to purchase Australian-grown leaf. However I am beginning to entertain a doubt whether that system is not operating to the advantage of the manufacturers and with consequent detriment to the growers. I am referring to the system of allowing to the manufacturers a rebate of ls. 6d. per lb. on imported leaf, on the understanding that a percentage of Australian-grown leaf should be used by them in the manufacture of tobacco and cigarettes. Although I shall not be dogmatic about the matter, I am inclined to believe that this system is not beneficial to the growers. The average production of Australian tobacco is about 6,000,000 lb. a year. In order to obtain the benefit of the ls. 6d. per lb. rebate in customs duty, manufacturers must use 10 per cent, of Australiangrown leaf in their manufactured . tobacco.’ Therefore it would be necessary . for the consumption of tobacco in Australia to be 60,000,000 lb. a. year in order to ensure- that all of the Australian-grown leaf would be used. During the last year.. 26,000,000 lb. of tobacco was imported into this country. If it is compulsory for only 10 per cent, of Australian-grown leaf to be used, it is obvious that only 2,600,000 lb. of the total Australian production of 6,000,000 lb. of leaf will bt used by the manufacturers in order to obtain a customs rebate of ls. 6d. per lb. on all imported tobacco. The duty charged on imported tobacco is 6s. 6d. per lb. Therefore the tobacco manufacturers are able to limit the ceiling of the amount of tobacco that they are going to buy from the Australian growers and still derive the benefit of paying duty at the rate of only 5s. per lb. The Government should give earnest consideration to this aspect of the matter. If the rebate were abolished the manufacturers would be required to. pay duty at the rate of 6s. 6d. per lb. on all imported tobacco. The extra duty of ls. 6d. per lb. on the total importation would result in an additional revenue df £1,950,000. If that additional revenue were given to the growers of Australian leaf by subsidy, the growers would receive an average subsidy of 78d. per lb. That subsidy could be paid at no additional cost to the Government, and the Australian growers would be assured of an average return of 6s. 6d. per lb. for their tobacco. The price of imported tobacco to the manufacturers would then be about 14s. per lb. If the manufacturers were obliged to pay 14s. per lb. for imported tobacco they might feel more inclined to buy greater quantities of Australian leaf at auction.
The weakness in the system that I have propounded is that it could not be operated successfully unless the growers were encouraged to produce a better leaf, because if a flat rate of 6s. 6d. per lb. were paid to the growers they would derive a greater profit from growing vast quantities of poor quality leaf than from producing good quality leaf. Therefore I suggest that the plan envisaged should provide for the payment of low subsidies on the poorer qualities of leaf, and higher rates of subsidy on the better qualities of leaf. The only alternative to the method that I have advocated would be- to increase to approximately 16 per cent, or 20 -per cent, the amount of Australiangrown leaf that the manufacturers should be compelled to use in the manufacture of tobacco and cigarettes. I urge the Government to consider introducing a scheme such as I have outlined.
– I suppose I must be thankful for small mercies. I have sat in my place in this chamber since 2.30 o’clock this afternoon endeavouring to get a call from the Chair. I have been told by the Whips and by other honorable members that I should approach “the Chairman of Committees if I wished to receive a call. When I spoke to the Chairman at 5.30 o’clock I was informed that I was fifth on the list.
– Order! Does the honor-, able member wish to proceed with the debate?
– Yes, Mr. Temporary Chairman. I am not speaking on my own behalf, because it happens that the
Liberal party has not yet been able to find a candidate who is game to stand against me in West Sydney. I am speaking on behalf of people living 600 miles away, who are unable to come “to Canberra. I refer to the residents of Lord Howe Island, which is in my electorate. When I visited the island about four weeks ago a number of the residents asked me to make representations to the appropriate authorities in Canberra about the inadequate shipping service to Lord Howe Island. I have done so, and I was advised that I could have a lot done by interviewing the appropriate Minister. I have interviewed not one but three Ministers about the matter, and after a delay of about three weeks I sought to ascertain from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) at question time the probable consequences of a cessation of shipping calling at Lord Howe Island. The Prime Minister informed me that he would refer the matter to the appropriate Minister in another place. This afternoon I received an answer from the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay), which read -
The Right Honorable the Prime Minister has referred to me the question which you asked in the House of Representatives on the 22nd September, .1953, in relation to the reported decision of Burns Philp & Co. to discontinue the shipping service to Lord Howe Island.
I understand that this action on the part of the Company is due to the fact that the small amount of cargo offering and the delays which are experienced by vessels in discharging at the Island has made it impossible for them to maintain this service. As Lord Howe Island is part of New South Wales the trade is an intrastate one and the matter is therefore one for the New South Wales Government. I am informed that Messrs. Burns Philp Limited have advised the Chairman of the Lord Howe Island Board of Control of the position.
The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) to-night gave a clear indication of the Government’s policy on shipping and its determination to sell the Commonwealth line of ships. The letter that I have quoted would make anybody think that the Government’s shipping line had been sold, and that all its ships were sailing in waters other than Australian waters. The Government could reasonably be expected to do something for the 300 people on Lord Howe Island, who live 500 miles away from our coast and must rely on shipping for their provisions from ‘ the outside world. The cost of freighting goods by air is £60 a ton. The islanders have asked me to inquire why they should pay £15 a ton for shipping freights when the freight rates for cargoes from Sydney to Melbourne, which is about the same distance as from Sydney to Lord Howe Island, is only £6 ls. a ton. The islanders believe that they are paying far too much in shipping freights.
Nobody had heard a word about the discontinuance of the shipping service to Lord Howe Island until I raised the matter in the question that I directed to the Prime Minister. The people of the island are anxious to know, and are entitled to know, because they are taxpayers like the rest of us, what relief the Government intends to give them. The people of Lord Howe Island have inhabited the island for 180 years, and they have never before asked for any relief. In the last seven or eight months the Government has undertaken the construction of a radar station on the island, is already supplying electricity to the homes on the island, and has imported as much as 90 tons of material. It has ten to fifteen men working on the erection of four cottages and of the radar station that I have mentioned. It would not be doing so unless it intended to provide some service from that station. Yet the islanders are to be left high and dry in the matter of shipping. Thirty out of 105 Lord Howe Islanders eligible for war service enlisted to serve in the last war. The island has always been a Liberal party stronghold, and any body could be excused for believing that the Government, which has few supporters anywhere else in the Commonwealth, would be eager to assist people who have supported it loyally in the past. I trust that even at this late stage something will be done for the islanders. If the Commonwealth line of ships is not to be sold it should be used to give service to the people. It should not be left to Burns Philp and Company Limited to decide whether these people are to be left without shipping just because the company may not find the run profitable.
– Are any Commonwealth ships plying to the island?
– I believe the ship Morinda is owned by Burns Philp and
Company Limited. All the. islanders want is food. More than 100 tourists are booked to come to the island between now and the end of the Christmas holidays, and all kinds of provisions will be required for them. What will those people feel if the Government does nothing to ensure that the island has provisions ?
I turn now to what I would call the meanest trick any government ever played on any section of the community. Four or five categories of pensioners are to receive a pension increase of 2s. 6d. a week under the budget proposals, at a time when the prosperity of Australia was never greater. Liberal party supporters on the other side of the House often discuss wool and wheat. Unless they receive £1 per lb. for wool, and very nearly £1 a bushel for wheat, they complain loudly-
– I do not think the honorable member will get much for his wool.
– The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) has to face the electors in Tasmania ‘ at the next general election, and I do not think he will get much from them. The pensioners in my electorate state that the increase of 2s. 6d. is not enough. The usual annual ball in aid of pensioners in my electorate will be held in the Sydney Town Hall on the 23rd October. The price of tickets is 3s. each. Many honorable members opposite say that they are astonished that I should mention such matters when our proceedings are being broadcast. The stations that broadcast the proceedings of this Parliament also broadcast football matches on Saturdays, and I see no reason why the case for pensioners should not also be entitled to time on the air. I hope that this Government will realize the mistakes it has made. There is only one bright spot in the budget, and that is that it is the last budget this Government will produce. The pensioners have waited in vain for justice, and apparently will have to wait another six months until a Labour government, led by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), comes into office, when social justice will be handed out to all.
The honorable member tor Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), who is a fellow Tasmanian, has again peddled the story that he, in common with other honorable members who have made similar statements in the past, knows the fate of the Commonwealth shipping line. Curiously enough, previous similar statements were made prior to each of the by-elections we have had as a result of the deaths of honorable members, and prior to the recent Senate election. They are now being made prior to the forthcoming general election. The honorable member for Wilmot presumes to know, from what he calls the grape vine, what the fate of the shipping line is to be. - 1 suggest ;that the honorable member leave the ^realms of fantasy and deal with facts. I have no reluctance to state my view on ?this matter. I hold a firm view on it and will adhere to it, come what may.. Whatever the fate of the Commonwealth shipping line may be, my personal opinion, which I shall support in whatever way I have to, is that the Australian Government may well dispose of part of its holdings but that it should not dispose of its holdings so as to dispossess any State of what might be- termed “ an uneconomic .route “. This matter affects, not only my own State of Tasmania, but other parts of the Commonwealth such as Lord Howe island, to which the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) has referred.
– The honorable member is not concerned with Lord Howe Island.
– Order! The honorable member for Watson will leave the chamber if he is not careful.
– Certain sea routes are uneconomic for the ordinary kind’ of commercial enterprise but in the interests of the development of. this country the Commonwealth can afford to stand the what I term “ an economic loss “. If the Commonwealth continues to provide these services, communities will be built up in distant parts and the return to the nation will justify the expenditure. The honorable member for Wilmot stated that he had some preknowledge of what would happen in relation to these ships. Yet it has been consistently stated by the Minister for
Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) that no final decision has been made by the Cabinet on this subject. The honorable member for Wilmot said that the Minister for Shipping and Transport had directed the Australian shipping line to conform to increased freight charges made . by private companies.
Mr.- Duthie. - The honorable member has not denied that fact yet.
– The honorable member for Wilmot should know that freight charges are determined by a committee which consists of representatives of private companies and the Commonwealth shipping line. The members of that committee decide in unison, eventually, the freight charges that will be applied. So to suggest that the Minister has directed the Commonwealth shipping line to make a certain charge is erroneous and improper. The honorable member said that the Commonwealth shipping line engaged only in non-profitable lines of trade.
– I did not.
– That was the inference of the honorable member. Certain routes on which the Commonwealth shipping line operates are highly profitable. The ships operating on one such line carry the products of my electorate. Any fruit-grower can “inform honorable members that an excessive rate is charged for the conveyance of their products on those ships and the Commonwealth shipping line makes a substantial profit on that route.
I wish to relate my remarks now to the Postmaster-General’s Department. In Tasmania, in common with other States, there has been a dearth of technicians to carry out capital works.
– Order ! The PostmasterGeneral’s Department is not under discussion at present.
– Then I shall turn to the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. The honorable member for Wilmot will know that Tasmania produces almost- the whole of Australia’s berry fruit crops. This industry is in a parlous position. It has been costed out of its overseas markets and unless certain steps are taken by the Australian Government the industry will probably go out of existence. I have frequently made representations to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture on this subject by letter in recent months. Last year the Commonwealth was quite reasonably generous in its attitude to thi: industry. The Government provided £100,000 for the assistance of the industry and the Sugar Industry Concession Committee provided a further £50,000. The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) influenced that decision. I understand that similar assistance was given to the industry in the previous year. Although the welfare of this industry is undeniably a State responsibility, I suggest to the Government that as the State Labour Government has been reluctant to help the industry the Australian Government should consider asking the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) to confer with the State Minister concerned in order to ascertain whether a joint arrangement cannot he made for the benefit of the industry. I have inquired of many honorable members from other States on the degree to which berry fruits are sold in their States. I have found that in Queensland, Western Australia and other States people do not buy processed berry fruit. Honorable members could do a great service to Tasmania by attempting to advertise and encourage the sale in their own States of Tasmanian berry fruit.
I now wish to refer to the Department of Social Services. I have approached the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) on the subject of relaxing the means test so as to include the wife and the children of blind persons. The Minister has taken action to waive the means test on blind persons but that concession does not extend to the wife of a blind man. As the Minister will know from correspondence, a man in my electorate was unfortunate enough to suffer, not only the loss of his eyesight, but also the loss of both his hands in a. serious accident. I think that the honorable member for Wilmot will know about the ease, too. That man obviously has no’ means whatever of making a living. He has a wife and five young children, but he cannot go to work and cannot look’ after the children if his wife should go out to work. Therefore he is in an impossible position. I believe that the Minister will, in time, have the means test abolished on the allowance for the wife and children in cases like that. There cannot be many persons in the same category as this man, and therefore if the matter is to be thought of in a mercenary and pecuniary sense my proposal will not cost the Government a great deal of money. I believethat the Minister is sympathetic toward.this matter, and I ask him to give seriousconsideration to abolishing the means test: completely in the circumstances that 1 have mentioned.
.- The honorable member for Brisbane (MrGeorge Lawson) pointed out many anomalies under the social services legislation, and many shortcomings of the .present Government. I was astounded that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) did not defend the Government’s policy in this debate, particularly in regard to its miserly attitude towards pensioners. Apparently the Government has decided to rest on its so-called laurels, and believes that it does not need t» defend itself for the betrayal of its trust in not catering for the needs of pensioners. I was also amazed that the Minister did not withdraw the slur that he has cast on all people who are receiving the sickness and unemployment benefit, when he referred to the majority of them aa no-hopers and criminals who were incapable of being employed. It is well known that the vast majority of such persons are decent, genuine people who are desirous of working, but who, because of the financial policy of the Government, are unable t» find employment. The Minister and the Government should be ashamed of the action of a responsible Minister in calling decent people criminals and no-hopers.. Is the Minister prepared to explain his allegations against the people1 who arereceiving sickness and unemployment benefits? It is amazing that he has sat in silence while these matters have been discussed, when earlier to-day other Ministers took up the time of the House with long-winded explanations.
– I rise to make, a; personal explanation. : The CHAIRMAN. - Order! The Minister cannot make a personal explana.
Hon at this stage. :
– I have not misrepresented the Minister, because his statements are recorded in Hansard and have been repeated in letters that have been published in the newspapers of Sydney, Melbourne, and other places. What is the Minister’s explanation of his statement? I certainly cannot see that any exception can be taken to my remarks. I hope that the Minister will explain his attitude, and the general policy of his department in regard to the increases of pension3 that are proposed to be awarded to age and invalid pensioners in this country.
– Order ! The time allowed for the consideration of the proposed votes for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Shipping and Transport, and- the Depart^ ment of Territories has expired.
Proposed votes agreed to.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. I was misrepresented by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), who said that I had made a comment about persons receiving the unemployment benefit to the effect that the majority of them were criminals. That is completely and utterly untrue, and I ask that the offensive words be withdrawn.
– Order! The Minister regards the remarks of the honorable member for Grayndler as offensive, and asks for a withdrawal of them.
– Are the words personally offensive to the Minister because they are accurate? : . The CHAIRMAN.- Order! It is the custom in this chamber to accept an honorable member’s statement that remarks are offensive to him.
– You did not enforce that rule to-day in connexion with me Mr. Chairman.
– As the remarks were offensive to the Minister, I withdraw them in accordance with the practice of the committee.
– I rise to order. In view of the- fact that the honorable member for Grayndler has withdrawn his words, and those words appear in Hansard, does the Minister ask that they be expunged from the record?
– Order! That is not a point of order.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill received from the Senate and (on motion by Mr. ERIC J. Harrison) read a first time.
Bill received from the Senate and (on motion by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) read a first time.
Bill received from the Senate and (on motion by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
. - Last night-
Motion (by Mr. Eric J. Harrison) put.
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . 9
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Original question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Papua and New Guinea Act -
Ordinances- 1952- -
No. 101 - Evidence (New Guinea).
No. 102 -Papua and New Guinea Copra
Marketing Board (No. 2).
No. 103 - New Guinea Land Titles
No. 104 - Slaughtering.
No. 105- Lost Registers.
No. 106 - Trading with Natives.
No, 107 - Police Offences (Papua).
No. 103 - Judgments (Reciprocal En forcement).
No. 109 - Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Papua).
No. 110 - Customs (Export) Tariff.
No.111 - Native Village Councils.
No. 112 - War Deaths Registration. No. 113 - Cacao.
No. 114 - Hallstrom Live-Stock and Fauna (Papua and New Guinea) Trust.
No. 115 - Appropriation 1952-53.
No. 116 - Seamen (Foreign).
No. 117 - Police Offences (New Guinea) (No. 2).
No.118 - Appropriation (No. 2) 1951-52.
No. 119 - Summary Ejectment.
No. 120 - Native Plantations (Papua). Petroleum (Prospecting and Mining) Ordinance - Particulars’ of permits granted under section 17, together with reasons.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department of Works - G. W. Curtis, . A. R. Evans, B. J. Fitzgerald, S. Gilovitz, K. G. Gold, N. W. Phillips.
Re-establishment and Employment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1953, No. 83.
House adjourned at 11.44 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
asked the Minister for
Supply, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 September 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1953/19530929_reps_20_hor1/>.