20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron)’ took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– My question is addressed to the . Treasurer. Is it a fact that a director of Associated Newspapers Limited, during recent court proceedings
-Order ! The honorable gentleman is giving information. He cannot ask whether -something he has already found out is a fact.
– Who said I have found out?
– The honorable gentleman is asking if certain things are facts. He cannot do that.
– I want to know whether they are facts.
– That is not permitted by the Standing Orders. A question of this kind should be placed on the notice-paper.
– la the Treasurer aware that a director of Associated Newspapers Limited, during recent court proceedings
– Order ! The honorable gentleman cannot do it that way, either. He must ask for information on something about which he does not know anything.
– Did a director of Associated Newspapers Limited, during recent court proceedings in Sydney, when asked the following questions, give the following answers-
-Order! The question is out of order, because the honorable gentleman is about to relate something that he alleges took place. Therefore, he cannot ask whether it is true or not.
– I am not alleging anything. I am trying to find out whether it took place.
– It is unfortunate for the honorable gentleman that I heard him speak on the adjournment motion last night.
– What did I say on the adjournment?
– Like the gods, I do not repeat myself.
– You are making a farce of question time.
– I am not doing so.
– Yes, you are.
– Order !
– Will you, Mr. Speaker, consider adjourning the House for, say, an hour, and extending an invitation to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations to address the House? That would give private members an opportunity to meet this distinguished British Minister and enable us to honour him in the same way as our Prime Minister was honoured when he addressed the United States Congress. If t1 nt is not possible, will you consider what other arrangements can be made for honorable members to meet the right honorable gentleman?
-The House is in charge of its own business. If a motion in accordance with the wishes of the honorable member for Calare were made and carried, I should give effect to it. I should say that this is a matter for the head of the Government.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to you, Mr. Speaker, by stating that it relates to a matter of which I have no knowledge whatever.
– Order ! There is no need for a preface. It is out of order.
– Is it a fact that Hansard is now printed in two volumes, one containing reports of the debates of this House and the other containing reports of the debates of the Senate ? If that is a fact, why was such a change made? What is the extra cost involved? Will you give the House any general information you have on the subject?
– The change took place as the result of an agreement between the three parties. My requests for information about the alleged extra cost have produced no results. I do not believe there is any extra cost worth mentioning.
– My question is directed to you. Mr. Speaker. I notice that in the list of members of the Twentieth Parliament printed on the inside of the back cover of each copy of Hansard the name of the Leader of the Opposition has the initials LL.D., D.Litt. printed after it, while the names of none of the 30 or so other honorable members, from the Prime Minister down, who have legal, medical or other university degrees, have the relevant initials printed after their names. Can you inform honorable members why this is so?
– I can assure the. honorable member that this matter has not been raised with me before. I shall examine it within the next day or so, let him know what the position is and whether, if it needs to be remedied, it can be remedied.
– My question to the Minister for Air has reference to .1 question that I was endeavouring to put to him yesterday concerning the abandonment of certain strategic airfields in the north of Australia. Has there been any change in the position from that as outlined by the Minister recently? Also, will he personally inspect the airfields that I referred to or arrange, as a matter of urgency, for a joint delegation of members of the Parliament to inspect and report thereon during the forthcoming recess?
– When the honorable member addressed his recent question on this matter to me, he referred to Higgins airfield in north Australia. I pointed out then that the small hangars and workshops that had been on the field had been removed, and would not be reerected. The airfield is not required for the purposes of the Royal Australian Air Force, and will not be required further as Tar as we know; consequently no change with regard to our policy about that airfield will take place. We are considering whether the land should be retained by the Commonwealth in case an extreme emergency should occur, when it; could be readily put back into service. A ‘ final decision has not been made on that matter, but when a decision has been made I shall convey it to the honorable member at once.
– Is it possible for you, Mr. Speaker, to prevent young children from sitting in the public galleries of this chamber when debates such as that which occurred yesterday are being conducted? Do you consider that the children’s minds are improved by hearing remarks about the obliteration of cities, the wiping out of civilians, death-dealing instruments of destruction, mass murder and other nerveshattering, blood-curdling statements such as those made during the debate on atomic armaments?
– The children who occupied the gallery yesterday were admitted by arrangement between myself and an honorable member of this House. It is for honorable members to ask whether children whom they sponsor may be admitted, and whenever it is possible they are so admitted. I believe that it is a good thing that the younger generation should be able to see how the government of the country is conducted. As to what is said in this House, that is a matter for honorable members themselves.
– Can the Minister for the Interior, with a sense of the urgency of the position, give an assurance that the proposed construction of a new primary school at Griffith, a suburb of this city, will remain on the works programme for the current year? If the project has been removed from the programme, will he have it restored because it is so urgently needed ?
– As the works programme has not yet been finally approved, I do not know how the honorable member can know whether or not a project is included in it. A final decision has not yet been made in regard to the school. The honorable member and 1 are both very keen to remedy the overcrowding of schools in Canberra at the earliest possible moment. The only comment I should like to make is that I got an awful ‘shock yesterday to learn that the latest tender received for the school was on the basis of £500 for each child to be accommodated. That is ridiculous. The proposal is being reviewed.
– Some time ago, 1 requested the Prime Minister to approach the representatives of the British Ministry of Pensions to ensure that British exservicemen resident in Australia shall bc admitted to repatriation general hospitals pending determination as to whether illnesses from which they suffer are clue to war service. In view of the urgent need for British ex-servicemen to ascertain their rights, can the Prime Minister state the present position?
– As a result of the earlier question asked by the honorable member, I made inquiries on the point. The position is this: Any British serviceman whose claim in respect of illness presents some doubt as to the proper diagnosis and its relation to war service, may he admitted to a repatriation general hospital by the Repatriation Commission without prior reference to the
British Ministry of Pensions, in order that the doubt may be resolved by any necessary investigations. Admission is restricted to a period of 28 days. Should it be found necessary to extend the stay in hospital for a longer period, the agreement of the Ministry must be obtained.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture state whether there is any truth in the rumour that the Japanese pearl fishing fleet was recently seen off the coast of Mackay. Queensland? If there is any truth in the rumour, what is the present position in regard to the negotiations between the Australian Government and the Japanese Government covering future pearl fishing in Australian waters?
– There has been nothing but a press rumour to that effect. I have made inquiries but .1. have not been able to secure confirm a ti on of Hie suggestion that pearling had been engaged in by foreign nationals off the coast of Mackay. The inquiries are still proceeding. With regard to the Japanese pearling fleet in the Arafura Sea. the Government achieved the purpose it had in mind of controlling and regulating Japanese pearling in that area, by proclaiming the waters and setting aside one area in which the Japanese could fish without licence for the remaining weeks of this season. The Japanese proceeded to the area in an orderly manner and indicated that they will not fish outside it.
– I direct to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture a question relative to the pearling industry. In view of the fact that the Japanese pearling fleet has now withdrawn from the proclaimed areas of the Australian continental shelf, and in view of the urgent necessity to attract population and capital for the development of our empty north, what steps does the Government propose to take to encourage the Australian pearling industry, so that the rich pearl-shell beds adjoining our coast may be worked by Australian interests for the benefit of the Australian economy?
– The Government is eager to promote expansion of the Aus tralian pearling industry for a variety of reasons, but it does not contemplate that our natural resources shall be retained to the exclusion of other people who wish to fish them while we are not geared to exploit them fully. Substantial pearling enterprises are operating at present from Thursday Island and Broome, and a lesser enterprise is operating from Darwin. The Minister for Territories and I are in consultation to consider what steps” can be taken to encourage expansion of the Australian pearling industry.
– Will the Treasurer inform the House whether the Commonwealth Bank pays municipal and shire rates to local governing bodies in Australia? If po, is the Treasurer in a position to state the amount paid for the financial year ended- 31 r. SPEAKER-Order ! The honorable member cannot expect the Treasurer to have that figure in mind. The question should be placed on the notice-paper.
Mi-. COSTA. - T. should like the right honorable gentleman to answer the first part of the question.
– Under certain circumstances the Commonwealth Bank pays municipal rates and charges. I shall obtain the information for which the honorable member has asked, including the information he asked for in the latter part of his question.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister in the absence of the Minister for Civil Aviation.
-Order ! It is of no use to direct to the Prime Minister a question which affects the Department of Civil Aviation, because it is reasonable to expect that the Prime Minister does not know the answer to it.
– My question is addressed to you, Mr. Speaker. I have an insatiable thirst for information, and, as a prudent parliamentarian, I always seek confirmation. Do you not consider, sir, that the present somewhat restricted pra’ctice with regard to the asking of questions without notice indicates an underestimation of both the ability and the desire of Ministers to protect themselves against such questions as are asked by the honorable member for East Sydney?
– There are other ways of bringing that before the House.
– Will you, Mr. Speaker, take steps to call a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee with the object of reviewing the Standing Orders that restrict, to some degree, the questions that may be asked by honorable members in the interests of their electorates and the country, because it appears that a somewhat farcical position has been reached in the last two days ?
– My own opinion is that the position has been farcical for a long time past. A meeting of the Standing Orders Committee can be called at any time. I have notification that the members of it are prepared to attend a meeting, and I am waiting at the moment for the Prime Minister to indicate when he will be available. The right honorable gentleman is a member of the committee, and he is a very busy man. T assure the honorable member for Dalley that the meeting will be called as soon as it is convenient for the Prime Minister to attend, and I hope that the effects of it will be before the House.
– Has the Prime Minister received any report on the atomic explosion in South Australia yesterday? If so, does it bear out the contentions of the authorities and scientists concerned that the explosion would lead to no untoward incidents or have any adverse effect on the people of Australia ?
– I have received no report, so far, on these matters, but I think that the honorable member may rest assured on the point of safety. I noticed only this morning a very clear statement on that point by Professor Titterton himself.
– -Will the Treasurer inform the House if his Government intends to bring down a supplementary budget prior to the general election to be held early next year? If the Govern ment should adopt this procedure, will the Treasurer promise to give sympathetic treatment to those pensioners who are affected by the pension increase of 2s. 6d. a week provided under the recent budget ? I am seeking this information knowing that I shall be asked similar questions when I attend the pioneers’ dance that will be held at the Sydney Town Hall on Friday, the 23rd October, starting at 8 p.m.
– Whatever may be the purport of the honorable member’s question, an adequate answer to it can be found in the results of the budget that the House passed recently.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that many local governing bodies are in financial difficulties and will have to reduce their staffs by 10 per cent, owing to reduced loan allocations, and whether that fact has adversely affected community requirements in electricity, road construction, sewerage, &c. If these are facts-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman is making a statement and asking whether certain things are facts. That is out of order.
– Then I ask whether it is a fact-
-Order! The honorable gentleman may not preface a question by asking, “ Is it a fact ? “.
– Then I ask the Treasurer whether he will make some of the £11,000,000 that he promised available to the shires and municipalities for the construction of roads, bridges, sewerage, electricity projects and water schemes?
– I cannot answer the question, as I do not know anything of the £11,000,000 to which the honorable member has referred. His statements regarding the financial position of local government authorities are based only on heresay evidence.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. Is one of the purposes of the current security loan the raising of funds for the States under the
Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement? Although the rate of interest to be paid to bondholders is 4£ per cent., will the Treasurer say whether the States will be called upon to pay only 3 per cent, interest, the difference to be made up by the Commonwealth from Consolidated Revenue?
– The terms and conditions of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement will not be departed from by this Government.
– Can the Treasurer give this House any information on the result of the recent Commonwealth security loan?
– No, not at this stage.
– In view of the magnificent assistance given to the people by the ambulance services that operate throughout each State, will the Minister for Health consider granting a subsidy to these organizations from Commonwealth social services funds? Does the right honorable gentleman appreciate the importance of the part the ambulance services play in their close relationship to the medical and hospital services of all States? Does he not abhor the need of these organizations to conduct raffles and fetes in order to obtain the revenue that they need?
-The first question is in order. The other two questions are merely propaganda.
– I think the States are doing an extraordinarily good job in connexion with ambulance services, and I have no intention of interfering with their arrangements.
– Has the Government given any consideration to the idea of conducting an air race similar to the race recently sponsored by the New Zealand Government? Is there any likelihood that it will favorably consider such a proposal in the near future?
– The Government has not considered conducting an air race similar to the recent LondonChristchurch race, nor is it intended to consider the matter in the near future.
– Can the Prime Minister inform me whether there is any truth in the rumour that a member of his publicity staff, in addition to his official duties, conducts a session over a Sydney radio station wherein he is accustomed to give racing information and tips? If so, can the Prime Minister state whether the sources of information available to the member of his staff to whom I have referred are as reliable as those which enabled a director of Associated Newspapers Limited, following conversations which he had during a visit to Canberra, to forecast to the exact penny the proposal for the reduction of company tax contained in this year’s budget? .
– I did not know about this exciting hobby of a member of my staff, but if he does broadcast on racing, then I am able to say that he gets his information undoubtedly, exclusively and improperly from me.
– Some time ago the Treasurer informed me that he had instructed his departmental officers to confer with the British authorities regarding the exemption from taxation of pensions payable to British war widows. Is the right honorable gentleman able to give the House any information about the progress of those negotiations?
– Som, delay has occurred in the conduct of the negotiations. As the honorable gentleman is aware, I was absent from Canberra for some days, and I do not know whether any decisions have yet been reached or whether the talks are near completion. However, I shall inquire into the matter and inform the honorable member of the position.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer, and hope that I shall be more successful this time. Is the right honorable gentleman to be approached. during the week-end or early next week by a deputation from the municipal associations of Australia, representing each State, with a request for a greater allocation of the receipts from the petrol tax for urgent road reconstruction work? [n view of the increasing deterioration of our highways and feeder roads to the stage-
– Order ! Is the honorable member asking a question in an endeavour to elicit information, or is he trying to advertise a deputation?
– No, he wishes to get in ahead of the deputation.
– That is right.
– Order ! The honorable member cannot get in ahead of the deputation.
– The honorable member for Wilmot apparently knows more about this matter than I do. I have no knowledge of such a deputation, or of arrangements made for me to receive it, so the honorable member has beaten the pistol again.
– Has the Minister for Territories been informed by the owner of King Ranch, Texas, who recently visited Australia, that he is not interested in investing dollars in beef production in the Northern Territory, because freehold tenure, which is exclusively used in the United States of America, is not available to him in the Northern Territory?
– I have received no communication of any kind from the gentleman to whom the honorable member has referred.
– Will the Prime Minister take advantage of the visit to Australia of the Vice-President of the United States of America, Mr. R. M. Nixon, to convey to him the desire of the Australian people to have a visit from the former war-time commander, General Douglas1 MacArthur ?
– I should be very pleased to have a talk with Mr. Nixon about that matter. On earlier occasions, this Government has extended invitations to General MacArthur, and I am sure the previous Government did the same. General MacArthur is well aware that if he came to Australia he would be welcomed by the Government and the Australian people.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether it is a fact, as reported, that he intends to approach the State governments in connexion with the restriction of the manufacture and sale of margarine? If the report is correct, is the Minister aware that the real cause of the increase in sales of margarine is that the purchase of butter is beyond the means of the average family because of the failure of this Government to pay an adequate subsidy on butter? Will the Treasurer consider increasing the butter subsidy so that the price may be brought within the range of the average worker?
– I intend to raise with the State Ministers for Agriculture the question of quotas for margarine. The present policy has been accepted in principle by the State governments for many years, but recently one State government has substantially departed from it. If the matter is brought to their attention, I think the States will be prepared to take appropriate action to protect the Australian dairying industry. This Government has done more to protect the Australian dairying industry than has any other Australian government. I remind the honorable member that for years this Government has been providing approximately £17,000,000 a year, not for the benefit of the dairying industry, but in order to reduce the cost of butter to the consumers. No earlier government ever did anything like as much.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Army, and I preface it by saying that I am asking it for the express purpose of obtaining information on a very urgent matter of public importance. Has the courtmartial of the officer charged with stealing army funds in Tokyo concluded its hearing? If so, what were the findings of the court-martial ? Has any of the stolen money been recovered? If so, what was the amount recovered?
– Order ! The only question in order at present is whether the court-martial has made its findings. If the answer to that is “ Yes “, the honorable member may be in order in asking a further question.
– I ask the Minister when he intends to make a statement on this matter, which is of very great public importance ?
– Order ! That is sufficient. The Minister will reply to the first question.
Mr.FRANCIS.- The answer to the first question is “ No “. For the answers to the other questions, I refer the honorable member to my answer to his first question.
– Can the Minister for Labour and National Service give the House any information about the alarming efforts of the Communists to sabotage, per medium of a stop-work meeting next Tuesday, the efforts of the Amalgamated Engineers Union to conduct a courtcontrolled ballot of the type that has been made possible by legislation passed by this Parliament? What action, if any, is contemplated by the Government?
– I appreciate the import ance of the matter that has been raised by the honorable member, and at the conclusion of question time I propose to seek leave of the House to make a statement on the facts about the matter as they have become known to the Government. All that I can say at the present time is that according to the official report of the frown Law officer who discussed these matters with representatives of the union concerned, published statements that an agreement was made as to the method of taking the ballot are, in his words, completely false and an utter fabrication.
. -by leave - Communist propaganda and activity directed against the conduct by an electoral officer of a secret ballot in the Amalgamated Engineering Union make it necessary for me to place the facts on record for the information of the Parliament and those members of the union who are likely to become personally involved. As is probably known to most honorable members, an application was made some time ago to the Industrial Registrar under the provisions of the secret ballots legislation passed by this Government for the holding of a courtcontrolled ballot. The application was signed by substantially more than the required number of members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. The application was found to be in order by the Registrar, and was granted. An electoral officer was duly appointed to conduct the ballot, and sought from the union the information necessary for this purpose. The union refused to supply the information. At the conclusion of proceedings arising out of that refusal, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court issued an order directing the union to supply the necessary information. The order was challenged by the Commonwealth Council of the Amalgamated Engineering Union in the High Court, on the grounds that the legislation on which it was based was invalid, but the decision of the High Court upheld the legislation. There is no question about the validity of the secret ballots legislation, and the obligation of the union to assist in making arrangements for the taking of a ballot is clear.
I have been informed that the Commonwealth council has told the branches of the union that it is proposing to adhere to its earlier resolution that the ballot shall be conducted in accordance with the union rules, and with no outside intervention. A decision to that effect would amount to a deliberate defiance of the law of the land, and a denial of the rights of the large number of members who exercised their privilege under the act to secure a properly conducted ballot. Stopwork meetings have been called for Monday and Tuesday of next week. In the case of a union of the importance and wide membership of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, stop-work meetings will cause a serious dislocation in industry. They are unwarranted, and. in my judgment - a judgment based on reliable information - they are the outcome of intense Communist activity which has been using the Amalgamated Engineering Union secret ballot issue as its principal weapon of attack on the secret ballot legislation as a whole.
Perhaps it is desirable at this point, having regard to these developments, to say something about the direction of the higher affairs of the union. This is in the hands of the Commonwealth council, which consists of a chairman, general secretary and three councillors. Only the three councillors have a vote and, therefore, for all practical purposes the councillors control the council’s decisions. Communist influence has been apparent in the council’s decisions, and the Communist adherence of the councillor up for election on this occasion is well known. It is important to realize that, having suffered so many serious losses of key Communist personnel in industry owing to the operation of the secret ballots legislation, and in view of the. influence the Communist party has been able to exercise on decisions of the Commonwealth council, the Communist party is trying desperately to discredit and sabotage our secret ballots procedure. It has seized on the ballot in the Amalgamated Engineering Union to do so. The Parliament discussed recently slanderous attacks made by the Communist party on the integrity of public officials who have the duty to conduct these union ballots. The Communist party can be relied upon to resist to the last ditch arrangements for the conduct of a secret ballot over the full membership of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. It is trying now to attract rank-and-file support by falsely claiming that some breach has been committed of an arrangement made between the officers ‘of the union and an officer of’ the Crown Law Department or of the electoral office.
On the 30th September, the Commonwealth council sent a circular to all branch secretaries in which it said that there had been negotiations with a responsible officer of the Crown Law Department, and that this officer had said the ballot would be conducted by the electoral officer at branch meetings on what is termed “ star night “. That statement, I am assured, is untrue. I have before me the report by the officer concerned. He is
Mr. Mahony, a senior officer of the
Deputy Crown Solicitor’s Office in
Sydney. The report concludes with the following statement: -
Other than as referred to herein, 1 have had no interview on any other occasion with officers of the union. The allegation that the chairman was informed by a responsible officer of the Crown Law Department that ballots would be conducted substantially in accordance with union rules is a complete fabrication and utterly false.
The ballot is not being conducted by the Crown Law Department, or by any officer of that department. It is to be conducted by the appropriately ‘designated electoral officer. In any case, as the union officials well know, the legislation requires provision to be made for absent voting, and nobody could have agreed to ballot arrangements which did not provide for absentees. There was a discussion between members of the Commonwealth council and Mr. Mahony. There was also a discussion with him and the electoral officer, Mr. Martin. These discussions are covered in the report prepared by Mr. Mahoney, which I shall be happy to make available to honorable members. The talks were initiated at the request of the union. I am informed that it was agreed by the union officials to supply the electoral officer with the information previously sought by bini. At one stage there was a refusal to supply this information. Even after the court had announced its decision, there was some reluctance by the union officials to do so, until they knew the conditions on which, the ballot could be conducted. When the officer concerned said that he could not decide how the ballot should be conducted until he had information before him on which to form a judgment, the information that he sought was supplied. In the same discussion, the union representatives mentioned difficulties they foresaw if the ballot were conducted in some other manner than that normally adopted by the union. It has been the practice of the union to conduct ballots on what are called “ star flights “, when members record their votes personally at branch meetings. The comment of the electoral officer was that he would take their views into account in deciding how the ballot would be conducted.
Exercising his powers under the act - powers designed to eliminate possibilities of irregularities in an election - the electoral officer advised the Commonwealth council on the 9th October that he proposed to conduct this election by postal ballot. He has asked all branches for complete membership details. I have no information about when the election will be held. That, like the manner of the conduct of the ballot, is a matter for the decision of the electoral officer. The Amalgamated Engineering Union comprises some of the most significant and highly skilled workers in the industrial life of this country. Members of the union gave splendid patriotic service during the war and have played a big part in the remarkable industrial growth of recent years. It is to be hoped they will not mar their record by wasteful stoppages, which will not only he costly to the community, but will also entail loss of wages to those members who participate.
We, as an Australian Government, have provided the opportunity to the rank and file of the union to exercise, by means of the secret ballot, their free choice of the officials who are to direct their affairs. We have provided the machinery for democratic action, but the decision is still the privilege and responsibility of the members of the union themselves.
I lay on the table the following paper : -
Amalgamated Engineering Union - Conduct of Ballot - Ministerial Statement - and move -
That the paper bo printed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.
-~Can the Minister for Labour and National Service supply any information to indicate the course of action that should be followed in order to put an end to the state of emergency that is arising as a result of the decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court not to state its reasons for having terminated recently the quarterly cost of living adjustments of the basic wage? The decision appears to have led to a definite trend towards the breaking down of the Commonwealth system of conciliation and arbitration and a return by trade unions to State systems which, if it continues, must have disastrous effects on the economy of Australia.
– I told the House earlier this week that I would obtain some information on the effect of the decision by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and the actions of the State tribunals. I expect to have the information available’ within a few minutes and, if the House wishes to have it, I shall present it at the end of question time. The pointraised by the honorable member is, of course, important. I have not seen any substantial evidence so far of a movement to State tribunals by the trade unions that are. registered with the Commonwealth court. Such a tendency might develop if there were any marked variations between the rates of wages awarded by Commonwealth and State tribunals, but my view, which I have expressed previously, is that such variations as are likely to occur will be of a minor character. I think it is unlikely that unions which have had a long association with the Commonwealth court will abandon it lightly for the sake of some mere passing advantage. Possibilities of this kind, I have no doubt, are in the minds of the judges of the Commonwealth court, and I imagine that they will watch the position and take such action as they consider to be necessary.
– by leave - The decision by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, suspending cost-of-living adjustments, was the outcome of applications made by the employers, and, therefore, related particularly to the awards in respect of which those employers were respondents. The immediate effect of that decision, and of the orders made consequential on it, has been to delete the cost-of-living clause from approximately 70 awards, including Australian Capital Territory determinations. The awards so dardirectly affected lie mainly in the manufacturing trades. The principal classes of workers not so far directly affected by the orders of the court are the building workers, rural and pastoral workers, gas workers, white collar workers, storemen and packers, railway and tramway employees, coal-miners, waterside workers and seamen.
Applications have been made to the court for similar variations of other awards, and those applications have been set down for hearing on the 20th October. To the date of preparing the statement, 309 such applications had been made and many, but not all, of the classes of workers mentioned above are included in those applications. Furthermore, applications may continue to come in over the course of the next few days, and any omissions up to the present time may not, therefore, be significant. As honorable members know, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court cannot make a common rule. A decision such as that recently given has, therefore, to be implemented by order in respect of each award. Furthermore, of course, even if all awards of federal jurisdiction are covered, there still remains the position in the respective States. It is as well to look quickly at the position in each State, and I shall endeavour to outline the action which it has been announced will be taken in the States consequential on suspension of automatic adjustments in the federal jurisdiction.
The State basic wage in New South Wales is, by the New South Wales Industrial Arbitration Act, adjustable each quarter in accordance with fluctuations in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court’s series of retail price index numbers as published by, or by the direction of. the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Where the Commonwealth Arbitration Court alters the periods as at which the basic wage is to be adjusted, the commission is obliged, as soonas practicable after such alteration, to issue a certificate specifying the periods henceforth at which the adjustments will be made under State awards. Before issuing such a certificate on this occasion, the Industrial Commission has invited all parties interested to appear before it at a public hearing on Friday, 16th October, to express their views on the position arising from the federal court’s suspension of quarterly ad justments. Until that hearing is held, and some announcement is made by the Industrial Commission, the position in New South Wales will not be known. I am informed, however, that the Trades and Labour Council in Sydney has requested theState government to amend the New South Wales Industrial Arbitration Act. to ensure that quarterly adjustments are continued.
Under the Factories and Shops Act of Victoria, wages boards are authorized to make the rates prescribed automatically adjustable for changes in the cost of living as indicated by such retail price index numbers issued by the Commonwealth Statistician as each board considers appropriate. The adjustment clauses operate by reference to the C series. When there is a federal award for an industry, the boards in Victoria are required to incorporate in determinations for that industry in the State the provisions of the award as varied from time to time. Approximately 70 wages boards have already amended determinations to comply with the federal court’s judgment on suspension of the cost of living adjustments. There are approximately 215 wages boards in Victoria. The annual term of office of members of the State wages board expired on the 30th September, and I am informed that, to date, they have not been re-appointed, although nominations have been received by the Victorian Government for that purpose. In the case, of the boards which met before their expiry at the end of September to amend the determinations, the resolution adopted was in the following terms : -
That the determination (of wage adjustments) be amendedby the adoption of any order which may be made, and signed, by the Arbitration Court, in respect of determinations of adjustments ofwages, and that the date of operation of the variation he fourteen clear days from to-day (September 28), provided that the order of the Arbitration Court has been signed prior to, or by, such date.
The wages boards determinations so far affected cover both those industries in which there is a federal award, and some industries in which there is not. In September, it was reported that the Premier of Victoria had said that no decision had been reached by the State Cabinet on legislation to retain quarterly adjustments in Victorian determinations, and t,ii at any decision would not be made until the federal court’s reasons for its judgment had been fully examined. So far as I am aware, the position in this State has not been changed since then.
The Industrial Court of Queensland is required, under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, to make declarations from time to time as to the State basic wage. In April, 1942, the court announced its intention to do this quarterly adjustment “ on the cost of living C series index”. It has done this ever since that time, with the exception of the adjustment for the December quarter. 1952, operative from the 1st February, 1953, which was a decrease of ls., and which the Queensland court refused to incorporate in the State basic wage. The Registrar varies the awards accordingly, and publishes the variations in the Queensland Gazette. On the 13th October, an application to the Queensland court to end the basic wage quarterly adjustments was rejected.
In South Australia the position is that, since the quarter which commenced in January, 1950, the living wage has, by virtue of the operation of the industrial code, been varied each quarter automatically with the automatic variations in the Commonwealth basic wage for Adelaide as certified in the South Australian Gazelle by the president of the Board of Industry. The president has, of course, a discretion as to whether or not there is such an increase, or decrease, to warrant a change in the living wage. In South Australia, therefore, no action i= likely to be taken until the Statistician’s figures for the cost-of-living changes in that. State are announced. When thi? occurs, Mr. President Pellew will be required to decide whether anr increase, or decrease, of the cost of living in that State is sufficiently substantial to warrant an increase of the living wage.
Under the Industrial Arbitration Act of Western Australia, the State statistician is required to supply to the Court of Arbitration, a statement indicating, by price index numbers, and other information, the variation in the cost of living during the quarter, and, if the change exceeds ls. a week, the court is required to consider the statement and may, but not must, adjust the basic wage. Honorable members may recall that, in 1952, the State court did refuse to adjust the basic wage, despite a rise of the cost of living of more than ls. a week. It would therefore be entirely a matter for the State court’s discretion as to whether or not it should follow the example of the federal court in the event of a. movement in the cost of living for the quarter exceeding ls. a week. I am informed that, as a result of representations made by the trade unions in Western Australia, the State Government is considering the introduction of legislation to ‘ secure the automatic quarterly adjustment of the State basic wage.
Under the Wages Board Act of Tasmania, a wages board may determine that rates of pay fixed by it shall be automatically adjusted periodically to accord as sufficiently as practicable with variations in the cost of living as indicated by such retail price index numbers published by the Commonwealth Statistician as the board may direct. I am informed that so far no action has been taken by any wages board in Tasmania to adopt the federal court’s decision to suspend quarterly adjustments.
Finally, the position regarding the Commonwealth Public Service is that the Public Service Board made application to the Public Service Arbitrator to suspend the cost of living adjustment clause in his determinations consequent upon the decision of the main court. These applications were considered at a statutory conference held on the 12th October, and, on the application of the Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association, the Arbitrator adjourned the matter to await the hearing of the 28th October, that is, after the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has met on the 20th October, as I have already indicated, to consider further applications in connexion with its judgment.
I lay on the table the following paper : -
Cost of Living Adjustments - Arbitration Court’s Decision - Ministerial Statement. and move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Clarey) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 15th October (vide page 1503), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill is described as a bill for an act to approve acceptance by Australia of the agreement revising and renewing the International Wheat Agreement. I rise to oppose it. I do so very largely because, ever since international agreements of the kind have been mooted I have considered that I had cause to oppose them because of their impact on the wheat industry and on the economy of our country. As I have always been of that conviction, I see no reason why I should change my view on this occasion. Because of the time factor, and because I desire to give as many other honorable members as possible an opportunity to speak on the bill, I shall state my views of the matter very briefly. I do not challenge the competence of the Government to enter an agreement of this description for the purpose of assisting a war-ravaged world, and of stabilizing the economy of this country, but I do quesi l On the morality and justice of doing it in the way proposed in this bill. Nor do I question the wisdom of entering into an arrangement of this description for the purpose of easing the violent convulsions of export parity prices for wheat. These price convulsions have wrought more havoc in Australia than perhaps in any other country in the world. I would welcome an arrangement that would flatten out these convulsive price movements. But any arrangement that is entered into should be just and equitable to the community as a whole. This arrangement is neither just nor equitable. The proper way to enter into an agreement of this description is for the Government to acquire that quantity of wheat which it deems necessary to discharge its international obligations. If the Government did that it would be required to pay for the wheat on just terms. It would then be competent for the Government to dispose of the wheat in any way, for any purpose and at any price. This agreement cuts across that very important principle.
All agreements of this kind are designed either to lift low wheat prices or to depress high wheat prices. Every attempt to lift wheat prices from the desperately low levels of the past has failed. Whenever we have sought to impose an arbitrary penalty on the importers of wheat we have failed. All the attempts to lift prices have failed and attempts to depress prices have succeeded only because they have been profitable to the importing countries.
In the few moments available to me I should like to traverse the history of the International Wheat Agreement. The first discussions took place in 1931. They were entirely abortive because the price of wheat was desperately low and the world wanted the privilege of buying wheat at that low price. The discussions ended inconclusively in that year. They were renewed in 1932, and again, because the economic price for wheat was low, nothing was done. All the importing countries reserved the right to buy wheat at the desperately low price that then prevailed. Strangely enough, the first international wheat agreement was signed and ratified in 1933 on a price basis calculated at 3s. 5 3/8d. per bushel, ex Liverpool, United Kingdom. It provided for compensating reductions of the tariffs imposed by the importing countries in respect of wheat and other commodities. But that attempt to lift the desperately low price level by a few pence a bushel failed, first, because the agreement was breached by Argentina, which undersold all the other signatory countries, and, secondly, because none of the importing countries, with the exception of the United Kingdom, discharged its responsibilities by adjusting its tariff schedules. So, the first International Wheat Agreement failed ignominiously.
In 1938, because the price of wheat was again at a desperately low level, another attempt was made, but it, like the two previous attempts, was abortive. In 1941 and 1942 the proposal was again explored and examined, and arising out of the discussions that then took place, the International Wheat Council was established. In in-!”, another International Wheat Agreement was made, but it was rejected by the
United Kingdom. In 1948, still another agreement was drawn up but it was rejected by the United States Senate. I direct the attention of the House to what I said in 1948 when that agreement was devised. In that year I opposed the signing of the International Wheat Agreement on the ground that it was designed arbitrarily to reduce wheat prices from the comparatively high level of 2 dollars 13 cents to a fixed maximum price of 180 cents in the first year, with a progressive downward movement beginning at 150 cents in the first year and moving by 10 .cent falls to 120 cents in the last year. The agreement forced the wheat price away from the current export parity price level of 13s. 0.4d. Australian currency to a fixed maximum of Ils. and a fixed minimum of 9s. Id. a bushel. In the first year the minimum would fall to 9s. Id. a bushel, in the second year to 8s. 5d. a bushel, in the third year to 7s. lOd. a bushel, and in the fourth and final year to 7s. 2d. a bushel. The agreement was binding on the exporting countries only, by virtue of the fact that they were . the sellers, but it was not binding on the importing countries, since there is no known way to compel the importing countries to buy fixed quantities of wheat, if and when wheat, can be bought from Russia, Argentina, or other non-signatory exporting countries at a lower price. The losses incidental to that agreement were borne, in the United States of America, by the United States Treasury, and under this agreement will be similarly borne on this occasion if the United States of America ratifies the agreement. In Australia, however, the losses will be borne exclusively by the Australian . wheat-growers and by nobody else, who, in the past, have been subjected to every social, economic and agricultural indignity because of the circumstances of wheat prices and for no other reason, and should he allowed to recover from the desperation of the past now that the export parity price has turned in their favour. That was my judgment in 1948 when that international wheat agreement was devised and it is still my judgment. Fortunately, the 1948 agreement was rejected by the United States Senate. In 1949 a successful attempt was made to devise a satisfactory agreement. That agreement has been in effective operation for the last four years. There were three major exporting countries and about 34 importing countries for the purposes of the agreement, and it is interesting to note the effect that the agreement has had on the Australian economy, particularly on the economy of the wheat industry itself.
In 1949-50, the first year of the agreement, the average export parity price over the whole year was 18s. 9d. a bushel, whilst the maximum price under the Internationa] Wheat Agreement began that year at lis. 2d. a bushel, and, because of the depreciation of our currency, rose to 16s. Id. a bushel and finally, very largely as a result of the change of government, to 16s. 6d. a bushel, compared with 18s. 9d. a bushel for export parity as a whole. Under that agreement we sold that year 70,000,000 bushels of wheat at prices ranging from Ils. 2d. a bushel to 16s 6d. a bushel, when the export parity value was 18s. 9d. a bushel. In 1950-51, when the average export price was 13o. 6d. a bushel, this country sold 88*700,000. bushels at 16s 6d. a bushel, which was at a loss of 2s. a bushel in comparison with world parity. In 1951- 52 the export parity price was 21s. .63d. a bushel, yet we were required to sell, under the agreement, no fewer than 60,000,000 bushels, again at 16s. 6d. a bushel, which represented a loss of 5s. 6d. a bushel. That loss was borne exclusively by the wheat-growers. A loss of 5s. a bushel seems to me to be a terrific loss, considering that in days gone by I have cleared and sown land, harvested wheat, carried it in the middle of the night to railway stations, and sold it for ls. a bushel. The export parity price in 1952- 53, the final selling year under the old agreement, was 19s. a bushel, yet we were required to sell 65,000,000 bushels at 16s. 6d. a bushel, which represented a loss to the wheat-growers of 2s. 6d. a bushel. The new agreement provides for a maximum price of 18s. 3d. a bushel, but it also provides for compensation on falls, should they be considered necessary, during the entire three-year period of the agreement.
I say now, as I said in 194S and in 1931, that this is the wrong way to enter into an agreement of that description. If this or any other government considers that an arrangement is necessary to meet the national need, or the international need, or for any other purpose, then there is no sound reason why it should not acquire, through the normal processes of commerce, the quantity of wheat necessary to meet the situation. Because the Australian Constitution was designed to mete out justice to everybody in the community, if this or any other government wished to acquire wheat or any other commodity for the purposes of an agreement, it would have to acquire it on just and reasonable terms. The High Court has interpreted “just and reasonable terms “ to mean the value, at the date of its acquisition, of the commodity that is acquired. I suggest, therefore, in all sincerity, that if it is the wish of this country to enter into an agreement, the advisability of which is not to be questioned - and I am. not questioning it, although I am questioning the method adopted - which will involve the sale of )S,000,000 bushels of wheat, there is nothing to prevent the Commonwealth from acquiring that quantity of 4S, 000,000 bushels, paying for it in the normal way, and making it available under this contract or any other arrangement. In that way the losses incidental to the agreement would be borne, not by a humble section of the community, but by the community as a whole.
There are other pernicious features in a measure of this description. The agreement is to be binding on the exporting countries. That is understandable in relation to a country like the United States of America, where the wheat-growers are not expected to bear the losses incidental to the agreement. The United States Government stands up to its full democratic responsibility, and the Treasury meets the losses. Similarly a system has been devised in Canada for compensating growers it’ and when the Canadian Government considers it necessary to enter into arrangements such as this. In Australia, however, when it is necessary for 113 to enter into such arrangements, the incidental losses have to be borne, not by the nation, but by the people engaged in the industry. We have a three-price structure which consists of first, a price for wheat sold and consumed in this country, second, a price for wheat sold under arrangements such as this, and, third, a price for goods sold in the free export parity market. Could this Government or any other government face up to the situation that would arise if the same principles were applied to the wool industry? The establishment of an Australian price, an international agreement price and a free export parity price for wool would have a desperately serious effect on the Australian economy and, of course, would be prejudicial to the mcn engaged in the wool industry. No such arrangement would be tolerated by anyother industry. Is it suggested, for example, that coal should be made available at an exclusive price for home consumption, an exclusive price for buyers under an international agreement, and export parity prices for buyers outside the agreement? Is it suggested that wages, salaries and emoluments generally should be divided into three distinct divisions - those which the Australian community is prepared to pay, those which countries included in an international agreement are prepared to pay in order to protect their economies, and those which the remaining countries are prepared to pay? Such an arrangement would not be tolerated in any circumstances, and, in my opinion, it should not be tolerated in relation to the wheat industry.
It is a dreadful state of affairs that, as soon as the price of wheat rises to a remunerative level, an international agreement can be devised to force it down by any amount, according to the figures I have cited, between 2s. 6d. and 5s. a bushel, and that the losses so incurred are borne by the people who have brought the arable land of our country into production at their own expense and entirely by their own energy, initiative and industry. When they harvest their wheat, they are entitled to expect the maximum possible reward for their labours, but they find that all sorts of arrangements may be entered into, when prices are high, in order to prejudice their equity in their own product. I could never tolerate such a system. I suggest that the new international agreement will probably break down under its own weight. Experience indicates that this will happen as soon as it becomes profitable for any importing country to violate the terms of the agreement. History has shown that, with the sole exception of good old Mother England, if I may be permitted to use the term affectionately with reference to the United Kingdom, the countries of the world have no hesitation in breaking contracts in order to further their own interests. Every importing country that is a party to the new agreement will back out without a moment’s hesitation as soon as it can buy wheat for a fraction of a penny less than the agreement price and will leave Australia with its 48,000,000 bushels of wheat to sell at the best prices it can obtain.
Such international agreements as this, notwithstanding all the opinions to the contrary, have never been solemn documents in the true sense of the term, except to countries like the United Kingdom. Germany, for example, entered into the Treaty of Versailles after it had been ignominiously defeated in a major war, but it had no scruples in tearing that solemn document to pieces in order to achieve its own ends as soon as it was able to do so. The same fate befell the Locarno Treaty. That is the lesson of history in relation to all such agreements. The importing countries will be willing to profit from the international agreement year after year, at the rate of 2s. 6d., 3s. 6d., or 5s. a bushel for millions of bushels of wheat, but, as soon as they can .buy wheat in adequate quantities for a fraction of a penny less than the agreement rates, they will walk out and buy from Argentina, Russia, Uruguay or anywhere else. I oppose the bill for those reasons. It will merely continue to impose injustice on a section of the community that deserves to be protected, if any section of the community deserves protection.
.- As the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has said, the Opposition supports the bill. We do so because we hope that it will put an end to the fluctuations of the world wheat market. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) has said that he opposes the bill. The
Opposition puts it squarely to him that he should divide the House on the issue and demonstrate to the wheat-farmers whether, in fact, he is willing to push his opposition to the point of attempting to defeat the measure. The honorable member talks loudly of his support for orderly marketing and his desire to end the violent fluctuations of world markets which have adversely affected this vital Australian industry for many years. Yet his speeches are designed to incite the wheat-growers against every form of orderly marketing and stabilization and all international agreements. His conduct belies his statements. In fact, he does not believe in orderly marketing, in the stabilization of wheat prices, or in any form of international agreement designed to avoid the very injustices to which he has referred. He is not the only member of this Parliament, and certainly not of the Australian community, who has experienced the vagaries of the international wheat market.
The rapid upward and downward movements of wheat prices that took place before the wheat pooling system was introduced in Australia certainly did not reflect international price levels. They were due entirely to the efforts of the wheat dealers to profit from the vulnerability of the wheat-growers by rigging the Australian wheat market. These fluctuations led to an insistent demand by the growers for the employment of some method of bringing order to this vital industry. Wheat-farmers, especially those who have spent their working lives in the industry, undoubtedly demand stabilization and support the principle of international agreements. The honorable member for Riverina is, in all respects in relation to the wheat industry, a complete anarchist. No matter what lip service he may pay to orderly marketing, there can be no doubt from his utterances that he would destroy all orderly marketing schemes. It is idle for the honorable member to say that he supports order in the industry when every move that he makes is designed to prevent the introduction of order. He tells the farmers that they suffer great losses under orderly marketing arrangements but makes no effort to remind them of the great benefits that accrue to them.
The price of wheat to-day is at a reasonably high level. But the situation can change rapidly, and the price could fall to a very low level. The world situation is fraught with the gravest perils for Australian wheat-growers. What does the honorable member for Riverina suggest? He considers that Australia should avoid international agreements, because he fears that some countries may not honour them. He believes that Australia should not be a party to a world agreement of any kind, because a country might disregard the terms of it, and buy wheat from sources not subject to the agreement, if prices drop sharply. The honorable gentleman appears to consider that we should not seek stability, because stability cannot be achieved. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) pointed out last night that the honorable member for Riverina, by his incitement of the wheat-growers, is, in fact, the greatest enemy of organized wheat marketing and the interests of the growers. Indeed, the honorable member for Riverina is the greatest enemy of the wheat-growers that it has been my lot to meet.
The Labour party considers that the Government has been wise to seek the renewal of the International Wheat Agreement, but does not believe that the Minister acted wisely in the conduct of negotiations on other matters before the present agreement was brought to finality.
– Does the honorable member consider that the growers should not have had representatives present at the conference?
– The Minister jumps to conclusions too quickly. Some time ago, he told the people of Great Britain bluntly that if they did not meet his ideas regarding prices, he would sell Australian primary products to other countries.
– That is not true, of course.
– It is true.
-Order! This dialogue is out of order.
– Great Britain is our traditional best customer for wheat, but the United Kingdom Government is under no obligation to become a party to the International Wheat Agreement, which is of such vital interest to Australia. If the Minister threatens the British people, he must expect a reaction when he is seeking an agreement, on favorable or reasonable terms, for the Australian wheat-grower.
I inform the Minister, in reply to an earlier interjection, that the Labour party does not object to consultations between the Government and the wheat-growers on matters affecting their interests. The honorable member for Lalor, when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, consulted the representatives of the wheat-growers-
– The honorable member for Lalor told the wheat-growers his decision afterwards.
– The honorable member for Lalor consulted the wheatgrowers. Their views were obtained by means of a ballot. This Government, when it conducts a ballot, is merely following the precedent set by the honorable member for Lalor.
– A ballot is not taken of wheat-growers on the ratification of the International Wheat Agreement.
– Of course, it- is not. I am replying to an interjection by the Minister, who has said that the Labour party objects to consultations between the Government and the growers on matters affecting their interests. I am pointing out clearly that the Labour Government consulted the wheat-growers at every stage, and sought their views, and finally obtained the consent of a big majority of them to a stabilization scheme against the organized opposition of the Australian Country party. We certainly object to the apparent willingness of the Government to shed its responsibilities, and allow the final negotiations to be conducted, at least in part, not by the Minister or a representative of the Government, but by representatives of the farmers themselves. That attitude showed lack of courtesy, to say the least, to the persons with whom the Government was conducting the negotiations. It was evidence of the willingness of the Government to shed its responsibilities on a matter of this vital kind.
The honorable member for Riverina who is the only person in the House so far to oppose this legislation, has pointed out that the wheat-growers will lose money if they are not allowed to sell their products at the high prices which now prevail in what he terms the free market of the world. He has also stated that Australia is the only country in which these losses will be borne by the wheatgrowers themselves. According to him, the United States Government bears the financial loss if American wheat-growers have to sell their products at values lower than the free market price. However, 1 remind the honorable gentleman that the United States Government has imposed a quota on wheat production. A grower in that ‘country who sows a larger acreage than the quota allotted to him, makes a substantial loss on the wheat. Therefore, the honorable member does not state the position correctly when he says that the United States Government accepts responsibility for the “support” prices for unlimited quantities of wheat produced in that country. No limitation is placed on wheat production in Australia, and the Government declares that a home-consumption price, in effect, a “ support “ price, is fixed. At the present time, no stabilization scheme is in operation to give a guarantee to growers who produce wheat for export. That matter, we understand, will be a later development if State governments and wheat-growers are willing to accept such a proposal.
There were two reasons why the Australian Government could not insist upon the maximum wheat price which was available in the world when the negotiations were being conducted and the agreement was being brought to finality. The first was that many people in other countries were desperately short of food, and were unable to pay the free market price for wheat. In such circumstances, a moral responsibility devolved upon the Australian Parliament and the country not to extract the last farthing from people who were in a condition of near-starvation. I pass quickly from that point, because it may not be readily accepted by the honorable member for Riverina, although I regard it as a substantial argument. Any consideration that we can show to other people now may bring its own reward later when wheat is in plentiful supply.
The second reason was much more .practical. Wheat can be grown at a price, nearly anywhere in the world. Therefore, insistence by Australia on the payment of the highest prices that prevailed during a period of relative scarcity would compel other countries to grow wheat in areas where wheat production was not economic. If that had happened, heavy surpluses of wheat in the markets of the world would have been aggravated by supplies produced in many countries in Europe, to the detriment of Australia and other natural wheat-producing countries. Therefore, the Government could not have insisted on an agreement for the sale of wheat at the maximum price now obtainable on the free markets of the world. Changes are likely to occur rapidly in the wheat markets next season, and in subsequent seasons, and we may have to accept something less than the present maximum price. The price should be adjusted from time to time, as far as we can judge changes in the world market. Such an arrangement was made under the original International Wheat Agreement. Four years ago, many people thought that within a relatively short period the markets of the world would be flooded with wheat. That fear has not been realized so far, but at the time there was every reason to believe that before the agreement expired the world would have surplus supplies of wheat. Consequently, the international agreement provided a kind of insurance policy for Australian growers. The present indications are that unless world conditions change considerably, there will be tremendous surpluses of wheat in the next three years, because of increased sowings and yields. How can wheat markets be made sufficiently stable to ensure that the wheat-growers of Australia will get an adequate return and will be able to plan their future with the knowledge that they will not have to accept the ruinously low prices received for export wheat in the past? As honorable members know, the price of wheat on the world markets has suffered tremendously violent fluctuations. Prices have reached abnormal heights and have dropped to shockingly low levels. Some time ago I read a very interesting survey of the wheat industry over a period of approximately 100 years and that survey showed that wheat had held its price better than almost every other commodity sold on the world markets. Notwithstanding relatively short.term fluctuations, high levels and ruinously low levels, a graph outlining the position for that period of 100 years showed that the price of wheat had maintained a level of approximately 5s. a bushel. That seems to me to indicate that an international wheat agreement can ,be made a reality. If there were long periods of fluctuation and no relative stability over a long period of years, I should not think a wheat agreement would ever work. Tremendous fluctuations over long periods of time could not be coped with. As I have said, research seems to indicate that over many years prices have remained fairly constant.
The honorable member for Riverina, the only honorable member who has opposed the measure and, I assume, the only one who will oppose it, argued that we should not have an international wheat agreement because it would be implemented in a period of high prices. I believe that, if an international wheat agreement were implemented in good faith when prices were high, there would be every reason to believe that it would be satisfactory when prices were low for a short period. Therefore, I think the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was wise in introducing the measure. I am certain that the farmers of Australia, by a very large majority, will endorse the proposal outlined in the measure now before the House, but which, of course, will not be put into operation unless the complementary measure is endorsed by the six State governments of Australia.
I wish to deal with one other matter. I think that the people of vast areas of the world could be encouraged to consume more wheat if it were produced at a reasonable price. If prices were reasonable, the people of those countries which at present do not consume wheat could make an effective demand if they had the money to purchase the wheat that could be produced in this and other countries. Whilst I believe that the International Wheat Agreement should be ratified and that stabilization is vital, I repeat that I think wheat could be sold in larger quantities throughout the world and that countries that are not already consuming wheat could be induced to purchase that commodity if, as I have said earlier, it is produced at reasonable prices, having regard to the fact that, when it comes into general use, wheat is a basic element of national diet. Price is a vital factor which affects the consumption of wheat in large quantities.
Honorable members on this side of the House support the bill because they think it is a wise measure and that, with goodwill between the nations, the agreement can be honoured. It could not be honoured if Australia or any other country demanded the last farthing from a starving world in order to make itself richer. It is because the producing countries are willing to enter into an agreement when high prices obtain that there is a reasonable chance that that agreement will continue to operate for a long period. We support the bill and believe that it has the commendation of the farmers and the people of Australia generally.
– At the outset of my remarks I think tribute should be paid to the one man in Australia who, more than anybody else, has been responsible for bringing about agreement among the States and so permitting the preparation of an orderly marketing scheme and the ratification of the International Wheat Agreement. I refer to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen). Those engaged in the wheat industry of Australia fully appreciate what he has done. I know the tremendous amount of work, the tremendous amount of thought, and the tremendous amount of energy he has put into bringing about this agreement between the States. I have been associated with him in many negotiations with representatives of the industry and with the representatives of governments, and I can safely say that I do not think any other man in Australia could have brought about agreement between the States and created a position whereby this Parliament will be able to ratify the International Wheat Agreement.
The honorable member for .Riverina (Mr. Roberton) expressed his opposition to this measure. I should like to say that I support the bill and, therefore, I do not agree with the principles he has enunciated. But let me say that it is characteristic of the Government parties that a member is able to stand up in this House and express his own personal views on a subject of this nature. I am afraid, unfortunately, that that does not apply to the same extent to honorable members opposite. We must admit that, if a person has his own personal opinion, he should have the right to express that opinion in this House and should have the right, if he wishes, to vote against any measure which he thinks he cannot conscientiously support. Let me say to the honorable member for Riverina that I am sure he opposed the measure in principle rather, than from a practical point of view, because he and every other honorable member must appreciate that if Australia remained outside the International Wheat Agreement it would cut itself off from large overseas markets and would find it extremely difficult to market its surplus of export wheat outside the agreement. The ratification of the agreement is fully supported by all the State governments, by the wheat industry and, I am pleased to say, by honorable members opposite.
During the opening remarks of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), he referred to several matters that I think require some comment. He mentioned comments made in 1948-49 by the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture with reference to the International Wheat Agreement then under consideration. But the Minister, on behalf of this Government, has expressed a desire to ratify the . current International Wheat Agreement and has made it clear in introducing this measure that the Government intends to do so. He has also made it clear that the proposals are fully supported by the wheat industry of Australia. The honorable member for Lalor also said that he was appalled by the fact that the United Kingdom had remained outside the current agreement. He suggested that the Australian Government was responsible in some way for the decision of the United Kingdom to remain outside the agreement. I am certain the honorable member for Lalor knows in his heart that the Australian Government was most eager for the United Kingdom to participate in the agreement. It became quite clear during the negotiations that the United States of America was not prepared to move from the stand it had taken in relation to prices. The United Kingdom would not agree to the prices suggested by the United States of America, which, at the conclusion of the negotiations, were approximately 3d. and 5d. a bushel higher than those suggested by the British delegation. As a result of that breach, which was the direct responsibility of the United States of America, the United Kingdom decided to remain, outside the agreement. No responsibility for that decision can be laid at the door of the Australian delegation to the International Wheat Conference, which took every step possible to bring the United Kingdom into the new agreement.
The honorable member for Lalor criticized the Government for allowing representatives of the wheat industry and the Australian Wheat Board to attend, as principals, the negotiations that took place in Washington early this year. The inference to be drawn from the remarks of the honorable member is that a Labour government would not permit the wheat industry to be represented in talks of that nature. That was a very clear expression of the mind of a complete socialist. The honorable member believes the Australian Government should tell the wheat industry that it knows far better than the industry itself, the way in which to handle, market and sell the products of the industry. He implied that a Labour government would handle the Australian wheat crop on behalf of the wheat industry, and give the industry no say in the marketing processes. This Government is diametrically opposed to the principle that was propounded by the honorable member for Lalor. It believes that an industry should have some say in the marketing and sale of its own product. That principle has been adopted in the negotiations conducted for variations of the terms of our meat contract with the United Kingdom. It has been adopted also in relation to the dairying industry, representatives of which take part in the annual negotiations for variations of prices and the quantities of butter permitted to be sold on the free market under our butter contract with the United Kingdom. That principle is applied also to the wheat industry. The Government believes that representatives of the industry should take part in negotiations for the sale of a product owned by those engaged in the industry. Consequently, it decided that the . Australian wheat industry as well as the Australian Government should be represented in the negotiations for a new international wheat agreement.
I gathered from the remarks of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) that he believes those negotiations were conducted on behalf of Australia only by representatives of the wheat industry. I should like to make it clear that the Australian delegation that went to Washington to conduct the negotiations on behalf of this country was .led by a government representative, Mr. McCarthy. The other members of the delegation were the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, who was a government appointee, and, therefore, represented the Government indirectly, and a representative of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, who represented the wheat industry. We thought that that was the fairest and most equitable way for the wheat industry to be represented in vital negotiations that affected the sale of a product belonging to those engaged in the industry. The honorable member for Perth echoed the sentiments of the honorable member for Lalor when he criticized this Government for the fact that the United Kingdom had decided to remain outside the new International
Wheat Agreement. I have already explained that the Australian representatives did everything possible to bring the United Kingdom within the new agreement, and that it was only a disagreement between the United States of America and the United Kingdom on the question of price that caused the United Kingdom to decide to remain outside of the agreement.
The honorable member for Perth implied that some blame was attributable to the Government because a wheat stabilization scheme was not introduced in conjunction with the orderly marketing scheme. The honorable member knows very well that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture conducted negotiations for over fifteen months in an attempt to get agreement between the State governments and the wheat industry on a stabilization scheme. Although a majority of the members of the Australian Agricultural Council agreed upon a stabilization plan, the plan was not agreed to by the Labour governments of Victoria and Queensland. They held it up until it was too late to implement it in time for this wheat season. If there is any blame for delay in introducing a stabilization scheme, the blame should be laid at the door of the Labour governments of Victoria, and Queensland. It is extremely difficult to understand the attitude of the Queensland Government in this connexion, because Queensland had everything to gain from a Commonwealth-wide wheat pool. It is almost incredible that the Queensland Minister for Agriculture advised his Government to withhold from the wheat-growers of Queensland the benefits of a Commonwealth-wide wheat pool which, ultimately, would have been worth millions of pounds to the wheat-growers and the people of that State. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has made it quite clear where the Commonwealth stands in relation to wheat stabilization. Proposals for a stabilization scheme have already been submitted to the States. Before the scheme can be implemented, those proposals must be accepted by the States and ratified at a ballot by the wheat-growers. The Commonwealth is prepared to accept stabilization. It has shown clearly that it believes in the principle of stabilization, and would 1*; happy to see a new stabilization plan in operation.
It is desirable to study the history of previous international conferences on wheat in order to understand the atmosphere in which the 1953 agreement was signed. International conferences of this nature were born between the two world wars, when it was decided that commodity agreements should be concluded by various nations in order to stabilize international trade. During that period both exporting and importing countries advocated an international wheat agreement. Conferences were held in 1931 and 1932, but they failed to achieve any result. In 1933, an international wheat agreement was proposed. The basis of the agreement was 560,000,000 bushels of wheat a year. The agreement implied that exporting countries would reduce their wheat production to a certain level, and that importing countries, when the price of wheat rose above a certain level, would reduce tariffs and other restrictions on wheat and, at the same time, place certain restrictions on their own wheat production. As a result of non-observance of those conditions by some exporting and importing nations, the agreement broke down within a year of the date on which it was signed.
In 1938, due to a world-wide slump in wheat prices, efforts were made to put a new international -wheat agreement into operation. A draft agreement was submitted to all interested nations just at the time World War II. broke out. Then, of course, the situation changed entirely. Early, in the war, in 1941, and again in 1942, further discussions were held between the interested nations. It was decided to establish an International Wheat Council, and plans were made for what were known as post-war wheat relief programmes. So, early in the war, the negotiators were thinking in terms of pre-war days, although their minds were conditioned to some extent by the hostilities still in progress. But when the war ended, conditions were very different from pre-war conditions. In the post-war period, the draft agreement was found to be entirely inadequate, because the situation had changed considerably. At that stage, due to the devastation of Europe, European wheat production had fallen very greatly. There was also an acute shortage of rice in Asia, due to similar circumstances. In addition, the wheat relief programmes instituted by some of the exporting countries had caused a serious deterioration of their stocks of wheat. Bo the draft agreement that ‘had been prepared early in the war was abandoned in the immediate postwar period.
Discussions began again, and in 1947 concrete proposals were put forward. It was proposed to allocate wheat quotas, but no restrictions were to be placed on sales over and above the quotas. A range of prices was fixed for quota wheat. The maximum and minimum prices were based on a sliding scale. The maximum price was 1.80 dollars for 1947-48, and 1.70 dollars for each of the three succeeding years of the proposed agreement. The minimum price was 1.40 dollars, which was to be reduced by 10 cents each year until it reached the minimum level of 1.10 dollars in 1950-51. Those were the proposals submitted to the interested nations in 1947. However, the United Kingdom., for various reasons, was not prepared to agree to the proposals, and the negotiations again broke down. They were resumed in 1948, when agreement was reached on proposals similar to thos. advanced in 1947. Canada, the United States of America and Australia signed the new agreement, as did 32 importing countries, including the United Kingdom. The agreement was to operate for five years from the 1st August, 1948. The maximum price for quota wheat was 2 dollars a bushel for a period of five years. The minimum price was subject to a sliding scale. It was 1.50 dollars for 1948-49, coming down to 1.10 dollars for 1952-53. But the United States Senate refused to ratify that agreement, and several other nations, including Australia and the United Kingdom, withdrew from it. The proposals were again abandoned. Another conference was held in 1949. On that occasion, agreement was reached between all the exporting and importing countries, and a four-year agreement was signed. That was the agreement that expired this year. The new agreement reflects the experience gained from past negotiations. It is similar to the previous agreement, subject to certain quite important amendments. The agreement states -
The objectives of this agreement are to assure supplies of wheat to importing countries and markets for wheat to exporting countries at equitable and stable prices.
The maximum price under this agreement, which will last for three years, is 3 dollars 5 cents which is equivalent to 18s. 3$d. in Australian currency, and the minimum price for three years is 1 dollar 55 cents or (A.) 13s. lOd. There is a significant difference in that there is no sliding scale of prices. This price structure exhibits an increase of 2s. 2-Jd. a bushel above the maximum price provided for in the previous international wheat agreement, and a minimum of 13s. lOd. compared with 13s. 4$d. to 10s. 8£d. previously provided.
I shall now mention some of the conditions embodied in the agreement. For every importing country a quota or “ guaranteed quantity “ has been fixed, and that country may be required to purchase that quota at the minimum price and exporting countries may be required to sell wheat to it at the maximum price provided. There is a “ guaranteed quantity “ which each exporting country may be required to sell at the maximum price, and which importing countries may be required to purchase from it at the minimum price. Consequently, there is a protection embodied in the agreement for both importing and exporting countries. Each importing country has the right to obtain the guaranteed quantity at the maximum price, and accepts an obligation to purchase its guaranteed quantity at the minimum price. Conversely, exporting countries have an obligation to supply at the maximum price, and a right to sell their respective guaranteed quantities at the rninimum price. Therefore, full protection has been provided in this agreement for the wheat industry in Australia, and the possibility of a breakdown in the event of fluctuations in world prices has been adequately dealt with.
Powers to maintain an International Wheat Council to enforce supplies within the maximum-minimum price ranges are inherent in this agreement. In the negotiations which took place at Washington in 1953, 42 importing countries asked for more than 600,000,000 bushels of wheat, but those demands were finally adjusted at 595,000,000 bushels. After the United Kingdom signified that it intended to withdraw from the International Wheat Agreement, and after other adjustments took place among minor importing countries, a quantity of 420,000,000 bushels remained as the basis for the agreement. Australia indicated that it would be prepared to accept a quota of 75,000,000 bushels, but as the United Kingdom has withdrawn from the agreement, it is the intention of the Commonwealth to ask that that quantity be reduced to an amount of approximately 48,000,000 bushels so that supplies will be available for the United Kingdom market.
An application for an extension of time has been made because of certain internal marketing difficulties which have already been mentioned, and the agreement is to be ratified by the 31st of this month. In fact, a meeting of the council will be held on Tuesday next at Madrid, at which it is vital that some information with regard to the ratification of this agreement by Australia should be made available. Another matter that has been clarified is that of carrying charges. There was some misunderstanding under the last agreement about that matter, and that misunderstanding persisted until the agreement expired. However, a clause in the agreement now before the Parliament provides that carrying charges as agreed between buyer and seller may accrue for the buyer’s account only after an agreed date specified in the contract under which the wheat is sold. Moreover, exporters gave explicit undertakings on the circumstances under which the charge would be imposed. As a result of this clarification exporting countries will be unable to add a uniform- charge in respect of all sales of wheat.
This new wheat agreement will be administered by the International Wheat Council. That organization will consist of representatives of all member countries, and the voting powers of exporting and importing countries will be divided equally. An executive committee is being set up within the council, as well as a small secretariat which will be maintained as formerly. Difficulties may occur in connexion with the International Wheat Agreement because the United Kingdom has decided to remain outside of it, and this problem will have to be faced in the near future. The method of handling wheat and selling it to the United Kingdom are matters for urgent negotiation between Australia and the United Kingdom. The International Wheat Agreement has the approval not only of the Australian Government but also of all State governments and the wheat industry. It will serve as an incentive to the industry, and together with the orderly marketing scheme which is now being organized by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, it will help our industry to expand. I hope that it will not be long before there is a wheat stabilization plan which may be superimposed upon the present orderly marketing proposals.
I now desire to mention the wheatgrowing potential that exists in certain parts of the Commonwealth. I believe that the greatest wheat-growing potential may now be found in Queensland. For the ten years before 1938-39 the acreage of wheat grown in Queensland was approximately 300,000. During the last five years it has averaged 600,000, and this year, if there had not been adverse weather conditions, Queensland would have grown 800,000 acres of wheat. However, there is a greater potential for expansion of wheat-growing in Queensland than, I believe, may be found in any other State of the Commonwealth. The main areas suitable for wheatgrowing in Queensland are the areas in the 20-in. to 30-in. rainfall belt from the border to north of Clermont. There are about 14,000,000 acres of potential wheat-growing land in this area, which would be sufficient to allow wheat to be grown each year on 3,750,000 acres. Those figures indicate the tremendous wheat-growing potential of Queensland, and it is highly necessary at present to offer incentives to the industry so that further expansion can take place. The yield of wheat per acre in Queensland is higher than in most other States of the Commonwealth, and in the particular area of central Queensland and southern Queensland to which I have referred, not only can the wheat-growing acreage be increased but each acre of the new wheatland will give a higher yield than a similar area in other parts of Australia. If the wheat industry is given the proper incentives there will be tremendous development in Queensland. The combination of the International Wheat Agreement, the orderly marketing scheme and other incentives will give some necessary impetus to the industry to enable it to expand in the future.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 15th October (vide page 1432), on motion by Mr. Kent Hughes -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I was pleased to learn recently from the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) that he intends to confer with officials of exservicemen’s organizations in the Australian Capital Territory in order to discuss proposals for the extension of war service land settlement in this Territory. I have made consistent representations about this matter since my election to the Parliament in 1951, and I hope that the conference which is to be held between the Minister and the officials of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia will bear fruit, and give an opportunity to exservicemen who enlisted from the Territory and returned to the territory to take up farming occupations in this area. The history of the representations that I have made about the matter commenced in August, 1951, when I wrote to the Minister for the Interior in these terms -
Some ex-servicemen in the territory are anxious to secure land on which they can engage in fruit growing and vegetable growing. Can you have an investigation made of the possibility of small areas for this purpose being made available on lease in suitable regions of the Territory?
On the 20th September, 1951, the Minister replied to my letter, and his reply stated, inter alia - -
With further reference to your representations of tile 22nd August, 1951, on behalf of ex-servicemen in the Australian Capital Territory desirous of acquiring leases for fruit and vegetable growing, I have had inquiries made and find that there is no land available for the purpose mentioned. All suitable Commonwealth owned rural land is at present under occupation, and will not become available until the expiration of leases in 1958. when it is proposed to review the conditions under which those lands will be utilized in the future.
It should be recalled that after “World War I. a system of war service land settlement was put into effect in this Territory, and it is to be regretted that no similar scheme was introduced after World War II. In a letter dated the 21st November, 1951, the Minister for the Interior set out details of the scheme which operated after World War I. His letter indicated that shortly after the conclusion of that war there was a rural subdivision of 24 blocks of land in the Ainslie-Majura area of the Territory, and that that was followed in 1920 by a further subdivision of 27 blocks in the Tuggeranong area. Those blocks were let on lease from 5 to 25 years, and the successful applicants were granted a repatriation advance of £625 towards paying for their establishment on the land. Honorable members may not be completely aware of the conditions of land tenure in the Australian Capital Territory, and of the difficulties that some persons believe are associated with those conditions with regard to war service land settlement. The Seat of Government (Administration) Act stipulates that no Crown lands in the Territory shall be sold or disposed of for any estate in freehold. That provision is the basis of the four ordinances which govern land tenure in the Australian Capital Territory. It was written into the statute while Mr. King O’Malley was Minister for Home Affairs. It is claimed that it was written into the statute as the result of Mr. King O’Malley’s resistance in Cabinet to outside pressure. It is on record that Mr. King O’Malley originally advocated the leasehold system of land tenure in the National Capital in a speech which he made in the House of Representatives as early as 1901.
It may not be generally - known to honorable members, because few of them traverse the outlying parts of the Australian Capital Territory, that the total area is about 900 square miles, or 576,000 acres, of which 170 square miles constitute the catchment area of the Cotter River and have been reserved from occupation. The Constitution Act of 1900 laid down that all Crown land in the area to be chosen as the Federal Capital Territory should be transferred by New South Wales to the Commonwealth without charge whatever. In accordance with that provision the Commonwealth made no payment for Crown land in the Australian Capital Territory, but it was necessary for it to acquire from private owners various freehold estates which they held when the Territory still formed a part of New South Wales. This applied both to estates which had already been completely alienated and to those which were in process of alienation under the State law existing at the time of the transfer. The most recent figures are not available to me, but the latest figures I have seen indicate that the Commonwealth has since then acquired about 210,000 acres of privately owned land at a cost of approximately £750,000. There are still about 43,000 acres of alienated land and about 65,000 acres in process of alienation. It is worth noting that leases of areas outside the city limits are granted under the Rural Leases Ordinance for periods not exceeding 25 years. One person may hold land up to an assessed value of £10,000 as at the date upon which the lease begins. That value excludes buildings and other improvements. The annual rent is based on 5 per cent, of the unimproved capital value. A general rate of 2d. in the £1 is also charged on the same basis. There are many areas in the Australian Capital Territory which could be used by the Government to provide for war service land settlement. On the 13th November last I wrote to the Minister for the Interior in these terms -
Would you give consideration to the resumption of Booroomba Station for sub-division for the purposes of War Service Land Settlement within the Australian Capital Territory?
I have no extensive personal knowledge of the property, but I am assured by local landholders that, although it contains a proportion of comparatively poor land, its area and location are such that it could be sub-divided into a number of suitable holdings of round about 1,500 acres each to provide adequate living areas for soldier settler farmers.
On later advice I amended the figure to 2,000 acres. For the revised estimate I am grateful to the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), who has some experience in these matters. The letter continued -
You will realize that with the death recently nf the owner, Sir Keith Murdoch, the property has become a portion of his estate. Thus ite resumption for closer settlement would not involve the dispossession of a resident owner, r arn informed there is little likelihood that the station property will be occupied by any members of the Murdoch family. I do not know whether any decision has been made whether to offer the property for sale or to work it under management in the interests of the estate. 1 understand also that while the late Sir Keith Murdoch purchased the property advantageously he had expended considerable sums on improvements, benefit of which might not become apparent for some years.
L referred to pasture improvement and work of that description which increases the value of the property as the years go by. The letter went on as follows : -
The area of Booroomba Station, excluding two blocks recently purchased, is 27,227 acres, of which 13,533 acres is freehold.
The Minister’s reply to that proposition is dated the 2nd December, 1952, and is in these terms -
Reference your representations of 13th November, 1052, concerning the resumption of Booroomba Station for war service land settlement, I desire to inform you that there is no provision for the operation of any scheme for this type of settlement in the Australian Capital Territory.
The limited scope that exists for such an activity in the Australian Capital Territory does not warrant the formulation of a special scheme or the establishment of an authority to administer one and it is not proposed at’ the present time therefore to make any provision for this.
I do not know whether the phrase in the letter, “ the limited scope that exists “ refers to the fact that the number of applicants in the Territory would be compara tively few. If it does, I suggest that the Minister should recall the fact that, in the history of the British Commonwealth of Nations there have been many occasions when we have been very grateful to the few. We can recall the “thin red line “ of Waterloo, Kitchener’s “ Contemptible Little Army” of 1914, and the gallant few in the Battle of Britain in 1940, or, coming closer to home and more recently, the Australian soldiers who held the Japanese on the mountains of New Guinea and enabled this country to be held, and we shall see that we have always had reason to be grateful to the few. That there are so few ex-servicemen in the Australian Capital Territory who are qualified for settlement, is no reason why they should be debarred from the opportunity to participate in what is a national responsibility to the exservicemen of this country.
The opportunity to provide for war service land settlement in the Australian Capital Territory still exists. There is at present under consideration a proposal that the Booroomba property, to which I have referred in my letter to the Minister, be subdivided and sold at public auction to private interests. When consulting with the representatives of the exservicemen’s organizations in Canberra, I urge him to keep that proposal well in mind. It is within the Commonwealth’s power to resume that property. That could be done without inflicting hardship on any person, and such action would confer a great benefit on ex-servicemen who desire to establish themselves on the land here. There have been other recent dealings in land in the Australian Capital Territory. Had provision been made for war service land settlement in the territory the properties concerned could have been acquired by the Commonwealth on behalf of ex-soldier settlers. A property beyond Tharwa, consisting mostly of freehold land, was sold recently at a comparatively high price to a syndicate, the individual members of which already hold considerable areas within the Territory and adjacent to it. That property could have been subdivided into at least a couple of farms for the settlement of ex-servicemen. There have been other instances in which leasehold areas, which are not due for re-appraisement until 1958, have been transferred to other owners. These leases have been bought by men who already hold vastly more than living areas in the Australian Capital Territory and elsewhere.
In November last I submitted to the Minister for the Interior proposals for closer settlement within the Australian Capital Territory. I asked the Minister whether a complete and general survey could be made of the possibilities for closer land settlement. Such a survey would cover the needs of ex-servicemen as well as civilians. I suggested that if a survey could be undertaken with a view to action to promote closer settlement, those who made it should have the advice and assistance not only of specialists from the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, but also of selected practical farmers who have had years of experience of land use in the Territory and thus have a sound knowledge of seasonal cycles and variations. The advice - of such experienced men would be most valuable to those entrusted with the survey. I suggested to the Minister that if .the problem were looked at broadly as one of the need for increased production to supply the needs of the capital city, the survey would need to be conducted more on a regional basis than on the basis of a specific territory investigation. Development could bring into valuable production many rich areas which lie just outside the boundaries of the Australian Capital Territory. I suggested to the Minister that there were in the Territory many areas which could be developed to establish more farms and increase production. Those areas would I believe offer opportunity for the satisfactory settlement of eligible exservicenien. I know that it is held that large properties efficiently managed give greater production. I do not suggest that any selective closer settlement scheme should merely pick the eyes out of large holdings by taking small productive areas where these form an integral part of the whole farm economy. On the 14th November last I wrote to the Minister on this subject in the following terms : -
I suggest that a survey might show: foi example, that there arc areas along the
Molonglo River easterly from Canberra suitable for vegetable growing, poultry-farming or orcharding; that an extension of ocharding or small farming might be possible in the Jerrabomberra area; that the valley lands south of Tuggeranong in the Lanyon district might be suitable for dairying, grain or root cropping, or mixed farming; That there are areas in the Naas River Valley eminently suited for root cropping and possibly maize production; and that in the Hall District, the Gungahlin .District and the Belconnen District there are many possibilities for development of small blocks for mixed farming.
With the availability of modern earthmoving equipment for construction of tanks or dams water supply is not such a limiting factor as it was previously in the type of country found in the Territory.
The letter came to the attention of the Department of the Interior during the Minister’s absence from duty because of ill health. On the 28th November 1 received a letter signed by the Minister who was then acting for the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Townley) in these terms -
Reference your representations of 14th November, 1952, concerning closer land settlement in the Australian Capital Territory .1 would advise that this question has not been overlooked.
As you are aware the major portion of Commonwealth-owned lands outside the City area are at present held under lease expiring on 30th June, 1958. Your suggestions will be kept in mind when consideration is being given to the future allocation of these lands and the rights of the present lessees.
It is now eight years since hostilities ceased, and 1958 is almost five years away. Ex-servicemen who are waiting for blocks are getting no younger. Many of them who registered hopefully and obtained qualification certificates are now reaching an age at which the onerous work of establishing a farm would be beyond their capabilities. There are, of course, others who are well within the age up to which they could undertake such activity. The necessary areas are available within the Australian Capital Territory. In this Territory war service land settlement does not require cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States. It is a matter wholly and solely for the Commonwealth Parliament, hecause it has complete, unfettered control over the Territory. The areas are available here under either leasehold or freehold and in areas that have not yet come under the leasehold provisions that will eventually operate throughout the whole of the Australian Capital Territory. There are many ex-servicemen of varying ages in the Territory who are eager to get on to the land, but are being denied an opportunity to do so in the Australian Capital Territory, although they enlisted from here and returned here after the end of the war.
Some ex-servicemen of this Territory have had to go outside the Territory, and outside the provisions of the “War Service Land Settlement Act in order to secure areas on which to build their homes. Some of them have had to borrow money at far beyond the rate of interest provided for in the relevant legislation. We have lost these young men to the Territory, but we would not have lost them had there been in operation here a scheme for giving them the benefits that are accepted to be a right and given to ex-servicemen as a right, throughout the rest if the Commonwealth. The Territory cannot afford to take these young men. To judge from recent developments, and recent statements made, even in this chamber, it may be that we are closer in years to the next war than we are distant in years from the end of the last war. The problem of war service land settlement should not be a matter for quibbling between the Commonwealth and the States, or for argument between political parties. The obligation to provide for war service land settlement is an obligation undertaken by this National Parliament, on behalf of the nation, in recognition of services given to the nation by ex-servicemen. We have had evidence given to us recently that in Queensland there are 14,000,000 acres of land which could be brought into production of wheat. Perhaps within that vast tract of land there is opportunity for an extension of war service land settlement.
I believe that this Parliament, the Minister for the Interior, and the Government generally should approach this problem in such a way as to ensure that ex-servicemen throughout the Commonwealth who are entitled and qualified to receive the benefits of the war. service land settlement scheme shall receive them. I again urge the Minister to give an assurance that during the consultation that he has announced he will have with officials of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia in the Australian Capital Territory on the subject of war service land settlement, he will pay full regard to the powers of the Commonwealth over this Territory, the opportunities that exist, and the land that is available in the Territory either for resumption or on transfer, or even as a result of the opening up of new areas, so that ex-servicemen in the Territory will no longer be barred from the benefits of the scheme that has been made available, without stint, to exservicemen of all branches of the services in every other part of the Commonwealth.
.- One thing that must have impressed itself on the Minister for the Interior (Mr.- Kent Hughes) during this debate is the general dissatisfaction on both sides of the House with the war service land settlement scheme. Government supporters have a feeling of frustration regarding this scheme. The Opposition has attacked the Government for the failure of war service land settlement, but its attacks were not warranted. They were made on purely party political lines. However, criticism can fairly be levelled at the Government on the ground that it must have been apparent to its members, from the time the scheme was conceived, that it was a scheme with the mark- of doom on it. It was doomed from the start, because it represents a completely socialistic approach to the problem of settling exservicemen on the land. Mr. Dedman, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction in the Chifley Government, who introduced the scheme, is known, and is admitted to be, a complete socialist in his approach to the problem, as was so clearly stated by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) earlier in the debate. Mr. Dedman was not so much concerned with rehabilitating and repatriating exservicemen as he was with socializing the land and breaking up large holdings. Those were the prime purposes of the scheme that he introduced. Had he initiated a scheme the prime purposes of which were to re-establish the ex-serviceman on the land and rehabilitate them, it could have been successful. But he did not introduce such a scheme, and the Government is open to criticism for continuing the scheme that he did introduce.
The reason why the scheme cannot operate is that it is divided into two completely distinct parte. Certain States operate the scheme as agent States, whilst other States operate it as principal States. The governments of the principal States administer their own share of the scheme, and the degree of financial assistance granted to them by the Commonwealth for that work is dependent on the progress of the scheme in those States. The principal States, however, are unfairly levelling criticism at the Commonwealth on the ground that they have not received sufficient loan money to enable them to carry out their share of the scheme. That contention is fallacious, because the amount of money a principal State receives for expenditure on the scheme is governed by the amount of work that it has done in relation to the scheme. In the agent States the scheme has been a success to a large degree.
The honorable member for Henty made a valuable contribution to the debate. His summing up of the situation was accurate, and the two suggestions that he advanced are worthy of attention from the Minister and the Government. The first suggestion was that a committee be appointed from both sides of the Parliament to investigate the war service land settlement scheme and to place before the Government recommendations for alterations to the scheme to enable us to implement it uniformly throughout the Commonwealth. One of the biggest difficulties in achieving uniformity is the difference in the forms of land tenure in the various States. The differing land tenure systems have been responsible in part for the failure of the present scheme, and are the main reason why the States have been divided into principal States and agent States. The story which the Queensland Government is using for political pur- poses, that it desires to become an agent State instead of a principal State, is completely untrue. The Queensland Government is a socialistic government. Land tenure in Queensland is on a lease basis. There cannot be freehold in that
State because the Queensland Government does not allow freehold. I fail to see how Queensland could become an agent State when there is no freehold and the Queensland Government does not want freehold. The statements made by the Queensland Government in that respect have been made for purely party political propaganda purposes.
To realize how badly this scheme has failed in Queensland it is only necessary to know that the Queensland Government, which demanded the right to implement its own scheme, has settled only 441 men out of 4,307 applicants. That is a disgraceful state of affairs, of which the Queensland Government should be thoroughly ashamed, because even though Queensland is a principal State, I believe it could have hardly have done worse than that if it had tried. The reason that the Queensland Government has advanced for the failure of the scheme is insufficient loan funds. That is a completely untrue statement of the reason. I took the trouble to take out the figures which show moneys appropriated by the Queensland Government for war service land settlement, and discovered that an amount of £141,915 was left unexpended from the sum appropriated in 1950-51, an amount of £320,802 was left unexpended from the sum appropriated in 1952, and that an amount of £452,460 was left unexpended in 1952-53, when Queensland announced that it was abandoning the scheme because it could not get enough money to carry on. These sums total £915,177 that the Queensland Government could have expended on war service land settlement, but did not expend. Now Queensland threatens to abandon the scheme unless the Commonwealth will accept it as an agent State. But Queensland does not really wish to be an agent State, and could not be an agent State unless the whole principle of the scheme were amended to give Queensland special concessions in relation to land tenure. We must eliminate this party political strife in relation to war service land settlement, and attempt to do something definite for the ex-servicemen. We shall not do anything for them by attempting to implement a scheme that is not acceptable to certain States.
Sitting suspended from. 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– General dissatisfaction with the war service land settlement scheme indicates that it is not working satisfactorily. This is not due to any fault of the present Government. No government could have done more than this Government has done to make it work. At present, it is administered by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent. Hughes) who, as every reasonable honorable member will concede, has been untiring in his efforts to improve the plan and provide for the needs of exservicemen who want to settle on the land. Indeed, he even attempted to broaden the scheme in order to include Queensland as an agent State. However, the Queensland Government, with complete political hypocrisy, rejected this opportunity but blamed the Australian Government because it had not been granted agent State status. The Queensland Government has now abandoned war service land settlement on the ground of the shortage of loan funds. That excuse, of course, is false because the budget recently presented to the Queensland Parliament revealed a surplus of £9,500,000 cash in Funds, and also the State has approximately £1,000,000 that was appropriated for war service land settlement but not suspended. Obviously, if the failure of the scheme in Queensland is not due to the fault of the State Government, the scheme itself must be hopelessly ineffective and a new scheme should be introduced. The present scheme is a socialist project, of course. This Government is an anti-socialist Government. Therefore, it should desocialize the scheme. I agree with the suggestion of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), who made a valuable contribution to this debate, that the Parliament should form an all-party committee to investigate war service land settlement with a view to recommending to the Government an alternative scheme that would meet the needs of exservicemen who want to settle on the land and at the same time lead to the development of such uncultivated areas as were mentioned earlier in another debate. The honorable member for Darling Downs referred to an area of 14,000,000 acres in Queensland which could be’ developed for wheat farming. A great contribution could be made to the national economy in this way.
The honorable member for Henty spoke of the United States scheme for the land settlement of veterans and compared it with the Australian scheme. He suggested that the Australian scheme placed governments in the relation of landlords to the settlers. I agree with him. This is most undesirable. I have obtained information about the United States land settlement project from the Parliamentary Library, and I have learned that it is carried on with the assistance of private organizations which normally advance money for such purposes as land settlement. The knowledge and ability of these organizations have made that scheme successful. I do not suggest that the United States plan in its entirety would be suited to Australian conditions, but a committee of this Parliament could study it and recommend to the Government the adoption of those features that could be applied usefully to war service land settlement in this country. The scheme in the United States of America is divided into three parts, but it is based on the principle of the Government guaranteeing loans to ex-servicemen through the already established finance organizations. We have such organizations in Australia, and we could take advantage of their facilities. Private trading banks and primary producing companies are prepared to finance exservicemen who want to settle on the land. The United States Government guarantees 60 per cent, of the loans made to ex-servicemen, and, with the backing of that guarantee, applicants are able to obtain loans at special rates of interest. I have here an official document issued by the Veterans Administration Service at Washington. It is dated February, 1951, and deals with the post-war activities of the Veterans Administration. The following paragraph is of special interest to us : -
G.I. Loans Total near 11 BILLION Dollars.
From the beginning of the programme to the end of fiscal 1950, V A had guaranteed or insured 2,020,G57 loans of all types amounting to 10.9 billion dollars. Of these loans, nearly 1,845,000 were for homes, and the remainder were for farming and business purposes..
Veterans Excellent Credit Bisks.
The record from fiscal 1050 shows that the veterans were excellent credit risks. By the end of that year, veterans had repaid in full some 18,191 loans of all types amounting to more than 725,000,000 dollars. The majority were home loans, some 116,600 amounting to almost 600,000,000 dollars. 1 direct the attention of honorable members particularly to the following passage : -
During the same period the number of (JJ. loan defaults on which the V.A. paid claims was only seven-tenths of 1 per cent, of the total number of loans made. The number of these claims totalled under 17,000, and the amount paid by V.A. was less than 20,000,000 dollars, but even this amount may be reduced through recoveries. 1 wish to impress upon the Minister for the Interior the urgent need to adopt the suggestion of the honorable member for Henty. This Government, as an antisocialist government and one that is sincerely interested in the welfare of exservicemen, should recognize that the scheme instituted by the socialists has failed completely. The failure has not been due to any fault of the present Government, because the records demonstrate that there has been a remarkable improvement of land settlement in the agent States since it has been in power. The failure has occurred in the principal States, especially Queensland, where only 441 of over 4,307 applicants have been settled on the land. Let us do something definite at once to rectify this situation. The Government should form a committee of the kind that was proposed .by the honorable member for Henty to formulate the details of a new scheme that will provide for the effective settlement on the land of all ex-servicemen who want to become primary producers. We need, not some socialist plan that is doomed to failure from its inception,’ but a new plan that will lead to the development of our country and, at the same time, provide for the welfare of many deserving ex-servicemen.
– Consideration of this bill brings vividly to mind the fact that this Government, although it provides large sums for the settlement of ex-servicemen in the various States, has not provided any money to finance war service land settlement in the territories that it controls.
The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) pointed out to the House this morning that not one ex-serviceman had been settled in the Australian Capital Territory under the war service land settlement scheme. This is true also, I believe, of New Guinea and certainly of the Northern Territory. I know of nobody in the Northern Territory who has been settled on the land under any such scheme. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, no such scheme operates in the territory. At one time, the possibilities of pastoral settlement were considered, but the capital cost involved was prohibitive and the idea was not pursued. Hostilities in World War II. ended eight years ago, but we are still waiting for an alternative settlement scheme to be drafted for Commonwealth territories. The total number of men who enlisted from the Northern Territory for war service may not have been great, but the proportion of enlistments was higher there than anywhere else in Australia. Yet it appears that the advantages of re-establishment are to be restricted to ex-servicemen who live in the States. I do not begrudge those men their good fortune, but I urge the Government to take steps immediately to provide some sort of re-establishment service for the Commonwealth territories. It is futile for the Government to blame the former Labour Government for these shortcomings, because it has been in office for four years and has done nothing about them. The Labour Government at least instituted inquiries into the prospects for pastoral settlement, although they finally proved to be fruitless because of the high capital cost involved.
The Northern Territory includes large areas that could be settled under a scheme of agricultural development. I have in mind particularly the prospects for ricegrowing in the territory. Here is a virtually unlimited field for the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land in a way that would be profitable both to the men and to the nation. It is conservatively estimated that 2,000,000 acres of rice-growing land is available on the coastal plains in the northern part of the Northern Territory. Those plains have natural advantages’ that would quickly attract settlers if they were situated anywhere else in Australia. The soil is fertile. Experiments that have been conducted by the Northern Territory Administration and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization recently have proved that it will produce good crops. The area also has the advantage of adequate natural water supplies. Australia relies on irrigation projects, such as the Murrumbidgee project, for the production of rice, but there are almost unlimited areas in the Northern Territory that could be flooded, at little or no cost in capital expenditure, in order to bring the country under cultivation. The natural flooding of the rivers would provide sufficient water for irrigation purposes, and I am assured’ by experts, including the New South Wales rice expert, that no great engineering problem would arise in this matter. The waters which flow down the rivers at flood-time in the wet season could be used to irrigate, if not the whole country, at least a substantial part of the 2,000,000 acres involved. If that area were subdivided into farms, approximately 15,000 settlers could be established there. The production from those properties would exceed the normal requirements of the Northern Territory, but it is a wonderful place for the settlement of Northern Territory exServicemen and many thousands of exservicemen in the States.
Up to the present time, no effort has been made to bring that area under production. It is true that certain moneys have been made available to the administration for experimental works, and that such works have already been completed, to the satisfaction, at least, of the administration ; but the engineering work and research work on the basic features of irrigation and the control of floodwaters have not yet been attempted. Money should be provided by the war service land settlement authorities to investigate the incidence of flooding, and the control of waters. The land could be subdivided, and the farms so formed could be made available for settlement. The demand for rice throughout the world exceeds the supply at the present time, and the marketing possibilities for rice grown in that, area are almost unlimited. Australia has a responsibility to the rest of the world, particularly to the undernourished peoples in the countries to the north of us. We have a glorious opportunity to fulfil the urgent need of the Asiatic countries for additional supplies of rice, which is the staple diet of their people. Therefore, I believe that the Government should initiate war service land settlement schemes in the Northern Territory, and allocate money for the investigation of the problems to which I have referred. The spadework of investigation and research should be completed within twelve months, or at the most eighteen months. The Government should tackle this matter without delay in an energetic and vigorous manner.
The river valleys in the Northern Territory offer great possibilities for the cultivation of various agricultural crops. As long ago as the end of the nineteenth century rice was grown successfully there, and it was only due to the low cost of growing rice in the eastern countries that the production of this crop was not persevered with. However, the demand in many countries for rice is urgent, and Australia should take advantage of the present conditions to settle ex-servicemen in an area where rice can be grown so that this country may fulfil its obligation to the rest of the world. Other crops can also be grown such as tobacco, peanuts and cotton, for which an assured market exists, not only in Australia, but also abroad. I join with the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory who has protested about the lack of provision made in the territories of the Commonwealth for the land settlement of ex-servicemen. I urge the Minister for the Interior to give urgent consideration to the initiation of this scheme in the Commonwealth’s own territories - the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, and Papua-New Guinea.
.- The problems associated with war service land settlement are not new in history. The veterans of the Roman legions were settled on farms in Italy many centuries ago, and some of the problems that arise in war service land settlement schemes to-day were also evident in those times. The scheme in operation in Australia to-day is under two forms of control. New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria are principal States, and South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania are agent States. The Commonwealth and the Government of Western Australia, in co-operation, have done a wonderful job in respect of war service land settlement in that State. Up to 1947, not one exserviceman had been settled on the land in Western Australia. Blueprints of schemes had been drafted and plans had been formulated by the Chifley Government and the State Labour Government, but shortages of materials and other difficulties prevented them from being put into operation. A hesitancy about embarking on a policy of actually putting a man on a farm was evident at that time, because both the State and Federal governments of the day wanted a perfect scheme that could not fail in any circumstances.
After 1947, a Liberal-Country party government assumed office in Western Australia and was determined at all costs to speed up war service land settlement in that State. Accordingly, it went ahead with the greatest vigour to implement the previous scheme. Thereafter, the State Government, in co-operation with the pre?ent Government, made such progress with war service land settlement that more than half the ex-servicemen who had applied for farms have now been allotted their holdings and have settled on the land. That is a considerable achievement, but it is still not enough.
The scheme in operation in Western Australia is divided into two parts. First, properties were purchased from farmers who desired to sell them for one reason or another, and were subdivided if they were too big, or added to, if they were too small, and brought up to the required war service land settlement standards. Many anomalies were created in the subdivision of those farms. For example, when an estate of 10,000 or 12.000 acres was subdivided into four, five or six blocks, one settler would receive the homestead block on which a good deal nf development had taken place, and other settlers would be allotted other blocks that required considerable development under conditions of rapidly increasing costs. In order to meet circumstances of that kind, a scheme was introduced that provided for the equalization of the cost of development on those multi-unit farm projects. This system has caused some dissatisfaction among settlers in Western Australia, although I think that the method in its application has been reasonably fair. 1 think that it is largely the fault of the State Government that the scheme of group farms, which were purchased in widely separated areas and were not up to standard, was introduced. The result is that a single unit farm, which might be bought quite cheaply, would subsequently be loaded with a part of the cost of bringing up to standard a farm or group of farms hundreds of miles away. In one instance which has been brought to my notice, a man who was well aware of the cost of development on his farm, because he had entered into a special arrangement with the department, was loaded with approximately £2,000 in excess of the actual cost of bringing the property up to the required standard. As the result of appeals which he made to the department, I believe that he succeeded in having the matter reviewed ; but apparently the State government, with that experience in mind, is delaying the making of final valuations of properties, and many settlers do not know whether additional capital costs will be loaded onto the original purchase prices of their farms.
However, by and large, the purchasing of the original farms has proved highly successful, because of the rapid increase of the prices of wool and wheat, and the fact that many of the farms were bought at a time when land values were reasonably low by comparison with present day prices. So, whatever may happen in the near future, those ex-servicemen who are settled on the land have no great worries about heavy capital charges. Many of them could almost discharge the liability on their farms within a year or so.
The other part of the scheme consisted of developmental projects which were slow in getting under way, because of the tremendous shortage of heavy equipment before this Government assumed office. The Government deserves congratulation? for the determined way in which it tackled this difficulty. The use of heavy equipment, purchased with a part of the dollar loan, has made it possible to bring under cultivation many thousands of acres of new land. Tremendous projects are afoot in the south-west of Western Australia and the great southern districts - at Mount Manypeak near Albany, in the South Stirlings, Rocky Gully, Western Mount Barker, and Jerrymunga. Nearly 500,000 acres of previously virgin land have been brought under cultivation and made productive by this war service land settlement scheme. Approximately 250 farms have been made out of these developmental projects. I admit that the projects are idealistic in conception, but they should provide a safe living for any ex-serviceman who is capable and hardworking, and willing to devote time and energy to the improvement of the property. I believe that these schemes will be highly successful, because I have seen the allottee-designates, as they are called, working on the projects. I cannot speak too highly of the courage and patience of those men. Eight years have elapsed since the war ended, and the determination of those men to farm has been such that they have been willina; to wait eight years for the opportunity to obtain a farm. Many of them had to go down to those projects and, with their wives and families, live under canvas under very primitive conditions for two years in- more before they could go into a home on the new farm. People who have the determination and courage and energy to live like that in order to obtain their own property will, I think, make good. When they make complaints, when they say the scheme has anomalies, or when they point out flaws and imperfections, I think they ought to be listened to, and there is no doubt that there have been flaws and imperfections in the administration of this admittedly idealistic scheme. When such schemes have been criticized, there has been a tendency for those who administer them to say, “ The scheme is a grand one. There should be no complaints of any kind. Any man who complains is lazy and good for nothing and not prepared to work “.
As with any other government scheme that has imperfections in administration, problems have arisen in the war service land settlement scheme. One meets with a sort of obstinacy on the part of many officials administering the scheme. They refuse to admit that there could have been a mistake by the department. 3 refer to one instance that came to my notice. A shearing and machinery shed was designed to have the open side turned away from the prevailing wind. It was quite correctly designed. In this particular case, erection of the building was commenced in the right manner. For some reason or other, construction was delayed and later resumed, but the open side was made to face the prevailing wind. The whole shed had to be dismantled, with a consequent increase in the cost. There has been insufficient maintenance of, and attention to, heavy equipment and inexperienced men have been placed in charge of valuable machinery. There was corruption in Western Australia. One man suicided when his defaults were discovered, and another man was sent to gaol for eighteen months. It was generally agreed that hundreds of instances of petty corruption, most of which were undiscovered, had occurred. I cite a case, widely known in the district in which it occurred, of. one supervisor who arranged for a truckload of loam to be carried 40 miles from the project to his home. That occupied two ex-servicemen settlers for a whole day. In another case, a valuable piece of machinery fell off a truck and remained unattended in an isolated area from the autumn almost right through the winter. The local residents regarded it with some amusement. They waited to see how long the department would leave that machinery unattended. When I eventually wrote to the department and asked if they had any knowledge of it, and what arrangements they were making for its removal, they said they had already made arrangements to have it removed, and it was removed within a week. Honorable members may draw their own conclusions as to whether the department had, in fact, made any such arrangements to move that machinery which had been neglected for three or four months. All those things are minor defects in a very great scheme, but they do suggest the possibility of giving greater encouragement to other than government administered war service land settlement schemes.
I now desire to refer to a scheme administered by the Australian Mutual Provident Society in South Australia. The Australian Mutual Provident Society itself does not desire to compare its scheme with war service land settlement schemes administered by the Government. It is very modest in it3 claims. The Australian Mutual Provident Society says that its scheme is still largely experimental but let me outline a few facts relating to that scheme. Che society obtained a grant of 1,000,000 acres of light land, the best parts of which it plans to subdivide into 200 farms of approximately 1,000 acres each. Those farms, which will produce beef, mutton and wool, will be allotted to approved settlers who are now working on the project in very much the same way as settlers are working on the Government’s war service land settlement projects. But there is this important difference : Settlers under the Australian Mutual Provident Society’s scheme are. living under much more pleasant conditions, they are being paid higher wages, they are being more carefully selected, and the success of the project is more assured. I draw attention to the fact that under the South Australian, scheme 200 farms will be established on an area of 1,000,000 acres, whereas in Western Australia 250 farms will be established on 500,000 acres. The total capital invested by the Australian Mutual Provident Society to date is approximately £1,000,000. The society does not expect to have to make a very much greater outlay, because it has a scheme for farming this land until it is brought up to the required standard for allotment to the individual owners. On this land the society has thousands of sheep and hundreds of cattle which are producing income, and in every way the scheme is being managed with maximum business efficiency. It seems to me that, in view of the fact that in Western Australia the Australian Government has already expended over £12,000,000 to provide war service land settlement farms, the comparison favours private enterprise. The Australian Mutual Provident Society does not expect to have to write off any of the cost of its project; it has an investment that will return a profit to the company. On the other hand, the Government expects to have to write off a considerable amount of money.
Surely this Government is able to administer the war service land settlement scheme flexibly, and not in the rigid and narrow way in which the scheme was conceived. In the days immediately after the war, there was another way in which an ex-serviceman could be established on a farm, if he had capital. He could obtain what was called a Commonwealth re-establishment loan. At first the maximum loan was £1,000, but later it was increased to £1,500. That scheme was administered within fairly narrow limits. I think a scheme with wider limits should be placed before the exserviceman who desires to obtain a farm, particularly a farm that is not fully developed.
In Western Australia there is a great opportunity for settlement and some areas urgently require development. I think this Government should arrange for banks and other financial institutions, and machinery firms such as the International Harvester Company of Australia Proprietary Limited, with large amounts of capital available for investment, to advance money to ex-servicemen who require land, either along the lines of the Australian Mutual Provident Society’s project in South Australia olof the Government’s war service land settlement scheme. Where development is required, the Government should be prepared to subsidize interest rates to the extent of 2 per cent, oi 3 per cent. - a comparatively low cost when compared with the hundreds of thousands of pounds that the Government will have to write off its war service land settlement scheme. I think the Government should guarantee, by way of a second mortgage or a sort of over-all lien on the property, the balance of the purchase price after banks and other financial institutions have advanced the maximum amount they are prepared to advance. The scheme could be administered in a manner similar to the administration of the farmers’ debt adjustment scheme of Western Australia, that is, with an overall lien on the property, and with no definite term set for repayment, but with an opportunity for the farmer to reduce the debt as time went by or when he sold the property.
I do appeal to the Government to abandon its narrow, bureaucratic method of administration which seems to have grown out of the belief that any departure from a rigid set of rules might result in too many applications. I think we could escape from government administration and all its attendant evils by trying to encourage private enterprise to take an interest in opening up new land for settling ex-servicemen, in the same way that the Australian Mutual Provident Society has done. Too little imagination has been brought to bear on this problem, and I do appeal to the Minister to examine the various suggestions I have made. For example, I think a machinery firm such as the International Harvester Company of Australia Proprietary Limited should be approached, and the suggestion made that the company would be rewarded handsomely by undertaking such a land settlement scheme. Vast areas of light land in Western Australia, from Esperance to Ravensthorpe, through to Albany, and up in the midlands, could be brought under cultivation. With a little treatment by trace elements and the application of superphosphate, that land could be brought into production relatively cheaply.
– What about water?
– The problem of water does not present itself because it is a good rainfall area, and in the midlands there is underground water. As I said, the Commonwealth Government has embarked on developmental projects in a limited field, but the money could be spent to better advantage, with less cumbersome administration, by developing the land through private business organizations. One of the crying needs in respect of land development in Australia is that there should be less blue-print planning by a government and that land settlement should be encouraged even by the granting of subsidies to a certain limited extent.
.- I do not intend to speak at very great length, but I should like to reply to one or two statements made by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) in regard to the position in Queensland. One would think, from the criticism levelled at that State by the honorable member, that the Queensland Government, as a principal State, has fallen down on its administration of the war service land settlement scheme. The object of the bill is to make £7,000,000 available to the agent States, which are Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia. Queensland is a principal State. From the criticisms of the honorable member for Lilley one might think that Queensland was not interested in settling men on the land. But if there is one State of the Commonwealth that lends itself readily to land settlement, it is Queensland, with its vast area and its small population of about 1,000,000 people.
At the end of World War II., the Chifley Government decided to proceed with a war service land settlement scheme. In preparing the scheme, it took great care to avoid the mistakes that had been made after World War I. The Queensland Government, conscious of the fact that the scheme presented it with an admirable opportunity to develop its vast territory, readily agreed to participate as a principal State. As such, it retained sovereignty over its land and the right to collect rents from tenants. From the’ inception of the scheme until the 30th June of this year, the Commonwealth spent £318,668 on war service land settlement in Queensland. The expenditure by the State Government during the same period was, to be quite exact, £3,727,636 14s. lid. Queensland has spent £10 for every £1 it has received from the Commonwealth for war service land settlement purposes. The Queensland Government assisted, not only new settlers, but also ex-servicemen who were on the land when they enlisted in the forces. To enable such men to rehabilitate themselves, it made money available to them, free of interest and free of redemption charges for three years. The total number of men who have benefited from that concession is 3,223. From the inception of the scheme to the 30th June of this year, £6,139,451 was advanced, of which £5,372,614, or about five-sixths of the total, was made available free of interest and redemption charges for the first three years of loans. That is the action of a State that has been charged with being uninterested in war service land settlement.
Let me explain why war service land settlement in Queensland is in the doldrums. The cost of settling a man on a grain-growing block of- 1,300 acres is £13,000. The cost of putting a man on a dairy farm is over £10,000. I have read in the press that the Government is worried about the Australian dairying industry. We have recently discussed wheat stabilization. We know there are large stocks of grain in the United States of America and Canada. It is obvious that the reason why the war service land settlement scheme has got into difficulties in Queensland is that the economic position in this country has deteriorated because of the failure of this Government to cope with economic problems. In 1952, when the Queensland Government could see that the economic position of the country was drifting and that Queensland, from its sources . of revenue, would encounter great difficulty in making more money available for war service land settlement, discussions were held with the Commonwealth with a view to Queensland becoming an agent State. The proposition was discussed in July, 1952, at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. A conference was arranged with the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes), who was administering the scheme, but, owing to his illness, it did not take place. There was, however, a conference on a departmental level between officers of the Commonwealth and officers of the Queensland Government. Subsequently, the Queensland Government decided to approach the Commonwealth with a request that the status of Queensland under the scheme he altered to that of an agent State. The conditions suggested by the Queensland Government were that the State should retain sovereignty over land and that the functions of the State and the Commonwealth should be distributed on the basis that the State became responsible for acquiring the land, determining the terms and conditions of tenure and receiving the rents, and that the Commonwealth became responsible for providing other funds necessary for operating the scheme. I point out that 90 per cent, of the land in Queensland is held on leasehold tenure. Seeing that all governments of Queensland, Labour or anti-Labour, have retained sovereignty over land in the State, it is not surprising that the present Queensland Government should do the same. If the Queensland Government had surrendered its sovereignty over land, the Commonwealth -might have decided to alter the form of tenure of war service land settlement blocks in that State. In those circumstances, one group of men would have held their blocks on leasehold tenure and another group on freehold tenure. That would have been an impossible position.
The Queensland Government insisted upon retaining its sovereignty over land in that State. When the proposition was put to the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), who was then acting for the Minister for the Interior, he said he would ask his officers to examine it and that eventually it would be considered by Cabinet. The Minister also referred to the possibility of a further ministerial conference prior to the next meeting of the Australian Loan Council. It was generally understood that Queensland would become an agent State as from the 1st July, 1953. On the 19th June, a letter was forwarded to the acting Prime Minister from the acting Premier of Queensland, requesting an early decision. On the 17th July, the Queensland Government received a communication from the acting Prime Minister, which stated -
My Government has considered the proposals submitted on behalf of your Government by the Minister for Lands of your State and has decided that, as the Loan Council has determined the 1053-54 allocation of loan moneys, the amendments proposed by you should not be considered for the year 1953-54.
That is how the matter stands now. Queensland is still a principal State. It has not been able to obtain the funds that it requires. It asked the Australian Loan Council last year for £30,000,000 to cover all works, including war service land settlement, but it was given only £18,000,000. That is the answer to the criticism by the honorable member for
Lilley of the comparatively small expenditure on war service land settlement by the Queensland Government.
– in reply - I thank the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) and the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) for their valuable suggestions, some of which I think will bear fruit, for the solution of what all honorable members agree is a very intricate problem. This Government has been trying ever since it came into office to get all the States to operate the war service land settlement scheme on an equal basis, as far as it is possible to do so, but we have only gone a part of the way along that road. When the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) declaims, with more force than accuracy, that the Queensland Government cannot go on with war service land settlement because it has no money, I am not at all impressed. Since the war, the Queensland Government has accumulated trust fund reserves of £9,500,000. I think it added to them last year an amount of £1,500,000. The honorable member for Lilley has explained that Queensland has not yet spent about £900,000 of the money it has allocated in its own budgets during the last three or four years for this purpose. In those circumstances, it is difficult to understand why the honorable member for Kennedy has said that Queensland cannot carry on with war service land settlement because it has no money for that purpose.
It may be that Queensland wants to become an agent State, but I point out that when this matter was raised some time ago at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers at which T was present, New South Wales and Queensland refused, with great force, to accept any status other than that of a principal State. Even at that time, the Australian Government realized that war service land settlement was slowing down to some degree in New South Wales, and was slowing down still further in Queensland. But when I suggested that they should accept the status of agent States, there was almost a fracas. They said they wanted to remain principal States. Apparently, the position has altered now, but it has altered only to the degree that they want to continue to be agent States and also to receive subsidies from the Australian Government. That is what their proposition amounts to. They do not want to become agent States and give the Commonwealth a large say in the administration of the scheme within their borders. As the Australian Government provides the money for war service land settlement required by the agent States, it has a very large say in the administration of the scheme in those States; but, so far, matters have been arranged very amicably, irrespective of the political colour of the governments of the agent States. I suspect that the main reason why the Queensland Government and the New South Wales Government do not want their States to become agent States is that they do not want freehold tenure to be introduced into Queensland and New South Wales. It was not introduced into the agent States until we gave settlers the option, although not many options were exercised, to obtain freehold tenure. It is rather amusing to find out that in Victoria the Labour Minister for Lands travelled through the Corangamite electorate during the recent by-election campaign telling the electors that this Government was trying to prevent ex-servicemen from obtaining freehold blocks of land and that we wanted them to settle on a leasehold basis. That statement had no foundation in fact, and was produced purely as a pretty despicable piece of party political propaganda in that hyele.ction campaign. We had to follow around after the Victorian Minister in order officially to deny his statement. However, while all that was taking place in Victoria, honorable members opposite who represent Queensland electorates were saying that Queensland must have control of its own scheme of land settlement of ex-servicemen because the State Government did not want to settle the exservicemen on blocks of land with a freehold tenure.
Just what is the Labour party’s policy ? One group says one thing to gain a political advantage, and another group says a directly opposite thing. Such tactics will not advance the interests of war service land settlement. The whole matter is difficult, and certain suggestions have been made by the honorable member for Henty, the honorable member for Lilley, the honorable member for Forrest, and others, to whom I apologize for not mentioning, with a view to getting down to the core of the problem in order to facilitate war service land settlement irrespective of the amount of money available. The availability of money is not our only difficulty. The whole matter has been complicated by State governments who have passed their own legislation, which, in some cases, conflicts with original federal agreements entered into by them. I remind honorable members that the original agreement was drawn up by the previous Labour Government, and under that agreement, and at its’ own request, Queensland became a principal State.
I recently attended a conference in Canberra with representatives of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. I told that conference that the Government would attempt to straighten out war service land settlement, and to get more accurate information about the number of genuine applicants who are still waiting for holdings. I estimate that about 40 or 50 per cent, of those on the waiting list are genuine applicants. I am also attempting to find out the cost that will be involved in reducing the waiting list within about five years. I do not know whether that will be possible, but it is an objective to aim at. Within two or three years in Tasmania we shall have more holdings available than there are applicants for them, and perhaps some of the ex-servicemen on the mainland will want to take up properties in Flinders and King Islands. Indeed, when this matter was mentioned in the press over 400 applications were lodged for Tasmanian holdings. If that sort of thing should happen in other places as well as in Tasmania, we may push along fairly rapidly with war service land settlement. This Government hopes that it will be able to improve the rate of progress that has been experienced the last five years.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Motion (by Mr. Kent Hughes) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- On a previous occasion I have been forced to refer to the practice of lobbying, and my remarks to-day have emanated from my seeing in the vicinity of the Hotel Kurrajong a palatial block of flats being erected by the Associated Chamber of Manufactures. I understand that exquisite bedrooms, bathrooms and all domestic comforts will be provided in that block; but on the horizon is the prefabricated telephone exchange that is being erected to serve the needs of Canberra. The contrast between the two buildings is marked and obvious. Having been stimulated by the view of this new block of flats, I turned my mind to a most remarkable literary document; and I crave the patience of the House while I direct the attention of honorable members to it. It is most extraordinary and it relates to the case submitted by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) regarding a certain notorious capital issues transaction that took place in Canberra during one week-end.
We all know that lobbyists come to Canberra for the glory of our people and the advancement of our race, and not for self-interest or a desire to seek their own advancement or material welfare. They are disinterested and ethical in the extreme, and this document gives some evidence of their attitude. For the information of yourself, Mr. Speaker, and that of honorable members, I have divided the document into sub-titles according to personalities, or what might be called the dramatis personae. Why any public servant, no matter how high his status, should present such a literary masterpiece to the Government passes my comprehension. The first character is Mr. Schapel. There is no difficulty about identifying him - he belongs to the Daily Telegraph. Then comes the name of the famous Mr. Packer, who is another wellknown figure. Mr. Packer would not deign to come to Canberra, but then there is a mysterious figure, a figure of illusion, a chimera which appears and disappears. That is Mr. MacDonnell, but his role is not at all well defined. How does he get the entree to the Canberra office of Mr. Balmford on a Sunday morning? What virtue is attached to the name “ MacDonnell “ that he should be able to walk into such a place? Let us mark tha opening conversation. Mr. Balmford
Said, “He reminded me that we had met before “ - in other words, they were old buddies. On what famous occasion did they meet before? Then the name of the late Mr. J. B. Chifley was thrown in as a make-weight - “ I met him on an occasion when the late Mr. J. B. Chifley had a little business in hand”. That is most extraordinary.
The next important person is Dr. Wilson, and Mr. Balmford went to see him after 6 p.m. I suggest that 6 p.m. ii a most significant time. This was the (i o’clock rush presumably. Moreover, there was some reason for the rush. Now we come to a minor character, Miss haircloth. Mr. Balmford is very accommodating. He will provide a typist if one le not available, or the lobbyist can bring his own typist; and the lobbyist brought Miss Faircloth. Mr. Balmford says, “I was introduced to Miss Faircloth, and, speed being the essence of the contract, I took Miss Faircloth by car to Parliament House”. What a lucky girl Miss Faircloth was that a high official of the Commonwealth Public Service should provide a car to transport her to Parliament House ! Then again, Mr. Balmford says, “ At 2.30 Mr. Irish rang and I went in the car and picked him up at the Hotel Canberra and took him to Parliament House”. Were they not all lucky? Then again, “ I signed the consent, Mr. Irish glanced at it and I took Mr. Irish and Mr. McLachlan back in the car and dropped them at Commonwealthavenue “. It would be the height of my ambition if I were bringing a poor pensioner, or some one who was socking it war pension, to Canberra, to have transport for that person such as was provided for these lobbyists. Mr. Balmford also said, “ I said to Mr. Irish, ‘ I will ses you on Sunday afternoon if you like ‘ “. T hope that he said it with due deference, because Mr. Irish said, “ I hoped that you would suggest that “. Isn’t that lovely ?
Now comes Miss Duffy, who is another minor character. Unfortunately, she changed the date of the desk calendar. By this time, Mr. Irish, Mr. MacDonnell and Mr. McLachlan are being dropped, and then Mr. Balmford said that he was under an oath of secrecy to Mr. Schapel. Typing is a great accomplishment in the commercial world. On it depends the smooth functioning of offices and the whole substratum of the business structure of Australia.’ Mr. Balmford said, “ I cannot type, but I will do it for you in manuscript if you like “. Mr. McLachlan said, “ I can type “. Mr. McLachlan is not identified in this report at all. He blew in on the morning air. All I know about him is that he can type. Well, Mr. Speaker, it is rather elementary. It is an insult to the combined intelligence of this Parliament. Cars ad. lib.; typists laid on; accommodation for typists provided - sign here - sign there - sign anywhere ! Bring typists out ! Do what you will ! Above all speed must be of the essence of the contract! Oh glorious influence ! Oh remarkable prestige ! Oh powerful standing in the community that surrounds like a halo the names of MacDonnell and Irish ! Mr. Irish is a gentleman who is endowed with hind sight. He has the gift of prophecy. The Prime Minister, in answering a question on the subject, said that Mr. Irish had said that he drew an inference. I should like to see Mr. Irish. I am sure that he would be a wizard - a bird of real plumage, whose influence and whose guess - whose stab in the dark - is so remarkably correct. The tragedy is that all of it was in vain. All the villains of the piece-
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for railway purposes - Port Augusta, South Australia.
Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of Air - R. W. Murphy.
War Service Homes Act - Supplemental Agreement, made 17th September, 1953, between the Director of War Service Homes and the State of Western Australia.
House adjourned at 3.32 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
d asked the Minister for theInterior, upon notice -
– The answers tothe honorable member’s questions are asfollows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 October 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1953/19531016_reps_20_hor1/>.