House of Representatives
5 August 1954

21st Parliament · 1st Session

Mb. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

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– Will the Prime Minister state when he first obtained knowledge that a payment of £5,000 had been made on behalf of the Australian Government to a former member of the Soviet Embassy who recently sought asylum in this country?

Prime Minister · KOOYONG, VICTORIA · LP

– I have not failed to notice that this matter has been the subject of some discussion before a royal commission. I do not propose to duplicate its inquiries.

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– Are you, Mr. Speaker, aware that an enemy agent, masquerading as a journalist, has been working in this building and using the privileges of the press gallery? In conformity with the Standing Orders I cannot mention his name, but he has been well and unfavorably mentioned before a certain royal commission as an employee of a newspaper-


– Order!


– I have added those details in order to identify the person concerned without mentioning his name. What action do you propose to take about this matter?


– I suggest that the honorable member see me in my room and explain the nature of the information that he seeks. If he should do so I shall give him an answer during the next sitting of this House.

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– Will the Minister for Health, consider an extension of the provision for free medical treatment of pensioners to the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners?

Minister for Health · COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES · CP

– The matter raised by the honorable member is one for the consideration of the Repatriation Commission. I shall discuss the matter with the Minister concerned.

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– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has the Minister any knowledge of a conference which took place on Tuesday, the 3rd August, in Brisbane between shipowners and representatives of the Waterside Workers’ Federation in relation to loading problems at the ports of Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville? If he is aware that such a conference was held, is it a fact that at that conference the shipowners admitted certain faults and that they agreed tn effect improvements in loading arrangements, particularly in relation to meat? Will the decisions of the conference result in a speedier shipment of Mount Isa products at the port of Townsville? Has the Minister any further information in relation to difficulties associated with tha shipment of Mount Isa products at Townsville ?

Minister for Immigration · HIGGINS, VICTORIA · LP

– I have no personal knowledge of the conference to which the honorable member has referred. I have been paying a good deal of attention to shipping problems at North Queensland ports, and I am glad to be able to inform honorable members that the position in relation to the shipment of sugar is much better than it was at a corresponding stage last year when we were able to ship a record tonnage of sugar out of the North Queensland sugar ports. There are still difficulties to be overcome in relation to particular cargoes. The honorable member has mentioned Mount Isa products. I answered a question in relation to that matter yesterday. The allocation of priorities for shipment out of the port of Townsville is primarily in the hands of a committee of shipowners, and general cargo, which includes Mount Isa products, has the lowest priority on the list which the committee has compiled. The Government has been trying to obtain a higher priority for those cargoes and has been pressing for an increase in the number of employees at the port. If that increase is agreed to, we will see that, larger allocations of labour are made for the shipment of Mount Isa products.

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– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that the lack of telephone facilities has reached serious proportions in the Gladesville, Ryde and North Ryde districts in my electorate, and that in addition to many hundreds of private citizens whose applications have been awaiting fulfilment for as long as five years there are great numbers of business houses and manufacturing concerns, many of them essential and some employing up to 200 employees, that cannot continue in existence without telephone services? Will the Minister make a special investigation in this area to ascertain what can be done to relieve this serious position?

Postmaster-General · RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES · CP

– I appreciate the situation outlined by the honorable member. It is true that there is a tremendous number of outstanding applications for telephones, despite the fact that this Government has connected 350,000 new services throughout Australia. At present approximately 140,000 applications a year are flowing in. Connexions are being made at the rate of 60,000 or 70,000 a year, but it has been found impossible to overtake the large influx of applications. I have tried, and the department has done its utmost, to distribute the resources available to it as equitably as possible in all electorates. Complaints have been received from electorates held by Labour, and the complaint of the honorable member for Bennelong shows that the position is not singular to Labour electorates. I shall do the best I can with the resources at my disposal, but for many reasons I cannot promise any speedy alleviation of the situation.


– Does the PostmasterGeneral recall giving his approval to the establishment of a local telephone office at the settlement of Uriarra, west of Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory, and also his notification to me on the 3rd March of this year that the work would be put in hand as soon as circumstances permitted? Does he now approve a condition notified by officers of his department in Canberra to the local progress association that in order to obtain the service the local resi dents must supply and erect the poles over a distance of 5 miles from the nearest existing trunkline? Will the Minister acknowledge that this condition requires the supply and erection of more than 150 poles, which entails obtaining them from the bush, carting them to the site, digging the holes and placing the poles in position? Will he acknowledge also that it is ridiculous to ask a community of 20 families to undertake such a task in an effort to obtain a service?


– Order ! The honorable gentleman has been giving rather than seeking information so far.


– Will the Minister immediately review the matter and have the work put in hand at departmental expense?


– Many thousands of applications for additional services are being received from people in such a situation throughout Australia. If the honor.orable member will give me the details of the matter-


– The Minister promised this service.


– If the honorable member will give me fresh information about the complaint I shall see what can be done.

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– My question is directed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. With whom does the responsibility lie for determining the qualifications to be possessed by wheatgrowers to enable them to vote at the ballot that is to be taken shortly among the growers on the subject of the new wheat industry stabilization scheme? Does that responsibility lie with the Commonwealth, or with the States? If it is the Commonwealth’s responsibility, have these qualifications yet been determined; and, if so, can the Minister detail those qualifications ?

Minister for Commerce and Agriculture · MURRAY, VICTORIA · CP

– The qualifications that will be required of wheat-growers to enable them to vote in the ballot to which the honorable member has referred were determined at a meeting of the Australian Agricultural

Council which is representative of the Commonwealth and of each of the State- governments. A year ago, I offered to conduct a ballot on this issue but the States would not approve of my suggestion because they desired themselves to conduct the ballot; and it is a matter of history that until a week ago the States were unable to reach unanimity on the proposed plan because the Victorian Government stood out against the other governments on that issue. Now, all the States have agreed that the ballot should be proceeded with; and they will conduct it. It has also been agreed that the ballot should be finalized by the loth October next. That date has been chosen for the purpose in order to give to the States the opportunity to complete rolls of growers and to enable the latter to canvass the issue. The States agreed that any grower who delivered, wheat, to any of the last three pools or who sowed at least 50 acres to wheat last season shall be entitled to vote.


– In view of the fact that the Victorian Grain Elevators Board has issued a warning that a carry over . of wheat in Victoria may exceed the Australian Wheat Board’s estimate of 26,000,000 bushels and that the Grain Elevators Board may not be able to accommodate all the coming harvest in country silos, will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture use his best endeavours to arrange a meeting of representatives of the Commonwealth and the States to review the storage building position in all States? Furthermore, in view of the fact that Victoria has done a really marvellous job in its endeavours to deal with its surplus wheat, does the Minister believe that the Commonwealth should put a discount on that efficiency by reducing the original amount suggested from Victoria, just because the Australian Wheat Board believes that Victoria should be content with the 18,000,000 bushel capacity allotted to it? I should like the Minister, in his answer, to explain to the House what plans he has to overcome this desperate storage position in Victoria.


– The honorable member for Wimmera is unduly complimentary to the Victorian Government and the Victorian Grain Elevators Board.

The truth, of the matter is that when an emergency situation in respect of wheat appeared on the horizon, Victoria was the only state in which neither the Government nor the growers’ organization took the initiative to make some provision in order to meet the situation. The Premier of Victoria wrote a four line letter to the Prime Minister in which he said, in effect, “ I gather that there will be a carry over of wheat at the next harvest. What does the Commonwealth intend to do about it ? “ Next week, we may get another letter from the Premier of Victoria, stating, “ We have not a sufficient number of railway trucks to move the wheat harvest. What does the Commonwealth intend to do about it?” That would be about his form. What actually happened was that the Australian Government, realizing that the Victorian Government was completely indifferent to the state of the wheat industry in Victoria, arranged for more than £3,500,000 to be available for emergency storage where needed in Australia. That amount was stated to be necessary for the provision of emergency storage as estimated by the Australian Wheat Board, two members of which are elected by Victorian growers, and they concurred in the calculation of the quantity of wheat regarded as excess to the normal carry over.

Dr Evatt:

– They were wrong.


– They were wrong, it is true, in respect of the cost estimate. Their estimate was 45,000,000 bushels, and they said that, of that quantity, 18,000,000 bushels would be in Victoria. The Australian Government, rather than have the wheat rot, and recognizing that the Victorian Government and the Victorian Grain Elevators Board would not take the initiative in doing anything about the position, has provided the money. Apparently, all the thanks we are to get for it is to be told that the Victorian Government is doing a magnificent job, and to be asked what the Australian Government intends to do about it.


– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether the Australian Government will take immediate action to promote the sale of our stocks of surplus wheat in order to allay the present position in this country?


– The Australian Government has been active in endeavouring to facilitate the sale of our wheat. The whole instrumentality of government has been added to the activities of the Australian “Wheat Board, and the records show that in most markets, speaking in a numerical sense of markets, greater quantities of wheat have been sold this year than in other years. However, for special reasons, less wheat has been sold in the United Kingdom and India, which happen to be our two greatest markets. The Government will continue to aid the Australian Wheat Board and the flour millers in their search for additional markets. However, neither the wheat-grower nor the Australian economy as a whole has anything to gain from a government subsidy on the sale of wheat overseas, if that idea was in the mind of the honorable member, because there are governments with much longer purses than we have at our disposal and with much greater surpluses of wheat, and which, therefore, could play that game much more effectively than we could hope to play it.


– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture any views concerning a current proposal to grade wheat, as consumers, particularly stock-feed consumers, in many instances, are paying top prices for low-grade wheat? Would it not be fair and equitable to grade wheat, and allow consumers to purchase it at prices corresponding to the grade of wheat purchased ?


– For a long time there have been proposals in respect of the grading of Australian wheat. Wheat produced in this country may be divided into three broad categories. These are, high protein hard-quality wheat for general use; softer wheat; and low-grade wheat, to the last of which the honorable member particularly refers. At the present time it is quite open for the grower of high quality wheats to sell his product to a flour miller at a premium, and that is constantly being done. The activities of the Australian Wheat Board are made difficult in this regard because the State bulk handling authorities are not geared to handle a variety of grades of wheat. Therefore, most of the Australian wheat trade is conducted on a fair average quality basis. In respect of low grade wheats to which the honorable member’s question was particularly directed, the answer is, “Yes to the extent that they can be separated “. They may be sold, and ought to be sold, at a discount. However, that is a matter completely within the authority of the State governments concerned. In their legislation they prescribe the price for fair average quality wheat, and at the same time they could make provision for discount prices for grades lower than fair average product.

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– I address a question to the Postmaster-General with respect to contract line work. On previous occasions when I pointed out objections to this system, he replied that it was necessary to employ contractors because the number of trained departmental staff was insufficient. If the departmental staff is not adequate for this purpose, why is the number of departmental linemen pegged, and why does the department refuse to recruit more staff for this work? Will the Minister ascertain whether there is a constant intake of applicants for this work, and whether numbers of such applicants are being rejected ?


– Owing to the very greatly increased pressure on my department of applications for work to be performed and the large number of applications for installations of telephones, and of other applications of that kind, consideration is now being given to the lifting of the limitation upon the number of employees in the department.


– I direct to the PostmasterGeneral a question concerning the resumption, by the Commonwealth, of land at Crow’s Nest, in North Sydney, as the site of a proposed transport garage. A conference has been called by the North Sydney Council for the 11th August, in order to voice protests against the proposed erection of this garage. I do not. know whether the Postmaster-General is aware that the conference is to be held, but I ask him whether he will arrange for his department to be represented at it, so that he may be fully informed of the views of the public in connexion with the proposed work.


– The PostmasterGeneral’s Department is always most anxious to co-operate with, and secure the concurrence of, local-government authorities and, where possible, the residents concerned, when the erection of such buildings is proposed. I shall be pleased, therefore, to instruct an officer of the department to attend the meeting to which the honorable gentleman has referred.


– Will the PostmasterGeneral state whether the Postal Department has made any sincere effort to re-engage the 5,000 employees whom it sacked three years ago, when 1.0,000 men and women were dismissed from the Public Service? Is the PostmasterGeneral aware th:,t the 5,000 employees discharged by his department included hundreds of technical workers, of which there is a desperate shortage in all States? Will the department make a survey of the need for technical workers in its various branches, particularly those associated with cable-laying, and make a. genuine attempt to catch up with the serious lag in the laying of cables to outlying parts of cities and country towns? T know that hundreds of people in Tasmania alone are denied telephone installations because of the shortage of cables.


– A large percentage of the total of 5,000 employees by which t,he Postal Department’s services were reduced two or three years ago has been re-engaged. Contrary to the honorable member’s statement, hundreds of technical men were not displaced. Only a very small proportion of technical workers as dismissed.

Mr Bryson:

– Several hundreds were dismissed in Victoria alone.


– Not technical men. A large percentage of dismissed employees has been re-engaged, and, as I informed the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, it is probable that many others will be re-engaged soon.

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– Can the Minister for Territories indicate whether there is any substance in recent reports indicating that country south of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory has shown real promise of very large deposits of copper? Is exploration work being carried out in this area? Is it correct to say that some overseas organizations are interested in the prospects of developing copper deposits in the Northern Territory?

Minister for Territories · CURTIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA · LP

– A little over a year ago, attention was attracted to some, surface indications of copper in the area south of Alice Springs. The reason for that interest is not so much the richness of the indications themselves as their resemblance to finds in certain areas in Southern Rhodesia, where similar indications were found to be associated with rich deposits of copper underground. For more than a year, in conjunction with the Mines Department in the Northern Territory, investigations have been proceeding along approved lines, and those investigations are being continued. So far as I am aware, the organizations that are making these investigations are wholly Australian. I am not aware that foreign interests are participating in this work.

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– Is the Minister for Immigration satisfied with the number of new Australians who are seeking to be naturalized? If not, will he consider disseminating the widest publicity about the benefits of Australian citizenship in order that those eligible to become naturalized will be induced to take the first opportunity to do so.


– No, I am not satisfied with- the present rate of applications for naturalization, but I assure the honorable member that I and those persons on the Immigration Advisory Council who advise me, have been giving considerable thought to methods by which we can make more widely known the benefits of naturalization and the conditions necessary for a person to qualify for it. The interest that the honorable member for Batman has displayed in this matter is appreciated. I assure him that we shall he doing what we can to interest and attract far more of those persons who qualify, by virtue of their residence and suitability, to become full Australians in every sense of the term.


– Will the Minister for Immigration inform me whether it is a fact that 10,000 Dutch building workers are available to migrate to Australia.? If so, can the right honorable gentleman ;say whether any steps have been taken to bring them here as soon as possible?


– I am not able to say how many Dutch building workers are immediately available, but I assure the honorable member that we are doing all that we can, in co-operation with the Dutch authorities, to bring as many suitable Dutch settlers to Australia as possible. We have placed no limit, in the current year, on the number of Du’tch immigrants that will be included in the programme. We are prepared to take all who prove themselves to be suitable for the purpose. If the honorable gentleman can direct me to the source of his information we shall certainly explore it.

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– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether it is a fact that Australian aborigines working for wages pay taxes at the same rate as other Australians but are not entitled to receive many social services benefits, such as the age pension? Does the Minister believe that this is just, and will he do anything to rectify the anomaly?

Minister for Social Services · LOWE, NEW SOUTH WALES · LP

– The control of aborigines, except in territories administered by the Commonwealth, is wholly within the jurisdiction of State governments. Those governments, if they wish, can grant aborigines exemption from State laws and thus render them eligible to receive social services benefits unless they return to reserves. This subject was considered at the recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, and I regret to say that one Premier made it clear that, in raising this issue, he sought only to transfer responsibility from the States to the Australian Government without considering the welfare of the aborigines. I am glad that this can be put on record now so that the people will know that the leader of at least one State Labour government was not interested in the welfare of the aborigines, but was trying to have financial responsibility for such people transferred to the Commonwealth.


– Is the Minister for Social Services taking any action to allow natives under control of the Australian Government who pay taxes, to secure the full benefits of social services legislation, of which the most important is the right to pensions ?


– I was under the impression that it had been made clear in my answer to the question of the honorable member for Farrer that the matter of natives under the control of the Australian Government is one for the Minister for Territories and not for the Department of Social Services. The honorable member’s question should properly have been directed to the Minister for Territories who could have given him an appropriate answer. I understand that action ia being taken to ensure that natives will be treated in a. particularly liberal fashion, and, indeed, they will be treated far better by this Government than aborigines in the States, for whom the States are responsible, have been treated in the past by the Sta,te Labour governments.


– Will the Minister for Territories ensure that all persons of full or part aboriginal blood in the Northern Territory who are entitled to social services benefits such as age and widows pensions shall receive them? If his excuse for not taking action is that such benefits cannot be given because of administrative difficulties, will he ensure that those administrative difficulties will be removed so that social justice may be done?


– The general .rule is that persons who live after the European manner and who take part in the general life of the community receive exactly the same social benefits as members of the European community. As I think honorable members know, the basic laws in the Northern Territory which relate to the status of aborigines were recently revised. We are waiting for the setting up of a new welfare organization before we proclaim the new act, but when the act is proclaimed its effect will be that every native of full or mixed blood in the Northern Territory who lives after the European manner and accepts the responsibilities of Europeans will be in the same position as Europeans.

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– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that recently an official of the Department of Civil Aviation gave evidence before the Commonwealth Arbitration. Court regarding the alleged hazards associated with the work of pilots of civil airliners. Is he aware that, at the request of counsel for the airlines, the court directed, that the evidence regarding such hazards should not be made public? Will the Minister, in fairness to air travellers and the public generally, and also in order to quell what may be unnecessary fears in the minds of the air-travelling public, make available, at least to this Parliament, the expert opinion which apparently has been offered to the court?

Minister for Air · DENISON, TASMANIA · LP

– The answer is “ No “. The matter is before the court, and it is for the court to determine it.

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– Is the Treasurer aware that university fees paid by parttime students are not allowable deductions for income tax purposes? Does he know that part-time students’ associations regard this fact as one of the causes of the marked decline, of approximately onethird, in enrolments of part-time university students in the last three years? L ask him whether the Government will consider extending tax concessions to such students, particularly in view of the facts that free primary and secondary education is one of our national birth-rights, that insurance premiums are allowable tax deductions, and that there is an ever-growing demand for academically trained staffs.


– The honorable gentleman’s question obviously refers to a matter of policy. That matter has been under consideration, will be further considered, and wall be ventilated in due course.

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– Has the Minister for Territories received a report from the Territory of Papua and New Guinea about the imposition of death sentences on a number of primitive tribesmen for their part in the tragic killing at Telefomin of two patrol officers and a number of native police? If so. is he in a position to inform the House whether approval has been given for the execution of the natives? Further, as the court” determines only the guilt or otherwise of the natives who arc apprehended, will the Minister cause a wide and searching inquiry to be made into the circumstances of the killings at Telefomin and the unrest at Mendi and elsewhere?


– The series of trials in relation to the incidents at Telefomin; are still proceeding and I do not propose, to comment on. them. The practice of the Supreme Court of Papua and New Guinea in some cases is to record a sentence of death. When the judge chooses to do that, he usually makes a recommendation in relation to a suitable penalty. In other cases the court passes a sentence of death but that sentence cannot” be executed until, it has been referred for the consideration of the Executive Council which is presided over by His Excellency the Governor-General.

Dr Evatt:

– Is it not the other way around ?


– No. When a sentence of death is recorded, a lesser penalty is recommended by the trial judge. When a sentence is passed, it cannot be executed until it has been referred for the consideration of the Executive Council. I assure the House that, in addition to the matters that have been inquired into by the court, a full investigation has been made. I have received from the Administrator and the Director of District Services a full account of the situation at Telefomin ever since the post was established five years ago. As a result of that review which, in the interests of good administration, should be kept confidential, certain remedial action has been taken. Only last month I received a report from the Administrator to the effect that good relations and- confidence between the authorities and the native people have been restored in that area.

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– I lay on the table the following paper: -

Australian National University Act - Australian National University - Report for 1953

Honorable members will recall that the Auditor-General did not certify the university’s statement, of income and expenditure for the previous year, 1952, for reasons that were reported to the House in his supplementary report for 1953 which was tabled last October. The financial statement that is now tabled covers the period to the 31st December, 1953. The figures in this statement are still subject to audit. The council of the university has set itself to the task of meeting the objections that were raised by the Auditor-General in relation to the taking and reconciliation of stocks of plant, equipment and stores, and has displayed the fullest co-operation. Stocktaking has proceeded over the very great range of items of plant, equipment and stores. In a number of sections of the university this has been satisfactorily concluded, but other sections remain to be dealt with and reconciliations effected.

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Motion (by Dr. Evatt) agreed to -

That leave of absence for one month he given to the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) owing to his absence from Australia.

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Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) agreed to -

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent, before the AddressinReply is adopted, the introduction and passing through all stages without delay of a Royal Commission on Espionage Bill.

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Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -

That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act relating to the Royal Commission on Espionage.

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Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) agreed to -

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent, before the AddressinReply is adopted, the Prime Minister from making a statement on foreign affairs and the consideration of any motion moved in connexion therewith.

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Debate resumed from the 4th August (vide page 32), on motion by Mr. Lindsay -

That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to: -

We, the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament..


– Yester day afternoon in another place I listened with a great deal of interest to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General. His Excellency delivered his Speech well, but it was remarkable for the number of empty platitudes that it contained, His Excellency referred to many matters in which I have a deep personal interest, one of which is the question of international affairs. I understand that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) intends to make an important statement on that matter. Honorable members are looking forward with interest to his statement in the hope that he will reassure them about the future of Australia and that he will give us confidence in our security. MayI refer now to the Australian Constitution Politics in Australia are taking a serious turn, and this nation is developing into a nation that is very much like some of the nations that are near the Iron Curtain and others that are behind it. It is noted with much dissatisfaction all over Australia that for the third time in succession the Government does not represent the majority of voters, which is a complete negation of democracy. The Government represents minorities. The principles of democracy have been debased in the

House because the Government is an unwholesome fusion of two minority groups, the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. One thing that both parties have in common is that they represent monopolistic vested interests and their minority views.

Mr Brand:

– That is not true.

Opposition members interjecting,


– This Government has been returned to office to represent a minority, though a majority of the Australian people voted for the Australian Labour party. Consequently, Australians are not receiving social justice. Their standard of living is lower than tha standard to which they are entitled and which might be attained. A fairer distribution of income among those who give service and produce goods would mean an all-round improvement in the people’s standard of living. The minority represented by this Administration will receive all the attention and consideration in the future, as they have done in the past. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in his policy speech at the recent general election foreshadowed a better way of life- for the Australian people, who have been denied all hope of progress and improvement in the future by this unwholesome fusion of the parties that represent the minority. Even the newspaper editors who said so much in support of this “ bits and pieces “ Government in an effort to keep it in office have complained about its inefficiency. Numerous editorials have suggested the appointment of new and better men to the Cabinet, naming the obsolete and suggesting replacements.

Mr Peters:

– They half -sacked one!


– The Prime Minister took no heed of his multiplicity of advisers. He did not have the courage to make the changes that it was obvious to every one were necessary. The Prime Minister and supporters of the Governmelt believe in peace at any price. Doubtless the right honorable gentleman has vivid recollections of 1941, when he was told by Ministers, some of whom are in the present Cabinet, that he could not lead a flock of homing pigeons. His failure to acknowledge the obvious matters that I have mentioned is apparent to every one. All the boys of the old brigade are members of a new cabinet, but they are not as happy as they might be. The reshuffling of portfolios has not improved the quality of the Cabinet, which is still mediocre. Sending the half-back to the full-back position or moving two forwards to the wings will not improve the team. The Australian people are indeed fortunate that the Australian Labour party is strong and virile and has a progressive policy. It is their principal safeguard >n an emergency, and should a crisis occur this party will come to the rescue as it did in 1941 when the present Prime Minister and many of the present Ministers proved incompetent to administer the affairs of the nation. History has a habit of repeating itself, and circumstances similar to those of 1941 again exist. The Government in 1941 was composed of representatives of the minority, and the Administration of to-day, which is similarly composed, could fall to pieces as easily as did the 1941 Menzies Government.

An analysis of the voting returns for the last federal election reveals that the Australian Labour party received the majority of the votes. It is the largest party in this Parliament but it has no say in the national policy. The Australian Labour party has ten more representatives in this chamber than has the Liberal party and 40 more than the Australian Country party. In spite of the small minority represented by members of the Australian Country party, a member of that party holds the most important portfolio - the treasurership. It is acknowledged throughout the world that he who controls monetary policy and the treasury controls the country. Yesterday, I obtained from the Chief Electoral Officer authentic figures of the voting at the last federal election. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) endeavoured to show that they were not correct, and he talked about first preference votes. The figures that I have obtained show that the Labour party received 2.292,881 first preference votes, and the Liberal and Australian Country parties 2,150.941 first preference votes. The people voted against the Government parties by a total majority of 274,556 votes. When the honorable member for Capricornia spoke of first preference votes he must have had in mind the 56,000 votes cast for the Communist party. Every one knows that that party assisted the Liberal and Australian Country parties as much as it could.

Mr Hasluck:

– But they did not give us their preferences.


– Were it not for the Communist party a “ Red Dean “ would not be sitting in this chamber. The Communist party preferences returned the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean). The Prime Minister said during the recent election campaign that he wished to speak not about new promises but about past promises faithfully fulfilled. He must have a mind that is capable of glamorizing his own lack of achievement. What promises did he have in mind when he said that? I suggest that it was the secret promises that he had made to his monopolist friends. But he did not mention those promises in his policy speech. One of the most important undertakings given by the Prime Minister and supporters of the Government before and during the election campaign was that the Liberal and Australian Country parties Government would reduce prices. It has failed dismally to honour that undertaking, as a comparison of the picture painted by the Prime Minister in his policy speech in 1949 with the present situation will demonstrate. Every one knows that prices have skyrocketed, one might say to Mount Kosciusko levels, and that they can go no higher. In consequence, Australia is in danger of pricing itself out of markets. Since this Government took office retail prices in Australia have increased by 66 per cent., and they are now higher than they are anywhere else in the world. Statistics show that retail prices have increased in Great Britain by 29 per cent., in New Zealand by 36 per cent., in Canada by 12 per cent., and in the United States of America by 12 per cent.

Mr Brand:

– Since when?


– Since this Administration took office in 1949. The Government has done nothing to prevent prices from increasing. On the contrary, it has in every way acted ‘so as to increase them. When Labour went out of office in 1949 the economy was sound and f airly stable. Prices had not increased unduly and they appeared to be reasonably steady’. All sections of the community have been adversely affected by the Government’s failure to honour the promises that it made in .1949, and the humblest have been hardest hit. I shall refer to home building later. Building costs have increased by more than 100 per cent. Citizens dependent on invalid, age, widows’ and war pensions, and superannuation, have suffered most. The actions of this Administration have had a terrible effect also on the purchasing power of wages and salaries. The purchasing power of social services benefits is now much lower than ever before. War pensions are equal to less than 24 per cent, of the basic wage, whereas when Labour was in office they were the equivalent of more than 40 per cent, of the basic wage. T have read nothing in the Governor-General’s Speech to suggest that the Government intends to take action to remedy that posititon

Mr Ward:

– It is an absolute disgrace.


– Yes. Invalid and age pensions now represent only 26 per cent, of the basic wage; under Labour’s administration they were equal to 36 per cent, of it. The Australian Labour party during the last election campaign promised to remedy this situation, but the people did not give whole-hearted acceptance to the undertaking, though Labour received the majority of votes. The Prime Minister’s claim that inflation has been arrested is completely wrong. The prices of building materials and motor parts have increased considerably since he made his policy speech on the 4th May last. The inflationary trend has steadied, but the economy has not been stabilized. Inflation was accelerating so rapidly that it could not fail to steady down a little. The steadying influence has been at the expense of wage and salary earners, and the pension groups that I have mentioned. If the Government were fair and just it would enforce the same control on prices and wages as it imposes on salaries and pensions. The Australian people are not happy about the controls imposed on the incomes of the working sections of the community and pensioners, and much discontent is apparent among these sections of the community. The workers of Australia have always demonstrated their readiness to make sacrifices, but if sacrifices are necessary let them be made by all.

When the Prime Minister said that past promises had been faithfully fulfilled he must have had in mind those secret promises he made to his friends. I have no recollection of his undertaking in his policy speech that interest rates, for example, would be increased. Pensioners and wage and salary earners suffer from, any increase in interest rates. This Government has sold at bargain prices, many of the nation’s assets, including its interests in the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. It has disposed of the shale oil refinery at Glen Davis and has handed over the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool to private interests. More recently, as at Exmouth Gulf, it stepped aside to leave a clear field to overseas interests to exploit whatever oil may exist in this country; and it has followed a similar policy with respect to the exploitation of uranium deposits. The Government also shackled the Commonwealth -Bank. I have no doubt that the harm that it has done in this instance will be made apparent when we receive the .next annual report of the bank. The Prime Minister has made secret promises to private bankers and influential friends of the Government parties, and has proceeded to give effect to those promises.

At the same time, however, the Government has failed to honour its promise to families that it would facilitate homeownership. During the last general election campaign, the Prime Minister, in his policy speech, promised to amend the Commonwealth, and State Housing Agreement for that purpose, but instead of honouring that promise the Government, by restricting credit and increasing interest rates, has made it still more difficult for people to purchase homes. Since this Government assumed office, interest rates have been increased by 1$ per cent. That increase ‘adversely affects every aspect of out economy. For instance, it ‘will involve an additional payment of £15,000,000 interest on the national debt and will increase the cost of the average house by from £300 to £400. Therefore, the Government’s claim that it has helped people to purchase their homes is completely unfounded. As I have said, it has made it more costly for them to do so. The proposal outlined in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech with respect to this subject is entirely unsatisfactory. The Governor-General stated -

My Government now proposes that it should be made possible under the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement for tenants to purchase on liberal terms the homes in which they live. Negotiations have been commenced with the State governments to reach agreement on what those terms will he. When agreement “has been reached with the States, legislation will be introduced to amend the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement to put my Govern ment’s plans into operation at the earlies possible date.

I repeat that that promise is entirely unsatisfactory because the Government proposes to limit housing loans to the sum of £2,750. Building costs have risen to such a degree since this Government assumed office that that sum will not be sufficient to provide a home worthy of the name. It will barely be sufficient to meet the cost of a two-bedroomed house. Sufficient money should be provided to enable families to build at least four-bedroomed homes. If we are to populate Australia as a desirable rate we must give every assistance to large families to purchase their homes. In respect of a house the cost of which is £2,750, a purchaser will be required to provide a deposit of 10 per cent., that is a sum of £275. Obviously, a man with a large family will not be able to provide a deposit of that magnitude. Dealing with this subject, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), in his policy speech during the recent election campaign, made a promise that is more in keeping with the needs of the average Australian family. He said that Labour, if it were returned to office, would arrange with the Commonwealth Bank to make advances up to £3,500 for the purchase of a home ; and in order to encourage families to take advantage of .that assistance, the deposit would be 5 per cent, and the interest rate would not exceed 3 per cent. Under this Government’s proposal, purchasers of homes will be required to pay interest at the rate of .4^ per cent., and such a commitment will be beyond the means of the ordinary family man.

The Governor-General’s Speech of which, of course, the Government itself is the author, consists of empty platitudes. It repeats the promises that the Government parties have made during the last three general election campaigns, but which have not yet been honoured. For that reason, I disapprove of the Speech. Although the Government promises to liberalize the means test, it offers no assistance to age and invalid pensioners.

The Governor-General also stated -

A proposal will be submitted to the Parliament for the appointment of a committee representing both Houses and all parties to review certain aspects of the working of the Constitution and to make recommendations for its amendment.

I trust that a number of laymen will be appointed to that committee. Whilst, of course, it will be necessary to include lawyers in its membership, all of the appointees to that body should not be lawyers. Experience has shown that whilst subjects of this kind technically fall within the purview of the legal profession, lawyers have made a mess of similar tasks. The Government should ensure that practical men, not theorists, shall be appointed to this proposed committee. Indeed, I should like to see a number of backbenches in this House appointed to that body.

One could deal with many other matters at this juncture, but I shall reserve my comment on such subjects until the budget is presented to the Parliament.


.- Mr. Speaker, I join with other honorable members in congratulating you upon your re-election to the Chair. It is no mean achievement to be elected Speaker of this House on three successive occasions. That you have attained such a distinction is an acknowledgment of your firmness, impartiality, and high principles - qualities which will always be remembered by those over whom you preside.

Mr Curtin:

– They were frightened that ho would wreck the Government.


-Order ! The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) will wreck himself if he is not careful.


– The manner in which you, sir, have divorced yourself from party affiliations sets, I believe, a new standard in Australian politics. It is an example which your successors would do well to follow. Ultimately, I hope, we in Australia will accept the civilized practice of the British Parliament whereby the Speaker, once he is elected, is considered so remote from party connexions that he is not opposed subsequently in his constituency. Meanwhile, all of us, whether your friends or your opponents, look forward to another three years of spirited impartiality, and championship of the rights of the House from the Chair.

The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), who covered considerable ground in his speech, complained, among other things, of the rise in prices since this Government assumed office in 1949. I am somewhat astonished to hear this complaint from the honorable member, especially after reading the policy speech to which he and his friends subscribed at the last general election. The honorable member said that during the four and a half years this Government has been in office prices have risen as high as Mount Kosciusko. All I can say is that if the electorate, in a weakness of mind, had returned the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) and the Labour party to the treasury bench, prices in Australia would have risen by the end of the year to the level of Mount Everest.

I am also surprised that the honorable member for Banks and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Makin) should have given the House a dissertation on the subject of the number of votes cast for the Government parties and for the Labour party at the last general election, for the subject was at least to some degree theoretical in view of the number of uncontested seats. It is difficult, indeed, to arrive at the true actuarial result regarding the total number of votes cast, but in any case, it is a purely academic discussion. Honorable members opposite would get a far better reception from the public if they adopted’ a more sportsmanlike attitude, and said, “ That is the verdict. We must accept it “, and let things rest at that. As it is, they gain nothing by regaling us now with figures, some of which cannot really be substantiated for the reason that I gave a moment ago, and by continuing that line of lamentation.

The real reason why I have risen in my place this afternoon is on account of the reference made by His Excellency, during a somewhat comprehensive Speech, to the intention of the Government to establish an inter-party committee on constitutional reform. The working of the Constitution, and the elimination of difficulties arising thereunder, give rise to some of the most intricate problems confronting the Parliament and the nation. I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has signified the preparedness of the Labour party to cooperate in this matter. Experience has shown that unless we can obtain some prior agreement on proposals for the alteration of the Constitution, it is difficult to have them ratified by the electorate. I suggest that the more we can approach these complex and controversial questions from a strictly nonparty stand-point, the greater will be our chance of evolving proposals which are likely to be accepted at a referendum. If, however, the parties enter the proposed committee consumed only with the objective of acquiring some advantage at the next election, then this committee will become merely another wreck on the seabed of constitutional reform.

The most pressing matter which the committee will have before it and this is envisaged in His Excellency’s Speech is the synchronization of elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives. It was never intended by the framers of the Constitution that there should be an election for this House, or for the Senate, on an average of every eighteen months. What is now taking place, though, paradoxically, ensuing from the operation of the Constitution, is against its spirit. Already, danger signals are going up. The public is becoming saturated with polls. After all, we in this Parliament are not the only objects of popular veneration. Besides our own contests, there are triennial

State, and annual local government, elections. Signs of restiveness are already appearing. Every honorable member who is in touch with his constituency must be aware of this fact. Unless we heed those warnings, the way will be opened to public indifference, mounting cynicism, and boredom ; and politics in this country will deteriorate as they have done in the United States of America, and fall into the hands of manipulators and party managers. Ultimately, the machine will become increasingly the master.

There is also inherent in these things a threat to the quality of administration. All of us know that the real work of a Parliament is done in its first two years. Unhappily, the third year, under- any administration, is largely given to political window-dressing. But what will happen henceforth if a new government can be sure of its Senate majority for less than two years? Even the best of men are liable to be corroded by circumstances. A premium will be placed on temporising, short term views. Unless this momentum is checked, these will supplant the longer vision so indispensable to enlightened rule.

Some people may say that the way out of the difficulty is easy, and that the problem can be solved by allowing the House of Representatives to go to the country in 1956, a year before its time.

Mr Edmonds:

– Yes, let us adopt that solution.


– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) and others who support him may not be so keen to face their masters in 1956 as they now appear. Why should this House be dissolved prematurely? It has been elected for three years, and my view, which, I think, will be shared by many people inside and outside the Parliament, is that even three years is too short a term. Nowadays, a government, if it is worthy of the name, should possess the courage to do a number of things in the national interest which may prove highly unpopular until the reasons for doing them are appreciated. We on this side of the House had ample experience of that between 1951 and 1953, but two months ago, our actions were substantially vindicated. I think we would all agree that a policy could be worked out far more effectively over, say, four years than over three years. During that time,, the consequences of a government’s actions could be more adequately appreciated than over the shorter period. The proverbial chickens could come home to roost in a manner which certainly is impossible in the virtual two-year Parliament that obtains to-day. It is also pertinent to ask how long members of Parliament, political organizations and their supporters will be willing to subject themselves to the strain of this whirling merrygoround of elections. If it continues at its present tempo, public life will cease to attract many of those who are most qualified for the highest posts. Instead, it will become an endurance test, and, like most endurance tests, it will be of very little practical benefit to the nation.

These factors will no doubt be considered by the committee when it is established. Without wishing to anticipate its conclusions, I suggest that a way out of our difficulties could be found by amending the Constitution in the following manner. To begin with, we could provide for half of the Senate to retire automatically whenever the House of Representatives was dissolved. I emphasize that I refer to half of the Senate, not to the whole of it. In order to bring this about, it would be necessary to do two things. First, we could extend the term of senators elected in 1951 to such time as the present House of Representatives is dissolved ; that is to say, to some date between now and 1957. In this manner, the projected Senate election for 1956 would be obviated. Secondly, we could extend the term of senators elected in 1953’ to the dissolution of this House after the next general election; that is to say, to some date between 1957 and 1960, assuming that the present House runs its normal course. If these proposals were sanctioned, then, assuming that the Twenty-first Parliament will complete its allotted span, the 1951 senators would sit for six years instead of five, and the 1953 senators might sit for seven years instead of six. There is nothing inherently objectionable in this proposal, because thereafter all senators would revert to a six-year term, subject i-< every instance to the duration of the life of the House of Representatives.

I am well aware of objections that can be urged strongly against these proposals, especially on theoretical grounds. My suggestions undermine some of the basic principles on which the Senate was founded. But this is, after all, no time for theory. We have had over half a century of experience of the working of the Senate. Without wishing to appear impertinent to the Upper House in any way, I think that mo3t of us, and certainly public opinion, will agree that the Senate is the one great disappointment of the Constitution. It has failed in its objective of being a States House. It has not served the purpose for which it was designed - to be an adequate chamber of review. Therefore, I hope that such objections as may be put forward will take cognizance of the facts of experience. In any case, such objections will be small in proportion to the undesirable consequences of leaving things as they are. These reforms should commend themselves because though they might not strengthen the Senate when put into effect, they would at least prevent it from declining in public esteem

If the Senate is to be preserved in its present form in the Constitution - and, in the light of 53 years of experience of its working, I am not at all sure that it ought to be - the machinery for its election must be adapted to the age in which we live. The contemporary world necessitates speedy decisions by the Executive and constitutional conditions which enable a firm, considered policy to be pursued in the national interest without regard to every transient breeze of public opinion. Such conditions do not exist to-day. One of the tasks of the new Parliament should be to persuade the electorate to erase these and other defects in the Constitution so as to enable us to realize better the ultimate objective of all government - the promotion of the well-being of the nation we are so proud to serve.


– Yesterday afternoon we were pleased to receive from His Excellency the Governor-General a Speech that was designed to outline the programme intended by this Government to be pursued throughout the life of the Twenty-first Parliament. Those of us who are deeply concerned with the future welfare of Australia suffered considerable disappointment when we heard the terms of the Speech. The first feature that attracts my attention is the reference to the strengthening of Australia’s security. This is a tremendously important subject, which must be faced boldly by the Parliament. His Excellency said that the Government considered it to be essential to the healthy and permanent development of manufacturing industries that there should be a continuing drive by all concerned to increase efficiency and production and reduce costs. I can appreciate the Government’s desire- to study that question. I was amazed, however, at the manner in which the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) dismissed the contribution made to this debate by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) on the subject of prices. The honorable member for Angas solved the whole problem of prices, to his own satisfaction, by saying that, had the Labour Government remained in office prices in this country would have reached astronomical heights. I say to the honorable member that the test of time provides the proof in this matter. Labour was in office from 1941 to 1949. Half of its period of eight years in office was in war-time, and the other half was in the post-war period, when it had the responsibility of tapering off the effects of the war on the country’s economy. During its term of office Labour effectively controlled prices. In order to realize how effective that control was, one has only to compare what has happened in less than five years of this Government’s rule, in peace-time, with the achievements of Labour governments in both the war and post-war periods. The Government is caught in its own toils as far as prices are concerned.

Mr Gullett:

– “Why does not the honorable member say something new, instead of giving us this old stuff?


– I propose to do so, if the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) will have the patience to listen to me. The honorable gentleman does not really understand the problem of prices, so I suppose there is every excuse for his injection. So, far from knowing the answer to the question posed by the problem of prices, the honorable member for Henty could not even frame the question itself. No good purpose is to be served by attracting overseas manufacturing organizations to this country if, after having established themselves, they are to find that our price level is so high that their commodities cannot compete with similar commodities produced more cheaply in other countries. That is a problem to which the Government must apply itself ; but it has done nothing since it has been in office to improve industrialrelations in Australia, which are one of the keys to the problem. It is upon the Government’s capacity to find a solution to this very problem that the future of Australia as a nation, and its economic position in the world, may well depend.

The Governor-General’s Speech included the following statement: -

My Government regards it as essential, however, to the healthy and permanent development of manufacturing industries in Australia that there should be n. continuing drive by all concerned to increase efficiency and production and reduce costs.

How is that aim to be achieved? What has the Government done, since it assumed office, to achieve a reduction of costs ? Il is- not sufficient to sit on the benches in this chamber and aver that the answer to the problem is increased productivity. How can increased productivity be expected from any body of workers, in any country, when wages and margins are pegged. If the pegging of wages and margins is necessary, then the fault lies at the door of the Government. Cabinet positions have been shuffled since the Government was returned to office at the general election in May, and it is to be hoped that the shuffle will mean a changed approach by the Government to the problems that beset the nation. I could tell the honorable member for Henty of business organizations that are very disturbed about the whole position. Great work has been done in the textile industry by time and motion study experts to bring our production costs down to British levels. Only this year that aim was achieved in textile production in the metropolitan area of Sydney.

Mr Gullett:

– It. was not.


– I shall give the honorable member the proof if he requires it.

Mr Gullett:

– I require it.


– All right. This is what the Government has to face now. The textile industry, as a consequence of the time and motion studies that business is introducing into this country, is faced with the position that, even when prices in Australia are brought down to the British level, it still has to face competition from cheaply produced Japanese textiles that are now entering Australia as a result of the Government’s policy. That is one of the problems which the Government has to face.

Mr McMahon:

– It is not one of the problems.


– The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) says that it is not one of the problems facing the Government. Let him tell that to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who has said that because Japan buys Australian wool we must be prepared to accept in return a certain amount of Japanese goods. I tell the Minister that by the time he eats his 1954 Christmas dinner workers will have lost their jobs in the Australian textile industry as a result of competition from textile imports from Japan. If he wishes, I shall name the firms concerned before this debate is finished.

I turn now to a matter that the Government should consider if it really wishes to achieve something concrete regarding increased productivity and reduced production costs. It is well known in every industry that some form of increased productivity is necessary, but I shall confine my remarks to the textile industry for purposes of illustration. I wish to deal with the question of what has to be done regarding our industrial arbitration system before we can begin to compete with overseas production. Even leaving aside Japanese competition, and considering merely British and American competition, it is obvious that, under the industrial arbitration system now operating in Australia, there is protection for neither management nor labour in relation to the increased productivity that flows from time and motion studies. The Government has not faced up to this particular problem. It really knows nothing about the problem, and that is the reason why it will fail to achieve anything in the course of the next three years. The Government will, in fact, run away from the issue. As I have said, it is of no use to attract overseas industries to this country without first doing something about the industrial arbitration machinery in Australia so as to give the protection made necessary by a new form of productivity that is in use in Britain and America. This is a problem, however, that the Government obviously does not understand.

Mr Freeth:

– Is the honorable gentleman suggesting the adoption of a 48-hour week, as in Britain?


– That is the kind of interjection one would expect from a supporter of this Government.

Mr Costa:

– A tory.


– Not because he is a tory but because he is completely ignorant of the problem we are discussing. Does the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) not understand that in time and motion study projects the question of hours does not enter at all ? He would not understand, of course, that employees in the British textile industry work only a 36-hour week. The whole problem must soon be faced by the Government, because this country cannot really go on hoping that it will always have bountiful wheat and wool seasons and obtain high prices for its wheat and wool overseas. If this nation is to be developed so as to enable it to meet the Asian threat that has grown in recent years, it must be developed on sound industrial lines. That is why I was sadly disappointed that the Governor-General’s Speech, in which the policy under which Australia is to be governed for the next three years is set out, made no reference to our real problem.

The Governor-General said -

All thu techniques of modem management need to be brought to bear on the problem; concurrently the Trade Unions must realize that higher standards of living will be achieved through greater productivity, which will come from greater team work between employers and employees.

How can that be achieved with a pegged basic wage and pegged marginal rates? The Government does not know where it is going. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) has stated that the Government will be represented before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court when it next deals with the margins case, and will do what it can to assist skilled tradesmen to receive increased margins - but skilled tradesmen only ! It will do nothing for unskilled workers. What a display of ignorance! With modern machinery production methods, workers who are not regarded as skilled tradesmen are the very workers on whom we must rely for increased production. Yet the Government has announced that it will do nothing for them, and proposes to argue that they shall not be considered in relation to increased margins. This is a matter that affects the whole of this country, its future and the destiny of future generations of Australians. I urge that the Government should at least realize its responsibilities. I suggest that the Minister for Labour and National Service, because he really does not know anything about industry, should go out and investigate our Australian industries. Honorable members on the Government side call the Opposition socialists, but they should realize that we are just as keenly concerned about future generations of Australians as are any of the supporters of the Government. The Opposition stands aghast at the statements of the Minister for Labour and National Service about the margins case now before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and we all wonder in which direction Australia is heading, at the. most dangerous period in our history, under the control of a government with policies such as this one has. I do not mean that the outlook is dangerous only because of the international position - which I hope to discuss later. I consider it is dangerous also because of the internal state of the country. We need to expand our industries rapidly, and we can do so only by giving the workers a proper reward for their labours. If we do that, our production will be increased and thu well-being and the happiness of the people ‘ assured. However, during its four- and a half years of office this Government has been merely meddling with our economy. Indeed, if the Government has said its last word on this matter, the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) need not worry about the Government being put out of office in eighteen months’ time because the pressure of public opinion will force it out long before then.


– The honorable member has said that sort of thing for years.


– I have not made such a prophecy before. It is quite apparent that the honorable members of the Australian Country party cannot understand what I am talking about. Apparently the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), and his colleagues, believe that we can go on living on the sheep’s back and on the profit” from our wheat crops. If he so believes, he is heading straight for calamity. We must adequately populate this country within twenty years or we shall perish: and it is only by building up our industries that we shall he able to carry the population needed for our defence. The Government should not think that merely because it has won three elections all the worker? in Australia are fools. They are not. This Government introduced legislation that it said would put an end to communism. But let us examine what is happening at present. Consider the Boilermakers Union. This Government passed legislation which had the effect of putting the Communists back into control of that union after the methods of the Australian Labour party had got rid of them.

Mr Freeth:

– Rubbish!


– It is not rubbish, but the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) would not understand what I am saying. This Government, by its own legislation, has built up the Communist organization at the shop level in our unions. Some of the honorable members listening to me while I am making these charges, also listened to me in this House previously when I forecast the very trouble that is now so apparent in the unions.

Mr McMahon:

– “What is the honorable member talking about?


– The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) would not understand what [ am talking about when I mention the shop level of control of unions. However, in every industry in Australia the Communists are increasing their powers, and yet the Government will not listen to the suggestions of the Australian Labour party about how to get rid of them. Therefore, although the Government goes on hoping that our run of good seasons will continue, it does not realize the menace to our secondary industries.


– Tell us about the railway strike.


– I shall deal with that matter in my budget speech. The honorable member for Angas mentioned a suggested committee to examine the Constitution. I hope in all sincerity that if such a committee is established it will not be concerned so much with the election of politicians to the Parliament as with the welfare of the people. Some time ago we heard much talk from Government sources about returning the taxing powers to the States. Eighteen months ago the Government refused to make sufficient money available to the States to carry out their housing programmes, yet it finished this financial year with a surplus of about £60,000,000. That should not happen again. If we are to have an effective Australian government, let us have one, not only responsible for raising taxes, but also responsible for housing, hospitalization and other important functions. His Excellency’s Speech did not mention any of those matters, although it did deal with the visit of Her Majesty the Queen. I hope that in the immediate future, because of Her Majesty’s visit, there will be closer cooperation and understanding among the members of the British Commonwealth. However, we should more carefully examine our international relations outside the British Commonwealth, because recently we have been helping an ex-enemy re-establish itself, and now we are finding that most of that country’s trade is flowing to Russia and China. That should not happen again. Above all, while we are talking of expanding our industries, let us always remember those who work in the industries, and without whom there would be no industries. They must be paid proper wages and proper margins for skill.

Mr. DRUMMOND (New England) 1 4.15]. - I congratulate the Government upon its well-deserved return to office It is very easy for a body of men to do things which are popular and which appeal to the people. It is very difficult, however, for a Government to do things which it knows will make it unpopular but which are absolutely essential for the well-being of the nation. For approximately four and a half years the Government accepted that challenge and it received its reward, even though some of its intentions were misunderstood by many electors. I refer now to the recent Royal visit. I well remember seeing, as a lad, the function in Centennial Park, Sydney, in January, 1901, when the Commonwealth of Australia was founded. I was present when His Royal Highness the Duke of York, later His Majesty, King George VI., opened the Parliament in Canberra and I was also here when Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, opened the Parliament in February. There are certain implications of that series of events which have not been lost to the people of Australia. The first of those implications is that that series of events emphasises the growth of this people as a nation. The second is that they emphasize the necessity for our acceptance of the responsibilities which devolve upon a people who -claim a right and a title to a country which is so vast and who claim the right to take part in international affairs. Although I do .not intend, at this stage, to speak on the subject of international affairs, I observe, in passing, that every thinking man and woman in this country has watched with the gravest disquiet events in Ind/>China and elsewhere. Those events have a curious significance and. a marked resemblance to the events that took place in 1938 when we, misled by Hitler’s promises, permitted him to go behind the bastion of Czechoslovakia amongst the Sudetan Germans. Three or four prior to World War II. the European population of this country and of other British dominions, when compared with that of Great Britain, stood in the ratio of a little less than one to three. To-day the ratio is approximately one and a half to one. While that process has been in operation, the Motherland has staggered under the tremendous load of two wars and the shattering impact upon her economy and her wealth of World War II. when she threw everything into the pit, as it were, in an effort to stop a form of bestial savagery which threatened the freedom of the world. We must determine the measure in which we can accept the responsibility from which Great Britain, to a certain degree, has had to withdraw.

I was greatly interested in the remarks of the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) in relation to the cost of living. I know that the honorable member has been associated with industrial movements for some considerable time. When the honorable member commenced his speech, I thought that he was going to develop a useful argument in relation to .some of the major industrial problems that confront the people of Australia. Unfortunately, he seemed to slip into making errors. The honorable member said that during the regime of the Chifley Government there was no substantial rise in the cost of living, but in almost the same breath he criticized this Government for its attention to such questions as wage pegging and prices control. It is interesting to note that during World War II. that was precisely the same policy that was adopted by the Labour Government. It was a policy which could not have been implemented without the existence of the dangers of war. A nation will suffer almost any curtailment of liberty during a period of grave danger, but it does not follow that it would be either wholesome or good to have a continuance of that curtailment of liberty. It was for that reason, amongst others, .that the Chifley Government was removed from office. It clung to that theory too long. At that time there was an official cost of living index which was based on certain items, but there was also a tremendous amount of black marketing, which, if it could have been averaged with the official index figure, would have made a tremendous difference to that figure. This Government, by removing the restraints, has eliminated black marketing. There has been a certain rise in the cost of living, but it is not by any means entirely attributable to the removal of controls. Inflation was the outcome of world-wide factors of which international communism was not the least.

I refer now to the proposed establishment of a joint committee to review the Constitution. I am extremely pleased to know “that the Government has decided, with the aid of honorable members opposite, to establish a committee to review the working of the Constitution. We trust that that committee will be impartial. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) said, and said quite truly, that if the establishment of this committee were approached in the spirit of attempting to obtain party advantage, it would fail, and it would deserve to fail. When we deal with the Constitution, we do not deal with something that is transient. We deal with something which we hope will prove to be a lasting and a basic law upon which all other laws shall be fashioned or removed. Those who say, “ We will do this because it will give Labour a chance to-day “, or “ We will do that because it will give non-Labour a chance to-morrow “, completely lose sight of the fact that the Constitution should not be as changeable as is the wind, but that it should be modified only when the circumstances and the growth of the community clearly demand a change. .1 believe that there are honorable members on both sides of the House who can approach this question in the broadest possible spirit. I make that statement as one who profoundly believes that the true Constitution is the one that is likely to be the most beneficial to a country such as Australia. There are reasons why we should consider the provision of machinery which would enable us to make it less inflexible but which would enable us to give to the people of Australia the safeguards that they must have. When I speak of safeguards, I do not speak about something that removes power from the people. The people should be given more power so that they may obtain greater control over the government and the affairs of the country.

Whilst I congratulate the Government upon its determination to proceed with the establishment of the committee, I trust that the day is not far distant when it will see also the wisdom, perhaps even while the committee is in existence, of setting up some form of national convention. I do not agree with those persons who say that, if we had a national convention, it could be almost entirely of the same composition as this House. Honorable members were not elected because they were constitutional experts. They were elected because of their various backgrounds - some industrial, some international, some constitutional, some dairying, some wheat-growing. For any one to think that the whole repository of power and wisdom in dealing with the question of constitutional reform is confined within the walls of the Parliament Ls to place too high a premium upon tho omniscience with which he seeks to endow members of parliament. I am very proud to have been a member of the Parliament for many years and to have had an opportunity to serve my electorate. Indeed, all honorable members are. But surely we must have some regard to qualities that are to be found outside the Parliament. The people may make a decision that we may not like, but it would have to be implemented through a referendum. It is fortunate that, when our Constitution was written, in the final analysis the sovereignty was given to the people of Australia to determine its form by referendum. I shall not discuss the matter further, because I do not wish to anticipate a debate which may take place at a later stage.

I was impressed by the remarks of the honorable member for Blaxland when he referred to the difficulties that confront the Australian economy. His Excellency the Governor-General stated that it was the intention of the Government to reorganize the defence of the country, but that in doing so it would have regard to such matters as economic stability and a steady development of population. His Excellency also said that the Government - will continue to give serious attention to marketing problems as they arise, and, through the continuance of its various grants in aid to State authorities, will assist the industries concerned in the task of bringing about a more competitive cost structure.

His Excellency linked that statement with the manufacturing industries and expressed the profound hope of the Government that, concurrently, the trade unions would realize that higher standards of living would be achieved through greater productivity as a result of greater team work between employers and employees. I am closely in touch with a number of primary industries, particularly wheat-growing and wool-growing. My constituency, which includes the New England tableland, is probably the greatest wool electorate in Australia. We must have regard not only to what is good for the wheat-grower or the wool-grower, although that is implicit in my argument, but also to the prosperity of primary industry generally, and to the prosperity and the level of employment in secondary and tertiary industries, including communications and transport. From the Governor-General’s Speech we learn that Australia’s international reserves stand at £570,000,000. This gives us a new idea of the importance to our economy of wheat and wool, and of the emphasis that should be placed upon them. According to the latest statistics that I have seen, more than 90 per cent, of that £570,000,000 of overseas reserves represents the proceeds of the sale of Australia’s primary products. Only 10 per cent, of these funds comes from the sale of -manufactured goods. So far as I can ascertain, invisible imports are rather higher than invisible exports. Consequently our overseas reserves of £570,000,000 are almost entirely directly due to the sale of primary products. Fortunately the wool industry is in a sound position, but the wheat industry, which a few years ago earned as much for Australia as did wool, now earns much less than wool. Unless the cost of production of our primary products is lowered they will soon be priced out of the world’s markets. We are to-day facing a crisis and are in danger of losing our markets for wheat, butter; and eggs, because we cannot sell these commodities overseas at competitive prices. This problem can be solved only by reducing the cost of production of primary products and manufactured goods, and by reducing transport and other costs.

Mr Peters:

– How can the cost of production be lowered?


– I do not plead that primary industries should be bolstered at the expense of others. Unless transport and other costs are reduced production costs cannot be lessened. Primary producers must be able to obtain the materials and equipment that they require at prices low enough to enable them to keep down the production costs of their products. Let us consider the cost of coal, as an example. The price of this commodity has been a major factor in forcing up transport costs. In 1941, when I was a Minister of the Crown in New South Wales, the freight charge for transporting wheat from the north and the north-west of that State to the seaboard was 5£d. a bushel; to-day it is 2s. 7d. a bushel. This is typical of the increase in freight charges for primary products in all States. The additional 2s. lid. a bushel for the transport of wheat introduces a cost factor that is of great importance in determining whether Australia can sell wheat competitively, and whether stock-feed wheat for the poultry industry and other industries can be obtained by producers at a reasonable price so that these industries may carry on. If they cannot get stock feed at reasonable cost they must fail. I have in my hand a letter from the Northern District branch of the Australian Coal and Shale Employees Federation, which pleads for a sympathetic understanding of the position into which the coal industry has been driven. Any one who reads this letter will understand the grave doubt and fear for the future that exists. The letter points out that the northern coal-fields of New South Wales, which are contiguous to my electorate, produced 29 per cent, of the coal mined in that State. Among the reasons given for the decline in the consumption, of coal, the federation mentions the development of native coal resources in Victoria, at Morwell and elsewhere, the opening of the Glen Leigh mine in South Australia, and the increasing use of oil in all States.

I am sympathetic to the plea made by the federation, beer. use I know something of the history of the coal industry. When I became a Minister in the New South Wales Government in 1927, more than 4,000 miners on the northern field of that State had been out of work for years because they had priced their coal out of the market. The miners on that field will lose their jobs again, because the same thing is happening to-day. I do not intend to revile the leadership of the miners. The extraordinary thing is that the New South Wales Government is putting in service increasing numbers of diesel locomotives. The great Australian Gas Light Company in Sydney is installing large oil-burning plants instead of using the best gas coal in Australia, which is obtained from the northern New South Wales fields, because it has not been able to assure its supplies of coal. The Victorian railways commissioners have put in service additional diesel-electric locomotives because they were hampered by delays in the delivery of coal from New South Wales. Something similar is happening in South Australia. The opening of the Glen Leigh brown coal-field in that State was inspired by the complete failure of the New South Wales mines to send regular supplies of coal to South Australia. The coal industry will not get out of its difficulties by reducing the hours of work in the industry or by selling overseas, notably to Russia and China. I do not care where Australian products are sold, provided that they are not used for war. Whether we sell within Australia, to Great Britain, China, Russia, or anywhere else, we must sell at competitive prices if we are to keep our economy stable and prosperous. The most urgent need in Australia to-day is for the leaders of both employers and employees to realize that they are on common ground with the people of Australia in seeking economic stability and the capacity to meet the present trend to lower prices in overseas markets. Upon that common ground they must between them work out their salvation so that Australia shall not descend into a depression and lose the benefit of the impetus towards prosperity that the present development has given this country.


.- As is the custom the Government -finds the Governor-General’s Speech full of profound wisdom and laden with promises of rich rewards for the future. The policy enunciated in this document is Government policy in embryo. It is completely sterile, and completely lacks any of the boastful assurance that was evident in the general policy-speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) at the general election campaign in May. One of the most obvious conclusions that even a novice in this House might, reach is that the speech reveals a series of “ sell-outs “. The one that springs most readily to mind relates to housing. We hear the faded old assurance, so often repeated, that the Government is prepared to do ‘something about housing, which is one of the most tortuous and difficult problems with which any administration can be confronted. If the Government, within the next few months, does not take the problem by the throat and attempt to do something, that is not conditioned by common, general banking practice, the people who rely upon the Administration to help them will be bitterly disappointed, and in the long run a fillip will be given to the cause of the Communists. A. vapid, denatured, dry-as-dust statement about housing is not sufficient at this stage. Many thousands of citizens in New South Wales are now, and have been for many years, in a parlous position. I do not say that this is the problem of any one administration. It is the problem of all governments, both State and Federal, and the Australian Governmentshould do something at once to improve the housing situation.

It is a sad commentary on the capacity of Australian parliamentarians that, ten years after a war to end. want, misery and shortages, sud at a time when the country expects to see a true gleam of the democratic light, for the preservation of which our soldiers fought, exservicemen and their wives should be reduced to the necessity of rearing as many as four children in back rooms, and that aged pensioners should lack adequate housing. In general, this is an indictment of all Australians, because as a community we have not displayed the wit and wisdom,, and sometimes we have lacked the will, to tackle this, problem which, in its urgency and poignancy, overshadows all others. In the GovernorGeneral’s Speech we see the same old formula, which cannot succeed. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech at the general election, said that there would be a conference between representatives of the States and the Commonwealth in relation to the Commonwealth and States Housing Agreement so that those who rented homes from the housing commissions of the various States could purchase the dwellings more readily. That sounds very well, but the formula set out in the Governor-General’s Speech means that these unfortunate citizens will continue to owe money to governments and banks, because the financial assistance to be provided is too little. But that is not the greatest problem. The most urgent need at present is for more dwellings for rental to the workers. All honorable members know from interviews with their constituents that every day the story becomes moresad. Those who are waiting for homes daily become more disheartened and neurotic. The problem is a sociological and practical one, and it must be solved. Before the election the Government said, “ We abolished all controls “. That is a complete lie. Minor controls were abolished so that a master paralysing control could be imposed on the nation’s money resources. What does the Government want with minor controls while it has a master control, a skeleton key that will open every door - the control of finance.

The gravity of the housing problem is emphasized by the Government’s financial policy and its direction to the Commonwealth Bank, an institution that was founded on the philosophy that the people’s savings should be placed in one bank and that central banking and commercial banking could exist happily together. It is the Australian people’s bank. A young man who wants to build a home finds it impossible to do so under the present financial strictures that were imposed because of conditions designated by that blessed word “ inflation “. He cannot get an advance from any bank for home building or purchase unless he can provide two-thirds of the total amount needed. How in the name of sweet reasonableness does the Government suggest that in these circumstances the worker can build himself a house? This condition of affairs is a consequence of the Government’s frustrating and completely wrong policy. The second factor is the interest rate about which the Leader of the Opposition, in his policy speech during the recent general election campaign, attempted to do something, only to have his proposal pooh-poohed as being impracticable. “We must evolve some new formula and new ideas, and shake the fustian and the heads not only of parliamentarians but also of the bureaucrats. In New South “Wales, taking that State as a key example, there is a shortage of at least 30,000 houses. The various units in the community that could do something about this matter are being frustrated. It is not a. question of materials being in such short supply. Although some stringency exists in that respect, that difficulty can be overcome. The first factor is that money, which is an essential commodity in this sphere, is lacking.

Various agencies exist to promote the construction of houses. I recognize that the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament to engage in this field are restricted under the Constitution, but, to some degree, we have overcome that limitation by making available financial grants under the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I am glad that the Government proposes to amend that agreement along lines desired by the States in order to facilitate the purchase of homes that are constructed under the agreement. That action should be taken at once. Among the agencies engaged in this field are cooperative building societies and the Starr Bowketts, but those bodies, which are prepared to help men and women who are prepared to help themselves, are starved for money. They have not the ready money to make available for the construction of houses. Similar organizations are in much the same position. They have not adequate fluid assets to enable them to say to persons desirous of building a house, “ Get your builder, and if your price is right we shall make money available “. Such organizations cannot do anything in that direction. They are not functioning as useful adjuncts in the construction of houses for the people, because the money pressure is on to “such a degree that they cannot -obtain the requisite cash with which to finance that work. That is the first difficulty which must be solved in any drive to provide adequate housing in the community.

The Governor-General’s Speech does not give any indication of the Government’s intention in this respect, although the Prime Minister himself has been expansive in his remarks on the subject. Let us get down to the question, ““When are we going to get a go on with housing ? “ Of course, it is fashionable to say that the State governments have done this or have failed to do that; but that story relates to the past. However, even admitting the impeachment of the State governments, which I do not admit, this Parliament and this Government must face up to their responsibility to assist in the quickest and best way possible to develop a scheme to provide houses in a community that is starved of accommodation. The Government is asking the community to accept immigrants, and it is horrified if there is a flick of irritation because the admission of more people to this country is adding to the existing hazards in respect of accommodation and employment. At present, the building industry is languishing.

The Government stands condemned because of its action in 1952, under its famous “ horror “ budget, in deleting £10,000,000 from the grant that was made to New South “Wales. As a result of that stupid action, 3,000 houses which could have been built with that sum are non-existent. If that action was not the result of stupidity it was certainly evidence of a horribly bad guess, because recently it was admitted in governmental pronouncements that the Government’s revenue is increasing annually by from £40.000,000 to £50,000,000. That is also evidence of the fact that the Government’s previous budgets were based on bad guesses. For no reason but the whimsy of economists, the Government guessed wrongly. I repeat that from 3,000 to 4,000 houses, which could have been built and occupied in New SouthWales are non-existent, because of the Government’s stupid action to which I have referred. I cite the position in New South Wales simply as an illustration. Such action is not only bad politics but also bad humanitarianism.

Honorable members opposite should apply some lucid thinking to policies of that kind. During the recent general election campaign we heard from the platforms of many Liberal aspirants to parliament the argument that if loans for house construction were made available at a rate of interest of 3 per cent., as the Australian Labour party proposed in its policy, there would soon be a serious shortage of materials. We must have houses. Yet honorable members opposite and their supporters contend that under Labour’s policy the satisfaction of the demand for houses would be to the detriment of the building industry. Is that the laissez faire capitalism that is accepted by honorable members opposite? Do they say that the community should not be provided with houses too quickly because the resulting demand would exhaust supplies of building materials? Do they say that finance should not be made availableon easy terms for the construction of houses because that would cause inflation? Such arguments are disastrous. They could be siezed upon by the Communists at any time, and with great logic. We are glad to note the returning prosperity and the increase in employment, which is regaining the level which it reached in the days of the Chifley Government. There is a shortage of materials, but is that difficulty insuperable ?

The honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) said that black markets have disappeared and that things are now back on the level. I point out that black markets, when they assailed this country, were a world-wide economic feature, just as inflation is a characteristic feature of the capitalistic economy. The capitalistic economy has always suffered from some ailments, whether it be economic herpes or a more serious affliction. When so many people are in search of houses, it is a miserable pretence and an insult to our intelligence to say that ten years after the end of World War II. we cannot cope with our housing problem, because we have not adequate materials. I do not concede that argument. There should be a proper deployment of the labour force. Labour does not think in terms of controlling the task force of the nation. I am simply urging the Government to exercise a little intelligence in this matter; and I urge both employers and employees to recognize the fact that we shall get nowhere until we provide adequate housing in the community. If there is a temporary shortage of timber, or of other building materials, let us purchase them from overseas while we have plenty of fat for that purpose. As the honorable member for New England has pointed out, our overseas funds, representing mainly aggregate receipts from the sale of our primary products, amount to approximately £500,000,000. In what better way could we expend those funds than by using them to import from Great Britain either prefabricated houses or building materials which are in short supply in this country? I do not concede that there is a grievous shortage of such materials in Australia at present. It is only another banking term translated in terms of commerce.

Our first difficulty in this matter is the restriction of credit. It is a bad thing for any Government to say to an exserviceman that he cannot have a house. The Government might as well say in the future to those who are enlisted to fight in defence of this country, “ We are proud of the service that you are going to render to us even unto death, but, as is the case with life assurance, there are inponderables. If you return you may not receive a service pension, or you may have to live for ten years in a back room before you can get a house “. If we are honest, if we accept all the poppycock that we hear about housing to-day, that is what we should say in the future to those who offer to fight in defence of this country. I put this to the senior eleven opposite, and I hope that their batting capacity has improved, that the Government must measure up to the problem of the housing shortage. If it plans to bring increased numbers of immigrants to this country and does not take steps to provide adequate housing for the community, the people will find themselves completely frustrated. The Government will not find any answer to this problem if it is content to say to commercial entrepreneurs that there will not be sufficient materials available should the rate of construction of houses be stepped up.

This matter has been treated shabbily in the Governor-General’s Speech and I am sure, with the instinct born of many years of experience in this House, that the Government will eventually by-pass this problem. It should not be by-passed. The propaganda that has issued from Government supporters has muddied the issue. At present, in New South Wales, again taking that State as an example, there is a shortage of 30,000 houses, simply because we have not been able to get on with this task. I repeat that approximately an additional 3,000 or 4,000 houses would have been constructed and occupied in that State to-day but for the stupid action on the part of this Government to which I have referred. This shortage is due mainly to the tyranny of repressive control of money and withdrawal of credit. Even a tyro in these matters, as I am myself, recognizes that an active building programme provides one of the most potential forces in the prosperity of a community. When the building industry is operating at its full capacity thousands of ancillary industrial units also flourish. A buoyant building market is one of the indices of prosperity in a comm.uni.ty, because the building of homes gives an impetus to so many other industrial activities. Despite that fact, the Government is stricken with terror by the economists who are as much frightened by the term “ inflation “ as the brass hats in World War I. were frightened by the blessed word “ Mesopotamia “.

It is a miserly attitude on the part of any community to say to persons who are in search of houses that they will probably get one if they live five years and are fortunate in a ballot. It is equally miserly, in the circumstances that exist to-day, for any government to offer as a generous feature of a housing programme loans upon the payment of a deposit of 10 per cent. Similar terms could be obtained by any individual in normal circumstances. . The limitation of loans to £2,750 is niggardly. In New South Wales, a house with three bedrooms costs from £3,500 to £3,900. In such circumstances, people in search of homes find themselves frustrated financially. The only way in which the Government can undertake an effective housing programme is to compartmentalize it. Who are the people with sufficient money of their own to build houses? Are not such people entitled to benefit from the use of the national credit through the Commonwealth Bank at least, and, for that matter, through the trading banks? But, to-day, such people are completely and utterly frustrated. In any event, very few persons have sufficient money. Eager, enterprising young people who are anxious to build homes are frustrated because they are unable to receive any help from the Government. Such persons do not want to get on to anybody’s back; but they have no chance of getting a house because of the controls that are imposed over money. Another group in the community are those who rent houses. It is useless for them to seek the the assistance that the Government now proposes to give when they know that that assistance will not be adequate. They would still bo obliged themselves to raise a considerable sum. Such assistance, at the most, i= only supplementary.

Finally, the most difficult aspect of the problem relates to the construction of houses for rental only. In present circumstances, the position is rapidly worsening. It has now reached a stage at which honorable members must find it difficult to think up any more answers to give to people who approach them for assistance in their search for houses. The fact i.that our approach to this problem is outmoded. The Government’s thought on this subject is outmoded. In this respect, it might do well to emulate the example of the State governments. There is no drive and no dynamism behind it; it is prepared merely to go lolloping along. So long as it adopts its present attitude it will never solve the problem. T approach this matter in a non-party spirit. We must do something about this problem. But a solution is not to be found in the Governor-General’s Speech and no master plan has been announced by the Prime Minister on behalf of the

Government. If the Government desires to break the bottleneck in housing, and if it is really sincere in this matter, it will loosen the stranglehold on credit and keep credit flowing, as it will eventually be obliged to do. The Government must rid itself of the fear that a more active housing programme will quickly result in the total absorption of materials. After all, it is not a bad. thing to import from another country materials that may be in short supply in our community. I do not believe that the temporary importation of materials in short supply would destroy any industry. The Labour Government, when it was in office, implemented that policy. I should prefer that prefabricated houses, regardless of their cost and regardless of where they may he made, be imported into, this country rather than see Australians evicted from their homes or obliged to live under conditions that are inseparable from the present housing shortage. The Government is. not sincere in this matter. It is wedded to the theories of the economists. I t is wedded to the principle of imposing controls at the source-. It retains control of credit. Yet the- withholding of credit from persons who desire to build their own homes is criminal. It is against all principles of justice and democracy and, in the long run, will generate hatred and, while achieving nothing of a positive nature, will, in a negative way, strengthen communism and raise barriers between different sections of the community. Something must be done about this matter. The subject should be freshened in debates in. this House from time to time, because on the domestic front housing is more than a problem. It is our No. 1 anxiety. In the somewhat meagre reference to housing in the Governor-General’s Speech I sec nothing but cause for further despair for many of the people who elect us to represent them here.

Mr. JEFF BATE (Macarthur) [5.0”. - I desire to answer briefly some of the statements made by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). His views on the housing situation in New South Wales are in conflict with those of: the Premier of that State, Mr. Cahill, who, in a newspaper interview recently, expressed himself as satisfied with the progress that had been made. His pre decessor in office had promised the electors of. that State that his government, if it were returned to office, would build 90,000 dwellings in three years. Mr. Cahill said recently that approximately 30,000 houses had. been built, and that he was. pleased with that achievement. A few years, ago, the Building Industry Congress in Victoria issued a paper which showed that Australia was one of the best, countries in the. world in respect of housing. The paper cited 3.6 persons per home as the international figure, and, of course, the relevant figure for Australia was. much lower than that. Even so,, we must not be satisfied with the present situation, or ref use to admit that the need does not exist for a home-building programme.

The honorable member for Parkes also referred to assistance provided by the Commonwealth Bank to finance home building. The honorable gentleman is an intelligent man, and he should know that an expert committee in the Commonwealth Bank carefully watches the financial provision for housing in order to ensure that the money available shall not exceed the supply of materials. Two or three years ago, credit for housing was slightly restricted, and the cost of building began to decline. Lately, plenty of money has been available for housing and building costs have risen considerably. The Commonwealth Bank must watch this delicate situation, and endeavour to ensure that the cost of home construction shall not soar beyond the reach of the average man. In the last three years the Chifley Labour Government was in office, 140,016 houses were built. In the last three years of the Menzies Government, 227,565 houses have been built.

Mr Haylen:

– How many war service homes have been built while the Menzies Government has been in office ?


– In four years, the Menzies Government has built, or has assisted ex-servicemen to purchase,. 48,000 war service homes. That total was not exceeded by the construction in the previous 30 years. So the horses that the honorable member for Parkes has brought to the barrier will not gallop. His complaints are without foundation.

I was delighted to read in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech reference to modifications of the means test. His Excellency said -

My Government will continue its policy of improving social services and easing and liberalizing the provisions of the means test. To this end, the limits of permissible income and property for age, invalid and widows’ pensions will be substantially raised.

These modifications of the means test will remove from retirement some of the anxiety with which thrifty men and women have in the past been so greatly concerned.

L am particularly interested in the effect of the means test o.n savings. At present, the means test is definitely a deterrent to saving. One of the lessons to he learnt from the result of the last general elec- tion is that this country is not yet ready to endorse the abolition of the means test. Perhaps the people consider that an upper limit should be set for pension and permissible income, and that the figure should be less than the average wage, which is approximately £16 a week. If the proposal that a married couple in receipt of the full pension of £7 a week be allowed, a permissible income of £7 a week is given effect, their maximum income will be less than the average wage. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has entrusted the former Minister for Air (Mr. McMahon) with the administration of the Department of Social Services. The re-allotment of portfolios is not a reflection o,n the previous Minister for Social Services (Mr. Townley) who rendered most distinguished service in that field.

The abolition of the means test became the outstanding issue at the last general election. Indeed, it was, perhaps, a degrading issue, because I consider that no political party should bid for the support of people who are in, or are approaching, the evening of their lives. The new Minister for Social Services has a big task. His first duty, I suggest, is to remove some of the anomalies in the social services field. No particular government is to be blamed for the existence of those anomalies. All governments must accept a share of responsibility for them. I hope that the new Minister for Social Services will rectify many, if not all, of them.

Social services must also be removed from the field of political controversy. Never again should we witness the dis gusting spectacle of politicians bidding for the votes of elderly people who were never at any time absolutely clear, about the issue.


– Satan reproving sin.


– One- political party made a bid for votes by promising the people that if it were returned to office, it would abolish the means test. Approximately 425,000 persons are in receipt of the age pension, and about 500,000 people would be eligible for it if the means test were abolished. A strong bid was made at the last election for their support. Had the political party concerned obtained that support, the Labour party would now occupy the treasury bench. I consider that one of the tasks of the new Minister for Social Services is to remove such a matter as the modification or abolition of the means test from the field of political controversy. Such a move should be accepted by the three political parties represented in this chamber and by the Australian people as the proper course.

For many years, the age pension was regarded as assistance for elderly persons in dire need. During the last general election campaign, emphasis was placed on the idea that the pension was assistance also for those persons who had saved a little money, or who derived income from a source such as a superannuation fund. The Labour party claimed that the age pension should be paid to every male person over the age of 65 years and to every female over the age of 60 years. That bid for political support was rejected by the majority of the people, although many were greatly interested in it, because they were in desperate need. At present, a single male over the age of 65 years or a single female over the age of 60 years may, subject to the means test, be granted a pension at the rate of £3 10s. a week. The permissible income is £2 a week. Therefore, persons in that category may have a maximum income of £5 10s. a week. The recipient is also allowed to own the dwelling that he or she occupies, have £150 in a bank or property of that value, or possess a life insurance policy with a surrender value not exceeding £750. The pensioner also has the advantage of a free hospital and pharmaceutical benefits scheme, although some details of it have yet to be clarified.

At the moment, a single person is permitted an income of £5 10s. a week, and a married couple an income of £11 a week. The proposed upper limit of £7 a week for a single person, or £14 a week for husband and wife, would be fair. However, a grave injustice is done to a section of the community which should he the last to have such a hardship inflicted on it. I refer to those persons who have led a normal, decent life, and saved some money for their old age. Those persons may have a small competency in stocks and shares, or own a cottage for which they receive rent. Years ago, it was a normal desire of a person to purchase a cottage to live in, and another house, using the rent derived from the second dwelling to provide the necessaries of life for him. Some persons who followed that course are now in almost desperate straits. I shall read to the House a letter that I have received from a lady. For obvious reasons I shall not disclose her name. The letter reads as follows: -

However, I’m writing to ask your advice as to the chance of me obtaining portion at least of the age pension. I am 04 years of age and some considerable time back exhausted my Banking Account (haven’t even enough to bury me now) and have been trying for some years to exist on the Rental of a cottage (£2 2s. (id. per week) out of which comes the Agent’s fee for collection, plus Council Bates, Insurance, repairs and upkeep. I have come to the end of my tether and cannot exist any longer on this pittance; neither can I sell the place as I cannot give vacant possession. I. have had legal advice and can do absolutely nothing to eject the Tenants as long as they pay the rent. The cottage is situated in- and has been in the Agent’s hands for sale for some time. As you know it is impossible to sell Tenanted cottages especially in this part of the. country, so my hands are tied whichever way I turn. In addition I’ve had to borrow a considerable sum to get my home repaired and painted, and until I can sell the other cottage it’.s impossible to repay my debt.

During my working years I was an Accountant and had to keep my parents for some years, then thought putting my savings into property was the safest investment. Like very many others similarly situated I know now how foolish I was.

There is no work in this District which I can do to supplement my tiny income and I’m too old now to start travelling to the City even could I get a post. I’ do not possess any Bonds, Stocks or Shares .and have no other income, so would be indeed grateful if you could help me in any way to obtain the difference between my income and the age pension. So far I. have not approached the pension office as various folk have” told me income from property prevents one from obtaining Social Service aid, is this correct?’ Some people earn more weekly than my small rental, others are in receipt of Superannuation and still receive Social Service. It’s all very puzzling !

Of course, it is puzzling, because of all the anomalies! The important matter to bear in mind is that this lady, if she had used her money to purchase an annuity, would now be eligible to receive the full pension. She would have an income of £5 10s. a week. Because she bought a house with her savings, she is ineligible, through the operation of the means test on property, for a pension. I think that she is obliged to live on 25s. or 30s. a week. Her hands are completely tied, because she cannot sell the house. There again, some people are reluctant to sell houses which they have purchased with their savings. They put that money by in times when the purchasing power of the £1 was much greater than it is to-day. Rents from the houses that they bought would, in the noi-mal course, have kept them in comparative affluence. Now they are impoverished.

All honorable members, when they know the facts, should agree to the abolition of the means test on property, because it creates a social injustice. A* I have stated, the emphasis on the reason for the payment of the age pension has changed from helping the needy to helping those who had saved a little money. The proposed modification of the means test will help a group of superannuated persons or other persons who have small incomes. Under the new proposal, a single person may have an income of £7 a week. Retired public servants Commonwealth and State, receive superannuation, and we all agree that they should do so. However, I point out that the Commonwealth, and, I suppose, the States, contribute five-sevenths of the superannuation payment, and that the superannuation pays only twosevenths of his pension. That is to say, a retired public servant who will receive superannuation up to the maximum permissible income, plus a pension, will have contributed only one-sevenths of the total amount. The Government will contribute the other fivesixths. However, people who painfully accumulate a small competence and use it to buy a house, or stocks and shares which return an income, are denied the pension and are obliged to live on a mere pittance. This is a grave injustice. I was delighted to notice that the GovernorGeneral’s Speech referred to this matter, because the reference shows that the Government is aware of the situation.

The raising of the limits of permissible income and property value for age, invalid and widow pensioners is essential. Why can we not apply the means test simply to income and exclude property altogether ? At any rate, if we must have a means test on property, the permissible value of property should be raised from £200 to, say £4,000. I know that this would cost a great deal of money, but the Government must abolish the injustice unless it wants to leave the door open to all sorts of trouble. It is of no use to think of expending tremendous sums on external defence when internal injustices make a breeding ground for disunity and subversive activities. The first step towards providing for Australia’s security must be to clean up our own house. It is just as important to strive for social justice, so that we shall have a country in which democracy can flourish, as it is to provide for defence against external aggression. Internal enemies are as bad as external enemies, and they will continue to be dangerous while such injustices as I have described remain unchecked. If the Government allows a social injustice to continue, it will leave the way open for the Opposition party to gain control of the nation, which would lead to a situation in which our internal enemies could breed and prosper. There is not the slightest doubt of that. Therefore, we must clean up our own house before we start to think of spending all our surplus funds on defence against external enemies.

Honorable members on this side of the House realize that it is unfair to pay £3 10s. a week to an invalid when the same provision is made for a person who retires at the age of 65 years, in tie prime of life, and able to earn additional money. An invalid pensioner receives a pension because he cannot earn money. This anomaly merits earnest attention. A woman in the electorate that I represent is unable to draw the unemployment benefit because she is classed as unemployable. Yet her husband, who is a British seaman, has left the country and is not providing for her maintenance. She has been refused a widow’s pension as well as the unemployment benefit. Such cases must be investigated. A single person in receipt of the age pension of £3 10s. a week is worse off than a man and wife who receive a combined pension of £7 a week. There are many anomalies in relation to the means test on property which should be removed. For example, I refer to a person who lives in his own home on a large block of land. For administrative purposes, that land is classed as part of the home, even though it may be a rich farming property. It is possible for a person who owns a property worth £10,000, but who draws from it only the income permissible under the means test, to receive a full pension. The means test should apply only to income from property instead of to the capital value of property. I earnestly hope that, under the forthcoming budget, or at least the budget for 1955-56, action will be taken to exclude property from the means test. A grave social injustice will be perpetuated unless this reform is instituted.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Stewart) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 5.20 to 8 p.m.

page 63



Prime Minister · Kooyong · LP

– The cease fire in IndoChina, on terms negotiated between the French and the Viet Minh, has been the subject of much discussion. In short, the terms of the Geneva settlement are -

The present States of Laos and Cambodia remain as independent and sovereign countries, while Viet Nam for the time being is divided into two by a military demarcation line running near the 17th parallel, with Communist administration in the north and a non-Communist government .retaining administration in the south.

In Laos the Communists are to be regrouped into the north-eastern part of the country. No new military bases are to be established there, but the French forces may maintain two military bases and a specified number of military advisers and forces. Elections are to be held in 1955.

In Cambodia all foreign forces, including the French, are to be withdrawn within 90 days, and elections are to be held in 1955.

In Veit Nam, which is the most difficult of the three, the Communist and non-Communist forces are to be regrouped into the north and south respectively within a specified time. Both Hanoi and Haiphong are to be evacuated by the French. The settlement says that every one in Viet Nam must be allowed to decide freely in which zone he wishes to live. General elections throughout the country are to be held in July, 1956, under the supervision of an international commission, and consultations on this subject will be held between competent representative authorities of the two zones from the 20th April, 1955, onwards.

The armistice is to be supervised by a commission consisting of India, as chairman, Canada and Poland.

The events which preceded the truce were closely followed all round the world. I do not propose to-night to examine the history of this matter. All I need say is that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who played a most active part, both here and abroad, in the presentation of the views of the Australian Government, will himself address the House with first-hand knowledge and uncommon authority.

I should like to say that we did not assume a passive role. On the contrary, we throughout offered suggestions and constructive criticism, particularly to the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and we have reason to believe that our contributions were significant. It will, of course, be appreciated that neither the United Kingdom nor the United States of America, nor Australia, was a participant in the Indo-China fighting; and that the direct task of negotiating a settlement, therefore, fell upon the French. I express the hope that whatever our views may be about the position which arises in consequence of the settlement, we shall not permit ourselves to be critical of our French friends, who have for years steadfastly carried a grievous burden in Indo-China, and have sustained vast losses of both life and treasure in the course of the campaign. It will, therefore, not be my task to criticize the terms of the settlement which were, no doubt, the best that could have been obtained in all the circumstances. But I will, try to point out in a sensible and objective way the effects of these events upon Australia’s position and policy. Before I do that, however, I should direct attention to one feature of the settlement upon which I have sometimes felt that international thinking tends to be a little unreal.

Living as we do in a country with the twin inheritances of the common law and parliamentary self-government, we are not necessarily well qualified to determine how far such instruments of government are understood or applicable in other countries, or how long a period of time should elapse before they become so. It is a simple enough matter to provide in a truce that there should be what we call a “free election” within some stipulated time. That is something we understand, but five minutes’ reflection will show us that even we have not yet completely mastered the techniques of democracy. Though it is the noblest system of government yet devised, and promotes, as no other system could, the significance and well-being of the individual, democracy is, at the same time, complex. I say “ complex “, because all honorable members know how much the successful working of democracy depends upon an educated intelligence, self-discipline, a community conception, and a capacity for selection and judgment. It is idle to suppose that we can take a community with a high percentage of illiteracy, with primitive civic organization and with little, if any, popular acquaintance with the art and science of government, and convert it into a democracy in a year or two.

I make these remarks not because I desire even to appear to resist the development of democracy in other communities; on the contrary, it is one of the great hopes of the world. My reason for saying what I have on this point is to emphasize that the probabilities in Viet Nam, both north and south of the line of division now established, are that the most organized groups will be the Communists themselves. We must, therefore, not overlook the possibility that a free election may be an election which establishes a Communist administration in the whole of Viet Nam. We would do well, therefore, to consider the significance of Indo-China, not by assuming easily that the frontier of the Viet Minh is on the 17th parallel, but by contemplating that before long we may be forced to regard the Communist frontier as lying on the southern shores of Indo-China, within a few hundred air miles of the Era Isthmus. If this is thought to represent an unduly gloomy view, let me say at once that I know that it can be falsified if, during this breathing period, we are able not only to give economic and spiritual encouragement to the non-Communist elements in Indo-China but also to rally the weighty opinion and influence of the great new democracies of South and South-East Asia. To their willing cooperation we in Australia attach very great importance.

We must have learned to our sorrow in the last few years that when we are dealing with Communists we are dealing with aggressors; aggressors who are in no sense democratic; people who have surrendered themselves to the stern disciplines of Communist dictatorship. Not for a moment would I deny that it is possible, and, indeed, devoutly to be wished, that the democratic world should live peacefully alongside the Communist powers. But whilst this negatives any notion of the inevitability of war, it certainly does not encourage the idea that we should accept Communist promises or pledges at their face value or forget the stern lessons that we must have learned from the history of the last twenty years. Hitler said that he had

*’ no further territorial ambitions “ after he had absorbed Czechoslovakia. But before more than a few years had gone by he was astride Europe, and the whole fate of the free world was in the balance. Mussolini had no ambitions outside the restoration of good administration in Italy; but before long he was in Albania and Abyssinia. Stalin was one of the great co-defenders of freedom in the war, and we were told he had no post-WaI ambitions except to preserve the security of Russia’s own territories. Yet, before long, he had seized great middle European countries, including two that had done as much to foster the tradition of freedom and self-government as any nation in Europe. We cannot, therefore, afford to be beguiled by fair words, or by much talk of peace when there is no peace.

It is for these reasons that the Government of Australia believes that our own problems of security, and those of other free nations, are, by the events in IndoChina, rendered more visible and acute than before.

Among these other free nations are several, on or off the mainland of Asia, which have gained their independence within the last ten years. They are, save for New Zealand, our closest neighbours. We have friendly relations with them.. Our contacts with them are increasing. These nations are justly proud of their independence, and zealous to maintain their national character, traditions and integrity. They certainly do not want to be submerged by communism or any other form of alien domination. We recognize, and indeed admire, these qualities; but we do not blind ourselves to the fact that these new nations - new in terms of self-government - bear the spiritual marks of their past struggles, and are apprehensive lest any new foreign association should become a new form of foreign influence. We sympathize with their desires, and at all times seek to understand their fears. We in Australia have never visualized any new international agreement calculated to derogate from national sovereignty; on the contrary we seek, by concerted action, to maintain that sovereignty and the freedom which it guarantees.

I hope it will not be regarded as an impertinence if I try to say something here, for Australia, which may merit consideration by our Asian friends. Communists, wherever they may be grouped, are confessed and clamant materialists. The conceptions of the rights and spiritual dignity of man which inhere in the genuinely-held religions of the world, and which feed those noble aspirations which have led to democracy and national freedom, have no meaning or reality in the Communist mind. That is why Communist aggression uses cunning or bloodshed, fraud or fury, with callous indifference to all moral and spiritual considerations. The one objective is the enlargement of the boundaries of dictatorial and materialist power. All of us who live in free countries, lifted to noble issues by religious faith, will forget these grim truths at our peril.

It is therefore foolish, superficial, and dangerous to speak of the conflict in the world as a contest between two economic systems, capitalism and communism. Nor can the cynics dispose of it as an oldfashioned struggle for military or physical power, with territory and resources as the prizes of victory. It is desperately important that the world should see this as a moral contest; a battle for the spirit of man. There can be no easy or enduring compromise between peoples who affirm the existence of a divine authority and the compulsion of a spiritual law and those others who see nothing beyond an atheistic materialism. The issue, so stated, presents us, of the free world, with a dual problem; a problem both moral and military; a problem as real in Asia as in Australia. We must, by peaceful means, extend the frontiers of the human spirit, patiently, understandingly, tolerantly. The history of mankind shows that despotism at home defeats itself in the long run. Even behind the Iron Curtain the workers will find in truth that they must lose the chains fastened upon them by their Communist masters. That portion, at least of the Communist Manifesto, will some day destroy communism. But while this slow process of conversion proceeds, we must be alert to the second aspect of the dual problem. We ‘must, by armed strength, defend the geographical frontiers of those nations whose selfgovernment is based upon the freedom of the spirit. While the moral revolution goes on, armed aggression must be met by armed defensive power; for this is something, and perhaps at present the only thing, that the materialist Communist dictators can and will understand. In Australia, in Great Britain, in the United States of America, for example, to go no further, joint agreement and arms for defence do not imply a loss of faith in our religious foundations; they are a realistic acceptance of the fact that armed aggression cannot be stopped by words or hopes alone.

The time has therefore come when we must present, so far as we humanly can, a common front backed by a common power. The free world cannot continue to negotiate from weakness or unpreparedness. With all the goodwill in the world and with the most heartfelt desire to make an end of war, we must be ready to meet it if it comes. Honorable members will have observed that preparations are now in hand for political conferences, in association with the necessary military planning, to establish a SouthEastern Asia defence organization. It does not yet exist, nor is its prospective membership defined. We hope sincerely that when it is seen that the creation of such an organization is designed to help preserve the national integrity of Asian countries as well as those which are not Asian, some, I should hope all, of these Asian countries will be willing to participate. I emphasize in plain terms that this is not a question of colour or race. It is a question of the maintenance of democratic freedom. But, so far as we are concerned in Australia, we must determine our own attitude and put it beyond doubt. We will become contributing parties. We will, in association with other nations acting similarly, accept military obligations in support of our membership.

In the past it has been one of the traditions of Australian Government that commitments are not accepted in advance; that such matters are for the determination of the Government and Parliament if and when the event of war occurs. There are sound reasons to explain why this should have been the tradition. In the two great world wars, Australia had an opportunity to decide what it was going to do and enough time to assemble, train, equip and despatch armed forces. We cannot gamble upon this being our position any longer. If there is one thing that seems clear, it is that there will be no pause, no long period of stalemate, should the Communists determine to attack. All of the most dreadful instruments of war designed by man will be employable and employed. The first few months - indeed, the first few weeks - might do much to determine the issue.

It is for these reasons that we have decided that in any great defensive organization of the kind envisaged, we must accept military commitments. Honorable members will not need to be persuaded by me that for us, as a democratic nation vitally at risk in these seas, to expect our great friends to accept commitments while our own attitude remained tentative and conditional, would be utterly inconsistent with the intelligence, character and record of our country. The nature of those commitments must be worked out in consultation with the other parties to the treaty. What they will involve in terms of military preparation, nobody can as yet say, though as soon as negotiations have proceeded far enough we shall take the House and the country fully into our confidence. What effect any specific commitments will have upon the present shape of our defence programme or the methods which we now employ is a matter which I will not presume to judge in advance. All I want to say is that we shall not hesitate to make any changes which are necessary for the full performance of our commitments. This does not mean that the defence expenditure will necessarily or suddenly mount to the skies, but it does mean that it must at all times be adequate to ensure performance. As I have already indicated, there may be some who, rather wishfully, think that the IndoChinese “ cease-fire “ permanently reduces tension and that we may now spend less upon defence. So little do we agree with this view that our Estimates for this financial year already disclose a substantially greater availability of funds. Last year, for a variety of reasons, actual defence expenditure was about £177,000,000, an amount of £12,000,000 in addition being placed out of the surplus to a defence equipment reserve. This year, we are providing a defence vote of £200,000,000 in addition to such moneys as may be used from that reserve.

Therefore, the total amount available for all purposes will be £35,000,000 more than was spent last year. Whether we may have to come back to Parliament for any review of this financial programme will depend upon the matters which I have already described. The question of defence, however, is not answered by some financial vote. Our capacity to do our part in our defence, which we all hope will be sustained outside Australian shores and territories, will not depend upon sums of money, but on efficiently trained and adequate forces adequately equipped, and adequately supported by a strong national economy. Our policy will be to prepare such forces to the limits of our financial capacity. What do I mean by this expression? The answer is that unless we are to put the nation upon an actual war footing we must always have regard to the impact which the diversion of man, money and materials mav have upon the general economy of the nation. It is of real importance to the national security that we should have financial and economic stability, that we should maintain industrial activity and employment and that we should achieve that development of our resources which is needed for a rapidly growing population. This means that we must balance our efforts, remembering always that it is a designed part of the Communist cold war technique to put such a strain upon the democracies that defence expenditure and social and economic stability will come into conflict, with advantages either way to the potential aggressor.

There is another aspect of these matter? which needs clarification. It is very important that we should, in our thinking about South-East Asia and the SouthWest Pacific, the safety of which is so directly and ultimately vital for us, see the world problem in perspective. In particular, we need to understand the problems and points of view of the two most powerful defenders of freedom - Great Britain and the United States of America. Sometimes, for example, one hears it said, perhaps thoughtlessly, that Great Britain is pre-occupied with Europe and can, or will, do little in this part of the world. To answer this, if an answer he needed in this British Parliament, I need only say, quite shortly, that at this very moment Great Britain is contributing much more military strength in the preservation of security in this area than we are. But I go further and remind the House that never in its long and brave and glorious history has our mother country accepted in time of peace military commitments abroad on such a scale or despite such economic difficulties. No other nation has armed forces in so many places, nor such a tremendous proportion of its total strength adventured abroad. The United Kingdom has, at this very moment, large forces engaged in part of our northern frontier, in Malaya. No other nation stands to take the Ers violent and devastating blow in a world war with such speed, death and destruction. Do not let us fall into the ungrateful and stupid error of under-estimating the generous impulse of the heart of OU British Commonwealth. Nor must we allow ourselves to be affected by the mischiefmaking propaganda of the Communists and those who so readily follow the Communist line. Australia, they say. is trailing at the heels of imperialist America. All I need say is that Australia is British, and has a great and tried and common family allegiance under the Crown. But Australia knows, and so do the Communists, that the closest concert between the United States of America and the British Commonwealth is vital to the common defence. We will work incessantly to strengthen this great association, just as the Communist powers and their overseas friends will work incessantly to divide and destroy it. The policy of the Australian Government is to do all it can, by negotiation and persuasion, to remove causes of difference and to secure community of thought and action. If cooperating with Great Britain and the United States of America in democracy’s defence is unpopular with the Communists, we can be sure that it will be unpopular with nobody else.

The truth about this modern democratic defence association is that we are learning to think and act internationally. Wherever we fight we fight for each other. If, in a world war, the battle for Britain and the battle for America were lost, the battle for Australia would indeed be a forlorn one. Let us at all times remember that in this world of ours another great war would be a world war and that, whatever our proper concern about our own area, there must be world strategy and world preparedness and world cooperation if we are to be saved.

I make these observations which, 1 hope, are trite, because I want to make it clear that when we entered into the Anzus Treaty and when we decided that we would enter into a South-East Asia treaty we were neither isolationists nor purely regional in our outlook. We were simply saying that we would fit into the pattern of world defence in those places and respects which our geographical position and our limited resources rendered most swift and effective. It was for precisely similar reasons that Canada made itself a large and effective contributor to Nato. We are not contracting ourselves out of the old world; we just cannot do that. We are, to put it much more accurately, about to contract ourselves into a regional defensive arrangement which will give strength not only here but also in Europe itself. For if Communist imperialism goes on the march for world conquest, the defence of freedom will be fought over most of the world. The decisive battle for Australia may bifought far away, in Malaya, over the great oceans, over the cities and fields of England. In brief, these defence arrangements are no expression of disunity or narrow parochialism. They give force and strength and direction to a total world organization for peace and security. The achievement of Seato will do more than this for us. It will define our task ; It will give a clarified direction to our defence organization; it will mark out our zone of possible operations. We will know, not generally, but specifically, the nature and extent of the forces we need, the character of the equipment they will require, and the material support which the nation must be capable of rendering.

I sum up our attitude on these great matters of policy in seven propositions. They are as follows:- -

  1. Australia will co-operate to the full with the other nations of the Commonwealth and with the United Nations, so that war may be abandoned as an instrument of policy.
  2. Until that happy day comes, Australia will be willing to make arrangements with its friends so as to reinforce general friendships by particular engagements. There is no more conflict between regional arrangements and the Charter of the United Nations than there is between the family loyalty and the national loyalty.
  3. Australia will not make alliances for aggression. The great contribution to peace is the removal of aggression. Aggression will end when the spirit of man asserts itself among the at present disciplined multitudes of the dictatorships, or when aggression is clearly shown to be unprofitable. It will become visibly unprofitable when great aggregations of power come together to resist and defeat it. We respect all the high-minded men and women who believe that neutrality is in itself a contribution to peace, but for ourselves we believe that in this century neutralism will invite aggression bur. will never defeat it.
  4. We must not provoke aggression either by pusillanimity or weak appeasement or, on the other hand, by being “ trigger happy “. For, before history, it would be a great crime to have preferred peace to justice and freedomFreedom cannot be purchased cheaply, nor can it be defended by a one-sided goodwill. But it would also be a great crime to have created a war which was unnecessary. Aggression and provoca-ti on to aggression are merely variants on the same sinister theme.
  5. As we move towards a higher civilization, we must not despair of our goal. The doctrine that “war is inevitable “ is as much a doctrine of disaster as the purely pacifist doctrine that unilateral disarmament is the way to peace.
  6. There can be no joint assurance of Australia’s safety unless we make bind ing commitments with our friends. We have had, in the past, a remarkable record of improvisation. Our national courage and willingness are undoubted. But, in the future, time may well be almost fatally against us. Our remoteness, once a somewhat comfortable thing, is, in modern times, our greatest danger. The seas have become narrow. We must give as well as take. Communist aggression must be resisted at the right time and in the right places. To resist it we must understand its character and its strange malignant daemon. It is not our business to convert the Communist powers away from communism by force, but it is our business to help to see that free countries, including our own, are not converted to communism by force. For, as the area and population of the free world are diminished, so does the cause of freedom, unless we act, weaken and begin to die.
  7. We cannot properly put forward these principles of foreign policy and enter into mutual arrangements with other nations unless we are prepared to support them with arms, with men, with ships and instruments of war, with supplies as we, in our turn, would wish them to support us.

I conclude by saying that if, to some ears, this statement sounds unduly of war and preparations for war, the fault is elsewhere. We love peace. We have much to do, in our own land, which can bc done only in peace and tranquillity. But the sacrifices of two wars have taught us grim but great lessons. The greatest of these is that we cannot live alone; that we stand or fall with our great associates in freedom ; and that so long as we stand together in faith, in readiness and in action, we shall assuredly not fall.

I lay on the table the following paper : -

Foreign Affairs - Ministerial Statement, 5th August, 1054. and move-

That the paper be printed.

Leader of the Opposition · Barton

– The speech that has just been made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is so important that, although it is impossible to deal with every aspect of it now, some comments should be made at once. Some questions must be asked of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) and some general observations must be made, especially in relation to Indo-China. That does not mean that there is not much in the speech of the Prime Minister which does not immediately command agreement. However, I think some qualifications and additions should be made. Every one who has followed the struggle of the French in Indo-China. and studied the lot of the people in that country, especially having regard to the fact that 92,000 French soldiers were killed in action or died of wounds in this seven years’ struggle, will agree that tragic mistakes have been made and that, if we are to make any advance in our approach to this matter, we must ascertain where they were made. It is a story, broadly, of great opportunities lost.

Let me go back a little in history. In the Atlantic Charter, which was the clarion cry of the Allied leaders in “World War II., Roosevelt and Churchill promised the peoples of the world that in the post-war period there would be an order established which would be based upon the principle of nationality and full self-government. Over and over again that promise was repeated. It was not merely a promise made by the United States of America and Great Britain; it was also embodied in the Washington Agreement of 1942 which was signed, after Japan entered the war, by Australia and other powers. Declarations were made to that effect by all Allied leaders, especially in relation to the war in the Pacific where Japan was attempting to establish .what it called a coprosperity sphere and where it was trying to play upon the instincts of the peoples of South-East Asia. Japan tried to get those people on its side by propaganda of that kind. The Allied leaders, undoubtedly, were bound by the instruments to which I have referred. After Germany had been beaten and the war was still raging in the Pacific, the United Nations Charter of 1945 re-emphasized the promise in Article after Article.

I call attention to the lot of the ordinary people of Indo-China. They have been plagued with one mishap after another.

After the fall of France in 1940, they had to suffer the government of Vichy France, which was opposed to us and which was simply an instrument in Hitler’s hands. That led to movements against the government of Indo-China, but those movements had no connexion, or very little connexion at that time, with communism. After that, our Japanese enemies were ushered into control by the good graces of Vichy France, and again there developed a fierce resistance by the people of Indo-China from within. There was resistance by the Asian people to France itself, and that resistance became fierce. Moreover, there was the cry of European colonialism. The word “colonialism” in relation to the history of China has a meaning quite different from that which we usually ascribe to it. I invite honorable members to recall the events of the latter half of the eighteenth century and to read the reports that were prepared by that great Australian, Dr. Morrison, who was associated with China for a long time. The attempted partition of China was evidenced by the different European powers such as Germany coming in for a slice of that country. Germany was displaced by Japan only in World War I. The cry of colonialism appeals to the hearts of the Asian people, and Australia has to face that as a fact. With these strong forces converging in a great current of nationalism, what policy was to be adopted? The policy applied differed with changing governments. There was one type of government in England that would not recognize the claims of the people of India, Pakistan, Ceylon or Burma. But the Attlee Government realized that unless self-government was granted to those countries they would play right into the hands of the Communist aggressors.

One of the greatest contributions ever made to the solution of the Asian problem in part was the Attlee Government’s action in giving complete selfgovernment to those countries, which are now called the Colombo group. Their assistance in a pact of this sort was surely desired by Australia, as the Prime Minister has said. The years slipped by and the French Government, yielding to unsound advice, which it and the people of Prance have at last felt to be wrong, all the time resisted the demand for self-government in Indo-China, until communism captured and controlled the Indo-China nationalist movement. Nothing positive was done during the last four years to take the dispute before the United Nations Organization. 1 repeatedly suggested that this action should be taken. I am sure that had that organization been approached for help it would have recommended the granting of self-government to IndoChina on a genuine democratic basis. Self-government there would then have been won by conciliation and without the great loss of life that has occurred. l”t would have been achieved also on conditions much better than those to which the French people have submitted and under which they now surfer, and without the present degree of Communist control of Indo-China. However, what happened fitted into the pattern that would have been adopted in India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Burma but for wise statesmanship. In Indo-China communism and its forces built upon what was originally a bona-fide nationalist movement for self-government, relying to some extent, no doubt, upon the promises of allied statesmen. The tragedy is that what, three or four years ago was a simple matter capable of being solved by the means adopted by the British Labour Government in relation to India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Burma, ha1* developed into a great international crisis with a line-up of opposing powers and an undoubted threat of world war. The Prime Minister has told us that the Australian Government did not assume n passive role in the Indo-China crisis. What did it do to settle the problem? We are not told. During the last Parliament, as honorable members may recall, I asked the Minister for External Affairs, who was going abroad in connexion with this matter, “ What is the Australian Government’s policy on IndoChina ? “ The Minister was completely silent and gave no answer. He went to Indo-China.

Mr Menzies:

– He was not looking for head-lines.


– The Prime Minister should not talk about head-lines, in the light of the Government’s £2,000,000 television programme.

Honorable members interjecting,


– Order ! I ask the House to maintain order. The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to a hearing from both sides of the chamber, but at present he is not getting it.


– The situation in IndoChina deteriorated. The Australian Government made no move and gave no public statement of its policy. The Minister for External Affairs reached London and it was reported in the press that he agreed with the British Government’s attitude. In the United States of America he was understood to support the views of the United States Government. Every one knows that the two governments did not always agree on this question. The House is entitled to know whether Australia’s role was a passive one, what positive action was taken, and what communications were sent and received. Why are honorable members not informed on these questions ? We want to ascertain the Government’s policy on Indo-China. The Prime Minister’s statement this evening for the most part consisted of generalizations, with few of which any one here could disagree. He set out seven propositions that told in abstract terms everything except what was the particular problem to be dealt with. I pay this tribute to the Minister for External Affairs: In these great matters he is undoubtedly a man of goodwill. He wants the best solution of these problems and he struggles to achieve it. But these good intentions are of no avail unless he has a positive policy and a definite plan. No specific plan has emerged from the Prime Minister’s statement to-night. He gave us generality after generality, but we want something more precise.

In view of the history of the matter it is extremely likely that the elections in Viet Nam will push the Communist territory farther south, and this possibility must be taken into account. This would be the result of the agreement that has been made on Indo-China, an agreement that has apparently been fully endorsed by the Australian Government. We cannot tolerate a continuance of this complacent attitude. Neither can we undertake to use military force against a nation merely because it has a Communist government. I understand the Prime Minister to acknowledge that problem. We have no ground for war merely to change a government that is Communist, Communist-controlled or under the influence of Communists. Such action would be contrary to the Charter of the United Nations. Yet it is logical that a person who is rabidly antiCommunist should believe in the elimination of everything savouring of communism throughout the world. It is madness for any but those who believe that their only chance lies in a third world war to take such an attitude. The tyranny and the dictatorship of communism are hateful to Australia,ns. No one accustomed to freedom can tolerate such a system, of government. This applies also to the doctrines referred to by the Prime Minister - the Nazi-ism of Hitler, the fascism of Mussolini, and the pretended democracy of Japan. Germany, Italy and Japan were the three parties to an anti-United Nations pact that led to the second world war. No one suggested at the time that we should wage war against those countries because their governments were fascist and totalitarian.

The view accepted by the United Nations in principle is simply this: The free nations should unite their forces against military aggression. We need not limit our attention to communism. Many tyrannical dictatorships of both the Communist and the fascist types exist. Some call themselves democracies in complete mockery, but we cannot wage war against nations to force democracy upon them, much less to substitute reactionary regimes that from one point of view might be not so objectionable. This is all implicit, if not explicit, in the United Nations Charter by which all the democratic nations are bound. The Charter was not established before communism came to the world. Indeed, Russia, which was admitted by the Charter as a permanent member of the United Nations organization, was the chief Communist nation. The Charter is not concerned with forms of government. In 1945, Russia was a Communist country. The status of China in that year is difficult to define in a word, because at that time internal troubles began to appear in that country. The Charter tells the free nations not only what they cannot do, but also what they can and must do. It contemplates the use of collective force without stint or limit against an aggressor, and also the adoption of regional arrangements in accordance with principles agreed upon at the United Nations conference at San Francisco, in which Australia played a large part. The importance of this is clear, but it is seldom understood. The effort of the United Nations to provide military guarantees against military aggression broke down largely because Russia used the veto in the United Nations Security Council. The unrestricted right to use the veto was a grievous blunder. Australia fought hard against it and when its representatives at the San Francisco Conference stated the Australian Government’s opposition to the principle of the veto in this House they were derided by the very gentlemen who are now in government. These gentlemen scoffed at the suggestion that the right of veto by Russia, the great permanent member of the United Nations, should be objected to, and their remarks are recorded in Ilansard for all to read.

Mr Menzies:

– That is sheer invention.


– Australia fought against the veto, but the other permanent members of the United Nations favoured it. This left a gap in the Charter, as it were, which Australia and other nations tried to close, first, by enlarging the powers of the General Assembly, in which there is no right of veto, to compensate for the possible use of the veto by a permanent member of the Security Council, so delaying all the decisions of the council; and secondly, by completing regional agreements giving power of individual and collective self-defence. Australia received little support in its efforts at San Francisco, except from the LatinAmerican countries. As the years passed, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was built up by regional arrangement and agreements for collective self-defence, after the United Nations Charter had been amended. This brings us to the crucial question : What can be done about military aggression in the Pacific and South-East Asia, and what practical measures should be considered ? We must face the fact, which was emphasized during World War II., that our future as a European nation in this part of the world is intimately bound up with military co-operation with the United States of America. This does not mean that the United States of America has not made mistakes in its international policy. In the crisis of World War II., the Australian Labour Government faced the realities of Japanese aggression and appealed to the United States of America, with the happy result that great military help came to us from America. This assistance, combined with the efforts of the Australian people and their other allies, enabled us first to hold Japan and ultimately to overthrow it. I thought that that was not disputed, but for twelve months after the late right honorable John Curtin, the Australian Prime Minister, appealed to the United States of America for help he was attacked by sections of the Australian press, and was called anti-British because he, as head of the Australian Government, had sought help from America. In saying this, I agree entirely with the Prime Minister that no criticism of Britain is or could be involved. In the Pacific war the British effort naturally was concentrated for the most part in theatres other than Australia.

Mr Falkinder:

– The right honorable gentleman is not very kind.

Mr Thompson:

– The honorable member himself is not very kind; Why does he not keep quiet?


-Order! I warn the House for the last time that I will name any honorable member who interjects again, and I will not accept an apology.


– The British effort, wherever it was directed, was massive and superb, and for a long time Great Britain was not helped by its Allies. It is vital that Great Britain, with its interests in South-East Asia, should be a party to any treaty organization in respect of that region. The gravest danger threatened

Australia during World War II. when the great powers agreed upon a military policy of primary concentration against Hitler in Europe and thus placed the war in the Pacific in a secondary role. Fortunately, that policy was gradually modified and sufficient equipment and forces were deployed in the Pacific to hold Japan and, subsequently, to throw the Japanese back.

The Australian Labour party has always favoured a policy of regional military agreements in relation to the Pacific and South-East Asia. The United Nations Charter . contemplates such arrangements which reinforce its great purpose, which is collective security through the Security Council. But if the veto is exercised in the Security Council, other steps must be taken. For that reason, the Article to ‘which I have referred was inserted in the Charter, and reference to the proceedings at the San Francisco conference will show that the Australian Government’s representative took an active part in that matter. That Article was designed to get the member nations to act together to repel armed attack upon any member. That is also the essence of all regional military agreements. That is why the Australian Labour party supported Anzus although Labour strongly opposed the contemporaneous agreement under which Japan was given unlimited right to rearm. The Anzus agreement is vague in many particulars. The principal example in this respect that should be looked at - I refer to it solely in order that these matters may be properly considered. - is that of the North Atlantic Treaty. That is a defensive treaty against armed attack; but it is not based on aggression against any country whether that country be totalitarian of the right or of the left. It is based on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which recognizes the inherent right of individual and collective self-defence.

Moreover, the adoption of such regional agreements is simply one of the United Nations procedures and, therefore, such agreements do not contemplate a turning away from the United Nations. They indicate that procedures of conciliation r] orbitration should be adopted for the settlement of international disputes wherever it is practicable to follow such a course. The Charter also recognizes the fundamental principles of selfdetermination and the obligation of every United Nations member to co-operate to further the welfare of people in backward and undeveloped countries. Undoubtedly, any regional military agreement should also cover those equally important activities which are designed to prevent the causes of war from arising. There is nothing in such an agreement which, in principle, would not be in accordance with the policy that Australia pursued, not only throughout World War II., but also year after year at the United Nations, and at the conference which established Anzus, which, properly looked at, is not a. hindrance. I have never been able to understand the view that Anzus is a hindrance to any member of the British Commonwealth, still less to Great Britain itself. That treaty is a help to all members of the British Commonwealth and, for the same reason, it is essential that Great Britain should be a party to any organization that may be formed in. respect of the Pacific and South-East, Asia.

We must face the fact that regional military agreements cannot be made without incurring military commitments. Therefore, Australia must insist upon prior consultation with the other countries concerned, including the United States of America and Great Britain, before military intervention takes place. This Parliament has a duty to ensure that such consultation shall be insisted upon before binding commitments are made by this Government. The Australian Labour party will insist that there must be a greater degree of prior consultation in relation to foreign affairs and defence than took place under this Government during the life of the preceding Parliament. I do not regard what is called the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs as being a substitute for these essentials. The Cabinet has been divided into what are popularly called two “ elevens “ - there is a first eleven and a second eleven - and the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee can be fairly described as the Government’s third eleven. With all respect to the zeal of the members of that committee,

I venture to predict that the Australian Labour party will not be satisfied to appoint representatives to that body if the Government’s representatives on it are to be confined to members of its “ third eleven “. I state that objection for this reason: Although the Australian Labour party did not gain a majority of the seats at the recent general election, it substantially reduced the Government’s majority; and, furthermore, after making every allowance in respect of uncontested seats, it is undeniable that Labour polled a majority of the votes of the people of Australia.


– Order ! The right honorable gentleman is getting outside the scope of the question before the Chair.


I am simply endeavouring to make the point that, in view of those facts, the Opposition is entitled to be dealt with by the Government and by the Parliament on the footing of an absolute right to prior consultation in the consideration of matters of this kind and in the making of any vital decisions that affect our defence and foreign affairs policies. We do not want to be told to-morrow that the Prime Minister has pledged Australia to some military commitment. The speech that he has just delivered does not add anything new to what is already general information.

During the recent general election campaign, the Australian Labour party insisted that in international relations Australia’s policy must be independent. That did not mean, of course, a policy of isolation or of opposition to the United States of America or to Great Britain. It meant that under a regional agreement to which we might become a party, Australia must not be committed to make military contributions except after the closest concert at the highest level with the representatives of all the other parties to any such agreement, including Great Britain and the United States of America, and also after prior consultation, in principle, with this Parliament. I reject the notion once and for all that Australia must accept the role of subservience or satellite to any country. I do not think that the generous, warm-hearted people of the United States of America or of Great Britain would have us act otherwise. I believe that the mistakes in international affairs during the last ten years necessarily resulted from Yalta and from the exercise of the veto because of the failure of the Great Powers to consult countries like Australia which held different views.

In conclusion, I reaffirm Labour’s adherence to the objectives of the United Nations. Collective security against aggression is not the sole objective - that is the military side of the Charter and it is vital. There are also positive objectives which are aimed at preventing and stopping armed conflict. These are to regard human life and dignity as an end in itself; to treat the humblest man, woman or child throughout the world, including Asia, from this viewpoint and on an equal footing; and to join together not to stop selfgovernment of peoples if there is a genuine move in that direction in the inevitable development of independence, but to assist all peoples by making available to them practical aid in the eternal fight against poverty, ignorance and all forms of tyranny. Those are the positive objectives of the Charter of the United Nations, and, somehow, they must be sewn up in regional agreements because they are equally as important as is collective security, and pursuance of them might prevent the catastrophe about which the Prime Minister has expressed the Government’s fears. Totalitarian tyranny, whether it he right, left or centre, is opposed to the spiritual and moral ideals which should govern us. Those very ideals would be destroyed if we sought to carry them into effect by military force, the use of which is justified, as it is certainly invariably required, only in instances of military aggression wherever and whenever they occur. At I referred in my opening remarks to Indo-China, I ask myself whether a case of military aggression in [ndo-China could have been proved. Judgment on the point should have been given some years ago by the United Nations, which should have promptly appointed a commission to inquire into the matter, or to act in a conciliatory capacity. Such action, perhaps, would have resulted in a settlement that would have been far more satisfactory from

Australia’s view-point and that of France and of the peoples whose countries are affected. I make these observations following a lengthy consultation which I had this morning with members of the executive of the Parliamentary Labour party, because I believe those things should be said quickly as it is important that they should be understood by all Australians.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Casey) adjourned.

page 75




Debate resumed (vide page 63).


.- I take this opportunity to thank the electors of Swan for choosing me as their representative in the National Parliament. In doing so, they have conferred a very high honour upon me, and I assure them that I shall do everything in my power to justify the confidence that they have reposed in me. I sincerely trust that I shall be able to make a worthwhile contribution to the deliberations in this House. The people of Swan and, indeed, the people of Australia as a whole, are gravely concerned about many matters. Whilst these are too numerous to mention in detail, I believe that the average Australian is most concerned at present about bread and butter problems that directly affect him. When the Chifley Government went out of office in 1949, the present Government was elected mainly because of the many promises that members of the Government parties made to the people. Honorable members opposite have failed to honour those promises. The people recognize the grim difference between those promises and their performance. It was mainly for that reason that the Australian Labour party increased its numbers in this Parliament at the recent general election.

The people are concerned about industrial matters that affect them directly. After listening to the debate that has just taken place on foreign affairs, I suggest that if one looks at the world’s problems from, the broadest point of view and considers what has been responsible for the growth of communism in those countries where it has gained sway, one must come to the conclusion that communism is not the cause of the world’s difficulties, but the result of the failure of governments to solve the people’s bread-and-butter problems. Those problems, which directly involve conditions in industry, should receive the earnest consideration of the Government.

The Australian workers have suffered two severe blows in recent times as the result of decisions of industrial tribunals. The first blow was struck in September, 1953, when the Commonwealth Arbitration Court declined to adjust the basic wage in accordance with variations of the cost of living figures. The second blow was struck last February, when the court postponed a decision on margins in a claim by the metal trades unions. For 30 years, the workers of this Commonwealth had accepted the principle that the basic wage should be adjusted in accordance with the cost of living figures supplied each quarter by the Commonwealth Statistician. They had accepted the standard that was provided as the result of those adjustments. They were not satisfied that the basic wage was fair and just, but at least, the standard was set, and they were prepared to accept a rise or fall of the basic wage in accordance with the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures. They knew that the purchasing power of their wages would remain reasonably constant, and they were contented.

But a new system of assessing the basic wage has developed. The basic wage is now allegedly harnessed to production, but nobody knows exactly what, the basis is, or how adjustments will be made from time to time. Consequently, the workers consider that a move should be made to have the -basic wage fixed once again on the needs principle, so that they may know what they can expect in their pay envelopes. Some governments agree with that view, and have made provision for the workers within their jurisdiction to receive basic wage adjustments. I have particularly in mind the Labour Government of Victoria, but I should like at the same time to refer to the efforts made by the Western Australian Labour Government to keep the basic was:e adjusted in accordance with the cost of living figures. Th.i Western Australian Labour Government intervened in the State Arbitration Court before Mr. President Jackson and supported the workers’ claim that cost of living adjustments should continue to be made. Unfortunately, their submissions were not accepted by the court. Th’1 Labour Government then endeavoured tr amend the Arbitration Act by inserting ? provision for automatic adjustments of the basic wage. Unfortunately, the amendment was rejected by the antiLabour Legislative Council on two occasions. A further effort is being made now to amend the act with a view to providing for automatic adjustments of the basic wage.

The President of the Queensland Arbitration Court refused to follow in the footsteps of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court on this important matter. H.’ said in his judgment, which appears in the Queensland Industrial Gazette, volume 39, of the 31st March, 1954 -

Everyone is agreed on the desirability of halting the . inflationary trend resulting in the “ cost price spiral “ but the real issue is the method by which this desirable state of affairs can be attained. The quarterly adjusted wage always lagged spiralling prices to the wage-earners’ disadvantage. Why should the wage-earner now be asked to pioneer the way back to stability, when those better able to make the necessary sacrifice do not make or offer to make, a corresponding contribution by pegging prices?

The Queensland Arbitration Court took a common-sense view and its example should have been followed by other industrial tribunals. I appeal even at this stage to the Government, in the interests of equity and good conscience, to meet the wishes of the Australian Council of Trades Unions on the basic wage, and ensure that the workers shall not suffer as the result of the loss of purchasing power from the basic wage, because that wage is not adjusted quarterly in accordance with variations of the cost of living index.

The second matter to which I wish to refer is also most important, and that is the refusal of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to make any move on margins until November next, when the matter will be reviewed. One of the submissions made by the unions on this matter was that the purchasing power of margins had been considerably reduced as the result, of the inflationary conditions that Australia had experienced since margins were last adjusted in 1947. In December of that year, the basic wage, as determined by the court, was £5 9s. a week. The margins above the basic wage were then, and still are, as follows: - toolmaker £3 5s., fitter £2 12s., and process worker £1 12s. a week. The basic wage to-day, as determined by the Court, is £11 16s. a week, and the margins, if the cost of living figures had been applied to them, would be as follows : - toolmaker £6 9s. 6d., fitter £5 3s. 6d., and process worker £2 ls. 6d. a week. The court agreed that the submissions made on behalf of the workers were sound in that regard, and said, when giving reasons of its decision -

The submission of the employees’ organizations is that the purchasing power of the so-called minimum margins ha.i fallen, and that therefore, the continuance of the nominal minimum rates prescribed in 1947 has meant, and will mean, a depreciation of the real margins accorded to skill and aptitude. It is, of course, plain that insofar as the minimum marginal rates prescribed by the award, which virtually are the same (subject to the few adjustments made by it, which have been mentioned above) as those ultimately fixed in 1047, are being in fact, paid to-day, this submission is well founded.

If that is not an admission that the unions had substantially proved their case, I have not heard one. But the Court said even more -

If it were proper to set aside economic considerations, there would appear to he a prima facie case for a complete review and reassessment of the minimum margins appropriate to occupations covered by the present references. But, holding that the present economic situation, particularly in regard to the level of costs, does not yet permit of such a comprehensive review, the court, would, if it pronounced a final decision to-day, feel constrained to determine the matters the subject of the references by making an awa>rd or order upon the basis that the unions have failed to satisfy it that their claims ought now to be granted cither in whole or part.

Those passages appear in the Industrial Information Bulletin, Volume 9, of February, 1954. Is it any wonder that the unions are dissatisfied when they are told that their submissions are sound, yet because of the economic circumstances of the country, the margins that they have claimed and have proved should be paid, cannot be paid? The unions believe that the court went outside its jurisdiction and interfered in a matter that rightly belonged to that Government of the Commonwealth. Undoubtedly, it was an economic question, and if wage pegging had to be introduced, this Government should have had the courage to take the necessary action, and should not have left it to the court to do iKe work.

Mr Daly:

– The Government welcomed it.


– Of course, the Government welcomed the fact that the court was doing its work for it! Yet, during the recent general election campaign, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated that Australia had never been in a better economic position or enjoyed such conditions of prosperity. His Excellency the Governor-General, in his Speech yesterday, referred on two occasions to the prosperity of the country. He said -

My advisers report a general and continuing state of prosperity throughout the Australian economy.

He also said -

The budget for the financial year 1954-55 will he among the first of the matters submitted to Parliament during this session. It will be designed to help to consolidate our present prosperity.

If Australia is enjoying a period of prosperity, there is no valid reason why action should not be taken immediately, as a matter of urgency, to satisfy the claims of the workers. The Australian Council of Trades Unions, to which I had the honor to be an interstate delegate for some years before my election to this Parliament, desires an immediate re-opening of this case. I suggest to the Government that there is no reason why its influence should not be used to have the case re-opened immediately. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), in a statement on margins that he published on the eve of the recent meeting of the - Australian Council of Trades Unions, mentioned that he intended to intervene, when the hearing was resumed, with respect to the claims for skilled men. Apparently, he does not intend to do anything about the claims of other workers. The Western Australian Labour Government has gone further than that. The Daily News reported to-day that the Government of Western Australia was prepared to intervene on behalf of both skilled and semi-skilled workers in that State in order to help them to obtain wage justice from the State Arbitration Court. There is no reason why this Government, which allegedly has the interests of the workers at heart, should not take action on behalf of all workers. The Minister for Labour and National Service said, in the statement to which I have referred, that skilled men had to make sacrifices during the years of their apprenticeship. Nobody denies that sacrifices have to be made, but they are not necessarily made by the apprentices alone. Most of the burden is borne by parents, who often find it necessary to stint themselves at home in order that their sons may have a chance to learn trades. In any case, if apprentices are not receiving a fair deal from industry so that sacrifices have to be made, why is not something done to improve their lot ? Why should they not be paid higher rates? Why should they not be paid a percentage of the tradesman’s rate, which is the claim of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, instead of being paid a percentage of the basic wage as at present ?

I claim that, even at this late stage, the Government should intervene on behalf of all workers instead of only skilled workers. The proposal is not novel. The Chifley Government intervened in the 40-hour-week case and the interim basic wage case and, as a result of its actions, those matters were settled favorably to the workers. This Government could do likewise if it wished. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition offered to follow the same course of action as the Chifley Government if the Labour party were returned to power at the recent election. I appeal to the Government to approach the court, even at this stage, and use its influence in the interests of all workers so that they may regain the standards that they enjoyed in 1947. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and honorable members for the attention that has been given to my remarks. I sincerely hope that the Government will give every consideration to thom and that, as a result, something will be done to restore the standards that existed when a Labour government was in office.


– The grave matters of foreign policy which were mentioned in the Governor-General’s Speech naturally overshadow, and should overshadow, all other debates in this House, and the statement made earlier to-night by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) underlined the importance of those matters, if any further emphasis were needed. I do not intend to discuss them now, because I hope that it will be possible for me to deal with them at another time. Although foreign policy commands the greatest share of our attention, other subjects which were dealt with in the GovernorGeneral’s Speech merit our earnest consideration. I refer particularly to the Government’s proposals in regard to constitutional reform, and also to the remarks on the same subject made earlier in this debate by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer).

Our Constitution has served us well, but it is now a trite truism, which is nonetheless true for being trite, that the time has come to overhaul it. The proposals of the Government in this connexion will be welcomed both inside this House and elsewhere. Naturally, the aspect of the matter that will command most immediate attention is the necessity to reform the Senate, to confer on it the prestige which it would have enjoyed had it fulfilled the express hopes of the initial framers of the Constitution, and to restore to it a proper and balanced place in our system of government. Few honorable members will cavil at the statement that the Senate, taking it by and large over the last twenty years, has failed to fulfil the high hopes of the makers of the Constitution. We would do well to analyze the causes of that failure and to see what can be done in order to remedy it. It will be necessary, of course, to embody in a referendum proposal and have adopted by a majority of the people most of the reforms which appear to be desirable, because some of them cannot be made without that formal constitutional change. Nevertheless some of them require not so much a referendum as a change of practice, or a change of Jaw which can be made without the approval of the whole electorate expressed at a referendum.

In the original constitution of our Senate, there seems to have been some drawing upon the concepts of the United States Senate and some drawing upon the concepts behind the British House of Lords. The United States Senate, as honorable members know, has a continuity of life, and, subject to double dissolutions, the same continuity was bestowed by the framers of the Constitution upon the Australian Senate. The United States Senate, in common with the other House of Congress, has, of course, no executive functions. It does not form part of responsible government in the sense that we know it. The British House of Lords was, at the time when the Australian Constitution was framed at any rate, a non-party House, and it wai recruited by direct appointment without election from men who had shown outstanding ability in the government of the country. There have been changes since that time in the powers of the House of Lords as expressed particularly in the Parliament Act. However, those changes, which affect to some degree the concept upon which our Senate was modelled, have not found their counterpart in any changes in the Australian Constitution.

There are some who would abolish the Senate. They regard it as a redundancy or an anachronism. I say at once that I, for one, do not share those views, because I believe that the Senate has a great and important part to perform, even though it may not be performing it adequately at this moment and perhaps may not have done so for the last twenty years. The first function of the Senate is to be a House of review in the best sense, where trained minds that are not bound to partisanship in the same sense and to the same degree as are we in this House, direct themselves to the review of legislation, perhaps in principle, but, even more importantly sometimes, in detail. This function has been vitiated to some degree by the inevitable intrusion of the party political system. That intrusion was inevitable because of the way in which constitutional defects manifested themselves in the working out of the system.

The second function of the Senate is one of delay, and legislative delay may be important in two senses. In the first place, I believe that it is a good thing that legislation should have to pass the scrutiny of more than one chamber. Even though there be two opposing sides in this House, it has often happened that bills have been rushed through the House without adequate consideration being given to their details. A delay, even of one, two or three days, has a very salutary effect. In particular, it enables formal defects and small defects in bills to be remedied. In the second place, there is the larger question of delay on principle. The Senate reflects the popular will, but not with the same immediacy as does this House. “Whereas we in this chamber reflect the popular will at the time of one election, the .Senate is usually composed of quotas elected on two different occasions. Therefore, the Senate may be said to express the popular will in a more stable fashion than this House does, and insofar as it does so, it may prevent this House from passing legislation for which it has no .proper mandate and no popular support. The ability to delay such legislation is important because it allows the spotlight of public opinion to be turned upon the legislation before anything irrevocable has been done. If a bill be passed by a singlechamber legislature, its operation can bring into effect irreversible changes. If, however, the Senate can delay a measure for which there is no popular support, public opinion may have its effect upon the lower house before anything irrevocable can happen.

In the third place, the Senate is in a special sense the House of the States, and, in this capacity, should have a useful function to perform.

For these reasons, and for others which I shall not labour, I believe the continuance of the Senate to be necessary. What should we do to improve the present situation? The first thing to be done, I am sure, is to synchronize the elections of this House and the Senate, as the honorable member for Angas suggested, by providing that one half of the senators shall retire whenever the House of Representatives is dissolved, irrespective of the length of their term of service. That, in my opinion, would have the good effect, not only of reducing the number of elections, which are becoming tediously frequent to the people, but also of solving, to some degree at any rate, the problem of the relative powers of the two Houses and of overcoming deadlocks. The Senate will not capriciously reject bills if it knows that, as a result of its actions, the House of Representatives may be dissolved and half of the senators may have to go to the country before their normal term of office is completed.

If the Senate consists of two parts, the part that would go to the country would be the old part, and the part that would stay would be the new part, whose complexion would be likely to be the same as that of the Government. Thus, if a measure, which was the occasion of a dissolution of the House of Representatives and the sending of half the number of senators to the country, was one that had popular support, is it not clear that, as a result of the double dissolution, we should have a Senate which reflected both the past and the present will of the electorate in the best possible manner? f point out in passing that, as the number of senators for each State would be an uneven number, there would not be the same risk of a deadlock as there is under the present system with an even number of senators for each State after a. double dissolution. With proportional representation, the present system offers a strong probability of an even division of political representation in each State and a subsequent deadlock in the Parliament even after a double dissolution has taken place. The Constitution should also make clear, because there is some doubt as to the position in this regard, the right of the Prime Minister, with the concurrence of this House by resolution, to require of the Governor-General a dissolution and general election when the Prime Minister sees fit after a bill has thus been rejected by the Senate.

I suggest these reforms because they would give us a mechanism whereby the Senate could impose delay, but not too much delay, upon a bill so that the real and effective will of the people could be ascertained on any controversial proposal before anything irreversible were done. I think we should also cut from the Senate the power to reject Supply and thus hold a government to ransom. The exact drafting of such a clause, of course, would be a matter of difficulty, but certainly one would not expect the Senate to have any right to reject a bill for Supply for the ordinary services of government or for the maintenance of taxation and revenues at existing rates.

If we made these reforms, the provision in the Constitution which requires the Senate to have roughly half the number of members that the House of Representatives has would become unnecessary, because that provision was included in the Constitution in order to make workable the old joint sitting clauses which, under the new system that I have suggested, would themselves become unnecessary. In these circumstances, therefore, it would be possible to cease to tie the number of members of this House to the number of members of the Senate.

In the fourth place there is a matter which may seem to be small, but which, I believe, has great possibilities. I refer to the method of filling casual vacancies in the Senate. At present such casual vacancies as occur through the death or resignation of a senator are filled until the next general election by the Parliament of the State that that senator represented. Indeed, if the State Parliament concerned is out of session at tile time, an even more arbitrary method is used to fill the vacancy. So, in a way, the political colour of the senator who replaces a senator whose seat has become vacant by death or resignation is a matter of chance. That was not important until fairly recently, because under the old system of Senate elections majorities in the Senate were big, and one or two votes were unlikely to be of much consequence. Under the new system of proportional representation, however,, majorities in the Senate are small, and must always remain so. In those circumstances one or two votes which may come by chance may determine the control of the Senate and thus govern its whole attitude to the Government’s legislation. I believe that this element of chance should be removed. Its removal would have one important result. Under the present system parties tend to look for senators whose expectation of life is considerable. I believe that if the Senate is to be a proper body of review as it was intended to be, it should be the chamber in which mature men of the very soundest and most experienced judgment should find their place in political life. Such, men, regrettably, often have a short expectation of life. I suggest, therefore, that in place of the present method of filling vacancies we should adopt a system like the Tasmanian system, tinder which a casual vacancy is filled by the candidate on the ballot-paper, belonging to the same group as that to which the former senator belonged, who received the next highest number of votes at the election. Some such system would stabilize the Senate and enable men of experience, without consideration of their expectation of life, to be put in a place where they will have the greatest power for good in the government of the country.

I believe that my suggestions are noncontroversial and that, subject to details, they might even receive the support of both sides of this House. I do not necessarily put them forward as an exhaustive list, but they seem to me to be the most important constitutional changes necessary in regard to Senate reform. I think there are one or two things which might be done to help the prestige and position of the Senate, but which do not involve constitutional reform. If I may be permitted latitude, for a moment, to trespass over the boundaries set by the Standing Orders, I wish to say that I was interested to see a report that an exPresident of the Senate had advocated that there should be no Ministers in that chamber. That suggestion is right and proper, because the introduction of Ministers into the Senate naturally imports into that body that party feeling which we do not want to see in its full vehemence and bitterness in the Senate chamber. For that reason I believe that, in future, we might well avoid appointing senators as Ministers and, instead, allow Ministers from this House to appear in the Senate to pilot their own bills through, but, naturally, without their having the right to vote on bills in the Senate. They would be there merely to advocate their bills before a critical body of review. I believe that the committee system in the Senate, which differs from the committee system in this chamber, in that question and answer are more frequently employed, is ideally suited for such a procedure as I have suggested. At present, however, it tends to fail in that purpose because, of necessity, the Senate Ministers in charge of the bills which emanate from this House are not always familiar with the details contained in them, and are unable to give full answers, off the cuff, to the questions asked. If the Ministers were all in this House, and all responsible to this House, and if the appropriate Minister in each case were to attend in the Senate in order to put his bill through that chamber, we should get the best of both worlds and allow the present system of senatorial committees to show to its full advantage. I also believe that many of the committees of this Parliament should be senatorial committees rather than committees of this House. The Foreign Affairs Committee, for example, seems to me to be a committee in which the continuity which exists in. the Senate would be particularly valuable, and in which a bi-partisan policy could best bc hammered out. We could remove, by the measures that I have suggested, some degree of party politics from Senate debates. The Public Accounts Committee, which reviews all the matters for which this House has financial responsibility, would be a proper senatorial function. I believe, in particular, that the Senate might set up committees to review the Executive’s actions as expressed in regulations and matters which have to have the approval of this House and of the Senate.


– Would the Senate have the power to repeal a regulation ?


– It would, of course, have the power to reject a regulation. I am suggesting that the Senate is the best place for the machinery of detailed review of what is done by regulation. Honorable members know very well that the spate of regulations is so great that regulations do not perhaps always receive the detailed consideration of this House that they merit.

I believe that my suggestions will commend themselves, in principle at any rate, to both sides of . the House. T an not suggesting for one moment that the reform of the Senate is the only matter of constitutional reform which is important, to us. There are other matters, which I will not have time to traverse to-night which, I believe, are equally important in the constitutional sphere. Inevitably, however, the Senate, and reform of the Senate, will take pride of place in public attention in connexion with any proposal for constitutional reform which might be evolved from the kind of committee foreshadowed in the Governor-General’s Speech.

Port Adelaide

– I am pleased to have this early opportunity to speak to the AddressinReply. I have listened carefully to the speeches that have already been made in this debate, and I intend to refer particularly to remarks made by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) and the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) . The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) also referred to the remarks of the honorable member for Angas in connexion with constitutional reform.- I am gratified that these honorable gentlemen suggested that half of the Senate should face election at each general election. I have been advocating that principle for some time, and so was pleased to hear them express the same opinion. The honorable member for Angas stated that he was doubt-, ful whether three years was a long enough period to enable a government to give effect to its promises. Some years ago, when I was a member of the South Australian Parliament, I was of the same opinion. When the Liberal Government in office in that State increased the period of office of the State government from three to five years I thought it was making a wise step. I soon discovered that it had taken a retrograde step instead of a. step forward. In fact, that Government itself, before its five years of office were up, introduced an amending measure to restore the three-year period. The honorable member for Angas said that the people are tired of elections occurring too often. However, the general reaction of the people in South Australia to the change I have mentioned was that five years was too long an interval to elapse before the people could express their opinion of the Government. The South

Australian Parliament almost unanimously agreed to revert to the three-year period.

I also agree that it is wrong to have an election for the House of Representatives in one year to be followed, within two years, by a Senate election. I would go a little further than the honorable member for Mackellar went in constitutional reform - although I think my suggestion could be implemented by legislation and would not involve a referendum - and would alter the method of State representation in the Senate. Instead of having five senators elected in one batch from a State, as at present, I would divide each State into five districts and provide for the election of two Senators for each district. That would be similar in one respect to the basis of election to the United States Senate, although each State in the United States of America elects only two senators, one of whom retires at the end of each sixyear period. I admit that it might be argued that the system would not be entirely satisfactory if it were desired that the Senate should continue to be looked on as a States House, but I think that our present method of proportional representation, whereby the candidates who are listed numbers one and two in each major group appearing on a ballot-paper are almost certain to be elected, whilst the number 3 candidate of each major group really has to fight for his seat is very bad in principle. Under the system of proportional representation, all that a senator has to do in order to be practically certain of election is to obtain the first or second position on the ballot-paper. If there were five electoral districts the senators would have to strive throughout their terms of office to retain their popularity with the electorate, in the same way as do the members of the House of Representatives. Unless they did so they would find it difficult to obtain re-election at the next Senate election. I believe that a system such as that would be of advantage both to the people and the Parliament. However that may be, I am of the opinion that something should be done to ensure that Senate elections shall be conducted more smoothly and effectively. I personally would be prepared to extend for another year the period of senators who are to face the electors in eighteen months’ time. I was rather disappointed three years ago when there was a double dissolution of the Parliament, because the Government did not conduct a referendum at that time to alter the system of election of the Senate.

Ultimately a referendum will have to be held, and if it is not done at the next general election there will have to be some agreement between the political parties to extend the period of some senators for another year. Normally a senator is elected for six years, but on the present system some may remain in office for a lesser term whenever an election takes place after a double dissolution. I agree with the honorable member for Angas that sentors should be elected at the same time as members of the House of Representatives, and that their period in office should end just before the second House of Representatives election after their appointment. The honorable member for Mackellar made a suggestion about a review of the Senate electoral system, but the opinion of many people in Australia is that the Senate should be abolished. However, our federal system of government was established on the basis of a Parliament consisting of the Queen, a House of Representatives and a Senate or State house. Therefore, it would be difficult to abolish the Senate. Even if the people in four States were to agree to its abolition at a referendum, it is unlikely that a majority of the people throughout Australia would so agree. Consequently, T believe that the Senate will remain for a long time, and that we should make the system of electing it work as smoothly as possible. I suggest that when, the committee mentioned by His Excellency is appointed to consider the revision of our Constitution, it should also consider a better system of resolving deadlocks in. the Parliament. In other words, we should be able to settle deadlocks without having a double dissolution of the Parliament.

The honorable member for Macarthur devoted some time to a consideration of social services. I suggest that some of our social services are not completely fair and equitable, and to prove my point I refer to certain press statements that appeared in the Canberra and Sydney press. Those statements have claimed that the Government won the support of many skilled workmen at the last general election. I believe that that is quite true, because otherwise it would not have been able to command a majority in this House. However, the reports then went on to state that the Government would support an application to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration for increased margins for skill in respect of highly skilled workmen.

Mr Brand:

– The reports did not indicate that.


– The statements as I have detailed them were certainly made in newspapers that I read. I am not in the habit of saying that statements appeared in the press if they did not so appear. I did not interject while the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand) was speaking, because- at that time I was not aware that he had had previous political experience. If I had known that, perhaps I should not have given him the same consideration. A certain section of the press of South Australia reported that the Government was endeavouring to cultivate higher paid tradesmen in order to get their votes. Indeed, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself has stated that the Government is in favour of increasing the margins of really skilled workmen. However, he said that he was not in favour of increasing the margins of all the other workmen who were paid something more than the basic wage. T do not believe that any Minister .if this Government will have the temerity to deny that the Prime Minister has stated that the Government will intervene before the Court in order to apply for an increase of the marginal rates for highly skilled men only and not for other workers. Honorable members on this side of the House believe that if a skilled worker was awarded 30s. a week margin and a semi-skilled worker 15s. a week margin at the same time, then it is common justice to increase the wages of the man who is getting the 15s. margin if, because of the reduced purchasing power of money, the wages of the man getting the 30s. a week margin are increased. The two types of workers cannot be separated, because their margins were given on a proportional calculation, and if the Government intervenes in one case it should intervene in the other. Moreover, the Prime Minister has stated that his Government is not a sectional government, and that its legislation will be in the interests of all the people. If that statement is sincere, then he must consider the interests of all the workers.

To-day both the honorable member for Macarthur and the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Lindsay) mentioned pensioners. This Government has not promised to increase the base rate of age pensions at all, but I hope that since the Prime Minister delivered his policy speech before the last general election he has changed his mind and has decided to increase the base rate pension. The right honorable gentleman promised the electors that if his Government were returned the permissible earnings of a pensioner would be increased from £2 a week to £3 10s. a week, and that the permissible amount of property that a pensioner could have while still getting a full pension would be increased from £150 to £200. Now let us examine that promise. About 70 per cent, of age pensioners have no income apart from their pension, or an income of less than 5s. a week.

Mr Curtin:

– About 80 per cent.


– I did not put the percentage that high. I believe that approximately 70 per cent, get a pension of £3 10s. a week and have very little other income. A married couple in those circumstances will get £7 a week. At present if a married couple has an income of £6 a week they can get £5 a week pension, making a family income of £11 a week. According to the promise of the Prime Minister, that married couple will be entitled to earn £2 a week more to make a. family income of £13 a week. If a married couple have a joint income of £7 a week theyget £4 a week pension at present, and under the Prime Minister’s proposal their family income could be increased from £11 a week to £14 a week. But a married couple who have no income at all will draw £7 a week pension at present, and after the next budget will continue to draw £7 a week. Surely if it is right to increase the family income of persons falling within the first two categories that I mentioned, then it is right to increase the family income of those on the base rate of pension.

I have been battling for years to have the property means test ameliorated. I brought this matter up in the Parliament in 1947, and gave instances of the injustices that were being done under these regulations to persons who should be getting pensions. I then suggested that the property means test should be eased, because it was not practicable to abolish it at that time. I firmly believe that there should be no property means test and that the rate of pension should be based solely on the income of the pensioner. Just before the last general election a gentleman approached me and asked me to do something about interest on Commonwealth bonds. Ho had been a minister of religion before he retired, and he and his wife had £2,700 in Commonwealth bonds. He said that his income was £71 a year from that source, but because he owned the bonds he and his wife were debarred from getting any age pension at all. Moreover, he told me that if he wanted to sell the bonds he would only get £90 for each £100 bond. He was concerned with the interest rates of bonds, and the depreciation of his money while it was invested in bonds, but he quite clearly illustrated the injustice of the property means test. I repeat that he and his wife had an income of only £71 a year, but they could not get any part of the age pension. I suggest that such a man and his wife should be entitled to full age pensions, as they would be if their property was not taken into consideration. Of course that would mean an increased expenditure by the Government, but I suggest that the expenditure would not be as great as the cost of increasing the permissible income to £3 10s. a week.

The Prime Minister stated that the Government would increase the property limit by £50. whichwould mean an increase of 2s. a week in the pension. Whilst that is doing a little, it is quite insufficient. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr.Evatt) promised that the Labour party would abolish the means test. I do not intend to argue about that because I know that the supporters of the Government are not agreeable to its abolition. My own attitude is that the man who still receives his full wages and who does not cease work should not receive a pension. The Leader of the Opposition referred to a retiring pension, and I think we should approach the matter from that point of view. We must consider the employee who is on a decent salary, who is in a responsible position, who has to live accordingly, and the upkeep of whose home is entirely different from that of a man in ordinary employment. When a man who is in receipt of a decent salary retires, he has to maintain his home and pay such items as rates and taxes. He is at a distinct disadvantage when compared with the man who is on the basic wage. Some system should be evolved whereby the salary earned is taken into consideration in computing the pension or superannuation. Some years ago I was a member of the finance committee of the University of Adelaide. A sub-committee was appointed to inquire into the question of superannuation. We aimed at giving the more highly paid men half their salary when they retired. That was before the inflationary period which exists to-day. If a man was receiving £1,200a year, we proposed giving him a pension of £600 a year. If he was receiving £900, the proposed figure was £450. We sought to fix the contributions that were paid by the employee and by the university so that the amount which I have cited could be paid upon retirement. I could always sec the justice of that proposal. Of course, there must be a minimum payment. It could not be argued that a man on £6 a week should go hack to £3 a week. I should like to see the day when everybody is entitled to a pension on retirement, butI cannot see any sense in saying to Bill Smith who is employed in industry, “You are 64 years and your wife is 62 years of age. You can get a pension for your wife, and your full salary. Your son, who is 40 years of age, who has three children and who is receiving the same salary as you receive, will receive so many pounds a week less, because he cannot get a pension for his wife “. That does not make sense to me, but it does seem sensible that every man or woman should be entitled to a proper pension or superannuation upon retirement.

Although the Government is not prepared to go to the lengths that the Labour party is prepared to go, I hope it will give consideration to my suggestion. The honorable member for Macarthur said that years ago a pension was paid to a person in order to give him something that would meet his needs. To-day the pension is looked upon more as a superannuation benefit. That being the position, I think the time has arrived when the Government should consider the provision of a reasonable retiring benefit irrespective of whether a person needs it or not. I think it should be made a retiring benefit and not just a pension that is payable to a person of any particular age or who has any particular amount in the bank. Irrespective of his activities, a man should be given sufficient upon which to live in reasonable comfort for the remainder of his days. I hope that the Government will give consideration to the points I raised in relation to both constitutional reform and the provision of a proper retiring benefit for. everybody in the community.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Hamilton) adjourned.

page 85


The ‘ following papers were pre sented : -

Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Postal purposes

Armidale, New South Wales.

Doncaster East, Victoria:

Mooball, New South Wales.

Papua and New Guinea Act - Superannuation (Papua and New Guinea) Ordinance, Superannuation Board - Second Annual Report,for year 1952-53.

Public Service Act-

Appointments - Department -

Repatriation - J. Crosthwaite. V. Feain.

D. Franks, M. M. Walsh.

Works- I. A. Black. R. H. Bridie, N. M.

Hawkins, G. T. Hunt.

Repatriation Act - Repatriation Commission - Report for year 1952-53.

House adjourned at 10.21 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 August 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.