21st Parliament · 1st Session
-Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the- chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– In view of the extremely excessive profit that was made by General Motor-Holden’s Limited in its operations lastyearwill the Prime Minister state whether he proposes now to honourhis 1949 election promise ‘to introduce an excess profits tax! Or, has the Government any other plan to deal with this problem? If so, what are the details of it? If the Government is to take no action at all, will the right honorable gentleman state whether the Government’s inaction is due to the fact that he does not regard this company’s profit as being excessive?
– The Prime Minister, on a matter of policy.
– I, of course, do not propose to make any statement of policy on these matters. All I want to do is to offer the observation that I am rather astonished that people who, not go long ago, were saying that Australia could not produce a motor car should now complain because an industry in this country is now building motor cars with such remarkable success. The honorable mem: ber will not have failed to notice that the profits made by this great organization are . almost entirely being ploughed back for the development of this industry and the development of employment in Australia in which, I thought, he took a theoretical interest.
– Are we to understand, from the replygiven by the Prime Minis- . ter, that unlimited exploitation is justifiable so long as the results of it are ploughed back into an industry or are used for capital expansion?
– This appears to be a matter for argument, but I think that the honorable member for Burke is forgettingthat people who make large profits or large incomes in that way pay large taxes on them. He might also bear in mind that, through his leader at the last general election, he promised this company 40 per cent, special initial depreciation. That would have added another £1,000,000 to the profit about which he complains.
– I address a question to you, Mr. Speaker. It hasbeen very noticeable in the course of debates in this House recently that when you have informedhonorahle members that their time has expired somehonorable members have continued speaking for an additional few sentences. Will yougiive consideration to the installation of a buzzer or a bell which, by pressing a button, you could sound three minutes before a speaker’s time was due to expire? Such a warning would give an honorable member an opportunity to round off hia speech as a whole. Under the present system .it often happens that a speaker, when he is not aware that he has only a few minutes to go, commences to deal with a fresh aspect of his subject on which, of course, he has no chance of completing his remarks. Very often, another honorable member will hand him a note intimating that he has only a few minutes to go. T suggest that the installation of an electric bell, or buzzer, for the purpose of giving the warning that I have mentioned would greatly help honorable members.
– I can assure tha honorable member that I should be averse to add to ‘either the number or variety of noises in- this chamber. 1 make a practice of looking directly at the clock about one ‘minute before an honorable member’s time, is due to expire. At such times, I also usually pick up my pencil to make a note of the starting time of the following speaker, and lean well- forward iii the chair. If honorable members took such actions on my part as a tip that their time was about to exnire, they would not go far wrong. Offhand, I cannot conceive of any device that would help a member, because, after all, when he rises to speak he knows the period for which he will be allowed to speak; and, in order to overcome any uncertainty about the expiration of his time, he, himself, need only keep his eye on the clock.
– Are you aware, Mr. ‘ Speaker, that the Speaker of the New South “Wales . Parliament has. directly in front of him, a small light in the chair? Would it be possible for flic Speaker to have a small light instillled in the chair for the purpose of indicating that an honorable member’s time i’ about to expire and so give him the i pportunity of ending his speech in a, manner that may be understood?
I-M.. SPEAKER.- That matter has been raised in my-office by certain honor.able members. Really. I think that the responsibility rests upon the member. If honorable gentlemen are so carried away with their enthusiasm that they’ lose all record of time whatsoever, then the honorable member who is presiding over the chamber must intervene. I think that honorable members know full well the time that they have available to them before they start to speak. Three clocks are within their full view and they can look at any one of them.
– As the Minister for Health knows, patients are charged for treatment in public wards of public hospitals. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Limited refuses to pay benefits to its members and their families who undergo operations or treatment in public wards ? Is it true that thu Commonwealth supplementary benefit is also denied to members of an authorized fund if they or their families are patients in a public ward of a public hospital,despite the fact that they pay contribu-ti ons to the fund and, in addition, pay. taxes for the upkeep of hospitals? I point out, by way of explanation, that a youngster belonging to one of my constituents was operated upon for tonsils and adenoids at a children’s hospital in Sydney, and a charge of £1. 12s. 6d. was made. The Medical Benefits Fund refused to make a payment in respect of this operation because the patient was treated in a public hospital. Yet this particular operation is listed in the schedule on the circular’ advertising the scheme. Will the Minister take steps to adjust this, bare-faced form .of misrepresentation and robbery?
– The honorable gentleman would be better -advised’ ;to direct his question to the State .’governments which deal with the whole matter of charges of treatment in public wards of public hospitals. Those governments, especially the New South Wales Government, have refused to allow any payments to be made.
– I ask the Minister for Health a further -question about the increase of doctors’ fees. Will the Minister inquire- whether,, - it “ is correct, as reported to me, that some doctors have introduced week-end penalty rates on the basis of double time for Saturday afternoons and Sundays? A typical case which has been reported to me is that of a charge of 35s. for a. visit on Saturday afternoon, the doctor explaining that this was the new week-end penalty rate. Will the Minister inquire whether this increase has been authorized by the British Medical Association or is merely the result of isolated action on the part of enterprising practitioners? If the Minister considers that the increase is justified, will he immediately correspondingly increase the Commonwealth rate of subsidy so that those who belong to health contributory schemes will not suffer ?
– The Australian Government has no constitutional power to fix prices for the services of doctors or anybody else. The suggestion that the Commonwealth should increase the Commonwealth benefit according to every increase of doctors’ fees would simply be an incitement to medical practitioners to continue increasing their fees. I have never heard of a more stupid suggestion.
– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture any information regarding the level of purchases of Tasmanian black currants by H. W. Carter and Company Limited, of England, in future seasons ? Can he give any indication whether the prices offered this year will be higher than those for last season’s crop?
– The honorable member for Franklin has continuously interested himself in this matter, and I am able to inform him that H. W. Carter and Company Limited of London sent one of its buyers to Australia last year primarily as the result of the activities of the Trade Promotion Division of the Government’s service. I understand that the principal of the company is to come to Australia, and Tasmania, within the next four or six weeks to review the existing contracts under which it bought, at prices satisfactory to the growers, 1,000 tons of black currants last year. My understanding of the situation is that the company is pre pared to negotiate for that quantity as a minimum and .to entertain proposals for reasonably long-term contracts. I confidently expect that the tonnages may be even larger, and this holds out the prospect of a real opportunity for growers of black currants in Tasmania.
– I hope that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture will be able to supply me with more information on a subject that I shall raise than he gave to the honorable member for Hume. Is it a fact that the Government, in spite of strong and persistent representations from Tasmanian members of Parliament, myself included, the Tasmanian Farmers Federation, the Tasmanian Government, and the Stone and Berry Fruit Board rejected financial assistance to stabilize the impoverished Tasmanian small fruits industry? Does this mean that the growers of gooseberries, raspberries, loganberries, strawberries, red currants and young berries are to be left to the nightmare of insecurity, uncertainty, and in some instances complete financial loss, because processors will not pay the cost of production ?
– It is true that almost every one in Tasmania has made representations to the milking cow on this issue, that is, the Commonwealth Treasury, to make good financially the problem of the Tasmanian berry-grower. I think it is also true that this is the only Australian Government that has ever assisted the Tasmanian berry-growers.
– That is nonsense; it is untrue.
– This Government voted £100,000 for that purpose on one occasion. In addition, the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee provided an amount of £225,000 over three seasons. This Government has helped the berry fruits industry,’ but it cannot offer assistance to any industry which is not established on a commercial basis. I think that that applies to any fruit industry. What this Government has done has been to help this industry more liberally than any previous government has done in order to tide it over a circumstance and give it an opportunity to readjust itself! There was a recent proposal that the Government should pay
Id. per lb. of the return for raspberries. The Government believes that that would not solve the problem. What the Government has done,, apart from providing a direct financial subvention, has been to discover a buyer in the United Kingdom and induce him to come to Australia and buy 1,000 tons of black currents at a price higher than the black currant-producers ever dreamed about. We have also arranged for him to come back during the next few weeks to discuss bona fide long-term contracts for the supply of an even bigger tonnage than that. I do not think the Government can do better than to try to line up buyers, in order to place industries on a sound commercial basis. That is. what this Government has done.
– .My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. How many aircraft are being operated in Australia at the present time for agricultural spraying or seeding purposes? Is the Minister aware of a new kind of light aircraft recently developed in the United States, of America for these purposes to a design suggested from extensive experimental work in New Zealand? Does the Minister know whether Australian operators are interested in this new aircraft, and whether any will be introduced into Australia in the near future?
– I am unable to say exactly how many light aircraft are used for agricultural purposes in Australia, but I should think the number would be in the vicinity of 50. However, many of them are ordinary aircraft owned by aero clubs. On occasions, they are fitted with spraying devices and used for agricultural purposes. I think the aircraft to which the honorable member has referred, which has been used with a lot of success in the south island of New Zealand, is the American Cessna 180. I understand that ten of them will be introduced into this country in the very near future.
– Does the Post master-General know whether the Postal Department -has considered the position that has arisen in relation to property on a site in Redfern proposed to be used by the department for a. store ? Has the department received notice from some of the. residents that they will npt sell their property? Has the department abandoned altogether its proposal to use this site ?
– I am not aware of the details of the action taken by the various tenants- of this property. To my knowledge, the. whole of the property has been acquired by the department with a view to building on the site a mail branch office to serve the City of Sydney. That project has not been abandoned at all.’ It is being proceeded with, and plans are being prepared. The project will be submitted later to the Public Works Committee for investigation. It is proposed to erect ultimately on the site a mail branch building, at an estimated cost of between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a statement by the chairman of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board that developments in the stevedoring industry have reached a critical stage ? Has the right honorable gentleman any comment to make on representations made to him for the abolition of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board?
– -The Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport will answer the question.
– The whole of the operations of the Australian Stevedoring. Industry Board are under consideration by the Government at present. Our sole objective is to get a better turnover on the waterfront. I have no doubt that the Government will consider the proposals made to it and will make its decision known in due course.
– I ask the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service a question which arises, I believe, from a question I asked of the Minister a few days ago. The Minister will recall that about ten days ago I made an inquiry concerning- the recent resignation of an officer of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board at Wollongong. I ask the Minister now whether he is aware that last Thursday the statistical research officer of the board summoned six senior employees of the board, complained that information, or misinformation, about the board’s activities, particularly about the resignation of the Wollongong official, had been given to members of Parliament, and invited them to sign a document deploring the fact that any member of the board’s staff should have given information to a. member of Parliament and inviting the chairman of the board to conduct an inquiry and to dismiss the person responsible? Will the Minister call for this document and make it available to the House?
– I think I gave the honorable member the information that he sought when he asked me a question last week about a resignation from the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board staff at Wollongong. The matter that he has now raised has not come under my observation previously. I shall make inquiries in order to ascertain just what the facts are.
– My question is directed to ‘ the Prime Minister. Is the body responsible for the expensive and elaborate brochure about stevedoring, costs issued to honorable members, the same Australian Overseas Transport Association which refused to pass on more than a minute fraction of the reduction of their freight charges brought about by this Government ? Is this also the body whose unenlightened industrial outlook has played a substantial part in the existing anarchy on the waterfront? Will the right honorable gentleman give the House an undertaking that the organized demand of this body for the control of labour on the waterfront will not be complied with by this Government, which will continue’ to support the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board ?
– To go back to- the beginning of ‘ . the honorable member’s question, I may say that I have not seen the brochure that he mentioned, and thereforeI do not know whether his carefulselectionof adjectives is accurate or,
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. I remind the right honorable gentleman that I made representations to him some months ago about the taxation of refunds of superannuation payments made to exCommonwealth public servants. I shall read the relevant paragraph of a letter which he sent to me on the 17th June. It is as follows: -
The Commissioner of Taxation advises me that, after considering legal opinion he received recently from the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor,he takes the view that payments under section 30 of the Superannuation Act 1951 do not constitute assessable income in the hands of the recipients. He has instructed his Deputy Commissioners to examine the relevant cases with a view to bringing them to early finality.
Can the Treasurer give me any idea when finality will be reached in these cases? I am referring particularly to the case of one officer, who had £250 deducted by way of taxation. He is very anxious to know when he is likely to receive a refund from the Taxation Branch?
– I shall make inquiries in the direction indicated by the honorable member and let him know the result as early as possible. - Mr. MINOGUE. - Will the Minister for Social Services give consideration to the granting of exemption from pay-roll tax charges to registered convalescent homes? Will the Minister also consider the granting of exemption from sales tax in relation to items purchased for such homes 90 per cent, of the patients of which are age and invalid pensioners?
– The Government has given very careful consideration to both the problems raised by the honorable member, and in this year’s budget the Treasurer has been able to announce that private, non-profit-making registered hospitals will be exempted from the payment of pay-roll tax. If the honorable gentleman will give me details of the cases he is interested in I shall refer them to the proper authority for decision. The second, problem is much more complicated, and. has been considered from time to time. I do not think any provision is made in this year’s budgetregarding the payment, of sales tax, but. I shall discuss the matter with the Treasurer and the Minister for Health and let the honorable gentleman have an answer.
– In view of the conflicting statements that have been made by Army chiefs and others concerning the future of the Australian forces in Korea, will the Minister for Defence inform the House whether any decision has been made in relation to the disposal of those forces? If no decision has been made, does he not think it advisable and desirable, in order that we may have some, official information, to arrive at a decision -and make a statement to this House ?
– The question of the withdrawal of Australian or any other forces in Korea is at present under discussion, between the nations concerned. I have no doubt that I shall be able to make an announcement to the House as .soon as a decision is reached.
– Can the Minister for the Interior make any statement on proposals that Government loans for the building or purchase of homes in Canberra should be increased from a maximum of £2,000 to a maximum of £2,750 or higher?
– The answer, I am afraid, is “ No “. I cannot make any statement on that subject.
– Has the Minister ‘for the Interior received complaint that rentals of business premises in Canberra, which doubled after this Government removed rent control several years ago, are being increased again? Would the Minister, in the interests of small businessmen, have this position investigated to ascertain whether it might be advisable to restore some measure of rent control over these premises?
– I do not know of - the, actual instances about which the- honorable member has spoken. T do, know that, ‘on general principles, there are ‘more- monopolies to a square mile in this socialized city of Canberra than iri ‘‘any other place -I have ever been ‘in.
I have been doing my best to introduce some competition, in order to break down those monopolies. At the same time, I also wish to state that, recently, .1 discussed with the head of the Department of the Interior the question of having an independent inquiry into the whole matter of rates, valuations and the cost of services in Canberra, f to try to put Canberra on the basis of an ordinary town or city of 40,000 people, instead of allowing it to be run on a small-town basis where a lot of people seem to have been doing very well, compared with the citizens of other towns.
– About three weeks ago I asked a question of the Minister for the Army in relation to the purchase of a property in South Australia through the Department of the Interior for the Department of the Army. The honorable gentleman then said that he would obtain the information for me. As over three weeks has elapsed since that time, I am wondering whether it is not ‘possible to obtain a reply to the question, which to my mind should not take long*- Certain sections of the community in South Australia are very worried about the amount which, they claim, was paid by the purchasing department for that property.
– Is the honorable member sure that he has not received the. reply ?
– No, I have notreceived it.
– Forty-eight hours after the honorable gentleman asked the original question, I wrote out and. approved an answer to it. I am surprised that he has not received the reply. He will get it this afternoon.
– I desire to state that an answer to the question asked by the honorable member for Adelaide was placed, on the table of the House prior, to the commencement of to-day’s proceedings^!
– By way of explana-tion of the” question that I “shall ‘ask’ the Prime Minister, I point out that the position of Commonwealth AuditorGeneral is due to become vacant fairly shortly, and that never in the history of the Auditor-General’s Office hasa man risen through the ranks and attained the position of Auditor-General. “Will the Prime Minister assure the House that, prior to the appointment of a new Auditor-General, every consideration will be given to the possibility of appointing somebody who has passed through the ranks of the Auditor-General’s Office?
– I can assure the honorable member that before any senior appointment of this kind, or any other kind, is made full consideration is given to the position of those who are already servants in the particular department.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say what was the price of greasy wool at the close of trading at the Sydney wool sales yesterday? How does that price compare with the closing price for such wool at the June sales?
– I am afraid the plain answer is, “ I don’t know “.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether it is a fact that Russian purchases of Australian wool for the year which ended on the 30th Junelast, compared with those of the preceding year, increased by 1,482 per cent? If so, can it be taken from this fact that the Australian Country party does not propose to extend its opposition to communism to the point of refusing Russian gold for the purchase of. Australian primary produce ?
– I do not know by what percentage Russian purchases of wool increased last year. All I know is thatlast year the Russians were as free to bid under our auction system as they were when the party to which the honorable member belongs was in power.
– Will the Minister for Defence say whether, in view of the controversy that exists between the Australian Stevedoring Industry
Board and the Australian Overseas Transport Association, as to the reason for increased charges in connexion with the turn-round of ships, a conference will be convened between all interested parties before a decision is made? Is the Minister aware that the Minister for Labour and National Service has promised that, before any alteration is made in shipping charges, a conference would be held between all parties and the matter considered fully?
– I understand that conferences of those connected with and interested in the shipping industry have already been held, and I have no doubt that further conferences will be held. Very careful consideration will be given to all aspects of this problem before any alteration is made by the Government.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether there is any limit “to the amount of money that may be paid by the security service without reference to, and the approval of, the head of the Australian Government. If there is a limit, will the right honorable gentleman say whether that limit is £6,000, £10,000 or £20,000? Will he also say precisely where the Prime Minister’s responsibility commences in relation to the payment of public funds from the special account ?
– I understood that this matter was supposed to be under investigation-
– Not that matter, no.
– In another place.
– I shall answer one honorable member at a time.
– The right honorable gentleman is not answering anybody.
Question not answered.
– Order ! If honorable gentlemen are not prepared to listen to answers I suggest that we might get on with the business of the day.
– Can the Minister acting for the Minister for Labour and National Service inform the
House how many applications have been. made, up to the. present by trade unions and other industrial organizations for permission to hold elections under the legislation which provides for the holding of. secret ballots in trade union elections,, which, was passed by this Parliament, some’ time ago? Has there been any advance on the number of 63> which was. announced by the Minister for Labour early this year ?
– I shall obtain the. precise figure for the honorable gentleman, and advise him of it. later.. I have, not the figure in my mind at the moment.
– I ask the Minister for Air whether, in view of the importance from a defence point of view, of certain aerodromes in Queensland, he will arrange an official visit of honorable, members from both the Government and the Opposition side of the House to the following aerodromes, which operated during World War Lt. : Mareeba, Cooktown, Coen, Iron Range, Horn Island and Higginsfield ?
– The answer is “ No “.
– I ask the Prime Minister,, whether, as extensive deposits of rich uranium-bearing ores have been found in the Mount Isa-Cloncurry area, it is the intention of the Government to build, or assist financially in the building, of, a treatment plant at Mount Isa or Cloncurry for the treatment of uraniumbearing ores found on this field. If such a’ treatment plant is to be built, will the right honorable gentleman say who will operate and control it? Will he also say whether the Government proposes to have discussions with the Queensland Government about this matter?
– Mount Isa is in Queensland, and we have received no communication from the Queensland Government about this matter.
– Will the Minister for Territories state whether he is aware that tenders have been called for the purchase of plant and material owned by the Australian Aluminium Produce tion Commission and situated at Marchinbar Island? Will the Minister ascertain from the Minister for Supply whether this action will be followed by the abandonment of the bauxite deposits o,n Marchinbar’ Island as a source of supply of raw materials for the Bell Bay aluminium plant in Tasmania.? Will he also ascertain whether the sale- of the commission’s motor vessel indicates the work on other bauxite deposits on the Northern Territory coast will cease?.
– I am not aware of the matters alleged in the honorable member’s question. I shall consult with my colleague, the Minister for Supply, in order to ascertain whether he has any information which would help the honorable member. So far as my own knowledge goes, the search for and exploration of bauxite deposits in northern Australia is continuing.
– Has the Treasurer seen reports in the press which indicate that the price of tea will be’ increased to the consumer, by ls. or more per lb. ? Bearing in mind the hardship that will be caused to pensioners’ and others on fixed incomes, including- wage and salary earners, due to the freezing of the basic wage, will the right honorable gentleman consider increasing the amount of subsidy for tea provided in the Estimates in order to prevent the price of tea from rising?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is “No”.
– I ask the Minister for Territories whether, in view of the increase of the price of tea imported from overseas at a time when the overseas prices of most of our crops are declining, there is any possibility of obtaining supplies of tea from crops grown in ‘ New Guinea ?
– There would be no immediate prospect of supplies of tea being obtained from the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Over a number of years we have carried out experiments in tea-growing, and I think that we have mastered most of the-cultural’ problems in respect of tea- growing Jin Papua and New Guinea. The Government also maintains a station at Garaina which is producing planting material for such of the settlers who want to engage in the production of tea. However, it would take very very many years before tea grown there could supply the whole of the Australian need. The chief ‘ limit is not whether or not tea can ‘ be grown. The limit is set largely by the availability of labour, and by the type of labour that is available in New Guinea at the present time.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House if he has received any information that the Ministry of Food in the United Kingdom has decided to assist the Australian Dried Fruits Industry in its present marketing difficulties by extending the support price for dried fruits beyond the 31st March, 1955?
– I am not able to add anything to what I said a little earlier on this subject. Following discussions with the representatives of the dried fruits industry, I have made representations to the Ministry of Food along the lines which the honorable member has indicated. No final reply from the Ministry is yet to hand.
– Is the Minister for Territories aware of the number of permits that have been issued for oil search in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea ? Have all the permits been taken out, and does the Minister know whether work is continuing on the two bores in thi’ Omati area?
– From recollection, I believe that five oil search permits have already been issued in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, and so far as I know work is being undertaken in respect of each of the areas covered by those permits. Work is continuing on the two ores to which the honorable member made particular reference.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been -drawn to’ a statement that a trade mission from Japan was to visit Russia for the purpose of stimulating trade between Japan and the countries behind the iron curtain ? If the report is correct, does-‘ he consider that if trade between Japan and Russia develops on a considerable scale through such a mission, it will be reasonable to assume that future political trends in Japan will lean strongly towards the Communist countries? What action is being taken by the democratic nations to give Japan an opportunity to obtain an outlet for the industrial goods that.it is manufacturing?
– These are very large matters of policy. I hope the honorable member will forgive me if I say that they ought not to be dealt with casually in answer to a question.
– Is the Minister for Social Services able to state approximately the number of war widows who are benefiting under the War Service Homes Act at the present time, and can he also say for how long war widows have been allowed to participate in the war service homes scheme?
– War widows can participate under the War Service Homes Act, but I am afraid I cannot give the honorable member exact details of the number of war widows who benefit. I think the number is quite large and that their applications are always dealt with as speedily as possible, but I will obtain the information and give it to the honorable member as soon as I can do so.
– Can the Prime Minister say whether it is a fact that the British. Government intends to grant the people of Malaya their independence some time next year? If so, ha3 the Australian Government been advised on this matter, or consulted in ,any way*? In any case, will the right . honorable gentleman make a statement to the House at some future time, indicating the position regarding the plans of the British
Government for giving independence to the Malayan people? : Mr. MENZIES. - The honorable gentleman will appreciate that it would be very unwise to make a statement on a matter, of this kind in answer to a question,, hut I shall have the material brought . together so that it may be made available. .
– Is the Minister for the Interior aware that, arising out of the very widely-felt desire of the Australian people to have Australia’s national day more fittingly and more widely celebrated, discussions have been taking place among interested bodies regarding the advisability of having the day celebrated on the actual date, the 26th January, instead of on the following Monday, thus making it the tail-end of a week-end ? If he is aware of those discussions, will he tell me whether the Commonwealth has offered any views in relation to them? If.;not. will the .Australian Government consult the State Premiers with a view to obtaining uniformity in relation to the administration of the law so that we shall be able, as far as possible, to have a better and more worthy celebration on Australia Day? i
– I know that the Department pf the Interior was formed of many bits and pieces from other departments, but I have no control over the fixation of the dates upon which public holidays are held throughout Australia. I cannot give the honorable member an answer to his question. As far as I know, in Canberra we have adopted the usual practice of the States and our Australia Day holiday has coincided with theirs. I have control over the matter only in Canberra.
– On Thursday last the honorable member for Evans asked me a question about certain allegations in relation to the speech of the honorable member for ‘Hindmarsh during the debate oh the motion for the adjournment of the House on “Wednesday, the 18th August. I- have received a copy of a report from the: Principal Parliamentary Reporter on the subject, which I propose to table. I shall not read it unless the House wishes me to do so, but it sets out in clear detail the facts from the point of view of Hansard. I further wish to say that I very strongly deprecate an attempt by any honorable member to use an interview with a member of the Hansard staff for the purpose of entering into political argument with an opponent in this chamber. The Hansard staff is an extremely competent staff, “and it is equally impartial. I think it, would be wise if in future honorable members re framed from referring to matters that take place between themselves and the Hansard staff in relation to the correction of their proofs.
The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory asked me a question last Thursday in relation to the distribution of the Hansard “ flat “. I lay on the table of the House the list to which the honorable member referred. For the information of honorable members, to-day I have furnished each party Whip with a copy, and two or three copies are available in my office for the- use of the press.
I lay on the table the following papers : -
Distribution List of daily uncorrected proof issue.
Report of speech by Mr. Clyde Cameron on the manufacture of aircraft parts by Chrysler Australia Limited - Explanation by Principal Parliamentary Reporter on alteration in proof.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 26th August (vide page 736), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 1 - The Senate - namely, “ Salaries and allowances, £20,000 “, be agreed to. ‘
Upon which Mr. Calwell had moved by way of amendment -
That the first item be reduced by £1.
.- This is the fifth consecutive budget that has been presented by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden)-, and it is a good one. Like its predecessors, it is directed primarily to improving the architecture > of the national economy rather than simply courting popular favour. Instead of being lashed furiously by honorable members opposite, the right honorable gentleman should be commended for his essentially honest approach to these major problems. The Government’s election promises have been honoured promptly.
Income tax, sales tax, and pay-roll tax have all been reduced for the third year in succession. I feel that these reductions are insufficiently appreciated both by the Parliament and by the country. Take, for example, the position of our unfortunate kinsfolk in the United Kingdom. Just imagine what would have happened there if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been able suddenly to announce a reduction of the rate of income tax of approximately ls. 9d. in the £1. The news would have run all around the world, and it would have been received with acclaim in every English-speaking land. Here, in Australia, under this Government, we have become so accustomed to a succession of sound budgets, and of consistent taxation reductions, that we are arriving at the position where such things are taken as a matter of course. The wine industry, too, has benefited from the Treasurer’s generosity by a very sharp cut in the excise on brandy. This is the most dramatic slash ever made by a Commonwealth Treasurer, and it is - no secret that it has exceeded the expectations even of the industry itself. These reductions will certainly help not only the wine-makers, but also all grape-growers, in their present difficulties. I trust that the retail trade and also the State governments will contribute their share of assistance to this important and progressive industry.
I have listened carefully to the criticisms of the Treasurer’s budget speech that have been offered by members of the Opposition. It is difficult to find anything of substance in what honorable members opposite so far have put forward. Let us remember that had the Australian Labour party won the last general election, a Labour Treasurer would have brought down a budget that would have added between £160,000,000, to take the figure mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) during the election campaign, and £350,000,000 to the national expenditure. Labour supporters said, during the general election campaign, that they believed in the abolition of the means test within the relatively short period of three years, but during this debate neither the honorable member for Melbourne, nor any member of his party that I have heard, has advocated this course. One is entitled to ask where members of the Labour party now stand on this issue.
Honorable members opposite have also derided the Government because there has been no increase in child endowment. But what happened when, in 1950, this Administration extended child endowment to the first child? We witnessed the amazing spectacle of a party that trumpets its belief in the rights of the under-privileged, and its championship of them, strenuously and bitterly opposing the legislation that this Government introduced. Let us remember, also, that during the eight years in which Labour last held office, in spite of its opportunities, it failed to extend endowment to the first child. Of course, Labour supporters conveniently forget, whenever this matter is mentioned, that it was the Liberal and Australian Country parties that introduced child endowment in Australia.’
I find it difficult to believe in the sincerity of honorable members opposite who protest that .the Treasurer should give more consideration to. manufacturers. It is true that during the last period that Labour was in office it introduced the initial depreciation allowance. I pay tribute to it for that action. The reform was justifiable, and well worth while. Nevertheless, many members of the Australian Labour party, in the eyes of the public and of honorable members on this side of the chamber, are more noted for their attacks on industrial leaders than for any sympathy with their circumstances. Moreover, the Labour party, when in office, made no secret of its desire to retain the pay-roll tax. Perhaps the newly-found solicitude of honorable members opposite for industry is the result of a comparatively recent liaison with that voluble publicist, Mr. Latham Withall, and also, I am sorry to note, of some quite substantial contribution by industrialists to Labour party funds.
The Opposition has also complained that the Government has done nothing about increasing age pensions. Honorable members on the Opposition side should be under no illusions that they possess a monopoly of sympathy for age pensioners. The cause of those unfortunate persons is very warmly felt on this side of the chamber, and this Government has nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to apologize for in that regard. Does the welfare state that all of us have come to accept, imply that every successive budget should automatically contain an increase of pensions? I suggest that we cannot accept that principle. If we do, where are we going to head ultimately in the administration of national finances? Further, it is a matter of common knowledge that, thanks to the courageous and wise administration of this Government, living costs have been stabilized for the past twelve months. Therefore, there is no case for an increase of pensions on the ground of an increase of living costs.
– What about the rise in the price of tea?
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr.- Ward) should not forget that the last budget of the Government of which he was a member, introduced in 1949, was noticeable for its failure to give any increase of age pensions. Therefore, I say to honorable members on the Opposition side that they should be the last to accuse the Government and its supporters of lack of sympathy with, or sincerity towards, those who are in indigent circumstances. The Treasurer has helped those in dire necessity in marked fashion. The means test has been liberalized more generously than ever before by a Commonwealth Treasurer. In the case of blind persons, it has been abolished. There has been a substantial increase of the general rate of war pensions and widows’ pensions. Homes for the aged have been subsidized by an amount up to £1,500,000. Greater assistance has been provided, again in conformity with the Government’s election policy speech, to help ex-servicemen to acquire homes.
The general outlook for the national economy is hopeful, despite serious weaknesses of which we are aware. Although the honorable member for Melbourne affected ‘ the role of Jeremiah when speaking in this chamber recently, there are no signs so far of any real decline in the demand for wool provided we are prepared to trade more with continental countries and also with our previous enemies, the Japanese. The prospect of an agreement on wheat stabilization should have a steadying effect on the internal economy in spite of a general decline of world prices. The incidence of full employment, together with an accelerated immigration programme, must maintain pressure of internal demand. The prospect for the discovery of oil in Australia ultimately will save us millions of pounds in external payments. As all honorable members know, uranium exports within a very short time will improve quite considerably our dollar balances. Above all, perhaps one of the greatest achievements of this Government has been the stabilization of the cost of living. That in itself strikes a very hopeful note when we study the economic future.
Nevertheless, we cannot ignore threatening portents. The Treasurer stated correctly in his speech -
There can be no mistaking the signs that stresses are again threatening to develop in our economy.
It is a matter of general knowledge that producers’ costs, whether primary or secondary, are dangerously high. The international competitive power of many of our primary industries has evaporated. That is to be seen in great industries such as dairying. It is also to be seen in a lesser, but none the less important industry such as dried fruits which I, as well as the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), have the honour to represent in this Parliament. Our manufactures are now being undersold by British and continental countries, and this has led, at times, .to frantic appeals to the Tariff Board for assistance. But the committee must be well aware, as must all thinking people in Australia, that to make a general increase of tariffs would be to take the short view and would only exacerbate our troubles.
Furthermore, if increases in all margins are granted by the Arbitration Court, these conditions must be intensified, and the competitive position of industry, by and large, will be considerably worsened. These factors, all in all, are now being reflected in the swelling stream of imports and in the weekly decline in our overseas balances. Our international funds, as at the 30th June last have been stated .by the Treasurer to have totalled £571,000,000. The last figure, as at the 25th August, which was published to-day, shows that those funds amount to only £449,500,000. No one can contemplate this situation with any degree- of equanimity.
Lnless there is a marked rise of exports in the coming spring many circumstances which necessitated the severe import restrictions of 1952 will have recurred. It will be a tragedy for Australia if artificial restraints have to be reimposed. The results of what the Government was compelled to do inevitably two and a half years ago, are by now apparent for all to see. Within Australia, what has been the result? Artificial restraints have caused, comparatively, a lack of competition. They have caused unnecessarily high prices for local manufactures. They have denied to our people many inimitable products of the .world. They have injured merchants. They have tended to accentuate a latent conservatism in this community. They have retarded the natural progression of living standards. And, worse than any of these things, they have created a vested interest in their retention. Externally, import restrictions have caused a bad feeling - when one goes abroad one still sees lingering traces of it - and misunderstandings of our motives and actions. They have certainly increased the difficulties of marketing our primary products. They have diminished international goodwill. They have provided, and if they are reimposed to any degree would provide again, a severe handicap on our diplomacy in these critical years. So, I. hope honorable members will agree that a .solution of our difficulties does not lie in the imposition of restraints of trade.
The immediate task ahead of us is to reduce production costs, to regain our competitive power in the world’s markets, and to find additional markets. There is nothing new in saying that. Leaders in this country have been uttering this warning for months past. But it is not enough for us in this Parliament, or for leaders of the community outside, merely to analyze the problem and to state it. It behoves us to try to propound a- solution that will extricate the nation from its difficulties. Obviously, there are several ways of approach. Many means must simultaneously be tried. Parliament, and the Government is one instrumentality, but only one. That formidable economic legislature, the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, is another. I believe’ that when the history of the post-war period is written, some of the court’s judgments, with all respect to the judges of the court, will rank among the causes of our present predicament. Industry itself will, of course, hold some of the answers. As is well known, a solid process of rationaliza-tion in an endeavour to solve this problem of rising costs has been undertaken (in recent years. Tt is n’ot for me - -I do not suppose it is for any one of us, unless we have had direct experience of industry - to say to industrial leaders what they should do. But one may safely say that, whatever their achievements, there is, without doubt, more that they can do along those lines- the lines of economy and the promotion of efficiency. And to what I have said, I would add that the trade unions of this country must in their turn provide their share. We now see quite clearly the consequence of their natural and understandable clamour on behalf of their members for even higher wages. We see the impasse that has been reached on the question of margins. Even worse we see the way that the exports of this country are being priced out of world markets. I believe, too, that the attitude of primary producers and manufacturers themselves and of investors is equally important. It may well be that all of these people, in the interests of promoting our exports and of lowering costs will, in the. future, have to consent to take less.
But so far as we ourselves in the Parliament are concerned, how’ can we and the Government contribute by our efforts to a solution of . this great problem? The first answer that comes to hand is, of course, the fiscal weapon, at the control of every Treasurer. Producers’ costs can be lowered by this, means. I believe that all will agree that the Treasurer has moved far in this, direction. He has now reduced .direct taxation three times in succession. “ He has alleviated payroll tax three times in succession. He has reduced company tax twice. He has abolished the land tax, which, I am sorry to note, the Australian Labour party is pledged to reimpose. Secondly, the Treasurer can contribute by establishing favorable conditions in the loan market. This he lias done. It means that by greater public confidence in loans fewer capital works have to be met out of revenue; and that, of course, implies a lower degree of taxation upon the community at large. The Treasurer, thirdly, can devise incentives to all producers for increased mechanization .’together with the installation of labour-saving machinery. It is well known that in the field of primary production no government has done so much to assist the producer as has this one. With the initial depreciation allowances and other concessions relating to new farm machinery, houses fo/ employees, the development of farming properties, and the erection of dams and the like, this Government has a record which must be the envy of its predecessors as, certainly, it will be the envy of its successor.
But the Treasurer should go further. Secondary industry has not received, so far, an adequate counterpart. There is much merit in the Opposition’s claim for a 40 per cent, initial depreciation allowance. As we know, the late Mr. Chifley, when Treasurer, introduced this allowance. In its’ operation, it proved too wide. It gave a premium to well-off people to expend money on annual purchases of luxury motor cars such as Daimlers, Bentleys and Jaguars. I do not think that anybody will contend that initial depreciation allowances, applied to that kind of consumption expenditure, are in the interests of the national economy; but restricted to essentials, their introduction now could play a very useful part. The Treasurer has not side-stepped this issue. f,He has merely asked for further.; advice ;,- and I am glad to. know that he has appointed a committee headed by my. friend, the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), who, I am sure, will givethe most sympathetic and expeditious consideration to this problem. In singling out the honorable member for .Petrie, the Treasurer has chosen a professional man - an accountant - of acknowledged status in the whole of Australia,, and we are well justified in expecting much fromthe honorable gentleman’s deliberations. .
My other criticism, such as it is, of the Treasurer’s budget, is that a case has arisen for some further dimunition in company tax in an effort to reduce our producers’ costs. I do not think it is any real answer, because it is’ the ready and rather obvious answer that most, companies this year, and last year5 have been increasing their dividends and, therefore, are not worthy objects of assistance. Whether we like it or not, we have to realize that investors nowadays, on account of post-, war inflation, are looking for , higher returns than they did until 1939. We must also acknowledge that the relatively low dividend return in Australia compared, for example, with the United States of America, is a deterrent to overseas investment in this country. It must be apparent to all that, without an ample and unbroken stream of British and foreign capital, we shall never develop Australia quickly.
So far, I have addressed myself to fiscal measures that the Government can take in an attempt to lower costs. There is always the vexed and controversialquestion of relations between this Parliament and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I have expressed my views on this contentious matter previously, and I do not propose to reiterate them at this stage, except to say that I feel, without wishing to undermine the court’3 independence or authority in any way, that the Government at all times should state before the court its policy on prices . and wage stability. I alluded a few moments ago to the necessity for. engaging in a quest foi- new markets. This, again, ig a matter in which the government of ike day can assist. One noted not so long ago the announcement that a trade mission for South-East Asia had been appointed. We must have more overseas trade missions, and, in this connexion, we should do well to remember that complaints are still vociferous about the quality, presentation, and advertising of Australian goods. That is particularly applicable to those countries closest to us. I refer to the nations of South-East Asia which, in the natural course of things, should develop into our best customers. This is not a matter that the Government, by its actions, can cure. It rather devolves upon all producers, both primary and secondary, as well as private enterprise. It is something, however, to which this Parliament should call attention, and which those concerned should heed sharply before it is too late.
I feel also that, in considering this matter of costs, it is pertinent to urge the adoption by many trade unions of a more co-operative attitude towards production.’ Let us all acknowledge, irrespective of party divergencies and differences in platform, the necessity for a wider expansion of incentives in industry. Let us urge the unions to place more emphasis upon the individual operative and his potentialities for enriching himself, bettering himself, and advancing himself in the material plane. Let us also ‘ urge upon trade union leaders the desirability of abandoning the nowexploded theories of socialization, and following upon a real course of cooperation between employers and employees’.
The cost problem cannot be solved, by this Government or by any other government alone. It is clearly one for every man and woman in the nation. Its urgency at this time should be clear to all, but unhappily, it is not receding, but magnifying. Our principal competitors- are daily becoming stronger and more efficient. Our best customers are rightly insisting that we import more of their manufactures. Unless, within- the next two years) we place ourselves in- a more advantageous position, Australia may well face an economic crisis of the most formidable magnitude.
.- I thought that I was somewhat unfortunate in being called upon to follow the honor able member for Angas (Mr. Downer), because he can usually be relied upon to make a speech that is logical and courteous, and on occasions, even somewhat democratic: To-day, he has notdeparted, to any great degree, from that standard. It has been my good fortune in the debates on the last three budgets, to follow the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce), and I regret that I am not able to do so on this occasion. He makes more extraordinary and fantastic statements than does any other honorable member. However, noone takes much notice of him when he is speaking and in view of the fact that he made his speech on the budget last week, I do not propose to reply to any of his statements.
However, I should like to make a few comments on the speech of the honorable member for Angas. Towards the end of his speech, he said with ‘ obvious sincerity and fervour, that the trade unions should adopt a real policy of cooperation. No one will contend that such, a view is not sound. I believe that the trade unions should always be prepared to co-operate. I go a little further than that, and say that the union with which I was associated for many years always adopted that as one of its basic principles. But I should like to remind the honorable member for Angas of something, that took place early in World War II., because it is pertinent to his statement about the adoption of a real policy of co-operation. When the Curtin Government was in office, it arranged, in conjunction with the State governments, for a conference to be held in Sydney of representatives of all the trade unions and the employers’ organizations. The conference was held, but it proved to be abortive. I want to tell the honorable member for Angas, who obviously is most inexperienced in these matters, why the conference was unsuccessful. It was decided that the chairman should be MrJustice Webb, a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland, as he was in those days. He is now Sir William Webb, a judge of the High Court of Australia. The conference had been convened to work out ways and means to achieve cooperation between employers’ organizations and trade unions. But immediately the chairman took his seat, the employers’ representatives walked out. They said the conference was stacked. The conference died because it was suggested that the Queensland Government, a Labour government, had selected as the chairman a man who was biased in favour of the trade unions. I suggest to the honorable member for Angas that if he wants to pursue his1 argument about real co-operation, he should talk to some of his friends among the- employers and suggest to them the same things as he has suggested to-day to the trade unions.
The honorable member made brief references to some features of the budget. He talked about the abolition of the means test, and asked1 where the members of the Opposition stood on that question. I am not empowered to speak for all the members of the Opposition, but I should say that in relation to the abolition of the means test, the members of the Labour party stand now where they stood at the time of the last general election. Let me ask a question of the honorable member arid his colleagues. Where do they stand in regard to the abolition of the means test ? Is the honorable member for Angas, or any other honorable member opposite prepared to say that in 1951 the Government parties did not promise the total abolition of the means test? Will the members of the Liberal party, in particular, say that in their party meetings they did not press for the total abolition of the means test? If I am inaccurate in what I am saying, they will have ample opportunity to tell me that I am wrong during the course of this debate. The only difference between Government parties and the Opposition is that the Government parties won two elections.
– They won three.
– They won two after they promised to abolish the means test. What have they done to abolish it? My answer to the honorable member for Angas, who has asked where the members of the Opposition stand in regard to the abolition of the means test, is that we stand precisely where we stood when we stated our view on’ it. In view of the Government’s repudiation of its promise, I ask him where he stands.
– At least we are. progressive
– I am glad to hear the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand) state that he is progressive. 1 lived in Queensland during all the years he was in the Queensland Parliament. I remember that he- had to retire from State politics because he was too old and too sick to continue.. It is interesting to a Queensland member of this Parliament to hear that at last the honorable member for- Wide Bay has become progressive. The honorable member for Angas seemed to derive considerable satisfaction from the fact that in the 1949 budget the Chifley Government did not increase pensions. It would be futile for me to try to deny that the Chifley Government did not increase them. I disliked that omission then and I said so, not only in this House but in other places. However, we must not forget that in 1949 the position of the pensioners was infinitely better than it is to-day, despite the fact that this Government has increased pensions by paltry sums. Does the honorable member deny that in 1949 the age pension was 36.8 per cent, of the basic wage and that to-day it is only 28.9 per cent.? If the honorable member derives any satisfaction from the fact that the Chifley Government did not increase pensions in 1949, he is basing his argument on a false premise.
This debate has produced, as do all budget debates, some extraordinary speeches. I suppose that in saying that I take the risk that somebody will interject to say that no other speech has been as extraordinary as mine. However, I repeat that a budget debate always produces some extraordinary speeches, because we are not confined to any particular point. We can go from one end of Australia to the other. We can bellyache from the start to the finish of our speeches, and there is no standing order to prevent us from doing so. Generally, we look to the member of the Government parties who follows the Treasurer to set the standard of a budget debate. The standard in this debate was set by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey). For my part, I am prepared to follow suit. The right honorable gentleman spoke after the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He commenced his - speech by saying that the budget debate was the most important single debate of the year, because the budget was the summarized expression of government policy. Then, with his usual pomp and blah, he embarked on a tirade of abuse. For the major portion of his speech, he concentrated his attention on the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He talked about rusty nuts and bolts. He is the man whose responsibility it is to influence the relations between Australia and other nations - relations that affect the security, and indeed the very existence, of Australia. In what he described as the most important single debate of the year, he proceeded during the time allotted to him to abuse honorable members on this side of the chamber. I never look for a fight, but I never run away from one. If the right honorable gentleman wants a fight, he can have it. Honorable members on this side of the chamber are prepared to follow the example set by this international genius, this intellectual giant, and to give him some of his own medicine. What was the stuff that we heard from this maestro? He said -
We have heard the Crown Prince.- the HeirApparent to the Throne, waiting modestly for the Crown to be pressed upon his reluctant brow by his enthusiastic supporters.
He referred, of course, to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) came into the chamber while the right honorable gentleman was speaking and sat in a seat that was not his own. Heavens above, we hope it will be his own before very long ! As he sat back, one could see the disgust on his face. I shall tell the committee what brought that expression to his face. The Minister’s references to the ‘“crown prince “ and the “ heir apparent “ must surely have reminded him that this was the man who, until the Prime Minister made his memorable comeback in 1949, was destined to be his successor. If we could have read the mind of the Prime Minister, I am sure that we should have found that he was saying to himself, “God forbid that anybody should ever have suggested that this man could replace me:!:” I realize that the Minister for
External Affairs has. fallen from grace and that the Prime Minister is once again the great hero of the Liberal party, though not of the Australian Country party. For that reason,-. I am sure :that the Minister would not be happy to hear ‘ other honorable members talking of crown princes, heirs apparent, and people waiting for crowns to be pressed on their brows. After all, he waited in vain for a crown to be pressed upon his brow. Heaven forbid that any crown should ever be placed upon, that head !
The -speech that I have described was the standard set for the budget debate by the person who had been chosen by the Government to lead the discusion following the Treasurer. This Goliath with all his pomp and blah, carried on in, that strain for 45 minutes and thought that he had done a magnificent job and performed some great national duty. But he had hardly talked about the. budget. Even when he did discuss it, he said, “ Why are the members of the Opposition worried about pensions? I thought they might have talked about the productivity of Australia in comparison with that of the United States of America “. By his own remarks, made quite deliberately, the right honorable gentleman said, in effect, that the pensioners of Australia were not entitled to their pensions if they did not produce. The right honorable gentleman will have ample opportunity to deny that later if he wishes to do so, but that is simply what he said, although most of his speech had nothing to do with the budget and was merely an attack on members of the Opposition generally and the Leader, of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in particular. We passed on from that great speech by that great man, and then the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay) decided that he was going to carry on along the same lines. I am not the president of the “ Non-soldiers Association “. I do not even belong to it, but I am a non-soldier. The honorable member for Boothby^ who usually can be relied upon to be decent and courteous, attacked members of the Opposition almost at the outset of his speech because they had discussed the problems of. ex-servicemen.
Members of this Government and their supporters believe that they are the only people who ever did anything for exservicemen, and, in fact, that they are the only ones who have any right to do anything for ex-servicemen. On that basis, the honorable member for Boothby complained1 that members of the Opposition appeared to be sympathetic towards exservicemen and their problems, and went on to say -
When the Curtin Government caine into office, it had nineteen Cabinet Ministers not one of whom had ever heard a shot fired in anger.
That was completely untrue. What right had the honorable member for Boothby to make such a comment anyhow, even if it had been true? Every decent person surely challenges the honorable member’s right to make such statements. I do not propose to: name those members of the Curtin Cabinet who were ex-servicemen. I merely remark that an honorable member should at least take the trouble to become conversant with the facts before he makes such completely untrue statements in the full knowledge that they will be broadcast over a radio network that covers the whole of Australia. At any rate, if the honorable member did not know then t1 at the statement was untrue, he must know it now ! As I have said, apparently the gloves are off in this debate. My gloves are right off now, and I say: Even if no members of the Curtin Government, or the Chifley Government, had been exservicemen - so what ! Why is a member of the ‘ Liberal party prepared to hurl abuse at the Opposition because of the untruthful statement that there were no ex-servicemen in a Labour Cabinet and yet continue to accept the leadership of a man who is not an ex-serviceman? The Australian Country party, too, is led by a man who is not an ex-serviceman,
– That is wrong.
– I do not say for one moment that they ought to be exservicemen. I heard an honorable gentleman interject, “ That is rotten “, or something of the: kind. So it is, but if that is the way honorable members on the Government side of the chamber want to carry On this debate, let us have it that way.
Does any honorable gentleman dare to tell me that the fact that a man is not an ex-serviceman debars him from the right to become a member of this Parliament or, if he is a member of this Parliament, from the right to deal with the problems of ex-servicemen? I ask-, you, Mr. Chairman, to cast your mind back and ask yourself how many times, when members of the Opposition have risen to discuss matters that affect exservicemen, we have been subjected to the jeers and sneers of Government supporters on the ground that we are not ex-servicemen. I have said before that one does not have to be a dog in order to know dog biscuits when one sees them. I am not an ex-serviceman. The reason for that is my own business.
– Would the honorable member know an army biscuit if he saw one?
– I am certain that J would know a brass hat when I saw one. There was an. occasion when I was challenged in this chamber by the man who is now Sir Thomas White. He accused me of being a coward, of not being prepared to enlist, and of creating disaffection among the. members of a trade union while men were battling for my right to exist. I was compelled on that occasion to show the reason why I was not an exserviceman. Where does all this business about being ex-servicemen or not being exservicemen start, and where does it end? I know that I am taking the risk of being very severely criticised, not only by Government supporters, which would not worry me, but also by members of the Labour party for having introduced this subject. However, as I said earlier, if a Government supporter wants to talk about, ex-servicemen and challenge members of the Opposition because they are not exservicemen, I suggest that he should resign from the Liberal party or make a move to have the leader of the Government removed from his position because he is not an ex-serviceman.
Now I shall deal further with the bud- ‘ get itself. The budget is only a repetition, of course, of what we have had in the past. I suggest that the arrogance that brought this Government into power will bring about its defeat. We know’ of course, that this budget has been: drafted on lines similar to those that were followed in- the first budget of the last Parliament. If it. were a preelection budget, it would have been drafted on vastly different lines.
I come now to the matter of pensions, f do not believe that the mere introduction of a budget is sufficient reason for an increase of pensions. There must come a time when pensions will be stabilized. However, I do not believe that pensions will be stabilized until the ratio of pensions to the basic wage that existed in 1949 prior to this Government coming to office has been restored. I realize that we cannot go on for ever increasing pensions. I am sorry that it has been necessary for me to engage in hurly-burly tactics during my speech, because I do not like that approach to the matter. However, there is no reason why the Opposition should not fight issues raised by honorable members opposite on the battleground nominated by them, and in accordance with their conditions.
.- It gives me great pleasure to support the fifth budget that has been presented by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden).
– Five too many!
– From the point of view of the Opposition, the right honorable gentleman has introduced five too many budgets, but that view is not shared by the majority of the people of this country. The fact that the budget contains no wild-cat promises, but accords with the policy of consolidation that has been applied by this Government, is evidence of the Treasurer’s continuing sense of responsibility. The statement of the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) that this Government promised total abolition of the means test was incorrect. That has never been promised by us. Against my inclination, I am impelled to refer to a matter that was raised by the honorable member for Herbert. He referred to what he termed the pomp and blah of the speech of the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey). There was no need for him to so describe the Minister’s speech. Nor is there any need for me to defend the right honorable gentleman, because his record defends him far more ade quately than could any words of mine. I think that every member of the committee understood, because of the absence of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), what the Minister meant by his reference to the “ Crown Prince “. It is generally acknowledged that the budget debate is amongst the most important of parliamentary debates. Some of us considered that the fact that the Leader of the Opposition found it necessary to engage in an activity elsewhere during this debate was a slight on the affairs of this Parliament. Although it is not for me to comment about the rights or wrongs of the matter, I believe that the right honorable gentleman’s absence on other business at this time is a reflection upon the importance of our duties here. The honorable member for Herbert, referring to the fact that the Prime Minister had come into the chamber and sat in a seat other than his own, stated -
Heavens above, we hope it will bc. his own before very long!
I appreciate the implication of that remark because, while the right honorable gentleman continues to occupy his accustomed seat in this chamber, the Liberal party and the Australian Country party will remain in charge of the treasury bench. The stature and ability of the Prime Minister was one of the greatest factors which contributed to this Government’s return to office at the last general election. The honorable member for Herbert also stated that a great deal of hero worship for the Prime Minister was evident amongst the supporters of the Government. I point out that while we have a sense of affection, loyalty and respect for the Treasurer, who is the Leader of the Australian Country party, the members of that party also have sincere loyalty and respect for, and give allegiance to, the leader of this coalition Government.
I come now to a consideration of some of the weightier matters in the budget. I was extremely pleased with, and interested in, the Government’s decision to subsidize, on ‘a fi for £1 basis, up to £1,500,000 a year, the capital costs incurred by charitable organizations in providing homes for the aged. I am sure that when the full details of the scheme are announced we shall appreciate even more the benefit that will be derived by the .country in .general, and the older : people in particular, as a result of that provision. Honorable members opposite have stated that the Government has failed to clarify many matters in the budget. They have based a criticism of the budget on a comparison of its provisions with the provisions of previous budgets. The greatest commendation of - this Government is -the fact that it had been returned to office on three occasions. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the budget is further evidence of the policy of consolidation that has been applied by this Government. Let us consider its record. Dairying is an industry of considerable importance in the electorate that I represent. I shall place before honorable members facts in relation to that industry, and compare this Government’s ‘record with the record of the previous administration. The previous Labour Government paid subsidies on dairy products totalling £1,738,740 in 1946-47. By 1949-50 its subsidies on dairy products had aggregated approximately £21,000,000. In 1950-51, the present Government paid a subsidy of £14,997,980 on dairy products, and in the last financial year the subsidy was £15,399,879. Since this Government came to office in 1949, it has paid subsidies on dairy products totalling about £63,000,000, or nearly three times as much as was paid by the previous Labour Government. It is obvious, therefore, that honorable members opposite should put their own house in order before criticizing us. The previous Labour Government paid dairy industry efficiency grants totalling about £250,000. Already, this
Government has paid grants totalling about £1,900,000 for this purpose. We are interested, not only in what is happening in the industry at present, but also in what might happen in the future. I have before me a report of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture on activities and functions of the Division of Agricultural Production. Paragraph 12 reads -
In July, 1952, the Commonwealth made available the sum of £200,000 for the purpose of expanding the Extension Services of the States in order to assist in the drive to achieve the food production aims. By agreement be tween the States and Commonwealth, the sum of 200,000 was allocated between the various States.
That is another indication that this Government is concerned . not only with present development, but also with the future development of this country. We all appreciate the value of superphosphate to Australia at present, and we realize that a great deal can be done by the use of that fertilizer to increase our agricultural production. However, those who administer agriculture and kindred matters, have warned us that, perhaps not in the immediate future, but in the distant future there may be a shortage of sulphur. Realizing that, and also that pyrites can be used as a substitute for sulphur, this Government has not waited for the tragedy of shortage to occur, but has set up a body known as a Sulphuric Acid Investigation Committee to develop factories in Australia for the production of pyrites. The Government has also guaranteed certain financial commitments of industries willing to develop the production of pyrites. Those actions prove that the Government is continually thinking of our future welfare. The report that I mentioned previously also states -
In order to ensure increasing supplies of superphosphate the Government has encouraged the conversion of manufacturing plants to use local sulphur-bearing ores to supplement imported supplies of elemental sulphur, of which known reserves are limited. The Government took action to obtain increased sulphur supplies in view of the critical importance of superphosphate in Australia’s main cropping areas and in the establishment of improved pastures. Steps taken include Government guarantee of bank overdrafts to manufacturers to finance the conversion programme and assurances against financial loss being incurred by manufacturers converting their plants, in the event of an casing in the world sulphur situation.
Furthermore, the Government has subsidized sulphate of ammonia supplies to keep down costs to primary producers.
Sometimes we are inclined to look for an immediate result from any action that we may take, and so, as individuals and groups, we are liable to ask what the Government has done for us. I suggest that we fail to realize much that the Government has done for the future development of the country, because the results of its actions cannot be judged in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, subsidies, or grants made for particular purposes. However, the Government’s efforts can be judged by considering the overall picture of production and development for a certain period of time, together with the Government’s statement of what it intends to do in the future. The record of the Government in encouraging the dairying industry is one of which any Government may be proud, and an inherent feature of “its actions in regard to this industry is its realization that problems cannot be solved merely by handing out money. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) pointed out, in answer to a question asked of him to-day, that merely handing out extra subsidies, or more money, was not the way to deal with any problem of primary production. This Government has fully realized that important fact, and has laid the foundation upon which our primary production, particularly the dairying industry, can build a solid and enduring structure.
The Government controls territories outside the Australian mainland, the most important of which is that of Papua and New Guinea. In that Territory we have a great responsibility for the welfare and safety of the native people. In view of the present international situation, our administration of the Territory affords us. an oportunity to show other nations that we are prepared to help the people of New Guinea, and that we certainly desire to do so. In 1950-51, £6,386,413 was expended by this Government on the territory of Papua and New Guinea. In 1953-54, £8,540,000 was so expended, .and it is expected that for the year 1954-55 we shall spend £10,460,000. Of course, mere figures do not give a true picture of the Government’s developmental work in the territory, so let us consider the growth of the Territory’s trade in order to ascertain whether that money has been spent wisely and well. In 1950-51, the total- value of the trade of that area was £18,189,563. However, for the six months ended the 31st December, 1953, the total value of the trade was £12,S35,300. Those figures again indicate that the Territory of Papua and New Guinea is being rapidly developed, and that not only are we concerned with the safety and welfare of the people, but we are also concerned with encouraging the people to participate in the development of their own country.
Our responsibilities in this Territory do not end with material things. The Administration is conscious that we must not let the material matters drift, and has commenced a £7,000,000 hospital building programme, which envisages the building of three base hospitals, seven major regional hospitals and other smaller hospitals - all designed for the benefit of the natives. Such activities indicate that the Government is fully conscious of the need to develop Papua and New Guinea, and that although much remains to be done, it is pressing on with the doing of it. Moreover, the Government is collaborating with missionaries in the Territory, and we have become aware that no longer can we separate material and spiritual values, but that they must be considered together.
It has been said that pensioners have not been adequately dealt with in the budget. Comparisons have been made of the value of the age pension during the regime of the last Labour government and its present value, about the proportion that it used to bear and now bears to the basic wage, and other- matters. The provision of social services is of vital concern to the people of this country, because we are rapidly approaching a stage where we must take great care in case we are swamped by social services. It appears to be forgotten that we are only able to pay social services out of the income of the work force of the country, and that if we overload the social services section of our budget we shall overload the country’s work force. One may . admit that under present economic conditions, a pensioner who lives by himself and gets only £3 10s. a week may not be receiving a vast sum of money upon which to live, but we must face up to the fact that we cannot legislate sensibly for one section of the community, or even for one section of a section of the community. If we legislate for a particular group of pensioners, we immediately give them an advantage at the expense of another section - perhaps married pensioners living together who have their own homes and a certain amount of money. Therefore, to make political capital out of one section of the community, which is an unfortunate section, is, I believe, detrimental, to- the welfare of the country. The pension rate has been increased since 1950 from £2 10s. to £3 10s. The amount of property that may be owned by a pensioner was increased in 1951 from £250 to £1,000 and it has now been increased to £1,750. The permissible income has been increased by £1 10s. a week, which has raised it to £3 10s. a week. Therefore, the maximum amount of income that a pensioner may receive, including the pension, has been raised to £7 a week. Surely it is better to give 90,000 pensioners an increase and relax the means test, rather than increase by a small amount the number of persons who receive pensions. Honorable members of the Opposition have not mentioned that pensioners receive., medical and pharmaceutical benefits and that these benefits increase the total amount received by the pensioners from the Government. In calculating the proportion of the basic wage received by the pensioner, Opposition members should include medical and pharmaceutical benefits in the total benefits received. Pensioners now receive far more than the amount that they received from the Labour Government.
I shall now pass to the matter of financial’ assistance for the States and the development of this country. In the course of his budget speech the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said -
Total payments to the States this year are estimated to lie £198,605,000 compared with £194,248,000 in 1953-54.
Yet honorable members still receive letters from various groups and organizations asking why the Australian Government does not spend more money on certain activities. In the financial year 1946-47, the total loan raisings of the Commonwealth amounted to £45,297,000. In the last financial year £200,000,000 was raised. In 1946-47, tax reimbursements to the States amounted to £40,000,000, but during the last financial year they amounted to £150,000,000.
– It was money in those days.
– I have heard honorable members opposite say that frequently, yet they have also complained that the Government is collecting more money in the form of taxes. The Treasurer has made a reduction of 30 per cent, in income taxes during recent years. The Government will reduce sales tax by £12,000,000 during the coming year. In spite of all these reductions, Opposition members still claim that the Government is collecting too much money. I think that the Government should take that as a compliment, because it implies that it has so stabilized the economy that more money is being earned and larger incomes are available from which taxation is paid. Yet we still hear the call of the State governments that the Australian Government is starving them of finance. It has been pointed out on a number of occasions that the loan moneys that are allocated to the States is provided by the Loan Council upon which the Australian Government is represented. But the relevant figures prove it to be a fallacy to state that the federal Government is starving the States. The State governments, over a period of time, have so bungled their finances that they have had to take money from needy causes in order to bolster other projects which have failed. In New South Wales there is the transport muddle, the bungling of the eastern suburbs railway, and the bungling of the electricity supplies. Such activities as these have taken from the State coffers money that could have been used to provide much-needed facilities such as hospitals and schools. It is to the credit of the Government that,’ in spite of this mismanagement by the State governments, it has endeavoured to assist the States by means of loan1 moneys and tax reimbursements to a far greater extent than any previous government. At the conclusion of his speech the Treasurer said -
In surveying the outlook, the Government has found some grounds for caution and some reason to stress the approach of weightier national responsibilities for Australia.
In other words, if we are to continue to stabilize the economy of this country, we must all work to maintain the privileges and benefits that we have received in the past. . I do not deny that, difficulties confront the Government, but I have yet to hear in this chamber , a positive and dynamic presentation of policy by honorable members opposite. If Opposition members hope to retake the treasury bench they must realize that their policy will need to have a great deal more life and power and vision, before the Australian public will be gulled into voting for them again. The most urgent need confronting this country is the need to stabilize our economy and develop our primary and secondary industries. In order to develop those industries we need men with vision. The speeches that Opposition members have made on the budget have consisted of pin-pricking criticism. They have not made one positive contribution to the debate. They might reply that, as an Opposition, there is no need for them to present a policy. But if they criticize the Government’s policy they should present more concrete and definite proposals than they have presented during, the past three weeks.
.- Not the least remarkable of the statements that have been made by honorable members opposite in support of the budget was the one that was made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), who said that the budget could easily win an election for the Government. It is obvious that the viewpoint of the Minister is not shared by other Government supporters, as no other speaker on the Government side of the chamber has indulged in such wishful thinking. The manner in which the budget has been received proves, that there is little justification for the Minister’s claim. Industrial and commercial interests in Australia have revealed, by their reaction to the budget, how little they are impressed by that document. The tax concessions granted by the Government are niggardly. The gains as the result of tax concessions for people in the lower income brackets are so meagre that they are cancelled out by government policy in another direction. The Government has decided to reduce the subsidy on tea by ls. per lb. from its former level of 2s. 6d. per lb. As a result, the price of tea has risen by more than ls. Id. per lb. That increase will immediately absorb such tax reduction benefits as might otherwise have been enjoyed by thousands of wage-earners. -So much for the Government’s vaunted tax reductions !
When the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) presented the budget he made a speech which provided us with one of the most self -contradictory statements we have heard for a long time. At one moment he was superbly optimistic; at the next he was darkly pessimistic. One of the most significant omissions from the budget is the lack of any reference to the convertibility of sterling. That is a subject which, in the last year, has occupied, on a considerable scale, the attention of all countries in the sterling bloc, including Australia. Numerous conferences about sterling have been held by the United States of America and the countries affected. Some of them have been on the highest governmental level. It is difficult, therefore, to understand the reticence of the Treasurer on the Subject. In past budgets the Treasurer has made some reference to the dollar situation. It is true that on some of these occasions the references could be regarded as favorable to the Government. The dollar problem still exists for Australia, and one would have thought that, in view of that fact, the Treasurer would have had something to say about it in his budget speech. Are we to assume, from his silence on the matter, that the dollar situation has considerably worsened for Australia ? Has the Government, because of its inability to solve this vital and vexed problem, resorted to silence? If that is not so, the attitude of the Government is hard to understand.
The figures relating to our overseas trade for the months of June and July are ominous, and_ give rise to serious concern. Do they betoken a reversion to the kind of difficulty that prevailed in 1952? It is true to say that the biggest factor that contributed to the instability that followed our adverse trade balances in 1952 was the failure of the Government to take action at the proper time. If the trend shown by the June and July figures continues, it is to be hoped that the Government will act promptly. If it does not we shall again find that our overseas balances will be considerably reduced with a consequent bad effect nur economy. Nobody wishes to see a recurrence of the situation in which almost £380,000,000 of our sterling balances overseas disappeared, although only 16 per cent, of that total amount was expended on capital goods or equipment. The Government has had a warning that it cannot afford to ignore. .Should it ignore that warning, it will not escape so lightly as it did on a former occasion.
A disappointing aspect of the budget is the failure of the Government to do anything on a major scale to tackle the housing problem that besets Australia. The Commonwealth Statistician has revealed that our yearly building programme falls short of requirements by 30,000 houses. As far as the Government is concerned there is to be no improvement in that respect. That position is to remain unchanged. The Government has control over this situation, and a more enlightened approach by it to this problem would, and could, do much to relieve this blight which falls heavily on thousands of Australians, particularly young persons. It could relieve the position first, by being more generous to the State governments, so as to enable them to expand their building programmes, and, secondly, by stepping up, in a marked and dramatic fashion, the activities of the War Service Homes Division. There are thousands of ex-servicemen whose names are on the waiting list for war service homes. This field belongs exclusively to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth does not suffer the same financial disabilities in this respect as the State governments suffer. A vigorous Commonwealth policy in this field could make an outstanding contribution towards a solution of the housing problem. But we look in vain for such a policy. The Government has granted increases of pensions to 100 per cent, general rate war pensioners and to war widows. It has also liberalized the means test in relation to civilian pensions. It is good to see some increases granted, but they are still inadequate. Why the Treasurer has completely ignored the claims of pensioners who are in receipt of blind and totally and permanently incapacitated ex-service pensions as well as of age, invalid and widows pensions, is a mystery. His ignoring of them is another example of the mysterious ways of the Government. Why does the Government grant an increase to one section of pensioners and withhold an increase from the remainder?
The Treasurer makes play of the fact that 90,000 persons will benefit as a result of the liberalization of the means test. But what of the 230,000 pensioners who will receive no benefit from it? It has been proved that 65 per cent, to 70 per cent, of age and invalid pensioners depend completely on their pensions. It is their only source of income. The Government, by its strange approach to the problem, has proved itself to be completely impervious to the claims of those people. Age and invalid pensioners, who have not received an increase of pension, have to pay the same prices for food and other commodities as is paid by everybody else in the community. The recent increase of the price of tea will hit them heavily. I can only express my utter disgust at a government that permits distinctions of this kind between various groups of pensioners. Any increase of social services should be spread throughout the entire field. What right, for example, has this Government, or any government for that matter, to discriminate against the invalid pensioner? Many people who are in receipt of invalid pensions have been disabled from birth, or since early childhood. They have never enjoyed the same opportunities as other people have enjoyed. They have not had even the opportunity to serve their country. They have never lived the normal life that has been the lot of the average person. The fact that they have been so deprived should commend them to us in a special way. That is not the case with this Government. I shall leave it to Government supporters to attempt to justify this ignoble distinction - if they can.
Our prosperity depends upon our export trade. Unfortunately, all our eggs are in one basket. We depend for our overseas credits mainly on the earnings from the sale of wool and wheat. Any recession in the demand for those two commodities could have ill effects for us. Wheat prices are falling in the world market at the moment, but this is cancelled out by the ‘demand for our wool. The Government should be striving to bring more balance into our export economy, by assisting in the development of our secondary industries. This has been achieved particularly in the production of steel. Our steel has been able to compete on overseas markets. At the moment, a new threat has arisen to the exports of our secondary industries. I refer to the threat that has been offered to them by the exorbitant freight charges that the overseas shipping combine is levying. This Government has a duty to protect our secondary industries from such machinations.
The time is long overdue for the Government to take off the gloves with the interstate and overseas shipping combines. The last report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board is a damning indictment of some of the activities of shipowners. Their latest demand for the abolition of the board has brought forth another rebuke from the board’s chairman. In the light of this threat to our secondary industries, how much longer does the Government intend to stand idly by? The Government has reduced the levy on the man-hours in the industry, but the combine has not passed on that reduction. Our goods are being priced out of international markets because of the’ outrageous charges which the overseas combine levies on them. The Government is well aware of this fact. It has been aware of it for months, but it will not act against the combine. The manufacturers have decided that they have “ had “ this Government on this issue, and in the next few days will meet in an endeavour to protect themselves against the rapacity of the shipping combine.
This is a question not only of markets, but also of jobs for our Australian workmen. The situation is not new, it has been developing for months. However, the Micawber-like attitude of the Government has accelerated its development to the stage which has now been reached. If the Government appreciated how vulnerable, our export economy is, it would, do everything possible to broaden export trade and, at the same time, protect those who are able and willing to. expand it.
The budget indicates trends for the ensuing financial year/’ Those persons’ who expected relief in the matter of housing will be disappointed. Two-thirds of all who are in receipt of age, invalid and widows pensions must continue to eke out an existence under conditions as grim as they have been in the past. The budget will afford them no relief. Nothing is to be changed. For them, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. It has been written that the outcome of a Greek tragedy is always a foregone conclusion and that everything is foreseen from the beginning. At the start, fate lays down its cards and plays them one after the other in unvarying order. Nothing is changed. When all is over, there remains nothing to expect. How true that is in relation to Greek drama, I do not know, but if that comment were to be made of this budget as it affects age and invalid pensioners, it would be true indeed. As far as the pensioners are concerned, nothing is to be changed. There remains nothing for them to expect.
.- The honorable member for Martin (Mr. O’Connor) stated that the prices of a number of our export commodities are not competitive with those which are being produced by other countries, and he gave, as the reason, the high cost of shipping freights. I think we all agree that the amount of freight charged for the transport of our products overseas affects the selling price of the products when they reach the market, but to cite that as the only- item which affects the final cost is entirely wrong. Indeed, the shipping freight is only one of the minor factors. Without wishing, at this stage, to argue about the wisdom of introducing the 40-hour week in New South Wales, the fact is that the 40-hour week is one of the major items which contribute to the increased cost of our manufactured goods. It increases not only the cost of the products of our secondary industries, but also those of the primary products that we wish to sell abroad. Other factors also operated to increase costs ‘during the time that the party to which tho honorable member belongs was in office. I refer particularly to the will to work: Honorable members appreciate only too’ well that, during 1947 and 1948, whenthe Labour Government was in office,there was not:the will to work nor the incentive to work which this Government has engendered since it came to power in December, 1949.
The honorable member for Martin also stated that the commercial and industrial interests of the country did not give a good reception to the budget. This budget, which has been introduced on behalf of the Government by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), incorporates the majority of the undertakings given in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) prior to the last general election. In addition, it brings into sharp contrast the programme which was enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) on behalf of the Australian Labour party. The honorable member for Martin may be interested to know that a New South Wales metropolitan newspaper recently printed the following comments in a leading article: -
In the light of last week’s sober Budget, voters, oan see how impossibly expensive, how fantastic in fact, the Evatt promises and halfpromises really were. There was just no way of redeeming them consistently with any sound system of finance..
The article went on to say that the undertaking quickly to abolish the means test was not agreed Australian Labour party policy at all, but was sheer election bait, devised by a small inner group within the party. The article concluded -
It is well that the electors should have proof of their, right decision. That will lessen the chances of any similar attempt at mass political bribery being made or succeeding.
I wish now to refer to the matter of social services, to which the leading article also made reference. The article truly stated that the present budget incorporates the election undertakings of the Prime Minister. I suggest that it does so especially in regard to social services. The;Prime Minister stated, in the policy speech, that, if elected to office, the Government parties would do four main things. The first was that they would increase the permissible income, which might bc earned by a pensioner, from £2. a week to £3 10s. a week. This budget provides, for- that to be done. Secondly, the right honorable gentleman said that the ultimate property limit -would , be increased from £1,250 to £1,750. The budget .provides for that. to. be done. Thirdly, he said that income. from such property, as well as the capital which had been included, for means test purposes, prior to the introduction of this budget, would .be excluded in determining eligibility for a pension. This budget provides for that to be done. Fourthly, he said that the complete property exemption would be increased from £150 to £200. The budget makes provision for that to be done also.
Honorable members opposite will remember that during their own general election campaign., they told the people that the Australian Labour, party would completely abolish the means test if it were returned to office. One does not hear the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Martin, or indeed^ any other honorable member, opposite, supporting that part of their policy now. During this budget debate they have; not supported, in any way, their pre-election programme and so-called policy. .Therefore, we may conclude, as the writer of the newspaper article to which I have referred concluded, that that promise was sheer election, bait. Quite possibly, it was devised by a small inner, group of the Opposition with which the majority of the Opposition did not, agree. Doubtless that is why we are not hearing from them during this debate.
On two previous occasions I made a plea for the sending of a fact-finding mission to those countries which lie to the north of Australia, and I suggested that honorable members from both sides of the House should be included in that mission. I raise this matter under Division 190 of the Estimates, wherein provision is made for .money to be expended on representation at international labour .conferences, contributions to the International Labour Organization, and representation at and contributions to the United ‘Nations and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. I think it would be of great advantage^ not only to Australia, but also., to the countries concerned if such a mission were- sent abroad. In making this plea, I do- not. .criticize in any way the work that is beting done. by. our official representatives abroad, but- 1 think it is true to say that the average member of the Parliament, who represents a wide cross-section of the Australian community and who has to face hia electors once every three years, necessarily keeps himself abreast of public opinion, moves about socially, and has experience in personal contacts. I think all honorable members will agree that, irrespective of the party to which they belong, such personal contacts are of great benefit in overcoming problems within Australia, whether or not they are on a parliamentary level. I believe that that concept should be extended to our representation abroad, and that we should have as much personal contact as possible with our neighbouring countries. It is for that reason that I again ask the Government to give consideration to sending to those countries a fact-finding mission, which should consist of representatives of certain public, industrial and primary industry organizations, and members of the Parliament.
Under Division 189 of the Estimates provision is made for education. I think many honorable members, especially during the last few months, have been asked by parents and citizens’ organizations and other groups that are interested in the education and welfare of our children to make representations for a federal grant for education.. It should be realized, by people who make such requests that, education, except in. the territories, of the Commonwealth, is a State responsibility. Each State has a Minister who administers a State Department, of Education. But the Austraiian Government has assumed certain responsibilities, in. relation to education. For example, it has provided. £1,000,000 for the Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme, £4,500 for South-East Asia scholarships, £5,00,0 for the Australian Council for Education Research, £2,750 for occupational, therapy training, £4,500 for Federation of British Industries scholarships,. £4,750 for adult, education publications at the University of Sydney,, and £5,000 for courses in oriental languages at the Canberra. University College.
It has been made plain- in the House on many occasions that, whilst the Australian Government, as the taxing agent, is responsible for the raising and reim- bursement of money to the State governments under an agreed, formula, it has also given to the States all loan moneys that. are. available. The States have received approximately three times as. much money during the regime of this Government as they did under the previous Labour Administration, but this Government has no say in the amount, that the State governments spend on education and hospitals. For some, years the Prime Minister and’ the Treasurer have asked the State Premiers and Treasurers to formulate a. priority scheme for public works within the States. I should like to see education and hospitals at the top of any such scheme. On each occasion on which the State representatives have been asked to formulate such a scheme, they have refused to commit themselves. Even if the States were willing to surrender to the Commonwealth their responsibility in relation to education, I think it would be an ill day for Australian children as a whole if education were controlled from Canberra. The educational needs of children who live in North Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania are different from those of children who live in other parts of the Commonwealth. Australia is a far-flung country, with varying climatic conditions. The’ States are better fitted to administer educational facilities, to draw up their own syllabi and to be responsible for primary and secondary education within their own boundaries.
I think the Commonwealth has a responsibility in the tertiary aspect of education, and it has given assistance in that sphere. Moreover, the Commonwealth has assisted parents by allowing, for income tax purposes, progressive deductions in relation- to expenses- incurred’ in sending children to school. Once again, that, very properly, is a Commonwealth responsibility. I think that the community at large should appreciate wherein the responsibility lies in relation to the various- spheres of education. I fully admit that there is a need in all of the States for more money to be expended on- the provision- of school buildings, more amenities in the schools, larger staffs and more text-books, but the States- have a responsibility to allocate, for this purpose, sufficient money from their- tax reimbursements and loan moneys.
On. a. previous occasion I invited the attention of the Blouse to the need to place our smaller primary industries, in a secure position. I said that it was essential to Australia’s economic security that the small, primary industries should be economically sound. Primary industries, such as fruit-growing: - the berry fruit industry was mentioned in the House this afternoon - poultry and pigraising, and dairying are included among those that are. known as the smaller primary-producing industries in Australia. They are small, not because they are not important, but in terms of the acreage devoted to them and the gross financial return received from them. I agree with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) that there is a limit to the financial assistance that can be given to any one industry. The State governments are shirking their obligations to assist those industries to establish themselves on a sound economic footing. However, the farmers are still the constituents of members of the Commonwealth Parliament. As the State governments will not discharge their responsibilities, though some of the action necessary may not be within our sphere, we must, through this Parliament^ the Australian Agricultural Council, and the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, give as much assistance as possible to those primary industries. T do not wish to repeat my remarks on a previous occasion, when I discussed this subject in greater detail.
I turn now to the question of secondary industries in country districts. If we are to provide for the true security of Australia we must decentralize a number of our industries. Every day more than 1,000 country residents travel on early morning trains from two districts in my electorate to their employment in Sydney. They have to leave their homes between 5 a.m. and 5.30 a.m., and some of them do not return home until after 7 p.m. That is bad for them and their families, with whom they can spend insufficient time when they return home in the evenings. It is detrimental to Australia’s economy, and bad from the point of view of security and defence, that almost all Australian industries should be situated in the comparatively small metropolitan areas of the capital cities and in such industrial centres as Newcastle and Port Kembla in New South Wales. In this matter also the State governments are shirking their responsibilities. The Premier of New South Wales, eighteen months or two years ago, gave great publicity to a proposal to build satellite towns in New South Wales and to provide facilities to attract industries to the chosen areas so that industry and population might be decentralized to assist in balancing the economy of New South Wales. But the Premier and the Government of New South Wales have done no more than give publicity to the idea. Two shire councils, together with their respective chambers of commerce, in one area in my electorate, spent a great deal of time in preparing a plan for submission to the New South Wales Premier. It was finally submitted to him last year, but the New South Wales Government has shelved it, and no more has been heard of it.
I invite the attention of the House to the need for decentralization, not only for the balancing of the economy of the districts concerned, but also for the benefit of the local residents and for the sake of Australia’s security. In some parts of Australia the tourist industry is considerable, but it is seasonal and of itself is not sufficient to balance the economy of any one district. Therefore I suggest that when the Australian Government gives consideration to the problem of decentralization it should take action to encourage the establishment of industries for which particular districts are naturally suited.
We are aware that it is the Government’s policy to encourage further immigration to this country and I understand that within the next ten years the expected natural increase in population and the proposed immigration programme will enlarge Australia’s population to approximately 15,000,000 persons. It would be a great pity if the majority of that greater population were to continue to live in the established metropolitan and industrial areas. Once again I shall illustrate my argument by an example from my own electorate. Twelve or eighteen months ago a large Dutch community was established in a district in my constituency, but problems of employment and of establishing businesses have forced a great number of those Dutch people to move to Sydney to seek employment. For the last two years some of those people have been striving to keep light industries that they have established in the district going in spite of the increased rail freights in New South “Wales, which have made it very difficult to keep business going. Increased freight rates .must be paid not only on the raw material of manufacture, from Newcastle, Sydney or elsewhere, but also on the. finished product for the journey to the market or to the point of distribution, which, owing to the lay-out of the New South “Wales railways system, is Sydney. The establishment of secondary industry in country districts is discouraged by the same burden of transport costs that is imposed on farmers, and other primary producers.
The New South “Wales Government, approximately eighteen months or two years ago, before the last New South Wales State general election, made great play on, the alleged wonderful assistance that the New South Wales Government had given to primary producers. This assistance also appeared almost entirely on paper and in publicity. In fact, the New South Wales Administration has increased the problems of primary pro’ducers by raising rail freights not only on the products marketed by the producers, but also on the materials, such as wire and wire-netting, that are necessary for the maintenance and the working of properties. I bring these matters to the attention of the House and appeal to the Australian Government to ascertain whether there is any way in which the Department of Commerce and Agriculture can give increased assistance to our industries. The Minister for . Commerce and Agriculture, in answer to a question this afternoon, gave a good illustration of the manner in which the department- can assist industry. He referred to the contract entered into by a United Kingdom company for the purchase of Tasmanian berry fruits… I trust, that- .the department will do its utmost to assist other primary .and secondary industries to overcome their economic problems and to market their products.
I truly believe that the. Australian Government has a responsibility to give short-term financial assistance to industries, but it can give the most help to industry, to the people, and to Australia as a nation, by helping to ‘ establish enterprises on a sound economic basis so that they can stand on their own merits and find their own markets. In other words, industry should be placed upon, the basis of free enterprise. Although that system may have imperfections and may have some problems associated with it, honorable members on the Government side of the chamber believe that it is the best that mankind has devised’ so far. It is the most efficient way of building a progressive community and a sound national economy while, at the same time, providing for a strong national defence.
.- I have listened with interest to some of the speeches that have been delivered in this chamber to-day and have noted particularly that honorable members on the Government side have attacked, with many words, the policy of the Australian Labour party in connexion’ with social services. They have suggested that the Opposition has been running away1 from the social services programme that it put forward during the recent general election for the House of Representatives
– Cheer up!
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) will have to cheer up himself.
– Why is the honorable member for Wills so gloomy?
– When a budget like the one that is before the committee is presented, naturally there is considerable gloom because .the budget is not one that could be calculated to arouse the enthusiasm of the average person. It may be a happy one for the favoured few, but for the big majority of. the’ .people !of Australia it is a most unhappy budget. When honorable members -on the Government side were speaking of pensions, the honorable member for Robertson -(Mr. Dean) and- the honorable . member for
Angas (Mr. Downer) said, in effect, that the Opposition was running away from its election policy.
– The Opposition has no policy.
– The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) is completely wrong. If honorable members who support the Government had listened to the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), they would not have had any doubt about where the Labour party stands. I advocated the Labour party’s policy on social services during the election campaign and I still advocate it. It is. unfortunate that the Government cannot see the justice of that policy. As part of that policy, the Labour party proposed to increase the rate of age and invalid pensions by 10s. a week. This Government will not provide any extra payment for those pensioners. The excuse that was advanced by the honorable member for Angas was that it was not the duty of the Government to increase age pensions- every year. During the debate on the budget last year, honorable members on the Government side made much of the fact that the Government had increased age pensions every year during its term of office, but they omitted to say that with each increase of the pension rates, the standard of living of the pensioners declined. Now it is lower than it has been for many years. In the last budget that was presented by the Chifley Labour Government in 1949, the pension that was provided for age pensioners was equal to 38 per cent, of the basic wage. The increase in the rate of pension- that was provided by this Government last year brought the rate of pension to 29 per cent, of the basic wage. Is there anything unfair or unreasonable in the claim of the Labour party that pensioners are entitled to an increase now of at least 10s. a week ? That would bring them back to the level-
– Nonsense !
– The pensioners have to- live on £3 10s. a week. If the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) had to’ do so for a few weeks, he might realize how much an increase of 10s. a week would mean” to->the pensioners.’ Because he can live in luxury, he forgets the unfortunate pensioners who are living on the bread line or on an even lower standard. I suggest that the honorable member should look around the community and see for himself the conditions under which age pensioners are living. If there is any sympathy in his nature, he would then agree that an increase of pensions is warranted, but I do not believe that there is any sympathy in him. The Labour party advocated an increase of 10s. a week during the election campaign, and it still advocates an increase of at least 10s. a week. The pensioners should have an increase, not to give them something more than they were obtaining when a Labour government was last in office, but to bring their standard of living up to something equivalent to that which they enjoyed in 1949 under a Labour government. Small increases of pension year after year are a sop to the people, but if the increases- are not commensurate with the rise of the cost of living, they are not of much use to the unfortunate recipients.
The Labour party believes that pensions should be increased and that the means test should be abolished. If this Government and the Parliament were prepared to consider the question seriously, it would be quite within the bounds of possibility that the means test on pensions could be abolished completely within the life of one parliament. It is not such a big thing. It is not so difficult. I invite the Government or any of its supporters to give me any reason why there should be a means test. Age pensions are not a charity. They may have been looked upon as charity for the poor when they were introduced,- but they are not in that category to-day. They are a. payment to persons who have devoted their lives to the service of Australia and who, in their old age, require some compensation for the effort that they have made in the interests of the nation. In the great majority of cases they have contributed by taxation over many years to provide the revenue that is’ necessary to pay the pensions they receive. They are entitled as a’ right to the payment of: pensions in their old age, irrespective of their income. ‘‘>’’’
No honorable member .on the Government side of the chamber has advocated a means test on child endowment or on the maternity allowance. Why, therefore, do they insist upon a means test for age and invalid pensioners? They are inconsistent. The Government gives child endowment and maternity allowances to .all who are entitled to them, irrespective of the income they receive. It should ;act similarly in the case of age and invalid pensions. If this Government would tackle the problem seriously and honestly, the means test could be abolished within the life of this Parliament. Instead, this Government is making a great song about its decision to ease the means test. It has made no provision for an increase of the base rate of pension, regardless of the fact that the persons who are on the base rate and have no other income of any kind are those who are most in need of some financial assistance. Their standard of living has been reduced progressively ever since this Government took office. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has taken great credit for the fact that the means test is to be eased. The right honorable gentleman, stated in his budget speech -
The Government proposes to .raise the permissible income for age, invalid and widows’ pensions from £2 to £3 10s. a week. The property limits will be raised to £1,750 and the property exemption will be raised from £150 ,to £200.
They are miserable proposals. They are mean and contemptible. The Treasurer, in his speech, which he read as though it was a really great document, also stated -
Some 90;000 pensioners will .receive increases in their pensions as a result of the liberalized means test. In addition, many thousands of pensioners will be brought into the pension field and receive part pensions.
Pensioners who up to the present have had an income of £5 10s. a week, consisting of their pension of £3 10s. and permissible income of £2 a week, are to be enabled to increase their total income to £7 a week. I do not complain about that proposal ‘because the increased income will still be little enough having regard to the needs of recipients. The point I make is that whilst pensioners whose pension and permissible income last year amounted to £5 10s. a week will benefit as I have said, less fortunate persons who received a pension of only £3 10s. a week last year are not to be given any benefit ‘at all under this budget. Although the latter class of .pensioners are in greater need of assistance, their income is still to be limited to a pension of £3 10s. a week. Those whose needs are greatest are to receive no benefit at all under this budget. That is typical of every budget that has been introduced ‘by this Government which appears to believe that pensioners who are most in need shall receive the least of any benefit that it makes available. That approach is also reflected in the proposal to reduce income taxes. The Government should give further consideration to meeting the needs of not only .age and invalid pensioners but also those of all other classes of pensioners. All that the Government now proposes to do is to improve to a small degree the position of pensioners who are slightly better off than those who are receiving only the base rate of pension and who must subsist as best they can. I urge the Government to give further consideration to the needs of over 300,000 pensioners who received only the base rate last year. How can the Government take any credit for this budget under which those who are least able to take care of themselves are not to be given any additional benefit ? A pension of £3 10s. a week is little enough when after paying rent a recipient must purchase food and clothing with the balance. I regret that the Government proposes to allow these 300,000 pensioners to remain in dire poverty. Yet, it claims that it is dispensing justice all round by reducing taxes. Apparently, it approaches this matter on the basis of giving to those who have and abandoning those who have not.
The budget generally requires a fuller explanation on the part of the Treasurer. He has said that considerable reductions will be made in income tax and other classes of taxes, including sales tax. The cold hard figures in his estimates of revenue and expenditure, however, tell a different story. In’ .1953-54, actual revenue amounted to £1,016,699,057 whereas revenue to be received in the current financial year is estimated at £1,015,100,000. The Treasurer has said that income tax will be reduced by £35,000,000, that is, that that much less will be collected from taxpayers during this financial year than was collected from them last financial year. However, from the figures that I have just cited, total revenue is estimated at only, approximately, £2,000,000 less than the amount that was actually collected last year. Actual revenue last year exceeded the estimate by many millions, and the Government ended the year with a considerable surplus. Having regard to the system of budgeting that the Government has employed since it assumed office, we can expect that actual revenue for the current financial year will be considerably greater than the estimate. I have endeavoured to work out how the Treasurer will effect the savings which he claims will he made under this budget. Last year, income tax collections totalled £394,000,000 which was considerably in excess of the estimate, and this year the Treasurer estimates that income tax collections will total £357,000,000, a reduction of £23,000,000. However, allowing for the probability, if not the certainty, that actual tax collections will exceed the estimate for this year as was the case last year, the community will not benefit to any great degree from the Treasurer’s so-called reductions of taxes.
When I was speaking on the AddressinReply, I was prevented under the Standing Orders from dealing with capital works and services as it was ruled that that subject was dealt with in the budget which had then been introduced. In respect of this matter, the Treasurer said -
In accordance with the policy speech, £30,000,000 is being provided for war service homes as compared with expenditure in 1953-54 of £20,846,000. The maximum advance available for the purchase of existing homes under the War Service Homes Act is to be increased from £2,000 to £2,750.
Despite the fact that the Treasurer said that the Government has stabilized the economy and has placed it on an even keel and that inflation has been arrested as a result of the pegging of wages, the fact remains that the Treasurer, in the short statement that I have quoted from his speech, admits that the advance for the purchase of a war service home is to be increased by £750 because of continuing increases of building costs generally. The provision of an addi- tional sum of £3,000,000 for this purpose during the current financial year will not mean that the number of war service homes to be provided will be increased compared with the number that was built in the last financial year. The annual report of the War Service Homes Division for the year 1952-53 shows that approximately £28,5*00,000 was expended, but the actual number of houses which were constructed declined. I anticipate that the report of the division on construction activities last year will disclose a further reduction.
– Seven hundred fewer homes have been built.
– That is so, and less money was provided. An additional £3,000,000 is to be made available .during the current financial year, and I venture to prophesy at this stage that history will repeat itself, and that the number of homes provided for ex-servicemen will be lower in 1954-55 than the total in 1953-54. Yet ex-servicemen continue to lodge applications for financial assistance at possibly a greater rate than ever before. I made representations recently on behalf of an ex-serviceman who was told, when he submitted his application for a loan, that the money would possibly be made available twelve months later.
The position at the present time is that applicants for loans to finance the erection of war service homes must wait at least twelve months before they are granted the money. If the Government does not provide additional money, and if the arrears of applications are to he overtaken, the waiting time, by the end of the current financial year, will be nearer eighteen months than twelve months. If the Government sincerely desires to provide war service homes, as it should, a much greater effort must be made than has been evident to date. It is all very well to say, in effect, “ We provided £23,000,000, £27,000,000 or £30,000,000 a year for three years for the provision of war service homes “. The amounts appear impressive, but because of increases in building costs, those sums of money have not provided many homes. The most serious aspect of -all is that ex-servicemen are clamouring for- homes.
Many of them are living under shocking conditions. They have the required amounts as deposits, they have blocks of land, and they are able to get builders to undertake the work. All they need is the financial accommodation. All the Government has to do is to provide the necessary money. This Government has said, in effect, “We have provided more money for war service homes than has been made available by any previous government “. That is .not the answer, and it will not be the answer to the problem.
Australia is indebted to its exservicemen. We, as a parliament, guaranteed to provide money for them, on loan, to enable them to build war service homes. We must, as a parliament, honour that promise. But the Parliament cannot carry out the promise unless the Government is agreeable, and if the Government will not provide money to finance the construction of homes for eligible ex-servicemen, it is definitely falling down on its job. In my opinion, the Government is repudiating a sacred contract made by the Parliament in the interests of ex-servicemen. History is repeating itself. The flags were waved when the servicemen were going overseas, and the men were promised the world. When they returned, that promise was forgotten. Ex-servicemen suffered that bitter experience years ago, and some of them are suffering a similarly bitter experience to-day.
The Parliament passed legislation in which it agreed to provide money on loan for the erection of war service homes. The Government is now called upon to give effect to the legislation, and failure on its part to do so will make it guilty of repudiation. In effect, the Government has sold out the people who risked their lives in the defence of this country and who were promised, because of the risks that they took, that they would be entitled to certain things on their return to civilian life. Many of the things which were promised them have been granted, but we are falling down on the job in respect of the provision of war service homes. We must realize that fact. We hear from many sources, such as politicians, the press, leading people in the building trades, and the unfortunate people who are looking for homes that there is a shortage of at least 100,000 homes for workers to-day. This Government has its opportunity, under the provisions of the war- service homes legislation, to provide money for the erection of war service homes so that ex-servicemen may occupy them and live under proper conditions. The provision of £30,000,000 this year will not fill the bill. That sum will merely enable the present arrears to be overtaken, so that an ex-serviceman who applies for a loan during the present financial year will have to wait until money is provided in the next financial year before the construction of his home can be commenced. It is a very sad state of affairs, and the Government should take action to remedy it without delay. We must remember the sacred promise made to these men, and attempt, as a parliament, to honour it. I suggest that the Government should take steps to obtain sufficient funds for this purpose.
The amount of £30,000,000 which is to be provided for war service homes during the current financial year, is to be made available, not from Loan Fund but from current revenue. Repayments of loans made available in previous years for war service homes are being made continually. I have not had the position explained to me whether that money is paid into a debt redemption fund or into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, but it is not a charge against Loan Fund. Why should it be made a charge against Loan Fund? If this Government has the confidence of the investing public, as it claims, though I doubt that claim, .it should not be particularly difficult at the present time to raise an additional loan of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 so that the housing requirements of ex-servicemen may be met. We are told that Australia is in the most prosperous condition that it has ever experienced. Why, then, cannot money be made available for war service homes ? I hope that the Government will give further consideration to that matter, and take action without delay to honour the promises that have been made to exservicemen.
References have been made in this debate to hand-outs of various kinds. I desire to discuss the provision which is allegedly being made for mental institution benefits. I learn, from a perusal of the financial statements accompanying the budget speech, that certain moneys have been provided by the Commonwealth since 1949 so that treatment in public mental hospitals will be free to the patient. The Chifley Labour Government introduced this payment, which reimbursed the States the equivalent of amounts formerly collected by way of fees for patients, but the latest information available to us is that the Commonwealth contribution of ls. 2d. a day, which is certainly a small sum, and even it will not be paid from now on. I am wondering whether any provision is made to assist mental hospitals. I have not yet had any explanation on that matter. We have a hospital benefits scheme under which 8s. a day, and, in certain circumstances, 12s. a day, is paid in respect of a patient in a public or private hospital, but mental institutions seem to have been placed on a different basis. Patients in mental hospitals have to be maintained, and provided with beds and medical and nursing attention. Some of those patients have made contributions for medical benefits, because they have paid income tax and the social services contribution, but because they are suffering from a mental illness, not a physical illness, the Government says, “ In those circumstances, we shall pay nothing “. I maintain that mental hospital patients have as good a claim on the Government as have patients in any other hospitals. It is time that the Government gave some consideration to rendering assistance to them. I know that, generally speaking, mental hospitals are owned by State governments, but, as far as I can see, that is no reason why this Government should shirk its responsibilities to them. I believe that patients in mental hospitals have at least the same moral claim to assistance from social services funds as have patients in ordinary public hospitals. However, the Government appears to be cheese-paring in this matter. Apparently it takes the view that, because mental patients cannot speak for themselves and do not have the right to vote, it need not bother about them.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Adermann).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) made rather heavy, weather of his attack on the Government’s pensions policy, and I do not propose to deal with it at great length. I shall merely bring to the notice of the committee certain salient facts associated with the points that he raised. The honorable member tried to present a case in favour of relating the base rate of pension to the basic wage, but he did not tell the committee that, during the last sittings of the Twentieth Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), who is not with us to-night, being engaged elsewhere on personal business, tried out as an election kite the proposition that Labour, if returned to office, would associate the basic pension rate with the cost of living index until some of his more astute colleagues informed him that, if that policy were put into effect, the pensioners would be much worse off than they are under the pension rate established by this Government. The honorable member for Wills also said that the pensioners had received nothing from this Government, but did not point out that, when the Chifley Government went out of office in 1949, the base pension rate was £2 2s. 6d. a week and that to-day the base rate is £3 10s. a week, in addition to which pensioners receive free medical services, the value of which is hard to compute but is estimated to be anything from 7s. 6d. to 15s. a week.
The honorable gentleman also attacked the Government on the score of its achievements in relation to war service homes and told the committee what the Labour party would do, if it had the chance. What he did not bring to the notice of the committee was the fact that, since the Menzies Government has been in office, more houses have been built under the war service homes scheme than were built under the scheme in the previous 31 years. Furthermore, he did not tell the committee that, if any further pressure were applied to the building industry, the price of houses, as other honorable members have pointed out, could easily skyrocket so that the actual delivery of houses for the money allotted would be reduced. Another fact that the honorable member did not point out was that, under this Government’s policy, which will be put into practice with the concurrence of the States, ex-servicemen who occupy State housing commission homes will be given the opportunity to purchase their homes under the same conditions as apply under the war service homes scheme. I remind the committee that 60 per cent, of the occupants of housing commission homes are exservicemen.
I do not propose to deal any further with the arguments that the honorable member for Wills advanced. Instead, I shall address myself to the features of the budget which, I believe, most vitally concern the people. If we consider the budget with a broad national outlook, we perceive that, at this time, the most outstanding problems that confront us centre upon the military security, and also, in an almost equal degree, the economic security of Australia. The steady advance of imperialist communism in South-East Asia has been accented in previous debates, and the necessity for Australia to play a part in promoting the military and economic security of this region has been generally accepted. We have seen evidence of Australia’s efforts in the interests of security under the Colombo plan and in connexion with the Anzus pact. Now we know that preparations are being made for the establishment of a similar treaty organization to deal with the South-East Asian situation. It is not necessary to stress the challenge to our industries, both primary and secondary, which altered world conditions have brought about as the warriven countries of Europe and other parts of the world regain their industrial and agricultural potential. I do not propose to deal with the problems of secondary industry. Many honorable members are more capable than I of discussing that subject. However, I intend at a later stage, if time permits, to discuss some of my thoughts on the trend of world demand and production in relation to our great primary industries.
In these days of international uneasiness so often described as the “ cold war “ period, I think all honorable members will agree that the old phrase, “ The price of freedom is eternal vigilance “, could perhaps be reinforced and supplemented by the addition of the words “and national preparedness”. This budget, upon which I congratulate the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), shows that the
Government accepts its obligation to maintain Australia in a state of preparedness. Again the huge sum of £200,000,000 is to be voted for our defence effort. Members of the Opposition have shown a tendency to challenge the results obtained from- our vast expenditure on defence during the last few years. They have been inclined to belittle the magnitude of the nation’s effort under the guidance of this Government and to ask what we have to show for our expenditure. I propose to cover some of the major features of our defence effort in order to refresh their minds on this subject. A modern defence effort relies not only on the manning, equipping and training of our armed services, it also requires huge expenditure on the establishment of military installations for organization and experimental purposes, many of them of a highly secret nature. We have seen a vast move in this direction since this Government has been in office, such as the renovation of Manus Island, which was abandoned by the previous Government, the continuation and extension of our co-operative effort at Woomera and Salisbury, the enlargement and re-equipment of many other naval, army, and air force installations, and the successful tooling up for the manufacture of modern service aircraft. I point out, incidentally, the long period required between the actual preparation of plans and the delivery of modern aircraft for service use. An analysis of the aircraft production industry during World War II. shows that, once a type had been evolved and established, the trend was to improve upon that type. Thus we had the various marks of Spitfire in Great Britain, the Tomahawks and Kittyhawks in the United States of America, the Messerschmitts in Germany, and the Zeros in Japan. This naturally led to simplicity of organization for manufacture. But at present the technical advances in aircraft types have become so rapid that a type is usually approaching obsolescence by the time it is delivered for service operations. However, our experience in Australia has shown the impossibility of obtaining the latest types of aircraft when a crisis arrives, and we must accept the huge expenditure involved in local manufacture as a price we must pay for the insurance, of our security.
Our Navy has been established during the last few years as a competent and well-equipped striking force based on two aircraft, carriers, with the ancillary ships, and, through the establishment of a permanent army nucleus based on one infantry brigade and one mixed brigade, we have a solid core of experienced, seasoned, permanent soldiers to leaven our national service trainees and militia forces into an active and well-manned army. Moreover, during the last few years our country, has accepted its responsibility as a member of the United Nations by providing armed forces for service in Korea, and, in conjunction with the United Kingdom, it has accepted a part in Commonwealth defence by providing air squadrons in Malaya and Malta. Never before in our history has Australia accepted such a responsibility in peace-time, which is symbolic of our maturity. All these things cost a vast amount of money. Whilst it would be a popular move, politically, to cut down our expenditure on defence so that more money would be available for other purposes, what would it profit us if, by reducing our powers of military resistance, we made ourselves a prey for whoever should envy our possession of this country? What would, it profit us if the money so saved were applied to social services and developmental projects, hut we were not allowed to continue to enjoy those things? I am proud to be associated with a government which, through its Treasurer, has taken the long view of national survival, and not toadied to human cupidity by attempting to bribe the electors.
Having listened in silence to honorable members opposite referring in laudatory terms to the achievements of the Labour party during World War II., I consider that I owe it to the memory of some great Australians, who are now unable to speak for themselves, to remind the committee and the people of Australia of the magnificent service that these great Australians rendered to this country in the days of uncertainty before the war, and how, in the dark days of 1940, they brought to bear on the problems associated with national awakening and preparation, the rich talents that they possessed. It was indeed, a black day for Australia in August, 1940, when, in one tragic blow, some of our ablest and most distinguished national leaders were killed in an air accident. They were Sir Henry Gullett - the father of the present honorable member for Henty - one who had been actively associated with the Cabinetplanning which set in motion our national war effort; Geoffrey Street, whose electorate I am now privileged to represent, who had brought to the problem of reviving a national army the rich experience of an informed and practical study of military strategy and organization; and J. V. Fairbairn, the then Minister for Air, who, more than any other Empire statesman, had been responsible for the conception and fulfilment of the Empire air training scheme. Both gratitude and memory are shortlived. The warriors of the tongue opposite should not be permitted to despoil the memories of those men, who, with Sir Brudenell White, the outstanding military figure of that time, gave their lives in the service of their country. I shall therefore take upon myself the responsibility of refreshing then- memory of the events of that period. Perhaps, in doing so, I may revive some tribute to those who have passed on.
Was it only by chance that John Curtin, after assuming office as Prime Minister, said at the Sydney Town Hall on the 12th October, 1941 -
I have to pay tribute to the Government which preceded my own for the constructive work they have done in defence, and the foundations they have laid.
Six days later he stated -
The Navy was at its highest pitch of efficiency, as demonstrated by the notable exploits of its ships overseas. The Home Defence Army was well trained and its equipment had been greatly improved. The strength of the Air Force had been largely increased, both in respect of Home Defence squadrons and the training resources of the Empire Air Scheme. The equipment of the Air Force had also been much improved. Finally, munitions production and the development of production .capacity over a wide range of classes, including aircraft, was growing weekly.
For the benefit of those members of the Opposition whose knowledge of military strategy and history has been gleaned from Labour speakers’ notes and other information of doubtful credence, I shall outline, briefly, some of the measures that were taken by the Lyons and Menzies Governments of that period in order to bring about the state of preparedness so summarized by Mr. Curtin. Some honorable members opposite whose memories are short, or whose knowledge of the subject is lacking, may then hesitate to use the oft-repeated catchcry, “ Only Labour can govern in time of war “.
I was in the Army at the time of the 1943 general election. In common, I believe, with many other servicemen, I adopted the opinion that Labour had refused earlier to co-operate in the war effort, and that that unfortunate example had been translated into the attitude of the industrial movement. The position was so serious that some people considered that the only way in which a united effort could be obtained was to apply the principle of setting a thief to catch a thief, and to give Labour the responsibility of office, especially as it was obvious that the political parties of the right would play their part to the limit. This, combined with unfortunate, internal, discord which was evident, gave Labour the opportunity to continue in charge of the treasurybench and so be in a position to carry on the good work that had been so ably and thoroughly set in motion by the men whom I mentioned. However, that also gave Labour the opportunity to abuse its political power by allowing and encouraging the armed services to be used as a forum to spread its socialist doctrines. A present member of this chamber, who was then ‘n a position of responsibility, was instructed to call a full parade of his unit, without absentees for fatigues. The unit, when assembled, was given, in colloquial Australian, a 60-minute political ear-bashing by prominent Labour propagandists. The people of Australia must never be allowed to forget that it was a Labour government which, during that period, lifted the ban on the Communist party and encouraged and gave a halo of respectability to its activities in Australia by appointing a number of leading Communists to positions of responsibility on statutory bodies. To mention a few outstanding instances - Healey was appointed to the Australian Stevedoring Industry Commission ; Elliott to the Maritime Services Board ; Orr to the Coal Commission; and Jeffrey to the War Loan Organization. That was a major Labour war effort !
The preparations which subsequently formed the basis of the Australian war effort were mainly commenced in 1938, in the face of bitter Labour opposition, which I shall discuss shortly. I shall not detail all that was done in’ that preparation period, but touch only on the salient features. There were the setting up of the Advisory Panel of Industrial Organization, under the chairmanship of that far-seeing and great Australian, Essington Lewis, which laid the foundation of the gradual organization of Australian industry to prepare it for its part, should war come; the establishment of the Commonwealth aircraft factory; the extension of the Commonwealth munitions factories, and their gearing for the production of war materiel - never attempted previously - such as anti-aircraft guns and field guns, and their ammunition, the Bren light automatic; and the general increase of production of service equipment. While these projects were being set in motion, the strength of the armed services was stepped up, and training was intensified. Such suitable, modern equipment as could be purchased overseas was ordered. However, owing to the similar demand existing in Great Britain and other countries, it was not possible to obtain the most up-to-date types of service aircraft.
When the blow fell in 1939, and Germany invaded Poland, immediate steps were taken to place the nation on a war footing. Various economic measures, such as price-fixing and rationing, were introduced. Under our accepted responsibility to provide army forces for the Middle East and Malaya, four Australian Imperial Force divisions were raised, and in due course, three of these, the 6th, 7th and 9th Divisions - seasoned by battle experience in the Middle East - played a major part in repelling the Japanese threat to Australia, and assisted, materially, with the battle training of the green American divisions with which they were associated. At the same time, units of the Royal Australian Navy, under the inspired leadership of Sir John Collins, were making history in the Mediterranean. Men graduating through the Empire air training scheme were already involved in the sky war in Europe. When the treacherous attack on Pearl Harbour fell the whole strategy of the Australian war effort was altered. We then had at our disposal an organized industrial effort and a highly trained and experienced Navy, Army and Air Force from which to expand in the face of this new threat to our national survival. That, briefly, was the picture as I saw it when Labour took office late in 1941. The altered situation was probably sufficiently serious to justify the hysterical screams for American help which arose from those reluctant dragons now sitting opposite. And so I now propose to analyse their publicly expressed attitude in the period of preparation, and it may explain the difficulty that faced the Lyons Government and, later, the Menzies Government, in persuading the Australian people of the urgency of national preparation. I shall give some examples of what some of these wordy warriors were saying.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), one of the few Opposition members who had served his country in World War I., and whose expression of thought was, I hope, only dictated by party policy, according to Hansard, Volume 15S, at page 2148, said, on the 25th November, 1938, less than a year before the outbreak of war -
On the subject of defence I hold different views from those of honorable members. In my opinion, the proposed expenditure on armaments and defence equipment is utterly futile in a country with 12,000 miles of coastline and vast resources. The comparative isolation of Australia makes its invasion by an enemy difficult, especially as an enemy would have to keep open its lines of communication.
When grants for the introduction of the munitions annex system were being discussed - a system which proved to be invaluable in the production of war equipment - Mr. Curtin, then leader of the Labour party, said, on the 12th Novem ber, 1938, according to Hansard, Volume 157, at page 679-
My colleagues and I believe that the very substantial expenditure of £li44,000 on armament annexes is a dangerous departure.
Let us now turn to some of the utterances of that great warrior, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). On the 2nd November, 1938, according to Hansard, Volume 157, at page 1149, he said, when discussing the overall defence plan -
It is amusing to hear people say that we shall not give up New Guinea. To these people I would say that if it should become necessary to defend our Mandated Territory, they should defend it themselves.
It requires no second sight to appreciate within whose fertile and tortuous mind the mythical “ Brisbane line “ was conceived. When discussing the question of liability to serve, the same honorable member said on the 6th September, 1939, according to Hansard, volume 161, at page 75 -
I believe I am expressing the opinion of the majority of the people when I say that they are prepared to make the maxmium effort to defend this country, but are opposed to any man being called upon to take up arms and leave this country for foreign battle fields.
And again, at page 822 of the same volume, he is reported as having said that liability for service under the Defence Act was meant to apply -
In other words, the strategy to be employed would involve the sacrifice, without a fight, of Australia’s outer perimeter of islands. Let us all be thankful that this honorable member’s advice was never followed, and that the mythical “ Brisbane line “ never became an actuality. Now we have the boast that only Labour can govern in war-time. I suggest that the only way this claim could have any vestige of truth would be if the Labour party took over a wellplanned, thoroughly-organized war effort, of which even it could not make nonsense.
I wish to turn now to the other subject I intend to discuss - how changing world economic conditions are affecting the outlook of our great primary industries. The revival of European primary industry after the war, in some cases heavily subsidized, has had a vast effect on the marketing conditions of our greatest customer, Great Britain. This situation has been further clouded by the unknown effect on the prices we will receive for our export products, of the decision of” the British Government to cease bulk buying through the Ministry of Food, and to return to normal methods of trading. We have for so long accepted the bulk purchase method of disposal that we are inclined to view the future with serious concern, especially now when there are signs that world prices for many commodities have reached a peak and are going into reverse. I propose to quote from an article that I read recently on this very subject. It says -
There is a readiness to view any variation in marketing conditions as a major disaster - an attitude of mind which, to put it bluntly, is continually looking for trouble.
This is the new world condition with which we are faced, and I believe it is a challenge to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our farmers and graziers, which they will accept. Whilst it would be stupid to overlook the vast effect on our national economy of a serious fall in wool prices, it is also true that our other great primary industries play a part in maintaining our standard of living, and falls in the overseas prices of their products must have an effect on the whole economic life of this country. However, although adjustments may, and probably will, be necessary in the event of a fall in our export prices, this fall will also of necessity be reflected in our internal cost structure. I believe, however, that there is also scope within our farming industries to anticipate any future trouble by making more use of the valuable scientific knowledge increasingly becoming available. I regard the man on the land to-day as in much the same position to his particular industry as the executive in business, who puts into practice, for the sake of greater efficiency, the advice given by a technical staff. We have now available through the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the extension services of the State Departments of Agriculture, in addition to the technical staffs of many of our great fertilizer and machinery companies, a vast store of information and advice that requires the practical knowledge of the good farmer to translate into efficient agricultural practice. It is in this direction that the farmers of Australia will increase the efficiency of their production and build up the fertility pf their soils. With the rapid growth of our population which is certain to occur during the next decade, and the consequent widening and increase of our own home markets, I feel there is again a challenge that those engaged in our primary industries will accept. So, whilst there are certain to be adjustments to meet altered conditions, I, for one, have sufficient faith in out primary producers to believe that they, as in the past, will continue to provide the basis of the economic stability of this continent.
I shall conclude with another quotation from the article that I mentioned earlier. It reads -
It may be too early to make any assessment of marketing trends but such evidence as is available suggests that prospects are sound and any general downward movement in prices will be gradual. Provided opportunity is taken by primary industry to adjust itself to changing conditions and meet consumers’ demands, there should be no reason to fear such a movement.
I commend the budget.
.- Most Government supporters who have spoken in this debate have pointed out that during the recent election campaign the Government did not promise anything to the age pensioners. They contend that, since the age pensioners have received nothing as a result of the budget, the Government should therefore not be criticized, not having promised them anything. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr.’ Casey) opened his speech on the budget by saying, in his inimitable way, “ My Government promised the- people of this country nothing at all “. His colleagues apparently reason that, because the Government promised the people nothing, it should not be criticized whether it gives them anything or gives them nothing. The Labour party, however, did make promises to the people of this country during the recent election campaign. It put before the electors a policy that it wished them either to endorse or reject. From the viewpoint of the Labour party, that is an essential of the democratic way of life.
The Labour party promised that if it was elected to govern this country it would immediately increase age pensions to £4 a week and that within three years it would abolish the means test. When this declaration was made, the candidates of the Government parties said that they were opposed to the abolition of the means, test. They said that they believed that those who were in the greatest need should be given all. that they required, before pensions were provided for those who did not need them. That attitude, has been “maintained by honorable members opposite since the Government was returned to office. The Government said, “ To every one according to their needs ; from every one according to their abilities “. But what did it do ? It has not increased age pensions; but it has liberalized the means test. That is an inconsistency. In Canada, no means test is applied to age pensioners over 70 years of age, although the pension is much higher there than it is in Australia. If the Prime Minister of Canada reached 70- years of age to-morrow he would receive a pension, of £8 a week. In this country no means test is applied to child endowment. The children of the rich are endowed to the .same extent as are the children of the poor. No means test is applied to maternity allowances or education. The Government finances 71 per cent, of superannuation payments to public servants. In other words, a public servant who contributes for a pension of £20 a week upon retirement, receives the equivalent of a government pension of almost £15 a week, free of means test.
Why does the Government not be consistent and apply the means test to all social services ? I do not object to the nonapplication of the means test to social services. I believe that no means test should be imposed in connexion with hospital treatment. And I believe that no means test should be imposed in connexion with age pensions. The Government boasts that it provides free medicine for the wealthy and the poor. It is utterly and absolutely inconsistent in its policy.
What it does in regard to some social services it does not do in connexion with other social services. The Government says that it does not want to give to the rich. It claims that it only wants to serve those who are in. need. I believe in the abolition of the means test because I believe that only in that way will adequate payments be made to those who need them most. This Government reveals, its utter hypocrisy when it introduces its financial legislation into this Parliament each year. I shall cite the results of the taxation reductions that have been made by the Government since 1952. The taxpayer with a wife and two children who, in 1952, was in receipt of £582 a year has. received two reductions in tax. In 1953-54 his tax wasreduced by £5 15s. a year and in 1954-55 by £1 16s. a year, a total of £7 Ils; a, year or 3s. a week. The taxpayer with a wife and two children who, in 1952, was in receipt of £754 a year had his tax reduced in 1953-54 by £10 12s. and in 1954-55 by £3 12s., a total of £14 4s. or 6s. a week. A taxpayer without dependants who received £1,532 in 1952, had his tax reduced by £56 ls. in 1953- 54 and by £36 ls. in 1954-55, a total of £92 2s., or £1 17s. a week. The taxpayer who received £2,912 in 1951-52 had his tax .reduced bv £231 ls. in 1953-54, and by £156 ls. in 1954- 55, a total of £387 2s, or £7 7s. a week. The taxpayer who received £4,379 in 1952, had his tax reduced by £5S9 7s. in 1953-54 and by £414 8s. in 1954-55, a total reduction of £1,003 15s., or nearly £20 a week. The taxpayer who received £5,629 in 1952 had his tax reduced by £901 17s. in 1953-54. In 1954-55 it was reduced by £685 4s. Therefore, the total increase of such a man’s income was £1,587 per annum in two years, or nearly £30 a week. The Government, in its budget of 1953-54, gave only 2s. 6d. a week to the age pensioner, and this year it will give him nothing whatsoever. The Minister for External Affairs said that there were only 300,000 pensioners in Australia, but that there were millions of wage-earners whose interests had to be considered by the Government.
Let us consider how the Government, serves the interest of the average man and woman - the vast mass of the community - and also how it serves the age pensioners. This year the Government, by tax reduction, will increase the incomes of those receiving up to £800 a year by less than 2 per cent. ; it will increase the incomes of those receiving between £2,000 and £3,000 a year by more than 13 per cent.; it will increase the incomes of those receiving between £4,000 and £5,000 a year by almost 20 per cent., and of those receiving between £5,000 and £6,000 a year by more than 28 per cent. That is how the Government serves the interests of those whose need is the greatest. That action is, of course, not only unjust and inhuman, but will have a very adverse effect on our economy and our capacity to defend ourselves against an enemy. Howwill it affect our economy?
– Very favorably !
– The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) has said “ Very favorably ! “, but the results of the Government’s policy are demonstrated by the conditions of our primary and secondary industries. Honorable members should remember that an incomeearner who already receives more than £100 a week, will, according to the Government’s tax reduction table, receive an increment of £30 a week. If that man is a primary producer, he will keep out of production land that he already owns, and will buy more land. Consequently, land will aggregate in the hands of a few people. The proof of that statement will be seen in the fact that last year all the States of the Commonwealth together settled only 569 ex-servicemen on the land, and nobody else. They did that even though thousands of exservicemen were eagerly endeavouring to become primary producers. In the vast hinterland of Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Territory - great areas of this country that are an invitation to the predatory powers of the world - during the last twelve months 29 people have been settled on the land by the Government. Although I have not figures to prove it, I hazard a guess that more than 29 left primary production in those areas in the same period. In the farflung State of Western Australia only sixteen ex-servicemen were settled on the land last year. Can it be said that that action by this Government was a contribution to national defence, or to the development of this country?
Now let us consider what is happening in our industrial areas and in our great cities. In those areas a man who already receives £100 per week will soon get a gratuity of £30 a week from this benevolent Government. Such a man will invest his additional money and help to build up luxury industries until they may be numbered among the industries that the honorable member - I almost said right honorable member, but that is to come - for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) spoke of when he referred to the large number of concerns in this country that have declared dividends of from 20 per cent, to 100 per cent. The less essential industries into which will flow the money given to wealthy taxpayers by this Government, will attract labour, materials and all kinds of services from more essential industries. I point out that if this country is to survive, that money would be better employed in essential industries. It would be better employed in the housing industry, for example, and to provide the essentials that the average man, woman and child require. No one can deny that this re-allocation of the income of this country to the advantage of the wealthy is detrimental to any progress and development. Indeed, it is a definite Wow at the survival of Australia.
During the life of this Parliament I have listened to honorable members on both sides of the chamber, who have pointed out that we in Australia live in fearful times, and that we must urgently develop the country and increase our population. This Government has so manipulated the incomes of the people and the finances of the country that it has made it impossible for us to carry out any grand scheme of land settlement, and to expand the industries that we need for the defence and the development of the nation. While the Government is repeating the cry that we should develop the country, it is diverting labour and resources from our essential industries and allowing the products of the cheap labour countries of the world to flood in and destroy our economy. In June of this year, our adverse overseas trade balance amounted to £20,000,000. In other words, we imported £20,000,000 worth of goods more than we exported. Last July we imported £17,000,000 worth of commodities more than we exported. But, during June and July last year we exported more than we imported. During the two months, June and July, of this year, we imported £37,000,000 worth of goods more than we exported. That deterioration in our overseas trade position is continuing.
As the gallant hussar, the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon) pointed out to honorable members, the overseas prices of our primary products are diminishing. The markets that we had in the past are no longer as profitable as they were. During the period that this country was receiving higher prices than it had ever received before for its exports, because of the incapacity of this Government a stream of goods flowed into the country and almost destroyed our overseas balance. In 1952 the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) went before the microphone and told the people of Australia that they faced difficulties, and that the country faced insolvency, if drastic measures were not taken to protect our overseas funds. When Labour left office, our overseas funds stood at £800,000,000. The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) wags his head. However, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) admitted in his budget speech in 1950 that, at the 30th June of that year, six months after the Government had attained office, our overseas funds were £650,000,000. In June last, they were only £570,000,000. Again I quote the Treasurer. Of course, the great difficulty about quoting statements made by members of the Government is that they do not agree with one another. I accept the figures of the Treasurer, however, because they are supplied to him by his officers ; he merely reads them out.
The value of our primary products is rapidly deteriorating. For instance, the price of wool has declined. Quite a lot of wheat is unsaleable. Meat is the only other commodity that we can export at a profit. What will be the result if vast floods of imports come into the country that have to be paid for, when the returns from our exports of primary products become less and less? I suggest it will mean that the importation of commodities that are essential to our economy, such as oil, rubber, cotton, and heavy equipment that we do not manufacture here, will have to be curtailed because we will not be in a position to pay for them. That, of course, will not assist our defence programme. Our insolvency overseas will arise from two things. First, a reduction of the quantity of our exports, and secondly, an increase of imports.
In the days ahead, this country must undertake a greater measure of national development. We must have more population. We need governments that are determined to settle people on the land and so increase the number of primary producers. At the same time, it must be appreciated that our secondary industries provide the greatest measure of employment. Our policy should be so designed that our secondary industries will be ever-expanding and able to take a greater number of employees, not only because of the developmental needs of the country, but also because the commodities which the secondary industries produce are essential for our defence purposes. We must produce all kinds of commodities. All types of engineering work must be undertaken, and all kinds of textiles manufactured. We must produce essential commodities, not merely because their production will give greater employment, but because, in the time that looms ahead, the danger that now threatens may become reality, and we may be cut off from the other countries of the world. In that event, we should have to produce the requisites of our defence programme. For that reason, we must have these basic industries in operation.
The whole of this budget, together with the attitude of the Government towards national problems, needs to be recast, if the country is to have the opportunity to survive in the future. I agree that it is most desirable for us to have a Minister for External Affairs travelling hither and thither, seeking to make friends with the powerful nations of the world. It is also desirable that we should form alliances with countries with similar interests to our own and which are willing to assist us in protecting ourselves against the menace of Asia and the islands which, like stepping-stones, join Australia to the continent of Asia. But, ultimately, we must depend upon ourselves. For that reason, it is vital for us to build up sufficient strength to enable us to defend ourselves. We should not depend upon the goodwill of other nations of the world. In our hour of danger, they may be engaged elsewhere. We ourselves must develop this country. As Byron said -
Who would bc free themselves must strike the blow.
By their right hand their freedom must be wrought.
So it is with this country of ours. If we are to be entitled to possess it, and if our children are to possess it in the future, the policies of to-day must be the foundations upon which a self-reliant nation may be constructed.
– It was very pleasant to hear the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters), in his peroration, utter such strong national sentiments, but I suggest that they would have been much more effective had they not been preceded by some confused thinking about the great industries on which this country depends, not only in peace-time, but also in time of war. The honorable member suggested that the policy of the Government was driving people from the land. In support of that contention, he instanced disappearing markets and falling prices for primary products. He also said that the policy of the Government was preventing thousands of exservicemen from obtaining land. He stated that, because of the Government’s tax reduction policy, people already on the land were able to purchase more property and, as a result, ex-servicemen were not able to take up land.
The honorable member claimed that some of our primary products were becoming unsaleable. That kind of woolly thinking leads me to wonder whether the Government is not a great benefactor. If the policy of the Government prevents people from going on the land and suffering so keenly because of falling prices and disappearing markets, it seems to me that we should have a bit more of that kind of policy. The fact is that the policy of the Government is not bringing about such problems at all. On the contrary, it is responsible for the maintenance of strong markets, such as we have enjoyed in regard to wool. The honorable member for Burke did not reply to my interjection about the degree to which the price of wool had fallen. Possibly he did not know the answer. I assure him that it has been a very minor fall. The value of wool still remains high, and woolgrowing is a profitable occupation at the present time. So also is wheat-growing. Although the price of wheat has fallen, it is still above cost of production. Good farmers will continue to produce wheat as long as they receive the kind of assistance that they have enjoyed from this Government over the years. Because of the wise arrangement for marketing out wool, the auction system was not disturbed. As a result of the wise administration of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), we have a wheat-marketing plan for three years and we have in prospect a wheat stabilization scheme for a further period of two years. The honorable member made some other rather strange remarks. He quoted a long list of tax reductions which he said led to certain people buying land - I assume he meant speculating in land - and preventing other needy people from acquiring it. Opposition members did nothing but complain during recent general election campaigns that the Government had not honoured its promises to reduce taxation. That was the battlecry of the honorable member, but he rises in his place and says that, because the Government has reduced taxation, things are not too prosperous in country districts. I can well understand why the honorable member viewed the distant hills with a certain amount of favour. I understand that in the electorate which he represents was to be found one of the worst transport bottlenecks in Australia. Doubtless, as he noticed the transport trying to creep through, he thought it would be lovely to live out in the back country and enjoy al] those things that this beneficient Government had provided for the people who live in those areas.
Reference has been made to the primary producer, to falling prices, and to the unsatisfactory condition of things on the land. If honorable members will look at the figures in relation to the national income and expenditure, they will see that, despite the very large increase in wages and shearing costs and other associated costs, except for the year 1950-51 which was an exceptional year, the income of the primary producer has risen to a very high level. This debate has developed into a criticism of the budget, not criticism of a constructive nature. but criticism in which honorable members opposite, have directed their attention to ascertaining whether the Government has failed in some small detail. A budget translates into figures a general outline of a government’s policy. It takes into account current variations and current circumstances. In its budget, a government endeavours to retain those items of which it approves and endeavours to displace those things of which it does not approve. That is exactly what the Government has done over the years. A budget is also coloured, to a degree, by its inherited features. A government that has the interests of the nation at heart seek3 to give an overall beneficial result to everybody and seeks to restrict the’ giving of prizes here and there, which, unfortunately, was a feature of budgets that were presented before this Government was returned to office.
I remind honorable members of a critical period when it was feared that, if something, -jio matter how unpleasant, was not done promptly, the country would suffer. A couple of years ago the Government adopted a very unpleasant measure by retaining 20 per cent, of wool sale proceeds. Time proved that it was a very wise and necessary measure. It did not meet with our wishes, because many of us ourselves suffered, but it was for the benefit of the whole nation. The Government also found that it was necessary in 1952 to increase taxation. In that way it was able to maintain the stability which it had promised to the people. The increase was not to our liking, nor to the liking of our supporters, but it was in the interests of the country as a whole. I emphasize that the Government, in the budget, seeks to implement its general policy. It is the policy of the Government to reduce taxation, to remove anomalies and to simplify taxation forms. Those are matters to which the Government has given attention, and to which it will continue to give attention. From year to year, as honorable members know, recommendations that are made by the taxation review committee to the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) are considered by Cabinet, with the result that there is presented not a hotch potch of ideas but a consolidated budget which translates into figures the Government’s financial policy. The Government, knowing the value of industry to the country, not only in time of peace, but also in time of war has sought to assist both primary and secondary industry.
The Government has attempted to maintain economic stability, which means that it has had to choose between inflation and paying its way. To the eternal credit of the Treasurer and the Government, Australia’ has paid its way to such a degree that, if it has required assistance from overseas, it has not been refused. That is the admirable position in which this country finds itself, a position that the Government intends to retain while it remains in office. The Opposition may criticize, it may justly criticize, and it will criticize; if its criticism is constructive, it will get somewhere. On the other hand, if that criticism takes the form of finding one weak spot in the budget, or of dangling before one section of the community some plum which it says it would have given to that section if it had been returned to office, it will be ineffective. Has the Opposition offered any really constructive criticism of the budget? Have honorable members opposite suggested anything that would be of advantage to the country? Have they indicated any policy which, if it were implemented, would be to the advantage of Australia and which they would be prepared to bring forward, or have they just referred to those things that were put to the electors at the last general election in the form of election bait and which were so unhesitatingly rejected by them? Or is the’ Opposition so torn and rent asunder by internal trouble that it cannot submit a coherent policy? Are they a kind of leaderless legion of the lost that cannot come into the House with a constructive policy? I am disappointed, because honorable members opposite have not continued to get together and offer the Government the benefit of their undoubted experience. I remind honorable members of the following report in the Canberra Times of the 19th August in relation to the statement of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) who is acting for the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) while he is engaged temporarily on other matters -
The Budget was a second edition of the “ Horror Budget “, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Calwell, said last night.
He said the Treasurer’s palpably dishonest speech would bo resented bitterly by a shocked and outraged public, who clearly remembered the Government’s glowing election promises.
The honorable member had to resort to that elaborate language-
– Glowing language.
– Yes, glowing in one sense, in an attempt to offer to the Government some suggestion the adoption of which might improve its financial policy. Listen to the language of the honorable member for Melbourne -
There was never a more fraudulent document placed before the Parliament than the present “ Starve-the-Pensioner “ Budget.
This is the language to which a man who aims at being the leader of a party, and no doubt some day of a government, stoops to describe a budget that is full of promise for the people. He proceeded to say that the budget does not provide any benefit for age pensioners, and that invalid and widow pensioners have been treated in the Treasurer’s customary contemptible and unfeeling manner. He said that even the children have not escaped the Treasurer’s clutching hands. I heard honorable members opposite respond to that statement by crying “ Hear, hear “. They agreed with that language. The honorable member for Melbourne said, also, according to the report in the Canberra Times -
The Budget denies all pensioners even elementary social justice in order to distribute largesse to the wealthy and privileged classes from which the Government comes..
This is supposed to be constructive criticism. Apparently it is the only language that the honorable member knows in. which to couch his observations on the b idget. He said -
The income tax reductions are contemptibly low for the low-paid worker.
A man with a wife and two dependent children on the basic wage will benefit by £1 10s. a year, or 8d. a week.
I understand that what he was trying to prove was that a man on £15,000 a year will benefit by an income tax reduction of £671 a year. That is the figure appropriate to a taxpayer with a wife and two dependent children, and the honorable member for Melbourne compared it with the taxation reduction applicable to a basic wage earner without dependants.
– He said that the basic wage worker would benefit by 4d. a week.
– I think that 4d. a week was the amount that he mentioned. But the amount is not important. The important point is that the honorable member for Melbourne compared the position of a taxpayer with a wife and two dependent children, whose income amounted to £15,000 a year, with that of n basie wage worker without dependants, who naturally does not enjoy the benefit of concessional deductions for dependants. The honorable member told the committee that a man with an income of £15,000 a year would benefit by a tax reduction of £671 a year, but he did not say that he would still pay in tax an amount of £7,619 18s. - more than half his income. He should have compared the basic wage worker without dependants with a taxpayer without dependants who earned £15,000 a year. He would benefit by an income tax reduction of £685 a year - £14 more than a man on a similar income who has a wife and two dependent children - but he would still pay tax amounting to £7,784 12s. He would pay an enormous amount in tax, even if he did receive a benefit from the taxation remissions. Let us see how much taxpayers on the basic wage will pay. A man who earns the New South Wales basic wage of £12 3s. a week, and who has a wife and two dependent children - the basic wage is based on the needs of a family of husband, wife and two children - will pay £13 18s. a year, or 5s. 4d. a week, in tax.
– The honorable member may exclaim “ Shocking ! “, if he wishes, but I remind him that every fortnight that basic-wage worker’s wife will collect child endowment of 15s. a week. If the child endowment is set off against the income tax of 5s. 4’d. a week, it will be seen that the basic-wage worker with a wife and two dependent children is actually paid by this beneficent Government 9s. 8d. a week for the enjoyment of all the privileges to which the Australian citizen is heir - the privileges of living in this wonderful country, of participating in the benefits of the national health scheme, and of our modern civilization. Yet the honorable member for Melbourne compared the position of the basic-wage earner without dependants with that of the man who pays £7,619 18s. a year in income tax.
– It is all right for the honorable member for Lawson.
– The honorable member for Lalor is not interested in these figures because they are not very pleasing to him. Let us see how many people enjoy these privileges. The latest available statistics show that approximately 71 per cent, of taxpayers receive incomes of £800 a year or less. A person who receives an income of £800 a year will pay in tax £32 2s. a year, or 12s. 4d. a week. If he collects child endowment of 15s. a week he will make a net gain of 2s. 8d. a week after paying taxation. In spite of this, members of the Opposition compare the position of the man who pays thousands of pounds a year in income tax with that of taxpayers on lower incomes who receive all the benefits that I have mentioned, which, to a great degree, put them in the position of paying no tax at all. The honorable member for Melbourne, in extravagant language, tried to criticize the budget of the Government that has given the people those benefits. He knows that most of the benefits that the citizens of Australia have received in the form of age pensions and social services generally have been given to them by non-Labour governments. I do not propose to refer in detail to all of the criticisms of the budget that the honorable member offered. I shall content myself by saying that his extravagant language gets him nowhere. He complained on the one hand that the Government had not been fair in making taxation reductions, and on the other that it has not given fair treatment to pensioners. Seventy thousand pensioners will receive benefits, and the honorable member for Melbourne claimed that the needs of 330,000 others have been ignored. He did not mention that many pensioners will receive the benefit of social services because the Government has eased the means test in this budget. The honorable member was pleased to ignore that fact because it does not suit his argument.
After the honorable member had suggested that the Government should assist pensioners in particular, he branched away from that theme and said that this Administration should reduce sales tax; that the sales tax was unfair; and that the Government raised too much revenue by it. He said ako that this Administration should increase the initial depreciation allowance on plant, and that it gave industry inadequate tariff protection. He drew many red herrings across the trail. Only this morning the Prime Minister (Mr Menzies) was asked a question about a company that has made a. fair profit in the last twelve months’ trading and proposes to plough its profits back into its business. Yet the Opposition has tried to make capital out of the fact that that company made a profit. If the initial depreciation allowance that the Opposition has advocated were granted, the company that it has criticized would make an even greater profit, probably amounting to £1,000,000 more. The inconsistency of honorable members opposite is clearly indicated also by the fact that some of them have complained because the Government has given the company tariff protection, the Opposition consistently suggests that the Government should grant greater tariff protection to industry. The matters that have been mentioned by honorable members on the Opposition side are only minor sections of the budget. Taken as a whole, the budget is designed to do the utmost for the benefit of the Australian people. This Government has been criticized by the Opposition and by supporters of State governments, but the budget will ensure a stable economy and it shows clearly that the Government has definite plans for the future.
I direct the attention of the committee now to the loan programmes. The Australian Loan Council has been criticized by the State governments, who have claimed that it will not give them enough money. I remind honorable members that when the seventeenth security loan was floated in 1953, public men in New South Wales promised that if the loan was successful, money would be expended in New South Wales upon new railway lines and water conservation programmes. In an advertisement that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 2nd April, 1953, the president of the Labour Council of New South Wales, Mr. J. Shortell, supported the loan, and this statement was attributed to him -
The 17th Security Loan can he of great advantage to New South Wales in developing essential public works, greater food production, water conservation and irrigation, improved public facilities and greater development of electric power.
Then the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. J. J. Cahill, publicly supported the loan. An advertisement appeared under the heading, “ New South Wales Premier supports 17th Security Loan “, and the Premier was credited with saying -
The success of the 17th Security Loan is of prime importance to every citizen of this State because every citizen will benefit from completion of our important developmental projects . . The 17th Security Loan is of vital importance to the great conservation programme planned by the New South Wales Government to overcome water shortages in this State.
The programme was stated to include plans for increased food production, maintenance and expansion of various projects and construction of many new major works, including water supplies and irrigation. The country still requires these things, and it is still waiting. I represent an electorate that is crying out for the completion of the Sandy HollowMaryvale railway and the Burrendong Dam so that production can be expanded. If we were able to get transport facilities, water conservation and irrigation we would know that we were getting somewhere. It is all very well for the Australian Government to set the ball rolling with its budget proposals, but unless this Government is supported, by the State governments, its efforts must be in vain. I commend this budget and the Treasurer who has introduced it. It reflects truly the policy of the Government, and I am sure that it will continue to produce the results that this Government has sought while it has been in office.
.- During this debate I have listened to two extraordinary speeches. They were extraordinary in many ways and particularly because the honorable members who were responsible for them referred to everything but the budget. First, I direct the attention of honorable members to the speech that was given by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon). Strangely enough, he reviewed the history of the Australian Labour party’s accession to power during World War II. He paid a tribute to honorable members who were elected to the Parliament before the war. He said that the success that had been attained during the war was due to those men, but he did not tell the committee or the Australian people the true story. He did not remind honorable members that when war was declared in 1939, a Liberal government was in office or that it still retained the Treasury bench when an election was held in 1940. The honorable member did not tell the Australian people and the newly-elected honorable members who now sit in this chamber that a Labour government subsequently attained office in 1940 through the action of two supporters of the Liberal Government who supported the Labour Opposition of the time ‘ on the floor of this chamber and voted with the Opposition. As a result, a Labour government took office. The situation in Australia was so serious that those two honorable members of the day withdrew their support from the Liberal Government.
While the honorable member for Corangamite was telling his story to-night, honorable members on the Government side were saying “ Hear, hear!” but the honorable member did not tell the full story. He omitted to say that the Liberal Government of 1940 ran out on Australia in its most desperate hour. The honorable member for
Corangamite spilt the beans, however, when he said in plain words that the Liberal Government of that day did not want the responsibility of office while the nation was at war. Those people who represented the great financial interests knew that it would be impossible to derive great profits during a period of war. They knew that certain responsibilities would devolve upon the Government and that it would be called upon to make grave decisions. As a result of the action of two supporters of the Liberal Government of the day, a Labour government took the reins of office and organized Australia on a full war footing. That Labour Government obtained the co-operation of the industrial movement of Australia. The people of Australia also gave the Labour Government their full support, and at the first general election that it faced as a war-time government in 1943, it received an overwhelming majority. Thus the Labour Government was able to complete the task that it had undertaken so successfully. Two men, two great Australians-
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) does not like to be reminded of the truth. Two great Australians’ sacrificed themselves for their country. Mr. John Curtin accepted a most arduous task as the wartime Prime Minister. If ever a war-time hero laid down his life for the Australian people, that man was John Curtin.
Government supporters interjecting,
– Honorable members opposite will not talk me down. I listened quietly to the honorable member for Corangamite, determined that I would tell the true story when I participated in this debate. The honorable member did not discuss the budget. Neither did our great Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) discuss the budget. He devoted the whole of his speech to maligning the Australian Labour party and the Opposition. I remind the Australian people once again that John Curtin, our war-time Prime Minister, laid down his life for this nation, and that in the rehabilitation period, Labour’s Chifley rendered similar service to this country. Those two great
Australian Prime Ministers have gone to their rest because they sacrificed their lives for Australia. They burned the midnight oil in order that, they might do something of benefit to this great country by completing the task that non-Labour governments had failed to discharge. It ill-becomes the honorable member for Corangamite to try to take away from the great Australian Labour party credit that is due to it for the way in which the Labour Government organized this country in World War II. If there should be a World War III., this country will once again depend upon the Australian Labour party to save it from peril.
As I listened the other evening to the Minister for External Affairs I ceased to wonder why Australia, to-day, is not playing in international affairs the role that it should be playing. That failure is due to the fact that we. have an incompetent minister who is prepared to sit on the sidelines and refuse to discharge the responsibility that rests upon him as Minister for External Affairs.
Government supporters interjecting,
– Honorable members opposite do not like to hear these things, but they will have to listen to them. When the Minister for External Affairs rose to speak the other evening in this debate, I thought that he would tell the committee something about the dangers that confront this country. But how did he spend his time? This purse-proud minister who was born in luxury, who has never known want or what it is like to be out of work, and who has never known the day when his parents wondered where his next meal would come from, chided members of the Australian Labour party because they had not been to Transport House in London. Very few members of the Opposition have had the opportunity to visit Transport House. They were not born in such favorable circumstances as would permit them, like the Minister, periodically to tour the world. Transport House in London is analagous to the trades hall in this country. Such talk is all very well for the Minister who can afford to visit various countries overseas, and who gets the opportunity to do so almost annually. It would be far better for
Australia if he remained in this country. He chided members of the Opposition because they had not gone overseas, and deplored the harm that we bad people had done to the Australian community! He failed to talk about the Liberal party which has frequently changed its name. When the title “ Liberal “ got too hot, members of that party changed its name to the United Australia party, and later to the Liberal-Country party; and now they have reverted to the title “ Liberal “. At all events, the Australian Labour party has never changed its name.
The Minister chided the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is Deputy Leader of the Opposition, because he dared to refer to the plight of the aged and infirm people in this country. This Minister who knows of conditions only in the exclusive clubs. of Bengal, London and the United States of America, chided the honorable member for Melbourne because he made a plea to the Government on behalf of the aged and infirm. The Minister exclaimed, in effect, “ Think of those in industry to-day”. Who are the aged and infirm in this country? Are they not people who were in industry in earlier days, who reared families in this country and under the meagre conditions under which they had to live found it impossible to put aside sufficient to carry them on during the closing years of their lives? Members of the Opposition have simply told the Government that it is acting inconsiderately towards these people although, at the same time, it is making provision for this and that, including a small increase of pension to those who are capable of supplementing their pension by their earnings. The Government has failed to do anything for the invalid and age pensioners who are unable to supplement their pension but are obliged to depend entirely upon it. Do not Government supporters understand that those are the persons for whom the Opposition appeals to the Government to make provision under this budget? But what does the Minister for External Affairs know about the circumstances of those people? He should be the last to condemn any member of the Australian Labour party who has the courage to stand up for those unfortu- nates and ask the Government to give consideration to the claims of the aged and infirm who have made such great sacrifices in the interests of this country. Who are those who are now asking the Government to give them an additional 5s. or 10s. a week?- They are the mothers and fathers of the lads who were prepared to shed their blood for this country. Those parents are our aged and infirm of to-day. They reared the servicemen whom non-Labour governments promised to treat so well when they returned from World War I. Do we not recall the plight in which those servicemen found themselves after that conflict, and do we not see the danger of a recurrence of the conditions that existed in this country in 1929?
Mr. Hamilton interjecting,
– I urge the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) to listen to my remarks, because I fear that we are again heading for similar conditions. In those days, hundreds of thousands of the unemployed who marched the streets in our capital cities wore ex-servicemen’s badges. NonLabour governments promised the men who were prepared to take up arms and spill their blood in defence of their country that on their return they would be treated as heroes. What has happened to those heroes? During the depression, they were the unemployed; and many of the men who walked the streets in search of work in those days did not secure a job until World War II. broke out in 1939. We, as a government, promised the Australian servicemen that we would reward them and protect them. We did so.
– The Labour party did not.
– If the purchasing power of pensions paid by the Menzies Government to the service pensioner, the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner and war widow is to be equivalent to that of the pensions paid by the Chifley Labour Government, pensions will have to be doubled.
– The Labour Government would not give the widows a service pension.
– How were paralysed ex-servicemen treated?
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Adelaide to resume his seat for a moment. The honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) is constantly interjecting.
– The honorable member for Adelaide provokes me.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! In spite of provocation, the honorable member for Canning must keep order. I ask honorable members to give the honorable member for Adelaide a good hearing.
– I appreciate your remarks, Mr. Temporary Chairman. I wish to explain again to the honorable members opposite that this Government, if it is to be fair to the service pensioners, must double existing pensions in order to give them the purchasing power equivalent to that of the pensions paid when the Chifley Government was in office. The age and invalid pension would also need to be doubled. It is easy for a person who has never known hunger and cold to laugh when he is told that pensioners are suffering.
– The honorable member was the Minister for the Army in the Chifley Labour Government. What did he do for the pensioners at that time?
– I remind the honorable member for Canning that this is the year 1954.
– What did the honorable member do for the prisoners of war in 1947 ? He robbed them.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! I warn the honorable member for Canning that if he interjects again, the Chair will suspend him for the remainder of to-day’s sitting.
– I am speaking the truth. Government supporters claim that inflation is now under control, but the price of tea was increased yesterday by ls. Id. per lb. Now, the age pensioner and the invalid pensioner are to receive £3 10s. a week under this budget. That is little enough to pay rent, and purchase food, clothing, and other things neces sary to keep body and soul together. Does anybody believe that a pensioner can purchase all those things with a meagre £3 10s. a week? I make a special plea on behalf of those people, because I claim that the aged and infirm, who are dependent on pensions, are the real pioneers of this country. They raised large families, and did not have an opportunity, during their working lives, to put away sufficient money to provide for their old age. It amazes me when I see Government supporters smile and say that I am talking tommy-rot because I make a special plea for those people. The Government points with pride to the fact that it has reduced sales tax. I remind honorable members that sales tax was introduced as a war-time tax-
– No, as a depression tax.
– I am amazed when the Treasurer tells the people about the reductions of taxation made by the present Government. Why does not the Treasurer tell the whole story, and say that taxation was increased when Australia, was at war and we were fighting for our lives? At that time we needed every Id. to support our fighting forces. The honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon) spoke at length about our great defence force. I consider that it is conspicuous by its lack of defence. I would not complain about an expenditure of even £400,000,000 if we could see something for the money. It is not how much the Government spends on defence that counts. The important consideration is what is obtained for that expenditure.
What is the defence situation? The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) is sitting at the table at this moment. Perhaps he can give us some information about the defence position. Let any one travel through north Queensland to Darwin, and examine our defences! The Chifley Labour Government began the construction of an airport at West Beach in South Australia in 194S.. The Menzies Government has been in office since December, 1949, yet not one aircraft has left or landed on that aerodrome. That is an example of the kind of defence that we are getting from this Government. There are blue prints, but the work is not being done. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has been criticized for his statement about the defence of our long coastline. The Labour party has always realized the necessity for sound national defence. Government supporters speak with pride of the national service training scheme, which involves the calling up of thousands of lads when they attain the age of eighteen years. That is not the kind of defence we need for the protection of this country. We require the largest air force in the Pacific. That is the kind of defence on which we must concentrate. That is the form of defence on which the taxpayers’ money should be expended.
– That is precisely what the Labour Government did not do.
– I am amazed when Government supporters make these interjections. I began my speech by pointing out to those honorable gentlemen who did not seem to comprehend that the Labour party assumed office in war-time towards the end of 1941-
– You did not fight the war and we did.
– I do not know what the honorable member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson) means by that interjection. Does he mean that individually lie fought the war, and I did not? If that is his meaning, he is wrong. Let us be sane about this matter.
– We are saneabout it. Mr. CHAMBERS.- Let us spend £200,000,000 on defence-
Honorable members interjecting,
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! Will the honorable member for Adelaide resume his seat? There is a constant cross-fire of interjections, and I do not say that it comes from any particular part of the chamber. I ask the committee to allow the honorable member for Adelaide to complete his speech without further interruption. He has been interrupted constantly during the 22 minutes he has been talking.
– Again I thank you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, for your protection. I was saying, until I was so rudely interrupted, that the Labour party has not complained about expenditure on defence. We shall need defence, but we need real defence. We do not want any showmanship. We want the real thing. We desire the Australian people not only to think that they are secure, but also to know that they are secure. I say to them, “ Do not be fooled, because you have no real defence “. It is time that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Minister for Defence and the service Ministers got busy and laid down a formula for the provision of some real defence for this country. There is chaos and unfriendliness in the world to-day, but this Government is not taking any measures to bring about better feeling among the peoples of the world. Why, Government supporters cannot even be fair when they are criticizing the Opposition. Repeatedly, I hear members of the Government parties stand in their places and refer to members of the Labour party as Communists. I challenge any honorable member opposite to point to one member of the Labour party and say that he is a Communist.
Mr.Freeth. - The matter is sub judice.
– Sub judice! I throw down that challenge. The only party in this country that has really fought the Communists is the Labour party. If there was one section of the community that had the courage really to fight communism on the coal-fields during the coal strike of 1949, it was the Labour party. I remember only too well that day after day I, as . Minister for the Army, and other members of the Labour Government addressed the men in the coalfields. We travelled 400 or 500 miles in two or three days. We spoke to the men, pointed out to them the dangers of communism, and implored them to throw communism overboard. As a government, we froze the funds of Communist organizations and - I do not say this with any pride because, although it had to be done in the interests of Australia, we hated to do it - we put some men into gaol. We froze the funds of miners’ organizations, and we fought with the miners. In those days, when Labour party members were fighting against communism in every part of the coal-fields, members of the present Government parties were conspicuous by their absence from the coal-fields. I did not see one of them in the coal-fields in those days helping us to fight the Communists. Again I throw out a challenge to honorable members opposite. If they believe there are Communists in the Labour party, if they believe that I or any one of my colleagues is a Communist, let them have the decency to name us as Communists. But they have not the courage to do so. They know we are not Communists. They know we are not associated with Communists. They know that the Labour party is the only party that has had the courage to fight communism.
In conclusion, I say that this budget should be withdrawn and recast. Consideration should be given to the interests of those good Australians who bore the heat and burden of the day. I urge the Government to be compassionate to them and give them the things to which they are entitled.
– It is not my intention to engage in a slanging match with the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers), because I intend to devote my speech to a discussion of the budget and the Government’s financial policy, but there are one or two things I should like to say before I start to do so. In the first place, I should like to call the attention of the committee to the remarks made by the honorable member for Adelaide about the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), because I say that his attack on that gentleman was contemptible. If there is one adjective that cannot be applied to the right honorable gentleman, it is purse-proud. It may be that the right honorable gentleman possesses perhaps some share of this world’s goods, but at least he has spent his life in a distinguished career of service to his country. Not only so, but he is entitled to wear one of the highest decorations for bravery that this country can award. I see that the honorable member for Adelaide has gone out of the chamber and has not waited to hear what I have to say. As far as sitting on the sidelines goes, the whole country knows that the
Minister for External Affairs has played a leading part and taken the initiative in the foreign policy of this country, in the deliberations of the British Commonwealth, and, in fact, of the free world, and is now abroad engaged on one of the most important missions on which his country could send him.
There is one other thing that I want to say, and that is that the wild and intemperate language which has been used by the honorable member for Adelaide and, I must say, also by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) in speaking to the budget is such as to discredit their utterances in the eyes of the country. I believe that the descriptions they have applied to this budget have caused them to come to a state where the country no longer takes seriously what they say. The weakness of the Labour party’s attack on this budget has been so pronounced that it is almost not worthwhile to discuss it. Although they have been ready to carp and criticize one thing and another, one item or another, this is not good enough from an Opposition. We want to know what the financial policy of the Labour party is. Apart from the offering of gigantic sums in social services at election time, we have heard none in this House. The central theme of this budget should be considered in relation to its predecessors - the budgets which this Government has brought down over the last few years. The central theme, I suggest to the committee, is production and productivity over the years. It is reflected in the state of the country. There is far more coal available now, far more steel, far more houses, for instance, than when this Government took office, and it is the direct result of the monetary policy of this Government. It has been a policy that has been carried on in times disturbed by external events, by all sorts of international tensions and difficulties, by a great wool boom and then a fall in the price of wool, and by a series of internal events. This Government took office at a time of great shortages in all sorts of materials, which have been overcome. It has had to face all sorts of rises in costs. Its policy has been pursued in budget after budget and has resulted in the remedying of those shortages, and in the great increase in production of all the essential materials and commodities which we have seen fulfilled year after year.
In the face of this, the Labour criticism of the budget is completely confused - now attacking this point, now attacking that, but never once putting forward any constructive policy or any workable alternative. In fact, at a time when it is obvious that no government should be budgeting for a deficit, the only proposals put to the Australian people by the Labour party have involved expenditure on such an enormous scale that huge deficits must inevitably have resulted. I suggest that the previous budgets which have lead up to this one have resulted in prosperity. I want to give the House a few instances to exemplify what I have said. The supply of individual consumer goods in Australia is obviously now infinitely greater than it was when this Government took office. Consider the number of motor cars that are now on the road. Consider the number of refrigerators, electric stoves and all the devices which go into the modern home. These are now not only readily available, but are paid for out of the wages and prosperity and the salaries of the community. There are far more houses now than when this Government took office. In any paper that you pick up, you will be able to read company report after company report recording higher profits and higher dividends. These things are all evidences of increasing prosperity, the result of the financial policy of the Menzies-Fadden Administration. Hand in hand with these things has gone a progressive lowering of taxes, adding not only to the prosperity but to the further inducement for investment and saving and the further increasing of prosperity in the country.
There are two things which fall with special impact on any budget - social services and defence - and in a few moments I shall return to both these to say something about them. But I want first to point out that there are some unwelcome methods which have had to be used by this Government in the attainment of the state of prosperity to which I have referred. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Downer) drew attention to them in a very factual and sensible speech this afternoon. I refer chiefly, of course, to the import restrictions. I do not want to traverse the same ground that the honorable member went over this afternoon, but I do want to emphasize once again that these restrictions are something which the economy of the country cannot indefinitely shelter behind, and if we are going to have a viable economy it cannot be maintained indefinitely by the maintenance of those restrictions, important and necessary as they were at the time. But the net result of them, if they are indefinitely prolonged, must be to add to the costs of production in the country and finally to have a most adverse effect on our economy.
There have been also apparent of late some unwelcome features in the economy. There has been a falling off in our export prices, or at least a difficulty in disposing of some of our primary products. There has been a rise in some of our internal costs, notably in the price of steel, and there are some shortages again re-appearing in the community, notably in the building trade. But they are nothing like the shortages or the difficulties or the rapidly mounting costs that confronted this Government when it took office and when it put its monetary policy first into effect several years ago, and I have no doubt that we will be able to surmount these in the future as we have surmounted their predecessors in the past.
Now I have said that there were two things that fell with great impact on this and all other budgets - social services and defence. I want to say something first of all about social services, because the estimated expediture on social services in the present budgets amounts to about £193,000,000, and we may well pause to consider it. It is some £16,000,000- nearly £17,000,000 - more than was expended on social services last year and infinitely more than was expended by governments in previous years. Now I think it is true to say that every one is in favour of advanced social services. In the language of the day, every one is in favour of a welfare state, provided we know what we mean by a welfare state, and this Government’s record has certainly pointed to the fact that not only is it in favour of extensive social services but also that it is capable of putting them into effect.
Wow, what are we going to achieve by all this expenditure on social services? It may be that we will succeed in abolishing poverty. I do not know. But I doubt that we are going to produce security by it, because security is something relative and largely an attitude of mind. We are not going to succeed in producing welfare if we are going to make, in our efforts to do so, the whole community less productive, and, just as I pointed out earlier that the financial policy of this Government has been to secure more production, so I believe it should be the financial policy of this Government and of every government to examine very carefully its expenditure on social services unless it is going to run the danger of reducing production to such an extent that social services will not be worth while. And also I believe it is immensely important that social services should not grow to such an extent that they entirely negative the value of individual enterprise, initiative and energy and remove the incentive to it. They will do so if taxation is allowed to mount beyond certain figures. I want to draw the attention of the committee to what is happening in England now.
It is not my intention to make invidious comparisons with other countries, but I want to impress on the committee that, in a country which has embarked on enormous expenditure on social services, it is found that in spite of this, and in spite of a. level of taxation far exceeding that in this country, expressed in any terms, this expenditure is still not enough, and large numbers of people in receipt of old age pensions and invalid pensions have to receive, in addition, special assistance from the State. So .that it is very necessary to consider our expenditure on social, services and to realize that there is a limit beyond which it negatives the purpose for which it is being put into effect. And if it reaches such a level that it removes from the community the desire to make profit and to undertake risk and enterprise, then I believe that social services will cease to have any value. Few people, no matter how great are the social services poured out on them, are really going to admit that they are justly treated. And I want to say this in addition : Not only are there financial considerations with regard to social services, but in respect of some, in particular the provision of old age and invalid pensions, these problems are not finally solved merely by providing pensions and allowances.
It is quite unreal for us to be talking in this chamber about equating pensions with the basic wage or imagining that there is any really fundamental relationship between wages and pensions. They fulfil, I believe, entirely different functions in the community, and there will be no value in social services when they reach such a pitch that family obligation and filial responsibility are cast aside, and I suggest that all Australian governments might give some consideration to whether we are not already in Australia reaching that level. Once that level is reached and once those things are removed from our considerations in the provision of social services, then I believe that the welfare state will have been bought at such a price as not to be worth having. Now I want to turn to another aspect of our social services, and that is the provision of our medical services, because I believe that this in Australia has been a great experiment in the provision of social services, and that the system we have employed in providing medical services in Australia is a good one because it satisfies one criterion, and that is that those who participate in the scheme make some contribution direct to its cost. In the total expenditure of something like £193,000,000 on social services for the current budget, approximately £37,000,000 is to be devoted to medical services, and unless we are prepared to accept the proposition that there must be some control of this expenditure - in other words, the control, which we have instituted, that those participating make some direct contribution to the cost - I believe we can reach the stage where the provision of medical benefits comes to dominate the entire expenditure on social services, and, in fact, in other countries it is rapidly assuming that position. So that I believe it is important that there should always be some check on this expenditure, some check by the criterion that I have suggested, and that the ^ Government subsidy towards the cost of medical services should never be too much.
It is unreal to talk about the level of medical fees and hospital fees and to say that every time they are raised the government contribution should rise in proportion. Why should it? I do not believe that this presents any reality of thought at all. In the medical expenditure which it is proposed to make under this budget, it is proposed to expend, in the coming financial year,, approximately £6,000,000 on tuberculosis benefits, using the word in its widest sense, that is to say, pensions, hospitals and so on. Nobody will quarrel with that. Expenditure of that nature was so undertaken in tho last budget, not quite so large, but it is already bringing, quite material results in the reduction of the incidence of tuberculosis in Australia, and we can reasonably hope that, with adequate expenditure on this form of preventive medicine over the next few years, it will become a diminishing figure in the total of health expenditure.
On the question of pensioner medical services and benefits, it is proposed to expend in the coming financial year round about £4,000,000. I believe that one of the most difficult problems which any government can face is the provision of adequate medical, services for pensioners and adequate hospitalization for them, lt has been tackled in this medical scheme on a realistic basis, but the time has come when it is probable that the whole system of providing pensioner medical benefits will have again to be considered, and it may well rise above the figure estimated for the coming year. Nevertheless, it is a social service which, . again, is not merely provided by the provision of pensions, but involves far more than that. All of us are familiar with the pensioner who, even if he were drawing a very large pension, would still be incapable of caring for himself and would still need other material factors of care and maintenance beyond the pension.
The proposal for hospitals is an expenditure of about £9,000,000, and again, I want to make the point that this Government’s scheme does not provide hospital services entirely free to every one in the community, and I thoroughly agree, with that standpoint. There is no reason whatever why those who can afford to pay for hospital care should not do so.
– They pay taxes, do they not?
– Of course they do ! Every one pays taxes to maintain the railways, but that does not entitle them to travel free.
– The Chifley Government introduced a free hospital scheme.
– Yes, but it went “ phut “. It went broke.
– It did not.
– There are other factors in our medical service, such as pharmaceutical benefits, estimated at £9,000,000, medical services estimated at £3,750,000, and mental hospital services estimated at £230,000. I want to say a word about mental hospitals, and treatment for mental cases, because this question was raised by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) this afternoon. The first thing I want to point out, is that the present arrangements, which were declared by the honorable member for Wills to be totally inadequate, were the arrangements made by the previous Labour Government, and the present Government, far from doing nothing about it, has appointed a commissioner to make a. thorough investigation of the entire question of the treatment of mental diseases in Australia, and has notified the States that it will advise them when that report is received. We will then require them to negotiate fresh agreements with the Commonwealth. I want to make this point, too. It is very easy for the States to say, as they do say on many subjects as soon as a matter becomes one for the expenditure of considerable amounts, of finance, that it is a Commonwealth responsibility. The question of the provision of medical services for mental disease, and for other diseases, is basically a State responsibility and always has been so. If the Commonwealth comes to the rescue of the States, it is up to the States to do their part to co-operate in whatever schemes the Commonwealth finally brings down. There is one other great advantage, I believe, in the medical services which are provided under the
National Health Act 1953 (No. 2), because they are designed to preserve the present pattern of the supply of medical services. I have spoken at length in the chamber about this before, and I do not intend to speak at length about it to-night. But the fact that the public who participate in medical services in Australia do not get these services free, but must assume some responsibility, as they should, towards the discharge of the payment for the maintenance of their own health, is the great factor which helps to maintain medical practice in Australia on the very sound basis that it has been developed on. That is to say, there is a general practitioner service of high standards. In other parts of the world, most grievous concern is being felt at the present moment on what is going te happen to general medical practice, and in every country - I think I am right in saying in every country - where the general practitioner has become a salaried servant of the State, there is a grave degeneration, or a danger of a grave degeneration of the standard of medicine. The system of medical service which has been introduced in this country, that is to say, the system whereby there is a prepayment of medical insurance, is designed to preserve the traditional pattern of medical practice in this country which we will abandon at our peril. The general result of abandoning it will be a general lowering of the standard of medicine in Australia, and a deterioration of the general standards of health.
– Why should there be a deterioration of those standards?
– Because it removes the free interchange of initiative and personal service between doctor and patient. It makes the doctor a servant of the State, and promptly destroys the real basis on which the curing of people will rest. Do not forget, it is not the institution that cures people, but the contact between doctor and patient, which can be preserved in no other way than by the preservation of a free, independent, general practice.
The only other thing I want to say something about, is the question of defence.
I say this, because the most extravagant and fantastic statements about Australian defence have been made by the Opposition during the course of this debate, and not only this debate, but at other times, talking about one Wirraway at Darwin, and that there is no defence of the north and all sorts of statements of that kind. Even the people who make the statements, of - course, realize they are merely uttering Labour propaganda. In effect, the defences of Australia are stronger than they have ever been in the country’s history. But the defence of Australia, which has been built up not only by national training schemes, but by the development of the Royal Australian Navy, and by the building up of the Royal Australian Air Force, which is now going on to a far higher peak than ever before, does not rest only on the development of Australia’s own fighting services. No country can defend itself to-day by its own efforts, and no serious proposition can be put forward that if we were to station some force, within Australia’s ability to produce and maintain, at Darwin or Townsville, or some other place, we would be defending Australia more. Every one knows that the defence of Australia depends, first, on the creation of some mobile form of defence and, secondly, on the alliance of Australia with powerful friends who can take part, and assist us, in our defence just as they expect us to take part and assist them in theirs. So that these two things which I say fall with an especial force on every budget have been well cared for in this - social services within the limits to which we believe they should go, and defence on a scale far exceeding anything we have had before in the country’s history; defence by the development of our own services, and defence by a realistic foreign policy which alines us with our great allies in America and our friends and allies in Great Britain.
I have dwelt at some length on social services and medical services because I want to finish up by saying to the committee, that it is an essentially Liberal point of view that there should, in a modern community, be adequate social services, but adequate social services to improve the lot of the individual citizen and to leave him with initiative and enterprise and incentive to do something to better himself and a society in which he can reap the reward of his efforts and the success that his efforts deserve. We do not believe that any system of social security, so called, or any system of welfare which leaves everything to the care of the State, and removes all responsibility from the shoulders of the individual, will, in the end, be real welfare. I commend this budget to the committee, because I believe that in these two matters, and especially in social services, it assumes a realistic policy based on the best Liberal principles.
.- The honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) has delivered the best possible defence of the budget. He has studiously avoided discussing it. That is the only means by which honorable members opposite can justify the budget. The budget is an ill-considered document. It is inequitable. It is inappropriate to the economic circumstances of the times. The only other comment I wish to make on the speech of the honorable member for Oxley is that it underlines the difference between the. Liberal party’s policy and the policy of the progressive Labour party. The honorable member says that he fears, as the Government parties themselves say they fear, that the recipients of social services may become so well off that initiative and enterprise will be destroyed. The apparently great and gnawing fear of honorable members opposite on this score produces from them the same old cliches that have been uttered by generations of tories. We, on the other hand, say that whilst men of wealth and standing can indulge freely in risks, men who have not the wealth and the background of people with whom honorable members opposite associate, but who have heavy family responsibilities, cannot afford to take risks that may jeopardize their own future and the future of their families, unless they know that, should they fail through no fault of their own, the country that they have served, and whose economy they have helped to develop, will provide basic security for them, and, more important, for their wives and children who are dependent on them. We say that if basic security is given to them, the men and women of Australia will not only maintain the initiative and enterprise that is vested in the human race, but will also develop still further the normal willingness to take risks and develop new enterprises. They will be able to do so in those circumstances because they will be secure in the knowledge that, should sickness or other catastrophies befall them, the community will1 provide for them.
I have said that the budget is illconsidered. It is certainly ill-considered in relation to many of its major points, but I shall deal with merely a few of them. In the first place the Treasurer (Sir Arthur .Fadden) took the figure for income tax, which is one of the largest revenue items and said, casually, apparently as the result of mere guesswork, that revenue from income tax would be down this year as a result of tax reductions. Having said that, with no scientific investigation or close examination having been made, as far as we can determine, he went on to say that the amount to be expended on immigration in the current year would be increased by £2,165,000 above the amount expended last year. If that means anything, it means that we shall have the same increase to our labour force recruited from immigration as we had last year, plus the increased intake of immigrants represented by an expenditure of £2,165,000. As a result of this increased influx of men and women to the labour force, more wages will be paid, on which income tax will be levied, and more goods and services will be consumed, resulting in increased revenue from sales tax and other taxes. In addition to the influx of labour from abroad we shall have an increase of the labour force as -a result of our own natural increase, with boys and girls leaving school and entering employment. Clearly the Treasurer has omitted to take these sources of increased revenue into account. Instead of revenue from income tax this year being reduced by a considerable sum we shall most likely have a large increase of income tax revenue.
In my view a cursory examination has been made by the Government of the national accounts and a very inexpert summing up of economic trends has been made. The budget tables show that it is estimated that an additional amount of £8,667,237 will be expended on the Department of Air, the former ministerial head of which is now sitting at the table. Of that very considerable increase a comparatively tiny amount of £411,000 is to be devoted to the procurement of new aircraft. There may be an explanation of the disproportionate increase for that purpose, but on the face of it it is a ludicrous sum. I have not gone into the figures of present aircraft costs, but it is certainly true that an amount of £411,000 will not purchase much in the way of modern aircraft. Then we have the estimates for capital works and services. The Government is increasing very substantially the votes for most departments for capital works and services. The lack of adequate information about those proposed increases contained in the budget shows a lack of interest on the part of the Government. The budget papers give some explanation of various increases, but there is one in particular for which no explanation is given. The vote for capital works and services for the Department of External Affairs is to be increased by £73,296, over last year’s actual expenditure. The Government does not deign to tell the committee, or explain to the country, the reason for that large increase. The estimate for capital works and services for the Treasury is £395,000 above last year’3 actual expenditure, ostensibly because of the acquisition by the Government of buildings in Adelaide and Hobart for the Taxation. Branch. N~o reason is advanced why the Government should buy additional properties at the highest peak of property values, and pour out a stream of money that will increase inflationary pressure. The estimated increase of expenditure on what are loosely termed “ Other Items “ is £761,430.
In introducing the budget, the Treasurer has had no regard to its effect on Australia’s economy. I shall give examples to show that the ‘Government has given the budget scant consideration. This budget is inequitable. The Government has proposed to give benefits to those who do not need them at present and has denied to those who need assistance an adequate sum on which to live. I refer to the pensioners and the men with family responsibilities. The tax reductions proposed in the budget are low on lower incomes. As costs rise, the burden of prices is falling more heavily on the family man. The budget is inappropriate to present conditions because we are still in an. inflationary position. The period of galloping inflation which was generated, apparently deliberately, by the Government is past, but costs are inflated as never before. The family man cannot live as well as he could live five or six years ago. An inflated cost structure imposes hardship throughout the community. The Government should make some attempt to reduce costs, or at least, to stabilize them.
The Treasurer made only three statements to which serious consideration need be given. In the first place, he said -
Altogether, 1053-54 waa a period of stable, genuine and widely spread prosperity.
Then, later in his speech, he said -
The first thing to do about the problem of costs is, obviously, to ensure that costs rise no higher.
Later on he said - . . the cost problem is the responsibility of every one. Governments and other public authorities have an important share in that responsibility.
What has the Government done to stabilize the cost structure? The Treasurer said that the Government had reduced direct taxation. But in reducing taxation has the Government made any attempt to reduce the cost of living and the cost of producing? Clearly, it has not. If the proposed reductions in taxation, which range from £1 16s. in the lower income groups, to £671 in the higher income groups, have any influence at all, they must increase prices, because they must increase the pressure on goods and services. Because of the people to whom tax reductions have gone, they must increase the pressure on investment. In every avenue in which the reductions of taxation have been directed, they must push up the cost structure. Costs are one of the major problems in Australia. The Treasurer dwelt at length on the factors in the Australian economy that make for increased inflation. He stated blandly that inflation had been stopped. He warned us solemnly and at length, that there were factors in the economy which made for a further term of inflation and higher prices, the natural corollary of increased money, with no substantial increase in the supply of goods. The budget proposals will greatly increase the pressure on prices. They will greatly increase the hardship on income earners as well as on the manufacturers or exporters.
I agree with the Treasurer that everybody has a share in the responsibility of keeping prices down. This major problem is the crux of Australia’s difficulties. Yet, the Government looks to industry and the people to solve it. In other words, the Treasurer has said that if the people give a lead, the Government will follow them out of the inflationary mess. The Government has abdicated its function. The Government should accept its responsibility as Australia’s National Government and lead the nation, not follow the complex forces that make up the modern industrial State. The Government should give a lead to the people and then the people will gladly follow. But no lead has been given by the Government. It has made no offer to help the community. It has placed hardship on every individual by its methods. As I have mentioned, the Treasurer said that 1953-54 was a period of stable, genuine and widely spread prosperity. It certainly was a period of great prosperity for those who had wealth to invest or who engage in industry. It was a particularly prosperous time for those engaged in luxury industries. It was loss prosperous for those who engaged their capital and industry and managerial ability in basic industries producing bricks, timber, tiles and other commodities which form the essentials of the Australian economy. A stable, genuine prosperity did not exist at all for those who really needed assistance. For example, it did not exist for those who had to rely on pensions or superannuation for their support. The Government may brand those who have to get the pension as shiftless, thriftless and worthless, because they have no other income, but has the Government considered those who have paid for pensions and superannuation benefits throughout their lives, and who are in no better plight than the persons whom the Government condemns? People who rely on superannuation pensions for their incomes, are in just as bad a plight to-day as are many of those who rely on social services pensions. There is no prosperity for them. There is only a .desperate attempt to live on the money that they have accumulated, and their small superannuation incomes which they have paid for during their working, years. Those circumstances do not show the glowing picture that the Treasurer and honorable members from the Government side have painted of the prosperity of the Australian people, but it shows a truer picture of our present Australian economy. Such a state of affairs is inseparable from the inflation that has been generated by the actions - it would seem the deliberate actions - of this Government. Another effect of the grim inflation that is rampant in the country to-day, is that there is great prosperity among the people who can afford to purchase luxury goods - foodstuffs, clothing, motor cars or anything else - because prices have not been held stable in this country.
In Britain and in -other better governed countries, the general prosperity has been more evenly distributed, and there is not great prosperity among certain groups of the people such as exists in this country. That is the reason why luxury goods have poured into this country. Inflation has generated a luxury buying power that has attracted goods and services from other countries, because those goods and services are not freely and readily saleable there. This Government will never have a balanced economy unless it completely alters the policy that it has carried out during its term of office. If it does not change its methods we shall again see luxury goods flooding into this country from countries that are better governed and which pursue saner economic policies. I assume that the Treasurer does not even need to be wellinformed, all he needs is to be free of pressure from vested interests. There are trained and experienced men in the Treasury, and he only needs to be willing to be advised by those men, in order to follow saner policies than he has followed in the past.
The Government ended last financial year with a surplus of £56,000,000. The surplus was not £35,000,000 as the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) recently stated time and time again. The Government had a budget surplus of £56,000,000 and this year it has diverted £11,000,000 of that sum to defence. The Treasurer, with advice from the Treasury, should look around the Australian scene and ascertain where this money should best be spent to meet human needs and to stabilize our economy. If he should do that there is no doubt that he would find the first and most urgent need to be increased expenditure on social services. He could well have given an increase of 7s. 6d. a week to all pensioners, instead of limiting the increase to special classes. If he had done that the £45,000,000 would have been reduced by £10,000,000. The increase of the pension by 7s. 6d. a week would make some contribution towards ameliorating the present desperate economic plight of the pensioners. I suggest that such a contribution towards their needs is demanded by all sections of the people. It is almost universally forgotten that as soon as the pensioners spend their money, and of course they spend it immediately they get it because they need every penny, in order to live, some of it flows back to the Government as revenue. To-day I received from the Department of Trade and Customs a statement of ordinary duties that would be paid by a pensioner on certain items that he would buy if he were given an additional 7 s. 6d. a week. Assume that he would spend his 7s. 6d. on a couple of packets of cigarettes, and, perhaps, four glasses of beer. I suggest that nobody would begrudge him an expenditure like that. If he expended his 7s. 6d. on those items, the Government would immediately receive back 3s. 5d. a week by way of duty and excise. Therefore, it would not cost the Government £10,000,000 to increase pensions by 7s. 6d. a week. It would cost £6,000,000 to £6,500,000.
Then the Treasurer could look still further. The increased pensions would not. affect inflation because the goods that the pensioner would spend his money on are in ample supply. After the pen sioners, the next group of persons worst hit by the Government’s continuing policy, is the group comprising men with ordinary family responsibilities earning average wages, a little more than the basic wage. The budget certainly does not meet their needs, and in order to help them the Government should immediately try to introduce economic measures to reduce substantially the cost of goods. After having done what I have suggested, it would have about £35,000,000 remaining out of its surplus, and I believe that it could reduce indirect taxes by that amount. It should reduce the sales and pay-roll taxes. I suggest that the Government should immediately reduce the sales tax, at least in the general field, to the rate of 8^ per cent, which existed in 1949. If it will not do that, then perhaps it could completely abolish the pay-roll tax. That tax is passed on by those who pay it; and the prices of goods and services are increased accordingly. The Government could have made a real attack on the causes of our high cost structure in industry, by the abolition of the pay-roll tax. It could have used the £35,000,000 available in these various important ways. However, if the Government had abolished pay-roll tax, which is a deduction for income tax purposes, income tax collections would have increased. Therefore, the estimated cost of abolition of the tax would have been much more than the ultimate real cost. Pay-roll tax is deducted from the gross profits which businesses make. If the £41,000,000 is cut out, prices should be reduced. If they did not fall, income tax collections would be increased. An increase of the rate of tax on profits would return, on my calculation, approximately £14,000,000 a month. That is at the rate of 7s. in the £1. The cost, therefore, to the budget, would be £26,000,000 to £27,000,000 and not the total of £41,000,000.
I wish now to deal briefly with the measures which, I consider, should be taken by a government which comprehended the problems that face the country and was concerned for the future of Australia, its population, development, and defence. Such a government would set out immediately to reduce costs by the measures which I have indicated, and, at the same time,” push down the interest rate. The actions of this Government concerning the interest rate has been scandalous. The Government has broken faith with investors and destroyed the trust which the Australian Labour party developed over the years that it was in office. There is plenty of money for investment to-day, as long as capital security is assured. The interest rate should be reduced immediately to 3 per cent, or 31/8 per cent. I have no doubt the Government will reply that it is the Australian Loan Council which decides the rate of interest, but it is the Treasurer who has the loan-raising machinery at his disposal. If he insists on an increase of the interest rate, an increase will be made. If he demands that it be decreased it will be lowered. The Treasurer should have gone to the Australian Loan Council long ago and informed it that the interest rate ought to be reduced.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Adermann).Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
The following papers were presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for -
Department of Civil Aviation purposes - Lymington (near), Tasmania.
Department of Supply purposes - Williamstown (Fort Gellibrand), Victoria.
Postal purposes -
Agery, South Australia.
Keppoch, South Australia.
Millaa Millaa (Bradley’s Hill), Queensland.
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Commerce and Agriculture - E. J. Davies.
Defence Production - R. A. S. Bywater,
A. F. J. Johnston.
National Development - A. T. Wells.
Postmaster-General - S. J. Chuck, R. J.
Conlin, R. A. Hume, S. Minz, J. H.
Morgan, W.H. Otto, E. H. Rumpelt,
A. J. Seyler, K. D. Vawser.
Repatriation - J. M. Aitken, L. J. W. Hayes.
House adjourned at 10.53 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
b asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Mr.DALY asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What amount of subsidy, if any, is paid on tea?
What would thecost be by way of subsidy in order that tea . might be reduced to 2s. 7d. per lb.?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Acting Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to. the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
– On the 10th August the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) asked me the following questions without notice: -
Is the Treasurer aware that the Commonwealth Trading Bank is informing soma Victorian approved co-operative building societies that finance cannot be made available to them for four or five years? Will he make inquiries, and if that is so will he ensure, as Treasurer of this Commonwealth, that these societies are furnished with the necessary finance to carry on their essential work?
The Commonwealth Bank has now advised me that loans to co-operative building societies are generally being made by the Commonwealth Savings Bank. The Savings Bank is continuing to make loans to building societies to the limit of its ability, having regard to the funds available to it, the needs of other types of borrowers, and the prevailing economic conditions in the building industry. Because of the very large number of applications being received, the Savings Bank is unable to approve all suitable applications immediately they are received. However, applications on hand are reviewed at monthly intervals, and it is not the practice of the Savings. Bank to inform building societies that finance cannot be made available to them for four or five years or any other stated period.
Mr. FRANCIS - On the 11th ^August the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) asked the following question : -
The question that I address to the Minister for the Army refers to the purchase by hia department of a building in Payneham, South Australia, known as Mum’s Own, which was used by a fruit processing company previously. Can the Minister tell me the cost to the department of the building? I ask this question because I have heard many complaints that persons who know the facts claim that the price paid by the department was far in excess of the value of the property.
I informed him in reply that the Department of the Army does not acquire any properties on its own behalf, that such transactions are carried out through the Department of the Interior, and that I would obtain the information and make it available to Mm. I have now ascertained that the property valued at £108,000 was purchased by the Department of thenterior for the sum of £100,628 17s. 9d. on the 31st July, 1952. The property consists of main factory buildings of 77,200 square feet, two small buildings of 16,900 square feet, a garage, two flats and a cottage. The expansion of the Army in South Australia brought about a serious position in the storage of ordnance stores as the existing depot was much too small to cope with the task. Owing to the lack of Commonwealth-owned storage, it had been necessary to hire premises, the main ones being at the Adelaide showgrounds.
– On the 17th August the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller), asked me the following questions: -
I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that the Sydney branch of the Commonwealth Trading Bank has given notice of retrenchment to 25 per cent, of the employees iti the housing loans section of that branch? Will the Treasurer inform the House and the nation who is responsible for this suicidal .policy at a time when the need for homes to house the hundreds of thousands of home-seekers desperately searching for homes in all parts of Australia was never more urgent? Will the right honor-, able gentleman have the matter investigated, and if my information is found to be correct, will he direct that the retrenchment notices be cancelled ?
I have now been informed by the Commonwealth Bank that notice of retrench ment has not been given to any employee of the Housing Division of the bank, nor is any such notice contemplated.
– -On lie 18th August the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) asked me the following questions: -
I ask the Treasurer whether it is true that many clients of the Commonwealth Bank are transferring their business accounts to private banks because the Commonwealth Bank is refusing to give loan and overdraft accommodation for legitimate business dealings- Is it also true that people who seek from the Commonwealth Bank financial aid for home-building are turned away, and advised to apply to private banks for it whilst, conversely, the Commonwealth Bank is prepared to lond the same people money for the purchase of Holden motor cars) If these are facts, will the Treasurer instruct the .management of the Commonwealth Bank to cease this unwise practice, ami see that the people’s bank performs the proper function for which - it was founded by the Fisher Labour Government?
I am informed by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank that the answer to the first two questions is “ No “.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 August 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1954/19540831_reps_21_hor4/>.