21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– On the 9th June last the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) used in this chamber certain words which I had expunged from Hansard. I now call upon him to withdraw the words and apologize to the House’ for the use of that unparliamentary language.
– I withdraw, and apologize for any unparliamentary terms which I used. Having done that, if I may be permitted to do so. I should like to obtain leave to make a personal explanation.
– I consider that by your action-
– Order ! The honorable member may not discuss my action in a personal explanation.
– I am claiming that you have misrepresented my position-
– Order ! The honorable member may not discuss me in any shape or form on a personal explanation.
– I shall take other steps to do so at an early date.
– Has the Minister for Labour and National Service yet considered the report of the Chief Conciliation Commissioner for the year ended the 7th October, 1954, in which the point is made that many industrial disagreements have, as their genesis, the meaning of words and phrases used in awards? If so, can he say if any action is contemplated that will make provision for a conciliation commissioner entertaining an application for the interpretation of any section of an award operating within his assignment in the first instance?
– I shall give consideration to the rather technical question which has been raised by the honorable gentleman, and see that a considered reply is prepared for him.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs say whether it is a fact that the Indonesian Government has indicated that it will attempt to negotiate with the Australian Government a treaty guaranteeing the Australian Territory of New Guinea? If so, does Indonesia propose that this treaty should contain strong assurances that Australian territory would not be threatened by Indonesian expansion?
– There has been no formal proposal of that sort at all. Proposals to that general end may have been made informally, or to members of the press, but the Government has had no proposal of that sort at all. Having said that, so far as I know, a proposal of that sort has not yet arisen with the Government of Indonesia, perhaps I may add that it would seem a little odd that a government with which we are on the most friendly terms should consider entering into a treaty under which certain territories for which Australia is responsible should be guaranteed against interference in any way.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that interested, parties- are indulging in persistent propaganda suggesting that there will probably be a fall of from 1 per cent, to 10 per cent, in prices at the forthcoming opening wool sales? In the interests of the woolgrowers and the national economy, will the right honorable, gentleman undertake to have this evil propaganda combated?
– I confess that I was not aware of this evil propaganda. Australian wool is sold by auction in the presence of the world’s buyers. That is a system in which we believe. We believe that it has produced good results for Australia and the Australian woolgrower, and it will continue.
– Will the Minister for External Affairs tell the House what he considers to be. the nature of, and the reasons for, the changed attitude of Russia in her relations with the free world? If it is not possible for the Minister to do this in the short time available to him in answer to a question, will he take an early opportunity of making a statement to the House on the matter?
– As the honorable gentleman implies, a proper answer to that question could not be given in an offhand way. However, I will seek an early opportunity to provide the honorable member with my views in the House at some time other than question-time.
– I ask the Prime Minister : Does lie know that the building for the John Cur tin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University will be completed, on schedule, within four or five months? Will he investigate reports that no provision has yet been made for the construction of a boiler house, or the installation of boilers and other equipment necessary for the operation of sterilizing, steam heating and other equipment, and that as a result this building, which will cost something more than £1,000,000, may be unusable for some months?
– I have not heard this suggestion, but I will inquire into it.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture state whether any. further payment from No. 17 pool, in respect of the 1953-54 wheat crop, is likely, and if so when will it he made?
– I am glad to be able to say that the realizations of the Australian Wheat Board on wheat in “No. 17 pool now make possible a further payment to the growers of Is. a bushel on bulk wheat and Is. 2d. a bushel on bagged wheat. Arrangements are now being made with the Commonwealth Bank to facilitate distribution to the growers concerned and I think that payment will probably be made next month.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government will consider granting an extra week’s allowance tc pensioners at Christmas time to bring a little added cheer to these unfortunate people during the festive season.
– This question has been raised every year since I have been in this House. The answer is that the Government does not propose to depart from the policy that was announced in relation to pensions last night by my colleague, the Treasurer.
– In view of the danger to the Australian wool industry, can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture assure the House that the guarantees given by the South African, British and Californian authorities who received shipments of Australian merino rams for experimental purposes can be regarded as sufficient? I refer particularly to the possibility of the accidental release of the progeny of these rams to commercial breeders in other countries.
– The sheep-breeding industry in this country may feel quite assured that there will be no release for commercial purposes of the handful of rams that were exported, or of the progeny or the semen of the rams. There is a written undertaking in existence which has been given by the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of South Africa.
– Not worth the paper it is written on !
– But we can trust those governments, surely, as we expect them to trust us. A written assurance was given by the governments of those countries when they requested permission to import these few sheep for their experimental genetic purposes, and, for my part, I believe that the Australian sheepbreeding industry may accept the assurances of those governments. The University of California, which was permitted to import several merinos some years ago, gave a similar assurance. The university has had those sheep for some years now, and no one has any doubt that the assurance given has been fully honoured.
– I desire to ask a question without notice of the Minister for the Navy. Is it a fact that the Australian cruiser Hobart has been undergoing an extensive overhaul and reconditioning at the Newcastle State dockyard for the last three years? Is it also a fact that more than £3,000,000 has been spent on the work up to date? Would it be true that much of the completed work is now considered to be obsolete, although the ship has not since been to sea? Will the Minister prepare a detailed statement about this matter, stating the total cost of the work of reconditioning, the period the ship has been out of service, and whether she is likely to he sent to the scrapyards for wrecking in the foreseeable future?
– I do not think there is any occasion to make a detailed statement of the type indicated by the honorable gentleman, because it is not proposed to scrap Hobart, as was suggested in the last part of his question, and upon that suggestion he based the whole of his question.
– Why not?
– Because he has based his question on a false premise. The situation is that Hobart has gone through a series of changes, which have been brought about by Australia’s policy and by the emergencies that have occurred. Because of new circumstances the repairs and alterations have, of necessity, gone through certain changes. I repeat Hobart will not be scrapped.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister concerning the special legislation passed by this Government after the disastrous bush fires of 19’52, whereby insurance payments received by primary producers may be spread over five years for income tax purposes. Has the Prime Minister yet had an opportunity of considering the request that compensation to these primary producers from the New South Wales Railways Department should be similarly treated?
– I have not, but I will be glad to have a discussion about the matter with my colleague, the Treasurer.
– I direct a question to the right honorable the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Can the right honorable gentleman inform me whether the Australian Wheat Board has fulfilled all overseas contracts for wheat sales entered into, and is the board negotiating at the moment for further immediate sales overseas ?
– The Australian Wheat Board conducts its selling operations in a completely independent manner. I have not the slightest doubt that the Australian Wheat Board will have concluded any contract into which it entered or was committed to overseas, and it is at all times engaged in negotiations for further sales overseas.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs indicate to the House what action Australia is taking to support the proposals of the President of the United States of America for a full and free system of inspection, as an indispensable preliminary to the international control of atomic armaments?
– The Australian Government is in communication with a number of other friendly governments of like mind in this regard. The question is whether the particular negotiation to which the honorable gentleman refers, which would be a part of a larger negotiation, should be carried out partly at the Foreign Ministers conference towards the end of October and/or through the auspices of the Disarmament Commission. As between one or other of those two bodies or gatherings, or possibly with regard to both of them, the honorable gentleman can be assured that the initiative taken by the President of the United States will be followed up to the extent that is possible.
– I desire to ask the Minister for External Affairs. a question arising out of his answer to the last question. Has the Australian Government or the Minister been in contact in any way whatsoever with the United States Government on the particular matter to which the honorable member for Mackellar referred? If so, what was the substance of it?
– On matters such as this, we are in fairly constant communication with, in particular, the Government of the United States and the Government of Great Britain.
– In view of the serious fall in prices for butter and cheese in the United Kingdom, which has been reflected in a substantial fall in returns to Australian dairy farmers, and the consequent necessity to explore possible markets for Australian dairy products in other countries, will the Minister inform the House what steps he has taken and is taking in this direction?
– In respect of butter and cheese, the Australian Dairy Produce Board, by request of the whole dairying industry in Australia, is in possession of complete authority in regard to external marketing. To my knowledge, the Australian Dairy Produce Board is, through its own efforts and through the agency of commercial interests, engaged in endeavouring to exploit to better advantage customary markets and to discover and exploit new markets. A substantial sum of money is being spent by the board on advertising and publicity for trade promotional purposes. This is being very heavily supplemented by appropriations by this Government. With regard to dairy products other than butter and cheese, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture is co-operating with commercial interests in endeavouring to discover and exploit markets for processed milk and other dairy products, wherever in the world there appears to be some opportunity to do so. I am glad to be able to say that some success has attached to those efforts. A substantial new market has been developed in the East African British colonies. Negotiations are proceeding at the present time with the Government of India which could result in the development of a market there for processed milk powder to be reconstituted into fluid milk. If that could be brought to fruition, it would open up a completely new, very attractive and important prospect for an alternative source of disposal for the products of the Australian dairying industry.
– Is the Minister for Defence aware that, according to the Chief of the Naval Staff, the Royal Australian Navy has accepted as a fact the increased strategic importance of Western Australia in relation to the whole of Australia and South-East Asia? In view of the increased strategic importance of Western Australia, will the Minister give consideration to the provision of a naval base, with essential docking facilities, on the Western Australian coast, preferably at Cockburn Sound?
– This question of a naval base at Cockburn Sound has been under consideration for a very long time. It will, of course, be kept under consideration, and if the need warrants it, action will be taken in regard to it.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Territories what steps are being taken to encourage additional settlers to become established in the cattle industry in the Northern Territory. I refer particularly to the making available of suitable areas of land and the granting of financial assistance during the period of establishment and until such time as the property is capable of showing a financial return to the new settler.
– I shall refer first to the second part of the question asked by the honorable member, concerning the financial assistance being given to a settler to enable him to establish himself. Under an act passed by this Parliament, advances up to 100 per cent, of the security of a new settler, with a top limit of £30,000, can be made. At the present time, the Department of Territories, in conjunction with the Treasury and the Attorney-General’s Department, is work- ing out the details of the application of that scheme, and we hope to see it in operation very shortly. In addition to that, we assist the new settler to establish himself by providing two new bores on the property which he takes up, so that he can move his cattle on to the property straightaway. The cost of those bores will be paid over a period. In addition, of course, we maintain a number of scientific and stock inspection services to assist him in his industry. The honorable member’s question is directed to the fundamental problem, which is the availability of land. We are conducting experiments in some of the desert areas to see whether land, which hitherto has been considered useless, can be made available for pastoral settlement with a fair prospect of success. There is provision in this year’s Estimates for that work to proceed. Moreover, as companies, or individuals, apply for transfer of their leases from the old Crown lands ordinance to the new Crown lands ordinance, we enter into negotiations with them with a view to their surrendering some of their present holdings, so that those holdings will be available for application by other settlers. For example, I think this House was informed previously that Vestey’s, in converting their old leaseholds to new leaseholds, surrendered quite a substantial area, and when that area becomes available, shortly, it will be thrown open for application. Similar procedures will be followed in the case of other holders of large areas.
– Will the Minister for Social Services consider increasing the present grant of £10 in respect of funeral expenses, which is paid to the relatives of pensioners, to £20, in view of the great increase that has taken place in the cost of funeral services ?
– Consideration wa3 given to the problem raised by the honorable member during the course of the discussions which led up to the presentation of the budget last night. I regret to inform him that it was decided not to increase the amount of funeral allowances.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform me of the approximate cost to the Government of guaranteeing the actual cost of production in respect of that portion of butter production which is now covered by government subsidy, and the approximate additional return, as spread over the whole of butter production, to the dairy farmer? In view of the very real hardships caused to a great proportion of the industry, in Western Australia particularly, due to the fall in export prices, will the Minister review the position to ascertain by what means the industry can be assisted ?
– The honorable gentleman asks, I think, as the first part of his question, what would be the cost to the Government of making available the cost of production to the dairy industry on that portion of its production which is guaranteed by the Government. I cannot answer the honorable member by stating precise figures, but I can give approximate figures, which should be sufficient for his purposes. The cost of production, as declared by the Dairy Industry Investigation Committee, was 50d. per lb. for commercial butter, but the Government adopted the recommendation of the committee and guaranteed 49.29d. per lb. Broadly speaking, the cost of lifting the guarantee to 50d. per lb. would be about £750,000. On the other hand, the dairying industry argues, with some substance, that a truer cost of production would be a shade more than 50d. per lb., so that to approve a price that I myself could concede as validly arguable might cost £1,000,000. I point out that the Government has approved a modification of the use of the subsidy funds along lines which make available to the dairy farmers an additional amount of about £900,000. Therefore, what the dairy farmers should know is that approval by the Government to meet the valid justifiable cost of production would not add any measurable amount to their returns at present. A generous interpretation of a calculation that I caused to be made shows that the net gain to the industry, based on its estimated entire production, would be .12d. per lb.’
– Can the Prime Minister assure the House that neither the security service nor any other Government agency has been tapping or monitoring the private or official telephones of members of this Parliament since he made a statement on the matter to the House in December, 1953? Secondly, will he state whether the security service is permitted to tap or monitor the telephone lines of private citizens without the authority of himself or the Attorney-General in each particular case?
– Dealing first with the honorable member’s second question, [ have previously stated quite plainly that T will not discuss the affairs of the security service. In adopting this attitude, I follow a soundly established precedent. My answer to the honorable member’s first question, relating to members of Parliament - which, I agree, he is well entited to ask - is “ No “. The position now is exactly as it was when 1 made my earlier statement on the subject.
– In view of the constitutional importance of the documents concerning the double dissolution of this Parliament in 1951, and as a respectable period of time has elapsed since that event, will the Prime Minister lay on the table of the House all papers concerning the granting of the double dissolution by the Governor-General?
– I was asked a similar question during the last sessional period by, I think, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– And promised to table the papers.
– Yes. My memory has not entirely failed me. I was about to say that I contemplate doing so during this sessional period.
– I should like to ask the Minister for Social Services a question. His colleague, the Minister for
Repatriation, stated in a communication to me that one of my electors suffers from neurasthenia, strongyloides, stercoralis. infra patella bursitis, hyperopic astigmatism, small paracentral scotomas, and chronic tonsilitis, which have been accepted as related to his war service. However, the communication also stated that the degree of incapacity resulting from his affliction was so slight as to not warrant the granting to him of a war pension. The ex-serviceman to whom I refer also suffers from venal calculus and sub arachnoid haemorrhage, which have not been accepted as due to war service. As the Repatriation Department will not assist this ex-serviceman, will the Minister cause the case to be investigated with the object of providing assistance to him from other departmental funds?
– The full purport of the honorable member’s question was not apparent to me. but if he will submit the details of it in writing I shall be only too happy to have them investigated.
– I wish to ask the right honorable Minister for External Affairs whether there is any substance in reports which have been received from many quarters that there have been grave disturbances in South Korea concerning the commission which is charged with the control of disarmament and the regulation of the flow of arms into both North and South Korea. In view of the fact that Australia has played an extensive part, involving the loss of both life and material, in an effort to secure international stability in that part of the world, can the right honorable gentleman inform the House whether there is any foundation for the reports that the situation is extremely delicate and that it may lead to an outbreak of hostilities?
– A reply to the important matter raised by the honorable member should not be made in answer to a question without notice, but because the . position is one of great significance I will compile a balanced statement on the Korean situation, and take the earliest opportunity of informing the House on the subject.
– I wish to address my question to the right honorable the Treasurer. It concerns a statement that he made when introducing his budget–
– Order ! The honorable member cannot raise a question on the budget debate, which was held in committee.
– I am referring to the budget speech delivered twelve months ago.
– That is a different matter.
– I wish to ask the Treasurer who announced the appointment twelve months ago of a committee, under the chairmanship of the honorable member for Dawson, to inquire into the merits or demerits of an air beef lift scheme in Queensland, whether he has yet received a report from that committee, and if so. when will it be made available to honorable members. On the 2Sth April last. I addressed a similar question to the right honorable the Treasurer, and in reply he said that the report had not been received but that investigations were proceeding. He said also that as soon as the report was received it would be made public. I hope that in saying that I have not provided the right honorable gentleman with a reply to my question.
– In reply to the question raised by the honorable member, I respectfully direct his attention to the reply that I gave him on the 28th April.
– I ask the right honorable Minister for External Affairs whether there is any truth in recent reports that diplomatic relations between Russia and Australia may be resumed in the near future. Can the right honorable gentleman inform the House, of the Government’s attitude to this matter, and whether he senses the warm summer air of Geneva floating south to envelop the Canberra spring?
– The Australian Government has had no approach, formal or otherwise, from the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and it has not thought it necessary to take any initiative in the matter. As the honorable gentleman, I am quite sure, is aware, diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union have not been broken off. Russia thought fit to withdraw its diplomatic post at Canberra, and it invited Australia to do the same in relation to its post at Moscow. That is the present situation.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy whether it is a fact that he has made a statement to the effect that the employees who are involved in the dispute at the naval workshops at Garden Island and at Williamstown, in Victoria, have been offered compliance with 99 per cent, of their requests. If the Minister has made such a statement, will he enumerate the requests that have been approved and the matters that are still in dispute?
– If I may say so, there was no need for this strike in the first place. There have been continuous negotiations between the Department of the Navy and the unions concerned in respect of the claims that have been put before the department. Considerable agreement has been achieved, and, as a result of the negotiations, very little is outstanding. Let me point out that the arbitrator undertook to hear the outstanding balance of the men’s claims. On the afternoon of the day before which he was to hear the claims, a stopwork meeting was arranged. The Communist element at the stopwork meeting converted the meeting into a strike, and unfortunately that strike has continued for seven long weeks. The arbitrator heard certain discussions between the representatives of the unions and of the Department of the Navy. He referred to the remarkable amount of agreement that had been achieved, but he indicated to the men who were on strike that he would not hear their claims further unless they went back to work.
– What arrogance!
– In spite of the honorable member’s reference to arrogance, the arbitrator further stated that outside the court, if the unions so desired, he would sit as chairman of a conference and help to bring about agreement, but the unions would not agree to that suggestion. Those are the facts. Immediately after the stopwork meeting was converted into a strike, an entirely new log of claims was handed to the department. After officers of the department had conferred with me, I indicated to them that they were to inform the unions that, instead of those claims being treated as an entirely new set of claims, no objection would be raised to their being considered by the arbitrator in conjunction with the claims then to be considered. We met the unions again there. As I have stated, I indicated that I had no objection to the arbitrator considering the new claims that were filed even after the men went on strike. The arbitrator then made two offers: First, that if the men went back to work, he would hear the claims immediately and, secondly, that he would be willing to sit immediately as chairman of a conference outside the court to try to bring about agreement. Ever since, the men have refused to accept either of those offers. Almost weekly, representatives of the Australian Council of Trades Unions and members of the unions have met the industrial officer of the Department of the Navy and the acting secretary and representatives of the Department of Labour and National Service in conference to try to settle this strike. Discussions have gone on each week, and each week we have been led to believe that the men would go before the arbitrator and have the matter properly discussed. Because of the protracted delay and because of the false representations concerning statements made at stop-work meetings, I drafted a letter-
– Order! I think the honorable gentleman is now getting right outside the question.
– I desire to show thai, these men have had every possible consideration and that there was only a limited matter outstanding. We wrote to 4,500 of these men in 24 unions setting out the facts.
– What did the Minister say in that letter?
– If the honorable gentleman would like to know what I said, with the approval of the House, 1 shall read it.
– Order! Mr. FRANCIS. - I ask for leave to read the letter. Leave granted.
-lard. - Can I have leave to answer the letter?
– Order! That is a matter not for rue but for the House to decide.
– This is a very serious matter affecting 4,500 men who are engaged in the establishments, and it also affects their wives and families who, I know, cannot possibly live under reasonable conditions if the men continue on strike. I also point out that this is a strike which affects the Navy and its efficiency to defend this country. The letter that was written by the acting secretary of the department, the secretary being overseas, was as follows: -
I am writing to you personally for several reasons. First, so that I will be sure that you know the facts relating to the present strike at the Naval Establishments; second, because I want you to know that nothing ran be gained by continuance of the strike, however long it lasts.
Unhappily, in an industrial dispute the facts tend to get lost sight of - sometimes, and I think that is what has happened in this case - the facts do not always get properly presented at all. I shall try to state them shortly for you.
Discussions between the Department and your unions about the wages and conditions of employment to apply at the establishments have gone on for some considerable time. In fact, these discussions resulted in a substantial measure of agreement; as to the remaining matters outstanding it was arranged that the Public Service Arbitrator should arbitrate on them in the normal way.
Accordingly, the Arbitrator fixed a date for hearing; the date you went on strike was the very day before the Arbitrator had arranged to resume the hearing. So but for the strike it is more than likely, since both the department and the unions expected the hearing would only take a few days, that a new code of wages and conditions of employment would already be operating in the naval establishments.
I have good reason for thinking that it was never anticipated by many who went to the stop-work meeting that the present stoppage would last more than the first afternoon. Instead, for reasons about which your guess may be better than mine, the stoppage has gone on ever since.
After the strike started a whole new set of claims over and above those that had been previously discussed by the unions with the Department was sent to me. I told your unions that the Department would raise no objection to these claims (though they were quite new) being brought before the Arbitrator and would in any event be willing to discuss them with the unions but after a resumption of work.
On Friday, 20th July I attended a meeting with Mr. Monk, President of the A.C.T.U. I have no doubt that he reported quite accurately to representatives of your unions the proposals put forward at that meeting but I want you personally to know of them. The proposals were -
1 will meet with Mr. Monk and repre sentatives of your unions following resumption of work to discuss the new claims of the unions.
If no agreement can be reached, then both sides are to facilitate an early hearing by the Public Service Arbitrator.
Irrespective of the outcome of the arbitration, the Navy Department is anxious to introduce some form of incentive scheme calculated to give not only better production, but greater benefits to the dockyard workers, and to cover all employees.
The Navy Department desires a repre sentative nominated by the A.C.T.U. to participate in the investigation and working out of an incentive scheme.
The Navy Department agrees that on resumption and on application being made for restoration of continuity, it will be sympathetically considered.
Honorable members interjecting, Mr. SPEAKER. - Order ! Will the honorable gentleman take his seat for a moment? I must remind the House that the Minister asked the House for leave to read a letter. Leave was granted unanimously to him. It is a gross discourtesy to the House on the part of any honorable member to interject after the Minister has been given leave to read the letter. Honorable members should at least pay him the courtesy of a fair hearing. The next interjector will be named.
– The letter continues -
While Government departments do not have the same flexibility as private employers in determining what wages and conditions their employees should have, all in all, it would be found, if conditions in the Naval establish ments were compared with those in outside industry, that the former do not compare unfavourably with private industry. While some private employers may pay over the award you won’t have forgotten that your annual leave is 50% more and sick leave and long service leave much more generous than is the case in private industry. Also two annual increments are paid and there is an establishment allowance of 5s. per week. There is also eligibility of participating in th« very liberal Commonwealth Superannuation scheme. Finally there are the matters agreed on in the Department’s discussions with the Unions, the application of which your strike is preventing, and those matters still in dispute which the Arbitrator cannot be expected to determine while the strike continues. What 1 want you to understand is that no more favourable proposals can or will be offered by the Department - indeed I cannot say that the proposal in (;>) will stand if the strike goes on much longer. This Department agreed to proposal (5) to assist in a resumption of work. It cannot bo expected to leave this offer open indefinitely, for to do so would be to make meaningless the rules relating to continuity of service. If continuity is not restored rights which you must count valuable will be seriously affected. My object in writing to you will be achieved if you think over what I have said and go about getting an early resumption of work which will enable your claims to be disposed of, prevent the loss of your accrued privileges and permit important naval defence work to be got on with. . Mr. Ward - What replies were received to that letter?
– A great number of replies were received denouncing those who are misleading the workers and keeping them on strike.
– I wish to ask the Minister for the Navy a question relating to the answer that lie has just given. The Minister has made ‘an important .statement and has read an important letter. I understand that the officials concerned in this dispute have come to Canberra primarily with the object of seeing the Minister for the Navy. In the interest of industrial peace, will the Minister see these men to-day, and try to bring about the end of the dispute?
– All that I can do in reply to the Leader of the Opposition is to invite attention to what the Arbitrator has said; which is to the effect that if these men go back to work their claims will be heard immediately.
Representatives of the Australian Council of Trades Unions and officers of the unions concerned have met almost weekly in an endeavour to bring this trouble 10 a head. I am informed by the Minister for Labour and National Service and by my own department that this matter would have been settled already if the men had not been misled. I made it clear yesterday, in the course of my statement in this House, that I would not see a deputation. I said that emphatically and definitely, and it was published. I say again that if these men will go back to work, all these matters will be discussed at once.
-(Hon. Archie Cameron). - I have received from the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) ?n intimation that he desires to submit a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House for discussion, namely -
The urgent necessity of immediate action to protect Australian primary industries in lie present shipping crisis occasioned by the unjus tified and exorbitant demands of the Overseas Shipping interests.
Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen- in support of the proposal,
.- I bring this subject before the House as a matter of urgency because it is of great importance. I bring the matter before the House, also, in order to give the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) an opportunity to tell the primary producers, the members of the Australian Country party, the electors of Yarra, and the electors of all other electoral divisions of the Commonwealth, just what he proposes to do in the face of the action of the overseas shipping combine in deliberately holding the gun at the head of Australian exporters and the Australian community. The Minister recently made a statement to the effect that the committee which investigated the claim of the overseas shipping combine for a 10 per cent, increase in freight rates, which would apply mainly to primary products, had reported to him-
Conversation being audible,
– Order ! Will honorable gentlemen please maintain order.
– .[ understand from reports in the daily newspapers that the committee reported that no increase in freight rates higher than 4-J per cent, could possibly be justified. I also understand that, despite that report, the exporters agreed to pay an increase of 7 J per cent. However, it appears that the overseas shipping combine, which er joys a monopoly and which is protected by Australian act of Parliament, has insisted on an increase of 10 per cent. In effect, the combine has said that Australian exporters of wheat, wool, meat and other primary’ products must pay an entirely unjustified increase of 10 per cent, in freight rates, or the combine will not provide ships for the purpose of taking their products abroad.
It is quite obvious, in view of that attitude, that protests on the part of the Minister will not. shift the shipping combine. As the Melbourne Herald, which usually expresses a conservative viewpoint, reported last May, no amount of protesting will soften the attitude of the overseas shipping combine on the 10 per cent, increase on shipping freights between England and Australia. We have only to look at the history of the association of the Australian people with the overseas shipping combine to appreciate that the Minister could talk about negotiation, and protest, until the cows come home without achieving anything. Unless he demonstrates clearly, and in a form that these people will understand, that, irrespective of whether it costs the Australian Government and the Australian nation millions of pounds, we shall not tolerate the continuance of this blackmail on the part of this overseas shipping monopoly, and that the Government is? determined to take every step necessary to buy ships, and charter ships, and to offer special concessions to overseas shipping lines to come here in order to take our cargoes, he will achieve nothing. It is obvious, from all our experience, that those overseas interests will not listen to protests, to reason or to logic, and, above all. they are not likely to listen to justice. They are out to get their pound of flesh. It is quite obvious that, as a result of the weakness shown by the Government in the face of the previous demands of this monopoly for increased shipping rates, the shipping companies will continue to blackmail the Australian community, and to hold a gun at the heads of the Australian primary producers, and, through them, at the Australian nation, until they get their 10 per cent. They will continue to do that unless the Minister is prepared to tell this Parliament and, through it. the Australian people, that the Australian community will not stand for that sort of blackmail, and that we shall insist, irrespective of what the immediate cost might he, on those people doing the decent thing by Australia. If they are not prepare to accept what has been found, after expert investigation, to be a reasonable increase, then, as far as we are concerned, this Government - I am hoping that the Minister will say this, though I am not sure whether or not he will do so - will take appropriate action to meet the position.
I am hoping that the Minister and the Government will show exactly the same courage as William Morris Hughes showed when he went to London during World War I. and told those same shipping lords that Australia wanted ships to transport cargoes to help in the war effort. They replied that he could have ships to carry those cargoes, but at world prices. William Morris Hughes, as a good Australian, said, “All right”, left the noble lords, and went outside and bought a shipping fleet for Australia. Tie demonstrated definitely to those people that they could not blackmail the Australian community because of the difficult situation that existed. I hope that the Minister will announce to this Parliament his intention to protect Australia’s primary industries from this exorbitant demand that has been made by the shipping monopoly, and his resolve to take courageous action such as was taken on the former occasion by William Morris Hughes. I hope that he will announce that, in view of the fact that already the wool contract has broken down, and the shippers of wool will he required to find other ships, the Government will establish an overseas shipping committee which will take immediate action to buy, or charter, ships, or to offer terms to overseas shipping companies to induce them to come here and take our cargoes. I warn the Minister that unless he is prepared to do that, he might as well give up talking about the exorbitant increase of freights. In 1953, when these people wanted to increase freights by 10 per cent., the Minister said that “ the latest increase was far greater than could be justified on the facts and figures. He got them down to 7^ per cent, only after an investigation that disclosed that the shipowners were entitled to an increase of only 4 per cent, on the basis of increased costs. That was in 1953, yet in 1955 the Minister is still “ regretting “ these increases, and saying that they are far more than can possibly be justified. What we are interested in is what he proposes to do about the increases, besides regretting them.
I have raised this matter this afternoon only to give the Minister, on behalf of the Government and the Australian Country party to which he belongs, an opportunity to tell the primary producers, whose vital concern this matter is, just what he proposes to do. If those increased freight charges were unjustified in 1953 ; if, as he said in 1953, the increases would probably turn the balance against Australian primary products in overseas markets - if that was true in 1953, it is more than true in 1955. If the warnings that were given in 1953, about the effect of increased freights on the prices of Australian products, and the adverse effect such increases would have on our sale? in competition with products from countries much nearer to our main markets than wc are, were true then, how much more true are they now? The warnings that were issued then have proved to be true, because everybody here knows thai all our primary products, except wool, are facing very severe competition in overseas markets, and that the fall in our export income as a result is having o serious effect on our balance of payment? position and. in turn, on our internal economy, and on the present inflationary situation with which we are faced.
The Government surely does not need me to re-emphasize the points that I made when I raised this matter during the course of the last sessional period. On that occasion I told the House of the exorbitant profits being made by those shipping* companies, controlled by the overseas monopoly, which now attempt to justify this fresh demand for increased freights on the ground of increased costs. The Minister has had his own department investigate this matter and the department has advised him, from its expert knowledge, that the claim for a freight increase of 10 per cent, is totally unwarranted. Therefore, I do not propose to waste a great deal of time, since my time is limited, in re-emphasizing the fact that the shipping companies which are insisting on the need for these increased freights are all in a most prosperous financial position. Every one of them has increased its profits in the last period for which accounts are available. The Orient company, as I showed during the last sessional period in a quotation from the Economist, allowing for the free scrip issues and expressing the last dividend of 16 per cent, in the terms of 1949 capital and taking into account the vast number of bonus snares issued, effectively increased its dividend by a huge amount. The Economist pointed out that the Peninsular and Oriental company, the greatest of those overseas shipping companies, which controls a number of shipping lines operating to and from Australia, effectively increased its dividend from 12 per cent, in 1949 to 48 per cent, in 1955. So whatever arguments might be adduced in respect of increased costs, it is obvious that the earnings of the shipping companies are able to take care of such increased costs. We find that the Oriental company increased its profit from £217,030 in 1953 to £298,699 in 1954. The Shaw Savill line showed a profit for 1953-54, before tax, of £1,320,000, compared with the previous year’s £1,290,000. We find that every single one of the companies concerned in the contracts to ship Australian products to our export markets has increased its profits considerably. We are, therefore, entitled to say to them that whatever increases of cost have taken place ought to he taken out of the increased profits which they are making from their operations at present.
As I have said, I do not need to re-emphasize, or reiterate, all that was said on this subject on the occasion of the previous debate. The facts as disclosed in the balance-sheets of the shipping companies concerned are known to everybody. In fact, since that debate occurred, the chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental company has announced a bonus issue of shares, worth £13,000,000, to shareholders in the company. At the same time he was trying to tell Australian exporters that, owing to increased costs which his company could not possibly bear, freights would have to be increased at the expense of the Australian exporter. I shall not consume any more time on that aspect of the matter, except to say that the Minister himself must know by this time that talk alone will not make the slightest impact on those people. The Minister also knows now that the shippers of wool have decided to seek other avenues for the transport of wool overseas, and have decided not to carry on with the contract with the contract shipping lines. From our experience with those shipping lines, which have had Australia by the throat for so many years, it is quite obvious that they will be most ruthless in wrecking any attempt by Australia to extricate itself from their clutches. The Minister need not have any doubt about the fact that, in trying to provide alternative methods of transport for our products - if he gets around to doing that, and I hope that he will - all efforts will be sabotaged by the overseas shipping lines. The only thing that will have any effect on those monopolies is a very clear and definite declaration by the Minister, on behalf of the Government, and the Australian people, that we will not tolerate this blackmail from shipping companies which are making huge profits already, and that we intend to take all steps necessary, no matter what they are, and irrespective of cost, to see that the national economy of Australia is not held to ransom by people overseas.
If ever we have had a demonstration of how completely our economy has been at the mercy of monopolies overseas, we have had it as a result of this recent controversy over shipping freight rates. If we have a Government which is in any way Australian, and a Minister who represents, in any real way, the primary producers whom he claims to represent, he will tell this Parliament, when he rises to speak in this debate, that the Government proposes, if necessary, to buy ships and establish its own shipping line. That is, the Government will charter ships in order to carry those cargoes, and pay bonuses or offer conditions to persuade other foreign shipping lines to send their ships to Australia to lift our cargo. If he. is not prepared to do that, then he is not in the race to fight the overseas shipping combine. Overseas shipowners know that as long as they sit tight and have to deal with a weak government, a government which is not prepared to take the action that I have outlined, sooner or later the Australian primary producers will have to pay the 10 per cent, increase of freight that is being demanded.
This matter is extremely urgent. The sale of our wool is likely to be seriously affected at the next wool sales unless there is definite evidence available that this Government intends to take some action to provide the necessary shipping to take our wool away from Australia. Therefore, it is not enough for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to announce, as he is reported to have done recently that he intends to continue negotiations about the matter. It is not enough for him to say that he will try to get the parties together again to discuss shipping freights. If the Minister wants to negotiate, he will find that he will be successful only if he negotiates from a position of strength, and only if he demonstrates clearly that the full resources of the Government will he thrown behind an attempt to provide alternative methods of shipping our primary products overseas. In view of overseas prices, and the competition of overseas countries with us in the disposal of our meat, butter, dried fruits, canned fruits and other primary products, we cannot afford to tolerate a further increase of 10 per cent, in shipping freights on top of the increases that have already been applied.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) has raised a highly important matter, and I can only say that I am sorry that he introduced it on a party political plane. This matter has not been placed before the Parliament on its merits, but has been advanced in an endeavour to gain some party political advantage out of a difficult situation. The honorable member’s opening words indicate that quite clearly, because he said that his charges would put the members of the Australian Country party on the spot. It is quite apparent that he is not concerned with the economic consequences of an increase of shipping freights, but is merely concerned with the credit or discredit that he may be able to attach to somebody. That is the motive behind the proposal of the honorable member for Yarra.
This is the second time that he has raised the issue that is now before this House. When I learned that the matter was to be raised to-day by the honorable member for Yarra, who is Deputy Leader of the Anti-Communist Labour party, I took the precaution of refreshing my memory as to what he had said on the previous occasion that he spoke about this matter. On that occasion, he advanced no constructive proposal about how the proposed increase of shipping freights should be dealt with. Although he spoke for a quarter of an hour on that occasion - taking advantage of the forms of the House - the record shows that he did not advance a single constructive proposal as to how the Government should deal with the situation.
– I did so to-day.
– The honorable member interjects that he has made a constructive proposal to-day. It is quite true that he has made a proposal, hut whether it will be helpful or not remains to be seen. Now, let us place this matter in its proper perspective. Of course it is important, but let us consider the facts surrounding it. The payment of freight on export commodities from this country has, for many years, been associated with a system of contracts. Those contracts were annual contracts between the organized Australian exporting interests - through the agency of an organization which has the acknowledgment of law - and the conference line. The conference line is composed not only of British shipping lines, but also of continental lines which enter into contracts with the Australian shipper interests.
The time has now arrived when those annual contracts are to be reviewed. Some months ago, the shipowners gave notice that they were requesting a 10 per centincrease of freights. At that point, the shipper interests asked the Government, through me, to make the facilities of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture available, as had been done on previous occasions, to help them to assemble the case that they wished to make against the proposed increase. This recognizes the key point in this matter, which is that the parties in issue are the shipowners on the one hand and the exporting interests on the other. The Government is not, either by any law or right, a principal in this dispute. The Government has not the status of a principal, but it has a great interest - which I hasten to make clear - in protecting the Australian economy and in ensuring that justice finally prevails. Following the request that I have already mentioned, I made the skilled and experienced officers of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture available to inquire into this matter. Those officers, led by Dr. Westerman, the assistant secretary of the department, have for months been conducting an examination of the degreeto which the costs which impinge upon the shipowning interests have increased since the last basic agreement on freight ra tes
Dr. Westerman and those associated with him have done a splendid job in assembling all the facts that are available to us both in this country and in the United Kingdom. However, a complete set of facts was not available, because many of the facts could be ascertained only upon the approval of, and with the facilities made available by, the shipowners. I now put it on record that, the shipowners have been co-operative in that regard, and have made their records available. The conclusion that the officers of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture have arrived at, which I have indicated to the Australian shipper interests, is a conclusion based on the substantial facts of this matter. As the honorable member for Yarra has said, the facts as revealed are that there is justification for a 4.3 per cent, increase of freights. In other words the examination indicates that there has been a 4.3 per cent, increase of the relevant costs. The shipowners did not accept that figure, and stated that their own calculations indicated a justification for a 15 per cent, increase, and they maintained their demand for a 10 per cent, increase.
– They made the figure too high, and then reduced it.
– I am afraid that we all tend to do that. Even two political groups in Sydney recently made their estimates too high, and one of them reduced its estimate. The difference between the estimate of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and the estimate of the shipowners arises from what the department regards as an unacceptable or unrepresentative selection by the owners of samples for the purpose of ascertaining movements in cost indexes.
– Tell the House what the Government proposes to do.
– I shall come to that later. The shipper interests of Australia studied the facts and agreed that these represented a fair picture of their case. Having considered these, the shippers of wool, which is the first commodity affected - the wool shipping contract expires on the 31st August - offered to pay a 5 per cent, increase of freights. The shipowners declined that offer, and adhered to their demand of 10 per cent. Then those who own the wool upon which the freight is to he paid, that is, not the growers but the representatives of the buyers, raised the offer to 7i per cent. The shipowners again declined, and adhered to their original claim of 10 per cent. That occurred within the last 48 hours, and indicates the nature of the negotiations between the principals in this dispute. I am losing no time in inviting the Australian shipper interests to consult with me about this matter. I have no doubt that those consultations will take place in the very near future.
Will any one suggest that it is wrong for the Government to consult the people who will have to pay the freights? Will any one say that there has been any avoidable delay in dealing with the dispute that has arisen only during the last 48 hours when I am already inviting representatives of the shippers to confer with me so that they may decide upon their next move? That is how the matter stands at present.
Contracts for the other important commodities with which our export trade is concerned, particularly refrigerated cargo such as meat, dairy products, eggs and fruit, have not yet expired. Those contracts, except that for fresh fruit, will expire at the end of September, and the contract for fresh fruit will expire at the end of January next. I hope that within the next few days I shall be able to hold consultations with representatives of the exporters of commodities that are shipped as refrigerated cargo.
This matter is highly important to the Australian economy. It is true that our capacity to sell competitively on the other side of the world has deteriorated because of the difficult cost problems with which we in Australia are confronted. But the issue cannot be resolved by an address such as would be made if one were haranguing a mob. This is a matter of business, and the Government wants it resolved on just lines. For our shipping and national interests Ave ask for no more than justice, and we wish to make it clear that we shall be content with nothing less than justice. The available figures indicate that an increase of shipping freights of no more than 4.3 per cent, might be justified. Of course, the original sources from which all those figures were calculated naturally are not in our possession. We have been open to persuasion by the shipowning interests that our interpretation of the figures was not correct, and some modifications of the calculations were made before the figure of 4.3 per cent, was arrived at. We are still open to persuasion.
Let me make it clear to the shipowning interests, which must make sure that they retain the respect of the Australian community on this issue, that if they adhere insistently to a figure, they must be prepared openly and unquestionably to justify the freight increase that they claim. Let it not be thought by them, dominant and powerful as their position in this issue may be, that in the long run they can obtain any long-term advantage by claiming increases that are no justified. We in our turn must make sure that we do not make a claim that we cannot justify. We seek no more and no less than justice. We shall not make our claim on these great interests merely on the basis of our need, and they are not to impose their demands merely on the basis of their strength. They are not to be adjudged unjust merely because. in toto. they happen to be very wealthy interests. The keynote of the Government’s approach to this question is: What is fair and just?
The honorable member for Yarra suggests a very simple solution of the problem. His proposal is that we buy some ships. I can think of nothing that, in the long run, would be more devastating^ to the disadvantage of Australian exporters than another purchase by the Australian Government of an overseas shipping line. On what terms would it be conducted - on Australian terms of employment and rates of pay or on overseas conditions? Of course it would be conducted on Australian terms, which, as Mr. Justice Foster has stated, limit the effective working week to 28 hours. On that basis of cost we should have again exactly the state of affairs that existed in the ‘twenties, when the overseas shipping interests were able to bleed this country white and because they were able to base their charges on much higher costs than were warranted merely by claiming that they were relying on costs no greater than were those of the Australian Government’s own shipping line. There was no answer in logic to that claim except to sell the Australian shipping line in order to free us of the incubus of costs that had been imposed on us, not only by that shipping line, but also by the adoption of the costs of that line as the measuring-stick on which to base the charges of all the other shipping lines.
The most constructive suggestion that the honorable member for Yarra advanced was that the Government should purchase ships, but this Government will have nothing to do with such a proposal. It believes that we can do business with reasonable people, and it will adopt the line of action that was successfully adopted in other difficult and controversial issues in defining its attitude clearly and factually on a basis of justice and insisting that that basis be respected. I shall meet representatives of the Australian shippers within the next few days to obtain the benefit of their point of view, which will be considered along with the Government’s own views. The people of Australia may rest content in the knowledge that in this issue, as in others with which it has been confronted, the Government will do everything in its power to protect the people’s interests. Let us be clear on the fact that it is not completely within the Government’s power to determine this issue. There is no alternative refrigerated shipping space of adequate volume available apart from that of the conference shipping lines.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
.- It was not fair of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), in his exposition of this subject, to hurl at the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) charges that we on this side of the House are endeavouring to make political capital out of this question and that the honorable member presented his case as if he were haranguing a mob. In the very next breath the Minister contradicted himself and stated that this is a most important national question. It is because it is a most important national question that we are endeavouring to approach it from the national point of view and not with the idea of making political capital out of it or, as the Minister stated, of haranguing a mob. I heard with great interest the Minister’s pious expressions of hope for the future. He hopes that the overseas shipowners will see the light and deal justly with the people of Australia, but I am afraid that he is a voice crying in the wilderness and that his hopes are doomed to great disappointment. The Minister voiced similar hopes when the matter was before the House on the 17th May last. He then stated -
I can say beyond any doubt that this Government will not be found indifferent to the consequences of a freight increase in the Australian export industries and on Australian costs. It will not be found indifferent to the consequences of the issue which is before us now, and it can be relied upon to interest itself, and exercise its good offices in a manner which will bring about whatever can be shown to be a fair settlement.
Apparently, the pious hopes expressed by the Minister three months ago have not evoked any worthwhile response on the part of the shipowners, who have to-day announced that freights are to be increased. There is no need for us to endeavour to twit members of the Australian Country party. They allege that, they represent the primary producer, but it is strange that when his urgency matter was brought before the House to-day no member of that party spoke in support of the honorable member who raised it. The matter is undoubtedly very important to the primary producers of the Commonwealth, and it is not with any desire to make political capital that we bring it before the House. There is no need for me to tell the House that freight charges on overseas ships represent an impost on the exportable surplus of Australian goods of £37,500,000 a year, or a little over 5 per cent, of their value, and that any variation of those freight charges represents a very great imposition upon the exporting community of Australia. They also represent a very great impost, not indirectly but directly, upon the cost of living in this community. What is even more important is that there is no justification for the increase proposed by the overseas shipowners.
In an editorial dated 23rd August, 1955, under the heading “ Shippers hold us to ransom “, the Daily Mirror states -
The need for a Commonwealth shipping line of fast up-to-date freighters for use overseas was never more apparent than it is to-day.
It is abundantly clear that, while Australia remains dependent on the combine of British and other overseas shipping interests, this country will be continually held, to ransom.
That is demonstrated by the decision of the combine to increase freights on wool by 10 .per cent.
How long will it be before further similar demands are made?
If we did not rise in our places to protest before similar impositions can be inflicted by other shipping lines, we would be remiss in our duty. I repeat that there is no justification for this increase. It cannot be justified from the point of view of conditions in Australian ports, as is clear from the last report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, which shows that only 4.5 per cent, of working hours were lost through disputes, but that vessels controlled by overseas owners caused a loss of over 30 per cent, because of non-productive working time. Whatever consideration was given to freights, it is high time that further consideration is given to the efficiency or otherwise of these overseas lines. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) stated in this House that there is considerable room for improvement in the management and operation side of the shipping industry, particularly with overseas shipping lines. At the time he was discussing the reduction of the stevedoring industry charge from lid. to 6d. per man-hour, and he justified the introduction of the bill to reduce the charge by saying that its passage would considerably reduce shipping freights on overseas lines. Despite his prophecy on that occasion, to-day we have the spectacle of the exportable overseas surpluses being subjected to this unjustified increased charge of 10 per cent.
It cannot be contended that the shipping companies are not making sufficient profits. I have not heard any reference to-day to the profits made by various overseas shipping lines. The directors of the Peninsular and Oriental company have stated that better freight and passage rates on most routes caused the improvement in the company’s rate of profit. This company controls a number of companies on the Australian run, and its profit for the year ended the 30th September last amounted to £4,200,000. This compared very favorably with £3,300,000 for the previous year and £3,500,000 for 1952. It cannot be contended that that company suffered a diminution of profit or that it is not a profitable line on the Australia-England run. A consideration of all other overseas companies’ operations shows that similar circumstances prevail in their cases. The New Zealand Shipping Company, which is controlled by the Peninsular and Oriental company, earned a profit of £9S2,374 in 1954, compared with £S11,880 in 1953, and £543,717 in 1952. The Oriental company, which is another member of the big combine, made a profit of £298,000 in 1954.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
. I agree with one point made by the honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean), namely, the great importance of this subject to the Australian economy at the present time; but I do not agree with the latter part of his argument, that is, that the answer to the present situation is to provide an Australian overseas shipping line. I think that this suggestion has been quite suitably answered by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) when the matter was previously raised by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon). I think it is very obvious to all that an Australian overseas shipping line based on an Australian cost factor at the present time could not be an answer to this problem. Apart from the aspect of the initial outlay, the cost factor could reverse the situation, and we might have a state of affairs whereby freights ultimately would be higher than they are under existing circumstances. I think that that point has not been very clearly examined by the honorable member for Yarra or the honorable member for Hoddle.
Almost every honorable member will acknowledge the seriousness of the present proposal for a freight rise, and I propose merely to deal with some of the background to the reasons for it, because so far that aspect has not been covered during this debate. It is interesting to note, of course, that Australia is a young and developing nation, dependent for its very livelihood and the maintenance of its living standards upon a high volume of” exports and a balanced volume of imports.
When we look at the present situation, we appreciate some of the difficulties with which we are faced. Over So per cent, of our export income is earned by six commodities of a primary nature, and the balance of 15 per cent, is earned by manufactured and semi-manufactured goods. Approximately 60 per cent, of our export income is earned by wool and wheat alone, and the balance of the S5 per cent, by dairy products, fruit and minerals. That fact, of course, presents certain difficult problems in the balancing of the economy, when we appreciate that, traditionally, the bulk of those trade commodities could be subjected to violent price or seasonal fluctuations. On the other hand, of course, we have a large and varied range of imports, and those are essentia! to maintain our present standard of development and also our living standard, which, by all indications at the present time, is the second highest in the world. In addition to the problems if maintaining a balance between exports and imports, we are faced with the overriding problem of the distance from markets for exports and the distance from the countries of origin so far as imports are concerned.
We also have to contend with a high structure of internal transport costs. In many cases, goods have to be carried great distances before they can be transported overseas. That factor contributes to the vital importance of shipping freights in the overall balance of the Australian economy. It is estimated that in the past year. Australian imports were valued at approximately f S00,000,000. The conference line ships carried to Australia about £500,000,000 worth of those goods, and the cost of freight was approximately £50.000,000. By simple arithmetic, one can easily gauge the importance of the current proposal for an increase of freights by 10 per cent. If a 10 per cent, increase is added to freights costing £50.000,000, the additional burden is approximately £5,000,000. During the same period to which I have referred, exports from Australia carried by the conference line ships were valued at approximately £450,000,000. The freight on those goods for transport overseas was approximately £25,000,000. An increase of 10 per cent, in the freights would add a burden of approximately £2,500,000 to our exports, and that amount must biabsorbed by Australian exporters or added to the cost of the goods overseas.
In either case, a difficult problem is involved, more particularly at this time, because we are in the course of transition from a sellers’ market to a buyers’ market overseas. This changing phase coincides with the termination of bulk buying by the British Ministry of Food. and of bulk contracts with the United Kingdom Government. We are now emerging into » highly competitive market and any additional burden of costs, whether resulting from internal charges or overseas freights, is of vital importance to us. Imports are naturally affected by such additional burdens as freight, insurance and other invisible costs which cannot be assessed readily. They have an effect upon the internal cost structure because they push up costs in secondary industries. In turn, they have an impact on the internal cost structure affecting primary industries which are responsible for S5 per cent, of our export ir.come. Naturally, this situation does not affect only the industries concerned but the exporters as well. It is the concern of every one, including the government of the day.
This matter was raised previously in this House by the honorable member for Yarra who has every right to direct the attention of honorable members to such an important subject. During that previous debate, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture indicated that action would be taken in connexion with the matter, and the Government has since taken certain action in accordance with the Minister’s assurance. I propose to refer to that action later, but first I wish to direct the attention of honorable members to the importance of the Australian Overseas Transport Association. The organization of that, body provides for equal representation for shipowners and the exporters to whom the Minister has applied the term “ shippers “. That organization is allimportant at present in relation to the matter that is under discussion. It was formed in 1929 and although it is not a statutory body, it acquires certain authority under a Commonwealth act the Australian Industries Preservation Act 1930. The important thing is that the association provides an opportunity for discussions between the shipowners and the exporters concerned on all shipping arrangements. Those matters go beyond freight rates. The organization deals with many other important factors that were overlooked by the honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean) during his criticism of the association. One of the important matters that it discusses is the regularity of shipping. That is of vital importance to a country like Australia which depends so much upon a balanced economy. It also deals with the availability of cargo ships and refrigerated space, which is becoming increasingly important as our export industries continue to expand. Another important matter is the synchronization of the shipping programme between various organizations.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to say on behalf of the official Labour Opposition that we support the views that have been expressed by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), who has submitted this matter to the House. I am sure that all honorable members are deeply concerned with the problems involved, irrespective of the colour of their political coats. The only point upon which supporters of the Australian Labour party wish to be critical in this connexion is the handling of the situation by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen). Personally, I cannot see much hope of victory for him when he meets the shipowners’ representatives in a week or two.
– Not the shipowners, but the shippers. I did not refer to the shipowners.
– That is worse, because the men who are vitally concerned in this issue are the shipowners, and they seem to live in a glass house. Nobody dares to throw stones at them, but I shall say exactly what I think of them now. The demand by the overseas shipping lines for an increase of 10 per cent. in freights on top of the’ 7£ per cent, increase of two years ago is piracy on the high seas of the worst sort. It amounts to resurrecting Captain Blood and putting him into spats and striped pants. It if an act of unmitigated greed on the pari of the shipowners. It is monopolistic capitalism “at its worst. The shipping organizations are showing ruthless disregard for everybody except dividenddrunk shareholders, most of whom scarcely know a ship’s hold from a hull. It is an act of calculated and disgraceful blackmail worse than anything of that nature that an Australian government has had to face for a long time. If the Government yields to this blackmailing bunch of shipowners it will be. in a sense, acting in a traitorous manner towards the Australian people. I hope that, for the sake of the Australian economy, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture will show some backbone when he meets this group.
These ogres have told the Government, in effect, that if it does not dance to the tune of the shipping lines, Australia will be left without ships to load the product? it wants to export. I have never hear! of a worse case of blackmail. An experienced committee appointed by the Minister has examined the threat of an increase of 10 per cent, in freights, and has found that there i3 no justification whatever for such a high increase, according to the figures made available to it. I heard to-day that 4-J per cent, was mentioned as the rise that would be justified, but the shipowners want 10 per cent. They are said to have resented bitterly the appointment by the Government of the committee because they regard it as government interference in this matter. All exporting interests are incensed at the high-handedness of the shipowners and appalled at the effect that such an increase will have on the whole of our Australian economy.
It will affect us in three ways. First, it will eat further into the returns of our primary producers, many of whom are already in the balance, as it were, as to whether they go backwards, or stay where they are. These are the wool men, wheat men, dried fruit men, timber men, oat and barley growers, meat men, fur men, orchardists dairy men and sugar men, all of whom will have to foot the added freight bill. The increase will also hurt a certain number of manufacturers, who export machinery from this country. I shall not waste time in stressing the urgency of the effect of the. increase on the whole of our primary producing units, but that is probably the greatest evil that such an increase would have, as has been pointed out by the honorable member for Darling Downs.
The second effect of the increase will be that it will endanger further our balance of payments in England, for the fewer goods we sell in England, naturally the less money we have to buy English goods for our Australian consumers. The balance of payments will be drastically affected unless we can keep selling our primary products in England, where they will bring prices profitable to our Australian growers. Increased freights, as a previous speaker has said, are perhaps the most vital factor in the whole transaction from the growing of our wheat and other primary products to the placing of those products on the table of the consumers in Great Britain.
The third effect of the increase is that we shall be priced out of the overseas markets to an even greater degree than at present, thus allowing competitors nearer to the United Kingdom to cash in on our misfortune. They will take from us markets that’ might then be lost to us for ever. Those three effects of an increase in freights concern every one of us in this House. We all agree that they are vital.
Within quite recent days, the contract system of shipping exports to Europe and the United Kingdom has broken down. After the 1st September, the Australian wool shippers will have to compete on the world market for shipping space at the best rates they can get. The wool interests have resisted contracts based on a 10 per cent, increase in freight rates. The wool shippers have been prepared to sign fresh contracts with the 21 British and European conference lines on the basis of a 7i per cent, freight increase, but the shipowners have refused to accept a new contract based on that rate. They are determined to go higher, and call for a 10 per cent, increase, whatever this Government does. I believe that their minds are made up.
Let me repeat the profits of the three or four companies referred to by the honorable member for Yarra. As at the 30th September, 1954, the Peninsular and Oriental company had made a profit of £4,200,000. As at the 30th September last year, that profit was £3,300,000, and in that year it was able to pay a dividend of 16 per cent. We are also told that this company has undisclosed capital of staggering proportions.
The Shaw Savill Line made a net profit of £1,300,000 for the year 1953-54, and the figure for the previous year was £1,290,000. In 1952, this line made a distribution of 200 per cent, by way of a bonus share issue to its shareholders. The. Orient Line made a distribution of ordinary capital amounting to 200 per cent, in 1952. The Clan, Port and other lines are also showing substantial profits, yet they have the nerve to attempt to blackmail this Government into accepting a 10 per cent, increase!
What can be done about it? First. the Government could have another look at the Australian Industries Preservation Act of 1909. I have not the time to read all the relevant sections, but we have in that act definite machinery which the Government could use with respect to the monopolistic overseas shipping combines that take cargo under contract away from other people. There is ample power in that legislation to enable this Government to act if the situation becomes desperate. Section 7 of the Australian Industries Preservation Act contains this interesting provision -
Any person who monopolises or attempts to monopolise, or combines or conspires with any other person to monopolise, any part of the trade or commerce with other countries or among the States is guilty of an indictable offence.
That is one strong provision. Another section which is also worthy of consideration relates to the creation of the Australian Overseas Transport Association. The Government could well examine those sections to see whether it could deal with the shipowners under that power if theypersist in this request for a 10 per cent. increase. Another point is that we should use any Commonwealth ships we have at the moment that are capable of going overseas to create competition with these lines. There would not be many such ships just now, but it would be a start in the right direction. We have in this country about ten River class ships of 10,000 tons, which are owned by this Government - owned by the people of Australia. There are also 31 other ships such as the “ D “ boats, but these are not suitable for overseas trade.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) has done the House a service in bringing this subject before it to-day, because it is undoubtedly of vital importance to the country, and I welcome the opportunity for the Government to explain its position in a straightforward manner to the people of Australia on this matter.
I should like, at the outset, to make it clear that this matter is not the responsibility of the Government to anything like the degree that honorable gentlemen opposite have attempted to imply. The function of freight rate agreements is not a function of government. It is not the policy of this Government to dictate to industry what it will do. But when a matter arises that is likely to affect the whole of our national economy - as this is - this Government, quite rightly, as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) himself has said, should point out what is being done. That action is. quite considerable.
On the 17th May, the Minister said that he would have an investigation undertaken into the matters that are currently under discussion. That investigation was completed, and the report was put before the Minister last week. It is upon that report that the Australian authorities estimate that an increase in freight rates of 4.2 per cent, would be a fair thing. I mention that matter as an indication that the Government has been taking quite an active interest in what has been happening in the last few months.
– Investigations will not stop the shipping combines.
– I should say that, at least, the Government and the Australian Overseas Transport Association would be in a far stronger position, as a result .of that investigation, to negotiate with the overseas shipping combines. That report contains facts and figures that are irrefutable and those investigations will go a considerable way towards helping future negotiations. As recently as last Tuesday, the Minister said -
Based upon the results of the investigations by Commerce Department officials, which, I am confident, represent a well-authenticated picture of the cost increases affecting overseas shipowners, I feel most strongly that the claim for a 10 per cent, increase cannot be justified.
If the intention to adhere to the increase is a firm attitude by the shipowners, then I will have early consultations with the Australian interests affected and decide what opportunity there is for taking action to bring the parties together on the invitation of the Government, or, alternatively, of having the Government itself consider the situation.
In that statement the Minister says that the Government has the matter under close consideration, and intends to take steps to try to solve the problem. The Minister has told us this afternoon that within the next few days he will be present at a conference between the parties concerned.
– The negotiations in connexion with wool broke down to-day.
– There is a tendency to believe that the conference shipping lines are entirely lines registered in the United Kingdom, but that is not so. There are 21 shipping lines in the conference, only fourteen of which are United Kingdom lines. The remaining seven represent continental countries - Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, France and Italy. People who have had a close association, with shipowners over a number of years seem to have very little regard for them. Perhaps, it would be better if I were to say that such people have little affection for them as a body, rather than as individuals. As a result of my experience, I hold that view, and I know that many other people regard them in the same light. At the same time, we should bear in mind that they are claim,ing the increase of 10 per cent, so that they may maintain their existing profits, or make greater profits. We should not forget that, in recent times, some Australian trade unions have asked for an increase of £2 10s. a week in the basic wage. In other words, they, too, want more money for what they are doing.
– They did not get it.
– At the present time many honorable members in this House - and I include myself among them - chink that we should be paid more–
– Not all members are of that opinion.
– It is a fairly normal attitude on the part of people generally to think that they should get more for their services.
When we take into consideration the facts and figures submitted by the representatives of the overseas shipping lines we find that they contain some rather outstanding errors. For instance, they claim chat since 194.6 there has been an increase of only 37 per cent, in freight rates to Australia, but, according to Australian figures, rates have increased by 51 per cent, since 1949. One of the items listed by the overseas shipping representatives on the i 6th May as being among the causes of the increase was the slow turnround of ships and the inadequate handling facilities in Australian ports. There is no doubt that the handling of cargo in Australian ports should be speeded up. In the same report the overseas shipping representatives say that in recent years the turn-round of ships in New Zealand ports had been quickened. The fact that they still propose to increase freight rates to New Zealand robs them of any claim that their argument is logical.
The Minister has dealt adequately with the suggestion that Commonwealth ships should be used to defeat the conference lines. Honorable members may not know that a considerable number of shipowners whose vessels are registered in Australia are doing their utmost to transfer the registration to other places, such as Hong Kong, for the reason that they consider that conditions in Australia make it difficult for them to run their lines profitably. That is an important factor, and I suggest that we should take steps to reduce costs in Australia. The independent inquiry that is being carried out in relation to facilities on the Australian waterfront, and to the shipping industry generally, may do something to solve the problem confronting us. One solution that might be forced upon up is that even if we do not agree to the 10 per cent, increase we should pay the extra freight for a time. It would be necessary to do so for only a short time in order to break the hold that the conference lines now have on Australian industry, a hold which they hope to strengthen. The Government could do it by giving a firm backing to action that might be taken by the Australian Overseas Transport Association. It is not at all unlikely that more ships would come to Australia if we improved harbour facilities in Australian ports and speeded up the turn-round of ships.
I have never blamed the “ wharfie “ for more than 40 per cent, or 50 per cent, of the trouble that has occurred on the waterfront. The cause of the rest of the trouble must be attributed to the lack of proper handling equipment and shortage of wharf space. In other words, a good deal of the trouble on the water front has been caused by the shipowners themselves. However, I believe that the Government has the situation well in hand. From what the Minister has said to-day, I am certain that he will continue to take very active steps to do everything possible to assist Australian industry.
.- The subject under discussion is one of profound importance to the people of Australia. Indeed, it is of much greater importance than many people realize. When we reflect that our prosperity and our standard of living are determined largely by the quantity of our exports to other countries, and that the return to producers and exporters is affected considerably by shipping freights, we realize how important is the subject we are discussing. Unfortunately, thu people of Australia are exposed to the rapacity of the shipowners of the world. We are in the unfortunate position that fourteen shipping companies registered in the United Kingdom and seven other shipping lines registered in other European countries are in a position to determine the toll that we must pay for the services that they render. It would appear that all that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) and his colleagues have in mind is an attempt to persuade the shipping companies to play the game. The Government proposes to ask people who have it in their power to extract practically anything they like from the people of this country for carrying their produce overseas to play the game! Not only are these overseas shipowners able to dictate the prices that exporters shall pay for goods sent from Australia, but they also dictate the freights paid on imports to this country. They are in a position to impose their will on both exporters and importers, and thus upon the whole of the people of this country. Whatever supporters of the Government may say regarding the efficacy of governmentowned shipping lines, the action taken by the Hughes Government to establish the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers did act as a check on the conference lines. It stood as a lion in the path of the international shipping lines. Although, from its balance-sheets, the line may have appeared a failure, its very presence as a competitive factor in the market for shipping freights undoubtedly deterred the international shipowners from making the people of this country pay higher freights than they should.
The Commonwealth line came to an unfortunate end. A conservative government - I think it was the Bruce-Page Government - sold this country’s shipping line to a United Kingdom shipping combine headed by a gentleman named Lord Kylsant. The purchase price was never paid in full, and one of the directors of the company ended up in gaol, or in the bankruptcy courts of the United Kingdom. Australia is still lamenting, and waiting for its money. If successive Australian governments, of whatever political persuasion, had continued to operate the line and replace its ships when necessary, at the worst its financial position would have been no different from that of the government-owned railways of Australia to-day. They are all showing a loss but no government, whether Commonwealth or State, would dare to sell its railways to private enterprise for that or any other reason. I ask any Government supporter to name onegovernment that would do that. The railways are a national asset and are run at a loss because they are subsidizing the development of this country, stimulating production, and protecting the Australian people against the rapacity that they would undoubtedly suffer at the hands of private enterprise. Our tory Australian Country party friends in the corner are great disciples of private enterprise, but one does not hear their colleagues, in any State in which they are in control of the government, making policy speeches in which they advocate selling the railway^ to private enterprise.
When this Government, which ha,failed to protect the people from high shipping freights, is asked what it intends to do, it gives the usual weak-kneed reply. In answer to a question from this side of the House, we have been told that the operations of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers were disastrous, that the line had been run ai a loss, and that it was a good job that we were rid of it. The shipping position is on all fours with that of the railways. It is regrettable that Australia has not the ships that are needed to take our products overseas and bring back the products of other countries. That would not only protect the primary producer? who are, in the main, this country’s exporters, but also would assist Australia’defence. Much of the annual expenditure on defence is wasted, and the Government would be doing a great service to Australia if it were to devote, say, £50,000,000 of that, money to the acquisition or construction - even at a loss - of ships that could carry our products to the market? of the world. Indeed, such action should have been taken twelve months or two years ago.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) some time ago expressed the opinion that much of our defence policy was wrong, and that more money should be devoted to the building of mobile air fleets that could strike at certain point? in certain circumstances. A substantial proportion of the defence expenditure that is now wasted could he profitably spent in acquiring our own shipping line and thus protecting the primary producers and the Australian people from foreign exploitation. The talk about the disastrous experience of governments in the ownership of shipping lines between World War I. and World War II. is hocus-pocus and an attempt by this Government to apologize for its lack of courage. It should have threatened these pirates with government ownership of shipping lines, in order to keep them in their place and ensure that this community was served as it should be served. I say deliberately that the Minister, after coming to this House and making his apology on this matter, has been content to slink out of the chamber and leave one of his colleagues to listen to the debate.
-(Hon. Archie Cameron). - Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I am sorry that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr, Pollard) has seen fit to reflect upon the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen). Honorable members know that the Minister had to leave the chamber for a few minutes because of an important engagement made in the interests of this country with people interested in its welfare. The honorable member for Lalor would have us believe that there is a single remedy for this serious, difficult and unhappy situation. It is that we should extend the present Commonwealth shipping line and go into competition with the British conference lines which have refrigerator ships and carry the bulk of our freight overseas. I have before me a judgment by a distinguished gentleman who, I think, has never had much affection for our side of politics. I refer to Mr. Justice Foster, and what he has said is very true indeed. It indicates just what chance an Australian shipping line would have of competing with those of Britain - one of the greatest maritime nations in the world. His Honour said that restoration of the 40-hour week was one of the prime necessities in the maritime industry. He said that a recent survey had shown that many seamen on the Australian coast worked 28 hours a week, but were paid for 64. This is the kind of thing that the honorable member for Lalor would like to inflict upon our Australian exporters. His Honour went on -
From the community’s point of view, it is one explanation of why the transport industry costs so much with such an unsatisfactory result.
His Honour said that any alteration of the basic wage had to be thought of in terms of section 25 of the Arbitration Act, and that seamen’s margins were substantially higher than the two and a half times formula prescribed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Mr. Justice Foster went on to say that the question of accumulated leave was most significant, and that at present a seaman was assumed to work 56 hours a week, and, as the standard working week was 40 hours, he received sixteen hours’ overtime pay at the rate of time and a half. This made his weekly wage equivalent to 64 hours’ normal working time. The whole statement goes on to show that the Seamen’s Union has held the community to ransom. The secretary of that union is, I think, Mr. Elliott, who at one time was inside the Communist party; I do not know whether he still is a member of that party. The judgment shows that that union has held the community to ransom, and yet the honorable member for Lalor comes here and suggests to ordinary men with ordinary intelligence that such a condition could prevail in the maritime industry and the exporting industry of Australia without sending costs up by hundreds per cent., not 10 per cent. This is not being said to encourage the British shipowners at all. This is being said to show how ridiculous is the argument of the honorable member for Lalor. It is ridiculous even to suggest that Australian shipping lines could start to compete with shipping industries of other nations. I might add that these seamen, working 28 hours a week, are getting something like ?1,250 a year, together with the advantages of good food, and with one man to a cabin, and so on.
As I mentioned before, I think that we can rule out what the honorable member for Lalor says, because he has been foolish to come here and make such a statement.
Lt is foolish, to think that Australian shipping lines could compete and show incentives and good enterprise, particularly socialized government lines, which are always wasteful.
– What, about the airlines ?
– If the honorable gentleman wants to bring the airlines into the debate, I might say that the airlines carry passengers only. They cannot compete in the matter of carrying freight. They take only about 1 per cent, of the freights that are carried, and at colossal cost.
– What about the Commonwealth railways?
– Order ! The honorable member for Werriwa has already spoken
– It is difficult for me to speak above the shouting of the honorable gentlemen on the other side of the House, who are playing a very silly role. We cannot allow this export situation to be strained any further. It is imperative that these talks with our shippers should he held on the highest level, and that they should be pursued with all the energy that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has at his command. If necessary, they should be carried to the level of the Prime Minister and his opposite number in Britain, because if we allow the freights to rise by £7,500,000, the balance of payments deficit will increase by £7,500,000, and the first people to be hit will be the British exporters. Import restrictions are in force at present, and the receipts of the British exporters will he cut down by the amount represented by the rise in freights. That is the situation confronting Britain. Britain should know, and the shipowners and shippers here should know, that the £7,500,000 will immediately affect our balance of payments. It will affect the British exporter, and therefore the manufacturer and worker, and it will also affect the cost of living in Australia, because we have reached a situation with rising costs in which export income is being lost. Rising costs here mean that losses are experienced by our own food producers and rural producers, whose activities are responsible for 85 per cent.  or 90 per cent, of our export income, and we have reached the stage where we are loading our prices in Australia to pay for the losses incurred in overseas markets. We shall now have to load our inside prices to the extent of this increase in shipping freights. We are straining the situation to the extent that the shipowners themselves will kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and eventually exports from Australia will shrink. The situation has been reached where eggs and other dairy produce are being sold at half as much on the London market as Australian consumers are paying for them. In such a situation as that, the farmers will turn to more profitable activities, and the shipowners will find that when they increase the freight rates the amount of goods that they will be asked to carry will decrease.
If German or Japanese lines come into this, they might join the conference line, as the continental shipping companies did. There are many of us who watch the situation closely. The honorable member for Yarra has studied the matter, and he knows how serious it is to impose any more charges upon our export industry. The Minister has given much of his time and energy to a consideration of this matter, and all our good wishes go with him. We hope that some solution may be found to this problem, which is of such great importance to the whole community in Australia. We hope that the Minister will be successful in his talks, especially at a time like this, when we are strained to breaking point in our economy. Honorable members should not talk about overseas prices; or world prices. They are fictitious. There is no real price to-day. Although the London market is a market, every one who supplies it seems to enjoy some artificial subsidy. The farmers in England receive a subsidy on butter, and the poultry farmers also receive a subsidy. If we go to India to sell our powdered milk to make the reconstituted milk which is becoming popular there, we find that other countries that are competing with us for the market in condensed and powdered milk and non-fat milk solids are receiving subsidies. I believe that Belgium a short time ago introduced a subsidy.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I join in this debate to add my word of condemnation about the action of the overseas shipping lines in endeavouring to hold the exporters of Australia to ransom in this manner. I do not know whether the remarks of the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) are really worthy of notice, but I feel that I should answer one or two of his comments. First, he sets himself up as a carping critic of a well-known and highly respected Arbitration Court judge, and he criticizes the award of that judge.
– I did not criticize the judge; I quoted his statement.
– And he objects, in effect, to the seamen being granted a 40-hour week.
– I did not object, T gave the facts.
– He also objects to the seamen on the Australian coast being provided with decent food.
– The honorable member is twisting my remarks.
– And he objects to the seamen being provided with single rooms in which to sleep. Does he suggest that the seaman is not an ordinary human being, and that he is not entitled to the same living and working conditions as the average employee in industry? Is the seaman a type of individual who should be exploited at all times by the shipowner, irrespective of the conditions that the shipowner is prepared to give him? Is he to be subject at all times to exploitation? The honorable member for Macarthur should realize that the seaman is just another employee in industry.
I wish to correct the honorable member also regarding his very wild statement that government-owned industries cannot make a profit, and that there is no incentive and that they are badly managed. The honorable member has picked a most unfortunate occasion to make a wild statement of that character, because the Government which he is supporting has been reporting to u3 regularly that the Commonwealth ship ping line is now making a very reasonable profit. The Commonwealth shipping line is competing with the private shipping companies round the coast of Australia. What is more, the Commonwealth shipping line is rendering a public service to the people of Australia. Commonwealthowned ships are carrying goods to outlying ports in Tasmania, Western Australia and other parts of the country at a loss in order to render a service to residents in remote localities. The honorable member for Macarthur should know that, because the facts have been presented to the Parliament on more than one occasion. 1 come now to the real subject of this debate, which is the hold-up of the exporters of Australia by overseas shipping interests that are demanding an additional 10 per cent, increase of freight rates. That will mean an increase of freight rates by over 50 per cent, during the last three years. We know that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) and members of the Government in general have been taking an active interest in this matter, and that on quite a number of occasions they have raised their voices in objection to the imposition of increased freight charges on our export commodities. On a number of occasions, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has gone very close to issuing threats. But when it comes to the show-down, on every occasion the Minister accepts the dictates of the overseas shipping combine, and is not prepared to make a fight. I know that the party he represents in this Parliament is looking for cheap freights on wheat, wool and other primary products. T do not blame the members of that party for looking for cheap freights in that direction, but the point is that when it comes to a show-down, each and every member of the Australian Country party is prepared to sell out to the overseas shipping combines the people whom that party claims to represent. The members of the Australian Country party make very fiery speeches, then they make explanations and apologize for the fact that they they can do nothing about freight rates. They leave the primary producers in the lurch.
The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) has mentioned in this debate that on a famous occasion an anti-Labour Prime Minister of Australia decided that Australia would not be held to ransom by the overseas shipping monopoly and, acting on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, bought a line of ships. Many accusations have been made regarding losses by that shipping line, but the fact remains that the Commonwealth shipping line kept down freight rates between Australia and England. The Australian primary producers derived a great benefit from the activities of that shipping line. It is well known that the line was not sold, but was actually given away, by the Bruce-Page Government to an overseas shipping company, and thereafter freights on all primary products exported from Australia were increased immediately by a considerable percentage. When that shipping line was given away, the interests of the primary producers of Australia were also given away.
One of the leading men in that transaction was a member of the Country party who at that time was, I think, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. But the members of the Country party still tell us that they are endeavoring to look after the interests of the primary producers. In what way are they looking after the interests of the primary producers? This is an occasion when definite action is needed. We need a government and political parties who are prepared to stand up to these bushrangers from the other side of the world and say to them, “ You have robbed us for long enough. We will not permit you to rob ii? any longer. We shall do as we did in J 9 .1 S . We shall expand our present Commonwealth shipping line to an overicas line and provide the ships to carry our primary produce”. I say that a government-owned shipping line operating between here and other parts of the world could carry all of our primary produce at a rate considerably lower than that which is being charged at present by the overseas shipping companies.
Reference has been made to the turnround of ships and the handling of ships in port. I venture to suggest that Australia can produce men who could do the job in a much more satisfactory and efficient manner than the overseas shipping interests are doing it at the present time. It is all very well to come out with criticism of the waterside worker and say that much of his time is being wasted, that he is being paid considerable sums of money for time when he is doing no work, and that a great portion of his time on duty is ineffective time. We know that there is some ineffective time. We know that there is more ineffective time on overseas ships than on coastal ships. There is ineffective time, not because the waterside workers are not on the job and arc not doing the job as they should be doing it, but almost entirely because the people who are controlling the work are hopelessly inefficient. They book men on duty before they have ships ready for the men to work. They do not make proper arrangements, and there is inefficiency in the way ships are handled. That position can be rectified, but it can be rectified only by the people who are handling the job. If the people who are handling the job are inefficient, the work will be inefficient. If we take the interest in this matter that we should take, and if we throw down the gauntlet to the overseas shipping companies, informing them in no uncertain way that we will not accept an impost of an additional 10 per cent, increase of freights, but that we shall compete against them and provide our own ships, we shall get service.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I claim that I have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) in two ways. He said that I criticized Mr. Justice Foster, and that I criticized the Australian working man. I want to make it clear that I referred to Mr. Justice Foster as a distinguished gentleman, and further, that I quoted his words to the House. If the honorable member attributes those words to me, he is wilfully distorting my remarks. I did not criticize the judge. I gave the facts.
– I welcome this opportunity to associate myself with other honorable members on this side in their criticism of the oversea? shipping lines which are proposing to make another raid on the pocket of the Australian primary producer in order to bolster the profits of the already wellpaying shipping lines owned by overseas shipping magnates. A little time ago, this matter was brought before the Parliament, and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), in reply to much criticism of the suggested increase of freights, adopted the attitude, “ Only over my dead body will these shipping companies increase freights and impose an added burden on the Australian primary producer”. He appointed a committee consisting of his departmental officers to confer with shipping company officers, and to make an investigation of the whole situation. We now have that information available to us.
It is admitted that there is a case for a slight increase of freights. The case is based on the failure of this Government to carry out its pre-election promise to halt inflation. We know that Australia is in the grip of inflation. Costs are rising. Consequently, there is a need for an increase in shipping freights. But the investigation shows that the relevant costs have risen by only 4.3 per cent. The parties have met and, in sheer desperation, the shippers, knowing that the shipping companies have their hands round the throats of the Australian primary producers, have offered to pay an increase of 7 per cent, in the freight rates for goods shipped from Australia overseas. But the companies have refused to accept a 7 per cent, increase, although that would be 3 per cent, above the recognized increase of costs, and are demanding, like Shylock their pound of flesh. They are demanding a 10 per cent, increase of freight rates.
This is a sad state of affairs. Honorable members on the Government side of the House are being justifiably critical of the proposal to increase freight rates, hut in the past they have contributed to this situation. Other honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), have referred to the part played by members of the antiLabour parties in this House in disposing of Australia’s overseas shipping line which rendered such good service to the nation, particularly to primary producers during World War I. and immediately afterwards. The present Minister for
Health (Sir Earle Page) was Treasurer in the Government which disposed of that shipping line to a noble lord, a member of the English Parliament, who subsequently went to gaol for fraud. The Australian taxpayers were never paid for the shipping line. Now, we have no shipping line to carry our products overseas. We have certainly a number of ships which operate on the Australian coast, and which operate at a profit. They carry cargoes to various remote ports of the Commonwealth which the privately owned shipping companies will not serve because there is no profit in such service. Notwithstanding the acknowledged losses ‘hat are being incurred in carrying goods to those remote ports, the Australian Shipping Board is making a profit on its overall undertakings.
When this 10 per cent, impost is placed 011 our products which are being exported, some of the principal primary products of Queensland will be very heavily hit. E refer particularly to sugar, meat, and dairy products, items which meet with severe competition on overseas markets. They are to have this additional impost on the prices sought for them on the markets of the world. Where does the Australian Country party stand in this matter? The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, because he occupies that position, was forced to reply, in the early stages of the debate, to the matter raised by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), but since then, no member of the Australian Country party has spoken on this most important issue. It is tragic to think that the members of the Australian Labour party are compelled to take up the case for the primary producers, having regard to the fact that the members of the Australian Country party are continually asserting that they are the only ones who worthily represent that section of the community. On this important occasion, t lm- desert the primary producers and leave the case to the shipowners. They ask the members of the Australian Labour party to fight their battle for them.
An honorable member opposite reminded us that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, quite helplessly, stated on Tuesday last that he was still watching the matter and was prepared to bring both, sides together in an’ effort to solve the problem. What a statement for a Minister of the Australian Government to make! I suggest he knows that the ease has been concluded already, that the 10 per cent, increase in freight rates has been decided on, and that the result will be another raid on the pockets of the Australian primary producers.
.- The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) is usually one of the mo3t impassioned and convincing speakers in the House. This afternoon, he was surprisingly subdued and supine. There can be only one reason for hi3 change of form. The overseas shipping companies are notoriously amongst the most munificent supporters of the campaign funds of the Government parties. Those companies are now receiving their dividends. The Minister has his hands tied in this matter. He is in no position to kick his benefactors. Accordingly, the primary ‘producers of this country, and all we Australians who depend so very largely on the primary producers for our overseas income, will suffer and have to pay for the generosity that these companies have shown the present Government.
If one were to heed the remarks of the Minister, one would think that no Australian company should ever engage in shipping, because foreign companies can do so much better. If he honestly believes that that is so, he and his colleagues ought to delete from the Navigation Act the provision which says that only Australian ships shall engage in the coasting trade. If overseas ships can run more cheaply than Australian-operated ships, then interstate shippers should nor, have a monopoly at the expense of the Australian public. But in fact, Australians can run shipping profitably. The Australian Shipping Board has, for several years, shown considerable profits. The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) condemned, in general, all forms of Government enterprise. His despairing arguments will not hold water
In papers which were produced in committee last night, and of which, therefore, you have no knowledge, Mr. Speaker, it was shown that the Commonwealth, in respect of the Trans-Australian railway, had made a profit of more than £350,000 in the last financial year. Qantas Empire Airways, in 1953, the last year for which its accounts were presented to the House, made a profit of £550,000, whilst Trans-Australia Airlines, in 1953-54, the last year for which its accounts were presented to the House, made a profit of £114,000. In every form of transport in which this Government indulges it makes a profit. It would make a considerably larger profit if it were to rationalize railway services properly and unify the gauges between, say, Perth and Adelaide and Adelaide and Broken Hill. Then, the various railways which at present lead from nowhere to nowhere would have an improved chance of making a profit.
Is there any reason to think that an international shipping line run by the Australian Government would not be just as profitable as are the interstate ships which the Government owns and runs at a profit ? The Minister has suggested that the line which the late Right Honorable W. M. Hughes instituted showed a loss. The Australian producers would have suffered a very much greater loss if it had not been for that undertaking. The money that this country spent on that line was well spent. It was only the competition of that shipping line which kept down the fares and freights charged by the overseas shipping companies. When that line went out of existence, having been sold to those overseas shipping companies, but not yet paid for by them, their freights increased, and the profits from the sale of our primary products diminished accordingly.
In this matter, as in so many things, blame is laid on the worker in industry; here the seamen and the waterside worker are blamed for every increase of costs. No mention is ever made by this Government of the inefficiency of stevedoring companies and the excessive profits of the shipping companies. This Government consistently overlooks the components in our costs attributable to excess profits and inefficient management. The component attributable to man-power has never been smaller. Man-power has never been more efficient. It ill-behoves this Government - a government of businessmen - to countenance inefficiency on the part of people who assisted to return it to office, and to blame the workers in industry for every increase of costs.
If Australia, one of the big trading countries of the world, is to receive an adequate return from overseas for its products, it should have its own overseas shipping line. If it is to withstand the pressure of these private companies which can hold us to ransom, and which can withdraw their ships from the Australian run at will, Australia must have its own shipping line. As this country is both a large exporter and a large importer of goods, it could well maintain its own shipping line to take goods to guaranteed markets. As every transport facility which the Commonwealth now operates is run profitably, there is no reason why a government shipping line could not be operated profitably. There is considerable trade each way between here and Europe. These guaranteed markets ensure profitable operation of the ships each way. There is thus a perfect setting for the operation of a successful government shipping service. It is to the everlasting disgrace of this Government that it has not extended into international trade the shipping service that it operates profitably in connexion with our interstate trade. We shall continue to be helpless to deal with unilateral increases in freights until we establish an international shipping line of our own.
.Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Sir Arthur FADDEN’ agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill tor an act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund a sum for war pensions.
Resolution reported. Standing Orders suspended ; resolution adopted.
That Sir Arthur Fadden and Sir Eric Harrison do prepare and bring in a bill to (any out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir Arthur Fadden. and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to provide £4S,000,000 from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the payment of war pensions. It is necessary to submit a measure of- this nature to the Parliament from time to time for the purpose of appropriating from revenue an amount for payment into a trust account to enable pensions to be paid in accordance with such rates as are approved by the Parliament.
The amount of £4S,000,000 now requested makes allowance for the proposed increase in war pension payments announced in the budget which ‘will be the subject of a separate measure. The bill lias no relation whatsoever to the rates or conditions under which pensions are paid. It merely authorizes the provision of funds for the trust account from which war pensions are paid.’ I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Haylen) adjourned.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 27th April, 1955 (vide page 190).
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to. Clause 5 - (1.) In this Act, unless the contrary intertion appears - “ Court of summary jurisdiction “ . . means a court . . . constituted by a Police, Stipendiary or Special Magistrate . . . “ mortgagor “, in relation to a mortgage, means the owner for the time being of the land which is subject to the mortgage;
.- 1 move -
That, in sub-clause (1.), in the definition of Court of summary jurisdiction, after the word “ Stipendiary the word “ , Resident “, be inserted.
In Western Australia there is a class of magistrates known as resident magistrates, whose jurisdiction, for all practical purposes, is equal to that of police or stipendiary magistrates. The point that I have in mind is purely technical. However, there could be confusion if a resident magistrate, instead of a police or stipendiary magistrate, were to conduct a local court and found that he had no jurisdiction under this measure to do so. The amendment is designed to ensure that resident magistrates shall have jurisdiction equal to that of other persons who conduct local courts in Western Australia. Amendment agreed to.
.- I move-
That, in sub-clause (1.) after the definition of “ mortgagor “, the following definition be inserted: - “‘person’ includes the Crown in right of a State; “.
Although it is clear that the bill authorizes the acquisition of Crown land of a State, it is not clear that the various references in the bill to persons are to be read as including State governments. Generally speaking, it is intended that the position of a State government under the bill will be the same as that of a private person, and it is therefore desirable that references to a person shall include a State. An example of this will be found in clause 12 (1.), which provides that the High Court or the Supreme Court may, upon the application of the Commonwealth or any other person interested, make such orders as it thinks proper for declaring or adjusting rights and liabilities in connexion with land acquired.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 6 - (2.) The Commonwealth shall not acquire either by agreement or by compulsory process land which, under the laws of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth, is dedicated or reserved as a public park or otherwise for the purposes of public recreation.
.-I move -
That, in sub-clause (2.T, after the word “reserved” the following words be inserted: - “ , or is vested in trustees. “. 
The clause as drafted protects from acquisition land which, under the laws of a State or Territory, is dedicated or reserved as a public park or otherwise for the purposes of public recreation. The people are very jealous of these reserves and parks and do not desire that they should be taken from them by either the Commonwealth or the States. Whilst the clause obviates the possibility of such a thing occurring, in the case of acquisition by the Commonwealth, under some State laws it is considered that the formal appointment of trustees is sufficient to constitute a reserve, without formal reservation or dedication. It is considered that the protection afforded under this clause should be extended to public parks on the appointment of trustees, and the amendment is intended to achieve that object.
– As the honorable member for Lawson suggested, this amendment is a good one because it widens the definition of “ park lands which are protected by clause 6 of this bill much more than they were under the principal act. As I told honorable members at the second-reading stage, I issued copies of the bill and explanatory memoranda to the various State governments, law societies and similar bodies and any one who was interested. As a result, several suggested amendments were received. Some of the minor ones were considered to be unnecessary, but a few others, sUch as this one, were regarded as improvements to the bill. Consequently, these two pages of amendments have been circulated. If they are adopted they will not only improve the measure but also help considerably in the administration of the acquisition of land. It was suggested in connexion with this amendment that the definition should be widened further, but the Government believes that the amendment outlined by the honorable member for Lawson is acceptable, and will provide the necessary cover.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 7 (Acquisition by agreement).
.- This clause apparently authorizes the
Governor-General to acquire land by agreement for a public purpose approved by him. and it provides also that the Minister may authorize the acquisition of land by agreement for a public purpose approved by him at a price not exceeding £500. It seems that the Minister need not obtain the consent of the GovernorGeneral or the Executive Council to acquire land at a price below £500. Can the Minister say whether that is the case?
– Yes. In the principal act of 1906 the limit was £50. The increased amount is stipulated in this bill so as to conform to present values.
– I cannot see why the protection of the Executive Council should not be accorded to owners of land of a value lower than £500. The land is the property of a citizen and an asset of great importance to him.
– It is not a question of protection of a citizen. We are merely trying to facilitate the administration of acquisition, by not referring to the Executive Council for approval acquisitions involving small amounts.
– In the case of land of a value less than £500 the Minister may authorize the acquisition, but if the value is greater than £500 the authority must be given by the Governor-General. Surely the citizen with land of a low value should be entitled to the same protection as the owner of land of a higher value. Why should there be any discrimination ? I can understand the desire of the Minister to facilitate the execution of public business. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) may think that my interpretation is wrong.
– It is wrong.
– This matter was discussed at the second-reading stage. I know that the clause provides for agreement, but why should not both parties be entitled to the same protection ?
– One purpose of the provision is to protect the taxpayer.
– That may be, but why should there be any discrimination? [ hope that the Minister will clarify the point. I want to be assured that in both cases the same protection will be given. j know that this clause deals with acquisition by agreement, but it provides also that in one case the Minister may authorize the acquisition and in another it can be done only by the GovernorGeneral. Both conditions apply to acquisition by agreement; consequently, there should be no discrimination.
– As the honorable member for Lalor has said, this point was discussed at the secondreading stage. Ever since the Lands Acquisition Act 1906-1936 has been in operation the same principle has applied. Section 14 of the principal act provides - (I.) The Governor-General may approve of the acquisition by the Commonwealth of any land by agreement with the owner. (2.) The Minister may, in any ease where the interest proposed to be acquired is a lease lor a term not exceeding three years at a rental not exceeding Fifty Pounds per annum, approve of the acquisition by the Commonwealth of the lease of the land by agreement with the owner.
The ‘principle in this bill is not new. Theonly difference in the provision is that where a limit of £50 was fixed in 1906, in order to save a great deal of extra work and expense and what might be termed carrying documents along corridors in government offices, the figure has beer raised to £500. But there is no alteration in principle. It is not a matter of discriminating against the owner of property valued at £50 or £200 as against the owner of property worth £501 or more. This relates to acquisition of land by agreement, and. the owner does not have to agree unless he considers the Government’s offer is fair and reasonable. He does not need protection. The question of the Minister’s right to operate in respect of properties valued at more than £500, without the Executive Council approval, relates to the protection of the taxpayers and the revenue of the State. Tt is a question of whether the Minister is doing the right thing, and this provision protects him also. The small owner i3 not affected or treated differently from the larger owner, because the acquisition in each case is by agreement. The honorable member for Lalor will surely agree that no new principle is being introduced, and that only the value is being altered.
– AH that the Minister has done is to establish the truth of my complaint that there is improper discrimination as between land of low value and land of a higher value. The Minister argues that that bad principle should be perpetuated. Surely if it is fit and proper that for an acquisition by agreement-
– If it were compulsory acquisition, it would be.
– In this particular section, where the activity applies in both cases to the acquisition of land by agreement, there should be no discrimination in the procedure. It is suggested that it is for the purpose of protecting the Crown, but the citizen may have a very different case. The citizen may think that, if the matter goes to the Executive Council, at least His Excellency the GovernorGeneral and one or two Ministers will be present. The Crown would have that extra protection.
– But be is not obliged to agree.
– He is not obliged to agree to the £1,000 acquisition either.
– Yes, he is.
– He is protected by the need for his own agreement in both cases. “Why should there be discrimination, with one kind of acquisition being authorized by the Executive Council and the other by the Minister? The Government cannot have it both ways. What is good for one is good for the other. If it is good enough for a £500 acquisition to go to the Executive Council, it is good enough for a £1,000 proposition to be considered by the Executive Council. It is immaterial whether it is for the protection of the citizen or the taxpayer. If a taxpayer should be protected in relation ‘ to a transaction involving £500, surely he should be protected also in relation to a proposition involving £1,000 or £10,000.
I know what goes on. Some years ago, I acted for a former Minister for the Interior, and I had to peruse and sign many documents relating to such transactions. One can understand why the government of the day, no doubt because of the volume of work involved, should seek some easier process of handling the vast amount of work and personal atten tion involved in preparing and perusing documents and details of transactions for forwarding to the Executive Council. If it is important to protect the taxpayers’ money in relation to a £1,000 transaction, surely it is important adequately to protect it in the case of a £250 transaction by submitting it to the Executive Council. In both cases the transaction is by mutual agreement. If it is argued that the taxpayer or the citizen is involved, the argument holds good in both cases. I submit, my suggestion to the committee for its consideration.
– I was rather surprised to hear the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) advance such arguments because, as he quite rightly said, he has been a Minister and has had some experience of these matters. I put it to him that in the department that he administered he had a rule that certain senior officers could spend, say, £250 or £500 without reference to him. The purpose was to divest himself, as the Minister in charge of the department, of a lot of administrative details. I suggest to the honorable gentleman that, if he was talking about the application of principle, the application of the principle of dealing with minor matters in an expeditious way is one that he has applied on innumerable occasions, and that he has sat back with a sigh of relief and said, “ Well, thank goodness that is out of the way “, without having to go through all the details of forwarding the matter to the Executive Council. I fail to follow his suggestion. We have moved out of the period when every Minister was his own chief clerk and his own under-secretary, and sometimes his own second clerk, and had to attend to such details himself. It is inevitable, in the Australian form of administration, that minor matters should not be dealt with by the Minister so that he and the department that he administers may be saved a good deal of trouble. The revenues of Australia are well protected. I do not see why we should not adopt the procedure outlined in the clause.
.- I am quite at a loss to understand the objections that have been raised by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard).
He spoke as though the citizen who agreed to sell his land to the Commonwealth at a price less than £500 would be in need of some protection.
– Sometimes he feels that he is under coercion when he agrees.
– When it was pointed out to the honorable member that only land that a citizen had agreed to sell could be acquired by the Minister, he shifted his ground very rapidly and suggested that the taxpayer needed protection in regard to the acquisition of land at a price below £500. Then he abandoned that argument and brought forward a third suggestion to the effect that there should not be any discrimination. If we were to adopt the principle of no discrimination that he enunciated in reverse, the Minister could acquire by agreement land of any value, not limited to £500 but, say, worth £5,000,000. Surely a transaction of such magnitude would require the approval of the Government and the Governor-General. To say that a Minister should not have the right to acquire by agreement property for a price not exceeding £500, and that the taxpayer needs the protection of a Cabinet decision on such transactions, is to imply that no Minister is to be trusted to make a decision involving the expenditure of public moneys to the extent of £500 or less. Such a proposition, of course, would be absurd. If it boils down to a suggestion that a citizen might be coerced, as the honorable member has suggested, any transaction in relation to which coercion could be proved could be set aside in the normal processes of the law just as though the vendor were drunk or mad when he signed the contract. The objections of the honorable member for Lalor fall to the ground on that basis also. The whole thing is a storm in a teacup, and I think that now that the honorable member realizes the true implication of his suggestion, he will be prepared to agree with what I have said.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 8 to 12 agreed to.
Clause 13- (1.) Where land is acquired under this Division, the Minister shall, as soon as practicable after the late of acquisition of the land, cause a copy oi the notice of acquisition of the land to be served upon the owners of the land, or such of them as can with reasonable diligence be ascertained. (2.) Whereto) the Minister is unable to ascertain the identity of an owner; or (&) service on an owner cannot be effected under the last preceding sub-section in accordance with section sixty-one of this Act, service of the copy of the notice of acquisition on that owner may be effected by leaving it with the occupier of the land, or, if the land is not occupied, by affixing it to a conspicuous part of the land or causing it to be published in a newspaper circulating in the district in which the land is situated.
.- It is suggested that clause 13 should be amended in three respects. I shall deal first with the first two proposed amendments. I move -
It is essential to tighten up the requirements for letting people know just what is being done with their land. On the face of it, perhaps it seems unnecessary to do so, because, if one writes a letter to a person or makes reasonable inquiry, that person ought to be aware of what is happening, but in practice that is not so. It has been found in many cases that people have not been aware that the Government has in fact resumed their land. This places the onus more firmly, I suggest, upon the Minister and upon the Government to inform the person concerned of the acquisition. In my career I have known many cases of very great carelessness in these matters. In one case the Commonwealth resumed certain property and at least one month expired before the person who was involved knew that the Government had resumed his property.
Another most pertinent case which came to my knowledge happened within the jurisdiction of the State of New South Wales and similar cases could arise within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth. This man’s land was in fact resumed and attached to a national park, but for years he went on using the land unaware that it had been resumed. It was only when he attempted to do something with his title that he found that he no longer owned the land.
No one treated the matter as being of sufficient importance to warrant his being informed of the resumption. He made no claim for compensation. Perhaps he was illiterate and may not have taken any notice of letters that had arrived at his house. However, there are simple folk who just do not know the powers that governments have in relation to this matter. They go along in their ordinary daily occupations and believe that it is quite impossible that a government could take their land. In this case the man could not read a newspaper, let alone letters that a department may have written to him. In instances of that kind the onus should be placed upon the Government to make the most diligent inquiries to ensure that the person involved understands what is being done. The whole purpose of these amendments is to ensure that the Government shall take more interest in informing the person concerned, and shall do so at once. The clause reads - . . . the Minister shall, as soon as practicable after the date of acquisition of the land, cause a copy of the notice of acquisition of the land to be served upon the owners of the land, or such of them as can with reasonable diligence . . .
The words “with reasonable diligence” should be altered to read, “ after diligent inquiry “. It is a simple matter, but it is tremendously important to many citizens throughout Australia.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) that the precautions which he has mentioned should be taken, but I am not too sure whether the words “ after diligent inquiry “ are more effective than “with reasonable diligence “.
– The word “ diligent “ may he stronger than “ reasonable
Amendments agreed to. Mr. CRAMER (Bennelong) [5.50].- I move -
That, in sub-clause (2.) the words “by affixing it to a conspicuous part of the land or “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words: - “by affixing it, if practicable, to a conspicuous part of the land and”.
This amendment proposes a very important variation. The clause provides that service of the copy of the notice of acquisition on the owner should be effected by leaving it with the occupier of the land, or, if the land is not occupied, by affixing it to a conspicuous part of the land or causing it to be published. The amendment seeks to delete the words “ by affixing it to a conspicuous part of the land or “ and to insert in lieu the words, “ by affixing it, if practicable, to a conspicuous part of the land and “. The word “and” is the important word of the amendment. At present, alternative methods are allowed but the amendment will make it obligatory on the Government not only to affix a notice but, at the same time, to publish it in newspapers circulating in the area.
Some peculiar circumstances have arisen in cases of this sort. For instance, the land may be occupied by a person who has no interest whatever in the owner. The Government may serve a notice on that person and he may simply neglect to tell the owner. There is need to tighten up the procedure to ensure that the owner shall be informed that his land is being resumed. If it is practicable the Government must affix a notice on the land, but in addition to that it should publish the notice in newspapers circulating in the area. In that way the requirement of informing a person of the acquisition of his land will be covered as far as it is possible. These things may, perhaps, seem to some people to be unnecessary, but in practice they are very necessary. When the Government arbitrarily takes a person’s land, the onus should be placed on the Government to inform that person of the acquisition.
.- I support the amendment. I think it is desire able, but I am somewhat at a loss - unless, of course, there is provision to deal with the matter by regulation - to understand the value of the requirement to affix a copy of the acquisition notice on the land. Taking it literally that means that the authorities are required, by using iron spikes or wooden pegs, to peg down a copy of the acquisition notice. That seems to be absurd, but that is what the provision means in plain English - that on a conspicuous portion of the land the Government shall affix a copy of the acquisition notice which may he a document no bigger than a page of this bill. If the Minister can assure me that there is power to make regulations to require that the notice can be affixed to some suitable landmark, that is all right; but merely to insist that it shall be affixed to the land means that it shall be pegged to the ground itself.
– The goats will eat it.
– The goats will eat it, and there are plenty of them about.
– There would be a tree or something on the land to which the notice could be affixed.
– The clause does not say that the notice is to be affixed to a tree; it says it must be affixed to the land. That is quite different. There may be a tree on the land, but this clause says that it has to be affixed to a conspicuous portion of the land. If there were a hill on the land it could be affixed in that area, but at the time thai; the acquisition notice is served the land may be covered with water. In that instance, if the owner wanted to take legal action he could say, “ It is not on the land “. In such a case, the department might say that it could not comply with the act because, at that time, the land was under water. As a result, the owner might be subjected to all sorts of difficulties. This may sound humorous, but such a situation could arise. Perhaps the Minister for the Interior could inform the House that, under clause 62, a regulation could be gazetted stating that the requirement for the fixing of a notice to the land would be complied with by fixing the notice to a wooden framework of a certain size, placed in a conspicuous position. Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on this matter.
– This legislation has been in force since 1906, and various governments of various political parties have never found any difficulty in connexion with its phraseology. I presume that any difficulty has been overcome in the way that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has so intelligently suggested - by putting the notice on a wooden frame or on a tree. The wording of the present act is possibly more foolish than the wording of the bill non before the chamber. Section IS (2.) of the original act reads as follows: -
If the owner cannot after diligent inquiry be found, a copy of the notification, together with a plan of the land, shall be left with the occupier of the land or if there is no occupier, shall be affixed upon some conspicuous part of the land.
Under the amendment that has been pro posed by the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), it. will !* necessary to publish the intention to acquire the land in the newspaper circulated in the district as well as carrying on the. tradition of fixing a copy of the notice to a conspicuous part of the land. Ab the honorable member for Lalor did not find any difficulty in doing this job when he was acting for the Minister for the Interior, I am sure that I will not find any difficulty with the act as amended.
.- The honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) and the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) have not made it clear whether it is the intention, under the proposed amendment, to require publication of the notice of acquisition in a newspaper circulating in the district in all cases, whether the land is occupied or not. The wording of the clause leaves some doubt in my mind whether the obligation of publication in a newspaper would apply in respect of land which has an occupier. I should like an assurance that the wording of the clause will carry out the intention of the mover of the amendment.
.- Under the proposed amendment, clause 13 (2.) of the bill will read, in part- . . . service of the copy of the notice of acquisition on that owner may be effected by leaving it with the occupier of the land, or, if the land is not occupied, by affixing it, if practicable, to a conspicuous part of the land and causing it to be published in a newspaper . . .
That word “ and “ which replaces “ or “ is the important word. It will not make any difference whether the land is occupied or not. The notice of acquisition will have to be published in the local newspaper.
– There does seem to be some confusion over this clause, although the drafting is quite clear. If the land is to be occupied, there will he no difficulty in finding the owner. That is why clause 13 (2.) has been worded - . . . service of the copy of the notice of acquisition on that owner may he effected by leaving it with the occupier of the land, or, if the land is not occupied, by affixing it to a conspicuous part of the land . . .
Under the proposed amendment, it will also be necessary to publish the notice in the newspaper. But it will not be necessary to do that if the land is occupied, because then there would be no difficulty in finding the owner.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
Amendment - by leave - withdrawn.
.- I move -
That, in sub-clause (2.), all words after the word “ Act “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “ service on that owner may be effected by causing a copy of the notice of acquisition to be published in a newspaper circulating in the district in which the land is situated and -
if the land is occupied - leaving a copy of the notice of acquisition with the occupier; or
if the land is not occupied - affixing, if practicable, a copy of the notice of acquisition to a conspicuous part of the land”.
There was some doubt as to whether what the Government really intended would be carried into effect as a result of the previous amendment which, with the leave of the House, has been withdrawn. We wish to make it clear that the owner himself must be made aware of the resumption. In some cases it might not suffice if the occupier were informed in accordance with the provision in that previous amendment. That deficiency was brought to notice by the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes). The amendment which I have now proposed makes what is intended abundantly clear.
That is to say, if the owner himself is not served with a notice, it must be publicized in a local newspaper circulating in the area. I think that the new amendment will have the desired effect.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 14 agreed to.
Clause 15 - (2.) If a pen-on hinders or obstructs a person authorized under this section to enter on bind in the exercise of any of his powers under this section in relation to that land, a court of summary jurisdiction may, on the application of the person so authorized, grant a warrant authorizing a member of the police force of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth or a peace officer appointed under the Peace Officers Act 1925 to enforce the entry upon the land, and to prevent hindrance or obstruction to the exercise of any power under this section in relation to the land, and the entry upon, and the examination of, the land may be enforced in accordance with the warrant.
.- I move-
That, in sub-clause (2.), the words “a member of the police force of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth or a peace officer appointed under the Peace Officers Act 1925 “, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “a peace officer appointed under the Peace Officers Act 1 92”> or ot her person named in the warrant “.
My reason for moving the amendment is that the clause, as it stands, provides that an officer of the police force of a State may be used for the purpose of serving a warrant which has been issued from a court of summary jurisdiction. I understand that one State Premier has objected to the police force of his State being used for that purpose, and it would appear to be wise and expedient, in the circumstances, that a Commonwealth police officer be appointed to carry out that function. However, it is also apparent that in certain circumstances a police officer may not be available, and to meet such cases the amendment provides that a person appointed by the Minister may be used for the purpose of examining lands. The question of the status of such a person arises. It has been suggested that he might be, for instance, a sheriff or some similar responsible person appointed by the Minister. It appears, in all the circumstances, that it would be wise for the committee to accept the amendment. I should also like to foreshadow a consequential amendment to clause 52, which will be moved at a later stage, and which will have exactly the same purpose.
– It is true, as the honorable member has said, that the proposed amendment was asked for by a State Premier, who said that he considered it to be unreasonable to impose on State police officers the duty of executing such warrants. Actually, the occasions with which the clause is intended to deal happen so rarely that it is considered that in practically every case Commonwealth peace officers will be available. That is why the words “ or other person named in the warrant “ have been included in the amendment.
.- The purpose of the amendment, of course, is to exclude the use of a member of the police force of a State for the purpose of entering on land, and to provide that a peace officer or other person named in a warrant may enter on the land. Such other person could be anybody. The person might not even be a member of the Public Service. That is a rather wide authority to give under the law. It would provide that anybody named on a warrant could enter on the land concerned. It is questionable whether that is a wise provision. Surely the measure should specify some responsible officer of the Department of the Interior, or a responsible officer of the Crown Law Department, or some officer normally skilled and experienced in this type of work with an understanding of the law under which he exercises his power. The proposed amendment is of doubtful value.
– That portion of it? Mr. POLLARD. - Yes.
– I should like the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) and the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond), who has moved the amendment, to consider that the proper safeguard for the people interested in these cases is to have an officer of the law execute the warrant issued by the court. The bill at present, provides for an officer of the police force of a State or Territory, or a peace officer appointed under the Peace Officers Act 1925 - all of whom are sworn as officers of the law - to enter the land in order to make an examination. I agree that there might be cases in remote districts where such an officer would not be available to perform that function. I think that, in such cases, there should be appointed some person, in an office of some character which would be regarded as appropriate to the conduct of such a function, because the right of forcible entry upon land by a person who is otherwise quite inexperienced in relation to the examination of land for the purposes of the law, is a serious matter. That is the only point that the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) wishes the Minister to consider. It might be possible to have the function performed by an officer of the Department of the Interior, or some other officer in the service of the Commonwealth or of a State, such as a sheriff’s officer, or anybody experienced in such matters. I think that it would be more fitting if that safeguard were included in the proposed amendment.
– I quite agree with the ideas and principles which have been expressed by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), but I wish to point out that in this case the person appointed will be appointed by the court itself. Clause 15 (2.) reads, inter alia -
If a person hinders or obstructs a person authorized under this section to enter on land in the exercise of any of his powers under this section in relation to that land, a court of summary jurisdiction may, on the application of the person so authorized, grant a warrant . . .
Therefore, the right honorable gentleman will perceive that it is the court which will grant a warrant to enable somebody in the nature of a bailiff or sheriff to enforce entry, and I consider that that safeguard is sufficient. It should be remembered that it is not the Minister or an officer of his department who takes this action; it is the court of summary jurisdiction.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 16 and IT agreed to.
Clause IS- (2.) In this section, “court of competent jurisdiction “ means -
Court or Magistrates Court of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth, presided over by a Judge or by a Police, Stipendiary or Special Magistrate, being a court which has jurisdiction -
.- I move -
That in sub-clause (2.) (i), after the word “Stipendiary” the word “Resident” be ininserted.
My reason for moving this amendment is similar to the reason I gave when moving an amendment to clause 5. There is a group of magistrates in “Western Australia who are referred to as resident magistrates, and my amendment is designed to remove any doubt about their jurisdiction under the legislation.
Amendment agreed to.
.- Clause 18 is concerned with the payment of compensation to persons in respect of actions which may be taken under clauses 15, 16 and 17. Clause 15 will give the Commonwealth certain rights to enter on land in order to find out whether or not the Commonwealth desires to resume it. Clauses 16 and 17 refer to the rights that the Commonwealth will take to itself to do certain things with regard to land adjoining the land that it proposes to resume, and clause 18 provides for compensation to the owners of the land referred to in clauses 15, 16 and 17.
I have had a good deal of experience in matters such as those contemplated by this bill, and I therefore desire to point out that many people who suffer damage by reason of the Commonwealth’s actions will not approach the Commonwealth, or will not know that they have a right to approach the Commonwealth and claim compensation for such damage. This bill provides that the Commonwealth i8 liable to pay compensation in certain circumstances, and that the injured person has a right to claim upon the Commonwealth in respect of his injury. I suggest that where the Commonwealth inflicts damage upon the owner of adjoining lands, the Commonwealth should approach the person who has suffered the damage and make him an offer in respect of that damage. I suggest that the Commonwealth should not leave it to the owner to claim compensation from the Commonwealth.
When a private individual wishes to enter upon land belonging to somebody else, it is incumbent upon him to make some arrangement with the owner. Perhaps he arranges to pay rent or perhaps he enters into some agreement to pay compensation for the use of the land, and also for any damage that he may inflict. Under this bill the Commonwealth does not propose to take action similar to that. It proposes to leave it to the person who suffers damage to make a claim upon, the Commonwealth. I suggest that it is for the Commonwealth to approach the land-owner who has suffered damage and make some arrangement with him.
I am glad to see the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) in the chamber at present because, in illustration of the point that I have just made, I wish to detail a matter that occurred in my own electorate. Roads were being made in a war service homes settlement in North Ryde, and certain contractors who were building the new roads deposited soil on an adjoining property without asking permission of the owner. The landowner did not know much about his rights, and he suffered the inconvenience of having this spoil on his land for months. Eventually he made inquiries as to whether he could take action, and the spoil was removed. The point that I wish to make is that he suffered the inconvenience and damage of having that spoil on his land for a. long time, because he did not know what to do about it. He would not have suffered so much damage if the Commonwealth had approached him in the first instance. Under this measure the Commonwealth is taking to itself important powers which a private citizen does not possess.
Therefore, I suggest that the Commonwealth should approach those persons who have suffered damage through its actions, and inform them of any rights that they may have to compensation.
.- It would be difficult to accede to the request of the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer). It would be extremely difficult for the Commonwealth to seek out persons who may have suffered damage and who may be eligible for compensation, and ask them to sue for damages. Without making any promise to the honorable member, I inform him that I shall examine his suggestion.
– I believe that the present is a convenient time to propose an amendment of this clause to deal with a certain situation. The purpose of this legislation is to make the process of acquisition of land by the Commonwealth for public purposes, as smooth and as just as possible, so that when people are deprived of the use of property by the Commonwealth they shall be reasonably and adequately compensated. The bill is also designed to ensure that the machinery of compensation shall work in a smooth and efficient manner. Those principles are illustrated by Part III. of the measure in which provision is made for compensation when land is entered upon for the purpose of examination, or is to be occupied even temporarily by the Commonwealth. There is also a provision that the Commonwealth may occupy land temporarily, not being a garden, orchard or plantation attached or belonging to a house, or a. park, planted walk or avenue, or ground ornamentally planted, and not being nearer than 500 yards to the dwelling house of the occupier of the land.
I mention that to indicate that this legislation is of eminent reasonableness. It is quite apparent that the Minister has done everything possible to show the reasonableness of his purpose and to cover all contingencies, so that people who are deprived of land, or whose use of land is restricted, shall receive just treatment. A certain matter has been brought to my notice by one of my constituents. He owns three blocks of land adjoining Essendon aerodrome. The Department of Civil Aviation, acting in accordance with powers conferred upon it by certain regulations, placed restrictions on the use of those blocks so that any buildings placed on them would not interfere with aircraft using the aerodrome. In respect of two of the blocks, the restrictions were of such a nature that ordinary residences could be erected on them. Therefore, no issue arises in respect of those two blocks.
On the third block of land, which is the one immediately adjoining the aerodrome, the restriction is such as to make it impossible to use the land for residential purposes. The Department of Civil Aviation has stated that a building could be constructed upon this block of land, which is in a highly populated residential area, but that the maximum allowable height of any structure on the land would be 7 feet at one end and 13 feet at the other end. A building constructed within those limits would not comply with the building regulations for a residence, and it is therefore impossible to construct a residence on the block. The owner of the land does not object to the restrictions imposed, because sbe realizes that those restrictions are necessary to ensure the safety of aircraft ‘flying to and from the aerodrome. She makes the point - and it is a valid point worthy of examination by the committee - that, owing to the restrictions, the land has ceased, for all practical purposes, to have any value. The owner cannot sell the land because no one will buy it since a house may not be constructed on it. The block has no practical use, and instead of having value for the owner is really a burden to her because she must pay rates and taxes upon it even though she cannot put it to any use.
The Department of Civil Aviation has adopted what I regard as a very highhanded and completely unsympathetic attitude which is contrary to the entire spirit of this measure. The department wrote to the owner and suggested that if the third block of land were added to the other two blocks - “it could be used for gardening, which is a normal use for land so situated, or for other purposes not involving buildings of a height greater than the limits mentioned.” That seems to be a piece of high-handed bureaucratic bungling of a sort that we in this community do not want. I give credit to the Minister because this bill seems to be designed particularly to prevent that sort of thing. The situation should be remedied and the owner of the land in question and other persons who are similarly situated should receive justice. If they are deprived of the use of their land in such a manner as to render it of no practical value to them, they are fully entitled to receive compensation. The lady whom I have mentioned asked the department, as a practical remedy in this instance, to acquire the land. She said, in effect, “You have placed on the land restrictions such as to make it no longer of any use to me. If you acquire the land from me and pay me compensation I shall be happy about it.” The department refused to acquire the land.
I have drafted an amendment designed to ensure that where a restriction has been placed on land to prevent its use for the residential purposes to which it is suited, the Commonwealth shall be under an obligation to acquire the land if the owner so desires. If the amendment is accepted, the injustice suffered by the lady to whom I have referred will be remedied and other persons in a similar position will not have such injustices inflicted upon them. Therefore, I move -
That, after clause 18, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 18a. Where by reason of any restriction on the use of land imposed under the law of the Commonwealth, land which is suitable for use for residential purposes cannot lawfully be used for that purpose, the Commonwealth shall, if so required by the owner, acquire that land under this Act and compensation shall be payable as if such restrictions did not exist.”
The purpose of the concluding words is to ensure that compensation payable in the event of acquisition shall be on the basis of the full value of the land and not on the basis that the restrictions would make it practically valueless. I commend the amendment to the committee.
– I thoroughly agree with the principle of the amendment, but I am not certain whether its wording is such as to achieve the required purpose or whether it goes far enough. I accept the idea that the honorable member has advanced, but I should like to go into the matter with the draftsman and consider whether it is appropriate to make the amendment to the lands acquisition legislation. If these happenings concern only the Department of Civil Aviation, the honorable member’s purpose should probably be achieved by an amendment of the civil aviation legislation.
Order! I rule the amendment of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) out of order at this stage. The honorable member may move for the insertion of a new clause 18a at the stage at which new clauses are considered.
– At that stage I may be able to give the honorable member definite information.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 19- (1.) A person who, or a State which, ha» a right to compensation under section ten of this Act may make a claim for compensation in accordance with a form approved by the Minister, stating the amount of compensation claimed. (2.) A claim shall be served on the Minister within one hundred and twenty days after the date of acquisition or within such further time as the Minister allows. (3.) Compensation is not payable to a person in respect of an interest in land acquired under this Act by compulsory process if -
– I move-
That, in sub-clause (1.), the words “, or a State -which,” be left out.
This amendment is consequential upon the amendment to clause 5, which made a new definition of “person” to include the Crown in the right of a State. The words “ or a State which “ in this clause now become redundant.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I move -
That sub-clause (2.) be left out.
This amendment is made necessary by one that is next proposed to be made. Sub-clause (2.) provides that a claim for compensation shall be served on the Minister within 120 days after the date of acquisition or within such further time as the Minister allows. Sub-clause (3.) provides that compensation is not payable to a person if a claim is not made within the proper time and if the Minister has paid or agreed to pay compensation to a person who has made a conflicting claim. The object of the provision is not to defeat claimants who are slow in lodging their claims, but to prevent undue delay in paying successful claimants. It is necessary to ensure that after a reasonable period the Minister shall be able tc pay those claims which appear to be good without the risk that some other person may later make a valid claim that is inconsistent with the claims already paid in good faith by the Minister, in order that the Minister shall not have to pay twice. The period of 120 days is considered to be reasonable for this purpose.
The matter was first brought to my notice by the Law Society of Western Australia which made a proposal that, in effect, was the reverse of the present proposal. The method now adopted is somewhat better. The Law Society of Western Australia suggested that paragraph (a) of sub-clause (3.) should be omitted and that sub-clause (2.) should stand. That would then provide that no time limit for a claim need be established at all, and the Minister might find himself in difficulty in paying the right money, or having to pay twice, where he had paid a claim which happened to be inconsistent with claims submitted at a later date. If the period of 120 days was rigidly insisted upon, on the other hand, it would preclude claimants from lodging a claim after time. Therefore, it is thought that the situation will be met by omitting sub-clause (2.) and inserting an amendment to provide that compensation shall not be payable where a claim has not in fact been lodged within 120 days, or such later time as the Minister grants, and, in addition, the Minister has already, in good faith, paid a claim which is inconsistent with the claim later submitted. It is a simple amendment framed to secure justice for a man who might be somewhat late in lodging his claim.
– The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) missed one point. By omitting sub-clause (2.) and inserting the proposed amendment a claim lodged at any time will be entitled to proper consideration except in those cases where the Minister has already paid, or agreed to pay, an adverse claimant.
Amendment a.greed to.
.- 1 move -
That, in sub-clause (3.), paragraph (a) be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following paragraph: - “ (o) a claim for compensation in accordance with the last preceding subsection is not served on the Minister by that person in respect of that interest within one hundred and twenty days after the date of acquisition or within such further time as the Minister allows; and”.
This amendment follows upon the explanation I have given in regard to the omission of sub-clause (2.). As the Minister has just explained, if a man does not lodge a claim within 120 days he is not precluded altogether from doing so. He is precluded from lodging a claim only when he has not done so within the prescribed time, or any extension of time granted, and the Minister has actually paid out a sum of compensation to somebody else in good faith. The sub-clause, if it is amended as I have suggested, will protect a person who lodges a claim out of time.
Amendment agreed to.
.- 1 move -
That, in sub-clause (4.), after the word “ shall “, first occurring, the following words be inserted: - “, except where compensation is not payable by reason of the operation of the last preceding sub-section,”.
This is merely an amendment consequential upon the previous one.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I move - ‘
That, in sub-clause (5.), the words “rejected the claim “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “ accepted the claim for determination “.
This amendment provides that the Minister shall, within three months after a claim for compensation is made, notify the claimant whether he accepts the claim for determination or rejects the claim. As the provision stands at present, if the Minister fails to notify the claimant accordingly, the Minister is deemed to have rejected the claim. The effect of that is that the claimant, if he wishes to pursue his claim, must then go through those proceedings which relate to the rejection of the claim, which are much more complicated proceedings than those which relate to obtaining compensation where a claim is accepted. It is felt that if the Minister chooses to ignore a claim, in the sense of not notifying the claimant, the responsibility should be on him, or on the department, and not on the claimant, and that the claimant should not, by reason of some neglect to deal with his claim, have to go through the more troublesome and more expensive form of proceedings.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 20 (Proceedings where claim rejected).
.- 1 move -
That, after sub-clause (4.), the following sub-clauses be added: - (5.) Where, in relation to a claim for compensation that has been rejected by the Minister -
the claimant does not, within thirty days after service on him of the notice of rejection of the claim or within such further time as the Minister allows, institute an action under this section in relation to the claim; or
the claimant has so instituted an action and -
the action has been dismissed, either by the court of first instance or as a result of an appeal; and (ii ) a period of not less than thirty days has elapsed since the dismissal of the action and no appeal or further appeal by the plaintiff (including an application for leave to appeal) is pending, the Commonwealth may pay compensation in respect of the acquisition on the basis that the claimant was not, at the date of acquisition, entitled to the interest the subject of the claim and, where compensation is paid in respect of an interest which is inconsistent with the interest the subject of the claim, no compensation is payable in respect of that last-mentioned interest. “ (0.) A court in which an action is instituted under this section may, upon the application of the Commonwealth, the claimant or any other person appearing to the court to have a sufficient interest to justify the application (which application may be made at any time after the issue of the writ in the action, whether before or after the making of any declaration under sub-section (2.) of this section), order that the action shall be treated as including proceedings duly instituted under section twenty-five of this Act for determination of the amount of compensation under this Act in respect of the interest (if any) which the court declares the claimant to have had. “(7.) The provisions of section twenty-five of this Act (other than sub-sections (1.), (2.), (G.) and (9.)) apply to and in relation to proceedings consequent upon the making of an order under the last preceding sub-section.”.
The effect of the proposed new sub-clause (5.) is that if a claimant, after his claim has been dealt with and dismissed, or after he has taken no further proceedings in the matter after notice of rejection, may be barred, if in fact the Commonwealth pays compensation in respect of the particular acquisition. In other words, it will enable the Commonwealth 10 go ahead and pay compensation to other persons who may have a claim. The claimant is given ample opportunity, as provided in paragraphs (a) and (6) of the proposed new sub-clause, to take any necessary proceedings to protect himself, and if he does take the benefit of those very wide proceedings it would appear to be right that the Commonwealth may go ahead and pay compensation to other claimants who may be justly entitled, without having to be concerned further with the rights of a claimant whose claim has been dismissed by a court or who does not choose to pursue his claim further.
Proposed new sub-clause (6.) is a very useful provision. As the matter stands at present under clause 20, when a claim has been rejected by the Minister, the claimant must take proceedings to have his interest in the land declared, but if the court is in his favour, he then has to start a separate set of proceedings so that he may get his claim for compensation adjusted. The proposed new clause provides that, instead of having to take a new set of proceedings which may cause delays and be costly, the person may apply to the court, in the proceedings under which his claim has been admitted, to have the compensation dealt with. Power is to be given the court to allow the compensation. In other words, we are proposing to simplify the proceedings. The provisions of the new clause will favour all claimants and will save cost and time. The remaining clause which the committee is asked to accept is merely procedural, and is designed to bring procedure into line.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 21 agreed to.
Clause 22- (1.) In the determination of the amount of compensation payable in respect of land compulsorily acquired under this Act. regard shall be had to -
– Honorable members will note that the next two proposed amendments are somewhat similar. The amendment does not appear to be important, but I believe that it should be agreed to.
Sub-clause (1.) of clause 22 provides that, in determining compensation, regard is to be had to the enhancement or depreciation in value of the interest of the claimant in other land adjoining or severed from the acquired land by reason of the proposal to carry out the public purpose for which the land was acquired. It will be seen that this provision will operate in some cases against the claimant and, in some cases, in his favour. In most cases, however, it will operate in favour of the claimant.
For example, if the Commonwealth acquired portion of a residential site for the purpose of erecting telephone installations, the ‘proposal to carry out this public purpose might very well depreciate the value of the remainder of the land and. under the clause, the depreciation would be added to the compensation. There is. however, a slight weakness in the clause in that it refers to the proposal to carry out the public purpose but not to the actual carrying out of the public purpose. It is possible that the public purpose may be carried out in whole or in part before the actual acquisition of the land, either on the land itself or on adjoining land. For example, the Commonwealth might erect buildings on land held by it under lease and later acquire the freehold. At the time of acquisition, the public purpose would no longer be a proposal but an established fact. It is proposed, therefore, to insert in sub-clause (1.) a reference to the carrying out of the public purpose in addition to the present reference to the proposal to carry out a public purpose. It should be noted that the corresponding provision in the present act refers to the carrying out of the public purpose, but does not refer to the proposal to carry out a public purpose. This action is defective, because the depreciation or enhancement in the value of adjoining land may result merely from the fact that it is publicly known that the acquired land is to be used for a particular public purpose. It has been suggested that the reference to the proposal to carry out the public purpose should be omitted on the ground that it is wrong to take into account a proposal that may never be carried out. It would be a mistake to adopt this suggestion, because it would deprive the owner of just compensation for depreciation to his remaining land which can undoubtedly result from a mere proposal to carry out a public purpose. It is true that the clause also provides for taking into account enhancement in value of adjoining land due to the proposal to carry out the public purpose. But the amount of enhancement or depreciation would be a question of fact, and would depend on the question whether the proposal is to be carried out immediately on the one hand or in the distant and uncertain future on the other. I move -
That, in sub-clause (1) (o), after the words “ by reason of “ the following words be inserted: - “the carrying out of or”.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move -
That, in sub-clause (2) after the word “the” fourth occurring, the following words be inserted: - “carrying out of or the”.
This amendment to sub-clause (2.) of clause 22 is similar in principle to the amendment to sub-clause (1.). Subclause (1.) deals with adjoining land and sub-clause (2.) deals with the land actually being acquired. It provides that, in determining the value of the land acquired, regard shall not be had to any increase in value arising from the proposal to carry out the public purpose. The amendment proposes that any increase in value due to the actual carrying out of the public purpose should be disregarded in the same way as any increase due to the proposal to carry out the public purpose. The sub-clause as ii stands is similar to a provision in tinpresent act, but, for the reasons given in connexion with sub-clause (1.), it if considered right that reference should bp made to the actual carrying out of the public purpose as well as the proposal to carry out that purpose.
.- In view of the provisions of the clause under discussion, I ask the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) to ensure now and for the future that land should not be acquired under the provisions of the measure too far ahead of the time when the Commonwealth is likely to require its use. Probably most honorable members have personal knowledge of persons who own small blocks of land or large areas of land that has been acquired by virtue of notice being placed in the Gazette. Such notice automatically transfers ownership of the land from the person owning it to the Commonwealth. In many cases, the land has been allowed to lie idle for years after acquisition before the Commonwealth has used- it. I suppose that in some cases that is unavoidable. The department concerned might have planned to use the land at an early date but has not been able to do so. I believe, however, that persons whose land is acquired by the Australian Government are entitled to ask that it should not be acquired any earlier than the time when the Commonwealth is likely to use it.
There are some difficulties in that proposition.’ It may be that the Commonwealth has certain plans for an area, and acquires land early to ensure that persons do not gain an unearned increment to which they are not entitled. On the other hand, some persons have had their small home blocks acquired by the Commonwealth, and the Government has not used them for years. The compensation has not been anywhere near the price the persons paid for the land. By virtue of the fact that the Commonwealth has held the land for a long period during which developments have taken place in the area, the Commonwealth ultimately has been able to sell the land at a vastly enhanced price when it found that it did not really need it. The developments have had nothing to do with the Commonwealth, and the unfortunate person who was holding the land has received compensation below the price he paid for it in the first place. I realize the complications and the difficulties of the position, but I do not believe that the Commonwealth should acquire land until it has definite projects in view for the use of the area. I also suggest that the Commonwealth should dispose of the land as speedily as possible if it discovers that it has no use for the land. I am more particularly concerned with the small block owner. The man who owns acres of land can usually look after himself. Either he has political influence, or he can usually bring to bear enough legal assistance to protect himself. I am mainly concerned with the small block holders, many of whom were affected by land acquisitions during the war, acquisitions which took place simply by virtue of notice in the Gazette Some of these small land-owners did not know that their land had been acquired until they went out one day to have a look at it, and found a large Commonwealth factory on it.
I am concerned that the Government should not acquire land until such time as it has a definite use for it so that the compensation shall not be less than the people have paid for the land. It may be that they were taken in by land sharks, or that they paid more than they should have for particular blocks, but I am concerned that the Government shall not pay less than an owner paid for the block, hang on to it for a considerable number of years and then sell it at a profit, because of the development that has taken place. That development may not be due to any particular activity of the Commonwealth, but may be the result of the normal growth of the suburb through the normal activities that take place in the outer areas of major capital cities. I hope that the department, when administering this clause will act in such a way as to ensure that the cases to which I have referred will be rare. In many cases that have come to my notice, grave injustice has been inflicted upon the blockholders who bought their land simply for the purpose of building their own homes on it. When the land was taken from them by the Commonwealth, they were paid less than they paid for it. Eventually, the Commonwealth sold their blocks at vastly enhanced prices when it found ultimately that it did not want to use the land.
I suppose this is a matter that can only be disposed of by administration in the department. Wo could hardly cover all aspects in legislation, but I hope that the department, when carrying out acquisitions under the Lands Acquisition Act, will avoid acquiring any land that it possibly may not be wanting to use. If the department acquires land “on spec” so to speak, because there is a possibility that it might be’ used, cases of the kind I have mentioned are quite likely to happen. This will cause grave hardship to people who have not a great deal of this world’s goods, and who invested all their savings in their particular blocks.
.- On the point raised by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), I point out that administration at the present time is entirely in line with his suggestions, and I could not agree more with what he has said. Actually, we have been working, both in the Department of Works and the Department of the Interior, in co-operation with the Treasury, for the last eighteen months to try to bring the works programme, the design programme within the Department of Works, and the acquisition programme into a co-ordinated whole. We have now achieved the position where the current works programme being decided, the design programme and the acquisition programme are co-ordinated. The design programme this year consists of the design’ of those projects which, unless there is n big change in the economic position, will be the next year’s works programme. Then there is the third year’s works programme. In other words, we have a current works programme, and a programme of next year’s and the following year’s works. The design follows the same pattern except that it is designed for the new projects for next year’s programme rather than the current year’s programme, which should have been done before and which should have been ready at the beginning of the year.
As far as is possible under the administrative system, the acquisitions are not proceeded with unless they are needed for either the current works programme or the design programme; that is, for next year’s new works. We are following out that principle as far as wo can because, when I first took office, I found that the departments were doing exactly what the honorable member for Yarra has objected to. They were acquiring land for projects which they had in mind but which were not likely to be started, even by just glancing at the works pro gramme, for sometimes as far ahead as five or ten years. We have done all we can to minimize that, and to co-ordinate the works programme, the design pro gramme and the acquisitions.
Furthermore, every department was asked to comb through very carefully all the properties that it held, stating the length of time it had held them and, if it had hot proceeded with a project, to state the approximate date when it expected to do so. As a result of that, we found that some properties had been held since as far back almost as 1001, certainly as far back as 1907, and they had never been used. Following upon that, I suppose we have sold by public auction about £3,000,000 worth of pro*perties in the last eighteen months; pro1perties for which the departments themselves had no further use in the forseeable future. So, the very things the honorable member for Yarra has put forward so clearly are in operation administratively at the present time, and I hope as a result of having this close tie in between the current works programme, the design programme or the new works programme for next year, and the acquisition programme - the acquisitions being for those projects which are on the current programme and design programme - we shall be able to prevent happenings such as those mentioned by the honorable member for Yarra.
.- I am glad that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) cleared up a point which has concerned me for some time. It is in relation to the view taken by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon). Over the years, there has been a tendency to. cause great irritation by the acquisition of land. Many hardships have been encountered by those persons who were required to sell under acquisition. On many occasions, representations have been made to me - and I am sure to many other honorable members on both sides of the House - by persons who have been required, under the act, to relinquish ownership of properties for amounts less than they could have obtained had they sold those properties to various organizations, or to other people who wanted to build their own homes.
I also see the point mentioned by the Minister. It is essential, at certain periods, to purchase land in specific areas with the idea in mind of utilizing the land, at some not too distant time, perhaps for post office purposes. So many new areas have been opened up throughout Australia in recent years that it is essential for the department to be certain that it can secure a block of land for a particular purpose. If the securing of the land was left until an area had been completely developed, the taxpayer could suffer, because the price that would then have to be paid would be for land that was accommodating some other particular business, and, therefore, would be really an inflated price. It is important that the Government’s policy should be to make sure that in the acquisition of land for Commonwealth purposes there is a clear intention to utilize the land within a reasonable time, and so avoid the very thing that the Minister has mentioned to-night, when he said that, in some instances, land which had been acquired had not been used, and at a later date had been sold at inflated prices, with the result that the owner from whom it was acquired suffered loss.
.- All honorable members must have heard with satisfaction the assurance given by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) that greater discretion will be exercised in the future by those responsible for the resumption of land. He told us that in the past eighteen months the Government had had cause to return to private individuals some properties which had been resumed. He mentioned land to the value of £3,000.000, which shows that there must have been a great deal of irresponsibility in the acquisition of land in the past. Such action on the part of a government necessarily causes irritation and a sense of frustration. That has been the position in many electorates. It is good to have the Minister’s assurance that in the future the resumption of land will be governed by the more immediate needs of the Commonwealth and that the irresponsible attitude shown too often in the past, particularly in the war years and the immediate post-war years, will not be’ continued.
The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) pointed out that there are times when the current works and design programme cannot, govern land resumption. He instanced the development of a large housing area, and the provision in it of a shopping centre to suit the convenience of the people. In such a case it may not be convenient or practicable for the Postal Department to provide an official post office immediately. The population at the time may not warrant it, but the population may warrant the use of a small building, such as a store, to accommodate an unofficial post office. In cases like that, where the development programme is known because it has been decided that a certain number of houses will be built and the population can be fairly accurately estimated, it may be prudent for the authorities to say that a certain piece of land should be acquired for post office purposes, even though the building will not be erected immediately. If no such action is taken, the land may be put to other use and the people inconvenienced. Should the department then decide to acquire land for a post office, it may have to pay a high price for it, or be forced to build on a site not so convenient to the people. Whilst we cannot make a hard-and-fast rule, we all agree that a greater degree of discretion must be exercised, and it is satisfying to have the assurance given to us by the Minister to-night. As I have said, there has been considerable lack of responsibility in the past in connexion with the resumption of land. I believe that most honorable members could cite instances of land having been resumed and not used. I do not apologize for using such extravagant words, although in some instances there may have been reason to believe that the land would be required at some future date. It is clear that there have been occasions when some departmental officers who have been responsible for the resumption of land have not acted in accordance with the wishes of the Parliament. I have brought a number of such cases to the notice of the Minister, and I am pleased to say that all reports of cases of arrogance and presumption to which I have drawn attention have been thoroughly investigated. In all cases of land resumption care should be taken to satisfy the people that a proper price is being paid for it. f am pleased to have the Minister’3 assurance that in these matters greater care and more responsibility will be exercised in the future.
.- The subject before the committee is one about which there can be a great deal of loose thinking. I appreciate the motives which have actuated the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), and the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers), but there is another aspect of this subject. We must assume that the purpose of the Government in introducing this measure is to bring in legislation which is in line with modern needs, and which is based on the experience of the past in connexion with the acquisition of land. We must also take into consideration the fact that no human being can devise legislation to provide for the acquisition of land that will not cause irritation, to someone. The main objective of such legislation should be to ensure that at the time of acquisition a fair price is paid for the property. As I have said, no legislation of this kind will please the owners of land that is to be acquired. Although the land may be needed for the benefit of the people as a whole, most land owners are likely to say that the land acquired from them is likely to have much greater value in the future, and that they are the losers by the transaction. Let us have a look at the other side of the argument. In my opinion, it is wise for any government to visualize future developments, and to set accordingly. If it believes that the needs of the community in five, ten, or even twenty years time, justify the acquisition of land, the opportunity to obtain it should be availed of, because the ultimate needs of the community are of prime importance. We have an instance of the wisdom of such a policy in the action of those who acquired the territory in which this ‘building is situated. As honorable members know, the whole of the land in the Australian Capital Territory is owned by the people of Australia. There is not one acre of freehold in the Territory.
– It should have been left n> the aborigines.
– That is a primitive opinion The founders of the Constitution showed great foresight, and no government has seen fit to cancel the socialistic enactment which provided that land in this territory shall be owned by the people. Originally, it was thought that the population of the Territory would not exceed about 13,000 in 50 years, and Canberra was designed for that number. T speak subject to correction.
– The honorable member is wrong.
– Even if it were :!0,000 the principle that I shall illustrate would still hold good. But for the vision of our predecessors it would have cost the taxpayers untold fortunes to acquire from private enterprise the land that has been needed in the Capital Territory in the last ten years alone. The same is true of acquisitions made in other parts of the Commonwealth in the last 25 or 30 years.
Mr. Ward What about the General Post Office site in Sydney?
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has provided us with a very good illustration. I hope that later he will give us the benefit of his knowledge of this particular matter. The wise action of the late King O’Malley, in acquiring that site, saved the Australian people millions of pounds. But for such foresight they would be paying much greater taxation to-day. It is true that the Commonwealth may never need some of the land that has been acquired during the last ten or fifteen years, but it is better to err in this way than to be overconservative and burden future generations with avoidable costs.
– I do not agree.
– Perhaps T could give the honorable member an illustration. The Chifley Government, doubtless advised and encouraged by Public Service administrators who, in most cases, are men of vision, saw fit to acquire compulsorily, for Commonwealth purposes, nine acres in the city of Melbourne. The area is bounded by Latrobe, Lonsdale. Exhibition and Spring streets. The land was acquired at then current values, though it, is true that the owners had recourse, for compensation, to the existing Lands Acquisition Act, and not the act that we have before us to-night. The howls and wails of the owners of the nine acres of slum tenements were loud and prolonged. They were supported by the Minister at the table (Mr. Kent Hughes), and by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison). These gentlemen now concede the vision of the
Chifley Administration and are actively engaged in getting out plans for Commonwealth offices on this land.
– I was not her*1 in 1949 to criticize the acquisition.
– The Minister criticized it in the Victorian Parliament.
– I did not.
– The honorable gentleman criticized it in the public press.
– I did not.
– Well, if the Minister did 10 t, 1 plenty of his colleagues did. The Hansard record of the proceedings in this Parliament shows the way in which his colleagues branded the Chifley Govern ment as “ socialistic “ for having acquired this land, but the wisdom of that act is shown by the fact that it will now save the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is better to make mistakes in acquiring land, so long as the owners are adequately and fairly dealt with, than to pursue a conservative policy. Every land acquisition will lead to irritation on the part of some one. The Government has been congratulated upon selling land, worth £3,000,000, that had been acquired in recent years. I should like a survey made to see how far that sale was dictated by pressure from commercial interests, and what regard was paid to the needs of this growing community. I agree that injustice should not be done, but on the one hand constituents ‘protest to their members against acquisitions - usually on the ground of inadequate compensation - and on the other, as members of progress associations, they ask honorable members to get in touch with the Commonwealth Bank or the Postmaster-General’s Department to ensure that land is acquired for banks and post offices in their districts. Some people, of course, do not wish their land to be resumed under any circumstances.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
-The first consideration in this matter is the question of justice, and, with due regard for what the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has said, the most important thing for the Parliament to do is to see that even the most humble citizen is protected from injustice on the part of the Government, whether it be socialist, liberal or anything else. Irrespective of the political complexion of governments and the inclinations of Ministers, the ordinary citizen- - I am referring to the ordinary citizen and not to the man who holds vast accumulations of land - every citizen needs protection from bureaucracy and from the Government for the time being in office. Justice to the individual should always be the first consideration, but I should be the last to suggest that the Australian Government should not exercise ordinary prudence and foresight. If an area is likely to be developed the Commonwealth should certainly acquire land for banks, post offices, telephone exchanges and so on. This should be done even though the development is not expected to take place for five or ten years. However, I rose to refer especially to the bureaucratic habit of placing blanket acquisitions over areas. No one quarrels with ordinary common-sense foresight on the part of departments, but blanket acquisitions ‘ have meant great trouble for people who own small blocks. Bureaucracy is far too prone to say, “ We may want a post office or a bank here some day. We will acquire the whole area, irrespective of definite needs
– That is just what the New South Wales Labour Government is doing with country properties !
– That is in the interests of returned soldiers, who have served this country.
– All governments have been guilty of this kind of thing, because primarily the decisions are made by public servants. We should eliminate blanket acquisitions, made with the intention of disposing later of such land as will not be needed. This sort of thing leaves the unfortunate small landholder - who very often owns only a home-building block - lamenting that his land has been acquired for less than he paid for it, and knowing that it may never be used for Commonwealth purposes and probably will be sold by the Government at a profit at some later date. The answers given to my original remarks by the honorable member for Lalor do not apply. I am not suggesting that the Postal Department, or any other government department, should not exercise prudent and wise foresight in the acquisition of blocks of land which might be required for the establishment of Commonwealth services at some future date. That ought to be done, and we would condemn any department that did not do it; but in doing so, departments should not recklessly blanket areas of land, as has been done by the housing commissions in the various States. In Victoria and New South Wales, the housing commissions simply issue a blanket acquisition order on a large area of land, most of which, if they had devoted sufficient time and planning to the question, they would have seen they were not going to use. They do their planning after they have acquired the land, instead of before they acquire it. The whole essence of my argument is that departments should do their planning before they acquire land, and not afterwards. By so doing they would obviate great injustices to the poorer class of people whom the members on this side of the House claim to represent. We are not standing up for the large land-owner, but we are urging simple justice for the person who has a small home building block that is taken under a blanket acquisition order by the Commonwealth or a State government. The essence of my proposal and of my advice to the Minister and to the department is : Do your planning before you acquire the land, and thereby acquire only the land which any reasonable man can foresee is likely to be required in the future by the departments concerned.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Adermann).Honorable members have all had extreme latitude. They have spoken on matters right outside the clause. I am now going to bring members back to the subject matter of the clause. I have allowed each member to answer the previous speaker, but now I rule that honorable members must confine themselves to the subject matter of the clause.
Amendment agreed to. Mr. KENT HUGHES C Chisholm - Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works) [9.23].- I moveThat, in sub-clause (3.), after the word “ the “, fifth occurring, the following words be inserted: - “carrying out of or the”.
That, in sub-clause (3.), after the word “ the “, fifth occurring, the following words be inserted: - “carrying out of or the”.
This is a similar amendment to the other two, and I move it for the same reasons.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause as amended, agreed to.
Clause 23- (1.) The Minister may, on behalf of the Commonwealth, enter into an agreement with the owner of land as to the amount of compensation to which the owner will be entitled if the land is compulsorily acquired under this Act within a time specified in the agreement. (2.) If the land is compulsorily acquired under this Act within the time specified in the agreement and while the owner who made the agreement is still the owner of the land, the compensation payable to the owner in respect of the acquisition shall be deemed to have been determined by agreement at the amount specified in the agreement.
.- Apparently, there is no suggestion that there should be an amendment to this clause, but I should like the Minister to consider a suggested amendment. I suggest that in clause 23, after the first paragraph, a new sub-clause (2.) be inserted to this effect -
The agreement may provide for the assessment of the amount of compensation by two valuers, one of whom shall be appointed by the Commonwealth and one by the owner of the land, and in the event of their being unable to agree they shall appoint another valuer as umpire, and the decision of the valuers or, in the event of their disagreement, of the umpire, shall be binding upon the Commonwealth and the owner of the land.
I think this is a very important suggestion and I ask the Minister to take it seriously. I know that the answer may well be that an amendment of this character may take away the right of appeal to a court. In fact it does not, of course, do that. It is putting something into the act that the Minister might perhaps be prepared to do administratively, but the very fact of putting it into the act makes it clear to people that settlement on this basis is available to them.
This question of compensation, as was rightly stated by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), is a very important one for the people themselves and for the members of this House who are making laws which should ensure justice to the people. Many agreements are made by governments, including this Government, which have a tendency to be unjust, not because a government wants to inflict injustice, but because the people who own land, particularly land of small value, are forced into the position of accepting the final offer made by the Government, simply because they do not want to go to a court or to become involved in litigation. It is a process, therefore, which is akin to duress, causing these people to accept by agreement the amount that the Government offers them.
Let us consider the processes in relation to resumption that we have been discussing to-night. The department decides that it wants a piece of land for a certain sum of money. The owner is notified, and on some appropriate form approved by the Government or the Minister the owner makes an application for compensation. The Government valuers then go out and inspect the land, and they say, “ We think it is worth so much “. The owner of the property may have entirely different views as to its worth. Of course, the owner can engage a valuer and get his ideas backed up. Then he approaches the departmental officers, perhaps by means of a conference, and in nine cases out of ten the departmental officer remains firm in the matter, because it is a subconscious thought in the minds of all government officers that they wield the big stick. I am not reflecting upon the departmental officers when I <ay that this attitude has grown over the years, and a bureaucracy has been built up to the extent that the simple soul in the street is deprived of elementary justice. We should, therefore, include a provision in this measure relating to resumption which will give people a right to go to the Government and say that they are prepared to appoint a qualified valuer, in which case the Government will appoint .-mother qualified valuer, and with the excellent qualified valuers now available, those two men can easily get together and determine in a technical way the proper and just value of the land. The value having thus been arrived at, the Government should be bound by the determination of the two valuers, in the same way as the owner will be bound. If, however, ‘hose two valuers fail to agree, they can » ppoint an umpire who will make a deciion, in the same way as arbitration is conducted in any other field. In that way the real value of the land will be arrived at. The people will know that i lie value will be determined by qualified men. Property owners will not depend on the whims and fancies of any departmental valuer, nor will they have to accept offers under duress. t suggest that no government should turn its back on such a suggestion. The only alternative when the Government says, “ That is what we will pay you “, is for the owner to go to the court and fight the matter out. Thousands of people throughout Australia have accepted the final offer of the Government, without having recourse to litigation, because th,. do not know where they will end up, and with small parcels of land they are running a risk of losing money that they can ill afford. They therefore give in and accept the offer by agreement. That is why there are not many cases decided in court. It is not because justice is being dispensed. It is simply because these people have no alternative. They do not want to fight the cases in court. I suggest that this is not only a cheap method, but also a just method. It’ is the simple process of arbitration.
Lest there be any doubt about the technical and professional ability of valuers, let me tell the committee that during the last several years great efforts have been made by real estate organizations throughout Australia to train technical men in the science of valuation. It is a science. There are qualified real estate valuers in the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales and in similar institutes in other States. There is the Commonwealth Institute of Valuers, the members of which have taken a four or five year course in valuation through a university extension board and various other organizations. These people have reduced valuation to a science. In the past, a valuation was often only a man’s feeling of the value of the land in question, but to-day valuation is a science and we can arrive at a just value of land. I put it to the Minister that it is up to the Government to provide in this legislation for machinery which will ensure that people whose land is resumed will receive justice in relation to payment for it.
– Is the honorable member moving an amendment?
– I am asking the Minister to give serious consideration to this proposal. It is only rarely that people whose land has been resumed want that land to pass out of their hands. In most instances, the people concerned want to hang on to their land. I do not say that the Government should not have the power of resumption. There are cases in which it must resume land if it cannot obtain it by negotiation. There are cases when it must go to a court. But when we have a chance to put into the legislation a fair proposition such as this, I say that we should do so. I can see nothing wrong with the proposal at all. It will ensure justice for the Commonwealth and justice for the persons concerned. After all, it is only a question of the Government relying upon the qualifications of the man it appoints. The Government has facilities to appoint a valuer, in the same way as the owner of land has facilities to appoint one. Valuers are available. If we become ill, we go to a doctor. If we want to know the value of land, we go to expert valuers. I am not saying anything against the departmental valuers, but I suggest there are equally as good valuers outside the department as there are in it.
– The scheme which the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer) has suggested is in operation already under administrative act. I admit that the procedure is not used very often, but it is used, on occasions when certain difficulties arise. I cannot see the necessity to amend the legislation to provide for something which can be arranged now, and is arranged on certain occasions, by agreement.
– Nobody knows about it.
– Any one who has a property of any size always seems to get his own valuer to make a valuation, in the same way as the Commonwealth gets the federal land tax valuation. I shall have another look at the proposal, hut at the moment I feel it is unneces sary to amend the legislation, because what is proposed can be done, and is being done at the present time, by agreement. If the honorable member wanted ns to provide for arbitration in lieu of an appeal to the court, I should say that that would be a retrograde step.
– I have never suggested it.
– If that were done, it would be a retrograde step. A« it is not suggested that we should provide for arbitration in lieu of an appeal to the court, the valuation would have to be arrived at by agreement anyhow, so there would not be much point in providing for it in the act.
Clause agreed to.
Ha use 24 agreed to.
Clause 25 - (1.) Where, in the ease of a claim for compensation which has been accepted by th«? Minister - (a j a period of six months has elapsed since the claim was made, but the compensation has not been deter mined by agreement; or
If the court is of opinion that the proceedings might have been brought in a lowe court, costs, if awarded to the claimant, shall only be allowed on the scale of costs applicable in that other court, unless the firstmentioned court certifies that special circumstances existed which made it proper to institute the proceedings in that court. (7.) Where proceedings under this section have been instituted in relation to an interest in land, the court may, on the application of the Commonwealth, by order direct any other person who has claimed compensation arising out of the acquisition of that interest or of another interest in that land acquired at tinsame time, or who appears to have had, immediately before the date of acquisition, an interest in that land that has been acquired at the same time, to join as a plaintiff in the proceedings within a time specified in tho order. (14.) In this section, “court of competent jurisdiction “ means -
.- I move-
That, in sub-clause (1.) (n), the words “ six months “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ three months “.
I suggest that this amendment is eminently sensible. Sub-clause (1.) (a) provides that where, in the case of a claim for compensation which has been accepted by the Minister, a period of six months has elapsed since the claim was made, but the compensation has not been determined by agreement, the claimant may institute proceedings against the Commonwealth. One of the things which has struck me constantly in my experience of these cases is that there is a tendency for them to drag on. Sometimes the fault lies with the department and sometimes with the persons concerned. I feel that it would be in the public interest, and also in the interest of people whose land has been acquired or resumed, that claims for compensation should be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. I think the period of six months specified in sub-clause (1.) (a) is far too long.
Amendment agreed to.
. -I move-
That, in sub-clause (C), after the words “ lower court “ the following words be inserted: - “, or might have been brought in a lower court if the amount of compensation claimed had not been grossly excessive”.
This amendment seems to be rather complicated and in some ways almost unnecessary. During the last 24 hours, the matter has been the subject of long discussions by the draftsmen and other legal authorities, who have decided that the wording now proposed is very much better than the wording of the bill as it now stands. The effect of the amendment will be to apply sub-clause (6.) where the claim could have been brought in the lower court if the amount of compensation claimed had not been grossly excessive. This will not affect the ordinary cautionary procedure of claiming considerably more than tho claimant expects to be awarded. The sub-clause will apply only where the amount claimed is grossly excessive.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I move-
That, in sub-clause (7.), after the word “ appears “ the words “ or claims “ be inserted.
This is a minor formal amendment. Where one person institutes proceedings for compensation, the sub-clause enables the court to direct any other person who has claimed compensation in respect of the same land or who appears to have had an interest in that land to join as a plaintiff. It may be difficult for the court to say that a person appears to have an interest in the land before the court has had an opportunity to examine his title. Therefore, it is proposed to extend the subclause to a person who claims to have an interest as well as to a person who appears to have an interest.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I move -
That, in sub-clause (14.), after the word “Stipendiary” the word “Resident” be inserted.
This amendment is necessary because previous amendments relating to the same subject have been made.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 26- (5.) In this section, “court of competent jurisdiction “ means -
.- I move -
That, in sub-clause (5.), after the word “ Stipendiary “ the word “ , Resident “ be inserted.
The object of this amendment is the same as that of the preceding amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 27 to 31 agreed to.
Clause 32- (2.) Where the court orders payment to a claimant of an amount of compensation which has been deposited in the Treasury, the court may, if it sees fit, order payment of interest at the rate of Three pounds per centum per annum in respect of a period after the date of that deposit.
– I move -
That, sub-clause (2..) be left out with a view to insert the following sub-clause: - “(2.) Where the Court orders payment to a claimant of an amount of compensation which has been deposited in the Treasury, the Court may, if it sees fit, order payment oi interest in respect of the whole or any part of the period from the date of that deposit to the date of payment at a rate not exceeding the rate that would have been applicable under the next succeeding section if the amount of compensation had not been deposited in the Treasury.”.
This amendment is really consequential on the amendments that are proposed to be made in clause 33, so that if I may be allowed to go through the other amendments of clause 33 at the same time, I think honorable members will understand the reason for it.
Under clause 30, compensation moneys may be deposited in the Treasury if, at the expiration of three months after the amount has been determined, payment has not been made by reason of some default or delay on the part of the claimant; for example, in executing documents or producing evidence of title. That is ordinary common practice under the existing act. Moneys so deposited by reason of the default of the claimant cease to bear interest. Sub-clause (1.) of clause 32 provides, inter alia, that a court may order moneys so deposited in the Treasury to be paid out to a claimant, and sub-clause (2.) enables the court, in such a case, to order payment of interest at the. rate of 3 per cent, per annum from the date of the deposit in the Treasury. The court might see fit to order payment of interest if it thought that the action of the Commonwealth in paying the moneys into the Treasury had been unreasonable.
As will appear when clause 33 is dealt with, the rate of 3 per cent, per annum in clause 32 corresponds with the rate of interest on compensation generally that is provided for in clause 33. The Government has considered this question of interest and has decided, however, that the general rate will be 3 per cent., or the short-term bond rate, up to two years, and 4i per cent, thereafter. In other words, it will be the long-term bond rate after two years. That will apply to future acquisitions, but not to acquisitions which have been already put in train. It is considered that the maximum rate of interest that may be awarded by a court under clause 32 on moneys deposited in the Treasury should be the same rate that would be applicable if the moneys had not been deposited in the Treasury. The amendment is designed to have this effect.
Amendment agreed to. Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 33- (1.) Subject to this Division, an amount of compensation payable in respect of an acquisition by compulsory process under this Act (other than an amount payable to a mortgagee upon which interest is payable under section forty-one of this Act) bears interest at the rate of Three pounds per centum per annum . . . (3.) Where compensation is determined, oi ordered to be paid, by a court, interest continues to be payable under this section and not otherwise.
– I move -
That, in sub-clause (1.), the words “at the rate of Three pounds per centum per annum “ be left out.
This amendment must be considered in conjunction with the next amendment, which proposes to insert a new sub-clause (1a.). Clause 33 (1.) provides that compensation shall bear interest at the rate of 3 per cent, per annum from the date of acquisition of the land to the date on which payment is made to the claimant or to the date of deposit of the compensation in the Treasury. The rate of 3 per cent. ha3 remained in the present act since 1906, but it has been suggested that the rate is not high enough, especially when there is a long delay in payment of compensation. The rate should be fair to the claimant, but no so high as to remove from him the incentive to arrive at a settlement and take his money. As I have said before, the rate of 3 per cent, corresponds with the short-term rate on Commonwealth bonds. It is now proposed that this rate should apply for the first two years from the date of acquisition but that, if compensation is still unpaid after two years, the rate will be ii per cent.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move -
That, after sub-clause (1.), the following subclause be inserted: - “ (1a.) The rate at which interest is payable under the last preceding sub-section is -
Three pounds per centum per annum for so much of the period for which the interest is payable as does not exceed two years; and (i>) Four pounds ten shillings per centum per annum for so much (if any) of the period for which the interest is payable as exceeds two years.”.
I do not think that the proposed amendment needs any further explanation.
Amendment agreed to.
.- I move-
That, in sub-clause (3.), after the word “ compensation ‘”, the following words be inserted: - “ (not being compensation deposited in the Treasury)”.
This amendment is designed to ensure ‘hat, where interest on compensation is payable under clause 33, interest will not also be payable for the same period under a court judgment. The provision should not. however, apply to compensation deposited in the Treasury. In such a case no interest is payable under clause :>3, and the only interest payable would he interest awarded by a court, if it saw tit, under clause 32 (2.). This question of interest was given a very great deal >f consideration. I think that it was bro ught forward in the first place by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon), and I wish to pay my proper lue to the honorable member for bringing the matter forward.
Mr. THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) 1 9,48]. - Will the interest be simple or cumulative? For instance, if a transaction went on for five or six years, having regard to the fact that interest at the rate of 4£ per cent, per annum is payable after the first two years, in working out the amount due, would the interest be at the rate of 4-J per cent, on the earlier years?
– As far as I understand it, it is simple interest, not compound interest.
Amendment agreed to. Clause, as amended, agreed to. Clauses 34 to 40 agreed to. Clause 41 - (3.) In addition to the compensation men tioned in sub-section (1.) of this section, the mortgagee is entitled to the following amounts : -
.- J move -
That, in sub-clause (3.), after the words “ entitled to “, the following words be inserted: - “ payment by the Commonwealth of “.
The insertion of this phrase is designed to make the meaning of the clause completely clear and beyond doubt. Where a mortgagee is entitled to compensation for the resumption of certain land, on the wording of the section it is not perfectly clear, I consider, whether the payments to which he is entitled are to be made by the Commonwealth or whether they are to be deducted from the interest of the mortgagor in the land. I suggest that this amendment will make it quite clear that the compensation is compensation which the Commonwealth has to bear, not any one else with any interest in the land.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 42 to 47 agreed to.
Clause 4S (Disposal of land vested in Commonwealth).
– The clause deals with the disposal by the Commonwealth of land for which it has no further use. I understand that the practice has been to advertise the land for disposal by public tender. I consider that such land should be first offered to the person from whom it was acquired. The Commonwealth decided recently to dispose of a block of land in a small country town which had been acquired some time earlier from a person who was not financially well endowed. When the block was advertised for sale by the Government, certain individuals in the town decided to take extreme measures, if necessary, to prevent the former owner of the block from again buying it. In point of fact, he could not afford to outbid them. This circumstance arose because another person in the town who was engaged in a similar business decided to squeeze out the former owner of the land, and he was sufficiently strong, financially, to do so. The person from whom this land was compulsorily acquired was a. returned serviceman. He had bought the land on time payment with the intention of utilizing it to expand his business when he became firmly established. 1 shall not weary honorable members by citing other similar cases. A further reason why I consider that the provision covering the disposal of land vested in the Commonwealth should be tightened up is that the present system may be open to abuse by an unscrupulous Minister. Land that has been acquired in certain States has been offered for sale by public tender within a few months of acquisition. I know of instances in which good supporters of the governments in those States have been able to get hold of the land because they were able to influence the Minister concerned. I could cite very suspicious incidents that have occurred in connexion with those cases. Therefore, I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the need for tightening up the present provision which leaves the way open to temptation. I suggest that a provision be inserted in the sub-clause to read as follows : -
Where land is to be disposed of as aforesaid, it shall be offered first to the owner from whom it was acquired at its value at the date of the offer.
I shall not move a motion to that effect, but I urge the Minister to consider my suggestion.
– The proposal of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) has a lot to commend it. However, it is another matter to incorporate it in suitable form in the legislation. Whilst, in the majority of instances, it would not be difficult to locate the former owners, in others, due to various circumstances, difficulties would arise. For instance, the land may have been owned by a company which has since gone out of existence. Again, the land may have formed a part of a deceased estate, or have belonged to somebody who has been bankrupted. In such cases, there would be considerable difficulty in carrying out a mandatory provision that in ail instances the land should be offered first to the person from whom it had been compulsorily acquired.
In view of the importance of this matter, I should like to consider it further and discuss it with the honorable member for Maranoa in order to see whether an amendment could be framed to ensure the carrying out in a general way of the principles that he has enunciated. The amendment could then be made when the bill is being considered in another place. In point of fact, in most instances the procedure that the honorable member has advocated has been followed administratively. Where land has been acquired and, for some reason or other - it may be a perfectly good reason - the department does not intend to use it for the purpose for which it was acquired, and declares it surplus within five years, I have made every effort to return it to its original owner. Some people may contend that that procedure should be followed in all instances in which the Government decides to dispose of such land within ten years of having compulsorily acquired it. However, I assure the committee that the matter is not without difficulties when a stretch of time in excess of five years is involved. Another aspect of. the matter must be kept in mind. If it were mandatory to offer such land first to the former owner, and its disposal were decided upon within ten years of acquisition, it would not be possible to arrange many acquisitions by agreement. As I have said, I shall discuss the matter with the honorable member, and if we can draft an amendment in workable form, I shall arrange for it to be inserted when the bill is being considered in another place.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 49 to 51 agreed to.
Clause 52 -
If u person who is in possession of land vested in the Commonwealth, otherwise than by virtue of a subsisting lease or agreement, refuses or fails, when required by the Minister so to do, to give up possession of the land, or hinders or obstructs the Minister or a person authorized by the Minister in taking possession of the land, a court of summary jurisdiction may, on the application of the Commonwealth, grant a warrant authorizing a member of the police force of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth or a peace officer appointed under the Peace Officers Act MJ25 to enter on the land and deliver up possession of the land to the Commonwealth and for those purposes to use such force and assistance as are necessary.
– Earlier, I foreshadowed an amendment of a consequential nature to this clause. 1 now move -
That the words “ a member of the police force of a State or Territory of the Commonwealth or a peace officer appointed under the Peace Officers Act l’.i2._i”, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “a peace officer appointed under the Peace Officers Act 192;”) or other person named in the warrant “.
The advisability of using the phrase “ or other person named in the warrant “ has been debated previously, and when the Minister explained that the person to be appointed would be so appointed only by order of the court, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, stated that that form was acceptable to the Opposition.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 53 to 58 agreed to.
Clause 59 - (1.) The Minister or the Attorney-General may, in relation to a matter or class of matters, or in relation to a part of Australia, by instrument published in the Gazette, delegate’ a II or any of his powers or functions under this act (except this power of delegation), so that the delegated powers and functions may be exercised or performed by the delegate with respect to the matter or class of matters, or the part of Australia, specified in the instrument of delegation.
.- I move -
That, after sub-clause (1.), the following subclause be inserted: - “ (1a.) A delegation of any of the powers or functions of the Minister under section 23 or section 24 of this Act does not operate so as to authorize the delegate to agree upon an amount of compensation exceeding £500.”.
Actually, the powers of delegation with regard to the acquisition of land were increased from £50 to £500, but the bill as at present drafted does not place any limit on the delegation of powers where compensation is agreed upon. In order to limit the power of delegation to a maximum of £500, I have moved this further amendment to apply to compensation in relation to acquisition by agreement as well as to compulsory acquisition.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 60 agreed to.
Clause 61 (Service of notices, &c).
.- I move -
That, at the end of the clause, the following sub-clause be added: - “ (3.) A notice or other document served or given by post in accordance with the last preceding sub-section shall, where practicable, be sent by avis de reception registered post.”
The purpose of the amendment is to make the receipt of the notice more certain. It merely rectifies an omission of the past.
– I rise regretfully to cast a spanner into the works. Quite frankly, I do not see why it is necessary to clutter up the clause with a French phrase. I cannot see why the proposed new sub-clause cannot be expressed in English to read -
A notice or other document served or given by post in accordance with the last preceding sub-section shall, where practicable, be sent by registered post.
.- When an earlier clause was being discussed by the committee, consideration was given to the problem that arises when the department knows who is the owner of the land but does not know his address. Consideration was given also to a case in which there was every possibility of an acquisition being made, but notice of that acquisition did not reach the owner. The committee has agreed to clauses the purpose of which is to make sure that the owner shall know that his land is being acquired. One way is to send a notice to his address by the simple method of A.R. post. I disagree with my colleague who said that it would clutter up the work. It is a common practice in land board dealings in New South Wales to send instructions by A.R. post to make sure that they reach the person concerned. This is a wise provision, because it will ensure the Crown’s knowing that the owner has received notice of acquisition.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 62 agreed to.
New clause 18a -
.- I move-
That, after clause 18, the following new clause be inserted: - “ 18a. Where by reason of any restriction on the use of land imposed under the law of the Commonwealth, land which is suitable for use for residential purposes cannot lawfully be used for that purpose, the Commonwealth shall if so required by the owner acquire that land under this Act and compensation shall be payable as if such restriction did not exist.”.
For the reasons I stated to the committee earlier, I commend the new clause, and ask that the Minister give it favorable consideration.
– Can the honorable member give an illustration to indicate the need of this clause?
– The case I have in mind relates to blocks of land adjoining an aerodrome, but restrictions were placed on their use. In some cases these did not prevent the erection of an ordinary residence, but the restrictions on one block were of such a nature that the only building that could be erected was of a non-residential type. That meant, in effect, that the owner could not put that land to any useful purpose. She could not sell it because a residence could not be built on it, and she still had to carry the burden of rates. Her only recourse was to ask the Commonwealth to acquire the land. The department refused to do so, and suggested that the owner might use the land for the purpose of conducting a garden. The owner considered that that was unjust treatment, but to establish that at law would have involved her in costly litigation. In any event, the department’s proposal was contrary to the spirit of this legislation in that it would oblige the owner to have recourse to the courts to preserve her rights. The new clause as drafted is intended to cover cases whore restrictions prevent the use of land for normal residential purposes.
– That is in cases where the Commonwealth imposes such restrictions?
– It relates to Commonwealth acquisition. The owner can ask the Commonwealth to acquire the land, and the Commonwealth will be obliged to do so. The compensation pay able to the owner will be on the basis of unrestricted use of the land. The case I have mentioned is not isolated, and the provision in the new clause merits its inclusion in the legislation.
Mr. KENT HUGHES ( Chisholm -
Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works’) [10.5]. - As I said earlier, 1 agree entirely with the principle which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) has embodied in the new clause he now seeks to have inserted in the bill. I have not had the opportunity to discuss with the draftsman the effect of the amendment on the principal act or other Commonwealth acts. Consequently, I ask the honorable member not to persist with his motion at this stage. I will discuss the matter with him, and confer also with the draftsman, and if a suitable new clause can be drafted and if it is agreed to by the Government, arrangements will be made to have it inserted in the measure in another place. I do not want to say now that the Government will accept the new clause, because it might go too far in some directions. If the honorable member is agreeable to defer consideration of it, and a properly worded clause can be drafted which is acceptable to the Government, appropriate action can be taken in another place.
– Is the honorable member for Fawkner prepared to withdraw his amendment?
– I am agreeable to the course suggested by the Minister.
Proposed new clause - by leave - withdrawn.
New clause 3Ga -
– I move -
That, after the heading to Part VI., the following new clause lie inserted: - “ 3(1a. For the purposes of this Part, moneys shall not be deemed to have been due to a mortgagee under a mortgage, or tn have been secured by the mortgage, at the date of acquisition of land that was subject to the mortgage if the right of the mortgagee to recover those moneys was, at that date, barred by a statute relating to the limitation of actions unless the mortgagee had, at that date, a power of sale or other remedy exercisable in relation to that land.”.
In Part VI. of the bill as drafted, various clauses refer to moneys due under a mortgage. In cases where land subject to a mortgage is acquired from an owner, it is desired to compensate the mortgagee for moneys due under the mortgage. There is a technical difficulty in regard to this, which was first brought to my attention by the Law Society of Western Australia, namely, that moneys legally due under a mortgage may be barred from recovery under a statute of limitations, [t is a rather fine technical point, but anyone with legal knowledge will appreciate the difficulty that arises. Although money may be due and not immediately recoverable by law, it still remains due, and even though it is statute-barred it may become recoverable by subsequent action. It is desired to make quite clear that the only moneys payable by the Commonwealth as compensation to a mortgagee are moneys that the mortgagee can obtain from the mortgagor. Consequently, the intention U to place some limitation on the word “ due “ which appears in various places between clauses 37 and 45.
Another rather complicated point which arises is that the money may be statutebarred, but the mortgagee may have some remedy against the land reserved to him. It is not thought desirable that the mortgagee should recover from the Commonwealth money that he could have recovered from the mortgagor, but where the mortgagee still retains some remedy against the land that the Commonwealth has acquired, it is thought only fair that he should not, by the Commonwealth’s acquisition, be deprived of his right to regain his moneys. If at the date of acquisition, although the money may be statute-barred, he has a power of sale or other remedy against the land that is so acquired, he should still be entitled to recover compensation from the Commonwealth. It is a rather fine technical point, but I think that substantial justice would be achieved by such recourse.
– The proposed new clause is acceptable to the Government.
New clause agreed to.
New clause 39a -
.- J move -
That after clause 39, the following new clause lie inserted: - “ 3!)a. - (I.) Where any land acquired under this Act by compulsory process was, at the date of acquisition, subject to a mortgage, and proceedings by the mortgagee in relation to the mortgage were pending at the date of acquisition or are commenced or proposed to be commenced after that date and before compensation has been paid in full to the mortgagor in respect of the acquisition, the High Court or the Supreme Court may, upon the application of the mortgagor and subject to such conditions as it thinks fit, order a stay of those proceedings or enjoin the mortgagee against commencing or continuing those proceedings and make such other orders as it thinks necessary. “ (2.) In this section, ‘proceedings’ means any action to enforce the rights of the mortgagee under the mortgage, whether or not the proceedings are in a court, including action with a view to taking possession of or selling land or foreclosing.”.
The proposed new clause seeks to empower the court to order a stay of proceedings where action or proposed action is taken under a mortgage by a mortgagee. It is proper, generally speaking, that a compulsory acquisition under the act should not affect the rights between mortgagor and mortgagee. At the same time, if a mortgagee’s rights are preserved in full, it may enable him to sue the mortgagor under circumstances which would work a very grave injustice. Attention has been given to this matter in particular by the Law Society of South Australia. For example, it could easily happen that the only asset possessed by the mortgagor is the land that the Commonwealth has acquired, and the question may arise as to how he is to meet a mortgagee’s judgment when the mortgagor cannot sue the Commonwealth for six months and when it might be a year or more before his compensation is determined, if he has the money to pay. Consequently, it is felt that a provision should be placed in the act so that the security or part of the security under a mortgage over land which has been acquired by the Commonwealth may be preserved so as to protect the mortgagor, and enable him to do so by applying to either a Supreme Court or the High Court of Australia for a stay of any proceedings which may be taken by the mortgagee or, as is seen by the drafting of the act, in case the mortgagor is threatened with any proceedings by the mortgagee.
In other words, the object of the proposed new clause is to enable the mortgagor whose land is acquired but who has not yet received compensation to obtain protection against any action taken under the mortgage by the mortgagee, and where the mortgagee claims his compensation the mortgage debt will be discharged to the extent of the compensation payable to the mortgagee by the Commonwealth. If on the other hand, the mortgagee decides not to claim compensation but to retain his rights against the mortgagor, including rights against any other land that is subject to the same mortgage, it is necessary that the mortgagor should be fully protected against the exercise of the mortgagee’s rights until he gets his compensation under the act and is therefore able to meet his liabilities under the mortgage. The proposed new clause seems amply to meet the requirements of the situation that I have described to the committee.
– The Government accepts the proposed new clause.
.- By an intense mental effort I have been able to follow the arguments of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), and insofar a3 I have been able to follow them it seems that the proposed new clause is a good clause and ought to be included in the bill. I only wish to suggest to the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes) that, having had this bill on the stocks- for some time, he might well have referred this and other clauses of this nature to a committee of honorable members so that they might report to the House after having thoroughly examined them in the calmer, more deliberate and intellectual atmosphere of the lawyers’ chambers, or wherever it is that lawyers congregate. It is quite obviously impossible for a layman, no matter how brilliant his mind might be, in the few brief hours that we have had the proposed new clause before us to study to the full its implications and to make an intelligent contribution to the debate upon it. The proposed clause is very legal and very technical.
Obviously, the Minister has consulted members of the party of which he is a member. I suggest that Ministers in charge of such bills might well refer the matters contained in them to a committee consisting of the legal gentry of this House. They are plentifully sprinkled on all sides, for better or worse. Such clauses could be more properly considered around a committee table than in the atmosphere of this chamber after having been handed to members only a few hours before they are to be considered. As I stated before, as a result of intense mental effort I have been able to appreciate the arguments of the honorable member for Balaclava. . It seems that the proposed clause is a good one and ought to be supported.
New clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments ; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time. House adjourned at 10.19 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 August 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19550825_reps_21_hor7/>.