21st Parliament · 1st Session
– In the unavoidable absence of Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) the Chairman of Committees will, under Standing Order 13, take the chair as Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) thereupon took thechair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Yesterday I asked the Minister for External Affairs a question relating to the policy of the Australian Government in regard to the admission to the United Nations of sixteen or seventeen nations which had applied for membership. The right honorable gentleman replied that Australia intended to support those applications. Would he be good enough to give this House a little further information on this subject? Can he say whether the view that he expressed yesterday is also held by the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the United States of America? Further, can he say whether the initiative in this matter has been taken by any nation? In particular, I ask whether the proposal has come from either the Soviet Union or theWestern democracies, and whether there has been a deal of the nature of what is sometimes called a package deal, under which Russia will undertake not to exercise the veto, and the Western nations will agree to proposals made along the lines foreshadowed by the right honorable gentleman. Will he also tell the House how the decision in relation to the Peking Government mentioned by him yesterday fits into the general pattern?
-I preface my reply to the right honorable gentleman by saying that there were one or two errors in a newspaper statement as to the countries whose applications for admission to the United Nations will receive the support of the Australian Government. Australia does not propose to support the application of either North Korea or South Korea, or of either of the VietNam countries. I think that is the only error in the statement previously made. The reasons for not supporting those applications are, I think, clear to all honorable members. This is not what is normally described as a package deal, insofar as it has not, so far as I know, been agreed to by either Soviet Russia or the United States, My reply to the right honorable gentleman’s question yesterday was not based on any knowledge of a package deal. I cannot say what attitude Great Britain will take. Representatives of that country will speak for themselves, but I know the attitude of Canada because we have been in close touch with the Government of Canada on these matters for some time. What was the right honorable member’s other question?
– I asked then about the position of China.
– There are in all seventeen countries whose entry into the United Nations has been proposed, debated and rejected over a considerable number of years. Those countries do not include Communist China. That is a separate subject altogether.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether the representatives of the Australian dairying industry have sought any interview with him regarding a review of the agreement between this and the State governments and the dairying industry, to modify the terms of the Dairying Industry Act of 1952 in relation to subsidy. Has the Minister ever refused to meet the representatives of the dairying industry on any claim that they desire to submit to the Government?
– On frequent occasions over the years I have met the dairying industry representatives, sometimes on my own initiative, but very often on their initiative. My last meeting with the representatives of the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation was in Sydney during the last fortnight. I have had many meetings with the dairying industry representatives, and never have I declined to meet them. The dairying industry representatives have not suggested to me that there should be any alteration of the terms of the Dairying Industry Act. The leaders of the Australian dairying industry know perfectly well that the arrangements made by the Government for this year will mean that the dairy farmer will receive rather more money than is his entitlement under the provisions of the dairying industry stabilization plan this year.
– Is the Prime Minister, aware of the serious deterioration in the coal industry, due to fires, subsidences and other causes? The latest mine to be affected is the Aberdare Extended Colliery. It is now proposed to work only a quarter of, that mine. A committee has been set up to investigate the. matter of stowage, but that committee has no statutory authority. The Joint Coal Board has representation on the committee, but the coal-owners can veto any proposal for stowage. In view of those facts will the Prime Minister confer with the New South Wales Government with a view to setting up a statutory committee with authority to compel coal-owners to use the stowage method, in order to preserve the coal industry for the future of the nation ?
– I will make inquiries of my colleague, -the Minister for National Development, who is responsible for these matters, and I will then be in’ a position to reply to the honorable member.
– I desire to ask the Minister for External Affairs a question concerning the visit of Asian journalists to this country. I believe that all members of this Government are very pleased that these gentlemen have been able to make the visit, but I should like to know what assistance has been given to enable them to see as much of the country as possible.
– There are fourteen journalists from five Asian countries in Australia at present. They come from India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Indonesia and Singapore-Malaya. Their passages were provided by Qantas as a goodwill gesture. While in this country, they have been looked after by the Department of External Affairs and by the News and .Information Bureau which is controlled by my friend and colleague, the Minister for the Interior. We framed as comprehensive a programme as possible, to enable them to meet not only the leaders of the press in Australia, but also as many representatives of Australian industry as possible, as well as allowing them to visit universities and other places of instruction. They will also be able to meet the Prime Minister, I hope, as well as other Ministers, senior public servants and as many people as we can mobilize in the time available to inform their minds in a broad way about this country. They represent some of the most important newspapers in Asia. We regard their visit here as very valuable, and as likely to contribute in an important way to better understanding between their countries and this country.
– Does the Prime Minister remember that during the ‘ last sessional period I brought to his notice the adverse effect that inflation is having on retired Commonwealth public servants who depend on superannuation pensions for a living? Did the Government, during its discussions of the budget, consider the need to increase the value of superannuation units? If not, will the Prime Minister see to it that better value is put into superannuation pensions by increasing the value of the superannuation unit from 17s. 6d. to £1 ? The Prime Minister knows that if a contributor to the superannuation scheme who retires at the age of 60 years has a younger wife, he is not entitled to social services payments. Therefore, the need of such people for a better superannuation pension is urgent. Will the Prime Minister do something for them during this session?
– I strongly suspect that this is a matter of policy.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. On a number of occasions, my attention has been directed to the difficulties experienced by passengers waiting at main airports in hearing announcements made over public address systems concerning the departures and arrivals of aircraft. This is not due to any fault of the operators or the systems. It is caused by noise over which the operators haveno control and which is particularly in evidence when airports are congested owing to delays caused by bad weather or engine faults, when schedules have been disrupted. Can the Minister advise me whether, for the convenience of travellers, it would be possible to have illuminated notice boards, such as those placed on large railway stations, erected in prominent positions at airports, so that intending passengers could check visually any announcements which they had failed to hear ?
– The suggestion made by the honorable member is full of merit. The installation of such a system at main airports is a matter for the airline operators, but I shall bring his suggestion to their notice.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Army. How many Australian troops are to be stationed in Malaya ? Is it a fact that a top military man in the Ear East land forces stated recently that our troops going to Malaya are to be used anywhere in South-East Asia? Has the Government denied this statement, or has not it yet made up its mind about the purpose of sending Australian troops to Malaya to join the allied forces there?
– The number of army personnel going to Malay is roughly 1,400. Their task will be to assist in dealing with Communist terrorists in Malaya.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service make a further statement in connexion with His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh’3 conference at Oxford next year, giving details of the matters to be discussed as well as the method of selecting, and the qualifications required by, the 25 Australians who, I understand, are to be sent to the conference? Will the selections be made on the basis of State representation or of other geographical boundaries? Will any report be submitted to’ this Parliament as a result of the conference?
– I shall be glad to prepare a detailed statement which may be of interest to many members of the Parliament, but I should point out that the conference is not a government-sponsored conference. A conference authority has been set up in England, and the conference is under the patronage of the Duke’ of Edinburgh. It will be, I believe, an important conference in the field of industrial relations. There was some discussion with the Prime Minister while he was in England, and he asked me to do the organizing at this end to enable us as a country to make a selection of representatives. It will not be an official selection. As I have said, an independent advisory committee will make selections from applicants. In turn, we will send those to the United Kingdom, where the official selection will be made by the conference authorities. So it will be seen that this is not an official conference in the normally understood sense as between representatives of governments. Indeed, representatives of the governments as such are specifically excluded from the representation of various countries. Australia has been asked to nominate 25 persons out of a total conference membership of 280. I do not think the independent committee which we have set up here will make its selection on any basis of representation as between the States. It will no doubt try to make a balanced selection from Australia, and its recommendations will then go in turn to London. As it is not to be an official conference, I do not anticipate that any report will be submitted to the Parliament. However, we expect that those who have gone to the conference will, on their return, give some publicity in a suitable way to the experience they gain at the conference.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that there are many irregularities and ambiguities in the telephone directory, especially in New
South Wales? Of course, this is understandable in view of undercover activities, such as starting price betting and other minor forms of skulduggery. Will the Minister inquire into the bona fides of the subscriber who has been allotted telephone number LB5403, which is connected to premises No. 1 McDonaldstreet, Cronulla? Doubtless, inquiries will lead him to the proposition that this is the telephone number of a judge of the Industrial Commission of New South Wales whose name has been mentioned freely both with regard to the Bankstown affair and the Petrov matter. Is it not a fact that there is some doubt as to the availability of that number for that residence, since on search the residence will be found to be that of the mother of the principal in the Bankstown affair who was recently the subject of proceedings in this House?
– I have no knowledge of the matters to which the honorable member has referred. However, I shall have the question looked into and see what information is available to be made public.
– I address a question to the Minister for External Affairs. Will the right honorable gentleman inform the House whether there is any likelihood of the United Nations, when it meets next month, taking steps to consider a revision of its charter? Would he support the taking of such steps? Does the Minister hold the opinion that the world is in a state of transition from national governments, with complete sovereignty, to something approaching international government ?
– Undoubtedly the question of charter revision will be discussed at the forthcoming meeting of the General Assembly in New York. It is a matter for decision by the General Assembly as to whether a special convention or a special assembly should be arranged to discuss specifically the subject of charter revision. The matter has been under consideration by, I expect, all members of the United Nations ; certainly we in Australia have for some time been considering it. We are a little in doubt whether any such special charter revision session is justified, or is likely to do any good. Some of the anomalies in the charter are very well known to everybody. The question of the veto in the hands of the Security Council, or the permanent members of the Security Council, is one of them, perhaps. That question, however, admits of no ready solution, and none has yet been suggested. There is provision in the charter itself for amendment short of a special session to amend the charter. So far as I know, that has not been taken advantage of. I am only expressing a personal opinion when I say I think that many members of the United Nations doubt whether a charter revision session is justified or practicable from the point of view of producing results. There are many people, also, who consider that an amendment or variation of the rules of procedure might, in itself, overcome a certain amount of timewasting in the United Nations organization. No formal decision has been reached by this Government or by any government to support formally a special charter revision session. My personal view - and I have no reason to believe that the view of the Government would differ greatly from it - is that we ought to be somewhat sceptical about the results of such a session. If it were held and failed to produce anything worth while, the effect would not be helpful.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether his attention has been directed to a reported statement by the Queensland Minister for Agriculture to the effect that a consignment of sorghum recently shipped from Queensland resulted in the death of certain Pakistanis and the illness of others. The Minister pointed pointed out also, in his report, that the sorghum contained datura seeds, which are poisonous. I ask the Minister whether the Australian Government is responsible for the inspection of all exported commodities such as sorghum. Has the Minister any comment to make on this serious and important matter?
– I am not acquainted with the subject-matter of the honorable member’s question, but I recognize its importance. I will familiarize myself with the matter, and make a statement to the honorable member in due course.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Interior. Since the passing of the Lands Acquisition Act, which clarified the moral and constitutional responsibilities of this Parliament, has the Minister received any assurance from the Minister for Lands in New South Wales that the senseless and reprehensible practice of acquiring land by that State at 1942 values or at any other value less than “ just terms “ will cease, or is likely to cease?
– I have had several conferences with the Minister for Lands in New South Wales, but at the moment I am not able to make any statement on the matter, neither am I at liberty to disclose what was discussed at those conferences.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether the Government has decided that Australia’s immigration programme for the next twelve months will be based on an intake of 125,000 migrants. In view of the acute housing shortage existing in each State, what arrangements are to be made by this Government to house those additional people ?
– The direct financial provision being made by the Government is covered very largely by the details supplied by the Treasurer in the budget, but the honorable gentleman can be assured that, having , regard to the average number of persons occupying a house in Australia, which has one of the best housing standards to be found anywhere in the world, the rate of house construction over recent years has been more than sufficient to keep pace with the growth in population, and has, indeed, overtaken some of the backlog that developed during the war years. That does not, of course, mean that there are not some people who are without houses. I doubt if you could find any country where such a situation does not exist. However, the overall picture is one not merely of keeping pace with the growth in population but also of overcoming the backlog.
– I address to the Minister for Immigration a question with reference to the figures released by the Commonwealth Statistician relative to immigration during the last financial year. Did the intake of 124,000 immigrants during that period in fact exceed the target figure? How many of the 31,622 persons who are listed by the Statistician as being permanent departures were immigrants returning to’ their country of origin ? Finally, what proportion of the immigrant intake is capable of being gainfully employed?
– The intake for the year to which the honorable gentleman has referred was approximately 9,000 in excess of the original target, but that reflected the prosperity and the general economic buoyancy of Australia, which always has a bearing on the totals in a matter of this kind. The total departures was approximately 31,000; but permanent departures according to the Commonwealth Statistician’s classification include all persons who signify an intention of being away from Australia for twelve months or more, and so they obviously included a considerable number of Australians who are going overseas on extended visits and also a certain number of people who have come here for visits of longer than a year and who are returning to their own countries. A dissection made by the Department of Immigration reveals that of the number of permanent departures for which figures have been supplied by the Statistician only about 25 per cent, were what we might term genuine permanent departures of people who were going to settle overseas or who were immigrants returning to their country of origin. Of the total number of immigrants who have come here, our investigation suggests that, overall, approximately 3£ per cent, have returned to their country of origin. The percentage differs as between British immigrants and immigrants from European countries. In the case of the British immigrants, the figure is about 6 per cent., but even of these some have returned to Australia for the second time. The figure for European immigrants is about 2 per cent. As I have stated, the overall percentage is approximately 3£ per cent., which I think it will be agreed is not a very large figure and is. certainly one that compares more than favorably with the experience of other immigrant-receiving countries. The honorable gentleman asked finally “what proportion of immigrants represents an addition to our work force. The figure for the period since the post-war scheme came into full operation is 52 per cent. That compares with an Australian average of approximately 40 per cent.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. I refer to a question asked some months ago with reference to the disfiguring of the AustralianAmerican war memorial in Canberra which he described as “imbecile”. The Prime Minister then promised that action would be taken to remove the markings and that the memorial would be suitably protected for the future. As nothing appears to have been done in the matter, will he assure the House that action will be taken without delay?
– As the AustralianAmerican War Memorial is under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, perhaps the honorable member will allow me to answer the question as, at the moment, I know more about the details than does the Prime Minister. I have been in close touch with the AustralianAmerican Association and certain proposals for guarding against further vandalism have been under discussion. Various plans have been drawn and estimates have been obtained. I received a letter from the president of the association on this very matter only a fortnight ago. A final decision has not yet been made, but we are preparing to do a great deal about it, and I shall inform the honorable member as soon as a final decision is reached. In the meantime we have taken action to landscape the whole of the surrounding area of the memorial in order that it will not be just left out surrounded by bush and roads. It is intended that the whole surrounding area should have an atmosphere of quiet dignity which we consider is essential for a memorial of that nature. I think that will help a great deal to make people respect it more.
– Has the Prime Minister seen a report of a royal commissioner tabled in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales on Tuesday, which dealt with restrictive trade practices and profiteering by a group of timber companies? If he has seen the recommendations of the learned judge, what steps does he propose to take to protect home builders who have been exploited by the timber organization? In view of the fact that these companies are using valuable dollars, will the Prime Minister consider the cancellation of the import licences of. the group of companies whose business methods were so trenchantly condemned?
– I am not aware that this report, to which I have seen some references in the press, has yet reached Canberra. Certainly, it has not reached me, but when it does I shall read it with close attention.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether his attention has been drawn to the mass down-grading of journalists that is being carried out by the proprietors of metropolitan daily newspapers, apparently in order to evade the payment of increased salaries awarded to journalists in the Blackburn ‘ award. In view of the fact that the conciliation commissioner, in making his award, had a full knowledge of the number of journalists in the various classifications and awarded the increases of salary accordingly, does the Minister agree that this action on the part of the newspaper proprietors definitely amounts to an attempt to evade the provisions of an award made by an independent tribunal? Since, for years past, these newspapers have addressed editorials to workers asking them to accept the decisions of arbitration tribunals, will the right honor: able gentleman use the undoubted influence that this Government has with the proprietors of the metropolitan daily newspapers to bring to their notice their inconsistency in advocating in editorials observance of the provisions of awards while they themselves ignore or evade the decisions of arbitration tribunals?
– Dealing with the latter part of the question first, I have not noticed any special tenderness on the part of the press of this country towards this Government. If it exists, certainly I have not been made very acutely aware of it. In relation to the substance of the question, I cannot claim to have any detailed knowledge of the action of the newspaper proprietors concerned. I have no doubt’ that, if they have taken action that is not in accord with either the spirit or the letter of the award that has been made by the appropriate conciliation commissioner, those members of the Australian Journalists Association who have been affected will have their remedies before that commissioner.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs inform the House whether a decision has been reached concerning the future of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea? Will this commission continue to function and with whom does the power of making this decision rest? Do the troubles which the commission has encountered indicate a deterioration of the armistice arrangements in Korea ?
– The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission was set up in order to supervise the armistice arrangements for Korea. It is composed of representatives of Switzerland, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and Poland. It is notorious that in recent times there has been grave dissatisfaction with the working of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, particularly with respect to the attitude of the representatives on the commission of the two Communist countries, Czechoslovakia and Poland. This dissatisfaction has reached an acute form in recent times. Dr. Syngman Rhee issued a mandatory ultimatum in the name of the Government of the Republic of Korea in which he stated that the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission should be expelled from Korea. This was the end point of mounting dissatisfaction which was not confined to the members of the Government of South Korea. It has been an acute embarrassment to the United Nations Command, because the United Nations Command, I think, has acted most admirably in giving every possible facility to ail members of the commission, including the two Communist representatives, in order to enable them to do their job. On the other hand, in North Korea, the work of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission has been almost completely nullified by the attitude of the North Korean Communist Government, which has not given adequate facilities to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission.There is no doubt that the Government of North Korea has been at least supported, if not encouraged, in this attitude by the Communist representatives from Poland and Czechoslovakia. It just becomes a question of whether the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission . should be disbanded, and give up its task of supervising the armistice conditions, or whether its membership should be radically reduced in order to reduce the abuses that are occurring. I understand that Dr. Syngman Rhee has withdrawn his ultimatum about the expulsion of the commission, and that discussions are going on with, I expect, the United Nations. I think that the Military Armistice Commission in respect of Korea would certainly be discussing the matter, which is being dealt with by telegram currently between the member countries, including Australia, that are concerned in the Korean business. I cannot say what the outcome will be, but if I were to guess, as an individual, I should guess that the personnel of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission will be radically reduced, and that an attempt will be made to reduce the ability of the rather unneutral members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission to stop the commission from carrying out its proper functions.
– Is the Minister for Social Services aware that many applicants for war service homes have recently been informed by the War Service Homes Division that applications received after the 30th June, 1955, will not be dealt with by it before July, 1956 ? What is the reason for this long delay? If it is a matter of finance, will the Minister seek the co-operation of the Government in order to obtain a greater allocation of money because of the great and urgent need of homes by exservicemen?
– There has been a considerable increase in the number of applications for war service homes during the course of the last eighteen months. As a consequence of this and other circumstances, it has been found that the waiting period in relation to certain kinds of application has had to be considerably increased. In some instances the waiting period will be increased f,rom six months to twelve months, and in other cases there will be somewhat longer delays. I shall have a document prepared for the honorable member, which will set out the facts a little more clearly than I can set them out at the present moment.
– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture studied the regional survey of and report on the cost structure of dairy farms in Western Australia, and is he aware that, for the period of the survey, the average net income of dairy-farmers engaged in butter production there was £391 per annum, and would therefore be about £100 less on present prices? In view of the evidence contained in that report, has the Minister considered whether it is possible, or desirable, for the Government to do anything to alleviate the severe hardship that is imposed by the present marketing position, not on the merely marginal farms, but on the average dairy farm in Western Australia ?
– The Government agreed some time ago to conduct, on a State basis, an Australia-wide survey of the dairying industry. Because it appeared to be clear that there were peculiar problems of a serious nature confronting the industry in Western
Australia, that State was the subject of the first section of the survey and the report, as the honorable member has stated, has been published. It has become clear, as a result of the survey of Western Australian conditions, that problems of a serious nature affect many dairy-farmers in that State, which arise from the inability of a very substantial number of farms there to carry sufficient cows. Of course, it would be completely indefensible to increase the return of all dairy farms in Australia, to a level that would make profitable the conduct of farms such as those I have described. So the survey has justified itself by identifying a particular problem, in this case substantially peculiar to Western Australia because of certain conditions that operate there. The first step in resolving such a problem is to expose its identity. Because the problem concerns the conditions of the area and the productivity of certain farms it is, in normal circumstances, a matter for the concern of the State government. Under the subdivision of the respective responsibilities of the Commonwealth and the State governments it is clearly a State matter. I am sure that the dairy-farmers of Western Australia, so circumstanced, expect the State government to get to grips with this problem. It is not correct to say that the average net income of dairy-farmers in Western Australia is £391. The survey shows that the actual net cash returns of Western Australian dairy-farmers is, if my memory is correct - and I think it is - nearly £700, and if one allows for interest on borrowed capital and owner’s equity on his property, the net cash return to Western Australian dairy-farmers would be only about £80 less than that figure. I am sure it is not expected that the problems of the most troubled dairy-farmers in Australia will be resolved by increasing the returns of the whole of the Australian dairying industry to such a point as would solve the problems of the man who is not able to run a sufficient number of cows to make his operations profitable.
– I address to the Minister for Defence a question concerning the expansion that is taking place in regard to steel production in this country, which is concentrated largely on the eastern seaboard. Has the Minister had any consultation with this industry with a view to having some part of that steel production located at points less vulnerable to enemy attack, bearing in mind particularly the special facilities for dispersal of industry that exist in such a State as South Australia ?
– I personally have had no discussion with the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited about the location of that company’s steel-works. I believe it is generally recognized that whilst the company could move certain of its works, it could not move the sources of the raw materials, such as coal, which are vital to the production of steel.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) agreed to-
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Notice of Motion, General Business, given by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) concerning Messrs. Browne and Fitzpatrick being proceeded with forthwith.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker-
– Has the honorable member a seconder of his motion?
– Yes, I have.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) will second it.
– I move-
That Messrs. Frank Browne and Raymond Fitzpatrick be released forthwith from their commitment into custody.
Perhaps I ought to make it clear, lest there should be any misunderstanding of this matter, that the motion that I have moved is my own personal responsibility. The motion itself gives no reasons, and honorable members may therefore vote for it in the belief that the authority of the Parliament has been vindicated, that as a matter of grace the last few days might be struck off the term of custody or that a little bit of sweet mercy might now be mingled with stern law. I emphasize at once, however, that I bring the motion forward on no such grounds. The firm ground on which I put it to the House, and to the country, is that these two men lie imprisoned without fair trial, and therefore should be released forthwith. I put that forward as a fundamental principle on which depends the personal safety and freedom of every citizen in this country and of every family in its own home.
No imprisonment without fair trial! Those words ring down through the years of history. It is a right which did not always exist, but which had to be striven for; a precious right for which our forefathers struggled against tyranny. Englishmen, Scotsmen, Irishmen and Welshmen strove for that ideal, without counting the risk or the cost, against the tyranny of barons, against the tyranny of monarchs and against the tyranny Of vested property interests. In this day, that victory having been won, not much is asked of us. We are not required to fight to gain the right of no imprisonment without fair trial; it has already been gained for us. We are simply required to maintain it. We are the custodians of something precious that has been handed down to us, and our task is to ensure that it is handed on inviolate to our children in their turn. Therefore, if the Parliament itself has broached that right, the injury is grave and ought to be repaired at once ; because the Parliament should be the guardian of the people’s rights.
The Parliament acted in haste, but there has since been time for consideration. The decision to be made to-day, therefore, is crucial.
I suggest that the first thing to test is whether these men have had a fair trial. There are certain provisions which are recognized as essential in the procedures that apply to a person whose freedom is threatened by the law. Among those procedures are these: A specific charge must be made against the person, the charge must be heard in open court, the accused must be given the right of legal representation and he. must be given the opportunity to confront and cross-examine his accusers. These men were given none of those rights. No charge was ever laid against them, they were merely called as witnesses before the Privileges Committee. The hearing was not in open court.; it was a secret hearing. They were not given the fundamental and basic right of legal representation before the tribunal, and they were given no right at all to confront or cross-examine their accusers. Therefore, the Parliament should set these men free forthwith,’ and that is what this motion seeks.
I have been told that since it has been clearly indicated that this motion will be defeated, it is a useless waste of time to submit it. That view overlooks the very heart of this issue, just as does the argument that as Browne and Fitzpatrick have only a few more days to serve in gaol, it does not really matter. It is doubtless important to Browne and Fitzpatrick that their imprisonment should be terminated now rather than in a week or so. But it is far more important to this Parliament, which is itself at this moment on trial before the nation. I say that as a parliamentary man, as a lover of the parliamentary system and as one who wants to see above all else the institution of parliament strengthened and respected. But, irrespective of whether this motion is carried or not, the essential thing is that the voice of protest should be raised in this place.
Tyranny has no victory while a voice of protest is still raised against it. That is why it is necessary to protest at every opportunity against what one regards, rightly or wrongly, as tyranny. The terrible danger will be when tyranny is accepted in this country without protest, as it is accepted to-day in so many other countries, either because the light of freedom has been extinguished, or because of the growth of cynicism, apathy or despair. That day has come in many other countries, even in countries which in recent days we had regarded as the very fortresses of democracy. That day has not come in Australia. It is still a long way off in this country, but it is far closer than I should like to see it.
It is beside the point to prove, with elaborate legal logic, that, for historic reasons, Parliament is entitled to ignore the simple and basic principles of justice, which to-day are recognized as the foundation of all enlightened living. That may be good law, but, in a twentieth century democracy, it is unreal and unacceptable. It is, indeed, an aspect of embalmed history like King’s Evil and the droit du seigneur. It is significant that the Imperial Parliament, whose evolutionary struggles required and created this despotic power, has had the intuitive wisdom not to use it for the past century and a half. Contempt of Parliament must be prevented, but,, like bribery at the polls, it must be prevented according to law. Tyranny in Australia is no more tolerable because it happens to be the tyranny of elected persons.
It is no part of my argument to contend that Parliament should not have the power to deal with contempt of itself. On the contrary, the supremacy of Parliament must be maintained - and I would not abate one jot of Parliament’s power even in this matter - bearing in mind the fact that the Parliament derives its powers from the people and exists to give effect to the popular will. There are some fundamental civil and human rights which might well be written into the Constitution, but certainly Parliament should not be left powerless to protect itself from intimidation or to deal with contempt. The question is not the possession of that power by Parliament, but the establishment by it of procedures to ensure that the basic rights of the individual shall be protected in the process. The question of the nature of those procedures is not now before the House. It is because such procedures of protection have not been applied in relation to these two men that I now move for their release.
It has recently been argued very’ forcibly in the Canberra Times newspaper that the House should npt agree to this motion, because agreement would be an admission of a mistake by Parliament and therefore a humiliation of Parliament by itself. It is for the very reason that a mistake in procedure has been made by Parliament in reaching its decision .that I propose that the effect of the decision be now terminated. The Parliament would not be humiliated by the. correction of a mistake. I believe that the correction of a mistake by the
Parliament itself would enhance its prestige and stature in the eyes of the Australian people.
When the imprisonment of these two men was previously before the House honorable members who opposed imprisonment were reminded - and rightly so - that, at least by their silence, they had supported every successive stage of the proceedings up to the moving of the motion for committal to prison. Those honorable members who voted against the imprisonment of Browne and Fitzpatrick had previously voted in favour of the proposal to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges and in favour of the adoption of the committee’s report. That is a completely valid point. An attempt to call a halt should have been made at an earlier stage. The proceedings in the House were hurried, and there was little time for consideration. I admit, for my own part, quite frankly, that at that stage I failed to see the way in which the matter was heading. I think now that I should have acted earlier and that I was mistaken in not doing so. But how can the shortcomings of any individual member of this House be used as an argument to justify the imprisonment of two citizens ? Let us accept the responsibility for our own inconsistency. The real question facing Parliament still remains: Should it imprison men without a fair trial? The question in this case is not who is right, but what is right. The aim of the House should be simply : Let right be done.
As Eric Baume pointed out when he was discussing the suggested release of war criminals - and the point is a very good one - even the most odious of war criminals was accorded the rights of ,trial that were denied to Browne and Fitzpatrick. Those rights were accorded to war criminals because of the view that they were basic human rights due even to a man against whom allegations of the utmost villainy were made. We had been engaged in a war against forces led by those men, who, if they had been victorious, would have blotted out those rights in our own country as they had already done in their own. I had no part in that war. Many honorable members in thi3 chamber did play a part in the war, and they fought, among other reasons, to ensure that the right of fair trial should be maintained and that invaders and aggressors should not be able to blot out that basic right in other countries as they had already blotted it out in their own. Two world wars were fought on that very issue. We fought those wars to protect our people from summary arrest without a charge being made and from imprisonment without a trial. The concentration camps of Nazi Germany filled us with justifiable horror. The obligation to protect our rights in these respects remains upon us.. Parliament is the great example to the nation.
It is the worst of all delusions to believe that these rights are so safe in our own country that breaches of them here and there need not be bothered about. Doubtless there were in Czechoslovakia men who believed that on the night before their country was taken over by Communist tyranny. The price of liberty is, indeed, eternal vigilance. The struggle for civil rights has never been the prerogative of any one party. Men in all parties have struggled for civil liberty, and I am proud that the party to which I belong has ever been in the forefront of that struggle. We who belong to that party honour the men of Eureka who swore to stand together under the Southern Cross to fight for what they regarded as a basic civil right. We honour also many pioneers of the Labour movement who really risked and dared greatly to assert civil rights against repressive laws and government. The Labour party itself came into being as a political party to establish the rights of ordinary men, following the fierce struggles of the maritime strike and the shearers’ strike. That was the basis. And so it is natural that principles bearing exactly on the issues involved in this motion are written into the platform arid policy of the Australian Labour party, which says -
The Labour party supports at all times the basic civil rights guaranteed in the past by such historic documents as Magna Carta, the Bill of Bights, and Habeas Corpus. It supports the separation and independence of judicial power from ‘ the Executive and the legislature. . .
It is almost inevitable that into a debate of this kind many side issues will enter.
I have tried to keep them out of my speech, not to make any false points, and to confine my speech to the assertion of the one great principle which I believe to be paramount and which, I am certain, is not inconsistent in any way with the full preservation of the right and power of Parliament to deal with contempts against it. Before I resume my seat I wish to name some issues which I believe to be irrelevant and which ought not to be used in this debate to cloud the real issue. The first irrelevant argument is this : That Parliament clearly possesses the power to commit men to gaol. Its constitutional right to do so has been upheld by the highest courts. That is true. But that ought not to be put forward as an argument for the wisdom and justice of what Parliament has done iti this respect. It may sound very well, but is it not a false argument? The power of Parliament in this matter is unquestionable, just as it is in many other matters. The issue is not the power of Parliament, but the wise, proper and fair use of that ‘power by Parliament. None of us says that, because Parliament has power to do a thing, it should necessarily do it. Parliament as a whole possesses unlimited powers. But Parliament must consider many aspects before it decides how that power should be used and the extent to which it should be used, as well as the safeguards which should be provided in connexion with its exercise. That, therefore, I suggest is a false argument and should not be raised in this debate.
Equally, I think, there should be suspicion of the honorable member who may use the superficial but attractive argument that all this is a part of our glorious parliamentary tradition; that it is something which has been handed down to us, a right that has been handed down to us by the parliaments of the past, and therefore something that we ought to preserve. That appears to me to be the most deceptive of all arguments. There are traditional things which give cause for pride; there are others which give cause for shame; and there are others which are simply outmoded. “Who does not recoil in horror from the tyranny and the repression which were commonplace at the time that the House of
Commons exercised these powers in the way that this Parliament has now exercised them. ‘ Is there one honorable member here who does not recoil in horror from some of the things which were commonplace at that time? Those were the days of the labourers of Dorset, of the men of Tolpuddle, of the refusal of many civil rights which we possess to-day largely through the resistance to tyranny of men at that time. When the argument that this imprisonment is in accord with parliamentary tradition is stripped of its fustian, it is surely without any merit at all.
There is one argument which has been raised previously and which ought not to be raised again to-day because to do so, I suggest, is to depart from every canon of fair play and decency in this matter. That is to argue by casting aspersions on the character and conduct of these two men ; to say, in effect, “ See what kind of men they are who are being defended. They are not worth defence.” That is a contemptible argument. I say that it is also mean and cowardly. I speak neither for nor against the character and conduct of these men; it is not in question and is not the issue with which we are dealing in this House. What is in issue is whether they have had a fair trial on the matters alleged against them, whether their guilt has been established by the due processes which we hold sacred, and whether, therefore, their imprisonment should continue another day.
I have heard some people say, quite honestly, “ Oh, these men have admitted their guilt “, and they regard that as conclusive. That argument, however, cannot honestly be put forward in this House by any man who is a master of our legal system and who knows why certain safeguards of justice have been regarded as essential in this country. To say, “ They have admitted their guilt; therefore the due processes of law can be set aside “, is to argue for lynch law in Australia. Whoever presented that argument in this House I believe would lower his stature and shame his intellect for the sake of making a debating point.
There is one final argument which is so specious that I regard it as repugnant to refer to it. That is the argument that the imprisonment of these men in this way can be justified because judges exercise immediate power to commit men to prison for contempt committed in the face of the court. That, I regard as the most-specious and false of all arguments that can be presented to this House. In the first place, where is the analogy? Is there any analogy at all? Who would compare the atmosphere of this House and its members with that of a court of law presided over by a trained judicial mind? In the second place, the power of immediate imprisonment is only exercised by a judge for contempt committed in the face of the court, just as the Speaker of this House must have immediate power to deal with misconduct by persons in the gallery of the House committed in the face of this chamber. . Those are merely obvious emergency powers which are necessary to preserve the dignity of the tribunal and to allow its functions to proceed. They have no analogy whatever with this matter. The real point is that in all other contempts, such as the contempt alleged against these men, the men charged with contempt before the court are allowed all the rights of which these men were deprived in their trial in this place.
When I spoke previously on this matter in the House, opposing the motion of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to commit these two men to prison, I stressed that this was not a party matter but one in which each honorable member was required to exercise his own judgment as an individual juror. I said then, “ Therefore, I would not feel ashamed, and there would be no cause to feel ashamed, on a matter such as this, to be in a minority of one”. I was- not looking into the future when I said that; but I feel that it is as true to-day as it was then. I would not be ashamed to be in a minority of one on the vote on this motion to-day. I know that I shall not be in a minority of one in the voice on this matter though I may be so on the vote. I accord to every other honorable member the right to act as he thinks fit, just as I assert that right for myself.
– I second the motion and reserve my right to speak later.
– The House has just listened to a remarkable speech. It is quite true that most of the words in it one had read in headlines and articles and listened to over the air, but it was remarkable because it was, perhaps, the most self-conscious speech delivered to this House in my time. Here is the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) now striking a great attitude, defying the lightning, the one man in Parliament with a conscience. Yet his conscience was in cold storage right throughout the proceedings in this House that he has been discussing this afternoon. His conscience has turned out to be one of those - I think they are called - long-playing records, as I shall demonstrate with the greatest of simplicity. It is quite true that he has endeavoured, in this very carefully prepared speech, to protect his flank, but his flank is still open on this matter. All I have to do is to remind the House of what happened - even remind my friend, the somewhat reluctant seconder of the motion.
– There was nothing reluctant about it!
– First of all- and this is basic to the argument of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro - - he says that the House behaved hastily; people had no hope, no chance to reflect, and if they had had a chance to reflect they would not have done these dreadful things by so overwhelming a vote. All I want to do is to remind the House, and remind the people, that this question was referred to the Committee of Privileges of this House on a motion seconded by the Leader of Opposition (Dr. Evatt). It went to an all-party Committee of Privileges of this Parliament. It is quite true that the honorable member for EdenMonaro is, perhaps, not very fully acquainted with the practice of Parliament or of the law, but the Leader of the Opposition is so acquainted, and, when he seconded a motion to refer this matter to the Committee of Privileges, he must have done so with a sense of responsibility, knowing what the powers of the committee were, and what the powers of this Parliament are, on a report from the committee. So the matter went to the committee, an all-party committee, and back from the all-party committee came a unanimous report. It must be shocking to the honorable member for EdenMonaro that there was not one member of that committee, of any party, with any conscience. These wicked men, sitting on this committee, unanimously found that there had been a gross breach of the privileges of Parliament which, let me remind the House, are the privileges of the people of Australia. They found that there had been a gross breach.
The report from the committee came into this House during the evening session on Wednesday, the 8th June. It was not at once taken into consideration; consideration of it was adjourned until the following day. I do not know whether the honorable member for EdenMonaro was so taken up with other matters that he had no chance of reading the report. I am not without occupation, in this Parliament or in this country, but I found time to read the report. I found time to have a look at the records of these matters in parliamentary experience. I found time to read three or four of the decisions of the highest courts of the land, because I knew that, in common with all other honorable members, I would ultimately come, into the Parliament, sitting as a judge and speaking as a judge, and therefore that I must speak without fear, favour or affection, but with knowledge. The result was that on the following day, the 9th June, the matter came before the House. And here is the remarkable thing: The honorable member for EdenMonaro, who is now apologizing for his own action under the guise of condemning all the rest of us, apparently had found time to compose his mind, because he was one of the few members who spoke. I moved, pursuant to practice, and on the merits of the case, that the House agree with the committee in its report. Do not let anybody forget that the House had before it a report from the committee, a report in which the committee quoted verbatim the evidence given before it by these men, evidence in which these men, jointly and severally, pleaded guilty in substance to what was alleged against them - made no secret of it, explained it, explained their motives. No committee out of a bedlam house could possibly have found them not guilty after the elaboration of their plea of guilty, of their plea of a deliberate and concerted contempt of Parliament, a deliberate and concerted attempt to silence the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) in his place in the House. So, unanimously, as men of sense and judgment, they reported to this House, and, as Prime Minister, I moved that the House agree with the committee in its report. Let me remind the House, and let me remind the honorable member for Eden-Monaro before he delivers another of these lucubrations, that the committee adjudged these men guilty of a serious contempt of Parliament, and we in the House, no less competent than twelve jurymen brought in at random. 120-odd of us, the chosen representatives of the people of Australia, chosen by fair vote and under all the light of criticism, said, “We agree with the report of the committee”; in other words, “We ourselves find these men guilty of this offence “.
When we did that, they had been tried and. convicted, and every man in this Parliament voted for the motion, including the now repentant honorable member for Eden-Monaro. He now says, “ These men have not had a fair trial “. He has conveniently forgotten that he was one of their judges, and that he convicted them. He comes along now and says, “No fair trial”. I have taken the trouble to refresh my memory. He actually spoke in the debate on the committee’s report. He spoke, in fact, at 29 minutes past five on the afternoon of the 9th June, having had all the morning and most of the afternoon to consider what his views might be, with this short report before him. Did he then say, “ These men have not had a fair trial “ ? Not at all! He said that this was “a serious breach of privilege”. Those are his very words. The only argument that he could develop on that occasion was to have a small “ go “, if I may so describe it, at my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), not saying, “You are voting for a miscarriage of justice”, but, on the contrary, saying, “ This is a serious breach of privilege, but if it had been committed by the Sydney Morning Herald you would not have voted for this conviction”. Why he selected the Sydney Morning Herald, I do not know. That was the best argument that this gentleman of historic precedents and tender conscience could think of on that afternoon, and yet that was the vital vote. That was the time for somebody to stand up, if he wanted to, and say, “ I denounce these proceedings. These men have not been tried “. What we heard from the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was exactly the opposite. They were guilty of a serious offence, and he said on that occasion, “ This is a very grave matter indeed “. And so the question was resolved unanimously in the affirmative, and, so that there might be no indecent haste in the matter, 1 proposed to the House that the two men so found guilty should be told to be here on the following morning, that is, on the Friday They were both, in Sydney or thereabouts. They came to Canberra and, in due course, they were heard in person.
Did I then, as Prime Minister, rush this matter ? Not at all. They had been heard. What they had to say deserved consideration. Honorable members will recall that I proposed that the House suspend its sittings so that we might give thought to what had occurred. The result was that some substantial time later we returned to the chamber, and I moved that they be committed to prison. The House overwhelmingly approved. There was no argument about their guilt or the gravity of the offence from the Leader of the Opposition, or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). That was not in issue. A difference of opinion, a legitimate difference of opinion, existed, but there was no quarrel about it between the Leader of the Opposition and myself, to mention two individuals. I thought this was a matter in which the only real punishment would be committal, having regard particularly to the fact that one of the persons who had been found guilty was a rich man to whom even a substantial pecuniary penalty would have been trivial; and to the fact that he, having accepted full responsibility for the activities of the other man, would, no doubt, have paid his fine also, so that the other man would escape a penalty altogether.
That was my view, and it was the view of an overwhelming majority of honorable members. The Leader of the Opposition, on the other hand, said, in effect: “ No, I do not think this is a case for imprisonment. It is a case for a substantial fine”. The expression “substantial fine “ was, in fact, the very phrase that was used thereafter by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. He said during the debate -
For all the reasons that I have given, 1 believe that this House will do justice, will meet the needs of the case, and will establish a. fitting precedent for the future, if it imposes a substantial fine.
When the honorable member for Melbourne, with his usual generosity, expounded to us what a substantial fine meant, it turned out that he was thinking modestly enough in terms of £2,000 or £3,000. That was the issue. It is quite true that there were two or three honorable members who said, in effect, “ No, in the circumstances, we do not think that any penalty ought to be imposed”., but they were very few in number. As to the rest, the question was commitment to gaol or a substantial fine.
Among those who supported a substantial fine was the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, and here we come to the most splendid piece of metaphysics ever put before the House even by that honorable member. He has said of what was done: “It is monstrous. It is a denial of justice “, and he has reinforced his statements by somewhat inaccurate references to history. He claims that it is a denial of justice that a man should be put into gaol without a fair trial. Let us see what that means. Suppose we had sent the two men to gaol for a fortnight. I suppose that would have been the same in principle from the point of view of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. What! Send a man to gaol for a fortnight without a fair trial? So then we say : “ Let us make a bargain. We will fine them £2,000 or £3,000 without a fair trial “. Is that all right? Apparently the honorable member for Eden-Monaro would reply: “Yes, perfectly all right; most satisfactory”. That is the subtle metaphysical distinction between- a few weeks in prison, under not unfavorable circumstances, and a fine of thousands of pounds. One pleases the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. It leaves him with a restored feeling of democracy. The other moves him to simulated horror. I have never heard such nonsense and neither has any other honorable member.
The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), who has a faculty I admire very much for putting his finger on a piece of nonsense and humbug from time to time, pointed out during the discussion on this matter previously that if a man were fined £2,000 and he could not pay - and I do not suppose there are too many in this House who could pay in those circumstances - what would we do about it? Would we write it off to profit and loss or pursue the alternative remedy of imprisonment? Yet the whole of this remarkable argument, having regard to the personal association of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro with it, comes down to this : He says, “ Yes, I read the report of the Committee of Privileges because I made a speech about it. I voted for the adoption of their report and for a conviction. I voted in favour of the imposition of a substantial fine on these men and I did all that knowing, as I now say, that they had not had a fair trial “. If the House had fined them £5,000 or £10,000, the honorable member for EdenMonaro would not have had a rhetorical feather to fly with to-day. But because the men were imprisoned, he has decided that this is one of those occasions when he must denounce not only those on the Government side, whom it is his business to denounce, but also honorable gentlemen opposite whom it appears to be his pleasure to denounce as well on this occasion.
The only other comment I wish to make is that I do hope, having regard to the moving statement made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, that we may have his assurance that a member of the Australian Labour party appearing on charges before the party executive in New South Wales will have the benefit of counsel, an open hearing and a jury.
– There is no doubt that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has thoroughly enjoyed himself in the past twenty minutes.
– Hear, hear!
– A strange thing about the right honorable gentleman’s speech is that he has not quite said anything that is not correct, and yet when one studies the story as a whole, what he has said is not the truth. It is not the true story. The Prime Minister has given correctly remarks that were made by myself and others, but he has not stated fairly and squarely the attitude of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Eraser). As a matter of fact, the views that were put before the House by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and by me all approached very closely the views that have been advanced to-day by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. They were inconsistent, if you like, but still they were put forward. It is my duty to state simply and with complete frankness the way in which the Opposition faces the matter under discussion. It is perfectly true that when the matter came before the House I seconded the motion of the honorable member for Reid and spoke on the matter of privilege. I take the view that an honorable member has a right to have a matter referred to the Privileges Committee subject to the Speaker’s ruling that a prima facie breach of privilege has been committed. Without knowing any of the details of the case, I seconded the motion, as I have done with motions moved by honorable members from other parts of the House. I recall that a former honorable member for Wide Bay, Mr. Corser, brought forward a motion which had much the same effect. Such a motion merely allows the matter to commence. Surely the submitting of a motion at that stage does not commit an honorable member to any point of view. It is perfectly true also - and here the Prime Minister has not told the whole story - that when the report of the Privileges Committee came up, there was no division on the motion for its adoption. I then stated that I would refrain from remarking upon the matter until the question of punishment had to be dealt with. There again, I can be twitted with inconsistency, if emphasis is to be placed on the verbal aspect. I quite admit that; but I felt also that the crisis had been reached on the last day, when a certain procedure was followed and punishment was imposed. My view, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has said, was that it was not a matter for parties to consider as parties. I stated that, and it is in Hansard. I thought that the House should act as a judge or, so to speak, as a jury, each man being entitled to give, and indeed bound to give, his own opinion upon what should be done. That is what the Labour party did at that time. We were criticized by many people for doing it, but that was what was done. We took differing views. I was in favour of a fine, as were other honorable members. Some honorable members, who looked at the matter with equal good faith, took the view that imprisonment was justified. Other honorable members did not think that the circumstances were such that they should express an opinion upon it. At any rate, we acted according to our individual views of the case, whereas the Government acted as a bloc. Not one Government member did not feel himself bound to vote in favour of three months’ imprisonment, because that was the view of the Government party.
Government supporters interjecting,
– I say not one member opposed it. If that is wrong I must express my regret, but I believe it to be true.
– I rise to order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, why can you not keep them in order? Government speakers were heard in silence.
– Order ! I think that the nature of the subjectmatter under discussion is such that interjections should cease and every speaker should be heard in silence.
– I am reminding the House of the background of the original action. On this side of the House, every honorable member was free to express his view, did so, and acted according to what he thought right in the circumstances. Then the sentence was imposed. I also said then, and I think it is true, that the procedures adopted by the House were not in accordance with what was re quired. I do not think that honorable members in any part of the House would agree with the way in which the matter was conducted. The men were at the bar and one of them was prevented even from leaning forward to touch the bar of the House physically. It was not right. I think it convinced us all that what had to be done in the future - and that was the main thing - was to see that the procedures were clarified in accordance with basic principles. We realized that that should be the objective of all of us after this case had been dealt with. I think that was the view expressed by many honorable members and, if I am not mistaken, it was also expressed publicly by the Prime Minister shortly afterwards. Therefore, I say that the Prime Minister has no right whatever to attack the honorable member for Eden-Monaro for putting his views. Up to a point, I entirely share the views of the honorable member on this case, and honorable members on this side of the House know it. I have expressed my opinion frankly to the party. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) has always felt keenly on matters of civil liberty and, what is more, he has fought for his views through difficult years - through the war years, when many civil liberties were for the time being suspended. That is the truth and I feel bound to say it.
Let me say a little more about the view taken after the discussions in our party. At the time of the original decision, only a fraction of our membership was present because members were engaged in other States and especially Victoria. The Prime Minister speaks of a jury of 120; but this particular jury of 120 was about 60 strong. I should have mentioned that other honorable members on this side of the House had different views. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) was against both imprisonment and a fine. That is indicative of the freedom of expression that our members exercised. The Labour party considered this matter in the light of all the circumstances, and I would put its view in this way: We believe that the stage has been reached where this particular case should not be taken up again by the House ; but that the House should lay down procedures for the future.
-Order! That is not a discussion of the motion before the House. Future procedures cannot be discussed. The motion relates to the imprisonment of the two men in question.
– Surely I can state a decision of the party. I propose to put to the House, in a moment, an amendment to the motion of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, and I hope that you will defer your decision until then.
-If the right honorable member will state his amendment now, I will tell him whether he can discuss it. .
– Surely you would not indicate your views before a considered argument was put?
– I do not see why the right honorable gentleman should be allowed to debate the substance of an amendment without the Chair being able to say whether it is in order.
– This matter arises out of what is to be done in one particular case. It is, according to the argument of the honorable member for EdenMonaro, which was controverted by the Prime Minister, based on the procedures that were adopted in that case. They have been criticized and denounced by the honorable member. ‘ Therefore, it is bound up with the very argument that relates to the substantive motion before the House, Were the procedures just? Are they procedures of which this House should approve ? I . propose to move a general resolution under which an all-party committee can consider these very procedures. I should like, if I may, to quote from the Age of the 30th August - last Tuesday - to show the relationship between the points of view of the honorable member for EdenMonaro and the Prime Minister -
For more than half a century Parliament has failed ‘ to declare its powers, and the defence of its own institutions has rested on the ancient forms and procedures of the House of Commons. As a result it found itself performing the duties of prosecutor, judge and gaoler.
However serious the offence and however just the punishment meted out, this is so plainly at variance with the fundamentals of British justice as they are understood by every member of the community that grave anxiety has been aroused.
This can only be removed by a definition by Parliament of its privileges and immunities and of the penalties for breaches of them, together with the provision of an unquestionably just procedure for dealing with such breaches.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) hae expressed a readiness to do this. But there should be no delay. The matter is one to which - the people attach the greatest importance and one which Parliament itself should be only too anxious to clarify in the interests of democracy.
– The substance of that cannot be debated during a consideration of this motion.
– Before I propose the amendment I should like to sum up what has been said. We, as a party, are not prepared to accept the point of view that has been put here. We are not prepared to support the motion of the honorable member because we think that the particular case should be regarded as having been completed. We desire, however, to put before the House, either now or at a suitable time, procedures for the future which will make the task of every honorable member easier, so that procedures can be laid down in advance, and then there will be no surprise in the proceedings which are adopted. In such circumstances, we shall be able to indicate to Australia, when these matters come up again, if they do - and I hope it will never be necessary to have a repetition of that particular type of case - that we are able to act according to procedures that are unquestionably recognized as completely right and just.
That is the view of the Labour party. That, in our opinion, transcends theparticular case, and it is for that reason that we are unable to support the view of the honorable member for EdenMonaro. He knows that opinion perfectly well. He has put his views frankly before our own party, and the opinion I have stated, I think, broadly sums up the attitude of the party. Members may differ amongst themselves as to the particular case, but I think we have taken a constructive view of the problem. I move -
That all words after “That” be left out with a view to inserting in lieu thereof, the following words: - “this House, having considered the procedures adopted in the cases of Messrs. Frank Browne and Raymond Fitzpatrick, is of opinion that a special committee of the House representing all parties, should he appointed immediately to examine and report on the procedures which should be adopted to ensure that established principles of justice shall be applied in every case where punitive action is proposed or contemplated.”
– The Leader of the Opposition knows that is not an amendment of the motion before the Chair.
– Let Mr. Deputy Speaker decide whether the amendment is in order.
– The honorable member would not know.
-Order ! The amendment seeks to deal with procedures to be followed in future cases. In my view, it is not relevant to the motion before the Chair, which relates to the specific case of two named persons. Therefore, I rule the amendment out of order.
– I move -
That the ruling of the Deputy Speaker be dissented from.
Dr. Evatt having submitted his objection to the ruling in writing,
– I second the motion.
– I put the case in this way: The whole basis of the reasoning of the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), in his motion, relates to the procedures which were adopted in the particular case of Browne and Fitzpatrick. This amendment is perfectly relevant to that. The only question is that the House should lay down procedures which are, in every respect, just, and which are determined by the House to become a general rule. If the honorable member for EdenMonaro had simply said that the time had come when, in his opinion, clemency should be exercised, that would be one thing. He is dealing with it as a matter of procedure. The amendment before the House provides that the procedures be examined by a committee of the House so that they can be laid down firmly for the future. I quite agree that that does not deal with the particular case of the punishment of these men, but it does deal with the general question of procedures. It is of great importance and, I submit is directly related. It does arise directly out of the particular case and will govern all cases in the future. I submit it is relevant, and that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should allow it.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker,I think it is abundantly clear to practically every honorable member that your decision is right. In fact, it was quite plain that even the right honorable gentleman and the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is his deputy, were so, confident that a competent chairman would rule against them that their motion of dissent was already in writing-
– So was Mr. Deputy Speaker’s ruling.
– It is abundantly clear that the amendment is out of order. This motion does not discuss procedures. It provides that these two men be released. I am not concerned with all the padding. The amendment is an expanded negative, because it states the two men are not to be released, and we are to sit down and have a nice discussion with each other about what the procedure ought to be, not in the case of Browne and Fitzpatrick, but in some cases that may arise in the future.
If ever there was an amendment which was hopelessly out of order, it is this one; first, because it is an expanded negative of the motion, and, secondly, because it is utterly irrelevant to the substance of the motion. It would be unkind of me to suggest that the only purpose of the Leader of the Opposition in moving the amendment is to conceal the fact that the right honorable gentleman is highly embarrassed, because, if all he has said previously is what he believes, then he should have been alongside the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. Until to-day, I thought they were Siamese twins on this matter.
.- I hesitate to enter this discussion. The
Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made his usual legal dissertation about points of order. Surely the Government is making the same mistake to-day on this point of order as it made originally in the Browne-Fitzpatrick case. The Government depends on old-fashioned procedures and fustian, when surely even you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should try to infuse some humane principles into the Standing Orders. If they become as rigid as procedures in this House in another direction
– Order ! The honorable member may not debate the merits of the matter-
– Sir, you were instructed, before you came into this House, as to what your decision should be.
– Order ! The honorable member will withdraw that remark and apologize to the Chair. That statement is a reflection on the Chair.
– Do you say that you were not instructed?
-Order ! I ask the honorable member to withdraw the remark and apologize to the Chair for his reflection on it.
– I withdraw the remark and apologize, but’ I do think that, in the exalted position you hold, you should not look at this matter merely from the standpoint of the rigid Standing Orders. “What have the Standing Orders become in this House? Instead of being guiding lines for parliamentarians and battle grounds for some-
– The honorable member is wasting time with insulting remarks to the Chair. I therefore move -
That the question he now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the ruling of Mr. Deputy Speaker be dissented from.
The House divided. (Mb. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 17
Question so resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed (vide page 217).
. -I feel some obligation to participate in the discussion this afternoon, because of the charge that has been made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) that Fitzpatrick and Browne did not receive afair trial. It is well known to all members of the House, and, I hope, to the public generally, that the Privileges Committee is an all-party committee appointed by the House for a specific purpose. When the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) put forward his motion in the House and submitted certain copies of a paper printed in Bankstown, the motion was seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, and it then became an instruction to the Privileges Committee to inquire into the matter and report to the House. As a result of that instruction we met, and after we had listened to the honorable member for Reid, there was some doubt in the minds of members of the committee as to whether they had authority to deal with papers printed after the 28th April. They therefore decided to report to the House, and askfor authority to deal with those papers which were printed after the Privileges Committee was instructed to inquire and report. Having received that authority, the committee took evidence from Fitzpatrick and Browne, and I believe that the whole of the conduct of the Privileges Committee was exemplary. In keeping with the spirit of its appointment, it was not concerned with party issues, and its deliberations were made on that basis. Although the chairman of the committee has the right of a casting vote, it is interesting to note that on only one occasion during the whole of the discussions was it necessary for him to exercise that vote.
The committee took evidence from the owner and the editor of this paper, and I have no doubt, and the committee had no doubt, as is shown by its recommendations, and no honorable member should have any doubt, that these people were guilty of a serious breach of privilege. They had, as the owner and editor of the paper, set themselves out to silence a member of the House, to prevent him from speaking and voting freely on behalf of the electors of Reid. We made a recommendation to the House indicating our findings, and submitted all the evidence relevant to our. findings -I repeat, all the evidence relevant to our findings. I emphasize that, because, unfortunately, we have been charged in certain quarters with having concealed evidence. I know of no more serious charge that could be made against any committee. In my opinion it would be unethical for any committee of this House to be used for the purpose of fomenting or proposing or fostering an agitation for the appointment of a royal commission in regard to matters outside Parliament. Therefore, we reported to this House only those matters affecting the finding, and we did not in any way risk slandering any person outside the House by reporting matters that did not concern the Privileges Committee. The position is entirely clear to any honorable member who reads the report submitted to this House on the 8th June. I can remember the date because it was the anniversary of my wedding. I can also remember the experience.
I have read this report repeatedly since the case has been decided, and the more I read it, the more convinced I am that these people received a fair trial, and that the committee came to a correct decision after a proper investigation. It reported its findings to the House and made no further comments on the matter, and 1 have no doubt that the committee acted properly and in the interests of the dignity and prestige of the Parliament and its members.
As far as the House itself is concerned. I agree with the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that due consideration was given to this matter when the report of the committee was submitted. We can all recall how the matter was deferred, and honorable members were given an opportunity to study the finding, so that they could discuss it at the meeting which was held the following morning. We all remember how the House adjourned, and the incidents that took place. Looking back over the record of this case, I have no doubt that the owner of this paper in Bankstown engaged a person described as a sharp-shooter journalist, a journalist with a reputation well known to honorable members, with the express purpose of silencing the honorable member for Reid. The owner of the paper convicted himself by the answers that he gave to questions, answers that were given to all members of the committee. There was only one issue in the case, and that was whether an attempt had been made to interfere with a member, as a member, of this House,, and all the answers given by the accused were exactly the same. I have no doubt that it was an attempt, deliberately prepared, to “get stuck into “ an honorable member for the purpose of silencing him in the House and discrediting him in his electorate.
When I consider what has happened in the past, I find that when any discussions or deliberations have taken place on this issue, such discussions have always gone on the rocks when it has been suggested that Parliament should, give to an outside body its right to defend the dignity of the House and its members. In that regard, I entirely agree with the view that has been expressed. I think there is an obligation on every member of the Parliament to watch the interests and the dignity of Parliament, to protect the reputation and prestige of its members, as members, to give due consideration to the findings of the Committee of Privileges and, after they have considered it, putting it completely outside any party issue–
– Order ! Procedures in the future cannot be discussed.
– If any honorable member studies this report, has a really good look at what has happened, and considers the duty that he owes to the House and his electors, he will never, I hope, agree to give away to anybody outside the House the right to decide.
– I shall not take up much of the time of the House in speaking to this motion. The case supporting the motion has been most capably put before the House by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). It is substantially the same case as that which was put before the House so eloquently on an earlier occasion by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and other honorable members on this side of the. chamber who have not so far participated in to-day’s debate. Those in this community who have a regard for the man, and a high regard for his office, must have been grievously disappointed at the performance of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in this chamber this afternoon. I was horrified and disgusted to find the Prime Minister of this country, on a matter so serious as this, posturing and joking. The Prime Minister sought to ridicule the motion that is before the House. He sought to ridicule the address that had been given by the mover of that motion. Ridicule or attempted ridicule is a great weapon of the Prime Minister.
I believe that the speech made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro this afternoon was a speech which the Prime Minister himself would have been proud to make. I believe it was a speech that he would have been proud to have been able to make. I believe that the speech represented what the Prime Minister himself, deep down, really feels and thinks. I believe that, in treating this matter as he has done, the Prime Minister has traduced his history and his training.
It is all right for the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay) to say that the Committee of Privileges reached a decision which it believed to be fair and right, and that its recommendations to the House were proper. The motion before the House now seeks merely to give effect to motions that were carried in this chamber on the 10th June. The motions moved by the Prime Minister did not fix a determinate sentence on the two men whose case is being argued to-day. The motions moved by the Prime Minister, and subsequently agreed to by this House - I believe to the everlasting shame of this House - were motions that each of the two men, to use the words of the motions - be kept in custody until the tenth day of September, 1955, or until earlier prorogation or dissolution, unless this House shall sooner order his release.
So it is not so wrong for us here to-day to seek the release from gaol of these two men, Browne and Fitzpatrick because the House itself, on the 10th June, decided, in its unwisdom, I think, that they should be imprisoned, but also, in its wisdom, that the sentence should be capable of reconsideration by the House. It is perfectly proper that a member of this House should bring such a motion as this before the House. It is perfectly proper that the House should consider it and, I believe, act upon it. It may not be considered to be important by some people, but the plain fact is that two citizens of this community are at present in gaol by a decision of this House of the Parliament. Whether they be Browne and Fitzpatrick does not matter. It does not matter who they are, what they are, or what they may have been.
I believe that decision was wrong. I believe that the House should have taken the earliest opportunity to reverse that decision. I believe that that opinion is shared by a number of honorable gentlemen who sit on the other side of the chamber. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro sought to bring the matter before the House at the very earliest opportunity, the day on which the House reassembled after about three months in recess. The honorable member has been chided by the Prime Minister for being inconsistent. That suggestion is completely incorrect. On this matter, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has been completely consistent. Any one who chooses to read the parliamentary debates, from which the Prime Minister quoted without let or hindrance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will find that the attitude of the honorable member for EdenMonaro has been completely consistent. It ill befits the Prime Minister, a man who has a long training, not only in parliamentary procedures but also in legal proceedings, to attempt to belittle an honorable member who does a proper action’ in this House.
The motions accepted by the House on the 10th June provided that the House itself could reconsider its decision. Why was that provision put into the motions that were moved by the Prime Minister and accepted by the House? Surely it was put there for the very purpose that the .words themselves explain, namely, so that the matter could be reconsidered. All that the motion now before the House says is that the House should reconsider the matter, and that it should now act to release from custody two men who, in my view, and in the view of many other people, have been wrongly imprisoned and should no longer remain in prison. I believe that each of us in this House, be he on this side of the chamber, on that side or in some corner, has a duty as a member of the Parliament and as a representative elected to the Parliament by the people of this country. That duty, in this instance, is to support the. motion that has been moved and seconded. The House, even now, having wasted some days of this sessional period, should act immediately to redress the wrong that it has done, and release from custody the two men whom it committed to gaol.
– It has been said quite correctly that probably no subject that has come before this Parliament since its founding in 1901 has been of greater importance to the people of this country than the matter under consideration at the present time. I frankly confess that I am astounded at the singular way in which certain speakers have rushed in to say that they have been guilty of a mistake and that they wish to make clear why they think they have made a mistake. The reason why I am astonished is that the matter which led up to the present discussion did not take place in a few days and in haste, as has been stated, by implication, if not directly, in the press. Actually, it extended from the 3rd May. to the 10th June, and during that period certain steps were taken from time to time and it was within the competence of any member of this House to move that the whole matter be reconsidered, and thrown out if need be. Step by step, the ease was brought to the point of decision of this House. Every honorable member who took part in the debate leading to the decision had to reconcile his conscience and his sense of responsibility with the action proposed to be taken. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said that more than 120 members of this House were consenting parties to what was done. I make it clear, not only to honorable members, but also to persons who are listening to the broadcast of these proceedings, that, so far as I can recall, not a member of this House said at the time that the verdict of guilty was wrong.
– I was put out of the House.
– Not even the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) said in my hearing - and I think I heard every part of the proceedings - that they were not guilty.
– The honorable member for New England voted in favour of the motion to put me out of the House ; I was not given a say.
– So far as I can recall, the honorable member for Fremantle was the only member of this House who said that a reprimand would be sufficient punishment. As I have saidsteps were taken one by one and the matter was brought to the adjudication, not of twelve good men and true, but of this House of the Parliament, consisting of 123 good men and true, and the verdict was given. It seems strange indeed thai there should now be raised a doubt about the validity and soundness of that verdict. I know perfectly well that all the 123 members of this House were not present at the time, but I remind honorable members that when we were sworn in we were bound to accept all the decisions of this Parliament. My friend, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), claims quite rightly that this matter has a vital bearing on the liberty of the subject. Any honorable member who, when this matter was under consideration, absented himself through carelessness or anything short of sheer physical inability to be present, is bound to accept the judgment of the, House.
The motion proposes that the two men whom this Parliament committed to custody shall be released forthwith. If the honorable member for Eden-Monaro had founded his motion on the basis - which is sometimes argued successfully - that the men, having behaved themselves during their period in custody, might be released rather earlier than was originally intended, or that the quality of mercy should be strained, the House could consider the matter accordingly. However, the honorable member, having committed himself by his own actions to an endorsement of the decision that these men were guilty and should be punished - as also did the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) - it is futile for- him to now attempt to place in the position of being in the wrong the honorable members who were associated with him and, in good faith, accepted his association with what was done to preserve the rights and privileges of this House, and its undoubted right, untrammelled by coercion from without, to speak on behalf of the people of Australia.
It has been made abundantly clear during this debate that when the motion for the imposition of a fine in lieu of imprisonment was moved by the Leader of the Opposition the right honorable gentleman merely re-affirmed his own opinion, and that of those associated with him, that the men were guilty. I might say that I had never seen the two men before they appeared at the bar of this House. It is irrelevant for any honorable member now to point out that Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) objected at the time to a certain action by one of the men, because it is against the rules of this House for a stranger to project himself half-way into the House when we are in session.
I personally consider that it is a great pity that honorable gentlemen on the other side of the House have associated themselves with a disreputable attempt to cover their own actions in regard to this matter by supporting the motion. The manoeuvre of the Leader of the Opposition, in moving an amendment which could not be accepted, was an attempt to trespass upon a proposal foreshadowed by the Prime Minister, with which every reasonable honorable member agrees, that this House should, at the earliest possible moment, consider-
– I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was, perhaps, transgressing the rules of debate. The matter of the liberty of the subject has been confused in the public mind by contradictory and confusing statements. I believe that in some instances they were deliberately intended to confuse. It would have added to the dignity of this House if this matter had been raised separately altogether from this particular case, and had been debated on its merits - as I am sure it will be in due course.
To a degree, I found myself in agreement with much of the speech of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro in relation to the liberty of the subject, but I could not agree with the application of his remarks to this particular case. Far from’ it! The honorable gentleman conjured up a picture of tyranny and that kind of thing. He did a great disservice to the cause which he professes to serve by trying to create in the public mind the feeling that what was done here, both in closed committee and in open session, by a House of the Parliament consisting of 123 men of varying religious and political persuasions and possessing different opinions as to the application of laws, who were unanimous either by their silence or by deliberate vote, was not in accordance with British tradition. Let it never be forgotten that the point upon which we stood, as members of this Parliament, was that this Parliament is a free body, elected by the free people of this country and its members can be removed by those same people. This Parliament, in British tradition, claims the right to protect those privileges which have been given to us by the people, so that nobody shall dare to make us afraid to speak for the people We represent. The persons accused admitted that they deliberately conspired to interfere with the right of an honorable member so to speak on behalf of his constituents. That is the point at issue, and as long as free parliaments can express their opinions fearlessly and unhindered within these four walls, or within any other similar place, on behalf of the people they represent, we need not fear that which may come from outside, and the people need not be afraid for their liberties, because they Will have the right to remove us if we abuse our privileges.
I conclude by saying that personally 1 have no regret for the part that I took in this matter. I do not admit that what we did was a denial of the rights of British subjects. I do not admit that those persons did not have a fair inquiry and trial, and I would not be prepared to see the right of this Parliament to defend the people’s privileges whittled away by any process that would have such an effect upon it.
– Two features have been outstanding in this debate. This House has been given another striking exhibition of the lack of unity and cohesion in the Labour party, and a further proof of the wrecking of that once great party, which has been brought about by the actions of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). On this issue, the Australian Labour party, as on a considerable number of other issues, is split in twain. Its members are going in different directions, and are not able to present a united front or to stand before the people as a cohesive force on any matter. This debate has illustrated that this once great party has been irrevocably and completely wrecked, and as far as Victoria is concerned, it has been finally wrecked as a result of machinations of the Leader of the Opposition and some of those gentlemen who think as he does - gentlemen who are members of the federal executive of the Labour party.
The second outstanding feature of the debate was the proposition put forward by the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), which was wholly untenable. I was greatly impressed by the efforts of the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) to come to the rescue and to’ valiantly defend a gentleman to whom he referred as “ the honorable member for Eden-Monaro “ - not mentioning the fact, of course, that he was his brother. It was a fine example of brotherly solidarity. But despite the valiant efforts of the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory and the eloquence of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, the arguments of the :latter failed to convince the House. In proof of that suggestion I remind honorable members of the point raised by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), that when this matter came before Parliament from the Committee of Privileges, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was among those members of this House who supported the conclusion that a serious breach of privilege had been committed by Browne and Fitzpatrick. He supported also the suggestion that a heavy fine should be imposed upon these men, as a punishment for the breach which they had committed. The proposition that the honorable member now seeks to put forward is that they were subjected to an unjust trial - and he used some most extraordinary and extravagant language by referring to “ tyranny and despotic power” being exercised by this chamber, and mistakes having been made. He now suggests that a mistake was made, but on the previous occasion he favoured the imposition of a substantial penalty. His earlier attitude completely belies his contention to-day that the trial of these men was unjust. The Prime Minister pointed out that the honorable member could not, in justice, have supported the imposition of a. substantial fine, if he considered at that time that the men had not received a fair trial.
Although I disagree with the proposition of the honorable member for EdenMonaro to-day, I consider that he deserves respect and credit because he has shown courage in what he has done. He has been brave enough to “buck” the party machine and stand against those dictators who are attempting to ruin and wreck the Labour party. Nobody can deny the honorable member’s courage because he has exposed himself to grave risk in regard to his political prospects and his immediate political future. It appears that he has been reported to the executive of the Australian Labour party by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition.
– -Order ! The honorable member cannot discuss the activities of the Australian Labour party in this debate.
– I am merely commenting on some of the background matters associated with this debate, and also points that have been raised to-day. Honorable members this afternoon have been given another demonstration of the remarkable capacity of the right honorable the Leader of t;he Opposition to turn complete somersaults - adopting one attitude and soon switching to the reverse. Two examples “were given this afternoon. First, the right honorable member stated that he supported the attitude of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, and if what has appeared in the press is correct, some time ago he intimated that he would have liked to move this motion to-day. Although that was his intention at that time, and although this afternoon he supported the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, the right honorable gentleman has reported the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to those dictators who run the Australian Labour party. He has “ put him on the carpet “.
I make only a passing reference to another matter raised by the Leader of the Opposition which illustrates his second somersault to-day. He said that he believed in a fair trial, after specific charges had been laid, and that the accused should have adequate representation. When the right honorable member made that statement, my mind went back to an occasion a few months ago when some members of this Parliament, including myself, were brought before a tribunal at the behest of the right honorable gentleman. On the morning that out “ trial “ began we asked what charges, if any, had been laid against us. At no stage was any charge preferred, and no attempt was made to conduct proceedings with any semblance of a fair, just trial.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro has made charges against all the members of this Parliament in extravagant and unwarranted language. He has alleged that Fitzpatrick and Browne were subjected to an unjust trial by this Parliament, and he has pointed the finger of accusation at every member of this House, alleging that each one of us was a party to that unjust trial. The facts as to what happened have been amply traversed by previous speakers and I shall not go over them again. However, an impartial analysis of what happened at the Privileges Committee, as mentioned by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay) makes it clear that these two gentlemen received a fair and just trial.
I believe that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro completely misconceives one of the fundamental issues in this matter when he poses the issue before the chamber as being an issue between Parliament on the one hand and the right of the individual to be protected on the other hand. He seems to me to have completely misinterpreted the fundamental issues. The honorable member claims that he is interested in this sub ject of civil liberties and that he has been so interested for a long time. I believe that is true. Most of us, living in a democratic community, are interested in maintaining the liberty and rights of the individual; but surely the fundamental proposition in a discussion on this matter is that the institution of Parliament is the foundation of all our democratic liberties, that Parliament itself is the cornerstone upon which all liberty rests. If in this Parliament the right of honorable members of freedom of speech and the right of honorable members to act freely can be trammelled or taken away, surely it is a self-evident proposition that all other liberties, including the liberty of the press and the right of free speech, would wither and die. Just as the blooms on a shrub would wither and die if one severed the roots, so if one strikes at the libertyof this Parliament all other liberties in the community will wither and die.
Let us consider other illustrations of what could conceivably happen apart from the kind of intimidation that has occurred in this case. It is not inconceivable, although we hope that such a state of affairs will never arise in this country, that people could attempt to influence the vote of members of this Parliament by physical force or intimidation. It is possible that a band of Communist or fascist hooligans could surround this Parliament or crowd into King’s Hall and approach members as they came into the chamber, and by means of physical force try to intimidate members to prevent them from voting as their conscience dictated or as they desired to vote on a particular matter. That could possibly happen. We know what happened in this case of Browne and Fitzpatrick. I shall not discuss the case; I mention it as an illustration. Indeed, I think that it is rather indecent to be considering this matter while these men are in gaol. Perhaps, the honorable member for EdenMonaro, before he raised this matter, might have considered the feelings of the families of these men. I mention the matter only as an illustration that what happened in this case was a form of intimidation to influence an honorable member which could happenagain in other ways.
Apart from physical force or intimidation by threats, another way in which members could be influenced would be by bribery. If that were attempted members would not be free to come here and vote in the manner in which their electors expected them to vote. I do not think that the honorable member for EdenMonaro, or the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory or any member of this House would disagree with the proposition that these particular privileges to which I am referring are absolutely fundamental to the continuance of our democratic way of life and are absolutely fundamental to the preservation of liberties of all sorts, including the liberty of the individual. It is because I believe these things that I think this Parliament had a sacred trust and responsibility to take a very grave view of the Browne-Fitzpatrick episode. If the proposition I have put to the House is correct, as I firmly believe it is, then when there was a definite breach of this privilege or right to freedom of speech and action in Parliament, Parliament would have been lacking in its sense of obligation and would have been betraying its trust to the people of this country if it did not take a grave view of the matter. Parliament did take a grave view of it and imposed a penalty which, I believe, was a just one. It was of sufficient severity to draw attention to the seriousness of the offence that had been committed, but while it was just, it was also tempered with mercy because I think a greater penalty would have been justified in the circumstances. However, the penalty that was inflicted was adequate in all the circumstances and was sufficient to let the people know that Parliament was fully conscious of its great responsibility to preserve and maintain the fundamental right of free speech in Parliament, and to act as a warning to the people that Parliament would be vigilant to maintain this right in the future. It is a right which Parliament should guard jealously, and I do not believe that it will ever be abused. I have more confidence, apparently, in the good faith, integrity and democratic spirit of members of this chamber than has the honorable member for Eden-Monaro.
It has been suggested by previous speakers that if these men had been tried in a court before a jury of twelve good men and true selected from the community, justice would have been done. Then, the astonishing proposition is put forward that a Parliament of 123 members, not selected at random from the community, but selected by the people in a deliberate vote, recallable by *the people and responsible to the people every three years - and in our experience since 1949 at lesser periods - would not ensure that justice was done and would not act in a matter of this kind with a full sense of its responsibility not merely to preserve the rights and privileges of the Parliament, but also to see that the rights of the individual, which after all are dependent on the rights of Parliament, shall be maintained.
I should just like to comment on one further matter, that is the argument that was put forward by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro that these fundamental rights, as I regard them, the right of freedom of action and freedom of speech in this Parliament, which must be maintained and be preserved - and that, of course, does not involve any derogation whatever from the right of other people to criticize fairly and properly - should be maintained. It seems to me to be a completely fallacious argument to say that, because these things are based on ancient tradition and because the procedure of this House to preserve those rights is based on the procedure of the House of Commons and goes back a long way, that there is something fusty or outworn about that procedure and therefore something wrong about it so that we should do away with it and get a new procedure in order to preserve these fundamental rights. I believe that the characteristic genius of the British race has been that we have conserved from the past what was best ; that we have adapted, modified and altered institutions and principles to meet new circumstances. We have not made the mistakes that history indicates other nations have made, by tending, when some new set of circumstances has arisen, to scrap institutions that have served well in the past and set up some completely new and untried machinery to deal with that new set of circumstances. I submit that the whole of our history, going back for centuries, indicates that the reason why this parliamentary system of ours and its ancillary institutions-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I applaud the truly conservative utterance with which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) concluded his speech. I should like the House to take into consideration the remarks of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) when advancing his reasons for re-opening the question of the release of Messrs. Browne and Fitzpatrick. As the honorable member has pointed out, the matter is quite properly before the House, because the House left it open to honorable members to move for the early release of those men if they thought fit to do so. But unfortunately the honorable member has based his plea for the early release of those men on reasons which are not new in any sense. Indeed, my mind is cast back to the 10th June when Mr. Frank Browne stood before the bar of the House and advanced the very same reasons. I shall quote from Hansard some of the reasons that were advanced by Mr. Frank Browne. He said -
It is considered the right of every Australian citizen charged with an offence that he, first, must be charged; and secondly,-
– I rise to order. Is the honorable member in order in quoting from a Hansard report of the current session ?
– If the report that the honorable member wishes to quote is relevant to the matter under discussion, he may continue.
– But the honorable member is quoting from a Hansard report of the current session.
– I have ruled that the honorable member for Forrest is in order.
– But the ruling is not correct.
- Mr. Browne stated that it was the right of every Australian citizen charged with an offence that he, first, must be charged.
Mr. Ward interjecting,
– I assume that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is treating this as a non-party matter, but in adopting his present attitude he is displaying the confusion that exists in the minds of honorable members opposite.
– There is no confusion. Government supporters would not allow me to be present in the chamber when the matter was debated. They put me out by a vote of the House.
– Order !
– I was endeavouring to quote some of the sentiments that were voiced by Mr. Frank Browne before the bar of the House. They were quite clearly identical with the sentiments that have been expressed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to-day. Mr. Browne stated, I repeat -
It is considered the right of every Australian citizen charged with an offence that he, first, must be charged; and secondly, he must have legal representation. He must have the case against him proved and he need not answer incriminating questions.
Those honorable members who recall that occasion will remember that, in a manner that was equally as theatrical as that of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to-day, Mr. Browne invoked the provisions of Magna Carta and the ancient historical rights of the subject. The honorable member was in the House on that occasion, but, if we believe what he then said to be true, he failed to be impressed by Mr. Frank Browne. He believed then that Mr. Browne was rightly before the House, and rightly punishable. If the honorable member, as he has done, comes again before the House to-day and asks us to believe those same things, what are we to believe? Are we to believe that on that occasion he was not impressed by identical statements out of the mouth of another man? Does he think that he may merely put the same words in a slightly different way and expect us to believe them?
I felt, and I think other honorable members will agree, that the words uttered by Mr. Frank Browne before the bar of the House were a lot of theatrical humbug. He was playing to an audience that was not this House but which was the public outside the House, and I think honorable members could be forgiven if they felt that there was something of that nature in the latest approach of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to this subject. I wish he had shown equal vim in defence of another ancient and very worthy right of the subject - the right to be fairly represented in the Parliament. If he had balanced up the civil liberties of the individual with the right of citizens to be fairly represented in the Parliament, there could have been some excuse for a certain conflict in his mind. His approach to-day has been no better than was the approach of Mr. Frank Browne when he failed to impress the House on the 10th June.
It may be said that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro freely admitted that be had had second thoughts on this subject. I am wondering whether he has been influenced in that attitude by criticism of the Parliament that has appeared in the press. I want to inject into this debate the thought that, just as Mr. Frank Browne invoked those ancient civil liberties in his own defence, in some respects certain criticisms that have appeared in the press could be regarded as being arguments from the point of view of self-interest, because it is quite certain that, although the Australian press must be free to express fair-minded points of view, there is no doubt that on some occasions it tends to mould or distort public opinion in directions that are away from the truth. We all agree that the press must be free, but although it may not agree with us on the limitations of its freedom, there must be a limit to the lengths to which it may go. I am wondering whether the long associations of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro with the press, which are well known to the House, have led him a little astray in his reasoning on this subject.
The matter before us raises a problem, but the whole legal system of this country raises a problem about whether, in a certain set of circumstances, any conflict of fundamental rights exists. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has referred to the ancient nature of this right to fair trial. He could easily have dealt, with as much vigour and as much passion, with the great and undoubted rights of the Parliament, because they have been fought for throughout the centuries just as strongly and with just as much force as have been- the rights that he has emphasized. It is no accident that even to-day, at the opening of every new Parliament, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Speaker of this House formally go before the monarch or his representative and lay claim to the ancient and undoubted privileges of the Parliament. Those privileges are as ancient as the right of trial itself.
One other point that I wish to discuss briefly is the accusation of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) that this matter had been approached on a biased party basis by some honorable members, but had been approached by the Australian Labour party on a completely nonparty basis. The right honorable gentleman was trying to make a shining virtue out of a very bitter necessity. He himself let the cat out of the bag, and it is well known that he had some quite heated discussion with members of his own executive on this subject. It was only because they were unable to agree on any course of action that Opposition members were allowed to follow their own bent. On the 9th June, the Leader of the Opposition came into the House, and said -
I would have been in the House when the Prime Minister rose to- speak had I not been discussing some aspects of this matter with my executive when he submitted the motion.
It is obvious that, arising out of that discussion, his executive had to agree to disagree. So the right honorable gentleman can hardly find fault with the decision of this House, which was made on a non-party basis, simply because all the members of the Liberal party in the chamber happened to agree with half the Labour members.
These men have been imprisoned for a very serious breach of parliamentary privilege. It has now been suggested that the Parliament should reconsider its attitude, and that the men should be released before the full period of their sentence has expired. It was suggested by the honorable member for EdenMonaro and his brother, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser), that we should accept that as a valid reason for now releasing them; whereas in truth they tried to persuade us that if we did agree to that, then we would be agreeing with their contention that these men had been unjustly imprisoned from the start. I find it very difficult to see the logic of such a method of reasoning. I think that the honorable members are trying to fool the House, to some degree, by using that sort of argument. If the honorable member had weighed up fairly the difficult problem of civil liberties and the apparent contradiction in this case of parliamentary privilege he might be excused for seeing some apparent contradiction. But it is well known that our legal system is full of superficial paradoxes which when logically analysed really amount to a protection of the individual. If the honorable member for Eden-Monaro had a full sense of his responsibility as a member of this Parliament; if he had a full sense of his duty to uphold the rights and privileges of this Parliament; if he had had as full a sense of the historical importance of parliamentary privilege as he had a sense of the theatre when he stood alone in this House to make his plea, he would never have brought his motion forward.
– in reply - I propose to reply very briefly. I do not think ‘that the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) requires a reply, because he did not deal with any of the arguments that I advanced. . The Prime Minister confined his reply to an attempt to show that I and other honorable members on the Opposition side of the House had been inconsistent. That, of course, is a matter which there is no need for me to discuss. It is entirely irrelevant to the issue. The issue is whether this Parliament should continue the imprisonment of men who have never received a fair trial. That is the issue before the Parliament, and on that issue the Prime Minister said not one word.
– He referred to the Parliament as a tribunal.
– Yes. But on the issue of whether these men had had a fair trial or not, the Prime Minister said not one word. He did not meet the arguments that had been advanced as to the basic procedures required for a fair trial. As the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) has said, his attempt to clown atd posture on this matter ill befitted the Leader of the Government, and the parliamentary leader of the nation. I do not desire to rebut one of the charges of inconsistency that the Prime Minister made against me. The issue remains. Whether what I said yesterday was right or wrong, or what I say to-day is right or wrong, honorable members do not have to judge whether I am consistent. They have to judge whether what they are doing in a judicial capacity is just, as it affects the liberty of fellow citizens. I quite frankly admit, as I admitted in my original speech, that I was not as wide awake as I should have been when this matter first came before the House, and that I did not see clearly in the opening stages as I see now how this matter would develop. I would not again vote either for imprisonment or for a substantial fine to be imposed on these men in the circumstances in which the decision to punish them was made.
I want to reply to one point. I think it was the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay) who suggested that I had made some attack on the members of the Committee of Privileges. I should like to reassure the honorable member that I made no attack whatsoever on the members of the committee, and that I made no personal attack on members of the House. Every one who heard me will know that I kept my opening speech entirely to the subject before the House, and indulged in no personal references of any kind. The members of the Committee of Privileges, no doubt, did their job most conscientiously in accordance with the procedures established by the Parliament. What I have attacked is the procedures established by the Parliament - not the men who were called upon to operate them, one of whom is a colleague of mine, for whom I have the highest regard. I made no attack on the members of the Committee of Privileges. I attacked the procedures of this Parliament which the Parliament itself, over many years, has recognized as defective, which it has endeavoured to remedy, but which it has never succeeded in remedying because it has never been able to reconcile two vitally important principles - the supremacy of the Parliament and the protection of the individual rights of the citizen.
I am glad to note that all members of the Parliament on both sides of the House are impressed with the necessity of solving this problem, and are ready to tackle it again; to try, once again, to establish a procedure which will give the Parliament the full power, which I say is necessary, to protect itself against intimidation and contempt and at the same time to establish procedures which will give to a citizen the ordinary rights which, in an enlightened community, we believe to be the essential rights of an accused man. But because we propose to do that in the future, we are not justified in continuing the imprisonment of men who have not had the benefit of those procedures. Indeed, the very fact that we propose to amend the procedures in recognition that they are defective and fail to give to individual citizens the protection that they should have under the law, makes it the more urgent that, now that the matter is being reconsidered in this House, we should terminate the false imprisonment of these two men.
The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Freeth) made a speech, with a great deal of which I find no reason to disagree, or necessity to rebut. But one incidental reference which the honorable member made to what had been said in a previous debate, like many references made by the Prime Minister, was incorrect. When the matter was before the House previously, I said that I very largely agreed with what Frank Browne had said at the bar of the House. I did agree very largely with it. The nature of the man does not matter. I do not defend him. The fact that I agree with him does not make me a friend or an enemy of the man who made the statement. There is too much of a tendency in modern society to look upon the source of a statement rather than upon the validity, the truth and the merit of a statement. I wish that we. were examining this matter more on its merits instead of considering what some one has said and how such a statement may be reconciled with what some one else said on a previous occasion. It has imprisoned two men against whom no charge has ever been made; who have not been given the right of legal representation; who have not been tried in open court, but before a secret tribunal; and who have been given no right to confront their accusers. In all these ways the procedure of this Parliament has outraged the basic canons of British justice, and for all these reasons we should immediately, on reconsideration, free those two men.
Question put -
That Messrs. Frank Browne and Raymond Fitzpatrick be released forthwith from their commitment into custody.
The House divided. (rMr Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 59
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from5.52 to 8 p.m.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 30th August (vide page 194), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 1 - The Senate - namely, “ Salaries and allowances,£27,700 “, be agreed to.
Uponwhich Dr. Evatt had moved by way of amendment -
That the first item be reduced by £1.
.- On the 20th May, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said in the Melbourne Town Hall that the Australian Government had restored the stability of our economy. Two days later, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) told quite a different story. Addressing the Australian Country party conference in Canberra, he said that heroic measures by the Commonwealth Government had averted economic disaster after a temporary decline of wool prices for 1951, but that even heroic measures would fail to maintain living standards to-day if exports fell suddenly and the economy was not geared to meet that fall. He added -
It is obvious that inefficient production methods, high and uneconomic costs, sheltering behind artificial walls, and the diversion of our resources to uneconomic and unproductive purposes would bring us again to the impasse we faced in the depression of the thirties.
I believe that the Treasurer was very close to the truth in his diagnosis of our present troubles. If it is true that we are faced with the possibility of another depression period, that can only mean that the workers of Australia will be asked once more to solve the problems of capitalism. The capitalist system makes profits for a time, but when bad seasons arrive or adversity strikes the country, it is the worker who is asked to make sacrifices.
The Treasurer did not tell the whole story in his budget speech as he told it to the conference of the Australian Country party. He toned the story down considerably, but at least he admitted in that speech that the only way by which the Government can get out of its difficulties is to exercise certain controls. He deplored the fact that State governments are trying to re-impose rent controls and prices control, but he has no objection to wages control - indeed, rigorous wages control. He also advocates that hire purchase should be controlled, that some control should be exercised over the importation of essential goods and that there should be a tighter credit control.
He is the Treasurer of a government that talks of free enterprise. There has never been such a thing as free enterprise in the whole history of the British Commonwealth. How can there be such a thing as free enterprise when there are. restrictions and improper practices inside trade monopolies and the like? But the people who say that they are in favour of free enterprise really believe in controls. If they believe in controls then they believe, to some degree, in socialism. This is a socialist-capitalist government, which believes in the use of controls, and it is doing more than any State government to exercise controls. There is no wider system of control over the activities of the business community and over the individual lives of the people than the controls exercised by this Government over imports and bank credits.
The budget at present before the committee is the sixth budget introduced by the Treasurer since the present Government assumed office. It is the latest of a series of inglorious failures with which the names of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister will always be associated. Elected on spurious promises and false pretences, the chief of which was the undertaking to put value back into the pound, the Government has not merely not honoured its promises, but it has allowed the value to ooze out of the pound until the purchasing power of our money to-day is such that we, in the words of the Treasurer, face one of the most dangerous economic crises in our history. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer were elected to office on an antiinflation policy, but they have been responsible for more inflation than this country has ever known before. “What Australia needs to-day is not antiinflationist inflationists, but leaders who will learn to understand the problems of the nation and be able to apply remedies to solve those problems.
Australia’s main problem to-day lies in the inability of the Government to produce enough exports to pay for the goods that we need in this country. That is the crux of all our trouble, and the Treasurer admits it. Unless we solve that problem we shall be faced with a shut-down in many industries and much consequent unemployment. Then, of course, we shall suffer all the social upsets that will flow from such a state of affairs. Whatever inflation there was in this country when the Chifley Government was defeated was, as the Treasurer and the members of the Government, with the exception of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) well know, due to the war and the withdrawal of more than 600,000 men from industry for service in our armed forces, as well as many thousands of other men and women to work in munitions plants and the production of other essential things used in war. It was thus that production fell in the war years. However, when the Chifley Government relinquished office, Australian costs and prices were at least competitive with those of every other country in the world. Since 1949, inflation has been galloping in this country, despite the puerile efforts of Government spokesmen to deny its existence, or explain it away.
The Treasurer, in his budget speech delivered last Wednesday, not only admitted that inflation was almost out of control, but spent much of his time lecturing and hectoring the business community and the public generally on the need for restraint in spending, and giving dire warnings of the consequences that will flow from the use of the hirepurchase system by the average citizen to equip his home with a washing machine, a floor cleaner or a refrigerator. It was a barren speech worthy of a barren government. It was a dismal speech that was, in effect, a confession of failure and of inability to govern.
If the committee wishes to know the extent of the inflation for which this Government is responsible, I refer it to the Statistical Bulletin of the Commonwealth Bank of June, 1955. In 1945, Australia had the best and soundest economy in the world, and the figures that I shall put before honorable members will prove it. I refer to page 108 of the /bulletin that I have just mentioned. In 1949, retail prices had increased in Australia by 31 per cent. In the United Kingdom, they had increased by 31 per cent., in New Zealand by 17 per cent., in Canada by 39 per cent, and in the United States of America by 41 per cent. Since the Chifley Government left office at the end of 1949, retail prices have increased in Australia by 66 per cent, as against 32 per cent, in the United Kingdom, 40 per cent, in New Zealand, 17 per cent, in Canada and 11 per cent, in the United States. All the latter countries are at present administered by freeenterprise governments, but apparently they know how to work the freeenterprise system a little better than do the collection of gentlemen who occupy the front bench on the Government side. Those gentlemen have admitted, through the budget, that they could do nothing to reduce income taxes, or sales taxes, and could not liberalize depreciation allowances because the problem of inflation has them baffled. In common parlance they “haven’t a clue” how to handle the problem.
If one reads the budget speeches made by the Treasurer over the years, one finds that in one financial year he is meeting the wolf of inflation at the front door, in the next financial year he is meeting the wolf half-way down the passage, and in the following year perhaps, he has some remedy to propose. He has never grappled with inflation as he should have been able to do in the prosperous seasons that have occurred while he has been Treasurer. There have been at least eight good seasons, and he has been Treasurer during six of them. He has at times had a great surplus of overseas funds, but somehow or other he has not been able to solve the balance of payments problem. Al] that he and the Government . do is to allow their economic advisers to experiment on the community as if the people of Australia were merely a collection of human guinea pigs on which the economists may test their theories in order to ascertain whether their suggested remedies can get us out of our difficulties. The Government now faces the fact that it must admit failure.
As I have stated, there is to he no reduction of the burdens on the community. When a Treasurer can budget for a surplus of £49,000,000, every section of the community is entitled to expect some benefit from the budget. But only a mere handful of people will gain even slight benefit from this budget. The 10s. a week increase of pensions for age, invalid and service pensioners is not enough, and it never would have been enough.
– Why did the honorable member state that 10s. a week was enough?
– I made a speech in which I declared that I did not think the Government would be humane enough to increase pensions by 10s. a week.
– The honorable member said that 10s. a week was too much.
– I did not. I said that pensions should be increased by at least 10s. a week.
Mr. Townley interjecting,
– I remind the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley) that when the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), in his policy speech made before the general elections last year, proposed an increase of 10s. a week for pensioners, the Minister stated that such a proposal was crazy finance and could not be given effect. The Minister will have to eat his words as a result of this budget. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister had to remove him from the Social Services portfolio and substitute in his place the present Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), who was formerly Minister for the Navy. This substitution was made in an effort to introduce a little more humanity into the Government’s approach to the problems of the aged and the sick.
There is to be no reduction of sales tax or of income tax in this budget, as I have stated, and no provision is made for increased special depreciation allowances to help manufacturers and primary producers to install the most up-to-date machinery.
– The honorable member contradicts his leader.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council would not know. If there is any one who wears a bland smile and cultivates an air of simulated sagacity, it is he.
The Treasurer has told us that we must produce more. The rate of production in this country is not low, although it could be improved. If we are to produce more, the workers and the manufacturers of Australia must have the advantage of the use of the most up-to-date machinery available. In a statement published last year, the National Bank of Australasia Limited stated that America could pay wages much higher than those paid in Australia and enjoy a standard of living higher than the Australian standard because there was more horse-power at the disposal of the American worker than was available to the Australian worker. To enable the Australian to have at his disposal as much horse-power as is available to the American, the capital investment in new plant and equipment in Australia last financial year should have amounted to approximately £614,000,000, whereas the actual investment was only £285,000,000.
The Government’s refusal to reduce sales tax in this budget shows how classconscious and how indifferent to the needs of the ordinary citizen it is. Furniture and household equipment are still to bear sales tax at the rate of 10 per cent., and sales tax of 12£ per cent, is still to be levied on confectionery and ice cream, as well as on toys, amusement equipment and fireworks. Last financial year the Government collected £100,000,000 in sales tax, compared with the estimate of £92,000,000. The Treasurer estimates that he will collect £106,000,000 in sales tax in the current financial year. The Government could have kept its collections of sales tax to last year’s level, and could thereby have remitted £5,000,000 to parents with young families and to young couples just married. The Chifley Government collected only £42,000,000 in sales tax in its last year of office. In the financial year 1955-56 this Government will collect three times that amount, although the Treasurer has budgeted for a surplus of £49,000,000. This is done at a time when the Prime Minister and his henchmen declare that Australia is enjoying greater prosperity than ever before. If that is so, why do they not give some of the benefit to married couples ? If Australia is more, prosperous than ever before, why does the Government not remove the sales tax of 10 per cent, on furniture and household equipment? If prosperity is greater than ever before, why does this Administration continue to levy sales tax at the rate of 12$ per cent, on ice cream? The Treasurer takes one out of every eight ice creams sold.
The range of sales tax is really much wider than I have instanced. It includes stationery, writing requisites, paints and crayons, paper patterns, serviettes, confetti and drinking straws, and foodstuffs such as cakes, pastry, scones, jelly crystals, custard powders, buns, junket tablets, and even pepper and salt. It includes also articles for use in religious devotion services, such as cloth signs or printed posters for display for the purpose of advertising church functions and scriptural injunctions. When the Treasurer decided to budget for a surplus of £49,000,000, he might have agreed to exempt all such articles from this burdensome tax. But, no; he states that he must levy this tax on the people because he has to defeat inflation and because the way to defeat inflation in his view, to use the jargon and the cliches of the economists who advise him, is to skim off the public’s surplus spending power. If he skimmed it off and sterilized it so that it could not be used to force up the cost structure, perhaps one could understand the motive behind his actions. But the Treasurer not only takes the money that the public could spend; he also spends it. If that money were left in the hands of the people, some of it would remain in bank accounts. If the Treasurer’s object is to defeat inflation, he is going the wrong way about the job.
The Government has not increased superannuation payments to superannuated public servants. Nor has it indicated whether it will make ex gratia payments to municipalities throughout Australia to recoup them for the loss of revenue occasioned by the exemption from rating of properties occupied by departments and instrumentalities of the Commonwealth. Such a payment, which municipalities are certainly entitled to receive, would be of considerable benefit to them in these difficult times. The Government has done nothing to relieve municipal and shire councils of the impost of the payroll tax which is a burden on their revenues. The budget could and should have given much relief. In the British budget, which was presented in the House of Commons on the 20th Apr.il last, the Chancellor of the Exchequer completely relieved 2,400,000 people of the burden of income tax. In this budget the Government has not relieved even one taxpayer, despite the fact that there was a record surplus of £70,000,000 last year and an estimated surplus of £49,000,000 this year. Sales tax remains a heavy burden in the domestic sphere, and there could have been a more generous scale of reductions. Income tax is burdensome to those on the basic wage. Nobody on the basic wage paid income tax in our day. This Government should reduce income tax so that those on the basic wage should still pay nothing.
The total revenue from income tax which the Government is likely to receive in 1955-56 is estimated, in the Treasurer’s own words, at £577,000,000. That includes company tax and represents an increase of £44,000,000, or 8.3 per cent., on the same type of revenue in 1954-55. The Government will receive £44,000,000 which it could give away if it were resolved to collect only the same quantum of income tax this year as was collected last year. Truly, the Government is still trafficking in inflation.
The Government could improve our trade balances by taking action in regard to invisible items, such as freight charges and insurance,’ and even tourism. It could take action, also, in regard to banking and insurance companies and the drain of our resources by the transfer of dividends overseas. According to the white paper on income and expenditure which has been presented by the Treasurer, last year we spent £129,000.000 under the heading of other payments for goods and services, and I understand that £20,000,000 of that amount was for freight. There is a counter entry of £72,000,000 on this account. The sum of £23,000,000 was spent by Australians travelling abroad, and only £3,000,000 was spent by tourists who travelled here from other countries. Eventually, we may have to establish a Commonwealth line of steamers like the old Bay line of steamers.
Government supporters interjecting,
-Of . course, the tories protest; but that would be one way to bring down freights and also a way of extricating ourselves from the grip of the conference lines and the other shipping interests which, only the other day, put up freight charges by an additional 10 per cent, on the primary producers of Australia and on the Australian consumers of cargo coming into this country. We may need an Australian line of steamers, travelling overseas again, and we may have to do something about insurance of goods being brought into Australia. There is no reason why all the goods imported into Australia should not be insured by Australian companies. There is no reason why we should have to bear the cost because goods are insured overseas, nor is there any reason in the world why, in 1955, we should not say to the English, Scottish and Australian Bank Limited and the Australian and New Zealand Bank Limited that they must domicile themselves in Australia. For generations now people who are shareholders on the other side of the world have been drawing tribute from this country. These banks should be owned by Australian shareholders in Australia. The time has arrived also, when we might tell all the companies, British and American, that they will have to permit Australians to buy equities in their companies, and that 49 per cent, of the shares in such companies must be held in Australia.
The suggestions I am putting forward to-night are not revolutionary, but have been the law in several countries throughout the world, with advantage to the people concerned.
– Russia, you mean !
– No, I do not mean Russia. I mean Canada and India. Of course, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), the “Vicar of Wakefield “, is always out of tune with everybody else, even other members of the Ministry. He should not test me too far, because I know that in private life he is really Elder Smith and Company Limited, and the Bank of Adelaide. I can understand why he does not want too much notice taken of proposals that would help the ordinary people of Australia.
I do not know whether honorable members realize that three-fourths of the total value of imports into Australia concern the motor trade - cars, lorries, tractors, petrol, rubber and other products needed for motor locomotion. That being so, we may have to tell the Bootes Group, the Standard Motor Company Limited, the Nuffield organization and the ‘ rest that if they want to sell motor cars in Australia they will have to manufacture them in Australia, the same as other companies do, because we cannot continue to send dividends and insurances of all kinds out of the country and continue to pay freight charges and so on, because, if we do, in the end we shall have to “sacrifice the standards of living of our own people.
– Other countries would not then buy our wheat and our wool.
– They would buy our wool because it is sold at auction. If other countries are not buying our wheat to-day, it is because of the inability of the right honorable gentleman and his colleagues to sell it abroad.
Our number one domestic problem in this country is housing, and it is not being solved. I point out to the committee that every two motor cars that go on to the road represent the price of one house. As much labour is occupied in building two motor cars as is occupied in building one house. If we are to have thousands of additional motor cars on the roads each year - and I am not denying the right of the people to have them - . then we are going to do without houses. If we cannot solve the housing problem in the next few years, we shall have a new upsurge of communism, because people must have homes.
– Would the honorable gentleman make a lot of little capitalists to-day?
-I have never condemned people for being little capitalists, but I have condemned the right honorable gentleman for being a big, greedy capitalist.
What this country needs is more honesty on the part of the Government regarding the truth about its finances, more ability in the handling of its problems, and more regard for the obligation on the part of the Treasury to collect no more from the people than the legitimate needs of the Government demand. The country demands that increased social service and repatriation benefits be paid to those entitled to them, commensurate with the requirements of social justice and recognition of the fact that” if this country is half as prosperous as the Government proclaims it is, none of those entitled by age, infirmity, war service or losses occasioned by the war should be required to suffer hardships that could and should be avoided.
We live in a welfare state, whether honorable members of the Liberal and Australian Country parties like it or not. That is the fact, and it is one of the proudest boasts of the Australian Labour party that we did most to establish the welfare state in this country on a sound and secure basis. Let honorable members opposite try to repeal any of the legislation we enacted in establishing the welfare state! The welfare state has come to stay, and its paternal solicitude should be exercised ever and always, first on behalf of the most needy and defenceless sections of the . community, and generally, on behalf of everybody. By every criterion that can be established by which a budget should be judged, this budget is a failure. The Government has failed and should be condemned for its failure. If, as a result of what it has done, inflation grows worse and drastic remedies ultimately have to be imposed, the Government must accept the full responsibility. We know what we want. We want some institutional changes in our society, so that we shall have fair dealing for all.
-The Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) may call it socialism if he likes. After all what is capitalismbut anarchy, plus a police force? There is no such thing as free enterprise and no such thing as a society that has not some controls. Every man who believes in any form of control believes to that extent in a socialist state. Socialism does not involve deprivation of the rights, particularly property rights or the liberties of anybody. Socialism properly interpreted, means social justice for every section of the community, and if this Government stands in the way, ultimately it will be swept aside as it deserves to be.
.- The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), instead of making a serious attempt to debate the problems of the budget, ha? again indulged in farce. Hehas attempted to cause laughter and ridicule of the procedures and processes of this Parliament. It must be obvious to every one who listened to him that the honorable gentleman did not introduce on serious and realistic note into this debate. Instead, he clearly demonstrated two facts. First, he showed how much he disagrees with the policy of his leader who spoke from the same chair last night a policy which was diametrically opposed to his own. Either he had not listened or, if he had listened, he did not know what his leader was talking about. The time has come when he appears prepared to join the Joshua-ites in the left centre of the chamber, become their leader, and oppose his own leader on the floor of this assembly. Every honorable member knows that the time is coming when a further split can occur in the Labour party and the honorable member for Melbourne will try to assume the leader ship of either the larger section, or the rump. The second fact that becomes apparent is that the honorable member for Melbourne has a scant regard for truth.
– He is not on speaking terms with it.
– That is perhaps a better term than that which Iused. On each argument he advancedhe did not bother about, his facts, . and, in many instances, he misrepresented the Treasurer’s statements. ‘ First, he said that we are in’ a difficult- economic position. In fact, he went much further than that, and tried to create the impression that the Treasurer had stated that our economic position was approaching a- desperate crisis. The Treasurer has never made such a Statement. He has always stated hia ease in moderate language, . Baying, We are ‘ bursting at the seams. We are progressing a little too rapidly. Let us have steady progress and make ^progress a little more certain “. I want to make it clear at the outset that the statements of the honorable member for Melbourne did not represent either the Treasurer’s thinking or his policy statements. The honorable member then dealt with the subject of controls. On behalf’ of the .Government, which has indicated its position quite clearly, I can date that it will take whatever sensible and realistic action it believes to. be right in the interests of . this .community, [f import., controls arc temporarily necessary, the Government will impose import control to protect our balance of payments and our Australian industries. It will do what it considers to be right -in the short and long-term interests of the welfare of this country. But to say, because of that, that it believes in wholesale controls is sheer nonsense and making a mockery of fact. Import controls have, of course, been imposed to protect the balance of payments, but in many other fields, over a wide range of activity, controls have been removed because it was realized that those controls were useless. . Whenever it has been possible, to remove a control, action has been taken by thu Government to remove it, but if banking and financial controls are necessary in order to steady the rate of ‘ expansion, those indirect controls will be used and not personal controls which touch the individual or his actions. The Government believes that it has exercised controls satisfactorily during, the last few years.
There was only one other matter mentioned .by the -honorable member for Melbourne upon which I shall touch; I refer to his quaint idea that: in the financial management,’ when there is potential inflation all a government has to do is skim off the cream,, or the top, and so suppress ‘inflationary forces. He went on to state that it has. not been the Treasurer’s policy to skim off the cream and then to save it. In fact, he tried to create the impression that the Treasurer was skimming off a bit of the cream but was giving it to somebody else to spend. I say again that the honorable gentleman could not have heard, -the Treasurer’s budget speech or could not have understood what this Government has done. On page 5 of the printed speech this statement is to be found -
In fact, daring the past two years the Government has been able to redeem treasuryhills amounting to £05,000,000.
What does that mean? It means that surplus spending power has been skimmed off the top. It has not been spent, but has been used to reduce spending power, and therefore it has been saved. In other words, the policy advocated by the honorable member for Melbourne has been followed by the Treasurer, I believe with marked success^
I return to the official attack upon the budget, as it is familiarly called,- which was made by the Leader of the Opposition last night. Those honorable members who have- been in the Parliament for five or six years - and many of us have bees here for quite a long time now - will realize why honorable members opposite who are members of the Labour party, and why most supporters of the Labour party, were in a state of despair immediately after - the Leader of the Opposition made bis attack on the budget. They were in that state’ because they were driven to realize that the Labour -party has no consistent or coherent policy, and is not able to advance one single constructive suggestion for the development - of this magnificent community of ours.
– The Labour party hag no leadership.
– N”o leadership at all I It is lacking in leadership andlacking in any kind of decision. The situation boils down to this’: If the Government is to look for constructive criticism, it has to turn to its own supporters to give it fresh ideas and advice as to what they think should be done. The Government cannot expect a single member of the Opposition to provide’ a constructive thought or any kind of. leadership in this Parliament. If any attack on a budget is to be successful, we are entitled to expect certain principles to be observed. We are entitled to expect that the. Opposition, when putting its case, will do so with certain thoughts in mind, which may be briefly stated in this way: In the first place, it should make some analysis of the economic situation and of what is happening, the state of prosperity, the trends, whether prosperity is growing or declining, the’ difficulties that are being encountered, and the obstacles- that have to be overcome. That is a starting point. If the Opposition wishes to be critical, it has to go a stage further and say, “ These are the grounds upon which we base our criticism of the budget. This is whatwe would do as an alternative “. In other words, the Opposition must be able to state, in a precise and accurate manner, what it would do, in terras of national development, in terms of taxation, and in terms of other proposals which are normally contained in a budget statement. Has that boon done on this occasion? Not at all! There have not been any constructive suggestions. I shall takethe argument a stage further. Besides being able to announce a policy, the Opposition must also be able to state the means by which that policy is to be applied, and ultimately Opposition supporters should be able to stand up and say, “ If you adopt our policy, these will be the consequences”. None of that was done. No attempt was made during the course of the debate to study the problem at all. Not one Opposition speaker has analysed the economic situation, and we on this side of the chamber are therefore entitled to assume that the Labour party accepts the. economic and financialanalyses of the Treasurer, that it has no arguments about them and thinks that they were precisely and accurately stated in the budget speech on the 24th August. In other words, the Opposition starts from exactly the same position as that from which we start. It starts with an analysis based upon a review made by the Treasurer which we both accept as accurate. I should have expected something a little better from the. Leader of the Opposition, but it was obvious, during the course of his speech, that he came here in a sort of penitential frame of mind, in a hair-shirt penitence, because he realized that be had to pay off the more difficult members of the Opposition. He had to endeavour to create an impression of class conflict, in exactly the same way as the honorable member for Melbourne introduced the idea of class conflict. He had to appeal to the rougher element of his own party and to try to see that it gave him some support during the course of the budget debate, because, Heaven knows, only the rougher element supports him at the present time.
What are the problems we face? May
Imake it clear first that the Government has not said, and does not say, that it believes there is a period of tragedy in front of us. We look at the situation objectively because we are entitled to make three claims. The first is that Australia is in a state of unprecedented prosperity. National income has increased year by year until we are in a stronger economic position than ever before with far greater prospects for national development than at any previous time in Australia’s history. Secondly, we find the economy brimming over and full of vigour and energy. National development is proceeding at such a pace that some persons believe that we shall have difficulty in sustaining it. The Government believes that, under reasonable . conditions, development can be sustained provided this Government remains in office. Thirdly, the Government has a proud record of administrative achievement. It is not untrue to- say that, so far as political administration is concerned,this Government found a situation approaching anarchy when it was returned to the treasury bench. That situation has been corrected in the course of a few years, and the Government can justly claim to have achieved efficiency in administration and to have at its disposal an administrative machine-capable of finding a. solution for most of Australia’s problems.
The Government does not deny that there are some problems still to be solved.
In a bustling, vigorous, expanding economy like ours, problems will be encountered and they will be solved. There are two immediate problems to which the Government must find a solution. The first is the deficiency in the balance of payments between Australia and other nations. This year, that adverse balance is pretty substantial. The second difficulty is that, unfortunately, the potential for inflation has grown. Although inflationary forces last year were very small - equivalent to about 2.2 per cent. - there was a potential for inflation that could become dangerous unless action was taken by the Government to control it. Any proposals that are submitted to honorable members at this period must be judged against that background of adverse balance of pay ments and potential inflation.
The Opposition has not argued that those problems do not exist. Honorable members on the Opposition side have tacitly accepted the view that they are real problems which must be solved. If we do not study those problems in a realistic manner, we cannot hope to find the proper solutions of them.
The Government’s strategy is quite clear. It does not look to the future with timidity. It sees real prosperity, and the Government’s policy is to study the situation and the progress that has been made, and to make certain that progress continues at a realistic rate and within the resources of the community in terms o”f man-power and materials. The Government does not think that we should attempt to do more than our capacity will permit us to do at a reasonable pace. It wants to make certain that the progress that is made will be enduring. The Australian Labour party ignores these facts.
I remind honorable members of the speech that was delivered last night by the Leader of the Opposition. In the course of his arguments, he advanced three reasons why the budget was wrong, and then he put forward several suggestions of his own for the solution of Australia’s problems. First, he said that the budget was a “ stay-put budget “ or a “stand-still budget”. I do not think that the Treasurer would care if the term “ stay-put “ were applied to him, because it is a good term. It is usually applied to a captain who stands by his ship when it is in trouble and brings it safely to port. But let us consider the character of the budget. Is it a stand-still or a stay-put budget? The simple answer is that it is neither; it is a budget designed for progress and to make certain that that progress is enduring.
The answer to the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition can be found in the budget papers. The Australian community has increased its investment from 19 or 20 per cent, .of the total wealth of the community to 26 per cent, to-day. If the Opposition believes that this is a stand-still budget, how does it explain the fact that the percentage of resources available for development has increased from 20 per cent, to more than 26 per cent, over the past 25 years? This means, in plain terms, that in savings and investment Australia is among the world’s leaders. In terms of savings, we are fourth after the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand.
The budget papers show that the public works programmes of the States have been increased from £180,000,000 to £190,000,000. Provision for Commonwealth public works has risen from £96,000,000 to £104,000,000. There is the proof that the first statement of the Leader of the Opposition is incorrect. The policy of this Government is to maintain development as it has proceeded over the last few years, and to do those things that the Government believes will make the greatest contribution to national progress and development. In that respect the Government has a record of which it can well be proud.
The second point made by the Leader of the Opposition was that this Government had planned a “stay-put” budget because it wanted capital to remain with the monopolies. The names of the monopolies to which the right honorable gentleman referred were not mentioned. They were not stated to include General MotorsHolden’s Limited, or . the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, or some other company that is making a real contribution to full employment and Australian development. The right honorable gentleman used one of those catchcries that are employed by speakers in the Sydney Domain and by surreptitious individuals on the waterfront. They are designed to foment discontent in industry so that the Communists will have an opportunity to exploit the Australian workers. The Leader of the Opposition referred to standards of living, and said that the earnings of Australian workmen had been reduced relative to the income of companies. It has been possible for the right honorable gentleman to make a comparison between company incomes and wage earnings, in order to show an adverse relative movement, but if one takes a long-term view from the time when the Labour government was swept out of office until to-day, it will be found that both company incomes and the incomes of salary and wage earners have increased by about 100 per cent. That is a complete answer to the statement of the right honorable gentleman that, relatively, the working man is suffering a disadvantage. I propose to cite some figures because I believe that they are of vital importance. The federal basic wage for the six capital cities is £11 16s. a week. The basic wage does not mean much to-day because, though it is said to be a basic wage, it happens to be the maximum that industry can afford to pay. Average wages are £16 8s. 5d. a week. The basic wage contains a prosperity loading of £1 17s. lOd. a week. Therefore, as average wages are £4 12s. 5d. above the basic wage, we find that the average margin of wage and salary earners is £6 10s. 3d. a week. That is a record of achievement. It does not show that the position of the wage-earner relative to that of company profits has worsened, but rather that the wage.earner is participating in prosperity and is to-day getting a bigger margin than ever before. I want to make it clear on behalf of the Government that it wants prosperity. Having ensured prosperity, we want the wage and salary earners t o receive wage justice. “We want to make it clear that we wish them to get their proper reward. We want to ensure that nil sections of the community receive justice and a proper share in the prosperity of this country.
What would be the consequences of the course of action suggested by the Leadeof the Opposition? I have mentioned that company profits have increased by about 100 per cent., but I must emphasize that, in terms of the total wealth of the community, these profits are not large. In fact, though company income hai increased from £253,000,000 to £505,000,000, the income of wage and salary earners has increased bv £1,200,000,000, to £2,400,000,000. In other words, the amount earned by companies is relatively small when compared with that earned by employees. Even if £100,000,000 were taken from the companies it would not make a real contribution to the wealth of the wage and salary earner. I took out the figures to-day on the basis of £50,000,000. If that were given to the worker it would add only about 7s. to his average weekly wage of more than £16. On the other hand, the consequences for the community of such action would be difficult to calculate. Companies are the greatest single source of saving in the community. As these savings are ploughed back into investment, they make a big contribution to increasing the wealth of the community. In that way production and productivity is increased. Again, I wish to stress that this Government believe* that as the wealth of the country increases, so too must that of the wage-earner. At the same time, companies also must participate and be given the right to plough back their profits into better mechanization, which will mean increased production and real prosperity.
The third point made by the Leader of the Opposition was that this Government’s policy was to reduce consumption. He said that this part of its policy was wrong. The policy should be reversed and consumption should be increased. First of all, I think it right to state thai the Government has not singled out consumption for reduction. It has said, “ Let us steady the rate of consumption and investment “ ; but the Leader of the Opposition wishes consumption to be increased. I ask honorable members to remember that two real problems face the Government to-day. The first is a falling off in overseas reserves and an increasing adverse balance of payments.
The second is a tendency towards inflation. What would happen if consumption were increased substantially? The answer is clear. We have a given level of national wealth. At a particular time we can either consume it, or save some of it and invest it. If we invest it we put it into machinery and equipment and produce more in the future. We increase the productivity per head of the working population; but if the policy of the right honorable member for Barton were adopted, we would consume more. In other words, we would gobble up everything we produced, nibbling away at, and undermining the foundations until the whole economic structure was destroyed. Our policy is the opposite. We believe in saving as much as we can and putting it into investment and progress. We think that, from the point of view of defence and national welfare, this country must expand as quickly as it can. Here may be seen the one real difference between the policy of the Treasurer and that of the Leader of the Opposition. The policy of honorable gentlemen opposite is. to paper over the cracks and undermine ike foundations. The policy of the Government is to invest as much of its resources as it can, thereby adding to prosperity and national development. In this respect, the Government has a proud record. Twenty-six per cent. of our total resources are being used for the development of this country.
Labour’s policy is a soft policy. It is one of appealing to a few disgruntled people, and is based on letting things run their course until a state of anarchy is reached. Australia has a certain level of production, and we must remember that it has the problem of trying to export more and at the same time keep down inflation. If the policy of the Opposition were followed to its logical conclusion we should find that, as investment tapered off production would fall, import controls would have to be imposed, prices would rise and once again wo should have a vicious circle of rising prices and increasing shortages. We have had them before under Labour administration. Do we want them again? If the policies put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy, the honorable member for Melbourne, were followed that would be the result. They would lead ultimately to both falling investment and falling consumption. Three elections have been fought and won by this Government. We challenge honorable members opposite to go to the country on the principle that they do not believe in the future of Australia and are prepared to ruin its economic foundations. Will the people adopt that policy or the policy of the Liberal-Australian Country party Government, which has said, “ We believe in prosperity and in the people of this country. We are prepared to do our utmost to ensure that investment continues and that enduring foundations for prosperity are safely and satisfactorily laid.”
Mr.E. JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) [8.59]. - I did not believe that when a Minister for Social Services rose to contribute to a budget debate there could be such a complete absence of reference to his own department. He was very careful to try to emulatethe Treasurer by saying a lot of things that mean nothing with respect to the economy of this country. He did not say one thing about the suggestions made by the leader of our party in relation to his own department. He did not dare say what his views were on the opinions expressed by the leader of this party,who suggested that civilian widows with children should have better treatment from this Government. He also did not say whether he believed, as we do, that the best new arrivals in this country are Australian infants, in respect of whom additional endowment should now be paid.
– He is only a junior, junior Minister.
– Not once during the 30 minutes he spoke did he touch on his own department, and its failures in connexion with the budget. The first ten minutes of his speech took the same form as the other speeches delivered last nightfrom the Government side. His remarks were restricted to abuse of the leader of this party. I tell the honorable gentleman-
– Tell me.
– I tell the Minister through you, sir, that the description he applies to the members of the party who follow this leader are not applicable to me. So far as I am concerned, the day has not yet arrived when he and the other members of the Liberal party will succeed in removing him from his position as Leader of the Opposition. It irks me when I think of the statement which is being made from the Government side on this subject.
I return to the budget. Let us see what the Treasurer himself said in the very first paragraph that means anything. He said -
The budget always is, and ought to be, an occasion for stocktaking on the economic side of our national affairs. This year, I believe, circumstances are such that we must perform that stocktaking with particular diligence, candour and thoroughness.
I had hoped that the Minister for Social Services in this country, in this year of grace 1955, would take some notice of the opening remarks of the Treasurer in his budget speech, and that he would explain to-night why his department is setting back applications for war service homes for twelve months, while at the same time the Government is salting away £48,500,000. Some of that money could be used for war service homes.
– The applications have risen to 26,000.
– That is all right. The Minister had his opportunity to explain the position, but did not take it. Yet he tells us about the improvement in administration that has taken place under this Government. All that he can prove in relation to his administration is a policy of trial and error. He has said no word as to why he is failing returned servicemen in the provision of war service homes that are so essential.
Last evening we of this party were subjected to criticism when we tried to make suggestions along the lines of those made by our leader. We tried to analyse the budget. What kind of reception did we get from the first speaker on the Government side?
– What suggestions has the honorable member to make?
– I shall tell the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) what suggestions I have to make in a moment. If my suggest tions were as empty as were those of the honorable member, I would sit down.
– The honorable member has not made any suggestions yet.
– What struck me forcibly last evening was the desire of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) to devote at least 25 of his 30 minutes to abuse of members of this party, from the leader down to rank-and-file members. I can arrive at only one conclusion. It is that the honorable member for Balaclava thought he was presenting a divorce case somewhere, because certain it is that he did not touch on the budget at any stage. A similar approach was made by the honorable member for Mallee.
– I touched on the budget.
– The only occasion when my friend from thi Mallee really touched on the budget was when he plaintively held his hand out to the Treasurer and said, “Please, sir, cannot you do something about the fruitgrowers ? “
– What about the pensioners ? Did I not speak about them, too?
– In what way ? Let us deal with that subject now. If the honorable member for Mallee and the Minister for Social Services are satisfied and happy about the conditions in which they have left the war widows, the civilian widows with children, and the children generally with respect to child endowment, let them be big enough to rise in their places and say so.
– I have risen in my place. Read my speech.
– It is so much idle talk I was keenly interested in a passage on page 5 of the budget speech because, to me, it rang a bell. T may be one of those people whom the Minister describes as the rough type following the leader of this party, but
I remind him that for almost twenty years I have been a leader of the trade union movement.
– Too long. .
– It is too long, especially when I look at some of the members of the Government, and compare the type of service they have given with that given by leaders of trade unions in Australia. On page 5 of the budget speech, dealing with financial policy, the Treasurer says -
Some, however, would go much farther and say that the Government should intervene to control the economy and its workings both directly and indirectly, through whatever powers and devices it may possess. My colleagues and I do not share this view. We do not propose to get back into the business of controls, as some State Governments are doing. We believe that, on all past experience, controls are, at the best largely futile and, at the worst, extremely harmful and unjust.
– Hear, hear!
– Hear, hear !
– I am glad to get the “ Hear, hears ! “ from the knight and the Minister. The most vicious control that was ever applied in this country is the basic wage control that has applied for almost two years, with the consent of this Government, and to the detriment of the wage-earner.
– That is not correct, and the honorable member, who is an industrial advocate, knows it.
– Let us consider the matter. This Government shelves its responsibilities with respect to the financial structure of this country, and leaves it to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which is not responsible to anybody.
– Does not the honorable member believe in arbitration ?
– I certainly believe in arbitration, but I do not believe in arbitration of the type this Government has provided in the past six years, and I certainly do not believe in controls and throttles that are being placed upon the trade union movement by the people who were appointed by this Government to positions on the Arbitration Court.
– I thought the conciliation commissioners were appointed by the Labour Government.
– I wish some people on the Government side would not talk so consistently with their tongues in their cheeks. It is true that a Labour government appointed conciliation commissioners, but it was the Menzies Government that hamstrung the commissioners in the performance of their work, by the introduction of legislation to provide for appeals against their decisions. That step was taken deliberately by the Government to prevent workers from getting justice. At the present time an appeal against the decision of the Public Service arbitrator has the support of the Government, although it knows that during the war and in the period since the war he has rendered great service to this country, and has done much to promote peace and contentment in the public service.
Let us consider for a moment the history of arbitration in this country during the last couple of years. What has been the result of the pegging of the basic wage? That action was the worst form of control ever introduced in this country. I say without hesitation that no worker with a wife and family to keep can live on the basic wage. It is not sufficient for honorable members supporting the Government to say that there is no such thing as a basic wage worker at the present time. This is a matter which affects the family life of the community. The fact is that in a great many instances where the head of the family is in receipt of the basic wage or a little above that amount, his wife has to go to work because of the high cost of living. In his budget speech the Treasurer told us that in June, 1953, Australia enjoyed a state of full employment. He went on to say that since then an additional 183,000 persons had been added to the list of those in employment, but he did not tell us that a great proportion of them were women who should be in their homes looking after their children. We hear a great deal nowadays about child delinquency. One of the major causes of child delinquency is the fact that so many mothers are working outside their homes. So long as the basic wage remains pegged, the position will become worse week by week and month by month, because as we all know that the families with the greatest number of children in them are the families of the workers. In one street in Sydney in which there are 43 families living, 36 of the mothers go to work. Those women are working in industry because their husbands are among those in the lower ranges of income. It is not sufficient to say that these women choose to go to work. They are forced to do so. Recently, I met the parents of a child of 7 years of age. They told me that they had just bought the lad his first suit and that it had cost them £7 10s. I ask supporters of the Government how they can expect workers in the lower ranges of income to pay such prices for the things that they require. As the result of two years of pegging of the basic wage we have gone a long way towards destroying the family life of Australia’s best immigrants. Children who leave school before 4 o’clock in the afternoon are forced to roam the streets until the first of their parents comes home to prepare their evening meal. That state of affairs exists in thousands even tens of thousands of families in this country. Every day that the Arbitration Court does nothing to alter that state of affairs it is guilty of a criminal offence against the future generations of Australia. Yet its inaction has the support of the Government.
– I rise to a point of order. Is it usual to permit an honorable member to make allegations of criminal offences against the courts of the land?
– I am not doing that. I said that that would be the effect of no action being taken.
– I ask. whether it is usual for honorable members to get away with such allegations.
– It is not usual, but I understood the honorable member for Blaxland to say that such inaction would lead to criminal offences.
– 1 have been associated with every major decision of the trade union movement for the last ten or fifteen years.
– It is no wonder that the trade union movement has gone to pot.
– If ii has gone to pot it is because of the interpretation of awards given by the court appointed by this Government. The Government supported the marginal increase of two and a half times the 1937 rate for tradesmen. When the Arbitration Court gave its decision, it did not merely say that the marginal increase should be confined to tradesmen. It went further, and said that any rise for other workers should be determined* as the result of an inquiry which took into account the economy of the whole of Australia. That is how far the court took it. Because of the existing legislation in the industrial field, no conciliation commissioner dares to go beyond- the two and a half times marginal increase decision because he knows that any decision he makes will be subject to appeal and will be bound by that decision which has put two-thirds of the wage-earners of this country in a position where they can be related to the basic wage earner, having regard to costs. Two-thirds of the wage-earners are suffering hardship as the result of the harsh application of the court’s decision.
– That is absolute nonsense.
Minister’s interjection shows clearly that senior Ministers of the Government are so far away from the lives of the people that they do not know what is going on.
– The whole community is better off than it has ever been.
– The honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) obviously refers only to the privileged section of the community. Despite what the Minister for Social Services said about the Labour party, it is a very great party; it has been built up on the bits and pieces of the underprivileged. If supporters of the Government continue to abuse the Labour party as they have done in the last few days, I am not unhappy about the outcome, because abuse is no argument. Sooner or later the Australian people will give a government that resorts to such action the treatment that it deserves.
The next matter to which I refer is the manner in which the trade unions have been controlled. This Government, with its tongue in its cheek, says that it is opposed to any form of control. Let me repeat what the Treasurer said in his budget speech -
Controls are, at the best, largely futile, and, at the worst, extremely harmful and unjust.
Those words can correctly be applied to the decision which fixed and pegged the basic wage in this country. They can be applied with equal force to the action of the Arbitration Court in seeking to control the trade unions, and the activities of people who are trying to do the right thing in the trade union movement. I asked the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) last week whether he knew something about the report of the Chief Conciliation Commissioner which recommended certain industrial alterations. He said that it was a technical question. The truth of the matter is that the whole industrial framework is being’ smashed, and this Government is not taking any stock at all of the position. I am prepared to say that there are not three members of the Government who have ever analysed the decision of Mr. Justice Wright in the Miscellaneous Workers’ case. I am prepared to say that it is doubtful whether the Minister himself has read it. Yet that decision alone has imposed restrictions on the trade union movement, and has stipulated what trade unions must do. The decision does two things: first, it takes away from the trade unions the power to deal with their own members in the way that they dealt with them during the war period. That is tremendously important. Our whole disciplinary code must be changed, and we will not be able to use the methods that we used to discipline people in our ranks during the war period. The decisions that are being made from week to week in the Arbitration Court have the effect of opening the door to Communists in the trade unions.
The decision of Mr. Justice Wright has also taken from the trade unions the right to elect their officers in the way they would like. Take the case of the organization to which I am attached. Mr. Justice Wright told us, in effect, that if we wanted to call our top man in any State by the title of secretary, we could not appoint him subject to his good conduct. In other words, the Arbitration Court has now decided that every trade union leader in Australia must be casual. There is only one section of the trade union movement which would agree with that type of control, and that is the Communist section, because the Communists do not want strong leadership in trade unions. You cannot have strong leadership in trade unions unless you allow the members to make up their minds as to what they want in leadership.
– When is the honorable member going to deal with the budget?
– The interjections that are being made show such ignorance of real trade union requirements that any answers I might. try to give would not be understood. The Minister spoke of ensuring the future of Australia. The Minister has left the chamber, but I say this to the Minister who is evidently going to follow him: If there is not an early review of the powers of the Arbitration Court, the resultant industrial unrest in this country will be on the Government’s own head. The two last decisions of the court were to the effect that once a trade union member asked for a court-controlled ballot, and the Industrial Registrar appointed a person to conduct that ballot, that person need have no regard to the union rules. He could conduct the ballot in his own way, and there was no appeal against his decision, either to the court or to the registrar. Is that the kind of dictatorship that the Government wants ? If the Government allows this sort of thing to continue for one day longer than it takes to review the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, then it will have industrial unrest from one end of the country to the other.
– Strikes will not achieve a review. The honorable member has slipped on that, because the workers are too well off.
– -Fancy a member of the Government saying that, when the record of the union that I have the honour to lead is outstanding in Australia for industrial peace and for service to the community. Let me go back to one final point. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), who is now at the table, will possibly be the next speaker in this debate, and perhaps when analysing the budget he will wish to say something about sending troops to Malaya, or he may wish to say something in regard to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition last night relating to industrial affairs as they may affect servicemen, and relating to the actions of the Government in regard to the defence requirements of the country. I invite the Minister to tell us what he thinks about the Sydney Morning Herald leader to-day. I do not profess to know anything about international affairs, but I have been concerned for a long time about what is to be done regarding our contact with Asiatic peoples. It is strange that on this very day the Sydney Morning Herald leader, in its last paragraph, should say this -
Certainly Australia’s position in South-East Asia would be very much strengthened by the abandonment of a policy which, in Asian eyes, has always appeared provocative and singularly unrealistic. A gesture towards Peking by Canberra at this delicate stage in Pacific affairs would have a greatly enhanced value. lt is for the Government, to consider whether such a gesture should not in fact be made. Events are moving too fast in Asia for the Australian government and Parliament to ignore them.
The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition in this House could not have expressed the position more clearly. All that he has been saying over a period of months, and which has brought criticism from people who evidently do not understand international affairs, is endorsed almost completely to-day by the Sydney Morning Herald. For that reason I throw back in his teeth the remark of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) that I have the support of Only the rough types in the Labour party. I am not one of the rough type, and I am proud to follow a man who knows something of international requirements.
– I desire to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honorable member claim that he has been misrepresented?
– An appreciable proportion, of this £1,100,000,000 budget is taken up with items of defence, external affairs, and related subjects, so I think that I can most usefully use the relatively short time at my disposal to say a few words about the international scene, with which so much of our budgetary expenditure is directly or indirectly connected. In the short time available it is not possible to cover anything like the whole field, or even anything like the whole field of more important matters - certainly the matters of detail - but I think it is possible, and it may indeed be useful, for me to try to set out the views that I hold, and that I believe the Government holds, on the present international atmosphere, and what might be called the climate of present international relations.
The suggestion has been made that we in Australia should plan our defences and our role in international affairs on the easy assumption that the world is entering a period of relaxation in which all the factors calling for vigilant and energetic measures of self-defence and mutual protection are about to disappear.
We shall see how dangerous and misleading this assumption can be if we look at the present world situation, not gloomily or pessimistically, but at the same time without allowing our vision to be clouded by complacency or wishful thinking. Let us consider, not merely what has been said by the world’s leaders, but what has actually happened and what has been done, or what has failed to happen or failed to be done. After all, we have had honeymoons before this - honeymoons which have lasted for a month or so and even up to six months or so, but no more. They have ended, not by the ill will of our side but, for no apparent reason, at the instance of the other side.
I do not want to be told that this is a cold and unresponsive approach. No country, no government, no people wants stability and real peace more than we do. I do not think that point need be argued. But to those who have the responsibility for taking an attitude on behalf of a country, some reasonable caution is essential on the basis of the evidence of the past. Every one hopes that the meeting of the heads of governments at Geneva a month or two ago has ushered in an era in which it can be said with truth that the leaders of the Soviet Union realize the sterility and the dangers of the policies which for so long they have been pursuing. It is true that their demeanour at the Geneva meeting was in itself an encouraging sign, and that their earlier reversal of long-standing attitudes on such questions as the Austrian State Treaty may give promise of a more constructive approach to other outstanding problems.
The Communist leaders may now accept as a fact the pacific intentions of the leaders of the western democracies, and they may also acknowledge in their policies the awful consequences for the Russian people, as well as for all the rest of us, that would flow from global nuclear war. The powers which have been obliged by Communist expansion to band together in costly and heavily burdensome defence arrangements will not be backward in taking advantage of any opportunity to put relations with the Soviet Union and its associates on a more normal footing. So far, however, it can only be said that there are hopes. Possibly they are justifiable hopes, but there is certainly no fulfilment. We * shall be prompt in grasping opportunities to resolve differences and relax tensions. . but the time has not yet come when we can afford to relax our vigilance against threats to our security which cannot be dissipated by the fairest of words.
The test of Soviet intentions is in front of us. It is to be earnestly hoped that the moderate attitude and friendliness shown by the Soviet delegates at Geneva, and by their leaders since then, will be repeated in other contexts, and perhaps in more practical directions. The West German Chancellor, Dr. Adenauer, will visit Moscow this month, when, together with Soviet-German relations, the crucial question of German unification is likely to be discussed. On the 29th October, two months from now, the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France and Soviet Russia will meet at Geneva, under the authority of a directive issued by the leaders of those four countries, to examine further the questions of German unity, European collective security, East-West contacts and disarmament. The subject of disarmament is currently occupying the attention of .the United Nations Disarmament Sub-committee. Next month, the United Nations General Assembly will commence its annual session in New York. The four events to which I have referred will provide opportunities to throw further light on Soviet attitudes and will provide further tests of Soviet goodwill.
Let us look further at one of the problems to which I have referred - the burden of armaments, with its cruel diversion of man-power and economic resource? from productive and humanitarian purposes, and the dangers inherent in the development of new weapons which have brought us face to face with the possibility of the destruction of mankind itself. There have been some indications that the Soviet leaders may be concerned at last to draw back from the abyss which they themselves have created. For the first time, they have shown a willingness to consider - it is scarcely more than that - some of the basic provisions which the Western Powers have always considered to be necessary, even elementary, “«s a foundation for an effective disarmament system, for which the democratic nations have been striving during the last ten years of fruitless discussions.
Until very recently, the Soviet Union has consistently demanded that the other major powers should take the first steps towards the reduction of international tensions and suspicions. Enjoying an overwhelming preponderance of conventional military strength, Russia has demanded the virtual abandonment of nuclear weapons, although it has itself admitted that there are no effective means of ensuring that all nuclear weapons in existence will be removed from the face of the earth. In effect, this is a Communist demand that the non-Communist world should dismantle its own defences as an earnest of goodwill. But the Soviet Union, for its part, has not made clear whether it is willing to accept an effective system of inspection and control to guarantee the carrying out of disarmament measures in all countries. In these circimstances, it would be foolish to take the present Communist proposals at their face value.
Lately, as I have said, there have been some signs of better hope. In its disarmament plan submitted to the United Nations Disarmament Sub-committee on the 10th May, Soviet Russia showed, or seemed to show, a new awareness of the urgency of breaking the vicious cycle of armament development, in which a mlscalculation or false step could involve universal destruction. The Russians no longer insisted, for example, upon a reduction by an equal percentage of the armed forces of all the major powers - a method of reduction that would perpetuate Russia’s military superiority and maintain it at a level that gravely threatened Russia’s neighbours. They 3till called for a pledge that nuclear weapons should not be used, . with the sole exception that their use would be permitted for defence against aggression under a Security Council decision, which, of course, would be subject to the power of the Russian veto, and so would be useless.
These Russian proposals were in many ways obscure and inadequate, but they did offer what had been lacking before, some hope of realistic discussion. This hope is now being tested. At the Geneva conference, President Eisenhower and Sir Anthony Eden put forward practical suggestions for a beginning of disarmament measures within the limits of a technical practical control and inspection system. New approaches to the goal of knowing better what is going on in other countries are being tried. When this greater knowledge has been acquired, confidence may grow and calculated risks in making disarmament pledges may be contemplated.
It still remains to be seen whether the Soviet Union’s basic approach to this crucial problem really has something in common with the earnest thought which the Western powers have been giving to it, or whether we have been witnessing merely the latest of a long series of tactical moves, designed to protect Russian security without safeguarding that of the non-Communist world. We all earnestly hope that it has, but hopes are poor things to build upon until they have been subjected to practical commonsense tests, and those tests cannot be carried out any more quickly than Soviet Russia will allow. So far, the Russians have not shown any excessive haste. The four great Western powers, for thenpart, are making a genuine effort to meet Soviet Russia’s real concern with security, as distinct from its tactical efforts to weaken the security of the Western powers.
Sincerity on both sides is essential. If one country is not sincere and is merely waiting for the others to disarm, so that it can then revert to the tactics of bullying, aggression or threats of aggression, that is not good enough, to put it very mildly. Let me emphasize that, so far, ‘ there has been no indisputable sign of a basic re-orientation of the policies of the Soviet Union or of Communist China. No specific decisions were, of course, taken at Geneva, but neither did the Soviet Union produce any new proposals of substance that could be a basis for discussion or subsequent decisions. The Soviet Union still seemed to envisage the dismantling of
Western defences as the necessary first step. I hope that this will correct itself as the next few months go on.
On the Chinese side, there has been some softening of the tone in which the Communist regime makes its voice heard in the outside world, but again there is no sign that it has re-alined its fundamental approach. I do not suggest that fundamental Russian and Chinese policies are identical, or even that there is an intimate relationship between their real national interests; but their techniques in the past have borne a close resemblance, and in some respects at least their objectives have been similar. However, it is encouraging to notice that in recent months the relaxation of tension in Europe has been accompanied by a lull in the Far East. It might be legitimate to hope that during the next few months the tone of moderation being shown by the Soviet Union will be matched by the People’s Republic of China, and that Chinese leaders as well as those in the Soviet will, in that spirit, be prepared to seek a solution to existing problems troubling the East.
I shall sum up the present situation by saying that in retreating from some of its rigid and uncompromising attitudes, the Soviet Union has made it possible for the work of negotiation to begin. The Australian Government sincerely welcomes this beginning and is determined to take advantage of all opportunities for constructive diplomacy. But we should be foolish and short-sighted if we regarded the stage now reached as justifying a weakening of the defence preparations of the non-Communist world. Do not let us forget that the apparent readiness of the Soviet Union to negotiate is itself an index of the value of the sacrifice made by the non-Communist world in strengthening its defences. The Soviet Union showed no such forthcoming attitude in the immediate post-war years when the West was weak and divided. I am not indulging in cynicism when I ask what is probably the basic reason for the improved atmosphere in recent times. I believe it is almost certainly because the West is strong.
I think that the danger of large-scale warfare breaking out has receded. However, a relaxation of the defensive strength of the democratic countries without corresponding relaxation on the part of the Communists might easily be a fatal error. We have, moreover, to face the fact that Communist expansion may now be pursued more vigorously by other than military means. The Communists have shown no signs of ceasing to pursue their ends by subversion. In fact, our problems of coping with this may very well be made more difficult because people may be lulled by an outward show of reasonableness on the Communists’ part into failing to see some of the things that are not so readily seen. When an object is black or white it is easily recognized; when it is grey it is more difficult to see. These considerations apply to South-East Asia as well as to other areas of the world.
As concerns our own Australian defence level, the lesson, I believe, is clear. We must retain our forces and defence capacity at a level which enables us to play an honorable part, not only in the immediate defence of our own shores, but in collective defence - collective defence which is our obligation under the United Nations Charter, and which is provided for under the Manila Treaty which last year, I might remind honorable members, was ratified with the unanimous consent and agreement of all parties in both Houses of the Australian Parliament
We are confronted with what may well be a more promising situation in the world than has existed for a great many years. The Australian Government will explore its possibilities in a spirit of understanding and readiness to make reciprocal compromises. But we shall defeat our own purposes irrevocably if we accept the delusive belief that a point of departure in the search for compromise can be found in weakness. No Communist Government - certainly not in Peking or Hanoi - would ever make such a grievous mistake.
There are those who would throw caution to the winds and embrace those who differ from us on fundamental issues - at the first sign of reasonableness - no matter, what the history of the past. We, of this Government, are not such. There are those who would expose us to dreadful perils on the basis of a few fine words. There are others who put their faith in other than common sense. We are not such. Fortunately there are saner counsels - the testing of each rung of the ladder before we commit our weight to it. When the Government is even reasonably convinced that the time has come when the whole future and fortunes of this country can be safely committed to new measures, in the interests of our survival, we will not be slow to take such new measures.
.- To me the budget is an expression in figures of the hopes and the aspirations of the ordinary man - the man in the street. And to such a man, the family man, the ordinary man with his hopes and desires, his fears and his repressions, and his expectations, the pre-budget period is one of great expectancy. Therefore, it is at budget time that we have coming to Canberra people who quite rightly parade their interests - often it is a parade of misery - and express their wants, some with great difficulty because they are almost inarticulate. With eyes aglow with hope, they look to this parliamentary institution - to their elected representatives - to satisfy in some measure their legitimate desires, Therefore, I ask you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, to visualize the state of mind, the attitude of the ordinary men who have come to Canberra. We saw them in King’s Hall. The great and almost insurmountable task that confronted those people was to impress this Parliament, to impress their elected representatives who occupy a substratum of society which is more or less secure, safe and free from economic tension and the twin spectres of want and fear. What did such people find? On the right of the Speaker’s chair sit the members of the Government. They looked at the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) - a veritable apostle of gloom and disillusionment; a constant Jeremiah of impending doom, chaos and disaster. On the left, they saw the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition (Dr. Evatt), the pseudo representative of the hopes and aspirations of the working classes - the underprivileged people in Australia. Torn between those ghastly alternatives of power, pelf and privilege on the one hand, and false pretence, hocus-pocus and mumbo jumbo on the other, the lot of the ordinary man is indeed to be deplored.
It is natural that in this life all of us - even members of Parliament - have our periods of acute depression. We look forward to this, that and the other thing. Indeed, it is pertinent to remark at the moment that most of us here have some vague idea that floating around on the horizon, as a gift from a beneficent Providence, there may some day be an increase in parliamentary salaries. A questionnaire has been sent to us; J have had one. We were asked to set out our wants, our disabilities, our expenses, and particulars of depreciation, profit? and losses, receipts and expenditure. But the ordinary man - who cares about his inventory? Who cares about his assessment of his economic position? In these days, fumbling and groping, and often bewildered and torn, he comes to this hallowed hall seeking warmth, sanctuary, solace and comfort. But there is an air of cynicism abroad. The newspapers - those apostles of culture in our midst, sponsors of Mandrake, Martha Wayne, and the like - contribute in no small way to that economic ferment. They dilate on the selfishness of members of parliament, their disregard for the fundamental needs of the nation, their acquisitive instincts highly developed and their self-seeking. That seeps right down (through the community until this institution is discredited to some extent and we members of Parliament are all put in the pillory and under the searchlight of public criticism - often unjustified, often unwarranted, but still contributed to by our own obtuseness and our own disregard of the facts.
Look at him again - the ordinary unionist in King’s Hall. He has come for an interview on pensions or inflation - the dog chasing its tail - and by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition, the right honorable member for Barton, he is fed with vague promises. Ultimately, the man outside wakes up to the fact that for years he has been carrying “ the old man of the sea “ who has fattened, by a parasitical growth, on the misery of those whose wants and tribulations the Leader of the Opposition and others endeavour to capitalize in this Parliament. But to be fair and hold the scales of justice, let us have a look at the Treasurer - flinty, obdurate, adamant, full of fair mouthings of riotous figures of inflation and the like and steeped to the neck in exhortations and admonitions - “You must do this and you must not do that “ - but fine words butter no parsnips, and the Treasurer’s exhortations and admonitions on hire purchase and similar subjects are Dead Sea fruit in the mouths of the hungry.
We have to be careful that under this intense, microscopic, analytical examination of ourselves and our motives, our desires for increased salaries and the like, we do not contribute to this maelstrom - this inferno of cynicism. Proceedings this afternoon were a great consolation to me, as you will appreciate, Mr. Temporary Chairman, because you knew me of old when we came to the conclusion that there is a great affinity between the respective branches of the Celtic ‘ race. Was it not a glorious sight, and one to stir my emotions to their utmost depths, to see seated alone this afternoon, like a beacon and a guiding light to this community and an example to the generations that will come after us, two lone Celts of Her Majesty’s Opposition, determined to do their duty in the face of trouble, trial, disillusion, adversity and despair? I rejoiced, as the descendant of a Celt, and I must confess to a sneaking admiration - a very sneaking admiration - for the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) who, descended as- no doubt he is from the heroes of old, ran true to the form of his Celtic ancestry and stood alone with his brother, fortified, of course, by two eminent gentlemen on this side, and demonstrated to the world - a postbudget, disappointed world - that here, at least, were two members of Her Majesty’s Opposition who were prepared to run the gauntlet. You may recall, Mr. Acting Chairman, Culloden, the massacre of Glencoe, Wolfe Tone, and the episodes in history that have marked the singular philosophical attitude of. the Celt to life and its problems. I am sure that every honorable member here rejoiced with me that two members of the pseudo-Labour party, led by the right honorable member for Barton, proved true, while the others slunk into tie limbo of forgotten things in the corridors of Parliament House. The right honorable member for Barton, the apostle of liberty, whose name resounds in the halls of the great, the glorified champion of small nations, civil liberties, rights of the individual, justice in. our time, proper trial with charges to be laid - perish the thought that such d body as the federal executive of the Australian Labour party should intervene with its arbitrary methods! - never forgets the mast to which he has nailed his standard.
– He “ fixed “ the honorable member.
– That is so, and in the process he fixed the honorable member for Watson and others also after he had attended the Sydney conference of the Australian Labour party. When those two gallants, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and his brother, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. E. Fraser), sat in this House to-day as examples to the generations to come after us, the right honorable member for Barton, the tribal medicine man - the witch doctor - led his cohort? through the door into the corridors and to the hidden recesses of the Library of Parliament House. I should be sorry, indeed, if the enlightened electors of Gellibrand - they have great intelligence - could see with me the palpitating, pulsating, soul-stirring sight of a potential Queen’s Counsel, a man who is in a hurry, a potential Prime Minister, bent like an old man with arthritis staring through a crack in the door. Those members of the party who were nicely poised on the razor’s edge - Somerset Maugham has written a book about men of that type - torn between two alternatives and doubtful whether their eminent leader or some others would survive, were clustered round another door of this chamber in fear and trembling and tribulation, waiting to see that their prospective opponents in ballots should not take an unfair advantage of them.
– The honorable member should go back to the penitentiary.
– The honorable member for “Watson (Mr. Curtin) should go hack to his prawn selling.
– The honorable member for Gellibrand is another escapee from Pentridge.
– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) - the potential Queen’s Counsel - should be au expert with these types. He has had much experience, and a great deal of his knowledge was gained at the Royal Commission on Liquor.
It is our job to uphold the prestige and dignity of Parliament. That is our job, if we have the acquisitive instinct slightly developed, as have many of my ex-colleagues. They are wealthy men, well-endowed with this world’s goods - homes, estates, business interests. Hear them fulminate against excessive profits! Ah, yes ! But they are all in them. The acquisition of land. Ah, yes! With estates around Canberra, Goulburn, the North Shore and the like. The socialization of means of production, distribution and exchange! But in the meantime, impelled by urgent necessity each of them says, in effect, “ I must get what I can. The law of the jungle must prevail, and the devil take the hindmost”. In this our day and generation, it is a shocking example to people, whose budget hopes are disappointed, to see the Leader of the Opposition, with sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, lead his cohorts through that door. It is something Unprecedented in the history of this Parliament - < furtive slinking, a man who it was openly known and alleged supported up to the hilt the honorable member for Eden-Monaro in a last-ditch stand for civil liberties, justice, honour, righteousness and rectitude, but who, as is characteristic of him, dumped the honorable member; there was only his brother left to sit with him. Glory to the Celts, and to those who had such courage ! We were able to sit on the sideline, and see the disintegration of a party that was once supposed to lead the workers out of the wilderness to the promised land. What a pathetic figure ! What a cynical commentary on the degeneration of a great pparty !
I take this opportunity to address a few remarks to the budget.
– It is about time.
– It is extraordinary, my friend, how a man can separate his public protestations from his private desires. My friend who says. “ It is about time “, is just as anxious to preserve his economic security as is anybody else. Being slightly pressed in Western Australia, he seems slightly uneasy about his prospects. He promptly jumps to the security of a safe seat, and a haven from which he can lead the workers to the promised land. I hope and trust that the workers, the underprivileged, the dispossessed, the property- less, in their cynicism, do not look elsewhere, because, honest to goodness, any intelligent man in this community taking one look now at the right honorable member for Barton and recalling the stampede that took place this afternoon in which members of the federal executive of the once great Labour party participated could not but turn in revulsion ultimately and again revert to that questioning, doubting lack of faith and judgment that we do not want to see arise in this community.
The state of our nation is ultimately reflected in the budget. For our part here in this corner, we hope that both the dismal jeremiads and wailing of the Treasurer will come to naught and vanish like mist in the morning air. For our part here we hope the workers will sooner or later wake up to the hocus-pocus, the humbug, the hypocrisy, the edifice of communism and corruption upon which the machine of the right honorable member for Barton rests in New South Wales. We hope with ‘ all sincerity that the documents in the Bankstown affair and in other matters will come to light and that finally the veil will be stripped from, those who are even at this moment in a questioning mood. In conclusion, I say that this afternoon’s experience in this chamber was a colossal indictment of a nian without dignity, a man who stampedes and dumps his pals, a man who double-crosses, a man who is the quintessence of treachery. I shall at some time in the future move that the House refer to the Committee of Privileges a gross - -
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member must withdraw the word treachery. It is unparliamentary.
– I withdraw that word and substitute the term manoeuvring.
– Do you remember the time when you canvassed against a Labour man in Ballarat?
– Judging by the embarrassed faces of those members of the Opposition who walked out this afternoon, they were the recipients of something pretty solid in Bankstown. I was about to say when I was rudely interrupted by another honorable member who is preparing to jump from one seat to another, seeking a safe refuge to lead the worker from his farm at Orange and in Western Australia - another bloated capitalist who poses as a champion of the worker - that it is my firm intention to move to refer to the Committee of Privileges as something momentous in the history of this great Commonwealth, something worthy of the committee’s persistent and tenacious inquiry and as something that should be installed and indelibly engraved in the annals of parliamentary institutions in Australia that for the first time, as I know the history of my country, and I hope for the last time, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition has been intimidated and forced to betray his mates, to turn his back on his life-long protestations of leadership of the working class and to reveal himself leading out the marionettes, to reveal himself and them as persons who to-day have not earned their salt, who are not worthy of their salary and as participants in a sit-down strike in the Parliament - a disgrace to this Parliament and to this country.
.- Mr. Temporary Chairman-
Conversation being audible,
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! I call the honorable memberfor Gellibrand (Mr. Mullens) and the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) to order. The honorable member for Lalor has gone far enough.
– If I might get back to the debate on the budget I should like first of all to begin by congratulating the
Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) on the budget he has presented. The opening remarks he made-
Mr. Pollard interjecting,
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I must warn the honorable member for Lalor again.
– The opening remarks of the Treasurer were -
The budget always is, and ought to be, an occasion for stocktaking on the economic side of our national affairs. This year, I believe circumstances are such that we must perform that stocktaking with particular diligence, candour and thoroughness.
In those remarks the Treasurer has, if I may say so, pinpointed what should be the task, not only of this Parliament, but of the people of Australia. “We should look back upon the year that has passed and consider the economic situation of our country. It is a year about which we can feel proud because a great deal has been achieved. To those who would stand up and talk about this being a standstill budget or some other kind of budget I should like to take them back to the year 1951 when what has become known as the horror budget was presented. A great deal of criticism was levelled at the Treasurer on that occasion, but, as time passed, it was proved that that budget was one of the best that had been presented to this House and that it gave to this country an economic stability that had been lacking over a period of years. I believe that, when we look back upon the budget that we are now debating, the same amount of credit and the same spirit of purpose will be conceded to the right honorable gentleman.
I cannot offer any criticism of the speech of the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mullens), because the only time that he mentioned the budget in my presence was when he referred to the Treasurer as fading off into the mist. But I should like to examine the activities of some of the departments, and some of the estimates contained in the budget. The first department to whichI wish to refer is the Postmaster-General’s Department. A great deal of work has been done in that department, butI think it would be wise if we could get an expert in the United States of America to come out to Australia to examine the conditions and the circumstances under which we labour, and to offer advice on the installation of telephones and all the other activities of the department. The sending of certain people to other countries to make investigations relating to certain activities under the control of the Commonwealth is a good idea, but if j in view of the experience of the United States of America in such matters, we could get an expert to come to Australia to view the conditions and circumstances under which we work, it would be of benefit to the Postmaster-General’s Department as a whole. I submit that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) should give consideration to my suggestion.
Another matter that has been mentioned, although only briefly on some occasions, is that of pensions. I note that the Opposition, on this occasion, has not been quite 30 vocal in its criticism of the increases granted to pensioners as it was last year. Obviously, it realizes that the increase that this Government has given has surprised many people, because it was not thought, perhaps, even possible that such a sum could be given. Let me quote the words of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), because I think they put the position in such a manner as to be clearly understood. The right honorable gentleman has stated -
Tim other is that the task of increasing production becomes more and more important, because it is only out of the community’s production that any government can pay financial benefits. It is trite politicoeconomic learning that governments are creatures, not creators- and that they can spend nothing which human beings have not earned and produced. If the value of production does not increase in at least the same proportion as the numbers of beneficiaries and the relative payments) made to them, then taxation must lie increased with perhaps depressing effects upon production, or payments to beneficiaries must be reduced.
The end result of the twentieth-century laws and policies is what lias been styled the Welfare State, some of the implications of which deserve some clearer public understanding than now appears to exist. The most important practical implication is one to which I have already alluded, but which needs repetition. A community of individuals who expect and receive, at all stages of life, assistance and protection from the State must of necessity, by proper fiscal measures, accept the economic and financial burden of providing that assistance and protection. Many individuals may properly get from Government more than they pay to or provide for Government; some may even get “something for nothing”, though I doubt it. But the sum of what all the individuals get cannot exceed the sum of what all the individuals pay or provide, for Government has no money of its own !
This basic truth has been so obscured bv cloudy notions about the inexhaustible resources of the disembodied but paternal Statethat it is frequently forgotten. Common sense and true humanity require that we should remember it.
As the Prime Minister has stated, frequently that basic truth has been obscured by cloudy notions and we have forgotten the reality of the truth that, if we try to pay out too much, basically we place too great a strain upon the economy with the result that, not only those who are receiving pensions and benefits suffer, but also the whole of the community suffers, and ultimately the whole system breaks down.
At times, Opposition members have spoken about the value of pensions in relation to the C series index. Every year that this Government has been in office there has been a plus in the C series index in relation to the value of. the pensions. This year, it has reached the remarkable index of plus 9s. 4d.
– What does that mean ?
– For the benefit of the honorable member for Hoddle (Mr. Cremean), it means that if the basic amount that was given by the Australian Labour party when it went out. of office had been governed by the C series index, the pension would now be 9s. 4d. less than it is. Because the Government has adopted a wise and sound financial policy, it has been able to increase pensions to a degree that was not thought possible. Another fact that, must be taken into consideration in relation to pensions, and which so many people frequently forget, is the payment of benefits under the free medical scheme. The Government need not be ashamed, in the eyes of the public, of its treatment of aged pensioners. My friend and colleague, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr.. Turnbull), stated yesterday evening that everybody would like to give more, and I think that statement is perfectly true. But the fact is that we can go only a.far as economic stability enables us to go.
It has been stated in certain places that the Government should have reduced defence expenditure so that it would have more money to spend on other things or to give rebates of taxation. Any man who suggests that this country, at any particular stage, should cut down its defence expenditure can be likened to an ostrich which sticks its head in the sand, because he is closing his eyes to the reality of the international situation. No one will deny that there are hopeful signs on the international horizon and that we should explore every possible avenue in the quest of peace. The conference that is now considering the question of world disarmament and the investigation of the armaments of the various countries will represent one step forward if it is successful, but, as was stated in this House last night, we are perfectly aware that fine words and fine phrases do not bring peace. I believe there are two reasons why the Russians at the moment are seemingly looking for peace. One of those reasons is that they are experiencing a degree of internal trouble and the other is that the West is growing stronger. The West can now ileal through strength. While we can deal through strength, the other side will agree with, and listen to, many more of our arguments than if we were to deal through weakness. Nothing would suit the potential enemies of our way of life more than that we should weaken ourselves in the face of their pretence for peace and then discover that we were not able to stand against them when they perpetrated acts of aggresesion
I should like to make only one suggestion in regard to defence expenditure. [ should like the possibility of devoting a certain amount of defence moneys to strategic roads to be investigated. In my electorate, the traffic along main roads is dependent upon three ferries. In the event of war, those roads would be of vital importance for the transport of troops and supplies. Although the provision of better transport facilities might be the responsibility of some authority other than the Commonwealth, I believe that this matter should be investigated in order to ascertain whether, in certain circumstances, strategic bridges should be constructed, using moneys from the defence vote.
A great deal has been spoken about the dairying industry in the last few weeks. As the representative of a large and important dairying electorate, I should like to say something on this matter. First of all, I believe that a great deal of confused thinking has taken place because the position has not been investigated properly. Because of factors, such as the drop in the overseas market, the doubt that exists in world markets, and the uncertainty in regard to home production, a great deal of criticism has been levelled at the Government. The reduction of £1,200,000 in the butter subsidy will represent a reduction of 2/3d. per lb. in the price paid to producers. Because there was this small reduction in the subsidy, it has been said that the whole reduction in the price of butter is the responsibility of the Government. I should also like to remind those people who have made this criticism that a part of the preamble to the Dairying Industry Act 1952 reads as follows: -
And whereas bodies representing the dairying industry have approved the scheme for the stabilisation of that industry consisting of the proposals set out in the foregoing recitals and certain other proposals:
I invite attention particularly to the words -
I remind those who are engaged in the dairying industry that they approved of the scheme and that the Government made the concessions operate over a period of two years. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) has now stated that the full amount of the subsidy of £14,500,000 will be made available to the dairying industry. The addition to the subsidy of £4,600,000 which will result from the increase in the homeconsumption price will bring the amount, payable to the industry this year to £19,100,000. In that regard, the estimate of the equalization committee is the most pessimistic and conservative estimate that could be made. I think that it is natural that any organization which has the handling of finance on an. uncertain market should be conservative in its estimate. Previously, under the contract, the price to be received was known before the goods were sold, but that is no longer the case.
I have heard people criticize the dairyfarmer and say that if only he would become more efficient his costs would be reduced and his income increased. The income of farmers has been dropping for a number of years. The income of farmers reached a peak of £709,000,000 in 1950-51; in 1951-52 the total income of farmers amounted to £524,000,000; in 1952-53 it was £592,000,000; and in 1953-54 it fell to £550,000,000. The estimated total income of farmers for the year 1954-55 was £490,000,000. Those people who contend that the farmer should become more efficient in order to bring down costs should remember that the farmer has no control over many factors which affect the cost of production. They are factors such as freight rates, ana the irresponsibility of the Premier of New South Wales who has proposed the introduction of legislation to increase the basic wage. This measure would increase expenditure by private enterprise in New South Wales by £5,000,000 each year and would increase by £2,500,000 the expenditure of the New South Wales Government which has already lost £6,000,000 on its railways. And when Mr. Cahill increased railway freight rates he applied the greatest increase to the transport of fertilizers. I also ask those people who request the farmer to become more efficient to take into consideration the uncertainty of seasonal conditions. These are all factors over which the farmer has no control.
As I said before, the equalization committee has ‘made a conservative estimate and it is hoped that if certain returns are not as low as anticipated the farmer may receive an additional 2d. or 3d. per lb. which would return to him at least 50 per cent, of the amount that he has been losing. As other people are being assisted in many ways, I suggest that the Government might consider the immediate payment to the dairy-farmers of that amount of 2d. per lb. This would provide the farmer with gradual finan cial assistance over a period instead of having to wait for a year for his bonus payment. It is possible that it may not be necessary for the Government ultimately to provide the money for that payment. But even if it were necessary for the Government to provide the money it would be worth while doing so in order to restore a degree of stability to the dairying industry. During the last twelve months it has been proved conclusively that the economic stability of this country is dependent on exports and those people who are providing the exports should be given the maximum possible amount of assistance. I do not close my eyes to the assistance that has already been given by the Government. But I consider that the additional assistance that I have suggested would be a gesture that would be appreciated by the man o« the land, particularly at this time of the year which is the worst time of the year so far as production is concerned.
I now wish to make one or two general remarks in regard to the economy of our country. Sir Oliver Franks, in delivering the British Broadcasting Commission’s Reith lectures, under the title of “Britain and the Tide of World Affairs “, made the following statement : -
In our way, the British economy is like a watch spring. If its performance is to be satisfactory, the hairspring, and the mainspring must both be in order, the regulator and the prime mover. If the hairspring is not, breakfast may be signalled at tea-time and utter confusion prevail. But if the mainspring is not working, there is nothing even to go wrong. In the British economy the hairspring consists of those regulatory devices, fiscal and monetary measures, which help to keep the economy in trim and free from the disturbances of inflation. They can do a great deal, and to our great . benefit, provided they are not asked to do too much. They cannot substitute for the mainspring of the economy.
What is this? It is our power to produce, to be flexible and efficient in production. If all this is strong, the economy moves forward and gains in strength. The strength, it is true, can be dissipated if we do nut regulate ourselves wisely. If we give way to inflation, as we know only too well since the war, costs go up, we become less competitive, we consume too much at home. But our life and strength as a nation of traders, earning a living overseas, turns on our power to produce and our efficiency at the job.
In the end we face a moral issue. Everything turns on what we are willing to do. Remember this about the future we assume for Britain. A wise foreign policy will improve our prospects; lack of statesmanship could ruin them. But our prospects ultimately depend on the performance of the economy. There lie the means of greatness.
I think we can say, in truth, that there hinges the future of the stability of the economy of this country. A wise foreign policy and wise statesmanship, which we have seen from the Government now in office, can make a great contribution to a stable economy, but ultimately success depends upon every individual playing his or her part. I say quite candidly that if we are honest we must admit that there are a number of sections of the community that are not making their due contribution. If we are constantly demanding shorter hours and higher wages, then we will not be making that necessary contribution to the economy of the nation. If, on the other hand, we allow industry to do certain things that it should not do, then we will allow it also to fail to make its due contribution. In fairness, while we admit that there are many men in certain sections who are not making their contribution, it must also be admitted, if we are honest, that on a number of occasions industry has not played its part and made its contribution to the stability of the economy. It is no good to blame one side and say that it is all black, and that the other side is all white. If proper note is taken by all sections of the community of the remarks made by the Treasurer when he introduced his budget I believe we shall go forward to greater prosperity than we have enjoyed in the past. But, no matter to which section of the community we belong, if we try to take more out of the national pool than we put into it, the economic prosperity of Australia will be threatened. One factor that we must consider is that if we were a self-supporting nation the costs of our production would not matter; but when we are dependent on our exports it is essential for us to keep our costs of production down. By doing so we shall also assist in raising the real standard of living of every man and woman in Australia. The real standard of living depends, not on the financial return .but on the general contribution to production and economic stability. I hope that this nation will take to heart the words which the Treasurer used when he presented his budget, which has been called the “standstill” budget. It is a standstill budget. It is a budget that asks us to stand and hold what we have, so that we may be able to go forward to greater and sounder prosperity.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) pro posed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I bring up a matter which, in my opinion, warrants some form of investigation. At the outset, 1 wish to read a rather peculiar letter which I have received from the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan). It was written on the 17th August, and reads -
I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 11th August and have noted your further views regarding the importation of heavy duty motor trucks from Honolulu.
Coming as it does from a former Commonwealth Minister the tenor of your letter is rather amazing. However, I have nothing further to add to that conveyed in earlier correspondence.
I think that honorable members will agree that that is rather a peculiar letter to receive from a Minister of the Crown, particularly when there was no reason for his couching it in such terms, as honorable members will realize when I read to them a copy of my letter of the 11th August, to which the Minister’s letter is a reply. I shall read my letter to the House so that honorable members will see that it was couched in quite respectful terms, was seeking information, and was certainly not a letter which warranted the strange reply that I received from the Minister. My letter read -
I am in receipt of your communication dated the 2nd instant having further reference to information which I sought regarding a consignment of motor vehicles imported from Honolulu.
What you now have to say concerning this transaction prompts me to raise a further aspect of the matter.
You state that regular importers from the dollar area do not usually import vehicles of the type Under discussion but had done so occasionally.
It would therefore appear that there is no great demand in Australia for this type of vehicle and it is difficult to understand why, under the circumstances, dollars, which are in such short supply, should be made available for the importation of this additional supply.
Further, I am advised that the licence was not issued in the name of Thiess Bros., but in that of a comparatively new company, which however was a subsidiary of Thiess Bros.
Unless the Department were aware of the connexion between the two companies, the decision would be based on the assumption that the applicant company had never previously been engaged in the importation of motor vehicles of this type.
The reason for approval being given for the importation of this consignment of motor vehicles still puzzles me.
I should be pleased if you would let me know whether the issuance of the licence in this instance was recommended by the Customs Officers in Sydney, or whether it was referred to the Head Office of your Department in Canberra and subsequently approved from that quarter, or whether you exercised your Ministerial powers to grant or secure approval of the application.
That is the letter of the 11th August to which the Minister wrote such a strange reply. I am, therefore, naturally, not satisfied. I want to know something more about this transaction. The transaction relates to two American punts that were towed across the Pacific. Honorable members may recollect that they were brought across by an American tug, and that the tow received some publicity because it was regarded as the longest tow of this kind known, certainly in this country or the Pacific area. At one period the ships were believed to have been lost in a storm because they were so long overdue.
There is something rather strange about the whole affair, in that the dollars for this transaction were not provided by the Dollar Allocation Committee out of the normal quarterly allocation of dollars for the motor trade, because it was realized that if the dollars were made available from that quarter, the motor vehicle- importers would be very much up in arms against the allocation, which would have meant a reduction of the amount of dollars available for their own imports. The allocation was made from an amount set aside in the dollar allocation fund for contingencies. The information given to me, which I was anxious to have checked by the Minister, was that, when the application was first made to the Department of Trade and Customs in Sydney for the issue of the .import licence, the Sydney officers of the department were not favorably disposed towards it, and referred the papers, I understand by request, to the head office of the department in Canberra. Mr. Meere, the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs, evidently examined it himself and decided to support the Sydney office. He . was not satisfied that it was a transaction for which dollars ought to be made available. Therefore, if the Sydney office of the department, to which application was first made, turned it down, or recommended its rejection, and Mr. Meere, the ComptrollerGeneral in Canberra, was not prepared to approve it, it could have been approved only by direction of the Minister himself. Therefore, I want the Minister to tell us why, after his officers in Sydney and Canberra had recommended against approval of the application, he used his ministerial powers to enforce the issuance of the licences. I believe that that is a reasonable request. I have at present before me the file of correspondence on this matter which time will not permit me to read in full. However, the file will disclose that I have been most patient in making requests to the Minister for Trade and Customs, and that all my letters have been couched in respectful terms. But the file will also disclose that the replies to my letters from the Minister have been most evasive. In one of his replies he mentioned that this particular type of vehicle is not in great demand in Australia. He said that, normally, motor importers import them in small numbers, but not regularly. In saying that he was indicating that there was no great demand for the vehicles in this country. If that was so, why were dollars provided so that the vehicles could be imported into Australia?
Strangely enough, on the first occasion that I wrote to him, the Minister refused to give me any information at all about these transactions, and said that the matter had to be treated as strictly confidential. I wanted to know what was the number and type of the vehicles in question, what was the total value of the vehicles, whether they were new or second-hand, to whom they were consigned, to whom the import licence was issued, the amount of dollars involved, and so on. I suggest that they were all normal inquiries. The Minister informed me that the transactions were treated as strictly confidential. Not only would he not tell me the value of the dollars involved, but he also would not tell me the name of the company to whom the import licence had been issued. After my inquiries continued, and the Minister noticed that I knew a little more about the transaction than I had originally indicated, he relaxed somewhat and stated that Thiess Brothers Proprietary Limited were the real importers of the vehicles, thus indicating that the Sydney company was a dummy one. The Minister did not deny that it was a dummy, because he informed me that Thiess Brothers Proprietary Limited had been engaged in the importation of motor vehicles of a certain type for a period of years. My information was that the application to import the vehicles was not made in the name of Thiess Brothers Proprietary Limited, but that the company which made the application was the American Heavy Equipment Company, which is a subsidiary of Thiess Brothers Proprietary Limited, but was being used by the latter firm to import these vehicles. Consequently, I am not satisfied with the Minister’s reply, which he evidently believed was to be the final word in respect of this transaction.
I now ask the Minister in charge of the House, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), to have this matter thoroughly investigated, and to ensure that I get a reply to the questions that I directed to the Minister for Trade and Customs, and that he refused to answer. I ask whether it is’ not true that the application to import the vehicles was made to the Department of Trade and Customs in Sydney, and was declined? I also ask whether it is not a fact that, when the matter was referred to Canberra, the Canberra office of that department sup ported the attitude of the Sydney office. After those moves, no doubt a direction came from the Minister. In view of the fact that dollars are in short supply, as indeed has been indicated by the Treasurer in his budget speech, why were they made available for the importation of these vehicles, which the Minister himself has said are not in great demand in Australia? I believe that there is something to answer in connexion with this transaction, and I leave the matter to the Vice-President of the Executive Council to secure some satisfactory answer to the questions that I directed to the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– in reply - The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is rather an extraordinary mixture. He has asked me, as Minister in charge of the House, to make inquiries about the charges which he has made in this House, and which he knows full well I would not be in a position to know anything about. If he had told me beforehand that he had intended to make these charges to-day, I could have answered him, because he knows that I represent the Minister for Trade and Customs in this House. The honorable member knows full well that unless I am advised beforehand about matters that may be raised in connexion with the Department of Trade and Customs, I would naturally not be aware of the circumstances surrounding them, because my portfolio is different from that of the Minister for Trade and Customs. However, such a procedure did not suit the honorable member’s book. If he could not find some smart Alec in every office, or some person of a questionable nature around every corner, to give him information, it would not suit him to rise in this House and make the statements that he so often does make. Apparently, he judges everybody else by his own measure and is now casting a reflection on the Minister for Trade and Customs by innuendo, and is insinuating that there is something of a shady nature associated with this transaction which must be closely investigated merely because the Minister has not seen fit to allow himself to be quizzed by the honorable member on the basis of some information surreptitiously obtained from some person in the department.
The honorable member for East Sydney generally obtains his information by having somebody in a department to carry tales to him, and to whisper in his ear so that he can use that information in this House. Therefore, I say to the honorable member, who was formerly a Minister and who knows full well the way these matters are decided in the departments, that I shall ensure that his remarks are brought to the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs. I hope that I shall be in a position when the next motion for adjournment is before this House, to give the honorable member a full answer to the insinuations and innuendoes that he has put forward to-night.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 August 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19550831_reps_21_hor7/>.