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 the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Acting Minister for External Affairs in a position to inform the House whether there is any substance in the press reports of increased Japanese armaments, following upon the visit of the Japanese Foreign Minister to the United States of America?
– I shall ascertain what information is available, and, if possible, make it available to the right honorable gentleman.
– In view of the fact that the impact of international affairs is to-day probably greater than at any time in history, and also because the budget debate does not give honorable members an adequate opportunity to discuss these matters, will the Prime Minister indicate to the House whether he is prepared to allocate time for a debate on foreign affairs in the near future ?
– I am very sympathetic to the honorable member’s proposal, and shall try to arrange a discussion of the subject as soon as possible.
– Reports are current in the Northern Territory which suggest that it is not the intention of the Administrator to call the Legislative Council together this year. If such reports are correct, will the Minister for Territories issue instructions for the council to be called together, so that it may consider important legislation which elected members of the council wish to bring forward, as well as legislation which the Government must have in mind? I remind the Minister that, with the exception of a formal session called for the purpose of opening the new Legislative Council chamber, there has not been a business session since the last election, which was. held in May last year.
– The calling together of the members of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory is a matter wholly within the powers of the Administrator, or, at the present time, of the Acting Administrator. I assume that in any decision on whether or not to call a meeting of the council, both the Administrator and the Acting Administrator would be guided by their own knowledge of whether there was anything for the council to do, that is, whether there were any bills to be brought before it. I shall inquire from the Acting Administrator what the position is, but I should like to inform the honorable member that I would hesitate to give the Acting Administrator definite instructions to call the Legislative Council together if, in his judgment, there was, in fact, not enough business to justify a meeting.
– I address my question to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Has the Minister read the public statement made by the president of the Queensland Dairymen’s Organization that “the figure of 49.29 pence per lb. recommended by the Dairy Industry Investigation Committee as the level of the Commonwealth guarantee will be exceeded “ and that “ a return for the portion of production coming within the guarantee has been obtained at the investigation committee’s cost of efficient production - 50 pence per lb. - with something in addition”? If the above statements are correct, will the Minister take appropriate action through the press and radio to publicize the overall position in order to combat this apparent political propaganda, which is confusing the public and damaging the dairying industry?
– I have seen published a statement attributed to the president of the Queensland Dairymen’s Organization in the terms indicated in the honorable member’s question. The position is that the actual returns to the dairyfarmers, a3 paid by the factories, are determined principally by recommendations to the factories from an organization of the dairying industry itself, not a government concern, which is known as the Australian Dairying Industry Equalization Committee Limited. That committee has to make a recommendation that will fairly and as accurately as possible, represent the average return derived from local and export sales and the Government subsidy. Because this is the first year since 1938 in which the dairying industry has exported on an unknown and free market as against bulk sale at known contract prices, there is an obvious difficulty and unpredictability involved in estimating what the factories should pay. The committee is under a similar disability in advising how thi bounty should be distributed. In those circumstances, the Government has allowed the equalization committee to make recommendations that involve the distribution of the Government subsidy on a basis that could result in the dairy-farmers receiving more than the present guaranteed return. Indeed, on the figures that the committee is working on, it is highly probable that the dairy-farmers will receive, in respect of the guaranteed return, a price slightly higher than that recommended by the committee. The leaders of the dairying industry, who are kept fully informed, understand this position perfectly. I am only sorry to say that many of them are not taking the trouble to explain the situation to the dairy-farmers.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. Has the right honorable gentleman yet read the report presented to the House of Commons in June of this year by the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission in respect of exclusive dealing, collective boycotts, aggregated rebates and other discriminatory trade practices? Since practices condemned in the report are carried on in Australia by overseas and Australian firms, will the Prime Minister appoint, under the authority of the Com monwealth, or conjointly with the States, a similar commission to inquire into the prevalence of such offensive and antisocial trade practices in this country and to recommend whatever action by the government authorities the commission might deem desirable to protect the public from such practices?
– I regret to say that, so far, I have not had an opportunity to read the report referred to.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for the Interior, refers to the alteration of electoral boundaries and the designation of electoral divisions, legislation, concerning which was approved by this Parliament recently. Will the Minister indicate whether, in all cases, the alteration of boundaries becomes effective after the issue of writs prior to the next election for the House of Representatives, and whether, in the case of electorates where a change of name has been approved, a similar arrangement will apply?
– The changed boundaries and the changed names become effective after the next general election following a redistribution. That is to say, the election itself is held on the changed boundaries and under the changed names, but those boundaries and names do not actually become effective until after the general election is held. If, on the other hand, there were a by-election which took place between now - the redistribution having been passed - and the next general election, the byelection would take place on the old boundaries, not on the new, and the same would apply to the names.
– Is the Minister foi Commerce and Agriculture aware that the Australian Wheat Board refuses to quote for the supply of wheat for export to other than recognized traders, irrespective of the standing in the importing and exporting field of the person or firm seeking to export wheat? In view of the repeated claim of the Government that it stands for free enterprise and competitive trading, will the right honorable gentleman undertake to have the matter examined with a view to preventing the protection and encouragement, by the Australian Wheat Board, of monopolies and cartels, and to ensure that quotations for the export of wheat shall be supplied by the board to any person or company, of sufficient standing, eager to enter this field,?
– I think that perhaps the honorable gentleman’s problem might be better illustrated if he were to give me the particular facts he has in mind. I can only say that the method of operations adopted by the Australian Wheat Board in this regard has remained unchanged for a good many years, and that among the members of the board are representatives of the flour-milling and other wheat interests, quite apart from the representatives of the grower interests. [ cannot believe that there is a real problem behind the honorable member’s question. If he will give me particulars of the individual case he has in mind, I shall be glad to look into it and explain the actual situation to him.
– Can the Minister for Social Services say whether it is true, as claimed by the Minister for Housing in Western Australia, who administers the War Service Homes Division in that State, that fewer contracts could be let this year because a decision of the Australian Government had cut available funds for Western Australia by £800,000 compared with last year? Is it also true that this slowing down in Western Australia is due to the fact that other States have not made as much progress as that achieved by the Western Australian division? If these claims are true, does it mean that the number of war service homes to be built this year will be only 550, whereas previously the number has been approximately between 1,100 to 1,200 a year?
– I have not seen the report of the statements attributed to the Western Australian Minister for Housing, but I think I can say that the statements as mentioned are not correct in fact. I cannot be completely accurate in this matter, but so far as my memory goes, I think that the number of houses to be provided in Western Australia will be 42 less this year than the number provided last year. I am relying on a hazardous memory, but I think that 1,065 houses will be provided this year compared with 1,107 provided last year. On the question of allocation of funds, as a result of the excellent conditions that are given under the war service homes legislation, including a low interest rate and a long period of repayment, the number of applications has stepped up to 29,000 this year. Consequent upon the policy speech of the Prime Minister at the last general election, the average amount available per home will be increased this year from about £2,250 to £2,600. As a result of this, there will be some increase in the waiting period and a reduction in the number of homes provided in certain States. So far as Western Australia is concerned, it is being very favorably treated. As I have said, there will be a reduction of not more than 45 homes, but in other States the reduction will be greater. I might mention that the number of contracts to be let will be fewer than last year. However, I think that the honorable member is more interested in the number of homes actually provided. I am not certain whether the honorable member will be satisfied with this reply, but if he wants it titivated a little so that it may be more easily digested, I shall be happy to furnish him with a fuller reply.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration. In the last report issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, under the heading “ Net permanent migration “, the following figures appear: - 15,012 males and 10,911 females. What does the Minister propose to do to adjust the position indicated by these figures?
– In reply to a question put to me earlier in this sessional period, I pointed out that the Department of Immigration had been making a close analysis of the trend which had developed during the period of our post-war migration. At that time I stressed that it would always be found - I think for fairly obvious reasons - that at any one point there would be more males than females recorded as having come to this country, because of the well-understood practice of the bread-winner, in many cases, coming out in advance of his family to establish himself before sending for the family. On the other hand, our analysis of the census figures for 1954 revealed a proportion of masculinity to femininity in Australia of - I think from memory - 103 to 100, so no very great disproportion is evident in the community at the present time. Indeed, those figures represent the lowest disproportion which has existed during the whole history of our federation, apart from that disclosed by the 1947 census. However, I am aware of the social implications of a continuing policy of excessive masculinity, and I can assure the honorable gentleman that we are examining the steps to be taken to meet that situation should it develop.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that salesmen for .a medical and hospital benefits organization not registered as an approved society are canvassing for members in certain areas of Queensland, and that they are misrepresenting this organization as an approved society for the payment of Commonwealth medical and hospital benefits? As most of the canvassing is being done in country areas remote from health laboratories from which information might be obtained about these societies, will the Minister have advertisements inserted in all country and metropolitan newspapers, warning the people against such organizations, and showing clearly those organizations which are approved for the payment of Commonwealth benefits? Will he also give consideration to the printing of public notices which may be displayed in post offices and other public places and, if it can be arranged, in doctors’ surgeries?
– I am not aware of the activity referred to by the honorable gentleman, but I shall have inquiries made at once in regard to the matter and have action taken to stop this practice. The Attorney-General has assured me that action has already been taken to prevent the use of the word “ Commonwealth “ in this connexion. So far as the rest of the question is concerned, it is easy enough to publish the names of thu organizations which are approved, but the honorable member will see that if we publish the names of those which are not approved, people may be deceived into thinking that those are the only ones which are not approved and may be misled by those who seek to do business under false colours.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. I note, with great apprehension, that wool prices in Adelaide at last week’s sales fell by from 10 to 20 per cent, compared with the opening sales of June, 1954, and that of the 16,119 bales offered, more than 1,175- bales were passed in. This passing in of wool is something unprecedented over the years, and certainly did not occur during the regime of the Curtin and Chifley Governments. Has the Treasurer a solution of the problem, or a reason to offer for the falling off of the demand for our wool and the sensational drop in prices ?
– The honorable member asked me whether I could offer a reason for the decline in the price of wool. I think the reason is obvious. Buyers are not bidding high enough.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister in connexion with the disastrous floods in the Mary River, which caused considerable distress to many persons in March last, whilst the washing away of roads and bridges caused concern to local authorities. Recently, in the Queensland Parliament, and in letters written to local authorities in the areas concerned, the Premier of Queensland accused the Prime Minister of not assisting Queensland in its time of trial. The Premier stated -
I have now received advice to the effect that the Commonwealth cannot agree to providespecial assistance to Queensland for this purpose . . .
– Order ! The honorable member may not convey information. He must ask a question.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he received any request from the Premier of Queensland earlier this year asking for Commonwealth assistance towards the relief of distress suffered by people in the Maryborough and Gympie areas during the disastrous floods of March last. If so, can the right honorable gentleman inform the House whether he agreed to subsidize, on a £l-for-£l basis, any State Government contribution to the victims of flood disaster? Did the Prime Minister receive any claims from the Premier of Queensland? If so, how many claims did he receive and for what amount or amounts ?
– It is quite true that L received a telegram from the Premier of Queensland about the 29th or 30th March last making an application in connexion with the matter to which the honorable member has referred. The reply given to him was the reply that the Government has made to the Government of New South Wales, to the Government of Queensland on a former occasion and to the Government of Victoria. The reply was to the effect that the Commonwealth would make a contribution, on a £l-for-£l basis with the State governments, for the relief of personal hardship. That is the principle under which we have laid out very substantial sums of money in other States.
– That is the principle established by the Chifley Government.
– And, if I may say so, none the worse for that, because even the government of which my friend, the honorable member for Lalor, was a distinguished ornament, had to be right occasionally. That is only in the course of nature. When we follow the principle, that demonstrates how right it was. Therefore, we are at one on this matter. That principle having been explained to the Premier of Queensland, he then got in touch with us and asked us to match his own government grant. I am sure that the honorable member for Wide Bay has followed me so far. The Queenland Government’s grant was £1,000, and we matched it.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to comment on the plan that was submitted to him by an all-party committee of the Parliament of Western Australia in connexion with the development of the north-west of Western Australia? If not, when will he be able to do so?
– I cannot answer the question offhand. I did tell Mr. Hawke, the Premier of Western Australia, who led the deputation, that as soon as we were in a position to deal with the various aspects of the matter, we would communicate direct with him. I am under the impression that we have communicated with him on at least one matter, but I shall check up on that, and inform the honorable member accordingly.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Interior, and I mention, by way of explanation, that the grant promised by the Commonwealth to the New South Wales Government to expedite the settlement of ex-servicemen in that State is conditional upon the State Government resuming land at a reasonable figure. Has the Minister been informed whether the State Government has yet taken steps to alter the law under which it resumes land at 1942 values plus 15 per cent., and so qualify for the grant?
– As I said recently, I think in answer to the honorable member for Riverina, certain negotiations have taken place between the Commonwealth and New South Wales on this matter. At the moment, I am not at liberty to divulge the result of those negotiations.
– On the 1st September, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie asked me when the report of the Tariff
Board in connexion with ‘blue asbestos would be tabled. He will recall that he referred to the asbestos industry at Wittenoom Gorge. I am now in a position to tell him that it is expected that the report will be tabled to-morrow.
– Does the Minister for Immigration recall that during the last sessional period, I pointed out to him that there was a grave shortage of trained nurses in the Commonwealth - the number was from 3,500 to 4,000 short of requirements - and that I asked whether he would include in this year’s immigration programme a quota of trained nurses from the United Kingdom and Europe? Does the Minister recall also that he promised to consider the matter? I now ask whether he has done anything practical to accede to my plea, which was made on behalf of all the hospitals in this country.
– I apologize if I have not conveyed the information to the honorable member. I shall have a suitable reply prepared, and I shall see that he gets it within the next few days.
– I address a question to the Postmaster-General. Is it a fact that the Postmaster-General’s Department proposes in the very near future to increase the charge for a call from public telephone boxes to fourpence, and also to increase the charge for broadcast listeners’ licences to £3 a year? If so, will the Minister, in the case of listeners’ licences, take into consideration the plight of age, invalid and service pensioners and exempt them from the increase?
– There is no basis for any of the suggestions made in the honorable member’s question.
– Has the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture seen a report from the United States of America that the skins and pulps of oranges have been used in a mixture for feeding dairy and beef cattle, with beneficial results ? If the Minister has seen the report, will he tell me whether any action has been taken on it in Australia? If not, will he ask the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, to inquire into the matter?
– I have not seen such a report, but I saw ground citrus pulp and residue used as a part of a cattle food in California ten years ago. I think it is well known in stock feed manufacturing circles that citrus pulp is a useful component of a stock feed.
– In view of the rapidly increasing financial plight of local governing bodies throughout the Commonwealth, will the Prime Minister arrange for an parly debate to take place on the motion already moved by the honorable member for Boothby dealing with the exemption of the Commonwealth from local government rates?
– I shall consider what the honorable member has said or the matter.
– Will the Minister for Social Services outline to the House the conditions under which the Commonwealth subsidy in connexion with the provision, of homes for aged people is paid to church organizations? Is it a fact that such organizations may raise their proportion of the required funds for this specific purpose by means of donations and the proceeds of fairs and fetes, and that they would qualify for the Commonwealth subsidy as their funds were used in the provision of such homes ? What is the approximate amount of Commonwealth assistance that has so far been provided in connexion with homes for aged1 people in the various States?
– The conditions under which a grant will be made by the Commonwealth for this purpose are as simple as they could be made. If a recognized church or charitable organization collects money, the Commonwealth will match the amount of the collections on a £1 for £1 basis; no other conditions are applied. The procedure is as simple as it could be, and most of the organizations which have applied to the Commonwealth for such assistance have been able to overcome their problems fairly easily. I should think that collections at fetes and other activities of that kind would come within the terms of the definition. I shall look into that aspect of the matter and inform the honorable member of the position. If my memory serves me aright, the amount of Commonwealth assistance that had been approved for this purpose at the time that I last reported to the Prime Minister on the subject was about £992,000, of which £450,000 had already been paid to various organizations. I shall refresh my memory in the matter and inform the honorable member if those figures are not quite correct.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inform the House whether he has recently had a conference with overseas shipping representatives on the subject of freight charges? If such a conference was held, was one of the matters discussed a proposal by overseas shipping lines to increase freight charges on Australian exports by either 7£ per cent, or 10 per cent.? Was a decision reached in connexion with the proposal ? If such a conference has not yet been held, when is it expected to take place? Will this matter be included in the agenda?
– As I have already informed the House, I invited Australian shipper interests - that is, the exporter interests - to meet me and discuss this problem. The discussion took place in Canberra last Friday morning. It is to be remembered that the shipper interests are the principals in negotiation with the shipowners in this regard. They conduct their negotiations within the framework of the Australian Overseas Transport Association, which is a statutory body. Therefore, I have not so much intervened as I have taken a general economic interest in this issue, in my capacity as the Minister to whom the shipper interests have directed their request for the Government to aid them in preparing their cases. The position at the moment is that the wool exporting interests - their contract having been the first to expire - have offered the shipowners an increase of 1 per cent, in freight rates. The shipowners declined that offer, and so the contract was terminated. It is understood that, for the next three months, the wool interests will be free to ship at a 10 per cent, increase with the Conference lines, or be equally free to charter or make individual arrangements. None of the other contracts has run out, and it was with the other interests concerned that I had this interview. The outcome of the discussion was that they indicated that they wish to make further direct contact with the shipowners. I told them that if, after having done so, their negotiations had not been satisfactorily concluded, I would invite the shipowners to meet me, because I believe that a satisfactory basis for a reasonable solution to this problem can be arrived at. I believe that the shipowners must not seek to impose a freight rate upon Australian interests greater than can be justified by the cost figures, which they themselves must demonstrate to be fair if they are to retain the respect of the Australian community. They understand the position. I believe that it is possible to determine a basis for a fair and justifiable solution of this issue.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Navy. In view of the recent report that the Conservative Government of the United Kingdom intends to make a substantial reduction of the units of the British Navy, is it likely that there will be a revision of the number of units of the Royal Australian Navy?
– I assure the honorable member that the answer to his question is “ No “. If and when such a step is contemplated a public statement will be made.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether his attention has been directed to a report from Port Elizabeth., South Africa, that merino rams bought at the last Sydney sheep sales for sums totalling £10,398 are to be used by the Government of South Africa at the Grootfontein College of Agriculture for stud breeding, as well as experimental purposes. Will the Minister investigate this information, and if it is found to be correct, will he take the necessary action to prevent overseas countries from obtaining these rams for stud-breeding purposes ?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member refers, but my immediate reaction is to say that such a report is not inconsistent with the conditions attached to the permit to export merino rams. The purpose for which the rams were sought was to enable the Government of South Africa to conduct genetic experimental work. A further’ condition was that there should be no diffusion of the rams or of their progeny for commercial purposes. The genetic work will obviously involve some stud breeding, but so long as the progeny of that stud breeding is not made available for commercial purposes, but is retained entirely within the experimental establishment of the Government of South. Africa, there will be no breach of the conditions, and no danger to the Australian sheep industry.
– What action does the Treasurer propose to take to satisfy the discontented and much disturbed dairyfarmers of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales who recently waited upon him and explained the gravity of their plight?
– This Government has done everything to the advantage of the dairying industry, and the discerning people engaged in that industry recognize and appreciate that fact.
– Can the Minister for the Army say whether any member of 2nd Battalion absented himself without leave rather than go to Malaya? Was a case of this kind recently dealt with by court-martial? Is it a fact that members of the Regular Army posted for Malayan duty have absented themselves without leave, including a soldier who had enlisted at seventeen years of age and served two years in Korea? Will the Minister assure the House that in peace-time no member of the Regular Army will be forced to go to Malaya or to any other overseas posting against his will ?
– I am at a loss to understand why any member of this House, who appreciates that the first obligation of the Government is to ensure that Australia is adequately defended and to honour its obligations and agreements entered into for this purpose, would ask such a question. As to any soldier going overseas at seventeen years of age, the policy of this Government is that nobody leaves Australia for service anywhere at all overseas until they reach the age of nineteen years. If this lad has given a false age, all I can say is that as soon as we find that out, we shall bring him back to Australia. As to whether or not some men are absent without leave from a battalion, it is a very funny battalion that does not have some personnel absent without leave from time to time. The. implication contained in the honorable member’s question that a number of men have absented themselves, without leave in order to avoid service overseas is entirely untrue. Every member of the Permanent Army enlists for service anywhere.
– My question it addressed to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and is supplementary to a question asked to-day by the honorable member for Canning and a question asked last Thursday by the honorable member for Hume.. By way of explanation, I have seen the merino sheep imported by” the- Davis Agricultural College of the Berkeley University, California, for scientific purposes, and I have seen the progeny of those sheep and have noted their progressive degeneration in that country, which is the same as the process of degeneration of Australian merino sheep exported to any other country. O.ia the Minister conceive of any intelligent sheep-man, in his sober senses, in the United States of America or anywhere else using these sheep for commercial purposes or any other practical purpose?
– I think the answer to the honorable gentleman’s question is in the negative.
– When does the Prime Minister propose to answer question No. 2 on the business-paper appearing in my name, which has been there since the 1st June? Will he state the cause of delay in furnishing the information sought?
– I have an idea- I would not be dogmatic about it - that I was looking at a draft answer to that question the other day; but I shall make sure.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral investigate the delay in the building of a permanent telephone exchange at Bathurst, New South Wales, and also the building of new post offices at Oberon and Katoomba ? Will he, after in estigating these matters, grant an accelerated priority for these urgent buildings where necessary for the development of the areas concerned? I remind the Minister that in the case of the permanent telephone exchange building at Bathurst, the construction of that building was approved by a joint committee of this House and subsequently approved by the Parliament.
– The importance of the telephone exchange and post offices at the places mentioned is appreciated by both myself and my department. Unfortunately, there are very many places in Australia where the urgency for such buildings is somewhat similar and we have a system of priority according to what we consider to be the degree of urgency in each place. I am unable to promise accelerated priorities but I shall look into the facts concerning the places the honorable member has mentioned and see if it is possible to speed up the construction of the buildings.
– You have not forgotten Maroubra ?
– Yes, I have.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Interior. Have instructors been appointed for the Civil Defence School to be set up by the Government? If so, do they include men with experience during war-time air-raids on Britain and can the Minister say when it is anticipated that the school will be in full operation?
– I have not the particulars with me, but if I remember correctly, six of the instructors were ex-servicemen. Two of then had the experience to which the honorable member has referred. The courses of instruction will soon be completed, and I hope that the instructors will be back in time to start the school at the beginning of next year, or possibly before that time.
– Is the Minister for Social Services aware that many exservicemen apply to the War Service Homes Division for finance to purchase existing dwellings but are unable to finalize arrangements because of the long waiting period that is required by the division before their applications can be dealt with? Will the Minister consider whether some action can be taken by him to expedite the provision of finance in those cases where the security is suitable to the division and where the dwelling can be purchased with vacant possession, but where the owner is unable to wait for the division to deal with the exserviceman’s application in its proper order?
– The whole problem of waiting periods in relation to both old and new properties has been under consideration by the Government for some time. As I have pointed out in this House, if preference is to be given to ex-servicemen who want to purchase existing properties, others who want to buy new houses will have to do without. The matter is receiving consideration, and when I am able to give a better statement of the position, I shall make it available to the whole House.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether, in view of the published fact that Governmentowned airlines, both internal and external, are showing profits and are producing revenue for the Government, it is intended to table the reports on the activities of those airlines for the benefit of the House. If such reports are not yet ready, will the honorable gentleman facilitate their production so that they may be considered while the Estimates are being discussed?
– Yes, I shall ensure that those reports are expedited. I have seen the draft reports, one of which at least has been forwarded to the AuditorGeneral. I do not think the other report has yet been forwarded to that officer. However, they should be available within the next few weeks.
– I direct to the Minister for Territories a question which is supplementary to one that I asked him earlier. If the calling together of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory depends only upon the importance of the business to be brought forward, does the Minister not consider that the calling together of the council is warranted now if only to amend the act under which two aircraftmen were recently sentenced in Darwin to terms of imprisonment for supplying liquor to natives? In view of the judge’s remarks that, despite extenuating circumstances, he had no option, as the law stood, but to sentence those men, and of the subsequent action of the Governor-General in remitting the unexpired portion of their sentences, it is strongly felt that immediate legislative action should be taken to clothe the magistrate or the judge with discretionary powers so as to avoid a repetition of similar cases.
– The matter to which the honorable member has referred has been under consideration by the Prime Minister in his capacity as acting Attorney-General, and it was the subject of a recent statement by him.
– I ask the Minister for Supply whether, since his return from overseas, he has had an opportunity to read the first report of the Public Accounts Committee on the Bell Bay aluminium project. If so, does he propose to make a statement to the House in relation to the position as it existed and any reforms that he proposes to institute to obviate the evils that were pointed out in the report of the committee?
– That report was tabled only the day before I left Australia in June. I read it then. I do not know that I am in a position to make any statement about it now, but I think the matter appears on the notice-paper for debate in due course. I shall have great pleasure in making a statement about it when that debate comes on.
– Will the Minister for the Interior state whether it is a fact that, although aborigines who are resident on the station at Wreck Bay in the Jervis Bay area are not entitled to be served with liquor at hotels, they are required to be on the electoral roll for the Australian Capital Territory, and are thus compelled to vote in a referendum on hotel hours that will be held on the 17th September, or be liable to a fine of £2 if they do not vote?
– Although I am not quite certain about it, I should think it is highly probable that the names of those aborigines are on the roll; it depends on the circumstances. I think the honorable member knows a fair bit about the matter. I shall discuss it with him.
– I direct a question to the Postmaster-General. As telephone directories in Victoria are much too large to be conveniently handled, and as the printing in those directories is much too small to be read conveniently by people with average eyesight, will the honorable gentleman have the directories divided into two parts, the pink pages in one and the ordinary names in the other, and both printed in type that can be read easily by the average telephone subscriber ?
– Departmental officers and I have considered this matter, and decided to try to reduce the size of the telephone book by limiting the size of the advertisements in the pink pages. An advertiser who formerly took a full page in this section will be permitted to take only a very much more limited space.
– Will he be charged the same for the smaller advertisement?
– No. The charges will be according to the space taken. We are investigating the possibility of obtaining a finer paper, which I believe is obtainable in Norway or a similar country, and which will enable the size of the directory to be reduced without resorting to an alteration of the printing. It is very desirable, for the sake of convenience, to retain one book rather than have two books. Most telephone subscribers would sooner have one book than two. We are trying to obviate for as long as is possible the necessity to print a pink page book and another book for the ordinary entries.
– I desire to ask the Postmaster-General whether he will have two kinds of telephone books printed - one without the pink pages and another with pink pages - so that telephone users themselves may decide whether they want to be cluttered up with a book containing pink pages. The present books are hard to handle.
– How about a blue one like Seidletz powders?
– That might be all right. The Prime Minister often gives me the blues. If the Postmaster-General is not able to make up his mind without the assistance of his economists and advisers, will be consider this question, and give a considered reply to it at a later date?
– I have given every consideration to the matter, and the answer is “ No “.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation how many tarmac officers or apron officers, or whatever they are called, are employed by the Department of Civil Aviation at Essendon to guard aeroplanes and passengers at the Trans-Australia Airlines, Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited and Ansett terminals. If any are employed, I should call them the invisible men, because I have been passing through that airport for years and have not seen one on duty on the tarmac. Why can those officers not patrol the tarmacs constantly as do similar officers at Western Junction, in Tasmania, who are to be seen on duty all the time? I believe that, if such officers were so employed at Essendon, they would make a big contribution to the safety of aircraft against unauthorized interference.
– I cannot say offhand how many such officers are employed at the Essendon airport, but I should say that approximately a dozen would be so employed. The fact that the honorable member has not seen them around the place does not mean that they are not there. They are there, and they do a very good job; but I point out that to look after aircraft on the ground is not the function of the Department of Civil Aviation. The department ia really in the position of a landlord; it owns the airport. The operators have the aeroplanes, and they employ the men who guard them. I think that Trans-Australia Airlines employs eleven men at Essendon, Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited employs about the same number, and Ansett Airways and the other operators have them too. If one were renting a house, he would not expect the landlord to look after the furniture for him. That is really the point. The Department of Civil Aviation is in a similar position. We set certain standards for aircraft and look after certain things around about, but I think that the care of the aircraft is something for the operators themselves.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that, due to the overcrowding of public wards in public hospitals, pensioners are being forced to enter private hospitals? In view of the fact that the full government benefit of 12s. a day is payable at public hospitals compared with 8s. a day at private hospitals, will the Minister consider increasing the benefit to 12s. a day for those pensioners who have to enter private hospitals?
– The rate of 12s. a day in respect of pensioners is paid to the State governments under an agreement. There is no agreement with the private hospitals.
– I lay on the table the following paper : -
Audit Act - Finance - Treasurer’s Statement of receipts and expenditure for year 1954-55, accompanied by the Report of the Auditor-General.
Ordered to be printed.
– I have received from the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) an intimation that he desires to submit a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House for discussion, namely -
The need for making public without further delay the reports of the Joint Parliamentary War Expenditure Committee and other material in the Government’s possession, disclosing fraudulent practices in connexion with Commonwealth defence undertakings during the war years.
Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
– This is a simple proposition and a short proposition. I am not proposing to make any charges or allegations. It is a matter of seeking information and trying to ascertain the facts regarding certain matters so that this Parliament and the public will be in a position to judge whether further action should be taken arising from that information. We are proud of the heritage of the parliamentary and democratic institutions which we enjoy in this country. I think that we all are alive to the fact that we must defend those institution; against threats of danger from whatever direction they may come. There are dangers and threats to our parliamentary institution, some of them obvious and some of them not so obvious. Obvious dangers arise from totalitarian threats which would wipe away our democratic institutions. But there are the other, less obvious threats which could be equally deadly in their effect. I refer to the possibility of graft, corruption and fraudulent practices which, if they became widespread in our community, or were allowed to continue without being checked, could develop like a cancerous growth and, without being noticed, could reach the stage at which they would drain the life-blood out of our democratic institutions and effectively destroy them., Because I believe these things, and because 1 believe that we must preserve the purity of our democratic life if our democratic institutions are to survive, 1 have brought this matter before the House as a step towards obtaining fact, which have been before the public in an unidentified and indefinite form.
Graft and corruption could take place in various forms, some more serious and some less serious, but all of them threatening our way of life. We could have petty graft among officials - the sort of thing whereby, for a consideration, minor officials could wink at something and allow something illegal to take place. Fortunately, that sort of thing, in my experience, is rare in this community. I think that the standard of conduct of many of the public officials of this country is high and that the unfortunate incidents that do happen are exceptional and of a minor nature. But I stress that if there is a suspicion, or a suggestion that corruption and improper practices do happen in higher places, that would be encouragement for others to adopt such practices throughout the community and corrupt the high tone of public life of the officials of this country. A more serious type of corruption is the possibility of people in high places in the community - for example. Ministers of State - conferring definite advantages or benefits upon corporations or people who operate in a big way for a consideration. If people in other ways were able to buy favours of that kind our democratic way of life would be seriously threatened. I do not believe that that sort of thing has taken place in the Commonwealth sphere during the period of office of this Government or any preceding governments. I believe that the Commonwealth sphere has been singularly free of that sort of thing. But. in the State sphere, we have heard of a lot of allegations of a most serious nature regarding this form of corruption. Those are matters that we are not at liberty to discuss in detail in this House, but they are of a most disturbing nature. For the purposes of this debate, we have to leave the matter there.
A third type of corruption which we can experience and which could gravely damage our democratic way of life concerns people who are of sufficient importance to be able to break the law with impunity and not have to pay the penalties for their acts. If we get to that stage, it will be possible to say that there are two laws in the community - one law for the powerful who can do things and get away with them, and another for the ordinary people who, if they commit offences, will be punished for them. If we get to that state of affairs we shall have reached the very degradation of democracy.
Those matters which I wish to bring before the House suggest that this type of privileged treatment, which permits individuals who are powerful enough, and who know the right people, to escape the consequences of their wrongful acts, has been going on in this community, and that it did go on within the sphere of Commonwealth administration during the war years. I bring them before the House not merely so that the facts regarding these matters themselves will come before us, but also so that, knowing these things, we may go a step forward towards exposing the whole ramifications of those irregularities, so that the public will be in a position to. take the appropriate action.
My proposal asks for the tabling of some reports of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on War Expenditure. I do not know the whole story regarding those reports, because the entire matter has been shrouded in mystery. There has been a veil of secrecy over the whole affair. The matter, as far as I have been able to ascertain from all the speculation and stories about it, started with a gentleman named Raymond Fitzpatrick. I do not wish to say much about this man, because at the moment he is being punished for an offence, and I will mention his name only insofar as is necessary to do so in the public interest during this debate. It is alleged that he perpetrated frauds of a considerable nature during the war years, that these frauds were of such an extensive nature that ultimately they were inquired into by a joint committee of this Parliament, which represented all parties, and that this committee finally made its findings, to which I shall refer in a moment. I speak without knowledge of the report of the committee, because I have not seen it. Those findings were, as I understand them, that there had been fraud on a considerable scale and that action should be taken in respect of that fraud. The remarkable thing about this whole matter is that, from that stage onwards, there has been a veil of secrecy over the whole business which has not proceeded beyond the stage that I have mentioned. The report of the committee was never tabled in this Parliament. There was no debate on it in this Parliament. No prosecution was launched against this man. No statement was ever made to this Parliament or to the public a3 to why a prosecution was not launched. No reasons were ever given for that omission. What strikes me as being a particularly suspicious circumstance, one that seems to me to be very strange, is that, after the report had been made and considered by the appropriate authorities, and no prosecution was laid, and no statement made about it, opinions were obtained, I understand, from independent legal people, giving reasons why a prosecution should not be launched. In my view it was a most unusual procedure for the Crown Law authorities not to take on themselves the responsibility of letting the matter come before a court, and allowing the court to decide whether or not an offence had been committed. Instead, we had this curious procedure, which seems to me to be a case of building up an alibi in advance so that, if anybody ever asks why no action was taken as a result of the committee’s report and asks whether these people were being protected because they had friends in high offices, that position would have been guarded against in advance and the authorities could produce from a secret hiding place, from some drawer which nobody had ever seen, those opinions by some people to the effect that a prosecution would not lie. There is another circumstance which fits into this pattern of protection for those people, this undemocratic idea of having a different law for them because they have friends in high places. “We find that proceedings of a civil nature were launched in the High Court regarding the recovery, as I understand it, of moneys that were alleged to have been involved in those matters. The proceedings in the High Court dragged on for years and years, and not in accordance with the normal course of delays that occur in connexion with legal matters. They dragged on and on, and were deliberately delayed, I suggest, so that this matter would be sui judice, with the result that attempts made in this Parliament or elsewhere to discuss it, and ask very pertinent questions about the non-publication of the committee’s report and the failure to launch a prosecution, could be frustrated because the matter would still be before the court. The case was deliberately dragged on year after year before the court. This course of conduct in this matter seems to me to be most dishonorable, and I think that, on the face of it, it indicates a course of conduct that can only be described as being dishonest, because of the failure to allow the law to pursue its normal courses. It is freely stated in connexion with these matters that the man responsible was the Attorney-General in the government of the day, the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I do not know the facts regarding this matter. Although I know that the right honorable gentleman has an infinite capacity for doing all sorts of amazing and astonishing things, I do not believe that in this case, because of the tremendous seriousness of the matter - because, as I believe, the whole thing is dishonorable - the right honorable gentleman would have taken this action on his own initiative.
To be perfectly fair to him in this matter, it looks as if there must have been some Cabinet decision on the matter, and as if all his colleagues must have known of the facts, and must have been parties to and connived at this concealment, this action which prevented the law from following its normal course.
All we do in this matter now is to seek to ascertain the facts and to have them placed before this Parliament and the public. What are the facts? Why has there been all this concealment, all this deliberate delay, this hiding away of the whole thing? We want the facts, and so my proposal asks the Government to lay on the table of the House, without further delay, the relevant report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on War Expenditure. I understand that there was also a second report, a report that was made to Cabinet. That report also has been kept secret. If the Government refuses to place these papers on the table and so make them available to the public, to what conclusion can the public come? It is quite clear that the previous Government had something to hide in connexion with this matter. It apparently had a lotto hide, and if the present Government persists in its refusal to lay the papers on the table, then the public can come to no conclusion other than that this Government also has something to hide and is therefore preventing a full disclosure of the facts from being made.
My proposal refers specifically to the reports of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on War Expenditure. There were two reports, I understand - the report of the committee and the report following on investigation that was made direct to the Cabinet. Both are secret documents. There are also, as I understand the position, other documents on related matters which the Government should also lay on the table, so that they also may be made available to the public. I refer to certain documents which came within the province of the then Department of War Organization of Industry, which again concerned this man Fitzpatrick, and which also gave a further illustration of the fact that he apparently was being protected-
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– It is quite clear, from the speech of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), that the form of his proposal requires a very close examination and, in view of his remarks, that it cannot be regarded as anything but a sham. I shall read to the House the exact words of the proposal. It refers to - the need for making public without further delay the reports of the Joint Parliamentary War Expenditure Committee . . .
How many there were, I do not know. There was such a committee appointed. The resolution continues - and other material in the Government’s possession, disclosing -
I draw attention to the word “ disclosing” fraudulent practices in connexion with Commonwealth defence undertakings during the war years.
What does “ disclosing “ mean ? Does it mean alleging or proving? It is simply part of the tactics that the honorable member employed previously in connexion with the Fitzpatrick case, probably abusing his position as a member of the Committee of Privileges, because I understand that it was before the committee that this was mentioned. However, we have got him in the open now. Let him deal faithfully with what I have said.
If he suggests that Fitzpatrick got any favoritism or protection from the Curtin Government or the Chifley Government, he is telling a deliberate lie. As a matter of fact, so far as Fitzpatrick is concerned, I never saw the man or heard of him except in a remote way. That case was considered exclusively on its merits. I hope honorable members will attend to what I say with seriousness, because this was a matter relating to proposed proceedings against Fitzpatrick. I think the procedure was that the War Expenditure Committee reported to War Cabinet and the Prime Minister. I think the reports were confidential; but that can be checked by the Prime Minister. I do not think I ever saw the War Expenditure Committee’s report, but it did come to me and my department for consideration.
There was a recommendation of prosecution against Fitzpatrick, and when the honorable member says that it is unusual to look at the matter from the point of view of the best legal opinion available in that type of case, he is saying something completely incorrect. It all depends on the nature of the case. There was a suggestion that Fitzpatrick had been guilty of conspiracy in connexion with war contracts, or that there was a report to that effect by the War Expenditure Committee. But that is the committee’s opinion. It is not a judicial body. Its report has no legal effect. Therefore, the law officers had to determine whether a prosecution could be brought. The law officers and high officers of my department in that connexion not only gave their own opinions, but got advice from experts in the applicable criminal law. Their view was that a criminal prosecution against Fitzpatrick could not succeed - this is my own recollection; I have not seen the documents or reports for many years now - but that it should be possible to recover money, if conspiracy could be proved, by bringing civil action for conspiracy.
– A little while ago, the Leader of the Opposition said he had never heard of the man.
– I never said I had not heard of the man. I said that except for this case of Fitzpatrick, I had never heard of Fitzpatrick. I will deny-
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order ! The Leader of the Opposition should be heard in silence.
– I was denying the false and unspeakably foul suggestion that Fitzpatrick got any favoritism. He did not. He got the proper treatment from the law officers, and that applies to all these war cases that came before us for action.
That is the position with regard to the Fitzpatrick case. I understand the position to be this: Everybody knows that, in a case of that kind, there are questions of proof, which is a very different matter from questions of charge. People might say something before a committee but be unable to prove it by direct admissible evidence before a court of law. Looking at the whole of the matter, I considered the recommendations of those who were there. That advice, was the advice I accepted, and I think it was reported to the Prime Minister of the time. I cannot remember the details of it. Proceedings were brought against Fitzpatrick and other persons connected with the alleged frauds. They were brought, I know, in the High Court of Australia. As the honorable member says, they were prolonged. Proceedings of that kind often are. Some of the alleged parties to the agreement reckoned there was not sufficient evidence against them, and I believe the matter was finalized under the auspices of the present Government. But that is only information that has come to me by hearsay..
I just want to tell the honorable member for Fawkner that neither Fitzpatrick nor any other man got any favoritism of any kind from the department.
– I think the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mullens) does himself an injustice by interjecting in that manner. He made a derisive interjection but I assure him and the. House that what I say is so. Let them look through the documents. Do I care whether they are produced? Of course I do not! Let the Prime Minister say whether they should be produced, remembering always that if there is material in the Government’s possession merely alleging fraudulent practices during war-time, dozens, and even hundreds of people may be defamed and slandered under cover of privilege without any right or justice. Bight wasordered to be done in the Fitzpatrick case. I have nothing to apologize for in the records of theCurtin Government and the Chifley Government in connexion with what was done.
But this matter of urgency proposed by the honorable member for Fawkneris not limited to that. It takes in the whole war period, whatever government was in office. It says that all documents suggesting fraud should be published under cover of privilege.
Mr.MULLENS. - Is the Leader of the Opposition supporting the proposal?
– This is a serious matter for the Government to determine. As to the particular case - to which the honorable member does not limit this point - I say that the decision given was completely proper on the facts we had before us. I know it was, in my view, a correct decision at the time. We were not content with simply saying that a criminal prosecution could not succeed. We took civil proceedings to recover money, and the information I have had is that when the matter was finally settled some recoveries of moneys took place. But that again is hearsay, and it took place during the term of office, I understand, of the Government that succeeded in 1949.
Again I want to make perfectly clear the enormous width of the subject-matter raised by the honorable member. As to the particular case of Fitzpatrick, I repeat that I knew nothing of Fitzpatrick except in connexion with that case. I have known nothing of him since, except insofar as he is publicly known. No pressure was brought on me either in his favour or against him. We acted properly. Sir George Knowles, I believe, and other officers of the Crown acted with us to decide what was right, to see that justice was done. There was no other guide that we had except to do justice. That was the position with regard to the Fitzpatrick case.
The width of the general question is enormous. We had hundreds, indeed thousands, of cases during the war in which fraud was alleged. As to those in which fraud was proved, it is another matter. Think of the enormous range of the blackmarketing prosecutions, the canteen frauds, and the defence frauds! Some were prosecuted, but some could not be prosecuted for lack of proper evidence. The honorable member for Fawkner knows it is one thing to make a charge in a general way, and another thing to prove it. The administration of these matters during- the whole of that period in which I was AttorneyGeneral, whether it was in the Curtin Government or the Chifley Government, was guided by nothing other than a desire to enforce the law, irrespective of persons. That was done in connexion with Fitzpatrick. I think I am entitled to say that. I rose to say it immediately the honorable member for Fawkner resumed his seat. I assure the House that that is so. So far as I am concerned, the documents should prove it, although I have not seen them during all these years. We acted with care to see that the proper thing was done. I scorn the motives which the honorable member for Fawkner has imputed to me, because they are absolutely false. The administration of justice in that case, and in all the war fraud cases, was guided by no other purpose than that I have mentioned, and I deeply resent his bringing that attack against me in the guise of a general move by him to bring forward papers twelve years after the event. If he wa3 right in this, why has he remained silent during the past five years? If there was any substance for this, does he think the present Government would not have considered these matters? [Extension of time granted.] I am obliged to the House for its courtesy; I have almost finished what I wanted to say. Here is a matter that is dredged up obviously because it was brought out before the Committee of Privileges. It was mentioned by the honorable member for Fawkner in the recent debate on the imprisonment question, and the war expenditure report. Nothing was said about this matter before. If certain honorable members were interested in the Fitzpatrick case, I point out that this matter has already been before the House for many years, yet he now comes out of his shelter to try to show there was favoritism. There was none. There was not the slightest favoritism. They were long, difficult, complicated proceedings, but I believe we did the right thing, and I make no apology for doing it. It was done with the responsibility of the Attorney-General and the Government. We did the right thing. I challenge any one, whatever documents he looks at, to cast any slur on the record of the Curtin and Chifley Government.during those difficult “war years.
– Some of the difficulties that I have felt over this matter have been, diminished somewhat by the speech of the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt). So far as I was able to follow what he said, he conveyed the impression that the report which has been referred to was one with which he was not familiar. It was apparently investigated by officers of his department, when he was Attorney-General, but not particularly by him, and it has been revived, so he says, because of the investigations of the Privileges Committee. That committee sat this year, in 1955. I hope that the right honorable gentleman will not mind my reminding him that, for some reason or another, on the 3rd April, 1952, he sought a copy of this report from my department, received it, and had it in his possession for ten months. Therefore, I find it a little difficult to accept the proposition that it is one of which he has only shadowy memories. The difficulty that I have felt about this matter is this: The War Expenditure Committee made a report in August, 1944 - more than eleven years ago. The events into which it inquired are, therefore, events which are cold. The tracks are no longer as visible as they might have been at that time. Iris not very practical to go about the process of making a solemn investigation into matters of detail which occurred eleven years ago - indeed, more than eleven years ago, because the report was, of course, subsequent to the events, which would have occurred, eleven, twelve or thirteen years ago. The War Expenditure Committee was an all-party committee and contained members who were, I think, of repute in this Parliament. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) was chairman. No one could describe him as an excitable or ill-balanced individual. Senator Large and Senator Sampson were on the committee, as were the present Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), who was then member for Fawkner, the honorable member for
Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), the honorable member for “Wannon (Mr. McLeod) and the then honorable member for Bendigo, now Senator Rankin. The committee made its report on the 25th August, 1944. I do not propose to table the report of the committee at this moment. I had, at one stage, intended not to table it at all because I felt that there were in it references to people which might or might not be just, and therefore might or might not be unfair. But if there is any suggestion that either my Government or I have something to hide in this matter, I shall table the report without further reluctance. However, I believe that, for the most obvious reasons, it would be improper to table a report at a time when one of the men referred to very prominently in it was in prison. I will, therefore, table the report next week when the House resumes. I will also table the precise time-table of events because, after all, the report was made in August, 1944, and the then government went out of office in December, 1949 - five and a half years later - and no proceedings had at that time been brought to finality except certain interlocutary proceedings which had been determined against the Government. I will set out the time-table of events without comment, because, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, shortly after we came into office, the Crown Law authorities received a cash payment in due settlement of the claim, which was the surviving claim against Fitzpatrick.
The time-table will speak for itself, but I would like to say to all concerned that you cannot produce a report like this and put blank pieces of paper over the names of people against whom investigation has failed to establish certain matters. All I would do in advance would be to suggest very strongly to the press, to the House, and to the public that, in reading the report, due regard should be had to ihE fact that, in the case of some of the people concerned, further investigations failed to disclose any satisfactory evidence against them. Therefore, this is not a report to be read in a sensational fashion, but as it has been referred to, as half the press of Australia has been talking about it, and as the usual suggestions, that some one has something to hide, have been made, I will answer them and will table the report on Tuesday next.
– I should like to make a short explanation. I am glad that the Prime Minister is doing this. It will reveal the facts. His reference to my seeing the report more recently has nothing to do with the point that I was making, that it was recently that this very report was referred to in the debate arising out of the activities of the Privileges Committee. My purpose in seeing, some time ago, the report and other documents connected with the war had nothing whatever to do with the merits of this case. It was connected with certain writings in which I was engaged, dealing with the whole war effort of the Curtin-Chifley Government, and the Prime Minister knows that that was my purpose.
.-I would not have risen to speak but for the remark of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) had had this report in his possession for ten months. That remark had a sinister significance. In effect, the Prime Minister endeavoured to convey to this Parliament that the possession of that report for ten months was designed to hide or evade something, or to protect somebody.
– How could that be? What an absurd suggestion. It was intended to contradict what the right honorable gentleman had said.
– Government supporters need not become excited. If that is what the Prime Minister intended to convey I wish he had done so. The plain fact, as the Prime Minister no doubt realizes, is that Ministers of all governments from time to time ask for documents, reports, books and papers on all manner of subjects affecting governments. It may happen at times that Ministers have reports in their possession for some months, but pressure of business is so great that they never even open the reports to read them. Time passes, and eventually those reports filter back to the departments from which they came, without any attention having been given to them.
– “ Filter ‘”’ is the right word.
– I suspect that the Prime Minister himself does not always return documents to departments as quickly as he would like to return them.
– I never ask for them.
– That being so, the right honorable gentleman must sometimes act without knowledge of the contents of reports that have been presented to him.
If it is alleged that some one had a motive in endeavouring to conceal the contents of these reports, I emphasize that if that charge lies against any member of the then government, it lies equally against every member of the War Expenditure Committee at the time that these alleged revelations were made, as well as against those who, at a later date, were members of that committee. If, as has been said, the document was in the possession of the present Leader of the Opposition, the contents of the report must have been known to the present Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt) for a long time, because he was a member of the War Expenditure Committee for a period. He must have had full knowledge of the nefarious practices that have been alleged. Yet the right honorable gentleman, who is now a senior Minister in the Menzies Government, has never uttered one word of protest against the revelations said to be contained in that document. I know that the Prime Minister is an actor. He is an excellent mimic, and at times he makes a practice of thumping the despatch box on the table before him. When he does that, it is a clear indication that he is disconcerted. I leave it at that. If there is anything hidden that should have been revealed between 1945 and 1955, at least one Minister in the Menzies Government had a full knowledge of those allegations, and yet has taken no action in regard to it, either when he was in opposition, or since he has been a member of the Government. In the light of that fact, for any one to allege that for ten months the present Leader of the Opposition sat on the document when he was Attorney-General is offensive. Government supporters laugh. Obviously, they are disconcerted.
– Order !
– What I have said applies not only to the Minister for Immigration and to certain members of the present Opposition ; it also applies to men of unquestioned integrity who are not now members of this House. I have in mind men like Mr. Ryan, a former member for Flinders. Why did not he reveal these matters? Why also did not a former member for Bendigo, or any other member of the War Expenditure Committee, take action. I say to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) that if what the Prime Minister said is true - that allegations are frequently made without foundation - some innocent people may be smeared if this document is tabled. I am astonished that the honorable member for Fawkner should raise this subject. I thought that he was a man who would have acted as I did some time ago, when a matter affecting the honorable member was mentioned to me. A person approached me in Melbourne, and desired to hand to me a document which he said contained some allegations against the honorable member for Fawkner. I replied that I did not believe the allegations, and that I refused to smear any man’s reputation. Those are facts. I leave the matter there. I am sure that this is a case of desperation on the part of some obscure person. Some honorable members now present in this chamber know that their political doom is certain, and so, while they are here, they use this Parliament to smear their former colleagues, and other innocent people against whom there may be allegations in this document made by persons who are completely irresponsible. I leave it at that.
.- I should be inconsistent if I did not support the motion of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), because for a considerable time I have endeavoured to persuade the Government, through the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), to table this report. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) say a few minutes ago that he intended to table the report. The Leader of the
Opposition (Dr. Evatt) says that he had only the remotest knowledge of the contents of the document. If I understood the right honorable gentleman correctly, he said that he had only the vaguest knowledge at the time. He also said that he had not seen the report.
– I did not say that.
– Hansard will show that the right honorable gentleman said so.
– That is a lie.
– I repeat that Hansard will show that the right honorable gentleman said so. My recollection is that he said he had not seen the report. It now emerges that the report was in his possession for ten months, in 1952.
– That is not recently.
– Having told the House, if I understood him correctly, that he had not seen the report, and it then being disclosed that the right honorable gentleman had the report for ten months in 1952, he now tells us that he did not mean that he had not seen the report in 1952.
– I was referring to the time of the decision.
– The Leader of the Opposition has dealt with this matter with less frankness than we are entitled to expect from the leader of a political party in this House. As I have said, I made representations to the VicePresident of the Executive Council over a considerable period that this report should be released. I did so for the same reasons as actuated the honorable member for Fawkner. I believed that there had been too much by way of suggestion of suppression in the non-tabling of the report. I do not know what is in the report, hut I know that it is widely believed that malpractices were covered up by the failure of the Curtin Government, and, later, the failure of the Chifley Government, to table the report. For that reason, I am glad that the Menzies Government has decided to table the report. I have often wondered why it was not tabled earlier. There are references to it in Hansard. Some of them were made shortly after the report was submitted in 1944. In 1945, when the terms of reference of the War Expenditure Committee were being restated in this House, a long speech, which is recorded in Hansard, was made by the then honorable member for Balaclava. Sir Thomas White, urging that the War Expenditure Committee should be given further powers. The reason was obvious. He was asking that additional powers be given to the War Expenditure Committee so that it could itself initiate proceedings if it wished and so that it would not be dependent upon the whim of the Government for the making public of ite findings. It is perfectly clear to any one who reads Sir Thomas White’s speech that he was trying to find a means of getting round the reluctance of the Curtin Government to table the report.
I myself have wondered what were the reasons why the report was not tabled. There might have been some reason of defence security. That would have been a sensible reason then, but it has not been an adequate reason since that time. The report might not have been tabled because the matter was sub judice, and apparently there was something in that idea at the time. The Leader of the Opposition has told us to-day that proproceedings were initiated in the High Court of Australia and that they were finally settled after this Government had taken office. From 1944 to 194’9 was a very considerable time for the High Court to take over a case of this sort. Even Charles Dickens would have thought that the completion of the case was long delayed. The third reason tha: one can think of that might have been the operative reason for the failure to table the report is that some one was being protected.
– No ! That suggestion is absolutely false.
– It is because of the possibility of that suggestion that I have stated that the report should be tabled. The Leader of the Opposition states that the suggestion is false. When the report is tabled the House will be able to make up its mind. The very fact that the suggestion is made is sufficient reason for the tabling of the report.
My own concern in the matter arises because I represent in this House a constituency in the western suburbs of Sydney not very far from the district in which the events referred to occurred. I know very well that there is widespread disquiet in Sydney about suggestions of municipal and public graft and racketeering in municipal and government affairs, at that time and since, involving not only the people concerned in this report but also at subsequent times, people in wider fields and in higher authority. I recognize that it is the proper duty of the Cahill Government in New South “Wales to make inquiries into these matters. Unfortunately, the citizens of Sydney have long since become completely disillusioned about the bona fides of the Cahill Government in making proper and thorough investigations into scandals of this sort. There have been notorious scandals in the affairs of the Sydney City Council. There have been constant charges and repetitions of charges about municipal affairs in Bankstown and Leichhardt and about the New South Wales police force, a very honorable and fine body of men, which has been reduced to a degree of disrepute as a result of the charges made against it.
– Order ! That matter has nothing to do with the subject under discussion.
– If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will permit me to do so, I shall show you how it is related to the question under discussion.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the matter being debated.
– I am very reluctant indeed to think that this Government that I support should be alleged to have permitted the suppression of disclosures such as those which it is said are contained in the report of the War Expenditure Committee. I repeat my earlier statement that I do not know what is in the report, and I say again that I have in the past adopted the same attitude -as has been adopted by the honorable member for Fawkner, namely, that the very existence of these charges is a reason for the tabling of the report.
For that reason, I am very glad indeed that the Government has decided to table it.
.-The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has promised to make available the report of the War Expenditure Committee. 1 point out to the House that the right honorable gentleman was asked to table not only the report but also the allied documents in connexion with the matter to which the report refers. The people of Australia are asking - and want an answer to their question- whether it i? possible in Australia for a racketeer to have waxed fat on crookedness in government war-time contracts and then., through political friends and influence, to have escaped the consequences of hi.own crookedness.
– That is the question.
– That is the question that the people of Australia are asking, and they are entitled to an answer. If the answer discloses that the alleged wartime crookedness did not exist and that no political influence protected any racketeers, the people will be pleased.
We have been told to-day that the tracks are now cold. It is only a few months since the newspapers published headlines such as “ Bankstown M.P. demanding royal commission “ Security raids last month on houses in Bankstown “, and the like. The tracks are not cold. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) has raised this matter and made it a very hot issue. A very hot issue it is indeed. In view of the statements made by the honorable member for Reid, we are entitled to ask that the Government give to the Australian people a clear and unequivocal answer to the question: Are there bigtime racketeers who can escape the consequences of their actions because they have political friends? The suggestion has already been bruited abroad in newspaper headlines and it is impossible to suppress it. This House owes it to itself and the electors to clear the matter up and to make available not only the report of the War Expenditure Committee, but also the other documents allied to the matter, in order that the question can be fully thrashed out and so that, if what is alleged is incorrect, the persons making allegations may be discredited, and if what is alleged is found to be correct, the people responsible for wrong-doing may be made to suffer the consequences. That is the stand that we in this corner of the House take. In view of the continual publicity given to the matter, even until this month, in the daily newspapers in special articles, in this House during the early war years in speeches and questions, and in allegations made everywhere, the Australian people are entitled to have the matter settled once and for all and to have every document relative to it made available for public inquiry and investigation. If some one is hurt in the process, that will be unfortunate. We are entitled to demand in this Parliament that the matter be cleared up and that the people be given a definite answer to their question without further delay.
It is unfortunate that the honorable member for Reid is not in the House at present. Whether he has been subjected to suggestions that he should not attend here this week, I do not know. At any rate, he knew that the matter was to be debated, because the members of the party to which I belong gave him notice of their intention to raise it as a matter for urgent discussion. As a result of questions that I addressed to the honorable member for Reid about the evidence that he gave before the Committee of Privileges, I state that the matter goes beyond the report of the War Expenditure Committee. The honorable member made no bones about answering those questions and telling me of the statements that he had made before the Committee of Privileges. Therefore, if I refer to those matters, I refer to matters that were told to me by the honorable member for Reid in answer to questions that I asked him outside the Committee of Privileges. One of the documents that should be made available in this House is the document containing the evidence given by the honorable member before the Committee of Privileges, which held, in effect, that that evidence did not concern the particular inquiry into breach of privilege with which it dealt at the time and that, therefore, it would have nothing further to do with that evidence.
The allegations made are most serious. The honorable member for Reid has made it quite clear that this battle has been going on since very early in the war years. He referred particularly - and as honorable members know he makes no bones about it - to contests that he had with the former Minister for War Organization of Industry in relation to the prosecution of Mr. Fitzpatrick for breaches of the National Security (War Organization of Industry) Regulations. Honorable members know that the controversy between that Minister and honorable member became so hot that the Minister reflected in this House on the honorable member’s parentage and had that reflection recorded in Hansard, as any one who cares to read Hansard may see. That controversy has been going on throughout the years since. The honorable member for Reid made certain suggestions about the protection of Mr. Fitzpatrick at that time. He has since made suggestions about the protection of Mr. Fitzpatrick through his friendship with a certain member of the judiciary in New South Wales. Without any equivocation or hesitation he stated quite frankly to the Committee of Privileges - and I assume that this is what he stated to the committee, because it is what he told me he stated - that when he was attacking Mr. Fitzpatrick the member of the judiciary approached him and told him that Mr. Fitzpatrick was a good friend of the Australian Labour party and that the honorable member should call off the dogs and let the thing go.
– Who was that?
– I have no hesitation in naming him. It was Mr. Justice Taylor, a gentleman whose name appears in the telephone directory under an address which is not his own, but which is owned by one of the Fitzpatricks. That statement already has been bruited abroad. No harm is being done to anybody if the statement is investigated and if the man who made it is either blown out or responsibility sheeted home to him and he is made to answer for his sins.
If this matter had been discussed confidentially, it would be different, but as I say, it has been bruited abroad in newspaper headlines - “New South Wales
Judge named by Labour member “. When a matter of that nature is publicized in headlines, surely the occasion has passed for saying that anybody i3 going to be hurt if it is mentioned in Parliament. The matter has become one of public controversy and public debate, and I am entitled to examine what has been said by the right honorable member and to demand that the Government make available the report of the “War Expenditure Committee and other documents.
Not only did the honorable member for Reid refer to that; he also said that, in his opinion, the learned judge was responsible for the security papers which found their way into Mr. Fitzpatricks hands and which were used to attack him.
– Who said that?
– The honorable member for Reid. Therefore, these tracks are not cold ; because the security forces raided a house in Bankstown only last month on the trail of this particular file and the persons responsible for taking it away. So it is not a stale matter, as the Prime Minister alleged, and it has not been dredged up from eleven years ago. It is a matter of public interest and the subject of controversy, of allegations and counter-allegations in the daily press, involving members of Parliament and members of the judiciary. The good name of Parliament and the good name of the judiciary demand that this matter be cleared up for all time. Therefore, I say that we are entitled to have made available to us all of the papers concerned, including the original prosecution of Mr. Fitzpatrick and the controversy between the honorable member for Reid and the former Minister for War Organization of Industry, Mr. Dedman. We are entitled, also, to have the allegations which the honorable member for Reid has made quite publicly, and which he states are the same as the allegations he made on oath, I would remind the House, before the Committee of Privileges. We are entitled to demand, too, that the Government make available all papers in connexion with that matter, and any other allied matters which might enable the case to be cleared up for all time.
I make no apology for saying that when the War Expenditure Committee furnished its report, the members of the committee urged prosecution. But what was done? There was delay, further delay and still further delay, and when the matter went to the High Court - and the Attorney-General can take this responsibility, if he will - it took almost five years before the court reached a decision in the matter. The court felt constrained to say that it was not responsible for that delay.
– Which AttorneyGeneral ?
– The Attorney-General who is at present Leader of the Opposition, the right honorable member for Barton. The High Court was not responsible for the delay, and the blame could not be placed on it. The technique is as old as the hills. You delay a thing; you get reports on it; delay it again, and continue to delay it until it is cold. Then, when some one tries to raise the matter, somebody else gets up in his seat, as the Prime Minister did here to-day. and says “ This thing is too old. You cannot go into it now “. It is not too old. The people of Australia are entitled to an answer to the question whether racketeers shall flourish and continue to wax fat in this country.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Let us get the record straight in this case. It was the Menzies Government that appointed the War Expenditure ‘Committee, under national security legislation. That committee continued under the Menzies Government, the ill-fated and short-lived Fadden Government, and the Curtin Government.
– And the nonexistent Calwell Government.
– At any rate, it will never be said of me that I reigned for 40 days and 40 nights. The reports of the committee were made to the War Cabinet of the time, which was presided over by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the former Prime Minister, or the late Prime Minister. The report of the committee was a war-time document in each instance. If anything is to be published, let us publish the lot, not just the document that our erstwhile friends want to dredge out and say “ Oh, this is the one we want to see “. Let us have the whole lot. I am sure there will be allegations in every report which will reflect - which did reflect - very seriously upon quite a number of business men in this community who took advantage of a nation at war to grow rich very quickly. Probably, the cost-plus system helped them, but there were all sorts and types of persons who battened on the war effort. “ Oh “, say our former friends, “ but all this about Fitzpatrick and company relates, in some sinister way, to the then Attorney-General”. The then AttorneyGeneral was also the Australian Minister for External Affairs, and during the war period, as honorable members know, with the full support and approval of the War Cabinet, he spent a very considerable period of time in England in 1942, when this event was happening, in order to represent Australia in the British War Cabinet. So whatever might be disclosed in this document will not smear the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) at all. I have no complaint about publishing the documents, but let us have the lot, not merely a few selected ones.
The second fact which is clear to everybody is that this matter was discussed in 1946. The opposition of the day raised the matter. I made a famous speech on that occasion. I told the whole of the facts in regard to Fitzpatrick, as I knew them. I said that he had avoided payment of taxation and that he was obliged by the Commissioner of Taxation to pay approximately £62,500 to the Taxation Department.
– And did he?
– He was obliged to pay it. I used the past tense. I was not in any way futuristic. But the then Leader of the Opposition, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) demanded a royal commission and, of course, his “ man Friday “, the present VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), echoed his sentiments, as he always does. That is perhaps the only consistent thing about him. So, too, did the Leader of the Australian Country party. They wanted royal commissions into the Fitzpatricks, into Bankstown and everything reported thereon by the War Expenditure Committee.
– But we did not get a royal commission.
– No. You did not really want one and you did nothing about it for three years after that. You all developed laryngitis and did not open your mouths on this question. Then, when you became the Government of Australia - and, unfortunately, you have been in government for six years - you did nothing about the matter. Indeed, you would have said no more about it at all had Fitzpatrick and Browne not attacked the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan). Once that case came before the Parliament, quite a lot of lily-pure people rose in their places and said, “We must have the fullest investigation. “We want to know all that has been happening. We want particularly to know why nothing was done for eleven years. “We want to know why nothing was done for five years during the period of the Curtin Government and the Chifley Government “. The present Government wanted nothing done for three years, from 1946 to 1949, and did nothing from 1949 to 1955.
The third point - and this is a fact for the record, too - is that the Committee of Privileges, had it so desired, could have presented its evidence to the Parliament. It can still do so. It is no reflection on. the present Leader of the Opposition that the Committee of Privileges has not presented its report. As a matter of fact, he wanted a copy of the report before the matter was dealt with by the Parliament, but it was refused to him. That is a secret document which the Committee of Privileges, not the Government, is keeping secret. This report ought to be presented too. If we are to have some documents, let us have all the documents. Let the community know everything about the matter and. if anybody is guilty, let him be dealt with by the Government, if it is not as dilatory in this matter as it is in most other matters. The Leader of the Opposition borrowed a report in 1952 - not a file but a report - because he is writing a history of the Curtin and Chifley war-time governments, and he is an historian.
– The Treasurer is not an historian. He deals in hysterics, and not in history. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) and the Prime Minister at least have contributed something to history, and so has the Leader of the Opposition, but because he kept a report of a committee for a period of ten months - and not the whole of the tile which had contained it - he is being held up to ridicule to-day as having “ sat on “ a report for ten months. During a great part of the war, Senator McKenna was the Acting Attorney-General and quite a number of other Ministers acted in that capacity. In accordance with the judgment of the government of the day, the present Leader of the Opposition spent his time most profitably outside Australia in the British War Cabinet, on the United Nations, or as Australian Minister for External Affairs in other spheres. I suggest to the House that the raising of this particular matter to-day was not designed to elicit information or to establish facts. It was just another smear campaign to try to belittle the Labour party and suggest that it did something sinister and wrong.
The final point I want to make is that the Minister for War Organization of Industry in the Labour Government. Mr. Dedman, was one of the straightest men ever to sit in this Parliament. He was stern, he was dour, he was unbending; he was every one of those things. One could criticize his decisions, but one could never asperse his motives, and he was never a party to suppressing or hiding anything, and neither was the AttorneyGeneral of that time. Anyhow, whatever is said to-day by any one of us is said in a plenitude of ignorance of the facts that are on the file, because none of us has ever had the opportunity of perusing it, except the Prime Minister in recent times. I am satisfied with the Prime Minister’s statement, except that I hope he will go further and produce quite a number of other documents which might very well be produced and which will reveal to the Australian people the facts of the war period. When those facts are revealed, it will be found that politicians, parliamentarians and public servants acted with propriety, and, if there was any trouble at all, it was because of their inability to discover all the people - not a large section of them - who were robbing and thieving from the Australian people and who, in many cases, had protection from persons outside this Parliament through a medium of propaganda which apparently did not want the full light of publicity to be thrown on events that happened at that time.
– It always strikes me as peculiar how the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) always manages to humiliate his leader, even when he is appearing to support him, because in this one essential matter which is before us he took the opposite view from that of his leader, in the nicest possible way. He said, “ Now look. Here is a document. Let us publish it. Let us publish everything”, whereas his leader said, “ It is undesirable that documents should be published ad- lib.”, but in this particular case he feels that perhaps it is inescapable that the document should be tabled. There is a clear difference between them on the only essential point now at issue.
I think that the decision announced by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is incontestably the correct decision, which even the ranks of Tuscany .can scarce forbear to cheer. There are, of course, strong a priori reasons why matters long dead and long buried should not be. brought forward, and why confidential documents should not be tabled. But in this case, as the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), I think, appreciates, there are countervailing reasons which seem to suggest that the documents must be tabled, and those reasons are these: First - and I put the least important reason first - some matters have been revealed since the documents were prepared which may affect the reading of the original documents. We now know of the close connexion between one of the protagonists and certain other corruption in Bankstown, as revealed in the municipal inquiry which resulted in the suspension of the Bankstown Council. We now know of the close friendships that exist between certain of those protagonists and members of Labour governments in Federal and State spheres.
In respect of that, we have the evidence of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), one of the right honorable member for Barton’s flock, even if one cannot always call him - one does not know - one of the right honorable gentleman’s followers. Because these new factors have been brought forward, there does seem to be some new reason for another scrutiny of these papers, but that, I think, is the least important reason; there are other more important reasons.
It is now not a question of what people did in Bankstown; it is a question of what the Labour Government did in this Parliament when it was in power. That is the really important matter. The truth of those Bankstown matters is of little consequence except insofar as it bears on this major issue, because however important it may be that the individual be not allowed to escape with corruption, it is very much more important that those in office in governments should not be allowed to escape with corruption. I do not make an accusation. I do not know whether these allegations are true or not. All I say is that they have been brought forward in this House and this is the point at issue to be decided. I am not trying to pre-judge it either one way or -the other, but the accusations which have been made go very, very far beyond any question of corruption in Bankstown. Whether they are true or false, at least they are allegations of corruption in the highest places in the Cabinet of the Federal Labour Government.
The third reason why the documents must be tabled is that there is a renewed public interest in this case, and suspicion has been aroused which can be quieted only by disclosure. It is no good saying, “ We must not bring this up lest we smear innocent people “. The fact of the matter is that people have been put under suspicion and, if they are innocent people, that is smearing and it should be removed by disclosure of the facts. If they are guilty people, then it is not smearing and the suspicion should be confirmed and guilt sheeted home. The most important reason of all is that this matter is now affecting present politics. I do not think that I need labour that point in this House, but I do want to point out that there is at least a general suspicion that a considerable amount of blackmail is being used in the highest quarters in the Labour party in order to deflect Labour policy towards the left wing and in the interests of the Communists. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the protagonists who are accused of corruption by certain people, including the honorable member for Reid, are the same people who are also being accused of connexion with the Communist party. I believe there has been blackmail involved here, and I believe that the threat of disclosure in the Bankstown affair has been used to influence certain weak sisters in the Australian Labour party towards dumping the industrial groups and going further toward? the left wing. I believe that this is important, and that it is really the cause and the root of one of the great controversies which is at present agitating Australian politics. It is of very great importance. If that is so, at least the blackmail may be sterilized by bringing the facts into the open.
I have said myself, without the protection of privilege, that there were various things in the Australian Labour party which were corrupt. The House will remember that such of those matters as were investigated by a royal commission were proved to exist, as I said they existed, and insofar as that commission investigated the statements I made, it vindicated my statement in regard to them when I went before it.
I believe that what we are seeing now is not a disconnected series of corruptions, but little peaks of corruption sticking out and giving evidence of some general pattern underneath. The important aspect is that it is connected with the influence of the left wing and communism inside the Labour party.
I know that many of these matters come into the State rather than the Federal sphere, but I do not believe that they can be investigated satisfactorily in the State sphere because, unhappily, the machinery of the State Government is still controlled, in my view, by people who have an interest in covering up.
We in Australia have a federal system. We have State and Federal responsibilities but, in a sense, when the salt has lost its savour and there is nothing in the State Government which could be used to correct what is happening inside that Government - because the State Government itself is using the machinery of government to cover up corruption - -it may be time for this Federal Parliament to step in. I believe that the Prime Minister has taken the wise course; a course which not even the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition could find it in himself to disapprove. It is one which I and, I believe, most other honorable members on this side of the House will thoroughly support.
.- The matter that has been raised in the House by the honorable member-
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the business of the day be called on. The House divided. (MR. Deputy SPeaker - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 1st September (vide page 346), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under DivisionNo. 1 - the Senate - namely, “ Salaries and allowances, £27,700 “, be agreed to.
Upon which Dr. Evatt had moved by way of amendment -
That the first item be reduced by £1.
Mr.MAKIN (Sturt) [4.55].- This budget distinguishes itself only in one sense. It is a twin to the 1950-51 document known as the “ horror budget “. We remember the scant satisfaction with which that budget was received bythe community generally. No matter how we look at the papers accompanying this budget, we can get no satisfaction from them. It would not be extravagant to say that 90 per cent of the community feel very dissatisfied with the budget. It shows no imagination, has no enterprise, gives no incentive and, finally, leaves most people bewildered. This is one of the occasions when we get some idea of how reactionary this Government ha? become. “We are suffering the penalty of the Australian Country party outlook dominating our financial situation. In this continent of Australia, we possess abounding resources and an everincreasing reservoir of man-power, yet we are led to fear the future. It is time that this country shook the dead bones of such a political party from its shoulders. During 23 of the last 33 years, we have been subject to the unimaginative financial policy of Country party Treasurers. One member of this group, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), was known as the “ tragic Treasurer “ in his time. A country like Australia, with such a rich potential, cannot permit this “ old man of the sea “ philosophy to order its future.
The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) was quite right in drawing attention to the lowering of the living standard of the Australian people. The. white paper on the consumption of food by the Australian community fully proves that that has occurred. Although there are upward trends in earnings, the actual value of earnings is decidedly lower. A great number of people work at week-ends to gain extra money, an ever-increasing number of married women are going out to work to supplement their family incomes, and many men are seeking overtime. So while it may appear that people are handling more money, the value of that money as a purchasing medium is less than it was. Let me quote the report of a statement by Mr. E. S. Vine, the president of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, as published in the Australian Worker - “ The dangerous degree of inflation existing co-day i3 making Australia one of the world’s most expensive countries to live in. The retail price index rise since the war was only 90 per cent, in Britain, 90 per cent, in the United States, 85 per cent, in Canada, 103 per cent, in South Africa and 163 per cent, in Australia”, he said.
These figures showed other countries had controlled inflation to some degree, but in Australia the cost of living was rising rapidly. Allowing that the Australian £1 bought 20s. real value of goods in 1939, the same £1 was worth only 10s. in 1946, and now was worth only 7s. Sd. The combined cost of food, rent, clothing and miscellaneous goods had risen roughly two and a half times since 1 939. The cost of food and groceries alone had risen more than three times “.
Those are not my words. They are the words of Mr. Vine, the president of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, who might be regarded as a man who, in ordinary circumstances, would have a certain sympathy with the Government. But upon this matter he felt constrained to speak out, and indicate his very deep feeling of concern at the manner in which the economy of this country is being controlled at present.
The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) gave the committee some figures that I feel are most valuable. I should like to repeat them, because they are worthy of further emphasis. The honorable member gave the committee the prices of certain commodities in 1949 and 1955. I presume the figures relate to the price level in New South Wales, but no doubt the position in other States is similar. In 1949, tea was 2s. 9d. per lb., and to-day it is 6s. 2d. per lb. Eggs cost 3s. Id. a dozen in 1949, and in 1955 they cost 5s. lOd. a dozen. In 1949, milk cost 9d. a quart, but now it costs ls. lOd. a quart. Butter cost ls. Sd. per lb. in 1949, and the cost in 1955 is 4s. 5£d. per lb. Bread cost 7d. a load in 1949, and to-day costs ls. 2½d. a loaf. Those figures provide eloquent proof of the flight of prices. There can be no dispute that there has been a very unhealthy rise of the prices of commodities, but there has not been a corresponding rise of the income of the people of Australia such as would enable them to contend with ever-increasing prices.
At this stage, I should like to point to three directions in which our ways of life are being affected. There is increased difficulty in meeting living costs among all people in the lower bracket of incomes. This affects the pensioner particularly. He is forced to go without things that he needs. This factor causes much suffering and heartache to the members of a most deserving section of our community, and worsens their plight.
The second effect of this state of affairs it that it has resulted in a breaking down, not only of working conditions, but also of the basic wage standard. To-day’s trends offer a serious threat to the rights of workers in industry which took years to win. This state of affairs must not be allowed to continue. Insistent demandsshould be made upon the Government to restore the previous value of wages and to preserve the hard-won rights of the workers.
I come now to the third - and probably the most serious - effect of the present state of affairs. I refer to the effect on family life. I believe that the practice that has grown up of married women with children accepting work outside the- home in order to supplement the family income will have ruinous consequences on family life. The most serious aspect of the matter is that it is quite impossible for a married woman with children, who goes out to work, to give to her children all necessary care and attention. An urgent warning of the dire consequences that will undoubtedly result from a continuance of this practice is contained in an article that was published in the Sydney Sun of the 31st August, entitled “ Children are getting out of control warns D. A. Whitton, Secretary of the Discipline Committee of the Metropolitan Men’s Teachers’ Association “. We cannot ignore the truth of the statements made in that article and others of a similar kind if we sincerely desire to preserve a proper standard of living. The experiences of a neighbouring country in recent years should alert us to the danger associated with the relaxation of parental control, care, and oversight. The first principles of discipline should be instilled in the minds of the children during their home training. Unfortunately, sheer economic necessity forces many married women to seek employment outside the home, and the training of the children suffers in consequence. This practice is undermining the basic moral values of our community life. It presents a grave danger to society, and is to be deprecated.
I urge the committee to give earnest consideration to the correction of the trends to which I have referred, which are having a material adverse effect on the home life of the community. We are heading for a social hurricane, and unless remedial action is taken urgently the results will be catastrophic.
As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out during his speech on the budget, industrial monopolies are dominating our economy. Many people believe that our anti-trust laws are inadequate for the purpose of policing the growth of monopolies. If that be so, those laws should be strengthened. We all know the huge profits that have been made by certain companies in recent years. They have made tremendous inroads on the nation’s economy, without adequately recompensing the community. One result of the big increase of prices has been to reduce the actual value of wages. Furthermore, the wages of the workers have remained pegged whilst prices have been allowed to rise. Despite the exhortation of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to permit conditions to remain as they are, I consider that we shall be recreant to our duty if we do so. As just men, we must recognize the need to rectify injustices which are so apparent in the community. The present so-called prosperity has been achieved at the expense of the recipients of repatriation and social services benefits, persons living on superannuation pensions, and the middle and lower brackets of wageearners, who have contributed to the colossal gains of a relatively few vastly wealthy industrial undertakings.
It is futile for the supporters of the Government to prate about the proposed increases of pensions. I consider that the Government is making only a niggardly provision for our aged and infirm people. Even with the proposed increase, the age and invalid pension will be inadequate to provide the degree of care and comfort needed by the recipients. There is no reason why an increase of £1 a week should not have been granted to the pensioners. I believe that the amount of the age and invalid pension should be related to the basic wage. Furthermore, the basic wage itself should be related to a new formula for the C series index. If a proper standard of living is to be maintained, many additional items must be included in that index. It is not the most scientific method but subsidies do arrestsomewhat the upward flight of prices. In the absence of the control of prices, the payment of subsidies on basic items can exert a steadying influence on the price structure. The Government has been gradually reducing and withdrawing subsidies, the most recent example being in relation to tea. According to this document the Treasurer proposes to accentuate the upward trend of prices by reducing the bounty on dairy products by £1,249,998, and by withdrawing the subsidy on tea to the value of £3,527,022. That must inevitably mean an increase of prices to the Australian community of both dairy products and tea. Honorable members will recognize that this Government, rather than helping to arrest rising prices, is contributing to an inevitable increase. That is obvious from the increased prices of these two essential and basic commodities, and is clear evidence of the Government’s unwillingness to face realities. The Treasurer, however, proposes to increase the bounty on sulphuric acid. No doubt, he would like to give some of it to the people.
The people are entitled to some relief from taxation, particularly indirect taxation, which bears down on living costs. There should have been some remission of sales tax, certainly on all materials used for home building and furnishings. The family man could have been helped by increasing child endowment, but the Treasurer pockets the lot with the exception of a pittance to pensioners. In effect, he says, “Be satisfied”. No doubt, he views with satisfaction his mounting receipts, and greedily tucks them away in trust funds, or uses the revenue for capital works, which more appropriately should be financed out of loan funds.
The national income for last year was 5 per cent, greater than that of the previous year. The total estimated revenue for this year is £1,114,77.5,000, which is £56,000,000 more than last year. It is expected that, after meeting all commitments on the budget, the excess of revenue over expenditure will be £48,670,000- this after loading trust funds and establishing a new reserve of £48,500,000 called the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve Fund. The amount set aside for capital works and services is increased by £8,324,3S4, making a total of £104,000,000. Defence expenditure this year is to be £190,000,000, an increase of £12,500,000 on last year’s expenditure.
When we consider these staggering figures, and realize that the amount of pension increases to returned servicemen, their wives and widows, the aged, invalids and civilian widows, is represented by a total of £11,200,000, honorable members must be concerned. That is the one and only concession of the budget. Millions of pounds are to “go down the drain”, and only a miserable pittance is to be used to help meet the needs of people in a desperate plight.
The Treasurer will rake in an extra £56,000,000, and no doubt this will cause him to rub his hands with satisfaction. His policy of placing moneys away seems to suggest that internal loan responses may not yield the required amounts. If the confidence of the community in loan issues has been lost, the Treasurer has only himself to blame. By allowing interest rates to rise, earlier issues have depreciated by as much as 10 per cent, and 12 per cent, of their value. People who invested money in Commonwealth loans as a loyal gesture now find that their securities are worth less than par. The state of Australia’s overseas trade balance is precarious. That is vastly different from the days when the financial policy of the late Honorable J. B. Chifley made for solvency abroad and for stability at home.
This budget gives no encouragement. It counsels a policy that is unsatisfactory for Australia. While everything that represents the well-being of our people and our country cries out, “ Advance Australia ! “ this can be no time for standing still. The Government is so unrealistic in its approach, as revealed by the budget, that it is deserving of censure, and 1 heartily support the amendment moved by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition.
– This debate provides honorable members with an opportunity to discuss the fiscal measures embodied in the budget papers and particularly of relating them to our knowledge of the economic, social and commercial activities of the Commonwealth. What is even more valuable is that it enables honorable members to examine the general trends throughout our economic structure. I propose to deal more with the general outlook for the future of Australia rather than with the mass of detail covered by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Makin). He sought to compare this budget with the “horror” budget for 1951-52, but his deduction was completely the reverse of the facts. I suggest to the honorable member that the “ horror “ budget played a major part in slowing down the advance in prices throughout Australia and if this budget has the same effect on present inflationary trends it will more than satisfy the confidence that I have in it. I wish to deal with the general influences being felt throughout the economic life of Australia.
The first and most important influence that has manifested itself quite clearly so that every one can recognize the signs, is that the post-war economic honeymoon which Australia has enjoyed has come to an end, and the nation must now face the prosaic task of getting back to work and earning its living. Due to rather too much rich living we are now suffering from an attack of economic indigestion. The nation’s consultants have been called in to express their opinions about the patient’s condition. One learned doctor, leading a particular political school of thought, has diagnosed the high fever of inflation, and recommended as a sure cure the full heat treatment of increased wages and more spending money. Combined with this heat treatment he has made a recommendation that, as there seems to be a temporary lull in the threats of an outbreak of war, we should greatly reduce any further expenditure on defensive preventive medicines and dispense with inoculation to build up resistance. Other independent opinions have embraced suggestions of tighter import restrictions, reductions in taxation, and increased depreciation allowances. One learned practitioner from Ballarat suggested we should give consideration to the use of the currency depreciation drug.
With some minor qualifications I support entirely the opinions expressed in the budget speech of the Treasurer who has not been stampeded into drastic purges or severe surgical treatment. In my opinion he has approached the real problems in a logical manner. The target of expansion and development which we have set ourselves must of necessity contain the inherent germs of inflation, and this condition is now being manifested in the two major economic conditions of falling overseas credits - the result of decreased export income and increased overseas spending - and rising costs which overfull employment and a very high demand for capital works and goods have accelerated. At the same time it is as well to examine the indigestion that these conditions have brought about to make certain that the temporary indisposition is not symptomatic of some deep-seated condition or disease. I have no fear personally for the long-term progress of Australia, and with the co-operation of the people and the use of common sense by the executive, and with faithful service by the administration, we are certain to go forward and give to the world a justification for our occupation and development of this great country.
However, with the constant pressure of inflation always present, and the immediate problem which changing world conditions has imposed on our overseas trade, the chill breeze of falling wool prices at this time is bringing home to us the necessity for re-thinking and re-examining the direction of our commercial and economic developments. Otherwise, we may temporarily find ourselves in real difficulties. The Australian economy, which has for so long been protected and kept warm by the thick blanket of wool exports and the products of our primary industries, is now realizing that this blanket may be wearing thin as world prices fall and our export income is reduced. While prices were high and overseas funds were plentiful, the rapid industrial expansion we have set ourselves has been going on without hindrance, but of its very nature it has set up a condition of high costs against those primary export industries which have been mainly responsible for the conditions under which this industrial progress became possible. It is in this direction that a fine balance must be preserved. It is obviously stupid to argue that secondary industry in Australia is a liability. It makes possible a great increase in population so necessary to us; it provides the tough core of an essential home market for our primary produce, and from the defence angle it forms the backbone of any Australian war effort when international sea lanes are threatened. In fact it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that in the near future our domestic market will consume all the products of our primary industry, leaving only wool, wheat and sugar for export.
However, the extraordinary expansion of secondary industry during the last fifteen years has brought in its wake a set of conditions which constitute a serious threat to our primary industries. It is in this direction that I consider we must do some realistic thinking unless we are to place ourselves in the position of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Referring briefly to the remarks of the honorable member for Sturt, he should realize, as well as anybody else in this chamber, that the effect of falling export prices must inevitably be reflected throughout the whole of our financial structure. As a responsible person in the community he should take his fair share of persuading those who support him politically that the red light is shining for those who think that we oan live at a standard which our income does not justify. Already, some of our major primary industries - dairying, poultry and dried fruit - are feeling the pressures of the rising cost structure which has largely been contributed to by this tremendous expansion in secondary industry, aided and abetted by the huge catalogue of governmental and semigovernmental works being undertaken and projected under conditions involving the fiercest competition for labour and materials from a supply deficient in both those essentials.
It is well to remember that Australia’s international credit is not based on any traditional reputation for the product of its secondary industries; in fact, it is only comparatively recently that overseas investors have been made aware that Australia has an industrial potential. It must be repeated that Australia’s solvency, and as a result its ability to obtain credit overseas, rests firmly on its economic ability to grow and export the products of its primary industries to the world markets, apart altogether from any consideration of our national reputation as a people who are prepared to undertake our international political obligations. I repeat, therefore, that the recent falls in wool prices, coming after the serious fall in overseas prices for the products of our other great primary industries, should open the eyes of all in this country to the practical results of the trends towards unlimited industrial expansion and vast governmental developmental schemes, which may or may not be productive within a reasonably limited period of time. One of the conditions involved in our decreasing overseas balances shows us that the theory that expanded local manufacture would decrease our dependence on imports, is, temporarily at least, largely fallacious. If Australia had the industrial potential of the United States of America, a country which from its own manufacturing resources can provide the capital equipment necessary for industrial expansion, our problem would be simple. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and until such time as we can produce in this country the machinery and materials that we require for increased industrial development, there will continue the peculiar paradox that the greater the efforts we make to step up the range and efficiency of our secondary industries the greater will be the calls that we will make on our overseas funds and the greater will be the strain that we will place on our primary industries which, through the export of surplus primary products, are mainly responsible for the existence of those credits.
During the course of this debate, private spending has been the subject of considerable discussion. I am not one of those persons who believe that any restriction should be placed upon the wishes of the individual in this direction. If people want things that will give them a better and fuller life, and if they are not jeopardizing or pledging their future peace of mind, I say, “ Let them have those things “. But in all seriousness, I believe that there is a section of our community which, through no fault of its own, is quite incapable of resisting the blandishments of super-salesmen, and many people are committing themselves to purchasing goods on terms that involve high interest rates and which, if the turn of the wheel of fortune is unfavorable, will never enable them to complete their purchase. That is a situation that may come sooner than people realize, when the fall of wool prices and export income is reflected and magnified throughout the commercial economy. It is, therefore, a sound policy, as was stated in the speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), to place some curb on time-payment credit activities. I believe that, if it were constitutionally possible, the introduction by statute of the necessity for a reasonable initial deposit payment would remove many of the dangers that are inherent in any unrestricted hire-purchase system.
It is obvious that the present exportimport situation demands the most careful handling, and the somewhat negative policy of import restrictions must continue for the present at least. I feel that, as a matter of immediate policy, the issue of licences for capital equipment and goods of that kind, the purchase of which in the past has eaten deeply into our overseas reserves, should be tested in the light of the ultimate productive value and the time within which that production will be effective. In other words, licences should not be granted where the product, in general terms, is of doubtful value to the community or will not be produced within a reasonable time. In regard to public finance, now, if ever, is the time when governments should get together and work out a strict scheme of priorities. Any contemplated developmental work should be thoroughly tested in the light of its anticipated completion and its short-term - I repeat short-term - contribution to the general productive capacity of the country. Long-term schemes, no matter how valuable they may be in future years, should be soft-pedalled and shelved until such time as economic pressures subside. The public, in its turn, must play a part in recognizing this situation and in not being led into excessive demands for governmental expenditure which will not stand the acid test of productive capacity.
In the modern state, a vigorous housing policy and expanding educational and cultural institutions are a necessity, but we undertake them with the knowledge and realization that, from the short term viewpoint, such projects place a great stress on our economic resources and that, indirectly, they make their own contribution to the general inflationary pressure. Similarly, our intake of immigrants from overseas involves an additional pressure on our economic structure which virtually has the effect of increasing inflation. It is therefore the task of responsible governments in Australia to-day, to recognize these various forces at work and to design their public works programmes in such a way that they give a lead to the community in not attempting to bite off more than our resources will permit us to chew. As a concrete example, and at the risk of incurring the displeasure of the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) in his- capacity as Minister for Defence Production, I suggest that very serious consideration should be given to the practicability of delaying the erection of the St. Mary’s ammunition filling factory. To my mind, that is a project which comes within the category of governmental work that should be reconsidered. That is an example of the action which I believe is demanded of any government nowadays. At the risk of criticizing other Ministers in general terms, let me say that the extraordinary attitude of persons of all shades of political thought in believing that the fact that one reduces the expenditure of the department that he administers is an admission of weakness is one of the most farcical attitudes of mind that could ever be adopted and is one which is disastrous from the point of view of the public and the taxpayer. I hope that this little homily will fall on receptive ears, and I suggest that a Minister should regard it as flattery to be described as one who reduces the grant that is demanded by his department.
During this last year we have seen the completion of some important enterprises which appear to be of tremendous value to future generations of Australia. I refer to the rolling mill that was recently opened at Port Kembla, and to the oil refineries at Kwinana and Corio. I have no doubt that when they reach full production, which I hope will be in the not very distant future, those enterprises, and others of that kind, will make a contribution to our overseas balances. The fact that their operation will save expenditure ‘ of overseas currency will justify, in the long term, their establishment. But let us not lose sight of the fact that, during the period of their construction, they have placed pressure on our overseas funds and on our local resources of labour and materials. In a more positive direction, I believe that the time is now overdue for the initiation of a vigorous and wide-scale publicity campaign to bring the products of our export industries to the notice of the world, particularly those Asian countries where our influence is being introduced through our contribution to the Colombo plan. In these days of active world competition, trade is certain to languish if publicity is neglected, and no opportunity should be missed by either departmental or private exporting interests to keep Australian goods in the forefront wherever there are any indications of a possible market. The system of bulk buying and selling, which required no advertising, was our normal trading routine for so long that we were inclined to neglect the exploration of other markets. But now that has all gone, and our traditional customer, the United Kingdom, is in a strong position to bargain, with the result that our main primary exporting industries are going through a transition period of relatively unprofitable crisis.
In this connexion, as the representative of a great dairying electorate, I bring to the notice of the House the difficulties of the dairying industry. Through no fault of its own, the dairying industry finds that rising costs in this country have so increased its costs of production that it is now unable to sell its products overseas at a profitable price. I suggest that every effort must be made to assist this industry to find alternative markets. Its value as a means of closer settling a large area of Australia cannot be disputed, and in that respect, I think it stands alone. I was very receptive to the suggestion that was made by the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate). The honorable member and I are members of a committee of Government supporters, a number of whom represent dairying electorates. We had a look at the general situation, and we felt that there was a case for a recommendation to Cabinet that the interim payments of the Australian Dairying Industry Equalization Committee Limited should be recast in the light of the more hopeful outlook overseas, and in keeping with the estimates of the
Department of Commerce and Agriculture. That, in itself, would be some encouragement to those members of the dairying industry who have suffered a very severe blow because of the new price that is being paid for butter fat.
In conclusion, I repeat that I have no fears for the long-term future of this country. But there are small storm clouds in the skies, and we should be wise to take heed of them. I am apprehensive that the immediate problems of rising costs and reduced incomes may influence the great Australian public to be receptive to economic and political ideas which wouldlead to the long-term undermining of our future progress and which would prevent the fulfilment of our dynamic potential.
Sitting suspended from 5.48 to 8 p.m.
. -Recently the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) announced a surplus of more than £70,000,000 for the financial year 1954-55. That surplus must prove beyond all doubt to the Australian people that the policy enunciated by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) to the electors during the general election campaign in May last year, relative to an all-round increase of 10s. a week in pensions, and the complete abolition of the means test over a period of three years, could have been applied without any difficulty. Indeed, the Labour party should be in office to-day, because 51 per cent, of the electors endorsed the policy announced by the Leader of the Opposition.
It must be abundantly clear to the age and invalid pensioners, to civilian widow pensioners and war widow pensioners, and to ex-servicemen in receipt of pensions, that they will not receive a fair deal so long as the LiberalAustralian Country party coalition is in office. This is evidenced by the paltry increase of 10s. a week granted to age, invalid and other pensioners in the budget. The electorate of Cook, which I represent and in which I live, contains many age and invalid pensioners whose tragic plight I am in a position to see. I see them walking the streets in dilapidated old clothes, living in hovels and tenements and often paying as much as £1 or £1 5s. a week for a room without heating or cooking facilities. In the second week of the pension period many of these people are actually able to budget for only one meal a day. I have made extensive inquiries throughout my electorate in order to find out how cheaply a meal can be bought there, and I have found that the cheapest meal that can be purchased costs 4s. I leave to the imagination of honorable members an assessment of the nutritional value of a meal costing 4s. in these times of inflation and high prices.
It is a responsibility of this Government or, for that matter, of any government, to see that age and invalid pensioners are decently housed and fed in keeping with Australian standards of living. Those people are the pioneers of this country. They built it to what it is to-day. I remind honorable members that the vast majority of them had to raise their families without the assistance of child endowment payments, and in so doing they nullified their prospects of saving for their years of retirement. Instead of their having to depend on charitable organizations for left-off clothing and a bowl of soup, some money could be taken out of the defence vote and used to assist them, because my policy is not one of guns before butter. I have seen published in the press professions by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that he is a simple Presbyterian. Let him put his Christian principles into practice, instead of making pious and meaningless statements.
Pensioners are forced to pay the same prices for essential commodities as are paid by other members of the community, so an examination of the present position regarding prices is relevant to the plight of pensioners. Butter now costs the consumer in the Sydney area 4s. 5d. per lb. ; tea, 6s. 3d. per lb.; bread, ls. Id. a loaf; milk, lid. a pint; and potatoes, from 8d. to ls. per lb., whilst the price of eggs varies between 5s. and 6s. a dozen, and prices of green vegetables are at record levels. Those high prices do not affect the tables of the rich; but they place pensioners in the semi-starvation class. During the last sessional period the salary of the Chief Justice of Australia was increased from £5,000 to £S,000 a year - an increase of nearly £60 a week. The salaries of other judges of the High Court were increased from £4,000 to £6,500, an increase of nearly £45 a week. The salaries of judges of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, conciliation commissioners and Public Service heads were increased along similar lines. It is my contention that if money can be found to provide for increases of salaries for the tall poppies, who do not really need more money, it should be found for pensioners, in order to enable them to live decently.
Great credit must be given to the New South “Wales Government for what it is doing to assist pensioners. For example, it gives them the benefit of concessional fares on trams and trains and provides hearing aids to the deaf. It also provides them with false teeth, glasses, blankets, &c. All those benefits are given without the assistance of one penny piece from the Federal Treasurer. Great credit must also be given to the Labourcontrolled councils of the City of Sydney, Randwick and Botany for many amenities which they supply to those unfortunate people. I am not shedding any crocodile tears, nor is the Labour party endeavouring to make political capital out of the plight of the pensioners. All the Labour party demands is that these unhappy people be treated as human beings.
Year after year honorable members who support the Liberal party expound the view that free enterprise creates healthy competition which gives to the buying public goods and services at lower prices. Let us examine clearly the position relating to this so-called healthy competition which is supposed to exist in the community at present. One is at a loss to find where it really exists. For example, there is no competition in iron and steel, the rates charged by private banks and insurance companies, in the glass industry, or in the prices of coal, petrol, new cars, lubricating oils, newspapers, confectionery, house bricks, building materials and admission to motion picture theatres. There is also no competition in regard to Australian and imported tobacco and cigarettes. There in none in regard to the fees of doctors and dentists. There is none with respect to prices charged by chemists because they all sell special lines on fixed prices. I could cite many other examples of the total lack of .competition in many avenues of business and trade in Australia. The real reason for the nonexistence of healthy competition is that monopolistic combines have taken control of the buying and selling markets in Australia. I shall give a minor illustration of how those combines operate. Prior to World War II. the price of admission into the stalls of a suburban theatre was ls. A small theatre in my electorate reduced the price of admission to 9d., no doubt with a view to attracting more people into the theatre. The price reduction had the desired effect, because in those days 3d. was worth as much as ls. is worth now. After the reduction had been in force for two or three weeks the price went back to ls. When asked the reason for the return to the original price the proprietor of the theatre told us he had been forced to restore the old price because he could not get any more films for exhibition unless- he did so. So much for these combines. I mention that as a minor illustration of what is happening to-day to shops. Both the grocers and confectioners must charge the prices set for them by the wholesalers. They dare not compete for business, for, if they do, their supply is curtailed immediately.
We remember that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party said that we could do without federal prices control when it was in operation. They said that the States could control prices. Let us examine the position to see what has happened since federal prices control has been abolished. On the 20th September, 1948, when prices control was relinquished entirely by the Commonwealth and handed over to the States, the basic wage was £5 12s. a week. At that time, the skilled worker did receive a fair margin. Then, too, the worker, the housewife and he pensioner knew the real value of the £1 note. Now let us compare the wage of £5 12s. with the 1939 basic wage of £4 ls. The increase over the 1939 figure is only 38.2 per cent., despite the inevitable war-time inflation. To-day, without federal prices control, we find that figure has jumped from 3S.2 per cent, to 200 per cent.
I frankly admit that there were a few black markets during the war in such lines as beer, tobacco, spirits and petrol, but practically all goods are now in plentiful supply. That being so, there should be no conditions that lead to black markets. It is my contention that the only way by which we can hope to curb inflation is to re-introduce federal prices control. However, I doubt very much whether the Government wants to reintroduce prices control because, if the system were revived, a curb would be put on the huge profits of the monopolistic combines which are the bosses of this Government! That the State governments are powerless to control prices is evidenced by the facts I have just quoted. A State government cannot control the prices of any article either entering or leaving the State. To make an analogy, the position can be likened to an Australian eleven going on to the field with six captains.
I am almost certain that if the Premiers were asked to transfer prices control to the Commonwealth, they would be only too pleased to do so. If they were not agreeable, I know that the people of Australia would vote overwhelmingly for the re-introduction of federal prices control, because of the haphazard Government we have to-day, and the way in which prices are going up from week to week. The position now is that we do not know where we shall finish. Prices control provides the only way in which huge profits can be curbed. The workers’ wages, on the other hand, whether we have federal prices control or not, are always restricted by arbitration court awards. The only difference that the re-introduction of federal prices control would make would be that prices, instead of being put up almost every week, would be controlled.
Let me give an instance of the way in which combines operate when given a free hand to exploit the public. In 1953, when the entertainment tax was abolished, the price of admission to a Hoyt’s or
Union theatre show in town was 4s. 4d. This price included, I think, about ls. tax. The Premier of New South Wales said that he would give the people the benefit of the abolition of that tax. No doubt he meant well, but let us examine what has happened so that we may see the way in which these combines exploited the people. Despite the fact that the basic wage then was pegged at £12 13s. a week, and still is pegged at that figure, the price of admission to the theatre is now 4s. 9d., and there is no entertainment tax. That is what happens when these monopolistic combines are given a free hand in the people’s affairs.
In 1949, when this Government was elected, its great vote-catching phrase was, “ Let us put value back into the £1 “. Let us see what has happened to the value of the £1, and what has been done about fulfilling that promise. I take the 1939 wage of £4 ls. a week as the base figure, and regard the £1 as worth 20s. When Labour left office in December, 1949, the basic wage in Sydney was £6 12s. a week. Comparing that wage with the wage of £4 ls. of 1939, I find the value of the £1 was 12s. 2d. Now, after almost six years under this Government, I find that the present value of the £1 is only 6s. 8d. as compared with the 1939 figure. That is how this Government has fulfilled its promise to put value back into the £1.
This inflationary spiral is really the aftermath of the defeat of the prices referendum in 1948. It is interesting to note that every time the workers’ wages are increased by a few shillings a week there is a great squeal from the Liberal party and the Australian Country party and the anti-Labour newspapers to the effect that it will lead to inflation; but there is a complete blanket of silence about such things as the huge profits shown by General Motors-Holden’s Limited. Nothing is said about that matter by the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. They squeal only when the workers are given the few shillings to which they are justly entitled because of the huge profits such companies are making.
The anticipated surplus of £48,500,000 for 1955-56, which has been announced by the Treasurer, and which is to be put into a trust fund, could be better utilized, in my opinion, by giving the pensioners an increase of £1 a week instead of 10s. Let me emphasize that what I say about the pensioners I mean. I have been through the mill. I know what it is to go without a meal. In the 1930)s, I was unemployed. I had a wife and a young baby, and I was on the dole. But I doubt very much whether the Prime Minister or the Treasurer would know what it is to go without a meal. It is only by seeing these people, it is only by “ going through the mill “ that one can speak with sincerity on these matters. It is all right for honorable members on the Government side to tell us, with smirks on their faces, about the great things they have done, and about raising the limits in respect of amounts that the age or invalid pensioners may earn. But how many of them can earn it? Less than 15 per cent, are capable of earning anything. What about the other 85 per cent.? Are not they to be catered for? We hear from honorable members opposite speeches about what the Government is doing to provide free pharmaceutical benefits and medicine. But pensioners cannot eat those things. If they were given decent food and clothing, they would not, need hospital and medical benefits.
In conclusion, let me say that if the people of Australia want continued peace, happiness, prosperity and a fair deal for the worker and the pensioner, they will have to look to Labour, just as they did during the dark days of war.
– I would like to be the first of the many honorable members who will doubtless want to congratulate the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Cope) upon his maiden speech. We have all been through the ordeal and know what it means. However much we, on this side of the House, may disagree with some of the sentiments that he expressed, I think we are unanimous in congratulating him upon his obvious sincerity.
Mr. Curtin interjecting,
– The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) can never keep out of a debate. That is probably one factor that has contributed to the success in debate of honorable members on this side of the House. The honorable member for Cook spoke at some length on social services. Few responsible or thinking persons would deny that this country should give to those in need the best of which it is capable.
– “Why do you not do that?
– It is equally true that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) finds it difficult to refrain from interrupting a debate. His contributions also are extremely helpful to us. He is, in fact, one of the best possible arguments for keeping the present Government in office. I would like to quote from the White Paper on National Income and Expenditure, at which the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) devoted some carefully selected criticism. To divorce the problem of social services from other national problems contributes nothing towards its solution. Any reasonable person would agree with that. The white paper states -
Increased pension payments and the further development of the national health scheme resulted in an 8 per cent, increase in cash social service benefits. Payments of these cash benefits represented approximately 20 per cent, of total expenditure by governments, and nearly 40 per cent, of the expenditure by the Commonwealth Government (excluding grants to the States).
I suggest that that reveals a reasonable and considered approach to this problem, in which honorable members have a common interest. I want now to refer to the basic difference between the views of honorable members on the budget. It seems to be generally agreed that there is in this country a condition of prosperity. Honorable members are at variance only on the degree and extent of that prosperity. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that it applied to only 10 per cent, of the population. That, like many of his other comments, is obviously absurd, and I do not propose to address myself in detail to it.I remind honorable members that there are various standards for measuring living conditions and relative prosperity. Though people may disagree on what constitutes prosperity, few will deny that, in the post-war years, living standards in this country have progressively improved. It may be true that prosperity has not fallen within the reach of all, but never in history has prosperity extended to all the citizens of a community. This Government has done the best that it can - more than the previous Government did - to bring relief to those who have not benefited from our general prosperity.
I shall cite now some figures that give some indication of what has happened. During the period from 1946 to 1955, for three years of which Labour was in office, the people of this country purchased approximately 1,500,000 refrigerators, 1,250,000 vacuum cleaners and more than 1,000,000 washing machines.
– “What does that prove?
– The honorable member’s interjections are more frequent than intelligent. Those figures show that more than 50 per cent, of the 2,500,000 families in Australia have between them purchased an immense amount of household equipment in the last nine years. It is a reasonable inference that the purchasing power in the hands of the mass of the people has been greater than ever before.
– Hire purchase!
– The honorable member has probably been misled by the comments of his leader. I remind him that only about one quarter of the £182,000,000 invested in hire purchase is devoted to household appliances. The remainder is largely expended on motor cars, and I do not think the honorable member would quarrel with that. The Leader of the Opposition quoted from table No. 1 of the White Paper such figures as he thought convenient. He pointed out that total wages and salaries, including those payable to honorable members, had during the last three years increased from £2,039,000,000 to £2,321,000,000. He added that company income had risen in the same period from £378,000,000 to £505,000,000. It was a confidence trick of the kind that he tries to indulge in, and he went on to quote a number of figures in an endeavour to relate the average increase of wages to that of company profits. Those two figures cannot be related with truth, without considering additional investment in companies over that period. The right honorable gentleman referred to the White Paper with some care. He did not mention the amount of personal and private investment during this three-year period. In round figures, it amounts to more than £1,558,000,000. If that is added to the figure for the base year, 1951-52, it will be seen that the discrepancies to which he has referred are not real. The right honorable gentleman was indulging in a typical confidence trick.
Since the right honorable member has referred to the figures in the White Paper with which Parliament has been supplied, it is of interest to point out that while wages and salaries, &c, increased by £282,000,000 over that period, the income from “what are known as other unincorporated businesses, professions, &c, increased by £74,000,000. The total increase was £256,000,000, as compared with an increase in company income of £127,000,000. The right honorable gentleman professed, as he has done on other occasions, to have a very high regard for the middle class of the population, but he omitted to mention that item, which refers to an essentially middle-class income group. During the same period, it is interesting to note that net sales increased by £558,000,000. This White Paper is available for any one to read. No doubt that may present some difficulty to some honorable members opposite, but those who can read it can 3ee the items arranged in logical sequence, and they can see that it presents a picture of regular and progressive development. It presents a picture of expanding economy to which the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) referred in 1949, and of which we have evidence to-day. It refers, in fact, to the same kind of expanding economy that the Leader of the Opposition, in his last hectic campaign, referred to in a frenzied endeavour to capture another section of popular support. During that campaign he said that his policy was directed towards an expanding economy, and yet when the next budget is presented to the House he attacks all those things which are the very essence of an expanding economy. I doubt whether many people in the community, whatever virtues they may attribute to the right honorable member, will consider that he has shown sincerity in this matter.
I referred to social services in the remarks that I made in reply to the honorable member for Cook, but I remind the House again of the kind of argument put forward by the Leader of the Opposition because to-day he sets the party line. That which he said last week will, in effect, be followed slavishly by all those who continue to give him more or less reluctant support.
– There are not many.
– That is true, and probably their numbers are declining each day. But it is also true that they follow the line which he sets, and its fallacies should be exposed. The right honorable gentleman produced a peculiar, unorthodox and original cure for inflation. He said that the cure for inflation in this country was higher wages and more purchasing power, so that the same number of people could have more money to buy available goods.
– Hear, hear!
– My enthusiastic friend, the honorable member for Watson, supports that contention. One does not need to be an economist to know that if that practice were followed it would produce the same set of circumstances that we faced previously, with more money chasing the same amount of goods. That must inevitably set loose the forces of inflation, and here is the point which should be emphasized : If we let loose the forces of inflation, the very people to whom the right honorable gentleman appeals for support, the workers and the middle class, are the people who will pay dearly. They are the ones who will suffer if the economic policies or fallacies of the right honorable gentleman are adopted. That is manifestly true, and it is manifest hypocrisy to suggest otherwise. Such a policy is designed, as far as the right honorable gentleman at least is concerned, to destroy that middle class which, as history has proved, stands alone between democracy as we know it and the sort of state which the right honorable member for Barton seeks. Opinions differ in this place as to what sort of a state he seeks, but it is certainly not a democratic one.
I now wish to refer to some of the things that the Parliament should study when it considers, as it must, the problems of the nation in the way that we are considering them to-night. While it is not possible to analyse them thoroughly, it i3 possible to gather from this “White Paper, which has been accepted by the right honorable gentleman, certain facts that, when considered together, illustrate the sort of economy we have to-day and the sort of problems that we face. I remind the committee that the registrations of new motor vehicles, cars and trucks for the year 1954 amounted to over 200,000. The right honorable the Treasurer, in his budget speech, said that last year new motor vehicle registrations averaged 19,200 a month. If >ir.o cares to peruse the annual report of the Postmaster-General’s Department, one can learn that in the year ended June, 1954, that department was able to install about 93,000 telephones. In the same period, there were applications for 114,000. Therefore, we have an economy in which we can afford 200,000 new motor vehicles, but we can afford to have our government instrumentality install less than half that number of telephones, although applications for telephones were much more numerous. Different people, no doubt, will draw different conclusions from those facts, but they are facts which should be considered.
There are some other interesting comparisons in the “White Paper. The total expenditure on the construction of dwellings, Commonwealth and State, for the last financial year, was approximately £231,000,000. The amount spent on tobacco, beer, cigarettes, &c, was £330,000,000. We have an economy in which we can afford to spend something like £100,000,000 more a year on beer, tobacco and cigarettes than we can afford to spend on houses. Again, different people may draw different conclusions, but they are facts which affect our economy, and they must be taken into account when considering the budget There is also some lack of understanding, or loose thinking, in connexion with our overseas trade deficit. In some quarters we are told that we should reduce imports. No doubt the Government will have to do something in this field along the lines of the action it took on a previous occasion. The fact is, however, that our imports from overseas are not, in the main, consumer goods; a large proportion of them are materials used in our secondary industries. If we impose severe restrictions on that class of imports, they will have a serious effect on our secondary industries. The number of persons engaged in secondary industries in Australia in proportion to the total population is similar to the position in the United States of America, but, unfortunately, we do not produce results anything like the results obtained by secondary industries in that country. This is a matter to which the Government and the Parliament must give consideration.
– We produce cheaper steel in Australia.
– I suggest that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) should express his views to the honorable member for Cook who, apparently, holds different opinions.
Both the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who was Minister for Immigration in a previous Labour Government, and the present Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt) deserve credit for the immigration programme which has been so successful up to date, but, in my opinion, the time has come when we should consider reducing substantially the flow of immigrants into this country.
– I thought the honorable member said that everything in the garden was lovely !
– It would appear that the hearing of the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) to say nothing of his other faculties, is not what it ought to be. At the moment, immigration on the present scale is having an inflationary effect, although in ten or twenty years’ time we as a community will benefit enormously from the ‘ intake of people from other countries. We have already benefited greatly from the policy that has been in operation. Neverthelesss, as I have said, that policy is having an inflationary effect, and if we can do anything to avoid increasing the inflationary pressure we should do so. Something should be done to reduce the deficit in our overseas trade balance. We can either reduce imports or increase our exports. Obviously, we cannot increase prices obtained for primary produce sold in the world markets, and, therefore, it follows that we must try to increase our exports of secondary products. At the moment, they constitute only a small proportion of our total exports; they are valued at only about £40,000,000 a year. The difficulty we face here is that techniques in overseas countries are better than ours, and their price structure is lower. That brings us to the point that we must consider how we can avoid unnecessary spending. For a number of years the Australian Government has financed its works programme out of revenue, which means out of moneys raised by taxation, leaving available to the States all the loan moneys which can be raised. Altogether about £800,000,000 of loan moneys has been expended by the States on public works, and about £400,000,000 has been expended by the Commonwealth out of revenue for similar purposes. When governments spend money, and use materials and manpower on public works, they are in active competition with the production of goods that are essential to our internal and external economy. Hy belief is that the Commonwealth should no longer finance the shortage of loan moneys needed by the States. A study of the present budget makes it clear that £20,000,000, or £30,000,000, will be used to finance the difference between the estimated loan raisings and the requirements of the States for loan works. The Government should face the position, and refuse to finance State public works from revenue raised by the Commonwealth. This Parliament should have another look at the Commonwealth works programme. It is comparatively easy for a Treasurer in his budget speech to make general statements, but it is not so easy to give details. The estimated expenditure on public works for the current year is £104,000,000, of which about £30,000,000 is for war service homes, and a similar amount for the Postmaster-General’s Department. With neither of those two items will any honorable member disagree. Indeed, every honorable member who has received letters and requests for additional telephone and postal services knows that those amounts cannot be reduced. That leaves about £44,000,000. I regret that I may annoy the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, but it is ludicrous to contemplate the expenditure of £5,500,000 in the Australian Capital Territory during the present financial year.
– It is not enough.
– That amount is to be expended because of mistakes made in the past. In his budget speech the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said -
The estimated increase of £2,148,000 in expenditure in the Australian Capital Territory makes provision for construction work connected with the proposed transfer of additional departments to Canberra.
It seems to me inconsistent to budget for additional expenditure of £2,148,000 in the Australian Capital Territory if we regard the economic situation as the Treasurer obviously looks at it and as most honorable members regard it.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- There is a fundamental difference between the financial policies of Labour and of this Government. Labour’s financial policy improves the conditions of the ordinary man, woman and child whenever it is applied. The policies of this Government are designed to benefit the wealthy few, and they have succeeded eminently in benefiting the wealthy few to the detriment of pensioners and of the ordinary family man and those who must keep themselves and their families on small fixed incomes. That is a proposition which I shall prove conclusively beyond all doubt before I resume my seat. I have before me all the budget speeches made by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) from 1950 onwards. In his budget speech for the 1950-51 financial year, delivered in 1950, the Treasurer emphasized the sound economic condition of Australia. Like the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis), I might as well be exact; so I shall quote the Treasurer’s exact words. In his 1950-51 budget speech he stated -
In. times like these real and substantial progress is always made. Population grows, industries are built, new resources are opened up and these are permanent gains.
He said, however, that there was a danger to Australia’s growing prosperity. He referred to it in these words -
Because inflation tends to scatter and waste resources this budget has been planned as part of the general economic policy of the Government, to restrain inflationary pressures.
Everything in the garden was lovely except for the presence of the serpent of inflation. The Government had planned the measures by which that serpent was to be expelled from the paradise that Australia then was. The Treasurer stated in his 1951-52 budget speech -
The recent steep rise in prices and costs bears witness to the acuteness of the problem of inflation.
A year had passed since the Treasurer had put into operation his planned economic scheme, and the only result was greater inflation than before.
The 1951-52 budget was the one that overwhelmed the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) with horror. The Government declared, in effect, “ “We shall deal once and for all with this menace of inflation. We shall skim off the spending power of the people of Australia “. And it did so. It skimmed off the people’s purchasing power most effectively. It said further, in effect, “ In order to reduce prices we shall do as we did in 1950-51, when we began to encourage imports into this country. We shall now extend that policy of encouraging imports “. Towards the end of 1951 imports began to flood into Australia, and in March, 1952, savage import restrictions were necessary to ensure the solvency of overseas funds. The Prime Minister came to the microphone and warned the people of Australia over the radio that difficulties overseas were mounting as a result of the Government’s policy of encouraging imports. The Treasurer, in his budget speech for the financial year 1952-53, pointed out that the Government had encouraged imports and that Australia’s international currency reserves had fallen in the financial year 1951-52 from £S43,000,000 to £362,000,000- a decrease of no less than £481,000,000. In that same speech the Treasurer said that inflation was still with us. In his 1953-54 budget speech he stated that the Government had arrested inflation, and he pointed out that during 1952-53 our international reserves had risen from £362,000,000 to £548,000,000. The serpent had been expelled from paradise! There was no further inflation in the country! The Government’s policy of encouraging imports and then restricting them, and of reducing taxation and then increasing it, had solved the problem, and by 1953, inflation had been arrested ! In his budget speech for the financial year 1954-Po, the Treasurer stated -
Good though recent times have been, there can be no mistaking the signs that stresses are again threatening to develop in our economy.
In his 1955-56 budget speech, delivered thirteen days ago, the Treasurer said that during 1954-55 “ Our overseas exchange reserves ran down “. He added -
By the end of the financial year we had around us the unmistakable signs of active inflation.
These, then, are the inescapable facts. During the war, prices had increased. The value of the £1 had depreciated by about 7s. 6d. by 1950, when the Treasurer stated that, in most countries, prices had risen higher and more rapidly during the war and post-war years than they had risen in Australia and that he was about to arrest inflation. The value of the £1 has now depreciated until it is worth only about 7s. 6d. That, of course, is the story. of this Government’s inglorious failure to do what it said it could do. In his budget speech for the financial year 1950-51 the Treasurer stated that Australia’s overseas reserves were £650,000,000. In his 1955-56 budget speech he said that those reserves were £428,000,000 in June last, and that they are rapidly diminishing. He has declared, both outside and inside this chamber, that a crisis faces Australia. We face yet another crisis in the succession of them that we have experienced under this Government’s administration. There can be no doubt that, on its own showing, this Administration has been completely unable to solve the problem of inflation. To inflation in 1952- it also added unemployment. At the present time, to inflation it has added the problem of diminishing overseas funds. It has endangered our overseas solvency.
What is this inflation? The honorable member for Deakin gave a definition of it which resembled that given to the Parliament by the Treasurer. He said that it was “too much money chasing too few goods “. But too much money chasing too few goods does not necessarily mean that, between section and section of the community, there shall be grave disadvantages. It does not mean that one section shall get rich as another section becomes poor. If inflation occurs in the community, and there is, in 1955, the same amount of goods as that which existed in 1952, and if the medium of exchange is multiplied by three, but one section’s proportion of that medium increases only twofold whilst another section’s proportion increases fivefold or sixfold, then the application of inflation has been to the detriment of a particular section of the community. That, of course, is what has happened in this country.
In 1953, the Government reduced taxes and said to the man who, after paying all taxes, was receiving between £4,000 and £5,000 a year, in 1952, “ Your reduction in taxation will be almost £20 a week “. It gave a reduction of £900-odd a year to the man who was in receipt of between £4,000 and £5,000 a year. In 1954, to the same person, the Government said, “ We shall reduce your tax by £10 a week “, so that over two years, by means of a direct gift, the Government contributed to that person £30 a week. That represented an addition to his weekly income of 30 per cent. In the same period, to those who were in receipt of £800 or less a year, the Government gave a few shillings a week reduction in taxation. Such people received less than 2 per cent, increase on the amount of money they were receiving in 1952. Was that equitable? Of course, it was not.
During those two years, the Government said to the age pensioner, “ We will give you 2s. 6d. a week increase in pension “. That was in 1952, the year in which it gave to the man in receipt of between £4,000 and £5,000 a year an increase of £20 a week. In 1954, the Government said to the age pensioner, “ We shall give you nothing at all “.
That was the year in which they gave to the man in receipt of £4,000 and £5,000 a year £10 a week by way of reduced income tax. Was that equitable? Certainly, it was not. But that does not tell the whole story, which cannot be told in full on an occasion such as this. Time would not permit it to be told.
I have here some financial supplements of an Australian daily newspaper published between the 19th August last and the 2nd September. There is not one page of those supplements that does not tell of vast profits being made by private business undertakings. There is not one page that does not tell, as in the case of the Standard Motor Company Limited, of declared dividends of 30 per cent, and more. In ordinary business undertakings the dividends are usually about 20 per cent. A dividend of 15 per cent., declared by a business, is rather a small one. These huge profits are going to a small section of the community. But I do not need to read any of these documents I have here, because the budgetary papers produced by the Treasurer in this chamber recently show that the increase to those in receipt of dividends during last year alone was an average of 27 per cent. That, of course, was on top of huge increases in previous years.
I say that it has been established beyond all doubt that the rich are getting richer and that the average family man, those living on fixed incomes, and pensioners are getting poorer relatively under this Government than they were before. An excessive amount of inflated currency is going to a wealthy few. I could pause here to tell the committee about the plight of age pensioners, but instead of doing that I recommend that honorable members look at the Melbourne Herald, which annually makes an appeal for blankets for the aged. That newspaper tells the story of person after person living on the age pension, to whose homes the reporter of the newspaper goes, and of the conditions under which they live. Many of them are unable, because of infirmity, to care properly for themselves and cannot gain admission to institutions because, at the present time, there is a lack of accommodation, under existing conditions, in all State and charitable institutions for aged and infirm people.
This Government, with a surplus of £70,000,000, will not make available a few million pounds of the surplus in order to build additional accommodation, so that aged and infirm people might be able to get the care and attention which are essential in the last days of their lives. That, of course, is a result of the planned policy of the Government, a policy which is detrimental to the average person in the community and which enhances the position of those who are already wealthy. As I have said, there is an excess of currency, and the amount of currency in circulation is increasing. That amount was £3,000,000,000 last year, and it is £4,0.00,000,000 this year. Where does that currency come from? It does not drop from the heavens like rain, nor does it spring from the earth like grass. It is put into circulation by the banking institutions. The Government recognizes that fact. It was the present Treasurer who, early in the last war, took away from the private banking institutions, by regulation, control over a vast proportion of their deposits, in order to prevent inflation. Later on, when the Curtin Government came to office, that Government made the regulation a law of the land. ‘When the present Government came into power, it refused to apply the law of Curtin applicable to the issue of currency by private banks - or credit, if that term is preferred - either because of unwillingness or because it could not stand up against the pressure that was being brought to bear upon it. As a result, inflation kept on mounting. However, while the Government did not exercise that power, it did not destroy the power until 1953, when it brought down banking legislation. In that legislation all control of the Government over private banking institutions’ power to create credit was destroyed. The Government has made it clear that this power was the difficulty in connexion with inflation, not only at the commencement of the last war but also during its term of office. In 1951, the Government decided to encourage imports. How did it implement that policy? It said, “We will utilize the credit resources and the banking institutions of this country in order to introduce into our economy the purchasing power which will attract goods from overseas, and at the same time we will prevent manufacturers in this country from utilizing credit to expand their industries “. That policy of encouraging imports and so utilizing credit resources was decided upon in 1951. Let honorable members opposite read the policy speeches of their leaders. The Treasurer said definitely that private banking institutions are the media whereby, to a large extent, inflation is caused in thi3 community. Honorable members opposite cannot forget this statement by the Treasurer, because it is contained in the budget speech of 1955. He said that inflation is being caused, to a large extent, by the utilization of our resources to purchase goods upon time payment. He said that the Government would deal with that situation by endeavouring to induce private banking institutions in this country to refrain from lending money for financing the purchase of certain types of goods on time payment. The Government is going down on its bended knees to the private banking institutions, saying, “ We, who once thought that the cause of inflation was the fact that imports were not coming into Australia, now find that imports are not the trouble; it is the expenditure of money per medium of time payment. We, who went to you on a previous occasion and asked you to finance importers in preference to those who were manufacturing goods in this country, now ask you to be careful as to whom you allow credit for purposes of time payment purchases in this country.”
– A Labour government went down on its knees to Niemeyer. What is wrong with that?
– If that is the only interjection that honorable members opposite can make in defence of their Government, I can afford to ignore it. The point is that the Government had the power to direct the banking institutions. It gave away that power and is now dependent upon the goodwill and beneficence of those institutions, which are seeking to make profit out of the community, in order to meet increasing inflation and an economic crisis, as the Treasurer has stated.
Unfortunately, my time is drawing to a close. Therefore, in the few moments that remain, I shall direct attention to what should be done. I will summarize my remarks in this way: In 1950, the Government had one problem to solve - inflation. By 1951, the inflation was more serious. In 1952, the Government had not solved the problem of inflation, but had endangered our overseas balances, caused unemployment, and seriously retarded Australian industries. In 1953, the Government claimed to have conquered inflation and that the path ahead was clear for steady progress. In 1954, stresses in our economy were becoming more evident, and in 1955, inflation i3 again on the march, and overseas funds are at a perilously low ebb. Had more purchasing power been in the hands of the average man, woman and child, those stresses would not have developed, and this inflation would not have become so acute. Additional money in the hands of the average man, woman and child would have ensured that labour and resources were used for the building of homes and the provision of those commodities required by the ordinary individual. When a vast proportion of our income is in the hands of those whose ordinary needs are well satisfied, additional spending power is directed to luxury industries, which attract employment and resources at the expense of those industries catering for the average individual. Had more attention been given to the expansion and protection of Australian industries, a smaller volume of exports would have been necessary to procure our essentials from overseas. That should be obvious to ordinary members of the community. The extent of well-balanced development in this country is the measure of our future security. We need more farms and factories, with the latter dispersed throughout the country. From the wealth of those farms and factories we could produce greater water supplies and power resources for the overall development of the country, so permitting the absorption of a greater population in the future. Upon the provision of these conditions depends not merely our progress in the future but also our security. The Treasurer’s dismal budget does not give to the Australian people hope that a period of real and steady progress lies ahead.
.- It is most unfortunate for the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) that I have to follow him. I was greatly interested to hear what he had to say when he began to address himself to the budget. First, he said that the financial policy of this Government, as opposed to that of previous socialist governments, was designed to make the rich man richer and the poor man poorer. While the honorable member for Burke was saying that, I was casting my eyes, by the merest chance, over a list of figures that gives, in precise terms, the incomes of the various sections of the Australian community. It is necessary, for the benefit of the honorable member for Burke, if for no one else, that I should reply to him in these terms. If it were true for a single moment that the policy of this Government was not designed specifically to improve the relative economic and social positions of every man, woman and child, the figures that I propose to give would not bear examination by any intelligent person.
Since I represent a rural electorate, I invite the committee to consider, for example, the incomes of persons engaged in primary industries. I propose to confine myself, if I may, to round figures. In 1948-49, the incomes of the farmers .for income tax purposes totalled £329,000,000. They rose to £420,000,000 in the following year and then, in 1950-51, to £709,000,000, a very steep rise indeed. Having reached that peak, the aggregate incomes of the farmers fell to £524,000,000 in 1951-52, rose slightly again to £592,000,000 in 1952-53, and fell again to £550,000,000. In 1954-55, the last year for which complete figures are available, the incomes of primary producers were down to £480,000,000. That was the range- from £329,000,000, up to £709,000,000, and then down to £480,000,000.
However, when we consider the incomes of those engaged in secondary and tertiary industries - the persons who receive payment by way of wages or salaries - we find a complete contradiction of everything the honorable member for Burke has said. The aggregate earnings of persons in those industries for income tax purposes were very substantial by any standard, and I summarize them as follows: -
The figures for the last financial year available are staggering. If those statistics are not a categorical contradiction of everything that the honorable member for Burke has had to say in this connexion, I am at a loss to know what is likely to satisfy reasonable people in an argument of this description. I direct my attention now to other persons whom the honorable member for Burke would describe as the idle - those who get their incomes from investments of every description. They were as follows : -
The range of the incomes of those persons, as shown for income tax purposes, went from £403,000,000 to £867,000,000. I invite honorable members to measure that range against the fabulous increases of the other persons I have mentioned. I come now to the rent racketeers, the landlords, the persons who have engaged throughout their lives in buying and building premises of every description for renting to the homeless or to persons who want to engage in enterprises of any sort. Their aggregate incomes for income tax purposes in recent years were -
Those persons form the most maligned section of the community so far as the honorable member for Burke and, indeed, honorable members on the Opposition side generally are concerned. The range of their aggregate incomes went from £.115,000,000 in 1948-49 to £165,000,000 last year. Could anything be more absurd than the spurious argument submitted by the honorable member for Burke with his tongue in his cheek so far as rents and property incomes are concerned?
Then the honorable member in traditional fashion wept crocodile tears about the unfortunate circumstances of the poor pensioners. He declared that this Government, by its policy, had denied economic justice to the pensioners, presumably of every description, by conceding all sorts of reductions of taxation to persons engaged in industries, but denying the pensioners increases of their pensions from year to year. Let me review the figures because it is my duty to reply to an honorable member on the Opposition side when he submits arguments that cannot stand up to examination for one moment, and are designed to confuse the credulous and uninformed. Age and invalid pensions payments totalled £41,000,000 in 1949, when the socialist Labour Government was defeated. In subsequent years, the total pensions paid to age and invalid pensioners were -
That was the range for age and invalid pensions alone, and I am reminded that, in addition, the pensioners receive pharmaceutical, hospital and medical benefits. I am speaking in terms of hard cash only.
I come now to child endowment payments. The best the socialists could do was to pay £24,000,000 in 1949, the last year they were in office. They had confessed to their inability to do better, because they stated that it was a physical and financial impossibility to provide child endowment for the first child. Their limit was £24,000,000. The then Prime Minister and he who is now Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said that it was unreasonable to suppose that child endowment could be increased by a single penny. In 1.949, the figure was £24,000,000. When the socialists were rejected by the intelligent people in our midst, it rose in successive years to £30,000,000, £43,000,000, £46,000,000, £53,000,000, and £50,000,000, and finally to £52,000,000 in this year of grace.
– Where do those figures come from ?
– They are the only possible figures for honest men. We come to other social services benefits. The best that the socialists could do in 1949 was £S,000,000. When this Government caine into office, the figure rose to £10,000,000, £10,400,000, £16,000,000, and £15,000,000. It is down this year, confessedly, because of the different arrangements so far as these benefits are concerned, to £13,690,000. The range was from £8,000,000 up to £15,000,000, and then momentarily down to £13,000,000.
The socialist government was incapable of getting any reputable medical men to co-operate with it in a health scheme. It tried for years to get a satisfactory health and medical scheme into operation, but it failed ignominiously. In 1949, by way of expenditure on health benefits - these are the social services benefits that the honorable member for Burke was referring to - the best that the socialists could do was £5,000,000, in round figures. For all the health services necessary to the aged, the invalid, the young, the halt, the lame and the sick, the best the socialists could do was to provide £5,000,000. Under this Government, the expenditure rose immediately to £7,000,000, then to £12,000,000, then to £20,000,000, then to £23,000,000, then to £29,000,000, and then to the present figure of £34,000,000. What was the range there ? Under a government that the honorable member for Burke says has a financial policy designed to cripple the poor, the figure rose from £5,000,000 to £36,000,000 in a short space of years. The total expenditure on social services was £80,000,000 in 1949. To-day, it is £190,906,346. Could any contradiction be more complete than that kind of contradiction ?
Then the honorable member, following faithfully in the footsteps of the Leader of the Opposition, referred to the fortunate people who are engaged in all kinds of industries and who make profits. May I be permitted to remind the committee that there are a great many profits made by a great many people in this country that are not revealed? The only criticism we ever hear is criticism directed against public companies when they produce their balance-sheets and declare their dividends for the currentyear. Then there is violent criticism from those who are opposed to private enterprise in all its forms. It any honorable member cares to apply himself to the question of profits with any degree of sincerity and intelligence, he will find that, in his own personal circumstances, measured against the profit scale, as we know it, in our commercial world, he is the greatest of all profiteers. Profit is that which remains when revenue and expenditure have been measured one against the other. If any honorable member of this chamber, or any honorable member anywhere else for that matter, cares to measure his individual expenses and his individual income, he will find immediately that he comes within the profit scheme of things, and there he will remain for as long as that very pleasurable set of circumstances obtains.
So profits are not confined to public companies. What do honorable members opposite want? Do they want all our public companies to fail in their enterprises ? Do. they want them to make no profits at all? Are they unaware that it is the lowly men and women who have saved a few pounds during their effective lives and have invested their savings in public companies who ultimately get the profits made by the companies when they are distributed ? It is a delusion to think there are single capitalists dominating public companies and that all the profits of major companies go into the pockets of a few individuals. I know that honorable members opposite would like to give that impression to the community. They do not believe that it is so themselves, but they want everybody else to believe it.
– They are shareholders themselves.
– Of course they are shareholders themselves! When a public company makes a profit, it is taxed for its sins. When the profit is distributed to the shareholders in the form of dividends, the shareholders are taxed for their sins. So the profit motive is an excellent one when we consider that people in industry are making resources available for social services, employment and a variety of other things. It is most unfortunate that I have had to devote so much time to replying to the honorable member for Burke. We shall not hear from him any more now until the next budget, when all these silly shibboleths will be faithfully repeated. They will not be believed then any more than they are believed to-day.
My attention has been drawn to the fact that this is the eighth budget that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has brought down in this Parliament. That is an astonishingly creditable performance, in all the circumstances. The right honorable gentleman began by bringing down budgets before the war. Since the war, of course, they have been of the greatest importance to our people and our country. It is a popular delusion that when a budget is a good budget, it belongs to all members of the government. It is equally a popular delusion that when a budget is an indifferent budget - there are circumstances which require an indifferent budget from time to time - or what might be described as even a bad budget, it immediately becomes the exclusive affair of the Treasurer. If it has not been said before, it ought to be said now that, no matter whether a budget is a good budget or a bad budget, the Treasurer is responsible, so far as its devising is concerned, for only a twentieth part. The responsibility for the other nineteen parts belongs to the other nineteen Ministers who constitute the Cabinet, and who must accept responsibility for the final preparation and presentation of the budget.
If is not generally known that private members have no opportunity to see the budget papers before the budget is presented or to play any part in the preparation of the budget papers. They may make recommendations in a general way, and I have no doubt that, they all do make recommendations in a general way, hut they take no active part in the preparation of the budget. The budget is the exclusive province of the Cabinet, and the Cabinet as a whole must accept full responsibility for it. So, if there are those who think that this is a good budget and would like to share the credit for it, it belongs to the Government., because in the final analysis the Government has got to accept responsibility for it. But if there are those who think it is an indifferent budget or a bad budget, that does not alter the position. The budget is not the exclusive responsibility of the Treasurer; it is a Cabinet budget - a Government budget - and all honorable members on this side of the chamber are responsible for it. The eight budgets that the Treasurer has brought down from time to time have been variously described, but I prefer to apply to them my own descriptions, in the light of the criticism that has been levelled at them year by year during the budget debate. Apart from the pre-war budgets, they all have been designed to restore the economic mechanism of free enterprise after this most fortunate country had been sub.jected to the blights and miseries of nearly nine years’ administration of a socialist government. That was no easy task. We had been subjected to nine years of progressive socialism - a progressive movement towards the brink of disaster - when, in 1949, the people rejected the socialists and elected the Menzies Government to office. Since that time the Treasurer has been responsible for the presentation of these documents and for one-twentieth of their composition. The public memory is, of course, notoriously short. As I said a moment ago, in 1949 we were on the brink of disaster. We were alone in the world ; we did not have a friend except the friends of he who is now the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). We were thoroughly discredited amongst the free countries of the world. The only friends Ave had at that time were the remains after the Leader of the Opposition had dragged the world. We were at our wits’” end to obtain finance with which to carry on the normal processes of our country. Indeed, the socialists themselves were driven to their final madness of attempting to nationalize the banking system. We could not get the materials that we needed. The Prime Minister at that time said -
Never again will this country be able to get enough coal to meet its normal domestic requirements. Never again can we get enough steel. These chronic shortages are sure to stay with ns forever.
That was in 1949. We could not get our industries to work. At that time, the socialists were ready for mass unemployment and mass misery. Fortunately, as 1 have said, the people rejected them and elected the Government that has been in office ever since.
These budgets of restoration were so successful that they created a different set of problems altogether. We were no longer alone, and therefore had to discharge our responsibilities to the other free peoples of the world. Consistently, year after year, this Government has done that. As a result of the change of government and subsequently these restorative budgets we were able to get the resources that we required in order to carry out the normal tasks of this great country, and proceed with a great many of the major great developmental schemes which had been lying dormant for so long. We could put our industrial plants to work as they had never been put to work before. From, that very moment, peace was restored in the mining industry, the steel industry, and other heavy industries, and there has been comparative industrial peace and tranquility ever since. We could free our export industries from the chains of socialism and build up favorable trade balances; indeed, that is the only way to build favorable trade balances. Every man was employed and there was no misery of any description. That was the change of scene that was brought about, entirely due to the restorative budgets that were brought down by the Treasurer. Confessedly, these conditions created the danger of inflation, and stern measures had to be taken to save this country from the worst effects of inflation.
There was a budget which I myself described as a budget of major surgery, I described the budget which followed it as a budget of convalescence. Those budgets had the desired effect on our economy and on our people. There has since been a series of budgets to promote economic and social progress, the like of which we have never seen before, with employment at its peak, production at its peak, national development at its unprecedented peak, and social service.’ rising progressively year after year - with expenditure on them increasing by millions of pounds - to unprecedented heights. These are very great achievements by any person’s standard. I myself am proud of the record up to this point. But once again we are faced with the dangers of inflation. As they are visible, this budget can be described as a prophylactic budget - a budget designed to guard and protect the economy and the people against the infection of inflation that has ruined a very great many countries of the world whose governments did not have the courage to introduce a budget of this description. This budget faces up to the stern realities of the situation. Our export parity prices are falling and our internal costs are rising. The resultant pressure to buy threatens to exhaust our very favorable trade balances. Is it suggested by the Leader of the Opposition and those who support him in this chamber that we should let that set of circumstances burn itself out in bitter desolation? Or should we take the appropriate corrective action? I am quite sure that responsible people in the community and, indeed, many honorable members opposite would consider the latter course to be the better. Although the Treasurer has been frank, in my opinion he has not been frank enough. If export parity prices fall any further, and if our internal costs are not related to the export price structure, it will be utterly impossible for us to meet our commitments, including social services, without resorting once again to the shabby trick of currency depreciation.
– Order! the honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- If by indulging in superlatives the worth of a budget could be proved, the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) has certainly justified the budget now under consideration. At the outset, he attempted to do so by citing increasing total monetary figures which are made available to certain sections of the community, showing that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has increased the purchasing power available to vulnerable sections of the community. That argument is, of course, wholly fallacious. The monetary terms mean nothing. The purchasing power of the social services payments to which he referred bear little relationship to the cost of living. During the term of office of the Labour Government, the monetary payments that were made to a variety of social services recipients made a real contribution to their normal standard of living. Those entitled to social services benefits are being given a mere pittance, particularly when its power to purchase goods and services is taken into account. The honorable member went on to describe the activities of Labour governments in terms that are unintelligible to any person in the Australian community. He said, in a large use of exaggerated terms, that at the time of the defeat of the Chifley Government, Australia economically was alone in the world, that it was moving towards the brink of disaster, and that unemployment was at its peak. That was an excursion into the realms of wildest fantasy as every honorable member will recall.
Then the honorable member said that since the Menzies Government took office, Australia’s prosperity had been restored. He claimed that this Government had engaged in major public works and major national development. I ask any honorable member on the Government side to point to any major work or any great national development that has been begun or formulated since this Government has been in office. The fact is that all the great schemes now in operation, as well as those envisaged, were started or planned during the regime of the Curtin and Chifley Labour Governments. The honorable member concluded with a warning that was inconsistent with the tenor of the greater part of his speech. He referred to the falling prices of Australian products overseas, and to the high level of Australian production costs. He pointed out - as is apparent from even a superficial examination - that the seeds of real economic disaster are present in the current economic situation. I suggest that the responsibility for sowing those seeds can be laid at the door of the Menzies Administration. A large proportion of Australia’s export products cannot be sold, and millions of pounds have had to be provided to find storage for surplus wheat. The Government has shown signs of panic because of a drop in the price of wool at the recent opening sales. These facts show only too clearly, as the honorable member pointed out in his closing sentences, the precarious state of Australia’s economy.
A question that honorable members must ask, and one to which the community will demand an answer is, what is this Government doing to cope with a falling market for Australian goods overseas and to combat continually rising costs of production at home? Australia has lost its place in world markets during this Government’s regime. Australian manufactured goods cannot compete in overseas markets, and although Australian primary products were traditionally the most cheaply produced in the world, they cannot now be sold profitably abroad. The time is rapidly approaching when Australian manufactured products will not be able to meet the competition, in our own sheltered home markets, from overseas manufactured goods; yet this grim situation is described by the Treasurer as one of “ unparalleled prosperity “.
The Government has twin responsibilities. First, it has to provide, in the present troubled times, for the defence of this country. It has to provide also for national development and for better living standards for an increased population. The Government regards its defence commitments airily, and appears to examine the problems involved in a superficial manner. It is satisfied to budget for the expenditure of astronomical sums on defence. For some years past, the defence vote has been in the region of £180,000,000 to £200,000,000 a year, but it is vain to look for practical results from the expenditure of those sums. The money has been substantially wasted in a defence effort that is unreal and unrelated to the needs of modern times. The attitude of the Government is that it need only provide money for defence, and that no explanation is necessary of how that money has been spent or of what has been done to ensure Australia’s security. The Government cannot point to any tangible result. How could Australia be defended against nuclear attack? It is obvious that no kind of defence has been provided against modern weapons. The vote for defence this year is £190,000,000, and the Government claims that it will be expended to provide adequate defence. Et is obvious that this sum will not be spent. Last year, £177,000,000 was spent on defence services in this country, but it seems, from even a cursory examination, that no proper value has been received for that expenditure. It is obvious, also, that the sum provided this year will not be spent in the provision of defence services, and events in the forthcoming financial year will prove the Treasurer’3 estimates for defence to be false.
The Treasurer has pointed out that inflation is again rearing its head, and is becoming a real threat to the Australian economy. If that statement is true - as I believe it is - it means that income from sources, including taxation, will be increased. As a result, it can be expected that the current financial year will close with a greater budget surplus than that estimated by the Treasurer. The honorable gentleman has forecast a budget surplus of more than £48,000,000, but T am confident that at the conclusion of the financial year, it will be much greater. We can only conclude that the Treasurer could have done much more than he has to help people in real need. My colleague, the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Cope), has directed attention to the needs of the vast army of pensioners who are trying to live on an income that is not sufficient to provide the bare necessaries of life. The Treasurer might have used the budget surplus in many ways. He could have made a substantial contribution to meet the economic crisis that is threatening the Australian community.
The second major responsibility of the Government is to provide for the rapid development of our resources. The huge sum set aside for defence makes no provision to meet the problems of supply, and the Government has completely disregarded the need to improve transport. These are two vital factors if a war should occur. It is completely impossible, of course, to provide for a proper defence effort by large armies in the field if the transport system is allowed to fall into decay, as has been the case in recent times. It is also impossible to maintain a proper defence effort if the supply position at home is not in the best possible shape. Although it is necessary to have a proper and balanced defence in the shape of men in the armed forces, it is much easier to build an army than it is to develop the railways and roads and to build and equip factories should war break out suddenly. Whether we are preparing for war or peace, whether we have in mind defence or development, greater emphasis should be placed upon a proper transport system, modernized as far as possible to achieve an economy geared to a maximum and diversified production. This Government has completely ignored that requirement. There has been a large expenditure on the armed services but a complete neglect of the essential production of goods of various types that are not produced at present. A gearing qf production to a diversified effort that would be needed in time of war and a properly planned and equipped transport system would cope with our needs whether in war or in peace.
Australia has had many years to develop and populate this country and to make use of the natural resources of the Great Australian continent. The lackadaisical development of the past has gone forever. We must, as a Labour government from 1941 to 1949 realized, populate and develop this country. In order to do that it is necessary to divert, as we are doing at the present time a large proportion of our man-power and a considerable proportion of our material resources not only to transport but also to other avenues of national development. That means, of course, that if man-power is diverted to the provision of water supply, reticulation, power production and the rest, it cannot be available to meet the needs for consumer goods. That brings me to the subject of inflation to which the Treasurer referred so lengthily in his budget speech. Inflation has grown enormously during the life of the present Government because of the actions and inaction of the Menzies-Fadden Administration. “We have a situation in which vast incomes have been generated and in which the Government, instead of adopting a consistent policy, has acted in fits and starts. At one time it has allowed large-scale importations and then suddenly and savagely restricted imports. It has encouraged expenditure of capital in local industry and then suddenly and savagely cut back the development of local industry.
The Treasurer devoted at least half of his budget speech to the developing inflationary situation. He read a homily to the community and urged every one to conserve their income at the present time because the future may bring an inflationary spurt, but the Government has done nothing of a positive character or put forward anything by which the inflationary trend can be halted or costs can be prevented from rising. In fact the whole tenor of this budget, as of preceding budgets, is that the Government will sit idly by while the costs of Australia’s producers threaten to strangle industry and worsen our position in a competitive world.
The Government has, of course, provided a 10s. increase for various classes of pensioners. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out so clearly, and a3 succeeding speakers have demonstrated, that increase does not compensate for the increased cost of living and the increased cost of services that have taken place in recent years. A far greater increase is needed to enable the pensioners to retain their purchasing power and to maintain a reasonable standard of living. The Government could implement certain measures to relieve the situation. By immobilizing the great amount of money in the community to-day, it could meet the needs of the States and substantially control the inflationary factors in the community. Because of the actions of the Government, the loan market at present is not supplying the normal amount of loan money required. There is ample money available in the community for investment, but while bonds are not selling at their full face value it is idle for the Government to endeavour to obtain an increase in loan money to meet the needs of State and Federal governments. Capital depreciation has been brought about by the rise of interest rates, deliberately, it would seem, through the Government’s influence in the Australian Loan Council. Consequently, even to-day bondholders who trusted the governments are losing a substantial portion of their capital saving* if they have to sell on the market at the present time. The Government has a grave responsibility for that situation, but it could correct the position if it liked to make a proper approach to the bond market and restore the faith of the Australian investor in Australian giltedged securities, that is in Commonwealth government bonds.
The second way in which the Government could make a positive contribution to a reduction of the cost of production in Australia is by reducing indirect taxation. It appears that the Government intends to collect, this year, £106,000,000 in sales tax alone. That it an impost on the community which has the effect of increasing costs in all avenues of production. It means thai the producers add the sales tax to the prices of goods, which increases not only the cost of living but also the costs of production in every industry. Another positive measure which the Government should adopt would be to use its surplus to bring about a reduction in direct and indirect taxation.
However, the major respect in which the Government has fallen down on its job has been in its relationship with the State governments. The federal system of government has been adopted to carry on the government of this country, and we hope that with modifications it will be retained for years to come. In that situation, when we have to cope with the problems of the present day, the Government should go out of its way to work in partnership with the State governments to help them solve the real problems that are left to them to handle. Unfortunately, the reverse has been the case ever since the present Government has occupied the treasury bench. There has been little co-operation, if any, between the Australian Government and the governments of the various States. From time to time there has been real conflict between the State governments and the National Government. There has been a consistent desire on the part of Ministers as well as backbenchers to score off the State governments. They are left with large responsibilities. This Government, however, will say that housing, water supply, transport, railways and the like are matters for the State governments to handle. It is true that they are primarily the responsibility of the State governments, but they are also so much a. part of the responsibility of the National Parliament that this Government has a bounden duty to work in the closest possible co-operation with the State governments to ensure that the maximum efficiency and the greatest possible production are achieved. Unfortunately, the reverse is the position.
I come now to the situation that the Treasurer has described as being one of unprecedented prosperity. I leave aside the developing signs which show, in any view, unless positive measures are taken, the real possibility of an economic collapse. I refer to the continually rising prices and costs of production. Unless positive measures of the kind that have been suggested by the Opposition are taken, there is a very real danger of an economic collapse within the course of a very few years. The present situation imposes such real hardship ‘ upon particular sections of the community that there is a vital need for positive action. The prosperity to which the Treasurer has referred is very sectional indeed. As I stated on a former occasion, and as has been repeated here from time to time, there is no prosperity in the ranks of the pensioners or of family men - that large section of the community which has a great responsibility in relation to the present and the future of this nation. The prices of all the basic things that people eat, use and wear have risen so high that the family man, even if he has an income that is substantially above the basic wage, is finding increasing difficulty in providing for the ordinary needs of his dependants. Thus, a section of the community which is perhaps the most deserving, is finding it almost impossible to carry on ; but the Government has done nothing to provide relief.
Neither is there any real prosperity for Australia’s basic industries. The luxury and near-luxury industries, the motor car industry, and the service industries show exorbitant profits, but in the basic industries, profits are still low. No substantial effort is being made to encourage the production of base materials such as bricks and timber. Young people who are about to marry face an almost impossible situation. Houses are difficult to obtain, but, even if they were readily available to the ordinary Australian citizen at the working class level, whether he be a salaried man or a wage-earner, he would still face the almost impossible task of providing a home and furniture. It is on those sections of the Australian community that the present burden of inflation and the increasing burden that the Treasurer foresees will have the greatest impact. They are the people to whom the Government should give the greatest consideration.
Australia is confronted with the problem of providing for a speedy development of its resources; but the present Government is not achieving that develop-‘ ment. One urgent need is for the provision of better social service benefits for age pensioners, for the family man who is in receipt of child endowment, and for other similar sections of the community. Undoubtedly there are signs of a very substantial lessening of our income from overseas. Although that is inevitable, nothing that the Government has done nor any action that it has foreshadowed indicates any relief from the effects of the high-cost structure. Australia has experienced one period of galloping inflation since the present Government assumed office. Prices have crept up until they have almost destroyed Australia’s industrial structure. The budget makes no provision for the alleviation of the serious plight of the economy. On the contrary, there is every indication of a worsening of the position during the currency of this year. Once again, the Government has demonstrated its complete inability to handle the economic problems with which this country is confronted. Moreover, it has displayed its lack of comprehension of the effects of present conditions on the vulnerable sections of the community. But it sees the large incomes of the favoured sections of the community as a condition of prosperity that has been unparalleled in our time. Unless the Government faces up to the situation for which it is responsible, unless it moves in a positive way to control ever-rising prices and costs, unless it has proper regard for the real need of Australia’s growing population and of the family community, the signs that are clearly on the horizon indicate continuing hardship for a few years and, following a brief boom period, a collapse which will be accentuated by a return of such things as lost equities and abandoned homes and holdings, which we thought we had left behind forever. The budget is a failure. It is a grim reminder of a situation that already exists, and it hints very strongly at worse conditions to come. It offers no suggestion of any measures that might be adopted to counter the problem that it poses.
.- I have been surprised to note that so many honorable members have talked so much complete nonsense about the courageous action of the Government in introducing the current budget. I shall reply, in a few moments, to most of the comments and criticisms that have been made by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke). I do not suppose that, since the introduction of income taxation, there has been a time when a budget has not been open to criticism, and has not been criticized. It is impossible to produce a document that meets with universal approval. It must be realized that any government or Treasurer is faced with very great difficulties in the preparation of a budget, particularly when the international situation is in such a fluid state as it is to-day. Apart from the effect that the international situation is likely to have on the prices of our exports, the Government must be something of a seasonal prophet and try to predict what effect the seasons are likely to have on primary production in the ensuing year. It has to take into consideration the increasing amounts that must, be spent annually to assist people who are growing older. It must also take into consideration, particularly in view of the present international situation, the defence requirements of the country, and, in a young country like Australia, various developmental problems.
I should like to mention in particular, first, the provision of social service benefits. A lot of ridicule has been heaped upon the Government for having increased pensions by 10s. a week. I do not think that there is one man on this side of the House or in the country who was not pleased to see the pensioners get that amount. “We know that they require it. The Government felt that they required it. But there are two things that should be taken into consideration and remembered. One of them is that every increase of the pension by ls. means an increase of £1,250,000 in expenditure from revenue. It should be remembered that if the Government had done as it had been asked to do by so many people, including pensioners, and had granted an increase in accordance with the increase in the cost of living figure since this Government came into power, the pensioners would have received the munificent sum of 8d. a week. These are facts that should be borne in mind by all responsible people.
There are two main matters that I should like to deal with this evening. First, there is the question of defence. A. number of people in this House, and outside it, have said that they would like the defence allocations to be cut. I shall read to the committee the following report : -
The Leader of the Federal Opposition, Dr. H. V. Evatt, said last night that defence expenditure should be reduced substantially. Dr. Evatt said: “We should not be afraid of planning for the economy of a peaceful world. The present international situation not only permits, but indeed requires, substantial reductions in defence expenditure that will ease the strain on overseas balances “.
The Leader of the Opposition is reported to have made those statements last Sunday night. I should like to know on what grounds the right honorable member bases this optimism. Does he believe that the recent Russian offer of disarmament which was to be founded, in the first place, on a withdrawal of the troops of all countries in the world behind their own frontiers was a genuine attempt to obtain a peaceful settlement of world affairs? Or does he believe that it was a suggestion that would have put the Soviet Republic automatically in command of the greater part of the continent of Europe? “With the withdrawal of American forces and with the withdrawal of other forces to within the boundaries of their own respective countries, automatically the Soviet Union would have been placed in a position of tremendous power and dominance over those minor, unprotected countries of Europe. Does the Leader of the Opposition base his optimism concerning world peace on the fact that the leaders of the Soviet Union have so far made no official reply to that wonderfully generous offer by the President of the United States of America that members of the Soviet forces should be allowed into the United States with the right to take aerial photographs of any part of the United States that they wish on condition that American aircraft are allowed to take photographs of any part of Russia that they wish ; the idea being that that would prevent either of those two countries from carrying out a surprise attack on the other? Does the refusal by the Russian Government to accept that wonderful act of faith instill confidence into the Leader of the Opposition that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics genuinely believes in peace? Frankly, I believe that the Leader of the Opposition was either talking nonsense - and I think he is too able for that - or he was taking the party line.
– The Communist party line?
– That is axiomatic so far as I am concerned. There does seem to be a wave of optimism-
– The honorable member seems to be disappointed because the prospects of peace have improved.
– The possibility is, of course, that a small effort has been made by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to reduce its own forces. I say “ small ‘’ deliberately because the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has possibly reduced its armed forces by 640,000 men. The United States of America has reduced its forces by well over 1,000,000 men in the same period -while the Russians are still offering to do that. The reason the Russians have reduced their forces, if they have reduced them, is that they need men for the agricultural work that they are trying to carry out. It has nothing to do with world peace. I maintain that there is only one way to obtain peace and that is to show any possible aggressor that if they try anything funny they will get battered down hard. It is Australia’s duty to play its part in maintaining an adequate force which will help in maintaining peace. I am glad that the Government has allocated the money that it has allocated for the defence vote. 1 am not completely happy about the way in which moneys are spent on defence but I propose to say something about that later, in the debate on the Estimates. I believe that it is essential to modernize our equipment to the hilt. Possibly, we could get away with slightly reduced numbers if we had more modern equipment. People say that in the past two years we have not spent all the money that has been allocated for defence. 5 suggest that is because we have not been able to get the equipment that we have required. I should like to see the money there in case that equipment becomes available so that it may be obtained immediately.
Turning now to the subject of development, I think that far too many people tend to forget that we in Australia are facing development under circumstances that have been faced by no other westernized countries of the world. A number of factors have contributed to our form of development. The first factor has been our very youth as a nation. We have a very large country with a completely inadequate population. Then there is the fact that we are at present, and have for some years been, faced with maintaining a high standard of living. It is difficult to maintain our present standard of living and, at the same time, carry out the development that the country requires. The development of other countries that are slightly older than we, but much younger than the old established western countries was carried out when there was an extremely low standard of living. In those countries there was no question of a 40-hour week and men, women and sometimes children were working sixteen and eighteen hours a day. Governments had no responsibility to provide housing. People went out and got accommodation for themselves. I do not say that our increased standard of living is a bad thing. I merely compare our standard of living with the conditions under which other countries developed. Much of their basic development, such as the initial building of their railway systems, was achieved under conditions which required considerably less effort than, and which was subject to nothing like the same interference from outside sources as our present development.
What should be done in order to solve the problems with which we are faced? [ think that we all realize, as the Treasurer has stated publicly, that our economy is balanced on a knife-edge. He is not very sure which way it will go. On the occasion to which I have already referred, the Leader of the Opposition was also reported as follows: -
It is no wonder that this obtuseness on the part of the Federal Government, with its war complex and complete inability to recognize a rapidly changing world situation, is leaving Australia’s economy unfitted to meet a new era of peaceful expansion.
The honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters), a few moments- ago, accused the Australian Government of having run this country into economic conditions which he apparently thinks are purely the fault of the Government, and which do not exist anywhere else in the world. Well, I should like to read portion of an article entitled “Wages or. Prosperity?” which appeared in last month’s issue of the Economist. It deals with the situation in the United Kingdom, and I think that by the time I have read only a little of it honorable members will realize that the statements that have been made by the Leader of the Opposition, and recently by the honorable member for Burke, are complete and utter untruths and nonsense. The article states -
In the first six months of this year nearly ten and a half million workers were given wage increases. Already, in mid-August, the majority of those workers have formulated their claims for another rise. This is perhaps the most graphic and disturbing feature of the British economy in 1055. It is now normal for the major unions to demand a new wage increase immediately the old one has been granted. The country has been moving towards this state of perpetual wage inflation for a long time, and now it has arrived.
What has caused the torrent of claims this, year ?
Bear this in mind -
The weight behind them has not really been, worry about the cost of living, although the claims themselves make it likely that this will, be the motive force behind the next round of claims to come. Nor is there any ground for the union leaders’ story that wage earner? are merely following the wicked example of too high dividends. Since the war, wages have always won that race, and if stock market prices are about to turn down, it ie quite obvious that wage claims are not going to turn down with them. Instead, there seem to have been two broad psychological bases for this year’s demands. One is the general feeling of prosperity; there has been more talk about prosperity this year as a result of the election, and the vague idea that it would be nice to double one’s standard of living in hie generation has made some impress on the factory floor. The other is brimfull employment; with three times as many vacancies as there are people looking for jobs, the workerfeels (albeit still with a certain good humour), that he can make the boss jump through the hoop. The bases of this year’s claims are feelings of confidence and power.
Both feelings, by themselves, are good things. The carrot of a constantly rising standard of living is the most essential piece of vegetation in a happy country; and most people - apart from a few disciplinary martinets - would prefer a community in which the boss is wary of the bargaining power of hi? workers to a community in which the workers are terrified of the economic power of their boss. Even from a purely technical standpoint, progress is likely to be most swift when, an employer -has to treat his labour as the most precious of his resources. But, unfortunately, an economy of the sort that Britain has now achieved can be viable only under twoconditions. They are now being fulfilled.
The first of the two conditions laid down is that annual wage increases must be kept within the bounds that can be met by increased production. I should like to point out that since 1949, although our population has increased by 16 per cent., production has increased by only 18 per cent.’ It can easily be seen from those figures that the increasing wages in Australia have been beyond the bounds of increased production. The second condition laid down is that the trade unions must assist, not impede, production. The author of this article claims that if trade unions do not attempt to stay within the bounds of these two conditions, bankruptcy will occur. Honorable members may say, “ But that is just the Economist “. I should like, therefore, to read to them now a statement from to-day’s press. The statement was not made by any tory, or by somebody who wants to grind the working man down. On the contrary, it was made by the president of the trade union congress of Great Britain, Mr. Charles Geddes. The press report reads -
The Trades Union Congress President (Mr. Charles Geddes) to-day called for a “national trade union economic policy “ to prevent Britain committing “ industrial suicide “.
He was opening the 87th congress, attended by more than 900 delegates representing 8 million members of ISO unions.
After dealing with allegations that continued wage demands were pricing Britain out of export markets, Mr. Geddes appealed for a joint union economic policy.
The Trades Union Congress opened to-day in Southport (Lancashire).
That is the opinion of an extremely experienced trade union leader in the United Kingdom. I believe that our own responsible trade union leaders should take notice of that warning, because the very conditions that apply in the United Kingdom also apply in Australia, which makes it terribly important that heed be paid to the warning. I shall not say for one moment that responsibility lies completely with the trade unions or the employees. I believe the employers have a tremendously important part to play in this work. Management has grave responsibilities to ensure that production is achieved with maximum efficiency. I have no objection whatever to a company making a high profit, but I. do say that if a company makes a very high profit it is very sadly lacking in common sense, and is not working in the interests of the community as a whole, unless it does its utmost to spread a considerable amount of that profit among its own employees. It can do so in various ways, such as by making working conditions and amenities the best possible for its workers. I do not con- cede that it is necessary for companies to provide improved working conditions and amenities only to the extent that is required by an industrial award. They can go beyond that and put in the very best of amenities, financing them out of very high profits. To trusted employees who have worked with them for a long time, and who have proven their loyalty, they can give considerable bonuses. I believe a firm that makes large profits and does not do those things is extremely foolish, and is blind to its own interests. I do not think it is possible for a company to buy public goodwill by giving a few thousand pounds to universities. I believe such goodwill must be shown to the people who are actually working in the particular industry concerned.
I shall conclude by reminding honorable members that there was a tremendous amount of criticism of the budget that the Treasurer brought down in 1951. It was an extremely unpopular budget. It takes courage to do an unpopular thing. Again this year the Government has produced, not a carrot to hold before the noses of the people, with the statement “ See what a wonderful government we are. Put us in again next time.” Instead it has presented to the people the bare facts and said, “ This is what we believe to be in the interests of the Commonwealth “. I believe that this budget will more than stand the test of time.
Motion (by Mr. MoMahon) - by leave - agreed to -
That the Chairman of Committees shall, on each sitting day, during the absence of the Speaker, take the chair as Deputy Speaker, and may, during such absence, perform the duties and exercise the authority of the Speaker in relation to all proceedings of the House.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Last Wednesday evening, on the motion to adjourn the House, I raised a most serious matter regarding the failure of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) to give satisfactory replies to inquiries I had made regarding the importation into this country of a large quantity of motor vehicles which involved the expenditure of badly needed dollars. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), who was in charge of the House at that particular time, gave an undertaking that on the next day, on the motion for the adjournment of the House, I would be given a satisfactory answer to the queries which I had directed to the Minister. I waited until the following evening, and there was no reply: I waited again until this evening, and evidently there is no reply.
I am of the opinion that the Minister is hiding something with respect to this transaction. “What I wanted to know, and still want to know, is why the Minister refuses to give any information at all as to who issued this particular licence to import these motor vehicles. On the Minister’s own admission, the motor vehicles were not urgently required in Australia, because he said that there was not any great demand for this type of vehicle-
Motion (by Mr. Gullett) put -
That the question he now put.
The House divided. (Ms. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C. P. Adermann.)
Majority . . . . 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.48 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
a asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. The total amount paid into the National Debt Sinking Fund to the 30th June, 1955, was £768,921,768. Of this amount £188,775,000 has been invested in Commonwealth securities (£90,650,000 representing moneys received in respect of loans from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and £98,125,000 moneys received under the Special Payment Act No. 80 of 1951 ) . £564,892,400 has been applied to the redemption of debt and a balance of £15,254,368 has been carried forward to the current financial year. Up to the 30th June, 1955, the face value of debt redeemed from the Sinking Fund in Australia, London and New York was as follows: - Australia, £474,740,054; London, £stg.52,528,470; New York, $93,835,877. Since the inception of the National Debt Sinking Fund, debt in Australia and London, amounting to £28,816,130 (face value) and £stg. 10,664,383 (face value) respectively, has also been redeemed from the revenue of the Commonwealth and the States.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
a asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
on asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
on asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Will he peruse the information concerning the provision of telephone services for Mr. R. E. J. King, of Bradford Insulation (New South Wales) Proprietary Limited, 36 Cornwall-road, Auburn, New South Wales, supplied by the Acting Postmaster-General subsequent to the debate on the Estimates on the 21st September, 1054, and then furnish the following information: - (a) Why has it not been practicable to connect the telephone service for Mr. King since the date mentioned, in view of his application being over five years old, and (6) how is it possible to provide Mr. B. Hope, of 15 Albert-road, Auburn, an employee of the same company, whose application was lodged only some months ago, with a telephone service in preference to Mr. King when they reside only 350 yards a part ?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Because a major cable work now in (progress must first be completed.
on asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cable work has been undertaken in - (a) Kerrs-road, to cover broadly Regents Park section, South Lidcombe, North Birrong and East Berala areas; (b) Vaughan-street, covering West Lidcombe, West Berala, South west Auburn areas and Regents Park area north of the water supply line; (c) Auburn area immediately south of Parramattaroad;
d asked the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Overseas Vessels’ Life-saving Equipment.
a asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
In view of the recent tragedy occurring in the Mediterranean when R.M.S. Stratheden went to the assistance of a Greek vessel in distress, will he investigate the circumstances leading to the alleged unserviceability of lifesaving equipment, and advise what provisions exist for overseas vessels’ life-saving equipment to be inspected whilst in Australian ports?
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answer to the honorable member’s question: -
The incident referred to by the honorable member concerned a British ship in the Mediterranean Sea and is therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth. Stratheden holds a safety certificate issued by the Government of the United Kingdom under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. In the ports of other governments control over such a ship is limited to verifying that the ship has a valid certificate and that the conditions of the ship’s seaworthiness correspond substantially with the particulars of the certificate. Authority is given by the convention to prevent a ship sailing if she cannot proceed without danger to her passengers and crew. Normally it is not necessary to inspect convention ships in Australian ports but they are inspected if complaint is made and occasionally at other times. It is understood that an official inquiry was made in the United Kingdom into the accident but details are not yet available in Australia. If unserviceability of equipment was alleged, it would be thoroughly investigated in the United Kingdom.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 September 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19550906_reps_21_hor7/>.