21st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– The question that I direct to the Minister for Labour and National Service relates to section 31(1.) (a) of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Has the right honorable gentleman studied the decision of the High Court in the case now commonly known as the Long Service Leave case in relation to section 31(1.) (a) of the act? If he has done so, will he state whether the Government has any intention of amending that section?
– The Government has been giving consideration to the matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred. I answered a question in this House recently on one aspect of the matter. I am not in a position at the moment to announce any policy on it, but when the subject is receiving further consideration the question raised by the honorable gentleman will be examined.
– Will the Minister for Health inform the House whether, under the Commonwealth scheme for the provision of free milk to school children, powdered milk is used to any great extent in schools where fresh liquid milk is not available? If it is so used, will the right honorable gentleman indicate the States concerned and the percentage of children supplied with such milk?
– As I pointed out when answering a question on this subject on Tuesday, powdered and evaporated milk is being used at more than 200 schools in Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia, and about 10 per cent, of the children are being supplied with such milk. It is used at approximately 135 schools in Western Australia, about 60 in New South Wales and four in South Australia. These schools are practically all in out-back areas. Up to the present, a situation has not arisen in Queensland similar to that in the three States that I have mentioned. I am sure that if the honorable member directs the attention of the Queensland Minister for Education to the position in that State, and asks him to do something about it, appropriate arrangements will be made in relation to the schools in his electorate.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of the necessity to protect Australia’s prestige abroad? Since, unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition is not now with the United Nations as the champion of justice, sweetness and light in a world of conspiracies and plots, will the right honorable gentleman consider the question of taking up the Australian torch that was so valiantly carried by the right honorable member for Barton, and intervene with the Attorney-General of New South Wales to protect another member of his persecuted family who has been wrongfully accused five times of political treachery?
– So far as I can, I shall think about it.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. In view of the policy pursued by the Postal Department for a great many years of making issues of special commemorative stamps, will the honorable gentleman give special consideration to the making of a special stamp issue to commemorate the work done in Australia by the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service?
– For two or three years the Postmaster-General’s Department has issued stamps to commemorate certain events and organizations. I have come to the conclusion that we have gone too far in that direction and that we are lowering the prestige of Australia’s stamps by continuing the practice. Consequently, I have given instructions that these commemorative issues shall be discontinued. I propose to consider with officers of the department the question of issuing a series of stamps to commemorate certain historical events in Australia and another series to depict the flora and fauna of Australia, and also stamps relative to various matters that pertain to the whole of Australia and not to any particular organization. It is possible that the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service will come within the scope of a historical issue of stamps on some future occasion, and I shall consider that point.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. In view of the recent announcement that Canada has sold to Poland 9,000,000 bushels of grade 5 wheat and has granted Poland credits for 85 per cent, of the total purchase price, is it a fact that the Australian Government refused to grant similar credits to Poland and that that country sought Canadian wheat only after the Australian Government had rejected its offer? If this is so, how does the Government justify its attitude in the face of the announcement by the late Minister for Shipping and Transport in Adelaide on the 3rd September, that Australia is likely to begin the next wheat season with a surplus stock of 94,000,000 bushels?
– I understand that it is a fact that there has been a sale of Canadian wheal to Poland and that credit has been arranged for Poland. It is a fact, also, that the Australian Wheat Board has offered to sell wheat to Poland on credit.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Social Services a question concerning applications by war widows for war service homes. Some instances have been reported to me in which the application of a war widow has been refused on the ground that her war widow’s pension is insufficient income for her to meet her obligations. I therefore ask the Minister whether the War Service Homes Division generally regards a war widow’s pension as sufficient income for her to obtain assistance for the acquisition of a house from the division.
– Some time ago, consideration was given to the problem raised by the honorable member. The decision given was that the income received by a war widow from her pension would be sufficient qualification for her to obtain assistance under the War Services Homes Act providing other qualifications are complied with. If the honorable member can submit to me any particular case that I can have examined, I shall be happy to examine it. I should like to emphasise that normally every consideration is given to war widows and, if it is possible to help them within the provisions of the act, help is readily and quickly given.
– Will the Prime Minister give urgent consideration to adopting the lead of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom by exploring how military expenditure can be cut, with a view to postponing the St. Mary’s project for at least one year, particularly on account of the economic pressure and the belief that the chances of war are becoming more remote? I ask the Prime Minister this question so as to permit building labour and materials that are already in short supply, to be directed from the St. Mary’s project, which may never be required, to the construction of homes which are so urgently required by the Australian people.
– The rate of expenditure on defence in the United Kingdom per head of population is immeasurably greater than it is in Australia. I see no reason why the amount provided for defence in the recent budget should be reduced at all.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture a question concerning a recent statement by the honorable member for Wannon, who said -
The Government pretends to represent the interests of the wheatgrowers, but it has deprived them of a substantial amount of money by refusing an offer- by the United Kingdom - of 18s. a bushel for wheat. The Government hung out for an extra 5d. Now only 13s. a bushel will be paid for that wheat.
That is rather a bald statement. I ask the Minister whether it is true.
– I did not hear the reputed statement of the honorable member for Wannon, but I have no doubt that it was correctly quoted by the honorable member for Mallee. It is not only bald; it is silly and untrue. The United Kingdom has never offered to buy wheat from Australia at 18s. a bushel in recent times. The statement could only refer co negotiations in connexion with the last International Wheat Agreement when the United Kingdom was pressing for a lower ceiling price than the other countries which were parties to the agreement, or which were engaged in the negotiations, were willing to accept. The attitude of the Australian Government was completely in line with the attitude of organized Australian wheat growers, and was in line with the attitude of representatives of all the wheat growers there present. It was clearly understood at the time that acceptance of the United Kingdom Government’s ceiling figure would have driven the United States of America, and probably other important countries, out of the international agreement. It was also clearly understood, in view of the statistical information available on wheat at that time, thai, the ceiling figure had no significance whatsoever. There was no likelihood of any sales of wheat taking place at the maximum figure, and that has been the experience since. In the result, the United States of America joined an agreement to which Australia is a party. En the face of tremendous surpluses of wheat, a break in world wheat prices has been avoided. I am proud that this Government was party to the arrangement which has sustained that worldwide element of economic stability.
– What was the price to which the United Kingdom was willing to go in fixing the ceiling price at the conference to which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has referred?
– The price to which the United Kingdom was prepared to go was 5 cents a bushel lower than any other country was prepared to pay.
– What was the figure?
– Speaking from memory, I think it was either 205 cents or 200 cents a bushel.
– The Minister made a mull of it.
– I made no mull of it.
– The Minister has messed it up again.
– I address a question to the Postmaster-General. Have arrangements been completed for the Australian Broadcasting Commission to establish a liaison office to co-operate with the Olympic Organizing Committee in preparation for the word radio coverage of the Olympic Games to be held in Melbourne next year ? Will time be made available on Radio Australia for visiting commentators to broadcast direct to their own countries ? What arrangements have been made for coverage of the Olympic Game3 by Australian commercial stations ?
– This matter has been under consideration for about eighteen months. Since the coverage will be world-wide it is necessary that arrangements be made well in advance. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has been in close consultation with the Olympic Organizing Committee, and I think that arrangements have been made for the accommodation of correspondents and commentators from other countries. Complete coverage by the commercial stations of this world historic event has also been arranged.
– Arising from a question asked by the honorable member for Banks, and answered by the PostmasterGeneral last week, regarding the resumption of properties in Redfern for the Sydney Mail branch, I now ask the Postmaster-General whether he will give a definite assurance that the people affected by the resumption will be given housing accommodation. I ask this question because when the honorable gentleman was answering the honorable member for Banks last week he stated that he “thought” such arrangements had been made by the Housing Commission of New South Wales.
– For the last two or three years the Postal Department has been very anxious to secure the use of the very large block of land at Redfern, which is the subject of the question, for the construction of a mail branch, but it has been prevented from going on with that project by the fact that quite a number of people have their homes on the site. Most of those homes are sub-standard a’nd have been there for very many years, and it is the department’s desire to meet the situation of people who would be evicted in the normal course of events by trying to ensure that, before proceedings are taken, the Housing Commission of New South Wales shall have made some arrangements to make other provision for the housing of the residents affected. We have been in close contact with the New South Wales Department of Housing and have received certain assurances, but not definite assurances, regarding the matter. We are doing our utmost to obtain an undertaking from the Housing Commission that it will provide for those people when the time comes for them to vacate their homes. That is a matter entirely for the Housing Commission, and from the Commonwealth’s point of view only the good offices of the Commonwealth are available in this particular case. However, we are doing our utmost to ensure that the minimum of inconvenience shall be caused to the people concerned. Ultimately, of course, the Government will have to have this site, because it is imperative, with the expansion of mail services in Sydney, that new accommodation for the mail branch be found.
– I direct to the Minister for Defence a question that relates to the shortage of doctors in the Army, which was the subject of a recent statement by the Minister for the Army. Does this shortage of doctors exist also in the Navy and the Air Force? Will the Minister consider, as a means of attracting young doctors to the services, offering inducements to medical students to contract for short-service commissions of from two to five years in the services after graduation? Inducements such as those I have in mind are scholarships to pay university fees, or wider financial help to medical students during their university courses, and possibly the deferring of the national service obligations of those who so contract.
– It is true that there is a shortage of medical officers in the Army and, I think to a much lesser degree, in the other services. However, I am happy to be able to inform the honorable member that discussions are now in progress to decide upon a plan which it is hoped will give an incentive to a greater number of medical students and qualified medical practitioners to enter the Army. Consideration is being given to the matter that he has raised.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that in the interim report of the Royal Commission on Espionage, the charges that were made by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition, and the Communist party, against the royal commission - and I quote the interim report-
Dr. Evatt. Yes, the honorable member would quote that report. It is now twelve months old.
– Order !
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the charges of fraud, forgery, fabrication, uttering, blackmail, and conspiracy, were described - and I again quote the interim report of the royal commission - as being fantastic and mad<; without a tittle of evidence in support of them? If the Prime Minister is aware of that fact, is he also aware of the fact that, last night, the Leader of the Opposition reiterated those charges and described the royal commission’s report as being a fraud ?
– Try to be accurate.
– Order !
– In view of the fact that that charge of fraud is a grave reflection of infamy against three State Supreme Court justices, against the DirectorGeneral and officers of the security service, and against the witnesses “who appeared before the commission, will the Prime
Minister provide the House with an early opportunity to debate the report of the royal commission so that the people of Australia will be able to ascertain whether the statements and allegations of fraud, forgery, &c, that were made by the Leader of the Opposition were made by a responsible statesman or by a wicked defamer for political purposes?
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask that the reflection against me in the last part of the question be withdrawn. To make such a reflection is entirely disorderly and contrary to the Standing Orders.
– If the honorable member for Yarra intended the term “ wicked defamer “ to apply to the Leader of the Opposition, he must withdraw it.
– I withdraw the term.
– The House certainly will be given a full opportunity to debate this very important report. I have observed, naturally, that the royal commission, apart altogether from its interim report, so well remembered by everybody I trust, has, in its final report - a document of remarkable thoroughness, as everybody who reads it will recognize - once more established completely the veracity of the Petrovs. Communist laughter opposite will not get rid of that fact. The whole technique of the Tribune is to be found in this House on all conceivable occasions. The Communists and their friends have been trying to smear-
– Will the right honorable gentleman tell us how his own statements in this House can be reconciled?
– Order ! The House will come to order. If the honorable member for East Sydney does not refrain from interjecting when questions are being answered, I shall name him.
– I trust that everybody will have observed that, in spite of all this business, three Supreme Court justices, sitting as a royal commission, have found, first of all, that the Petrovs, after very long cross-examination by lots of people-
– Is this the right honorable gentleman’s speech on the report?
– I know the right honorable gentleman does not like the royal commission or the royal commission’s report - and for the best reasons in the world. But the royal commission has found that the Petrovs were accurate and truthful people. The right honorable gentleman, who thinks they are base conspirators, does not agree with that, of course, but the three judges, after a very long examination, have found it to be so, and I think the people will accept the view of the judges. In the second place, the three judges, in their report, have found that all the documents produced by the Petrovs, the papers known as the Petrov papers or the Moscow papers, are not only authentic documents, but also contained a mass of information which has proved to be of the greatest value in counter-espionage work, not only in Australia but also in other countries overseas. In the third place, the royal commission has found, no doubt somewhat to the chagrin of the Leader of the Opposition, that the security service, whose implacable enemy he now is, has been so effective ever since 1949 that since then there has been no disclosure of any substance from any official quarter in the Commonwealth of Australia. Therefore, I agree with what I imagine was in the mind of the honorable member for Yarra.
– The Prime Minister knows that mind well.
– I understand that mind better than I understand the mind of the Leader of the Opposition. I quite agree that, when I opened the local journal this morning and saw a conspiracy was again stalking the land and that there had been a miserable attack, nor only on the judges but also on the witnesses, at first I was shocked. But when I remembered the interim report, Iwas shocked no longer.
– Is the Minister for the Interior aware that a number of war service land settlers on dairy farms in Western Australia are forced to seek employment off their farms, due to the lack of development of their properties and the low incomes they are receiving from them? Will the Minister take the matter up with the Western Australian Government in order to see whether some satisfactory arrangements can he made, so that these men can be fully occupied in developing their own properties ?
– I have kept in very close touch with the war service land settlement situation in Western Australia not only with regard to dairy farms, but also with regard to the tobacco farms which were started on the recommendation of the State Department of Agriculture. The honorable member for Canning, who is my Parliamentary Under-Secretary, recently spent a great deal of time in making certain investigations along the lines suggested by the honorable member for Forrest. I connot remember the details sufficiently well to give an off-cuff answer to a question, but I shall supply the honorable member later with all the detailed information that has been obtained to date.
The honorable member has referred to dairy farms. All that I can say at the moment is that some of the dairyfarmers do not have a sufficiently large area. The area of their properties is below the area prescribed in the war service land settlement scheme as suitable to carry the minimum number of stock necessary. Arrangements are being made to overcome that difficulty at the earliest possible moment. It was not intended that the men should have such small areas, but the rate of development has been slower than was expected. I shall give the honorable member further details later.
– On the 13th September, the honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) asked me why the name of the Federal Members’ Rooms in the various States had been changed. Perhaps I should have been aware then of the reason for the change, but I said frankly that I did not know. I understand that the change was made because it was the wish of every member of the Joint House Committee that it should be made.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Navy. In view of the urgent need for land for building purposes in the Randwick-Maroubra area and for some action to be taken to meet the increasing demand for homes by young married couples, amongst whom are many ex-service men and women, will the Minister take steps to remove the naval stores situated on the old Randwick rifle range? This would make available additional land to young people, who are vainly searching for sites on which to build homes.
– I can hold out to the honorable gentleman no hope that his request will be acceded to. The land available to us in that particular area is far too limited now. We have had to secure land for houses for naval personnel in the outer suburbs of Sydney.
- His Excellency the Governor-General has been pleased to appoint the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) to hold the office of Minister for Shipping and Transport and to administer the departments of state connected with that office, pending a permanent appointment.
– Who will represent him here?
– The Minister for the Army.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1930-1953, as chairman, I present the report of the Public Works Committee relating to the following matter : -
The proposed erection of accommodation for local administration staff, Darwin, Northern Territory.
Ordered to be printed.
– I have received from the honorable member for Burke (Mr.
Peters) an intimation that he desires to submit a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House for discussion, namely -
The failure of the Government to inform the House of the details of the negotiations and of tile measures designed in co-operation with the banking institutions to safeguard the Australian economy.
Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
.- Very recently, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) whether he would make a statement to this House in regard to details of the negotiations that were taking place with the banking institutions, and the measures that were to be adopted, as a result of those negotiations, to stabilize the economy of this country. The Prime Minister replied, “ That is a matter of policy “. When the right honorable gentleman was pressed to say whether he would, as a matter of policy, inform the House and the people of this country what the policy of the Government was to be in regard to the matter, he said, “No”. But to-day, the Prime Minister has announced that he will make some kind of statement on the economy very shortly. When he replied to the Leader of the Opposition, he had no intention of taking the House into his confidence in connexion with the measures that were being adopted. It was vaguely stated that the banking institutions would be co-opted in order to secure a reduction in the amount of money that was being used for timeDaYment finance, whether purchases were made by ordinary individuals or by big business. Dr. Coombs, the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, has announced a policy in relation to the restriction of loans for capital expenditure, the curbing of imports by refusing new borrowing for their purchase, and the reduction of limits and size of overdrafts. After all, these things are most important to the people of this country. They want to know exactly which credits are to be restricted. Are the banks to have an open season for the reduction of credits generally? Will they restrict the credits of the primary producers, the basic industries, or the ordinary Australian manufacturer who wishes to expand, and whose activities are so essential to the maintenance of employment? People will say, “Of course, the Government has no intention of doing those things “, but unless the Government sets out the details of its proposals no one will know what they are or how the banks are to implement them.
In 1951, credit was manipulated in this country in order to encourage imports and restrict Australian manufacturing. It succeeded so well that, by March, 1952, floods of imports were coming into this country and our overseas balances were in danger. Even worse, 100,000 Australians were out of work. A definite set of regulations on the restriction of credit should be tabled so that we may see whether credit is to be manipulated in the interests of some and to the disadvantage of others. Generally speaking, private bankers are not merely private bankers. Most of them are interested in some type of business or other. Even the most honorable businessman will follow his inclination to do those thing!? that will serve his own interest rather than that of others. The credit restrictions should not only be above suspicion, but should also appear to be above suspicion. Are people to be told that they will no longer be able to purchase such things as washing machines, refrigerators and household furniture on time payment? If so, the standard of living of the Australian people will be considerably reduced. If that be the case, then even Australian manufacturers, such as those who are producing washing machines, refrigerators, motor cars, household furniture, and, indeed, all kinds of requirements for the people of this country, must curtail the employment that they provide. So the danger is that there will be unemployment on a growing scale.
But even if there were to be no unemployment as a result of credit restrictions, even if the dangers that I visualize may be considered to be fantasy, there is still the business aspect. Surely the businessmen of this community, the manufacturers and traders, are entitled to know exactly what restrictions are to be put into operation in order that they may plan for the future, and know how credit restrictions, and reductions in overdrafts, will affect the businesses that they operate, and the employment that they provide.
Those are vital considerations. They affect the livelihood of the men and women of this country. They affect the fortunes and the welfare of businessmen as well as of employees. I have read in the newspapers to-day that attacks are being made on the new credit policy ; but those attacks are as vague as the policy itself. They attack particular schemes. Each person pretends to know exactly what the details of the policy are to be. Mr. Deputy Speaker, those details have not been supplied by the Government to this House. I believe that in a democracy, and on a matter of this importance, the Prime Minister, before, he commenced negotiations with the private banking institutions, should have come to this House and said, “ I am going into conference with the banking institutions, and the propositions that I intend to submit in order to rectify the difficulties of the. economy that have been created by this Government are (a), (b), (c) and (d)”. But he did not do that. I doubt whether the Prime Minister even consulted the members of his Cabinet.
– - Nonsense !
– I doubt if he took into his confidence the members of his Cabinet before he negotiated with the banking institutions, but after all, when I look at the members of his Cabinet, I can forgive him for that.
But he did not take into his confidence the members of his party. They knew nothing of what was going to be done. They represent electorates that have in them manufacturers, primary producers and working men, but none of them could go back to any section of his people and say to them, “ This Government is going to do (a), (Z>), (c), (d), (e) and’ (/) in the interests of stabilizing the economy, and the effect upon your particular industry or employment will be so and so”.
It is for those reasons, because of the lack of confidence reposed in his Ministers, in the members of bis party and in. the Parliament of Australia, that I rise to ask that the Prime Minister bring before this House at the first available opportunity details of the negotiations that took place with the private banking institutions, and the measures that the Government intends to adopt as a result of those negotiations. After all, there are people in this country who have not whole-hearted confidence in bankers, and who believe that the main objective pf banking institutions - and, indeed, of other institutions - is to make profits for their shareholders, and that bankers are frail human individuals who suffer from the disabilities to which both the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), who is sitting at the table, and myself are subject.
– Do not link yourself with me, for the love of Mike.
– I realize that the Minister’s suffering has reached a more advanced stage than has mine, but I emphasize the necessity for the making of a detailed statement on this matter. I was pleased to note that after my intention to raise it was given publicity to-day, the Prime Minister rose in his place and indicated that, at a later stage, ho would seek the leave of the House to make a statement on Australia’s economic position. I presume that the right honorable gentleman will outline the financial arrangements that are being made in relation to the time-payment system, as well as proposals in connexion with our overseas funds and other matters that he discussed with the banking institutions recently. If, as a result of my remarks this morning, the Prime Minister feels inspired to place before the House the matter which he stated quite recently related to government policy and which, therefore, would not without my notice of motion have placed before us, my remarks will not have been made in vain and will have served the interests, not only of the workers, but also of the manufacturers whose industries were jeopardized by the actions of this Government in 1951 and 1952^ and which might in the future be endangered by its banking policy. The history of this Government is such that the manufacturers are justifiably uneasy and unhappy in the knowledge that the right honorable gentleman is again negotiating with banking institutions for the purpose of manipulating Australia’scredit.
– If the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) believes that, as a result of his representations in the House to-day, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) proposes to make a statement on Australia’s economy, I should like him to disabuse his mind entirely of that thought because the House is perfectly well aware that some days ago I told his own deputy leader, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), that a statement on the economy was about to be made. Seeking to cash in on that prior information, the honorable member for Burke has brought forward the matter this morning for discussion as a matter of urgency. His proposal is so palpably absurd, in view of the circumstances, that really there is not rauch that need be said on this side with regard to it. The honorable member stated that the Ministers had not been consulted. Both the general public and honorable members will remember that the press commented a week ago on the fact that the Cabinet had discussed this matter, and that it was causing the Ministry some, concern. The- action of the honorable member for Burke to-day is characteristic of him. He has been seeking wildly to find some point on which to attack this Government, and so divert attention from Labour’s internal troubles. For that purpose, he has raised in this House the old cry against banking which Labour has repeated over the centuries.
I shall remind the honorable member of the history of the matter. It was only this, morning that I - not the Prime Minister - gave- notice that, at the next sitting, I would move that so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Prime Minister from making, a statement in this House on the economic position. That was done pursuant to a- promise, that I made to the honorable member for Melbourne some days ago, and upon-, which, he took some action. It is perfectly true that question.0 have been asked in the House with regard to- the- Government’s banking, and financial policy. But it is equally true, as the honorable member knows, that no information with regard to Government policy is given until such time as that policy ha3 been announced by the Government. Therefore, it was perfectly in order for the Prime Minister to say what he has said. This country is enjoying a high state of prosperity. In an endeavour to hold that prosperity against the actions likely to be taken by those who, for political purposes, would like to see it destroyed, it was proper for the Prime Minister to seek the advice of those who might be able to help him to maintain our prosperity. The right honorable gentleman has had discussions with the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank and representatives of the trading banks, and he also proposes to have discussions with experts and the representatives of certain other institutions who might he able to contribute specialized knowledge which could help him to ensure a continuation of the prosperity that we are enjoying.
Surely the honorable member for Burke understands that central banking policy is designed for the specific purpose of maintaining a balanced economy. With regard to the Commonwealth Bank-
– I did not say anything about the Commonwealth Bank.
– On the contrary, the honorable member stated that the policy of the Government was propounded by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. The policy of the central, bank does not necessarily conform to the policy of the Government, unless the Government gives- directions to the bank. Therefore, when the policy of the central bank is enunciated by the Government and it does not suit the honorable member, he makes the rejoinder that it is not actually the policy of the bank. If the honorable member understood the central banking structure, he would know that it is necessary for the central bank to preserve liquidity of banking resources and that, for that purpose, it is necessary for the> central bank to issue directives to 1?he trading banks and other financial institutions; Therefore, he cannot gain any political capital out’ of the present situation. But it suits the Labour party to repeat its old cry of chaos and woe. The honorable member intended his remarks to create an atmosphere that would cause concern in the minds of the general public, and endeavoured to give the impression that refrigerators and other household appliances would be thrown into the discard. He ought to know better than to try to engender a sense of frustration and despair in the people of this country. I know that the honorable member has cried chaos and depression on other occasions, but he did both himself and the people whom he claims to represent little justice by attempting to create an atmosphere that might arouse the fears of the people and adversely affect Australia’s financial credit. The honorable member does himself and his constituents a great disservice. It is perfectly true that those who might analyse what he has said would know that he is calling on his imagination, which is very vivid. It is an imagination that has been stretched almost to breaking point in his endeavour to gain some political capital out of the matter.
Prosperity is here and the Government must take action necessary to safeguard that prosperity in the interests of the people generally, and particularly of those whom the honorable member claims to represent. I know that the country has confidence in the Prime Minister. I know, also, that the Prime Minister, after having satisfied his own mind, consulted his Ministers, made various inquiries and held discussions, will place before this House, as he has already promised to do, a full explanation of the economic position as he and the Government see it. He will do that in due course, and therefore it ill behoves the honorable member for Burke to claim that he has forced the hand of the Prime Minister by the paltry action of proposing this matter for discussion. It is on record that the Prime Minister, with a full sense of responsibility, intended to make a statement, not off the cuff and not just by chance, but after he had made inquiries and had satisfied his mind about the internal position in Australia and about the need for a close survey to maintain the position that we hold to-day. I am sure that the House and the country will applaud the Prime Minister’s caution, his sensible approach to this very important statement and his refusal to make, off the cuff, statements that have not been fully and duly considered by him. I do not want to say anything more about this matter.
– The Minister has not said anything.
– The honorable member would not understand anything I have said, anyhow. He gets his inspiration from the purlieus of Woolloomoolloo and does not worry about matters of national interest. I shall not allow the debate on this proposal for discussion to continue indefinitely, and I trust that the next speaker from the Opposition side of the House will make a much more material contribution to the discussion.
– I support the remarks of my colleague the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters), who has raised this very important matter. Whether or not he has provoked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), at least it is interesting to learn that this important matter will be discussed in this House, where it should have been raised much sooner. As the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) has indicated to-day. banking in Australia is regulated by two important acts - The Commonwealth Bank Act and the Banking Act. Each of those acts indicates that banking and monetary policy to-day is not something occult which concerns only a few bankers, but is something applicable to all the people of Australia. In fact, section 8 of the Commonwealth Bank Act states that banking and monetary policy shall be directed to the advantage of the people of Australia. The concern of honorable members on this side of the House is that banking and monetary policy is not at the moment directed to the advantage of the people of Australia. However optimistic the Government may feel about existing circumstances, that optimism is not shared by honorable members on this side of the House; nor, apparently, is it shared in circles that know more than perhaps the VicePresident of the Executive Council would suggest is known by honorable members.
It is to be hoped that the Prime Minister’s projected statement will not be cast in vague general terms and that it will give to the House information that it is entitled to have.
It seems, as I mentioned on a previous occasion, that events in banking circles in Australia often are more widely known outside Australia than within this country, at least so far as public writing indicates. I should like to quote for the interest of honorable members an article that appeared in a recent banking supplement published by the Economist. No one would suggest that the Economist is a socialist rag. In the British Banking 1955 survey published as a supplement to the Economist of the 25th June, 1955, this statement appears -
Second only to an unprecedented turnover in visiting Hollywood entertainers in Australia during the past six months has been the strong inflow of VIPs from the City of London - bankers, economists and investment advisers, to be noted almost daily pursuing their independent tours of observation in Collins-street and Martin-place. Their verdicts, unlike those of the Americans, are unspoken; and they are awaited with trepidation for the tangible form they will eventually take in the movements of capital to Australia. It has been evident that the financial visitors came, for the most part, in a constructive, indeed indulgent, spirit and that the external signs of prosperity and growth have not failed to make an impression. But they have inevitably been deeply disturbed by the glaring weakness in the Australian economy - the tendency to chronic external deficit. They have been disturbed, too, by the inadequacy of the Australian Government’s methods of countering that tendency, and particularly by its apparent lack of influence over the Commonwealth’s commercial banking system.
I emphasize the reference to the “ apparent lack of influence over the Commonwealth’s commercial banking system “.
It is interesting to note that the report of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for the financial year 1.954-55 has not yet been published. I suggest that that is most unfortunate in the circumstances. The report should be published simultaneously with the bringing down of the budget in this House. The latest report of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank that the Government has to guide it is that for 1953-54, published in September of last year, in which the Governor of the bank directed attention to the fact that in his view then -that was twelve months ago - the private trading banks were following a credit policy that was not to the greatest advantage of the people of Australia. The Governor of the bank stated, at page 23 of that report -
The rise of £115 million-
That is, in advances - was substantial and may well have been more than was required to maintain employment and provide for the growth of the economy.
When such a statement appears in the report of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, it is all very well for the Government to take the view that the policy to be pursued is a matter for the Governor of the bank to decide in isolation. I suggest that that is a very cavalier approach for a government to make. In the last analysis, the country’s banking policy ought to be, and. is, the responsibility of the government of the day. The very existence of the Commonwealth Bank Act and the Banking Act indicates that the day when bankers should be called into consultation to tell governments what to do has gone. Governments ought to know what to do in the light of the economic information available to them. I suggest that the Prime Minister, in his proposed statement, should pay particular attention to one or two matters.
– The Government should not hare a closed mind on this question.
– I quite agree, but it should keep its mind interested and active in the consideration of these matters. I would draw the attention of honorable members to section 22b of the Banking Act 1945-1953. This section indicates that the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank has certain powers to guide the trading banks. It seems that these powers, which were written into the 1945 act by the former Labour Government, have been weakened by the amendments that were introduced by the present Government in 1953.
I believe that banking should not be a private affair. I believe that there should be more public control rather than less public control. Further on in the article to which I have referred the following statement was made: -
Monetary weakness is also the result of political antipathies to conforming to the discipline of monetary restraint; and to some degree too to deficiencies in the technical fabric of monetary control.
The Government, instead of telling bankers what to do, asks them to do it voluntarily; and bankers, being more interested in private profit than in the national interest, have not been doing as they have been asked.
– That is nonsense.
– It is not nonsense. The Government should not be complacent about the position. What the Government is tinkering with is not the concern of a small coterie, but involves the whole destiny and economic fabric of Australia. It is not practicable, in 1955, to call the bankers together for a little round-table discussion and say to them, “ You have been a little lax in the past. We hope that you will pull up your socks in the next twelve months “. A warning was given by the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank twelve months ago but no action was taken upon it. Consequently, the rate of increase in bank advances was greater in the following year than it had been in the year preceding his statement, when the rate of increase that took place was described by him as dangerous to the growth of the Australian economy.
It is the job of the Government now to call the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank into consultation, and ask him whether he is finding it difficult to have his policy implemented by the private banks. He should be asked whether the private banks are refusing to accept the suggestions that he has made. He should be asked whether there is conflict between himself, as Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and the private banks in respect of his directives. It is the Government’s right to consult the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank and ascertain who is right and who is wrong. The banking legislation provides that a dispute between the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank and the Government can be settled by the Government enforcing its will.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It is a pity that a debate of this kind, which is related to a specific subject, should have ranged over the whole field of economic problems and, in particular, the problems of banking. In other words, the matter that was raised by the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) related singularly to discussions which recently took place between the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and the leaders of certain trading banks. If one thought there was to be any common sense and relevance in this discussion, we might have hoped that it would be related to that subject-matter, and not to general matters of policy. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has quoted from an article in the financial supplement of The Economist, which I read some little time ago with a great degree of interest. But the attitude usually adopted on this side of the House is not to accept without question points of view that have been stated in another part of the world, but to apply our own intelligence to these problems.
– Why did not the Government do so?
– It did. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports contributed no original thought upon this subject, but spouted what some observer in another part of the world had written in The Economist. I doubt whether the article has strict relevance to Australian conditions, or whether the writer has a true understanding of Australian conditions.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports and the honorable member for Burke criticized the practice of consultation at all levels. Let me analyse the question of whether consultation is highly desirable. When there is an industrial problem to be solved, honorable members opposite get to their feet and loudly claim that the trade union movement should be consulted on the matter. Of course, the Government is the first to admit that that is a wise step to take when industrial problems are being discussed; but, similarly, the Government thinks that when matters concerning the financial, economic and banking structure of this country are involved, the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, the general managers of the trading banks, and other people who can make a contribution to this problem, should be brought into consultation. We believe that to be a very wise practice, because it lets the parties know what the Government is thinking, and the discussion leads to a better understanding of the problem. Therefore, a better solution to the problem is likely to be obtained in the long run.
What was the intention of the Prime Minister in this matter? It was not his intention to discuss these problems only with the managers of the trading banks. For many months, there had been consistent consultation between the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank and the managers of the various trading banks. The Government is glad that it is able to state that a far greater degree of confidence now exists between the central and trading banks, and that a far better spirit prevails between the various sections of the economic mechanism than ever before. I think that there is a better understanding of Australian economic and financial problems among the trading banks and economic interests than there has been for some considerable time.
The Prime Minister is not limiting himself to discussions with the banks. Discussions will also take place with other leaders of industry, who will be brought into the picture and who will be fully informed of the Government’s mind on these very important problems. In other words, not only banking leaders, but also leaders of the stock exchanges and of hire purchase companies have been invited, or will be invited, to discussions. Their minds will be probed and, by this means, it is hoped that a better knowledge of the problem will be obtained and that they will know more about the Government’s problems than they know at present. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports said that it would be better not to call bankers into consultation so that they could tell the Government what to do, and that the Government should take the lead.
– That is exactly what the bankers do.
– I do not think that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) understands these problems. It would be better if he were out of the House, because he has never shown understanding of them in the past. No one knows better than the honorable member that the’ position is not as he stated it.
The truth is that the Government set out, in the budget papers, a true economic review. It studied Australia’s economic and financial position adequately; but it was anxious to make certain that the situation was understood. Therefore, the Government called these various groups together in order to explain to them a little more fully what the position might be, and to make abundantly certain that leaders of industry knew what was in its mind. So it is foolish for the honorable member for Melbourne Ports to think that the initiative lay somewhere else. The initiative was with the Prime Minister and the Government. The discussions were informative, and will be of benefit to those who were present, and to the country.
The honorable member for Burke referred to the problem of credit policy. He endeavoured to create the impression that, once again, we had a state of depression in this country. As the Prime Minister stated last Thursday, when addressing a group of Sydney businessmen, he is not the head of a Government of apostles of gloom. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports and the honorable member for Burke obviously want to create the impression that the position is desperate. That is not unusual. They are reverting to type. They realize that it is only by creating an atmosphere of despair, it is only by assuming an air of defeat, it is only by not making any constructive suggestions themselves, and it is only by creating the very conditions that the Government seeks to avoid, that they can possibly hope to win any real political support at the forthcoming elections. No constructive suggestions are made. This display of gloom will be confounded by the subsequent course of events. There is no need for despair. By going on in this gloomy fashion, trying to create an impression that something is wrong, honorable members opposite might win a little support from people who are discontented or who oppose the Government, but the Government’s view on this problem is perfectly clear. It has stated, in the budget, that it believes we are in a state of forced development, that we have a state of real prosperity but that we must take some moderate action - only moderate action - to see that the rate of development does not get out of hand. So we stand here, not as apostles of gloom like the honorable member for Burke and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, but as people conscious of the problems that face this community, and resolutely determined that the necessary action will be taken to solve them. So I say to the House that the Prime Minister has done what the Government, and he, consider to be correct. He has discussed this problem with business leaders who know exactly what is involved, seeking their voluntary co-operation in connexion with the measures that may have to be taken. [ shall not go further into that subject because, as the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) has said, the Prime Minister himself will deal with those matters in his statement to the House next Tuesday night, and the House will then have a full opportunity to debate his statement. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if honorable members knew the length of time that has been given to consideration of this problem, and the great breadth of discussion that bas taken place between the Prime Minister, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) and various sections of the community, they would know that the problem is receiving constant and conscientious attention.
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.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Kent Hughes) agreed to-
That it is expedient that an appropriation of moneys be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to approve the borrowing of moneys for a defence purpose, namely financial assistance to the States in connexion with war service land settlement, and to authorize the expending of those moneys.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Kent Hughes and Sir Eric Harrison do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Kent Hughes, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill provides for the raising, for war service land settlement, of loan moneys amounting to £S,500,000. It is similar to bills that have been introduced annually to authorize the expenditure of money for the purpose to which I have referred. Past bills have dealt only with the agent States, but honorable members will note that in this bill provision is made for the two principal States, Victoria and New South Wales. Those two States have been included because of a special allocation by the Government to assist them in speeding up the remaining stages of war service land settlement.
– What about Queensland ?
– I shall refer to the position in Queensland in a moment or two. Of the sum of £8,500,000, it is proposed that £4,600,000 shall be advanced under approved conditions, to South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, which are thf agent States, to be used by them for the acquisition, development and improvement of land for subdivision and allotment to classified ex-servicemen, and to provide those ex-servicemen with working capital and finance for the purchase of structural improvements, stock, plant, and equipment. It is intended that the remaining sum of £3,900,000. shall cover the estimated requirements of the principal States, New South Wales and Victoria, pursuant to the Commonwealth’s offer to advance to each of those States, for three years from the 1st July, 1955, £1 for each £2 spent on war service land settlement, with a maximum advance of £2,000,000 per annum for each State. The amount advanced will be repayable over a period of 53 years, with interest at the rate of 3f per cent. On this basis, about £6,000,000 per annum could be available for soldier settlement in each of the principal States for the next three years. Much could be done with that money to satisfy the demand of classified applicants who have not been rehabilitated in other forms of civil life. A similar offer to Queensland, but with a ceiling of £1,000,000 per annum, was rejected. As a result, no further war service land settlement will be undertaken in that State.
At this point, I should like to inform honorable members of the difficulties that we have encountered in New South Wales in- relation to the payment of compensation and in relation to the granting of moneys under section 96 of the Constitution. We experienced no particular trouble in Victoria, and I hope that the difficulty in New South Wales will be overcome within the next week or two. I have had two conferences with the Minister for Lands, who is my opposite number in New South Wales, and I have received several communications from him. Although I am not at liberty to state exactly what took place at those conferences or what is contained in the correspondence, I think the Minister for Lands will agree with me when I say that, with the exception of one or two minor details, the matter has virtually been satisfactorily settled. As I have stated, I hope that it will be settled finally within the next week or ten days, and that amending legislation will be introduced in the New South Wales Parliament to overcome what has been a source of continual friction in the administration of war service land settlement in that State. The bill that is now before us will not have been passed by both Houses of the Parliament for some considerable time, and I hope that during that time the legislation to which I referred a little earlier will be passed by the New South Wales Parliament. The moneys that have recently been made available to the principal States have been provided under section 96 of the Constitution. The terms and conditions that have been laid down cover a multitude of minor matters, the main one being the question of compensation. I have already stated that there was considerable difficulty in our dealings with
New South Wales on that point. There were one or two small differences about other matters that were not vital, and which were rectified in a manner that was acceptable to both governments.
Previous loan acts have authorized the raising and spending on war service land settlement in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, of loan moneys amounting to £27,625,000. Expenditure to the 30th June, 1955, was £22,890,000, leaving a balance of £4,735,000 at the beginning of this financial year. Expenditure during the financial year 1954-55 in those States was £5,471,000, of which £4,025,000 was new money and £1,446,000 was the re-expenditure of repayments during the year of amounts that had been expended in previous years. The proposed appropriation for South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania is required to meet an estimated expenditure on war service land settlement during this financial year of £7,136,000, of which it is estimated that £2,536,000 will be met by repayments to be received during the year.
Some people might ask why, in view of the present economic outlook, we propose to increase expenditure on war service land settlement. Let me remind honorable members that ten years and one month have passed since V.P. day, and that the ex-servicemen are not getting any younger. The Government has approved of this scheme to assist the principal States, and to increase expenditure in the agent States, in an effort to clean up the bulk of war service land settlement within the next three years. By that time, thirteen years will have elapsed since the end of the war. I do not say that the whole of the proposed war service land settlement will be completed within that time. In one State it has been estimated that approximately 1,200 genuine applicants, who have made the land their main occupation since the end of the war, are still waiting for blocks. It is hoped that that State will be able to allocate 400 new blocks each year. for. the next three years.
– Can the Minister say what, in the experience of the department, is the average cost of settling a man on the land ?
– In the early days, the average cost was much less than it is now, and I should say that in most of the early settlements there will be very little write-off, if any. The average cost at present is about £15,000 for a dairy farm and £18,000 or £19,000 for a fat lamb block. Those are the two main avenues in which war service land settlement is operating. I cannot give the cost of a dried fruits block at the moment. There is no doubt that if overseas prices continue to fall, we shall have to face a considerable write-off on those valuations. On the other hand, we may be able to reduce costs. Those are the costs at present, as near as I can give them.
– Are many of the men able to contribute much themselves?.
– The whole idea of war service land settlement is to enable a settler who has no capital to make good. That is the basis on which the scheme was started, and we have carried on ever since on the original basis. Even after the High Court gave the decision which upset the agreement in the act between the Commonwealth and the States, we operated still on the same basis. But it has not been possible for the Commonwealth to agree that land shall be resumed at 1942 values. Under the Constitution, we are bound to pay a just price.
– Is any provision being made for dwelling-houses for exservicemen?
– When a settler is placed on a block, the Government concerned provides a house, as well as wool sheds, or dairy buildings and whatever else is required. During the first year, a settler may be required to work on a property which has not reached such a stage of development that he has a house, as well as sheds, fences and tanks ; but it is only in very few instances that those conditions exist after the first twelve or eighteen months.. When a settler is given a block, sometimes - very often now - he is required to work on the block while a house, sheds and other structures are. being built. But in all cases those structures are provided on the blocks by the governments concerned.
– They are very slow.
– I think they are very speedy. If the honorable member for Cunningham will let me know afterwards of any case in which he thinks we have been very slow to act, I shall be glad to look into it.
The Commonwealth is providing adequate finance to permit of an all-out effort to settle waiting ex-servicemen within the next few years - if possible, within the next three or four years. Full use will be made of contractors as well as of the considerable quantity of plant that has been assembled by the State governments for this purpose. Financial assistance to all States for non-capital expenditure such as living allowances for settlers, interest and rent remissions, writing down of the cost of holdings, &c, estimated at £1,750,000 for the present financial year, will be met by the Commonwealth from Consolidated Revenue.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Haylen) adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) proposed -
That Order of the Day No. 1, Government Business, be postponed until a later hour this day.
.- Once again, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) has proposed that the short space of time still left for private members to grieve shall be devoted to Government business. The right honorable gentleman is proceeding with the management of the House on the assumption that the House is constituted on a normal basis. The normal basis requires a government, and also an opposition - an opposition with a leader and a deputy leader, with a party behind them. I point out to the Vice-President of the Executive Council that, in attempting to manage the business of the House on that basis, he is attempting to manage it on a basis that does not exist. Apparently the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) is not even a member of the party that he purports to lead. A conference that he attended of the New South Wales branch of the Labour party, or of the party to which he belongs, adopted a report which said, in effect, that his membership was not satisfactory in accordance with the rules of the party.
– It did not.
– It did. That is in the minutes of the conference.
– Order ! What has this to do with the motion before the Chair ?
– We know that the real deputy leader of the party, or perhaps the real leader, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), is going to the Trades Hall in Brisbane at some time or other to denounce the executive of the New South Wales branch of the Labour party.
– Order ! The question before the Chair is whether order of the day No. 1 shall be postponed until a later hour this day.
– The honorable member for Yarra knows that his last statement is untrue.
– It is on these leaflets. The leaflets state -
Mr. E. J. Ward will tell you how industrial groupers control the N.S.W. A.L.P.
That statement is on the leaflets, both pink and green.
– Order ! The honorable member must either confine himself to the motion or resume his seat.
– The colours were chosen well.
– I should be out of order if I referred to the contents. We have a photograph of the honorable member for East Sydney on a green leaflet and we have another photograph on a leaflet that is shaded from pink to red. The Vice-President of the Executive Council proposes to deprive honorable members of their opportunity to grieve, on the basis that the Opposition has its opportunity to do so during the budget debate. In other words, he is suggesting that the business of the House shall be conducted on the basis on which it was conducted in the days when there was a government and a real opposition. That is not the position now.
I am endeavouring to point out that at the present time one part of the Leader of the Opposition’s party is telling him that he is not a member of the party, and the other part, led by the honorable member for East Sydney, is saying that the people who told the Leader of the Opposition that he was not a member of the party are a fifth column in the party, that they control the New South “Wales Australian Labour party conference, and that the honorable member for East Sydney proposes to go to Brisbane in order to tell the people there all about it. How the issue will be finally resolved, except by the preliminary bouts that started in caucus the other day, I do not know.
– Order! The question before the Chair is whether “ Grievance Day “ shall be eliminated.
– I was discussing elimina tion contests and grievances. I put it to the Vice-President of the Executive Council that, while the Opposition is in that state and while the only effective opposition is being provided from this corner of the chamber, “ Grievance Day “ should not be eliminated, but should be retained in order to preserve the rights of members of this party. Every time they speak, they find that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, or the acting deputy leader - I refer to the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) ; I do not quite know what his Status is - rushes behind the chair and tries to manage the business of the House from behind the chair. Instead, it should be managed from the chair. We ask that, while the Opposition is in its present state, “ Grievance Day “ be retained so that honorable members will have an opportunity to air their grievances in the House. By arrangement with the VicePresident of the Executive Council, the honorable member for Melbourne endeavours to prevent members of this party from speaking. Those who observe what goes on will notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that every time you call a member from this corner of the chamber, the honorable member for Melbourne immediately rushes behind the chair and lays down the law to the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who, I regret to say. allows himself to be browbeaten time and again by the honorable member.
Therefore, I am asking for the restoration of “ Grievance Day “ on the ground that, without it, we in this corner of the House shall be deprived of an opportunity to put our case to the House. Until the party led by the right honorable member for Barton can make up its mind whether he is in it or out of it, and whether the Australian Labour party industrial groupers are controlling the New South Wales conference or constitute a fifth column in it-
– The honorable member for Yarra is right out.
– The honorable member for East Sydney has been out quite a number of times and I remind him that even though he has had the leaflets printed on green paper he might be out again on some future occasion. I put it to the Vice-President of the Executive Council that until such time as the issue between the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy is resolved, and. until it is decided whether the right, left or centre wing is in control of caucus - by debate, vote, or preliminary elimination tests, or by whatever means the decision is made, because the party is quite free to choose whatever means it desires - we should not. by virtue of the gagging by the Leader of the House of our chance to grieve, be deprived of our voice in the House, because of the state of the party led by the right honorable member for Barton. In view of those circumstances, I ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council not to let the honorable member for Melbourne browbeat him time and time again in order to stop us from speaking. I ask him to stand firm and give to private members on this side of the House an opportunity to state their grievances while the present deplorable state of the Opposition led by the right honorable member for Barton continues. Until we can get some clarity on that matter, at least that part of the Opposition which knows what it believes in, and what it supports, should be given its voice in the House. I appeal to the Leader of the House to do the right thing.
– in reply - I did not quite gather from the remarks made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) whether he was desirous of allowing the members of the official Opposition to grieve over past glories as a party or over the fact that they have a leader such as they have at the present time. He might subsequently enlighten me in regard to that, because I know that in either case there is great reason to grieve. The honorable member for Yarra, on this occasion as on others, is completely confused in his mind about the order of business of the House. He speaks of to-day as being a day which is normally devoted to the consideration of private member’s business. That is not so ; it is “ Grievance Day”, which is something entirely different from a day devoted to the consideration of private members’ business. The latter would be called on, in the normal course of events, next Thursday. I warn the House that a “ guillotine “ on the Estimates will be coming down to-night, so that even next week a day may not be set aside for the consideration of private members’ business. However, I want to say to the honorable member for Yarra that any matter which might be raised on “ Grievance Day “ is capable of being raised not only in the budget debate, but also in the debate on the Estimates, which will begin this evening. Therefore, he is not being deprived of anything, because honorable members have their opportunity to air grievances during consideration of the budget and the Estimates, but they will lose the opportunity of speaking on the budget if time is devoted to-day to grievances. It may suit the book of the honorable member for Yarra to rise in his place, castigate the Opposition, and claim opposition rights. I agree with him when he says that if there is an opposition in the House, it is in the corner and not the official Opposition. Therefore, I acknowledge that there is great occasion to grieve. I have seen the bringing forward of succeeding matters of urgency, which come only from the real Opposition. I have seen the members of the official Opposition walk out of the House rather than support a resolution of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, and that shows how completely disordered they are. I know that there is great cause for grievance. I sympathize with the honorable member for Yarra, but the business of the House must be proceeded with.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 13th September (vide page 624), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 1 - The Senate - namely, “ Salaries and allowances, £27,700 “, be agreed to.
Upon which Dr. Evatt had moved by way of amendment -
That the first item be reduced by £1.
.- The time allowed for speakers in a budget debate has from time immemorial been considered inadequate, but in this case it is more than adequate, because there is so little to be said of the budget that some members of the Government, including the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself, have not bothered to say it. When they have said it, they have spoken with varying voices, and although the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) took up half an hour of the time of the committee he said nothing about the budget at all. The only man on the Government side who was prepared to make a declaration which seems to be in consonance with the times and showed some concern for what if happening in the community, was the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Kent Hughes). While other Ministers say. “ This is the best of all possible worlds “, the Treasurer is searching in Istanbul, that city of jasmine, beautiful streets, lights, and dark corners, and the Turkish delight he is seeking is hard dollars. He got out of this country as quickly as possible in order to repair in some way the budgetary position in this country. The Prime Minister, in one of his famous by-and-large speeches in Sydney, nodding to the people who entertained him, said. “ It is the best of all possible worlds “. But there is one Sir Galahad, one knight in shining armour, one Washingtonon the Government side, the Minister for the Interior, who made a statement which will, in the long run, prove to be the only true statement made upon the budget on the Government side, when he said, “ All the economic portents to-day, ten year3 after the war, are the same as those of 1929, ten years after World War I.”.
– The honorable member hopes so.
– I hope nothing of the sort. I honestly hoped that the stupidity of this Government, the blindness, the arrogance, the prattle about this Opposition being in distress, would be forgotten, and that honorable members opposite would apply themselves to the government of this country instead of talking about certain weaknesses in the Opposition brought about by a fight upon principle.
Mr. Osborne interjecting,
– I hear the honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) making some off-stage noises. He should leave those to the coming election, which I believe will be about Christmas, when they may be dealt with in a more appropriate atmosphere.
I want to speak only briefly on this matter before I turn to another subject, because the budget could not, by any stretch of the imagination, take up half an hour of my time. The Government lias been searching for a slogan for the budget, and it has failed, because one speaks no ill of the dead, one speaks no ill of that which has gone, the inept, and the finished, so it has been decently buried long before this debate has concluded. The Vice-President of the Executive Council concedes that the budget, consideration of which will be concluded some time to-day, will be hurried off the stage and interred decently by the Government itself.
I am always eager to help the Government find a slogan. . The new trends of economic danger and the difficulties that beset a. country ten years after a war have been ignored, and although the Government cannot be charged with trying to cause a recession, its own ineptitude makes us fear that there will be one. The Government’s slogan, willy-nilly, is “Back to 1929 with Bob and the boys”. We have on the one side the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank making a statement - a reasonable statement perhaps from a banker, but certainly one that should have been prefaced by a budget speech by the Prime Minister himself. It is the same old formula. Every one who is over the age of 21 knows what brought about the depression in the grievous, stressful 1930’s. It was brought about first by rigid banking pruning. What has happened prior to the present decision to cut down credit in this country which is alleged to be rolling with prosperity? Every time that the Prime Minister rises to speak, any one with a sense of imagery can see the pound notes dripping from his fingers. But outside there are hard times in very important, definite and vital sections of the community. A stop has been put to thedownward trend of the economy, but who reaped all the benefits in the days before this was done? Big business, even at this stage, is busy building up capital, watering stock, issuing bonus shares and preparing to get in out of the wet. Our capitalist economy is in a shocking dilemma. The Government does not know which way to turn. Any action it does take is socialistic, and then it proceeds piously, to say that it will have nothing to do with socialist methods of finance or government. Big business is getting in out of the weather. It has already made extraordinarily high profits. When firms and businesses can return the whole of an investment in shares in one dividend something is rotten in the State of Denmark and something is equally rotten in the Commonwealth of Australia. When the average dividend now on almost any sort of a shypoo company is 20 per cent, instead of about 5 per cent, of 6 per cent., it is clear that the pot has boiled over and that all the economiccooks with their ladles, each taking out a spoonful according to their taste, are telling us what is wrong with the brew.
On the other side, during the years of prosperity - and this is the complete indictment of the Government on the budget - the worker has never had a fair crack of the whip. We can see in retrospect, and we all should have been able to see it before, that the basic wage should have gone up £2 immediately after the war. Who took the freeze? The worker took the freeze on controls and on his wages. The cost-plus system ran rioting around this country to such an extent that it was the basis and the beginning of our troubles. Now, when the economic clouds are gathering, we are talking first of getting at the worker. Again he has had his wages frozen. He broke free too late and did not catch the economic uptrend. He never got what I considered to be the £2 built-in need in his wages. He has always had delayed margins and has been faced, finally, with the futility of the Arbitration Court. Is there not something enormous happening when, in addition to our economic problems, to which no one seems to have the solution and in respect of which six different voices on the other side have made six different comments, the Australian Council of Trades Unions has found it necessary to be severely critical of our arbitration system? Those in control of unions in this country - men of great responsibility who have prevented many more strikes and industrial troubles than the average Liberal party or Australian Country party member dreams of - talks in terms of the finish and dissolution of the Arbitration Court because, in their considered view, our arbitration machinery is a delaying machinery. It is a wage-slackening machinery, and in the final analysis it is a wage-reducing machinery. The Government should take note that responsible men have declared that some drastic alterations - even to the point of getting back to the jungle arrangements between workers and employees - are needed.
All these portents are dangerous, yet the Government talks lightly about everything being all right. The person who contemplates suicide always returns to the same place. And this Government knows something of attempted suicide. In 1951 it was only dragged back from the brink by the economic stability of the country. The Government thought it would have to do the most drastic things and that, in doing them, it would have to go over the Gap itself. This time it cannot escape. It does not seem to know where the real trouble lies and it does not seem to be very much concerned. We have had a defence vote of £1,000,000,000, yet we have the recent incident of the Auster aircraft! I do not want to deride the authorities over that matter because perhaps there has been some over-statement of it, but it does show a weakness somewhere. What has happened to the £1,000,000,000 that has been spent on defence? And what about the condition of the roads revealed in the Redex trial? Is that an indication of what would happen if the roads were needed for defence purposes? The Redex trial may be a melodramatic and stage-managed representation of the position, but there are people in the back country who say that the contestants encountered fairly normal wet-weather conditions.
We are a mendicant among the nations to-day. The United Nations organization and those of its agencies which have to do with international finance have reported that we are the best borrowers. Certainly, we have a good asset, but we are borrowing everywhere. We have been shopping in Switzerland - not for picture postcards of Mont Blanc, but for a bit of hard currency. From the International Bank we have borrowed £100,000,000, another £100,000,000 and so on. Now the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has left the country. He is in Turkey looking for more dollars in order to block up the crevices. All along the line we see evidence of the complete lack of thinking which is bringing this country to the edge of a position which could be extremely dangerous. I am not a peddler of depressions. I abhor even the word “ recession but somebody has to do some straight thinking in this chamber. It appears to me that once the Treasurer is absent, the tail of Cabinet does nothing but form an applause committee for the Prime Minister. The Treasurer is the working bullock. As a result of the attitude of other CabinetMinisters, one can get no dynamic thinking from the Government side.
The Government’s solution of the problem of our running-down overseas trade, upon which we live, is the majestic one of selling the Commonwealth Shipping Line. That was, put in its right terms, a shocking thing. The Government was prepared to do it because it thought it would have to do something to help its friends. Where was the Country party when the 10 per cent, freight impost was threatened by the overseas shipping lines? Beyond the fight of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) - and I applaud him for it - his followers seem to have taken no interest. That 10 per cent, may mean the difference between a balanced economy and an economy in great trouble. The Australian Country party has made no vital attack upon the private shipping companies because it is frightened of them and will do nothing about them. The overseas shipping lines are growing. Our overseas trade has collapsed and our balance of payments - here is the shocking thing - is sufficient to last for only six months. The Governor of the Commonwealth Bank - not the Government - says, “ You must cut out your overdrafts or reduce them. We shall be very careful what money we give you in the future. Hard times are here again “. What can that produce? The credit available to merchants who want to buy overseas may be restricted. That position could be more easily and effectively met by import controls if the Government were courageous enough to go the whole hog. All this restriction of credit will reduce the opportunity of industry to expand and eventually destroy full employment. Those are serious things for the Government to consider. That is all that need be said about the budget. The slogan, I repeat, is “Back to 1929 with Bob and the boys “. This attitude is dictated by the Government’s own ineptitude after years in office. The same thing happened in the early years of the war - government by divine afflatus. But when the test came the then government ran out, driven by two of its members who were disgusted and disturbed at what it was doing. The same thing, in an economic sense, may happen to-day. So much for the budget as a budget.
I am sorry to see that members of the corner group have left the chamber. I have to say some serious things about them, particularly the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke). Recently in the budget debate the honorable member made a vicious and unsubstantiated attack on the Premier of New South Wales. It is quite all right during our debates on privilege, and in other circumstances in this House to say the things that should be said. Surely on questions of political importance and principle, we should be at liberty to do so. But a smear of that nature on the character of the Premier is a disgrace to this Parliament. It should never have occurred. I have had personal differences with the Premier, purely political, the ephemeral things that dissipate as the day3 go by ; but the honorable member has mouthed some old outworn rumours of the past, and attached them to a man who is running the greatest State in the Commonwealth to-day, and then he said outside the House that he had no fact and substance to support them. That is typical of him, because he is a member of a party which may be best described as a gang of informers led by a teller. The essence of that party’s propaganda in this chamber is to lie, and to smear, principally of those who formerly lived with them, but who rose in despair, because they could not be reformed, and threw them out of the party.
The honorable member for Fawkner has had a varied and chequered career for a young man. He first floated into public eye, the fierce light that beats upon a throne, or a politician, as an Australian Country party member. We have it on record that during his time as an Australian Country party member he denounced the leader of the Australian Labour party in this House. Then he moved into the Labour party by that generosity which the Labour party shows young men on the way up, in the belief that if they are not too good they could be made better under the surveillance and with the encouragement of every member in the Labour party. He brought with him the tactics of the Australian Country party and, while in the Labour party, he denounced the Leader of the Opposition. When he was thrown out of the Labour party, he went to the corner group, the splinter group, and again denounced the Leader of the Opposition.
Not being satisfied that he had done all that should be done in his busy little life, he went, during the recess, to Albury and, at the request of the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) and the member for Albury in the New South Wales Parliament, he addressed the ladies of Alburv associated with the Liberal club.
What did he do? He attacked the Leader of the Opposition. Then he must have lost interest in the matter, because he was getting nowhere.
Last week, he attacked the Premier of New South Wales. Now, the smearing that has been practised by the splinter group has led to its own disintegration. I do not know - perhaps you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, could advise me - how one splits a splinter, but I make the forecast that the splinter is about to split. It will expel one of its members because he has not run true to form. On several occasions, he has denied his leader.
His leader, of course, is in a shocking position. He has three men behind him - the honorable member for Fawkner, the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mullens), and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) - who, any time they want, will make a snack of him. He will not be an Oslo lunch for them when they want to get rid of their leader, and he knows it, and he sits there trembling, and worrying about his future. The Joshua who visited the Promised Land is not comparable with the poor distressed Joshua who knows that there is no Promised Land for him. There will not be even a seat for him in this Parliament after the next election.
The honorable member for Fawkner has created for himself a dishonorable career in this Parliament. He has attacked the big men of the Labour party while purporting to be a paladin who is going to reform all parties. He pretends to be the idealist. What has he turned out to be in the final analysis? In this chamber, he gets plenty of opportunities to talk. The built-in whine of his voice annoys all of us. The speaker with the built-in whine ! It is a new model, but it will not sell very well. I make those statements because I want to register a most emphatic protest about what has been said about a member of this House.
I turn now to that charming exponent of Celtic poetry and oratory, the honorable member for Gellibrand. “You charm my heart, you bonnie bird “ The honorable member is a quaint character. I thought that he would be done with politics long since because, while he was a member of another party, he came to all of us and said that he thought of retiring if we would let him go to the Coronation. He would lean over the chairs of each and every one of us like a little lapwing, a little pee-wee with a bruised shoulder, and he would say, “ I want this trip, and then I will have practically had it “. The plea touched my heart. I voted for him to go to the Coronation. I thought it would be a magnificent opportunity to use his C.M.G. I knew that 12,000 miles away from the electors of Gellibrand, he would like to put on the knee-pants. I could imagine him in the Savoy, where there would not be an elector within thousands of miles, trying on the pants for size, putting on the guerdon of long service, the accolade of Her Majesty, taking his umbrella to avoid the showers, and tootling along to Buckingham Palace.
I thought we had done with him. We had done a very good job for him. Ho had been in the Victorian Parliament for many years. His mellifluous voice and his Irish imagery had charmed the birds off the bough. It was all so pleasant and interesting. But when he came back, he was like a lion refreshed. He had seen the British lion, and taken some of its courage, which apparently he did not possess before, and instead of poetry and charm, he launched acrid attacks. And whom did he attack? It was the Leader of the Opposition.
The honorable member for Yarra, who had aspirations to leadership, talked himself out of this party by his vicious attacks. Private business if their business. Smear is the daily agenda for the group in the corner. The sooner they are discharged from this Parliament, the better. For that reason, I shall welcome an early election to see that they are removed from this Parliament, because they have made no contribution to its functioning.
I say nothing of the loyal and disgruntled rank and file. They are men who have been misguided and lost their way. But there is in this Parliament, a sinister force. We are chided for having removed them from our party, but w* are on the strongest ground. The biblical injunction is, “ If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out”. Our right arn. offended us, and we cut it off. We did even better than that. We cut our right wing off, and we are delighted with the result. We can see it over there. It can neither fly nor flutter. All it can do is abuse and gibe. Every day becomes a glorious vindication of our own action against traitors within the party. So, this highly publicized election, if it does happen at Christmas time, will be a Christmas box for my colleagues and me if, when we come back, those few seats in the corner hold Labour members, and not people who have broken faith with the Labour party.
Government supporters interjecting,
– Even if I see it for one moment, it will be worth while.
I return to a serious note. This Parliament loses .some of its dignity when a. group does nothing but defame people. I should say here, if I am permitted, that a move was made to-day, and was connived at by the Prime Minister, to discuss the Petrov Commission, when that matter already appears on the noticepaper. Such a move is dishonorable in any language. It was completely unfair, but because one of the members of the corner group asked the insinuating question, the Prime Minister, in the classical words of Mrs. Petrov, “ Came in on the little hook “. And he will always come in on the little hook.
The Prime Minister recently decided that Shakespeare was not much of a dramatist, so he got hold of The Merchant of Venice, and decided to rewrite the court scene. That is Act V., Scene 1. He said that, in his view, Shakespeare did not know his law. But I have read Shakespeare, and have been interested in it, and I noted that the beautiful Portia was a Doctor of Laws. I wondered whether the Prime Minister’s hatred of Doctor of Laws descended from the historical dramas of Shakespeare to our own Doctor of Laws, who leads the Opposition, and was still pursuing members who had more brains than he had. Whatever he did with regard to rewriting Shakespeare, what a piece of intolerable arrogance it was on the part of the Prime Minister, who is not prepared to debate his own budget, who allows the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to state his policy, and to put his toe into the cold financial waters, and who allows the VicePresident of the Executive Council, whose knowledge of finance is not immense by any means, to conduct the debate. It is a dereliction of duty on that side.
Sitting suspended from 12.46 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting for lunch I was dealing with comments that had been made by the members of the corner group. I return, in the few minutes that remain at my disposal, to the happy wanderer - the honorable member for Gellibrand - and his trip to attend the Coronation of Her Majesty the Queen. I mentioned that he had a C.M.G. I have since been corrected on that matter; he was the recipient of a O.B.E., which the vulgar say is won on other beggar’s efforts. I do not know whether that happened in his case, but the point I made concerned the savagery with which he has attacked his former colleagues, and the seductive way in which he won - by our approval, at least for the time being - a very happy trip abroad, which earned him the title of the happy wanderer by which he is now known. Earlier, on the question of this group, I asked you, Mr. Temporary Chairman - perhaps without your permission - how could a splinter be split. I have been reminded by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) that an atom can be split. The atom party has definitely been split. I understand that the absence of the members of that party at present - generals and rank and file alike - is due to the fact that the party is “ caucusing “ on what it will do with the enfant terrible - the honorable member for Fawkner - who has qualified for admission into the Liberal party. Members of the corner party are waiting to see “whether that liaison can be extended. They realize that it might be valuable to have a friend in another camp, because in all other camps they have no friends at all.
I referred also to the honorable member for Yarra, but at least I shall say this about him : His devotion to the cause - although it might be a strange cause - is such that he will never repeat a private conversation - unless there is a quorum present! As an honorable member who has been here for twelve years - that is quite a considerable segment of longevity in political affairs - I say that the members of the corner party have made no contribution to this country. If rumour, informing, and the pickers-up of unconsidered trifles - which are then retailed in the Parliament as a part of the parliamentary procedure - are useful, they have been useful; but if they are not, they have been useless. The honorable member for Gellibrand will be like the harp that hangs on Tara’s Walls after the next general election. The honorable member for Fawkner will, of course, have his place as the Liberal member for that constituency on the Liberal benches. There is no doubt about that! As usual, he has anticipated the trouble that is coming to him, and if during the next few hours he is not expelled from his own splinter party, he will be taken into the waiting and yearning arms of the Liberal party, which has all the rejects in the political fraternity in ita midst. It has an ever-open door. Its slogan is “ There are thousands and thousands within the door, and there is room for thousands and thousands more “. I shall conclude by stating that the bitterness of the attack by a member of the corner group upon the Premier of New South Wales was a very grievous thing indeed. It shocked the nation because the men who have to bear the heat and burden of the day in political affairs should be at least spared calumny and detraction, libel and smearing by a man who, in the corridors of this building ten minutes after he had made the allegations, said that he believed there was nothing in them, but that if he could find more evidence he was prepared to repeat them. I do not want to burden the committee with any further comment except to bovrilize my previous remarks, because I believe that the corner party is a group of informers, led by a teller. Honorable members may be assured that no unconsidered trifle of conversation is ever forgotten by the members of that group, but is retailed in the Parliament. Whilst it may be the Opposition’s turn to-day, it will be the Government’s turn to-morrow. They are a fascist group, which infiltrated the Labour party, and we are proud to be done with them.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) would have us believe that the Labour party is one happy family, but successive speakers from the other side have told us about the party’s difficulties. It rather reminds one of visiting somebody’s home and seeing mum belt down the kids and, in turn, the kids getting stuck into mum. It is really a happy family! The honorable member stated that he was not a peddler of depression, and I believe that, yet he voiced the cry of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), and used the same tactics as his leader employed in 1951. I think it should be quite clear that any honorable member - on either side of the committee - who peddles depression does Australia a grave disservice, because depression can be brought about by our own talking and by our own fears. The Labour party has performed a remarkable about-face. Only a little over a year ago, during the general election campaign, we heard honorable members opposite promise the people to restore, the 40 per cent, depreciation allowance, increase pensions, and abolish the means test if they were returned to office. In their good sense, the electors estimated the cost of those concessions at about £300,000,000, and rejected Labour. To-day, the supporters of Labour castigate private enterprise. We now see them in their true colours, coming out as socialists and calling private enterprise some dirty low thing, castigating industry in general, and making no mention at all of their proposal to restore the initial depreciation allowance and abolish the means test. There has been a change of front.
The Government has been able again to bring down a prosperity budget because we have had the most prosperous year that Australia has ever known. For the first time since the war, prices have been checked and have remained reasonably stable. As honorable members know, the basic wage was stabilized in 1953 and the C series index has only since shown a rise of 1.5 per cent. In other words, the index rose by 4s., whereas real wages have risen by approximately 13s. As a result of last year’s budget, the real purchasing power of wages has increased considerably. The Government has been able to increase pensions, and their increased purchasing power will enable the recipients to cope with the increased cost of living. But anything that the Commonwealth does in this sphere can be offset by the State governments. In New South Wales, for instance, the Government proposes to unpeg the basic wage. Irrespective of the merits or otherwise of that proposal, the unpegging of the basic wage in New South Wales could destroy the purchasing power of pensions. Furthermore, the New South Wales Government has increased hospital charges, as well as charges for freight and electricity. Let us consider what will be the impact of increased freight charges. New South Wales has the doubtful distinction of imposing the highest freight charges in Australia. These charges affect all sections of the community. For instance, the housewives in country districts will have to pay more for food and all other requirements. The primary producers will have to become more efficient in ord.er to be able to compete on the world’s markets. The increased freight charges are like a smack on the chin for the primary producer, because they increase the cost of the materials that he needs on his property and they reduce the return from the products that he sends to market. The Tariff Board, in its report for the financial year 1953-54, pointed out that electricity charges in New South Wales were more than three times as great as were electricity charges in the United States of America and twice as great as were those in the United Kingdom, and stated that Australian manufacturers were labouring under great difficulty as a result of these high charges.
I should like to mention the vital problem of decentralization. It is a national problem that all governments are only too willing to push aside, and it is equally as vital in peace-time as it is in war. I prefer to think of decentralization as the stimulation of inland industries, which is a term more appropriate to Australian conditions. As the representative in this chamber of a country electorate, I welcome inland industries. Although their immediate effect might be to cause a shortage of labour for the man on the land, their ultimate effect will be to assist him, because facilities and amenities will be taken to the country instead of only to the city. It is only by developing country centres with a population of 20,000 persons or more that one can hope to achieve high living standards and to provide amenities in the country. Rura centres based on industry and rural activities can provide a balanced community with a wide range of interests. I am. sure most Australians prefer to live and work in country areas because the country permits happier social and working conditions and happier conditions of living generally. A city worker spends an average of one and a half hours a day travelling to and from work; so that in every full week he spends one whole day in travelling. Such problems are not encountered in the country. We all know only too well the tremendous traffic problems that exist in the large cities. No amount of money can solve the traffic problems of Sydney, for instance, where traffic bottlenecks are tremendously restricting. In that city, transport is almost at a standstill. One has only to see the lines of lorries waiting for days at a time to take loading from the wharfs to be aware of this fact. In the country, the solution of these problems can be properly planned. About the perimeter of Sydney is an impenetrable jungle of industries which have sprung up haphazardly without thought for the problems of distribution and transport or for labour requirements. Such problems can be prevented in the country by proper planning.
As an example of decentralization and of inland industry I shall mention one of the largest and most successful inland industries in Australia - the Emmco enterprise at. Orange, which, is well known to many honorable members. That organization was developed as a result of the imagination, courage and enterprise of a gentleman named J. I. Carroll to such a degree that it now employs 1,500 men. As a result of the establishment of this firm, the rural town of Orange has developed rapidly into a rural city. What are the benefits that the city has gained from this enterprise? There is less industrial unrest. Employer and employee get on better with one another. The Emmco establishment at Orange means something to every one in that city. Et does not mean something only to the Emmco employees, and its importance to every one has a considerable effect in bringing about harmonious relations between employer and employee generally. Sporting and social activities are much greater in the manufacturing establishments in the country than in manufacturing companies in the city. There are many attractions for industries in the country. They can attract and hold skilled executives and employees and can produce products that are the equal of any in Australia. Inland industries play an important role, also, in inducing immigrants to go to country areas. The problem of getting them to go to the country is a big one. One quarter of Emmco’s total work force is employed at Orange.
Honorable members are aware of many centres in country electorates where decentralization by the establishment of inland industries would be highly successful and would do much to reduce the great dangers of atomic warfare and to adjust the top-heavy concentration of population in Sydney and Melbourne. The atomic age has produced the greatest stimulant of inland industry that we have known. Previously, we have not been able to construct power stations where we want them. In the past, most cities have been built adjacent to coal fields or fine harbours, but atomic power will enable us to establish atomic power stations where we want them. We should learn from the mistakes of older industrial countries. We are only a young industrial country and we may have the great benefit of learning from the mistakes of other nations.
We may say to ourselves, “ This talk of decentralization is all very well. How can it be encouraged?” Two important factors are transport and housing. The Australian Government has already made generous and substantial financial contributions to the State governments for housing, for instance. What further help can be given to encourage people to build homes in the country? They should be given direct encouragement to construct homes more than 100 miles from the large cities. How can this be done? It can be done by the introduction of special interest rates or credit facilities, or by a combination of the two. We might well adopt a practice of the United Kingdom and other countries under which a man who borrows money to finance the construction of a home is allowed as a deduction for income tax purposes the interest that he has paid. There is no reason that this should not be done in Australia in respect of homes constructed more than 100 miles from cities, in order to establish substantial communities in country areas. Housing is a great and urgent social need, and whatever plans we have for developing this country, we must have homes. Encouragement of the sort that I have suggested would greatly help. We should also examine the advisability of granting initial depreciation allowances to industries in the country so that they may get on their feet. They should be given generous initial depreciation allowances for between five and ten years so that they may be able to establish themselves soundly and not be at a disadvantage compared with city industries. We might do well also to examine the sales tax and to give preferential sales tax treatment to country industries. Rural enterprises should be given all possible encouragement in the interests of our defence and development programmes.
Australia’s transport system has been discussed many times during this debate. It is in every one’s mind. Let us face the facts about transport. At present we have in Australia not one road that is a highway by overseas standards. Certain lengths of road are fairly good, but Australian roads generally were never constructed to carry the present volume of traffic and heavy modern vehicles at present speeds. The existing roads arc not only dangerous, but also hopelessly inadequate. For defence reasons alone, it is essential to have proper highways throughout the country. All other countries look to their roads as part of their defence system. Should we be threatened with atomic warfare, we must have highways for the movement of defence material and troops. We should be in a hopeless position in time of war if we depended on our existing so-called highways. We shall need to make heroic efforts to prevent our roads from becoming worse during the nextfew years, because the volume of traffic, “ especially of trucks and heavy transport, will increase substantially.
Why cannot we get better highways? There is always the constitutional problem. It rather haunts us the whole time. The responsibility of the Commonwealth, whatever party is in office, for the construction of roads is limited to territorial roads and to the construction, maintenance and repair of strategic roads under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1954. Those roads comprise only a very small proportion of our highways. One might say that the main roads system is the responsibility of the States, but that does not get us over the problem. I suggest that we should raise an overseas loan, a condition of which should be that the country in which the loan is raised should send us material and man-power to do the job of constructing highways of an international standard. There are large construction firms which undertake this work in Italy, France, the United States of America, and many other countries. I understand that these countries would subscribe to such a loan and would send to Australia the man-power and materials necessary to improve our highways to the proper standard. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority employs such contractors, not in road making, but in other works, with great success. The same principle should be applied to highway construction.
It has been suggested that, if such a procedure were adopted, we should have toll roads such as are used in America; but I believe that toll roads are only a worthwhile proposition provided there is a large flow of traffic, as in the United States of America. If toll roads were imposed on the Australian motoring public, comparatively few Australians who were using a particular road would subsidize it directly, whereas the cost of all roads is now subscribed to by all motorists. The problem then arises as to how we should finance improved roads. Over the last two financial years, the defence vote has shown a surplus for many good reasons. We have been unable to spend the entire defence vote. Surely here is a means of using our full defence allocation for a very proper purpose. We could use the surplus money on the repayment of an overseas loan, and the interest charges. Road construction does not require inflationary expenditure. By using an overseas loan, by using overseas material, man-power and machinery, we would not impose a strain on the Australian economic structure. Quite rightly, the Government wishes to avoid any such strain on the Australian economy.
The main materials required for highway building are machinery, steel, bitumen and cement. Machinery and steel could be imported into this country under the loan agreement. Bitumen is in much better supply now that great oil distilleries are working in this country. I understand that bitumen is fairly freely available. It is doubtful whether road building authorities, even if we did increase their allocation of money, would be able to spend it effectively. Consequently, we must bring into this country, not only the know-how but also the wherewithal to build road3.
What are some of the advantages of good highways? First of all, “stop and go “ driving is very expensive. That could be done away with. Secondly, truck and car operating costs could be greatly reduced. Heavy transport is becoming a part of our national economy. It is no use telling the people that they must use the railways or ships. Heavy transport has become a part of our economy, and it is here to stay. Good highways would enable an enormous saving to btmade in the cost of heavy transport, because it would reduce expenditure on tyres and fuel. The Hume Highway alone has one of the highest accident rate* of any highway in the world, because it is not fit for high speeds and it is not fit for heavy traffic. By having better highways, we could reduce the accident rate and insurance premiums. Good defence measures must go hand-in-hand with good highways. If we leave the responsibility for rebuilding interstate highway systems to the States, which is where we have left it till the moment, no progress will be made.
– Unless the States are given the money to do the work.
– Even so, the work is beyond their capacity, because they have too much on their plates as it is. They have to go ahead with other work. If it is left to them, the job will not be done at all. I ask the Government to approach the problem of roads with boldness and imagination. We are on the verge of tremendous development which needs a bold policy. We must be prepared to throw overboard our old ideas. We can no longer allow these national problems to drift, and say that they are the responsibility of the States. We must meet them more imaginatively and more forcefully. A closer contact is required between State and Federal governments in order to overcome these national problems.
.- I listened with great attention to the speech by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse), because much that he stated was very constructive. But I listened with far greater attention to the budget speech which was recently made by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden). I followed his remarks with more’ than usual interest. He unfolded a story to the nation and to honorable members which has since been accurately described as negative, uninspiring and certainly unprofitable. Frankly, I admit that no budget is quite as bad as its opponents would suggest; nor is this one as good as honorable members opposite have half-heartedly claimed.
The budget is notable for several features - some good, some bad, and some indifferent. Briefly, it suggests that the Government will have a surplus of revenue over expenditure of approximately £48,000,000, but only because the Treasurer will collect in taxation a sum unprecedented in the history of Australia. Notwithstanding all the boasts that have been made by honorable members opposite regarding the reductions in taxation that have been made in the last five years, the fact remains that the Treasurer will, in this financial year, collect more by way of taxation than any of his predecessors. Notwithstanding too, the clear undertaking of the Treasurer to remit taxes, he proposes to collect an amount in the current year of £98S,500,000, thus exceeding the record of every previous administration, and exceeding even his own peak achievement in the horror budget in 1951.
The most striking statement in recent weeks has been that which disclosed the result of budgetary planning for the last financial year, which indicated an aggregate surplus varying from £40,000,000 to £70,000,000. It is true that there seems to have been some difference of opinion between Ministers about the amount actually involved. Apparently, in the light of earlier statements, a surplus was proving somewhat of an embarrassment to the Government. It is interesting also to recall that when the Estimates for 1954-55 were drawn up, the Commonwealth and the States were at variance over payments to the States, and the amount finally decided upon under that heading in last year’s budget. It is also striking to recall the statements that were made by honorable members who now constitute the parties in office on the subject of payments to the States when those honorable members were in opposition in 1949, and were endeavouring to gain control of the treasury benches regardless of cost. I recall one extremely interesting newspaper advertisement published at that time, which described the last Chifley budget, introduced in 1949, and which provided for an expenditure of £471,000,000, as “astronomical”. The advertisements of the anti-Labour parties labelled that budget as a socialist plot and as evidence of socialist wastefulness and extravagance. This particular advertisement, in keeping with all other advertisements, issued at that time by the Liberal party, went on to give an unequivocal promise that taxation in all its forms would be substantially reduced. The fact is, however, that in the period of almost six years of this Government’s administration, taxation in all its forms has been doubled. Yet the burden of taxation on the people was a favourite subject of honorable members who are now in office when they were criticizing the Chifley Administration in 1949. The advertisement which I have mentioned also said, in effect, that Mr. Chifley was able to take an amount of no less than £61 a head in indirect taxes. I heard an honorable member on this side of the committee compare figures relating to indirect taxes collected under the Chifley Administration with the amounts which the Treasurer indicated in his budget papers are expected to be derived from that source in this financial year. I leave the committee to form its own judgment on those figures. When honorable members have done so they will agree that, as I have already stated, indirect taxation, indeed taxation in all its forms, has more than doubled since the Government assumed office less than six years ago.
Whether unavoidable or not, this budget is a violation of every promise made by honorable members opposite when they were in opposition. Personally, I regard the budget as being notable because, whilst it urges, as indicated in the Treasurer’s budget speech, a curtailing of expenditure on the part of private individuals and industry, it makes no attempt to give a lead in this direction. On the contrary, the estimated expenditure for every department in the current year is higher than the estimated expenditure for the corresponding departments last financial year. Unfortunately also, there are already signs of substantially reduced prices for our export goods in overseas markets, the most significant being the decline in wool prices. I doubt very much whether the Treasurer has noted these facts. If he has done so, he has dismissed them as being of little or no consequence. I remind him, however, that a decline in wool prices preceded the great economic depression of the 1930’s.
The budget also rejects prices control, even although it is generally conceded that such control has an important influence in limiting excessive profit margins, and undoubtedly has farreaching effects in maintaining economic stability for those who are compelled to live or. fixed incomes, as well as those in the lower income groups. I heard one honorable member on the Government side of the chamber indicate a few nights ago that there was undoubted prosperity for every one in the community to-day. Let me examine the truth or otherwise of that statement for a few moments. I point out that there may be prosperity for some sections of the community, but I remind the Government and the people of Australia that the plight of pensioners, despite the increase of pensions promised in the budget, is recognized by everybody who has given some consideration to their problems during the last two or three years, to be desperate. I remind the committee that only recently, because of the actions of this Government in removing the subsidy from butter, the return to the producer has been reduced by 6d. per lb. whilst the price to the consumer, which varies in the different States, has been increased. Again, I remind honorable members that only last Monday, it was indicated to the nation that because of the Government’s actions in respect of the Tea Importation Board the price of tea to the consumers will be increased. I do not have to remind honorable members that increases in the prices of these commodities affect everybody in the community, but have a particularly heavy effect on people in the lower income groups, who have to suffer because of the actions of the Government. For that reason, the increases of pensions and repatriation allowances indicated in the budget, although inadequate, will undoubtedly be welcomed by the recipients.
I turn now to expenditure on national development which, according to the Treasurer’s statement, is estimated at £220,000,000 this financial year. I suggest that, in the light of experience, that amount will be insufficient to meet current demands. ‘Obviously the result will be, as in the past, that the States will have to do something about increasing their revenue, with the inevitable outcome that they will have to increase rail fares, freight charges and charges for other public utilities, thereby increasing the cost of living and imposing greater hardships on the community generally. While the Treasurer is telling the States that he is unable to assist them to any great degree, he is making practically no effort to curb the inflationary trend for which the Government is directly responsible, and which, of course, can result only in reduced expenditure by the States on such public services as schools, education generally, hospitals, and most forms of transport. I am most concerned with the effect of the Government’s actions on education. Only recently I received a letter from the Tasmanian State School Teachers Federation asking me to approach the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in this regard, because schoolteachers in Tasmania realize that the reduced loan funds available to the State will inevitably lead to reduced expenditure on such essential State activities as education. I know that the Tasmanian Ministry of Education had indicated that in this financial year it was prepared to erect two new high schools as well as a number of primary schools, the need for which is evident. The Monthly Review of Business Statistics contains an item headed “ Population and Vital Statistics in Tasmania “, which indicates that the population of Tasmania in 1941 was 242,135. By March, 1955, it had risen to 314,477. I have no doubt that immigration was largely responsible for the increase, which is something that we all applaud. But an increase of population places additional responsibility upon the State. It can be assumed that of that increase of just under 100,000 people in Tasmania in less than fourteen years, 30 per cent, would be children. It is obvious that such a rapid rate of increase places an undue strain upon a State education system, and that is what has happened in Tasmania.
I stated a moment ago that it was the policy of the State Government to construct two additional high schools and three additional primary schools in Launceston, all of which were urgently needed because of the increase of population. However, the State Government, having received some indication from this Government of the loan funds that it will receive during this financial year, has announced that one of the proposed high schools will not be built, and that the erection of the primary schools might also be affected. I agree with the opinion of the Tasmanian State School Teachers Federation that the time has arrived when the Commonwealth should give greater recognition to education generally. I understand that it is possible under existing conditions for the Australian National University to be allocated in one financial year a sum which is greater than the whole of the past expenditure of the University of Tasmania. I suggest that that state of affairs must not be allowed to continue, and that the Tasmanian State School Teachers Federation has made a great point in stating, as I have already pointed out, that this Government must give greater recognition to education generally and must assist the State governments financially in their education programmes. The Prime Minister has stated that the Australian Government cannot constitutionally enter into the field of education in the States, but I suggest that it should be possible for the Commonwealth to indicate to the .States that a certain portion of the loan moneys is being made available for the provision of educational facilities. The Government should give some consideration to my suggestion.
Since the Australian Labour party assumed office in Tasmania 21 years ago, a lot has been done for the Tasmanian education system. I well remember that when the Labour party was elected to office in Tasmania at that time, educational facilities in that State were at a very low ebb. Prior to that time, the payment of fee3 by high school students had been instituted, but that state of affairs was not tolerated for more than three days after the Labour party replaced the then Nationalist Government. Like most other political parties of that colour, the Nationalist party in Tasmania has since changed its name to the Liberal party. When Labour assumed office, it immediately proceeded to build new schools to give a greater incentive to the students. It instituted a system of area schools for children who were living in the country, and also provided modern schools for those children who were not seeking a professional course. The Tasmanian Labour Government has increased the number of high schools, and it has done a lot generally to assist education in that State. But we have reached the stage where, because of the financial policy of this Government, the States have been obliged to reduce essential expenditure on education.
I now wish to deal with that section of the budget which sets out the estimated defence expenditure for this financial year. This has reached the staggering total of £190,000,000. I am well aware that, only recently, responsible Ministers, particularly the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who is sitting at the table, suggested that Australia would soon be involved in a third world war. In doing so, they were attempting to explain away our heavy taxation. The international situation has improved materially, and, regardless of the wish of this Government or any other government, I believe that the peoples of the world desire to have a reasonable and just peace, and .that it is the desire of the people of Australia that the Federal Government should pursue that course. We have learned only too well from the lessons of the past that the piling of arms inevitably produces the war that it is intended to avert. I do not suggest that we should immediately curtail reasonable and normal precautions, but the fact remains that defence expenditure has risen progressively over the past five years. Since this Government assumed office nearly six years ago, more than £1,000,000,000 has been expended, on defence, but I regret to say that it has very little to show for that expenditure.
As I have indicated, for this financial year the proposed expenditure is £190,000,000, which is slightly more than the sum allocated last year. That is a tremendous sum of money for a nation so small in numbers as we are to expend on defence in any one financial year. War m all its forms can inflict untold misery on the peoples of the world, yet whilst most governments and, unfortunately, most political parties that are animated by a fear of what might happen to them, are prepared to devote enormous sums of money to this purpose, some of them behave in a very much different manner in relation to the fundamental principles of basic justice as they apply to the elimination of the social disorders that abound in every community. Improved social conditions and a high economic order, established on the basis of social justice for all citizens, are essential considerations in effective preparation for national defence. Surely we have learned from the last great conflict that we must bc as independent of external supplies as it is possible to be. Weapons now become obsolete much more rapidly than they did in the past. They have to be replaced and this is contingent upon the existence of the means of their production. Greater industrial organization than that which now exists is required, and aerodromes and other air force facilities are urgently needed. It is generally conceded that in Australia the Air Force is almost non-existent. Oil storage and a long line of land bases for replacement and maintenance, as well as a national survey of existing industries so that we can have at least an approximate knowledge of their defence potential, are further considerations which should receive the attention of this Government. Surely honorable members on this side can be pardoned for questioning the activities of the Government in this respect. All the major defence projects which are in existence in Australia to-day were instituted by the Curtin Government or the Chifley Government. Those governments provided the naval dockyards in Sydney and pioneered the Australian shipbuilding industry. A Labour administration was responsible for aircraft production in Australia.
To-day expenditure on defence has reached gigantic proportions, but I regret there is very little to show for it. I have no doubt that if we were attacked, we should be in exactly the same position as we were in 1939, when, as many honorable members on this side well remember, equipment for any of the services could not be obtained. That probably explains why I spent the first three or four months of my service overseas diligently training as an artillery man with the use of a form which normally provided seating accommodation for four or more persons.
Let me illustrate what I have just said, confining my remarks to the position in Tasmania, although I have no doubt that the position in other States is similar. As already indicated, our Air Force is non-existent there. On the admission of the Minister for Air (Mr. Townley), the Royal Australian Air Force in Tasmania consists of two permanent Royal Australian Air Force officers and twelve other ranks. Despite repeated approaches by responsible people to the Minister on this subject, the Government’s only action so far has been to close down an aerodrome at Low Head in northern Tasmania, which was used by trainee pilots during the last war. It is true that some good work is being done by aero clubs in both the north and the south of the island, but surely we cannot expect aero clubs to provide the basis for the future air defence of Australia.
So far as the senior service is concerned, a basis for future organization does exist. A naval depot is located at Hobart, and apparently it is quite active. There have always been young men in Tasmania prepared to devote a greatdeal of their time to the Army in peace as well as in war. That position still applies. Together with those engaged in full-time training, the nucleus of army personnel constituting the Army Command is quite good. But, once again, that is where it ends. Fixed defences, anti-aircraft defences and mechanization on modern lines do not exist.
I reiterate that consideration must be given to the basis of the future organization of the Royal Australian Air Force in Tasmania, or at least to the extent to which it can be developed on Citizen Air Force lines. I make no claim to be an expert on strategy, but I have sufficient knowledge of the events which took place during the continuation of “World War I. to know that Australia’s first line of defence must be an efficient and modern air force, equipped on up-to-date lines. But, on the Minister’s own admission, the Air Force in Tasmania consists of two Royal Australian Air Force officers and twelve other ranks. The only Air Force units in Tasmania are a squadron of the Air Training Corps, which I concede is doing quite a good job, and a unit of the Tasmanian University Squadron.
I raised this matter with the Minister and suggested that consideration be given to the establishment of a Royal Australian Air Force unit in Tasmania or, failing that, to development of the Citizen Air Force. I received a reply from the
Minister. Time will not- permit me to read it, but, briefly, the Minister suggested that the establishment of a unit of the Royal Australian Air Force in Tasmania would involve the Commonwealth in an initial expenditure of £2,000,000 and an additional expenditure of £500,000 a year. In other words, the Minister said that the expenditure in Tasmania of .7 per cent, of the current financial expenditure on defence would be neither justified nor desirable.
The Minister also suggested in his reply to me that the threat to Tasmania was low. I suggest that for the Minister to say that the threat to Tasmania is low is probably deceptive, and certainly open to debate. In my opinion, the position of Tasmania is far less secure than that of the mainland of Australia generally. Tasmania offers a first-class base for future operations for an attack on the mainland. It has all the facilities that are required to launch a large-scale offensive operation. There are excellent deep-water ports in the north and the south of the island. Landing strips are available which were there before the Minister assumed his present office. Hydro-electric power has been developed to a great degree, and the island has a very high industrial potential. I say that the threat to Tasmania is not, as the Minister suggests, low.
I have briefly traversed the defence expenditure of the present Government. I believe I have said enough to indicate to honorable members that the Government has merely set out to expend £190,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money, without giving any real consideration to how it could or should be spent in the best interests of the nation. That is merely an echo of its other policies.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I hope that I was wrong in gaining the impression from the speech of the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) that he was endeavouring to wring some political profit from the hard necessities of defence. I do not think there is anybody in this chamber who would countenance that kind of approach.
I can only suppose that his treatment of the subject was clue rather to ignorance and wishful thinking than to any unworthy motive.
I am glad that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has intimated that he intends to give honorable members an opportunity in the near future to debate the international situation, because that makes it unnecessary, and indeed undesirable from many points of view, to bring into the budget debate something that is the main subject of political affairs in Australia and other countries.
Before I deal with the main economic trends shown in the budget, may I make one other observation? I regret very much that the Government has seen fit to include in the Estimates only a token allocation for civil defence, which I still believe to be of vital importance. With great regret, I shall find myself unable to support the defence estimates when they come forward, solely for the reason of that omission. I hope that, in due course, when the Estimates are before the Parliament, I shall have an opportunity to make my position clearer.
Let me come to the general structure of the budget, which is framed to meet the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves and in which some steadying influence is well justified or, as some would even say, overdue. When one analyses the difficulties with which we are at present faced, I think one finds three related problems in regard to them. The first is that the savings rate in the community is inadequate to sustain the capital expenditure which is on all counts desired. The second is the recurring difficulty, the chronic difficulty, with overseas funds and the balance of payments. The third problem is that of rising internal costs, which both reduce our ability to compete on the external market and bring the dangers and stresses of inflation here home to our people in Australia. These three problems, inadequate savings, difficulties with the balance of payments, and rising internal costs, are obviously related but are capable of being analysed separately.
Let me deal first with the effect of the inadequacy of savings, as they are shown in the White Paper on National Income. and Expenditure, which the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has prepared tus. Let us look at the figures for the last three years, 1952-53, 1953-54, and 1954-55. Personal savings in those three years were £474,000,000, £341,000,000, and £261,000,000 respectively. That is to say that, in those three years, they have fallen from 13 per cent, of the national income to something like 5 per cent. During that same time, personal outlay on goods and services other than rent has risen by something like 9 per cent., while prices have risen by only about 1.5 per cent.; in fact, in real terms of goods and services, personal expenditure has risen. So, it can be seen that during that time the proportion of national income expended has risen, and the proportion saved has fallen. That saving? rate is obviously inadequate to sustain the personal capital expenditure which our people desire and which we all wa.ni them to have. For example, in 1952-53 the amount spent on the two items, dwelling houses and motor cars, was £267,000,000, or 55 per cent, of personal savings. Last year it rose to £377.000,000, or 145 per cent, of personal savings. That is to say that, for houses and motor cars alone - very far from the whole range of personal investment - we spent something like 45 per cent, more than our total savings. This is obviously a cause of unbalance in the economy. It must contribute to current instability, and it must throw us more and more upon reliance on overseas investment.
That brings me to the second problem related to our balance of payments and the international reserves, the movement of which reflects changes in the balance of payments. At the 30th June, 1955, our overseas reserves were £428,000,000. We do not know what their movements have been since that date, since only that component of them which is reflected in the Commonwealth Bank balance-sheets has been published, but looking at those figures and using them as an index, it would seem clear that there has been, since that date, a substantial fall. But that is not the true measure of the picture, because last year our current balance of payments showed a deficit of £256,000,000, which was made up of £114,000,000 in overseas investment flowing towards Australia, and the balance of £142,000,000 by a fall in our international liquid reserves. Last year, tuen, we were down £256,000,000, but our liquid reserves fell by only £142,000,000, because of the inflow of the balancing figure of £114,000,000 of overseas capital.
Now let us look at the position as we see it for the coming year. One can speak only in the roundest and most general terms, because many things, and particularly the dominating factor of wool prices, are still shrouded in the mystery of the future. The price for our wool, however, is down, the market for our wheat is uncertain, and our other export industries, as they face fiercer international competition and the burden of our rising internal costs, are finding it more difficult to operate on the external market. The major factor, of course, must be the uncertainty of the future wool price, but it would be by no means unreasonable to consider that our export income could fall by £100,000,000 or more this year as compared with last year. As against that, undoubtedly imports will be down too. As the committee knows, the Government has taken steps to reduce the volume of imports flowing into Australia by the imposition of quotas and other means, but that restriction has not yet proved effective in relation to current figures. The imports for July and August, £61,000,000 and £71,000,000 respectively, are, of course, affected by the British shipping strike and are, perhaps, not truly indicative. No doubt the level will fall as times goes on, but I remind the committee that since the payment for imports is usually to some extent in retard, there is a three or four months lag in balances and the restrictions which are effective in the last three months of the current financial year are unlikely to be reflected in the figures of actual cash balances as existing at the 30th June next. This is a technical . point, but I think it is of some significance. There is a lag between the fall in import figures and the fall in the trend of our cash balances which occurs as a result of that, but I think that one could, with reason, hope that the fall in our outlay on imports this year would at least balance the fall in exports, and perhaps exceed it. No doubt as a result of the visit abroad of the Treasurer and the other steps that the Government is taking, public investment in Australia, which last year amounted to about £16,000,000, will this year amount to a much more substantial figure. I return to the balancing figure of private investment. Last year £98,000,000 flowed into Australia and added to our overseas balances. One of the troubles about this private investment figure is that it is not necessarily stable. It may, and undoubtedly does, include a certain amount of what is known as “ hot money “ and, by reason of the practice of paying for some things in retard and some in advance it is likely to become negative in a year in which imports themselves fall suddenly. Let us look, for example, at the figures for 1951 and 1952. In 951-52, we had a net positive inflow of £136,000,000. In 1952-53, on the contrary, we had a negative outflow of £36,000,000. So, the figure does have a habit of reversing its sign under certain circumstances. It will be by no means impossible to find that last year’s private capital inflow of £98,000,000 will not be sustained or, perhaps, will even be replaced by a negative figure. These are not pleasant things for any government to face, but this Government has faced them and is taking the requisite action. That is the second problem which I am trying to put before the House.
The third problem is that of rising internal costs. Obviously, it is related to undersaving, because undersaving means that there is an effective demand for more goods than the economy produces, and that, therefore, the greater amount of money chases the lesser amount of goods. It is related also to import restrictions, because these obviously mean rising local costs. That is inescapable as the cheaper imported article is removed from the Australian market. The forces involved are massive. They have a great inertia and take some time to reverse. I put these problems and ask what should be done in regard to them. It is necessary to have some steadying influence. The budget is quite right in applying that influence, and everybody in this chamber and in the country should support it. But it is not enough merely to employ a negative and steadying influence.
We apply that in order to bring the position under control and to give us an opportunity to push forward with positive policies which will reduce the bad features of the current situation. I do not believe that any negative policy by itself is enough, or by itself can satisfy the country. Indeed, it would not be. a good thing if it did so. It is, of course, not fair at all to blame the Treasurer or the budget for not incorporating all these positive policies. The budget is meant to make room in which these positive policies may later be applied. I want to look forward not to what is in the budget so much as to what must flow out of it, and what will be made possible by the line which it has taken.
I shall suggest four things to the committee. First, we must think in terms of greater savings. Secondly, we must think in terms of a more practical treatment of overseas investment. Thirdly, we must look to our export industries and try to foster by positive means those that can add to our export income and by so doing reduce our dependence upon the few industries which now contribute to it. Fourthly, we have to think in terms of cutting costs - not merely money costs, but real costs - so as to make possible a higher standard of living in the community. That is what the cutting of costs really means. It is something that will make possible the raising of the living standards of every Australian in every group. My time is limited and obviously I can approach each of these four problems in only the sketchiest and most inadequate fashion.
Let us take first the question of increasing savings. I believe that one of the great reasons why personal savings have dropped so much is the operation of the means test in our social services. This is not something that has had an immediate effect. It is one of the massive forces, of great inertia, that gather and gain their effects over a generation. I believe that, because of it, the habit of personal saving has been reduced, and that from it we have derived that nasty little diminution in personal savings that has produced the figures which I cited a few moments ago. I do not believe that it is enough just to abolish the means test. That is out of the question, and would do more harm than good. Rather, the time has come for a major overhaul of the whole of our social services structure so that, with more equity, it can give more benefit to those who need it most without penalizing those who, by their thrift, have contributed to what should be a more secure old age. I believe that those two objectives can be attained together, but not simply by patching here and patching there the old social services system which, though it may have served us in the past, has, I think, now rather tended to outlive its usefulness. I know that in this the Government has done an excellent administrative job. It has removed many anomalies. It has, I think, done all that it was possible to do short of a major overhaul; but I believe that the time for a major overhaul - going beyond mere tinkering - has now come, and I believe that this can be done in a way that will give general satisfaction to pensioners and others effected, without involving the Treasury in ruinous expense.
I believe also that more attention must be given to the housing problem and to the financing of houses. It is, as has been pointed out to me by other people, ridiculous that one can buy a car on time payment but not a house. The money is available for the one but not for the other. That seems to me to be one of the things which may operate against saving, because home-ownership is perhaps thechief and most valid motive for saving. We have to take measures to increase savings throughout the community, certainly at this present moment. Secondly, we have to re-examine the question of overseas investment. Contrary to the general opinion, Australia has not been a big market for overseas investment, when we compare the circumstances existing here with those in the rest of the world. Over the last ten years, and again I quote from the tables, the Government has not only failed to receive net investment, but it has repaid more than it has received. In that period, the deficit in government investment has been £56,000,000. As against that, there has been private investment to a total of approximately £828,000,000. In round figures, that leaves about £770,000,000 of overseas investment. That sounds a lot of money over ten years, but i3 it a lot?
We are taking 1,000,000 immigrants from overseas, and each immigrant requires some thousands of pounds of investment here in housing, roads, and all the other things that go with increased population. To put it at £2,000 a head would be to put it at the very minimum figure. Surely, for 1,000,000 immigrants, we should have been able to look for not £770,000,000 but £2,000,000,000 of investment to provide them with the capital amenities which they need here, and which, by their presence here, they do not need in the countries’ from which they came. With immigrants, there should be capital coming in.
The second point I make is that all the government transactions are on debenture account. That- is,, they are in terms of money and most, but not all, private transactions are on equity account. Tha/t is to say, they are in terms of ownership of real things. I feel, on the whole, that it is better that we should be concentrating on the debenture rather than the equity account. I shall make a couple of exceptions to this rule in a moment, but the equity accounts, when they come here, do so because of their anticipation that the effective rate of return will be higher than that obtainable on investments overseas. Therefore, at least in the expectation of the investor, they are more costly accounts for us to hold in terms of overseas remittances.
Before the war, we remitted overseas about £28,000,000 a year to pay interest on our debenture government account, and about £13,000,000 on our equity account.. That is. to- say,- our government account equalled; something over twice our equity account in terms of actual commitments. To-day, the figures are quite altered.. The £28,000,000 for government accounts has sunk to £21,000,000 while the £13,000,000 for equity accounts has risen to £59,000,000. I put it that we should be thinking more in terms of debenture account than in terms, of equity account.
Of course, that is not to say that money should not be made available for private industry because debenture raising overseas, goes to the banking system here - the liquidity and the cash source to make adVances to- Australians and to put money into’ the- hands- of Australian industry for its own expansion. I believe that we should, subject to one or two reservations, be doing this, and be using our power overseas to raise on debenture account in order to remove a credit stringency here and to give to Australian industry and to Australians the power to expand not simply public utilities and government spending, but resources to be put into the hands of private industry and private people in Australia.
There are means by which this can be done. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) mentioned a few of them earlier to-day, but I believe for example - and this is something that I know from my own personal experience - that such institutions as the ExportImport Bank in America would be able to give us a great deal of the resources we need. Although we have obtained very excellent treatment from the International Bank, I am by no means convinced that that is the only, or, indeed, the most important source that lies open to us. From what I saw overseas, I feel that we can do better if the whole matter is more effectively handled.
I should have liked to discuss many more details with regard to the encouragement of our export trade. Our dependence upon wool is most unfortunate. Before the war, wool accounted for something like one-third of our exports. Of recent years, it has been about one-half. We are’ tending to become a single-crop economy. We should be doing more to encourage exports in other fields, such as dairy products, meat for the East, and minerals. I believe that the Government has a great, opportunity in respect of the positive encouragement of the mineral industry.
As to costs, I believe that the transport situation must be more realistically faced. You will’ forgive me, Mr. Temporary Chairman, if, at this moment, I remind the committee of what we owe to the late Senator McLeay and point out how much we regret that some of the things that he put in hand were not brought to accomplishment during his lifetime. His lead in the dieselization of the East-West Railway, and what he did towards having preliminary arrangements made for the standardization of Australian trunk lines, entitle him to a permanent place in our history. We regret that he did not live to see these works brought to fruition.
There are many aspects of this that I could give to the committee if I had time, but I see that I have not.You, Mr. Temporary Chairman, will inform me in a moment that my time has expired. What I do want to say, in conclusion, is that the Treasurer is right to incorporate, in the budget, a steadying principle. But that is not enough. After the budget, we must go forward with courage, and we must welcome the essential change. Australia is still a young country, and the Liberal party has within it the capacity to give the youthful lead which is required. The negative is not enough. The positive mustbe invoked. We do not want to ignore our difficulties, and I have tried not to ignore them. But do not let them discourage us. Do not let us refuse to face them, and do not let us fail to realize that worse difficulties have been faced, and overcome, and that the opportunity now is greater than ever before. The watchword of members on this side of the chamber is not “ Stand Still, Australia” but “Advance Australia!” and, I hope, it is the watchword of at least a few honorable members on the opposite side, too.
.- I rise to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) said that the negative approach is not enough. That is quite true, but, unfortunatey, this budget appears to be more a negative approach than anything else to the problems that are facing us at the present time. It is really a budget of gloom and despair. Honorable members on the other side are trying to cheer themselves up in the hope that they will be able to delude the people of Australia and make them believe that we are going through a period of prosperity, but they warn, “ You know, it is a pretty high price that must be paid to be prosperous, and you will have to perhaps tighten your belts in the very near future “.
For the last few weeks, Ministers, and people in very high places in this nation, have issued warnings of an impending crisis, of a danger facing Australia. Most people in the community, including honorable members on this side, waited with interest to hear the budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in order to find out just what plans the Government had in mind for coping with its problems. The speeches that have been delivered by honorable members opposite have given no indication of the Government’s proposals to arrest the inflationary conditions which the Treasurer has suddenly discovered exist in the community. The right honorable gentleman has blamed the present situation for rising prices, which shows how completely out of touch he is with the ordinary people. Prices have been rising continually, and inflation has developed from a slow movement to a fast gallop since this Government has been in office. Now the Treasurer wakes up all of a sudden, when the horse is galloping furiously down the street, and discovers the existence of this state of affairs. But what does he propose to do to remedy the situation?
– Nothing !
– He has not announced any definite measures to curb inflation, and has apparently thought so little about the problem that he decided to go abroad before the general debate on the budget had concluded. The supporters of the Government have told the people, in effect, “ Things are not going so well as they might be, but everything will be all right if you trust us to handle the situation “. They have not taken the people into their confidence. The Opposition certainly hopes that before many more weeks pass, the people will be given an opportunity to decide which political party has the best programme for Australia’s future development. Honorable members opposite feign apprehension of what might happen, but advance no constructive means to overcome our difficulties. Labour will be delighted to outline its programme to the people at the earliest possible opportunity.
I come now to the subject of housing.
– What is the purpose of all this Johnnie Bay stuff?
– The knight at the table who is interjecting is a better actor than Johnnie Ray will ever be. He has some amazing performances to his credit. I wonder that he has been content to remain a member of this Parliament, because he could have made a name for himself on the stage. Perhaps he will dance again on the 10th December, which is the date that has been tipped for the holding of the next general election. I believe that housing is the most grievous problem that faces the community to-day. Although millions of pounds have been expended on animal husbandry for the purpose of improving our production of cattle and sheep, sufficient attention has not been paid to the housing of the people. It is high time that the Government made adequate provision for the housing of young couples, to whom we look to produce the children who will comprise the future generation.
There has been a serious decrease of the number of youths undertaking apprenticeships in the various trades. This is a direct result of the depression of the ‘thirties, when thousands of young married men were unemployed and compelled to live with their parents because they could not afford separate housing. Consequently, the birth-rate during that period was very low. We are experiencing a somewhat similar situation to-day. As many young married couples are unable to obtain houses, they are forced to live with their parents, or in flats, and this has again caused a fall in the birth-rate. I am confident that the provision of adequate housing would overcome the difficulty. Unless the Government takes action urgently to provide adequate housing, industry twenty years hence will experience another dearth of apprentices such as exists to-day.
– What is the honorable member doing about the matter?
– If Labour had been returned to office, it would have instituted a vigorous housing programme.
– The friends of the Government are too busy building hotels.
– That is so, and many factories are being constructed. The real problem is the housing of the people. Although a great deal of money is already being spent on housing, it is necessary for additional financial provision to be made. I challenge the supporters of the Government to indicate a better way of expending public money than on the housing of the citizens. Finance for home building has been greatly restricted. It is true that persons who are eligible to do so may borrow £2,750 from the War Service Homes Division for home purchase. But of what use is that provision if applicants have to wait almost, two years for the loan? If this Government remains in office much longer, the waiting period for war service homes loans will probably increase to about ten years. The amount of £2,750 would be a great help if sufficient money were made available for all the eligible ex-service men and women to obtain the advance without delay. Civilians who were not members of the forces have a much more difficult task in obtaining financial accommodation. In most instances, the maximum loan that they may obtain is only £1,750. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia will lend them that amount. Until the last week or so the State Savings Bank of South Australia would lend £2,000, but, owing to the restrictive financial policy of this Government, that bank has been forced to reduce the maximum amount to £1,750. These conditions cause great difficulty. You, Mr. Temporary Chairman, are aware of the difficulty that any would-be purchaser would have in obtaining a home for £3,500. More likely, he would have to pay £4,000. I have conservatively adopted the amount of £3,500. If a person were able to buy a home for that amount, and depended on the Commonwealth Bank for financial accommodation, he would have to find £1,750 to make up the purchase price. If the price were £4,000, as it more likely would be, he would need £2,250 of his own. If this Government continues in office much longer, and inflation continues to gallop along at its present rate, it will not be a matter of needing only £2,250. He will need many more thousands of pounds, and the purchase of a home will become a complete impossibility. The restrictive financial policy of this Government causes great hardship to people who are anxious to purchase homes.
– Prosperity is getting right out of hand !
– That is true so far as this Government is concerned. It cannot handle prosperity except to ensure that money flows freely and rapidly increases the bank balances of those engaged in big business and of the vested interests in this country. The Government cares little for wage and salaryearners and gives them little help.
The honorable member for Mackellar deplored the fact that finance is available for the purchase of motor cars and not of homes. I agree with the honorable member, but I point out to him that the wage-earner who buys a car has become sick and tired of waiting for the chance to buy a home. He has wandered from bank to bank and has approached various societies seeking a loan to enable him to purchase a home, but the available financial accommodation is so small, if he has only £400 or £500 of his own, that he can see no hope of obtaining a home. In desperation and in the hope of giving his family some comfort, he takes advantage of hire purchase and buys a car - not because he is so anxious to buy a car, but because this Government has failed in its duty to provide the money needed for the purchase of homes. I agree that something should be done about hire purchase, but I do not consider for one moment that it should be completely done away with. Unfortunately, it is part of our economy. The wage-earner could not exist without hire purchase to-day. He could not buy a washing machine, a refrigerator or furniture. Inflation has made the prices of those household articles rocket so high that hire purchase offers the only means by which the wage-earner can obtain them. The Government should take action to reduce the high interest rates that are charged by hire-purchase finance companies to wage-earners who buy on hire purchase. It should not let the hirepurchase companies exploit the poverty of the wage-earners, which has been caused by this Government.
I should like to mention social services at this stage. I suppose the only thing that the Government can say it has done in this budget is to increase some classes of pensions by 10s. a week. There is nothing else to which it can point as a benefit. That is the only bright spot in the budget, if one can call it a bright spotIncreases of pensions are long overdue. Perhaps the Government, hard as it is, could not any longer stand aside and watch people slowly starving to death, as a large section of the community was doing. I suppose the pension is fairly adequate for persons who have income up to the permissible limit, from either superannuation or other sources, and who own their own homes, but there is not a shadow of doubt that the failure of this Government to give adequate pension increases in earlier budgets has caused a deterioration of the health of pensioners living alone and pensioner married couples who have been forced to pay high rents. The miserly 10s. increase that has now been given to pensioners will certainly be accepted by them gratefully, but they will still be unable to obtain many of the necessaries of life and many foods and comforts that they sorely need in their old age.
You, Mr. Temporary Chairman, mentioned the other night the provision of housing for aged pensioners. I agree with your remarks. If possible, the financial provision for schemes for the housing of aged persons should be increased. The Government and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon) have made a good step forward in subsidizing charitable organizations that build homes for aged people. However, it is not enough. T do not blame the Minister because more is not done. The Treasurer should be more liberal with the money available in the kitty. If even a small proportion of the many millions of pounds that are being wasted were allocated to the Minister for Social Services, perhaps we should have a better and more liberal scheme for the provision of housing for aged people.
Let us consider the list of social services and see what has not been done in this budget. The pensioners have received an increase of pensions of 10s. a week. The allowance for the wife of an invalid pensioner has not been increased by one penny though she must care for her invalid husband and buy all the necessaries required to keep her alive. Inflation hits her as much as it does the pensioner. In the name of justice, why has’ not the Government increased the allowance for the wife of an invalid pensioner? The present allowance of £1 15s. a week, together with the pension, will give a total income of £5 los. a week to buy food and pay rent, Mr. Temporary Chairman, how this Government can state that this is a fair and just budget, I am at a complete loss to know.
I know that the Minister for Social Services is really ashamed of it. But he is one of a team, and as much as he would like to increase the amount of pensions, he has a tough Treasurer and a tough, composite, Liberal party-Australian Country party Government to deal with, and it is not prepared to give more than an extra 10s. to the pensioners.
– The honorable member for Melbourne said that that was all that they needed.
– He would provide an adequate social services programme if he had the chance. More than twelve months ago we proposed a 10s. increase in pensions. We would be happy if the Government would introduce a scheme to pay pensioners the same proportion of the basic wage as was paid to them at the time the Chifley Government left office. That would be’ £4 10s. a week. That amount really would not be enough, but it would give those people some share of the prosperity of which this Government is proud to boast.
What has the Government done in relation to maternity allowances? Not a thing! The Government is not prepared to find the finance that is required to build homes for young people, and it is not prepared to increase maternity allowances. There has been no increase in child endowment. The sooner the Government tackles the problem of looking after the children of this country and providing their parents with the assistance that they are entitled to, the sooner we shall be able to cut down the immigration programme.
What has the Government done about unemployment and sickness benefits? The sick people of the community receive £2 10s. a week. That amount has not been increased by a penny since the Chifley Government left office. But just as this Government cares little that the pensioners of this country have been on the verge of starvation for a long period so it cares nothing for the sick people who are forced to exist on this miserable pittance of £2 10s. a week. What has the Government done about funeral benefits? An amount of £10 has been payable for a long while. The Treasurer talks about inflation. Inflation is hitting the community in all manner of ways, but the Government is doing nothing at all to check inflation. The people of this country, we hope, will have their opportunity soon. Inflation is hitting them; but I warn the Government that the people will hit back at the next election. They will vote Labour, and sweep this miserable Government out of office.
.- In the dying hours of this budget debate, I thought that the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) would put forward a constructive policy on behalf of the Labour party which might be of value to this country in the coming year. Unfortunately, like those who have followed his leader in the Labour party, he spoke only of a policy of gloom and despair, and tried to make out that this country was heading for a depression. All the references we have heard to the word “ depression “ have come from the members of the Labour party. No such references have come from the optimistic members on this side of the House. We are optimistic enough to believe in Australia. The honorable members who support the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) do not believe that there is anything good in this budget, or in Australia. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) led the van. The honorable member for Kingston said that we should not send troops to Malaya in order to defend this country, and that industry is receiving too high profits. That sums up, in toto, the arguments used by members of the Australian Labour party. I want to know what is wrong with the Labour party. There is internal bitterness and personal criticism in the Labour camp, all along the line. One of the difficulties of honorable gentlemen opposite is that they do not like a policy of free enterprise, which is founded on social justice to all. That is the policy of the Government of this country.
– Order ! There is a little too much noise in the chamber, and it must cease.
– We have not heard Opposition members advocating their policy of the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. We have not heard them advocate the nationalization of banking, although we have heard them speak about the conference between the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the representatives of banking institutions. We have not heard them speak about the nationalization of the shipping services, but it seems to me that they would like to nationalize the motor car industry. They would like to wreck the fine industry which the Government has developed in this country. I wonder what is wrong with the official Labour party? Throughout the world, Labour is re-examining its own policy. The Labour party in the United Kingdom is looking for a new road. We are told that a complete re-thinking on socialism in the United Kingdom has begun, even down to the basic meaning of the term in modern life. The following statement is made in an article on this subject : -
The Labour Party’s executive virtually admits that it has reached the end of one particular road; declares, in effect, that its policies are out of date and sees in Labour’s defeat in the May election the sounding of an alarm.
The circumstances are similar to those at the time of the last general election in Australia. The article proceeds -
One of the main causes of that alarm U the realization that Labour was no longer attracting the youth of the country - that for too long much of the party has been living on its old stock of ideas unmodified since the days of the Labour pioneers.
If that is true of the Labour party in the United Kingdom, can we not say it is true of the Labour party in this country? It is still in the Dark Ages as far as its policy is concerned, and, of course, it cannot stand up to the virile policy of the Government.
The budget has been excellently received by the people. I have received no complaints about it; on the contrary, I have heard much praise of it. I doubt very much whether any Labour party representative in this chamber has heard of any objections being taken to it by the people in his electorate. The budget may be termed, justly, the “pensioners’ budget”. Notwithstanding all that the Labour party may say to the contrary, the pensioners are quite satisfied with the actions of the Government to assist them. I suppose for the first time in the history of government in this country no valid protest has been voiced by either civil pensioners or war and service pensioners about the proposed increase of pension rates. So, I say, the ranting of honorable members opposite is outmoded. At a time like this, when lower prices are being received in the world’s markets for our export products, I should have thought that, we would at least have heard suggestions from the Labour party about what should be done to keep Australia prosperous, as the Government intends to keep it. We know, sir, that talk of a depression will not help any government or any people. It certainly will not help Australia. We had an economic depression in the early 1930’s, and I believe that Labour members to-day are thinking wishfully about the possibility of another depression. It is generally believed that they hope a depression is on the way, which will put them back on to the treasury bench. So let us examine the position that obtained under a. Labour government during the last depression, which extended from 1930 to 1932. Labour was in power in that period. Now the Labour party is complaining that the Prime Minister met representatives of the banking institutions of this country in relation to the position of our overseas balances. But what did Labour do in 1930 and 1931 ? It did not consult Australian bankers. Instead, it asked the Bank of England to send Sir Otto Niemeyer to tell it what to do.
– That is not true !
– It is true!
– Of course it is true! When Sir Otto Niemeyer came here the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), who, I believe, was a member of the Labour Government in office at the time, and his colleagues, did exactly as Sir Otto Niemeyer told them to do. They cut all controllable government expenditure by 20 per cent. The honorable member knows how far Labour went-
– The treasury was empty.
– Of course the treasury was empty! That was what Labour did to this country. But, thanks to the present Government, the treasury is not empty to-day.
– That was the time when the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) helped to stab his leader in the back, was it not?
– Exactly ! On that, occasion Labour could no longer rule. It also must not be forgotten that at that time Labour was in power in nearly all the States.
– Notin power, in office.
– Well, in office ifthe honorable member likes to put it, that way, but he cannot get away with it as far as I am concerned. Labour governments were in power in most States at that time, and if the remedies that honorable members opposite have suggested to-day would work, why were they not tried at that time?
In order to earn income overseas,and maintain the solvency of the nation, we rely principally on two main industries, the wool industry and the wheat industry. Our wool exports are the basis of the nation’s financial . stability. Industries such as those that produce wool, wheat, butter, sugar, and the other commodities, the sale of which helps to build up our overseas balances, are most efficient. For instance, we now have the largest number of sheep in Australia- 127,000,000 head - that we have ever had. The fact that 1,272,000,000 lb. of wool was produced in this country last year, an average of 10. 1 lb. a sheep as against the world average of 5.4 lb. a sheep, shows that wo have a magnificent and efficient wool industry. The value of wool in our overseas markets may fall this year from £350,000,000 to £300,000,000. Be that as it may, the Government has recognized that export industries may face a continuing fall in export prices, and it has established and developed other industries for the purpose of maintaining our export income.
– What about wheat?
– Last year 10,500,000 acres of wheat were sown for a production of 166,600,000 bushels. This Government has given a guaranteed price for 100,000,000 bushels of that production.
– At what price?
– What is the cost of production?
– The cost of production is. 12s. 7d. a bushel.
– Order ! The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has many opportunities to speak and has no need to interject now.
– This production will be worth £100,000,000 in export income, an amount which is of considerable importance to us. We have other industries such as the butter and cheese industry which, due to the encouragement given to it by this Government, has a production value of £82,000,000. What were they worth under Labour? Actually under Labour rule, the butter and cheese industry became almost extinct. It was this Government which had to revive and re-establish it, and to-day it has an export value of £26,000,000. But what can one say in a chamber which has in it men like the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) who tried to maintain that the Government had reduced the dairy farmers’ income by 6d. per lb. because it reduced the subsidy on butter, when the most, casual mathematician would find that a reduction of £1,200,000 in subsidy would mean only a halfpenny reduction per lb. of butter fat, commercial butter? This industry is doing its part to aid Australia in the present difficult time. Neither our export industries nor the Government can be blamed for falling prices on the world’s markets. The Government has endeavoured to protect all our exporting industries, not only by making agreements with Great Britain and other countries, but also by guaranteeing a return to the producer for home-consumption sales, based on the cost of production, ft guarantees the cost of production of all butter that is consumed in Australia, a total of 120,000 tons a year, and also of 24,000 tons of butter sold overseas annually. It will be observed that the Government is guaranteeing butter exports equal to 20 per cent, of the home-consumption quota. That is a magnificent gesture on the part of a sympathetic government. We might ask, ‘’ What happened when Labour was in offi.ce ? “ The highest annual subsidy paid by a Labour government to the butter industry was only £6,000,000, as against the annual subsidy of up to £17,000,000 granted by this “Government. Indeed, this Government has paid a total of £100,000,000 in subsidies.
– But what is the value of money to-day?
– Let me tell the honorable member for Brisbane that the primary producers prefer the price they are now receiving to that which, they received when a Labour government was in office. The remark applies also to the workers, because the young workers of this country, like those of Great Britain, are not accepting the socialization policy of the Labour party but are falling in behind a non-Labour government. The dairying industry, like the sugar industry, which is another important industry that this Government has sustained, is contributing greatly towards our export revenue. I am confident that, while this Government remains in office, the Australian economy will remain sound and that the dairy-farmers will be hurt much less than they would be if Labour were in office. I am sure, morever, that this Government will do everything that can be done to help our industries and to sustain the economic life of this country.
I should like to pay tribute to the sympathetic action that the- Government took nearly five years ago to protect the sugar industry. One of its first acta was to ensure that that industry was firmly established. As honorable members know, the Government acted upon the recommendation of a committee which conducted a very searching, inquiry, and its action enabled the industry to proceed with an expansion programme for the production of all the sugar needed in this country and that which the Government had agreed to send to Great Britain. The Government is to be complimented and I pay tribute to it for having accepted, from time to time, the recommendations of committees that have reported on matters affecting our rural industries. A tribute should be paid to the Government also for the manner in which, over the last two or three years, it has endeavoured to build up our overseas markets.
– Especially for wheat?
– It has done more for the wheat industry that the Labour party has ever done.
– What about selling some of the wheat?
– The Government has never yet been so disgraceful in its treatment of the wheat-growers as to sell their wheat at less than the cost of production as the Labour Government did when it sold wheat to New Zealand soon after the war. Let honorable members opposite always remember that. This Government has endeavoured to do everything possible to establish an organization to sell our products on the world’s markets. The allocation of a sum of £250,000 for that purpose indicates that the Government recognizes the fact that our products should, and must, have the best possible publicity, particularly in Great Britain, where the greater portion of our products go. The fact that the Government has helped in the selling of fruit products in particular, and other products that have been sent to Great Britain, has been amply demonstrated. Its policy and its allocations of money are being used to great purpose, but I feel that it will be necessary to make available further moneys to provide a really satisfactory marketing system overseas. However, the allocation of £250,000 is a generous gesture, and the expenditure of that money will demonstrate that, by properly advertising our products, we shall be able to obtain overseas markets.
I believe that the industries should do something to help themselves. The sugar industry has done much: towards helping itself by finding markets overseas. The Government, kas been responsible for two agreements - the Empire Sugar Agreement and the International Sugar Agreement - that have been very helpful to the sugar industry,, but there is much more- that could be done. Even now, this industry has men overseas who are negotiating with Great Britain in relation to the price of sugar for the coming year. For the last two years, the average negotiated price has been £47 4s. 4£d. as against an Australian homeconsumption price of £47 9s. 9d. “When it is remembered that the negotiated price under the Empire Sugar Agreement is based on the cost of production, and that the parties to the agreement include the British West Indies, South Africa, Fiji and Mauritius, it will be noted that Australia is doing a splendid job under white-labour conditions in competition with cheap labour countries. The fact that our workers are able to do that has been recognized by this Government. The very fact that our cost of production is almost the same as that’ of those other countries indicates, as I have stated, that the industry is efficient and doing a great job. The price per lb. paid for sugar by the consuming public in Canada is 10£d., in Eire 8fd., in New Zealand 11¼d., in South Africa 6¼d. and in the United Kingdom 10½d. The price in America is 10d., which is very close to the United Kingdom price, and the Australian price is 9d. Those figures indicate quite clearly that the sugar industry in Australia is doing a remarkable job in competition with overseas countries.
I should now like to refer to the complaints that have emanated from honorable members opposite in regard to General Motors-Holden’s Limited. The Australian Country party, at least, is very pleased to know that that company operates in this country, and that Australia is able to manufacture motor cars. Whatever profits have been made, it must be remembered that this company is able to manufacture motor cars in competition with overseas manufacturers. General Motors-Holden’s Limited employs a large number of people, not only directly but also indirectly, because it farms out the manufacture of many components. It employs 13,822 people in
Australia. Last year, the average wage of all its employees was £9 SI a year, whilst the average wage of the hourly rate employees was £934 a year. Why is the Labour party so much against this organization? It has developed an export trade with New Zealand. As everybody knows, New Zealand is the natural market for our manufactured products. It is pleasing to know that last year 321 Holden cars went to New Zealand for sale in that country. The organization, in a report stated -
Export of Holdens, a possibility long envisaged by Australia, began late in November and aroused nation-wide interest. By the end of the year, 321 Holdens had been exported to New Zealand, where the Australian car has been welcomed with exceptional enthusiasm.
Export has always been part of the plan for manufacture of the Holden in Australia and, although production is still some months behind the Australian demand, GMH believes it is in the national interest to begin and develop exporting.
A firm which is doing that should be encouraged. Why should not we encourage Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited rather than condemn it, as honorable members opposite have been doing throughout this debate? What would happen to Australia if we did not have such a company? What would be the position in the towns in which it is now operating? We know that in Australia the price of Australian steel is lower than that of steel made in any other country in the world. Honorable members opposite complain that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is paying large dividends, but we must remember that about £150,000,000 of capital is involved in its undertakings.
What would this country do without the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited? As a primary producer in Queensland, engaged in the sugar-milling industry, I know that the price of steel made by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is much lower than the price of steel made in any other part of the world. The 45-lb. rails that are so much in demand by sugar mills cost £63 from Great Britain, £68 from the Continent and only £34 from the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. The price of the product of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is 33 per cent, below the price of those imported from other countries. It is cheaper even than the Japanese product. That is a tribute, not only to the management of the company but also to the people who work in its steel mills. Under conditions of high wages, they are able to produce steel which sells at a price lower than the steel of competing companies, although those companies pay lower wages.
– What about America?
– The honorable member for St. George should know that American steel is not a competitor with our steel on the Australian market.
– I was talking about the world market.
– The honorable member, as a former Minister, should know that American steel does not compete with Australian steel in this country. It cannot do so, because its price is higher even than the price of British and Continental steel. The interjection shows that the Australian Labour party cannot find anything good in Australia. I believe that Australia can become a very great nation, but we need the co-operation of all members of Parliament to encourage the investment of capital in our industries, to encourage our workers to greater efforts, and to help our industries to find markets for their products in a competitive world. The Government is determined that the industries of this country shall be developed. With a policy of free enterprise and social justice for all, we hope to make Australia a country that it is well worth while to live in. I believe that, at the next general elections, the people will return the Government with an even bigger majority than it has now.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Brand)-
– He is wide of the mark.
– Very wide of the mark. He commenced his speech by telling us that we had been presented with a very good budget, which would do a lot for the advancement of Australia. Hebegan to tell us the good points of the budget, but after he had been speaking for less than five minutes, he got right away from the budget. The rest of his speech consisted of a story about primary industry and an exposition of the virtues of General Motors-Holden’s Limited and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. The honorable member took less than five minutes to describe the budget. That was enough for the purpose, because anybody could deal with all the good points of the budget in that time, and he would not have to speak very quickly to do so.
This budget, the sixth in a row presented by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), is one of the worst budgets presented to the Parliament by the right honorable gentleman. I do not put it exactly on a par with the horror budget of 1951, but it is next in line with it. This budget has been given many names by honorable members in the course of this debate, by the press of Australia and by the public of Australia. In 95 per cent, of the instances, those names have been very uncomplimentary. In many instances, they have been, not only uncomplimentary but also unparliamentary, so I do not propose to repeat them. When the Treasurer was delivering his budget speech, he sounded like a tired man. His budget looks like a tired man’s budget and a disillusioned Treasurer’s budget. His speech was a frank admission that the position of Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia is too large for him to occupy - that the job of Treasurer is bigger than he is physically and mentally capable of doing.
The right honorable gentleman has pointed out to us a number of the financial pitfalls that will be in our path during the next twelve months. He has told a story of inflation, and of the necessity to control it. He has told a story of diminishing overseas funds and of the necessity to rectify the position. He has told us of the enormous growth of the hire-purchase system, which is using up a great deal of our available investible capital, and he has told us that something should be done about it. But, after the
Treasurer had pointed to all the dangers and pitfalls that will face us during the next twelve months, the best remedy that he was able to offer to the Parliament was an appeal to the better nature of big business, an appeal to the better nature of the monopolies, combines and finance companies, which are largely controlling the situation, and an appeal to importers to import less. He did not suggest that either he or the Government would take any decisive action to rectify the present position. In fact, he is going to sit back, like Micawber, and hope that something will turn up. Governments in these modern days cannot afford to sit back and wait for something to turn up. They have to take decisive action, but this Government has told us. through the lips of the Treasurer, that it is not prepared to take any decisive action at all. It is not prepared, by legislative enactment, to control any of the forces in our economy which may lead us either to uncontrolled inflation or to another depression. The Government will merely express pious hopes. Since the Treasurer delivered his budget speech there have been conferences between the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and various representatives of big business and big finance, and from all that we can hear - and we can get the news only through the daily press - it appears that the Prime Minister is going, cap in hand, to these individuals and saying, in effect, “ Please do something to help me, because I am unable or unwilling to force you to do what is the right thing”. Appeals to importers to reduce their imports from England or from other countries will not get us anywhere. Decisive action in regard to imports will get us somewhere, and it is reasonable to ask the Government when it proposes to take some decisive action in that regard. It has told us of the dangers that face our financial structure if we cannot improve our balance of payments overseas. We were warned of the dangers, but the Government said, “ If we can entice the importers to import less it will help to solve the problem and, likewise, if we can entice the exporters to export a little more, that also will help, and between those two activities the problem will probably be solved “. We cannot have any “ ifs “ or “ buts “ in regard to this question. We have to do something decisive. If we have too many imports and too few exports, the Government has to do something quickly. It is quite a simple matter to find a solution of some kind or another, but this Government, composed probably of a team of tired men, very tired both mentally and physically, definitely appears to be unable to make up its mind in any direction at all. That is one of the reasons why we have such a flat budget. I may be wrong in saying that the Government has vacillated because it is composed of a team of tired men. There may be other reasons why it is not prepared to take decisive action. We have seen it acting in a similar manner on many occasions before, and I suggest to the committee that one of the reasons why it is unable, or unwilling, to take some decisive action in regard to our financial situation is that it is afraid of treading on the toes of its strong financial supporters. In effect, putting the position in plain and blunt language, the people who need to be controlled during these near economic crises are those who control the present Government and, rather than being able to take such action, the Government is in a position where it must take orders from these big business magnates. I believe that that is the real reason why we are not told of any decisive steps that the Government proposes to take. The only steps to rectify the financial situation that we may expect are those which the Government is granted permission to take.
The Prime Minister has had discussions with various representatives of big business. He is discussing the problem with representatives of the banks and various other financial and business, organizations, and, in effect, he is saying to them, “Please let me do something about it “, or, “ Please assist me in doing something about it”. That will not get us anywhere, and I sincerely trust that the Government will realize the seriousness of the position as disclosed to this committee by the Government itself. It is not a matter of whether or not I think the position is serious. If we accept the words of the Treasurer in his budget speech, the position is serious, and it is necessary to do something about it. If the Government is not prepared to take action, let it be honest and say so straight out, and then resign and allow some other government, which is prepared to do something, to take over. We may then have a hope of getting on an even keel again.
Although the Treasurer, in his budget speech, told us that things are bad and that, in effect, we have to tighten our belts, he has provided for more expenditure during the forthcoming year than the amount expended last year. There is a very considerable increase in the amount of money to be expended, but he also told us that he proposes to collect a considerably greater amount of money than he collected last year, so much greater that by the end of the year he will have a surplus on the year’s work of £48,670,000. Why is the Government budgeting for a surplus of that amount? No reasonable explanation has been given, and it is most unusual that a Government should budget for such a surplus. In every one of the last five year9 our experience has been that the Treasurer’s estimates of receipts and expenditure have been most inaccurate. So far out were they that although twelve months ago the Treasurer budgeted for a surplus of about £250,000, the actual surplus was £70,000,000. Since he has been in office he has always budgeted on the conservative side. Revenue has exceeded estimates and, in most cases, expenditure has been below the amount estimated, and surpluses have resulted. This year he expects a surplus of £48,670,000. What will he do with it? He suggested that it might be used to finance loans to the States, but that is only a possibility. If we take a line from previous budgets, we may expect that the real surplus will not be £48,000,000, but somewhere in the vicinity of £75,000,000. That money is being taken away from the people of Australia without any real reason being given. The taxpayers are entitled to know not only how much money is being taken from them but how it is to be expended.
The estimates of revenue for the forthcoming year indicate that, in income tax levied on individuals and companies, £44,000,000 more will be collected this year than was collected last year. When telling us this, the Treasurer, in the same breath, says that it is impossible to make any reduction in taxation. Why is it impossible ? Why should that £44,000,000 additional income tax be used to form a surplus at the end of the year? The Government needs to give some very serious consideration to this matter, and it should be prepared to reduce both direct and indirect taxation. An additional £5,500,000 will be collected this year in sales tax. In 1949, the present Government parties promised that if the people of Australia trusted them and elected them to office, they would abolish the sales tax; but in each succeeding year since then, the amount collected by the Government in sales tax has increased. This financial year, it will reach an alltime high in the history of Australia. The Government says, “ Despite the fact that we promised to abolish the tax, it is a good revenue producer, and we will keep it going. We are collecting more than we need and more than we can possibly spend, so we will have to put all the excess money away in a reserve fund somewhere “.
An additional £5,000,000 is to be raised, in pay-roll tax this year. If the Government wants to do something about stabilizing our economy, reducing prices, and staving off a little of the inflation, let it reduce or remove the sales tax and the pay-roll taxes. That is one way in which the cost of living could be reduced. The pay-roll tax is a direct charge upon industry. It is added to the cost of everything produced by secondary industry - before the retailer adds his profit margin. The same is true of the sales tax. It is added to the actual cost of the item. Then the profit is added and the people are called upon to pay the inflated price. Those are two of the real causes of the high cost of goods to-day. There are also other causes to which I may be able to refer briefly later.
This year an additional £15,000,000 is to be collected in excise. As an example,, a duty of 6d. a dozen is levied on safety matches produced in Australia, and this isgradually killing the Australian match industry. The production of matches is decreasing rapidly each year. The reason for the decrease in sales of matches is their high price. Twopence a box is- charged for matches that once cost one halfpenny a box. Matches are going off the market and are being replaced by imported petrol cigarette lighters. Not only is the Government destroying an Australian industry by taxing it out of competition with the imported article, but it is also increasing its overseas trade indebtedness. If the excise of 6d. a dozen were cut out, the effect on the estimated £48,000,000 surplus would not be noticed. However, it would be a great help to the housewives, and to the smokers of Australia. It would also be a great help to an industry that has been successfully built up in Australia, but is being slowly strangled because of the actions of this Government. “We can see that this Government knows how to raise revenue, and how to spend a good portion of it, but does not know how to solve our economic problems, or, if it does, is not prepared to take any action. The Treasurer, the Prime Minister and other honorable members have told us of the troubles associated with the hire purchase system, of the growth of that system, and of the immense amount of money that is being invested in the various companies which are financing hire purchase. They did not tell us that those hire-purchase companies are paying dividends of up to 40 per cent, to their shareholders. They merely said that the amount of money being invested in hirepurchase companies was continually increasing. Finance of this kind is being used to purchase many lines. I know that hire purchase is very necessary in certain circumstances, but a great deal of it is quite unnecessary at a time like this. What is most unnecessary is the exorbitant profit that the finance companies are permitted to make. Investment in a company financing hire purchase is a safe investment. Six per cent, or 7 per cent, is a very fair return upon money so invested, but we find that those who are on the inside are getting a return of 40 per cent. If the Government wants to look at the hire-purchase system it should look first at the exorbitant profits that are being made out of it.
The Government, in considering this inflationary spiral, of which it is afraid, should also look at the profits of other big businesses. The honorable member for Wide Bay lauded General MotorsHolden’s Limited for the wonderful job that it had done in producing an Australian motor car. I congratulate that firm on the job that it has done. I congratulate it upon being a very successful business undertaking. I congratulate it upon showing to the people of Australia that Australia can build motor cars and compete successfully against the world; but I do object to a company with a paid-up capital of about £3,500,000 making a profit of over £9,000,000 in one year - and that following a year in which it made a profit of £8,000,000. Though General Motors-Holden’s Limited is competing successfully with overseas manufacturers and, I will admit, ploughing the majority of its profits back into the business, it is exploiting the people of Australia. No firm is entitled to make £9,000,000 profit on a capital of £3,500,000 in one year, especially when it made £8,000,000 in the previous year.
The honorable member for Wide Bay has also lauded the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. That, too, is a most successful business undertaking. No one will query that, and, as he pointed out, Australia can produce steel that is cheaper than that of any other country and of as good, if not better, quality. I admire the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited for being able to do that with a staff of Australian workers, but the fact that it is successful does not give it the right to exploit the people of Australia. If its price for steel is £34 a ton and the price of overseas steel is £60 a ton, that is a good thing. But if it is making an exorbitant profit at £34 a ton, it is reasonable for this Government to look into the matter and say, “If you are going to charge £34 a ton and make excess profits, we are going to take them away from you in taxation “. The same applies to General Motors-Holden’s Limited and any other company.
The financial columns of any capital city newspaper will show, on any day of the week, the annual profits of various companies. One evening this week I looked at the paper and found that it gave the result of the trading activities of some of the retail shops. I found that the profit of G. J. Coles and Company Limited had for the first time in its history, topped the £1,000,000. Leviathan, of Melbourne, made a profit of 17^ per cent. Other companies were paying profits of 25 per cent, and 27 per cent. I noticed this morning that Lane’s Motors Proprietary Limited was paying a 40 per cent, dividend, and that that was being provided from only 37 per cent, of the year’s profits. Why does not the Government keep the promise that it made to the people of Australia in 1949 - and has repeated many times since - that it would introduce an excess profits tax. The Government has made excuses in recent times and has said that it is too big a job to take on. But no job is too hard if it needs to be done and will bring justice to the people of Australia. If we are to control the economy of this country successfully, one of the first things that we must do is to control the making of excess profits by big industrial and financial organizations. Unless we do that we shall never solve our financial difficulties.
At the present time we hear a lot about high wages, but what has happened? The basic wage has been pegged. Every worker in Australia who is working under an award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to-day is gradually but surely having his standard of living reduced. As quarter follows quarter, the cost of living figures are rising; the actual cost of living is higher than it was, and the standard of living of the average worker is gradually but surely dropping. If it is fair to control the incomes of the workers, who comprise the lowest paid section of the community, and if it is good enough to control the amount of money they are to be permitted to spend, it is just as reasonable to argue that the profits of big business must also be controlled. We were told that the pegging of the basic wage would stop the inflationary spiral. The workers of Australia said’ that it would not, and they have been proved correct. The basic cost of living - the cost of, not luxury lines, but the basic necessaries of life - is continuing to rise. The chief reason why it is continuing to rise is that the people who are manufacturing goods and the people who are retailing those goods are making bigger and better profits than ever were made in the history of this country. And the Government is doing nothing about them ! The poor, old tired men are lolling on the Treasury bench in this chamber, and are saying, in effect, “ We only hope that something will turn up. We hope the exporters will export a bit more ; we hope that the importers will import a little bit less; we hope that the financial institutions will come to our rescue. We are too tired to take our coats off and do a little bit of work ourselves, so we shall just hope and pray that the people who are controlling the situation, the people who are reaping the profits, will suddenly come to heel, will recognize that they are doing wrong and, as u. voluntary act, will say. We will sin no more; we will do exactly what you want us to do’ “. That might work out in a fairy story - it usually does - but it just does not work in solid business in this country. I do not blame these people for chasing greater profits, but I do blame the Government for permitting them to make exorbitant profits. It is human nature to strive to get more and more and more, although when we get beyond a certain amount, it causes us more worry than if we had none at all. However, the fact remains that these people are out to make all they can. They are the people who conduct our so-called free enterprise. The honorable member for Wide Bay added “ social justice “ to “ free enterprise “. If we could have free enterprise with social justice, we would bc getting somewhere, because the free enterprise side would do the job, and the social justice side would ensure that everyone was treated fairly and justly. Although, he introduced social justice, the honorable member for Wide Bay knows as well as I do that “ social justice “, for the general masses of the people, means exactly nothing to this Government.
The Government believes in free enterprise to a degree. It believes in free enterprise so long as it does not get out of control, so long as it does not get too free, and so long as only the friends of the Government are enjoying the benefits. But social justice, as interpreted by this
Government, means nothing, because the Government’s attitude is, “We will exploit the more unfortunate section of the community to the greatest degree possible, and we will protect the interests of those who are already well able to protect their own interests. We will give to those who do not need it, but to those who need it we will give nothing “. That has been the attitude of non-Labour governments towards social justice through history. This Government believes in protecting the privileges of the over-privileged.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The economic philosophy outlined by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson) is almost on the same level as that which has been propounded by the Leader of the other Labour party, the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua). Apparently the panacea for all ills, in the opinion of the honorable member for Wills, is the re-introduction of controls in every form. I assume that he means credit control, prices control and all other matters that accompany them. Let us look at the picture. Prices control comes within the constitutional jurisdiction of the States. Some States have re-introduced controls to a certain extent. What has been the result? I think it is quite clear that as between the States that have no prices control and those that have re-introduced prices control, there has not been the slightest difference in respect of controlling the upward movement of prices. But, of course, that has been proved in the past, and I think it always will be so in connexion with the economic situation.
The right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) based the case for the Opposion on rather extraordinary grounds. He based it on the assertion that inflation can be controlled by increasing wages. I suggest that by increasing wages, we increase the cost factor. His peculiar philosophy appears to be that if the cost factor is increased, inflation will be controlled. I am afraid that the very elementary lessons in economics tell us exactly the opposite. I assume that the right honorable gentleman submitted that proposal only as a political argument which may convince some people but which certainly will not convince anybody who has any particular knowledge of the present economic situation.
The honorable member for Wills also appealed to the Government to do something about import controls. He said that the Government was appealing to the importers to reduce the volume of imports in order to help our overseas balances. Perhaps the honorable member has not read, or has not seen, or has not heard that import controls were reintroduced on the 1st April last and are still in force. It is obvious that the impact on the country of the reintroduction of import controls could not be felt immediately. It is only now, some months after their re-introduction, that we are beginning to feel the actual effect. In fact, we may not be able to assess the effects of the re-introduction of these controls before the end of this month. I mention the matter, because I should like to emphasize the point that apparently the Anti-Communist Labour party and some other honorable members of the Opposition are not clear on the fact that import controls are in force, and are operating at the present time.
The honorable member for Wills also asked why the Government was budgeting for such a large surplus. He said that the surplus exceeded £48,000,000 and that it was not accounted for by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in his budget speech. If the honorable member cares to read page 14 of the Treasurer’s speech, he will see the reason for the surplus that has. been allowed for in the budget. The Treasurer has pointed out that of this amount £48,500,000 will be allocated to a trust account which will be named, “ Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve”. That will be utilized for special purposes which are estimated at the present time to cover approximately an equivalent amount. Those particular purposes are such items as expenditure on war service land settlement, the deficit in the Australian Loan Council’s loan programme and other deficit items are anticipated during this financial year. The amount which will be placed in a reserve fund will provide for those items.
It is a very definite estimate, although clearly outside the province of the actual budgetary estimates. After the transfer, it is expected that there will be a relatively small surplus in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of only £170,000. That is the figure that the honorable member for Wills should have mentioned when he referred to the amount of the expected surplus at the conclusion of this financial year.
I wish now to discuss some aspects of the economic situation in Australia, although it is somewhat unusual to talk about the budget during the budget debate. Most of the speeches have been directed to other subjects. It has been obvious to all that in recent years the Australian economy has been in a buoyant condition. During the last few years, a better balance has been maintained between money and goods than previously. Since the immediate post-war period, we have enjoyed good seasons. For some years now, there has been full employment and the earnings of the workers have been high. Production has steadily increased over the last three years. Generally, during the last two years, supplies have been equal to the demand. During the two-year period up to and including the early part of this year, prices were stable to a degree not previously attained since the end of the war, but during the latter half of the last financial year - that is, the first half of this calendar year - an atmosphere of uncertainty developed. To a degree, there has been a shortage of labour, and costs have risen slightly. Coupled with these factors, we have been faced with a fairly substantial deficit in relation to our overseas trade. The consequential inflationary trend moved the trading banks during the last six months to restrict credit to a greater degree than during the previous twelve months. The situation calls for increasing care and watchfulness by governments, trade and industry, and the rank and file of the community. The problem must be faced realistically, without wishful thinking on the one hand or undue optimism on the other. In considering the difficulties that emerged from the last financial year, we must have regard to simple economic facts. The normal sources of inflationary expansion are, first, government deficit financing; secondly, large overseas trade surpluses; and thirdly, a large volume of bank advances. Government accounts indicate that there is very little possibility of an expansion of central bank credit under the existing conditions, and our overseas trade position is still deflationary. Coming to the third factor, bank advances, a» I have already mentioned, during the first half of this calendar year, the trading banks of Australia maintained a very tight control on bank advances. Therefore, I do not consider that there is any real reason for believing that the present pressure on prices is likely to degenerate into a strong inflationary trend.
Any intelligent economic survey must have regard to both the long-term and the short-term economic outlook. In my opinion, our long-term economic outlook is encouraging. I shall deal with some aspects of it. The big changes that have taken place in the world’s political and economic circumstances since World War II. have tended to open up tremendous opportunities for development and progress in the Australian community. On the other hand, of course, our population has increased enormously; it has risen from approximately 7,000,000 persons at the commencement of World War II. to more than 9,000,000 to-day. Indeed, that rate of population expansion is still continuing, and incidentally, it is greater than was America’s population expansion at its peak.- That factor must be borne in mind when considering the present situation. Despite the enormous increase of population, a condition of full employment obtains and, indeed, there is a shortage of both skilled and unskilled labour in industry.
We have witnessed in the post-war period the development of a great national expansionist policy, tremendous expansion of private industry, and huge governmental and semi-governmental spending. Many of our industrial organizations now command respect in older industrial countries that have vastly greater populations. A case in point in the iron and steel industry is the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, whose assets have increased from about £23,000,000 in 1939 to £76,000,000 at the end of the last financial year, and it is expected that the company will double its assets during the next five years. I have cited that example only for the purpose of demonstrating the tremendous industrial expansion that has taken place in Australia since the war. Despite that company’s tremendous growth, the iron and steel industry is still unable to supply the whole of Australia’s requirements of iron and steel products. It is expected that, as a result of accelerated expansion in the immediate future, the industry will before very long be able to export large quantities of iron and steel products, in addition to meeting the demands of this country. Similar expansion has taken place in the engineering industry, and in connexion with the manufacture of chemicals, motor vehicles, machinery and many other commodities. Developments in all these industries are indicative of the national expansion programme that has been undertaken in Australia since World War II.
I wish to refer first, to the expansion of secondary industries, which present some of the major problems in relation to the matters that I have mentioned, such as population and immigration, and also in relation to capital investment. Although the secondary industries show a greater overall investment and a greater overall annual turnover than do the primary industries, the primary industries nevertheless are vitally important for the maintenance, of our export balances, because more than 85 per cent, of our export income comes from primary products. When we appreciate the vital necessity of imports for the continuation of our development programme and the maintenance of our living standards, we can understand the importance of the primary industries to our economy. It is pleasing to note that in the post-war period, up to the present time, the expansion of the overall production of primary industries has exceeded the estimates made for the post-war years and also the production targets prepared by the Australian Agricultural Council for the five-year period that will end with the financial year 1957-58. It is pleasing to note also that the primary industries have played their part and maintained their importance in the Australian economy.
Another new and very important factor must be considered in relation to the present economic situation in Australia. It is the increase of American investment in this country, which is very gratifying. We hope that this investment will continue to expand. Of course, it is not only the hope of the exploitation of markets in Australia that has brought about this expanding American investment. Probably, more significantly, the trend is associated with world political conditions. Obviously, America must be much more interested in Australia in present circumstances than she was before World War II. As a consequence of changed political conditions in the Far East, the position of Communist China and the situation in other trouble centres, American interest in investment in Australia has increased.
Another interesting factor that affectsthe present economic situation is theprospect of the location of payable oil deposits in Australia. Immediately after the location of what appeared to be favorable sites near Exmouth Gulf in the north-western part of Australia,, there was a tremendous upsurge of capital investment in the oil industry from both local and overseas sources. So far, unfortunately, expectations have not been fulfilled, and oil in commercial quantities has not been found. Of course, we know that the greater part of the land mass of the Australian continent is of a geological structure unfavorable to the accumulation of deposits of oil, but, as has been shown by geological tests, approximately one-third of the continent is of such a geological age as to present prospects of the discovery of oil in commercial quantities. There is still hope that oil development will assist tobolster our economic position. Up to the present, the oil prospects have meant only a large measure of investment, most of which has come from overseas. However, the search for oil is continuing and several large oil refineries have been and are being constructed. We expect that, in the near future, these refineries will make Australia entirely independent of the capacity of overseas refineries for a number of the major petroleum products. Another significant factor that has an impact on our economy is the location of what appear to be very satisfactory deposits of uranium. Uranium development, although in its infancy at present, may be a factor of major importance to our economy in the future. The development of the Rum Jungle field and, very shortly, we hope, of the Mount Isa deposits in Queensland, may have a tremendous influence on our national income.
All the factors that I have mentioned improve the long-term prospects of our economy. The only conclusion that we can reach, on an examination of those factors, is that the long-term economic outlook is encouraging. Let us refer then to the short-term outlook. We find that this is more difficult to assess. First, of course, we have the present unfavorable trade balance. Our trade deficit in the financial year 1954-55, including freight and excluding some other invisible items, amounted to £173,000,000. Our overseas reserves had declined at the end of the last financial year to £428,000,000. During the financial year 1954-55, our exports declined by £49,000,000. The decline was attributable, to a fairly large degree, to the decreased price of wool. In the same financial year, our imports increased to the astronomical amount of £184,000,000 more than in the previous financial year. The returns from primary products must be considered in relation to our export income. During the financial year 1954-55, the price of wool, which I have already mentioned, declined by approximately 12 per cent. We witnessed a further decline at the beginning of the current selling season, and wool prices have now reached a stable level that is likely to be maintained for the remainder of the season. However, we cannot at present estimate with any certainty the trend of wool prices beyond approximately the next twelve months.
The policy of our central banking system has been designed, and has been geared during the last six months, to strengthen the liquidity ratios and the soundness of the Australian banking system generally. I have already mentioned import restrictions, which were reimposed on the 1st April last. It has not been possible up to the present to assess the effect of the reimposition of the restrictions, which will be felt for the first time this month. We shall not know for some months the effect of the import restrictions upon the economy in the current financial year. I referred earlier to the short-term problem of costs, the possible danger ‘ of inflation, to competition on the loan market by hire-purchase organizations, and the problems encountered by local government bodies in raising necessary finance to enable them to undertake their various works. All those problems affect the economy and make it difficult to assess the short-term outlook. Having briefly referred to those matters, I turn now to the budget, which is designed to deal with the short-term problem and, of course, in some aspects, has particular reference to the long-term situation. It deals primarily with the problems of the short-term economic situation. The Treasurer, in his budget speech, stated -
I think, at this stage, that it is necessary to summarize the main points of the budget in order that we may appreciate its relationship to the economic situation that I have just described. The honorable member for Wills referred to the subject of taxation, and asked why taxation had not been reduced. I think thai I can safely answer that question by referring him to the speech of the Treasurer in which great emphasis was placed on that aspect of the budget. The main point in connexion with taxation is that, tax reductions would add to current spending power, and there is already a spending boom. That is one of the considerations which guided the Government in relation to the taxation situation. Although people naturally look for some form of tax relief in each budget, I think that, in applying the terms of the budget, to the present situation, most thinking people will agree that the Treasurer took the best action that could be taken at present.
The next principal item referred to is that of defence. I mention this because there has been some criticism of defence expenditure, mainly by members of the
Opposition, but also by at least one member on the Government side of the chamber, who suggested that the proposed vote of £190,000,000 for defence purposes could quite safely be cut. It has been suggested that we could cut down on expenditure by the services and on projects such as the new filling factory at St. Mary’s. I do not think that anything could be more tragic than to reduce expenditure on defence in the present circumstances. We must be realistic in this situation. Do not let us fall into the belief that a nation such as Soviet Russia can entirely change its attitude in a few days by saying a few honeyed words. That is not possible. I think that we can regard the present circumstances as more hopeful than they were twelve months ago; but do not let us be lured into a position of unpreparedness, as we were before the last war, by the hope that something more favorable will happen in the future. We must be prepared. Until the situation changes drastically, and there is a greater balance in world armaments and atomic preparedness, we must be in a position to take our part in defence with sister nations of the Western democracies.
I want to refer briefly to war and service pensions and the National Welfare Fund. It is a fact that the special rate war pension for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen has been increased by 10s. to a total of £9 15s. a week; and that the general rate war pension has been increased by 5s., the service pension by 10s., and the war widows’ pension by 10s. a week. But I think that we are all very pleased to see that significant gesture - the repealing of section 91 (a) of the Repatriation Act. This proposal will remove the ceiling limits for service and war pensioners. Regarding the National Welfare Fund aspect of the budget, I think that most people are pleased with the proposed increase of 10s. a week in age and invalid pensions. That increase applies also to widows’ pensions and to tuberculosis allowances. The ceiling limit has been removed in respect of the total amount of age, invalid and widows’ pensions in relation to war pensions, and that can have a significant effect on the recipients of these benefits.
I think that I should refer briefly to the comparison between the amounts which are being paid now and the rate which was paid by the preceding Government.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz) touched on two essential points in the White Paper which the Government presented, entitled. “National Income and Expenditure’’, but he failed to draw the really alarming implications of both points. H<said, correctly, that the trend of oversea - trade is at present anti-inflationary. Thai does not necessarily mean that it is el the sound or healthy. All that the honor able member, quite correctly, meant war that we are now importing far more good.than we are exporting, and that that haa tendency to operate against inflation because a great quantum of goods is being brought into the economy. At the same time, farmers’ incomes are falling and that also has a tendency to operate agains; inflation.
What the honorable member for Darling Downs has not faced is that, 1] spite of those two very great factors in the Australian economy, we still hav<inflation; and that the economy of t.hicountry is still showing inflationary tendencies, notwithstanding the fact that, as shown on page 9 of the.White Paper, our overseas indebtedness has increased. The honorable member said that it had increased by a substantia] amount. Ii’ using the word “ substantial “, he made a very substantial understatement. Australia’s indebtedness overseas increased by £256,000,000.
As the honorable member showed plainly in his speech that he has a knowledge of economics, I find it hard to understand why he did not face the fac: that, in this period of boom, we are borrowing £256,000,000 overseas. The following statement is contained in the White Paper, National Income and Expenditure : -
The balance of payments on current account in 1U54-55 showed a deficit, representing a net increase in indebtedness to the rest of the world, estimated at £250,000,000.
That is the Government’s own statement. This increase in inflation has occurred notwithstanding the change in the direction of our trade. The honorable member for Darling Downs was at pains to exonerate the Government from the charge of budgeting for a large surplus. He said that the surplus of £48,000,000 was only £170,000. 1 think that the honorable member would know that if the Government wishes to use its budget as a device for checking inflation it ought to budget for a large surplus. When the newspapers accused the Treasurer of setting aside a surplus of £70,000,000, which they were foolish enough to think would have been wrong on his part, ] thought that at last the Government had undertaken realistic budgeting. I thought that it had decided to skim off the top of the boom and set aside a reserve which could be used to lift the top of a slump.
If there is any reason for the indictment of the Treasurer, it is his really gross failure, over the years, to budget against the trade cycle. If the late Mr. Chifley was anything, he was a disciple of John Maynard Keynes. When the present Government took office it took over sterling reserves- in London of £863,000,000. The Government said, in effect, “If we greatly increase imports, that will operate as an anti-inflationary device “, and it removed all the restrictions that Mr. Chifley had imposed on imports - restrictions designed to ensure that our great sterling resources were used to finance the importation of essentials. We then had that wonderful year, from the point of view of British exporters, when they sent to this country £697,000,000 worth of goods. Aust.ra.lia became easily the largest customer of the United Kingdom, and our sterling resources fell disastrously by more than £400,000,000. If we had in London to-day a sterling balance of £863,000,000, the balance that this Government inherited from the Chifley Government, we could face with equanimity a fall of £50,000,000 a year in the value of our wool exports over a number of years. Instead, we have had greatly increasing shipping freights, which means that some £100,000,000 of our sterling resources in London will have to be used to meet freight charges, to begin with, and freights on our exports are going to increase still more while the value of our exports is falling. It is of no use making complaints about the dissipation of that London reserve. Denunciations of the Government will not restore our sterling balances. Only certain specific action by the Treasurer will help, and they are not likely to bring back the favorable conditions of 1948 under which those balances came into existence. It was a tragedy that that money was allowed to disappear as it did, because Mr. Chifley said, both in statements in this chamber and in private conversation, that these reserves would cushion the shock of any fall in the value of our exports. The tragedy is that that reserve in London fell when we had an unprecedented wool boom which could have added greatly to our London reserves if the Treasurers of this country had managed our international economic affairs more soundly than they did.
In the short time that I have left to me I wish to make several suggestions which seem to me to have a long-term value in relation to the Australian economy. I think, first of all, that everything must be done to ensure that what our exports earn will be spent on the most vitally necessary goods. In other words, a system of licensing imports must be re-imposed. Secondly, we must try to persuade the world that credits should be given to countries with low standards of living, especially in Asia, to finance the importation by them of urgently needed food. Anybody who has been through India, and has seen people dying in the streets of Calcutta, must recognize that it surely cannot be beyond the international wit of the United Nations, quite apart from such plans as the Colombo plan which deal with the supply of capital goods, to create an international fund to supply food to countries where it is urgently needed. We also need a definite plan of international reconstruction. This country has enjoyed five years of prosperity, very largely because of the economic foreign policy of the United States. The American loan to Great Britain of 2,000,000,000 dollars enabled Britain to buy from this country. The underwriting by the United States of the Japanese economy enabled Japan to buy, in one year, £82,000,000 worth of our wool. It is the economic foreign policy of the United States, which has been most generous, and was responsible for the reconstruction of the war-damaged world, which has made possible a great deal of our prosperity. If such a policy is not to be applied unilaterally by the United States it is time this country got behind it through a realistic programme like the Colombo plan, because if there is anything which will guarantee the future of primary industry it is an increase of 1 per cent., 2 per cent., or 3 per cent, in the standard of living in Asia.
In the minute that I have left I should like to ask the Government to examine again its contribution to the Colombo plan, which is not very generous in comparison with the gift by Mr. Chifley of £35,000,000 to Great Britain and £25,000,000 to Unrra, a total of £60,000,000, which was worth much more than the same amount is worth to-day. We should recognize that, even if it means extra taxation on the Australian community, we should aim at reconstruction in the countries to our north. Not only would that be right from the humanitarian point of view, but it would also be a most potent factor in maintaining high living standards and industrial prosperity in this country.
Question put -
That the item proposed to be reduced (Dr.
Kvatt’s amendment) be so reduced.
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
The general debate being concluded,
First item agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
Motion (by Mr. McMahon) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Social Services Act 1947-1954, as amended by the Social Services Act 1955.
Bill presented, and read a first time. .
Mr. McMAHON (Lowe - Minister for
Social Services) [S.2]. - by leave - ] move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill gives effect to the Government’s decision, announced by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in his budget speech, to increase age, invalid and widows’ pensions by 10s. a week. ‘ The maximum rate of age and invalid pensions will be raised to £4 a week. The increase of 10s. applies to all classes of widows. This will raise the maximum pension to £4 5s. a week for widows who have one or more children under sixteen years and to £3 7s. 6d. a week for other widows. The latter comprise mainly widows over 50 years of age who have no children under sixteen years.
I should like, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the outset, to invite the attention of the House to the fact that this is the fifth general increase in pensions granted by this Government since it assumed office in December, 1949. It may be helpful if I remind honorable members of the various increases which have been made by this Government in age and invalid pensions. They are as follows : -
These increases amount altogether to £117s. 6d. a week, which represents an overall increase of88.2 per cent. on the pension of £2 2s. 6d. which was paid when a Labour government was last in office.
– The increase is much greater than the reduction in purchasing power and more than compensates for it. Although a general increase in pensions was not granted last year, honorable members will recall that the Government made extensive liberaliza- tions in both the income and the property means tests, with the result that some 93,000 age, invalid and widow pensioners received increases in their pensions, many of which were quite substantial.
During the debate on the budget the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), when referring to the Government’s decision to increase pensions by 10s. a week, said that this increase would not restore the purchasing power of the pension to what it was when Labour was in office. Other Opposition members said the same thing. I want to state emphatically that that is a completely incorrect statement, and in saying this I point out that the proof is readily available to every honorable member. The Leader of she Opposition said in the budget debate that, because he had promised in his election policy speech last year that Labour, if returned to office, would immediately raise the pension to £4 a week, this amount would now be quite inadequate. One would have expected the right honorable gentleman to have been a little more logical in his approach to this subject. To assert that, because Labour promised a pension of £4 last year, the new pension of £4 which will be paid this year is inadequate has no basis in logic, economics, or even common sense.
The only satisfactory yardstick available for comparing the purchasing value of the pension at different periods is the C series price index. The Commonwealth Statistician agrees that this is so. If honorable members will refer to the bulletins issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, they will find that the C series price index number for the September quarter, 1949, which was the last issued before Labour left office, was 1428. The maximum pension was then £2 2s. 6d. a week. The latest C series price index number is 2375 for the June quarter, 1955. By simply taking the ratio of these two numbers and applying it to the pension of £2 2s. 6d. we get the result £3 10s. 8d. This, I point out, represents the amount of pension which would now be required to give the same purchasing value as the pension of £2 2s. 6d. had when Labour left office. If, therefore, the Government had taken the view that all that was necessary was to bring the pension up to the same purchasing level as it had in December, 1949, the increase required would be only 8d. a week.
– This is totally incorrect.
– It is totally correct. I ask honorable members to check the matter with the Commonwealth Statistician or any other person who knows how to compute these figures.
Opposition members interjecting,
– Order! Honorable members must hear the Minister in silence.
– In fact, the Government is granting an increase of 10s. a week, which will give the pension a purchasing value of 9s. 4d. a week in excess of its value when Labour was last in office. If the Leader of the Opposition doubts these figures, I invite him to take up the matter with the Commonwealth Statistician, who has no axe to grind and can be relied upon to state the facts without fear or favour.
– I rise to order. The Minister has referred to statements made by the Leader of the Opposition in the course of his speech during the budget debate. Is it in order for the Minister +o refer now to something that occurred in the Committee of Supply?
– Order ! The Minister is quite in order in referring to it.
– Will you tell us why?
-The House has no knowledge of what happens in the committee.
– On behalf of the Government, I make the positive and unchallengeable statement that never before since the introduction of pensions some 46 years ago have pensioners been so well provided for by any Commonwealth government. Not only has the pension a greater purchasing power, but the Government has made two of the most important provisions for the welfare of pensioners that could possibly be made. The first is the pensioner medical service, which enables qualified pensioners to receive free medical treatment and free pharmaceutical benefits.
The second is the Aged Persons Homes Act under which the Commonwealth, by means of financial assistance on a £1- for-£l basis, is encouraging and stimulating the provision by churches and charitable organizations of homes for the aged. This humane and far-seeing legislation represents the most positive step ever made by any Australian government towards the solution of the important and urgent problem of suitable accommodation for elderly people who have got to the stage in life when they are unable to live alone. I am pleased to say that the Government is appropriating a further £1,500,000 for grants for homes for the aged during the present financial year.
Although the bill on this occasion does not provide for any specific extensions of the means test, such as were made by the Government last year, I would point out to honorable members that the maximum amount which pensioners will be able to have by way of income plus pension will rise by 10s. a week for a single person and £1 a week for a married couple. The new limits will be £7 10s. a week for single persons and £15 a week for married couples. Thus a single person who, at present, cannot obtain a pension because he has an income of £7 a week will, under the bill, be able to obtain a pension of 10s. a week. A married couple who, at present, cannot receive pensions because their combined income is £14 a week will be able to obtain pensions of 10s. a week each. As a result, the bill will benefit quite a number of persons dependent on superannuation or other fixed incomes. I should add that, for the purpose of the income limits I have just mentioned, any income derived from property is entirely disregarded under the amendment which the Government made to the legislation last year.
In view of certain incorrect statements published in a section of the press immediately after the Treasurer had delivered his budget speech, it is advisable for me to explain that the increase of 10s. will be a general flat-rate increase and will be paid to all age, invalid and widow pensioners irrespective of whether the pension is at present paid at the maximum rate or at a reduced rate. The result, therefore, will be that every pensioner, no matter how small the present rate of his pension may be, will receive the full increase of 10s. a week.
An important amendment contained in the bill which I know will be welcomed by honorable members of all parties is the repeal of the provisions which impose what are generally known as “ceiling limits “. Quite recently, the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) directed a question or a letter to me on this matter. These are special limits on the amount of an age, invalid or widow’s pension which may be received by a pensioner in addition to a war pension. They were introduced by a Labour government in 1948 and have been a source of great irritation to exservicemen who, through age or invalidity, have become entitled to civil pensions in addition .to their war pensions. The ceiling limits are in all biases lower than the total amounts which ‘ may be received by way of civil pension plus income from other sources. For example, at present a person who receives compensation or superannuation of £3 10s. a week may be granted an age pension at the full rate of £3 10s., a total of £7 a week. A person who receives a war pension of £3 10s. a week, however, cannot at present obtain an age pension at a higher rate than £2 2s. 6d. a week, making a total of £5 12s. 6d. a week, compared with £7 a week for the pensioner receiving compensation or superannuation. Similarly, at present a married man who receives compensation or superannuation of £7 a week may receive the full age pension of £3 10s. and his wife the same amount, making a total of £14 a week. Another married couple, however, who have the same amount of income in the form of war pensions, may receive age pensions of only £2 12s. 6d. a week between them, making a total of £9 123. fid. a week between them, compared with £14 a week for the couple receiving compensation or superannuation. This disparity of £1 7s. 6d. a week in the case of a single war pensioner and £4 7s. 6d. a week in the case of a married war pensioner is due to the operation of the ceiling limits of £5 12s. 6d. and £9 12s. 6d. a week respectively. It represents the difference between the ceiling limits and the ordinary limits of income plus pension, which are at present £7 a week for a single person and £14 a week for a married couple.
The Government has given this matter long and careful consideration and has come to the conclusion that this discrimination against war pensioners is wrong.
– It is a blot on the Labour party’s escutcheon.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) has for years strenuously urged that the Labour party’s policy in this regard should be reversed, and the change which I have just mentioned brings about a complete reversal. The bill, therefore, repeals the ceiling limits and, in future, a war pension will rank merely as other income under the means test. The result will be that a single war pensioner, otherwise eligible, may receive an age or invalid pension at an increased rate bringing his total pensions up to not more than £7 10s. a week, that is, the new limit of income plus pension. Similarly, a married couple receiving war pensions may receive age or invalid pensions at increased rates bringing their total pensions up to not more than £15 a week, that is, the new limit of income plus pensions for a married couple. These totals are, of course, inclusive of any other income which the pensioners may have. The ceiling limits will also be removed for civilian widows, with similar advantages. I am sure that the Government’s decision to remove the restrictions imposed by the ceiling limits will give the greatest satisfaction to all honorable members as well as to exservicemen’s organizations and ex-servicemen generally.
Before leaving this subject, I should refer to the position of blind war pensioners consequent upon the removal of the ceiling limits. I have already explained that the war pension will rank as “ income “ for pensioners who are not blind. There is, however, no means test for blind persons, and it has, therefore, been necessary to insert a special provision so that blind ex-servicemen will not receive a full age or invalid pension in addition to what is known as the “ ‘Special Rate “ war pension. As honorable members are aware, the “ Special Rate “ is paid to blinded ex-servicemen and other ex-servicemen who have become totally and permanently incapacitated through war-caused disabilities. The “ Special Rate “ pension will be £9 15s. a week and, consequently, ex-servicemen who receive it and are not blind will be ineligible for an age or invalid pension because the limit of income plus pension is £7 10s. a week. Where, however, a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman is married, it will be possible for him and his wife to receive age or invalid pensions at a rate which, together with their war pensions, will amount to £15 a week, which is the new limit of income plus pensions for a married couple. This very substantial increase for a married couple should be recognized and approved by the House.
The point I want to make is that the new provision concerning blind war pensioners will put them in exactly the same position as totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners who are not blind. I think honorable members will agree that this is fair and reasonable. I may add that any income which a blind war pensioner may receive from other sources will, of course, continue to have no effect whatever on his eligibility for an age or invalid pension.
It may be well for me to take this opportunity to remind honorable members, particularly on the opposite side of the House, of just a few of the achievements of this Government in the field of social services since it took office less than six years ago. In the first place, I again point out that the maximum rate of age and invalid pensions has been increased by 88.2 per cent. This in itself, I suggest, is a spectacular achievement.
The Government has also raised the ultimate property limit - the limit beyond which no pension is payable - from £750 to £1,750. It has also raised the property exemption from £100 to £200. This is the amount of property which has no effect on the pension. The special exemption of surrender values of life insurance policies has been raised from £200 to £750. Reversionary interests in property, which were formerly exempted up to an amount of £500, are now disregarded entirely. A special provision, introduced in 1951, gave the Director-General of Social Services discretionary power to disregard the value of property in special circumstances. This has given great relief to many pensioners who have let their homes and, through ill health or for other reasons, have been unable to re-occupy them.
Further relief was given last year by she amendment under which income derived from property is entirely excluded from the income means test. The amount of income which a pensioner may have without any effect on his pension has been raised from 30s. a week to £3 10s. a week. For married couples the increase in permissible income has been from £3 a week to £7 a week. This has not only benefited pensioners receiving fixed incomes, such as superannuation, but it has also encouraged those pensioners who are able to do so to engage in part-time employment and thus supplement their pensions. In future, it will be possible for a single pensioner to receive the full pension of £4 a week in addition to other income of £3 10s. a week. He can also own his home, furniture and personal effects, without limit as to value, have life insurance policies with a surrender value up to £750 and money in the bank or other assets up to £209.
A married couple will be able to receive pensions of £8 a week between them and have, in addition, other income of £7 a week. They can also own their home, furniture and personal effects, without limit as to value, life insurance policies with a surrender value of up to £1,500 between them, and money in the bank or other assets up to £419. The Government has also doubled the rates of unemployment and sickness benefits and has introduced child endowment for the first child in every family. I have already mentioned the great step forward taken by the Government last year for the welfare of elderly people by legislation providing for grants for suitable homes. I would remind honorable members also of the advances which this Government has made in the great social service now known as the Commonwealth rehabilitation service. The scope of this service was considerably extended by amending legislation introduced by the Government early this year.
I think I have said enough to show that this Government can justly claim to have dealt fairly, in fact generously, with those members of the community who, because of age, ill health, widowhood or other reasons, have not been able in a direct way to enjoy their share of the general increase in prosperity which has been experienced since this Government has been in office. The Government has every reason to be proud of its record in the field of social services, all the more because its financial commitments in many other directions have reached unprecedented levels.
Some 518,000 age and invalid pensioners and 41,700 widow pensioners will receive the general increase of 10s. a week. Approximately 6,500 of these pensioners will receive additional increases because of the removal of the ceiling limits. The increased payments will be made from and including the first fortnightly pension pay-day after the bill becomes law.
The cost of the pension increases, together with those arising from the removal of the ceiling limits, is estimated at £14,933,000 for a full year. The cost for 1955-56 will be £11,200,000. The estimated cost for 1955-56 of all benefits under the Social Services Act is £179,030,000. In addition, national health benefits and services are estimated to cost £39,374,000, making a total of £218,404,000 for health and social services. It is interesting - and I hope that the House will take very careful note of what I am about to say - to reflect that in 1949-50, which was the last budget year of the Labour Administration, the cost of social services and health benefits was £85,300,000 and £7,500,000 respectively. That is the record of this party, which proclaims itself as one of the great advocates of social service, but is singularly lacking in purpose.
Many people, I know, will advocate a higher rate of pension than that proposed in this bill. I remind them that, in framing its social services policy, a government must have regard to many different aspects of the problem. Social services to-day involve huge cash payments and, unless a government is entirely reckless and irresponsible, it must look at many sides of the problem when determining the level of those payments. It must weigh arguments. It must seek an equitable balance between needs and desires, between expenditure and income. It must look, too, to its other commitments. Above all, it must have regard to what the community can afford. The development of social programmes depends ultimately on the ability of the community to meet the cost. And here we must look not only at the present but also at the future. We have to be sure that national resources are constantly being built up to meet the demands that will be made upon them. We have to be sure that the production of goods and services will be enough to go round and that all needs will be satisfied. And we must remember that, with the changing pattern of our population, an increasing proportion of old people will throw an increasing burden on the productive.
Social service payments represent a share of national production. If we take too much of that production away from the producers, we run the very real risk of stifling their incentive and reducing their efforts to produce. Not only would this reduce current production, but also it would act as a serious brake on future production, for it would reduce the amount of savings that could be ploughed back into industry in the form of better equipment. We must recognize our responsibility to all sections of the community, keeping a fair balance between the needs and claims of the elderly, of those who comprise the work force, of producers and non-producers, and, no less important, the needs and claims of our children. Prom a given quantity of production the more we take to meet the claims of the elderly, deserving as they are, the more we will diminish the share available for the benefit of our children and of our children’s children, and we shall diminish, too, their incentive to produce. This obligation to posterity should be constantly in our thoughts. If we fail to keep this balance, and if we seek an unlimited programme of social payments, then surely our resources will diminish and the promised social service benefits, without production to support them, will in the long run prove illusory. The substance will have been replaced by the shadow.
The Government seeks to maintain this fair balance between the needs of the various groups in the community. It looks to the future as well as to the present. This is not a negative approach, or, as some of our critics would have it. a static or retrogressive attitude. We seek social progress, but social progress on a sure foundation, backed by the steady development of all our resources. There can be no true social security without economic security. We have a duty to the old, the sick, the family unit and to those in misfortune. But our discharge of that duty must always be considered against the background of economic trends, demographic patterns and national resources. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Allan Fraser) adjourned.
Declaration of Urgency
– I declare (a) that the Estimates of expenditure are of an urgent nature; (b) that the resolutions preliminary to the introduction of the Appropriation Bill are urgent resolutions; and (c) that the Appropriation Bill is an urgent bill.
Question covering declaration of urgency resolved in the affirmative.
Allotment of Time
.- I move-
That the time allotted lor the consideration of the remainder of the Estimates, the resolutions, and the stages of the Appropriation Bill, be as follows: -
In view of the fact that each speaker is limited to five minutes, and the debate to twenty minutes, I think I should say, in introducing this motion, that the allotment of time is a new departure in order to provide a greater number of hours and days to the consideration of the Estimates. I give honorable members some indication of the departure when I remind them that in 194S-49, when Labour was in office, only 31 hours were allowed for the discussion of the Estimates. This motion makes it possible for honorable members to debate for 54^ hours that which was debated, under the previous Administration, in 31 hours. When I make that statement, I should like to remind the House that the debate to which I refer was again greatly truncated by that Government, which put up Minister after Minister to talk out the meagre time that was allowed for discussion of the Estimates, and thereby prevented the Opposition from making even one speech on that occasion.
It is perfectly true that on that particular occasion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we had not an officer like you in the chair. If we had, I feel certain that he would not have called Minister after Minister on the Government side to speak for an unlimited period on his own Estimates, so as to preclude other honorable members from expressing their opinions.
It is also true that, on that occasion, the Labour Government had a tremendous amount to hide. It wanted to prevent discussion of its maladministration. It wanted to prevent a free expression of opinion bv honorable members on its failure to govern this country in a proper manner. That was obvious, because, when it went to the people, they tossed it ignominiously out of office, and put in a government which they could really understand, and in which they believed. Having said that, I commend the “ guillotine “ proposal to the House. I feel perfectly certain that honorable members will accept it as an innovation and as a very generous gesture on the part of the Government to them.
.- One good thing about this motion is that it provides two extra days for the consideration of the Estimates. There has been a feeling in this Parliament for some considerable time that much more time should be spent on the Estimates, because we are voting away £1,100,000,000 for this financial year. We have only 54 hours in which to do so, and this means that we are voting money at the rate of £20,000 a minute. That is an extremely good performance, even for this fastmoving Government that is trying to catch up with its own self-created inflation. The Opposition will take advantage of the opportunity to discuss these matters.
Instead of indicating in what way the timetable will be beneficial to honorable members, and instead of explaining how the departments will be grouped, and so on, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) is so devoid of valid argument that he must go back to 1948-49, and give one of his own charming and incomparable misrepresentations of fact.
– He makes the same speech every year.
– Of course, he does, and it is getting worse. It is not as good as it was last year, and last year’s speech was a failure on that of the previous year. However, we have just got to take this as it is given to us. The Government has the numbers, and it will effect its purpose.
When Labour does come back to office, it will have to clean up the sorry mess that will have been left by this Government. It will have to do the job that this Government said it would do, but has failed to do; that is, put value back into the £1. At that time, we may have to give those honorable members of the present Government who may be here then an opportunity to speak on the Estimates, and I hope that they will have a much better opportunity than is being given to us. There will not be many of them of course; an outraged public will see to that.
If Labour governments in the past failed in this matter because Ministers took up the time unduly, that is no excuse for this Government’s doing like wise. The Government, as everybody knows, makes the timetable to suit itself. It arranges the hours when Ministers will be on the air and probably the nights when the Opposition will have to talk without the benefit of broadcasting. We see through the Vice-President of the Executive Council. He is as transparent as glass. We know what is operating in his mind, and we have to accept what is given to us, but we will make full use of the opportunity, while the Estimates are being debated, to expose the Government for its many failures and for its gross and blundering maladministration.
.- -I oppose the motion because of the small amount of time that is to be given for the debate on the first groups of departments. This group includes the Department of External Affairs. The Government proposes to allow us to debate the affairs of that department, together with three other departments, until 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the 20th September. The time is totally inadequate. Although that department has been subjected recently to a report such as has never yet been made on any department of the Commonwealth since the foundation of responsible government in Australia, we are supposed to consider appointments to it, and the payment of salaries to its staff, along with four other departments, in that limited period of time.
I want to debate, and I presume the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) and his supporters also want to debate, how it was that the Department of External Affairs was penetrated to the degree found by the Royal Commission. It was penetrated with considerable success during the years from 1943 to 1948 by virtue of the assistance given by traitors in Australia. I might say also that the dangers that the commission reported upon with regard to the leakages of documents are not so great as the dangers which face thi3 country of the possible appointment of such people to positions overseas, where they would be advising the Australian Government on the course of action it ought to take in its relations with other countries. We are entitled to debate fully the proposed vote for the Department of External Affairs, and how that department was penetrated with considerable success, as the royal commission found, by Soviet agents assisted by Australian traitors. I want to debate how, as the royal commission found, eight of the nineteen people linked in the report with “Walter Clayton, the master spy-
– Order ! We are not debating the report of the royal commission, but only the proposed allotment of time.
– I submit that I am debating the inadequacy of the time proposed to be allotted for the debate on the proposed vote for the Department of External Affairs, in view of the reports that have been made upon that particular department, and that we are entitled to debate the department fully since we are called upon to consider the provision of money for it. I consider that I should be entitled to debate the matters that I have raised. I ask for your indulgence in that regard, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because these matters are of great importance, and ones on which the Australian people expect us to speak up, irrespective of our political views. I am not arguing that only my views should be expressed in the Parliament. I say that all members of this Parliament should be given adequate time in which to express their views - whatever they might be - in relation to this particular matter. If other honorable members believe that an alarming state of affairs was revealed by the report, in that Soviet agents were able to penetrate the Department of External Affairs at the time that the Leader of the Opposition was the responsible Minister, they should be given an opportunity in this Parliament to state their views.
– Order ! The honorable member is not obeying the Chair, he should confine his remarks to the proposed allotment of time for consideration of the Estimates.
– I believe I am discussing the proposed allotment of time, but in view of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, let me turn to the Prime Minister’s Department, the proposed vote for which makes provision for the payment of certain moneys to one, O’Sullivan, who was the press secretary of the Leader of the Opposition.
– Order ! If the honorable member for Yarra persists in that course, I shall ask him to resume his seat.
– I submit that during the debate on the proposed limitation of time I am entitled to discuss the matters to which I have referred, which, I believe, are quite clearly related to the expenditure of the Prime Minister’s Department, and the Department of External Affairs. Surely I am entitled to argue that the suggested allotment of time for the consideration of the proposed votes for those departments is not sufficient.
– Order ! I rule that the honorable member is out of order, because he is anticipating a debate on an item that appears on the notice-paper. He may speak only to the proposed limitation of time for the consideration of the Estimates.
– I join issue with the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) on the matters that he has raised.
– I rise to order! As you have already ruled, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the honorable member for Yarra was out of order in referring to those matters, logically the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) should not be permitted to join issue with him on them.
– Order ! The honorable member for Port Adelaide did not even wait for the honorable member for Mackellar to finish his first sentence before he rose to order. However, I assure him that I shall rule similarly should any honorable member not confinehis remarks to the motion for the proposed allotment of time.
– I join issue with the honorable member for Yarra on a matter that he raised before you called him to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I submit that although the matters that the honorable member has raised are important, they warrant a lengthy debate and they could, therefore, be more adequately considered during the debate on the report of the Royal Commission on Espionage. I point out that the incidents to which the honorable member directed attention occurred before 1949, when this Government was not in power, and when the Department of External Affairs was administered by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt). They are important matters, and I agree with the honorable member that they should be debated, but I do not think that additional time should be provided for that purpose during the debate on the Estimates. The Estimates relate to expected expenditure during the current financial year. The report of the royal commission makes no mention of the matters which have been referred to in relation to any period after 1949.
– The report contains a lot of comment about O’sullivan and Grundeman.
– That is so, but not in relation to the Department of External Affairs. The trouble in that department occurred before 1949. Therefore, there is no point in arguing that additional time should be provided during a consideration of the Estimates for the purpose of debating those matters. As much time as possible should be allowed in due course for a debate on the report of the royal commission. Although the arguments that have been advanced by the honorable member for Yarra are sound in one respect, I do not think that they are relevant to the issue before the Chair. As I have said, I consider that they could be more fittingly dealt with during the debate on the report of the royal commission. Additional time during a consideration of the Estimates for the purpose of reviewing events that occurred before December, 1949, when the Department of External Affairs was administered by the right honorable member for Barton, is not warranted.
– I oppose the proposed restriction of time for a consideration of the Estimates. It is all very well for the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), who is sitting at the table, to express pious sentiments about this
Government’s attitude to the matter and to compare it with the attitude of previous administrations. The Minister stated that the practice of limiting the time for the consideration of the Estimates had been followed by Labour governments. Quite apart from the fact, that no Minister in the present Government is in Australia for a sufficiently lengthy period to assist in the complete preparation of the Estimates, most of them would be incapable of giving accurate first-hand information to the Parliament on matters connected with their respective departments.
I should like to raise several matters with respect to the proposed votes for the defence departments. I should like to know why, in this modern age of jet propelled aircraft, when we are voting about £200,000,000 a year for defence, the Royal Australian Air Force could not bring down a pilotless plane which recently travelled at only 50 miles an hour over Sydney. That incident alone warrants the setting aside of several days to consider what has been achieved by this Government’s huge expenditure on defence. Yet supporters of the Government, who are sitting behind the VicePresident of the Executive Council, nod in silent approval of the proposed curtailment of debate on matters which are of vital interest to the taxpayers. A considerable period of time should be made available for discussion of the proposed vote for the Department of the Army. I am sure that the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) wishes to say something about the administration, of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis). As the honor able member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), has said, the Government is voting money at the rate of £20,000 a minute. Yet this Government rushes the Parliament into recess for months on end, and when the sittings are resumed, the Leader of the House establishes records for the curtailment of debate by the use of the gag. Apparently honorable members are to be denied an opportunity to discuss matters of vital importance simply because this Government seeks to escape criticism by again sending the Parliament into recess at the earliest possible time. “Why should not the Parliament sit from now until Christmas, if necessary?What are honorable members paid for? The Government parties have a silent rank and file, afraid to speak. Supporters of the Government have complained that legislation is brought before the Parliament before they are consulted about it. They do not realize that the Ministry is leading them to their doom. We do not believe in taking these things lying down. We are a virile Opposition, and we believe that matters of vital importance to the public should be examined without restriction of criticism, and that every honorable member should have adequate opportunity to express his views on them. The curtailment of the debate in this manner means that every honorable member, instead of having two fifteenminute periods for the discussion of the estimates of each department, will be restricted to two fifteen-minute periods in which to discuss the combined Estimates of several departments.
It is easy to see that the Government has imposed these restrictions because it fears some of the revelations that would be made if more lengthy discussion were allowed. This is a shocking state of affairs. It reveals the complacency of the Government. The budget has been brought down and rank-and-file Government members have been told, in effect, “ Take it or leave it “. Other honorable members on this side of the chamber and I have constructive criticisms to offer, butthe Government prevents us from raising our voices in the interests of the electors and discussing social services, the defence programme, and matters affecting the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Department, the AttorneyGeneral’s Department and the Department of the Interior. There is a wealth of information available to show that many Ministers are not discharging their responsibilities as they should discharge them in this Parliament. We on this side of the chamber wish to take the opportunity to discuss those matters. I for one object to the manner in which this Government is restricting debate, and during the discussion of the estimates for the Parliament I should like to refer to the actions of the gag-master, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), who stops the expression of opinions on various matters by moving the closure from time to time throughout the year. I again ask the Minister to tell honorable members in his reply, if he gets a chance to make one, why we cannot sit, if necessary, until Christmas time to discuss this budget. We are being denied the opportunity to express our views about the budget.
– Order ! The time allowed under Standing Order 92 for debate on the motion has expired.
Question put -
That the motion (vide page 695) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. C.F. Adermann.)
Majority . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed (vide page 689).
– Is it the pleasure of the committee that the votes and departments contained in each section of the timetable be considered together throughout the Estimates?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
Remainder of proposed vote, £827,000.
Prime Minister’s Department
Proposed vote, £2,486,000.
Department of External Affairs
Proposed vote, £1,853,000.
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £8,537,000.
Proposed vote, £1,547,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- I wish to make a few observations about the Colombo plan, which relates to the administration of the Department of External Affairs. We are spending on the plan about £5,500,000, which constitutes . 1 per cent. of our national income, compared with an expenditure by the United States of America of 3 per cent. of its national income. The plan has been in existence for four years of its estimated term of six years. It appears that, on present expectations, the sum of £31,250,000 which, on the formulation of the plan, approximately four years ago, we pledged ourselves to spend, will certainly not be spent within the time originally contemplated. One great fault that I see in the plan is that the original estimate of expenditure was not sufficient. Though the motives behind the plan are statesmanlike and though it is calculated to improve immeasurably relations between Australia and the nations of South-East Asia, the fact remains that the miserable expenditure of only £31,250,000 over six years will not produce anything like the effect that honorable members wish to see. I submit that, not only is the amount insufficient, but we are not spending the amount scheduled for each year. So it can be seen that the plan can be faulted in two directions: first, because the original amount was not sufficient; and secondly, because the amount provided each year is not being spent.
Another fault in the plan is the way in which amounts are spent by the countries that receive the machinery supplied by the contributor nations. It would be a good idea for the Colombo plan countries to maintain periodical checks on the countries that receive our bounty in order to ascertain how it is being used for their economic development. There are a number of points at which I consider these amounts are not being expended judiciously. By way of illustration, I wish to discuss the aid that is given to Ceylon by Australia through the Colombo plan.
The aid that has been arranged for Ceylon amounts to £12,500,000.For the purposes of assisting in the basic development of Ceylon’s available agricultural resources, Australia has given no fewer than 100 tractors to the Ceylon Government. These tractors were to have been used for what is known in Ceylon as the private sector. That is to say, that they were to be utilized for agricultural purposes in private industry, not in governmental schemes. This is a very wise way in which to spend this money, if it is spent well, because agriculture is the backbone of Ceylon’s prosperity. Thousands of farmers in Ceylon are in need of more modern equipment in order to develop their fields. The Ceylon farmer is illiterate and backward, and is used to handling only outmoded Asian agricultural implements. Unless the private sector receives assistance from the Colombo plan, Ceylon cannot hope to achieve economic prosperity and selfsufficiency in food production. It is apparent that the Consultative Committee of the Colombo plan has not had much idea what was going on in the private sector because it said in its last report which was issued in February that no accurate information was available concerning the private sector in Ceylon. In other words, the committee did not know what was going on there.
I suggest that a few inquiries by the Department of External Affairs would elucidate the fact that the 100 tractors that have been supplied by this country are not being used to the best advantage. I have been informed, from a very reliable source, that Ceylon is not receiving the full benefit of the Colombo plan because of maladministration on the part of the Ceylon Government. I suggest that if this plan is to be carried out successfully, a greater measure of co-operation should exist between the governments that give the machinery and the governments that use it. The country that donates the machinery should ensure that tractors are not simply handed over to the other country, and forgotten. An eye should be kept on the activities of these governments, in order to ensure that equipment is used advantageously. In Ceylon, no provision is made for government officers to use their discretion to make tractors available to farmers who can put them to good use. In a number of cases, a farmer who has applied for a tractor has had to wait months before his turn has come. It would appear that red-tape is strangling the Colombo plan in Ceylon.
I am informed by a reliable source, which is friendly to the Colombo plan and which wants it to succeed, that no facilities exist in Ceylon for farmers to be trained in the handling of tractors. Obviously, it is no use putting a piece of modern machinery, such as a tractor, in the hands of a backward Ceylon farmer unless he knows how to use it. The Ceylon Government has not realized the necessity to have a training scheme in order to show farmers how to use tractors efficiently when they get them. At present, tractors are handed to farmers in Ceylon who do not know how to use them. If they use them at all, they do not use them in an efficient fashion, and the tractors are cast aside in a damaged state. The usefulness of the plan is being diminished in Ceylon for lack of cooperation between the Australian Department of External Affairs and the Ceylon
Government. The moral is that Ceylon must co-operate with the Australian Government in order to develop its agriculture to the fullest. If this were done, several hundreds of millions of rupees that are going out of Ceylon annually for food imports alone would be saved. That is one of the express purposes of the Colombo plan. It is the distinct obligation of the Australian Government to ensure that the money that the Australian taxpayers are providing for the Colombo plan is judiciously used. I certainly want to see that happen.
I regret to say that, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Consultative Committee, the progress of the Colombo plan has not been as spectacular as all concerned originally hoped. Generally speaking, the contributor nations concerned in the Colombo plan have not been as generous as they could have been, but the plan itself has several weaknesses which appear to defy solution. All the countries of the area to which the Colombo plan applies rely to a great degree upon their export earnings. Unfortunately, most of them export only one or two staple commodities. In other words they have all their eggs in one basket. For example, over 70 per cent, of Burma’s exports are of rice; over 70 per cent, of Ceylon’s exports comprise tea and rubber; over 70 per cent, of Malaya’s exports comprise rubber and tin; and 80 per cent, of Pakistan’s exports comprise raw jute and cotton. In the boom year of 1950-51, the prices of those exports rose to a considerable degree. Those countries then enjoyed a measure of prosperity. They got off to a good start under the Colombo plan. One very good result of that boom year was that those countries were able to finance their developmental programmes almost on their own.
Anybody who has a knowledge of the Colombo plan knows perfectly well that the_ plan envisages that those nations which receive assistance under the plan shall raise, within their own borders, most of the money that they require for the stimulation of production. But we find that the plan suddenly broke down. Id the year 1952-53, the prices of the commodities that I have mentioned fell very rapidly and there was a consequent fail in the national income of the countries concerned. The volume of trade in those countries declined considerably. The total value of imports in the areas concerned was 30 per cent, lower than the value for the previous year, and the total value of exports was 20 per cent, lower than they were in the previous year. Those figures are bad enough, but the decrease has had a most deleterious effect as far as the plan is concerned, because the purpose of the plan was to increase the standard of living of the people in that area. Now, a year after the plan has got under way, because of a sudden diminution of the national incomes of the countries concerned, instead of that progressive increase in the standard of living that one would expect as the plan continues, there has been a sudden drop. In other words, the plan had no effect on circumstances outside the control of its sponsors. It is most ironical that at a time when we expected the Colombo plan to increase the standards of living of these people, there was a bad decline as a result of a reduction in the real incomes of the countries in the area. We find that in Malaya, a country where, above all others at the moment, we wanted the wages of the workers to increase, because of the decline in the export prices of Malaya’s staple products, wages in the rubber industry were cut. In Ceylon, food subsidies were abolished. This has had a most marked effect on the standard of living of the people of those countries. As a result of that sharp decrease of prices for commodities produced in these countries the immediate future of the plan does not appear to be very encouraging. I have only to quote from the last report of the Consultative Committee of the Colombo plan which was issued to us in February last, to prove that contention, because it said that the gap between estimated costs of firm development programmes and foreseeable available financial resources was widening rather than narrowing.
One of the purposes of the Colombo plan was to stimulate private investment in the countries of the area concerned, but this aspect of the plan has not been successful in any sense of the word. Private investment has been very small. In some respects there has been a loss of private investment, because some capital resources that were in the area when the plan was inaugurated have been withdrawn from it. It would appear that we cannot expect private investors to play any important part at the present stage of the plan. That is to be deplored, because we had all hoped that at least in the fourth year of the plan there would have been an acceleration of the flow of private capital into those areas.
.- I desire to bring to the notice of the committee two items in the estimates for the Department of the Treasury. The first concerns the payment of estate duty. I notice that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has estimated that estate duty this year will yield £10,300,000, as compared with last year’s actual receipts of £9,613,947. As the rate has not been altered I do not know why the Parliament is being led to believe that more people will die this year in order to make that higher yield possible, but no doubt the Treasury had some reason for estimating an increased yield this year. The point that I wish to put before the committee, and to ask the Government to examine, concerns the dual set-up in the collection of probate duty. Is it necessary for us as a country to have State and Federal control of probate, which carries with it considerable increased costs of administration and makes it more and more difficult for people who are administering estates to obtain probate? A number of people who have been interested in this matter, or have been executors of estates, have discovered that it is almost impossible - in my opinion it is impossible - to obtain probate for any estate in less than about two years. First, one has to go through the rigmarole of State proceedings, and if the assets concerned are held in more than one State, one has to get probate in each State in turn, and then get probate in the federal sphere. The different departments concerned do not even accept one another’s valuations. I was interested recently in an estate which had a few cows, which I sold, putting the value received in for probate, in New South Wales. When I applied later to the federal authorities for probate they wanted a revaluation of the cows. Since I had not seen those cows for eighteen months I did not see how I could get a revaluation of them. For all I know they might have been dead by then. I believe that the Commonwealth would be wise to vacate this tax field and hand it over again to the States entirely, thus restoring the position that obtained prior to World War I. Federal probate was introduced as a war measure during that war. Such an action, apart from making the Treasurer even more popular than he is at present, would save the Commonwealth a not inconsiderable outlay, because the administration of estate duties costs the Commonwealth about £140,000 a year. Surely the common-sense attitude to take would be for the Commonwealth to relinquish estate duties to the States and offset the loss in revenue by a pro rata reduction of tax reimbursements to the States. I ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), who is now at the table, to refer that suggestion to the Treasurer when he returns from abroad in order to see whether some common-sense solution along those lines can be arrived at.
The second matter to which I wish to refer relates to Division No. 42 - Administrative: Salaries and Payments in the nature of Salary, for which the estimated expenditure this year is £3S1,000, in respect of salaries and allowances “as per schedule on page 166 “. The schedule on page 165 deals with salaries and allowances of the Banking Trade and Industry Branch. The particular activity to which I wish to refer is the Commonwealth Bank, which comes under this branch in the Treasury Estimates, because the Treasurer, of course, is the Minister responsible for it. As all honorable members know, under section 33 of the Commonwealth Bank Act the Commonwealth Bank has to pay one-half of its receipts into Consolidated Revenue, and of course, if we have, as I believe we have, excessive spending by the Commonwealth Bank, a decreased amount will be paid into the revenue and lead to the necessity for the Government either to increase taxes or to raise funds in some other way. The particular question I wish to ask the committee is whether it is necessary for the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to run his own private aeroplane. Because I believed that some waste was going on in this direction I directed a question to the Treasurer during the last few days of the last sessional period in relation to the matter. The question was -
I received a courteous reply from the Treasurer in which he said that he had asked the Common-wealth Bank for advice on those matters and would furnish a further reply when the advice was to hand. I then received from the Treasurer the following letter : -
I refer to the question which you placed on the notice-paper of the House of Representatives on 2nd June relating to the aircraft owned by the Commonwealth Bank.
The Governor has pointed out to me that it is not the practice of banks to disclose detailed information about their business operations and expenses, and therefore he regrets he cannot provide the information sought.
However, the Governor has asked me to inform you that he would be quite prepared to discuss the matter with you personally, if you would care to do so.
From that answer two matters arise that should be considered seriously by the committee. First, I feel that a scandalous waste of public funds is involved in maintaining this unnecessarily expensive aircraft to fly one man occasionally. The second point that calls for consideration is the refusal of the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board and the Treasurer, who is the responsible Minister, to give to a private member of this Parliament details of expenditure of public moneys about which a reasonable question has been placed on the noticepaper.
I said first that a scandalous waste of money is involved in maintaining this aircraft which we could sell to-morrow in America for 55,000 dollars. I should say that it costs in the vicinity of £10,000 a year for upkeep, running costs, depreciation and the crew’s wages. The captain of the aircraft would receive over £2,000 a year, and the first officer would receive approximately £1,600 a year. If insurance were effected, another cost would be involved. I think the current rate of interest is 3f per cent., which would mean an additional expenditure of approximately £1,000 a year on this aircraft. Moreover, there are further costs such as petrol, oil and hangar maintenance. Trans- Australia Airlines and Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited estimate that it costs £35 an hour to run a DC3 aircraft, and that estimate is based on the maximum use being made of such aircraft. The cost would obviously be far greater where an aircraft remained idle sometimes for weeks on end. I think we are entitled to know from the Treasurer and from the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank why the Governor cannot slum it with honorable members in a Viscount or some other aircraft, which is the normal mode of travel for honorable members. It is obvious that the aircraft in question does not land at any point at which regular airline aircraft do not land because it could not do so. It is all very well for the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, as he has done in the last day or two, to go around the country telling every one that they must reduce their expenses and cut costs. It is a case of “ Do as I say, not as I do “. I believe that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
The second point to which I direct attention was that the answer of the Treasurer raised a matter of principle which should be considered very seriously by the Parliament. When honorable members place questions on the noticepaper, I believe that, as trustees of the public purse, they have a right to get the details for which they ask. But they are fobbed off and told, “ If you like, you may go and see the person concerned “. I have never seen the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and I have no desire to see him at the present moment. All I want is the details of the money that is being expended unnecessarily on this aircraft. This is not the first occasion on which organizations of this kind, which are partially divorced from the Parliament, have attempted to hide unwarranted expenditure, which in many cases is enormous.
– For instance, the Australian National University.
– The Australian National University is one that I was about to cite. Another example is the Commonwealth Bank building in Hobart. Honorable members will remember that at this time last year, a fabulous building was opened in Hobart to house the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank for probably no more than two meetings a year. I do not know whether the board meets there very often. It must be the most fabulous building in the whole of Australia.
– Will the honorable member give us some details?
– Certainly. ] wish to quote from an article in the Hobart Mercury of Saturday, the 25th September, 1954, which is headed “ Furnishing is lavish “. The article states -
Finely woven brocade which normally might be expected to grace the figure of a ballroom belle adorns the walls of executives’ office suites in the bank.
The only other instance in Australia of the use of fine fabric as wall covering is a room in the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney.
Lavish furnishing in the new bank is the feature of executives’ offices, board room, and private dining room for executives and topranking guests.
– Are helicopters able to land on the roof?
– I do not know about that. I understand, however, that there is a piano for the Governor in the board room - no doubt a Bluthner piano imported from Germany at great expense. The article continues -
Deep wall-to-wall carpets, manufactured in Scotland, hush -footsteps in the “ holy-places “ of administration.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn), has raised, in a rather oblique manner, a very important problem which recently has engaged the attention of the Public Accounts Committee. I refer to the degree to which the day-to-day administration of those entities that are known as public corporations should be subject to parliamentary control. Because the Commonwealth Bank is a government bank, and in a sense is responsible to the Parliament, it is easy to imagine that its buildings are lavish when compared with those of the private banks. Apparently one can indulge in all kinds of critical details about the furnishings of the Commonwealth Bank, but nobody should raise a question about the lavish furnishings and buildings of the private institutions. More important than the mere furnishing of the buildings are the functions that the Commonwealth Bank, on the one hand, and the various commercial banks, on the other hand, perform. I note that there is no disposition by Government supporters to suggest that there should be a close political scrutiny of the real activities of the banking institutions. Their attitude seems to be that the banking system is sacred and that the Parliament should inquire very little into its activities. I leave that matter at the moment, because I hope that next week, when the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) makes his much longed for statement on this important subject, some light will be thrown on the real role of the banks in our community.
I should like to deal to-night with another aspect of treasury administration which I think is important. As the honorable member for Farrer has indicated, the schedule to the Estimates sets out the constitution of the various branches. The honorable member drew attention particularly to the Banking Trade and Industry Branch. I should like to draw attention now to the Loans and General Services Branch, because it seems to me that very little imagination has been displayed by this Government, or by governments as a whole in Australia, towards the very important subject of loan raising and the public debt in general. That is an important matter in relation to the Australian economy. The Treasurer has indicated in hi* budget speech that he does not expect the loan market to yield this year anything more than it yielded last year, and he has set aside a little reserve so that, if the Commonwealth is unable to raise all the money that is required by the States for the loan programmes, those programmecan be financed out of a surplus of £48,000,000 for which provision is made in the budget. It ought to be reasonable to ask why, in a country like Australia, where, according to the latest published figures, the national income is in the region of £4,000,000,000 a year, it should be difficult to raise on the loan market a sum of approximately £200,000,000. A little sum will indicate that it is only about 5 per cent, of the national income, yet this Government seems to experience difficulty in raising that amount for the very essential purposes for which it is required. A little consideration ought to be given to this all-important matter. Why is it that the community at large - the various financial and other institutions as well as individuals - is not contributing in larger sums to the public loans that are sought to be raised?
It is rather interesting to examine the details of the public debt in Australia. I have before me an interesting document, published by a private stockbroking firm, J. B. Were and Son. It is Were’8 Guide to Australian Loans and Ventures. On page 2 of the publication, there are details of the holdings of the Australian public debt at the end of June, 1954. The table shows that the total public debt of Australia at that date was £2,721,500,000. of that sum, £682,900,000, or about 25 per cent., was held by the Commonwealth Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank - in other words, by the Commonwealth in its capacity as proprietor of the Commonwealth Bank. A further £355,900,000, or 13 per cent, of the total debt, was held by private banks.
Life assurance offices had a large holding. It should be remembered that, in the last analysis, life assurance offices are merely glorified methods of aggregating the people’s savings. In Australia, most of these organizations are what are known as mutual life assurance companies. Between them, they held - I suggest they held it for various sections of the Australian public - a total of £211,900,000, or 7.8 per cent, of the aggregate. The holdings of other insurance organizations - fire, marine and general insurance offices - were £47,300,000, or 1.7 per cent. of the total. The next largest holders of the public debt are described as “ Commonwealth and State Governments and Local and Semi-Governmental Bodies “ - again the public in another aspect. As trust funds of the Commonwealth or as trust funds of the States and the various semi-governmental and local governmental institutions, they held £446,100,000. or 16 per cent, of the public debt.
Those categories account for about twothirds of the public debt holdings in Australia, The other category that is interesting is described as “ All Other Holders “. It is on this category that I should like to cast a critical eye for a moment. Of the total debt, it held. £695,700,000, or 25 per cent. The Australian Government is rather reluctant to publish details of how the public debt is held. I do not know why there should be any secrecy about it. In the great country of America, one can find out without any difficulty what proportion of the public debt is held by individuals, as such, as distinct from companies or corporate entities of one kind or another.
Recently I was interested to read in the latest issue of the Economic Record about an attempt by Mr. Arndt, one of our economists, to ascertain how the £695,000,000 shown under the heading “ All other holders “ is held. There is often a lot of loose talk about the small holder and his contributions to Government loans. Apparently the proportion of the public debt held by this kind of investor is not so great as has been imagined. Of course, this kind of contributor to public loans has been frightened off the market recently, because his fingers have been burnt as a result of the policy of this Government in permitting the interest rate to rise from 3$ per cent, to 4i per cent. The’ Government forced the interest rate up - to my mind, unnecessarily.
Not only has the gilt edged rate gone up, but so also has the rate for home purchase, hire purchase and other things. One of the roles of a government ought to be to attempt to control the interest rate, because, as has been pointed out here on a number of occasions, if we raise the gilt edged rate, we also raise the rate for home finance. An increase of the interest rate for home finance from 3£ per cent, to nearly 5^ per cent., as has happened under this Government, adds something like 30 per cent, to the capita] cost of a house bought under a mortgage. The average house mortgage extends over 30 or 35 years. Taking amortisation payments and annual interest payments into account, a rise of the interest rate from 3£ per cent, to 5-J per cent, adds something like 25 per cent, or 30 per cent, to the capital cost of the home. That is much more than is added if the basic wage rises by a few shillings a week, but the only criticism from honorable members on the other side of the chamber is directed at the wicked wage-earner who attempts to maintain his standard of living by trying to ensure that his wages will rise roughly in the same proportion at prices. He has fallen very far behind in the race.
There have been few systematic attempts in Australia to cultivate new kinds of appeals to the smaller investors in public loans. The tendency in Australia seems to be to go in for long-term holdings rather than for short-term holdings, although recently the Government, because of its own policy, has been forced to examine the short-term market a little more critically. It has had to do so because it cannot get subscriptions on a long-term basis, due entirely to its own fault. At the moment, the Government is offering, for loans for periods of two years and less, interest at the rate of about 3-J per cent., which is higher than the rate that operated under a Labour Government for long-term holdings.
In my opinion, when we are considering the small holder, the man with £100 or £200 to invest, the important thing to remember is that he is not really concerned whether the interest rate is 3£ per cent, or 4i per cent. The higher rate would earn him only a few more pounds a year. What is important to him is to be certain that if at any time he wants to redeem his bond, he will be paid the full capital value. If we look at the document published by J. B. Were and Son, we find that many people who invested in Government loan in good faith when the interest rate was per cent., will receive to-day only £S6, £89 or £92 for a £100 bond if they sell it.
I suggest that the Government give serious consideration to this matter. Why should it not re-introduce, for example, the war savings certificate system, which operated during the war? A war savings certificate could not lose its value. Eather, it increased in value the longer a person held it. Alternatively, why should not we adopt a device that has been adopted in America? The American methods of raising loans differ from those that operate in this country. The American long-term loans have no specified duration ; they are eternal, I suppose, looked at in one way. If a person in America invests 100 dollars or 1000 dollars in a long-term loan, and if at any time he wants to dispose of his bond, the opportunity is given to him to transfer from a long-term holding to a short-term bond, the capital value of which cannot fluctuate very much. There can be a loss of only one or two points in its capital value. Some more realistic approach should be made by the Government in an attempt to tap the small holdings as a source of loan raising, although the amount raised will never be very great in the aggregate. The figures I have quoted from Mr. Arndt’s analysis of taxation returns and other information available to him, indicate that even in that category described as “ all other holders “, which accounted for one-quarter of the debt, the major portion was held by proprietary companies which did not rank as financial institutions in the broad sense, and by smaller business units, whereas the individual person held very little of it.
.- Like other honorable members, with this rather mixed bag in front of us to be disposed of in a reasonably short time, I desire to deal briefly with two or three separate matters. First, I wish to express agreement with the sentiments expressed by the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) in his critical remarks concerning the need that, when an honorable member officially asks a Minister for certain information, he be given that information at the ministerial level. The honorable member for Farrer, I think very reasonably, complained that he had been asked to see a certain civil servant. That is, I think, escaping the whole idea of parliamentary responsibility. I have had that experience in relation to some very reasonable queries about the Australian National University, when I was invited to see the head of the university. I am not here, and other honorable members are not here, to do business, one might say, with civil servants. Our contacts in the administration of departments are with the heads of those departments in this place - I mean the Ministers. Like the honorable member for Farrer, I hope that this practice will be discontinued, because after all it may be said that a government instrumentality should be above politics. I know that you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, will agree that if any government activity is financed by public funds it is answerable, or should be answerable, for those funds in the public forum, which is the Parliament. I do believe it to be wrong not to give straight-forward public answers in this place whenever public funds are involved and a public question is asked about them.
I turn now to certain questions of policy under the heading of the Department of the Treasury. For many years it has been pressed that payments made to officers in the Commonwealth Military Forces, that is, the part-time forces of the the Australian Army, should not be subject to income tax. There are, of course, several points of view on this matter, but the one that I take is this : The Australian Army cannot function to-day without a very large volunteer component. That volunteer component is, in great part, dependent upon volunteer officers and non-commissioned officers, who give up a very great deal of their time, more than two or three nights a week, occasional week-ends, and a fortnight’s field camp a year, to look after their duties. Without them, the Australian Army, as constituted and supported by this Government, simply could not function. Their pay, I must say, is, in the main, reasonable, but when it is considered that this pay is taxed, and that their standard of entertainment and so forth is necessarily rather high, the result often is that they are working for nothing, because the few pounds they receive every year frequently put them into a higher income tax bracket. The exemption of their Army pay from tax would not cost the Treasury very much, and it would be an acknowledgment that the work of these men is recognized by the Government and that they are deserving of some consideration. To be frank, I am getting a little sick of advancing this argument, and having Ministers tell me afterwards privately that they are completely in favour of it, but that the trouble is that it is not generally agreed to by the Cabinet. I should like something a little more specific, and I think that is not unreasonable. I want to know exactly what the form is. Why, if this is such a good principle, is it not agreed to already? We are all agreed about it. The Government itself pays lip service and compliments to those upon whom it relies for support in maintaining its defence forces in the volunteer field. It is time that it made a practical gesture. I believe that it is the departmental officers of the Treasury who are in some way responsible. It may be said that adoption of the policy I have suggested would create a precedent, that it is impracticable and cannot be done. We all know that it only needs the Treasurer to say that it can be done, and it will be done, and I hope that it will be done. Otherwise, I shall be rising in my place and being even more definite about the matter at this time next year, and I have not the faintest doubt that that will happen.
I should like to say a word, as did the honorable member for Farrer, about the Commonwealth Rank. I disagree with him when he criticizes the style and state of those who rule the Commonwealth Bank, because I think that they are the greatest and most important people in the country. A point was well taken by an honorable member opposite when he asked why we do not talk about the conditions and style of those in the private trading banks. Of course, the truth is that the heads of the private trading banks are completely subordinate to the heads of the Commonwealth Trading Bank. That is a matter of fact, and therefore, it is reasonable to expect that that will be reflected in - shall we say for want of a better word - their standard of living. I do not mind about that at all, but I do say, regarding bank policy, that to-day we are witnessing the Commonwealth Bank directing the trading banks to undertake a restrictive credit policy. If the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank was correctly reported, he invited the trading banks to look very carefully at any project and any finance required for the purpose of industrial expansion in this country.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman may not discuss the policy of the Commonwealth Bank unless he can relate it to any item in the group of Estimates under discussion. He may discuss such matters as administration.
– I shall put the bank’s policy to one side for the moment and deal with it under another heading, but it is certainly right to discuss under these headings the cost of administration of the banks. In that regard we see, as the honorable member for Farrer has pointed out, that the bank which has increased its staff, buildings, and general facilities, above all others in this community is the Commonwealth Bank. It has done that, of course, because it has increased its credit policy and because it is taking a larger share of the country’s business. We are concerned only with the fact that in every capital city we daily see the increasing influence and activity of the Commonwealth Bank. That may be all very well and fine, and I have no quarrel with it, because I believe that it is in fact a great check on the trading banks that we should have a vigorous Commonwealth Bank, but the fact is that it ought to follow out its own direction in respect of buildings and the policies which make those buildings necessary. It is quite wrong for the Commonwealth Bank to direct the private trading banks to carry out a certain line of action unless it is prepared to follow the same line itself. I am sorry that I am not allowed to speak about bank policy, but perhaps, as you say, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that will come a little later on.
Under this heading, mention i3 made of the Parliament itself, and I want to say a few words on that subject, because in the ten years that 1 have been here I have noted with some regret-
– Is it as long as that ?
– Yes, but there is plenty of time yet. During that time [ have noted with some regret and perturbation the decreasing authority and powers which the Parliament exerts over its own business and legislation. This was pointed out by the former Clerk of the House who recently retired, and few nien in Australia have a deeper appreciation of the proper function of Parliament than he has. To be frank with honorable members, I think it is true to say that it does not matter whether we come here or not. It would not matter if we sent our wives in our places, or even our infant children; the result would be very much the same. If we are to be quite honest about it, what happens in this House no longer matters very much. This country is ruled now by Cabinet decisions. Et therefore becomes a matter of absolute and paramount importance that the Cabinet should be composed of the most vigorous and the best minds available in this country. As I do not wish to spend the whole of my life in this place, I propose now to be a little frank about it. As an example, I should like to draw attention to what I believe is rather a curious thing. Australia is one of the youngest and most vigorous countries in the world, but, in terms of the age of Ministers, it has one of the oldest Cabinets in the world. I do not say that this side of the Parliament is bursting with talent, or anything of that sort, but this is an unhealthy state of affairs and, with all due respect, I believe that the time is overdue for demanding a degree of vigour and action in the Cabinet, and that the personnel of the supreme authority in the land should be of younger vintage and should include people with more ideas, and new ideas. Having thus ensured my position in this party for some considerable time to come, I will leave it to other honorable members to carry on.
.- I must commence by agreeing with what the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) has just said. I congratulate him upon reaching, after some twelve months, the conclusions on the usefulness of this Parliament that were reached by Opposition members during last year’s debate on the Estimates. To all intents and purposes we are elected to make up the numbers and our influence, thereafter, on the Government, as the honorable member for Henty has said, is nil. One could just as easily send one’s wife, or a telegram, to say that one was still in the same party and supported the same particular view. I hope that, as a result of the remarks of the honorable member, the Government will take a good look at itself, and at its birth certificates, and that we can look forward to hearing of some of the new ideas that the honorable member has described as being overdue.
I understand that I cannot discuss the Petrov report, so I propose to have a fling at the Bankstown report, which comes under the expenditure of the Prime Minister’s Department. I do so because of the refusal, the other day, of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to carry out a promise to table in this chamber the report of the War-time Expenditure Committee on what has been referred to as the Bankstown scandals. Might I say that when I see the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) with their arms around one another’s shoulders, buddies in the one cause, I stop, look and wonder. In this particular matter-
– In this particular matter, the honorable member is quite wrong. It goes back to 1945 and there is no provision in the Estimates to cover any of the expenditure that was mooted.
– I disagree with you, Mr. Temporary Chairman. The services of the officials concerned with the typing and roneoing of this particular document were provided for from money being voted under this item in the Estimates.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! My ruling that the report is not covered by these Estimates will stand. The honorable member will be well advised not to try to pursue the matter.
– All I can say is that you are joining now with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition - a glorious trio - in preventing further discussion of this matter. However, in view of your restrictions on the debate, let me turn again to the remarks that were just made by the honorable member for Henty. Your ruling in this matter, and the general restriction of debate that takes place in this Parliament as a result of the gag applied so often by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison), are, as the honorable member for Henty has said, in effect, reducing this Parliament to a rubber stamp for the decisions already made in Cabinet. In some circumstances, I suppose, if all members of the Opposition were doing their job, we could have some effect upon the Government’s actions, but because of the lack of effective opposition this Government has become soft and complacent. It is allowing the problems of the day to roll by. It is taking no effective action and, on matters of vital concern to the country, it is ignoring the Parliament and preventing debate on most important items.
– The honorable member can debate the Estimate for the Attorney-General’s Department.
– If the honorable mem’ ber does not mind I shall make my own arrangements. The most important and far-reaching matter that this Parliament could discuss is that of finance and monetary control. There is no doubt that the problem facing any government that wishes to maintain economic stability is that of controlling the value of the money supply of the country, yet we have not heard during the budget debate, or on any other occasion, from the Prime Minister, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) or any Minister, a statement concerning the value of money or the policy being pursued by the Government to maintain the value of the £1 or the stability of the currency generally. The budget debate, perhaps the most important that takes place in this Parliament, should be concerned with the fundamental question whether the Government is or is riot maintaining a stable currency. The old saying that government is finance and finance is government, trite as it is, is nevertheless very true. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have not seen fit to consult this Parliament in relation to the policy of the Government on the exchange rate and other matters of great importance in maintaining financial stability. The Parliament has been by-passed. Honorable members on both sides of the House will agree that monetary policies have been implemented without the Parliament having been given any real opportunity to debate them. Of course, if the Government really wished this Parliament to guide it on the policies that should be followed, it would ensure the appointment of a committee of expert members - and there are surely sufficient of us who understand money and monetary control to permit that to be done - which would report to the Parliament upon financial proposals. I do not expect that to be done, but I say publicly that it ought to be done if this Parliament is, in practice, and not merely in theory, to exercise its very important function of controlling monetary policy in Australia. That should be one of its most important functions.
The honorable member for Farrer complained about the Commonwealth Bank. The honorable member for Henty drew attention to the fact that the Commonwealth Bank was expanding, but his was a comment rather than a complaint. The Commonwealth Bank is expanding because our population is expanding. More than 1,000,000 people have come to Australia since 1945. Do we consider that the Commonwealth Bank should not be opening new branches, and that all new business should be put in the hands of the private banks? Is it suggested by the honorable member for Farrer that the Government’s own policy of establishing a Commonwealth trading bank to compete on equal terms with the private banks should not be carried out? Quite obviously not! We believe that it is as a result of the actions of the private banks in expanding credit inordinately, without any regard to the national economy, that a great deal of the present financial trouble has arisen. We believe that the only effectual way of keeping control over the private banks is to have an effective competing trading bank exercising controls under the 1945 Banking Act. I know theGovernment finds that difficult, because it is faced on the one hand with the demands of the situation, and has to be realistic, and on the other hand, with demands by the banking institutions not only for the restriction of the activities of the Commonwealth Bank in its competition with them, but also with demands on the part of the largest financial institution in the Commonwealth, the Bank of
New South Wales, for the repeal of the 1.945 banking legislation. During the last election campaign, that bank refused to support this Government for the very reason that it would not agree to a demand for the repeal of the 1945 banking legislation.
I believe that restrictions should not be placed upon the Commonwealth Bank’s activities, and that the Commonwealth Bank, under the direction of the Government, should be out for every penny of business that it can get. It should be in the fullest and most active competition with the trading banks. Because of its efficiency, and because of the services it is offering to the people of Australia, this bank should be, and is, getting its share of the new business that has resulted from the expansion of the Australian economy in post-war years.
– Does the honorable member use it?
– Of course, I use it! I use whatever bank will give me an overdraft. The people of Australia are entitled to have their bank, the Commonwealth Bank, freed from any restrictions in relation to competition it faces from private banks. I hope the Government will not listen for a moment to the suggestion of many of its backbenchers for the imposition of restrictions on the bank. Whether rooms should be furnished in brocade or any other material is a minor matter compared with the vital need for the Commonwealth Bank to continue in active competition with the other banks in order that a check may be kept upon them, and in order that their policies may be directed to the national interests in the same way as the Commonwealth Bank’s policy ought to be directed in the national interests if this Government is really carrying out the job it was elected to do.
I regret the suggestion made by honorable members on the Government side that because buildings, no more luxurious than many put up by the private banks, have been erected by the Commonwealth Bank, we should begin, somehow or other, to restrict its services to the people of Australia. I have been in many of the buildings erected by the Commonwealth Bank, but I have not been in the directors’ offices. Those buildings are no more luxurious than are the buildings that have been erected by the trading banks. To use this matter as an excuse for suggesting that restrictions ought to be placed on the activities of the Commonwealth Bank is the utmost folly, and I hope that the Treasurer will refuse to listen to the suggestions of honorable members on the Government side in relation to that particular matter.
I desire in my closing remarks to make one reference to the Attorney-General’s Department. I ask the Government to clarify at an early date the position relating to the dispute between this country and Japan on the continental shelf and Japanese fishing fleets operating in Australian waters. That matter has been in dispute for a considerable time. I speak subject to correction on this matter, but as far as I know, the Government has not advanced very far in its preparations for the presentation of Australia’s case to the International Court. I should say that it is not very far advanced for the very good reason that there is not available to this Government, as there ought to be, expert advice from Australian sources on international law. The Government should take early steps to have available to it a source of expert advice on international law in order that the many problems which confront it from time to time in these days, involving questions of international law, can be solved by it, or looked at by it in the light of the most expert Australian advice available. It is bad, and always has been bad, that Australia has had to look overseas for advice on these matters. There are officers of the Department of
External Affairs concerned in the daytoday matters in international law which crop up, but, to my knowledge, there is not one person who is devoting his time exclusively to the study of those particular questions which require constant study on the part of the individual concerned with them. They are matters upon which one can only become expert as the result of keen and devoted study. I ask the Government to examine this matter and to see whether action can be taken in relation to it.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member’s time bas expired.
– I support the remarks of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) concerning reserve trainees. As he rightly stated, this matter is mentioned almost every year. The reserve trainee gives up a great deal of time, very often at financial loss, in undergoing training, and the Government should give him some real encouragement. I propose to interview the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Francis). I know that he is seeking, and is putting into practice, ways of encouraging naval reserve trainees. I feel that if the payments made to reserve trainees were an allowable deduction for taxation purposes, that would be a real means of building up the reserve on which our services rely so much in time of peace, but especially in time of war. I trust that the Government will give serious consideration to the suggestion. As I said, it bas been put forward on many occasions. [ think the honorable member for Henty claims that it has been raised for ten years. That being so, let it be looked at seriously, because at this particular time, it would be of real significance in giving the reserve trainee some real encouragement.
I wish to address my remarks to the Department of External Affairs. I think we can fairly say that we have a very high order of representation overseas. It compares very favorably with that of large powers. In many posts, we have attained lofty eminence. Where we can play our part abroad is in the Asian countries. Because we have never been a colonial power, we can approach Asian affairs without prejudice and without old hatreds. We can come to them fresh, and we can bridge the gap between the East and the West.
Admittedly, diplomatic posts abroad are expensive to maintain, because inflation is running in various countries. In many places, inflation is at a high level, so that the expense of maintaining embassies and legations must be high. But that fact gives the Government very little excuse for fixing salaries, particularly those of junior officers in the Department of External Affairs, at a low figure. Their entertainment allowances are restricted, and their salaries are miserly and paltry compared with those paid by other nations that maintain representation abroad. Many junior officers in the Department of External Affairs are forced to dip into their own pockets, either from capital or income, to keep themselves going. It is completely wrong that Australia, after sending these men abroad, should expect them continually to pay out of their own pockets to maintain the standards which we require of them. If we are not prepared to do it properly, we should close down some of our diplomatic posts abroad and concentrate on the ones that we can maintain. It is better to have no representation abroad, than to keep our embassies and legations on a shoe-string.
Let us consider how other countries look after their embassies. They maintain a certain standard, which is expected of us, too. As a result of our parsimonious attitude, Australia’s prestige has suffered a severe blow. I submit that in the case of some countries it is perhaps arguable whether we should maintain a full legation. For instance, I have great admiration for Brazil, which was an ally of ours during World War II., but I am at a loss to understand why we maintain an embassy in that country. Surely a trade commissioner service would suffice to enable us to maintain trade relationships. In short, I think that we should review our representation abroad and consider whether we could cut out some of our overseas establishments, or reduce them to trade commissioner services. Above all, we should maintain adequately our external service personnel, particularly the junior officers. We should provide them with adequate entertainment allowances and salaries in order to enable them to do the job that is expected of them without having to incur personal financial loss.
In the few minutes remaining to me, I wish to say a few words about the National Library. As honorable members know, our National Library consists of a few Nissen huts, a few brick buildings, and a few lean-tos where we store our books. Our national gallery consists of a safe on the Senate side of this building, into which pictures are thrown and remain until some one sees fit to get them out again and hang them on wall hooks. [ do not suppose that any other capital city in the world has such mean and paltry facilities. Perhaps we cannot afford to erect a national gallery at present, but we should give serious consideration to the question of how much longer we must go on putting up temporary structures and storing our valuable books and pictures in sheds. We must face up to this problem, decide when and where we shall build a gallery, and go ahead and erect a building fitting for our National Capital. I hope that the Minister for the Army, who is sitting at the table, will take up the matters that I have raised with the appropriate Ministers and inform me as soon as possible whether effect can be given to my suggestions.
– I was interested to hear the remarks of Government members in relation to the bracket of proposed votes now under consideration. In the first place, I liked the way that the debate commenced, with the honorable member for Farrer . (Mr. Fairbairn) being inclined to criticize the methods and leadership of the Commonwealth Bank. Then a bolder supporter of the Government, in the person of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), went a step further and said that it was time that new blood was induced into the Cabinet. I had hoped to hear a fulldress debate on what the Parliament should be doing, and I was rather disappointed when my good friend, the honorable member for Calare (Mr.
Howse) dampened down the discussion that we were getting from the Government members in relation to this subject. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), when criticizing the Government’s administration, stated that itwas necessary to have a vigorous Opposition. All I want to say in that connexion is that a strong party organization is a prerequisite of a strong Opposition. I point out that it is not possible to have a strong party organization unless, within each party, discipline is maintained. Until the members of the splinter group appreciate that fact, they should not say anything about a weak Opposition.
I was somewhat astounded by the remarks of the honorable member for Farrer in relation to the Commonwealth Bank. He said that the attitude of the executive of the bank appeared to be, “ Do as I 3ay, not as I do “. After having analysed the activities of the departments covered by the bracket of proposed votes now under consideration, I think that the honorable member’s apt description of the attitude of the executive of the Commonwealth Bank could well be applied to this Government. In view of the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has found it necessary to confer with the representatives of the private banks about the state of our economy - I understand that stock exchange experts, also, will be consulted - it is not unreasonable to expect the Government to set a lead by reducing its administrative costs. With that thought in mind, on studying the estimates for the Prime Minister’s Department I was intrigued to see that the proposed vote for Division No. 9 - Administrative - is £255,500, compared with expenditure of £229,096 for the last financial year, which is an increase of £26,404. The proposed vote for Division No. 10- Audit Office- is £581,000, compared with expenditure of £501,087 during the last financial year. When one looks at the summary of expenditure in relation to the Prime Minister’s Department which appears on page i’of the Estimates, he finds that, in round figures, expected expenditure in thisfinancial year will exceed the actual expenditure in the last financial year by £294,000. At a time -when the Government is directing attention to the State of the economy, one would expect expenditure by the Prime Minister’s Department on general expenses to be reduced. However, the proposed vote for that department makes provision for an amount of £457,075, compared with expenditure under that head of £430,488 during the last financial year.
As if that were not sufficient, when one turns to page 14 of the Estimates one finds a similar situation in relation to the Department of External Affairs. In this instance, expenditure on general expenses is expected to jump from £613,262 in the last financial year to £674,000 in this financial year. If one were sufficiently inquisitive to turn to page 23 he would find that the proposed vote for the Department of the Treasury is £8,537,000, compared with expenditure of £7,924,396 during the last financial year. What is the reason for this expected big increase of expenditure by the Department of the Treasury at a time when the Government is talking about pruning expenditure and tapering off some of our secondary industry advancement? At a time when additional money should be provided for home building, it is indeed odd to find that the expenditure by the Department of the Treasury in this financial year is expected to be more than £600,000 greater than its expenditure last year. The general expenses of that department amounted to £1,150,883 during the last financial year, and the proposed vote for that item is £1,192,430. In view of these figures, one cannot but “wonder where economy by the Government will commence. It is futile for the honorable member for Farrer to say that the Commonwealth Bank has set a standard for Government top level administration if the Government itself does not set an example for the nation to follow. Strangely enough, in the Estimates for the Attorney-General’s Department, which covers the Conciliation and Arbitration Court about which I am most concerned, there has been the lowest increase. Last year the sum of £407,939 was expended in respect of general expenses, but evidently it is expected that pruning will take place, because the anticipated requirement for this year is £367,000. If that principle can be applied in the Attorney-General’s Department, then before we criticize the Commonwealth Bank or call upon private enterprise to economize the Government should set the same example in other departments. I draw attention to the fact that last year the Government set aside the sum of £100 to cover compulsory conferences between trade unions and employers. I was anxiously waiting to see what would happen, and I find that last year the glorious sum of £44 was actually expended by the Government in arranging compulsory conferences between employers and employees. If that is the standard of conciliation we have reached in Australia-
– The honorable member said “ compulsory conferences “.
– The Minister would not understand that the first essential of real conciliation under our system is a conference between employers and employees in order to settle disputes.
– There is no provision in the act for voluntary conferences, and nobody knows that better than does the Minister, if he knows anything at all about conciliation and arbitration. I notice that the glorious sum of £100 has again been set aside for “ Compulsory conferences “ for the current financial year. That demonstrates the incapacity of this Government to realize that it is time that employers and employees were brought together in a spirit of conciliation. Earlier, a comparison was made between the growth of population in this country and in the United States of America at comparable stages of development. We have heard a lot about the great industrial growth of the United States. We could learn a lot from that growth, but we shall not do so while we talk in terms of £100 as adequate provision for what is the most important part of employee-employer relations. The Government is obviously not taking stock of the situation. I uttered a word of warning last year, and I do so again. I believe that before the end of the current financial year, we shall find that the sum of £100 is totally inadequate for the purpose. The great Australian Council of Trades Unions will be asking the Government to do something more than it is doing at the present time. That phase of our future progress is one that this Government must look at immediately. I said that last year, and I repeat it now. I emphasize that if the Government intends that economy should be practised in Australia, it should first set its own house in order and show the people of Australia that it is making a genuine attempt to reduce costs in this country.
.- The Estimates under discussion are those of the Prime Minister’s Department, the Parliament, the Department of External Affairs, the Treasury and the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. I wish to speak briefly on the Estimates for the Parliament. I agree with the views expressed by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), who commented on the advanced age of some members of the Cabinet. The honorable member made a good point. Surely the time must be near, particularly in view of the approaching crisis that the Government is facing, when younger members on the Government side could be pushed forward to replace the older members of the Cabinet who must be feeling the strain of their age. Such a change is long overdue, and I hope that Ministers have listened attentively to the views expressed by the honorable member for Henty.
The Department of the Treasury, of course, as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has stated, will probably be more fully dealt with after the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has given his views next week on the economic position. The stringent policy of the Treasury at the present time and the financial arrangements of the Government must call for criticism, but in view of what has been said by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports it will be more appropriate to withhold such criticism until after the Prime Minister has made the statement which he has foreshadowed.
One other matter, in which I am in agreement with members on the Government side, relates to the reply given to the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) to a question regarding the aeroplane used by the Commonwealth Bank. Whilst I do not suggest for one moment that the bank may not find it necessary to retain an aeroplane, I believe that an honorable member is entitled to receive information which he seeks from a Minister in this chamber. In such circumstances an honorable member should not be sent on a message or told to go running round the town to catch up with the head of a government department or a semi-governmental institution.
– For a young man you are making pretty heavy weather of it.
– That may be so. On a night like this with a knight at the table one finds it hard to keep going, but, maybe, the position will be different when the knight is replaced by one of the honorable members on the Government side who have complained to-night about Ministers who are not proving efficient because age has caught up with them. I repeat that if honorable members ask questions on notice of Ministers they are entitled to receive answers and should not be told to go to any department for the information that they require. Of course, there are some questions to which Ministers never reply, such as those asked by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) seems to forget all about them. Perhaps the next time it suits his purpose, instead of evading a question asked by the honorable member for East Sydney, the Prime Minister will tell him to go to some departmental head as if he were on a message, and obtain the answer. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) wishes to discuss some of the votes now under consideration and I shall make way for him.
The sitting continuing, the remainder of the report of this day’s proceedings will precede the report of the proceedings of
Thursday, 15 September 1955
.- Several honorable members have discussed the proposed vote of £827,000 for the Parliament, and have offered various criticisms of it. ‘Two honorable members particularly have referred to the age of Cabinet Ministers.
– I suppose the honorable member would rank with the elders among those who have held Cabinet rank.
– Very rank indeed !
– In the days when the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) was a Minister it was somewhat rank. Those who criticize the age of Cabinet Ministers probably would have a difficult job to pass the test themselves if they were put to it. I am a great believer in the old story about the old and the young in the bovine world. I think every honorable member is familiar with it. We might well apply similar principles to ourselves. Probably one of the main worries of honorable members about the Parliament is that they are not able to settle down to consider the problems that they have in front of them. One honorable member stated this evening that his wife or his child might just as well come along to this place and do the job for him. That honorable member definitely wrote himself down. He knows very well that he has had many an opportunity to discuss matters in another place before they were debated in this chamber.
– He wants more time to attend to his eviction cases.
– Probably, if the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) took a little more time to attend to some matters that he has raised recently he would be a lot better off. He should have found time to attend to those matters. The time has come, if it has not already passed, when the sittings of this Parliament should be appreciably altered. We have heard it stated this evening that we are not allowed sufficient time to debate the Estimates. My answer is that, with justice to ourselves and to the people, we could well alter the sitting times of the Parliament. We live in an age of fast-moving aircraft that are able to travel from the eastern seaboard to the western, or from the southern seaboard to the northern, in a few hours. Having left the aircraft, one can travel several hundred miles in a fast, motor car and attend certain functions before returning to take the aircraft back to Canberra.
I vividly recall a statement the other evening by one honorable member that the people of Canberra treat members of Parliament as foreigners in this place. That suggestion can be thrown back in his teeth. Any fault in that regard is our own. If it is good enough for the man in the ordinary vocation of life to work eight hours a day, five days a week, I cannot see anything wrong with the member of Parliament doing the same thing. Most members are in this building from 9 o’clock or a little later in the morning on sitting ‘days until 11 o’clock at night. Whether or not a member is actually in the chamber, he is nevertheless discharging some function as a member. We should be much better off if the Parliament sat during each sessional period, for five days a week. If an honorable member then wished to run about on Saturdays and Sundays, that would be his own affair. At present, a fast-moving aircraft can readily take us from Canberra to any of the capital cities or towns close to those cities, and constituents at the far end of an electorate 200 miles away from the centre where the member arrives by plane are as much entitled to his presence at a local function as are electors in centres close to the airports and in the capital cities. If Parliament sat five days a week, in the day-time only as the Queensland Parliament sits, we should be able to give far greater attention to our job. Some Cabinet Ministers might object to such a proposal and declare that they could not find time for Cabinet meetings. I would disagree with their argument. They could conveniently meet on two or three nights a week, if they wished, from S p.m. to 10.30 p.m. In that way, they could spend at least seven and a half hours a week in the Cabinet room without any undue strain on their physical capacities.
Since the present Government took office in 1949, the Parliament has suffered heavy losses. Unfortunately, it has recently suffered a very grievous loss. I believe that the cause of those losses is this tearing about madly from place to place attending functions, rushing to Cabinet meetings and meetings of the Parliament and the like. The sooner we formulate a sane system of regulated sittings for certain periods so that we shall know from one year’s end to the next what we shall be doing, the better it will be for the country and the individual parliamentarian. Some honorable members might object, as I have beard them do, and say, “ What about the public? They want to listen to us on the radio “. It would not take the public long to become accustomed to not hearing Parliament so much on the radio. According to a recent gallup poll conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, not many people listen to parliamentary broadcasts. I understand that many listeners prefer Bob Dyer or Jack Davey.
Mr. Ward interjecting,
– I am sure that they would like to hear less of the honorable member for East Sydney, who is continually interjecting. I understand that many people turn off the radio when he speaks, whether he discusses the budget, the Petrov affair, security or anything else, and they would welcome any change in the sittings of Parliament that would enable them to hear less of him. It is time the Parliament altered its customary sitting times and introduced regularity, as has been done by other parliaments in Australia. For instance, the Western Australian Parliament, with great regularity, sits on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, year in and year out, between July and November or very early in December. The members of that Parliament know exactly what the sittings will be unless some extraordinary problem arises.
I have offered these comments before, though not at such length, and I make them again in the hope that the powers that be will tackle the problem. So far as I can see, members are not able to give of their best in their job, because they are thinking mainly of what is happening in their electorates and want to return to their constituencies as quickly as possible to attend a flower show or some other small function, or because they think some one else might be trying to deprive them of their seat in this place or, as it is called in the political world, preparing to stab them in the back. It would be better for the nation and very much better for members of the Parliament if the customary sitting times were altered.
Mr. LUCHETTI (Macquarie) [10.40’J. - I leave to the gentle mercy of the backbenchers on the Government side the fate of the Ministry. But I am satisfied that they, in their infinite mercy, their undoubted clemency, and their kindness - if not their eventual weakness - will do nothing about the situation. This debate provides members who sit on the back benches with an opportunity to talk about Parliament - the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet; but, obediently, throughout the whole period of Parliament they do precisely what is dictated by Cabinet, and by those who dictate what shall be done by Cabinet. It seems rather idle that at this late hour honorable members should hear brave word? uttered - at a time when the Government is rushing, without any need whatever, headlong into an election. If those honorable members who sit behind the treasury bench had the courage of their convictions, and really wanted to make Parliament work effectively, they would be vocal indeed this evening, pointing out that Parliament is not being given its full opportunity to serve the people. They would insist that it should complete its full period of three years, and that the programme upon which this Government was elected should be given legislative effect. But despite the fact that it is only eighteen months since the members of the Government parties sought a mandate from the people of Australia, we find that this Government, bereft of policy and without purpose, having an overwhelming majority in this chamber and full support in another place, is now deciding to throw the taxpayers of this country into the turmoil of an unnecessary election. The members of the Labour party want Parliament to operate as it should, and whenever those who have a say on the Government benches determine in favour of an election they will find the Labour party ready to meet them on the hustings and on their own battleground.
This evening, I think the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn), complained bitterly about the attitude of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in refusing to answer specifically an important question which he had asked. The question was important to the honorable member; whether it was important to this House is another matter. Only last week, I asked the Prime Minister, as the head of the Australian Government, a question involving the lives of people in my electorate, and this week I repeated a question dealing with the fate of coal-miners in my electorate and scattered throughout the State of New South Wales. Neither was answered. That honorable gentleman said he would refer the question about coal-miners to the appropriate Minister. By way of interjection I stressed the urgency of the matter, and he said that it would receive the urgent attention that it required. But despite the Prime Minister’s assurance, I have received no reply. Miners who have served this country well by providing fuel necessary to keep the wheels of industry turning in both peace and war - men with unblemished reputation in providing power for the cement industry to help this country in times of extremity and need - have been dismissed. In spite of that fact the Government is not prepared to act.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member is dealing with a subject outside the scope of this debate. He must keep to the item under consideration.
– The matters I have raised, Mr. Temporary Chairman, are appropriate to the Prime Minister’s
Department. The Prime Minister failed to answer my question. I am prepared to accept your ruling, but I voice a most vigorous protest against the failure of the Prime Minister to accept his responsibility to deal with one of the mostimportant questions facing this country. If we are not prepared to deal with these matters in the committee when Parliament itself is being discussed, at what stage can we consider Parliament and its activities? Surely now is the proper time to do so.
This matter is all-important, and I should have liked to dealt with it in another way. I should have preferred to introduce it as a matter of urgency, but because of the forms of this House and the attitude of the Vice-President of the Executive .Council in using the “guillotine “ and laying down a time-table, that course is not now open to me. I thought, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that you might have allowed me to discuss this matter which vitally affects the people whom I represent.
I turn to a much brighter subject and pay tribute to the officers of this House, and offer them my congratulations for their fine services. I enter an emphatic protest, however, that the gentlemen who serve this Parliament so well and who recently received a higher classification, to which they were entitled, had it taken away from them a few weeks ago. That was a most serious and unfortunate occurrence. If honorable members really appreciate Parliament they should appreciate also the people who serve it. I am reluctant to mention again a matter I raised some time ago, that a certain position in Parliament with a salary of £3,250 a year could have been filled by the presiding officers without calling applications. Yet some gentlemen who serve this Parliament have had their classifications taken away from them. It is about time that all honorable members became aware of what is happening within the precincts of this building.
It is necessary that Parliament should meet frequently to deal with the business of the nation. The fact that this legislature has allowed the effective control of public affairs to slip from its grasp is to be deplored, but that has been occurring progressively, and matters of administration are now in the hands of the Ministry. As other honorable members have mentioned, from time to time representatives of the electors in this House have become glorified messengers, carrying to the Ministers of State the representations of their constituents. Occasionally, they receive advice, they are also put off to a later time, and when Ministers have not been available, have been compelled to go to public servants. It is intolerable that representatives of the people should find themselves in such a subordinate position. That is _ an example of the drift of control from Parliament. No honorable member, whether he sits on the right or the left of the Chair, can be happy about this state of affairs. Honorable members, irrespective of their party affiliations or their place in this chamber, must band together to determine that, as the elected representative of the people - chosen after a vigorous pre-selection and ultimate election - sent here to do a job for them, there will not be a further deterioration in our effective parliamentary control. Back-benchers on the Government side may continue to complain about the troubles of the Ministry, the senility of its members, and all the rest of it, but I will not join in that criticism. Members on this side are not concerned with personalities, but with policy and action. We consider that Parliament should consist of effective representatives carrying out the policy of the Australian Labour party.
.- At this late hour, I have no intention of speaking at length. Indeed, I had no intention of speaking at all until I heard the speech of the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), and I confess that I was rather staggered by his observations. He claims that he has not been given in this chamber the right of an elected representative of the people. May I say to the honorable gentleman that he has all the rights of an elected representative, but that he, in common with his colleagues, is not prepared to take advantage of them. I have sat in this chamber and seen only two and three members of the Opposition when a very important debate has been in progress. All the- other benches on that side have been empty. Where was the honorable member for Macquarie on that occasion? Where was the rest of the Opposition on that occasion?
Provision is made in the machinery of this House for honorable members to raise and debate a matter of urgent public importance. What happened recently in this chamber? Caucus decided that it? members should not support’ a proposal of a matter of this kind when it was raised by another section of honorable members. When that section did seek support for a proposal to discuss great and important matters which affected the Australian Council of Trades Unions, what happened? Members of the official Opposition led by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) walked out of the House. They refused to support the proposal. When they had an opportunity to uphold the civil liberties in connexion with another matter that was raised by one of their own members, what did this great political party which claims to protect civil liberties do? Because caucus had given a direction that the honorable member must not, under any circumstances, raise such a matter, they walked out of the House. They slunk away and, as a member of the AntiCommunist Labour party has said, peered through the cracks in the door like an arthritic old man. Yet the honorable member for Macquarie has had the temerity to say that he has not the rights of an elected representative of the people. He should not have the rights of an elected representative unless he is prepared to exercise them. He has become subservient to caucus direction. He has become subservient to the direction of an outside junta. Consequently, he has forfeited his rights as a member. He hae offered them up on the sacrificial table to the Leader of the Opposition. When certain legislation was to be introduced during the war period-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The right honorable member must keep to the Estimates.
– This matter has to do with the Parliament itself. The Labour Prime Minister of the day, instead of bringing down legislation to circumscribe the movement of troops, went to the Australian Council of Trades Unions and got a direction-
– Order ! That is history. I ask the right honorable gentleman to deal with the Estimates of the departments now under consideration.
– It is history ; but history has a habit of repeating itself. Before honorable members on the other side of the chamber rise in their places and appeal, with their tongues in their cheeks, for certain powers which they say are denied them, they should study their consciences in this regard. Their appeal may read well when honorable members opposite get their 35 copies of Ilansard and post them to their supporters, but it is about time that those persons outside this place knew the true worth of their representatives, and the way in which they comport themselves in the House. Only this evening, we had a classic example of a protest in regard to the forms of the House. The protest seemed to carry weight. “What happened ? About half an hour ago, the debate nearly collapsed because honorable members were not in the chamber to make use of the time that was allotted to them. The people should know the true worth of complaints that are made by Opposition members.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Having heard the eloquent appeal of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Sir Eric Harrison) for free speech a few minutes ago, perhaps I may be permitted to conclude my remarks this evening without interruption. The Vice-President of the Executive Council gave an undertaking to me that he would secure from the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan), whom he repre sents in this chamber, a reply to certain questions which I directed to him some considerable time ago. Eventually, the Vice-President of the Executive Council came back into the chamber and said that he had spoken to the Minister for Trade and Customs and that the Minister would write to me in regard to these inquiries. I have not since received a reply from the Minister for Trade and Customs. Evidently, the Minister is finding the questions that I directed to him very difficult to answer.
Therefore, I return to the subject, and I remind honorable members that it refers to the importation into this country of a large number of second-hand American motor vehicles in March or April. They were towed across in barges and a customs import licence was issued, but not on the advice of the Sydney office of the Department of Trade and Customs, nor on the advice of Mr. Meere, the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs in Canberra, who recommended against the issuing of the licences. The vehicles were allowed to enter this country at the direction of the Minister. He had directed the issue of the licence against the advice of his Sydney officers and against the advice of the Comptroller-General of Customs. I asked the Minister a few simple questions. I usually put my questions in that form in order to assist Ministers. I therefore asked these questions of the Minister -
I should be pleased if you would let me know whether the issuance of the licence in this instance was recommended by the customs officers in Sydney, or whether it was referred to the head officer of your department in Canberra, and subsequently approved from that quarter, or whether you exercised your ministerial powers to grant or secure approval of the application.
I received an amazing reply from the Minister. I did not receive any answer to my question, which was quite respectfully worded; but, as I have mentioned in this House previously, I received on the 17th August a very short communication from the Minister in which he said -
Coming as it does from a former Commonwealth Minister, the tenor of your letter is rather amazing. However. I have nothing further to add to that conveyed in earlier correspondence.
I took it, from the tone of the Minister’s letter, that that was the end of the matter as far as he was concerned. But I was not satisfied. When I raised the subject in the Parliament, the Vice-President of the Executive Council agreed to secure this information for me. I naturally accepted his word, and expected the information to be obtained by him on my behalf. Evidently the Vice-President of the Executive Council must have had some sort of clash with the Minister for Trade and Customs, because he himself evidently is not satisfied with the Minister’s reply. I shall read a. few of the statements that were made by the VicePresident of the Executive Council when he came back to this chamber and, in an apologetic way, regretted that he was unable to secure the information he had promised to obtain for me. He said -
After I had heard the honorable gentleman-
The reference is to me, in case there is some misunderstanding on the part of Government supporters -
I made what 1 considered to be a most restrained reply, in which I told him that I hoped that I would be in a position, when the next motion for the adjournment was proposed, to give the honorable member a full answer to the insinuations and innuendoes that he put forward … I approached the Minister for Trade and Customs, and discussed the matter with hiin. The Minister said that he considered that it was a matter for him to attend to personally, as he was administering the department concerned-
It seems that he must have told the VicePresident of the Executive Council to mind his own business -
He said that he would correspond with the honorable gentleman, and that he felt that that would be a satisfactory way to deal with matters raised by the honorable member. I feel that I have discharged the obligation that I entered into … I naturally have no personal knowledge of the matters that were brought forward by the honorable member for East Sydney. I.” am perfectly certain that he now has received a letter from the Minister for Trade and Customs, and I hope that he will find it satisfactory.
That was a week ago, and I have not received a letter yet. I have not had a word from the Minister for Trade and Customs. He has not broken his silence. I remind honorable members on the Government side that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is now overseas trying to raise loans because we are short of overseas funds, particularly dollars. A considerable sum in dollars was involved in this transaction, and, according to the correspondence, of the Minister himself, the vehicles were not urgently needed in Australia. He said there was no great demand for them. I want to know, then, why the import licence was issued at the direction of the Minister, and why valuable dollars were wasted in bringing these vehicles into Australia. The Dollars Allocation Committee, which meets quarterly, decides the allocation of dollars under various headings, and it is rather strange that these dollars did not come out of the allocation for the motor trade. They came out .of a section set aside to meet contingencies. I can see through the Minister’s action in seeing that the dollars did not come out of the allocation to the motor trade. The motor importers would have been up in arms, and would have denounced the Government because it would have meant fewer dollars for those ordinarily engaged in the business of motor imports. In directing the issue of licences, the Minister decided that the dollars would be provided out of the contingencies fund, and that is where the dollars came from.
I tried to get, by correspondence with the Minister, some details as to the number of dollars involved, who had made the application for the import licence and to whom it was granted. He refused’ initially to give me any information. He said all these matters were strictly confidential between the Department of Trade and Customs and the applicant company. However, I was able to tell him the name of the applicant company in this case. It was the American Heavy Equipment Company, which is a subsidiary of Thiess Brothers in Queensland. The American Heavy Equipment Company is only a dummy company and no doubt was formed for the purpose of obtaining this particular import licence, because the Government or the Minister, for some reason, did not want it to be known that the licence was br ing issued in this manner to Thiess Brothers. Therefore, this new organization was formed in Sydney. All I wish to say to the Minister for Trade and Customs is that I am repeating information that was passed on to me and I believe that it should be answered by the Minister. 1 am not the person making any accusations. I merely want the information and the answers to questions based on the information given to me. The whole transaction, and the very failure of the Minister to give a prompt answer to those questions, creates a suspicion that everything is not fair and above board in this matter. The Government has something to hide, and apparently the Minister is not prepared to give the whole of the details to the Parliament. When he told the Vice-President of the Executive Council that he had been dealing with this matter by correspondence and was going to write to me, I naturally waited thinking that a letter was on its way and that it would contain the answer to the questions I had previously directed to the Minister, and which he had refused to answer. I appeal again to the VicePresident of the Executive Council. If he believes that there is no use going back to the Minister for Trade and Customs because the Minister has refused to answer these questions, I would like him to be frank enough to tell the Parliament that that is the situation. Then the Parliament probably will be able to take some note of this transaction and the circumstances associated with it, and other honorable members might join in the demand on the Government and the Minister to answer the questions and clear up what I believe to be an unsavoury business.
.- After reading an article that was published in the Sydney Sun newspaper to-day, I desire to raise a matter that was discussed in this House recently. I refer to the tabling of the report of the War Expenditure Committee on certain activities in Bankstown. Let me make it clear that my aim in this matter is not to disclose the names of persons which might not to be disclosed. My objective, and the aim of those who desire this report to be tabled, is to clear a doubt, which must exist in the public mind at present on the possibility of persons defrauding the Australian Government of large sums of money and escaping the consequences of those actions by virtue of political friendships. I persist in this matter because I believe that the lowest and worst of all crimes of dishonesty are those committed by war-time racketeers when the nation is sending men away to give their lives, in many cases, for their country. If necessary, we should pursue the persons responsible for such crimes ; not only for eleven years but for twelve, thirteen or twenty years if necessary so that they may be called to account.
It is ridiculous for the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to repudiate the undertaking that he gave to this Parliament to table the report on the ground that the report is secret, when newspaper reporters are able to write, as Oliver Hogue wrote in the Sydney Sun to-day, that he knows what Ls in this so-called secret report because he has seen it. The Government has a responsibility to investigate that statement. If Mr. Hogue did see the report - and he has stated publicly in print that he did see it - this Parliament wants to know how a secret report was made available to him. Mr. Hogue, a person who claims to have seen the report, wrote in the Sydney Sun -
Big contracting firms with an Australiawide reputation, a Labour senator whose name at times has been on everyone’s lips, and lesser-known people are named in the Parliamentary War Expenditure Committee’s report.
Honorable members have been told that we should not urge the publication of this report because it would hurt certain persons and smear them. What is the situation with regard to every Labour senator in view of the statement published by Mr. Hogue? He claims that he saw the report, and that there is matter in it adverse to a Labour senator.
– It might have been Senator Cole.
– It might have been any honorable senator, and until that matter is cleared up, and the reflections against big contracting firms, about which Hogue claims to have inside knowledge, are cleared, every big contracting firm and every Labour senator must remain under a cloud. Anybody who wants to damage any Labour senator is in a position to say, “ I got this from so and so who saw the secret report, and you know the scandals that happened “. Lest it ‘be thought that this demand has been made by people who, in the words of the Prime Minister, would he responsible for defaming other people because information was made available, let me read to the House the editorial in the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial of the 14th September, a newspaper hardly particularly friendly to me. The newspaper joined in the demand after the Prime Minister had repudiated his promise to table the document and said -
Parliament should press for publication of both the War Expenditure report and the Privileges Committee report as an outcome of which Fitzpatrick and Frank Browne were sent to gaol.
It also said -
What ave the facts t Why should they be kept dark?
Fitzpatrick was not the only person mentioned in evidence
Humour has been busy with other names, some of them well known.
Until we know the facts, innocent people may remain the victims of unjustified innuendoes.
The article by Mr. Hogue lays every Labour senator open to unjustified innuendoes unless the whole matter is cleared up. The Melbourne Argus, which also could hardly be accused of being particularly friendly to this corner of the chamber, and is the official organ of the right honorable member for Barton, had this to say -
The Joint Parliamentary War Expenditure Committee gathered those facts in 1944, during the Curtin Government regime.
Since then veiled allegations have been bandied around Parliament that big business firms and executives indulged in wartime frauds, that citizens of high reputation were involved, that in one case alone £02,000 was paid back to the Government as a sequel to the probe.
The editorial concludes with the following words : -
The truth nearly came out yesterday. It was to have come out. Then it was killed.
The nation has a right to know what is in that report.
So those who like to make allegations such as are made in the article in the Sydney Sun to the effect that only those who desire to hurt people by having their names disclosed are demanding the tabling of the report, will have to include the editors and proprietors of the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial and the Melbourne Argus in that category. If those who are demanding that report are simply smearers, those people who wrote the editorial in the Melbourne Sun NewsPictorial and in other newspapers, who expressed similar views will have to be likewise branded. I put it to the Minister that when these people’s allegations haN been published wholesale, in Parliament, and out of Parliament, the so-called secret contents of that document are no longer secret, and the Prime Minister cannot excuse his repudiation of his promise by saying that they are. We have a statement from a person not entitled to have seen that document, who claims that h<has seen it despite its supposed secrecy, and then goes on to make reference to certain easily identifiable groups of people, all of whom must remain under a cloud until such time as the actual information in that report is disclosed and the persons concerned are given an opportunity to speak for themselves. Even the fact that the incidents dealt with in the report happened eleven years ago if surely no reason why we should not give these people an opportunity in view of all these allegations and this cloud of suspicion that remains over all of them, to face the accusations made against them. If they are untrue they can deal with them. But the attitude of the Government and the attitude of Mr. Hogue in these descriptions in one place was that this would be very much against justice, and that the refusal of the Prime Minister to disclose the report, and the cooperation with him of the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) in supporting his action, were very good things. They go on to state that the War Expenditure Committee members themselves are responsible for producing a document which, if made public, would severely damage people because unjustified and unwarranted accusations are made against them. I think it is time that members of the committee which made that report, including the present Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt), stood up and expressed their views in relation to this matter, because the argument of the Government is that this report cannot be made available - that argument is repeated in the article I have referred tobecause it names certain people without any justification, and that these people would be harmed by publication of the report. I believe that when members of that committee undertook their task they did so with a sense of their responsibility to stop racketeering and profiteering when men were being sent away in order to tight for this country. I believe that members of the committee took the view, which would be the view of the overwhelming majority of honorable members, that if we have to pursue war-time racketeers from now till doomsday, we have a duty to pursue them and to demonstrate to the people that, when they are called upon for a national effort in the interests of the country, others will not be able to stay here waxing fat as the result of crooked practices and frauds in government contracts. I again ask the Minister at the table that in view of the press statements that a newspaper reporter had access to this document and knows its contents - and I think it is fairly safe to say that if one Canberra correspondent had access to it it was available to the others - the Government has a responsibility first to investigate the facts and see if secret documents were made available to this particular individual and, secondly, to make the documents available to the people of Australia.
.- Before I refer to the matter that causes me to rise in this debate, I wish to say that I do not propose to attempt to follow the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), because up to the present I have never been a party to a heresy hunt, and it is my most fervent wish that I never shall be. However, [ suggest that the honorable member for Yarra might go into a huddle with the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), who was the person who initiated this matter in this House and who, when the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) announced to the House that he had found that it was undesirable to produce the report, said that all he wanted to say was that he agreed entirely with the Prime Minister. I suggest that the deputy leader of this new-found party, the honorable member for Yarra, might go into a huddle with one of his most ardent supporters in the corner group and find out exactly where his party stands on this particular matter. However, that is not what I rose to speak about.
I am concerned to-night with a letter that I received yesterday from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt). Some time ago, before this sessional period commenced, I directed a question to the Minister regarding the conditions that existed on the waterfront at Lucinda Point. 1 also took advantage of the budget debate to raise that matter. It will not take me long now to express my views on it.
– Hear, hear!
– I heard the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) say “ Hear, hear ! “ a while ago, and I heard him say “ Hear, hear ! “ when the Prime Minister announced on Tuesday that he did not intend to table the report of the War Expenditure Committee, so apparently the honorable member has a “Hear, hear!” complex. I should like him, to make. up his mind about which side he is on, at least for once in his life. Recently, when I was in north Queensland, I visited the wharf at Lucinda Point. I have two ports in my electorate, and I always make it a practice to visit both of them. In case anybody wants to say that I am a Com.unist, or that I have Communist leanings, because I have a look at conditions at the Townsville wharf and the wharf at Lucinda Point, I can tell them they may say it to their heart’s content. The position at Lucinda Point is not one that should be joked about. We hear so much in this House about the failure of the waterside workers here, there and everywhere, to do their job.
– Hear, hear!
– I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that everybody is entitled to a hearing. If the honorable member for Henty is not prepared to listen, he might be sufficiently decent to go outside, and if he is not prepared to do that, perhaps you might invite him to do so.
– Order ! On both sides of the House.
– We have heard a great deal about the slow turn-round of ships. The cane farmers and millers of north Queensland are continually complaining about the slow discharge of sugar from the ports, which is a very important question. Many factors are associated with the slow discharge of sugar. At Lucinda Point, there is more work than enough for five gangs working every ship that comes into the port, but for some mysterious reason, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is determined that there shall be only four gangs employed on a ship. That means that a certain number of waterside workers at Lucinda Point are rostered off.
I wrote to the Minister and asked him if he would arrange for a representative of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board to confer with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited in order to see why that decision had been made, and with a view to getting a faster turnround of ships. When a vessel comes into Lucinda Point, the quicker it is loaded, the quicker it goes out. Almost continuously, there is a ship waiting outside to come in. The reply I received from the Minister was to the effect that a representative of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board had discussed this matter with a representative of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, and that the company representative had said that it was not possible, except when bulk-loading took place, to engage five gangs on a vessel. Surely the Minister is sufficiently conversant with his portfolio to know that all the loading at Lucinda Point is bulk-loading. There is no longer any bag loading there. The bags are taken on to the ship, torn open, and the sugar poured down into the holds in bulk. The Minister’s own opinion, arrived at after discussing the matter with the great and mighty company, supports the contention that there should he five gangs employed, and that members of the Waterside Workers Federation at Lucinda Point should not be receiving only appearance money. The Minister says, in effect, “I cannot do anything, because the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited says that such a course is not practicable”. I ask the Minister to have another look at the matter and to consider whether it is just that whilst, on the one hand, he and other honorable members on his side of the House are prepared relentlessly to attack members of the Waterside Workers Federation they themselves arc not doing everything possible to ensure faster turn-round of ships.
The other point I raised, so far as Lucinda Point was concerned, was the employment of a first-aid officer there. There are 104 men employed on the waterfront itself, and in and around the sugar sheds there are an additional 40 or 50 men. The only first-aid facilities available on the waterfront are provided by a man who is employed as a waterside worker, and who works and is paid as such. He is called upon to render firstaid when it is necessary. Anybody with any experience at all is aware of the danger of accidents on the waterfront, when all the gear of a ship and the machinery associated with the sugar shed? is in action. I appeal to the Minister to use whatever influence he might have with the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, which, in turn, might exert its influence over the great Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, to make the services of a full-time first-aid officer available. Surely that is not too much to ask at a place where approximately 150 men are working daily.
I have raised these matters because of the frequent references to disputes on the waterfront and repeated statements, from all sections of the community, about the activities, or inactivities, of waterside workers. Too often the communism bogy is raised in this connexion. As 1 said in my speech recently, I do not know whether there is a member of the Communist party on the wharf at Lucinda Point. If there is, that is not my business. All I am concerned about is that the men who work there, in common with every other section of industry, are entitled to a fair go.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.26 p.m.
The following answers to questions w ere circulated: -
North- West Australia.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he furnish the following information regarding Mr. and Mrs. Petrov, two former members of the Soviet Legation who sought and obtained refuge in this country: - (a) Are they still being maintained at the expense of the Commonwealth? (b) Have they yet been placed in useful employment? (c) Have any sums in addition to the £5,000 already advanced to Mr. Petrov been paid to either of them? If so, what are the details? (d) What has been the total expenditure to date incurred by the Commonwealth with respect to (i) money advanced to the Petrovs, (ii) the cost of their maintenance, and (iii) any other purpose associated with the Petrovs?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister acting for the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are a? follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 September 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1955/19550915_reps_21_hor7/>.