22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– On the last sitting day I asked the Acting Prime Minister whether he would consult with the Minister for External Affairs in relation to the recommendations of the recent London conference on the Suez Canal crisis, my question being designed to obtain a statement whether those recommendations are the basis of the present negotiations between the parties concerned. I now ask the right honorable gentleman whether that consultation has taken place.
– I have conferred with the Minister for External Affairs, and he is already prepared to make a statement in reply to the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition last Thursday.
– If I may, perhaps, be allowed to answer the question-
– The Minister may make a statement at the appropriate time.
– He is answering a question.
– Order !
– I am endeavouring to answer the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition on Thursday last, which the right honorable gentleman has now revived by a further question directed to the Acting Prime Minister. The text of the statement supported by the representatives of eighteen nations at the London conference on the Suez Canal crisis is as follows: -
The Governments approving this statement being participants in the London Conference on the Suez Canal -
Concerned by the grave situation regarding the Suez Canal;
Seeking a peaceful solution in conformity with the purposes and principles of the United Nations; and
Recognizing that an adequate solution must on the one hand respect the sovereign rights of Egypt including its rights to just and fair compensation for the use of the Canal and on the other hand safeguard the Suez Canal as an International Waterway in accordance with the Suez Canal Convention of October 29th, 1888;
Assuming for the purposes of this statement that just and fair compensation will be paid to the Universal Company of the Suez Maritime Canal and that the necessary arrangements for such compensation including a provision for arbitration in the event of disagreement will be covered by the final settlement contemplated below;
Join in this expression of their views -
They affirm that as stated in the preamble of the Convention of 1888 there should be established “ a definite system destined to guarantee at all times and for all the Powers the free use of the Suez Maritime Canal”.
Such a system which would be established with due regard to the sovereign rights of Egypt should assure:
Efficient anddependable operation maintenance and development of the Canal as a free open and secure International Waterway in accordance with the principles of the Convention of 1888;
Insulation of the operation of the Canal from the influence of the politics of anynation;
A return to Egypt for the use of the Suez Canal which will be fair and equitable and increasing with enlargements of its capacity and greater use;
Canal tolls as low as is consistent with the foregoing requirements and except for (c) above no profit.
To achieve these results on a permanent and reliable basis there should be established by a Convention to be negotiated with Egypt:-
Institutional arrangements for cooperation between Egypt and other interested nations in the operation, maintenance and development of the Canal and for harmonizing and safeguarding their respective interests in the Canal. To this end operating, maintaining and developing the Canal and enlarging it so as to increase the volume of traffic in the interest of the world trade and of Egypt would be the responsibility of a Suez Canal Board. Egypt would grant this Board all rights and facilities appropriate to its functioning as here outlined. The status of the Board would be defined in the abovementioned Convention. The members of the Board in addition to Egypt would be other States chosen in a manner to be agreed upon from among the the States Parties to the Convention with due regard to use, pattern of trade and geographical distribution; the composition of the Board to be such as to assure that its responsibilities would be discharged solely with a view to achieving the best possible operating results without political motivation in favour of or in prejudice against any user of the Canal. The Board would make periodic reports to the United Nations.
An Arbitral Commission to settle any disputes as to the equitable return to Egypt or other matters arising in the operation of the Canal.
Effective sanctions for any violation of the Convention by any party to it or any other nation including provisions for treating any use or threat of force to interfere with the use or operation of the Canal as a threat to the peace and a violation of the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.
Provisions for appropriate association with the United Nations and for review as may be necessary.
In reply to the second part of the question of the Leader of the Opposition, the proposals contained in this statement reflect the views of eighteen of the 22 countries whose representatives attended the London conference. The Menzies mission will convey and explain the purposes and objectives of this eighleen-nation statement to the Egyptian Government, and will ascertain whether Egypt would agree to negotiate a convention on the basis of the statement.
– In view of the importance of this matter,I am obliged to the Acting Prime Minister and to the Minister for External Affairs for the information that they have given. I ask the Acting Prime Minister one supplementary question in relation to a statement said to have been made by the Minister for the Army in regard to Australian forces. Is that statement made with the authority of the Government, or is it simply a statement that is not to be regarded as a decision of Cabinet - I take it that it could not have been - having regard to the responsibility of Cabinet as a whole to this Parliament?
– I welcome the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition because it affords an opportunity to ventilate the press statement and to put the matter in its proper light, as far as the Government is concerned. I take the opportunity to inform not only the Leader of the Opposition and the Parliament but indeed all the people concerned that the matter of the use of Australian forces has never arisen and has never been considered by Cabinet, much less decided by Cabinet. I am assured by the Minister for the Army, to whom the statement is attributed, that a misconstruction was placed upon two separate questions that were asked of him having bearing upon the subject-matter and that appeared in the newspapers.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Supply. In view of the fears expressed in some quarters in Western Australia of danger from radiation to nomadic natives in the area of the proposed Maralinga atomic explosion, will the Minister inform the House what precautions have been taken to guard against this danger occurring?
– Those fears are quite groundless. The matter of natives in relation to atomic tests has been closely under the consideration of the safety committee, upon which the Government relies in this regard. The position is that there will be no natives within the prohibited area for the atomic tests, and that will be ensured by constant patrols by aeroplane and helicopter and on foot. Generally, in that way and in other ways, we shall ensure complete safety for the native population.
– I direct a question to the Postmaster-General. Has the Australian Broadcasting Control Board consulted the electricity authorities regarding the provision of power that will be necessary to transmit television programmes? If such discussion has taken place, can the Minister give to the House an account of the discussion and information on what progress has been made?I ask this question because of its importance in relation to television receiving sets.
– I regret that I cannot give the honorable member an immediate answer to his question, other than to say that a matter of this kind, which is of such obvious, prime importance in the early introduction of television, will have been considered by the board, and discussions will have taken place. That would be part of the planning for the original introduction of television. I am not able to give details of the results of these discussions and the determinations arrived at, but I shall obtain them for the honorable member and let him have this information.
– Has the Treasurer’s attention been drawn to the reported announcement by the Premier of Victoria to the effect that hundreds of millions of pounds of overseas capital will be poured into Australia to assist development? Has the right honorable gentleman, or any of his senior officials, any evidence that this position exists? If it does not exist, can he convey to the House the true position in relation to overseas capital?
– 1 did see the press statement in this regard attributed to Mr. Bolte, and in anticipation of a question arising from the press statement I have had a reply prepared. Acting as agent for the Australian Loan Council, the Government has followed up all oversea borrowing possibilities which have come to its notice and will actively continue to do so. At the same time, the Government is encouraging oversea investment in private enterprise in Australia, and this oversea investment increased by nearly £.400,000,000 in the six years to June, 1955. If Mr. Bolte was referring only to amounts which are available for oversea borrowing by the Australian and State governments, I should be most interested to receive further details. My own experience has been that large amounts are not available overseas for investment in Australian Government loans. After exhaustive and continuous inquiries and effort overseas, we have managed to borrow more for development from the Inters national Bank for Reconstruction and Development than has any other country, and we have also managed to raise some respectably sized loans in Switzerland, Canada and the United States of America. Tn the United States, however, we have also had to repay substantial amounts borrowed in earlier years. Our credit overseas stands very high, but funds have simply not been available in large amounts for any foreign borrower. This is particularly true of the United States.
– Tn directing a question to the Postmaster-General, 1 remind him of his letter to me of 12th July last, in which he said that there are 1.044 applications for telephone services for which exchange equipment and cable plant could be made available in the Lidcombe-Auburn area, but that the line staff of twelve men in the area can complete only twenty services a week. As the applications are in the hands of the department, as plant is available for these services, and as any delay in making the service connexion is purely the fault of the department, will all the present applicants in this group be relieved of paying the £10 connexion fee which was foreshadowed in the budget?
– The honorable member’s question brings up a matter which will be under discussion in the budget debate. 1 intend to indicate to the House, when 1 am dealing with the various postal increases, what the position will be in regard to the matter that he has raised.
– Has the Minister for Primary Industry received a report on this year’s auctions of tobacco leaf in Western Australia? What are the figures relating to the percentage of sales and the average price, and do these represent a substantial improvement on last year’s figures? What factors principally influenced the position this year? Did the reason advanced in previous years for rejecting a great deal of West Australian leaf, namely a high chlorine content, have any bearing on the current year’s sales?
– I have already received a report from the authorities on the sale of tobacco leaf in Western Australia. I am happy to be able to advise the honorable member that this year there was a substantial clearance of tobacco leaf - I think it was 92i per cent. - and that the price realized averaged 13 Id. per lb. These were a considerable improvement on last year’s figures. Whilst I do not want to give the Commonwealth Government too heavy a pat on the back, the main reasons for the increased sales and the better price were, first, that this Government has increased the quantity of Australian leaf that must be included in tobacco and cigarettes before a customs rebate can be obtained; secondly, that the Government has reduced the dollar allocation for the importation of leaf, and therefore there is a solid inducement for Australian companies to purchase Australian tobacco; and thirdly, and just as importantly, that there has been an extension of the promotion and. educational, activities of. the Government and the British Australasian Tobacco Company in showing the producers how to mature their, leaf better and to classify and bale it ready for sale. The Commonwealth thinks that these are the three main reasons- why. there, has been a better sale this year. As to the content of chlorine^ 1 would prefer to have the. matter thoroughly studied before. I. give the honorable member an answer, but I do think that it has something: to do- with the service rendered by the Commonwealth and the British Australasian Tobacco Company in showing producers how to reject unsuitable leaf. However, knowing the honorable gentleman’s interest in this matter I will have an answer prepared for him as soon as I can.
– ls the Acting Prime Minister aware that the Maroubra Bay Surf Life Saving Club recently found it necessary to purchase a double kayak from Sweden so as to enable the Australian double kayak champions, Messrs. Green and Brown, who are members of that club, to compete in the event at the forthcoming Olympic Games? Is he aware that when the kayak arrived in Britain from Sweden, for transhipment to Australia, the United Kingdom Government imposed a duty of £9 2s. 7d. upon it? In view of the fact that this kayak may be the means of Australia, through its champions, Green and Brown, winning the Olympic gold medal for this event, will the right honorable gentleman ask the Prime Minister to intercede with the Prime Minister of Great Britain for a refund of the amount paid in duty to that country. If that were done the amount could be added to the fund which has been set up for the purpose of sending the two champions to Ballarat for a few weeks before the start of the games so that they may become familiar with the conditions operating locally.
– I am surprised that the honorable member should bring such a matter before this House, because if the gentlemen concerned have the qualifications that he so aptly attributes to them I am sure that their enthusiastic supporters and backers will find all the money that is required to ensure that they get a fair go at the Olympic Games.
– I desire to preface a question, which I address to the Minister for the Army, by stating that when the announcement is made- of the death or injury of1 a serviceman without the name being given, unnecessary anxiety is caused to all who- have relatives serving in any of the forces-. I appreciate the fact that the name should be withheld until relatives have been advised, but I ask the Minister, in view of the speed of the means of communication to-day, whether he- would consult the other service Ministers, and perhaps also the press authorities, to see if it would be possible for the release of the news to be made at the same time as the name of the victim, thus avoiding worry being caused to those not related, to. the serviceman.
– I appreciate the difficulties that are associated with this matter. They have been investigated from time to time. The difficulty is, of course, that when an accident happens and there is a casualty in the ranks, if a statement is noi made very quickly the press will get the information and it will be published, anyhow, so that it would be better if a statement could be made accurately instead of some garbled version of the incident being published. Therefore, we have found that it is better immediately to give a press statement as to the casualty and; in most cases, that means that it is quite impossible to synchronize that statement with the information to be conveyed to the family of the deceased. Therefore, the names of those who are casualties cannot be released until the relatives have been advised. It is, J know, a difficult matter, but we have felt that that is the best way to deal with it.
– I ask the Treasurer whether it is a fact that he intends to visit the United States of America and the United Kingdom in the near future. If this is a fact, will he tell the House the reason for his leaving Australia and the nature of the matters to he discussed overseas? Will the Treasurer further give a categorical denial to current reports that Australia is about to depreciate its £1 further in relation to the £1 sterling and the United States dollar?
– I take the latter part of the honorable member’s question first, and. say that, even to raise the point, much less to think of any depreciation of the Australian £1, is just beyond any consideration whatsoever. The Prime Minister and I have made unequivocal statements on, this subject and I. am surprised that any honorable member of this House should- raise this matter and cause undue alarm or undue speculation in that very important regard. As to the prospects of my visiting America, my immediate desire is to have a little prospect of visiting my own home occasionally.
– I wish to ask the’ Postmaster-General a question in connexion with the signals heard during trunklineconversations, and I ask the question toclear up some misunderstanding which, 1 know, exists in the minds of many honorable members and members of the community. I should like to ask the honorable gentleman- whether, during- a trunk-line call, the third pip heard indicates the completion of the three-minute period, or whether there is- any lapse after that before the next three minutes commence. If the third pip is the termination of the period, will the Postmaster-General give consideration to having the number of pips increased to allow completion of the conversation or, alternatively, give, say, ten seconds’ grace after the indication referred to?
– The question asked by the honorable member deals with certain technical matters on which 1 am not fully competent to reply. The signals which are heard from time to time during trunk line conversations arise from technical arrangements in relation to the recording of the duration of a call. There is, after one of the pips - I do not know which one - a period of grace before the tariff period is registered as having been concluded. That is done for certain good and proper reasons. The honorable gentleman suggests that I should arrange for more pips to be heard. 1 doubt whether that is either practicable or desirable, because I have heard other people complain that the hearing of these noises during trunk line conversations gives rise in some minds to the suspicion that there is interference with the call. In order that the honorable gentleman may have a full understanding of the matter, and that the facts will be publicized, 1 shall arrange for him to be given a complete technical description of what takes place when these pips are heard during a trunk line conversation.
-Is the Treasurer aware, that the Premier of South Australia! has stated in the South Australian Parliament that his Government was refused import licences, and was told to obtain its import requirements through private channels? This, the Premier said, meant an increase of 15 per cent, in the cost to the South Australian Government. If theTreasurer is aware of this, or if he is not aware of it, will he go into the matter tosee whether it is possible to arrange that the States may get their imports without having to pay the increase of 15 per cent, in costs that I have mentioned, particularly States like South Australia, where any deficit in the State’s finances appears later as a call on Commonwealth revenue?
– I am not aware of the matter to which the honorable gentleman has referred, but I shall bring his observations, criticism and desires to the notice of the Minister for Trade, who is the appropriate Minister, and see how the position can be met. An answer can then be furnished to the honorable gentleman.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry, and concerns the truth or otherswise of a report that Argentina is making arrangements to ship very heavy consign*ments of both chilled and frozen beef to Great Britain from September onwards, and that two vessels have been transferred from the Australia-New Zealand run to handle this beef. If this is so, would not the United Kingdom market be threatened with: a flood of cheap Argentine beef and would not the reaction in London be reluctance by importers to purchase any meat for arrival in London later than September? If this happens, the outlook for Australian beef reaching Britain after September will be black. Can the Minister inform the House whether or not there is any truth in the report and, if so, what action the Government proposes to take to protect Australian interests?
– I have heard reports that the Argentine is shipping considerable quantities of chilled beef to the United Kingdom during the course of the next two months- I think, about 23,000 to 24,000 tons each month, which would mean an increase of from 2,000 tons to 3,000 tons over normal monthly shipments at this time. I do not think that there is any increase in the quantity of frozen beef that has been shipped to Britain from the Argentine. As to the availability of ships, I have not heard that any shipping is to be taken from the Australian run but, if it is, 1 do not think it poses any great problem for Australian meat shippers. The honorable member mentioned the flooding of the London market during the course of the next few months. Usually, during the next few months, say from next month until the end of the year, a considerable quantity of local production from English and Eire sources comes onto the London market, and therefore, during that period, Australian shipments are usually placed into store. So, it is not expected that the Argentine shipments will in any way prejudicially affect the sale of Australian beef. The honorable gentleman will be well aware that under the long-term meat agreement with the United Kingdom Australian beef interests are protected in relation to the sale of their beef in the London market. Last year £800,000 was paid to Australian producers for sales on the London market and this year over £1,000,000, I think, has already been paid to them. So I think that Australian beef interests are well protected by the fifteen-year meat agreement negotiated by my colleague. As to the last part of the question, concerning the future, I have not as yet had a chance to discuss the general problems with my colleague, the Minister for Trade, since his return from overseas, but I shall do so and obtain from him all the information I can as soon as that is practicable.
– I direct a question concerning the dairying industry to the Minister for Primary Industry. If one or two of the States refused to ratify the dairy stabilization plan, could the Commonwealth go ahead successfully without such support? Secondly, would the stabilization plan be made more effective if margarine quotas were also fixed by the Commonwealth, since two States, Queensland and New South Wales, permit the manufacture of great quantities of margarine that is sold in other States, notably in Victoria? Thirdly, when are negotiations for the new stabilization plan likely to be completed?
– As to the first part of the honorable gentleman’s question, if one of the major States refused to enter into the agreement with the Commonwealth it would, I think, jeopardize the successful conclusion of the new scheme; but 1 do not expect that there will be any trouble, because we have had very friendly relations with the States up to the present and I see no reason why we should anticipate difficulties or a rejection of our proposals when they are put up. As to the second part of the question, the Commonwealth Government has no power whatever to pin margarine production quotas. This subject was discussed fully at the recent meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council, and one of the major States, New South Wales, did agree to fix quotas. I am hopeful that, in the future, other States will give similar assurances and that, therefore, the butter industry of this country will be protected. I cannot give the honorable gentleman an answer to the final part of his question. Negotiations have not yet commenced, but as soon as they do commence I shall advise him.
– I address a question to the Acting Prime Minister as the Minister charged with the conduct of British Commonwealth relations. I ask the right honorable gentleman whether the Australian Government knew and agreed that the Governor of Cyprus would make regulations concerning the presence in the island of troops from various specified nations, including Australia.
– I know of no such approach being made, or of any arrangements being agreed to or entered into in connexion with the subject matter referred to by the honorable gentleman.
– Can the Minister for Supply say whether one of the main objectives of the forthcoming atomic tests at Maralinga is to evaluate blast damage and thus enable measures to be devised to minimize casualities in the event of an atomic attack? Are such experiments of vital consequence for the protection of Australian lives in case of any such contingency? Has the Director .of Civil Defence for New South Wales expressed a very proper desire to be present at these tests and, if so, can the Minister say whether the Commonwealth Government has yet been able to make arrangements for his presence at them?
– The honorable member asked, in the first part of his question, whether a part of the purpose of the forthcoming Maralinga tests was to obtain information and to evaluate that information for the purpose of civil defence against atomic attack. The answer to that part of the question is “ Yes “. We attach great importance, in the forthcoming tests, to the question of civil defence. 1 think that the honorable gentleman asked, in the second part of his question, whether arrangements were being made, or had been made, for the presence of any of the directors of civil defence. Again, the answer is “ Yes “. The proposal is twofold. In the first place, during the tests - not at the first test, but later in the test scries - it is proposed that all directors of civil defence should go to Maralinga to take part in the analysis and evaluation of information which has been gathered to that date. In addition, it is proposed that Major-General Dougherty, the Director of Civil Defence in New South Wales, who has asked to attend the tests, will be present at the first test at Maralinga, together with certain other directors of civil defence. 1 noticed a statement in the press attributed to one of the State Ministers, I think Mr. Heffron of New South Wales, to the effect that Major-General Dougherty had asked to go, but had been refused. The Minister concerned did not have all the information before him, because although a long time ago a letter was written indicating that, because of difficulties of transport and accommodation, it was not possible for him to be present at the first test, very shortly afterwards he was com municated with personally and told that an effort would be made to find a seat for him. A seat has been found for him at the first test, and also accommodation for later tests in the series, and I am glad to say that he, and other officers, will be attending the first test.
– I address a question to the Minister for External Affairs, with reference to the Suez Canal and the Government’s sudden interest in it. Is it a fact that ships of Israel have, from time to time, been prevented by the Egyptian Government from using the Suez Canal? What steps has this Government taken to bring this apparent violation of the 1888 agreement to the notice of the Egyptian Government and other signatories of that agreement? Has the Australian Government at any time tried to prevent this breach of the agreement by objecting 10 Egypt’s action? If it has not done so, why has it not done so? Does the Minister intend to arrange for a debate on foreign affairs during this sessional period?
– What the honorable gentleman has said is correct. For a number of years - I forget precisely how many - Israeli ships and cargoes have not been allowed to use the Suez Canal, or to approach the Israeli coast through coastal waters in the vicinity of Egypt. This matter was, quite properly, taken up by Israel with the United Nations a number of years ago, and a resolution of the United Nations, which I think was made by the Security Council, directed Egypt to discontinue this embargo against Israeli shipping. That resolution has not had any effect on the Government of Egypt. For reasons that the Egyptian Government has given, the principal one being that Egypt was technically still at war with Israel, Israeli ships and cargoes are still unable to reach Israel through the Suez Canal. The Australian Government, as a member of the United Nations, was a party to the resolution that I have mentioned.
– Is the Minister for the Interior aware of a statement made by the Director of the Visual Aids Department of the Melbourne University to the effect that an anti-vandalism film, made by the Department of the Interior for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department at a cost of £20,000, was more likely to incite vandalism than to prevent it? Can the Minister say on whose advice the film was made, and was it in fact a failure?
– My attention was directed to a statement attributed, I think, to Mr. Newman Rosenthal, who is the Director of Visual Aids of the Melbourne University, in which he characterized the film “ Public Enemies “ as a complete failure, and said that it had been made at a cost of £20,000 by the Department of the Interior. I was at some pains to check the details of the making of this film, and I find that the statement in question is inaccurate. The film was made, I think, in 1948, by the Department of Information for the Australian National Film Board. The producers had available to them the assistance of two child psychologists who have since become directors-general of education in two of Australia’s States. The film appears to have been something of a bargain because, far from costing £20,000, it actually cost £1,120. The film has been used extensively by the Postmaster-General’s Department, for which it was made, by State educational authorities, and by the police. It has also had a ready export market. In 1951, the New Zealand Government took eighteen copies. As late as 1955, the New South Wales Department of Education sought another ten copies from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. So, although Mr. Rosenthal is something of an expert in this field, he seems to be completely overwhelmed by equally competent opinion, because the film has been far from a failure. I am afraid we are forced to the conclusion that, up to now at least, psychology has not become an exact science.
– I direct a question to the Postmaster-General, who stated in his second-reading speech on the Broadcasting and Television Bill 1956, which was passed recently, that television stations would be obliged to use the services of Australians as much as possible in the production and presentation of television programmes. Has the Minister’s attention been directed to recent reports that large numbers of old films have been, and are being, purchased from the United States of America at very low prices for television purposes? Will the Minister examine the position closely to ensure that the interests of Australian artists are not jeopardized by this development?
– During the consideration of the Broadcasting and Television Bill 1956, 1 stated that the Government, through the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, would continually watch the development of television to ensure that a reasonable quota of Australian material and talent was used. That obligation is being discharged. Before any licensee obtains approval for the commencement of broadcasts, I require to know what proportion of Australian material and talent is to be used. On one occasion at least, I held up the granting of authority to proceed because I was not satisfied with the proportion of Australian material and talent it was planned to use in the early stages. I point out to the honorable member that it is yet too early to judge the results of the Government’s policy in this matter. I can assure him that the development of television is constantly being watched and that the Government will ensure that, as it proceeds, more and more Australian talent and programmes will be used. In my discussions on television, I have been much heartened to find that not only the Government, but also the television broadcasting licensees, are determined to do all they can to use this medium for the development of Australian art.
– My question to the Minister for the Interior refers to a statement by him on 25th July of this year that he proposed to give careful consideration to the possibility of obtaining power to inquire into, and, if necessary, to determine, the prices to be paid for milk consumed in the Australian Capital Territory. I now ask the Minister whether that careful consideration has yet crystallized into a decision. Has he been informed of proposals to increase the price of milk in Canberra shortly by Id. a pint? In considering this matter, will the Minister take into account the fact that the price of milk in Canberra, which is adjacent to producing areas, is 50 per cent, higher than the price in Brisbane and 33 per cent, higher than the price in Melbourne? Will he also have regard to the fact that the financial year which has just closed was one of record milk production, and will he take whatever steps are possible within his power to protect milk consumers in the Territory?
– I have not yet heard that the price of milk in Canberra is to be increased. Obviously, such a proposal would be taken into consideration in the discussions I propose to have on this subject. The matters to which the honorable gentleman referred have not yet crystallized into a decision. Indeed, I would be slow to come to a decision on the re-institution of prices control in Canberra unless it was proved to be absolutely necessary. The relative costs of milk in Canberra and in the cities to which the honorable member referred will be considered, but I am bound to say that the price in Canberra must have a closer relation to that in New South Wales than to prices in Brisbane and Melbourne.
– I wish to ask a question concerning the import of hog casings for that homely breakfast dish, the sausage, but I do not know whether to direct it to the Minister for Trade, who controls imports, or to the Minister for Primary Industry. There has been considerable correspondence between wholesale and other butchers and the various interests concerned with the importation of hog casings, which are alleged to be about 20,000 bundles short as a result of the recent restriction of import quotas. I am informed that the trade has tried to obtain substitutes, one of which is a plastic sausage skin of which, like a famous razor blade, it may be said that one cannot cut the skin. What does the Minister propose to do about the alleged acute shortage of sausage skins which, perhaps, may be regarded in counter relief to the Suez Canal crisis? Does he expect the Australian people to have their sausages without skins, or is he prepared to allow the importation of adequate supplies of hog casings, which, apparently, cannot be supplied in this country and which may be obtained from many other countries? This is a very serious matter for the workers of Australia who. as a result of the new budget pro posals, will not be able to afford rump; steak for breakfast and will have to rely on sausages.
– To my knowledge, a controversy about sausage skins has been going on for many years, and existed long before import controls were introduced. Having said I know there is some controversy, I have to confess that I am nor sufficiently abreast of it to know its present character. However, I shall make inquiries’ and advise the honorable member as soon as I am able to do so.
– Is the Minister for Immigration aware that there is an excess of 120,000 men of marriageable age in Aus-tralia as a result of the Government’s policy of bringing out unmarried male immigrants? Will the Minister seek scientific advice about the results of large numbers of men being segregated from female companionship, and will he instruct the Department of Immigration to bring out female immigrants instead of male immigrants for a period in an effort to balance the sexes?
– It is true that, over the whole of Australia, there is what I think is termed an excess of masculinity. Although that excess is greater than it was a few years ago, it is much smaller than in earlier periods in Australian history. Our official examination of the matter reveals that, in some areas, ‘ there are rather more men than women, but that, over Australia, as a whole, the disproportion is not very great. The suggestion that policy be so framed as to include in the immigration quotas a greater proportion of females has been considered. We try to attract unmarried female immigrants from certain countries, but no great proportion of them has been forthcoming as a result of our efforts. We can expect rather more male immigrants to come here in the first instance, because a man comes to Australia, establishes a home, and then, if he is a married man, arranges for his wife and family to follow him, or, if he is a single man, perhaps has a fiancee in his native country whom he will arrange to have join him when he has established himself here. Among some of the southern European people, the excess of males is much higher than is the case among other nationalities. It is a matter that we have examined periodically. We are doing all we can to meet the problem from the government angle, but it is a problem that I think we can leave to private enterprise rather than to government management for our solution.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General, and refers to a recent claim emanating from France that a device capable of extending the range of reception of television very considerably has been discovered. Will the Minister have this claim investigated by officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department in view of its possible significance in a country of the size of Australia?
– The matter of extending the present range of television is, of course, one of vital importance in any planning for the further development of television in Australia and is a problem to which constant attention is being given by the technicians of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and also, of course, commercial interests. Recently, there have been several developments that give rise to the hope that it will not be very long before the extension of television becomes more practicable from the financial stand-point. I have not heard of the device from France mentioned by the honorable member for Corangamite, but if he will give me any further details that he has, I will certainly have it investigated in common with other investigations now being made.
– Is the Treasurer satisfied with the policy of the private banks which, through their activities as finance companies in the hire-purchase field, are adopting a plan to attract investments that would normally go into government loans or savings banks, and thus are reducing the amount of money available for home building? Is the Treasurer aware that, these finance companies are now making money available on hire-purchase terms to purchasers of homes or for reconstruction purposes, forcing needy people to pay a fiat rate of interest of 8 per cent, or 10 per cent.? Will the Government, through the Commonwealth Bank, make a more substantial amount of money available at the usual rate of interest to home purchasers?
– As certain aspects of the question that the honorable member has asked require consideration, if he places it on the notice-paper 1 will have the matter investigated and supply him with an answer.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether there have been any recent developments in the promotion of long-range weather forecasting in Australia.
– I can say only that there have been the well-known activities of Mr. Inigo Jones and, following him, of Mr. Lennox Walker in the Long-range Weather Forecasting Bureau of Queensland. The University of Melbourne is also doing a considerable amount of work on long-range weather forecasting and is, of course, working in the closest possible collaboration with the Meteorological Branch.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration whether it is a fact that the widow of a new Australian who was recently killed by a police constable in a shooting affray on the south coast of New South Wales, referring to her late husband, said, “ He had been a spy for both the Germans and the Russians. He was a vile and horrible man and should never have been allowed to enter Australia “. Has the Minister had any investigation made into this case and has he any statement to make regarding the result of his inquiries? Does the Minister still contend that the screening overseas of intending immigrants is satisfactory in every respect?
– I had some investigations made when the contents of the press report to which the honorable member has referred were brought to my notice. Nothing was discovered to substantiate the statements, and the comments offered by police and others who had some personal knowledge of this man did not confirm the statements that had appeared in the press. The person in question had been cleared by Allied Intelligence, including British and American intelligence officers, at the time of his selection. Other investigations that we made into the matter did nothing to shake the opinion which I and other members of this Parliament who had an opportunity of going into these questions personally, and other responsible and informed observers, had formed of our selection methods overseas, which was that they are as comprehensive as we can make them and certainly as stringent as those to be found in any other immigrant-receiving country.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Audit Act - Finance - Treasurer’s Statement of receipts and expenditure for year 19SS-S6, accompanied’ by the Report of the AuditorGeneral.
Ordered to be printed.
-I wish to inform the House that it is my intention to issue a writ on Tuesday, 11th September, for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Barker, in the State of South Australia, in the place of the Honorable Archie Galbraith Cameron, deceased. The dates in connexion with the election will be fixed as follows: - Date of nomination, Wednesday, 26th September, 1956; date of polling, Saturday, 13th October, 1956; date of return of writ, on or before Saturday, 24th November, 1956.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from 16th May (vide page 2114), on motion by Mr. Osborne -
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff 1933- 1956 be amended as hereinafter set out and that . . . (vide page 2101).
.- These proposals relate to customs tariff proposals introduced by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr. Osborne) on 16th May, 1956. They are of a fairly comprehensive character. Unfortunately, they relate also to customs tariff proposals which were introduced twelve months earlier, and which have never been debated by this Parliament.
From time to time, the Parliament has drifted into the habit of allowing to be thrown at it customs tariff and excise proposals embracing subject-matters which are very important to the people of the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, on almost every occasion, the Minister presents a bill and informs the Parliament that proposals will take effect from midnight on that day, the next day, or as the case may be, but that the debate will be postponed, and that honorable members will have an opportunity of debating the items seriatim at a later date. Some of the proposals contained in this measure are twelve months old. No honorable member would say that we are prepared, or desire, to debate proposals which are already operative, which are twelve months old, and of which the subjectmatter is not fresh in our minds. Other proposals introduced were operative from 16th or 17th May. They are months old, yet it is expected that at this juncture honorable members will debate them seriatim and give serious consideration to them. These are matters which are deserving of much more consideration than is being given to them. This practice of adjourning the debate and telling the Parliament simply that ample opportunity will be given to discuss the matter at a later stage, which in some cases means twelve months later, and in others three months or six months later, is deplorable, and the Governmen may see fit in future, when it introduces proposals of this character, to ensure that the debate shall not be adjourned for more than one month. Surely the present position is farcical. The proposals are operative, the new tariffs are in force, and the Parliament has no possible hope whatsoever of altering them in any detail. If the Parliament is to be given the opportunity to engage in intelligent debate and submit intelligent suggestions, at least some of which may emanate from Government supporters, the opportunity should surely be given at a stage when the proposals have been operative for only a reasonably short period, because it is quite obvious that it is futile for any member of the Parliament, whether a Government or Opposition supporter, to make, at this stage, any endeavour whatsoever to upset the operation of any increase or decrease in tariff rates which may have been dealt with twelve months ago or six months ago. Business would be upset, tariff boards would have to be referred to again, and the whole matter would be a complete futility.
The Opposition notes that the schedule contains proposals for increased duties on woodworking chisels, magnesium sulphate, footwear, and greaseproof and glassite papers.
May we have agreement on the matters we are debating? Is the committee prepared to take these matters together?
– I think that that would be desirable. 1 do not intend to speak at great length.
– If that is the case, we shall deal with all the items listed in the schedule and have more or less a general debate on any of the matters contained therein.
– I take it that that will be restricted to proposals contained iti Customs Tariff Amendment (No. 3).
– That is so.
– Then I have no objection.
– I have mentioned particular items in respect of which changes have been made. J want to say only that the Labour Opposition is essentially a tariff protection party. We take the view that it is essential that the industries of this country should be strengthened and protected wherever necessary. At the same time, we contend that, together with increased or essential protection, there should also be given some protection for the consuming .public which is, after all, paying for the protection afforded to our industries. Let us consider an illustration of the need for protection. Included in the schedule are carpenters’ hand tools, woodworking chisels. The inclusion in schedules of other carpenters’ tools and engineers’ tools of all sorts has been the subject-matter of discussion and activity, and I know that, generally speaking, Australian manufacturers who have embarked on this type of manufacture, and their workmen, are capable of producing, and they have the plant necessary to produce, an article comparable with articles manufactured in any other part of the world. But, unfortunately, some Australian manufacturers, because they are protected by a tariff wall, become careless and discredit themselves and their country by turning out articles of an inferior kind. Going into hardware stores, and looking at local and imported articles, particularly carpenters’, engineers’, and other hand tools, I have found many instances in which a local article does not stand comparison with the imported article, not necessarily in regard to the capacity of the tool to do a particular job but the finish of the product. I make that criticism only because I am a friend of Australian industry, and at this juncture only because I think it is more necessary than ever before that Australian manufacturers should be warned by a parliament that protects them adequately, to produce not only a well-made article but also an article that has a good finish which will enable it to compete, at a time when .such competition .is more necessary than ever before, on the export markets of the world. From time to time stress is ‘laid, particularly by Government supporters, on the necessity, in -view of the great predominance of primary products amongst our exports, to increase our export of secondary products. The know-how is here, the skill is here, and there is no reason in the world why we should not eliminate carelessness and produce better quality articles than we are producing at present.
The Opposition raises no objection to the tariffs applied to the articles I have mentioned. Amendments have been made to the tariffs applying to ballasts and ballast chokes, which are apparently used in fluorescent lighting equipment. New rates also apply to angles, bars and sheets of copper. In all cases, the increases and alterations in the tariff rates are based on recommendations of the Tariff Board, which, I think, generally speaking, is thorough in its work, and the recommendations of which are invariably well worthy of acceptance by this Parliament. There is another proposal for the duty-free entry ot .spirits used in approved technical colleges and other educational institutions. That proposal was, I understand, already in force when this measure was introduced; we offer no objection to it.
The Canadian preference proposals have application to rubber boots, shoes and waterproof rubber footwear and the amendments proposed are already operative. They are supplementary to amendments made ;in Customs Tariff Amendment (No. 3). There are many other provisions in this measure, but I do not think it is worth while debating them. Some of them have application to the fact that they cannot be imposed without the consent of the authorities bound by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. In most cases - in fact, in all cases - that agreement has been obtained. We find that it applies to the duty-free entry of certain timber, particularly plywood, from the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. We see that there are provisions dealing with Rhodesia and so on. I offer no further objection to the measure.
– The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), in his opening remarks, offered some criticism of the fact that time has elapsed between the tabling of these tariff proposals and their being passed into law by the procedures we are now adopting. I think he knows, from a much longer experience than mine, that that is by no means unusual. If I understood his remarks correctly, they were open to the construction that on all occasions it is possible to have a debate on a tariff proposal at the time the proposal is tabled. I am sure he recognizes that that is not always so. Very frequently a tariff amendment is introduced in conjunction with other fiscal measures and it is not possible to debate it immediately. I agree with him in principle that it is desirable that a tariff debate should take place as soon as practicable after the tabling of the motion, but I am sure he will agree that it is by no means unusual not to debate proposals until a long time afterwards. .However, I assure him that, so far as T am able to effect these things, tariff proposals will be debated as soon as practicable after the tabling of the motions. I assure him also that I have no desire to introduce validating measures and that I should much prefer the proposals to be debated and passed into law as soon as possible.
I shall offer a few further remarks on that subject later. At this stage, some general remarks on the proposals may be of some use to the committee. The proposals that we are considering now - Customs Tariff Proposals “No. -3 - are the ‘first of a series of eight proposals which honorable members will be asked to consider. They will recall that I introduced the proposals during the last parliamentary sittings. I spoke on the various proposals at the time of their introduction, but it may be helpful to honorable members if I outline briefly, once again, the reasons which have prompted the amendments contained in each of the proposals.
There are four proposals relating to the Customs Tariff 1933-1956. They are Customs Tariff Proposals No. 3 - which are now before the committee - and Customs Tariff Proposals Nos. 4, 5 and 6. Customs Tariff Proposals No. 3 contain the largest number of tariff items and affect a wide variety of goods. However, the amendments may be divided into two main groups. The first group, which contains the greater part of the amendments, covers tariff changes which were made by the Government on recommendations of the Tariff Board, following its inquiries into the protective needs of various Australian industries. The second group covers what I shall term administrative amendments. These deal with such issues as the rectification of tariff anomalies, the redrafting of items to define more clearly their intention, and tariff alterations of a minor and concessional nature.
To give the committee an idea of what I mean by a tariff alteration of a minor and concessional nature, I invite attention to item 410(b)(1) in Customs Tariff Proposals No. 3. For many years, provision has existed under item 410 (b)(1) for the duty-free admission of paintings by Australian students or Australian artists resident abroad for .a period not exceeding seven years. The amendment in ‘ the proposals extends the concession to drawings. That is a minor concessional alteration.
Before passing on from Customs Tariff Proposals No. 3, I should like -to point out that, although these proposals were introduced in May last, the greater part of the amendments concerned had actually been in operation for a considerable time prior to that. As honorable members are aware, the tabling of a motion proposing an .amendment of the tariff schedules authorizes the collection of duties at the new rates for a maximum period of six months after the proposals are tabled. Further action must be taken formally to amend the tariff schedules ‘before the expiration of that ‘period, and if, for any reason, .that is not done, the action >of the department in collecting the duties ‘must be validated by an act of the Parliament. The fact is that these amendments were introduced at different times during the preceding two years. Convenient opportunities did not arise to carry through the procedures to amend the tariff schedules at the time, and acts were passed by the Parliament validating the duties collected in pursuance of those proposals. The action now being taken is designed to complete the procedure and incorporate the amendments in the Customs Tariff Act.
Only one amendment is contained in Customs Tariff Proposals No. 4. That amendment was recommended by the Tariff Board. The item involved, namely, item 392 (g), which concerns continuous filament acetate rayon yarn and other artificial silk yarns except viscose rayon tyre yarn, also appears in Customs Tariff Proposals No. 3. Customs Tariff Proposals No. 4 contain an item which is included in Customs Tariff Proposals No. 3. I intend to move, when 1 have concluded these remarks, for the incorporation of Proposals No. 4 into Proposals No. 3. The object of the motion, which 1 feel sure honorable members will agree with, will be to give the committee an opportunity to consider the amendment io item 392 (c) in Proposals No. 3 at the same time as the further amendment to that, item in Proposals No. 4, so that we can debate them at the same time.
The tariff alterations contained in Customs Tariff Proposals No. 5 originate, in the main, from the negotiations which were conducted earlier this year at Geneva under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. These amendments give expression to the commitments undertaken by Australia on which tariff action is required. They refer to a number of specific items, examples of which are imported beer and porter, microscopes, spectacle frames and fancy boxes. Those are four items that I have selected at random. There are also three items in the proposals which are not associated with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade negotiations. The changes in respect of those items stem from Tariff Board recommendations. The three items are Item 231, dyes and dry colours; Item 232, synthetic oils, &c, for use in paint manufacture; and Item 369, alkyd and maleic resins and rosin esters.
I now turn to Excise Tariff Proposals No. 1. I shall make some general remarks about all the proposals at this stage, in order to get them out of the way. Only one item is affected by Excise Tariff Proposals No. 1. The purpose of the amendment proposed is simply to extend to approved technical colleges and other educational institutions the same exemptions from excise duty on spirits used for scientific and educational purposes as has been given to universities for many years.
Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference) Proposals No. 1 are purely complementary to Customs Tariff Proposals No. 3. As honorable members know, Australia has certain obligations to Canada under the trade agreement concluded with that country in 1931. On goods of Canadian origin which are specifically mentioned in the Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference) the wording of the related item is drafted to correspond with the item in the Customs Tariff covering like goods. Consequently, when an alteration is made’ to an item in the Customs Tariff and a similar item appears also in the Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference), it is necessary to make a corresponding amendment to the Canadian Preference item.
Customs Tariff (Papua and New Guinea Preference) Proposals No. 1 make provision for the concessional treatment of certain timber and limber products which are produced or manufactured in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Last year, the Tariff Board recommended that timber and timber products covered by a number of items in the Customs Tariff should be admitted into Australia duty-free when imported from the Territory. The proposals give effect to the board’s recommendations.
The last of the series of proposals is Customs Tariff (Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Preference) Proposals No. 1. Honorable members will recall that, following trade discussions with the newly formed Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, a trade agreement was concluded between Australia and the Federation in July, 1955. The text of that agreement was tabled in the Parliament in October last. The tariff proposal which the committee will consider is designed to give effect to the preferential tariff commitments which Australia, on its part, undertook to give to goods produced or manufactured in the federation. I do not intend to take up any more of the committee’s time at this stage, but if honorable members desire any information on particular items in the proposals I will try to let them have that information during the course of the debate. I now move, as I stated in my preliminary remarks that 1 would move -
That the tariff resolution relating to Sub-item (g) of Item 392 introduced into the House of Representatives on 7th June, 1956 (vide page 2936), be incorporated in the present proposal on and from 8th June, 1956.
– Mr. Chairman, I have a little difficulty-
– If the honorable member has no objection to the incorporation of the proposal in the motion, he will be at liberty to speak when the question combining amendment No. 3 and amendment No. 4 is put. Is that what the honorable member had in mind?
That being so, I shall put the question.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
.- I have no objection to a tariff to protect Australian industries, but I do believe that much more than the imposition of a tariff is necessary in the present condition of the world if Australian industries are to be effectively protected against the competition of nations that are able to produce much more cheaply than we are. Since the end of the last war, and particularly during recent years, there has been a resurgence of industrialism in the countries of Europe, particularly in Germany and Italy, and also in Japan in the East. Of course, Britain is seeking markets all over the world, as are the United States of America and other highly industrialized countries. So, in order to protect our industries, we impose tariffs. r can illustrate the necessity for giving more than tariff protection to our industries by recent happenings in connexion with one particular item on this schedule of increased duties. I refer to the increased duties that are being applied to ballasts. What is occurring in connexion with the manufacture and importation of ballasts into this country has occurred in connexion with manufactured goods of every description. Devices other than this have been applied by the manufacturers of other countries to counteract the effect of the tariff of this nation.
– To which item is the honorable member referring?
– I am talking of ballasts in order to illustrate that dumping and other malpractices in connexion with the disposal of goods by other countries are interfering with the development of Australian industries and that action should be taken by our responsible government authorities in order to investigate these practices and to prevent them from interfering with the sale of Australian goods in competition with imported goods on the markets of Australia.
For example, ballasts are manufactured in the constituency that I represent. They are some kind of electrical equipment which is used in connexion with fluorescent lighting. The manufacturers are able to produce them in this factory for approximately 15s. and they are put on the market at about 17s. 6d. The parts of these items are purchasable in Australia as cheaply as or cheaper than they can be purchased in the United Kingdom or anywhere else. But the United Kingdom company was selling the articles in Australia at lis. 9d., which was lower than the cost of production here. The reason that the United Kingdom company could do so was that it was selling the articles in Great Britain at appreciably more than the price at which the articles were being sold by the Australian firm in Australia. Because the company was selling, the article at a higher price in the United Kingdom, it made a profit in the United Kingdom which enabled it to sell the article at less than cost in Australia in order to destroy the Australian industry. When the Australian industry was destroyed, of course, the price of the imported product would go up.
So I suggest to the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr. Osborne), who is seated at the table, that he utilize some of the resources that are available to him in the department to make an investigation into all the devious trade devices that are being used. If it is brought to his notice that goods are being sold so cheaply in Australia that it. seems as though it is impossible for them to be sold at such prices as to assure a profit to those manufacturing them, the department should immediately initiate an investigation. The department should not leave it to private enterprise in this country to carry on investigations in order to prove that the competition that it is receiving from other countries is not legitimate and means that dumping is occurring or that other improper trade devices are being used by other countries in order to undermine the- manufacturing industries of this country.
– The-‘ matter raised by the honorable member for Scullin (Mr: Peters) is really a separate issue from the subject-matter of this debate on tariff amendments. The honorable member has referred to the practice of dumping, which is the practice adopted by some foreign manufacturers of selling their goods on the Australian market at less than their economic costs on their home, markets. That, is a practice which the Government has full authority to deal with under the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act. If my recollection is correct in. connexion with this particular problem of manufacture of ballasts and chokes, which are part of the equipment of fluorescent lighting, action has already been taken to prevent any dumping of these articles. It has been taken by means of fixing a value, for duty purposes, on the imported goods, which is the estimated proper value of their cost, to state it briefly and generally, on the home market, rather than imposing duty on their stated imported value. I repeat that I think that the matter raised by the honorable gentleman would be more appropriately raised on a discussion on other matters than, on a discussion on these tariff amendments.
.- I desire to direct the attention of the committee to the fact that in the Minister’s secondreading speech on Tariff Proposals on the 13th June, 1956, it was quite definitely indicated that there are a number of items, including wireless chokes, on which primage and duty is reduced. At the same time there are other items on which duty is increased. I understand that the reductions of duty are part and parcel of the agreement made as a result of the Geneva negotiations. It is affirmed by the Minister that we are making concessions on such items as textile bleaching and dyeing machinery, which appear in the schedule as the subject of duty reductions, along with battery eliminating devices, choke coils for wireless receivers, spectacle frames and beer. I do not know whether we need worry very much about reductions of primage and tariff on beer. I should imagine that the Australian beermanufacturing industry can stand very well on its own feet even if it does not help to keep other people on their feet. I suggest that textile bleaching and dyeing machinery involves a type of machinery manufacturing that perhaps cannot afford to suffer any substantial reduction in tariff protection. As for battery eliminating devices, choke coils for wireless receivers, spectacle frames, and so on, it is questionable whether the concessions we received at Geneva, to wit from Germany in the form of tariff concessions on fresh apples, meat extracts-
Actually these proposals come under amendment (No. 5), with which we shall, be dealing later. I do not want the honorable member to make reference to them now.
– I think that the items I am mentioning are in the schedule which we are discussing. Other concessions to us from Germany involve our export of rabbits. Myxomatosis has probably overcome that problem. They also concern lead ore, eucalyptus tanning extracts and so on, all Australian products for which it is desirable we should be able to have access to foreign markets. Concessions from the United States of America involve eucalyptus tanning extracts, frozen rabbits, eucalyptus oil and catgut, and concessions from Austria concern honey, meat extract and eucalyptus tanning extracts. We all know that under the principles of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade concessions granted by a contracting party also apply to all other signatories of the agreement. So, whilst on the one hand we concede reductions of primage and duty on certain products, on the other hand we are allegedly to pick up some advantages as a result of concessions granted by Germany, Austria, the United States of America and other contracting parties. I hope that that proves to be the case. To me it seems somewhat doubtful whether we are justified in making tariff concessions in respect of textile bleaching and dyeing machinery and some of those other articles,, although I will admit that the concessions are not great. In relation to the binding of duties we have also agreed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to bind duties at the existing most-favoured-nation level on gold leaf, microscopes, embroideries in the piece, rubber, canvas and- composition belting other than conveyor belting and we have agreed to remove primage duty on a large number of other items.
I emphasize again that the more one refreshes one’s memory and examines the schedules and the second-reading speeches of the Minister of May and June last and, going further back, the items introduced twelve- months prior to- that, the more one becomes conscious of how necessary it is that the Parliament should debate these measures at a stage nearer to the date on which the Minister, or the Parliament, agrees to the imposition of duties or primage, or changes in them. Since we listened to the Minister here on 16th May, a lot of other events have taken place, and a lot of work has been transacted by honorable members in their electorates and elsewhere, and my memory has taken some refreshing; although I have not had sufficient time to refresh it thoroughly. If the Parliament transacts its business like that it is a poor look-out. I think that the Minister will himself admit that he had to refresh his memory to-day in order to bring himself up to date on the matters we are discussing. Of course, he is fortunate in having a staff to assist him. But these matters are dealt with all too hurriedly. This is a subject-matter which requires more time and more consideration than this Parliament has given to such matters in the last few years. I suggest that more time should be given to them. I know that the practice of dealing with them hurriedly has been going on for a long time. There was a time in the history of this Parliament when tariff, excise and primage proposals were the subjectmatter of debates that went on for months. I am not suggesting that we go back to these days completely, because there were then no Tariff Board or expert authorities providing us with well-considered reports and recommendations, but we should certainly give more time than we do now to these matters. Under the previous system at least the public was provided with information, and so were honorable members. They were better informed than the public and honorable members are now on these matters, or have been over the last few years.
Question, with Customs Tariff Amendment (No. 4) of 7th June, 1956, incorporated, resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from 16th May (vide page 2114), on motion by Mr. Osborne -
That ihe Schedule lo the Excise Tariff 1931-1956 be amended as hereinafter set out, . . . (vide page 2110).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from 16th May (vide page 2114), on motion by Mr. Osborne -
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference) 1934-1954 be amended as hereinafter set out, . . . (vide page 2111).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff (Papua and New Guinea Preference) 1936-1950 be amended as hereinafter set out . . . (vide page 2112).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from 13th June (vide page 3144), on motion by Mr. Osborne -
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff 1933- 1956, as proposed to be amended … be further amended . . . (vide page 3140).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from 13th June (vide page 3 144), on motion by Mr. Osborne -
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff 1933- 1956, as proposed to be amended … be further amended . . . (vide page 3142).
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended; resolutions adopted.
That Mr. Osborne and Mr. McMahon do prepare and bring in bills to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
Bill presented by Mr. Osborne, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Bill presented by Mr. Osborne, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Bill presented by Mr. Osborne, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Bill presented by Mr. Osborne, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Bill presented by Mr. Osborne, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Bill presented by Mr. Osborne, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 30th August (vide page 120), on motion by Mr. Hasluck -
That the following paper be printed: -
Northern Territory - Problems of development - Report by the Administrator on visit overseas (October, 1955 to January, 1956).
.- This debate arose out of the presentation during the last sessional period of the report of the then Administrator of the Northern Territory, the Honorable F. J. S. Wise. Mr. Wise went overseas and studied similar territories in other parts of the world, as sparsely populated as our own Northern Territory, in order to ascertain what was being done to develop them, and to decide whether similar steps could be taken to develop our empty north. He made a very comprehensive report. From time to time we receive numbers of these reports and many recommendations. At one time the Parliament received a very important report, known as (he Clapp report, on the need for a uniformgauge rail system throughout Australia. 1 think portions of that report had reference to the matter that we are now discussing, in that Mr. Clapp made recommendations concerning the need for rail links with our far north. However, nothing was done to implement those recommendations. I hope that the recommendations in Mr. Wise’s report, which has been expensively compiled and incorporates many suggestions that would be of great benefit to the Northern Territory, will not be disregarded in the way that similar recommendations have been disregarded in the past.
From all the reports that I have heard, and particularly from the remarks made in this House by honorable members who formed the delegation that recently visited the Northern Territory, it appears that the Territory’s main problem at present is lack of population. We have listened with great interest to honorable members who recently returned from the Northern Territory. They appear to be agreed that the Territory has a vast potential, but its development is retarded because of insufficient population. Mr. Wise did not mention in his report the importance of transportation in the development of the Territory. He may have thought that that matter had been sufficiently stressed in previous reports. Members of the recent delegation emphasized the importance of transportation in the development of the Northern Territory. It is my opinion that visits of delegations of this kind are well justified. Honorable members who have recently returned have made some very wise observations and have given other honorable members much valuable information. I hope that other delegations will be sent, from time to time, to the various territories under the control of this Government.
One cannot too strongly emphasize the importance of transport and communications in any plan of development of the
Northern Territory. The Territory must be sufficiently populated before it can be developed, but people will not settle in distant places unless they are assured of regular and reliable transport at a reasonable price. Transport is very important to the Territory’s main industry at present, which is the pastoral industry. Only a few year: ago the north of Australia experienced a severe drought. Because of the lack of transport facilities it was impossible, in many cases, to move cattle from the drought-stricken areas. If that could have been done, many thousands of head of cattle that perished in the drought may have been saved. For that reason alone it is most important that an efficient transport system should be provided, so that the development of the Territory may be maintained and even accelerated. Neither this Government nor any other government in the past has done very much about this matter of transport. Rail transport has been provided through Queensland as far as Dajarra, and through Central Australia as far as Alice Springs. If the Northern Territory is made easily accessible, people will be attracted there and many industries will develop. That is apparent from the way in which population has been attracted to Rum Jungle. The Humpty Doo rice project would be developed more rapidly if good transport services were provided.
Another matter that is essential to the development of the north is the development of irrigation projects, especially for the growing of rice and other crops. The Northern Territory has many excellent streams, but there is an urgent need for the development of methods of irrigation. The rainfall is ample, but it occurs mostly within about three months of the year, and much of it runs away, leaving the land dry for the remainder of the time. The soil is fertile, and, if it were kept constantly supplied with water, agriculture could be developed on a much larger scale and much more rapidly than at present, and many of the problems of the Territory would be solved. As I have said, the most immediate problem is the small population. Before World War II. it numbered about 5,000 people. It had increased to 10.868 by 1947, and in 1955 it was 17,563. Although this increase is considerable, it is not nearly enough.
The population increase has been due mainly to the development of new industries. Probably uranium mining at Rum Jungle and rice-growing at Humpty Doo have attracted more people than any other activity has done. A great many of the people in the Northern Territory are there for defence purposes, which have no relation to development. I believe that development of the north should go handinhand with defence. According to figures supplied to me this afternoon by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope), this Government has spent more than £1,000,000,000 on defence, but we have nothing to show for it. We could at least have had one of the northern rail links that have been -suggested from time to time, either from Dajarra over the Barkly Tableland to join the railway between Darwin and Birdum, or from Alice Springs to Birdum. It may be immaterial which railway is constructed, but I favour one from the existing Darwin to Birdum line across the Barkly Tableland to Dajarra and down through the Queensland Channel country, because the area it would serve offers better prospects for agriculture. In any event, one of these two rail links should be constructed in order to link Darwin by rail with the rest of Australia. Such a railway would promote development and encourage people to venture into the north and pioneer the development of pursuits which offer good prospects.
The Northern Territory would not have been developed even to the present degree were it not for World War II. Before the war, there was no all-weather road of any consequence in the Territory. The allweather roads now in existence were constructed for war purposes. I believe that development of the Territory and defence should go hand-in-hand and that roads, railways and other projects should be undertaken in peace-time for defence purposes. We should not wait until an aggressor has landed on our shores to find that we have in our north no harbours, railways or roads. Let us provide them now. I venture “to suggest that the cost of constructing these facilities would be only a flea-bite, as it were, in comparison with the total expenditure on defence. We should not even miss £100 000,000 for developmental works out of a defence expenditure of £1,000,000,000.
I believe that the whole of north Australia is under-populated and that we must induce people to go there. I recently visited northern Queensland, where I inspected a project that will attract a great many people to the Atherton Tableland. I have always been surprised that representatives of the Australian Country party in this House never mention the Tinaroo dam project on the Atherton Tableland, which will cost the Queensland Government more than £20;000,000. The dam will be put into use in a very short time, and will ultimately attract anything from 20,000 to 30,000 people to the Atherton Tableland because it will provide water for the cultivation of large areas cif fertile soil, lt will greatly expand the present tobacco industry on the tableland. The Queensland Government has a comprehensive plan for the project, which will be in full operation by 1960. -Large numbers of people will be keen to go to the area served by this great scheme. Similar projects ;should be undertaken in the Northern Territory. As 1 have pointed out, the necessary money would not be missed out of the large amount expended on defence.
I wish also to discuss native welfare in the Northern Territory. In the financial year -ended 30th June last, more than £534,900 was spent on the aborigines in the Territory. Schools and auxiliary buildings have been constructed and, in addition to primary education, elementary craft work is being taught at Alice Springs and the Bungalow. It is important lo educate the aborigines, ‘but too little attention is being given to the problem of what they will do after they have been educated. There appears to be no activity that will absorb ‘the teen-age aborigines when they have finished ‘their schooling. We should now develop industries into which they may go when they ‘have been educated. It is of little use ‘to teach our native people useful crafts and then allow ‘them to drift back into their tribal lives and waste their education. This would waste our money also.
Trained aborigines would be of value in industry and we should provide jobs :for them. A few are able to obtain casual jobs on cattle stations at not very good wages. Wages and conditions are an important factor in inducing people to remain in or to go to the Northern Territory. Some aborigines, more intelligent than others, do not remain in the Territory to live under the present poor conditions, after being educated, but drift to the southern States where they can obtain work at better wages and under better conditions. We should provide jobs for trained aborigines in the Northern Territory. There is at present considerable difference between the wages for native stockmen and for white stockmen. Aboriginal stockmen earn from £5 to £ 10 a week, but a white headstockman receives £14 4s. a week, and a living allowance ranging from £2 10s. to £3 3s. a week. The gap between the respective wages should be reduced. The white headstockman’s wage of £ 14 4s. a week may seem high, but, when all the circumstances in which he works in the Northern Territory are taken into consideration, it is not. If even the present number of workers are to be -induced to remain in the Territory, their living standards, and, in particular, the conditions under which their ‘families live, must be improved.
The honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) mentioned the high freight charged for the transport of goods to the Northern Territory, either by ship to Darwin, or by rail through Alice Springs, and the further high cost of distribution throughout the hinterland. These heavy freight costs have an important influence on the cost of living, and they should be taken into account in the determination of the basic wage in the Territory. The North Australian Workers Union suggests that the basic wage in the Northern Territory be increased by £5 a week. This would be an excellent thing. An additional £5 a week might induce people to go to the Territory, which urgently needs populating. It would be well worth an extra £ 5 a week on the basic wage in the Territory to populate it and develop it. The cost of commodities, I understand, is based on a combination of costs at Townsville and Darwin. That would not be a good barometer because it is very expensive to take these goods to the hinterland. A special wage should be paid for that purpose.
The Government has not given any attention to the great importance of railway constructions. I mentioned the Clapp report.
If the Government is to develop this land, railways must be built in the Northern Territory and in other parts. If we are to concern ourselves with defence, surely defence through development must engage the attention of this Government. Surely the end-all of defence is not merely people undergoing national service training to be soldiers, or atomic tests being conducted! Development is important to defence. Surely the -present measures are,not the only ones necessary for .the ‘security of this country. J stress that development offers the best means of defending the country. We need a greater population in the north and the -ways that I have suggested are, in my opinion, ‘the ways to get people to settle there. It is true that the north is the frontier of Australia. In future, we must not regard Darwin as the backdoor of Australia, nor our northern neighbours as inhabitating the Far East. We must regard our north as the near north.
If Parliament gives consideration to the matters contained in the Wise report and sees that they are implemented, not pigeonholed, we shall solve the problem of lack of population that has been stressed by all the delegates who recently visited the Northern Territory. If these matters are implemented, we shall go some way towards solving the great problem that exists there.
– The speeches that have been made from both sides of the House during the debate on this paper evidence the interest - the genuine, constructive interest - that is being shown by honorable members in the development of the Northern Territory. If I may, I shall make a few remarks - disconnected perhaps - in amplification of things that have been said earlier, with perhaps some new matter.
First, I want to say that it is about time the Government did something about putting the Department of Works in the Northern Territory under the control of the Administrator or the local council rather than leaving it as it is now under the control of Canberra. Other honorable members have drawn attention to this unsatisfactory state of affairs. A great deal of the trouble in the Northern Territory arises from the fact that everything on the works side is referred to Canberra. There is no division of authority; there is delay and all litis bureaucratic tangle at the centre. Very often, either the right things do not get done or, when the right things are done, they are done out of time and in an uncoordinated fashion. For example, roads which are needed are not built because of some technicality about the voting of money or because there is a conflict between two departments. Very often when they are built, they are not built in the most effective and economic way because the specifications are influenced, apparently, by the opinions of officers here who may not know the local conditions, and what is right for New South Wales under the conditions of that State may be quite wrong with the different seasonal and climatic conditions of the Northern Territory.
Then there are tangles such as occurred with the Darwin wharf. 1 feel - and in this I. am in agreement with most responsible people on the spot in Darwin - that the plans adopted were not the correct plans, that the delay in carrying them out was quite inordinate, that the expense was greater than it should have been and, furthermore, that the work was not properly finished. The approaches could not be built because of some shortage in the vote at the last moment. I know that the wharf can be used without the approaches, but it cannot be used to its full effectiveness without them. When I was in Darwin only about ten days ago, I took the opportunity to have a look, and apparently the work has not been properly put in hand even yet, although I am told that the money is included in the Estimates for this year.
Here again, we have the spectacle of delay in the Department of Works. There is too much red tape about this altogether; and it is rather a scandal that after seven years in office this Government has not yet got round to doing the sensible thing and putting ‘he Department of Works under local control in the Northern Territory rather than leaving it centralized in Canberra. I believe that this is the solution to a large number, not all, of the difficulties that honorable members have brought up in the course of this debate in regard to the operation of the works programme in the Northern Territory. The Department of Works is probably taking too much on its own shoulders, trying always to be the constructing authority rather than having enough let out on sub-contract. There, continuity is desirable, because tendering will not be efficient unless there is some confidence in the continuity of government policy, which would justify the big capital and establishment expenditure of contractors going into those distant places.
I am sorry that my friend, the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn), is not present this afternoon. As honorable members know, he unfortunately has suffered an accident and is temporarily in hospital in Melbourne. But I have frequently discussed with him these matters concerning the Northern Territory, and I know that he holds strong views on them. He would have expressed them, I am sure, if he had been here this afternoon. We have to do something about the position; it is about time we got on with this quite easy job.
The second thing is associated with it. We are not giving enough local authority to the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory. I know that there is difficulty about this. I know that it is in a formative period when everything cannot be given at once. At present, the Legislative Council, which has a limited authority subject to ministerial veto, in effect, consists of the Administrator, seven official members who are nominated on the recommendation of the Administrator and who hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General, and six elected members. That means that the appointed members can always outvote the elected members. It is a situation to which attention was drawn a little while ago by one of the elected members, Mr. Brennan, who resigned in protest. Having resigned, he stood for re-election and retained his seat without opposition, thereby giving some indication of the way in which people in the Northern Territory think about this matter.
Would it not be possible for the Government to appoint among its official representatives people who are not members of the Public Service? In suggesting that, I feel that again I voice a matter that would have been raised by the honorable member for Farrer. At the present moment, all the official members are members of the Public Service and under governmental control. The Government, as a first step - and I look on this only as a first step - should appoint some local residents among its nominated members, who, after all, hold office at the pleasure of the GovernorGeneral and can be removed if it is really necessary to do so. Meanwhile, they would have some freedom of action. I do not think that freedom of action does lie in the hands of the nominated members who are also members of the Commonwealth Public Service. I have in my hand the directions to them. They were circulated by the Minister, under his signature, and although they are unofficial, they are marked, “ The Position of Official Members of a Territorial Legislative Council, by the Honorable Paul Hasluck, M.A., M.P.”. After all, even though this be a privately circulated document, nevertheless, coming into a public servant’s hands with that kind of heading on it, it is almost a mandatory document. I shall not read it. In many ways, 1 think, the sentiments expressed are admirable sentiments, but in point of fact what they add up to is: “ At a pinch, you do what we tell you, and that is your duty, to see that the Government’s position in this Council is preserved “. 1 do not think that that is good enough at the present stage. As a first measure of change, would it not be possible to replace one or two of these public servants with nominated members who are not public servants, and thus give an effective majority on the Council to local residents? I know that it will be said that we want these experienced officials, the heads of departments, in the council. I do not think that that is a most convincing argument. We do not have the heads of our departments necessarily here in the Parliament with us.
– They are generally not far away, though.
– The honorable member is quite right, but in this case in the Northern Territory they need not necessarily be far away. Their expert advice would still be available.
Let me turn to one or two matters of development in the Territory. I hold - and I think honorable members on both sides of the House have expressed this proposition earlier - that whereas the long-term development probably lies in agriculture and rice and the further development of the cattle and meat industries, the short-term development is probably likely to be most intensive on the mining side. There are great potentials there. I think that the Government could be a little more sympathetic in regard to helping the lone prospector who, after all, very often finds the field in the first place. I know that we have up there a director of mines who is right on the ball and is very much in favour of helping the prospector. He might, perhaps, be given a little more financial authority and, in particular, there might be a few thousand pounds - not a big sum - invested in further batteries which could be operated, not necessarily at a profit but at a low fee. Helping the prospector might be one of the ways of getting the quickest results out of that very rich territory. 1 am particularly impressed with the possibility of further developments round the Tennant Creek area. I had the opportunity of going up there quite recently, only a year or so ago, and there is no doubt that in that area there remain immense mineral riches to be found, and I understand that some of them have been turning up even in the last few months. 1 believe that we could be doing more to help Tennant Creek. I think that we could be doing more by putting services in at a cost which would be justified after the place has been developed. In other words, we should not be letting the pioneers carry all the developmental costs of these services. Tennant Creek is producing gold and copper, which are particularly valuable as earners of foreign exchange and dollars for Australia. I am not speaking of this one particular field alone, but this helping of minerals is one of the most constructive ways of furthering our drive for exports, and a few tens of thousands of pounds put in here could pay really rich dividends.
Other honorable members have directed attention to the railway and transport situation. I should think that one of the most urgent things to be done for the Northern Territory in this regard lies outside the Northern Territory, that is, a standardgauge link from Broken Hill to Port Pirie. We think of that as part of the east-west system of Australia, and indeed so it is. but it is also the link which stops the Central Australian railway from ending at a change of gauge.
At the present moment, mineral concentrates sent from Tennant Creek to New South Wales, where in point of fact most of them go for treatment, go by lorry on to rail at Alice Springs. They are then changed at the change of gauge at Leigh Creek, at the change of gauge at Port Pirie, and again at the change of gauge at Broken Hill, and this adds monstrously to the cost and to the delays. We should stop this, and I think that the first logical step is to put in that standard-gauge link from Port Pirie to Broken Hill and prevent the Central Australian railway from being isolated by breaks of gauge from the rest of the standard system in Australia.
I shall not discuss the building of that line farther northward. I support that. I think that it is probably of a lower priority than providing that essential link of which 1 have spoken. It may be necessary, depending on the development of Tennant Creek, but I would not say that it is justi fied at the moment, although it might become justified by further exploration. It may be necessary to extend that line northwards from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek. If that were done, although it would have to be done with a 3-ft. 6-in. line, it should be laid with 4-ft. 8i-in. sleepers and 4-ft. 84 -in. alinement, so that its eventual conversion would be a matter of a few days. That could be done. Whether it could be justified as of this day depends on further exploration. I would not recommend it as a priority work at the present moment, but 1 think, from what I have heard, that further exploration in the Tennant Creek area may put it high in the priority list before very long.
One matter which we might think of is the use of new techniques for this Northern Territory. I shall just instance two of them.. The first has been mentioned by honorable members earlier. That is the Le Tourneau land transport, the train which operates on a road. The Government might well consider the encouragement of this development by getting perhaps one of these units into the Northern Territory fairly quickly. As the Minister would be well aware, certain negotiations are going on now, and if the Government can help, I- think the Government should. At any rate, there should be no delay in getting one of these units into the Northern Territory and operating on an experimental basis to see what can be done.
The second matter is even more important, in> my view. There has been developed a better model, in my opinion, of a portable rotary drill which would be ideal for solving one of the Territory’s main problems, cheap boring for water for stock. I saw these drills in operation in Western Australia five or six weeks ago. They were being operated in batches to do seismic drilling.
A hole can be started in a few minutes. The drills can go down 300 feet or 400 feet in a day under reasonable conditions. They do not need water, so the drillers can drive up in their lorry - the whole thing is portable - and start drilling with air drills straight away. The drill will go down to reasonable depths. It will not drill deep holes, but probably it will go down to 800 feet or 900 feet. That is the range necessary in the Northern Territory, in view of the depths at which bore water may be expected to be struck. I should like one of these units to be taken into the Northern Territory now and used in an experimental campaign to cheapen the cost of bore holes, so that the stock routes, at any rate, could be fully developed, with bore water points along them.
This “ Mayhew “ drill, fully set up, costs something like £30,000. It is mounted on its own lorry. It can drill with either air or water. It is a rotary drill. It goes through sand, without a casing, and there are devices whereby the sand can be made to stand up while the hole goes through it. The casing can be dropped down afterwards. It is remarkable to see these things scurry along. They stop, and within a few minutes the drill is working. One can see it sinking. They have reduced the technique of drilling to the simplest form. They are not experimental units. 1 saw them being operated in groups in Western Australia only a few weeks ago. They are being used there to drill shallow holes for the seismic exploration for oil.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr.
Lawrence). - -Order! the honorable member’s time has expired.
.- When we talk about the Northern Territory, many of us are inclined to regard it as having immutable boundaries, in- the same way as so many of us regard the States as having immutable boundaries. Many portions of the Territory, however, are closely akin, economically and socially, to their neighbouring States. The Victoria River area, for instance, looks to the north-west of Western Australia. The Tennant Creek area looks to Queensland. Alice Springs looks very definitely, as it has done for nearly a century, to South Australia and Adelaide. Yet in the Northern Territory the Commonwealth has to perform functions which, in the States, are performed sometimes by the Commonwealth, sometimes by a State Government and sometimes by a municipal, shire, county or regional council established by a State government. In the Northern Territory for 45 years the Commonwealth has had no alibi. For whatever development has taken place there, the Commonwealth can claim the credit. For whatever should have been done but has not been done, the Commonwealth must accept the blame.
During the last seven years, when international events have not obstructed, but have demanded the development of the Northern Territory, this Government has not done as much there as it should have done. Let us take the example of the Darwin wharf, which the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) mentioned. In that case, we cannot, as we can in the case of all other ports in Australia, blame the local harbour trust or maritime services board for taking all the profits from shipping and putting them into Consolidated Revenue, instead of getting on with essential public works. In considering the approaches to the Darwin wharf, we cannot blame a local main roads board or a highways department. The blame lies on the Commonwealth alone. In the Northern Territory, there are no difficulties caused by passing the buck or overlapping jurisdiction such as occur in every other part of Australia. There is no overlapping in any centre in the Territory such as occurs in every centre in the rest of Australia. So there can be no “ beg pardons “ there. 1 suggest that one of the reasons for the difficulties in the Northern Territory is that we have not yet discharged the obligation, which section 122 of the Constitution envisaged, to give proper representation in both Houses of this Parliament to the Territory, which was accepted, under the provisions of section 122, from the State of South Australia. For a generation the
Territory has returned a member to the House of Representatives. Each of the members we have had in that time - father and son, and the one who came between them - has been vocal in the interests of the Territory, but each of them has been deprived of a vote. In the Senate, the Territory has no representation at all. Surely that would be an appropriate place for it to have representation, because it is said that, in the national interest, all areas are represented in the Senate on an equal basis, irrespective of population. The Northern Territory certainly has as much claim, in the national interest, to representation in the Senate as have some of the States which are represented there. We could give the Territory some representation in the Senate, even if it were not the full representation given to the States. Under the provisions of section 122 of the Constitution, we can prescribe whatever conditions we wish for the representation of the Territory. There could be one person or two persons from the Territory elected to the Senate for a period of three years or for a period of six years.
The Territory is the frontier and the front door of Australia. If we want to justify our claim to such a large part of the tropics, surely it is essential for us to develop it. As the Commonwealth has accepted the responsibility for everything that goes on in the Territory, surely it would be appropriate for that portion of Australia to be adequately represented in the Commonwealth Parliament. I do not overlook the fact that such representation might well solve some of the difficulties arising from disagreements between the Houses that are likely to occur for so long as we have the proportional system of representation in the Senate. I am confident that the people of the Territory would send as their representatives to the other place men of the same calibre and political complexion as the present representative of the Northern Territory in this House, and his father before him.
I come to the rather unusual system under which the Territory is governed. The nominal head of the Government there is the Administrator. He does not have the status, the immunity or the dignity of a State Governor. He does not have the powers and responsibilities df a permanent head of a government department.
– He has more power than a permanent head.
– His decisions are subject to the veto of the Minister for Territories. That veto is frequently exercised. It is true that there is a Legislative Council for the Northern Territory, but any ordinance passed by that council is subject to the veto of the Minister or the GovernorGeneral. The veto can be exercised, I think, at any time up to six months from the making of the ordinance. The exercise of the veto is not discussed here or in the other place.
– It could be, if the Opposition so wished.
– It is true that the Opposition can move a substantive motion to deal with the disallowance of an ordinance, as we did earlier this year in the case of an ordinance for the Australian Capital Territory. But if we do that, the issue is made a party matter. Members of the Government parties who have been absent throughout the course of the debate come into the chamber when a vote is taken and vote against the disallowance. If the local legislative body passes an ordinance or the local administrative head makes a ruling and if that ordinance or ruling is vetoed, the burden appears to be on the Opposition to justify a rescission of the veto. In fact, the burden should be on the Government to justify the use of the veto in such a case. Not only has the member for the Northern Territory in this House no vote, but also the members of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory are subject to veto in all their decisions. All the administrative decisions by the Administrator himself are subject to such veto.
I notice from the figures concerning the Public Service that there seem to be about 600 people in the Department of Territories who reside not in the Northern Territory or in the Territories of Papua and New Guinea, but in Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne. I find it extraordinarily difficult to understand why officials who are dealing specifically with the affairs of the Department of Territories should not mostly live in the Territories. I realize that the Minister cannot live in either of the Territories while Parliament is in session, but surely it is not necessary for him to have 600 officials in Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne, to advise him on how to superintend or veto decisions and ordinances that are made in the Territory.
– I do not think that that figure is correct.
– It is taken from the latest figures that I have. The honorable gentleman knows that the last report of the Public Service Board is now at least twelve months old. I think that the last report that I was able to look at indicated that the present number in these three capitals would be about 600. I certainly hope that 1 am wrong. I shall be only too happy to hear from the honorable gentleman how many people in the Department of Territories are residing in Australian States as distinct from the Australian Territories.
Another feature about the administration of the Northern Territory which must impress one is the fact that the system of annual budgeting which we have found so frustrating in the rest of Australia is still more irksome in the Northern Territory. The wet season, which puts a stop to all public works, commences about one or, at the very most, two months after the budget and Estimates are passed. As the honorable member for the Northern Territory has frequently pointed out, it is impossible to spend in the Northern Territory in any financial year more than a fraction of the moneys which are voted in the budget for that financial year. At all events, it should be possible in regard to the Northern Territory, both for budgetary and strategic reasons, to produce a five-year plan - or, if that has an unhappy connotation, a fouryear or a six-year plan - so that the department can be sure that during the dry season it can spend the year’s appropriation on public works.
In Darwin, at the moment, work cannot be continued on the approaches to the wharf until the Estimates are passed, and when the Estimates are passed there will only be a month or two months in which to make the approaches to the wharf. That means, in all likelihood, that it will not be possible to use the wharf until the end of the next wet season. When our party was in Darwin a month ago we were told that only about £50,000 was required to put the approaches in for this million pound wharf; and the wharf cannot be used to earn revenue to pay the capital cost off until the approaches are made.
– That money has been provided.
– The work is not yet being done, is it?
– The money is there.
– The approaches to the wharf are the only things still wanting, and the work cannot be put in hand in this financial year, which is now two months and a week old, until the Estimates are passed.
– The money is there, ready to be spent.
– Then the Minister should get onto the persons responsible and make them spend it before the wet season sets in. The honorable member has been Minister for Territories longer than any of his predecessors and this wharf has been under construction practically throughout his tenure of office.
– He is writing a book about it.
– It will probably be a footnote to a report that we shall have to put in about this wharf. The Minister has been in office for over six years. He should have been able to do the job. The wharf itself is, in many respects, a fine wharf, but at the time it was commenced, it was impossible to get cement in Darwin so the authorities put timber in. Now, the timber is so rough that fork lifts and handling equipment of the normal size cannot be used upon it. If the wharf had been built later, cement could have been used to provide a smooth surface over the whole wharf. But the wharf cannot be used until this £50,000 is spent on the approaches to it. We were told a month ago that the money could not be spent until we pass the Estimates for it. I think it is a flagrant instance of how the budget system which bedevils every form of municipal and State as well as Commonwealth spending in Australia should be replaced in the Territory, where seasonal and climatic conditions make it particularly inappropriate, by some sort of four, five or six year plan. Perhaps an appropriate amount of money could be placed in a trust fund - it would have some defence purpose up there - and, while the seasons are favorable, the money could be spent.
I do not know whether one is allowed to anticipate but, on the statement that the Minister gave us last week concerning the Estimates, it appears that most of the money for public works in the Territory this year is by way of re-votes from last year. I do not wish to be too censorious of the Minister. I think that we all are indebted to him for the facilities which are made available to the delegations that have gone to the Territory in every year which he has been in office. 1 should think that, even if we are censorious, we are able to be more knowledgeably censorious than if we had not had these facilities made available to us.
The biggest point of complaint in the Territory, we found, as the honorable member for the Northern Territory has stated, was in the matter of communications. There are only two reasonable roads in the Territory - one from Alice Springs to Darwin and the other from Tennant Creek to Mount Isa. Those roads were built merely for war-time purposes. They are now badly cracking up. I do not think that there is any other black-top or hard-top road in the rest of the Territory and not a single mile of railway has been built in the Territory for twenty years. One recalls that under the State Grants (Encouragement of Meat Production) Act 1949, provision was made for some £2,166,000 to be made available to Western Australia and Queensland to make stock routes and roads through the approaches in these States to the Territory. At the end of this year £2,106,000 of that amount will have been spent. Only £60,000 will still be available to be spent. We find, by contrast, that the connecting portions of the roads in the Territory have not yet been built.
One finds the same in regard to the railways. A railway of 4-ft. 81/2-in. gauge is being made up to Marree. I take it that it is proposed to make the 4-ft. 81/2-in. track to Alice Springs. It would be only about 40 miles further, I am told, to make a 4-ft.81/2in. gauge railway from Kingoonya on the east-west railway to Alice Springs, and that railway would at least run through country not subject to the annual flooding which the Alice Springs to Marree railway has endured every year the Minister has been in office. I commend the alternative route to him. Then, again, something could be done about making a rail link between Mount Isa or Dajarra in Queensland and Tennant Creek or Newcastle Waters in the Territory. If we did that, one would be able to get all the excellent stock which, is bred, in the Territory in reasonable time to the country where it can be fattened or slaughtered. At the moment, however, time is lost, and stock loses condition on. the long stock route.
T do not want to conclude these remarks without pointing out that we all were impressed in our tour of the Northern Territory by the calibre of the senior public servants whom we met there and, indeed, of all the public servants whom we had the opportunity to meet. The new Administrator, and the district, officer at Alice Springs, and the directors of all the departments in. the Northern Territory are without exception able, alert and active men. 1 think that I can say confidently that every member of the delegation was delighted with, the sense of dedication to the Territory which all of them possess. Many of them have already left their mark on the Territory, and we are sure that others who have been appointed more recently will, in turn, leave their mark also. The whole of Australia will he the better for it, because our pastoral, industry there is flourishing, mineral industry is booming and the agricultural industry shows very good promise. The minerals will bring the population now and, incidentally, will give us overseas balances, because it seems that minerals, meat and wool are the only things we can expect to sell for profit overseas; and the agricultural development will keep the population there. It now seems that rice, in particular, but also other crops like tobacco and cotton, which are now being developed in the Territory, will establish that Australians can work these tropical products in that tropical climate in the same way as it has been established for many years that Australians can produce sugar in a tropical climate.
After an absence of eleven years I came away from the Territory on this last visit much impressed with its potentialities and with the calibre of the people there, including the public servants, who are guiding the destiny of the Territory at this stage.
I hope that the Minister for Territories will take kindly some of the critical remarks with which I commenced my speech. They were meant, well. The Territory deserves all we can do for it, and unless we do our best by way of representation, budgeting and planning we do not deserve to retain it at all.
– in reply - lt has been a refreshing experience, certainly for me, as Minister for Territories, to listen for two days to this debate on the Northern Territory. I think that it is a long time since the Parliament has had so protracted a debate on this important subject, and one that has shown such freedom from partisanship and has shown also that increasing numbers of honorable members are not only- taking an interest in the Territory as one of. the great national problems with which we are faced, but are also going to some pains to inform themselves about its difficulties. Some honorable members have expressed appreciation of the facilities made available over recent years for parliamentary delegations which visit the Territory. I should like to thank them for their kindly references to the officers in the Territory who have taken part in making these tours instructive, and in making all possible facilities available to members of the Parliament. I feel sure that this Parliament, as- a result of both the annual delegations sent from both sides of the House and of the exercise of the individual travel privileges which members have, will become increasingly well informed on the problems in that part of Australia.
I should have liked, if time had permitted, to follow the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) in some of his discussion of the constitutional and administrative problems of the Territory, because that happens to be a subject in which I am personally interested. However, it seems to me that that would lead us into a sidetrack from the present debate and, without in any way trying to write down the importance of what the honorable member for Werriwa said, or its relevance to the general progress and future of the Territory, I suggest that at the present time, in dealing with the sort of problems with which we are dealing, or attempting to deal, the constitutional forms, the general order of command and that sort of thing, are of rather less importance than the immediate tasks to be done in the Territory itself. I believe that any Minister for Territories, would be doing more good for the Territory by opening up ways in which people can realize their own ambitions, can perform their own tasks in the Territory itself, than by giving a great deal of thought to bringing about changes in the Constitution. That is something which will have to receive consideration in the coming years, but I think that, there are more urgent things to be done at present.
Before I- pass from the speech of the honorable member for Werriwa, I should like to correct one small mis-statement in it. By interjection I indicated that I disagreed with the figures that he cited regarding the distribution of Public Service staff as between, the head office of the Department of Territories in Canberra and its branch office in Sydney, and the territories themselves. Actually there are fewer than 200 public servants in the offices of the Department of Territories in Canberra and Sydney, compared with approximately 400 in the Northern’ Territory and about 1,600 in Papua and New Guinea. So there is no over-loaded central staff. Taking the territories as a whole, and including those territories we have not yet mentioned, we get a picture of something like 200 public servants of all degrees, right down to the typists, at the centre of administration, and well over 2,000 out in the field - a proportion which, I think, reflects the fact that the effective work is being done, and rightly, in the territories themselves.
T now turn to the debate generally that has taken place over the last two sitting days. T permit myself one comment. Honorable members may recall that Australians who went to England in war-time, and there visited relatives or friends, might have been inclined to think, after their first meal in the homes of these people, that the English people were not suffering very much as a result of food rationing. Many of them realized only later than their relatives or friends, in order to provide that one splendid meal, had probably used the whole of their rations for the week. Something of the same sort happens in these tours of the territories by parliamentary delegations. We of the Department of Territories are rightly very proud of what is being done in the territories, and when a parliamentary delegation visits a territory the department, and. their officers in that territory, set themselves, out to show the visiting members the best that they possibly can. Generally, parliamentary delegations visit the Northern Territory at the most pleasant time of the year. This year, the delegation went there during a bountiful season. It was a very good’ year in the pastoral sense, and a year also of great activity in mining.
– They killed the fatted calf, for us.
– We did the best we could for the delegation, and we are very glad that its members got a favorable picture of the Territory.
In a few of the speeches made during this debate there was some exaggeration of what might be termed, broadly, the riches of the Territory, and a disposition to underrate the difficulties of the Territory. The Northern Territory, and other parts of northern Australia, have great riches. There is undoubtedly a mineral wealth yet to be exploited there. There is undoubtedly a large tract of country suitable for pastoral development, and a smaller tract suitable for tropical agriculture. But we would be deluding ourselves if we drew a wholly romantic picture of a rich and bountiful land, because that is not the true picture. It is a difficult land. It is a land with large areas which are arid, or semiarid, and large areas without any soil in the conventional meaning of the term. It is a land of great possibilities. But do not let us delude ourselves that it is one of those lands where people can go and pick up gold easily or make something grow by simply turning over a .spadeful of earth. It is a land which has opportunities and potentialities, but there are limits to its riches. It is, also, a land of exceptional difficulties. Some of those difficulties are set by distance from markets. Some of the favoured areas of the northern part of the Territory could grow abundant crops of this or that, but the problem then commences: Where do you send them? What do you do with them? How do you overcome the problems of distance from market with perishable commodities? Even in the pastoral industry, which has been the staple industry of the Territory for many years, you can raise very good cattle, but having raised them, you still are literally hundreds and hundreds of miles from an outlet to the overseas world, or access to the Australian metropolitan markets or the Australian meat works.
Those are factors which are not set by anything that a government does or fails to do. They are factors that are set geographically. We have to recognize, too, that seasonal conditions, the problems of living, the general physical features of the country are such as to place impediments in the way of easily gaining wealth, the easy reaping of such riches as may be there. Even in the mining field the mining that is required is not mining as it is understood in other parts of Australia; it is mining under tropical conditions, and although at places like Rum Jungle the use of an opencut method and mechanical equipment may minimize the effects of mining in the tropics, it has to be remembered that the person or company engaging in mining - either the individual who is doing the hard work or the person who is planning and supervising the work - has to overcome those special conditions that are involved in mining in the tropics.
During the debate, a remark was made that struck me as being a little back to front. It was repeated by several speakers and was to the effect that what the Territory needed was population. That is quite so. The Territory would be a different place if we had there, instead of something less than 20,000 European people, 50,000 or 100,000. Population is needed, but you just cannot pick up 50,000 people and put them into the Northern Territory. There has to be some reason for them to go there, and once they are there, there has to be something which will sustain their life. I take the view, and I am sure that every honorable member of this House will agree with me, that in the Northern Territory, or any part of northern Australia, we do not want a second-rate life; we want a first-rate life. The people who are to go to the Territory and live there are not to go there and be, as it were, the people on the fringe, people who are living at something lower than what Australia regards as a reasonable living standard. We have to be able to sustain in the north a standard of living at the Australian standard, and not at anything less. That means economic activity, opportunity for employment, oppor tunity for investment and opportunity for production that will sustain that kind of standard of living.
The post-war growth of population in the Territory has been the most rapid and marked of any part of northern Australia in recent times. The pattern of that growth is fairly clearly marked. First, we have a fairly substantial encouragement of the growth of population by governmental expenditures. There are the expenditures in my own department, the maintenance in my department of a staff of officers, whether they are veterinarians, geologists, surveyors, lands officers, clerks, or agriculturists, who are living in the Territory, drawing salaries there and keeping their families there. Of course, living there, they are customers of tradesmen; they are customers for a wide variety of goods, which, to an increasing extent, are supplied in the Territory. Governmental expenditure, whether in my department or in the defence services, the Department of Civil Aviation, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, the Commonwealth railways, or any other instrumentality of government, is a big factor in encouraging the growth of population.
At the present time, I calculate that expenditure from public funds in the Northern Territory is approximately £12,000,000 a year from all sources, and that £12,000,000, practically the whole of which is spent in the Territory, is a big factor in encouraging population. Then, of course, the other big factor in encouraging population in the north is the development of industry. The pastoral industry is not a great builder-up of local population. A handful of men, with the assistance of the native inhabitants, can look after tens of thousands of cattle. Their demands for local supplies are not great, although their demands on the rest of Australia for materials, such as for fencing, the provision of water and the building of houses, may be quite great. But when we come to mining - and we have had two or three quite big mining developments, such as Rum Jungle and the mines at Tennant Creek - there we do get a building-up of wages employment for a considerable body of men. Take Tennant Creek, for instance. During my time as Minister - and there is no question of cause and effect here - Tennant Creek has changed from a town of 300 people to a town of well over 1,200 people. That fourfold increase of population has been due to nothing else than investment by mining companies in the development of mines which provide local employment for a large number of people.
Similarly, with Rum Jungle. Again, during the term of my own period of office, Rum Jungle has been transformed from a place that was mere bush to a place where there is the thriving, well-kept and altogether comfortable and desirable little town of Batchelor, with some hundreds’ of men, women and children living there and enjoying a reasonable life and a reasonable standard of comfort. Again, what brought that about was investment in a mining enterprise, the opening up of a mining enterprise which required employment, and employment at a proper standard. Similarly, one can turn to other parts. If one looks, perhaps with a rather dreaming eye, into the future, one thinks of agriculture, of the rice developments, of the establishment of farms which in their turn will bring scores, and then hundreds, and eventually thousands, of people to that part of Australia. But the point I want to emphasize is that the transformation of the north is not going to be brought about simply by saying, “ We must increase the population “. The transformation in the north is only going to be brought about when people who have enterprise, energy and imagination are able to go there, find something that is worth developing, find something that can be produced, and get on with the job of doing it. That is the way that population grows, and that is the way that population becomes stable - not merely coming and then drifting away, but coming and staying and making a permanent home.
– And communications are a good aid to that.
– I agree with the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) that communications are a good aid. But we can go further than that. I think that the function of government is, on the one hand, to try to open up the way, this way of opportunity, so that enterprise can be applied to the development of the Territory, and on the other hand, side by side with that, to try to provide the amenities and the public services which industry requires in order to flourish. I do not think we should minimize in any way the importance of the provision of social amenities. 1 should say that one of the factors that has contributed very greatly to the progress in the Northern Territory has been the development of social amenities, such as health services. One cannot pretend to-day that a person in the Northern Territory, or in some parts of the Territory, is as well served, or as secure, from the point of view of health, as is a person living in the suburbs of Sydney; but I will say that there is a health service spreading over the whole of the Territory, with aerial ambulances, conducted by the Commonwealth Department of Health and also by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which can bring everyone to medical aid. There is, therefore, a medical service. Again, the educational opportunities are not without their handicaps, but in the Northern Territory to-day we have schools that provide as good a standard of education as that provided by any State education system. Our schools are housed in buildings, in the construction of which we have tried to reach the standards of the best schools in Australia. We do not provide the old shanties that were good enough for country towns in the past; we build schools that will be fit for the best Australian children.
We are also concerned with the provision of recreational and other facilities, such as water and electricity supplies. Electricity is important in the north, not only because it provides lighting, but also because it makes possible refrigeration in the home. All these amentities that we have tried to provide contribute towards attracting and holding population.
I come now to the important matter of communications. Part of our problem in the Northern Territory is to make a clear decision as to the form of transport that is not only well suited to the needs of the Territory, but is also within our capacity to provide within the period available to us and with the resources at our immediate command. Ever since the war ended, there has been talk about building railways in the Northern Territory. At different times it may even have been possible to commence providing finance for such a purpose, but we could not have obtained the steel and other materials, the men or the plant to build the railways. Every one knows how fully occupied the man-power x>£ Australia has been in recent years. Every one knows what a pressure of demand there has been on materials. The problem of building railways is not purely a financial one; it includes the application of our resources to the production of necessary materials. [Extension of time granted.] I thank the Mouse for its indulgence, and I shall try to bring my remarks to an early conclusion. I was making the point that the transport problem of the north is not solved simply by saying, “This is a desirable thing to do”. It is necessary to say to ourselves, “ What is it possible for us to do? “ Of course, we are trying to do a great many things in Australia at present. When I sometimes hear certain honorable members speaking to the effect that we should be devoting millions of pounds to this or that object, including the building of railways in the Northern Territory, I wonder whether they would be willing to refuse the particular demands made for finance in their own constituencies in southern Australia in order to apply that money to the building of railways in the north.
– They would be if they were honest.
– That is so, but we are weak, human vessels.
– If capital issues control were reintroduced, the problem would be easily solved.
– The honorable member for Werriwa is now treading on shaky economic ground. We have not been able to embark on any major programme of railway construction, but I should remark in passing that the Department of Territories has prepared in very careful detail several proposals in relation to the construction of railways, after analysing construction costs and the possible economic return. While recognizing that we have not built any major railways, I remind the House that in the last five years this Government has spent nearly £2,500,000 on the improvement of railways that serve the Northern Territory. I refer to the conversion to standard gauge on a section of the railway from Port Augusta to Alice Springs, and the improvement of the existing railway track from Birdum to Darwin.
Our efforts to improve communications in the Northern Territory in recent years have been concentrated in two directions, and we chose those directions because .of the urgency and practicability of the work. I refer first to the improvement of stock routes. Until the recent mining development the most urgent transport need in the north was to provide a means of getting cattle to market. The cheapest and most practical way, and the one best suited to local conditions, was the stock route. A very great improvement in stock routes in the Northern Territory has taken place in the past seven or eight years, and the department has provided water supplies, quarantine areas, and dips along the stock routes. To-day the stock routes in the Territory are, I think, the best in any of Australia’s pastoral areas.
We have also concentrated on road development. Money for the maintenance of the two main highways has been provided by an annual allocation from the strategic roads section of the Commonwealth aid roads fund. With the money available to the Department of Territories we have concentrated on opening up traffickable roads over as wide an area as possible. It is true that the graded tracks that have been cut are not all-weather roads, but they have the practical effect of allowing people to travel at 40 to 50 miles an hour at the time of the year when they want to travel, even though they may be immobilized during the wet season. I think it is worth noting that there are now well over 12,000 miles of roads in the Territory, which are brought into use in every dry season.
Tn conclusion, I assure the honorable members who have spoken that all their remarks have been carefully noted, and attention will be given to the various points that they have made. One remark, and one remark only, irritated me a little. That was the suggestion made by one or two honorable members that the report of the former administrator was just another report that would be tabled and never acted upon. Strangely enough, some honorable members cited the Payne-Fletcher report as a report that had never been acted upon. If honorable members refer to Mr. Wise’s report they will find in the opening pages a statement that shows that we have already passed the targets set in the PayneFletcher report. We have done better than what that report suggested should have been done. That report, therefore, has not been neglected. It has in fact been rendered out of date by the progress that has taken place.
As to Mr. Wise’s report, T have before me a statement prepared by the Department of Territories showing the action taken on each of his recommendations. It will be appreciated that there are various stages in the carrying out of recommendations of the kind that Mr. Wise has made. Ft is, first, the function of the Government to decide whether or not the recommendations should be endorsed. That action has already been taken, and his recommendations have been endorsed. The Government, having decided that the recommendations make sound sense and are within the ambit of Government policy, refers them ro appropriate executive authorities to carry them out. Most, if not all, of them have been passed on to this or that authority, so that effect may be given to them. In many cases effect has been given, or is being given, to them.
– Is there much Australian capital being invested ih this ricegrowing project?
– It is part of the agreement with Territory Rice Limited that the proportion of Australian capital must be at least 25 per cent. We have insisted on that.
– No American capital has yet been provided, has it? It has been promised, but I understand that no dollars have yet been forthcoming.
– I am dealing at present with the question of whether there is any Australian capital in the project, and I repeat that one of the terms of the agreement is that there shall be at least 25 per cent, of Australian capital.
Once again, I should like to express my appreciation to those honorable members who have spoken in this debate and have made comments which, I am sure, will be helpful to the officers of the Department of Territories and to myself. I should especially like to say how much I personally appreciate the very kind references that have been made by the members of the parliamentary delegation to the officers of the Northern Territory Administration. I think we know the kind of work that they do. Tt is work of national importance, performed with competence and energy. It is very pleasing to know that my Impression of the merit of the officers of the department is shared by other members of this Parliament.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Sitting suspended from 5.51 to 8 p.m.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) - by leave - agreed to-
That the first item in the Estimates, under Divipended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) from making his speech in Committee of Supply on the budget without limitation of time.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 30th August (vide page 110), on motion by Sir Arthur Fadden -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 1 - The Senate - namely, “ Salaries and allowances, £26,500”, be agreed to.
– I am obliged to the House for its courtesy in consenting to grant me the extension of time. My view of this budget is that it is open to criticism of so devastating a character that it does not require detailed economic analysis because of its patent and glaring defects and injustices. I hope that in the debate on the first item, which is the crucial item for the Committee of Supply, and indirectly for the House of Representatives, it will be clearly understood by the Government, by all parties concerned and by the people that the intention of the Opposition, when I move that the item be reduced by £1, as I propose to do, is that the vote will be regarded not merely as a formal censure on the Government but as a definite censure for bringing down such a budget. It is so full of injustices, especially to the defenceless sections of the community, that the word “ censure “ is an understatement of the phrases that could be used.
I cannot hope to parallel the phrases that have been used by the critics, often supporters of the Government, from one end of Australia to the other, in connexion with the budget. That criticism comes from all sections of the community. The budget is really an evasion of the duty that rests upon the Government to see that economic justice is given to all sections of the community and that powerful corporations and profiteering interests are not favoured when that means that injuries must be inflicted upon salary and wage earners and, above all, upon persons in receipt of social services benefits. That is the plain position.
When the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) was delivering his speech, we were not waiting to see whether there would be some consideration for age pensioners who have been going through a desperate period with increasing prices, but to see how much relief would be given. It is appalling that the Government should put such a proposal before the committee in the hope that it will be forgotten, on the cynical theory that, “We can leave that for some future occasion and it will be forgotten “.
The budget provides for an enormous surplus derived by restricting the purchasing power of all sections primarily through increased indirect taxation. I appeal to the Government and to the Treasurer, whatever is done in other respects, to review the position so far as those economically vulnerable persons are concerned and do justice to them. If that is done, we will support the Government. If that is done, and if the mistake is rectified, greater satisfaction will be given to us and to the people. That is a matter in which the committee, by this debate and by its ultimate decision, can force the Government to take the necessary action.
My colleagues, naturally, will be dealing with the budget from varying points of view. I have referred to social services. The Social Services Committee of this party, through the chairman, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), and his colleagues, will deal in detail with the claims that are made. They are just claims and should be honoured. It is to be understood that all these submissions are submissions made on behalf of the Opposition. It is impossible for me, in my speech on the budget, to dial with every aspect of it. It cries for criticism. It is getting criticism from one end of Australia to the other and, to the best of my ability, I shall sum up what I think are the salient features of it that demand and deserve criticism.
The inflation of prices has been characteristic of the economy of this country practically since this Government came to power. It is true that it began earlier, but the people were warned that the trend to wards inflation would continue. In order to safeguard the interests of the people, Mr. Chifley took to them a plain proposal to give national power to this Parliament to pass laws on the subject of prices, rents and charges. That was in 1948. He did not do that simply for the exercise of those powers by a Labour government, but by every national government. I am certain that Government supporters now see the justice of the power that was then sought to be conferred upon the Commonwealth Parliament. That proposal was defeated. The then leaders of the Government parties, including some who are here now, said to the people, “ Do not have any regulation of prices. Leave it alone.” They advanced the old doctrine of “ laisserfaire “. They said, “ Let there be economic or legal anarchy, but do not have any control. In the free enterprise system that exists in Australia, prices will go down.”
Mr. Chifley did not profess to be an academic economist, but he knew the facts. He had been Treasurer for eight or nine years. In the interests of the people, he asked for the powers to be granted, but they were denied. The Government now knows those powers are necessary. Other controls of that kind are also necessary. Now, the Government at various stages, wants to control such matters as capital issues, which is a matter that is vital to the development of Australia. At Premiers conferences and Australian Loan Council meetings suggestions have been made by the Treasurer that that power should be conferred on this Parliament. A specific referendum of the people is not needed; the power could be conferred by the States, which realize the desperate situation we are facing. The recent conference proved that, so far as the problem of inflation is concerned. The States could confer upon this Parliament powers on the necessary subjects for a period, if necessary, as was the case after the war and before this Government came into office late in 1949. Those are matters that must be considered closely in this debate.
I appreciate the difficulties of the Treasurer, but the Government has departed from the theme it used last year. Last year, hire purchase was the evil thing. Hire purchase was simply the consumer credit system necessary for ordinary members of the community, without getting credit from banks, to buy durable goods. That was the practice of business that was then attacked. Our answer was that hire purchase should not be attacked but that the interest payable on hire-purchase transactions was often extortionate, and that power over interest outside the rate of interest charged by banks, which is, of course, a Commonwealth power, should be sought by the Government.
Was anything done about that? Of course not! Some meetings were held. But was the hire-purchase system altered? The interest rates are still high and one of the subjects of power necessary for this Parliament is the power over interest other than banking interest, that being a Commonwealth subject.
Wage and salary earners have been selected for denunciation and condemnation on this occasion. Prices have risen because the profit-making motive has prevailed. Although I am not able to go into every detail, 1 shall demonstrate to the committee that profiteering has existed and still exists in Australia, and that a great deal of the excessive profits can be attributed to the tact that almost three years ago to the day the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration froze the basic wage of half the workers of Australia. That is the situation with respect to wages. The Acting Prime Minister and Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), throughout his budget speech, condemned the State wage-fixing tribunals and parliaments for their wage-fixing activities.
At the recent conference of Commonweal and State Ministers, the representatives of the Commonwealth said, in effect, “We do not favour wage freezing. We do not believe in freezing wages, profits, rents, freights and fares, or anything else. Let them all go free of restraint.” The real point is that, as the remarks of its representatives clearly showed, the Commonwealth wanted to induce the New South Wales and Victorian governments to repeal statutes which guarantee to wage-earners under State awards quarterly adjustments of wages in accordance with movements of the cost of living. That statutory guarantee was one of the great issues at the recent New South Wales general elections. The New South Wales Government gave the people an undertaking that the quarterly adjustments would be continued. In Victoria, the Cain Labour Government intro duced a system of automatic adjustments of the basic wage in accordance with the movement of the cost of living as declared quarterly. At the last Victorian general elections, the leader of the Liberal party, who is now the Premier, did not criticize that. He accepted the position.
The Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), at the recent conference, told the States in effect, “ Abandon the undertaking you gave to wage and salary earners in New South Wales and Victoria, and allow the tribunals to determine what should be done “. They did not want the matter to go to the tribunals merely in order to have the States fix the existing basic wage. They must have wanted some alteration of wages, as was indicated by their addresses to the conference. It is clear that, broadly speaking, they want uniformity of basic wages throughout Australia. There again, the ghosts of the past come back, because Commonwealth power in such matters was sought by the Labour Government at a referendum in 1946, and, but for a handful of votes in one of the States, the referendum would have been carried. Of course uniformity is desirable. But what is the truth of the matter? The Government does not want to freeze the basic wages in New South Wales and Victoria at the present levels. It wants to reduce the basic wage in each of those States to the level of the federal basic wage.
Members of the Australian Labour part) agree that the present disparity is wrong. At present, men working in the same or allied industries, often side by side, receive different basic wages. There is a complete misunderstanding of what the basic wage really is. It is only portion of the total wage paid. This is a very important distinction when, under the law of most of the States, the State basic wage is approximately £1 a week more than the federal basic wage. Why does the Government consider the Commonwealth tribunal is more competent to determine the matter than the State tribunals are? It cannot be claimed that it has any special experience that the State tribunals have not had. Mr. Justice Barry of the Queensland Industrial Court denounced a similar proposal when it was argued before him some years ago. He said, “ The governments are not fixing prices on a federal basis. Why should the basic wage be fixed in this way without any adjustment in accordance with movements of prices? “ lt has been said that wages are dependent upon prices, and I think that is broadly true. No one will deny that there is a price reaction when wages are increased, but, broadly speaking, quarterly adjustments of the basic wage are made only after the worker has paid increased prices for commodities necessary to the upkeep of his family throughout the quarter to which the new cost-of-living figures apply. The adjustment is then an addition to the wage for the following quarter, and it is paid out in order to maintain the family.
But that is not the thesis of the Treasurer’s budget speech, in which he observed, in relation to the cost and price spiral -
As I have said, . . . it is . . . accentuated by factors such as the automatic adjustment of wage rates under some State wage-fixing systems. It was to eliminate that factor, which is having widespread harmful effects - nol least on the interest of wage-earners themselves - that the Government proposed to the States concerned that they should abandon the system, this as the first step to achieving a more orderly and rational system of wage adjustment throughout Australia.
Why would it be a more orderly and rational system if the basic wage were left free, and if, as the Acting Prime Minister and the Minister for Labour and National Service desire, the basic wages in New South Wales and Victoria were reduced? If the basic wages in the industrial States fall, wages in all the other States will reflect this movement. It is quite untrue to say that, with present costs, the standards of wage and salary earners are being increased. They are not. The workers are struggling even to maintain their existing standards. Since the wage paid consists of the basic wage and a margin for skill, we must look at the position in relation to margins. The federal wage-fixing structure is open to the grave criticism that it has fixed a relatively low basic wage and has adjusted margins for only about half the skilled workers throughout Australia. One could say that three-quarters of the employees working under federal awards suffer from the injustices, first, of a low basic wage, and, secondly, of inadequate margins. This is a burning question among Australian workers to-day.
The Acting Prime Minister has selected wage and salary earners as a target for .his attack. When he and his colleagues say they do not favour wage-pegging, they have in mind something even worse. They want wage reductions, and they are trying to remove the obstacles to wage reductions id the form of legislation enacted with the approval of the electors in Victoria and New South Wales, as the Premiers of those States, though belonging to parties on opposite sides of the political fence, know perfectly well. I imagine that no legislation such as that requested by the Commonwealth at the recent conference will be passed in Victoria and New South Wales except with the consent of the people, because it would amount to tearing up the mandate, and even the direction, given to the governments of those States by the people they represent. Nevertheless, the abrogation of the undertakings given to the people of those States by the State governments is the objective of this budget.
Why should the Acting Prime Minister come to the absurd conclusion that the wages and salaries of workers under State awards are contributing to or causing the present price inflation? The real position is exactly the reverse. I pointed out that, when the federal basic wage was pegged three years ago, prices, continued to increase in all the States. It has not been proved that the price increases are due solely to wage increases. That proposition will be resisted, and is being resisted, from one end of Australia to the other, and it is one of the causes of the avalanche of criticism with which this budget is being greeted. As a matter of fact, the position, in view of those on this side of the chamber, is simply that, as we have contended all this year, this Government was partly responsible for the freezing of the federal basic wage in the sense that the Government connived at it. When the decision was given, it was praised by Ministers, including, I think, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and, certainly, the Treasurer. They wanted it frozen. It is of no use to say that this is a question for decision by an independent tribunal. Of course it is, in one sense, but it is something that this Government wants and something which it got. The Government is responsible for this imbalance in the economy, which consists in the fact that whereas on the one side there is this decline in purchasing power, the standard being barely maintained for the workers, and a decline in margins, obviously, in many cases, on the other side is the wages fund that would have been available, going to the employers of this country, broadly, and that is why their profits have gone up. The primary cause of inflation, as we pointed out last year, was the fact that the investments of private capitalists in this country have been so successful and the profits have been so great that, of course, the further money goes back to increase the profits and there is undoubtedly an inflation which, to use a description given to it by some of my colleagues in the last budget debate, is properly to be termed a profit or profiteering inflation. That aspect of the problem must be dealt with before there can be any final or satisfactory solution of the problem of inflation. Prices are going up, and the only remedy that the Government can think of is a continuance of the remedy which was applied in March and is characteristic of the whole financial structure of this country, as it is interpreted by the Government. As far as the Government is concerned, the workers are next to be affected. Private investment was condemned last year. What is to be done about it? Certainly there was an increase in company tax, but there was no attempt to adjust it where profits were being made to an excessive degree. There was simply a flat rate increase. This private capital investment, therefore, goes on apace, and profits are still being made on a scale which has been seldom equalled in the history of Australia, and which is largely due to interference with the fundamental standards of wages in the way I have described.
The next feature of the budget 1 have already mentioned. It will be deliberately and fully considered and expounded by my colleagues. I refer to the position of those persons who are dependent on pensions. 1 refer only to the age pensioners, without seeking to give details. Honorable members on all sides of the chamber have been furnished with particulars of pitiful cases where suffering has been intense. This does not apply merely to age pensions; it applies also to social services payments generally, the principal benefit of which has been absorbed by increased costs. Is it right and just that these matters should not be taken account of in a budget which, one presumes, is intended to give justice to all sections of the community? Let us consider only one item. I must ask pardon for mentioning it, but it must be mentioned. Many of the letters received by honorable members generally refer to the funeral benefit. One finds persons grouping together, for the dignity and self-respect of the citizen are everything. That payment has not been increased for very many years, I think, since it was fixed by the Chifley Government, and it still remains at the figure of £10. I mention that matter only by way of illustration. The case for an increase in the amount of this benefit needs no elaboration, and there is ample room in the financing indicated by this budget to deal in a just and fair way with the pensioners. The details that can be furnished will be supplied to the committee.
A further feature not mentioned in the budget speech but which must be taken account of, where there is a deliberate attempt to reduce purchasing power by indirect taxation, which is such a feature of the budgetary policy of the present Government, is the effect, that the heavy tax is having, coupled as it is with severe bank credit restrictions. The Government says that it does not believe in controls. A few minutes ago I gave the reference to that matter in the Treasurer’s speech. The right honorable gentleman said that the Government does not believe in freezing wages, prices, profits, or anything else. That is simply incorrect. The Government makes such an assertion, but it believes in controls in respect of wages. It wants control of wages through the letter of the law, whether Commonwealth or State. It wants a uniform law only to make sure that it is the type of law of which it approves. An award of a court is a control just as much as is any other award. Similarly, credit restrictions constitute a control. Complete authority is given to, and wide discretion is administered by, the banks of this country. In the operation of these restrictions, who can say that justice is administered and that the public interest is preserved in the granting of additional credit? There is no assurance of it There are no rules for the administration of the restrictions. Great and powerful interests have no difficulty in obtaining bank credit. While home’ building which is so absolutely necessary for the ordinary people of this community is being curtailed, great buildings are being erected in the cities and enormous sums of money are being expended in that way. Credit for the construction of these buildings is advanced by the banks and there is no rule on the subject. Thus, credit restriction is a control of the worst character. Which activities or projects are to be favoured and which are to be less favoured? Is there some order of priority? The law can be defended, but that is characteristic of the control which this Government has exercised through the banking system. It is not that we do not believe in such a control. Of course we do. We believe in a proper and regulated system of capital issues control, because it is obvious that some such system must be applied on a Commonwealth-wide ‘basis if the Government is to have a general control of the direction of investment in this country. When so much has to be done, there must be some order in which things should be done, and the determining factor should be the public interest, the interest of the people. I mention only by way of illustration the position in connexion with the oil companies which constitute the oil combine, the oil cartel of the world. How is it that they arc able to have elaborate buildings for the sale of one brand of petrol on almost every corner block in the suburb? That is an absolutely scandalous thing which has caused much heart-burning amongst people who have waited for many years to get credit to build their homes. Another illustration of the difficulties in connexion with interest is the very high rate of interest charged, for instance, on finance for war service homes.
I mention that only to indicate that there are controls exercised through the control of credit. A control which is very important to-day is the control of imports, which is administered largely at the discretion of the Minister and the department. On what system is it administered? We know that honorable members receive many complaints. It is an absolutely rigid system of control. The Government justifies it on the ground that it is necessary in the interests of the national economy, the proper development of the nation and the protection of the balance of payments. Broadly, we accept that view. My point in referring to import controls is not to show how harshly some of them operate in practice because they have not been framed and are not always administered on a just basis, but to show that the argument in favour of import controls must apply also to other controls more vital to the interests of Australia.
Then we come to the crucial point regarding the economy. I have read the budget speech delivered by the Treasurer and I have contrasted it with his budget speech of last year. One wants to know, and one is entitled to know: what is the national plan that is being put into execution by the Government? As I have tried to show, in many respects it departs almost entirely from what was put forward last year. The Government tries to fill particular gaps year by year. It will never find a solution of the problem of inflation of prices in that way. That can be done only by telling the people of Australia that a plan on a national scale must be adopted and by getting the States to co-operate by granting the necessary power - with limitations of time, if the States insist upon them. If that effort failed, we would support the Government in asking the people of Australia to confer the necessary power upon the Commonwealth, either for a limited period or, as we would prefer, permanently. This crisis is a recurring one. In 1952-53 it was thought that we had seen the end of it, but it has come up again.
It is impossible to read the last six or seven budget speeches delivered by the Treasurer without coming to the conclusion that the right honorable gentleman is improvising year by year - that he is trying to do something to meet situations as they arise year by year, without looking forward to see what kind of developments there will be in the country. Surely in Australia preference should be given to home building, where that is necessary, rather than to expensive city buildings, where they are not absolutely necessary. There must be some policy. The Labour Government had a policy in war-time. There was a very special position then, because the whole object of the effort of the nation was to produce goods, the first purpose of which was their own destruction. We do not face that difficulty to-day but we are faced with difficulties that are somewhat analogous. I see no hope of stopping inflation in this country, or even of stabilizing the position, except by a Commonwealth-wide approach to the problem. I and my colleagues do not look at this problem as persons in the Australian Capital Territory or as persons belonging to any State. We look at it as Australians. Australia is one nation in the eyes of the world. It is one economic unit. There is complete free trade between States. There is no isolation, economically speaking, of the States. In the modern and developed economy of the country, how is it possible to attack the problem of inflation except on a national basis through the National Parliament? It is not that we are grasping for power. It would be a responsibility and an anxiety. One can understand the Government shrinking from assuming that responsibility, but, in the long run, it would be better for the Commonwealth, for the States and, above all, for the people, if the problem were attacked in a national way.
In considering the budget, I believe thai the dominating question is: Will the Government move forward towards a national plan? We may not agree with all the proposals that are made by the Government, and we may disagree strongly with some of them, but unless what is proposed is enforceable and recognized from one end of Australia to the other, the position will become absolutely ridiculous. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) said quite frankly at the last Premiers conference and outside that there should be uniformity in connexion with the great wage questions. He referred, of course, to the basic wage issue. It must, be quite obvious to him, with his experience as Minister for Labour and National Service, as it is to those of my colleagues who have held that portfolio, that we get this conflict over and over again. Has not that for years been the theme of the speeches made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in connexion with constitutional matters?
We tried to get the power needed by the Commonwealth. We did not try to do so because we thought the power should be exercised by any particular party. As I have pointed out, in 1946 our referendum proposals came within 5,000 or 10,000 votes of being carried, although the referendum was held during a general election, when generally speaking it is impossible to carry any referendum pro posals. This is the situation which I pui frankly to the Government. The Commonwealth needs power. That does not mean that the power will be exercised indefinitely, or in every case. We need national price fixation. That does not mean that every price will be fixed. It means that the power will be used only when the occasion requires, in the view of those watching the situation. I do not think the ordinary retailer of this country can be accused of profiteering. He should not be the person called on to take the blame. Prices in Australia, in effect, are fixed for the retailer by the wholesaler or the manufacturer. That is why I become so indignant when I hear honorable members say that prices cannot be fixed. Prices are fixed to-day by the growing power of corporations, combined together. Some of them have become monopolies. Some of them, like the oil corporations, are controlled from outside Australia. The Australian Government now does not even have the interest in the oil industry that was represented by the few shares in Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited which it owned previously. I say that prices are fixed now. The question is: Shall the fixation of prices be done justly and by a responsible authority answerable to Parliament, or shall it. be done by secret directives of the corporations of this country? Shall the corporations decide what prices shall be? The only question is: Who shall fix prices? The question whether there should be price fixation does not arise.
I have referred to capital issues control. Let me refer to an important part of the budget which seems to me to have passed almost without notice. What I have in mind has been going on for some time. It shows the necessity for the control both of interest rates and of capital issues. The question has been raised in a very acute form by the enormous taxation imposed on the people of Australia by laws introduced by the Government, and proposed to be continued, the purpose of which is to set aside a reserve of over £ 100,000,000. That reserve could be used, and probably will have to be used to a considerable extent, to finance the works projects of the States. Let us pause there to examine the cause of that. The cause is a lack of planning by this Government. During the last war, the ordinary investor, patriotically disposed, supported the loans floated by the Government at rates of interest never higher than 3i per cent. They responded to the appeal by Mr. Chifley and the leaders of the other governments concerned to put their money into war loans, security loans or liberty loans. Although it was not part of the strict bargain, it was always supposed by the small investors that they would be able to continue to do what they had always been able to do before the war and between 1945 and 1950 - that is, to exchange their bonds for their full face value.
That state of affairs no longer exists because, here again, Government policy operates. Last year the yield from the bonds for persons investing for the first time reached 5 per cent. Government policy succeeded in doing that. The Governor of the Commonwealth Bank explained the operation in a speech to which I referred in the House last year. It was done by withdrawing support from the bond market at the crucial time and the result was mathematically certain. All that was required was a statement that the Commonwealth Bank and other governmental authorities would see to it that the prices of those bonds would be maintained so that if the individual had to sell in order to pay an instalment on his home, or for some other necessary purpose, he would, at any rate, get substantially the full face value of the bond or the then figure.
It was not done. Arguments were put forward about inflation. They were of no real significance, for this reason. All that was required was a public announcement by the Government of support for these issues to keep them at their then market price. What would then have happened? All interest in the matter would have stopped, because that would have been the figure. But it was not done. The prices fell as 5 per cent, became the rule.
Does the Government expect these people to invest in loans that have been put forward this year or in loans that will be put forward next year, even at higher prices, because of so many loans falling due, as explained by the Treasurer? People will not invest, or, at least, it is unlikely that they will invest on the same scale. There is not the immediacy of war, which affected them before, and they have had the bitter experience of seeing the capital value of their holdings going down unless they were able to wait until the last and draw the full amount. That point of view has led to no confidence in the small investors. The Acting Prime Minister almost hinted at that in his speech. The lack of confidence is mutual. The small investors have no confidence in governments which act in that way. The money has still to be obtained. Therefore, it has to be obtained by the only way open, and that, is by taxation. Taxation of the people is a possible instrument for raising loans. Mr. Chifley, in his paper on full employment, said that there might be a contribution from revenue towards capital or loan in that way, but it has gone far beyond what he could have contemplated and the cause has been the collapse of the bond market, deliberately engineered in order to put the rate of interest up.
Why was the rate of interest put up? It was not a question of whether the Commonwealth could act under the banking power. At least three of the trading banks are heavily involved, in great hire-purchase transactions. An interest rate of 5 per cent, is nothing in these areas of finance, where the interest rate is far higher still. So the power to fix a rate of interest is needed for the. Commonwealth to exercise on a national scale and so, indeed, is the other power to deal with capital issues.
I have already referred to the great power exercised by trusts and combines and that is another associated matter on which it is unnecessary to elaborate tonight. I would say this: That the speech of the Treasurer shows that, passing from two different subjects as he has, from last year, that the Government is perplexed and floundering and clutching at straws. Either it does not understand the problem of inflation and cannot undertake, and is not prepared to undertake the task of bringing about economic stability on an Australiawide scale or, if it does, it is keeping out of account the basic features which I have tried to indicate. The truth is that the Government does represent, in the main, the profit-making interests engaged in private investment whose profits have expanded so much since the federal basic wage was frozen and indeed who, of all people, have gained by inflation.
Is it true that the Government really wants to end inflation? Inflation has certain benefits to a government that does not look too closely at all aspects of the picture. lt means that each year the yield from i fixation will be higher without increasing the rate of taxation and that is very handy from the point of view of the taxation that is being collected. I have come to the conclusion that, although the Government promised when it came to office not merely to prevent price increases but to reduce prices so that the £1 would increase in value, it has found during the years that there are certain advantages in inflation because it will not take the steps necessary even to give the Commonwealth Parliament power to deal with the subject of inflation. I refer to the rises in profits with regard to the standard of living. The White Paper, if it is carefully looked at, and the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures on consumption, show that consumption of the higher class and protective foods including protein, calcium and the vitamins were all at low levels in the last year covered by the document while the consumption of carbohydrates, a relatively low-grade food, was at a very high level. That is the same trend that I pointed out last year.
With regard to those on small incomes, not merely pensioners, but those on small fixed incomes who do not receive the pension, that is an undoubted feature of the economy. Profits have been increasing. Most of the benefit of increased production in recent years has gone in increased profit. The Commonwealth Bank’s report shows a rise from 8.7 per cent, on shareholders’ funds in 1951-52 to 10.7 per cent, in 1954- 55, and there is no doubt that the 1955- 56 figures will be even higher. New funds, largely provided out of excess profits made by the companies, are now earning, if one looks at them in relation to the year in which they came into the accounts, nearly 20 per cent., and over 30 per cent, before tax. Since 1951-52 in respect of moneys used in business, which are taken from profits and added to shareholders’ funds, there has been an increase of 50 per cent, in the profits of those new funds. Compared with wages, the position amounts to a scandal. Average earnings in 1955-56 were only 6 per cent, higher than in the previous year and only 17 per cent, higher than three years earlier. The comparisons are a 17 per cent, increase for wages in that period and 30 per cent, for dividends; and at least 45 per cent, for company profits over the three years. For every £10 paid out in wages last year, over £2 was paid out in company profits and £7 in profits ot all sorts.
This is the sort of economy that the Government has created or has allowed to come into existence because it has been inactive. Profits have been inflated to record heights, leaving less for the wage-earner. His standards were under open attack by the Federal Government at the recent Prime Ministers’ conference and that condition must be fought to an issue. The blame for inflation that profits have created is primarily the responsibility of profits but it has been put on wage demands and costofliving adjustments. The cost-of-living adjustment is the worker’s only protection against falling standards in the profitinflated, price-inflated paradise of large corporations and monopolies which have made enormous profits during this period and is his only protection against the freezing of the basic wage.
Government supporters interjecting,
– Yes, it is a sensitive spot, of course, in honorable members opposite. It is becoming well known that the one sheltered group in the community consists of those who engage in private investment, profits already being so large that they take funds from the accumulated profits of the year, put them into shareholders’ funds under some reserve or another - and secret funds too - and thereby, through the inflationary situation, are able to finance their own future activities, because of the opportunity that is given to them in that way. Various names are used for that, but the fact is that one should look at the profit percentage, and ignore the practice, which is becoming prevalent among financial writers in the press, and elsewhere, always to relate profits to shareholders’ funds, and remember that shareholders’ funds include often a very large percentage of accumulated profits, because that is the only way to get the true picture. To relate profits to shareholders’ funds is not a way of honestly stating what the profits of the corporation are.
The position, therefore, I submit is that there is evident no attempt by the Government to solve this problem of inflation. The Government will not attack it as an Aus*tralian government representing the nation. If it needs additional powers it could obtain these temporarily, at least, from the State governments, because it looks as though the States would consent to give it those powers. We would assist in any such move, and if everything else failed, and the powers could not be gained by agreement with the States, we would support an attempt by the Commonwealth Parliament to obtain these additional national powers, without applying any restrictions from our point of view.
Inflation cannot be attacked, and social and economic justice cannot be achieved in this country, unless the problem is looked at from the point of view of the nation. Is it possible for any one State parliament or any one State government to do it? It is impossible! It is the duty of the State governments and parliaments to make laws for the peace and good government of their own States. It is the duty of this Commonwealth Parliament to make laws for Australia as a whole. As I pointed out in connexion with the crucial point of price fixation - and it is a thought that seems to me to be of tremendous value - a study of the operations of corporations in Australia which copy, to some degree, corporations in the United States, shows that although in America the profit rate is high, possibly higher than in Australia, there is one axiom observed by the American corporations, and that is, to maintain the purchasing power of the main consumers in that country - the employees in industry. That axiom is not observed in Australia. We do not find a mean and niggardly attitude taken in the United States to wage and salary earners. There is a tendency in that direction here, tn any event, we have in this country price fixation by private and irresponsible companies instead of by those who represent the people, and that is one strong and solid reason why power should be conferred on the National Parliament to control prices. Therefore, we are in the position where nothing is done in this budget, except to continue the swingeing taxation which was imposed last March, and which is integrally included in this budget. We shall oppose this. We think, further, that there is no intention on the part of the Government, to tackle the problem of inflation from the national point of view, and that the Government accordingly deserves the censure of the Parliament, as undoubtedly it merits, and would get the censure of the people of Australia if they were given an opportunity to express their opinon through the ballot-box. Therefore, as an expression of censure of the Government I move -
That the first item be reduced by £1.
– The committee has become accustomed to speeches of the character of that which we have just heard from the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The right honorable gentleman never succeeds in giving much guidance either to the committee or to the nation when we are here to analyse the economic statements placed before the Parliament. Indeed, as 1 listened to him, I thought, as 1 have done on so many other occasions when he has spoken, that he reminds me of the man who, in Longfellow’s poem, “ shot an arrow into the air, which fell to earth he knew not where “. The Leader of the Opposition has sought to improve on that. He thinks that if he shoots enough arrows into the air, even if he does not know where they are going, there is a chance of bringing down a bird or two. So, it is not an easy thing to follow the right honorable gentleman in what should be, I suggest, a careful and thoughful analysis of the economic problems confronting the nation. 1 hope to bring the committee back, in a few minutes, to what we, as a government, believe to be the basis of the problem now confronting us. But the Leader of the Opposition has conducted himself like a man engaged in some frantic search for votes in a popularity contest. He has dragged in almost every sectional interest to which some passing appeal could be made, without attempting to deal with the problems of any one interest. He has offered each a kindly word, employing a friendlier and more generous approach, and then has moved on to the. next. I think it important that I should touch on one or two, al least, of the groups to which the right honorable gentleman made these passing references, because I would not have the country believe that this Government has been unmindful at any time during its term of office, of the interests of the people, for instance, of the aged and invalid. No one has a monopoly of concern for the aged and invalid members of the community, and as this sessional period proceeds, my colleague, the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) will be putting before the Parliament in some detail the additional measures we propose in this budget. But, if honorable gentlemen opposite intend to attempt, as, to judge from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, I am quite sure they do, to gain some political capital out of the situation of the aged and sick, then I think it desirable to put a few facts on record, because the Government is proud of what it has been able to do during its six years of office for the aged and the sick. We have increased the rates of benefit. We have liberalized the means test, and we have approved new benefits designed to satisfy special needs. When honorable members opposite ceased to hold the reins of office in this country, which is not very long ago, the age and invalid pension had stood unaltered at £2 2s. 6d. a week from October of 1948 until we altered it after we came into office at the end of 1949. To-day, the pension rate stands at £4, as a result of successive increases granted by this Government. The permissible income has been increased from £1 10s. a week to £3 10s. a week. The property limit has increased from £750 to £1,750. Property exemption has been increased from £100 to £200. Income from property is now disregarded in the means test. The pensioner medical service, under which free medical treatment of a general practitioner nature and free pharmaceutical benefits are available to pensioners and their dependents, has proved its value tens of thousands of times. The Government, recognizing that housing is one of the problems of the aged, introduced what I believe will come to be regarded as a most imaginative development, by making provision to assist in the financing of the construction of homes for aged persons. During the period that that scheme has been in operation, it has led to the receipt of 140 claims for assistance in the building of homes for the aged, and to the provision of more than £1,600,000 for (hat purpose.
These are all important developments. I could go on elaborating them at length, but. if there is to be a contest - and I suggest that the question should never so degenerate - between governments as to the measure of their generosity and capacity to provide for the aged and the sick of the com munity, it can be made a practical test by seeing just how much of the national income and the gross national product of the country has been made available by governments, in particular years, to the people in those categories. By whatever test we care to apply, it will be found that this Government, throughout its term, has exceeded, in every one of those compartments, the provision made for the aged and the sick members of the community by previous Labour governments.
In the last year of office of the previous Labour government the total provision from the National Welfare Fund was £92,000,000. In the last year of this Goverment’s term it has been £214,900,000. In Labour’s time, it was 15.98 per cent, of all expenditure from Consolidated Revenue; in our time it is 18.41 per cent. In their day it was 4.06 per cent of national income, whereas in our time it is 4.99 per cent. In their time it was 3.4 per cent, of the gross national product; in our time it is 4.15 per cent. By all of those quite practical tests as to whether we have been providing more, proportionately or in the aggregate, from the production of this country, the answer must be given affirmatively, that in each of those cases we have done more for the aged, the sick and the less fortunate members of our community.
I sometimes envy those gentlemen who, with a few taps on the typewriter, can so readily and generously provide more for people in these categories. But we have the responsibility to find the means to do so. I have not seen any of those gentlemen recommend that taxation should be increased for this purpose. The leader writers and others who are so liberal in their provision, through the columns of the press, do not have the responsibility to find the funds to carry out these tasks, but honorable gentlemen opposite have had that responsibility and hope to have it again. On every test that can be applied, it will be found that our provision has exceeded theirs, in scope, volume and proportion of the national income.
The second matter on which I want to touch was made much of by the Leader of the Opposition when he spoke of our policy on wage fixation. I welcome this chance to make that matter clear, because he again to-night sought to distort the views of this Government. He sought, as Labour men opposite have attempted ever since we took office, and indeed before then, in 1949, to distort our attitude to the wage-earning members of this community. We claim with full justice, and on the evidence of the performances we have achieved during our term, that we have the interests of wage-earners at heart just as much as we have those of any other section of the community, and that they have prospered under this Government to a greater degree than they have at any earlier period of Australian history. This Government, believes in full employment and it believes, too, in the wage-earning members of the community receiving the highest wages that industry can afford to pay, as determined by responsible and impartial industrial tribunals. What could represent more justice or better sense than a policy of full employment for the- Australian community and the highest wage that is within the capacity of industry to pay? Both conditions have persisted throughout our term of office. No government in the free world has a better record in relation to employment than this Government during its term of office. 1 put the question clearly, not to honorable gentlemen opposite, because they refuse to recognize it as a problem, but to the wage-earners and to the more responsible and better informed trade union officials who do recognize this as a problem: Are they prepared to see the wage-cost level in this country reach heights that would put us out of competition with the rest of the world, which would force widespread unemployment upon the Australian wage-earning community because we had priced ourselves out of the markets of the world? We do not live in a closed economy. We cannot disregard the effect of increases in our internal wage-cost spiral. As internal costs rise, so our capacity to export becomes less. If our capacity to export becomes less, obviously our capacity to import also becomes less.
In these days, a very big proportion of the commodities we import is necessary for the industries which give employment to the Australian wage-earners. If the false prophets of the Australian Labour party are going to lead the wage-earners along the road to disaster in the cause of gaining higher wages, then I warn them that thai is the primrose path. We do not believe in freezing the wages of the wage-earner, or in holding wages down. Wages have never been higher than during our term of office. Does any honorable gentleman opposite challenge the principle of the capacity of industry to pay as being the right principle to apply to wage fixation?
If honorable gentlemen opposite, who are interjecting, concede that principle, as I hope their good sense will persuade them to do, what better tribunal is there to determine the highest wage that is within the capacity of industry to pay than the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration? The Leader of the Opposition asked why that particular tribunal should determine this issue of the capacity of industry to pay. It should do so for the simple reason that it is the only industrial tribunal in Australia that makes a thorough and comprehensive examination, with the best expert advice and testimony that is to be found anywhere in this country. If it is not a competent body to decide the highest wage that industry can pay, I do not know what is.
So there we stand. We stand for full employment, which we have assured throughout our term of office. We stand for the payment of the highest wage that it is within the capacity of industry to pay, after it has been determined by the court. Our policy is that there should be regular reviews by the court of the capacity of industry to pay, and that the wage should be adjusted accordingly. There is no inconsistency between that approach and saying to the Premiers, “ If you accept this principle of the capacity of industry to pay. cannot you see the absurdity and the danger of maintaining a system of quarterly adjustments which has no relationship at all to the capacity of industry to pay? “
If we have a freak season and the price of potatoes shoots up beyond the reach of the average family budget, does that increase the capacity of industry to pay a higher wage? Of course it does not! If a State Premier increases electricity charges, does that increase the capacity of industry to pay a higher wage? Of course it does not! If anything, it weakens its capacity to do so. If rail freights are increased as a result of government action, does that increase the capacity of industry to pay a higher wage? Of course it does not! It weakens the capacity of industry to do so. Yet, such is the cockeyed arrangement which is being followed by certain State governments that incidents of that kind, which have the effect of increasing costs inside Australia and raising price levels as recorded in the C series index, are regarded as justification for increasing a wage which, in its essence, has been determined on the capacity of industry to pay.
That, I hope, puts the matter quite simply and clearly. If it is not understood by governments in this country and by the Australian people, then we are most surely beaded for economic disaster. An unrestrained wage-cost structure will quickly price us out of the markets of the world and bring widespread unemployment.
I believe it is necessary to say that because, as a government, we have more to do than chase after votes in the popularity contest on which the right honorable gentleman has embarked. He has repeated his old smear, that we represent the profitmakers of this community. I want to tell him that we represent the great majority of people, of all sections and shades of opinion, in this country, and we are in office to-day because a very substantial proportion of the wage earners of Australia have recognized the soundness of our approach to economic questions, and the folly and danger of the ignorance of economic questions shown by honorable gentlemen on the other side of the chamber.
The Leader of the Opposition twitted us on the subject of controls. He mentioned the fact that certain controls are actually in operation in Australia to-day. Of course, they are! If anything were needed to disabuse anybody’s mind of the impression that we have a doctrinaire approach to this matter of controls, I hope that the fact that certain controls are in operation will do so. But we have also, I believe, enough good sense to realize the futility of controls when they are imposed merely to deal with symptoms, avoiding any attempt to deal with the real causes of those symptoms. That is all that the right honorable gentleman has set out to do. He wants controls on prices, controls on profits, controls on capital issues and a variety of other things, but he has not said a word to-night about the causes that give rise to the present conditions. As a Government, we have set out to deal with the causes, and to recognize the symptoms for what they are. I tell the right honorable gentleman that the State Premiers, including those from Labourgoverned States, have a very much more realistic idea of controls, and the futility of employing them where they merely mask the symptoms, than he has, or his colleagues have who sit behind him at this time.
That brings me to the question which the Leader of the Opposition put to us about what he described as the crucial test of this budget. He asked: What is the plan behind the budget of this Government?
– The Treasurer’s speech did not give a very good explanation of the plan.
– I hope that if my explanation is not good, it will at least throw a little light for honorable gentlemen opposite on the problem that they are dealing with, and which, quite clearly, has not been before them in any discernible form so far, if one may judge from the speech of the right honorable gentleman to-night.
– Make it simple for them.
– I shall put it in basic English, if I can. The first point I wish to make is that the Government had these considerations in mind when the budget was prepared. The first thing to note is that we had already taken certain steps, as shown in what is called the “ little budget” that was presented in the autumn of this year, to ease inflationary pressure. Although we had taken that action, the inflationary pressure, quite obviously, has not yet been brought completely under control, although there are signs that pressures are easing in certain directions around the economy. But I believe that every responsible economist, and any one who has taken the trouble to analyse the position at all, will agree that the Government could not provide any of the finance for the requirements of government in this financial year by having recourse to central bank credit. I hope that that point will be conceded by honorable gentlemen opposite, because it is basic to a consideration of the budget before the committee. Honorable members must have in mind, when criticizing the fact that we have done less than they would wish in this or that direction, that we had to keep in contemplation the need to avoid recourse to bank credit to any appreciable extent in financing the requirements of government in this year. That is the first point that I wish to emphasize.
The second point is this: We have in this financial year an abnormally heavy programme of repayment of war-time borrowing. As the Treasurer has pointed out in his speech, an amount of £259,000,000 is due for repayment in this financial year. That represents an abnormally heavy burden. In a period of some comparative financial stringency, when credit has been restricted in various directions, largely as a result of conscious and deliberate policy, it is reasonable to assume that more people than usual will seek to have the money that they lent to the Government in earlier years repaid to them, at least in part if not in full. Therefore, we must expect that considerable sums of money from the revenues of the Australian Government will be required for such repayment. We have had to keep that in mind when framing the budget.
Another important consideration has been our determination to continue with a steady rate of development in Australia, f wonder where the right honorable gentleman and his colleagues stand on this matter of development. He has been strangely silent about it, although it is a cardinal feature of the economy at present. I sometimes imagine, from the criticisms offered by the Leader of the Opposition and by others of our budget, that they look somewhat wistfully back to an earlier time, when we certainly had lower prices and we did not have the fluctuations in price movements that we have had in recent years, but when we had a stagnant economy. The pre-war economy of this country was a stagnant one.
– That was when the Minister’s party was in power, and 260,000 people were out of work.
– We were in control, trying to clear up the mess created by the Labour Government, when it allowed 32 per cent, of unemployment to develop in this country during the depression years. In those days there was virtually no expenditure of any consequence on government works. In the last pre-war year £ 62,000,000 was spent on public works, as against £450,000,000 in the last financial year. Private investment on fixed capital equipment amounted to only £122,000,000 in the last pre-war year, compared with £917,000,000 in the last financial year. Those figures show eight times the volume of public works expenditure, and of expenditure in private capital investment, in the last financial year as compared with the last pre-war year. We now have a picture of an expanding economy surging steadily forward and of population growth largely contributed to by immigration. In the prewar years immigration was negligible, and, in fact, in the ten years leading up to the war, Australia actually had a net loss of 29 persons. In the ten years up to the end of June of this year, we have added 83 1,000 persons to our population by immigration.
Our expanding public works programme, the increased expenditure on private investment, and the increase in our population through immigration, taken together, present a picture of an economy going steadily ahead, with varied industries making us very much stronger and more capable of resisting the effects of fluctuations in seasonal conditions that might occur, or of falls in overseas prices. We have an increasing domestic market available to us in Australia. Wherever we look in this country at present we see a picture of exciting and stimulating growth. We see it at Mount lsa, in the Mary Kathleen area, in the four great oil refineries that have been established in recent years, in the £ 1 00.000,000 expansion programme that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has in contemplation during the next five years. We see it in the Snowy River project, which is rapidly reaching the stage where it will show useful results. One could continue for an hour painting this picture of the new, alert, throbbing Australia that exists at present. 1 ask honorable members to contrast that picture with that of the Australia of pre-war years, when our country was aptly described as a boy with hardened arteries. I suggest that any discomforts or inconvenience that we may have experienced have been more than worth while when we look at the Australia of to-day. I am quite certain that our fellow citizens want us to go ahead with this programme of growth. We have in our midst a few disciples of Malthus, who, in the early nine- teenth century, told the world its population could not increase any further because it was not producing enough food to keep people alive. Then, in the next 100 years, the population of England increased fivefold over what one of the leading economists of the day said to be the practical limit of expansion. We have that sort of economist and that sort of pessimist in our midst to-day in Australia.
This Government, as the Treasurer has pointed out. is planning to go steadily forward with a programme of growth which, taking our natural increase and our net migration, will give us just under 2i per cent, of annual growth. Should anybody consider that to be beyond the capacity of an energetic, enterprising and virile nation, a relatively under-populated and underdeveloped nation, then I remind him that at one period for more than 70 years the United States of America, when it was surging onward with its period of most rapid growth, sustained the rate of no less than 3 per cent, a year and led America to the point of prestige and power and prosperity that it enjoys as the strongest nation in the world at this time.
I believe that we can face that challenge no less resolutely and with no less success. I ask the people of this country to contrast the robust, enterprising and vigorous approach of a government determined to go ahead with this development with the sort of control-minded doctrinaire process of involved economic thinking, quite unreal in terms of Australian needs, that we have had from the honorable gentlemen opposite. We have no moral right as a people to hold this country and to maintain our occupation of it unless we are prepared to go ahead with its development and with its population. Indeed, it is my conviction that unless we do these things, we have little hope of survival as a nation in occupation of this country.
We must impress on the people of Australia the fundamental elements of our current economic situation - the need to hold in check the inflationary pressures as far as we can; the need to avoid resort to central bank credit in a time when those inflationary pressures exist; the need, because we cannot raise all the money that we wish to finance the programmes of governments, whether State or Federal, from our internal and overseas borrowing, to finance part of our national effort of a capital and enduring nature out of our current incomes.
I am quite confident that my fellow Australians have sufficient faith in the future of their own country and are sharing in the feeling of satisfaction that we all derive from the knowledge that what was a stagnant Australia has at last become an “ advance Australia “, as our pioneering forefathers would have wished it. That is broadly the programme of this Government, and the budget that we have put before the people will enable us to provide another valuable and important period of growth in the development of this nation.
.- I believe that the Leader of the Opposition (.Dr. Evatt) has done this nation a great service to-night in warning it of the dangers that lie ahead if this Government remains in office much longer. Let us consider the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt). His first interest in politics was when he wrote a treatise on socialism, but since then he has turned a complete circle and now hopes to be the conservative leader in Australia. His speech to-night was deliberately designed to try to win support for his efforts to gain the deputy leadership of the Liberal party, with the idea that later he will be able to move into the No. 1 position of Prime Minister. The position is bad now, but just have a look at him! We have heard his effort. The position of this country would be absolutely terrifying under such leadership.
There can be no doubt that to-day we are facing an economic crisis, and every one must remember that this Government has been in office since 1949. Although the Minister for Labour and National Service talks about our abounding prosperity, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) was not so confident. In his speech, the Treasure! said -
The stale of high prosperity we have enjoyed is endangered.
Why is it endangered? It is endangered because we have a crew of bunglers in charge of affairs to-day. Let us examine this vaunted prosperity of theirs. Anybody can live beyond his means. Anybody can have a period of prosperity if he uses up his savings or if he can borrow money.
That is exactly what this Government has been doing. It has been using up the national reserves and imperilling the future stability of Australia.
When the Labour Government left office, overseas reserves amounted to approximately £850,000,000. To-day those reserves have fallen to £355,000,000. which even the Treasurer admits is a dangerous level. In that period, our overseas indebtedness has increased by £ 55,00Q,000, and this Government is still searching for overseas loans. Every time an overseas loan is secured, the Government is adding to the future difficulties of Australia. Dr. Coombs, the chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, declared that this policy, if it is continued to too great an extent, could become embarrassing because it gives too many non-Australians the opportunity to make claims upon production in this country.
During the same period, internal indebtedness has risen by £939,000,000. As a result of the mismanagement of this Government, this country now finds itself saddled with a national debt of over £1,000,000,000 more than it was when it took office in 1949. Interest has to be paid on the debt. To-day that interest amounts to £127,238,000 a year, which is equal to almost £2.500,000 a week, or two-thirds of the amount being spent on defence to-day.
This Government prides itself on the fact that it has been able to induce overseas capital to come to Australia. But what is the position with overseas capital? It claims that about £500,000,000 of overseas capital has been invested in this country. Nothing of the sort! The Government’s own records disclose that the actual amount of new money received from overseas is about £250,000,000 and the balance has been secured out of Australian consumers by the exorbitant profits these companies have made but have not distributed and which they are talking about ploughing back into their own industry. The Government has used in the last year £165,000,000 of treasury-bill finance. This year, when we are supposed to be prosperous, the Government, for the first time on record in this country, is taxing the people to the extent of no less than £1,000,000,000. But the Government proposes to finish the financial year with a surplus of £108,000,000. Why? Because Lt knows that the small investors have lost so much confidence in it that the loan* falling due this year will not be converted and ready money must be available to pa> those who do not convert their loan holdings.
Inflation is rampant and it appears to me to be a shocking thing that no provision is made in this budget for increases in pension rates. I was rather interested in the observations by the Minister for Labour and National Service about what the Government has done with respect to pensions. What has it done? Dr. Selwyn Nelson, Secretary of the Post-graduate Committee in Medicine of the University of Sydney, speaking at a Rotary Club luncheon on 5tb June of this year, said there were 20,000 old people m New South Wales who could not afford to buy enough food, 12,000 who could not afford to buy enough fuel to keep warm, and 20,000 who could not afford to buy the clothes they need. That is a situation of which the Minister said the Government was proud. In the Sydney “ Sun “ - I mention the name of the newspaper because it is not a Labour journal - of 11th July of this year appeared the following report of a happening in a Sydney suburb: -
A friendless pensioner died on a vacant allotment at Neutral Bay last night.
Police found his body under a bush where be had crawled to escape the biting wind.
In the pockets of the lonely old man were a battered pension card and 12s. Sd.
His suit had been worn thin with constant wear.
The newspaper reported also that the minimum temperature on the night this unfortunate pensioner died was about 44 degrees. Yet the Minister has the audacity to tell the committee that the Government provides homes for pensioners! What homes does it provide? A few are provided by charitable organizations which are subsidized by the Government, but they are a mere drop in the ocean. Every one knows the critical position of aged people, lt is necessary for an aged person to put his name on a waiting list even to obtain admission to a home for elderly people. The Government should be ashamed, instead of proud, that such a state of affairs exists in. the community. One old man in New South Wales had to be certified insane by a doctor, not because he was insane, but in order to obtain admission to an asylum where he could obtain muchneeded shelter. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock), who is a staunch supporter of the Minister for Labour and National Service, said, when we last discussed pensions in this chamber -
We have reached the end of the road in the financial provision of social services.
What a callous attitude for any government to adopt towards the old pioneers of this country! I believe that, if one wished to make such a comparison, one could say that the prisoners in the Belsen camp in Germany received treatment preferable to that which this Government metes out to the pensioners of Australia. The Minister stated that there is a limit to what the Government can do because of the lack of finance. But what is it doing under the Colombo plan? lt can find enough money to help the peoples of other lands. Surely there is sufficient money for it to help the needy people of Australia. The Government has provided in this year’s budget for an expenditure of £5,200,000 on international development and relief, which will make a total expenditure of £34,000,000 for this purpose up to date. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey), in one of his generous moments, at a conference held in Singapore in October, 1955, promised that Australia - not he, but the taxpayers of Australia - would provide an additional £25,000,000 to assist in raising the standards of the poor Asians. Surely the standards of the Asians cannot be any worse than those of people such as the shivering old pensioner who died on a vacant piece of land at Neutral Bay in Sydney! We must ask ourselves whether the Government has any right to say that it is proud of the present position in Australia, and of what it has done.
I turn now to the balance of payments problem, which is the result of a serious situation brought about by the Government’s bungling. Despite the drastic import restrictions imposed last financial year, the Government finished on the wrong side of the ledger in respect of trading to the tune of £46,000,000. With the inclusion of freight, insurance and other invisible items, amounting to £175,000,000, it was actually on the wrong side of the ledge to the tune of £221,000,000. Had it not been able to raise a few loans overseas and to obtain an inflow of foreign capital amounting to £ 148,000,000, it would have been in a much worse position. Even allowing for the inflow of new capital, it was still £73,000,000 on the wrong side of the ledger. This meant that our overseas reserves fell by £73,000,000 during the financial year. Yet the Treasurer says -
It may well be, indeed, that we are only now reaching the most difficult stage of the long struggle to control inflation.
How does the Government propose to correct the overseas trading situation? It talks about increasing production. The Treasurer has said a great deal about it. It is perfectly true that rural production has increased owing to the introduction of more modern methods, greater mechanization and the increased use of fertilizers. But how much further can production be increased without utilizing more land, and how can more land be brought into production if the Government’s policy is to slow down development? There are fewer people employed in rural industries to-day than there were before World War II. Even the vaunted immigration scheme championed by the Minister for Labour and National Service, who is also Minister for Immigration, is not helping our export industries while there are fewer workers employed in rural production.
If production is increased, we must find more markets for our exports. The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) has recently been abroad on one of the leisurely jaunts that have been taken by the Ministers in this Government. What was he going to do during his three months’ sojourn abroad? He was going to talk strongly to the British authorities and tell them that the Ottawa Agreement must be abandoned or revised in such a way as to give Australian industries material assistance. But he returned empty-handed, and was able only to announce that these problems had been discussed in the United Kingdom and were now being considered by the United Kingdom Board of Trade. If the Board of Trade had to consider these problems, why did the Government not state its views in a letter to the board instead of sending the Minister overseas on a leisurely jaunt of three months? I remind the committee that these journeys are not undertaken alone. Ministers take with them great retinues of officials, and also members of their families. All this is done at the expense of the taxpayers at a time when the Government talks of financial stringency. Since this Administration took office, ministerial trips overseas have cost approximately £250,000. I hate to think what the present trip of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) will have cost us by the time he returns.
Let us now examine the position with respect to markets. Has the Government really searched for markets for our exportable commodities? Markets are readily available. Has the Government ever endeavoured to sell our surplus products to China? It has acted according to the opinion of the Minister for External Affairs, who said -
Australia wants a bit more conviction that Communist China has mended its ways before agreeing to drop trade barriers against it.
That is not the opinion of every one. The mere recognition of the government of a country does not mean that one accepts and endorses everything that that government has done; neither does it mean that one accepts that form of government. It means merely that the recognizing country acts realistically. I shall read to the committee now another opinion on China -
A great new power is arising in the Pacific . . .
She will become the world’s third power in little more than a decade.
We may not like the new regime in China, we may distrust it, we may fear it.
But we cannot any longer afford to ignore it, or to subscribe to the fiction that authority in China is vested in the Kuo-mintang remnant on Formosa.
The gesture of recognition by Australia now would be from all points of view a piece of political realism.
I believe that this Government ought to follow that course. Has it any objection to doing so?
– Who published the opinion the honorable member has just read?
– I was waiting for the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) to ask me that. It was published in a leader in the “ Sydney Morning Herald” of 16th June of this year. That journal supports the present Government, but it acknowledges that it would be an act of realism for Australia to recognize the Communist Chinese Government and to open up trade negotiations. Trade is of advantage not merely to the nation that buys, but also to the nation that sells. Therefore the gesture of recognition by Australia now, as this newspaper said, would be, from all points of view, a piece of political realism. In the last few days was announced the fact that the United States of America is to sell its surplus wheat and other products to India. Good luck to the United States of America for doing it, because it is far preferable for the peoples of the world who need this produce to have it than that it should rot in the storage bins of any part of the world, no matter where it is. The United States of America itself, which this .Government is always applauding, is taking a realistic attitude, because a few days ago I read where the United States of America was preparing to export steel to Russia. Here is what the announcement said - lt is the first such sale since 1947 to any iron curtain country. Russia wanted the steel for car bodies. It was non-strategic and was not scarce in the U.S.
While our incompetent, inefficient Ministers are talking about our trading difficulties, other nations, which are taking a more realistic attitude and accepting their opportunities, are seizing trade that ought to be coming to Australia itself.
Let us have a look at the matter of increased export prices. The Government knows full well that it cannot expect to get increased prices overseas, because the Treasurer admits that prices are becoming more competitive. So the possibility is that instead of getting higher prices we shall get lower prices, and what is to happen then? It is rather interesting to note that the Treasurer admitted that there were certain difficulties for the Government in this matter of stepping up its imports. The Minister does not want to admit that import restrictions in this country under anti-Labour governments have become a permanent feature of our economy. They are not a temporary measure. Under anti-Labour governments, they are here permanently. So the Treasurer talked about what the Government intended to do to develop the mineral resources of Queensland and the Northern Territory. He said -
I may mention here that the Commonwealth Government is now actively exploring, with the Government of Queensland, the need for improved railway facilities to permit early full-scale development of some of these projects.
Did you ever hear such rubbish?
– What is wrong with it?
– Merely that we have been hearing that kind of statement here, year after year, and no action has ever been taken by this Government. It is made only for the purpose of misleading the Australian community, lt is rather interesting 10 note that in Sydney to-day David Jones Limited, which appears always to get the inside running in these matters, to get the inside oil, as the Australian would say, is now canvassing the various importing houses and asking them to act exclusively on its behalf, and offering to pay them 25 per cent, commission to do so. What does that indicate? It indicates that the Government realizes that it can get out of the difficulty in regard to its balance of payments only by imposing further import restrictions. The Government talks about exporting manufactured goods. How can more manufactured goods be exported from Australia, unless the Government brings the prices down, the cost of the Australian labour, the cost of the Australian article? That is what the Prime Minister said. No, the Government will never attempt to increase exports by reducing profits. It believes that costs ought to be reduced by the only method approved by it, that is, by forcing down the wages of the workers.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that what this low-wage Government is attempting to do, when it talks about stabilizing the economy and having uniformity in our wage-fixing machinery, is to bring wages down. Let me tell honorable members what the position is. I agree entirely with what the Leader of the Opposition has said. These quarterly adjustments of the basic wage that some persons refer to as increases in the basic wage are not increases at all. They are mere adjustments designed to put the worker back where he was three months ago. But the Government does not believe in that policy. In the present situation, if it wants uniformity, is there not a way open to it? Let the Government increase the federal basic wage to that which prevails in the States. Let it have uniformity by lifting the federal basic wage. Here is the position at the moment. Workers under federal awards to-day are losing, if one can use the word “ losing “ - I prefer to say “ are being robbed of” - £27,500,000 a year from their wages. If the wages of all workers under State awards were reduced to the federal basic wage, which is what the Government aims to do, the Australian workers would lose from their wages £58,000,000. When the rise for the September quarter in the C series index is applied in October, it is believed that the basic wage will rise by at least another 10s., so the poor old pensioner about whom the Minister for Labour and National Service was talking, will be in an even worse position than he is in at the moment, because when the basic wage is adjusted and wages and prices rise, the pensioner will still have his pension pegged at £4 a week for the next twelve months if this Government remains in control of affairs. The Minister said that he wants wage rates determined by independent tribunals. Independent arbitration tribunals were established in this country. I recollect that Mr. Castieau, the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator, made a certain award affecting federal public servants, and making adjustments to their pay, but the Government refused to approve of it. It actually took action to appeal against the decision of the independent tribunal. It took the same action in respect of decisions of conciliation commissioners. When the conciliation commissioners, or certain of them, were adopting a humane and realistic attitude to claims and were adjusting workers’ wages, the Government decided to appeal against their decisions. And what of this arbitration machine which the Government has now established and in which the Minister for Labour and National Service has great faith? He says, in effect, “Who is more competent to determine the ability of industry to pay than the present Arbitration Court? “ And whom has the Government appointed at the very peak of our arbitration machinery to-day? We know that the Government believes in coercion. It believes that if workers refuse to accept unjust decisions, they ought to be compelled by the full vigour of the law to accept them. What has the Government done? It has established a structure, and whom has it put at the peak? Mr. Justice Spicer! Who was Mr. Justice Spicer until recently? He was the Attorney-General in this anti-Labour Government. He was the man who framed the new arbitration legislation, and now he has been appointed to be the man who will impose penalties upon the workers if they refuse to do what this Government wants them to do, the Government in which he was recently AttorneyGeneral. If ever an appointment should be criticized on the basis of its being a political appointment, it is that of the Chief Judge of the new Commonwealth Industrial Court.
The Treasurer objects to automatic adjustments of the basic wage but he has a most peculiar argument to advance in support of his objection. He said that rising prices do not necessarily mean a rise in the cost of living, that if the price of potatoes rises to famine heights many people do not purchase potatoes, and therefore the increased price does not affect the cost of living. This argument reminds me of the story of the man who, for economy’s sake, set out to keep his horse without feeding it. He decided to do so by making a small reduction each day in the amount of its feed, and he said that, just as the horse was getting used to the process, it died. So it is with the Treasurer and his argument. I think that the Minister for Labour and National Service used a similar argument. According to them, if the price of every commodity is forced up to an extraordinary height at which the people cannot buy, the cost of living problem has been solved because the people cannot buy the commodities. It is an utterly ridiculous situation, and it will get worse. This year, the Government is faced with the problem of converting £189,000,000 of maturing loans in Australia, £7,000,000 in London, and 1 8,000,000 dollars in the United States, lt is cutting down on State public works. The States and the local government authorities are complaining. Honorable members opposite talk about what the Government has done in regard to defence - a subject about which I shall have a word or two to say - yet the Hume Highway, a main highway between two capital cities, was put out of action during an important period of the year by flooding.
Let me turn to the defence bungle. If there is one thing for which this Governought to be destroyed, it is for its wasteful expenditure on what it claims to be defence preparations. It has bungled the whole thing. Since the Government took office, it has expended on defence £ 1,063,000,000. That money could have been used to build all the homes, hospitals and schools that we wanted. It could have done a great deal for the development of this great country. The Labour party does - not say that money ought not to be spent on defence. We believe in the adequate defence of this country, but we believe also that the people should get value for the money which they provide for that purpose by way of taxation.
Sir Frederick Shedden must have shocked the nation with the evidence he gave before the Public Accounts Committee. Do any honorable members opposite challenge Sir Frederick Shedden’s right to speak in the manner in which he did? He said that Australia had not been ready for mobilization in 1953 and was not ready now. The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), if we can call him such, said that there was no justification for any belief that Australia was, in 1953 or to-day, relatively unprepared. He said also, “ We have devoted a record peace-time expenditure for defence.” We do not challenge that last statement! There has been a record expenditure on defence but, according to Sir Frederick Shedden, the services are 5,000 under strength.
Sir Lawrence Wackett, the manager of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, has criticized the Government for its delay in announcing the new type of aircraft to be manufactured in Australia. According to Sir Lawrence Wackett, the last Sabre jet will be finished in one year. The corporation has not been able to get a Government decision on the new type of aircraft, although a delegation went overseas about eighteen months ago. According to Sir Lawrence Wackett, delay in construction is now inevitable. The leading article of the “Sydney Morning Herald” of the 10th August stated -
The story of aircraft production alone, as told by the surprisingly frank Sir Frederick Shedden, is a severe indictment of ministerial competence.
The leading article went on to state thai there ought to be a re-shuffle of portfolios and referred to the Minister for Defence as incompetent. It stated further -
Sir Frederick Shedden’s evidence before the Joint Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee will confirm the fears, long-held by many Australians, that our defence programme is illconceived and badly administered.
That is the position after this Government has spent £1,063,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money on defence. For that reason alone, the Government ought to resign.
At the end of 1941, the people of Australia were in great danger. Some of the supporters of the Government then in office shuddered at the incompetence of the ministry, so they crossed the floor of the House and voted the Government out of office. Labour took office, not because there had been a general election, but because it was the only party capable of governing in those difficult times. Let us see who controls our defence services now. Then we shall know how terrifying the position is. The Minister for the Army is the honorable member for Bennelong (Mr. Cramer), who has been rebuked by his own Prime Minister from the other side of the world for making stupid statements about Australian troops going into a conflict, when every reasonable and sensible person still hopes and believes that the issue will be settled by negotiation.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It would be impossible to follow the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) through all the subjects that he has discussed, so I propose to deal only with two or three of them. In the latter part of his speech he dealt with the Australian defence position as commented upon by Sir Frederick Shedden. I think that one is entitled to say that Sir Frederick Shedden, a man who has held responsible office under a Labour government as well as under the present Government, would have expected the majority of people in Australia, and the members of this House, other than, perhaps, the honorable member for East Sydney, to appreciate that the lack of readiness for mobilization in 1953 applied not only to Australia, but to practically every country in the world- The only exception may have been Soviet Russia. [ suggest that that was the construction that Sir Frederick Shedden intended should be placed on the remarks that he made to the Public Accounts Committee.
The honorable member for East Sydney referred to the condition of the Hume Highway recently, and he tried to throw the responsibility for that upon this Government. Surely every honorable mem ber knows that road maintenance and repair are responsibilities of the States. This Government makes substantial contributions to the States for road purposes. The Treasurer has stated that last year the Commonwealth made available to the States for roads purposes £32,500,000, or £5,000,000 more than the sum paid in the previous year. If, despite the grants that it receives from the Commonwealth, the New South Wales Government will not accept responsibility for its share of the Hume Highway the honorable member for East Sydney cannot, with justice, criticize this Government for the condition of the highway.
He came out once again with his o!d cry that the desire of this Government is that there shall be a reduction of wages, but not a reduction of profits. We all know that the honorable member for East Sydney would not allow any company to make a profit if he could prevent it from doing so. During the course of the discussion to-night. I have made a few calculations from the statement on national income and expenditure circulated by the Treasurer. If we look at table 2 of that document, we find that in a two-year period wages increased by 17 per cent, and the profits of companies by 15 per cent. In one year, collections from taxation levied on wage-earners increased by 4 per cent, and on companies by 12 per cent. In view of those figures, I suggest that one cannot come to the conclusion that this Government is not prepared to tax the profits made by companies in this country.
I shall deal only briefly with pensions, another subject mentioned by the honorable member for East Sydney, because the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) dealt with it adequately - although, apparently, not sufficiently adequately for the honorable member for East Sydney - when he was replying to the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). In 1948, when it was last fixed by a Labour government, the pension was £2 2s. a week. Now it is £4 a week-
– What is amazing about that?
– The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) may feel that that increase is not worth anything.
– What is the value of it?
– I will tell him the value. If he will keep quiet for a minute or two, he will receive valuable education. If we apply the C series index and carry it through until to-day, we find that a pension of £2 2s. 6d. in 1948 would be £3 15s. 3d. to-day. That is 4s. 9d. less than the pensioners are receiving at the present time. 1 know that honorable members opposite will say that it should be related to the basic wage. Of course, that is a cry which Mr. Chifley did not accept. Honorable members opposite quote Mr. Chifley when it suits them, but when it does not suit them to remember his wisdom they completely forget all about him. This is one of the occasions when they forget Mr. Chifley. He said, quite definitely, under no circumstances should the age pension be related to the basic wage. This Government has agreed with Mr. Chifley. In point of fact, the pensioner to-day receives 4s. 9d. more than he would receive had we continued the principle of the Labour party in respect of the C series index.
In this debate I do not want to deal just with economic conditions. I believe that that subject has been thoroughly discussed by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), and by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt), and that it will be discussed by many other members during this debate. I want, if I can, to make some remarks in relation to Government spending in Australia at the present time and, perhaps, to say something about the general approach to the preparation of a budget and to find whether there are, in some directions, extravagancies, it I may use the term, and, under other circumstances, a situation that means that Australia is spending, through governments, more than we can really afford to spend, having regard to all the other problems, particularly those of development, with which the country is faced.
The first impact of this budget, I believe, is the amount £1,230,000,000. That is the largest amount that has ever been in a budget presented to the Commonwealth Parliament. I appreciate that £108,000,000 of that amount is provided as a reserve to assist the States in their works programmes and also to make provision for the redemption of Commonwealth loans that will become due during this year. But, overall, the increase in this budget represents £99,500,000, which is nearly 9 per cent, in relation to the amount of las’ year. I ask: ls governmental and semigovernmental expenditure in Australia getting out of hand? Is it at a level to cause concern to us as members of Parliament and to the people of Australia? I am not going to analyse merely the figures which are presented in the budget papers* but more particularly the figures that have been presented by the Commonwealth Statistician. Many of those will be found in the national income paper.
The expenditure of all governmental authorities in the year 1950-51 was £914,000,000. That represented 29.5 per cent, of the national income. In the year which has just passed, the total expenditure was £1,391,000,000, which was 32 per cent, of the national income. The increase in expenditure over that five-year period was £477,000,000 and in relation to the national income the increase was 2.5 per cent. I believe that there is every evidence that the result in the current year will be worse than the result last year, because our budget has increased and the State budgets are substantially increasing and I cannot see that there will be more than an average increase in the national income in this current year. I feel, because the tendency is disturbing, that it is time that we had a stocktaking in Australia.
If we look, first of all, at the Commonwealth expenditure, including payments to the States, we find that in 1951 the figure was £621,000,000, which was 20 per cent, of the national income; and in 1956 it was £891,000,000 or 20.6 per cent, of the national income. But if we exclude from the national expenditure the payments to the States and transfer this amount to actual expenditure by the States themselves, our expenditure in 1951 was £494,000,000 or 15.9 per cent., and in 1956 it was £671,000,000 or 15.6 per cent., which shows in relation to the national income a slight reduction in expenditure by the Australian Government.
But when we look at the expenditure by the States in that same period, including expenditure of the amounts that they receive from the Commonwealth and the revenues that they collect from land tax and other sources, we see that in 1951 they spent £291,000,000, which was 9.4 per cent, of the national income, and last year they spent £500,000,000, which was 11.6 per cent, of the national income. So, in point of fact, it is the State governments which have substantially increased their expenditure over the past five years. The Commonwealth, as I have indicated, has shown a slight reduction but the States have shown an increase of approximately 25 per cent, in their expenditure in relation to the national income over that period.
But I feel that the real test in relation to this comparison is not that of the relationship of expenditure to the national income. 1 believe that the real test is the question, can we afford the percentage of the national income that governments arc using to-day? In my opinion, 29.5 per cent, was too high in 1951. 1 believe that the figure for governmental expenditure should be nearer 25 per cent, of the national income. But if 29.5 per cent, was too high in 1951, then 32 per cent, most certainly is too high in 1956. I think that governmental expenditure, instead of being increased, should be reduced. When I look at the figures in relation to employment by the Commonwealth, I find that in 1951 we had a total of 161,000 employees. We know that the Government took certain action and in 1954 it had reduced the figure to 147,000. I do not think there was anybody who would offer criticism of the quality of the work that was done by the Public Service of the Commonwealth two years ago. But by 1956 a tendency had developed to increase this number and it is now 153,600.
Now there are some departments - or one or two - which have reduced their numbers, even to-day, compared with the total that they had in 1951. But there are other departments, because of the tendency of the last couple of years, that have increased their numbers over that high figure of 1951. I want to list them for the purpose of the record. The Postal Department has an increase of over 4,000. Other departments that have increased their staffs are the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of External Affairs, the Department of Health, the Department of the. Interior, the Bureau of Mineral Resources, the Prime Minister’s Department, the Department of Territories, the Northern
Territory Administration, and the Commonwealth Statistician’s Office. Then I am in some difficulty because honorable members will remember that a couple of years ago we had the two departments, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Customs. To-day, in place of those two departments, we have three departments and, comparing the staffs of those three departments with the staffs of the former two departments, we find an increase of 500 in a total of 4,500 persons. I believe that this attitude of more and more expansion is one of the reasons why we have increased numbers of employees and why we have also increased expenditure and perhaps, to some degree, an unnecessary increase of expenditure in the Commonwealth.
In addition to these employment figures and the figures that I have given in relation to budget details and expenditure details, evidence has been placed before the Public Accounts Committee in relation to what I regard as extravagance due, I believe, to carelessness in the approach to spending by government departments. Perhaps I can cite one illustration, which gives an indication - fortunately not of the Public Service generally - of the mind of one senior public servant of the Commonwealth, lt was noted that his departmental expenditure had exceeded, for several successive years, the appropriation by Parliament, and when he was questioned about it, he said, “ That is not my estimate. That is the Treasury’s estimate after there was a pruning. This has been my estimate, and this is the amount of expenditure “. Of course, he went to the Treasury and asked for an additional appropriation through the Additional Estimates. Now, that is the type of thing which, I believe, is in the minds of a few men in the Public Service; and I believe that it is something which should be regarded by this Parliament as a serious matter.
Then, additionally, there is the general approach to the preparation of the Estimates. Most of us will remember that a few weeks ago we saw. headlined in the press, reports that the Treasurer had made an urgent demand on all the departments for severe reductions in their annual estimates. Two or three weeks later there was a full-dress discussion lasting for approximately four or five days by all the members of the Cabinet, again in relation to the Estimates, and I believe that that discussion was for the purpose, including other purposes, of reducing further the amounts which had been determined by the departments overall. I am a little concerned about the approach to this problem, because we must remember that the Treasurer’s voice is only one voice in a Cabinet of 22 members and it is possible - 1 make no accusations, but I say that it is possible - that there could be a ganging-up, if I may use the term, by other Ministers against the Treasurer for the purpose of getting their departmental estimates as high as they possibly can, on the basis of “ You come with me, Bill “, and “ I will agree with you, Tom “. Both get high estimates approved, and the Treasurer, who has the unfortunate responsibility of bringing these matters before the Parliament, is left completely out on a limb. I feel that this system requires some improvement.
What are these financial documents which are presented to the Parliament? We have, first, a copy of the Estimates. Later in the year we have the Additional Estimates - and do not let us imagine that it is the expenditure of mere petty cash that comes before us for approval in the Additional Estimates. The Additional Estimates provided for an expenditure of £25,000,000 last year, and the figure was as high as £46,000,000 in 1951. Then we come to the Supplementary Estimates. The Supplementary Estimates happen to be an authority for specific items which are included in the Advance to the Treasurer. If honorable members turn to page 102 of the Auditor-General’s report which was made available to them to-day they will obtain some idea of the amount involved in this particular item, and of the types of expenditure included in it. The first item, which is under the Department of National Development, shows that operational expenses, for which £319,000 was appropriated, now requires an additional £76,000 appropriated through these Supplementary Estimates, which will come in after the end of the financial year. The next page of the report shows that the item, under Department of the Navy, “ Repair and Refit of Shins “. for which we provided just over £2.000.000, now requires an additional £500,000. That is the. type of thing which is covered by these
Supplementary Estimates which, in general, do not, I am afraid, receive very much consideration by the Parliament.
Then there is another item which I believe to be of very serious consequence. It is also detailed in the Auditor-General’s report. At page 106, in Appendix D, transfers under section 37 of the Audit Aci are dealt with. In the year dealt with in the report they amounted to only £2,400,000, but they have been as high as over £7,000,000 in 1950. There are many items in this section which, I think, should receive the consideration of honorable members. What a section 37 transfe means is that in some departments there has been a saving, if I may use that term, as a result of under-expenditure, but the actual amount under-expended under a particular division or item of the Estimates has been transferred to cover additional expenditure under some other item. I give one illustration, that of rent of buildings, in the Department of Immigration’s estimates. There was an item of £5,307 noi expended, but we find that that amount was spent by no fewer than five other departments - the Prime Minister’s Department, the Department of External Affairs, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Territories. That is a clear indication that these other five departments had made incorrect estimates. I feel there should be some greater control by the Parliament of the ability of a department to overspend and then to use money which has been underspent in some other department.
I have not a great deal of time and 1 want to offer some comments about what is, perhaps, not a solution, but which could represent an approach, at least, to a solution of this particular problem. I believe, as I have said before, that the Cabinet determination of the level of expenditure is not satisfactory for the reasons I gave. I feel, in the first place, that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, in line with practice in the United Kingdom Parliament, should alone determine the level of departmental expenditure in the Commonwealth. Then, they having made their determination of the level, it is the responsibility of each Minister to make the allocation of that determined expenditure between the various requirements within his department. Of course, there is the question of new items arising during the year. I believe they can be treated in the same way. In other countries there is something additional to a control such as this. In the United Kingdom there is an Estimates Committee, but it attends to only a very small section of the Estimates. It may deal with only one very small section of the Estimates in a particular year, and it makes a report to the United Kingdom Parliament. In New Zealand there is an Estimates Committee somewhat similar to that in the United Kingdom, but it covers a good deal more departments, if not all departments, and makes a report to the Parliament on its inquiries, In the United States there is what is known as the Bureau of the Budget which I could perhaps describe as, to some degree, a “ President’s committee “. It does not hesitate, with the sanction of the President, to run the blue pencil through’ many of the estimates which are presented to the President before they are submitted to Congress. There are systems in those three countries but in Australia we have nothing of the sort, and I believe that we should have something in addition to the final level of departmental expenditure set by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer.
It has been suggested that the Treasury might have greater control, and that it should have the responsibility of determining that Commonwealth funds are spent economically and efficiently. However, we must have regard also to the other side of the situation that might be created. I believe such a change would be a serious challenge to ministerial responsibility. Therefore, it is unlikely that the change will be made.
If the Treasury acted in conjunction with the Public Service Board at the time of the preparation of the Estimates, there might be some form of control, and an obligation to make some special report in relation to the figures that are included in the Estimates. Alternatively, there could be a departmental committee through which the Treasury would act in conjunction with heads or senior officers of Commonwealth departments. That committee could review the estimates of each department, and report to the Government, so that when the Estimates came before the Parliament, we would have the clearest indication of efficiency in government expenditure. [Quorum formed]. Unfortunately, because of the interruption by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), who called attention to the state of the committee, I am unable to complete my remarks which I was just bringing to a close. I was endeavouring to submit what I believe to be a valuable contribution to the discussions on budgeting. In my humble opinion, having regard to the various propositions I have made, I believe that an Estimates committee should be established to consider three or four departmental estimates and report to the Parliament. I believe that such a committee, acting in conjunction with the determination by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer on the overall level of departmental expenditure, would ensure that the Parliament would not be called upon to appropriate money which could be spent wastefully.
Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- This committee seems to be doing little but analyse economic statements, and I suppose it is not strange that on this occasion, when the budget is being presented, we should bc repeating that performance. I remember when we dealt with the economic situation previously, I concluded my remarks by stating that the skies were black with the chickens of this Government coming home to roost and that when they finally reached home, this Government would get it where the chicken got the axe. I venture to say that that time is not far distant because Australia’s economic ills are steadily but surely worsening, and the blame lies fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of this Government. It has been responsible fo: allowing inflation to run riot.
As the Leader of the Opposition (Dr Evatt) stated during his speech to-night, the men who now lead the Government were responsible for the defeat of the prices referendum in 1948. They claimed that the States could control prices just as effectively as could the Commonwealth, but that was proved to be a fallacy as the Australian Labour party had predicted. The national economy has drifted ever since, lt was the most stable economy in the world under the previous Labour Government, but now it is the most unstable of all. 1 direct the attention of honorable members to the “ World Economic Report “ of 1953, which contains some figures that are critical of this Government’s administration during the first three years it was in office. That report analyses the cost of living in European countries and the United States of America. It shows that the average increase in the cost of living in those countries was 15.6 per cent, whereas, in the same period, the cost of living in Australia rose by 48 per cent. That is a condemnation of this Government during its first three years of office. Since then things have got completely out of hand, and retail prices have now increased by more than 80 per cent.
This Government never seems to know exactly where it is going. If somebody wrote a theme song for the Government it would be entitled, “ Drifting and Dreaming “. What did this Government do with capital issues control when it was elected to office? It abolished capital issues control, re-introduced it, then abolished it again, lt has adopted a similar attitude to imports. This Government is in a state of perpetual motion with import controls. It puts them on and takes them off and puts them on again. If we are to get Australia out of the present economic difficulties we must, as the Leader of the Opposition has suggested, re-introduce some form of economic control. The State Premiers indicated at the recent Premiers conference that the majority of them favoured the introduction of controls. There is no doubt that if we have not the power, as a Commonwealth Parliament, to introduce those controls, the States would give us the power if we asked for it. Alternatively, we could get the power by referendum.
As the Leader of the Opposition has said, this Government’s only plan is to reduce the wages of the workers. It would not peg wages in the real sense, but in actual fact would reduce them by bringing all workers under State awards to the same plight, as those who are working under Commonwealth awards. That is the aim of the Government. That is what it intends to do if it can. I say confidently that the workers have had to carry more of the burden of trying to restore the economy to equilibrium than have other sections of the community. The federal basic wage, for the six capital cities, is now £ 12 6s. a week, but it should be £13, which means that each worker working under a federal award is losing 14s. a week, or £36 8s. a year. According to figures that have been supplied by the president of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, by October next the accumulated losses of workers under federal awards will be as follows: - Sydney £42 3s.; Melbourne, £48; Brisbane £56 9s.; Adelaide £55 16s.; Hobart £85 14s.; and Perth £154 12s. Those are the losses the workers will have suffered because of the policy of this Government and the policy of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.
Of course, it is not only the workers who are suffering under this Government. The pensioners also suffer. I was shocked to hear the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) say that if the pensioners were getting what they were entitled to get at the present time, they would be receiving 4s. 9d. less a week than the present pension. He said they would be getting £3 15s. 3d. a week. Figures supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician indicate that if the pensioner were receiving the equivalent of the pension he was receiving during the Chifley regime he would be getting £4 15s. 3d. a week. We do not say, of course, that that would be sufficient for him, but we do say that if he were getting value in his pension that is the amount that he would be getting to-day.
The Government places the blame for the increasing inflationary trends on the State arbitration courts and the State governments which have introduced, by statute, quarterly cost of living adjustments. As a matter of fact, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) said that the little budget was introduced for the purpose of easing inflation. But that is not what the president of the Western Australian Arbitration Court said in a judgment delivered on 23rd July last. He stated -
It is perhaps worthy of note that this rise over the last quarter does not seem to have reflected the recent rise in the federal basic wage, as in general it can be said that the rises have taken place in commodities that are not greatly influenced by increases in labour costs. It could be said to be more particularly influenced by recent decreases in subsidies or increases in excise or customs duties.
We therefore have the position that this Government, which claims that it is fighting inflation, is doing the very things that bring about inflation. Did it not reduce the subsidy on butter, and did not that cause an increase of price to the consumer which was reflected in the basic wage? Did not the little horror budget, with its additional tax of threepence a gallon on petrol and increased sales tax on motor vehicles, add to the cost of transport and consequently cause fares and freights to rise? If we look at the miscellaneous items in the last C series index we shall see that the increase over the previous quarter, in respect of the group which includes cigarettes, tobacco and fuel, all of which were subject to increased sales tax when the supplementary budget was introduced in March last, was 3.56. The full effects of those increases have not yet been felt, of course.
If this Government had had the interests of the community at heart it would have taken immediate steps to arrange with the States for the introduction of prices control by the Commonwealth when the Commonwealth Arbitration Court suspended the quarterly adjustments of the basic wage in September, 1953. That, was the time to control prices if the Government intended to do so, but it failed to take action and since then, of course, economic conditions have become worse and worse. Profits have continued to rise, as the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) pointed out, at the expense of the worker whose wages are pegged.
I turn now to another very important matter which affects the economic situation in which we find ourselves at the present time. Since 1949, successive Menzies governments have been returned to power on promises of full employment. Now, however, we find that the Government has not one progressive idea and is allowing a repetition of the events that occurred during the panic days of the depression, lt used to be the custom for Chinese mothers to bind the feet of their daughters in such a way that they were hobbled and crippled. That is what this Government is doing to the economy of the country. Because of credit restrictions, the lack of plans for development, and a faulty housing programme, our economy is hobbled and crippled, just as the Chinese children were. The little horror budget has helped to bring about unemployment. Evidence of that fact may be seen in returns compiled by the Commonwealth Statistician which show, for instance, that registrations of new cars dropped from 14,039 in March last to 11,213 in April, compared with a monthly average of between 14,000 and 16,000 during the previous twelve months. Between March and April, beer production dropped from 21,000,000 gallons to 17,000,000 gallons, and the production of tobacco and cigarettes dropped by 170,000 lb. to 3,800,000 lb. Those figures indicate the effect of the little budget.
There is no doubt that credit restrictions imposed in September, 1955, were introduced for the specific purpose of creating unemployment. A very definite plan can be seen if the matter is looked at sufficiently closely. This Government, in line with all tory governments of the past - and I suppose that it will also be the case so long as tory governments are tolerated - has no real solution of economic problems except the old one of letting the Australian workers and the lower-paid members of the community carry the burden of economic recovery. Some of the big business interests which support this Government have no hesitation in saying that there should be some unemployment in the community in order to bring pressure to bear on the worker. They believe, and bluntly say so, that there should be a deliberate policy of unemployment as the only solution of economic problems. That policy has been adopted many times in the past, and those who have been responsible for it have reaped rich dividends. As I have already said, the present Prime Minister of this country stated, in 1945, that there should be a pool of unemployed to discipline the workers. His speech on that occasion was recorded in the “ Wheatgrower “ of 24th April, 1946.
It was this Government that appointed the notorious Professor Hytten to the Commonwealth Bank Board. He it was who said that there should be a pool of unemployed of from 6 per cent, to 8 per cent. Is it any wonder that we think that a policy of credit restrictions and less money for housing and development is designed for the purpose of creating unemployment?
Although the Minister for Labour and National Service says that he does not want to create unemployment, and that the policy of the Government is full employment, we find that he said, in a statement reported in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of 7th July last -
As anticipated, some retrenchments in the motor industry followed the Federal Governments economic measures. But this action was taken deliberately in a situation then existing, of over-full employment, in order to obtain a better balanced distribution of labour.
– What is wrong with that?
– As a result of the policy implemented by this Government through its recent budget, through credit restrictions and through not providing sufficient money for home-building, a great deal of unemployment is apparent at the present time, and clearly apparent in Western Australia. The official figures that the Minister for Labour himself quotes from time to time do not reveal the true picture of unemployment in this country. Quite recently in this House he questioned some figures that were mentioned by the Opposition, but I have before me a statement that he issued to the “ West Australian “ and which appeared in that newspaper on 21st August, 1956. That article is headed, ** Nine Thousand Look for Jobs “ In a statement which the Minister supplied to me, he stated that the number of unemployed in Australia increased by 2,161 to a total of 9,164 between 30th June and 28th July. But he admitted under a barrage of questions last week that not about 9,000 but about 35,000 had registered for unemployment benefit, quite apart from those who may have been doing part-time work or who may not have registered in the expectation that work would soon turn up.
The Minister said that in Western Australia 2,082 persons received unemployment benefit, representing an increase of 476, and that the most seriously affected towns were Perth, Fremantle and Midland Junction. But he did not say that there were 5,299 persons registered for unemployment benefit. Later, he admitted that beyond question, but he did not reveal it in his statement. In view of that fact, I tell the Minister that there is no sense in trying to mislead the people of this country. If the employment position is bad, let the people know it because they have a fair idea of what is happening at the present time, and they know that “things are really serious in Western Australia. At the time the Minister made his statement the job vacancies in Western Australia totalled 882, but, surely, the Minister does not suggest that if there are 882 vacancies any of the 2,082 unemployed persons could fill them. Some vacancies would be for boys and girls just leaving school, and some would be for specialists like nurses. One would not expect a waitress to take a nurse’s job or a labourer to take a fitter’s job. So, the figures placed before the people do not give a true picture of the position. Indeed, they paint a misleading picture.
In Western Australia unemployment is very serious. The timber workers’ union operates in the south-west of the State with about 2,000 members, 350 of whom are unemployed- There are about 4,500 carpenters in Western Australia and 540 of those are unemployed. I believe that all the building trades are similarly situated. More than 100 persons in the motor industry are unemployed, although that industry in Western Australia is very small. The increase of the sales tax on petrol and motor vehicle parts has no doubt been responsible for that unemployment. Import restrictions have hit the clothing trades. In one case, because there were not sufficient materials to make shirts of a particular type, some of the employees in that industry were put off and some were put on parttime. In Fremantle, where there is a fairly big army of unemployed, relief works have had to be started, and free vegetables and meat are being distributed to keep the unemployed workers going. There are applications before the courts in Western Australia for the discontinuance of apprenticeships because some employers cannot carry on under the present adverse economic conditions brought about by this Government.
The building industry has been hard hit by credit restrictions. The State housing commission is at present building fewer houses than it built last year. Indeed, fewer houses are being built than in any year since 1 949. The Commonwealth Statistician has announced that to 30th June, 61,170 houses were built as compared with 65,359 during the preceding year. In Western Australia the number of houses built has fallen from 2,700 in June, 1955, to 600 in June, J 956. That is the result of political restrictions, and less money being made available to the States by the Commonwealth for housing. What is this Government going to do about that position? The recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers favoured additional assistance to the States, and the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden) agreed to assist the States. He asked the Premier of Western Australia to put certain plans to him, and the Premier has put up three plans to absorb unemployed persons which, if put into effect, would cost about £4,000,000. I asked the Acting Prime Minister to table the correspondence between himself and the Premier of Western Australia on that matter but he refused to do so. The State Premier has tabled that correspondence, so what has the Acting Prime Minister to fear from doing likewise?
This Government seems to be following the old pattern of causing some unemployment and leaving it at that. Anybody would think that nothing needs to be done in this land of ours. But thousands of houses need to be built, development works require to be undertaken, rail gauges need to be standardized. Matters of that description must be approached from a real Australian stand-point Now, when there are signs of unemployment - in this country, is the time to get busy on those important jobs. Not only members of the Opposition in this House, but also some of the Government’s supporters are complaining about the actions of this Government. The “ News Review which is closely associated with the Employers Federation in Western Australia, published an article on 1st July, 1956. which reads as follows: -
There were tens of thousands of young Australians whose homes suffered in the 1930 depression and who have borne a grudge against free enterprise ever since. Quite a number of these sufferers became Communists and are still Communists. If we are to produce now another generation of young Communists it will be too big a price to pay for the arrest of the present inflationary spiral. It would be far better for the Menzies-Fadden Government to realize this now, and provide adequate loan money for the States works programmes, so as to avoid the impending 10 per cent, cut in such works. Already in Western Australia concern is felt over the fact that about 5,000 persons are out of work. Among them is a good sprinkling of New Australians.
The facts are that the States cannot maintain last year’s scale of public works and housing. The Commonwealth would provide only £190,000,000, the same amount as it provided during the last financial year. The States claimed that they needed £210,000,000 to maintain the same standard of works. The cut in public works and housing has occurred because of increased costs which result in less employment in government undertakings. The provision ot an amount for public works this year similar to that provided last year means that the volume of public works is to be reduced, and this is a time when it should be increased.
I wish now to make a few remarks concerning the Government’s immigration policy. The decision of this Government to reduce the number of immigrants in this financial year by 18,000 does not go far enough. I do not think that anybody would wish to see the number of immigrants reduced if the Government adopted the correct policy with regard to the people who come into the country. But what is the use of bringing people into Australia from other lands if we do the very things that will result in denying employment to them, such as restricting credit and reducing the home-building and development programme? The policy that the Government has adopted has forced it to reduce the Intake of immigrants to a considerable extent. This is not only the opinion oi honorable members on this side of the chamber, and it is not only my own opinion The Government of New Zealand has reduced its annual intake of immigrants by one-third, from 15,000 to 10,000. On page 4 of the August “ Monthly Summary “, issued by the National Bank of Australasia Limited, it is suggested that immigration should be checked in order to block rising costs and inflation, lt is further suggested that immigration should be reduced to saner proportions, and the author of the article suggests a figure of 60,000 per annum, representing a reduction of the present programme by about 50 per cent.
– Is this the policy of the Labour party?
– I am telling the committee what other people are saying about this matter, and how they are supporting our arguments. I submit that the economic policy of the Government has forced it to make a considerable reduction in the number of immigrants. It is of no use bringing people to Australia if we cannot provide work for them, and the Government is pursuing a policy that will restrict the very avenues in which immigrants could be employed.
The Menzies-Fadden Government stands condemned, because it has failed to preserve full employment, it has failed to overhaul the inadequate unemployment and sickness benefits, and it has supported the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in keeping down living standards by pegging the basic wage and holding down margins for skill. It has taken no action to deal with the financial mess into which Australia has drifted. It has allowed finance companies to offer excessively high rates of interest for luxury investment, while essential industries, such as housing, are starved for capital, lt has cut down the housing programme by providing inadequate finance. It has failed to stop inflation. It has disposed of some of Australia’s assets for private exploitation, and has hamstrung those that have been retained. It has refused to pay pensioners an adequate pension, and has not restored value to other social service benefits. It has broken its pledges to the people.
In conclusion, I suggest that Australia faces a problem of creeping defeatism in the conduct of its national and international affairs. It is a young, developing nation, with vast opportunities for progress virtually untapped, yet the Government is afraid to look ahead and move ahead boldly and courageously.
House adjourned at 10.55 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
z asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The agreement, which was signed in Teheran on 20th February, 19S6, provides for the sale to Iran of about 12,100,000 dollars worth of United States agricultural commodities which will be paid for in Iranian currency. The agreement covers about 50,000 metric tons of wheat, valued at 3,900,000 dollars; 5,000 metric tons of butter oil, valued at 5,500,000 dollars; 3,000 metric tons of edible fats and oils, valued at 1,400,000 dollars; and about 500 metric tons of butter, valued at 500,000 dollars. Ocean transportation costing about 800,000 dollars is also included.
The expenditure of funds accruing to the United States as a result of the sale to Iran of these commodities is governed by United States Public Law 480, known as the “ Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954 “.
The use to which the Iranian rials accruing to the United States as a consequence of sales made pursuant to the agreement has been agreed as follows: - (a) The Iranian rial equivalent of 3,700,000 dollars will be spent to help develop new markets for United States agricultural commodities, to finance international educational exchange activities in Iran, and to help pay United States obligations in Iran; (b) The Iranian rial equivalent of 5,900,000 dollars will be used to procure military equipment, materials, facilities and services for the common defence of Iran and the United States, subject to supplemental agreement between the two governments; (c) The Iranian equivalent of 2,500,000 dollars will be made available in the form of loans to the Government of Iran to promote the economic development of Iran, subject to supplemental agreement between the two countries. If the rials set aside for loans to Iran are not in fact advanced within three years from the date of the agreement, the Government of the United States may use the rials for any other purpose authorized by Public Law 480.
b asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
y asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2-
z asked the Minister acting for the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following answers to the honorable member’s questions: -
d asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1 to 5. The views of the Australian Government on the Suez Canal question are set out in the statement by eighteen nations at the London conference. Any action taken by Australia is consistent with that statement.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 September 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560904_reps_22_hor12/>.