22nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Mr. Speaker, I address my question to the Minister for Social Services, without notice. Recently, representations were made to me regarding the issue of free artificial limbs for children and, having inquired of the department in Adelaide, 1 have discovered that there is no provision in the social services legislation whereby artificial limbs can be provided free to children. Will the Minister examine the position to see whether artificial limbs can be provided free to children? As he knows, they are very costly, and a heavy burden is imposed on working-class families when kiddies are unfortunate enough to lose limbs as the result of accidents.
– I. am indebted to the honorable member for Adelaide for his question. I would remind the House that prior to 1952 the Department of Social Services did not provide artificial limbs to anyone requiring them. In 1952, the act was amended to provide for the supply and replacement of artificial limbs to people who had been accepted for rehabilitation. In 1955, if my memory serves me aright, the act was again amended to enable rehabilitation services to be provided for children between the ages of 14 and 16 years who were considered to be suitable subjects for rehabilitation. Provision was made for the supply of artificial limbs in both of those instances. These matters, of course, are constantly under review. I shall be happy to give careful consideration to the suggestion that has been made by the honorable member for Adelaide.
– I address a question to the Minister for External Affairs. Is the right honorable gentleman in a position to give the House any information regarding the latest development in Jordan?
– During the last 24 hours, Sir, there has been no very spectacular news about Jordan. Expressed simply, the position there is that, during the last ten days, the young King Hussein has made a desperate effort to maintain the integrity and independence of his country. The situation is subject to a number of divisions in the Middle East. In the first place, the integrity of Jordan has been assaulted as a result of the activities of Egypt and of Syria, which countries have motivated elements inside Jordan, connected with which there is a good deal of communism and which have threatened both the integrity and the continued existence of Jordan as such. There are many other factors in the situation. There has been the dynastic feud over the years between the Saudi royal family and the Hashemite dynasty in the Middle East, that being the dynasty to which belong the royal families of Iraq and Jordan. That, fortunately, appears to be on the wane, because definite support has been given to the solid elements in Jordan, and to King Hussein, by SaudiArabia and Iraq. That fact, I think, bodes well for the future.
There is no doubt that communism or Communist affiliations have entered into this situation to a very great degree. There has been a long-term contract between Jordan and Great Britain, which was broken during last year. That breach was accompanied by the cessation of the financial support that Great Britain had been giving to Jordan from the end of the war onwards. However, it is difficult to say how the present state of affairs in the Middle East will work out. At the moment King Hussein has, I think, definitely won the early rounds of the struggle. His task - his self-imposed task - is that of trying to maintain the independence of his country, and he has been supported in that great aim by the Governments of Great Britain and the United States. I do not think more than that can be said at present. The situation contains elements of very definite danger for the future, if things were to go wrong, because the number of countries that are antagonistic to each other, either individually or in groups, is quite considerable. Then there is the situation in respect of Israel, which, of course, has provided a problem so far as the Arab states are concerned. However, I think one can hope - or I should hope that one could hope - that Israel would exercise every possible restraint in this present situation; and there is every sign that it is Israel’s national policy to do so. There is no specific information about the situation over the last 48 hours, other than that all people of goodwill hope and pray that the very young king on whose shoulders has fallen this tremendous burden of maintaining the independence of his country - a burden that he must bear almost alone - will meet with success in his great task.
– Has the attention of the Treasurer been directed to the fact that six days elapsed before arrangements could be made for the burial of a man who died recently in Sydney, that lapse of time being due to the fact that the man was destitute? Will the Treasurer consider providing, in the next budget, for an increase of the present funeral allowance of £10 to £30 in the case of age and invalid pensioners?
– I preface a question to the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization by stating that it has been widely reported that that organization has discovered a means of combating skeleton weed. Is this so? Can the Minister explain the method discovered? Will he arrange that the means of destruction be applied to the skeleton weed which, after rain, grows in patches between Parliament House and the Hotel Kurrajong in this city, so that we may witness its effectiveness at first hand?
– For a long time, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has been working on the problem of skeleton weed, which is one of the most destructive pests in the southern part of New South Wales and in the north-western part of Victoria in its effects on the wheat industry in particular. Until lately the real nature of skeleton weed had not been properly appreciated, and the C.S.I.R.O. now takes the view that it represents a competitive element in respect of available supplies of nitrogen in the soil, in that both skeleton weed and wheat, particularly in its early stages of growth, depend on nitrogen for their sustenance. There is competition between the two for available nitrogen. The C.S.I.R.O. is now of the opinion that the best thing to do is to spray the fallow in the autumn, from four to six weeks before the wheat crop or other cereal crop is planted, in order to set back the skeleton weed and to give the new oncoming wheat or other cereal crop the chance to become properly established. It now recommends that, instead of spraying in the spring, which has been the normal thing up to the present, farmers should spray the fallow in the autumn, thus enabling the new cereal crop to become established and denying the potential skeleton weed crop the opportunity to establish itself. Experiments have shown that this process results in an increase of the wheat or other cereal crop of between five and fifteen bushels an acre. There is no getting over the fact that skeleton weed is a very great curse in the wheat areas of New South Wales and Victoria. It is believed that this new method of hormone spraying before the wheat is actually sown may very well be one of the solutions to the problem. It will not be the complete solution but, at any rate, it will reduce the loss on wheat and other cereal crops which has resulted from the inroads of skeleton weed in the past. I shall be very glad to supply the honorable gentleman with details of the strengths of the weedicides necessary for this treatment, and also other details in which he may be interested. However, I have stated the broad principle: The fallow is sprayed in the autumn, from four to six weeks before the wheat crop is sown, instead of the spraying taking place in the spring as in the past.
– I desire to ask the Minister for External Affairs a question in relation to the South Pacific Commission, the body on which Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the United States of America, France and Holland are represented, and which deals with welfare matters in the South Pacific. I ask the right honorable gentleman this question because a conference on the work of the commission is either meeting now, or is about to meet. Is there any intention to reduce the activities of this important welfare commission the establishment of which, as the right honorable gentleman knows, was supported by a previous Australian Government, whilst the commission has received continued support from the present Government? Can the right honorable gentleman assure the House that its activities, so far from being contracted, will be extended in view of the vital importance of its work to Australia and the Pacific?
– The South Pacific Commission meets to-day, and the meeting will be formally opened in a short time. I can assure the right honorable gentleman that there is no proposal at all to reduce the activities of the South Pacific Commission. I cannot say that its activities will be increased. At any rate, this is merely a review session after eight active years of existence of the commission. It is intended that, in this session, the six countries concerned will review the past and ascertain the best lines of action to take in the future. Australia, as the right honorable gentleman implied, is vitally concerned in this matter. We pay 30 per cent, of the total cost of the South Pacific Commission, which is roughly £200,000 a year. If any one country can be said to be the principal one interested in this commission, that country is Australia, as the right honorable gentleman knows very well. There is no proposal to reduce or, at this stage, to increase the activities of the commission. This is merely a review session to see how best the South Pacific Commission can conduct its own affairs in the years immediately ahead.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry, to whom a number of questions about surplus eggs have been addressed recently, relates more to the eggs which will not be produced in Western Australia unless the birds receive the correct food. Is the Minister aware of the shortage of meat meal in Western Australia and the plight of the poultry-growers, who have been reduced to a ration of 141 per cent.? Can he inform me why, on the recommendation of the State Department of Agriculture, approval for the export of 700 tons of spray-dried whale solubles was granted in July last, particularly as no supplies whatever are available to the industry in Western Australia to-day? Will he endeavour to protect the industry by providing for adequate export control and also the urgent supply of meat meal to meet the local demand?
– I think it is usual that at about this time of the year there is a shortage of poultry meal in Western Australia. On this occasion, I do not think it is due to the fact that the Commonwealth Government, on the recommendation of the Western Australian Government, agreed to the export of whale meal. Whale meal is hydroscopic and will not last for more than, say, eight, nine or ten months. Therefore, if any attempt were made to compel the producers to stock whale meal for a period of longer than nine months, it would rot and would be of no use to the poultry producer or any one else. You, Sir, know that the problem confronting the poultry industry and the problem relating to the production of whale meal are matters for the State governments. Some time ago, the Western Australian Government asked for approval to export 700 tons of whale solubles, it being known that if approval were not granted the meal would probably rot. Therefore, the Commonwealth Government, acting in accordance with the usual custom, granted approval. I am glad that the honorable member has raised this problem, because it is one that I can now refer to the department so that the problem can be kept in mind for the future. I assure him that, if approval had not been given for the export of whale solubles, the probability is that they would have rotted and then could not have been used.
– Will the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization inform the House whether reports are correct which indicate that scientists of the C.S.I.R.O. engaged in vital rain-making experiments throughout Australia are forced to use obsolete Avro Anson aircraft for the purpose of carrying out those experiments? In view of the importance of the successful conclusion of this work to Australia and the Australian economy, which will benefit to the extent of many millions of pounds annually, what reason can he give for denying to this group of scientists the most suitable aircraft that are available, irrespective of the cost?
– If I may say so, the question is a relevant one. Actually, the matter is under active discussion at the present time between the Treasurer and myself. I agree that better aircraft are needed than are currently available for this work, and I am not without-hope that more appropriate, aircraft will’ become available. I am in sympathy with what the honorable member has said on this subject.
– I direct to the Minister for Labour and National Service a question arising out of an incident that is reported to have occurred on the Hobart waterfront in which two waterside workers refused to pay a levy of 10s. to the Aus.ralian Labour party’s funds. Will the Minister inform the House, whether any political, party has a legal or moral right to demand political funds from workers who, to obtain employment, are obliged to join a union? Further, in the event of their expulsion by the union concerned, have these men any redress or protection under legislation directed against such extortion?
– An answer to part of the question at least would involve the expression of a legal opinion. I do
Dot feel competent to express such an opinion in answer to a question without notice, but I shall examine the circumstances to which reference has been made. It has always seemed- to me that a political party can have very little faith in its own policies and the soundness of the appeal it makes to the nation if it must compel supporters to contribute to its funds. However, that is a purely personal opinion. I am not able to answer authoritatively the whole of the honorable member’s question, but I shall look into it and see whether I can then give him a better answer.
– Will the Trea-surer confirm or deny reports that he publicly declared the opposition of the Govern-ment to. uniform- taxation while addressing the annual conference . of the Queensland section of the Australian Country party earlier this month? Did the right honorable gentleman say that it was his personal ambition to abolish uniform taxation and that he was expressing not only his own view but also that of the Government? Was he correctly reported as saying that the
States- would shortly he asked to agree toa formula for, the return of State, taxing, rights? If- the answers to these questions, are. in the. affirmative, will the. right honorable gentleman indicate, when a detailed, statement, will i be made, on this matter?
– Despite the fact that the matter of uniform taxation is. presently under consideration by the High Court of Australia, and, therefore, is subjudice, I reaffirm what I have said timeand time again, that I- am totally opposed to uniform taxation. Only a mule of- a Treasurer would not be opposed to it.
– My question, which is. directed to. the Minister for Trade, is concerned with the appointment reported recently in the. press, of two senior officersof the Department of Trade to visit South Australia, Western. Australia and Tasmania to hear and decide hardship cases in relation to import restrictions. Will the Minister, as soon as possible, issue an itinerary for these officers, giving dates of visits to each State, and will he consider favorably a proposal that the officers should visit Western Australia first?
– I think that the question does not accurately state the facts. It is intended, as has been announced, that at an early date, an appropriate senior officer of the Import Licensing Division of theDepartment of Trade will be stationed in Western Australia, and possibly another in South Australia, to give decisions on the spot in regard to certain applications of a restrictive character. In respect of issues upon which the officer concerned is not authorized to give a decision on the spot, he will be able to assist the applicant individuals or companies in the presentation of their case. The officer chosen will go to Western Australia, I am advised, within a week or ten days and will be established there. The intention is that he will remain there for so long as it is evident that there is need for his services. He will then return to work for a period in the Central Import Licensing Division in Sydney. He will go backwards and forwards between Perth and Sydney, and possibly, according to the amount of work that turns up, the. same officer will go to Adelaide as well. I am sure that this will be of very considerable value to the commercial interests in those more distant States.
– Has the Minister for Trade been kept informed on the serious unemployment position in Tasmania which, combined with other factors, is the direct result of the near collapse of the timber industry? Is the Minister aware that more than 700 men have been dismissed from this industry? If he is aware of the situation, what action has been taken by the Department of Trade to place the men in alternative employment, particularly those formerly employed in timber mills in the Smithton area, where the situation is extremely serious?
– My colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, has just informed me that, according to his records, at the present time there are fewer than 100 persons registered for unemployment benefit in Tasmania. I have been kept informed as well, by a conference with the Tasmanian Minister for Forests and also by representatives of the Tasmanian sawmilling industry whom I met several weeks ago in Melbourne. They stated then that a number of small timber mills in Tasmania had closed and that there was a certain displacement of labour as a consequence. According to the advice that has been given me, no persons are unable to get a job.
I informed the persons who called upon me on successive occasions that, to the extent that they attributed this situation to competition from imported timbers, I would refer the matter to the Tariff Board for inquiry and report, in accordance with the policy of this Government and previous governments. In this case, that was done practically the next day. The Tariff Board was asked to expedite the hearing, and to make its finding as quickly as possible.
As to the claim that the situation has arisen from an excess of imported timber in Australia, I was able to produce evidence to show clearly that imports of timber into Australia now are at almost exactly the same level as they were before World War II., and that production of timber in Australia is about exactly double what it was before the war. It does appear that the Australian timber industry, with great credit to itself, has been able to gear itself to a substantial increase of output and, to the extent that I have indicated, to take care of Australia’s timber requirements, notwithstanding our vastly increased building programme, so that Australia is not dependent upon imported timbers.
Nevertheless, it appears also that the gearing of the Australian timber industry to increase production has brought the industry to a productive capacity in excess of the current demand for local timber in Australia. That situation does not exist solely in the timber industry, and is not likely to be confined to any small group of industries. Perhaps I might add, without being critical, that a responsibility rests normally on every industry to try to estimate the demand for its product a year or so ahead. The Australian timber industry has not, I fear, been acutely conscious of that need.
– Will the Minister for Supply inform the House whether he has received any information about the proposed visit to Australia later this year of Sir William Penney?
– Apart from what I read in the press, I have no knowledge of any visit to Australia by Sir William Penney.
– Was the Minister for Labour and National Service correctly reported when he stated that the increase of 10s. in the basic wage would mean higher costs, could reduce employment opportunities and add to our difficulties in maintaining cost stability? If the Minister was correctly reported, does the statement mean that the Minister is against wage justice as founded on the cost of living? Does it indicate also that the Minister’s reference to increasing costs is a hint to his profiteering friends to pass on the 10s. increase to consumer goods, and thus rob the wage and salary earners of an overdue wage increase? What is the basis of the Minister’s claim that the wage increase could reduce employment opportunities, and why is he alarmed on this point when, as we all know, he frequently claims in this House that the employment figures supplied by the department under his administration show that there are thousands more vacancies than there are persons to occupy them? Why is the Minister always upset when a wage increase is granted and always silent about profit increases?
– The honorable member has not quoted accurately the statement which was released by me yesterday when the basic wage decision was announced. I did not deplore the basic wage decision in any manner whatsoever. In fact, I referred with approval to a statement in the judgment that there had been a substantial change for the better in the Australian economy since the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission last examined this question - a change for the better, not without some contribution from the policies pursued by this Government.
The commission went on, itself, to point out what I was stressing. Although there are benefits for the wage-earner in this increase, unless the cost rise which otherwise may occur is offset by increased efficiency and productivity, there is a danger of an increase in the cost level. It should not be necessary for me to emphasize to members of this House the consequence of any significant rise in the cost level of this country. Already we are up against quite serious problems in marketing some of our primary and manufactured products overseas. If the cost level rose higher and these difficulties increased to the extent that we were shut off from markets overseas, then employment opportunities could be reduced.
I did not say yesterday that the rise should not have been granted. The commission itself made it clear in its judgment - and it was the best-informed judgment, I suggest, of any body of men in Australia on this point - that it was within the capacity of the community to pay an increased wage of the amount specified. I have the judgment before me. On page 24 it is stated that there will be - a tendency to increase prices of goods available locally. That tendency may be offset to some extent by the increased flow of imports, but more is needed than reliance on that deflationary factor. Therefore-
These are the words of the commission - it behoves employer and employee to work together for greater efficiency and reduced costs of production.
That was the essence of the statement that I made, stressing what the commission had itself stated in its judgment. For my part,
I welcome the fact that the Australian economy has shown sufficient improvement to warrant the increase which the commission has awarded, and 1 sincerely hope that, as a result of the improved efficiency and the higher productivity of management and labour, those to whom this increase has been awarded will reap the full benefit of it, and that its value will not be whittled away by higher living costs.
– The Minister for Primary Industry stated, recently, that a delegation arranged by the Australian Dairy Produce Board would leave for London to-day. Will this delegation make a study of the butter and cheese markets in the United Kingdom? Will any other countries be visited by the delegation? Is it a fact that the head of the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry will assist in some of the investigations? Will the delegation submit a report to the Government, as well as to the industry, on its return?
– It is correct that representatives of the Australian Dairy Produce Board will leave Australia to-day to investigate marketing prospects in the United Kingdom and then will travel to the United States of America to see whether alternative uses can be found for butter fat. They will also be looking into the problem of marketing butter and cheese with a view to ascertaining whether a more regular flow of butter and cheese to the United Kingdom market can be ensured. Three representatives are going. They are Mr. C. Sheehy, Mr. R. C. Gibson and the secretary to the board. At their own request, they will be assisted by the permanent head of the department, who will be there to give them advice should it be needed. The butter industry is an enormously important one, producing from £80,000,000 to £90,000,000 worth of products each year. Therefore, I for one am very glad the board has taken the initiative and is sending a delegation to the United Kingdom and to the United States. I do not know what will happen when the members of the delegation return, but I assume that as soon as they come back they will submit a report to the Combined Dairy Industry Council, and, through the council, to myself.
– Does the Minister for Labour and National Service consider that there is any trace of a contradiction or inconsistency in the judgment of the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission which states that its decisions on wages are based upon the capacity of industry to pay, but in this case suggests that unless efficiency is improved in the future the wage cannot be paid? Does that mean that the decision is based to some extent on the future possibilities of industry and not upon its existing capacity?
– Even the first part of what the honorable gentleman puts requires some qualification because, as I understand the judgment - and I have not yet had an opportunity to study it as carefully as I would wish - the commission did not say that the current wage was necessarily the highest that was within the capacity of the community to pay. It took the view that a higher wage could have been awarded had it not been for the fact that approximately half the wage-earners of Australia are covered by State awards which have prescribed a higher rate of wages than, in the judgment of the commission, is within the capacity of the community to pay. Consequently, the federal rate now awarded is to some extent lower than it would otherwise have been within the capacity of the community to pay in the judgment of the commission.
On the second point, I do not see any inconsistency in the commission awarding a certain rate as being broadly within the capacity of the community to pay and, at the same time, pointing out that the higher rate of wages will have the tendency to increase the cost level. The second factor may reduce in degree the value of the additional wage the commission has awarded. If the recipients of the wage increase are to enjoy the maximum benefit from it, then it is surely in their own interests that cost levels remain stable rather than rise following the wage increase. A rise in the cost level would take away some of the benefit that otherwise would have been enjoyed.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether his attention has been directed to the practice of some union organizers who, when enrolling new members, detach the new member’s ballot-paper. I refer in particular to some Australian Workers Union organizers in Queensland who are indulging in the practice for obvious reasons. Will the right honorable gentleman thoroughly examine the matter and ensure that suitable precautions shall be taken to protect the rights of trade union members?
– I have heard that the practice does exist. I am not in a position to state how general it is.
– Then do not repeat gossip.
– It is gossip that has come to me from the right honorable gentleman’s side of the House, if he wishes to know the source of my information. I do not claim to have any authoritative information on the point. I have not had any official complaints, so far as I am aware, nor am I conscious of any such complaints having reached the department. However, I shall have inquiries made to see whether the practice exists and whether there is any grievance felt in regard to it, and what power, if any, there is inside the administration of my own department, or that of my colleague, the Attorney-General, to provide some protection to unionists who are affected in this way.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Will he consider selecting from among the elected and nominated members of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council a suitable delegation to visit the new State of Ghana, on the west coast of Africa, so that they may make, at first hand, inquiries of the natives there as to the steps necessary to be taken in a British community to secure the right of self-government, which is at present denied to the people of Canberra?
– I am afraid the answer to the honorable member’s question must be “No”, but I shall take the first opportunity to consult the localnatives on it.
– Can the Minister for Primary Industry indicate when Tasmanian soldier settlers under the war service land settlement scheme will receive a final rental or valuation for their properties? Can he also indicate whether, when the assessment of the settlers on King and ‘Flinders islands is being made, consideration will be given to the special allowance paid to all Commonwealth employees on those islands?
– As a result of representations made by the honorable member, it has been agreed that war service land settlers will get the usual Commonwealth living allowances applying to Flinders and *he other islands off the coast of Tasmania. He will be glad to know that an allowance of £25 will be allowed in the case of married men and that single persons will receive an allowance of £15.
The first part of the honorable member’s question was as to when final determinations of value of properties will be made. I think it should be made known to the House that this is a matter entirely within the jurisdiction of the Government of Tasmania. The Commonwealth Government has been pressing it for some months to ask the Tasmanian Parliament to make the decisions that are necessary before valuations can issue. For perhaps as long as from six to nine months, we have been asking the Tasmanian Government to take the necessary action so that final determinations of value may be made. Until the Tasmanian Government moves and until it takes the necessary legal action, I am afraid there is nothing we can do other than to urge it to take action. I suggest that the honorable member might get some of his colleagues in the Tasmanian Parliament and the returned servicemen’s league to take appropriate action.
– I address a question to the Acting Prime Minister. As Australia’s vast centres of population and industries are on the coasts of Australia, and as all of Australia’s capital cities, with the greater proportion of our people and industries, could be destroyed in a short time by modern nuclear and intercontinental weapons, will the Government establish a committee to act in conjunction with State governments for (a) the prevention of the further expansion of our already overcongested capital cities, and (b) the dispersal of industries and population throughout our country districts, or will it establish a civil defence body to devise and give effect to a plan to disperse those industries necessary to national defence and survival, as rapidly as possible, into less vulnerable areas?
– I shall see that the matter is put on the agenda for the next conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Immigration by stating that, when I was in north Queensland recently, a new Australian - an Italian - suggested to me that the Immigration Act should contain a section requiring intending immigrants to be able to speak English in order to qualify for entry into this country, and that such provision would ensure the bringing out of. a better class of immigrants and would save the Australian Government a great deal of. expense in trying to teach English to immigrants after they had arrived here. Will the. Minister consider the advisability of including such provision in the Immigration Act?
– Yes, I shall consider it, but there are obvious obstacles. It would be impossible, for instance, to get people in European countries to learn to speak English before they came to Australia. We do as much as we can to teach them our language on the journey out by ship, and they pick it up quite well under that instruction. Knowledge of English, of course, is necessary in order to qualify for naturalization.
Assent to the following bills reported: -
Trading with the Enemy Bill 1957.
Removal of Prisoners (Territories) Bill 1957.
Cotton Bounty Bill 1957.
Lands Acquisition Bill 1957.
Loan (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) Bill 1957.
Loan (Qantas Empire Airways Limited) Bill
States Grants (Universities) Bill 1957. Apple and Pear Export Charges Bill 1957. Lighthouses Bill 1957. Excise Bill 1957. Beer Excise Bill 1957.
Motion (by Dr. Evatt) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr, Watkins) on the ground of ill health.
– I have to inform the House that, consequent upon the retirement of Mr. W. J. M. Campbell, Mr. L. D. O’Donnell has been appointed Principal Parliamentary Reporter, Mr. W. E. Dale Second Reporter, and Mr. A. K.. Healy Third Reporter.
– I have received from the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) an intimation that he desires to submit a definite matter of urgent public importance to the House for discussion, namely -
The failure of the Government to provide more funds to the States for the purpose of construction and’ reconstruction of roads.
Is the proposal supported?
Eight honorable members having risen in support of the proposal,
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to with the concurrence of an absolute majority of the members of the House -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the discussion being continued until 5.55 p.m.
.- There is no need for me to expatiate in this House on the deplorable condition of Australia’s roads. Suffice it to say that every parliament and local government authority in Australia agrees that our roads are disintegrating daily. At the present time, there are three sources of finance for road works. The Commonwealth contributes about two-thirds of the petrol tax to the States for this purpose. The State governments obtain funds from motor registration and drivers’ licence-fees. Local governing bodies devote to road works revenues from rates and moneys from loans raised locally. I have found it impossible to obtain information about the amount provided by these authorities in the financial year 1955-56, but in the financial year 1954-55 the provision from these sources amounted to £84,000,000. This has been increased since, because the amount paid to the States from the proceeds of the petrol tax has been increased from £22,000,000 in the financial year 1954-55 to £32,000,000 for the current financial year. Although motor registration and drivers’ licence-fees and municipal rates also have increased, it is safe to say that the total amount available for road construction and reconstruction works throughout Australia will not be more’ than £100,000,000 a year.
At a recent meeting in Canberra, the” Australian Transport Advisory Council considered a report from the Committee of Transport Economic Research which had prepared a plan for the solution of Australia’s road problems. The committeeconsidered that it would be necessary to spend £1,643,000,000 over ten years on Australia’s roads. This represents a little more than £164,000,000 a year. It is quite obvious that the State governments and the local government authorities cannot, on their own initiative, raise sufficient money for this great task with the present allocation by the Commonwealth of £32,000,000 a year from the petrol tax. Sooner or later, a national roads planning authority will have to be constituted. I hoped that it would be done immediately, but on present indications it appears only in the vista of a distant future. Tn the meantime, the roads must be maintained and improved, and the States are being left to grapple with a problem that is completely beyond their financial capacity.
Recently, the Cabinet, with the idea of tickling the ears of the Australian people, appointed a Cabinet sub-committee to suggest ways of improving transport. Doubtless, the sub-committee will consider the prospects of improving Australia’s roads system, but my experience of Cabinet subcommittees convinces me that expedition is not one of their virtues or attributes, and it is likely that considerable time will elapse before the sub-committee presents a report to the Parliament, much less prepares legislation for its consideration. In the meantime, the same old drift will continue, and our roads will be allowed to disintegrate daily - one could even say hourly. Therefore, the Opposition urges the Government to acknowledge the existing conditions, and its obligation to assist the States more than it does at the present time until a national roads planning scheme is inaugurated.
I suggest that the necessary financial assistance can be given by two methods. First, the Commonwealth could return the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax to the States, and secondly, it could impose a tax on diesel fuel. I shall deal with the petrol tax first. In answer to a request by me for information, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has informed me that, by 30th June of this year, the Commonwealth will have collected £439,000,000 in petrol tax since 1926, and will have returned to the States £226,000,000. In other words, £213,000,000 of the total collections from (he petrol tax has been utilized for purposes other than road works. When Opposition members have raised this matter previously, the Government has attempted to justify its actions by stating, among other things, that the petrol tax was never intended to provide revenue only for road works. However, examination of the “ Hansard “ report of the debates on the Federal Aid Roads Bill 1926, and on the budget for 1926-27, shows such allegations to be entirely false. I could cite at least a dozen speeches to show that the petrol tax was originally intended only to provide funds which were to be paid to the States for road works, but it will be sufficient for me to refer only to the budget speech of the Treasurer of the time, the present right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), made on 8th July, 1926, and recorded at page 3950 of volume 114 of “ Hansard “. The right honorable gentleman said -
The State Governments, lacking the power to impose Customs duties, are unable to effectively reach all road users. The Commonwealth, therefore, is co-operating with the States in a national roads policy, and will impose special Customs duties which will be hypothecated for road construction. The imposition of these duties at the source will ultimately result in the road users paying this special tax proportionately to their use of the roads.
I think that the essence of the fairness of the petrol tax is to be found in that last sentence of the statement of the then Treasurer, which I repeat -
The imposition of these duties at the source will ultimately result in the road users paying this special tax proportionately to their use of the roads.
However, very shortly after the passage of that legislation in 1926, governments of al! political creeds - I am not indicting one government or another - increasingly used the petrol tax as a means of gaining revenue for general Commonwealth purposes. Doubtless, at various times, there were very good reasons for that. I can quite understand why, during the depression years, a government would use the money derived from the petrol tax for other purposes: I can understand why the money would be utilized otherwise in the war years; and doubtless there were good reasons in other periods. But at this critical stage of Australian road development, it is imperative for this Parliament to return to the basic theme of the original legislation, which was that all the proceeds should go back to the States. I am not suggesting that if all the proceeds were given to the States the road problem would be solved. Far from it! But it would considerably ease the burdens which the States are expected to shoulder now.
I know that it will be said by Government supporters that the Chifley Government gave only a certain proportion to the States and retained a large amount for itself. I agree that that is so. I have never disagreed with that contention. But surely this Parliament should change its point of view with the passage of the years. Conditions have changed and traffic problems to-day are immeasurably worse than they were during the regime of the Chifley Government. The incredible increase in road traffic in recent years, which has thrown terrific financial burdens on to the States, makes it essential for all of the revenue from the petrol tax to be paid to the States. As a matter of fact, we find that all governments have been keeping more or less the same amount, although I realize that the amounts paid to the States have varied. The Chifley Government, in its last year of office, retained £10,440,000. The amount retained each year remained at between £10,000,000 and £11,000,000 until 1953-54, when it increased to £13,300,000. However, the Commonwealth Government made a turn for the better in 1954, because it introduced new legislation to provide for more to be paid to the States, and in the next year the Government retained only £8,000,000. I thought that this was a step in the right direction and that the position would be improved progressively until ultimately the States got all of this revenue, but there was a return to the bad old practices. In 1955-56, £10,000,000 was retained by the Commonwealth Government, and in the present year it will retain £15,500,000. I find no fault with the contention that those who use the roads should pay for their maintenance, as the then Treasurer said when he introduced the legislation in 1926. Petrol tax is a legal pay-as-you-go tax, which has the effect of making those who use the roads most pay the most.
The second way in which the Opposition suggests that the Government could raise money for this purpose is by the imposition of a tax on diesel fuel. The Government’s reluctance to impose such a tax is inexplicable. The matter has been under discussion for some years. It was raised by the South Australian Premier, Mr. Playford, as he then was at the Premiers Conference in 1951. Anybody who has observed the present traffic on the roads must agree that in recent years dieselpropelled vehicles have been increasing in numbers, also in size and weight. No honorable member will deny that great damage has been done to the road by huge diesel trucks. The Government should recognize the gross iniquity of taxing one set of motor users and not another, which is what is being done now. The Government, for reasons best known to itself, has refused to inform the House why it has failed to impose a tax on diesel fuel. I have repeatedly asked questions of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on this matter, and have been told that it has been under consideration. The matter has been under consideration by this Government for at least three years. Rumour has it that recently, when the Australian Automobile Association approached the Prime Minister on the matter, he said that revenue of £4,500,000 was insignificant in relation to the total amount required for Australian roads. In other words, he said that it was not worth collecting. I can inform the Prime Minister that, in view of the present parlous financial position of the States, that amount would appear to them to be of great magnitude and could be used most advantageously by them.
I suggest to the House that the Government’s refusal to impose a tax on diesel fuel is an anomaly that must be removed immediately. It has been stated by responsible authorities that the destruction of the Hume Highway has been caused by huge diesel vehicles, not by petrol-driven vehicles. This Government has refused to impose such a tax, but what has been done in other countries? Great Britain, for example, has imposed on diesel fuel a tax which is identical with the tax imposed on petrol. To-day, the price of diesel fuel in Great Britain is 92 per cent, of the price of petrol, because tax is paid on both fuels. But in Australia the price of diesel fuel is only 60 per cent, of the price of petrol, because the Government will not face up to the position and do the fair thing to the State governments and that section of the motoring public which uses petrol. In the United States of America, a tax on diesel fuel was imposed in 1942. In that country, both the Federal and the State governments impose such a tax. In six American States the tax on diesel fuel is higher than the petrol tax. So it can be seen that other countries have overcome the difficulty. The Government may say that there are many persons who use diesel fuel other than on the roads and that it would be unfair to impose a tax on them. Other countries have solved this problem by providing for refunds where diesel fuel is used for other purposes. If the Government cannot think of an idea itself, it should get in touch with the governments in America, Britain and New Zealand, and find out how this problem can be overcome.
I am aware that at present vehicles using diesel fuel pay double registration fees, but that does not nearly compensate for the vast amount of damage which they do to the roads system. I suggest that a tax on diesel fuel is a valid source of income that merits the attention of the Government. I hope that the Government, in fairness to the States and that section of the motoring community which uses petrol, will soon introduce such a tax as a source of revenue. The Australian Labour party contends that the Government should make available to the States another £20,000,000 for roads purposes. It is idle to suggest that there is no work to be done and that the various State roads authorities cannot do the job. The Victorian Country Roads Board could, without any trouble whatsoever, utilize another £10,000,000 a year. If another £20,000,000 were made available to the States under the present formula, the Victorian Government would get only about £4,000,000.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I think that all honorable members will agree that the contribution to the debate made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has given us much food for thought. He crammed so much into the last quarter-hour or twenty minutes that it is difficult to remember all the points that he made. One or two of them are extremely valid, but they need a little close examination. Before getting on to an examination of the points made by the honorable member, I should like to refer to the matter raised by him, that is - . . the failure of the Government to provide more funds to the States for the purpose of construction and reconstruction of roads.
First, sir, I would like to refer to portion of the second-reading speech of the right honorable the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) on the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill of 1956. The Treasurer said this -
I do not think any one can fairly say that this Government has not given full recognition to the importance of the roads problem in Australia or that it has not been liberal in the provision of finance for roads. By a series of legislative measures - of which this is the third since it took office - it has made progressively more generous the basis on which grants are available for roads purposes. This year the Commonwealth aid roads payments will be £27,500,000. Next year, the payments will be more like £32,000,000. If these figures are compared with what was done previously - with the grants being made, for example, in the year before we took office, which amounted to no more than £7,700,000 - how we have substantiated our interest in the basic developmental problem which roads represent will be seen. Indeed, the annual provision which we are now making for roads is three or four times as great as the amount being provided when we first took office.
In other words, the Treasurer was saying that we have considerably increased the grants to the States for road purposes. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) said that was quite true but it was still not enough, and in his final remarks he mentioned an amount of £20,000,000 that he suggested we should use.
The honorable member said that the States get money for roads from three sources - the Commonwealth, the States themselves, and the municipal authorities. That is quite correct. But we are examining the proposition that the Federal Government has failed to give as much assistance as it should have given to the States for this purpose. When we examine the records carefully we find some very interesting figures. We find that in 1945-46, ten years ago, the Commonwealth invested in roads in the States £3.95 per vehicle. The second source of revenue, State taxation, provided £6.25 per vehicle, and local government taxation £9.4 per vehicle. In short, £3.95 came from the Commonwealth, £6.25 from the State, and £9.4 from local government authorities.
We come now to 1955-1956, and at the back of our minds is the proposition that the Commonwealth has not done all it might have done. In 1945 the Commonwealth paid £3.95 per vehicle, but last year it paid £11.85 per vehicle, while State taxa-tion provided £9.94 and local government taxation £11.7. In other words, while the Commonwealth Government has increased its contribution by £8 per vehicle, the State governments have only increased theirs by £3 per vehicle, and the local government authorities by £2 per vehicle. In the light of those figures it is difficult to see where the Commonwealth has not stood up to its responsibilities.
The amount of tax collected from petrol over the years is an interesting study. In 1948-49, the last year of the Labour government, the total revenue from petrol tax was £17,515,000, and the amount paid to the States in that year was £7,101,000, or roughly 40 per cent. So, approximately 40 per cent, of the money collected by the Labour government of that day was given back to the States for their roads The honorable member himself agreed that that was not enough, but he said the problem was different now. There was far more traffic now and there should be an increased grant. There has been an increase because, when we look at this year’s figures - the expenditure can only be an estimate at the present time - we find that £37,000,000 is collected and no less than £27,000,000 is given back to the States. If, ten years ago, the Commonwealth government of that day gave the States back 40 per cent., and this Government to-day is giving the States back 70 per cent., I think it is hard for honorable members opposite to argue that this Government has not accepted its responsibility and made money available to the States in a reasonable proportion.
The honorable member for Batman said that petrol tax was tied up with Commonwealth aid roads legislation. I cannot agree with him there because petrol tax in the Commonwealth of Australia was first imposed in 1902. There was no Commonwealth aid for State roads until 1923, and it was not until 1926, as the honorable member quite correctly stated, that there was an association of this tax on petrol with aid for roads. I have said that we at the present time are giving back roughly 90 per cent, of petrol tax revenue money to the States.
– You are giving back 66 per cent.
– If my figures are incorrect I apologize and I will accept the honorable member’s figure. Suffice to say there has been a very big increase from Labour’s 40 per cent.
The next point the honorable member made, if I remember correctly, was that diesel fuel should be taxed. He said it was difficult to understand why it had not been taxed. Well, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said in reply to questions, it is intended to examine this question, and some examination has taken place. But various factors come to light when one considers the possibility of putting a tax on diesel fuel in Australia. We cannot compare English taxation rates with the rates applicable to a country as big as ours. One thing that emerges from the examination is that two-thirds of the diesel fuel used in Australia is not used on roads at all. Sixty-six and two-thirds per cent, is used in vehicles that are not on the roads. That is the first problem. The honorable member has suggested that there are all sorts of ways in which rebates could be given; but that is an untidy way of imposing a tax. The honorable member has said that the total revenue to be gained from a tax on diesel fuel would be £4,000,000. That is still a long way short of the £20,000,000 he is advocating as an additional grant to the States. The honorable member said, in effect, that the States should get £52,000,000 this year instead of £32,000,000. He proposes that the Government should get an additional £4,500,000 from a diesel fuel tax. Where is the rest of the money to come from? That is a pertinent question. The honorable member has asked for an additional £20,000,000. He says we should give the whole of the petrol tax back to the States. What he overlooks is that the petrol tax is a general revenue tax. I point out, too, that transportation costs are added to the final cost of any article that is delivered and sold to the consuming public.
– That is exactly what Mr. Chifley said.
– -Well, in that case I have quoted a good man. The commercial vehicles that go up and down the roads pass these transportation costs on to the general public. Surely it would be grossly unfair if we took from the general public that small percentage of the petrol tax which is now passed on to them through general revenue. It amounts to £16,000,000, and if it is spent on roads we must either cut general expenditure on our works programme for such things as houses, the Snowy Mountains scheme, and social services, or we must impose further taxes amounting to £16,000,000. We cannot have it both ways.
– Take it out of the defence vote.
– We have heard that proposition so repeatedly from the other side of the House that I do not think any of us regard it seriously any longer. It is the sort of catch-cry that sounds good, but does not stand up to examination.
Briefly, this Government has done more for State roads than has any previous government. This year the Federal Government will spend as much on roads as did the Labour government in its last five years of office. If that is not a sufficient indication of our good faith I should like to know what is. The honorable member is quite justified in bringing this matter forward, though it is essentially a State responsibility. Certainly, the Federal Government has to give the States the money. As a Victorian, the honorable member naturally believes that his State can put forward many valid arguments for a new formula. When the State aid roads formula was agreed upon, three-fifths of the money was to be allotted on a population basis, and two-fifths on an area basis. Victoria was seriously disadvantaged because it had a high population density in a small area. I think that the honorable member, though he did not emphasize it, put forward that proposition somewhat obliquely when he referred to the position of Victoria. I believe that Victoria has a claim for special consideration, but we must not forget that the formula was agreed upon by all the State Premiers. The formula is a matter for the State Premiers alone to adjust. They meet here for Premiers conferences, sometimes twice a year, and if in their wisdom, or otherwise, they want to review the formula, I am certain that the Federal Government will listen to any reasonable proposition to review the formula that they may put forward.
.- The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) said that his Government had given the States considerably more money for road construction than had any previous government. That was unavoidable, because thousands more vehicles now use the roads. It has also been suggested that in recent years the States have received more of the petrol tax than was the case when the Chifley Government and other governments were in office. It must be remembered, however, that each year, at the Premiers conference, State Premiers are obliged to demand more and more money for developmental work, but do not receive it. Consequently, they cannot give their departments or municipalities the money that is so vitally needed for roads. The Minister’s argument breaks down when one realizes that the amount that the Federal Government is giving to the States is totally inadequate for the purpose.
I support the remarks of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and agree that the whole of the petrol tax should be used in the construction of roads. Further, 1 believe that a diesel tax should also be imposed. The honorable member said that there were difficulties in the way of imposing a tax on diesel fuel and distillate - especially where these fuels are used by primary producers - but these difficulties should be met and overcome, as they have been in other countries. Of course, government departments use a great deal of diesel fuel and distillate. In fact, I have in mind that government departments, especially the railways, use more distillate and diesel fuel than does private enterprise. In view of the extreme emergency that is facing this country, owing to the inevitable collapse of our road system, we must use every means possible to obtain the finance needed.
Every one will agree that if the whole of the petrol tax, and the revenue that would be obtained from a tax on diesel fuel and distillate, were spent on roads alone we would be taking a big step forward in providing the additional, and improved, roads that this nation so vitally needs. I feel compelled to say, however, that the need for modern roads is so closely interwoven with the economic life of this country that we need not only more finance but also the establishment of a federal bureau to construct and control roads throughout Australia. We believe that this has become more than a State problem. It has become a national problem.
The salient point that arises from all the debates, and from all the conflicts on estimates, objectives and taxes, is the fact that our roads have reached the stage of total inadequacy, and almost complete deterioration. This is accepted all over Australia. When we realize that, though the roads throughout the continent measure just over half a million miles, 74 per cent, are merely formed and cleared and in their natural state, we must admit that Australia, so far as road transport is concerned, has not even emerged from the mud. One can say without fear of contradiction that, as more and more motor traffic takes to the road each year, we are faced with a muddle of congested highways. It can also be said that the progress of this nation is linked with modern roads and modern transport. This compels me to remind every one that we must accept the fact that motor transport is here to stay, and has outgrown the capacity of the road system. I venture to say, moreover, that in the years to come, history will reveal the tremendous part that motor transport has played in the development of this nation.
I ask, therefore, whether it is reasonable to assume that the railways will pay only if road transport is pushed aside, and air transport discouraged, as was suggested recently when rail standardization was discussed in this House. New and modern roads will change the face of Australia, and will always be the motivating force behind the decentralization of population and industry. A well-planned road system will mean that new towns will rise in the open, idle spaces that now lie between the big urban centres. Therefore, during the stage of great national development, which this nation is undergoing, it is most necessary to provide a definite basis for plans to construct the new and better roads that the nation so vitally needs.
The lack of finance and the outmoded, stupid theory of shires, boroughs, towns and even cities having separate control over interstate, feeder and national highways is, more than any other obstacle, responsible for the present road congestion and strangulation. In fact, we are applying horseandbuggy reasoning to atom-age transport.
It is not my intention to put forward a host of figures on the number of motor vehicles in this country, or the percentage increases in population and factories, or the like. That has already been done by the honorable member for Batman, but I support my case for a national road scheme by reminding the House that the motor industry is, in all probability, the largest in Australia. It employs some 225,000 people and the fact that the hide, painting, glass, rubber and scores or other industries, also supply parts and other incidentals, highlights the inevitability of any major breakdown in the motor industry striking a drastic blow at the economy of the country. It also emphasizes just how greatly Australia has relied on motor transport, and just how much development it has brought to Australia during the last 50 years, while State and Federal governments have been quarrelling and trying to make up their minds on the standardization of rail gauges.
To develop this matter further I ask honorable members to let their minds dwell on the thousands of garages spread throughout this country, with hosts of workers dependent for a living on road transport, and consider the economic effect on Australia if, by any chance, something happened to close down those establishments.
There is room in this country for all forms of transport. What is most basically needed, of course, is constitutional revision, and the appointment at once of a national and defence highways commission, with power to control and co-ordinate all the labour forces associated with road-building in order that the skill, techniques and machinery can be used to full capacity, and in places where they are most needed. Machinery would not then lie in depots for long periods, used perhaps for three months of the year and standing idle and rusting for the other nine months. 1 say that road and rail systems must be coordinated and that sidings must be abolished between capital cities and replaced with central depots every 50 miles to act as feeder points for motor transport. If this were put into operation, the time saved on shunting, and the saving of wear-and-tear on rolling-stock would be of tremendous value to the railways and to the country. Co-operation and co-ordination are needed, and, if achieved, will return huge economic dividends. Truck terminals could be erected along the interstate system close to large cities, where big hauliers could transfer their cargoes to small city and urban-bound carriers. In order to do this, our antiquated highway system must be brought up to the current performance of motor transport - -
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- This is an opportunity for a profitable discussion on a matter with which, I am sure, every honorable member is concerned, and with which every State should be concerned, namely the provision of moneys for our road system. If we consider the moneys that have been provided down the years, we can make a comparison of the costs of road construction over that period, and also take into account other circumstances associated with increased costs. The amount made available for road construction has risen from £10,000,000 in 1949 to an estimated £32,000,000 for this financial year. I suggest that the amount that this Government has made available to the States under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act has more than met the altered circumstances and is more than meeting the extra cost of road construction. In addition, the act has been altered to increase from 35 per cent, to 40 per cent, the amount available for rural road construction.
The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor) advocated a federal bureau to handle road construction. I disagree with him entirely. We have efficient roadmaking commissions within the various States which handle this matter, and the available funds are distributed to those bodies. In the main, that is most satisfactory. I do not think we want any federal interference, unless, of course, the States are prepared to drop right out of the picture, and that is not advisable.
I consider that the formula under which the amounts are made available to the States is a worthy one in the light of the work that is required to be done in the lessdeveloped States. The two previous speakers from the Opposition side, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor), come from Victoria and, of course, I expect them to disagree with me on this matter. The statement put out by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria is hardly a fair approach to this matter. It quotes the mileage of covered roads in Victoria as 80,000 as against only 14,000 in Queensland, and that may leave the impression that those are the total mileages for the respective States. On that basis, the club has worked out the amounts received by the two States and has concluded that Queensland receives £400 a mile as against something over £100 for Victoria. That is not the position at all. There are 132,000 miles of road in Queensland as against 104,000 in Victoria. Victoria, with its larger population, and greater number of industries, has the bulk of its roads already constructed. It is obvious, of course, that less-developed States need some financial assistance so that their roads can be brought up to date. It will affect the economy of Australia very materially if rural roads in the States which produce most of the exports cannot be improved.
A State like Queensland, for instance, is well worthy of the amount that is being made available to it because we must also consider the self-help that the various States are providing. Queensland is taxing itself, through its local authorities, more than any of the other States. The figures show that local authority taxation in Queensland amounts to £4 18s. per head of population whereas in Victoria it amounts to only £3 15s.
– Is that Mr. Gair?
– That is not Mr. Gair particularly; it is what the local authorities are raising by way of shire rates. That is a method of self-help undertaken by Queensland shire councils by taxing their ratepayers. Then, through registration fees and’ the amount charged for drivers’ licences. Queensland, through Mr. Gair and his Government, is imposing much heavier charges than the other States. That, again, might be termed a method of self-help. Registration fees in Victoria, until the addition which. I understand has been imposed during the last twelve months, were only about two-thirds of those in Queensland. Receipts from those sources help to finance the construction of our roads.
In addition to receiving its share of £6,000,000 from the Commonwealth, Queensland obtains between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 from motor car registration fees, and, on the basis of a tax of £4 18s. per head of population levied by the shire councils, it obtains another £8,000,000. The State also receives funds from the heavy vehicles tax. The total amounts to £17,000,000 or £18,000,000, which is a substantial figure.
When we consider the various allocations made by the Commonwealth under the formula, on the basis of the actual amount per head of population, we note that Queensland receives only £500,000 more than Victoria. In view of the fact that Queensland has about 30,000 more miles of roads than Victoria, why should it not receive an extra £500,000? It is quite obvious that a large State which contributes so much more, to the economy of the country should receive that extra amount. I think when the Victorian association to which I have referred makes a false claim, and bases its arguments, which it has published abroad and sent to members of the Commonwealth Parliament, on wrong premises, it is not deserving of that consideration which might otherwise be its due.
I desire to touch on one other matter, namely, the suggestion by the honorable member for Batman and the honorable member for Gellibrand that a tax should be imposed on diesel oil. I am not in favour of that tax unless the rural producer can be protected.
– We said that that should be done.
– I understand that those honorable members do agree with thai proposition. I am certainly not in favour of a tax on diesel oil unless that distinction can be made. We know that the average price of primary commodities, with the exception of wool, is declining. If additional charges are to be imposed on the primary producers, our economic stability will be affected. In the main, a country is prosperous only if the rural community is prosperous. It is upon that basis that the economy rests.
I believe that the Australian Transport Advisory Council is paying a disproportionate amount of attention to the interstate highways; it should concern itself more with the development of feeder roads to those highways. The State governments should apply themselves to the task of making their railway systems efficient. If that were done, the present anomalous position, in which the interstate road hauliers who are taking business from the railways get off scot free, would be corrected. I am sure that if the State governments were to get together, they would find that it was legally possible to tax the interstate road hauliers. They ought to be taxed. I am sure that not one member of this House thinks that they ought not to contribute to the upkeep of the interstate highways.
– The relevant legislation has been declared invalid.
– I know that the opinion is held that it is constitutionally impossible to make the interstate road hauliers pay a road tax, but there is a large body of legal opinion to the effect that that could be done by the State governments.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I support the case ably put forward by my friends, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor). They made constructive speeches, and I hope to make my speech on similar lines. Australian development, in many of its important aspects, is plagued and bedevilled by State jealousies, State prejudices, State rights and State boundaries. Constitutionally, Australia is still in the cradle. The Constitution has become a brake on progress, an anchor on development. Certain aspects of our economy are, figuratively, screaming to be released from the enslavement of our Constitution and from the limitations of State boundaries. Constitutional reform, therefore, should be given top priority, and we are glad that a committee composed of honorable members from both sides of the House is at present considering the matter.
Two important factors in this category are railways and roads. They are the very arteries of our nation. We are years behind overseas countries as far as our railways and roads are concerned, because where the Constitution does not shackle development, blind prejudice and State right-ism do. Our railways are nearly 100 years old. Although Australia has been a Commonwealth for 56 years, we still have the crippling, delaying, costly, wasteful and stupid break of gauge. No practical steps have yet been taken towards gauge standardization after all these years.
Our roads and highways are still Statehandled. They are still State liabilities. It is time that the Commonwealth offered to take over all interstate highways and strategic roads - at least the financial responsibility for them - in order to release to the States millions of pounds of their own revenues for other development. The suggestion that a Commonwealth bureau for roads should be established to coordinate the entire roads network of Australia is excellent. One of our great weaknesses in handling this problem is that so many authorities are dealing with roads in Australia. No other country is so shackled and tied in this respect as we are. America has now got its great federal roads plan in operation, under which the highways linking all States will by-pass the great cities. In the United Kingdom, there is no worry due to State rivalries. In that country, a national roads plan can be implemented without fear of the crippling State issues that exist here.
I believe that the Commonwealth should encourage the manufacture of road-making equipment for use by the States. I believe, also, that the Commonwealth, in taking over the interstate highways, should leave to the States the administration of roads within the States. It should assume ‘financial responsibility for the entire interstate and strategic roads network, so that our highways can be reconstructed to modern standards. This is a Commonwealth responsibility, and I believe that we should accept it. The remorseless deterioration of the country roads is a challenge to the Federal Government to release more money to State instrumentalities for road maintenance and road construction. I agree with the honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann) that primary production is our main industry. Primary industry and defence are both dependent on roads and railways. In my opinion, an efficient, fast modern roads system and an efficient railways system are Australia’s economic lifelines. By overseas standards, 75 per cent, of our roads, including the highways, are narrow, primitive and dangerous. In fact, my visits to America and other countries lead me to say that I am understating the position when I use these words. The Hume Highway, linking Melbourne and Sydney, would be regarded in America as a by-way across a back country area. It is frightening to realize that, by overseas standards, even our main roads are only byroads. Roads are a national asset, and they should be a national responsibility - at least the interstate and strategic highways. I have found from investigation that in Victoria, where perhaps the roads system is better than in most of the other States-
– Oh, no!
– About 80 per cent, of the income received by the Victorian Country Roads Board is spent on maintenance; only 20 per cent, of the revenue received by the board is spend on building new roads and widening old ones. We claim that all of the petrol tax should be devoted to roads purposes. If we want to save our roads from complete deterioration, apart altogether from building new, modern roads, we should insist that all the revenue from the petrol tax should go back to the roads. The Australian Transport Advisory Council met in Sydney recently. A newspaper report of the conference reads -
All petrol tax money should be used for road construction and maintenance in the various Australian States, the Australian Transport Advisory Council recommended in Sydney yesterday.
That council, appointed by this and the previous Government, is composed of the State Ministers in. charge of transport. That was their verdict, yet this Government is bypassing the council’s constructive recommendations. The council gets no encouragement whatever from this Government. We claim that all of this money should go to the States.
Secondly, we say that a national roads plan should be instituted and that at least £100,000,000 should be allocated over a five-year period - that is, at the rate of £20,000,000 a year - over and above all present sources of revenue. Only a national scheme and a national approach to this question will save our roads from complete collapse. This will continue to be our problem until we become a government, when we hope to be able to put it into operation.
One of the suggestions advanced recently by the Automobile Association of Australia, which has done great work in supplying facts and figures on this subject, to the advisory council I have already mentioned, was that the Commonwealth assume financial responsibility for interstate highways and strategic roads vital to our defence. That is all that the association asked for. But the then Minister for the Interior, the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes), said in answer to that suggestion that the Department of Defence did not regard roads as important from the defence point of view, particularly in comparison with the importance of rail transport and sea transport. The Automobile Association of Australia tried to impress on the council the need to link roads with defence, as I have done consistently. I claim that an allocation of £20,000,000 should be made from the defence vote, in each of five years, making a total of £100,000,000 for expenditure on roads in that period. Of all goods transported in Australia, 76 per cent, is carried by road and only 18 per cent, by rail. Yet, this Government refuses to recognize and deal with the road problem as a national problem. Instead of so recognizing it and dealing with it on that basis it dribbles out a certain proportion of petrol tax revenue each year to authorities concerned with roads and, shrugging its shoulders, declares that roads are a responsibility of the States. How can we expect ever to come up to overseas transport standards when we have a government which continues to refuse to recognize our road problem as a national problem which should be attacked on a national scale? A five-year road plan providing for the expenditure of £100,000,000 would be the answer that the States are seeking.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- I listened to the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) with that degree of interest which, I think, the House always accords to the honorable gentleman when he speaks on this subject, because his continued interest in the problem of roads is well known. It can be said generally that he speaks on this subject fairly and without undue political prejudice; but, unfortunately, sometimes he gets his figures a little confused. I think he set the pattern for this debate. By and large, my view on this sort of debate is that its main purpose is to fill a little extra space in the newspapers and to waste a little extra time in this House. However, I agree with the honorable member for Batman on one point, which is that attention cannot be too often directed to the roads problem. We should look at the form of attention which should be directed to it, and at the form of solution that should be applied.
It is, I think,, admitted by all who have any acquaintance with this problem, that the road situation in Australia reflects little credit on any of the governments concerned. The suggestions I have heard in this House over the years, by and large have not been directed to the realities of the situation just as, in the present debate, whilst the honorable gentleman from Batman adopted what I regard as a logical, balanced approach to the problem, his solution was obviously in conflict with the facts that he produced to support his argument that our roads need attention. If I recollect aright, he said that something like £164,000,000 a year should be spent on road-building, over a period of years, according to a plan submitted to the Australian Transport Advisory Council, in order to bring the roads to the condition that they should be in. At the same time, however, the honorable member proposed that an extra £20,000,000 a year should be made available for that purpose, which would bring the total amount to only £140,000,000 a year. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) supported that proposal. But, there would still be a gap of a good many millions of pounds between the figures proposed by the honorable member for Batman and the cost of meeting the very needs that he puts to the House.
Over the years we have debated this problem of our roads time and time again, and it seems inexcusable that men who have given serious attention to this problem should now, apparently, suggest that the solution of the problem is to distribute all the petrol tax revenue to the States. The first point that arises in respect of that suggestion is that, whatever may have been intended in the 1920’s, when this unfortunate process was first instituted, never in the history of the petrol tax has the amount of tax per gallon been related to the total amount needed to maintain the roads of this country; nor is it related to it to-day. If we talk in terms of using the petrol tax revenue to meet the problems of road construction throughout Australia then it is obvious that the only approach is to say that we accept this figure of £164,000,000 and will raise it by petrol tax and from other sources connected with the motor vehicle industry. If that is the approach, it is a logical approach; but if that is not the approach, it is not a logical approach, and it offers little towards a solution of this grave and increasing problem.
The honorable member for Batman tried, I think, to juggle with figures for a brief second or two when he quoted some which showed the amount of petrol tax which various Commonwealth governments had retained. Of course, to quote one set of figures in isolation from other relevant sets of figures is to give a distorted picture. Had the honorable gentleman proceeded in his usual frank style in this place he would have, at the same time, quoted the amount of petrol tax revenue that had been distributed each year by the Commonwealth. Neither the honorable member for Batman nor I want to conduct the debate on that ground but, since that element has been introduced, let me say that one of the few facts that can be established in this debate is that the present Government has made more money available from petrol tax each year than has any previous government, and that it has made available to the States for road purposes a greater percentage of the petrol tax revenue than any previous government has done. That is a fact. It is not a solution of the problem.
The honorable member for Wilmot had two bob each way on this issue of the road problem. On the one hand, he attacked the State governments for their admitted failure to agree on the problem of interstate transport, and on the other hand he attacked the Commonwealth Government for refusing, as he said, to accept the advice of the very State Ministers who could not themselves agree on their own approach to the problem. I put it to the House in all seriousness that there can be only one possible solution of the major problem of roads and that is - here I again agree with the honorable member for Batman - a national roads plan prepared and calculated to achieve a reasonable rate of road construction and maintenance over a period of years, financed from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and not related to any particular tax, because to relate it to a tax would be to perpetuate the existing anomalies. That would be bad in principle and inefficient in practice. The continuance of such a system would delay the ultimate solution. I believe that we should have a national roads plan. I also believe that a prerequisite of such a plan is agreement between the States on the very problem mentioned by the honorable member for Wilmot - interstate transport - and agreement on relating the needs of interstate transport to the needs and the efficiency of our railway systems.
The honorable member for Wilmot rightly, in my opinion, referred to the need for a uniform rail gauge. The loss occasioned our economy at present by the differences in rail gauges between States is astonishing. At the same time, consideration should be given to the use of our interstate shipping services since, after all, sea transport is the cheapest form of transport of goods. The percentage of goods carried each year by interstate shipping, as honorable members know, is declining. All these things should be done.
Under the existing formula, which has been in existence for many years, there is no question but that Victoria has been penalized. One can juggle with figures if one cares to, but any one who has carefully taken the matter into consideration will agree with that statement. Victoria has developed industrially and economically with a consequent increase of population but, because of the formula, Victoria is increasingly unable to meet its needs with regard to transport. I believe that as long as the present policy remains in existence, consideration should be given by this Parliament to the making of a special grant to Victoria to meet its particular needs.
I have heard it said in this House and outside that this amendment or that amendment should be made to the formula by which the proceeds of the petrol tax are distributed to the States. I do not think that the honorable member for Batman will quarrel with me when I say that the truth of that matter is that it is not a question of what this Government or any previous government has done or of what any future government will do. It is a question of what this Parliament will do, because there is no question but that Victoria has suffered particular disabilities under the act. That is admitted. I do not want to engage in argument with my friends from Western
Australia or Queensland. That situation admittedly exists. In this House, Victorians are in a minority.
– A pretty intelligent minority.
– Of course, history proves that the minority is frequently right. In this case, it is unquestionably right. There is no possible combination of Victorian members in this House which could force through a bill to bring justice to Victoria against the wishes of the other States.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- This is, indeed, an urgent matter of public importance, and I desire to offer my congratulations to the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) for initiating this debate. Of the great issues facing Australia, I believe that the question of better transportation looms largely as one of the most important. It is one on which honorable members might well address themselves to the people of this country. I believe that little time has been taken to reflect upon what has been lost over the years by the disorganization, chaos and difficulties caused by the lack of proper roads in this country. No apology from honorable members on the Government side of the House and no excuse or alibi can relieve the Government of its responsibility. Neither can the Commonwealth Government excuse itself by saying that if all the funds collected by means of petrol tax were to be made available for the construction and maintenance of roads they would still be inadequate to produce the kind of roads needed by the people of Australia at the present time. That is perfectly true. No one on this side of the House suggests for a moment that the total proceeds of the petrol tax would do the complete job. But we say - and I join with the honorable member for Batman in saying this - that the Government has no moral right to retain one penny piece collected in petrol tax.
When we consider the legislation that was introduced in 1926 by an anti-Labour government, and when we note the assurances given by the Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet at the time, we are fortified, strengthened, and made certain in our belief that the money collected by means of the petrol tax rightly belongs to the road users of Australia. It is necessary that vast sums of money should be made available for making better roads in Australia. I am not one of those who are dedicated to the idea of building speedways from capital city to capital city. I believe that it is necessary that we should try to conceive of some road system which will penetrate, as the arteries do in the human body, into the hinterland and into the centres of production so that goods may be able to flow freely, easily, speedily and expeditiously to the centres where they are required. If they are intended for the export market they should be able to find their way to the seaboard. If they are intended for internal consumption they should be able to find their way to the markets from which they can be distributed to where they are needed.
In relation to all these things it is also necessary that the use of our roads should be available at all. For, in addition to providing for trade and commerce and the movement of goods from their place of production, it is also necessary that for social intercourse, for children going to school, for people attending functions in the big centres of population scattered throughout Australia, better roads should be provided. No excuses can mitigate the urgency of this matter. The condition of the roads has a direct bearing on mail deliveries. I have among my correspondence a letter that tells the story of a mail man who was unable to travel to certain parts of his district, and as a consequence, people were denied a mail service for quite a lengthy period of time. I ask honorable members on the Government side of the House, who try to evade their responsibility now but who were very vocal when Labour was in office, to be consistent this afternoon. If they said, in the days of a Labour government, that the total proceeds of the petrol tax should be applied to road-making purposes, I ask them to stand in their places this afternoon and say exactly the same thing. I have here a copy of the Federal Aid Roads Act No. 46 of 1926. In the preamble, it says -
Whereas it is expedient to provide for financial assistance to the several States for the purpose of the construction and reconstruction of roads:
That is precisely what we are speaking about here this afternoon. The then Prime Minister of Australia set out to make it clear that those people who paid petrol tax would get value for their money in the form of better roads. According to “ Hansard “ of 3rd August, 1926, at page 4800 of volume 1 14, Mr. Bruce said -
But the Government, having received further information on this subject, is now prepared to insert an amendment in the bill that will enable a rebate to be given to those users of petrol who are not road users. I think that disposes of the first legitimate objection to the Government’s proposal.
That is a clear-cut statement of the Prime Minister of the day. His statement was supported by Mr. Latham, Mr. Perkins, Mr. Cook and various other speakers. That belongs to history. What we are concerned about is that our road system must be planned and must have regard to local needs, State needs and Commonwealth needs. With that end in view, a conference should be called as speedily as possible with the three agencies of government - local government, State governments and federal government. The representatives of those government agencies should meet, not for the purpose of formulating some overall plan, because it is money more than plans that is required, but to examine the matter of financial responsibility so that in the light of that examination positive action might be taken.
In other words, I believe that our road system must be properly integrated. Local government would then have no opposition to offer against the State road authorities being required to plan their roads having regard to State responsibility nor to the Commonwealth playing its part in relation to Commonwealth responsibilities. In referring to this matter I want to remind the House, and the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) in particular, that over the last three years approximately £2,100,000 was taken from federal funds for strategic roads and that only £1,407,000 of that money was spent, leaving an unspent balance of £692,210. Who can say that there is no need’ for strategic roads in Australia? The construction of strategic roads is a matter of urgency. I cross swords with those people who seem to think that roads are not important. Roads are all-important. I recall the days of World War II. when there was a search for a means of access to the hinterland of Australia in the event of the adoption of a burnt or scorched-earth policy. I can visualize the state of helpless and hopeless confusion that would occur nowadays if one bomb were to be dropped on any Australian capital city, how the roads would be crowded, and how chaos would reign supreme.
But let me return to the existing facts. During the last nine months, no less than £34,265,462 was collected in the form of petrol tax and excise. Of that sum, £23,913,249 was paid to the States, and £10,352,213 was retained by the Commonwealth Government without its having any moral right to it. The Commonwealth has retained that money although our roads are breaking up, although it is almost impossible to proceed along the main highways, and although, because of the lack of bridges, the centres of population in the back country are thrown into a state of disorder as soon as it rains, children cannot go to school and mailmen cannot deliver the mail that is so necessary to enable farmers and others to conduct their business. Surely those conditions call for immediate action!
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKEROrder! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- In commencing my contribution to this debate, I want to challenge the sincerity of purpose which lies behind the submission of this matter for discussion. Is our outlook regarding roads a sound national outlook, or are we motivated, in raising this matter, purely by the problems and requirements of the States which we represent? I, for one, would agree with those honorable members who have supported the proposal if they were emphasizing that the roads problem must be looked at from a national viewpoint, because that is the very basis of the Commonwealth aid roads acts which have been passed in recent years. In those acts recognition is given to the areas of Australia which need to be developed, which are not populated, in which there is a potential for production, but in which time and ability so far have not permitted us to do the maximum that is expected of us.
The provision of big mileages of roads logically constitutes a problem for the States, but more particularly for the States which have greater geographical boundaries and scattered population than for those which have a greater density of population. Because of our federal Constitution, the State viewpoint must obtrude itself. We, as members of this House, come from the various States, and we naturally have a local responsibility as well as a federal outlook. But let me emphasize that the helpful and logical allocation of petrol tax collections to my own State of Western Australia is under constant attack by honorable members who come from Victoria and New South Wales in particular. We acknowledge that those States have a greater population than the other States; but this Parliament has wisely endorsed the current formula for the reimbursement of the petrol tax receipts to the States. Western Australia, which I am proud to represent, desires new roads and the improvement of sub-standard roads. So does every other State. Without the generous assistance that Western Australia has received under the formula, we in that State would not have the good roads that we have in at least some sections of it, nor would we have the existing mileage of roads upon which our people may run their vehicles.
I feel that I have a responsibility at this stage to direct attention to the needs of the north-western section of Western Australia. I say with deep conviction that this Parliament has a responsibility towards the northwest of Western Australia just as it has a responsibility, which it has accepted, in relation to the Northern Territory. To be fair, I must say that, because of the assistance which has been granted by the Commonwealth Parliament in recent years, the northwest of Western Australia has roads which are substantially better than roads in some other remote parts of Australia.
What has the Commonwealth achieved in the provision of finance for roads in recent years? It is interesting to note, first, that it is estimated that in the current year approximately £31,550,000 will be distributed to the States from petrol tax receipts. Of that sum, approximately £8,600,000*will be paid to New South Wales, £5,500,000 to Victoria, £6,000,000 to Queensland, £6,000,000 to Western Australia, £3,500,000 to South Australia, and £1,500,000 to Tasmania. The percentage of tax moneys returned to the States has leapt astonishingly from 1945-46, when it was only 27.1 per cent, of the receipts, to 1955-56, when the statistics revealed that it was no less than 70.5 per cent. I present those figures to justify my claim that the Commonwealth has been increasing its contribution for roads purposes and has been faithfully endeavouring to carry out any assurance that practical assistance would be forthcoming. lt is also interesting to note that in 1945-46 Commonwealth tax receipts which were invested in road works were equivalent to £3.95 a vehicle. At that time, State taxes invested in road works amounted to £6.25 a vehicle, and local government taxes so invested amounted to £9.4. The figures for 1955-56, ten years later, reveal that the position has vastly changed. Commonwealth tax collections now being spent on roads amount to £11.85 a vehicle, while State taxes so invested amount to £9.94, and local government taxes so invested have risen only slightly to £11.7 a vehicle. It can be seen that the Commonwealth’s investment in Australia’s roads has risen at a far greater rate than has the investment of State moneys and local government funds. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), when submitting this matter to the House, claimed that at no stage was the petrol tax intended to be for the purpose of raising general revenue. I cannot agree with him. I remind the House that the petrol tax was first introduced in 1902, but that it was not until 1926 that it was used for roads purposes.
I now come to this question: Are the States doing all that they should do? That leads me to say that, in my humble opinion, road mileages in the respective States should be the yardstick with which to measure the responsibility of the States for the roads within their borders. It is interesting to note that, according to the “ Commonwealth Year-Book “, as at 30th June, 1953, proclaimed and declared road mileages in the States were as follows: - New South Wales, 26,314; Victoria, 14,448; Queensland, 20,954; South Australia, 8.140; Western Australia, 18,454; and Tasmania, 2,185. Taking actual road mileages as the yardstick, it will be seen that in New South Wales, each member of the population has a responsibility for one-third of a chain of roads in that State; in Victoria, each person is responsible for half a chain, whereas in my own State of Western Australia, for the reasons that I have endeavoured to present this afternoon, each member of the population is responsible for 2 chains. These figures, I suggest, justify the formula to which I have referred and the policy of the Commonwealth Government in relation to the disbursement of the petrol tax. I think that this is a very appropriate yardstick to apply-
There are, of course, other types of roads besides those that are proclaimed and declared. I refer the House to the Melbourne “ Age “ of 8th March last, wherein road mileages were shown, including mileages of formed, cleared and natural State roads.
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence). - Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has raised the matter of the failure of the Commonwealth Government to provide sufficient funds to the States for road construction. It is obvious to anybody who has listened as this debate has proceeded that all honorable members agree that more money should be made available for that purpose. Reference has been made to the sources from which revenue for road construction is obtained. First, there is the revenue from local government rating. That money is used to provide shire or council roads, but as the revenue from that source is very limited, the road construction that can be carried out with it also is limited. The second source is the registration of motor vehicles by the main roads authorities. In Queensland, the State from which I come, the cost of motor registration is very high. Indeed, I think it may be the highest in the Commonwealth. In other words, the Government of Queensland has recognized that the people who use the roads should pay for them. But there is a limit to the extent to which State governments may increase registration fees. In the final result, there is only one source from which the State governments can obtain sufficient revenue for road construction, and that is this Parliament.
Reference has been made to the Commonwealth aid roads legislation. That legislation is designed to provide moneys to enable the State governments, amongst other things, to build access roads in areas of limited population, with the object of stimulating production.
During the course of this discussion, frequent reference has been made to the funds made available by the Commonwealth to the States from the petrol tax collections. Before the “ little budget “ was introduced, last year, there was a levy of lOd. a gallon on petrol imported into this country, whilst the tax levied on locally refined petrol was at the rate of 8£d. a gallon. The share of the States of that lOd. a gallon and 8£d. a gallon was 7d. a gallon in each case. In other words, the States received 70 per cent, of the lOd. a gallon tax on imported petrol, and 82.3 per cent, of the 8id. a gallon on locally refined petrol.
The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) stated that this Government had given a greater proportion of the petrol tax revenue to the States than had any previous government. However, we find that when the rates were increased by 3d. a gallon last year, so that the tax on imported petrol became ls. Id. a gallon and that on locally refined petrol, Hid. a gallon, to bring in an additional £12,000,000 in revenue, the States secured only £4,000,000 and the Commonwealth kept £8,000,000. At that time of great budget surpluses, the share of the States of the ls. Id. tax became 8d., or 61.5 per cent., in place of the 70 per cent, that they had been receiving when they got 7d. out of the tax of lOd. a gallon, and their share of the 1 Hd. a gallon became 8d., or 70 per cent., in place of the 82.3 per cent, that they had been receiving previously.
The State governments, through the Australian Transport Advisory Council, Premiers conferences, and all the other gatherings that have been held, have pointed out to this Government that our roads are in a shocking condition. Transport bodies have advised the Government that a tenyear programme should be drawn up for the purpose of road construction on a national scale. I strongly support the point that was made here this afternoon by the honorable member for Batman, and also by the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), that we ought to embark at least on a five-year programme, with an additional £20,000,000 to be spent annually on road construction. After all, the great bulk of the revenues collected by the States through the registration of motor vehicles and from the petrol tax is spent on maintenance work. New roads are urgently needed in a developing country. We frequently hear references to the fact that the rate of development must be accelerated, that we must increase production, and so on, but I suggest that if these things are to be done, we must give primary producers the best possible means of getting their products to the markets, whether they be in this country or on the other side of the world. We must enable them to get their products to the railhead or the nearest port in the quickest and the cheapest way. Consequently, there is a definite responsibility on this Government to assist to a greater degree the construction of roads. It is of no use to say that this is a matter for the States. It is a matter of national importance and is vital from the point of view of the nation as a whole. It is a national problem, and this Government must accept the responsibility to deal with it.
If I remember correctly, the Australian Transport Advisory Council, at the Hobert conference last year, informed the Government that the roads were in a shocking condition and that the growth of road traffic was such that it was urgently necessary for the Government to take action, on a national basis, to widen and extend’ the roads. Mention has been made to-day of a reply given to the council by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes), when he was a Minister, to the effect that the Commonwealth’s defence advisers were more concerned about rail and sea transport than they were about road transport. We hear much of the importance of appropriate defence measures. We are told that since the Dutch have left the East Indies, a defence vacuum has developed to the north of Australia. We hear, too, that the withdrawal of Great Britain from India has meant that the protective cover of the Royal Navy has been removed. In other words, it is said, in effect, that the defence of northern Australia is more vital now than it has ever been in our history. Only in the last few days, there have been references to the appearance, off our coastline, of large ocean-going submarines with a range of 20.000 miles. Stress is laid also on the need for an investigation into the advisability of completing the railway which terminates at Mount Isa, leaving a gap between there and the terminus of the small railway from Darwin. But no roads which could be used for defence have been advocated by this Government. It is not interested in roads for defence, although the need for them must be obvious to blind Freddie.
We need roads leading from the production centres in the south to the north of Australia. During World War II., we had a defence railway bottle-neck in Queensland at Clapham Junction. The difficulty was overcome only because the Japanese were pushed back as quickly as they were. Civil Constructional Corps workers were rushed to Queensland during the war to build a defence road west of Rockhampton and leading to Townsville. Just after Munich, at the outbreak of World War II., we had the spectacle of a rush to build a defence road from Alice Springs to Darwin. Surely we must have learnt something from our experiences.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The intimation given by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) that he desired to submit for discussion a matter of urgent public importance refers to “ the failure of the Government to provide more funds for the construction and reconstruction of roads “. That reads very nicely, because all our roads are in a very bad state. I wish to make some general remarks before proceeding with my theme. I do not regard this as a party matter. I do not agree with one or two statements that have been made by my colleagues on this side of the House any more than I agree with some statements that have been made by members of the Opposition.
The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley), who spoke in reply to the honorable member for Batman, said that the Government would consider any proposition that the Premiers put up at a conference. That raised a laugh as far as I was concerned. It made even the honorable member for Batman laugh, and I notice that he is laughing now. Naturally, the Government will consider any proposition that is put forward by the Premiers, but what will the Premiers suggest at such a conference? Only one Premier - Labour, Liberal or Australian Country party - has asked for the federal aid roads formula to be changed, and always he has been a Victorian Premier. The other Premiers, knowing they are on a good thing, will stick to it and come to the same decision every time it is discussed.
The honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor), who is now sitting adjacent to the honorable member for Batman, supported the setting up of a federal road authority. Other supporters of the Australian Labour party also supported that proposal. They should have had a talk with the honorable member for Batman first, because he said that £20,000,000 a year would be required for a certain number of years and implied that this amount should be distributed under the formula. This is how 1 arrive at that conclusion: The honorable member said that the Victorian Country Roads Board required an additional £10,000,000, but that if an additional amount of £20,000,000 were made available - and these are his exact words - Victoria would get only about £4,000,000. Therefore, he must have been contemplating distribution under the formula.
Obviously, therefore, the honorable member for Batman and his colleagues were at cross purposes. One spoke of a federal authority. The matter of urgency submitted by the honorable member for Batman contemplates the continuance of the State authorities under the present formula. The honorable member had no support for his proposal either from the honorable members for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) or Gellibrand. No support whatever! They spoke of something entirely different from what he had in mind. If the honorable member for Batman wants to make any progress he should muster his forces as one would do when fighting an enemy, because, after all, the Opposition regards the Government as its enemy in this debate.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) said .”hat we should approach this matter as a great national problem. He said we should have a national outlook, but immediately afterwards he joined his friend, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) and spoke of parochial matters. He referred to this matter in relation to Western Australia and tried to justify what Western Australia requires. I believe I have demonstrated to honorable members, now, that I am quite impartial on this matter.
What is the object of the honorable member for Batman in submitting this matter of urgency? He can contradict me, by way of interjection, if I am wrong, but I believe that he is opposed to the present formula. He finds himself in a dilemma, however, because the Australian Labour party, which he supports, is in favour of it. Where does the honorable member stand? He should not get into the dilemma that is facing some persons in the northern State.
When I proposed a motion, in the last session of the Parliament, designed to obtain additional assistance for Victoria of only Id. out of the 3d. a gallon extra petrol tax imposed in the “ little budget “, for distribution as it was collected without touching the present formula, I could not get one honorable member on the Opposition side to vote for it. I refer to those who were present at the time. There were one or two absentees, including the honorable member for Batman, and I ask him now: How would he have voted had he been present?
– I will tell the honorable member outside.
– Reverting to the general situation, I remind honorable members that I moved the adjournment of this House a long time ago on this matter. I have spoken on this subject more often in the last ten years than has any other member of this Parliament, as will be shown by the “Hansard” reports. On 7th July, 1949, I proposed a formal motion for the adjournment of the House to discuss -
The necessity for a substantial increase in the allocation by the Commonwealth to the States of moneys from petrol tax for the construction and maintenance of roads . . .
I did not propose that the total collections should be paid out. Why? In 1945-46 the Labour Government collected £12,192,000 from petrol tax. In that year, from that amount, it paid to the States £3,328,000 and retained for other purposes £8,864,000. Therefore, the Labour Government paid to the States for road building and maintenance just over one-quarter of the petrol tax proceeds. It retained just under three-quarters of the petrol tax collections. In 1954-55, this Government collected £33,038,000 and paid to the States for road building and maintenance £24,242,000. It retained £8,796,000. This Government reversed the Labour Government’s procedure. The Labour Government paid to the States .one-quarter of the proceeds of the petrol tax, but this Government gave them three-quarters of the petrol tax collections and retained only one-quarter.
In the financial year 1955-56, this Government retained £8,796,000 from petrol tax collection. That was £68,000 less than the Labour Government retained in, 1945-46, although, in the meantime, collections had increased by £20,846,000 to £33,038,000.
The real crux of the argument is this: Should the Government supply more money for the roads? I regard this as a non-party matter, but I am not prepared to support any move for the payment of more money from the petrol tax until we adjust the formula. The honorable member for Batman has said that if an additional £20,000,000 were paid out, Victoria would get only £4,000,000 more. That means that under the formula Western Australia would get approximately £4,500,000. Does that mean that that State would have to build four or five bridges over The Narrows in metropolitan Perth to spend the money? On 17th May, 1956, when the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) was speaking on the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill, he suggested that I did not seem to understand the system in Western Australia. He said -
I am merely trying to tell the honorable member how we must regard the amount of £1,163,000 which is alleged to remain unspent. The system of making payments out of aid roads funds in Western Australia may be totally different from the system in every other State. In Western Australia the local governing authority that seeks aid roads funds for road works must first satisfy the central authority . . . that the work will be done satisfactorily.
Consequently there is some delay in spending it. It is significant to note that a few weeks after the honorable member for Perth made that explanation, it was revealed that delay was caused in Western Australia by deciding to spend money on a bridge over The Narrows, which would cost approximately as much as that State had had from petrol tax payments from the Commonwealth. The honorable member tried to tell this House that in Western Australia a system operated quite different from that in other States. It certainly does. The local authorities had to decide to spend the money satisfactorily and in accordance with some accounting system of which I had no knowledge. As a matter of fact, they were waiting for approval to spend the money. The honorable member said that he was not altogether satisfied with their proposal. He said also that metropolitan people in Western Australia should not be given an advantage over country people by the building of bridges of this nature. He was right there. Nevertheless, being a Western Australian, he had to be parochial, just as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has to serve his party.
Let us have some reason in this matter. Let us have a fair deal. Let us adjust the formula. When that is done, I will be the first to support any motion that aims at giving the allocation of a larger sum of money by the Commonwealth to the States for road construction and maintenance.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– It has been rather interesting to listen to the dissertation of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). He began with almost an attack on honorable members from Western Australia by suggesting that they were parish-pumpish and parochial in their attitude, but almost the whole of his speech was taken up by his complaint that Victoria is not getting a fair deal in the allocation of the petrol tax revenue. He concluded by saying that he would not support any proposal to make another £20,000,000 available for roads from the petrol tax revenue because too much of it would go to Western Australia and too little to Victoria.
– Hear, hear!
– I hope that honorable members will approach these matters on a little higher level than did the honorable member for Mallee. First, we have to consider whether the Federal Parliament, as the controller of the purse-strings of Australia, will do the right thing by the States. I think that more should be done for our roads, but I want to tell honorable members who have been complaining about the awful state of the roads in Australia, and particularly in Victoria, about the roads
I have travelled over, within the last two days, from Adelaide to Canberra. Eight months ago they were almost impassable in places. In fact, at that time I wondered what would happen to my car. However, in spite of all the difficulties caused by a shortage of money, I found, on my recent journey, a vast improvement of the conditions that existed eight months ago. They have never been better during the eight years that I have been travelling over them. When we are discussing these matters we should not let our imaginations run away with us.
I support very strongly the proposals of the honorable member for Batman (MBird), especially the proposal to impose a tax on diesel fuel. I contend that it is the big instruments of torture on the roads, as I might call them - the huge transports - that have played havoc with so many of our highways. Last year many of our main roads were reduced to a terrible condition because of the excessively wet season and the abnormally heavy loads carried over them. When this condition developed, the road transports were diverted to subsidiary roads of a medium type and quickly destroyed them also. Some provision should be made to collect a greater amount of revenue from transport operators using these roads.
When the Minister was replying to the honorable member for Batman, he said that a sum of £20,000,000 was needed. He showed where £4,000,000 could be obtained and said that the rest would have to be derived from taxation. He pointed out that the honorable member for Batman had not shown where the Government could get the money to implement his proposals and asked whether it should be obtained by reducing the allocation to social services or to other purposes. I remind the Minister that only yesterday the Treasury received a tremendous windfall. As a result of the 10s. a week increase in the federal basic wage, every person employed under a federal award will be taxed on an extra £26 a year. When he completes his income tax return on 30th June next, he will have to pay tax on that extra income for two months of this year. That amount alone, collected from all workers under federal awards, would provide what is needed for roads. Next financial year. unless the Government decides to reduce taxation for those workers receiving this new rate of basic wage, the Government will still have this extra revenue coming in. Consequently, there will be no need to consider reducing allocations to other services in order to obtain sufficient to pay for road works.
– Who will pay the 10s. increase in the basic wage?
– The employers will pay it. If the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) owned a grocery store or some other kind of store he would meet the extra amount he had to pay in wages by adding it to the prices of his goods, and the man in the street would pay it. I do not say that the worker receiving the extra 10s. a week will be better off, but I am simply pointing out that in the next twelve months the Government will be able to collect income tax on £26 more in every federal basic wage worker’s income. I cannot now discuss the question of the 10s. a week increase; I am only replying to the Minister’s question as to how the extra money required for roads would be raised without reducing allocations to other purposes.
Last October, on my way from Adelaide to Canberra by road, I stopped at Tarcutta, which is a place that honorable members have heard a great deal about. Many honorable members know what road difficulties existed in that area at that time. About 8 or 10 miles on the other side of Gundagai a high-level bridge was built, and after a night of torrential rain some heavily laden transports passed along the road and reduced it to an impassable condition for any traffic. As a result, I had to make a detour of about 40 miles. On the way back, when I reached Tarcutta I spoke to the driver of a transport who had stopped alongside my car. I asked him, “ What is the position to-day? Will I be able to get over the bridge, or is it still impassable? “ He said, “ You can get through. You will go down about 9 inches or a foot, but you will get through. I am a little bit worried as to whether I am over-loaded. I have 16 tons on my transport “. There was an illustration innocently given. The total weight of load and transport would be about 25 tons. These heavily laden transports damage the roads and the users pay no tax on the diesel fuel used by their vehicles. As I came along the road yesterday, it was something of a change to encounter fewer transports than usual, but I noticed, particularly, one with a heavy load. I should say that the vehicle and the load together would weigh 20 tons at least. I decided to pass this vehicle, but although 1 went up to 50 miles an hour I could not pass it until a rise in the road caused it to slacken speed a little. Is it proper to allow these heavy vehicles to travel along the roads at 50 miles an hour? When they pass over a weak spot in the road the surface will break and before long a large pot-hole will develop.
The Government should do something about petrol. The Minister spoke about the difficulties. I do not know, but I have read that in other places petrol or diesel oil used for road transport is coloured. If diesel oil on which tax had been paid was coloured, it would be a simple matter to check on road hauliers to see whether they had paid the tax. I hope that a tax will be imposed on road hauliers. I hope that the Government will recognize that, as a government in charge of the purse strings, it has a duty and a responsibility to the States to see that they have sufficient money to meet commitments of national importance. I do not say that the money should be taken out of the defence funds. To me, such talk is just a myth. The road from Alice Springs to Darwin was built as a defence project, but the people who ask that the whole of the petrol tax revenue should be used on road construction and maintenance are not so much concerned with a defence road as they are with a good road to be used generally. Let us face the fact that this is a national responsibility. Should we do something about it? If it is a national responsibility, then, as a national parliament, we should raise the money that is needed by such taxation as is fair and equitable.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) should be thanked for the public tribute that he has paid to the Country Roads Board and the Liberal Administration in Victoria and to the extraordinary manner in which they have attempted to put their house in order in spite of the difficulties under which they operate under the present formula for distribution of petrol tax moneys. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has submitted for discussion, as a matter of urgent public importance, a proposal that the Government sould expend more money on the reconstruction and the construction of roads. He suggested that an additional amount of £20,000,000 a year be made available. I feel that the honorable member has merely stretched into the air and reached down a figure which happened to be £20,000,000 but which could have been £40,000,000 or £200,000,000. The figure he mentioned bears no relation to ascertainable facts. Indeed, the formula under which the moneys are distributed was decided upon by the very same process of reaching into the air and coming down with some figures which allotted 5 per cent, of a certain sum to Tasmania and in respect of the other States twofifths according to area and three-fifths according to population. The formula bore no relation to ascertainable facts.
The honorable member for Batman must fail to attain his objective. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) proved certain matters to my satisfaction and, I am sure, to the satisfaction of most honorable members, though there may be some members on the other side of the House who would not accept the proof. Indeed, they would not accept any proof offered to them. The present Government has contributed more than any previous government for road purposes, it is, of course, necessary that it should have contributed more because the population of the country is growing and the motoring population is growing. Unfortunately, the latest figures available to me are for March, 1955, but, at that time. there were in Victoria 412,000 private cars and, in addition, 147,000 business vehicles ranging from ordinary business cars to semi-trailers and trucks of a dead weight of six tons or more. The Minister has proved that the Government is contributing an adequate amount for roads in the present concept.
I agree with the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) that the real answer to this problem is an overall national plan for the development of roads. The honorable member for Batman could not have been really serious when he suggested a piecemeal sum of money to overcome the problem. Apparently, he has never heard of the formula under which these moneys are distributed, because he did not mention it. The formula is an obvious inequity and, if it is to continue, it should be altered; but I should prefer to see it scrapped. It was welded together by the agreement of State Premiers back in the 1920’s when it was impossible for those gentlemen, no matter how statesmanlike they may have been, to look forward to the year 1957 and see the rate and areas of development, and so on. In consequence, just as governments in succession - and this Government has contributed more than any other - have altered the rate of distribution under the formula, so the formula itself should have been subject to revision during that period. Unfortunately, it has not been revised.
The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) said that the Premiers have constantly pointed out to the Commonwealth the need for greater expenditure on roads. The Premiers have constantly pointed out the need, but have never offered to the Commonwealth to meet as a group and consider whether they could devise a new formula for a more equitable distribution. The population of Victoria at the last census in 1954 was 2,452,341, grouped together in an area of 87,000 square miles. It is inevitable, with the extraordinary growth of industry and heavy transport in that State, that that area, which is the very hub of Australia, must spend a greater amount on roads. Honorable members on the other side giggle and laugh.
Mr. Duthie interjecting,
Order! I suggest that the honorable member for Wilmot read Standing Order 54.
– The gigglers have no conception whatever of the cost of constructing a mile of road, nor have they any conception of the amount of money that must necessarily be expended on the continual upkeep of the roads.
The formula as it exists to-day wreaks a very grave inequity on the State of Victoria. I suggest that the formula is at fault, not only in its inequity to Victoria, but also in its application to the whole of Australia. Only two States manifestly benefit from it. Those who support the formula - amongst whom, apparently, is the honorable member for Batman - have suggested that it cannot be considered in isolation, but that other factors must be kept in mind. For instance, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme will bring benefit principally to the people of Victoria and New South Wales and defence expenditure is being incurred principally in Victoria and New South Wales. They suggest that those States, therefore, require additional consideration to that given the less populous States which have a greater area. I suggest, however, that the formula must be considered in isolation. It is contained in a single piece of legislation and, when looking at a single piece of legislation, the whole of our vast national development cannot be considered.
The formula must be considered in its isolation, and it constitutes an obvious inequity. If that be the case, it is quite reasonable to ask: What is the inequity? The figures of the amount of petrol tax collected in Victoria and the amount returned for expenditure on roads in that State have been given many times, and I do not wish to repeat them. The simple fact remains that in Victoria a householder who builds a house and has, perhaps, a formed road in front of his home is required to contribute to road construction. When he purchases a piece of land, he con.tributes a certain amount towards the cost of forming a road, but when the local governing body decides to embark upon a road construction scheme, it is likely to cost that householder as much as £500 extra to have the road built in front of his house. In no other State in the Commonwealth is the land-owner required to contribute anything like that; in fact, the only other :State where any contribution at all is required is South Australia, and there the amount to be contributed is restricted by statute to 10s. a foot of road constructed. It is suggested to me, by way of interjection, that New South Wales is another case in point, but I do not think it is. The only contribution required to be made by the land-owner in New South Wales is to the cost of forming the road. He contributes nothing towards the laying down of a street plan.
If this formula is so iniquitous and inequitable, can it be said that a revised “formula is the answer to the problem? I feel that it is impossible to get agreement amongst the various State Premiers before 1959, when the current legislation will expire. I do hope, however, that the next piece of legislation will not continue the present formula. I prefer a change. 1 prefer the formula to be scrapped and the petrol tax recognized as a revenue tax, not a tax raised for any specific purpose. I should like to see it accepted also that the amount of petrol tax collected bears no relation to the amount of money spent on roads. In place of the present formula, 1 should like a national roads plan under which the amount required for expenditure on roads can be ascertained and the revenue collected accordingly. After all, it is not only the road user who benefits from road construction.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The subject before the House now is probably our most pressing national domestic problem. It relates to the need for good and adequate highways. We have not yet reached the stage in Australia when we can say that we have good and adequate highways. I venture the opinion that no honorable member in this House will suggest that our existing highways are either adequate or good. This applies especially to many of our outback areas in which there has been sudden and tremendous development of our mineral resources over the last few years. Of such impulsive development the natural corollary must be the need for new highways. Until we face up to this, until we provide adequate amounts of money to the States, local governing bodies and other road-building authorities for the construction of these highways, we can say that our policy remains stagnant.
The honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) twitted the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) about his figures. He suggested that the figures submitted by the honorable member bore no relation to ascertainable facts. That is not true. The £20,000,000 quoted by the honorable member for Port Adelaide was based on a solid foundation of analysis, including the £16,000,000 which this Government is retaining from the petrol tax collected and which it is not distributing for the purposes for which it should be used, namely, the construction of highways by State administrations, and the additional £4,000,000 which the Labour party suggests could be obtained by the imposition of a tax upon those users of the highway who operate vehicles burning diesel oil. I submit that the figure mentioned by the honorable member for Port Adelaide is concrete and conclusive. I submit also that the debate to date has shown conclusively that the Government’s policy bears no relation to ascertainable facts. That is the crux of the situation.
The honorable member for Bruce laid great stress upon the need for altering the formula. I suggest that the alteration of the formula is not the answer to the problem. The real answer is the provision of more money, and that is the whole purpose of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) in raising this matter for discussion to-day. He described this question as being of urgent public importance. It is obviously a matter of urgent public importance. No honorable member of this House who drives a car will deny that. There is not a primary producer in the country who does not realize that it is a matter of urgent public importance. There is not a member of the travelling public who does not realize it. The residents of all those towns and cities which are dependent upon road transport for delivery of their goods and the requirements of daily life also realize it, because all its charges are reflected in the increased costs the people are required to pay for those goods and requirements. If we had good and adequate highways, these commodities would flow quickly and more cheaply to such centres. The high cost of road haulage, due to the lack of adequate and good highways, is reflected in the cost of all commodities on the shelves in the stores of country centres.
The fact that our highways are neither good nor adequate is easily demonstrated within a few miles of our great cities. Only recently, an American authority on roads twitted the New South Wales road constructing authority about the road from Sydney to Newcastle. He said, “ Even the Romans would not have built a road like this “. He was referring to the tortuous twists and turns in that highway through the Hawkesbury area. It is true that that is a deplorable highway considering that it is a vital link between two great cities on the eastern seaboard.
The highway from Sydney to Wollongong is no more than a narrow strip of bitumen, and has nothing to commend it, especially when we realize that there has been a vast increase in the volume of vehicular traffic on it. A great proportion of the production from the industrial area of Port Kembla is> transported by road hauliers using heavy vehicles along that highway from Port Kembla to Sydney for shipment. Not all the production of the Kembla area is shipped direct from that port. Again, vast units of factory equipment to be used in thehuge developmental programme of Australian Iron and Steel Limited are manufactured in Sydney and transported by heavy vehicles to Port Kembla. That highway cannot by any means be accepted asbeing either adequate or good for the purpose. I merely mention those threeexamples to prove the truth of our suggestions.
Looking further afield, lifting our sightsa little, we note the vast development of the mineral resources of the Northern Territory, more particularly in the Tennant Creek area. In that part, there has been a tremendous increase in the production of copper. Already approaches have been made to me, as I know they have been to> the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) requesting our support of a proposal for the more direct transport of copper ore to the smelting worksat Port Kembla. At the moment, concentrates and other products from the area are required to go by the long, tortuous and costly route via Port Augusta. The construction of a highway from Tennant Creek, through our back country to Port Kembla, probably would provide a solution to theproblem of providing for the huge mineral’ deposits of the Northern Territory quick and ready access to the eastern seaboard for their treatment and subsequent shipment. I realize that such a road would cost a tremendous amount of money. I think that the rough estimate of the cost of constructing such a highway is £50,000 a mile. If that is so, then we can easily appreciate just: what a huge sum it would cost to construct a highway from Tennant Creek to Port Kembla.
Then there are the mineral resources of: Queensland - the bauxite deposits of CapeYork Peninsula and the uranium fields, of the Mary Kathleen area. Vast new ore deposits have been discovered by Mount lsa Mines Limited, and that company is prepared to undertake the immediate development of an area that it has mapped out. All these things bring into focus, underline and accentuate the importance of road transport. They also emphasize the fact that inadequate finance is being made available by this Government for the construction of roads. I put a fair question to the House; Why does not the Government pay to the States the whole of the proceeds of the petrol tax, as was suggested by members of the Australian Labour party when the relevant legislation was first being considered? Government supporters may answer that Labour did nothing about the matter when it was in office. That is true, but Labour was in office during the war and in the immediate post-war years. Let us at least be fair, and acknowledge that Labour recognizes the facts of to-day, and has a progressive policy which is designed to meet the ever-changing needs of the community and of all facets of administration.
Great changes have recently been taking place with respect to our highways. The density of traffic on the roads has increased tremendously. My claim that Labour has changed its views because a change of views was needed is supported by an authoritative body, and 1 suggest that the Government would do well to follow Labour’s example. In a publication entitled “ 1957 Action Programme “, the Australian Automobile Association states -
In 1940 (the last motor vehicle production year for civil purposes, before the world output was converted to war production), the number of motor vehicles in Australia stood at 820,000. By 1950, it had increased to 1,434,000, and to-day it stands at 2,321,524 or almost one vehicle for every dwelling in the Commonwealth.
These figures prove beyond all doubt that the Toad problem is not merely a parochial obligation to be left to the various local authorities.
It is Australia’s most pressing national domestic problem, and as such, should be dealt with expertly at the highest national level.
That is what the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) asserts in his proposal for discussion. The Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) referred to the expenditure made from the revenues of the Commonwealth, the State governments, and local government authorities in terms of the amount spent for every vehicle on the roads. Those figures prove very little. What the Minister did not mention, and in fact avoided, was that, as we know, the State governments are being reduced to the status of paupers, and local authorities are facing bankruptcy.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) is to be congratulated on submitting this matter to the House for discussion as a matter of urgency, because there is no doubt that roads are our greatest internal problem. It is of no use to ask what some other government or some other authority did. We have to face the problem to-day, and we must ask ourselves whether the present position is or is not satisfactory. I do not think that one honorable member would say that it is anything like satisfactory. Less than a year ago, we saw the main highway between the two greatest cities in Australia break down completely. It was impassable for many days, and trucks transporting important produce were unable to get through. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) mentioned that he had seen one transport, which was carrying a load of 16 tons and which would weigh, all told, something like 25 tons. I can tell the honorable member that, not on a main highway, but on a minor shire road, one truck was found to be carrying 52 tons. Needless to say, it was bogged. There is no doubt at all that these great transports are the main cause of the breaking up of our roads.
I think that the problem is becoming worse, because, when the main roads disintegrate, the transports try to use secondary roads. In this respect, there is already a serious problem in my electorate, and I do not doubt that similar problems exist in many other areas. The minor shire roads that are being used by heavy transports because the main roads have deteriorated were never designed to bear vehicles carrying loads of 52 tons. As a consequence, the shire authorities are doing their best to prevent these heavy vehicles from using those roads, and for this purpose they have imposed load limits. However, the police have been told that the shires must police these restrictions themselves. This they are unable to do, and the road hauliers know that they can exceed with impunity the load limits imposed by local authorities. The position has become so serious that a conference has been called to consider it. This conference, which will be held in my electorate on 24th June, will be attended by representatives of, I think, 52 shires in New South Wales and Victoria, and the main subject for discussion will be the difficulties of maintaining shire roads when these tremendous transports are breaking them up.
This is a very serious problem. What are we to do about it? The first thing to be done is for the Government to implement at the earliest possible moment the recommendations made by Government supporters and Opposition members in reports on the standardization of rail gauges. If standardization is put in hand very quickly, it will help to take a great deal of heavy traffic off the roads and thereby limit the deterioration of the main highways. We know that, at the present time, 5,000 tons of goods a day are transported from Melbourne to Sydney over the Hume Highway. The conversion of the railway from Melbourne to Albury to standard gauge would enable a great deal of this traffic to be carried by rail. I was going to say that it would increase the profits of the New South Wales and Victorian railways, but perhaps I should say that it would reduce the losses. I hope that the Government will take vigorous action immediately to provide finance for this project, which, I point out, would reduce the expenditure on road maintenance.
Secondly, we can and should ensure that the heavy transport vehicles using the roads make a reasonable contribution to meet the cost of repairing the damage that they do. For that reason, I wholeheartedly support the proposal of the honorable member for Batman that diesel fuel should be taxed at a reasonable rate which would meet the costs incurred in repairing the roads. The Australian Automobile Association has suggested a rate that would return something like £4,500,000 a year for expenditure on road maintenance and reconstruction, and I wholeheartedly agree with the proposal. 1 do not think that such a tax would increase the prices of the goods carried, because at the present time the greatest item of cost in transport is the replacement of tyres and other items of equipment that break down and wear out quickly because of the heavy wear and tear imposed by poor roads. The transport operators themselves would welcome any scheme that would enable us to improve the standard of our roads, even if they had to contribute towards the cost. As other honorable members have pointed out, diesel fuel used by transport vehicles is taxed in the United States of America, and if such a scheme works there, it could be made to work here. Finance is the crux of the problem. It is of no use to talk about altering the formula under which the Federal Aid Roads grants are apportioned between the States, as some honorable members have suggested should be done. That would not enable 100 yards more of road to be built. It might mean that one State could construct more roads, but if it did, it would mean that another could construct less. Let us get down to tin tacks. Both Federal and State governments must provide additional funds for road works. I have mentioned some of the ways in which the Commonwealth could help. The State governments also could help materially. The heavy interstate transport vehicles that are so numerous on our roads at the present time are subject to a registration fee of only 30s. a year. That is ludicrous.
– That is in New South Wales.
– That is so. No one would be foolish enough to register such a vehicle anywhere else than in New South Wales. South Australia is trying to impose a much higher fee, but road hauliers will not register their vehicles in that State when they can register them in New South Wales for 30s. a year. Surely this anomaly could be removed. I understand that the South Australian Premier has now proposed a scheme that he believes could withstand any challenge in the High Court of Australia. I am sure that we can get greater value in road-building for our money. This is primarily the States’ responsibility, but I feel certain that if the States were to ensure that they got better value for their money, partly by calling tenders for contracts, and partly by better supervision, we would find ourselves in a very much better position than we are in to-day.
There is a very strong case to be made out for the Government making a greater return of petrol tax money to the States.
We know that some of this petrol tax revenue has always been used for other than road-making purposes. In the past that has been so, but there has been a big alteration in the position. To-day, more people are using the roads and there is a far greater demand for roads. Even though this Government has done its best by quadrupling the money made available to the States, the position is still not satisfactory. The money provided is not enough.
We can, too, investigate the use of toll roads. Some people say that toll roads are a thing of the past and that they are going out in America. I still cannot see why certain selected areas in Australia cannot be used for toll roads. I am sure that many people would far sooner pay a toll and get a decent road to travel on than pay nothing and get a bad road.
This discussion on roads has been a most useful exercise in the House to-day. The time has come for all governments, Federal and State, to get their heads together and realize that something must be done. I hope that to-day’s discussion will bring that day a little closer.
– The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) is to be commended for bringing before the House this matter of urgency, whereby we are being asked to consider the sad state of affairs that exists in regard to our roads throughout the Commonwealth. He has been accused, quite unjustly, of conjuring out of the air a figure of £20,000,000 as the amount of money to be made available to the various States over a period of years for road construction. All honorable members know that Commonwealth governments - this one, as well as all others since 1926 - have not been applying the total contributions received from the petrol tax to the purpose for which the tax is levied, which is to make provision for the construction of roads to be used by the people who pay the petrol tax. We know that only two-thirds of the money raised by way of the tax is returned to the States for the construction of roads, and that £16,000,000, representing one-third, is being retained by the Commonwealth Government for purposes other than road construction. Some little time ago a deputation approached the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), I understand, and suggested that a tax be placed on diesel fuel. The
Prime Minister replied that as only £4,000,000 would be raised by levying a tax of ls. 6d. a gallon on diesel fuel, it was. not worth considering. If the Government is to brush aside £4,000,000 which should justly be paid by those road-users operating heavy transport vehicles with diesel fuel - who, as the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) has pointed out, pay nocontribution other than the 30s. registration fee in New South Wales - it is a pretty poor state of affairs. If the £16,000,000 that the Commonwealth Government is withholding from petrol tax revenue, and the- £4,000,000 which would be a just charge on people who use diesel fuel and make nocontribution, were made available to the various States for road construction, a material improvement could be effected in. the standard of roads in Australia to-day. Of all the goods carried in Australia, 74 per cent, are moved by road transport. Surely that should bring before honorablemembers the need to have a high standard, of highways throughout the Commonwealth.
I do not associate myself with this matter of urgency merely as a means of suggesting that more money should be made available to construct roads in areas in, so to speak, the outskirts of the various States. I feel that there is a really urgent and grave need’ to improve the standard of highways in the settled and populated parts of the States. Because of the increased use of a heavier type of road transport vehicle, both within the cities and for interstate haulage, roadswhich were built to a standard laid down pre-war are no longer capable of standing up to the demands of these modern vehiclesand are deteriorating at an amazingly fast rate.
The various construction and maintenance authorities are experiencing great difficulties in maintaining those highways in a reasonable state. In Victoria, 80 per cent, of the total revenue of the Victorian Roads Board is being used for maintenance, leaving 20 per cent, for the construction of new highways. I know that a large sum of money is paid to the various States by the Commonwealth Government under what I consider to be an excellent formula, andI hope that that formula will be maintained for many years to come. A large amount is paid to the various States from money raised by the petrol tax. Some £32,000,000- a year is available for this purpose. In addition, the States, which have the constitutional responsibility for the construction of roads, are supplementing the moneys received from the Commonwealth Government by taxes on vehicles and by drawing on their own loan revenue for the construction of highways.
But there is another authority that enters largely into highway construction. It has been ignored in this discussion by many honorable members. It is the local authority, which, although it has the responsibility for the construction of highways in its own area, particularly in urban districts, depends almost entirely for its revenue on the rate levied on the unimproved capital value of land. This is placing a terrific burden on the home-owner in the cities and many of the large towns. The cost of a modern highway has been estimated at £50,000 a mile. A base of about 9 inches of concrete and then 3 inches of topping, covered by 2 inches of asphaltic concrete, is necessary for the modern highway. Local authorities, particularly in Brisbane, are faced with the responsibility of meeting that charge of £50,000 a mile for a highway from the rates received from the general public. I admit that the Queensland Government does pay a subsidy, but that state of affairs does not -exist in other States of the Commonwealth.
I could continue for a long time on this important matter, but I know that I have only a minute to go. The honorable member for Batman is to be commended. I hope that the time spent on this debate will not be wasted and that the Government will see fit to increase the amount of money that is made available for highway construction.
– Order! The time allowed for the discussion has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) - by leave - agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) speaking for a period not exceeding 30 minutes on the motion to approve the trade agreement between the United Kingdom and Australia.
Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 9th April (vide page 652), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That this House approves the trade agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia signed at Canberra on 26th February, 19S7.
.- This discussion concerns the trade agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia which was tabled by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) on the 26th February, 1957, and which was signed in Canberra by representatives of the two Governments on, I think, the same date. Honorable members have an opportunity of discussing ordinary legislation clause by clause, but though this agreement contains 26 paragraphs or, in the terms of the agreement, fifteen articles, we have no opportunity of discussing the importance or otherwise of these in committee. Therefore, I propose to analyse as fully as time permits the import of the various articles in the agreement.
The agreement before us is the culmination of perambulations by the Minister and his staff around the world for about three years, of discussions between the members of the United Kingdom Government, the Minister and, no doubt, members of the Governments of Canada and the United States of America, of very long conferences, of long and profound statements in the press of this country, and of a speech in this Parliament by the Minister, the roneoed report of which extends to fourteen foolscap pages, but when we analyse the core of the agreement, we find that the end result is of little importance to the people of this country. The agreement will make a most meagre contribution, if any contribution at all, to the solution of the problem of our adverse balance of trade which has confronted us for the last three or four years, and which the Minister set out, partially at least, to solve.
One of the reasons advanced for our adverse trade balance was that in our trade with the United Kingdom Government we were bound hand and foot by the Ottawa Agreement, which was entered into in 1932 by the then Australian Government and the Government of the United Kingdom. As a result of the march of time, the expansion of secondary industry in this country, and the substantial alteration in money values, that agreement has no longer any relevant or sensible application to the problems affecting trade between the two countries concerned. For that reason, I agree with the Minister that it was due for some revision, but the revision, as embodied in this agreement, as the daily press has said, will bring to Australia an additional revenue of not more than £10,000,000 per annum. Of course, £10,000,000 is not to be sneezed at, but that figure was quoted before the freight increase recently imposed by the shipping monopoly, which will cost Australia, in round figures, £14,000,000 or £15,000,000 per annum. If we take that fact into account, we shall be no better off than we were before the new agreement was obtained.
I would like now to refer briefly to the articles in the agreement. In Article 1, we simply re-affirm that the United Kingdom and Australian Governments believe in the principle of maintaining mutually advantageous tariff preferences. That statement is no doubt intended to emphasize that, as far as the general principles incorporated in the Ottawa Agreement are concerned, both Governments believe . that it is of advantage to each country to have a reciprocal trade agreement. In Article 2 both Governments agree that Australian goods now free of United Kingdom duties, shall remain free. That is very good, but there is nothing very wonderful about it. It merely ensures that for the next five years, the currency of the agreement, the United Kingdom Government will not impose further duties on Australian goods entering that country. There is a reservation that the undertaking shall not apply to goods in which there is no active Australian trade interest. I shall leave further discussion of that point to one of my colleagues. Before the agreement expires there may well be trade in goods between the United Kingdom and Australia in respect of which an assurance regarding import duties should be obtained.
In Article 3 the United Kingdom Government agrees to accord to Australian goods listed in Schedule A, which is to be found at the end of the agreement and relates mostly to primary products, margins of preference not lower than are specified in the schedule. I have made some brief research into what these new margins amount to. In some cases they are, exactly, those that were accorded in the Ottawa Agreement. True, some gains have been made. Some primary products entering the United Kingdom, in respect of which there was previously no preferential margin, are now subject to a margin. For instance, in the case of barley, the preference remains at 10 per cent. On millet, sorghums, oats and rice the Ottawa Agreement allowed no preferential margin, but under the new agreement a margin of preference is to be granted. For eggs and wine the preferential rate remains exactly the same. I do not know about wine, but the Australian egg producer is sadly in need of a very substantial preference margin in the United Kingdom and every other market. The Minister has not been able to obtain such a margin.
– It could not, because of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, be granted.
– I realize that, and to an extent i agree, but the Minister might explain why, despite the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, he was able to obtain additional margins in respect of other products.
– Only because it was a confirmation in contract form of what was a fortuitous circumstance.
– I knew that the Minister would have an explanation! So far as dairy produce is concerned, we are in a more difficult position than we have been in for the last twenty years. The plain fact is that to-day Australian butter is being sold in London at about 2s. 8d. per lb. retail. Housewives will correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is in the vicinity of 5s. Id. per lb. on the Australian market. The Minister did say that under the old preferential margins obtaining in regard to butter a most anomalous position had arisen, and he illustrated it by a concrete example. He said that under the Ottawa Agreement the preference margin on butter was 15s. per cwt. and was equal to 15 per cent, on the value of the butter ad valorem. But at the price of butter in 1956, the preference is equivalent to a margin of 4i per cent. only. Therefore, the advantage of 15 per cent, that we had in 1932 has been reduced to 41 per cent, by the changing value of money.
The Minister also cited eggs. He said that in 1932 the preference was equivalent to 12± per cent, on the value of the eggs, but the price for the 1956 season gives a margin of only 4i per cent. Of course, the egg people are in very great distress indeed.
I proceed to Article 4. lt is interesting to read that the United Kingdom Government agrees to consult with the Australian Government before reducing margins of preference which exceed those specified in Schedule A - that is the list of Australian primary products - or which are accorded to Australian goods not in the schedule. Well, I am sure that is very gracious on the part of the United Kingdom Government. However, the United Kingdom Government does not agree that it will not reduce the margins on these particular goods and this article goes on to say -
This undertaking shall not apply to goods in which there is no active Australian trade interest.
That is subject, perhaps, to some explanation later by somebody else. Under Article 5 the position in regard to meat remains unchanged. At Ottawa certain concessions were granted and preferences arranged. Since then, we have had a fifteen-years’ meat agreement. Some say it is bad, and some say it is good. I think it is better than nothing. But the position remains unaltered.
In Article 6, we have the strangest conglomeration of ideas, statements and so on that I have ever read in any agreement drawn up between two governments. This article concerns wheat. I want to be fair to the Minister. I have condensed or made a precis of the articles in order to save time and race through them quickly, but I have not altered the meaning. The article says that the United Kingdom Government notes that Australia’s share of the wheat trade has declined. That is a very interesting observation! We know it only too well. Reasons are given for that decline, the first two being changes in world wheat marketing and the increase in United Kingdom home-grown wheat. That is an obvious observation; everybody knows it or ought to know it, but it is incorporated in an article in the agreement. Then we find this strange paragraph -
The United Kingdom will consider sympathetically any measures which may be found practicable from time to time, having due regard to their domestic policies and international obligations, to improve the opportunities for the sale of Australian wheal in the United Kingdom.
It goes on to say that both governments welcome arrangements for periodical discussions. Who would not? That has been the ruling modus vivendi ever since responsible government was established in Australia. The article provides -
The United Kingdom Government and the Australian Government welcome arrangements for periodical discussions between the representatives of the United Kingdom flour millers and the Australian Wheat Board regarding sales of Australian wheat.
Well, negotiations, discussions and conferences have gone on for many years concerning the sale of wheat and other products to the United Kingdom! Then this observation is made in the article -
They affirm that it is their desire and expectation . . .
It reminds me of a young couple very much in love. Each of them has desires and expectations, but there is no legally binding contract. Referring to both the governments the article says -
They affirm that it is their desire and expectation that sales on commercial terms of Australian wheat and flour in the United Kingdom will amount to not less than 750,000 tons per annum.
That is approximately 28,000,000 bushels of wheat. They affirm that that quantity should be taken by the people of the United Kingdom. Of course, “ wheat “ includes Hour sales. It is very nice to express a desire and have an expectation, but there is no legally binding contract. It is a most visionary arrangement when one takes into consideration that the word “ commercial” is incorporated in that particular article.
Then the two governments agree that if in any one year the quantity of wheat imported by the United Kingdom falls short of 28,000,000 bushels or such smaller quantity as may be offered by the Australian Wheal Board on commercial terms, they will confer at the request of either government. If such consultation is requested they will appoint a joint committee to meet in London. That will be a bonzer trip for some of the boys! When not able to sell the wheat, these people go overseas on a jaunt. They will meet in London at Australia House or somewhere else. It will be at the expense of the wheat-growers and other taxpayers, and they will consult and talk. But in the meantime, time is passing by and there is no binding obligation whatsoever on the United Kingdom Government to buy any wheat. The reason the United Kingdom will not be buying any wheat is that the Australian Wheat Board, because of ever-rising costs in this country, is not able to offer wheat at a commercial price that would pay Australia, or at a price that would be attractive to United Kingdom flourmillers. That is the plain fact. 1 do not depreciate in any way the value of personal consultation and visits overseas. 1 think they are admirable, even when the other fellow is getting them. What I am concerned about is that this expression in the article is only a pious wish and a pious hope.
As I have said, the two governments agree to confer if 28,000,000 bushels of wheat have not been sold. If there is no satisfactory outcome of these negotiations, consultations or pow-wows, either side can call for a renegotiation of the agreement. That does not mean this one article but the whole agreement. You settle down then for two or three years, judging by the time the Minister has taken to reach this agreement, of travel, and conduct negotiations and hold conferences and you come out probably no wiser than you were when you went in. What does that amount to? Nothing! Of course, if the Government says, “We are ready to negotiate the agreement “, or alternatively, “ We are prepared to cancel the agreement “, it has to face the responsibility of saying to the other primary producers of Australia, “ We are going to sacrifice you people in respect of the margin of preference on dried fruits and other primary products “.
We find a further reference to this wheat problem. It is a grave problem. I do not depreciate the problem in any way whatsoever. I am referring now to paragraph 4 of Article 6, which reads -
If at any lime the United Kingdom Government should impose countervailing duties which are agreed between the two Governments to be effective on imports of subsidized wheat the Australian Government will not invoke the provisions of paragraph three of this article . . .
That is in regard to the renegotiation of the agreement -
Let us examine that statement. Some countries are subsidizing the production of wheat. It is exported to the United Kingdom market and the growers are paid a satisfactory price, although the grain is being sold at a price lower than the cost of production. After all, every sane man and woman in this country knows that during the last few years the people of the United Kingdom have been struggling mighty hard to maintain their trade balances. Can anybody in his sound senses imagine the United Kingdom Government imposing a duty of so much a bushel on so-called subsidized wheat - a better term would be dumped wheat - and then facing the electors and saying to them, “ By virtue of the fact that the Australian Government has had a little pow-wow with us we have agreed to impose a countervailing duty so that the price of your bread will go up by Id., 2d., 3d. or 4d. a loaf”? Such a thing would be the dream of a visionary. 1 would be very reluctant to advocate such a policy if I were a member of the British Parliament or a member of the United Kingdom Government. 1 have already dealt with paragraph 3. I think it is a dream; it is impossible to visualize. Great Britain already has to accept responsibility for the additional burdens put on her own people by virtue of the existing Ottawa Agreement. I am quite sure that she is not going to accept any additional responsibilities of that sort.
Article 6 refers, of course, to premium wheat outside the agreement. That is relatively unimportant. Before I leave the subject-matter of wheat, I want to quote what a highly placed Minister of the United Kingdom Government has said about it. The following report appeared in the Melbourne “ Herald “ of 1 6th November, 1956:-
PRICE IS K.EY
British Rule on Trade Pact.
Whether Australia can sell more wheat to Britain under the new trade agreement will depend on whether Australian growers can offer their wheat to British millers at competitive prices.
Of course it will!
Let me show what a difficult position we are in. In a trade journal published by the Department of Trade recently there appeared a story on wheat. It showed that, taking the prices for wheat then ruling in the London market, after the payment of freight and all other charges - I think the freight was between 6s. 6d. and 7s. a bushel - the net return to the Australian wheatgrower was 10s. a bushel. That was at a time when the cost of production of wheat in Australia was about 13s. a bushel. The Melbourne “ Herald “ report referred to a statement made by Sir Frank Lee, the permanent secretary of the United Kingdom Board of Trade. It continued -
Sir Frank Lee made this clear today after the President of the Board, Mr. Peter Thorneycroft, had announced the new agreement in Parliament.
Under the agreement it is proposed that Australia should increase her wheat exports to Britain from between 600,000 and 630,000 tons to 750,000 tons a year for five years.
Sir Frank Lee said it was possible there would be considerable discussion from time to time over what was a commercial price for Australian wheat.
If the amount of wheat offered by the Australian Wheat Board on what British millers considered commercial terms fell below 750,000 tons in a year, the governments would form a committee to meet in London to consider the reasons for any shortfallings in Australian exports.
The British Government would consider sympathetically any means by which-
And so forth and so on. We can see what the British Government thinks about it. When we look at the matter rationally and sensibly, we find that, if we are lucky, probably we will continue to sell in the vicinity of 28,000,000 bushels in London - agreement or no agreement. The fact is that in 1955-56 the Australian Wheat Board sold to the United Kingdom Government 28,000,000 bushels of wheat in the form of both wheat and flour. For the five previous years, the average quantity sold was only 23,000,000 bushels.
If this Government had honoured its pledges to the Australian people, it would not have had the adverse trade balance with which it is confronted to-day. When we look at costs in the various countries of the world, we see that cost increases in Australia probably are more responsible than any other factor for the grave difficulties that we are encountering in meeting competition by other countries when we seek markets for our products. The only information that I can get about costs during the seven years to March, 1956, is that, in Austria, costs rose by 114 per cent., and in Greece, by 96 per cent. Australia is the next on the list. In this country, costs rose by 75 per cent, during that period, for the whole of which this Government was in office - a government which promised to stabilize the ?1 and to restore stability to the economy. In the same period, costs rose in Great Britain by 44 per cent., in Norway by 44 per cent., in New Zealand by 43 per cent., in the Netherlands by 39 per cent., in Sweden by 35 per cent., in South Africa by 33 per cent., in Denmark by 32 per cent., in Ireland by 28 per cent., in Italy by 24 per cent., in Canada by 17 per cent., in the United States of America by 1 1 per cent., in West Germany by 10 per cent, and in Belgium by 8 per cent. Therein lies one of the basic elements of the problem. Another aspect is the failure of this Government to issue a worth-while challenge to the overseas shipping monopoly. The rise in freight rates is one of the main reasons why the Government is having trouble over the balance of trade.
I can see, Mr. Speaker, that I will not have time to deal with the actual reductions of preferences for United Kingdom goods imported into this country. I shall deal with some other interesting articles. They are humorous, if not farcical. Article 12 deals with the very important subject of the subsidization of products. The two Governments recognize that industries in each country may be injured by the competition of dumped or subsidized goods from other countries. They declare their intention to introduce legislation at the earliest possible opportunity which will enable them, consistently with their international obligations, to impose anti-dumping or countervailing duties where such material injury is caused or threatened. They agree to consider taking action to remedy the injury or prevent the threatened injury. In Article 13, there is the profound statement that the two governments agree to afford opportunities for full consultation on their agricultural production and marketing policies, the food and feeding stuffs import policy of the United Kingdom and, in particular, that the two governments will exchange statements of agricultural production trends. That is very nice of them! The article goes on to state that each government will give full weight to the views of the other in the formulation of their agricultural production marketing and import policies. Of course, everybody knows that over a long period of years the respective departments of the two governments have been engaged in imparting to each other information on marketing problems, trends and so on.
In Article 14 we have a “corker”. It slates thai the two governments recognize that there are other matters, such as transport and communications - probably transport, particularly shipping, is one of the most vital factors - the disposal of surpluses and restrictive business practices, not otherwise dealt with in this agreement. Then comes the most profound remark of all. It is stated that the two governments recognize that those matters may have a material effect on the level of trade and commerce between the two countries. They agree to consult together about such matters at the request of either.
So we see this agreement, comprising fifteen articles, requiring fourteen or fifteen pages of foolscap and a 45-minute explanatory speech by the Minister, contains a mass of verbiage and a mass of exceptions in relation to things that have been going on for half a century or more and gives very little to the Australian people. It is true that in regard to the reduction of duties and the reduction of the preferential margins on British goods imported by Australia, the agreement will give an advantage to foreign exporters of goods to this country. That is to say, Japan and countries other than British countries which export goods to Australia will have a better opportunity to enter our markets than they had before, and the British manufacturer will not have as favorable an opportunity as he had before. In those circumstances, there are two factors deserving of consideration. First, what is going to be the effect on our great Australian manufacturing industries, whose existence may be threatened? Secondly, what is going to happen to our valuable trade with the United Kingdom itself, which has existed for generations? This factor, in itself, will be one of the main factors why all our conferences in London to discuss wheat will not be successful unless Australia is able to meet this vital necessity, that we offer our wheat to the United Kingdom flourmillers at commercial prices.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Perhaps, one of the greatest tributes paid to the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) has been the lack of any real argument by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the Chifley Labour Government, who has spent half an hour on a rather rambling discussion on particular clauses of the new agreement, but has not brought forward any specific argument to show that he does not completely favour the agreement. I wish to deal with a few specific points that he raised. First, he complained about the time allotted for the debate. I merely ask him how much time was allotted for debate when in 1948 the previous Government submitted for acceptance the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which was something probably more comprehensive than this agreement. He also complained that a number of years of work had been put into the preparation of this agreement. Of course, we agree with that to some extent because, always at the back of the mind of the Government, has been the thought that at some time in the future the Ottawa Agreement would have to be revised. But it is a fact that the bulk of the work in relation to this new agreement was done last year, first, by the Minister for Trade and, later, by officers of his department. That is a matter to which I shall refer later.
The honorable member for Lalor also made the extraordinary claim at the outset of his speech that there were no advantages for Australia in the new Canberra agreement. Let me direct his attention to some specific facts in answer to that claim. First, there are the new arrangements regarding the wheat agreement. I shall pass over that for the moment. Then there is the fact that Australian manufacturers will obtain many of their imported materials much more cheaply. That is important to the general economy. Thirdly, there is now room to secure new export trade benefits in foreign countries, which did not exist previously. These are only particular points that I am raising in direct answer to the points raised by the honorable member for Lalor. The fourth point is the positive contribution to our balance of payments situation that this agreement will make, and the assistance it will give in relation to our present costs situation. I have merely referred to these points now to answer the honorable member for Lalor, and I hope to refer more specifically to some of the other points in the agreement later.
The honorable member for Lalor spent considerable time dealing with the wheat clause of the agreement. I think the whole basis of his argument was that that clause was too loose, and that there would be no means of implementing it and achieving the objective aimed at. Perhaps, the honorable member does not know that already some representatives of United Kingdom millers have been visiting Australia. They came here primarily at the request of the United Kingdom Government, which informed them of this new agreement with Australia and advised them that they would be expected to take annually in the next five years a specified quantity of Australian wheat. Also there has been a number of United Kingdom millers out here to discuss with the Australian authorities and the industry itself the problems associated with the shipping of wheat in future, and with particular reference to the quality of wheat they require.
Far from this agreement being a nebulous understanding, it is already an established fact. A rather extraordinary statement made by the honorable member for Lalor was that the United Kingdom was already bearing the burden of the existing Ottawa Agreement, and that the people of the United Kingdom would not agree to accept any new burdens that the new agreement would place on them. I think that was just a phrase that he used in passing, but, perhaps, I should point out some facts in answer to him for the benefit of people listening to the debate, and in case other honorable members refer to the matter later. It is, of course, known that under the Ottawa Agreement the preference Australia has granted to the United Kingdom in recent years was on the basis of approximately 14 per cent, by value, whereas Australian goods have received preference in the United Kingdom on the basis of only 9 per cent, by value. That is the first point, which is quite significant in relation to the point raised by the honorable member for Lalor. Another point is that for the five years ended June, 1939, Australia enjoyed an annual trade surplus with the United Kingdom of £24,000,000, whereas in the five years ended June, 1956, we incurred an average annual deficit of £67,000,000. Those figures do not show any particular burden that the Ottawa Agreement has placed on the British people. Also, during the period of the agreement, the volume of exports from the United
Kingdom to Australia has almost doubled whereas our exports to the United Kingdom have decreased considerably. Those facts are sufficient answer to the points raised by the honorable member for Lalor when he claimed that the new agreement would not be acceptable to the people of the United Kingdom. On top of them, however, we have the statements of the United Kingdom Government, the industries concerned, commercial organizations in the United Kingdom and the press generally, which has expressed itself in favour of the provisions of the agreement.
The honorable member for Lalor referred, finally, to shipping. He suggested, in a broad way, that the Australian Government should issue an ultimatum to the shipping authorities regarding freights to the United Kingdom. I direct his attention to the fact that the present negotiating instrument, the Australian Overseas Transport Association, which represents the interests of the parties on both sides in negotiations with United Kingdom shippers and the Conference line was established by the government of which he was a member. That authority, brought a little up to date, is the authority which is continuing the negotiations to-day. I raise that particular matter merely because the honorable member has suggested, in a vague way, that the Government should step in and take action, ignoring the organization established by the government of which he was a member.
I want to refer briefly to a few substantial facts about the new agreement. I feel that in the rambling dissertation we have listened to, with only fleeting references to some clauses of the agreement, we have missed some of the essential points. 1 should like to try to bring the debate back on the rails, for the benefit of people like the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who would probably find it difficult to understand. I should like to explain a few of the principles of, and some facts associated with, the new agreement. First, I think we should have a brief reference to the history of the Australian tariff. The uniform Australian tariff was introduced in 1 902 shortly after federation. At that time the duties introduced afforded a moderate level of protection to Australian industry. The tariff wall was steadily built up until in the 1930’s it compared favorably with similar structures in other leading protectionist countries.
The policy of protection that has been applied throughout the 56 years of federation has been agreed to and supported by all governments and by all parties in the Parliament on all occasions since federation. Up to the time of federation, the Australian economy was predominantly an agricultural economy, but after federation national aspirations called for a balance between primary and secondary industry. Although Australia is still dependent on primary industry for 85 per cent, of its export income, nevertheless on the grounds of national and economic security the tariff policy that has been adopted throughout the years has been fully justified. In my opinion, it has given us certain well-defined advantages. I think they can be broadly classified in the terms that I shall mention.
First, it has led to the establishment of secondary industries - manufacturing and processing - and this has presented greater opportunities for employment, thus permitting of an increase* of population to an extent which would not have been possible otherwise. It has also led to a far higher national income than would have been possible if some other policy had been adopted, and it has raised our living standards. The tariff policy that has been pursued has assisted us in two world wars considerably in the production of war materials.
Finally, the tariff system has freed Australia from the fear of international trade exploitation, and has given us some additional bargaining power in overseas markets. The vital importance of primary industry to the Australian economy has been recognized by governments throughout our history since federation. This has been borne out by the efforts of various governments to achieve some definite stability in international trade. In following this policy, Australia has entered into a number of important international trade agreements. One of the two most important of the agreements is that which we are discussing to-night. It is the United Kingdom-Australia Trade Agreement which, following the discussions between the various dominion countries at Ottawa, was assented to on the 2nd December, 1932, and has since become known as the Ottawa Agreement. The second important agreement is the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the multilateral agreement, which was assented to under an act known as the International Trade Organization Act on 17th December, 1948. This was an act to approve “ acceptance by Australia of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the Havana Charter for an international trade organization, and for other purposes “.
Those are the two principal international agreements to which the governments of recent years have subscribed. They indicate the emphasis that Australian governments, in the last few years, have placed on the importance of a stable international trading situation. However, since the Ottawa Agreement was signed there have been some great changes in the Australian economy. They can be briefly categorized into a number of separate divisions. First, there has been a very substantial population increase in Australia, from approximately 6,500,000 in 1932 to somewhere about 9,500,000 to-day. That has, of course, brought with it a great increase of the work force. The work force during this period has practically doubled. At the same time, substantial development of both primary and secondary industries has occurred during this period. These factors have created a tremendous upsurge in the demand for imported materials. At the moment, they have produced a balance of payments problem, which is one of the major problems facing the Australian economy.
In order to deal with these problems the Government on the one hand has introduced import restrictions and, on the other hand, has engaged in a vigorous trade promotion drive overseas, particularly on the United Kingdom market, our main market, in an endeavour to establish a better balance than had previously existed. Associated with our economy, also, is a cost factor problem, which is super-imposed on the problems associated with our export drive. In view of these considerations that I have briefly mentioned, the Government believes that it is important to review the international structure for export trade and for imports. The first approach in this policy has been a review of the Ottawa Agreement, the agreement with the United Kingdom which provides our greatest reciprocal market. The review that took place last year took many months. It was conducted in two stages, and covered all aspects of trade relationships. In the first place, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) commenced discussions in the United Kingdom. When it was seen that certain principles had been established as a result of very difficult early negotiations, the second phase was introduced whereby the officials of the Australian Department of Trade engaged in discussions with the United Kingdom Board of Trade, and consideration of details of a comprehensive agreement based on the earlier principles was commenced.
The guiding principle in negotiations was that the exchange of mutually advantageous preferences would be of direct benefit to both countries, each of which was th. principal outlet for the other’s exports. At this stage, this Parliament and the whole of the Australian people should pay a direct tribute to the Minister for Trade and the Secretary of the Department of Trade for the splendid work that they undertook under very difficult circumstances. As time goes on, history will show us that the tremendous advantages which have been gained by this trade agreement for the future cannot possibly be assessed at the moment. The new agreement, as has already been stated, was signed in Canberra on 26th February, 1957.
The British Empire preferences, which were the basis of the original Ottawa Agreement, were born in a time of world depression, and were designed to meet conditions that existed at the time. However, due to changed conditions since 1932, Australia has for some years been giving preferences to the United Kingdom on the basis of 80 per cent, of the United Kingdom imports, and has received in exchange under this agreement preference on about 40 per cent, of exports to the United Kingdom. Also, many of our preferences on the United Kingdom market were expressed in pre-war money values, whereas preferences to the United Kingdom in Australia were mainly in percentage, terms. That has been a very significant factor in the adverse balance of payments problem that has arisen over the last few years.
The new agreement is based on the principle of mutual preference. I refer honorable members to the quotation that T made a few moments ago. It is interesting to note that the conditions of the Ottawa Agreement, whilst unfavorable to
Australia over the last few years, have been fixed by the super-imposition on them of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which is a multilateral agreement signed by a number of countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia. That meant that the conditions which were set out in the original Ottawa Agreement could not be varied unless all the countries concerned agreed to the variation. So in 1954, Australia, pursuing the rather hopeless task of endeavouring to get other countries to agree to an amendment of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade rules, raised the matter at the Geneva conference with a view to having the United Kingdom preference values restored to something approaching the values which exist to-day. However, for obvious reasons, countries which would have lost some advantage if they had supported an amendment, did not agree to an alteration of the rules.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– When the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) tabled the United KingdomAustralia Trade Agreement, he indicated that it was to replace the Ottawa Trade Agreement of 1932 In fact, it is the first substantial change that has been made in the trade arrangements between Australia and the United Kingdom since 1932. There has been considerable criticism iri this country of the Ottawa Agreement, the criticism being directed largely to the fact that Australia gives more than it gets under that agreement. I suggest that if we wish to ascertain whether the agreement now before lis is an improvement upon the Ottawa Agreement, we need to examine more thoroughly than did the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz) what is involved as far as Australia is concerned.
The Minister, during his speech in support of the motion, referred to four advantages which he said would flow from the new agreement. He said - it preserves security in the United Kingdom market for a number of our important’ primary industries.
In other words, it merely holds what, already exists under the Ottawa Agreement. He further said -
It secures a significant new arrangement for wheat exports.
My colleague, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) indicated that the new arrangement for wheat exports was a very belated attempt by this country to recapture a market that has been declining for a considerable number of years. The honorable member for Lalor also stressed that all that is involved is a rather airy-fairy agreement about quantities without any detailed commitments regarding the price. Referring to the agreement, the Minister also said -
It offers scope for Australian manufacturers to obtain many of their imported requirements more cheaply.
I emphasize the words “ many of their imported requirements more cheaply “, because I suggest that we need a great deal more information in this direction than has been given by the Minister. Finally, he said -
It gives the Commonwealth Government new room to secure new export trade benefits in foreign countries by trade negotiations.
I suggest that the agreement must be examined from two viewpoints - first, from the viewpoint of Australian exports to the United Kingdom, which, to my mind, are not very well secured by the agreement; and, secondly, from the viewpoint of Australia’s imports from the United Kingdom and also indirectly from other parts of the world. It is mainly to the second aspect of the matter that I intend to devote my time. Quite a number of questions need to be directed to the Minister and I hope that he will pay some attention to what is said here, because this House, as well as the country as a whole, is entitled to a lot more information than has been given by him in his’ speech. He took a long time to deliver this speech and he did refer to the kind of difficulties which were experienced by Australia iri negotiating the new agreement; but he was particularly silent about the likely aggregate of economic benefits that will accrue to Australia after the agreement is approved by the House.
The Minister indicated that under the old Ottawa Agreement the United Kingdom enjoyed varying rates of preference in the Australian market ranging from 12£ per cent- up to 15 per cent, and even 17i per cent. I understand that there was a number of special categories in relation to which United Kingdom preference was as high as 20 per cent, and even 25 per cent. But what the Minister did not indicate was the categories of goods which came within the various preference margins. Unless we know the aggregate amount of this trade, it is impossible to assess what are the likely benefits of the changes. As the honorable member for Darling Downs has indicated, prior to this arrangement Australia suffered from a great deal of rigidity in relation to its tariff structure. At one end, minimum duties were imposed under the old Ottawa arrangements, and, at the other end, maximum duties were imposed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, now more generally known at Gatt. There were an upper and a nether millstone, as it were, between which Australian secondary industry was forced to negotiate.
I think that the degree to which Australia’s economy is what the economists call a dependent economy is sometimes forgotten. We are still largely dependent upon primary products for our export trade. Wool, wheat - which is going through the doldrums on the world’s markets - meat, dairy produce, and a few other primary products comprise the bulk of Australia’s export trade. The volume of our imports is determined largely by the income from those exports. The main problem that confronts most of the primary-producing countries is that there is no stability either in the quantity of primary products in any one year or the prices that are received for those commodities. Indeed, the agreement that we are considering contains no price formula for wheat.
Looked at from the viewpoint of what we buy from other countries, the agreement now before us restricts, in effect, the amount of preference that is available to the United Kingdom. Those imports fall, broadly, into two categories - a 7± per cent, category and a 10 per cent, category. Again, the Minister has not given any indication about how much of Australia’s import business with the United Kingdom will fall into the 71 per cent, category and how much will be in the 10 per cent, category. I suggest that, to get a proper appraisal of the agreement, we need those facts before us. There will be a considerable difference in the final result if the bulk of the trade consists of lower average duty items rather than of higher duty items. Apparently the new agreement gives to Australia a certain amount of mobility in the lowering of preferences to foreign countries in certain circumstances, and possibly also in raising, in certain circumstances, the minimum protective duty that is applied in Australia at the present time. Previously, we operated under the old Ottawa Agreement, to which the Minister referred in his speech. Under that agreement, the degree of United Kingdom preference was determined according to the most favoured nation level of duty. For example, if the Tariff Board in Australia decided that there should be a tariff of 10 per cent, on imports from the United Kingdom, that meant that a rate of tariff as high as 27i per cent, could be imposed on goods of the same kind which came from countries outside the United Kingdom. When the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade came into operation it was no longer possible for Australia to raise this level of duty above 271 per cent., nor, at the other end, was it possible vincrease the minimum rate of duty, because if that had been done, the effect would have been to narrow the gap between th - Ottawa preference, which we are under a legal obligation to observe, and the ceiling which is set under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade arrangement. Non presumably, because we have lowered . preference advantage that is given to the United Kingdom, we have a mobility, as it were, of li per cent., so that we may either increase the minimum to 171 per cent, or lower the maximum duty from 27i per cent, to 20 per cent.
I suggest that what was required on this occasion was a carefully prepared memorandum for the information of the House, indicating the total volume of Australia’.trade, not only with the United Kingdom but also with other parts of the world. It should have indicated, too, the variouslevels of duty attachable to different kinds of goods coming into this country, so tha! we might be able to see that nature of the benefits that will flow from this new agreement. There is a great deal of difference between lowering the average . tariff by 2-£ per cent, and lowering the minimum tariff by 7i per cent. The matters to which 1 have referred are of considerable concern to the Australian people, as consumers on the one hand, and as wage-earners, industrialists and producers of goods on the other.
Although Australia may be a great primary producing country, basically the majority of its people depend for employment on industry.
The Minister for Trade has stated that the new arrangements will not bring about any great dislocation. He has said that the changes are not being made “ in any wholesale or ill-considered way “. Nevertheless. I suggest that the Australian community deserves a little more comfort than that. The right honorable gentleman pointed to two matters in this respect. First, he said that the new arrangements could result in a significant reduction of costs, meaning, apparently, that goods from the United Kingdom and other countries will come to this country more cheaply than they did previously. Insofar as they are what the Minister has called producer goods, or goods used here as a part of the processes of industry, that should have some effect on costs, although the Minister was careful to point out that the effect may not be so great as might be thought because, after all, imported goods represent only a part of the costs of manufacture. There is not likely to be a wholesale reduction of costs. The maximum possible reduction would seem to be approximately £7 10s. in every £100 of some imported goods. The Minister pointed to that as one kind of advantage that may flow from the new arrangements, although he has been completely silent concerning the likely value of this advantage.
The second matter to which the Minister pointed was that, because we are in a position to lower tariffs in respect of certain goods which are likely to come here in the future, that gives us a bargaining point with other countries, particularly those of Europe, and will enable us to expand our markets in those countries. He apparently considers that that will be of some significance. I suggest that it is more difficult to assess the possible advantages in that respect than it is in relation to reduction of costs, because after all, we do have statistics of the volume of imports into this country. The details would be listed by the customs authorities, I should think, according to the levels of duty chargeable. Duty has to be computed and collected, and it should be possible for the Minister for Trade to produce, for the enlightenment of this Parliament, a carefully prepared schedule which might help us to make an assessment of the likely impact of these changes.
The matter with which the House is now dealing represents an important factor in the economic destiny of the Australian people. In the last day or so. we have seen the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission increase the basic wage that is payable to a large number of people in the Australian community. One of the factors which the commission indicated that it took into account in arriving at the increase was what it called “ the economic capacity of industry to pay”. I suggest that the commission was presumptuous in asserting that it is easy to measure that factor. Be that as it may, because Australia’s export income has been so buoyant during the last twelve months or so and has been more than £100,000,000 greater than it was in the previous year, the commission has decided that there is capacity in the Australian economy to pay increased wages. In the course of its adjudication, it has tried to give some attention to what the Tariff Board is doing.
The agreement that we are considering at the moment embodies certain clauses of the old Ottawa agreement. For instance, Article 9 provides that -
The Australian Government undertake that -
Finally, the article suggests that the Tariff Board shall determine all questions of this kind. Here, we are reaching into the very centre of the economic framework of the Australian community, a section of the economy that is responsible for employing, directly, more than 1,000,000 people and, indirectly, a great many more. The rather cavalier fashion in which the Government has approached this matter, and the very vague and scanty information that has been given to the Parliament, is no way to deal with such an important subject. The honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz) suggested that many years ago -I think in 1929 or 1930 - an investigation was conducted into the Australian tariff and its effects. I suggest that now, more than 25 years after that event, the time is ripe for a further expert examination of this allimportant field. I suggest, also, that when the Parliament is considering the enactment of legislation of this kind, it should be in possession of much more accurate information, so that honorable members may be better able to appraise the position and decide whether or not such arrangements are likely to be for the greater good of the Australian people and, in the present instance, whether Australia will benefit under the new agreement more than it did under the Ottawa Agreement of 1932.
.- Members of the Opposition who have spoken in this debate so far have tended rather to try to minimize the effects of the trade agreement that is under discussion, yet in their own speeches they have shown what narrow margins for manoeuvre were available to the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) and his colleagues in the bargaining and the negotiations that have taken place. I believe that the results that have been achieved by the Minister in this agreement are something of which every citizen of Australia should be proud. We should pay a tribute to the Minister for the striking results he has achieved in the difficult circumstances in which he negotiated.
As has already been pointed out, those negotiations were the climax to a very long period of bargaining. An agreement such as this has been required by the people of Australia for very many years. Articles in the press and speeches by responsible leaders of both primary industry and secondary industry all have referred to the need for re-negotiation of the Ottawa Agreement. Here at last, after very many months of hard bargaining, we have achieved an agreement that definitely shows on balance that we shall benefit.
Nothing that the Opposition has said so far has denied the fact that we shall benefit as I have said, and that we have achieved something that the Opposition was unable to achieve when it was in office as the government. The honorable member for
Lalor (Mr. Pollard), when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, was not able to obtain any increased benefits under the Ottawa Agreement, although the need then was just as great as it is to-day.
Judging by the difficulties that have always been encountered, I think a tremendous lot has been achieved. First, let me refer to Article 1 of this agreement. I think it is right and proper that we should reiterate once more that both the United Kingdom Government and the Australian Government wish to preserve the principle of mutual preference because this, after all, is an agreement between friends. It is an agreement between two nations both of whom do their largest volume of trade with each other. The United Kingdom exports its largest volume of goods to Australia. Similarly, our largest exports are those to the United Kingdom. It is wise, therefore, that at the start of this agreement, we should reiterate that principle. Let us realize once again that it is extremely important to both nations.
In addition, the Minister for Trade has been able to widen the whole field of trade relationships between the two countries under this agreement. No mention has been made by the Opposition of the increased benefits that have been obtained by the Minister with regard, first of all, to the admission under by-law of various imports. This will enable the Australian Minister for Trade to make the relevant decision rather than having to refer it to the United Kingdom. That will make a great difference to the importation of certain goods for our own industrial undertakings. Then there are arrangements dealing with restrictive business practices and, particularly, the dumping of goods by foreign nations. In this agreement, we have recognition that these things actually take place. For the first time we have been able to put everything on paper and get the United Kingdom Government to realize that these matters are important and of much concern to both governments. I think, therefore, that it is wise that we should put on record yet again the many benefits that will flow from this agreement.
However, I should like to deal in detail with one question that has been posed: Will the agreement increase our trade with the United Kingdom? Very certainly, the answer must be “ Yes “. First, let us consider the wheat agreement. The honorable member for Lalor has spoken at length on this matter, but let us examine the one sentence in the agreement to which he referred at length. It is to the effect that if negotiations on wheat break down, either government may call for a renegotiation of the terms of the agreement. Who, at the moment, gets the greatest benefit from this agreement - the United Kingdom or Australia? As the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz) has pointed out, United Kingdom goods coming to Australia get a preference of 14 per cent., whereas Australian goods going to the United Kingdom get the benefit of only 9 per cent, preference. It is perfectly obvious that if there were any danger of the wheat agreement breaking down, the United Kingdom Government would be worried at the prospect of losing the other benefits that accrue to it through this agreement. Therefore, I feel absolutely certain that the United Kingdom Government would honour the terms of the agreement relating to wheat as laid down in Article 3. In addition, there are other benefits relating to our exports of currants, egg pulp, jam, fruit juices and coco-nut oil. I am certain that our export trade to the United Kingdom will receive additional help under this agreement.
Secondly, there is the other factor to which the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) referred; that is, the reduced cost of imports that will flow from reduced duties. Anything that can reduce costs of goods coming into Australia which form part of our manufacturing and industrial capacity must be of great benefit to this country.
Thirdly, there are the bargaining concessions that we shall obtain to enable us to increase our trade with other nations. I believe we should ask ourselves at this stage: Will we increase our trade as the result of this agreement? Definitely, all indications are that our exports will be increased and that we shall receive greater benefits under this agreement than we received under the old one. Nothing that the Opposition has said has shown that that is not the case. Certainly, the Opposition has not indicated that it will oppose the agreement in any of its major forms. 1 turn my attention now to the effect that will flow from the agreement in connexion with bargaining concessions with foreign powers. Particularly, we must have in mind certain aspects of the trade we do with countries in Western Europe. We should look, therefore, at the effect that may occur for Australia from the proposed development of the European common market because if there is to be one market among the six nations of Western Europe instead of six markets, the direct effect of the bargaining concessions that accrue from this agreement will be more difficult to obtain.
For a few moments, I want to look at some of the proposals that are being examined now by the six nations who are concerned with the proposed European common market - West Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy. Some of the headings were contained in a draft treaty that was considered by the Foreign Ministers of those countries in January, 1957. That treaty concerns, in brief, a report that was prepared by a committee headed by M. Spaak. In his report he sets out four needs of such a common market. They involve such radical rethinking that, if they come about, they must affect this country vitally. This plat would involve common national economic policies, common market rules, a European commission, a European court of justice, and a European common assembly similar to the assembly representative of (he European coal and steel community, which is already in operation. If this common market came about, there would be four objectives that it would desire to achieve. It would strive for the abolition of trade barriers between the six countries, the abolition of internal tariffs - which, it is understood, would take place in three stages - the abolition of both import and export quotas between any of these six countries and any countries with which they traded, and the establishment of a customs union. 1 say again that if these proposals are carried into effect they will vitally affect our country and our trade with the countries of Western Europe. Even now there is being considered the need for a common European policy on agriculture. The Minister. I am sure, has already given a tremendous amount of thought to these matters. They will certainly arise within the next few months and they will be o1. great importance to Australia.
The export and import of primary and secondary products between Australia and the countries of Western Europe are likely to be affected directly by this common market, but what is more important to us is whether the United Kingdom will join the common market, either directly or in the milder form of a free trade area. These matters are already being considered. They can be only the subject of speculation, but certainly there are reasons why the United Kingdom should consider joining the scheme. About 25 per cent, of the United Kingdom’s trade is with Western Europe. A reduction of tariffs in Europe for West German goods but not for United Kingdom goods would be a great handicap tothe United Kingdom. Luckily, there are several reasons why the United Kingdom should not consider joining such a common market. The most important of them i*. the principle of Commonwealth preferences. Added to that is the fact that the United: Kingdom is the banker of the sterling area.. We understand that there is a chance of a reasonable compromise and that the United’ Kingdom will consider joining a partial free trade area, in which there will be no> change in the duties relating to foodstuffs. Therefore, our major export trade with the United Kingdom is unlikely to be affected by any proposals relating to a common market in Europe.
However, the whole question must be examined extremely closely, because Australia’s position must be safeguarded. Particular attention must be paid to our imports of manufactured goods from the United Kingdom and the effect on our industrial product. The free trade area in Western Europe would represent, to any country that joined, a potential home market of up to 300.000,000 people. As the Federation of British Industries points out, this could be an opportunity for or a threat to British production, and the United Kingdom would have to concentrate on its relatively efficient industries. That is all well and good. We must welcome any move that will reduce the cost of some of our imports. But we must not fail to realize that many industries now established in Australia are producing for a home market of only 8.000,000 people. They could not hope to compete with industries producing for a home market of 300,000,000, even if we ignored the wage differentials of the two countries.
All this adds up to the fact that, almost certainly, we shall have to face a challenge from the effects of this European common market. We shall have to meet it by the industrial growth that will take place in the two countries. I was glad that the Minister, in his speech, referred to the three problems. He said that this Government has encouraged a forceful programme of development allied with a vitally significant immigration programme. He pointed out that the Government has tried to maintain the tempo of our national development and that there must be a stable economic basis. He added that where protection of Australian industry is an issue, the Government regards the Tariff Board as the established instrument for this purpose.
I agree entirely with the need for industrial development. I am glad indeed that the Minister mentioned the great need of industry in Australia for a period of stability. I am particularly pleased that he referred to the importance of the Tariff Board. However, I believe that, recently, import licensing has created a danger of reducing the effectiveness of the Tariff Board and may possibly have led to the growth of uneconomic industries. I believe that there is a need for a review of the relations between the two, so that the Tariff Board can play its principal part in promoting the growth and development of Australian industry.
Looking at the wider picture of the need for industrial development, experience gained from what is taking place in Europe and the United Kingdom at the moment underlines the need for close relations between industry and government. The United Kingdom and Western European countries are likely to concentrate on those industries in which they have a relative degree of efficiency. This should teach us two lessons. If we cannot expand our home markets as Europe is doing, we shall be bound to meet very fierce competition. Therefore, we must endeavour to concentrate our industrial production in those industries where we are most efficient. We have already shown that we can produce steel cheaper than anywhere else in the world. The Government and the Tariff
Board must guide our industrial growth so that we can meet the challenge of these moves overseas.
A long-term policy of industrial development is needed for Australia. I believe that this agreement that we are now discussing is extremely important. It is a great achievement, but the tasks ahead of us are even greater, when we consider the effect of this proposed European common market. However, I feel certain that with the skill which the Minister for Trade has already shown in negotiating the trade agreement with the United Kingdom, he is well equipped to handle the even greater problems that are likely to arise in the near future and that every citizen of Australia will be grateful for the efforts that he will exercise on our behalf.
.- This country was in serious difficulties towards the end of 1951 and during 1952 because of a vast flood of imports. During that period we were receiving overseas the highest prices that we had ever received for our exports. The Government imposed panic import restrictions and kept them in operation until such time as our overseas balances improved. In 1952, according to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), we were in danger of international bankruptcy. The restrictions were eased as the position improved. However, we of the Labour party said a similar situation would arise again, and it did! In 1956, our overseas balances were diminishing and the Government again imposed restrictions upon imports - a most disastrous occurrence for the manufacturers and retailers of this country. They do not know from day to day what they should produce or what business they are likely to have in the future, because they do not know what goods will come from overseas or what goods must be manufactured in Australia to provide for the Australian market.
It was that set of circumstances which inspired the Government to take some action in connexion with the Ottawa Agreement. The Government decided that under the Ottawa Agreement, as it then operated, all the advantages were with Great Britain and the disadvantages with Australia, and, therefore, we had to provide greater markets for our primary products in Great Britain and a lesser market for Great Britain’s manufactured goods coming into this country under a preferential tariff. What did it do? lt made this agreement. I do not know what vast advantages will accrue to primary producers in this country under this agreement, but I know that Great Britain. America or any other country buys only those goods which it needs and which promote its economy. Great Britain will not buy primary products that will cause unemployment in its farming community. It will buy only those primary products which its own agricultural industry is not producing. It desires to sell certain manufactured goods and we desire to buy certain manufactured goods, but the principle applied by Great Britain should be applied by us also. We should not in any circumstances buy goods which will put our people out of work or destroy the manufacturing industries of this country.
When our perambulating Minister for Trade, who is a member of a Liberal government and a member of the Australian Country party which believes in free trade, goes about the world negotiating trade agreements, he cannot get away from the ideas of free trade that animate him and the party to which he belongs. This agreement, as far as manufacturing industries are concerned, is an instalment of free trade. Article 7 of the agreement sets out the position of secondary industries. It says that Great Britain shall have its margin of preference reduced to 7i per cent, and 10 per cent, from, in many cases, 20 per cent, or 25 per cent., as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) pointed out. How is that reduction to take place? Is the Tariff Board to investigate and say that, where it fixed a tariff of 50 per cent, or 60 per cent, on goods manufactured in Asia or in some other country, it now fixes the margin at a lower rate? On the other hand, having fixed a margin, will the Tariff Board maintain that margin and will Great Britain’s tariff be increased to bring it to within 7i per cent, of the tariff that is imposed upon the goods coming from Japan or elsewhere? Of course, what will happen will be that the existing tariff on British goods will continue. Without reference to the Tariff Board, the duty payable on goods coming from Japan and cheap labour markets will be reduced.
What will such a reduction mean? It will mean a flood of imports that will be saleable to the disadvantage of goods made in Australia. It will mean a depletion of the home market as far as secondary goods manufactured in Australia are concerned. Because of that, the difficulties that existed in respect of our overseas balances will increase. If any action of this Government increases the opportunities for manufactured goods to come into this country from overseas, then inevitably our overseas credits will diminish. In order to meet that diminution, we must send out of this country an increasing proportion of primary products. However, our ability to do that is very limited; and, of course, the prices we obtain overseas for our primary products will determine to a big extent the funds we will have overseas. In the period 1951-52, we received record prices for our primary products that cannot continue indefinitely in world markets. Therefore, in the future, we will be sending greater quantities of primary products to markets overseas and will be receiving lower prices for them.
During the period when we are sending greater quantities of primary goods overseas, or a quantity equal to that which we are now sending overseas, but are receiving lower prices for them, we cannot afford, unless we endanger our overseas balances, to continue to import an increasing proportion of secondary goods. That is obvious, of course, and other countries recognize that fact. There is a resurgence among the industrial countries of the world - Japan, Germany, Italy, America and even China. They are manufacturing, at an increasing rate, vast quantities of commodities which they wish to place on markets overseas. For example, over a period of years, red China has adopted a definite plan. It is going to transfer 100,000,000 people from primary production to manufacturing industries. That, of course, will destroy a market that has been available to Japan and other nations - a market that Great Britain is exploiting at present - and will increase the competition for markets in such places as Australia. If Australia is to develop, it must manufacture goods on a larger scale. She must manufacture a more extensive variety of goods than she does to-day. If this nation is to be secure in the days that lie ahead, if it is to develop as it should do, it cannot afford to concentrate upon primary production alone. We cannot develop if we concentrate upon wheat or wool, meat or sugar, or indeed upon any of the primary products.
During the last few years relatively, a vast proportion of Australia’s national income derived at home and from abroad has come, not from primary production, but from manufactured goods. The employment of our people has been increasingly dependent upon secondary industry. Why, to-day there are 36,000 fewer people employed on the farms throughout the length and breadth of this country than there were in 1939, despite the fact that our population is now 2,000,000 greater than it was then!
Where should we be but for our secondary industries? They are the source of employment of the people already here, and they are the reservoir of employment that will enable newcomers to be absorbed into the community to assist in the development of the country and to protect it in its hour of danger.
The Minister for Trade, who used to sit at the table, and who is misrepresented by the present Minister for Primary Industry, is concerned merely with markets for primary products. He is not concerned with the overall development of Australia. If we are to have overall development, we must say to other countries, “ We will not tear down our trade barriers; we intend to protect our manufacturing industries, and we will devise means of meeting the devious methods whereby various nations are seeking to put their goods into other markets “. They talk of dumping! It is not only the foreign countries that indulge in dumping.
– Who talked about it?
– My friend opposite, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson). The manufacturers of Britain have engaged in dumping which, in some cases, has affected the industries of this country. We must protect our industries against such happenings.
As my time is running short, I cannot go into all the detail of what is necessary to the welfare of the industries of this country, but undoubtedly any system which permits a flood of imports, the consequent depletion of our overseas balances, the necessity to introduce import restrictions until the overseas balances position is remedied, the easing of restrictions, the depletion again of our overseas balances and the necessity to re-impose restrictions upon imports, is not a desirable one. There are other methods that can be arranged to ensure the continuity of our trade and to enable the manufacturers of Australia to know exactly where they are.
I have before me an article headed “ Tariff Realism Needed “. It is written by F. G. James, chairman of the Victorian Knitting Industries Council. In it, Mr. James says -
When I visited Geneva last year as the representative of the Australian textile industry at the International Labour Office Conference, I discussed this matter of tariffs with representatives of the American textile industry.
They expressed amazement at what they called the lack of courage of the Australian Government in not having a tariff system which would guarantee to local manufacturers a major portion of the home market.
He goes on to say that in all trade agreements entered into with other nations in which tariffs on goods coming into the home market are involved, the United States has a convenient “ escape “ clause. The article continues -
American tariff policy with regard to the textile industry may be quoted as an example of the latest means adopted in that country to ensure that a major share of the home market is reserved for local industry.
Briefly, the Americans say that if, over a certain period, more than 5 per cent, of the home market is being served by goods from overseas, the United States will automatically raise the tariff upon those goods in order to protect the domestic manufacturing industries. Methods such as that should be adopted by this country, and they would be adopted by it if the tariff policy of Australia was not dictated by sectional interests. The dog is wagged by an insignificant tail - the free trade Australian Country party. That, of course, is what has happened. I warn this Government that, despite all the ambiguous, obtuse and incomprehensible things that have been said by honorable members on the Government side in connexion with this agreement, if the agreement becomes operative it will result in the destruction of many of Australia’s industries, the restriction of the expansion of Australian industry and the unemployment of many Australian people.
.- The honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) has a queer sense of logic. He criticizes the Government for having allowed imports in 1951 and 1952 at a level that resulted in the using up of our overseas credits. He then claims that Britain would not buy the goods that we wanted to put on to the United Kingdom market because it would cause unemployment in that country. It is obvious that he meant that Britain would not buy our primary products to the same degree as formerly because of the expansion of its own agricultural production. The honorable member forgets the Ottawa Agreement, which is binding, and which was entered into in pre-war days when Britain was not engaged in agriculture to the same extent as she is now. Because of wartime necessity, Britain increased her areas under agricultural production and has kept those additional areas under agricultural production since the war; indeed, she is now heavily subsidizing the agricultural industries in order to keep them going.
The honorable member for Scullin went on to say that if Australia is to succeed she must develop her secondary industries because they are the industries which provide employment, and he slighted our primary producers. I remind the honorable member that it is the earnings of the primary producers which enable us to achieve economic balance. If he cares to deduct from Australia’s total income the earnings from primary production, he will find that our secondary industries are responsible for very little of the income derived from exports. The secondary industries of Australia have failed miserably to contribute to our export earnings. In other words, the figures as published at 30th June of last year disclose that 86£ per cent, of Australia’s overseas credits was built up by the export of primary products. Does the honorable member for Scullin suggest that our secondary industries can expand and sell their products? Where can they sell them if it is not to the primary producers and to consumers in the towns?
– The home market is a very good market for primary products.
– Obviously, it is. But our economy depends on our exports of primary products, and I remind the honorable member for Scullin, who attacks the primary producers, just how valuable our primary products are. The honorable member hardly discussed this agreement.
Instead, he dealt with the Australian economy and the likely effects of the agreement on employment.
This agreement preserves the principle of mutual preference established in the Ottawa Agreement and, in particular, it retains for our exports the protection thai the existing preferences and rights of dutyfree entry to the United Kingdom market gave. When one considers the total of Australian exports to the United Kingdom and the total of our imports from that country, one finds that the trade favours the United Kingdom. The position would have become materially worse for Australia and even more favorable for the United Kingdom had the arrangements under the Ottawa Agreement continued, as the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) pointed out. Perhaps some of us wonder why Britain does not buy more from Australia. The reasons are to be found in world history, in the situation in countries offering goods for export to the United Kingdom, and particularly in the conditions of sale offered by those countries. Dollar funds also enter into the picture, I suppose. I have not been able to obtain figures indicating purchases by the United Kingdom from the dollar area in 1956, but in 1955, the United Kingdom bought from the United States of America f 42 1,006,000 sterling worth of goods, and from Canada £343,598,000 sterling worth. The dollar area trade most keenly competitive with Australian commodities is in cereals, of which, in 1955, the United Kingdom bought £47,874,000 sterling worth from the United States, and £97,948,000 sterling worth from Canada.
Since dollar funds are very difficult to get, I suppose that there must be an important reason for this. Obviously, it is that the United Kingdom is buying better in Canada and the United States. I read in one of to-day’s newspapers an explanation of the reasons why the United Kingdom is able to buy better from Canada, in particular. It is because of the heavy subsidy that the Canadian Government pays to Canadian wheat-growers. In the United States, the Government guarantees prices to farmers under its farm price support programme, as it is termed, and assures producers of a favorable price regardless of the selling price of the commodity. This is, in effect, a subsidy given to producers. These measures enable Canada and the
United States to sell on the world market M highly competitive prices and to undercut ihe prices of commodities offered for sale by Australia.
Doubtless, these are the reasons why the sales of Australian wheat to the United Kingdom fell as low as 13,000,000 bushels in one year. The Minister has explained that, over the last five years, sales of Australian wheat to Britain averaged 23,000,000 bushels annually. Under this agreement, he has been able to obtain an assurance that the United Kingdom market will take 28,000,000 bushels of f.a.q. wheat annually. This figure does not include high protein wheat for which we may be able to find a market in the United Kingdom. But I cannot visualize any sales of high protein wheat to the United Kingdom from Australia, because the British market obtains its high protein wheat from Canada, which, as I have already mentioned, subsidizes its exports to that market. In addition, only Queensland and Western Australia produce any considerable quantity of high protein wheat. If there is a world market for wheat of this type, it is up to growers in the other States that are growing the softer wheats to meet the requirements of the market and not to continue producing inferior wheat that is difficult to sell. The wheat-growers must take account of the requirements of the market.
– The climate has something to do with the kind of wheat they grow.
– That is true, but I suggest that they should not neglect research, and that they should try to grow the better wheat for which there is a market. If they do not, they must face the fact that they will find it harder to sell their product. I mention that to show how necessary it is to heed the advice of many men with a close knowledge of the wheat industry who are urging growers to meet the requirements of the world market to a greater degree. If I may digress for a moment to mention Japan, that country is prepared to take all the high protein wheat that Queensland can grow.
This agreement has also provided new bargaining room in trade negotiations designed to obtain benefit for our exports in the markets of other countries. That does not affect our tariff protection for efficient
Australian producers. We needed some tariff flexibility in trade bargaining with other countries. That has become increasingly necessary, not only because of the highly competitive condition of the United Kingdom market, but also because our increased production needs additional markets. We must also consider the need for reciprocal trade. It is all very well for the honorable member for Scullin to say, in one breath, that we should sell our primary products, and, in the next, that we should not import goods and that we must protect our local manufacturing industries. But if we expect to sell, we must of necessity buy. We are on a particularly good wicket in our trade with some countries to which we sell far more than we buy. The balance is very much in our favour. But we cannot expect to continue to sell our products in those markets if we do not buy in return.
– The favorable balance of trade may be only temporary. It will probably not be permanent.
– The favorable balance of trade with some countries may be fairly permanent. We cannot hope to buy from some countries as much as we sell to them. Wool, for example, is the foundation of important manufacturing industries in some countries that do not offer for sale goods that are of equal importance to us. Obviously, we shall sell them more than we buy in return.
I do not think one honorable member would deny the necessity for us to retain the vital British market - the greatest market of all time. We cannot supplant that market with any other, and we must sell a great proportion of our primary products in it. However, we need the flexibility that the Minister has so successfully striven for within the limits permitted by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Australian butter has to meet very keen competition in the United Kingdom market, which is flooded with supplies from other countries that were originally obtained from the United States which disposed at low prices of very large stocks of butter that were stored under the Roosevelt programme to support farm prices. That quantity of butter still available is not necessarily in direct competition with us, but it still has a detrimental effect on the world’s markets and prices. We find that position in relation to wheat, butter, and other commodities, so we look to Malaya, Japan, Germany and other nations, to which we have been successful in selling at least small parcels of butter and other commodities in recent months. Now that this agreement has been signed, we are looking more hopefully to those countries for greater sales in the future.
The Minister mentioned one other matter, namely, the anti-dumping or countervailing duties which the various countries apply to protect each other’s trade, and he said that this is one of those matters that do not lend themselves to contractual arrangements. The Minister mentioned other things, such as the United Kingdom’s own agricultural policy, shipping, the concessional or aid programmes on American exports, which I have already mentioned, and restrictive business practices. Those are some of the matters that the Minister mentioned out of which one could not readily contract. He has made provision in the agreement that the countries will discuss those matters to try to meet the circumstances prevailing at a particular time.
The honorable member for Lalor referred to shipping freights, but I remind him that our own internal freights have not been a very helpful factor in producing our goods at an economical figure. When the wheat-grower has to pay about 4s. 6d. a bushel to get his product even as far as the metropolitan area of his own State, it can be seen just how heavily the freight impost bears upon the cost of production. While we are, perhaps, disappointed that the agreement provides that we can only have a discussion upon these very vital matters, I hope, and I am sure, that the word of the British Government will be readily honored, and that these matters can be taken up from time to time as circumstances arise. When the surpluses that are available on the American market are depleted and we get a more favorable market, as I feel we will, because an overprovided market such as we have had in Australia and Great Britain in recent years will not necessarily continue, we will get more satisfactory prices for our primary produce. We have had a run of good seasons in Australia over eleven years, but it looks as though we have a more serious prospect with the whole of the eastern States facing dry times. Our economy will be prejudiced if our primary production is lowered as a consequence. Of course, the Government has measured up the necessity of imposing import restrictions to prevent an undue depletion of our overseas credits. We must try to face up to our responsibilities as a buyer who trades with, those to whom he desires to sell.
The Minister is to be commended on an agreement which is very satisfactory in every way, considering the limitations that were imposed on him by prior agreements of this and previous Governments, which, of necessity must be honoured.
.- We have had another illustration in the debate on this agreement of very effective opposition coming from this side of the House which will, as usual, be misrepresented in the press as an absence of opposition. The effective opposition which came from the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), and the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) has not been met by anything that has been said by the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz), the honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann), or the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson).
The position is that the Government has said that the Ottawa Agreement was completely unsatisfactory and a great disadvantage to Australia. With that, everybody isin agreement. But the Government has gone on to say that the agreement before us will remove those defects and replace the Ottawa Agreement. Speakers on this side of the House have shown that this is not so, and that this agreement makes no advance whatever on Ottawa, or no change of any significance. These things have been proved from this side of the House. Noanswer has come from the other side, and I challenge the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) to answer that criticism.
In order to provide his answer with alittle more substance, and perhaps put it on the lines, I should like to discuss some aspects of the Opposition’s case. The Minister has said that this is a new agreement which replaces the Ottawa Agreement,. because the Ottawa Agreement was a disadvantage to Australia. He said, in his speech on 13 th September -
Taken in combination, these two trade treaties-
That is, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the Ottawa Agreement - result in a quite extraordinary rigidity of Australia’s international trading relations.
On 9th April, he said -
However, over the quarter-century that had elapsed since the Ottawa Agreement was drawn up, the changes I have already referred to had caused a major shift in the balance of the agreement and in our trade relationships with the United Kingdom.
He said that they had caused a major shift. If a major shift had taken place in our trade relations, some major remedy - some major change - was necessary, but I submit that no major change whatever has taken place.
What were the elements in this major shift with which the Government has been concerned? First, Australia gave preferences on 80 per cent, of its imports from the United Kingdom but the United Kingdom gave preferences on 40 per cent, of our exports to the United Kingdom. That position remains substantially the same after this agreement. Another cause of the marked shift in our trading relations is that many of our preferences were based upon quantity and not on values, and that is the reason why the degree of protection has changed over the years. For instance, the margin on butter was 15s. a cwt. That was worth 15 per cent, in value in 1932, but it is only 4i per cent, of 1956 values. The margin on eggs, which was 12 per cent, in value in 1932, is 4 per «ent. to-day. That position remains exactly the same after this new agreement. In Schedule A of this agreement exactly the same values a hundredweight and 100 eggs are expressed. That position is not altered one scrap by this new agreement. What, then, is the use of it?
What has happened in relation to one other element, wheat, which is apparently the mast upon which the Government flag, tattered as it is, has been raised to the full height by the Australian Country party? The Minister’s speech tells us that the prewar position allowed us to export 52,000,000 bushels of wheat a year to the United Kingdom. In the last five years the quantity has been down to an average of 23,000,000 bushels. In 1954 it was 13,000,000 bushels. What is done by this new agreement, which is supposed to redress the balance and replace the Ottawa Agreement? It raises our export of wheat to 28,000,000 bushels in a very conditional manner, as I hope to show in a few minutes.
The Minister said that the Ottawa Agreement changed the whole balance of our trade with the United Kingdom. Of course it did, and this agreement does nothing whatever to redress that balance. If our whole trade situation has changed, then certainly we need some equally marked change to offset it; but what does this agreement represent? In order to see what it represents. I want to refer to the Minister’s own speech. He said -
In the first place, we retain for Australian exports to the United Kingdom the same rights of duty-free entry as were provided under the Ottawa Agreement.
That is the first advantage of this new agreement. It retains the position under Ottawa. What is the second advantage? The Minister said -
The second advantage put forward by the Minister is the advantage of retaining the second provisions of the Ottawa Agreement. What is the third advantage? The Minister said -
To the extent that these preferences are expressed in terms of specific money values-
And they were not; they were expressed in terms of quantities - such as with butter, eggs, milk products and some fruits, we have had to accept that they could not be restored to their former degree of value
So the third advantage is that we have not been able to change that requirement of the Ottawa Agreement. What is the fourth advantage? The fourth advantage is this great advantage with regard to wheat. We exported 52,000,000 bushels of wheat to the United Kingdom before the war. The average has been 23,000,000 bushels in the last five years. The figure was 13,000,000 bushels in 1954, and under the new agreement 28,000,000 bushels will be exported. But 28,000,000 bushels under what conditions? It is 28,000,000 bushels under the conditions outlined by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who has not been answered by any Government speaker, and I renew the challenge ro the Minister now at the table. What does Article 6 say? ft says that the Governments of the United Kingdom and of Australia “ affirm that it is their desire and expectation . . .”. That is the strength of it. It is not an agreement, and members of the Australian Country party and wheat-growers generally should realize that there is no agreement involved in this. What is involved in it is the “ desire and expectation “ of these two governments. It is like the young girl and man mentioned by the honorable member for Lalor who had desires and expectations, but no legal undertaking or obligation. The Minister for Trade is hardly a young man. He is beyond the stage of pinning his hopes to desires and expectations, but he is perhaps the kind of Minister we would expect to give us something a little better than desires and expectations which one might find shared by adolescents. But no. That is what this is. It is not an agreement; it is a desire and an expectation.
What will happen if the desire and expectation, which is the great achievement of this new agreement, is not realized? Two things will happen. First, immediately we fail to sell 28,000,000 bushels of wheat at current market prices there will be a conference in London - a consultation. The Minister, accompanied by a retinue from the Department of Trade, will no doubt sail on the “ Iberia “ or some such comfortable ship and have a conference in England. When the conference has been held, if the two governments do not agree on the sale of further wheat they can tear up the whole of this agreement. That is the kind of thing that is involved in this agreement. If that is the most important thing that this agreement can give us, then what is it worth? Clearly, as has been said by members of the Opposition in this debate, this agreement makes no advance whatever on the Ottawa Agreement. Indeed, it takes a step back from the Ottawa Agreement. It is less binding and less definite than the Ottawa Agreement was. This agreement, or expectation, as I should prefer to call it, has been described by the Minister as an agreement which assures a market in the United Kingdom over the next five years for at least 750,000 tons of f.a.q. wheat. Now I say with consideration that that is a wrong statement, and if the Minister knows what he is talking about. I think it has been deliberately made. There is noagreement whatever involved in this. It is a deliberate untruth and 1 challenge the Minister to answer that.
– I rise to order. I direct your attention, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, to what the honorable member has said. He has described a remark of mine as a deliberate untruth. I ask for a withdrawal and an apology.
– The honorable member for Yarra will withdraw and apologize.
– I withdraw and apologize.
– lt is an untruth.
The honorable member for Lalor will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw the remark only because you have asked me to.
– I said that if the Minister understood his business this must be a deliberate mis-statement. I repeat that and ask the Minister-
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat. I will not tolerate the remarks that the honorable member for Yarra is making. What he has just said is exactly what he said before. I will give him one more chance to apologize and withdraw that statement.
– I apologize and withdraw because I have more important things to say. If we find there is nothing to be gained on the export side under this agreement, let us turn to the import side for a few minutes and see what has happened there. The Minister has been able to negotiate a reduction of the margin of preference for British goods imported to Australia so that we have two new categories, a H per cent, preference and a 10 per cent, preference, compared with preferences of 2i ner cent.. 15 per cent., and 17 per cent. The difficulty here, as was pointed out by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), is that we have been given no information about what categories of goods come into this, or what volumes or values of goods are affected. At most we have reduced preferences on the Australian market ranging from 1 per cent, to 1 per cent, of the value of goods. The ad vantage of this, the Government has pointed out, is that it reduces Australian costs. What element of reduction of Australian costs is involved in this? The goods are producers’ goods and if the total protection of those goods amounts to no more than 7i per cent., it is pretty certain that the contribution of this reduced cost, even if it takes place in the Australian cost structure, will not be any more than one-fifth of that - not any more than £2 or £2 10s. in £100. So what kind of contribution to reduced costs will that represent? Even then, this is dependent on a reduction of preferences to the minimum, and those percentages I have quoted are only minimum. It is dependent on a reduction of prices by Australian industry, and we know very well that reduced costs are not always followed by reduced prices.
Let us look at the second so-called advantage of this reduced preference to British goods on the Australian market - that is that it will be significant in trade negotiations. First of all I pointed out that it is a very small reduction in cost to start with; only from 2i per cent, to 7± per cent, of the value of goods. It leaves a very narrow margin for flexibility in any kind of negotiation which the Government might carry on with any countries. Secondly, if it is to be achieved it means a reduction in tariff on goods imported from other countries. Again, how far can this go? The Minister in his speech on 13th September, recognized the very definite limitation on how far it can go. He said that, of course, nothing that he said in this context bore on the Government’s policy of protecting Australian industry against overseas competition. And, of course, the Government cannot go very far in reducing tariffs in the existing circumstances because of the enormous pressures that exist already upon the balance of payments. Thirdly, if this advantage is to be secured, it depends on agreements being reached with other countries. If this Government is as stow and ineffective in reaching agreements with foreign countries as it has been in reaching agreement with the British Government over this matter, it will never make any effective agreements at all. Therefore, this new agreement, which is supposed to redress the major shift in our whole trade situation with the United Kingdom will not in fact redress it at all. The position now is substantially as it was at the time of the Ottawa Agreement and since. Australian imports, except wheat, are substantially the same in almost every respect, and exactly the same in regard to wheat. The agreement with regard to the 750,000 tons of wheat could have been negotiated outside the Ottawa Agreement anyway. But even so, there is no binding contract. It is merely a matter of expectation, and if that expectation is not realized the result will be nothing more than a conference and perhaps the final ending of this particular agreement. Indeed, the agreement contains a number of provisions which when compared to the terms of the Ottawa Agreement are weaknesses. For instance. Articles 2 and 4 provide that preferences to Australian goods shall not apply to goods “ in which there is no active Australian trade interest “. The Government has given us no information about what it means by this phrase. What are we to understand by it? There may be no active Australian interest in particular poods which are imported in small quantities to the British market today, but a very active Australian trade interest may arise well within the terms of this agreement, and the preferences will not apply to them.
If the Government has failed, as I suggest that it has, to make any substantial difference to the position as it was in the Ottawa Agreement and since, what could the Government do in the circumstances? The Minister has reviewed the Australian economy in many ways, but his review has been one-sided. He has not mentioned one important thing that the Government should do to improve the Australian economy - come to grips with the condition of inflation. He has said that stable conditions are necessary, but what sort of stable conditions are present in an economy in which there has been an increase in market expenditure of £585,000,000 in the first year of the Government’s term of office, £1,144.000,000 in the second year, £619.000.000 in the third year, a fall of of £234,000.000 in the fourth year, an increase of £505,000,000 in the fifth year, an increase of £500,000,000 in the sixth year and an increase of £339,000,000 in the seventh year. What kind of stable conditions have been present in the Australian economy when that kind of increase in market expenditure has taken place? If the Government recognizes, as it does in this measure and in many others, that this is at the root of the trouble, is it not time that it came to grips with the situation and produced a condition of reasonable economic stability.
Of the 65 countries recorded in the United Nations statistics of national income, only ten have market expenditure which has risen as high as that in Australia, and only one, Japan, is an important trading country so far as Australia is concerned. As the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) pointed out, when we turn to the actual increase in costs in those countries we find that only two have had a greater increase than Australia. Therefore, the basic condition of economic stability, which the Government recognizes as necessary if the problem is to be solved, still awaits attention. It is fundamental that inflation must be dealt with, but this does not mean only a reduction in total national expenditure. We must be concerned with the allocation and distribution of that expenditure, within the total. This involves a very different banking and taxation policy, the regulation of investment and capital issues, the regulation of imports, and an export production policy. It involves new crops to replace wheat and the production of new varieties of high protein wheat, as mentioned by the honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann).
In conclusion, this agreement is little different from the Ottawa Agreement. It will do little to correct the major shift in our trading relations with the United Kingdom, which the Minister admits. That is the Opposition’s fundamental criticism of this Government. The agreement will make little difference to our trade with overseas countries other than the United Kingdom, and so the agreement fails completely.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Haworth) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.26 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Will he prepare a statement showing the results of the secret ballot legislation since it was passed in 1951, including information regarding (a) the number of applications made for officially conducted union ballots since the amendment of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act in 1951, (b) the results of those applications, (c) the unions involved, (d) the number of applications for court investigation into alleged irregularities made since the (i) 1949 legislation and (ii) amendment of 1931, and (e) the results of these applications?
– The following are the answers to the honorable member’s questions: -
t asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. Over a number of years the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration has, in the exercise of powers conferred on it by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and other legislation, imposed fines and sentences of imprisonment and made orders which involved an exercise of the judicial power of the Commonwealth. In March, 1956, the High Court, in a case known as the “ Boilermakers’ “ case, by a majority held that certain orders and penalties made against and imposed on the Boilermakers Society of Australia by the Arbitration Court were invalid. The majority judgment stated that the Arbitration Court being a body established primarily for the exercise of federal arbitral (i.e., non-judicial) power could not under the Constitution be invested with any part of the judicial power of the Commonwealth. The majority judgment further held that the Constitution does not enable the vesting in a federal court of non-judicial powers that are not ancillary but are directed to a non-judicial purpose. The majority decision of the High Court was upheld by the Privy Council on 19th March last. 3 and 4. These are matters of government policy.
t asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
t asked the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, upon notice -
Will he invoke his powers under section 9 (1) (a) of the Science and Industry Research Act to institute a scientific investigation into the position of aboriginals living in a tribal state with a view to (a) determining factors involved in raising their standard of living, and (b) deciding the best methods of food production in their living areas?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The matter referred to in section 9 (1) (a) of the Science and Industry Research Act is outside the scope of the functions of C.S.I.R.O. which is not directly concerned with sociological or economic problems nor with matters of human health. As for (b), C.S.I.R.O., I am sure, would be prepared to offer advice to the proper authorities on methods of improving food production in the tribal living areas. However, tribal aborigines have never engaged in any form of agriculture but depend for their livelihood on the collection of indigenous plants and animals and it is difficult to see how their lot could be improved by agricultural research. The welfare of the aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory is the concern principallyof the Department of Territories which has undertaken an active and continuing programme for the betterment of the lot of the native peoples and particularly those who are in contact with the white population. Other than in the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth Government has no jurisdiction since responsibility for native peoples in the States is that of the State governments. I regret, therefore, that I cannot see my way clear to take the action suggested by the honorable member.
son asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
It has been decided to discontinue for the present the issue of visitors’ visas to persons who are nationals of and are resident in countries under Communist governments. Persons in Australia applying for the admission of relatives in those countries as “visitors” are. however, being advised that applications for the persons concerned to come here as migrants will be considered.
As a result of special representations to the Communist governments concerned by the Commonwealth Government, some success has been achieved in enabling nationals of the countries of Eastern Europe - particularly Poland and. Hungary - to be re-united with their relatives inAustralia. In recent months, there has been a. decided increase in the number of applications by residents of Australia for relatives and friends in. these countries to come here as “ visitors “. This raised a number of problems, namely -
These difficulties were placed before the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council, which recommended that the policy describedin 1 above be adopted for the present. A factor which must be borne in mind is that people who come here with migrant visas do not, of course, have to stay here permanently and are, in fact, free to use those visas as they would visitors’ visas, leaving when they please to return to their homelands.
n asked the Minister for Immi gration, upon notice -
– The. answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1, 2 and 4.-
s asked the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Europeans and Non-Europeans -
Persons seeking temporary entry who would not be eligible as migrants are in general required to undergo the same screening as to health, character, &c., as is applied to migrants;
diplomatic representatives are permitted to introduce Asian servants of their own nationality; short-term visitors from Eastern countries may bring a servant in special circumstances, e.g., where the religion of the visitor requires that he should have a particular kind of person to prepare his meals, &c., or where the visitor requires a servant to care for him because of poor health, or where the visitor is accompanied by a family of young children.
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– In the following answers, the information in relation to the Northern Territory has been supplied by my colleague, the Minister for Territories: -
Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, in
South Western Mining Limited, in South
Australia and Western Australia.
Enterprise Exploration Company Proprietary
Limited, in Queensland and the Northern
Australian Mining and Smelting Company Limited, in the Northern Territory.
Rio Australian Exploration Proprietary Limited, in the Northern Territory.
The following company has been carrying out prospecting activities and is expected to commence beach sands mining in an aboriginal reserve in the Northern Territory: -
Dowsetts Engineering (Australia) Proprietary Limited, in the Northern Territory
South Western Mining Limited - International Nickel Company of Canada.
Enterprise Exploration Company Proprietary Limited - Consolidated Zinc Corporation Limited (United Kingdom).
Australian Mining and Smelting Company Limited - Consolidated Zinc Corporation Limited (United Kingdom).
Rio Australian Exploration Proprietary Limited - Rio Tinto Company Limited (United Kingdom).
Dowsetts Engineering (Australia) Proprietary Limited - Dowsetts Holdings Limited (United Kingdom).
z asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following replies: - 1 and 2. The answers to these questions are provided in the following table, which sets out exports during 1956 of each of the principal petroleum products to the countries concerned: -
z asked the Minister acting for the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
e asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
(a) £13,000 (estimated). (b) £54,163 (includes costs of running the rehabilitation centre at Melville). (c) £7,263.
d asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Single persons -
b asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
R-f35) endowment was extended to include the first child and also in connexion with more recent legislation. After careful consideration of all aspects involved, however, the Government decided that it was unable to extend child endowment beyond the age of sixteen years. The financial difficulty experienced by many parents in educating their children has not escaped the notice of the Government. In 1952 it introduced a taxation deduction for expenditure incurred in the education of children. This concession was warmly welcomed and has since been considerably liberalized.
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
What have been the financial operations of the War Service Homes Division in each year since its inception in the following categories: -
amount allocated from loan funds, (b) interest payable on loan funds, (c) amount allocated from taxation, (d) administrative expenses of the Division, (e) repayments of principal, (0 repayments of interest, (g) number of houses in the scheme, (h) excess of repayments of interest over administrative expenses of the Division, and (i) totals in each case?
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers to the honorable member’s questions: -
The details requested by the honorable member are set out in the attached schedule. The interest payable on loan funds as shown in column
represents the average interest rate in respect of war loans at 30th June each year. These have been taken from the budget figures published by the Treasurer. The amount allocated from taxation as shown in column (c) comprises £193,330,356 voted from Revenue and £9,310,458 from War Service Homes Receipts. In addition to the total number of 147,305 homes provided under the War Service Homes Act as shown in column (g) the Division had taken over 770 homes under the Commonwealth-State Supplemental Housing Agreement up to 28th February, 1957. The total liability taken over by the Division from the States in respect of the 770 homes is £1,793,816. This is not included in the funds allocated as shown in columns (a) and (c). Repayments by the purchasers of these homes are reflected under Repayments of Principal and Repayments of Interest respectively in columns (e)> and (f).
e asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What is the allocation in each State of expenditure, including that for defence services, from the appropriation for additions, new works, &c., for the current financial year?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Parliamentary appropriations are not restricted, generally, to expenditure in any particular State. The Commonwealth’s expenditure is recorded in respect of each vote from details of individual payments which are brought to account through the Sub-Treasury in each State and in each Commonwealth territory. An attempt to allocate the expenditure between States would be a major undertaking and, moreover, the analysis would be of very doubtful value. Expenditure brought to account by a particular Sub-Treasury may include, for example, payments to interstate and overseas suppliers. Furthermore, expenditure in one State is often for equipment and supplies for projects in another State. In short, the payments recorded in any Sub-Treasury do not purport to indicate the expenditure which may be attributable to Commonwealth activities or services in that State or territory. 1 ask, therefore, that the honorable member reconsider his request for an allocation of the expenditure. Alternatively arrangements will be made for him to inspect the returns to 31st March, 1957, from the Sub-Treasuries, of expenditure brought to account through their offices.
Aboriginal Food Supplies.
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, uponnotice: -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has furnished the following replies: -
n asked the Minister represent ing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
In view of the dependence upon air travel of people resident in the Northern Territory, and as cheaper forms of travel are not generally available, will the Minister confer with Trans-Australia Airlines with a view to including in their services to the north tourist class flights similar to those operating to other parts of Australia?
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has furnished the following reply: -
At the present time Trans-Australia Airlines operate a DC.4 tourist class service at a frequency of six return flights per week between Melbourne,
Sydney and Brisbane. The question of extending this type of operation to other routes within TransAustralia Airlines network of services is under continuous review and the commission has in fact been giving specific consideration during the last month to the problems involved in the introduction of tourist services to Darwin.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has replied as follows: -
e asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has replied as follows to the honorable member’s questions: -
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1, 2 and 3. Houses cinder construction are not being set aside specifically for occupancy by officers of the defence services to be transferred to Canberra. However, the Government hasdecided to transfer to Canberra approximately 1,100 officers of the defence services and foi” compelling administrative reasons requires the transfers to be made in 1959 and to be completed in the shortest possible time. Residential accommodation will be provided accordingly from housesbecoming available for occupation at a suitable time either from the existing programme or from the greatly expanded programme of house construction now developing. The Government hasundertaken the major responsibility to provide housing in Canberra, but admission to the housing list does not confer “ rights “ as to the provision of residential accommodation at any time or in any priority.
ser asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
s asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
What are the names of the newspapers in which tenders were invited for the seven contracts for the cleaning of the Commonwealth offices in Canberra?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Tenders were invited in May, 1954, for the first Canberra contract in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “, the Melbourne “ Age “, the Melbourne “ Argus “, the “ Goulburn Evening Post “, the “ Canberra Times “, the “ Queanbeyan Age “, and the “ Queanbeyan News “. For subsequent contracts advertisements were inserted in the “Canberra Times “, the “ Queanbeyan Age “ and the “ Queanbeyan News “ (until’ publication ceased). In view of the lack of response to the first advertisement, it was decided to limit later advertising for Canberra cleaning contracts to Canberra and Queanbeyan newspapers, and several tenders have been lodged on each occasion. The successful tenderer for a number of contracts was a Melbourne firm.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 April 1957, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1957/19570430_reps_22_hor15/>.