23rd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. KEARNEY presented a petition from certain citizens of Australia, praying that the House will -
Petition received and read.
Mr. FULTON presented a petition from certain electors in the States of the Commonwealth praying that the House will take immediate steps to increase social service benefits for mothers and their children.
Petition received and read.
– Mr. Speaker, I present a petition from certain members of the Pensioners League of Queensland praying that the House will give immediate consideration to the matter of increasing pensions to no less than 50 per cent, of the basic wage as the minimum. The petition is respectfully worded, concludes with a prayer and bears the Clerk’s certificate that it is in conformity with the Standing Orders of the House. It is not in conformity with my own views.
– As this petition is consistent with petitions presented to the House in the past week, I move that the petition be received.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I desire to ask you whether it is a fact that a member of this House is obliged to vote as he calls, and, if this is so, whether it is also a fact that members who present petitions advocating certain changes are obliged to support those petitions.
– I desire to inform the House that the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) has left Australia on a visit to South-East Asia and Europe. The Minister left Australia on 17th August for Singapore and Bangkok, where he will attend the last day of a regional conference of heads of External Affairs missions in South-East Asia. From Bangkok he will proceed to Europe, spending about two days at each of our posts in Rome, Paris and Bonn, and a week in London in discussions prior to the United Nations Assembly, which commences on 15th September. The Minister will visit Ottawa before going to the United States of America, where he will attend an Antarctic conference at Washington.
– He blows hot and cold!
– It is a very important conference, and it will be held on 15th October. It might have been better if the Antarctic conference had been held in August, for climatic reasons. However, it is to be held in October. He will also attend an Anzus meeting, the date of which has yet to be arranged. On his return journey he will represent Australia at the ministerial Colombo Plan conference to be held at Jokjakarta from 10th to 13th November, after which he will return to Australia.
My colleague, the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), will act as Minister for External Affairs while the Minister is abroad, and the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) will act as Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
– Has the attention of the Postmaster-General been directed to certain criticisms by the publishers of religious newspapers, to the effect that as a consequence of the new postal regulations which the honorable gentleman announced last week many of these publications may have to go out of existence, and that in any case the costs of distribution of the publications will rise, as a result of the new regulations, by anything up to 800. per cent.?
– I have had some representations from various bodies, mainly newspaper organizations, regarding the possible impact of increases in bulk rates of postage on their circulations and costs. However, I find it extremely difficult - as a matter of fact impossible - to see how an increase from, say, 2id. to 5d. for the first weight unit in the bulk postage rate could increase the costs of distribution by 800 per cent., as suggested by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. However, I shall certainly have a look at this matter.
– I direct a question to the Postmaster-General. By way of preface, I direct the Minister’s attention to the fact that his department charges pensioners only 10s. ner annum for a wireless listener’s licence, whereas the normal fee is £2 15s. In view of the fact that only a small percentage of pensioners are telephone subscribers, will the Postmaster-General give consideration to offering a similar concession in respect of telephone charges, on the production of a medical certificate stating that a telephone is a necessity? I ask the honorable gentleman to bear in mind that many invalid and age pensioners who are living alone are entirely dependent on a telephone, and that the recently announced increases in telephone charges will largely offset the increase of 7s. 6d. a week in pension rates.
– The honorable member for Henty mentions the fact that a reduced fee is charged for broadcast listeners’ licences to certain classes of pensioners. That is correct. The honorable member suggests that the same privilege should be accorded with regard to telephone charges. I point out to the honorable member that the cases are not comparable. In providing a telephone and the service that goes with it the department is involved in very considerable expense, averaging almost £300 for each telephone installed. No such cost is involved in providing radio licences. Therefore I cannot accept the honorable member’s comparison as being valid in the case that he puts forward.
The proposal put forward by the honorable member has been examined on a number of occasions by the department and by various committees, and it has been decided that certain charitable organizations should be allowed to make local calls at half the normal charge, whilst paying other charges in full, but that is the only relief that is afforded, because if relief of this sort were given to one organization there would be a great number of other organizations equally entitled to such relief.
– I ask the Minister for Trade a question. It is reported that the Minister, when Acting Prime Minister, was interviewed in a “ Meet the Press “ session on Channel HSV7, in Melbourne, on 30th May this year, and said -
I think if Communist China remains the government - and I see no reason why it should not - then it will be recognised as the de facto government of the Chinese mainland.
Did the Minister make that statement? If so, does it represent the views of the Australian Country Party?
– It is true that I was interviewed on television by various stations and that I was asked a question relating to Communist China, to which I made a reply. This matter has been the subject of some correspondence and discussion. I ascertained that the television station automatically made a recording of the interview. Whenever anybody has asked me about the question I was asked and the answer I gave. I have been able to make available a correct transcript. I would be glad to do the same for the honorable member, if he wishes.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Labour and National Service. I refer to his recent timely exhortation to employers to employ, wherever possible, physically handicapped persons who seek to rehabilitate themselves. Can the Minister indicate whether, and if so to what extent, the Commonwealth Government has set an example to private employers by itself employing such people?
– The Government hopes that all people who can employ physically handicapped persons will do so in appropriate circumstances. So far as the Commonwealth is concerned, it is a matter for each individual department to decide how many physically handicapped people will be employed, and in what classifications. My department does make opportunities available for the employment of physically handicapped people, and certainly the Department of Social Services, if I may speak for my colleague, goes out of its way to see that physically handicapped people are employed.
I think I might add that the Boyer Committee, which recently reported on the Public Service, did make” some recommendations as to the way in which physically handicapped people should be employed in the Commonwealth Public Service. That report is now being examined within the departments concerned and, as soon as the relevant portions come to hand, I expect the Prime Minister will make it available.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question. Has the right honorable gentleman’s attention been directed to the report by a committee of leading Indian jurists who have concluded, after two months’ investigation, that events now taking place in Tibet consititute the crime of genocide within the meaning of the Genocide Convention, and that the Chinese Communist authorities are held prima facie by the committee to be guilty of genocide? If so, what action does the Government propose to take on this matter, in the United Nations or elsewhere?
– I regret to say that I have not yet seen this report. But having regard to what the honorable member says, I will ask for it right away and have a look at it.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Labour and National Service been invited to the rumours that the Musicians Union of Australia proposes to claim union dues from the 122 members of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which is to visit Australia shortly? Is the union entitled to do this? If the answer is “ Yes “, are employers’ organizations equally entitled to claim fees from the Czech Communist Government, which employs the orchestra?
– As I understand it, the policy of the federal office of the Musicians Union of Australia is to seek from each member of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra an affiliation fee and also a quarterly subscription. I think this was intended to give the full benefit of Australian trade unionism to the Czechs who will be employed in Australia. As yet the complete arrangements have not been made, but I think that it is the wish of the federal organization that the greatest goodwill should be shown to these people. As a personal suggestion, I throw out the idea that if the union wishes to extend the maximum goodwill to a rather wonderful orchestra, it might think in terms of giving the members of the orchestra honorary membership.
As to the last part of the question, with respect to the claiming of fees from the Czech Government, I know the honorable member’s personal views about Communist countries, but this is not the kind of matter on which I should like to comment in answer to a question.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Territories. Has the Minister received a telegram from Mr. Ward and Mr. Brennan, of the Northern Territory Legislative Council, in Darwin?
If so, what were the contents of the telegram, and what was the Minister’s reply? Does the honorable gentleman propose to take any action in regard to the requests set out in this telegram?
– Late yesterday afternoon, I received a telegram from Mr. Ward and Mr. Brennan, both of whom are members of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory. I cannot quote the telegram exactly, but the general purport of it was a request to me to instruct the Administrator to take certain action in respect of an aboriginal woman named Gladys, whose hand had been requested in marriage by a European named Daly. The gist of my reply was that this was a matter in which I relied on the judgment of the Administrator and the Director of Welfare, and that I did not propose to give them any directions beyond expressing to them the view that the primary consideration in the handling of the matter had to be the welfare of the woman, who is under thenguardianship.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister for the Interior. Is the east coast of Australia equipped with cyclone detectors? Is the west coast, which is subject to severe cyclones, similarly equipped? If not, will the installation of cyclone detectors on the west coast be considered as an urgent measure?
– The north-east coast of Australia is being equipped progressively with a radar system for cyclone warning. The north-west coast of Western Australia is not similarly equipped. Cyclone warnings are given by the Perth divisional office of the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology and reports are received from Darwin, Broome, Port Headland, Onslow, Meekathara and other stations in the area, and also from Cocos Island. I think that the people in the north-west will agree that they receive warnings of cyclones in that area fairly well in advance.
The bureau of meteorology has prepared a comprehensive plan for extending cyclone warning systems over the whole of Australia according to the frequency of cyclones, the violence that can be expected and the likely damage that will result, but under that programme it is not likely that the north-west will receive a radar warning system in the very near future.
– I ask the Treasurer whether he has appointed to the Reserve Bank Board a gentleman who, until recently, was the federal president of the Liberal Party of Australia. Was this qualification omitted from the Treasurer’s lengthy statement concerning the new appointee because he felt it to be irrelevant or because he thought it might be embarrassing? When the Treasurer next fills a vacancy on the board will he appoint a prominent member of the Australian Labour Party to the position in order to preserve a bi-partisan balance on the board?
– It is a fact that one of the persons appointed to the recently created Reserve Bank Board is Mr. W. H. Anderson, who at one time - I would not. say in recent times because it is more than a year since he held the office - was federal president of the Liberal Party of Australia. Reference to this fact was not omitted from my statement for the purpose of concealment because anybody who has followed the political life of this country over recent years could not be ignorant of the fact that Mr. Anderson had been a very prominent, successful and respected federal president of the Liberal Party. While his occupancy of that office should not qualify him, in the absence of other merits, for appointment to the board, by the same token it certainly should not disqualify him.
The honorable member for Werriwa may be interested to know that when considering appointments to this very important banking organization I explored the possibility of appointing a senior and equally respected member of the trade union movement. Unfortunately, I was not able to secure an affirmative reply on that occasion to my request to the person concerned. I hope that in the course of time the trade union movement will take a more balanced view of these matters and that we shall have the kind of balanced representation on the board that both the honorable member and I seek.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Primary Industry by stating that for some months the price of Australian butter on the United Kingdom market has remained stable at a relatively high figure. To what degree has this assisted the equalized return to the dairying industry? Is it considered that the United Kingdom price will continue at or near the present figure for some time to come?
– The price of butter exported has progressively risen from 289s. sterling per cwt. spot London in January last to 375s. per cwt. to-day. According to a recent estimate made in the Department of Primary Industry, this increase will mean that the producer of butter will receive approximately 46d. per lb. commercial butter basis for the year ended 30th June last as against 43 id. per lb. for the previous year. Well informed advisers estimate that the price is likely to remain at the present level at least until December next. In fact, the market seems rather firm at present.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of the remarks of Mr. A. H. Pelham of the University Branch Office of the New South Wales Department of Education when speaking to the August meeting of the New Education Fellowship at Canberra, in which he indicated, first, that only 8 per cent, of pupils starting the first year of secondary schooling get through to the leaving certificate examination and, secondly, that only 60 per cent, to 65 per cent, of full-time undergraduates in Australia completed their degrees and only 33 per cent, completed them in the minimum time? Knowing these facts concerning the regrettably high wastage of human talent, will the Government now seek the cooperation of the States in undertaking a nation-wide survey of the needs of primary, secondary and technical education with a view to providing a five-year national education development plan to supplement recent provisions for university education?
– I have not seen the statement referred to, but the general topic of the rather alarming rate of failure of first-year university students was dealt with pretty carefully in the report of the Murray Committee. It was on the strength of that report that the Commonweath introduced legislation into this Parliament, and this legislation has, I believe, done a great deal of good. I have repeatedly stated the position of the Government in relation to a general inquiry into education, and have made it quite clear that we do not propose to engage in such an inquiry.
– Will the Minister for Trade give some indication of what has happened in respect of the proposal put forward by him at the Commonwealth Trade and Economic Conference at Montreal for international action to deal with world commodity problems?
– It was agreed at the conference of Commonwealth countries, to which the honorable member has referred, that we should work towards establishing greater stability in the world prices of bulk commodities. Since then, this policy objective has been endorsed at the Gatt conference. It has been further endorsed at an appropriate conference of the United Nations Organization, and discussions related to commodities have taken place. It was agreed that the mechanism for achieving the policy objective should be to study what can be done commodity by commodity as a situation arises. The international wheat agreement has been renegotiated since, and, in the spirit of this policy, the United Kingdom Government has rejoined it. The international sugar agreement has been re-negotiated with a wider membership than previously. International discussions have taken place between all important world exporters and importers of lead and zinc with a view to bringing stability into the world price of these commodities by a process of seeking to equate the quantity of lead and zinc made available to world markets to the demand in the weld markets. This has had a stabilizing result on world prices for lead and zinc. The tin agreement, which had broken down during the currency of tha Montreal conference, has been re-established by an adherence to these general policy objectives. I think it can be said that the policy is operating very satisfactorily.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: In view of a statement made by an associate commissioner of the National Capital Development Commission that no more homes of monocrete construction will be built in Canberra, will he consider issuing a full statement on this matter for the information of the House and of the public in the Australian Capital Territory? In particular, will the Minister consider giving details of the number of houses of this type constructed in Canberra, the capital cost involved in their construction, the number of houses in which dampness has been detected and the cost of work involved in trying to improve the condition of these houses? Does the Minister recognize that this* is a matter with a long history? My own files on it contain a number of cases which go back to June, 1951. Will the Minister, in making a public statement, say what he can to give comfort to the tenants who are occupying these houses by telling them what measures are to be taken to improve them? Would it be true to say that measures taken by the building authority, the construction firm, the Department of Works and the Commonwealth building research organization have failed to provide an answer to dampness in this type of construction in this climate?
– I have already made a statement that gives a great deal of the information which the honorable member seeks, although not all the figures which he asks for. I shall see whether I can supply the balance of them. It is quite true that in the Australian Capital Territory it has been found there are more complaints of dampness in monocrete houses than in any others, but it is not true that the complaints are confined to monocrete houses. Nor is it true that it is entirely the fault of the construction of the homes’, it is very often due to the habits of the people who live in them. The dampness is caused only by condensation inside the house. It is generally recognized that the type of material used is not entirely satisfactory for climatic conditions in Canberra.
– If the occupants do not have hot showers and do not cook, they will be all right?
– At the time I made my statement, I indicated that no more monocrete homes would be built using exactly the same type of material. I understand that those responsible for the manufacture of monocrete concrete blocks are experimenting with a different kind of block. In reply to the interjection by the honorable member for Werriwa, which is quite out of order and irrelevant, it is obvious that he has no realization at all of the problem involved. People do use hot showers and cooking appliances in these houses without experiencing any trouble from condensation. Insofar as it is practicable to remedy the defects by installing extra ventilators and in other ways, the Department of Works is doing all that it can.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Labour and National Service by referring to the valuable work of the Ministry of Labour Advisory Council, especially in relation to apprenticeship, safety and productivity, which was prematurely brought to an end by the withdrawal of union representatives shortly after a significant change in the membership of the interstate executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Does the Minister expect that this body may soon be reconstituted so that it may resume its valuable work and contribute to a growing understanding between employee organizations and employers?
– I cannot express the expectation that the Ministry of Labour Advisory Council will shortly be reconstituted. Naturally, I and the Department of Labour and National Service - and 1 think that I can speak for the employers also - are anxious that the good work formerly done by the council should be continued. I am sure that it had a very beneficial effect on management-labour problems in Australia. We are continuing discussions with the Australian Council of Trade Unions with the hope that one day we might be able to reconstitute that body. At the present moment, however, I am unable to say that I expect that the council will be reconstituted.
– Is the Minister for Labour and National Service aware of a growing practice among employers of terminating the services of young men called up for national service training? Is it a fact that employers, who often describe these young men as redundant, usually replace them when they commence military training? Will the Minister inform the House whether it is possible to take action against employers prejudicing national service trainees in this way? Will he also indicate whether any action has been taken up to the present time in this regard?
– I have not heard this complaint before and I have great doubt whether such a practice exists to any great degree. If the honorable gentleman will give me one concrete example of an employee having been dismissed and subsequently replaced, in the circumstances that he has described, I will certainly take it up with the employer concerned, and I shall let the honorable gentleman know the results of the investigation.
– I direct the following question to the Postmaster-General: In view of the fact that the efficiency of the Post Office now enables the making of onedemand trunk line telephone calls, and an opening is thereby provided for any unscrupulous person making a trunk line call to give a number other than his own as the initiating number, can the Minister assure me, and the House, that adequate steps are being taken to detect such practices? Will he also provide that where there is evidence that anybody has followed such a practice a heavy penalty will be imposed on the offender?
– Occasionally, but in my experience only very occasionally, complaints have been made to the Postal Department that wrong numbers have been given as the initiating numbers by persons lodging trunk line calls. As a result, Mr. Speaker ker, from time to time the department has carried out a series of checks on trunk line calls, in order to ensure that the practice referred to is not being indulged in to any extent. These checks have shown that such incidents may happen occasionally - and under this system they can - but that the practice is not being followed to any extent. The department has considered that if there were any indication that this practice was developing it could be dealt with by the telephonist at the trunk line exchange asking the person lodging a trunk line call to hang up and wait until the exchange called him back. The operator could then dial the number given as the initiating number. This procedure would obviously provide a 100 per cent, check; equally obviously, it would also mean that the time taken to put a trunk line call through would be very considerably increased, with the result that traffic would be seriously affected. Therefore, it has not been found necessary to take any such action, but I can assure the honorable member that a check is kept on this matter, and if at any time it became apparent that further action had to be taken to protect subscribers it would be so taken.
– I direct a question without notice to the Minister for Air. Is it a fact that the yacht “ Sea Fox “. owned and skippered by the magician, John Calvert, and including in its crew lovely Pilita and “ Jimmy “ the chimpanzee, was recently reported in distress north of Darwin? Is it also a fact that the subsequent search conducted by the Royal Australian Air Force cost about £30,000? Is it also a fact that the Minister ordered a full inquiry into allegations and reports that the distress signals from the “ Sea Fox “ were part of a publicity stunt by this magician? If these a~e fac s, will the Minister release the findings of the inquiry committee? If it is establish :d th t the episode of the “ Sea Fox “ was a publicity stunt, is it the intention of the Minister to recover all or portion of the cost of the search, or are this talented man of magic, lovely Pilita and Jimmy the Chimp, to be allowed to have their fun at the risk of the life and limb of the members of the Royal Australian Air Force and at the expense of the Australian taxpayers?
– It is correct that the Royal Australian Air Force searched for the yacht “ Sea Fox “ in waters north of
Darwin recently and found it. I did not institute a formal inquiry or set up a committee or anything of that sort, but I made inquiries from my department as to the circumstances. My colleague, the Minister for Shipping and Transport, also looked into the matter and announced, I think, that he was satisfied that the “ Sea Fox “ was in difficulties at the time that she made certain signals, as a result of which she was assisted by the Navy. It is one function of the Air Force - a function which it readily assumes - to search for vessels in distress. Such services are not separately costed by my department and I cannot inform the honorable member what was the precise cost of this search.
– Would the Treasurer agree that the measurement of productivity is one of the most important factors in modern economic analysis and in industrial bargaining and negotiation? Is it also true that productivity indices have been constructed in big industrial countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom but that such an attempt has been officially deprecated in Australia? Notwithstanding the technical difficulties involved, would the right honorable gentleman look into the practicability of having such an index constructed by the Commonwealth Statistician, especially in the light of recent American researches in this field, and, after proper consideration, make an informative report to the House on the question?
– 1 agree with the honorable gentleman that it would be most helpful in a variety of ways for us to have a reasonably reliable and accurate productivity index in Australia. The matter has been examined on a number of occasions, particularly to see whether such an index could be employed with advantage in connexion with wage determinations by industrial tribunals. I do not feel competent to give a detailed reply, offhand, to the carefully considered question which has been put to me; but I will have it analysed and see whether I can supply the honorable gentleman with a detailed and considered reply.
– In view of the enormous profit made by the Postal Department during the last financial year and the expected profit of this year, will the PostmasterGeneral consider replacing the clock in its original position in the General Post Office, Martin Place, Sydney? When I last asked a similar question I was told that lack of money was the cause of the delay in doing this work.
– This is a subject which crops up from time to time, either by way of question in this House or by way of representations from members or interested bodies. I have pointed out before that the replacement of the clock on the General Post Office in Martin Place would be quite a major operation, and would cost a very considerable sum of money. In the last report that I had, nine months ago, the cost was estimated, I believe, at £200,000. That is because, according to advice given to the department, considerable structural work on the foundations would be necessary before it would be safe to replace the clock in its original structure. Therefore, the replies that I have given previously and the reply that I now give are to this effect: The department has many tasks ahead of it on which the sum of £200,000 would be much better expended, in my opinion, than in replacing the clock.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that honorable members received with great pleasure last Saturday the news that he attained twelve years in his high office on that day?
- Sir, I am greatly indebted to the honorable member for reminding me of this somewhat melancholy event.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Air. Is it a fact that Royal Australian Air Force aircraft are being used to fly films covering the present royal tour to various parts of Australia for public exhibition in privately owned picture theatres and over commercial television stations? If so, will the Minister state whether any charge has been made for this service? If a charge is not made, will he state the reason for the Government’s further patronage of these exceedingly wealthy private commercial interests?
– On this occasion, as during previous royal tours, the R.A.A.F. is assisting in the quick distribution of films of wide public interest in Australia without charge to the exhibitors.
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow at 2.45 p.m.
Debate resumed from 13th August (vide page 257), on motion by Sir Garfield Barwick -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill and its architects have been praised so highly that I would not have made any comment on it but for some points which arose out of the debate.
– Order! There is too much audible conversation in the House. I ask honorable members also not to sit in the passage ways.
– Some reference was made to a Ministers’ Fraternal and to the attitude of the Christian churches to this bill. Although they were not derogatory references, they did not do justice to the attitude of the churches. After receiving a copy of the bill, I consulted the Ministers Fraternal in my electorate and also interviewed the Catholic Family Welfare Centre, because, irrespective of my own point of view on church matters, these people have an interest in the bill and should be consulted. The discussions I had with the Protestant Ministers Fraternal, including a representative of the Salvation Army, and with the Catholic Church authorities were very fruitful. They adopted a realistic approach to the problem. We know that the Christian Churches hold very strong views on divorce and deplore it because it strikes at the basis of our social life; but all agreed that if there must be provision for divorce, it should be based on a uniform law for the Commonwealth. They did not agree with many parts of the bill but, while not yielding in their views on divorce, they considered that some provisions were an improvement on the existing legislation covering divorce.
Other honorable members have canvassed fully the work of Marriage Guidance Councils and the provision for children of broken marriages, and there is no need for me to deal with those aspects. The Catholic Church has set down its views in a pamphlet which, I believe, is in possession of all honorable members. One point which was raised in my discussions with the representatives of that Church was that in some circumstances a person who was the guilty party in the breaking up of a home could take divorce proceedings whereas, previously, the guilty party has been precluded from so doing. It was put to me - and I direct it to the attention of the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) as being worthy of consideration - that such a provision is contrary to one of the cardinal principles of British law that a guilty person may not profit from his guilt.
The Churches seem to be a little upset also because the bill provides for more grounds for divorce - in Victoria at least - than there are at present. In addition, the new grounds for divorce make it easier. Some honorable members have suggested that that is the position only as it appears on paper. In this respect, one honorable member drew an analogy with an examiner who weighed examination papers instead of checking them. However, the representatives of the churches in my electorate have expressed real distaste for the fact that more and easier grounds of divorce are provided for in the bill. Generally speaking, having regard to the known strength of the convictions of some sections of the Church on divorce, I believe the Churches are to be complimented on their realistic approach to this problem.
Many praises have been sung in this House about the bill and its architects, and, in fact, the architects themselves have joined in the hymn of praise. In my opinion, whilst the bill might be a notable achievement from the point of view of the legal profession, it does not measure up to the view of some honorable members who have suggested that it is one of the most important bills introduced in the House, and that debate on it is more important than debate on foreign affairs. All I can say is that this bill appears to be a consolidation of many clauses taken from a number of other unsatisfactory bills. Certainly there has been some sugar-coating, which, I must agree, represents an improvement, but as an approach to the problem that was put to us by some senior members of the bar in this House it is a miserable failure, and I doubt whether it will lower the divorce rate in Australia to any appreciable extent.
It was suggested to us by many honorable members in this debate that when homes are wrecked innocent children suffer, society itself suffers, and there is pain and anguish all round. It was suggested, too, that from the point of view of religion there is a good deal of suffering on the part of some persons. A harrowing picture was painted of an attack on what is, after all, the basis of our society - home life. If all this be true, then it is sheer hypocrisy for honorable members opposite to support this bill while they fail to take, to the fullest extent possible, the other corrective action that is open to them.
Probably the main cause of the incidence of divorce in this country - although I realize it is not the sole cause - is the rotten living and housing conditions in our community, and it is hypocritical for honorable members to paint these pictures of broken homes while they fail to take the steps that are open to them to see that the people have decent living and housing conditions, because these things are, after all, the main requirements in ensuring happy marriage and parenthood. While we do not have adequate living and housing conditions, marriages will continue to be wrecked, irrespective of whether this bill becomes law or not. The fact that the Government has found it necessary to bring this wretched bill forward, while it has failed to take the other major corrective action that it could have taken, stands not to the credit of the Government but to its discredit.
– Is not housing a responsibility of the States?
– You will have your go afterwards. In any case, I understand plain English only. It has been suggested that this bill is non-political, and I very much appreciate the fact that all parties have left their members to make their analyses of the bill according to their own consciences. That being so, I suggest that we should be left to make these analyses and submit our points of view to the House without such interference as that to which I have been subjected by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson).
The bill contains some most amazing provisions. Consider the one concerning cruelty. Apparently a man has to be cruel to his wife for a whole twelve months before cruelty becomes a ground for divorce. One act of cruelty is not enough. That will not undo your wedlock tie, and will merely land you in the police court. You have to give the good lady, not just one bashing, but 365, before she can take advantage of the provisions of the legislation. Many other matters contained in the bill are equally ridiculous from the layman’s point of view. This is not surprising because the bill is, after all, just a collection of sections taken from other legislation in force in the various States. On this basis, the bill could have been prepared by any third-rate lawyer’s clerk; yet it is hailed as an achievement and as one of the most important bills to have been brought before the House.
I have spoken to many church people regarding this proposed legislation. They agree that if the tragedy of divorce must be tolerated, then uniformity of divorce law is desirable. They also agree that many aspects of the bill represent improvements on existing conditions. Probably they look upon the measure as being the lesser of two evils. Uniformity may be desirable, but I suggest that if we are really going to make an attack upon this scourge of society, as divorce has been described, then the real front-line attack is by providing the requirements for decent home life and parenthood, which, I suggest, are primarily adequate housing and living conditions for our people.
.- It would be very difficult to find adequate superlatives to describe the social importance of this legislation. Having said that, let me say without heat to the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Courtnay) that I doubt very much indeed whether housing and family life are in themselves the prime source or the dominating feature of what the honorable gentleman described as the tragedy of divorce. I believe that a couple can live in a mansion, with all sorts of comforts, and yet be deeply divided and, in a very real sense, can be at each other’s throats. I believe also, on the other hand, that you can go from that extreme to the most humble dwellings, where the people have none of what are regarded as the every-day comforts of life, and you will find couples intensely devoted to each other and living in complete harmony and in absolute happiness. So I ask the House, with some feeling, to treat very carefully the suggestion that housing and social environment are necessarily the prime cause of our increasing divorce rate. One need only consider the in* ordinately high divorce rate in the United States of America, a country that has a very high standard of living. One then finds it difficult, in fact well nigh impossible, to agree that living standards affect the divorce rate.
It is a very trite saying that the family unit is the basis of civilization, but I believe it is essential to acknowledge this as a substantial fact, and, in turn, to concede that any weakening of the family unit, or any disturbance of it, also weakens and disturbs the community and, ultimately, our civilization. I take the view, and I put it forward with some measure of force, that divorce untrammelled by law would rob our community of great strength and destroy a great part of the character of the community. The House on this occasion has been presented with an opportunity to consider a uniform divorce bill. I should like at once to say to the Government and to the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) how grateful I am that all parties have seen fit to enable a free vote to be taken on this essentially important social legislation.
I believe that it can be said that the movement for uniformity was pioneered by the honorable and learned member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske). I believe it would be fair to say that the movement for uniformity was encouraged by the right honorable and learned member for Hunter. and I believe at this point that the House is presented with an opportunity to consider the development of uniformity sponsored by the honorable and learned member for Parramatta (Sir Garfield Barwick). Those gentlemen are very dis inguished counsel. Each of them speaks with great and unique authority. They speak with wide experience and with genuine understanding. One has only to look at the bill, even superficially, to see that it reveals great patience and the virtues of tolerance and understanding. But I should not imagine that any one of these three dis’ inguished gentlemen would gain any sense of satisfaction if the House simply adopted the proposals contained in the bill without considering them critically and with regard to conscience. I am equally certain that they would instantly concede that this is not exclusively a legal issue. It remains primarily a fundamental social issue.
Lord Denning - a very distinguished name in British law - said -
I have said enough to show that the divorce laws are of great importance. Those laws have been made in response to public opinion. Public opinion and law act and re-act on one another. The deserving cases became so pressing that the legislature widened the grounds of divorce to .meet them. Once they were enacted, however, the laws in turn had their influence on public opinion. Undeserving cases have slipped through and people have come to regard divorce as a matter that can be arranged between the parties. The consequence is that some young people approach marriage with the feeling that if it does not work out well they can always get a divorce. If that goes on, we shall be approaching the stage of universal trial marriage. It is a serious state of affairs. Every thinking person is profoundly disturbed by the prevalence of divorce and its grave effect on the family unity and the national character.
I say unblushingly to the House that I do not rejoice in the fact that we must consider divorce legislation. However, J recognize divorce as a social reality. It is interesting to notice the change in the attitude of mankind towards divorce over the centuries. One has only to go back to the Decreturn of Gratian in the twelfth century and his strong propounding of the doctrine of indissolubility of marriage; that a consummated marriage admitted of no dissolution. We find embodied in the Canonical legislation of the twelfth century the Pauline privilege. We find Martin Luther in his sermon on conjugal life, recommending that the Mosaic
Law, prescribing death as the punishment for adultery, should be put into force by the civil authorities. We find Calvin in his “ Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists “ and his “ Commentary on 1 Corinthians “ strongly asserting the general principle of indissolubility. Even to-day the much debated Matthaean exceptive is held by textual critics of scripture to be very much in doubt as to its authenticity. If we go back 100 years to the legislation of 1857 we find that the Bishop of Oxford asserted that adultery was as sinful in a man as in a woman, but that in a woman it was a social crime of a different magnitude.
Only a very brave man would to-day propound a comparable point of view. I believe that to-day the Church - if I can use the term “ Church “ in its historic sense and without wishing to engage in any theological discussion - embraces the ;general doctrine of indissolubility. The Lambeth Conferences in the present century have produced an increase of unanimity in the condemnation of divorce. In clause 112 of the bill the historic position of the Church is recognized and the Church’s support of the doctrine of indissolubility is recognized.
Having said that I should like to inform the author of this legislation that there are some magnificent provisions in it, provisions that will give great comfort and great joy to all those people who believe that this is a free, developing, and very good society in which to live. I refer, perforce hastily, to the provisions concerning the welfare of children. No matter what messes adults may make of their lives, I do not believe that any person is at liberty to presume to make a mess of the lives of children. I refer to the splendid provisions for reconciliation and to the provision that there shall be a limitation on divorce proceedings for three years after marriage. I refer also, of course, to the maintenance provisions and to the provision for attachment of earnings. The number of deserted wives in the community is simply appalling. The cost to the country of supporting deserted wives is simply scandalous. If there is one thing that has plucked at my heart since I had the honour to be elected to this House it is the number of mothers whose husbands have run away and left them virtually destitute and with young children. It is very difficult for any government or any legislature to approach a problem of that nature without some sense of humility, shame and responsibility. What do you do with a young mother of five children, whose wretch of a husband has run away, leaving no provision for his family?
I should like the Attorney-General to know that in the committee stage I will ask him to amend the bill to make desertion, where there are children of the marriage, a criminal offence. I do not know just where in the bill such a provision could be inserted, but I would like the AttorneyGeneral to know that many people in this House and throughout the country hold very strong views regarding the plight of deserted mothers.
It may be of some advantage in the few minutes’ time that I have left if I indicated to the Attorney-General that I propose to move a number of amendments to the bill. First, I should like to turn to the provision which virtually reduces the period of desertion from three years to two years. I propose to move an amendment to the effect that there must be wilful desertion of the petitioner for a continuous period of not less than three years. I am not impressed by the argument that there are strains and stresses prior to the actual point of desertion. There are strains and stresses in any marriage and the courts should not be asked to pay regard to them. Neither am I impressed by the argument that because of the delay in court proceedings there should be a reduction of the period of desertion.
Secondly, Sir, I have some genuine concern about clause 27 (f), which makes habitual drunkenness or intoxication by drugs for a period of not less than two years a ground for divorce. I take the view, even though my distinguished and learned colleague, the honorable member for Balaclava, would have it otherwise, that the definitions of the term “ habitual “ in the Tasmanian and Victorian acts are somewhat loose. Similarly, I have a very genuine anxiety as to the propriety of granting a divorce on this ground when there has been no attempt to get the respondent to submit to either medical or psychiatric treatment. I believe that all drunkards and people who intoxicate or unbalance themselves by taking drugs are genuinely in need of medical assistance, and that it is wrong simply to bar them from society and to say to them, “ We will have no truck with you “. It may be just because of this social habit that the home has become disturbed, and it may be that if this habit could be cured - if this disease could be cured - the home would be retored to complete harmony.
Thirdly, Mr. Speaker, I refer to clause 27 (m), which relates to separation. The ground for divorce set out in this provision is one that I confess I cannot subscribe to, and, at the committee stage, I shall move for the deletion of this provision. If it is not removed, I will certainly endeavour to persuade the House to rule out the discretionary bar in clause 33 as it applies to clause 27 (m).
Fourthly, I should like to turn to marriage guidance counselling. This, Mr. Speaker, is a work that calls for deep understanding of human nature and its frailties. Wide experience and a special temperament are of the first importance. This work has been of immense help to the community generally and to the many thousands of people in particular, but I should like to sound a note of caution with respect to marriage guidance councils. I think it is essential that this Parliament should legislate to keep out those people whom I describe as well-meaning busy-bodies. It may be very fine for the Parliament to approve of marriage guidance councils as bodies, but I think that the Parliament has a responsibility to inquire as to the calibre of people who are actually involved in the counselling.
Fifthly - and still with regard to marriage guidance councils - the House will be aware that, under the terms of clause 12 (1.), marriage guidance counsellors cannot be compelled to appear in court as witnesses in cases on which they have counselled. I believe, Sir, that this privilege of communication should be extended to include ministers of religion, and I shall move to that effect at the committee stage.
Sixthly, I should like to refer hurriedly to clause 113. which deals with the restriction of the publication of evidence. I hope that the House and the country realize that a tremendously vital principle is involved in this clause. I have always held the view that it has been an axiom of English law that the administration of justice shall be open to all the world. I submit, with respect, that this clause is foreign to the whole spirit of our jurisprudence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that it will make a court of law virtually an administrative tribunal. If there is one thing that has endangered the rule of law, it has been the surprising growth of administrative tribunals over the last generation. We may surrender little by little, we may abandon little by little hard-won and costly-defended principles of justice, without a consciousness of the process. But we must reckon with the day when the process will have been completed. At that point of time, a re-tracing of our steps may be virtually impossible. I take the view - and I submit this to the House and to the AttorneyGeneral - that divorce is not a parental or administrative function. I submit that it remains a judicial function. On this very issue, a great Lord Chancellor of England had this to say -
The broad principle is that justice ought to be administered in open court, and the only exceptions ought to be where it is apparent justice would not be done.
The name “ Halsbury “ is not unknown in this House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On this matter, the Earl of Halsbury said - i am of opinion that every court of justice is open to every subject of the King.
Sir, I will fight proposed clause 113 subclause by sub-clause and word by word. My whole instinct is against in camera proceedings. The proposed clause postulates a philosophy that I do not share, cannot embrace, and will not leave unmolested.
Finally, I come to what has been considered by many people to be a contentious matter - and it is somewhat contentious - the restitution of conjugal rights. I have grave doubts as to the efficacy and propriety of a decree for the restitution of conjugal rights, but I am quite open to further attempts to convince me.
In conclusion, Sir, may I say that I hope that the Attorney-General, the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable and learned member for Balaclava, who have pioneered, encouraged and developed this measure, will not interpret as a condemnation of the whole bill my action in venturing - presuming, I suppose, from the point of view of some people - to present some criticisms of the bill this afternoon. I have the honour, Sir, to be not a mere delegate of any body of people but a representative in this House of a large body of people. I take the view that, in being a representative, I owe those people my judgment. However imperfect that judgment may be, I still take the view that the great body of public opinion to-day holds that marriage is not merely a civil contract, but is a holy estate instituted by God for sacred and noble purposes. In a distressed world, with powerful forces of materialism and cynicism feverishly at work, it seems to me that this legislature has a very special obligation, in its consideration of this bill, to pay every respect, and witness willingly, to the Christian ethic.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I acknowledge the work of the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) in preparing and bringing in the bill now before the House. It is a difficult task indeed to reconcile the various laws of the States of the Commonwealth of Australia, to attempt to bring into harmony the views of the respective States, and then to prepare and bring in a bill which will be acceptable to all the people of Australia. This measure is undoubtedly a patchwork quilt, as it were. But I concede to the Attorney-General the fact that he has worked diligently. He presented the bill to the House with considerable moderation in an effort to make its wide clauses known to honorable members and to indicate just what it proposes to do.
Before I deal with the provisions of the measure itself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to ask: Is this the most important legislation that could be brought forward at the present time in this country? Is this the most important matter for discussion? Are there not other matters affecting the welfare of the Australian people the importance of which far outstrips the matter that we are now called upon to discuss in the consideration of this bill? The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), who has just concluded his speech, dealt with a number of matters, and one of my colleagues, the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Courtnay), also dealt with a number of matters. But I believe that international affairs, the security of Aus tralia, the development of this country, the housing of the people, the provision of schools and hospitals, and care for the aged, are of greater importance to the well-being of the people of Australia than is this bill. The honorable member for Darebin has stated that we in this House should apply ourselves to the removal of the causes of divorce. He has referred to the effect of housing on the divorce rate. I support the honorable member because, rather than deal with the effect, as this legislation proposes, we should deal with the cause of divorce. We should go to the root of the matter and try to remove the factors that cause broken marriages.
The honorable member for Moreton, in a very well-reasoned speech, declared that inadequate housing alone was not the most important cause of divorce. However, poor housing wherever it exists can contribute to disharmony in the home, and can cause marital relations to go astray. Many people are living in boarding houses and flats where beds are occupied for almost 24 hours of the day; children are neglected, and husbands are separated from wives because the wives are obliged to go out and earn money to supplement the family income. These are matters of very grave concern which this Parliament should take up realistically in an endeavour to reduce the number of divorces that result from sub-standard housing.
The bill before the House may be likened to the curate’s egg - it is good in parts. I refer in particular to the proposals designed to maintain marriage and to protect the family. The Attorney-General has acted wisely, and is worthy of commendation and support for his suggestion that marriage guidance councils should be set up. The honorable member for Moreton has stated that ministers of religion, because of their knowledge of the circumstances surrounding their parishioners, should be given the opportunity to play an active part in attempting to reduce the divorce rate. In many cases the parties who are encountering marital difficulties were married by a minister, and I believe that ministers of religion are indispensable on any marriage guidance organization.
The provision relating to the welfare of the children of marriages that may go astray will receive the approbation of the House, and will be applauded by every humanitarian person in the country, because in the hearts of all of us is a concern for the innocent victims of all family estrangements - the children who find themselves alone and unwanted in the world because their parents are unable to live together in the peace and harmony to which they pledge themselves on their wedding day.
The provision dealing with the enforcement of orders upon defaulting husbands is also worthy of the support of this House. The basic strength of the nation is the family, and every action that is taken to preserve the family should find favour among responsible people everywhere. Anything designed to weaken the fabric of the family calls for the most vigorous opposition. Much of Australia’s strength and greatness in the past has flowed from the springs of wholesome family life. Marriages endured then, and the atmosphere of the home was one of permanence, solidity and security. Will this proposed legislation that supplies additional grounds for divorce maintain the permanence, solidity and security of the home and family? I. doubt that it will. It provides additional opportunities for divorce, and will bring about a break-up in family life.
The National Catholic Welfare Committee has published some quite interesting information dealing with this particular aspect. The information shows that the public have been ready to avail themselves of such opportunities for easier divorce as are provided. The Church of England and all sections of the Christian Church have expressed themselves in no uncertain terms.
The Catholic Church, in the publication to which I have referred, has stated -
Elsewhere the experience has been that relaxation in divorce laws has been followed by a great increase in the number of divorces and in its attendant evils. Thus for 80 years - up to 1937 - adultery remained substantially the sole ground of divorce in England, but then with the introduction of fresh grounds the divorce rate skyrocketed, the actual number increasing from about 4,000 divorces a year to an average of more than 30,000 per annum in the post-war years. In the United States during the first half of this century, the population increased by 100 per cent. but the number of divorces increased by 1,300 per cent.
That is eloquent testimony of the effect of additional opportunities for divorce on the divorce rate.
Will this proposed legislation strengthen family ties? Will it help to keep husband and wife together? These are questions which must be asked and answered. A uniform divorce law has been long sought by the major political parties, but uniformity in itself is not the final expression of justice in matrimonial matters. What does the bill contain? Is it a combination of the various State acts and the Joske bill, which was submitted to the Parliament and eventually abandoned? Although some of the provisions of the bill may be acceptable to certain States they should not be foisted in toto upon the people of Australia. More mature consideration should be given to all aspects of this matter before we allow the bill to become law. Undoubtedly, discussion on this bill will be adjourned to-day and will not be resumed until after the conclusion of the Budget debate, perhaps in six or eight weeks’ time. If it can be deferred for six or eight weeks, it can be deferred for six or eight months to allow this Parliament to set up a committee to consider all the aspects of the legislation so that no person will suffer harm and so that the views of responsible groups may be considered.
It has been suggested in this place that the edicts of the Church are not desired and that the attitude of the Church is overbearing, unnecessary, tyrannous and should be disregarded. I point out that we in this Parliament assemble as Christian people and commence each day with a recital of prayers. The vast majority of people choose to be married in a church. They are not compelled to do so, but in a democratic way they choose to have their marriage solemnized in a Christian place. Some regard this as a sacrament; all regard it as a Christian ceremony, and make their vows and pledges. Yet we in this place want to throw away all reference to the Church and to Christianity, and to follow a secular line which may appeal to a few people, but which is, I believe, against the judgment and the wishes of the majority. The majority point of view of law-abiding people should be upheld. When a person enters into the holy state of matrimony, he takes his partner for richer or for poorer, for better or worse and in sickness or in health. That is a pledge. All honorable members will agree that a pledge should be honoured. We are all expected to honour a pledge made to a political party in all circumstances and on every occasion. Yet a pledge made in a Christian place on the occasion of matrimony can apparently be forgotten; it is unwanted and unnecessary when some new circumstance arises.
If we intend to try to make marriage work and to give opportunities to marriage guidance councils in their efforts at conciliation, there must, first and foremost, be an acceptance by those about to be married of the fact that they are entering into a permanent state of matrimony and that a marriage partner accepted in fair weather should not be deserted in foul weather. Marriage is a permanent arrangement between two people. If this is not firmly in the minds of people when they go to the altar in their church, there is little hope that the marriage will be maintained when the testing time comes. Acceptance of the fact that the marriage contract imposes a moral obligation is all important. It goes far beyond the two people who are being married and reaches deep into the community. Above all it affects the children of the union, and this Parliament has a responsibility to protect the children.
I believe that the vow is above everything else and if the vow is not accepted it should not be made. If people do not want to observe it, they are not compelled to make it. The Church does not dictatorially compel people to go to the church for their wedding ceremony. But I believe that once the promise has been made it is binding and should be upheld on every occasion, and that this Parliament has a duty to support it. Surely the provision that a guilty party may divorce an innocent party after a separation of five years will not be accepted by the Parliament as the correct law to deal with marriage. Similarly, the Parliament should not agree to a situation in which the parties to a marriage may, by connivance and agreement, break their marriage bonds. Such provisions require further consideration.
I am particularly perturbed about the provision which enables insanity to be used as a ground for divorce. I referred to this matter when the Joske bill was before the House. It is inconceivable to me that a person should be able to pledge himself in a church to care for his partner in sickness and in health and then assert that insanity was not included in the contract. Insanity is a mental sickness. It is no more objectionable than polio myelitis or tuberculosis. How terrible it would be if a person could divorce his life’s partner merely because that partner suffered from poliomyelitis or tuberculosis! If it ls reasonable and proper to divorce a person who is mentally sick - even permanently - then surely it is reasonable and proper to divorce a person who is physically sick. It is extraordinary that legislation of this type should come before the Parliament, especially when we remember that new cures for mental illnesses are being effected all the time. Conceivably, a person who is sick to-day could be well to-morrow, after receiving shock treatment or something of the kind. I submit to the House that, in a civilized Christian community, these matters deserve the fullest possible consideration.
I propose to move the bill be referred to a select committee of the House. This legislation requires the most careful scrutiny so that no hurt or injury will be done to any person or any section of the community. I need not say much more. The AttorneyGeneral has brought forward the bill. It has its virtues and good points, and we applaud them; but it has its weaknesses and they deserve the serious consideration of all honorable members. Marriage is held by many to be indissoluble. To use an old saw, it is not a trial game, but a test match. It is not trial marriage, but a permanent marriage. The legislature has a duty to provide legislation that will make marriage lasting and enduring for the sake of the children and for the sake of society. The wholesome Australian attitude, which built this country of decent, free people with character and courage, must be maintained.
I move -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ the bill be referred to a Select Committee of this House “.
– I second the amendment.
.- In view of the two speeches made by honorable members on this side of the House I approach this question with a freshened interest. Previously it had been considered in an atmosphere which is foreign to discussions in this place - one in which everyone tended to accept the one point of view. I particularly thank the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. Courtnay) and the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) for bringing back to the discussion a sort of debating realism. Surely there is not anything in this measure on which we, the elected representatives of the people, cannot find some points to debate, if not entirely disagree. The logical statement of anxieties of the honorable member for Darebin, followed by the general, sober conclusions and pronouncements of the honorable member for Macquarie light in my mind also certain anxieties which should be discussed. Very seldom in my long term in Parliament have I heard a discussion in which there has been no impact or decision placed upon the parties concerned to vote in a certain way. However, although it is a good thing to have a vote in which there is no party issue, the opportunity has been provided for moving an amendment such as that just moved by the honorable member for Macquarie.
In the first place, divorce creates a most difficult and complex situation, and for the layman to discuss it he must be activated not by any great legal knowledge but by an anxiety to see that fairness is applied to the community as a whole. Otherwise nothing will be more harrowing, or more dreadful for the parties to divorce proceedings, or for the children of the union, than their subsequent life. Is it sufficient, therefore, for this House to talk of a codification of the law, of making more solid the things that we have found have not been successful? Is there any real point in a man in Darwin having the same inabilities in relation to divorce as a man in Tasmania or Hobart? Is there anything really beyond a legal desire to group certain laws together under a certain codification? I feel, in the first of these thingswhich has been made much of even by my own leader - that there is more than an argument for the mere codification or unification of a law so that it may be spread over everybody. It has to be more than that. The legislation must convey, as well, a feeling of improvement. To my mind, at least, it has not been finally and fully proved that the situation of the people of New South Wales, with regard to divorce, will be improved, although that of people in the other States may be, as a result of this codification - this great levelling off.
There is a strange history behind this bill and the manner in which it has been presented to this House. Members on this side have observed the haste with which the
Government desires to push it through now as an interpolation between the opening of the sessional period and the Budget debate. As the honorable member for Macquarie said, so sanely and sensibly, it will then remain for six weeks in the limbo. This legislation has been in the limbo for four or five years. Its genesis was discussed quite fairly by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) when he said that, moved by the anxieties of the war, the smash-up of marriages, the trouble over Australian girls marrying American servicemen and other considerations, some investigation was made by the Chifley Government. That task was undertaken by a former judge in divorce, the late Mr. Justice Toose, the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) and Mr. Alderman, K.C. It was realized that before this matter of divorce could be dealt with by Parliament in all its complexity it had to be referred not only to the law but also to the church, to the conciliator, the humanist and the welfare worker. Because of these things we have to drive forward. We are not just codifying the law so that we may present a bracket of rules to the parties concerned and say to them “You must observe these or else “. The objective must be to relieve all the present anxieties of humanity which are the dire consequence of divorce and the concurrent suffering for the children of broken marriages. There is always the deepest anxiety that we, as legislators, should do the right thing.
Moved by such considerations the Leader of the Opposition, in his former capacity as Attorney-General, gathered together this legal galaxy. It was not completely in the stellar regions of magnificence, because it did not include the name of the present Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) who is now at the table. Nevertheless, it was considerably bright and shining. As a result of the investigation, the present Leader of the Opposition was about to move further, strengthened with the information he had received and with this panel of experts to assist him, when the Labour Government lost office. But although that happened, the honorable member for Balaclava still had his opinions and his papers and he moved substantially along the same lines in this House. For three years he has moved, on and off, te have his bill accepted, but with no result. In the finish he lost the race. His bill did not succeed. It died. It died of inanition - cf no desire on the part of the Government to proceed with it.
The Government had the benefit of the expert knowlelge of the honorable member for Balaclava, also that of the former Attorney-General, the present Leader of the Opposition, and in addition the information supplied by the late Mr. Justice Toose and Mr. Alderman. But the honorable member for Balaclava was not able to convince the Government that his legislation was perfect and timely. It died; it was finished with. Honorable members on this side of the House are, consequently, entitled to have a suspicion that perhaps there is something more than just a desire which prompts the Government to introduce this legislation at the moment. Is it because of the power and the strength and the marvellous public relations of the honorable member for Parramatta that this legislation is now before Parliament? Is this measure any better than that introduced by the honorable member for Balaclava? That honorable member is not in the habit of eating his words, but he was practically mealy-mouthed when he rose to speak on this measure. On most matters he is really trenchant in the House, particularly when dealing with the Opposition, and more particularly with myself.
So, I ask: Why this sudden toning down? Why has he accepted the fact that his legislation has been superseded? Will he point out to us where these manifest advantages are? It may be thought that we are adopting a rather cavalier approach to a difficult problem, but it is our duty to be somewhat of a devil’s advocate on this side of the House. To sit supinely by and let this legislation sweep through just because there is a galaxy of legalists behind it is not good for us or for the nation. We should probe every provision in it so far as we are able. The honorable member for Darebin has pointed out that it provides for more grounds of divorce, for easier dissolution of marriage and for uniformity of divorce laws, but New South Wales is at a distinct disadvantage. All the legal hugger-mugger which led up to the institution of this business brings us to the conclusion, particularly in view of what both members on this side of the
House have said this afternoon, that it does not hurt one whit to consider this question carefully.
Although it has taken so long to bring down this bill in an effort to have a uniform divorce law - from the days of 1901 when the Constitution was framed and divorce became a practical possibility of enactment in the legislatures of the Commonwealth - we pay tribute to the Attorney-General for what he has done. Nevertheless, in view of the time factor and because of what has been stated by the honorable members for Macquarie and Darebin this afternoon, and also from what we have heard from extracts of recent letters and comments, it is obvious that we have no need to hasten to such a degree if this bill is to be brought to debating point. Let us face it. This bill is only the ham in the sandwich between the opening of this session and the discussion of the Budget. The time could have been occupied with a debate on foreign affairs or with the perennial subject of the break of railway gauges. It could have been any one of the hardy perennials of debate. And when this bill is brought in as a matter of urgent importance, after a long time when the whole thing has been lying about and dealt with leisurely - at one time the Government decided not to go on with it - I think we are justified, and should not be considered cavalier, in asking that the bill be considered soberly by a select committee of the whole House.
I have listened to all the speeches on the bill, and I had no intention whatsoever of discussing this matter, until I was moved by an inner feeling that we should try to take the bill a little more cautiously. 1 listened to the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) the other night. He is best described as a “ thundering good Christian “. He made some alarming admissions concerning this bill, and spoke of some of the anxieties in his own mind about the matter. I listened to other honorable members who have made a study of divorce in its application to the worker, and I cannot pass their anxieties and concern by. I heard the honorable member for Darebin discuss some of the anxieties and attitudes of the churches. It is all very well to say that one group or another has expressed agreement with the legislation. I do not say that I am in favour strictly of the Church attitude to divorce, but I do agree - and who can deny - that some of the social pressures mentioned by the honorable member for Darebin and the honorable member for Macquarie are prolific causes of divorce. Anxiety, lack of a home to live in, the future of children, the bicker and strife that result from poverty, no guaranteed shelter, and no security are the things that break marriages and produce divorce, and there is no prescription for curing them, and no formula in this rather arid legislation for getting out of a difficult and intolerable situation. What are the methods by which you can void or get out of marriage? What are the things that should be done? They are all provided in a dry-as-dust legal way; but the great fundamental human anxiety remains and has not been tackled.
I think that in the settlement of this problem we should get a select committee together and invoke everywhere those people whom we should get to help us - the great conciliators in divorce, the Churches, the parents, the welfare organizations, in fact, everybody who has a mind. What does it matter whether the measure becomes law in six weeks or six months, so long as at the finish, and to the satisfaction of the great legal man at the table, it becomes a permanent and powerful instrument whereby charity, humanity, common sense, understanding and Christianity are involved and invoked in the solving of the problems of divorce that we face, so that the towering divorce figures can be reduced, and so that so many children particularly, to the protection of whom we on both sides of the House are dedicated, will be protected? If there is no element of commonsense and humanity, if there is legalism alone, this legislation will be footling. It will mean nothing.
Some people outside the House have said, “ You are not going to get any one burning themselves to-day about this divorce bill, because it concerns only a section of the community “. But it is a growing section of the community to which all of us, as citizens and members of the Parliament, have a deep and abiding responsibility. So there is no need to criticize, piecemeal, the issues of the bill - the question of the insanity clauses, or the question of whether
New South Wales benefits or loses by having divorce made easier or harder. The question we have to face is: Have we thoroughly and efficiently examined every situation? Because as 1 said earlier, this thing has been before us for a long time. It has a very rugged history, indeed. Commonwealth interest in divorce was first brought about by the anxiety of the Attorney-General of the time about marriages in war-time. Later, the question of domicile, to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, arose. All of those things can be settled by a legal formula. But here we have a bill which is a complete collection of legal formulas strung loosely together in Parliamentary verbiage. But it is not the answer to the problem of divorce legislation.
I do see one great human institution in the bill, and that is the provision regarding marriage conciliation. But it will be necessary to search diligently, day by day and week by week, to find a person who is blessed with the power to build a bridge which can allow conflicting couples to meet and one day find a solution of their difficulties. Otherwise, there is an arrant intrusion into the affairs of married couples, distressed because their marriages have failed.
I rose merely to support the quite sensible and logical suggestion of the honorable member for Macquarie that we should look at this matter further, that we should have a postponement while a strong select committee examines it - and a select committee, of course, has power to draw on the whole resources of the nation. The peo-le who have been unvocal so far can be encouraged to come forward. As the machinery of the House provides, this bill will go into limbo for six weeks. Why not keep it alive? Why not approve the suggestion of the honorable member for Macquarie and vote - since this is being treated as a nonparty measure in this House - to send the bill to a select committee, with the Minister himself as chairman, and those of us who would be prepared to work on it diligently, as members, so that we might be able to make this measure closer to the heart’s desire and bring into what is to my mind a purely legal formula some of the elements of humanity and understanding? Should this thing be concerned only with what the Church thinks, or with what the group think? This is the concern of the whole human galaxy, if I may so express it, and we are concerned to get a formula for the solution of one of our most perplexing problems. It would be a bad thing if the House, in passing a divorce law of such magnitude, which vill bind every man and woman of adul age in this country, did it with unnecessary speed as if it did not matter, as if it needed only a few patches here and there.
Although the bill has, as I said before, taken a long time to come to this point, I think the argument is valid that because it has come to this point we should take it a little further - take it with patience, common sense and understanding, and, above all, with co-operation, so that all those who have something to contribute to the solving of the vexed problems of divorce and marriage conciliation, and the happiness of Australians under the sun, can get together. Then it will be big legislation, federal legislation and, I submit, Sir, human legislation as well.
.- It is a remarkable state of affairs that we should have heard such a speech as we have just heard after the Leader of the Opposition, the right honorable member for Hunter (Dr. Evatt) had spoken in such glowing terms of the measure. One newspaper reported him, in a headline, as referring to the bill as a brilliant attempt to solve the problem. Having read the speech of the right honorable gentleman, who was obviously very struck with admiration for the work put into the bill, and having read the tribute he paid to the Attorney-General, I have sat here to-day and witnessed this very hasty attempt by other members of the Opposition to put the bill into the limbo, to consign it to the outer darkness. And that was done in a very peculiar way, if I may remind the House. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) happened to be sitting in the chamber and he heard the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), who is known here as a sincere and earnest person, say that we ought to have another look at the bill. Nobody would deny him the right to make that statement. However, suddenly the honorable member for Parkes conceived the idea of moving to refer the bill to a select committee. A note was sent up to the honorable member for Macquarie and, just before he sat down, without his having had an opportunity to think about the matter, that honorable member moved that the bill be referred to a select committee. The motion was seconded by the honorable member for Parkes.
Members of Parliament, people with some political experience, know that to move that a bill be referred to a select committee is to make a very deadly attack on it. In the experiences of parliaments in Australia many bills which have been referred to select committees have never been heard of again. In many cases, the select committee has not even bothered to look at the bill referred to it. So this is an extraordinary situation we now face. A bill has been brought in after a great deal of hard work and, if I may say so, after a great deal of demand for it. I disagree with those who say that this bill has not been asked for. Members of Parliament who have had some experience here know that from time to time - and this was, of course, much more obvious before the attempts to remove the difficulties about domicile - we have had a great number of requests from worthwhile, wholesome and representative women’s organizations for a bill of this character. I shall read the names of some of the organizations which have asked for a bill of this type. They are the Public Service Association of New South Wales, the Labour Women’s Central Committee, the Commonwealth Council of Jewish Women, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Association of Scientific Workers, the New South Wales Teachers’ Federation, the New Education Fellowship, and the Young Women’s Christian Association. Women’s organizations of all kinds have asked for legislation such as this from time to time. Various trade unions such as the Hotel, Club, Restaurant and Caterers Employees’ Union and the Federated Clerks’ Union of Australia have asked for it.
I have been in Parliament a little longer than some other members who sit here now. I remember that, in the early years of my political career, a great many people were asking for this kind of legislation. There is no ground for saying that there was no request for it, and we are graceful to the Attorney-General and to the honorable member for Balaclava. We hold both gentlemen in high regard and have considerable affection for them, if I may say so. Probably no one could have drawn more attention to the need for this bill than has the honorable member for Balaclava who, as a member of this House lor many years, has been earnestly trying to improve the condition of divorce law in Australia. He has made a contribution to Australian life by his work. Indeed, so successful has he been in his advocacy of uniform divorce law that the Government has considered it wise itself to introduce a bill. I am sure that nobody regrets more than does the Attorney-General the fact that this course has necessarily deprived the honorable member for Balaclava of the opportunity again to sponsor a measure. In fact, the Attorney-General expressed that regret in his speech.
This bill is the result of a great number of requests. I feel that most honorable members, who are laymen, will agree that the detailed provisions of the bill are matters for lawyers. But it is certain that the bill does not raise the question of whether there should be divorce or not, or of whether divorce should be harder or easier. The bill merely removes the inconsistencies in divorce law throughout Australia. Improved means of communication have enabled persons to move more freely between the States. There is now an awareness of the national character of Australia. During the war, difficulties were created by the marriage of our women-folk to overseas servicemen. There is a great influx of migrants. Now is the time to take advantage of that provision of the Constitution which allows laws to be passed by this Parliament to deal with marriage and divorce. I think that those who look at the bill in a commonsense way believe that it will rationalize these matters. I use the word “ rationalize “ to mean that the bill will bring a rational and commonsense view of this matter before the courts and before the people of Australia. It is important that we should get that commonsense view. Various grounds for divorce exist in the six States and the Territories of the Commonwealth. The AttorneyGeneral said -
If the parents have reached that point where none may reconcile them and they are, or at least one of them is, resolved to end the marriage, as things stand-
He then goes on to deal with the effects on the children. But the point is that when such a couple decide to invoke the civil laws of the States, they have decided that there shall be an end of the matter.
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) made a plea for the keeping of the marriage vows. We respect his views, but we must be realistic and face the fact that there is already procedure for divorce and that this bill will not make any vital difference to it. It will simply bring consistency into something that is inconsistent and make possible a rational understanding of this matter. The House is being asked to rationalize the conflicting laws of divorce. I say to the honorable member for Parkes that we must come out of the Stone Age and tell the people of Australia that there was a job to be done, not in divorce, but in saving marriages, in marriage guidance and in the care of children. In my view this bill will bring us out of the Stone Age in regard to divorce. I am convinced that if this bill is referred to a select committee and destroyed by it, the people of Australia will have to wait for many more years for the things that they now seek. Children who are now suffering in the community because of broken marriages will continue to be treated brutally because there is no method of saving them.
There is no need at this stage to go through the various clauses of the bill. That can be done in committee. But the bill proposes to make money available from the Commonwealth Treasury to approved marriage guidance councils and other organizations. Money is greatly needed for that purpose. There is no need to remind honorable members that many marriage guidance organizations are working with very poor facilities indeed and urgently require assistance. They need men trained for their work. They need men of experience in this work. Obviously, the AttorneyGeneral will not provide money for marriage guidance organizations which are not of a high calibre. So marriage guidance organizations will improve. They will train people, and will be able to do a much better job. Because of that, this bill, rather than increasing the number of divorces, will lessen the number.
The Attorney-General pointed out that many people who go into marriage at an early age have not the great wisdom to enable them to pick the correct mate and so they fall into difficulty. They can benefit by having a counsellor. The provision of the bill which will prevent divorce proceedings being taken in the first three years of marriage will be an improvement. No matter what organization or church looks at this legislation, it must admit that this is a constructive, wholesome, and helpful move. In other words, this is not a bill for divorce; this is a bill to save marriages.
The second most important point in the bill concerns the children. The honorable member for Parkes talked about the harrowing and desperate situation of children in a broken marriage. Provision is made in this bill that divorce proceedings shall not be concluded until the best possible arrangements have been made for the children of the parties. As the laws stand now, I believe the children are traded against financial and property interests. They are not given the best deal. Machinery is to be set up for the appointment of welfare officers and their work is described at the beginning of the bill. The measure provides that a court may adjourn the procedings until a welfare officer inquires into the situation of the children. Surely, that brings these provisions up to date, and this House, therefore, cannot refer the bill to a select committee without thinking a good deal about that aspect.
Under the present laws, quite a few children throughout Australia will not receive the care that they should have, but once this bill is passed, no married person will be able to get a divorce until proper inquiry has been made about the children. That point appears to have been lost upon the honorable member for Macquarie, who moved the amendment which appears to be so ill-considered. Honorable members must have noticed also the trifling way in which the honorable member for Parkes came into the House and seconded the amendment. The marriages concerned, and the children, will suffer if there is delay in implementing this measure. I cannot emphasize too strongly the urgency of this matter. There is need for this bill and it should be passed as quickly as possible. People who have been interested in matrimonial laws, some of them for twenty years, have asked for this bill. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) must remember having received circulars from time to time, although not perhaps in recent years, pressing requests for an alteration in the law and asking for a uniform divorce law for the Commonwealth.
Now, due to the foresight of the honorable member for Balaclava and the distinguished Attorney-General, we have before us- a humane and magnificent measure which will protect marriages and the children of broken marriages.
– There is a difference between the two bills.
– I am aware of that. I represent a country electorate, and supporters of the Australian Country Party are probably aware that all sorts of difficulties arise if a marriage goes on the rocks in a country district. These problems apply also partly to persons who live in urban areas. A country resident who wants a divorce goes first to a country solicitor. Because these actions are heard in the city, the country solicitor gets into touch with his agents in the city, so two solicitors become involved. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that when these matters are entered into fully, with all the barbarism and brutality which exists under the present law, a court begins to hear one part of the action. Another part of it is decided by a registrar and another court deals with such matters as alimony and property settlement. I do not think they bother about the children. People who are in a hurry to get a divorce will merely park the children with mother. I understand that this bill will make it possible for Supreme Court judges in the States to go to the country districts to hear divorce cases. Under that arrangement, solicitors who know the situation personally will be able to appear for the parties and the court will deal with all aspects of each case. The action will be dealt with on the spot as a package case instead of coming under the jurisdiction of a number of persons.
The courts where these cases are heard now are not pretty places. They are often hot and dusty. Cases are dealt with like sausages going through a machine. Little thought is given to the humanities. But there is a different approach to this great social problem in the bill that has been introduced by the Attorney-General, and it would be a serious matter to interfere with such an enlightened and humane measure. We know that there are many weaknesses in our society. We think of the persons who are in gaols and mental asylums, but we never seem to be able to jet to the point of introducing reforms. However, we have an opportunity now to reform our divorce laws. This is a chance for us to show that we are aware of our responsibilities. All the people are entitled to a measure of this sort which will reduce the number of divorces and save the family unit which is the basis of our social structure.
– Does the honorable member support every provision of the bill?
– This is a magnificent attempt to improve the situation. It is idle to say that every part of it will be found acceptable to all members of the community. Please God, we will never get to the stage where everything is always acceptable. We want people to criticise. That has been the Government’s attitude on this bill. The measure was introduced in the closing hours of the previous sessional period in May, and the people accepted the opportunity to study it. They disagreed with this or that section, but generally they are grateful for this bill. People of intelligence want to see something like it placed on the statute books. I think I am voicing the opinions of the people and the party I support when I say to the Attorney-General that we are grateful to him for work he has done. We are aware of the compliment which he paid to the honorable member for Balaclava for the work that honorable member had done towards evolving a uniform divorce law. We are grateful to the Attorney-General for bringing into this place his experience in law supported by the distinguished reputation he has earned in Australian courts and in other countries. With that knowledge and impeccable reputation in legal matters, the Attorney-General has also brought to this task complete understanding of the human problems involved. I believe the people of Australia have accepted this bill because of our non-party approach to it. They have also been influenced to accept it because of the reputations of the Attorney-General and the honorable member for Balaclava.
A layman cannot hope to grasp all the legal aspects of the bill. The honorable member for Parkes, who has just returned to the chamber, did not attempt to examine the legal aspect of the proposed fourteen grounds of divorce. A layman could not pretend to know the legal points or to argue them with those in this House who have wide experience of these matters.
– Are you in favour of the bill?
– I shall vote for the bill; of course I shall!
– Because Mr. Joske told you to do so!
– Well. Mr. Deputy Speaker, for inane remarks, that ought to take the prize. I think 1 am known in this House as a person who makes up his own mind. The honorable member must have come out of a pipe dream to make a remark like that, because it is absurd. It is a ridiculous thing to say. We are going to make up our own minds on this matter, and I am glad to say that there are many people in this House who have the courage of their convictions, and who will look at this matter in the way that I do.
I hope that this legislation will not be referred to a select committee. T deplore the kind of Stone Age thinking that prompted the honorable member for Parkes to send his note up to the honorable member for Macquarie. I hope he may be forgiven for departing from his usual modern, liberal outlook on these matters, because it is a wicked thing that he is attempting to do to this legislation, and I think he knows it. I do not know what goes on between the honorable member for Parkes and his leader, but if anybody ever stabbed his leader in the back, the honorable member for Parkes did so this afternoon when he sent up a note to the honorable member for Macquarie asking him to move to refer this matter to a select committee, following the speech given by the right honorable member for Hunter (Dr. Evatt) on Thursday night.
The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren), who is interjecting, is another Galahad who will have a go, too, when loyalty to the leader is concerned. The quarrel amongst honorable members opposite is not, of course, with regard to this bill. This is the quarrel that exists inside the Labour Party, and it is a deplorable thing to bring the quarrel into this House on a bill of this nature, which is of such great importance to the people of Australia. It is a shocking thing for honorable members opposite to bring their quarrels, their backbiting and their fighting into this matter.
Once again I say that the people realize, knowing the reputation of the AttorneyGeneral, that it is a good bill. They understand that he knows what he is doing when he suggests delegating powers to the State Supreme Courts, asking the judges to take a humane interest in each of the cases that come before them, and asking for welfare officers to consider the cases of the children.
The honorable member for Parkes is again seeking to interject. He was not here when I repeated his words concerning the harrowing, dreadful and desperate situation of children. Those children will be cared for under this bill, as the honorable member will see if he bothers to read it, and no divorce may be granted until the children involved are given every possible help. The honorable member for Parkes now nods and agrees with this provision, although he got up in this House and moved to refer the matter to a select committee.
I suggest that we have a chance now to improve the situation, and that it ought to be availed of. When the honorable member for Parkes suggests a reference to a select committee, he is indirectly saying, “ Kill this legislation, stab it in the back “, and the unfortunate children of marriages that will be broken by divorce this year and the next will have him to thank for their plight. I believe the people of this country want this legislation. I believe this is a good bill, and that it will make a great contribution to the social structure of the community.
.- I think that the speech we have just heard from the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) was wholly unwarranted. His suggestion that the reference of a measure to a select committee necessarily kills it was quite incorrect.
In attempting to prove that this measure is a humane one, he did not deal with the sections on divorce at all. He dealt with the provisions contained in it for the protection of children. It is perfectly competent for a person to believe in the preservation of those sections, and for a select committee to believe in it, while rejecting some of the other sections. The honorable member used a word which has been disgustingly perverted by some of the newspapers of this country in references to matters concerning divorce; that is the word “ humane “. It is a word that normally has no relation to the position of children in divorces at all, but stems from the thoroughly sloppy kind of reasoning that characterizes a vicious section of this measure which was taken from the Western Australian legislation.
The honorable member says that there is no outcry about this bill. There is no outcry about it because it cuts across no vested interests at all. It is wholly devoid of conviction. The Government has taken all grounds for divorce in all States and put them together in one measure. Nobody is squealing, because nobody’s legal, professional or other interests are challenged by this bill. The Government stands for nothing. It adopts all the measures that all the States have adopted. That is why there is no outcry with regard to this legislation.
We have been told that we must be subscribers to modern, liberal thinking. This is merely a certificate that one’s own thoughts are noble. What we ought to subscribe to is valid thinking that we can contrive to sustain by some process of reason and logic, and I hope to use a process of reason and logic when commenting on a section of this legislation that should not be included in it, which was wickedly introduced in Western Australia, has been wicked in its effects, has been sustained in the courts by perjury and has been characterized by gross injustice to wives and children. I shall refer to it later.
There are vast differences in the incidence of divorce in different communities. In the United States of America, the stage has been reached at which divorce occurs in one out of three marriages. In Australia, the proportion is one in eleven.
Some countries have an even lower incidence than Australia. I recently travelled on an Italian airliner from Geneva to Rome, and I happened to be seated next to a distinguished Jesuit priest, an American, who was a missionary in India. He told me that in the part of America from which he came the divorce rate had reached the stage at which two out of three marriages ended in divorce.
I have friends who have recently been in Tucson, Arizona, the richest city in the United States. They were driven by the chief of police down a magnificent boulevarde on which there were two or three hundred palatial homes. Later the chief of police said to them, “Do you know that out of all those homes there is only one in which there has not been a divorce? “ It is obvious, then, that considerations of wealth or housing do not necessarily have anything to do with divorce. I am not saying that poverty cannot put pressures on a marriage that will cause it to crack. What I do say is that poverty has put pressures on some marriages that have caused them to be consolidated. People fight together in adversity. I think, then, that we can afford to leave such considerations out of it.
There is one consideration, however, that we cannot leave out. We must remember that what we enact is adopted by some people as a code of moral values. There are some who are steered by deep inner convictions, and there are others whose courses of action are dictated by social pressures such as the law. If this Parliament were to legalize theft, many people would thieve who otherwise would not, but some people would never thieve because they profoundly believe themselves to be perpetually in the presence of God and bound by his will, irrespective of the law. By the same token, there are some who will take their marriage code from this legislation. St. Paul, who was no protagonist of temporal law and was a profound advocate of being led by the grace of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless conceded that the law was a schoolmaster, that it had its effects on the thinking of many people.
Marriage, to a Christian, is a sacrament, not a contract, and the contemporary world demonstrates clearly the mental, moral and even military disaster which follows from the rejection of deep loyalties proceeding from the sacramental point of view. My wife has a friend who is a very brilliant psychiatrist. When I say that she is a very brilliant psychiatrist I mean that she is a person who, in the sphere of psychosomatic medicine, has taken children whose bodies have been twisted by psychological causes, whose psychological disabilities have been manifest in all sorts of terrible nervous tics and conditions and even suicidal tendencies and she has completely cured them. She has had very wide experience and practice in this country, and she is now practising in London. Drawing on her years of practice she has said that even the children of parents who deliberately teach their children to thieve can quite easily be turned into good citizens if those parents are loyal to one another. But if those parents are not loyal to one another, the child has no example of human loyalty on which to base his life. The two people who affect him most deeply are treacherous to one another at the deepest point and that treachery affects him very deeply, mentally and morally. So all the moral code that we can enact, and that some people will accept, because they accept the law as their moral code, is a very important thing in this country.
To a child, desertion by his parents is a moral disaster. To a child the unity of his parents - not merely the absence of divorce - is a powerful factor in developing mental and moral ballast. A very large part of our education, of all the stuff that is poured out in films and books, undercuts the position of the woman and holds her up as being something other than a woman. This, as a consequence, produces in children, a lack of mental and moral ballast. Those factors have led to military disaster.
I have recently been in the United States and the service chiefs there are at present having played to them again and again a tape recording of a report on United States troops who were prisoners of war during the Korean campaign. The service chiefs in the United States are gravely concerned at what happened in the Korean war. No Turkish prisoners of war broke under Communist Chinese brain-washing. One-third of American prisoners of war died from sheer lack of conviction. No physical harm was done to them. They did not stand to one another. They betrayed one another. They even threw sick men into the snow. Another third succumbed to brain-washing in what you might call the political sense, and another third stood utterly resistant. The percentage who stood utterly resistant would not have been as high but for the American negro. The American negro, in the belief of the United States General Staff, because of his deep traditions about slavery, saw slavery when it was coming and became immediately resistant. So the most discontented element of the United States community according to Communist theory and the one that should have collapsed easiest to this brain washing, did not collapse at all. There was not one instance of an American negro succumbing to brain-washing.
The American authorities are sure that they know how the Chinese Communists went about their brain-washing techniques. The Communists got together thousands and thousands of Chinese who had lived in the United States and got them to write essays on the United States community until they had distilled the essence of the United States way of life. The conclusion which they drew and upon which they operated was that the American people had become a people of weak loyalties in marriage, weak loyalties to their families, weak loyalties to their church, and weak loyalties to the community; that they were happily dependent on certain props provided by the community, mostly of a material kind, and when those props were removed the people would be floundering. On that basis the Communists proceeded to use their techniques. I was told in the United States that this matter was gravely concerning the American service staffs - the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. In addition, they were concerned about the quality of United States troops.
In the United States the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has stated that at least 1,000,000 young people will appear before delinquency courts. American chiefs of police whom I heard speak all gave the same testimony as to this collapse of conviction in the community. They said that it was due to the very high incidence of divorce. Recently a judge in
America suddenly realized that although there were 10,000 Chinese teenagers inNew York City, not one of them had ever appeared before his court as a delinquent. He made inquiries of his fellow judges who presided over delinquency courts in cities having large Chinese communities, such as Philadelphia, and all of them had had the same experience. Over many years, not one Chinese teenager had appeared before them. They conducted an investigation into this phenomenon and they discovered that it was due to the fact that because of their moral code, irrespective of whether they were Christian, Buddhist or Taoist, no Chinese teenager would do anything to disgrace his parents. The American judges make another rather peculiar observation, but one that I think is very profound. They state that whether the family is rich or poor, every meal is a gracious ceremony of family unity. That had a clear effect on the behaviour of the children.
The steep decline in the morale of the armed forces during the Korean War shows that conviction is built in the home. The Chief of Police in Detroit made a very profound observation about his own country when he said -
There was a time when this country was sound, when its security depended on the Church, the family and the school. Now the security has shifted from the Church, the family and the school to the armed forces and the F.B.I. When a nation is moving in that direction it is going downhill pretty quickly because there is a collapse of moral values.
Let us not forget that when we are dealing with the question of what this Parliament will expect of marriage and what values it intends to transmit into the community, we are dealing with something profoundly important. The fact that some child is well disposed of and a property settlement made on him will not give him moral values if he does not get them from his parents and if we in this Parliament do not fight for the simple concept that people should be loyal to one another. I do not say that we should not provide for divorce. I suppose the community will demand divorce and that is all there is about it, but I do say that there are certain provisions in this legislation that we should not enact. I will speak about them shortly.
The Swedish General Staff - since we are talking about military matters - became alarmed when it intercepted from the Soviet Ambassadress, Madame Kollontai, a message informing the Soviet Government that the demoralization of Swedish youth was proceeding satisfactorily. I believe that we get very serious effects in the community when nobody stands for purity any more. When nobody stands for purity any more we have the breaking of homes, the collapse of conviction and the seed bed of demoralization and even of confused revolution, which I think was what was manifested among some of the prisoners of war in Korea. Many of our newspapers, some of whose proprietors, we know, have rid themselves of irksome marriages at will, have transmitted values which constantly lead to the development among parents of a code that they may themselves do as they please and then express great surprise to find that their children do not do as they are told. I think that when the most respectable newspapers, such as the “ Sydney Morning Herald “, put out sidelines that transmit dirt, we are getting into a serious position, because those organs have a very powerful effect on the thinking of this country.
I wish to refer particularly to clause 27 (m), which makes separation over a period of five years a ground for divorce. This corresponds with the provision in the law of Western Australia. The provision means that if a husband and wife have been separated for five years they may have a divorce. Any one who knows the shoddy history of this provision in the Western Australia law knows that it was tailor-made to suit an individual case. This provision means that, if I were to leave my wife for five years and refuse to go back to her, and if she, because of some religious conviction or for some other reason, refused to divorce me, I could then divorce her as if she were the guilty party. That is what this provision allows. The Western Australia law, of course, goes on to provide that, to avail myself of such a benefit, I must not commit adultery, and so on. But one does not need to be very cynical to believe that when a man deserts a wife and holds himself away from her for five years it is usually because somebody else is involved; and also that he is not usually a person who can live a disciplined life for five years and that he will not keep from adultery. I think that anybody who is realistic about it knows that the provision in the Western Australia law providing for divorce after separation over a period of five years has been a very fruitful source of perjury.
The second thing to be said about it as a provision is that it has led to very grave injustices. There is nothing to be said for giving one party to a marriage the right to decree a divorce - for that is what it means - by holding away for five years and then, because there is no likelihood of a resumption of cohabitation, taking the initiative and getting a divorce. In most cases, it has been the husband who has taken this course. If all those humane considerations of which the honorable member for Macarthur spoke were embodied in the bill, this inhumane provision would not be part of it. It is a very inhumane provision indeed. I should vote against any measure that was presented for consideration by this House still containing that Western Australia provision. 1 do not want to speak at greater length, except to say that 1 believe that, basically, this bill is indicative of a spineless approach to the problem. The Government has not stood up for what it thinks are the right grounds for divorce and come to a considered opinion on them. It has avoided controversy by taking all the grounds from all the States, lumping them together, and drafting them into the bill. I know that there may be certain qualifications to that observation, but, by and large, that is what the Government has done, lt has multiplied very greatly the grounds for divorce, and it has given to this Parliament the appearance of lack of conviction on the subject, since we have not stood for anything ourselves, but have merely added up the sum total of State convictions over the years. I think that, from that point of view, this bill strikes a blow at the institution of marriage. At the present time, we ought at least to be clear on our convictions in this matter, because where what is called the humane approach has gone on sliding further and further, as in the United States of America and Denmark, the matter has moved from being a question of divorce to being a question of crime - serious juvenile crime, leading to serious adult crime. That is what happens in any community where no one will draw the line and take a stand. I think that this, very largely, describes the attitude that is envisaged in this measure.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, first of all, I should like to say that, in this measure, we see something that is perhaps unique in this House, in the sense that the Government, in its wisdom - and I congratulate it on that wisdom - has presented this bill as a nonparty measure on which every honorable member will be able to speak and vote as is dictated by his conscience. I should like, also, sincerely to congratulate the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) on the manner in which the bill was presented, and on his second-reading speech. He dealt with a most difficult subject, not in a mechanical fashion, but in a way which indicated the problems and the difficulties associated with a measure such as this, and which showed that he and the Government realized all the problems and difficulties involved in the presentation of this bill. I think that we are indebted, also, to the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) for the tremendous personal effort that he put forward in presenting the private member’s bill which has been mentioned on a number of occasions. Those honorable members who favour referring this measure to a select committee might well ask themselves how much further we should get if we adopted such a course. Previous speakers in this debate have mentioned the length of time it takes to prepare a bill such as this for presentation to the Parliament.
I am sure that all honorable members listened with very great interest to the remarks made by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley). I am sure, too, that all honorable members will agree with me that the speeches made by the honorable member for Fremantle are well thought out, calmly delivered and well presented. However, I feel that he did not keep to this bill in referring to some of the matters which he mentioned, important though they were - matters such as the lowering of moral standards, and a sense of loyalty being the basic need of the nation. Those things are important, but my feeling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that, to-day, it is a question not so much of whether we agree with divorce as of whether we are dealing with something which we feel will ultimately be in the best interests of Australia and its people.
A great deal has been said about the welfare of the children of divorced parents. I congratulate the AttorneyGeneral on the way in which this aspect of the problem has been approached in the drafting of this bill. One may feel that, in an ideal society, marriage should be inviolable, but we are faced to-day with human failings and human weaknesses. It is my privilege to be a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and, in the course of my ministry, I have been in homes where, because of certain circumstances and conditions, the parents have continued to live together although the marriage has become unhappy. One might say that the problem of the children there was almost as great as is that of the children of divorced parents. The honorable member for Fremantle said that, even if the parents were thieves or the children themselves had been taught to thieve, you could bring the children back to a proper attitude of mind and give them a sense of the fitness of life, provided that they had the example of loyalty between the parents. How many times have we seen bickering, unhappiness and continual argument in a home in which there was no loyalty, even though the parents were still living together! That sort of thing seriously affects the minds and the lives of children.
Hard as it may seem when one says it, I believe that if we were honest, even in the face of what we may call our moral principles, we should recognize that there comes a time when, for the sake of the children, divorce is the only answer. If the moral basis has been destroyed or undermined, if there is no affection, loyalty or continuity, the mere fact of forcing people by law to live together as man and wife does not make up for the emotional upset that is experienced in the home. Irrespective of whether or not we agree with divorce, we must try to find the solution to the problem now confronting us. In my capacity as a minister of religion, more perhaps than in my capacity as a member of Parliament, I have been extremely interested in, and pleased with, the tone of some of the speeches that have been made in this chamber on this subject. If the sentiments expressed by honorable members could be transferred in some form to our national life, we would be ;n a much better position. The spiritual foundations on which our lives and our nation i are based are of the utmost importance l-j all of us.
On occasions we have heard certain people say that the moral standard in Russia is higher than that in the United States or in the United Kingdom, because of something that has occurred in the United States or in the United Kingdom that does not occur in Russia. How does one judge the moral standard of a nation? Is a nation which has a low divorce rate and a low percentage of drunkenness, and which rapes an innocent people, as the Russians raped Hungary and butchered little children and their parents, more moral than any other nation? In assessing the moral standard of any country these matters must be considered. Without excusing the weakening standards of our national life I feel that we sometimes go to the other extreme and over-emphasize them, forgetting that in our country we have good people as well as bad, and that we have people who are prepared to devote themselves loyally to their children and to the community. The people of this nation, when called upon to make sacrifices and to defend their heritage, have not been found wanting. I believe that they will never be found wanting.
The bill before us contains some provisions that, perhaps, are not ideal. In legislation such as this could one find the ideal? But we must do the best we can with what we have. The Attorney-General dealt with this aspect in his second-reading speech on 14th May, 1959, when he said -
One of the great foundations of our national life is the family, and in turn the family is founded on marriage. National interest is best served and family life is best nurtured when marriage is truly life-long. The prevalence of broken marriages does threaten our strength and imperil our future. The ideal society would know no occasion for divorce.
Does one imagine that the Attorney-General and the honorable member for Balaclava have not realized that the ideal would be a society which knows no occasion for divorce? But divorce is one of the unfor tunate necessities in out world. The Attorney-General has also stated -
Clause 14 of the bill lays down at the very outset that it is the duty - I emphasize the words “ the duty “ - of every court which has before it a matrimonial cause, to consider, from lime to time, the possibility of a reconciliation of the parties. . . . The bill thus seeks to go further than has hitherto been done in an endeavour to avoid divorce and to maintain marriage.
The honorable member for Fremantle has referred to abuses of a particular section of the divorce law in Western Australia. Every one regrets that this should be so but, human nature being what it is, some people will abuse the law irrespective of its nature. This Government, through the Attorney-General, has sought to eliminate the abuses to which the honorable member referred. The Attorney-General then went on to say -
First, it requires a court to refuse a decree on this ground if it is satisfied that it would be harsh or oppressive to the other party, or contrary to the public interest, to grant a decree. Second, it allows the court, as a matter of discretion, to refuse a decree if the petitioner has committed adultery.
The bill contains certain sections that give the court this discretionary power, and the right to investigate the possibility of a reconciliation.
We in this House have heard complaints about the films that are shown to children both in theatres and on television, films which, with other things, are undermining the moral standard of our people. We must realize that divorce is something that occurs in this country and we must ensure that all aspects of marital disharmony are investigated with a view to saving a marriage before it is dissolved. However, if there is no possibility of a marriage being saved, we must give the unfortunate people concerned the freedom that they seek.
I am happy with the provisions of this bill relating to the children of a broken home. Any one who has had any experience in these matters will appreciate that the unfortunate victims of marital disharmony are entitled to the utmost consideration. All things considered, the Government must be commended for presenting this bill to us, and the Attorney-General must be congratulated on the introduction into this House of his first major piece of legislation.
.- I am sorry that I was not present in the chamber to hear the whole of the speech of the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock). 1 join the debate primarily because I believe that the measure before us is a genuine attempt to provide for Australia a single and uniform divorce law to supersede the several acts now in operation in the various States. This legislation cannot be regarded merely as a compromise because, whether it is accepted in its present form or whether it is amended, it will change drastically a situation that has existed in Australia for more than 58 years.
The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) is to be commended for introducing legislation in such a comprehensive form. Whether we entirely agree with the grounds for divorce enumerated in the legislation, the fact remains that the AttorneyGeneral has obviously given much time, thought and consideration to its preparation, and he deserves to be commended. However, we must not overlook the extremely important fact that we are now dealing with home and family life, with all its important implications affecting, as it very often does, the welfare of children who through no fault of their own are caught up in matrimonial disturbances which profoundly affect their future happiness and, to a degree, their prosperity. It is essential, therefore, that the Parliament keep those matters in mind when considering the legislation, and I do not hesitate to say that the AttorneyGeneral has given them the attention that they deserve.
At the commencement of his secondreading speech, the Attorney-General referred to section 51 of the Constitution, which gives this Parliament power to make laws in respect of divorce, matrimonial causes and the custody and guardianship of children. That section, of course, has always been in the Constitution since federation, and, although attempts have been made in the past to effect reforms in respect of divorce and matrimonial causes, as far as I am aware no attempt has been made to deal with parental rights and the guardianship of children. In that respect, this bill makes an extremely important departure. It recognizes that divorce or legal separation is not merely a matter of granting a decree for divorce or judicial separation when one or both of the parties have repudiated the marriage by committing a matrimonial offence. It also recognizes the extremely important consideration of the children, who are normally vitally affected by decisions of this kind.
Several unsuccessful attempts have been made in this Parliament to effect farreaching reforms of the divorce laws. I have always thought that it is completely illogical to consider these extremely important matters of divorce and legal separation on the basis of six Australian States and three Territories rather than on the basis of the Australian community as a whole. Different opinions have been expressed in this House and in the community generally as to the grounds for divorce that should or should not be adopted, but 1 believe that there will be general agreement that the grounds should no longer differ as between States and Territories. As the Attorney-General pointed out in his second-reading speech, one feature of the bill is that it is expressly designed to kill all existing S.ate laws on the subject of divorce. If this bill becomes law, questions of divorce or legal separation will no longer be decided under State jurisdiction but will be the responsibility of the Commonwealth. I have no doubt that some legal authorities would prefer to have control of these matters remain with the States. Indeed, I believe the point of view has already been expressed that while the merits or demerits - depending on the view taken of the legislation - are relevant matters to be considered by this Parliament, the question to be considered by the Sta es is whether control of divorce matters should remain with the States. However, that aspect has been adequately dealt with by honorable members who have preceded me in this debate and by those who spoke on a divorce bill which was introduced during the previous Parliament. I believe that responsibility for these matters should rest with the Commonwealth.
I do not intend in any way to detract from the meritorious effort of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) in introducing a bill during the previous Parliament, but a weakness in his measure, in my opinion, was the provision under which State Full Courts were denied all jurisdiction on appeal. As I understand it, a litigant could appeal only to the High Court, and this would involve undue delay and heavy expense. This requirement does not exist in the legislation that we are now debating. The State Supreme Court will have full jurisdiction, and that objection no longer remains. Although the AttorneyGeneral has asked that this matter be regarded from the point of view of Australia as a whole rather than from the point of view of the States, I make the one point that the High Court normally visits Tasmania only once a year and in some years does not visit Tasmania at all. Therefore, I believe that the objection to the previous legislation was a real objection, and that, now that the Attorney-General has seen fit to vest full authority in the State Supreme Courts, the objection no longer remains.
I am not able to bring legal training to an examination of these matters and I hesitate to offer an opinion on the grounds of dissolution, but the fact remains that the reforms that have been adopted by the States over the years will no longer be available. When this bill becomes law, questions of divorce and matrimonial causes will be matters for federal jurisdiction. But, although differences of opinion may arise amongst honorable members and in the community generally on what the grounds for divorce should be, I am sure that there will be general agreement that the grounds ultimately decided upon should apply throughout the Commonwealth.
As the Attorney-General quite properly pointed out, the measure we are debating affects home and family life and the future of children who are caught up in matrimonial disturbances. I understand that each year in Australia approximately 800 children are affected by decisions given in divorce cases. The overriding principle in these matters is that although there mav he some difference of opinion concerning grounds for the dissolution of marriage it is essential that the control should rest with, the Commonwealth. The objective of this Parliament should be. as far as is humanly possible, to ensure that legislation of this kind will encourage proper social preparation by couples for marriage and provide for the welfare of children of divorced parents.
As I said earlier, the Attorney-General has given these matters the attention that they deserve. I believe that this is the first legislation of this kind in which so much thought and consideration have been given to people normally affected by decisions over which they have no control. But public interest is not served by making the dissolution of marriage an easy matter, and this Parliament should never attempt to make that possible. I recall what has happened in Great Britain. Prior to 1937 when, in that country, adultery was the sole ground for divorce the number of divorces annually was approximately 4,000. After 1937 when further grounds were added, particularly in the immediate post-war years, the number of divorces rose to 30,000 annually. Every one must agree that that increase must bear some relation to the widening of the grounds for divorce. This Parliament should ensure that legislation of this sort will aim at providing a proper social approach to marriage.
I pass now to the grounds for dissolution. I understand that the legislation in the various States provides approximately 30 grounds. This measure contains fourteen, and they appear to follow remarkably closely the recommendations of the committee established by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Attorney-General in the Chifley Government in 1947. I acknowledge that those recommendations were not implemented by either that government or any of its successors. However, from my study of this matter I can see a definite relation between the recommendations of that committee and the grounds for dissolution contained in this measure. The bill brought down by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) in the last Parliament contained eight grounds. In both that measure and this one adultery and desertion are grounds which are common to all the States, therefore in some States the number of grounds for divorce will be increased. Conversely, in one State at least the number of grounds will be decreased. Proven incurable insanity will now be acceptable as a ground for divorce as will also the presumption of death. I understand that this latter ground previously applied in only three of the States. These two amendments in the opinion of certain judicial authorities, will provide a worthy contribution towards a uniform matrimonial causes code throughout Australia.
A further ground, previously applicable in Western Australia and South Australia, is the wilful and habitual failure on the part of the husband to meet maintenance costs. I believe that there is every justification for allowing the dissolution of marriage on this ground. It often happens that a husband is able to escape his obligations to pay maintenance on which his wife and children have to depend for their existence, and I see no reason why that should be allowed to happen. Of course, a wife may have an opportunity of forming a further union and, as happens in practically all cases, enjoy a far greater measure of security for herself and children than they did previously. Possibly every honorable member has had cases brought to his attention where a deserted wife and children have suffered because of the wilful and habitual failure of the husband to pay maintenance costs. I know only too well how easy it is for a husband to escape this obligation. It is possible for the court to issue an order for maintenance, but it is not difficult for the husband to change his residence to another State and to change his name also. That has happened. These amendments proposed by the AttorneyGeneral in respect of maintenance charges should be accepted by this Parliament.
I was pleased to read in the AttorneyGeneral’s second-reading speech that this bill aimed to encourage marriage and to protect the family institution. Not only does it deal with the broad issues of divorce and legal separation, but it also offers practical assistance and encouragement for couples contemplating marriage. It is very important that it recognizes marriage guidance councils. I believe that this is the only legislation of this nature which has attempted to provide assistance, practical or otherwise, for organizations of this kind. Commonwealth-wide marriage guidance councils work along sound ethical lines and deserve to be encouraged. Although the number of marriage guidance counsellors may be relatively few, they are men and women with a background and training which entitles them to be regarded as specialists. The Minister sug gests that these organizations should be encouraged and subsidized. Unfortunately, the details of the extent to which they will be encouraged were not given to us in the Minister’s second-reading speech. However, it is sufficient for the Government to indicate that it is prepared to give practical assistance to marriage guidance councils. At this point, Mr. Speaker, I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Sir Garfield Barwick) - bv leave - agreed to -
That so rauch of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) speaking on the Budget without limitation of time.
Sitting suspended from 5.56 to 8 p.m.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 11th August (vide page 85), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt -
That the first item in the Estimates under Division No. 101 - The Senate - namely “ Salaries and allowances, £29,600 “, be agreed to.
– This year, for the first time in nearly twenty years, we have a Liberal Party Treasurer. In his Budget speech last Tuesday, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said that he had endeavoured to promote a condition of progress combined with stability. The Budget provisions show what the Liberals really mean by “ progress “. They mean progress for the individual rich of Australia and for the big financial enterprises in the cities.
On the other hand, for Australians as a whole - for the pensioners, for employees, for small businessmen, for farmers and for the Australian fathers and mothers - the Treasurer has indeed provided a bitter measure of stability. The great subject of child endowment, especially, has been shockingly treated. Worse, his taxation proposals combined with the large increases over the whole range of postal charges are clearly calculated to reduce the living standards of the broad mass of the people.
The Treasurer said that he sought to express a spirit of social justice to all sections of the community. Let us see how his ‘* social justice “ works out. His £20,000,000 tax deduction will be distributed very largely to those people earning more than about £35 per week. Only £5,000,000 of the total £20,000,000 will be spread thinly - very thinly - over the tax burden of the two-thirds of Australian taxpayers receiving less than £35 a week. What is more, the benefit that ordinary wage and salary earners may gain from the so-called tax deductions will be more than offset by the higher taxes they will have to pay because of the recent 15s. basic wage increase.
The Treasurer considers it “ social justice “ to give a tax reduction of up to 4s. a week to the family man on £15 to £30 a week, but to take back a greater amount in tax on the recent basic wage increase! The Treasurer considers it “ social justice “ to raise the postage and telephone charges of ordinary working Australians by 25 per cent, to 50 per cent, and even more! He considers it “ social justice “ to whittle away the ordinary Australian’s pharmaceutical benefits by a new charge of 5s. a prescription!
The Treasurer said he sought to provide a fresh incentive for future national progress. What will the farmers think about his achievement - the farmers whose remarkable efforts in increasing production have helped to pull Australia through the recent period of depressed prices? The Treasurer chooses to increase costs in the very area where country people will feel them most - higher charges for postage and telephones.
Despite the magnificent efforts of Australian farmers in raising production, farm income last year and the year before was at its lowest level in money terms since 1948-49. In terms of real purchasing power, farm income in both these years was probably the lowest since before World War II. Yet at the very time when they most need relief, when the need for lower export costs is widely recognized, the Treasurer chooses to hit them with a big increase in all their postal and telephone charges! The farming community will not be slow to recognize the change which has taken place since a Country Party Treasurer has been replaced by a representative of the Libera] Party
The Treasurer attempts to take credit for the increases he proposes in pensions but they are niggardly increases - pitiful increases - which will do little more than help the pensioners in their unending fight against rising prices. Out of very shame, the Government has granted an increase of 7s. 6d. a week. But remember that this is the first increase for two years - two years during which the basic wage has risen by 20s. and rents have risen by more than 10 per cent. Over the next year, pensioners will see the real value of even this small increase eaten away by the steadily rising prices we have come to expect under this Government. This creeping inflation - inflation which has been slow but steady and very serious will continue.
The new Liberal Treasurer has naturally adopted an equally niggardly approach to repatriation benefits. Increases are on £he same cheeseparing scale as those for age and invalid pensions. The Opposition particularly condemns the increase of only 15s. per week for totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners. I had hoped that the slightly more than proportional increase given to these men in the last two budgets would be repeated and that in common justice the men who are still suffering from their war sacrifices involving injury or illness would be given a pension equal, at the very least, to the basic wage. However, the Treasurer still leaves the totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners with 31s. a week less than the basic wage.
We warmly welcome the proposal to extend pensions and maternity allowances to aborigines, and to widen eligibility for hospital benefits for patients in “ unrecognized “ hospitals. We are anxious to know the precise extent of this last-mentioned benefit. The Treasurer has not yet given any estimate of the extra cost involved in the concession and it is not specifically mentioned as a factor in the estimated increase in the cost of hospital benefits. Clearly, the matter needs careful attention when the legislation comes before Parliament.
We also welcome the proposal to raise the maximum medical benefit for major operations from £30 to £60. But I am at a loss to understand why any limit at all should be imposed. Does the Treasurer really believe that people will spend, out of their own pockets, hundreds of pounds on major operations merely for the purpose of obtaining refunds from a hospital benefits fund and the Government? Those people who are unfortunate enough to require major surgical treatment are the very ones who most need medical benefits and no ceiling should be placed on the refund they can receive.
I am equally puzzled to understand why it should be practicable to remove the limit on the income tax deduction for medical expenses for people over 65 years of age, but still necessary to retain the limit of £150 for all other people. I strongly urge the Treasurer to re-examine this matter.
I come now to the very important proposal to reduce income tax by 5 per cent. We are forced to the conclusion that this proposal is nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public. The Treasurer knows as well as I do that when prices and incomes are rising the effective rates of income tax are automatically increased. If incomes rise by 5 per cent., income tax rises by something like 10 per cent., so that a higher proportion of income is paid in tax. Over the last year, both prices and incomes rose by something like 4 per cent. So that income tax revenue, as a result, would have risen by about 8 per cent. By making a 5 per cent, cut in income tax, therefore, the Treasurer is doing no more than to give back part of the extra revenue gained from the concealed tax increase.
This is merely the overall picture. For lower and middle incomes, tax piles up more rapidly for a given increase in income tax than it does for higher incomes. What the Treasurer proposes is to give back less than this concealed increase to people on lower and middle incomes and much more than the concealed increase to people on higher incomes. The bulk of Australians will suffer a real increase in income tax. The few rich will gain by a real and substantial decrease.
The position for the man with average income of about £20 a week in the year just completed is that he will pay an extra 3s. 3d. a week on his basic wage increase of 15s. a week. The Treasurer’s tax reduction will now give him back 2s. 6d. of this 3s. 3d. leaving him paying £2 a year more in income tax than he did last year despite the so-called reduction in income tax. Single men with income up to about £35 a week, and married men with children with incomes up to about £40 a week, will pay more tax this year. The tax on the basic wage increase will exceed the so-called tax reduction granted by the Treasurer. Contrast this treatment for ordinary people with the position of a man earning £5,000 a year. For this man, the Treasurer’s tax reduction has a real meaning. His tax bill will fall by about £80 a year.
This process of slugging the great bulk of taxpayers has been going on every year continuously since 1950-51. The single man with average earnings paid ls. 9d. in the £1 income tax in 1950-51. Despite many so-called reductions in rates, he now pays 2s. 4d. in the £1 and the Treasurer proposes to reduce this to 2s. 2£d. The married man with two children has suffered even more. In 1950-51 he paid 7id. in the £1. Now he pays ls. 3d. in the £1 which the Treasurer proposes to reduce to ls. 2d. At the same time, his child endowment has been eaten away by creeping inflation. It used to add 6i per cent, to his income. Now it adds only 3i per cent. Under the Treasurer’s proposals, the married man with two children will pay 25s. a week in income tax and receive 15s. a week in child endowment so that he makes a net payment of 10s. a week to the Government. If the 1950-51 position had been maintained, he would now receive a net 14s. a week from the Government. He has, therefore, been gently eased of 24s. a week by the Government without the Government having to do anything to achieve it except to let prices rise. Then you have the situation I described earlier.
For thousands of Australians, therefore, the value of their child endowment has been largely wiped out. What is more, income tax deductions for dependants have not been raised in line with rising prices. Prices have risen about 75 per cent, since 1950-51, but the allowance for a wife has been raised by only 37i per cent., for a first child by one-sixth and for other children by a quarter. The Government, on the facts, has pursued a deliberate policy of taking away from the family man benefits he gained under Labour. The Treasurer has not been so slow to raise the allowable deduction for life assurance and superannuation contributions. An additional increase is proposed this year to make the allowance £400. That is double what it was in 1950-51. How many men in the community can save more than £6 a week, year in and year out, through life assurance? And yet these are the people whom the Treasurer feels most need income tax concessions, and to whom he is prepared to give tax relief amounting to the relatively enormous sum of £400,000 a year.
The Treasurer has been even swifter to give relief to the Mount Isa Mining Company, which is controlled and predominantly owned by a giant American corporation. A few months ago, the High Court of Australia said that the corporation’s claim for an income tax deduction for certain capital expenditure was outside even the generous provisions of the existing act. The Government in this Budget already proposes a change which will reverse the decision of the High Court. That means less than six months for the Mount Isa Company to wait, but ten years for the family man to wait for his child allowance to be increased - and he is still waiting.
The Treasurer’s strange concept of “ social justice “ is also made clear by his distribution of income tax concessions. The two-thirds of taxpayers who receive less than £35 a week will receive £5,000,000, which will be more than offset by the higher tax on the recent basic wage increase. The remaining one-third will receive £15,000,000 plus £400,000 through higher life assurance deductions. It means this: Those with incomes of over £5,000 a year will receive over £5,000,000. The Treasurer can see a real case in “ social justice “ for giving relief to those privileged people. Rather, it is a travesty of social justice. For the very rich he has now reduced the maximum rate of income tax to 12s. 8d. in the £1.
– Is that too low in the right honorable gentleman’s opinion?
– I am pointing out what the Treasurer has done. The maximum rate before the war in New South Wales was about 12s. 4d. in the £1. So the privileged “ very few “ are now back virtually to the pre-war tax basis. The Treasurer realizes the point exactly. He has made his Budget, in fact, a class budget. That is the unavoidable conclusion from every point of this document. Moreover, he has done it in a way that is without precedent and he deserves, and must take, strong criticism for what he has done.
But this is not the whole tax story. The Treasurer also proposes to make alterations to private company tax which will, in fact, mainly accrue to those private companies with incomes over £10,000 who pay nearly 90 per cent, of the tax. This further concession to the rich will cost £2,200,000 - well over half the tax for which these companies which are, in fact, private individuals, are liable. So, here is another £2,000,000 or so which is not to go to the masses but to some select groups. The last of the income tax concessions is the introduction of a new method of taxing overseas shareholders called a “ withholding tax “. The Treasure gives no details of how it will work. He simply tells us it is a good thing. It will certainly be a good thing for wealthy groups of overseas shareholders if we are to judge from his hand-outs to other wealthy groups in Australia. But, Mr. Chairman, I must protest very strongly at the Treasurer’s failure to give any estimate of the cost of this tax change. If the Treasurer does not know how much it will cost, he should not propose it. If he does know, it is his clear duty to inform Parliament when he introduces his financial proposals; .The only conclusion I can draw is that there is something to hide about the extent of this benefit.
The Treasurer shows equal irresponsibility in his proposal to reduce the customs duty on petrol by id. a gallon. He has said that he “ hopes that this reduction in duty will make possible a reduction in the price of petrol to the public “. If his hopes are disappointed the concession would have put £340,000 a year into the pockets of the oil companies. It is rather touching when a Treasurer can merely express “hopes” about the ultimate destination of £340,000 of public money.
I have now completed my examination of the so-called tax reductions proposed by the Treasurer. They are reductions strictly for the benefit of the richer privileged sections of the community. That is evident all along the line. I come now to the Treasurer’s proposals to impose new taxes on the mass of the people. The first is heavily disguised as a social service benefit. In fact, it is a tax of 5s. on every prescription which was previously free. The second new tax is even more heavily disguised as a programme for improving the efficiency of posts and telephones. In fact, it is a tax which works out at an average rate of 16 per cent, on the aggregate of all post and telephone charges.
The Treasurer says he is going to impose a charge of 5s. on every prescription, and that there are 16,000,000 prescriptions. So here is £4,000,000 extra tax. He is also going to extend the range of free drugs. Overall, the cost of pharmaceutical benefits is going to rise by £2,400,000. But - and I direct the attention of the committee specially to this - in the notes at the back of his printed speech the Treasurer says that the widening of the range of drugs is expected to result in savings. Here, apparently, is the real magician’s touch. He is going to give more and save money by doing so. The harsh fact is that most of the small tax reductions for lower and middle income earners will be absorbed in paying for socalled free drugs. And once again, of course, the Treasurer presumably sees “ social justice “ in making the family man pay most heavily. It is the family man who bears most expense for drugs, since he must pay not only for himself but also for his wife and children.
There is a special aspect of this question of postal charges to which I direct the attention of the committee. The Treasurer reserves his heaviest load for post and telephone charges. He attempts to justify this new impost by an unconvincing story about improving services. This story can be dismissed out of hand If the new types of equipment the Post Office intends to introduce are worth while, they will pay for themselves. The truth is that the Treasurer wants to increase the Post Office profit to find the money for the tax concessions he has committed himself to tor the rich.
He begins his story by saying he has “ considered the trend of Post Office finances “. The true underlying trend of Post Office finances since this Government came into office is shown in the Budget papers. For the first six years the Post Office had losses averaging £6,000,000 a year, culminating in a loss of £6,250,000 in 1955-56. Since then there has been a rapid improvement, and last year there was a profit of £3,000.000. The Treasurer estimates that without increased charges the profit this year would be £400,000. But this figure is reached only after charging about £3,000,000 for an abnormal extra pay day which will occur in 1959-60. The true normal profit this year would have been about £3,500,000.
But this figure itself may not tell the whole story. In his Budget speech the Treasurer said, “The capital provision for the Post Office this year is close on £50,000,000 “. But in the Budget this Government has provided only £40,000,000 for Post Office capital expenditure. It follows that £10,000,000 of capital expenditure is being charged as working expenses, and that the true surplus is not £3,500,000, but £13,500,000. Now the Treasurer proposes to add £17,000,000 in extra charges, to make the total profit £30,000,000. It appears as though he has been watching the tremendous profits of some of the great companies in this country, such as General Motors-Holden’s, and that, as proprietor of the biggest business in Australia, he wants to have the biggest profit. On these figures, his profit in a full year will be nearly 30 per cent, on turnover. Out of every 5d. for postage, nearly lid. will be profit for the big business Treasurer.
The Opposition will have a great deal more to say about these Post Office charges, especially when the relevant legislation is brought before the House and given the close analysis that it must receive. Tonight I wish merely to say that the justification for them is specious, and to point out that, as with all the Treasurer’s other proposals, the burden falls either directly or indirectly on the bulk of the mass of the people.
I want to refer to one illustration of the effect of these postal charges, which is very significant. The postal rate on newspapers and periodicals, devoted to vastly different subject-matters - I mention union journals and church magazines as two different classes of such periodicals - is being doubled, from 2id. to 5d. a copy. This in itself will double the postage costs. But the previous benefits of bulk postage are also to be withdrawn. There is to be a minimum charge of 2d. a copy even when hundreds are posted in bulk.
Let me give the facts for one journal. I do this by way of illustration only, and I know that there are many such cases in which grave concern is being felt. This journal weighs an ounce, and 1,200 copies of it are posted each week. The present annual postage bill is £81 5s. The new bill will be £520. For a small periodical magazine, this is a preposterous increase. However, I have checked the figures and, as far as I can see, they are quite correct. It is clear that if these proposals go through, this journal probably will have to cease publication. This is typical of the position of very many magazines and periodicals, of widely different kinds, throughout Australia. These proposals will represent a tremendous burden on them, and the only effect will be to interfere with their production, to make publication so expensive that they may have to be abandoned.
There is no need for me to say how important journals of this kind are in the industrial, social, religious and political life of Australia. Does the Treasurer intend to destroy them? Surely not! If this is not the intention, action should be taken immediately to remove this absurd double impost. For such a proposal alone the Government stands condemned, and its Budget deserves to be rejected by the people of Australia and by this Parliament.
So far I have analysed the specific proposals in the Budget and have shown that they all point in the same direction. The benefits are for the minority, the burdens are for the majority, and there are a few crumbs for the pensioners. I want now to show how the same policy was applied last year, in relation to a tremendously important matter - in financing the Budget as a whole - and how it is proposed to extend these financial manoeuvres this year.
The Estimates last year were reasonably accurate, with one exception - public loans and treasury-bills. The treasury-bill issue was £80,000,000 less than expected, and loan raising about £90,000,000 more than the Estimate. Quoting from the national income paper, the net sale of Common wealth bonds, including sales to the Commonwealth Bank and trading banks, rose from £16,000,000 in 1957-58 to £87,000,000 in 1958-59- a rise of £71,000,000. Putting it very broadly, the Government was able to sell an extra £71,000,000 of Government bonds in Australia, rather than having to issue treasury-bills to that amount to the Commonwealth Bank.
But the crucial question is: Who bought the bonds? In 1957-58 the Commonwealth Bank bought £23,000,000 and the trading banks sold £7,000,000 - a net sale to the banking system as a whole of £16,000,000, which exactly equalled the net amount sold. It follows that the ordinary public bought no bonds whatever.
But last year it was a very different story. In 1958-59 the trading banks bought £82,000,000 worth of bonds and the new fangled money market, the market instituted at the advice of the Treasurer, which is in fact part of the banking system operating under Commonwealth Bank guarantee for private profit, bought about £50,000,000 worth. The Commonwealth Bank sold £56,000,000 worth of bonds. So in the last financial year the banking system as a whole bought £76,000,000 worth. Net sales amounted to £87,000,000, so it would appear that the public bought £11,000,000 worth of bonds.
Let me summarize the position: In 1957-58 the public bought no bonds. Last year the public bought £11,000,000 worth of bonds. In 1957-58 the banking system bought £16,000,000 worth of bonds and last year £76,000,000 worth. So - and this is the heart of the matter - the great increase in sales of bonds last year was to the banking system, and the Treasurer himself has said as much.
What the Treasurer has not admitted is that the real operation was a sale of £80,000,000 worth of bonds by the Treasury to the private banks, for which they received interest at 4 per cent, and 5 per cent., instead of a sale of £80,000,000 worth of treasury-bills by the Treasury to the Commonwealth Bank at 1 per cent. Thus the Treasurer’s brilliant financial operations cost the Australian taxpayers an extra 3 per cent, or 4 per cent, interest on £80,000,000 - the difference between the interest on the bonds and the interest on treasury-bills. This amounts to an extra cost of £3.000,000 a year, which was additional profit to the private banks. This is completely wrong. It is a scandalous state of affairs and cannot be justified. Very little has been said about it. I hope that this aspect of the matter will be fully examined during the debate.
But there is more to this strange story: Where did the private banks find the money to subscribe to these Commonwealth bonds? They actually got it from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. This was done partly through a release of £38,000,000 from their special accounts with the Commonwealth Bank and partly as a result of increased advances by the Rural Credits Department of the Commonwealth Bank, lt was central bank created credit, but it was the private banks and not the people of Australia who received the money. The Government got private bank credit to cover its deficit at a cool 4 per cent, and 5 per cent, instead of getting central bank credit at the economical, established, and just rate of 1 per cent.
The Government has the gall to tell us how well it has managed its loan raising. But all it has really achieved is a handout of £3,000,000 of public money as interest payment to the private banks. This seems to me a completely unjustifiable, indeed scandalous transaction. If the Government needs credit it should get that credit from the people’s bank and not from the private banks.
This is not all, for the Treasurer now proposes to go further and obtain what is called temporary seasonal finance from the private banks. This is a new name for the security, a new method, but essentially it is the same type of proposition as I have tried to analyse and to denounce. Each year treasury-bills run up to a peak in the summer and then are paid off as the tax moneys come in. These seasonal treasurybills average £50,000,000 over the whole year, the peak being about £100,000,000. They are merely another name for the Government’s overdraft. They are issued to the Commonwealth Bank and involve an interest transfer of about £500,000 almost entirely to the Government’s other pocket - the Commonwealth Bank. That is as it should be. That is part of the purpose of the Commonwealth Bank. Treasury-bills were the instrument whereby to a very large extent
Australia’s war effort was conducted. Without the treasury-bill system the nation would have been ruined by excessive interest rates, which no doubt the private banks would have charged during the Second World War just as they did during the previous war, as was repeatedly pointed out by the late Mr. Chifley.
But this year the Treasurer, who has been under heavy pressure from the profithungry trading banks and the new money market, proposes to issue seasonal treasury notes instead. They will bear interest at about 31 per cent, instead of the 1 per cent, payable on the old treasury-bills. The cost to the Commonwealth Government will be £1,500,000 instead of the previous £500,000. If the Budget plan is carried out, this will mean yet another handout of £1,000,000 to the private financiers of Australia, comprising those making profit from the private banking system and those making profit from the new system of the short-term money market.
The Treasurer’s financing policy shows that he is intent on initiating the so-called “ smooth working “ of the London financial system and money market, which is always praised without any examination of the facts. No doubt the Treasurer has received complaints as to the supposed crudities of our “ blunt instruments “ of control, such as special accounts. They were not too blunt to prevent inflation in this country. If this is so the Treasurer is trying to create in Australia the outmoded London financial system. The Bank of England no longer relies on the so-called “ delicate influences “ of the money market to control the private banks. It just determines how much they can and do lend. There is that direct influence amounting to control.
This is not the only sign in the Treasurer’s speech that he is uncertain of his facts and unsure as to his policy. The specious attempt to justify his 5 per cent, tax cut as “equal proportionate relief “ to “ all the 4,000,000 taxpayers “ is typical of his uncertainty. There is no equal proportionate relief at all. The relief is of great benefit to a few but is a burden to the majority. There is obscurity as to the effect of the pharmaceutical benefits changes, of the withholding tax and of the apparent proposal to increase Public Service superannuation only for senior officers.
In many respects the Budget flies in the face of the real position in Australia to-day. While it may be true that production has stopped falling and unemployment has stopped rising, we still have far too many unemployed men, particularly in special areas, and far too much unused productive capacity. Nobody knows this better than the special committee of this party, which has spent a large part of the recent recess in investigating conditions in coal mining areas, where the position is very serious. I think the unemployment position has been overstated by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), who was strongly criticized recently in a leading article published in the “ Canberra Times. “
Many of my colleagues have examined the effects of mechanisation and automation in industry. In an official report, the Department of Trade referred to the fact that one result of that is an increase in profit, particularly in terms of labour. You do not often find a statement as frank and brutal as that. This has happened in the coal industry. In the coal industry mechanisation has been assisted by Government subsidy. The cost of coal has been permitted to rise. Production has reached a very high peak. The result is that thousands of coal miners in Australia have lost employment. I say that that is not the way to maintain the capacity of this country to provide full employment. It is quite fatuous for the Treasurer to speak as he has done of the migration programme, vital though it is. He must know very well that the attraction of Australia for migrants has diminished because the economic position of employees in many of the countries of Europe has improved. The tendency to stay in one’s own country must be considered, and migrants must be attracted here. Outward migration, too, is a factor to be kept in mind. The current rate of economic expansion is no more than sufficient to maintain the level of recent years. We know, particularly from the experience of the last two years, that that rate is not high enough.
In a desperate attempt to infuse some colour and enthusiasm into his Budget speech, which began so promisingly, the Treasurer soon fell back into the purple patches of that very long peroration of his, which I shall not quote now, instead of stating clearly a progressive financial policy for the ordinary Australian. If we are to have more Budgets such as this, the only people likely to advance and progress are the big financial and business interests, and not the family man, the farmer, the worker, the small business man or business woman, the pensioner, or the rising generation - the most important group of all. So much is clear from the confusion which marks out the right honorable gentleman’s speech and his proposals. I submit to the committee that a fair analysis of the speech and the comments which I have made will show that these comments are justified. To the Treasurer, the big business community is Australia, and it is to them that all the benefits should go. That is the spirit of this Budget, which is meeting with stern criticism by all sections of the people of Australia - except, of course, those who are directly advantaged.
I think that a fair judgment of history will be that the Labour movement has been the architect of the foundation of the growth of Australia to-day. Having regard to the war effort and Labour’s post-war proposals, in the light of this Government’s action, there is only one course open to us: We forthrightly condemn the Government’s policy of taking from the many in order to give to the few. We trenchantly oppose the extension of privilege for which, I regret to say, the new Treasurer is making himself a principal advocate. We express our profound indignation that this Government should attempt to foist on to the Australian people a travesty of justice such as, in numerous instances, I have shown this to be. I should like to contrast this Budget - and I am sure that the people will contrast it - with Labour’s principle of a society free from economic injustice in which all will advance equally in health, in freedom and in prosperity.
To mark the Opposition’s strong disapproval and censure of this Budget, Mr. Chairman, I move -
That the first item be reduced by £1.
– Mr. Chairman, there are many things which have been said by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) tonight about which I wish to make some comments. Before I proceed to deal with them, however, 1 should like to take the opportunity of congratulating the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) on the presentation of his first Budget in this place. Notwithstanding the comments that have been made by the Leader of the Opposition, 1 believe that this Budget puts the hall-mark on the policies which this Government has adopted for some years now. I hope, Sir, that the present Treasurer will have many opportunities of presenting Budgets in this chamber.
I believe that two approaches to a
Budget can be made. The first, which has been adopted by the Leader of the Opposition, is willy-nilly to pick out various items and, by some method best understood by the individual himself, to criticize the inadequacy of concessions, the level of a particular benefit, such as social services, or the additional imposts which are to be levied. The second approach, Sir, is to make an analysis on a basis of reason, having regard to the overall economy and what is fair and reasonable to the individual, in respect of both the charges to be levied on him and the benefits to be given to him, so that, in the ultimate, with every one accepting a reasonable share of responsibility, opportunity and encouragement of individual and collective initiative and enterprise remain. This is the policy which has been adopted by the Government in the ten Budgets which it has brought down since 1949, and it is in direct contrast to the first method, which, I suggest, is the method always adopted by the Australian Labour Party in its criticism of this Government’s Budgets.
The Leader of the Opposition has criticized many things this evening, Sir, and it is impossible for me to deal with every criticism that he made. No doubt my colleagues will answer many of the criticisms with which I am unable to deal in the time at my disposal now. The right honorable gentleman has dealt in particular with four main things - child endowment, the new postal charges, the charge of 5s. for prescriptions under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, and the distribution of the 5 per cent. reduction of income tax. I should like to deal with each of these four things before making some general comments about the Budget and the economy. The Leader of the Opposition criticized the Government for not increasing child endowment in recent years. I remind the Opposition, as I remind the committee, that when this Government took office in 1949 no endowment was paid for the first child. Labour had been in office for about eight years, but had done nothing about it. As soon as we took office, we did something about it, and introduced endowment for the first child.
– You frittered it away in higher prices.
Order! The Leader of the Opposition and the Treasurer were heard without interruptions, and I. ask the committee to extend the same courtesy to every other honorable member who speaks in this debate. I ask for silence from honorable members generally while other honorable members are speaking.
– I suggest that this Government has done a number of things which have had the same effect as an increase in child endowment would have had. First of all, it introduced the medical benefits scheme, which provides fora Commonwealth subsidy to meet the cost of medical treatment - a cost which was previously met in full by the family. This Government has been responsible, also, for the introduction of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, the provision of free milk for school children under the age of 13 years, the provision of poliomyelitis vaccine free of charge, the introduction of special tax concessions for educational expenses, the introduction of the Commonwealth Scholarships Scheme in 1951, and increased tax concessions in respect of dependants. I think that if we were to add up the value of these things to the taxpayer - especially to the family man - we should inevitably come to the conclusion that they represent a very substantial benefit to him compared with the kind of benefit envisaged by the Australian Labour Party in respect of child endowment.
– Does the Minister not believe in child endowment?
– I believe in a lot of things, including child endowment. I do not have a one-track mind like the honorable member has.
The Leader of the Opposition has criticized the proposal to increase Post Office charges. I should like to mention the activities of the Post Office from a cash point of view - I emphasize “ cash point of view “ - over the past four or five years. In 1955-56, the Post Office had a deficit of £6,300,000. The next year it had a deficit of £1,100,000; in 1957-58 the deficit was £200,000 and last year it had a surplus of £3,000,000. The net result is a deficit of £4,600,000. Capital expenditure has ranged from £29,000,000 to £36,000,000 per year, the total for the four-year period being £131,000,000. Not one penny of that capital expenditure has been recovered from charges levied by the Post Office. When one considers the figures contained in the Budget, and deducts estimated income from estimated expenditure, the deficit would be not less than £300,000 if the increased charges, which will return £11,000,000, had not been proposed.
Broadcasting and television have been responsible for a Post Office deficit of £3,400,000 over the four-year period to which I have referred, and capital expenditure amounting to £6,500,000 has not been recovered. With that background the Government has every justification for its approach to the matter of increased postal charges.
As for the proposed postage increase, honorable members will agree that the average family does not post more than three to six letters each week. The proposed increase means that the average family will be faced with an increased expenditure of from 3d. to 66. a week. Big business houses are the principal users of the Post Office. They will have to carry the burden of the increase of postage charges. This is the first occasion that I can remember on which supporters of the Labour Party have become advocates of big business. Having regard to the recently published balance-sheets of public companies, I feel certain that they will be able to carry, and absorb, the increased postal charges without difficulty. I remind honorable members that for a long time the general taxpayers of the community have been subsidizing the advertising costs of these businesses. When a catalogue has been sent to country people it has been carried at a cost below the actual cost of transmission. The differ ence has been borne by the general taxpaying public. Surely, therefore, the Government has every justification for increasing postal charges. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) who, no doubt, will participate in this debate, will give the House detailed information as to the proposals.
When the people of Australia examine the Government’s proposal in the light of what I have said, they will appreciate that they will not be placed at any serious disadvantage by the increased postal charges, particularly having regard to the fact that the surcharge on airmail letters will be eliminated. If only one of the average number of letters posted by a family each week is an airmail letter, 2d. will be saved on that letter alone as compared with the present rates.
In reply to the criticism of the Leader of the Opposition, I emphasize, as did the Treasurer, that no change will be made in the pensioner pharmaceutical benefits scheme. I shall outline to honorable members some of the history of this scheme. When we came to office in 1949, a very limited pharmaceutical benefits scheme was in operation, the total cost for the last year in which the Labour Party was in power being £149,000. In 1951, this Government introduced a new and very comprehensive scheme covering lifesaving or disease-preventing drugs, a scheme that has proved eminently successful for the past eight years. During that period, the number of prescriptions dispensed has increased very substantially, placing a heavy burden on the annual Budget. It is not unreasonable that the Government should seek to spread the burden on a more general scale. Fifty-five per cent, of the prescriptions written by doctors come within the category of lifesaving or disease-preventing drugs which, up to the present, have been dispensed free to the patient. For the other 45 per cent, a charge has been made by the chemist. The prescriptions fall into two groups, the first, the 55 per cent, group which until now has been dispensed free but will now be subject to a charge of 5s., and the second, the 45 per cent, group, for which an average charge of 15s. has been made. Prescriptions in the second group will now come into the scheme and be dispensed at a charge of 5s. each. The percentages to which I have referred are almost equal, and the patient who previously obtained one prescription free and one for which he was charged 15s. or more, will now receive two prescriptions for 10s. Under the new scheme, the people will be better off than they were previously.
The Leader of the Opposition has said that the proposal will cost an additional £2,000,000 this year. That is not unreasonable when one remembers that in the first year of the scheme 3,600,000 prescriptions were written, whilst in the year just ended the number had increased to 16,000,000. It is expected that the number will increase progressively and, therefore, the cost will be related to the increased number rather than to the increased cost of the average prescription.
The proposal to reduce personal income tax by 5 per cent, was also criticized by the Leader of the Opposition, who stated that the basic wage earner would pay £2 a year more in tax. However, he did not mention that that amount would be paid out of an increased income of £39 that the wage-earner would receive. It is all very fine to adopt the attitude that the community should receive a wage increase exempt from income tax, but that principle has never been adopted by the Labour Party or by a Liberal government in relation to taxation. What has happened, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, is that those in the lower income brackets will receive a lower money advantage than those in the higher brackets.
By way of illustration, I take the man who has been paying £100 in tax and compare him with the man who has been paying £1,000 in tax. What I am trying to indicate to the House is that, although the man on the bigger income receives a larger amount in the taxation reduction, the relativity between the two individuals is maintained. The 5 per cent, applied to £100 means a reduction of £5, to £95 in taxation, and applied to the £1,000 means a reduction of £50, to £950. But whether the comparison is made before or after the reduction of 5 per cent., the man paying the higher amount of taxation still pays ten times amuch as the man paying the lower amount of taxation. The principle that has always been accepted on both sides of the House is that the lower income earner should pay a lower rate of tax than the higher income earner. We have not altered the principle in any way in making this reduction. What the Leader of the Opposition wants to do is to apply any reduction wholly to the abolition of taxation on the man earning the lower income and, when he has been completely exempted, to apply any reduction to the next highest income in the scale. I suggest to the right honorable gentleman that, if that is to be his principle, the middle and higher income earners will never receive a reduction in taxation, and when that day arrives initiative and enterprise will b: killed.
I want to turn now from criticisms of the points made by the Leader of the Opposition to one or two aspects of the Budget as I see them. First, I want to make some analysis of the additional income that the Government would have received had there not been a reduction in income tax and then to show clearly what has happened in relation to it. In this context, I think it will be clearly pointed out to the Leader of the Opposition that, far from being a rich man’s Budget, this is a Budget in which the smaller person in the community benefits to a greater extent than does the rich man. T think the right honorable gentleman also referred to this as a “ class Budget “.
The additional income that would have been available was £119,000,000, and was made up in three items. The first was an increase in income tax receipts of £100,000,000, the next was the revenue from increased Post Office charges of £11,000.000 and the third was an increase from business undertakings of £8,000,000. It is interesting to see how that total of £119,000,000, which I emphasize is the extra income that the Government would have had available to it, has been used. The taxation concessions, including the 5 per cent, reduction, amount to £21,500,000; the concessions and additional payments in relation to the National Welfare Fund, which include the 7s. 6d. a week increase in pension for the aged, invalid and widows, amount to £22,500,000; war and repatriation services, which in the main represent the increase in pensions to ex-servicemen and in entitlements, account for £9,000,000: payments to the States, £35,000,000; business undertakings, £10,000,000; Commonwealth capital works, £10,000,000; defence, £4,000,000; territories, £3,000,000; departmental, £7,000,000; and an adjustment as between miscellaneous expenditure and reserves, a credit of £3,000,000. Those amounts total £119,000,000.
The first four items - taxation concessions, the National Welfare Fund, war and repatriation services and payments to the States - account for no less than 74 per cent, of the additional income that would have been available to the Government; £88,000,000 of our increase in income is used in this way. When the Leader of the Opposition suggests that, because there were greater increases in taxation, we should have been able to give greater benefits and concessions to the taxpaying public, I point to these facts because I believe they should be clearly understood.
I want to go a little further in this analysis. I gave a figure of £10,000,000 from business undertakings and I believe that that can be considered as offset against increased revenue of the business undertakings. If we take the £10,000,000 in increased Commonwealth works, we are left with an amount of £14,000,000 which is the only amount that can be said to relate to Commonwealth departmental expenditure. I mention this amount particularly because there is within the community a feeling that, when we have a very considerable increase in income, it is spent in the main in building up departments or in Government activities. However, of this £14,000,000 no less than £8,000,000 represents the extra pay day in this year and the increase in the basic wage. Therefore, the amount for extra departmental activity is only £6,000,000. In a Budget which totals nearly £1,400,000,000, I believe that the Government deserves credit for its judgment in keeping increased departmental expenditure to such a low figure.
I should like now to refer to the economic growth of the community over the past few years, particularly during the last twelve months. No Budget is, in my opinion, complete in itself as a document. It must be read in conjunction with the achievements within the community and in a substantial part as a contribution to those achievements, to the development of the nation’s reserve and to the maintenance of economic stability. I ask honorable members and the public to look at some of the pertinent facts. Over the past ten years, the population has increased by 27 per cent., from just under 8,000,000 to just over 10,000,000 people. In that time, production has increased to levels that would never have been thought possible ten years ago One has not time to deal with all the items but one gets an idea of what those increases represent by looking at some of the items. Production of pig iron increased by 119 per cent.; ingot steel by 171 per cent.; brown coal by 75 per cent.; black coal by 37 per cent; electricity by 133 per cent.; cement by 142 per cent.; refrigerators by 49 per cent.; and copper by 446 per cent. The Leader of the Opposition, in criticizing the situation, referred to farm incomes. In this year alone they have increased by £73,000,000 to £408,000,000. The number of factories has increased, in ten years, from 40,000 to 54,000. The amount spent on dwelling construction has increased from £67,000,000 to £248,000,000. The expenditure on motor vehicles has increased from £81,000,000 to £296,000,000. Savings bank deposits have shown an increase from £498,000,000 to £1,391,000,000.
I believe that to those figures must be added other items such as improvements and extension of our social service benefits, greater industrial peace, a better balanced industrial structure and the fact that our overseas reserves are to-day al £515,000,000. There has been a very strong inflow of overseas capital. One could add many times to these items and to the factors which I have mentioned in this list. At the present time there is a tremendous feeling of confidence in the economy of this country not only by people outside Australia but also by Australians themselves.
.- Half an hour is an inadequate period in which to voice all the criticisms I should like to level against this dishonest Budget. I think we can readily agree that what the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) endeavoured to do was to camouflage the situation and try to make Australian people believe that all was well with this nation and with its economy. I hope to prove otherwise.
This Government has been very lucky. Each time that it thought it was facing economic difficulties something turned up to help it out. But the mere fact that the Government was able to find the money to enable it almost to balance its budget this year does not mean, as the Treasurer said, that Australia has had a good year. Let us examine the figures. Our overseas reserves fell by approximately £10,000,000, whereas it was expected that they would fall by £100,000,000. But our export trade balance, representing the physical goods which we export from this country, exceeded imports by an amount of only £16,000,000, without taking into consideration what are known as the invisible items. These items include shipping freights, insurance premiums and so on, and they amounted to £203,000,000. Without borrowing and putting this country further into debt - further in pawn - we would have been down £177,000,000 instead of £10,000,000.
How did the Government obtain that £177,000,000? It is represented by £31,000,000 in overseas loans, £112,000,000 of foreign investments in Australia, and undistributed profits on foreign investments in this country amounting to £34,000,000. That is where the money came from and that is how the Government was almost able to balance its Budget.
In the last two years Australia’s overseas trade balance has been £51,000,000 down, our overseas reserves falling by that amount. This year the Government, under great pressure, decided to increase imports from £800,000,000 to £850,000,000. As a consequence, in this coming year Australia will have to earn another £50,000,000 in export income before we will recover the situation that exists to-day. What does the Export Development Council say? The council was established by this Government. In its first report it said that exports must rise in the next five years by £250,000,000. This means that at the end of that period Australia will have to earn £1,100,000 from exports in order to maintain ordinary development in this country. The Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) seems to think that the position of the farming community is satisfactory and that this effort will not be beyond our primary producers. It is not merely a question of getting better prices; production must be expanded also. I wish to refer to the latest figures produced by the Bureau of Agriculture Economics. They show that 15.5 per cent, of growers in the wheat-sheep zone in New South Wales for the 1957-58 season suffered a loss and that 24.4 per cent, made a profit of less than £500. Altogether, about 40 per cent, of the producers in the wheatsheep zone in New South Wales during that year of operation made an income of £500 or less.
But internal prices are still rising. Has this Government given away the fight against inflation? Every time it presents a Budget it is bigger and better than that of the preceding year. Up goes Government expenditure and, as the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) pointed out, prices continue to rise. For the year ended 30th June last, the interim retail price index for the six capital cities in Australia showed an increase of 2.6 per cent.
Wool prices have certainly improved slightly, but they are still down. The average price this year was 49d. a lb., as against 65. 4d. in the preceding season. Meat exports are helping the Government out in this trading period. But what is the situation there? Everybody knows the material effect that meat exports had on the Government’s budgetary position. Yet in recent times, in the United States of America, the price of boned beef, which is most in demand in that country from Australia, has fallen from 45 cents to 28 cents per lb., and the market is being flooded. Last year 57,000 tons of beef and 14,000 tons of mutton were sent from Australia to the United States of America market. Already in this year, which commenced only on 1st July last, 35,000 tons of Australian beef have been exported. It is most likely that, as a result of flooding the market, prices will fall still lower. But while we are exporting meat to the United States of America a shortage is being created in Australia. Prices on the local market are being forced up, and the difficulties of the local community and of local industry are increased.
The Minister for Supply stated that secondary industries were expanding, and he mentioned the increase in the number of factories in the last ten years. On that subject I refer him to the index figure for Australian factory production as shown in a report by the Australia and New Zealand Bank Ltd. According to that authority, factory output for the third quarter of 1958-59 - that is the quarter ended 31st March last - was no higher than for the third quarter of 1957-58. So bad is business in this country to-day that the Retail Traders Association of all people has asked the Government to increase social service payments not by 7s. 6d. a week but by £1 a week. Why did it make that request? lt stated that it was necessary in order to stimulate consumer spending.
Now, let me turn to the Government’s proposals. How does it intend to keep up the demand for Australian commodities? First, by increasing the migration intake to 125,000 a year. So that this would be accepted by the Australian people, the Treasurer assured us that last year had been a good year for home-building. He said that 80,000 homes had been built in that period. Any one would imagine that that meant the housing problem had been solved. The people have often been promised that a solution of this problem was being reached. But what does Professor Denis Winston, the Professor of Town and Country Planning at the Sydney University say? He said that Sydney - and he was dealing with only one metropolitan city in Australia - had at least 100,000 homes that were not fit to live in by modern standards. The New South Wales Housing Advisory Committee which was appointed by the present Labour Government in that State and on which all housing interests are represented - not only trade unions but also master builders, co-operative building societies and trading banks - recommends as a solution to the housing problem - which the Treasurer seems to think has been solved already - that there should be lower ceilings, that shower recesses should replace bathrooms and that laundries should be eliminated. This is because it recognizes the desperate housing need in the Australian community. They are attempting, by recommendations such as this, to bring down the cost of production and to increase the number of homes built.
Take the unemployment position. I have often said in this Parliament that the figures that are continually released by this Government about the unemployment position are false. They do not disclose the exact position, and I hope to be able to prove here this evening that I am right in saying so. Tn this Parliament we have had the responsible Minister continually saying that the unemployment position has improved, and referring us to the figures of registered unemployed. The next speaker on the Government side might explain why, in the year 1958-59, strange to relate, the expenditure upon unemployment and sickness benefit exceeded the Budget estimate by £3,152,000. Why? Because unemployment was reducing? Of course not! The Government’s advisers have said that in a two-year period ending in March, 1959, approximately 120,000 people were added to the work force. Anybody who cares to obtain the official documents will find that in the same period civilian employment increased by 52,000, and registrations for employment increased by 23,000, giving a total of 75,000, with 45,000 missing out of the 120,000 that the Government’s own advisers declare were added to the work force. Where have they gone? Are they self-employed, or are they people who refuse to register?
I know, and so does the Minister, that every effort is being made, by all sorts of methods, to hide the actual number of people unemployed by keeping the number registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service at a lower figure than the facts justify. Is it not rather interesting that, in this period of so-called expanding employment, receipts from the pay-roll tax last year were just on £1,000,000 under the Budget estimate? Does that indicate a prospering community with full employment of the people? This year, according to the Treasurer, another 80,000 people will be added to our work force. The Treasurer, in trying to convince us that there is prosperity in the community, said that there are more cars - and this was repeated by the Minister for Supply (Mr. Hulme) - more television sets, more washing machines, and more refrigerators. But he did not tell us that in the last twelve months the nation’s hire-purchase debt increased by £62,000,000, and that whilst many of the people have in their homes to-day the things he mentioned they are heavily in debt to the hire-purchase companies, and do not really own these goods at all.
Let us turn now, Mr. Chairman, to the question whether, as a nation, we are doing all right. According to the declared figures of 1958-59. we are down on the Budget estimate for income tax receipts by £1,700,000. on sales tax receipts bv £3,400,000 and on excise receipts by £6,800,000. The Treasurer said that beer clearances in particular were lower than had been expected. Since beer is the workers’ drink, when excise receipts fall to the extent of £6,800,000 that seems to me to indicate that the section of the community in which consumption has been restricted is that which comprises the lower income groups. The rich men are doing well under this Government, although the workers certainly are not.
Now let us have a look at the debt structure. I remember that some years ago in this country we had a type of government similar to the present Government, which we called the “ Borrow or bust government “. I am referring to the Bruce-Page Government. The present Government appears to me to be a borrow or bust government, like its predecessor of some thirty years ago. But there must come a day of reckoning. I do not know whether the people appreciate what has been happening, but let us look at how this Government has maintained the illusion of prosperity in this country. Anybody who cares to examine the facts will realize on what poor foundations this so-called prosperity rests. The national debt in 1949, when Labour left office, was £2,826,000,000. At the 30th June last it stood at £4,041,000,000 - an increase, while this Government has been in control, of £1,215,000,000. In the same period the interest bill has increased from £83,000,000 to £148,000,000- £52,000,000 of it the responsibility of the Commonwealth and £96,000,000 of it the responsibility of the States. Everybody knows what is happening in regard to the States. This Government, in trying to create the impression in the Australian community that it is actually reducing the Commonwealth’s debt and the Commonwealth’s responsibility for interest, is achieving its purpose only by dealing dishonestly with the State governments, which have great responsibilities in regard to providing education, health services and so on. In 1957-58 the aggregate of State deficits was £7,063,000; this year it is estimated that the joint deficit will be £7,8 1 1,000. Let me tell those gentlemen in this Parliament who are always deriding the efforts of the New South Wales Labour Government that in those two years the only State government that showed a surplus was the Labour Government of New South Wales. It was certainly only a small surplus, but it was a surplus. 1 shall show how this enormous burden of debt is crushing the people. In this debate I am allowed to speak for half an hour. In that half hour, while I am addressing the Parliament, the Australian community will become liable, in payment of interest on the national debt alone, for another £8,430. What is the Government doing about it? As a matter of fact, the deficit in 1958-59 was estimated to be £110,000,000, but it turned out to be £29,500,000. The holdings of treasury-bills by private banks increased by £31,000,000. and the holdings of internal treasury-bills increased by £5,300,000. There was a reduction of £78,000,000 in our trust funds, and an addition of £58,000,000 to the national debt. The sum of £10,000,000 was deducted from our overseas reserves. So that in this year of operation, which the Treasurer said was very successful, we were actually just on £212,000,000 on the wrong side.
Now let me turn to the subject of inflation. This Government has been called a rich man’s government - and so it is. We have inflation in this country - profit inflation. Let me deal with one or two specific cases. It is not possible to cover all of the enormous profits being made by great companies in this country under the patronage of the present Government, so I shall take a cross-section. In the year ended on 31st March last, Burns Philp and Company Limited made £834,000 net profit - an increase of 43.7 per cent, on the previous year’s profit, and in that period of two years the shareholders have had two bonus share issues which increased the company’s capital from £4,000,000 to £6,000,000, without £1 of actual additional capital being put into the business. Coles’ stores, which are well known in this country, in 1958 made £1,795,000 in profit; and had a bonus share issue. I direct attention to this, because this is one of the main rackets which this Government permits to be perpetuated in this country. Time and time again the Government allows companies to expand their capital base, so that they can use that as an argument to extract greater profits from the community, and give greater dividends to the investors.
Coles’ stores had a bonus issue. Burns Philp and Company Limited held shares in that company, at the time, to the value of £3,600,000. For an outlay of £350,000, on taking up the bonus snares and some additional shares issued at par, Burns Philp was able to increase the value of its investment from £3,600,000 to £6,100,000- an increase of £2,500,000. If it were reckoned on market values, it would be much higher than that. Australian Paper Manufacturers Limited made more than £2,000,000 profit after allowing £2,306,000 for depreciation and £1,489,000 for taxation. The British Tobacco Company made a profit of more than £2,000,000, and in 1956 its accumulated reserve was £8,204,000. The Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited, for the year ended on 30th June last, made a profit of £816,000 - an increase of 8.8 per cent, over the previous year.
The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, too, is one of the big income earners in this country. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited - that is the parent company only - has just issued its balance sheet for the period ended 31st May this year and has declared a net profit of £7,200,000, an increase of 14 per cent., after allowing £5,491,000 for depreciation, £5,160,000 for taxation, and £3,250,000 for plant replacement. Those four items alone amount to £21,101,000. Of course, we shall get the B.H.P. group balance sheet next month.
The position of General Motors-Holden’s Limited is the most glaring illustration of the exploitation of the Australian community that has ever existed. What is the situation? The ordinary share capital in General Motors-Holden’s is £1,750,000. It is all held by the parent company in the United States of America. For the year ended 31st December, 1958, that company, on its ordinary capital of £1,750,000, made a net profit of £15,300,000, an increase of over £3,500,000. This profit represented the extravagant rate of 875 per cent, on ordinary capital and was made after deducting the charge for preference capital which amounted to a paltry £33,696. The dividends paid by General Motors-Holden’s this year will amount to £7,400,000 representing 425 per cent.
This company did not invest one dollar in Australia! People should not allow them selves to be carried away by the argument that General Motors-Holden’s established this industry in Australia. That company did not invest one American dollar in the industry in Australia. It raised a loan from the Commonwealth Bank, and with it established the industry in this country. It has special privileges, including tariff protection. It also has the benefit of the Australian system of wage regulation. If the company were earning the profits that I have mentioned in America where the workers negotiate on the basis of what an industry can afford to pay, General Motors-Holden’s would have to pay a much bigger wages bill than it is obliged to pay to its Australian workers.
It is known that company taxation in this country is lower than it is in the United States of America. The financial editor of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ was shocked about this situation. He said that after the Holden project was launched in Australia, this country - and that means this Government - because this is the Government that did it - deliberately entered into much more favorable arrangements for United States companies which came here, by reducing the tax payable on their dividends.
This great organization has ploughed back, out of profits, not out of capital or investment, no less than £45,000,000. “Why,” some people have asked, “don’t they capitalize some of this enormous accumulated profit?” The reason is that if the company did that it would be obliged to pay a 15 per cent, capitalization tax. The “ Sydney Morning Herald “ in a leading article on 21st May stated. it is remarkable that General MotorsHolden’s does not capitalize some of its huge accumulated profit so as to reduce the nominal dividend rate, considering the capitalization tax of 15 per cent, to be money well spent . . . The danger is that it might, in different political circumstances, bring down some ugly effects on other foreign capital, if not on domestic private enterprise companies as well.
The “Herald” leading article went on to say there was no public reason why price and profit margins should not be substantially lowered.
Why does the Government not take any action about it? Simply because it is a big businessmen’s Government. If honorable members want further proof as to how big business is being favoured by this Government, I can give it to them. I have told of the items in the Budget for which the estimate was not reached. But in respect of company taxation, the estimate was exceeded by £12,695,000. Does not that indicate that even the extravagant estimates of the Government were still too low and that these companies are doing tremendously well? In 1950 the then Prime Minister - and he is the same Prime Minister who leads this Government - promised an excess profits tax. He told me and other Labour members in this Parliament that we had nothing to worry about because the Government was determined to introduce an excess profits tax and that when it was introduced it would be made retrospective. But, although profits to-day are far higher than they were in 1950, it has never been introduced. When the Government, finally, was forced to say something, it claimed that it could not introduce such a tax because of constitutional difficulties.
Let me turn to the subject of overseas borrowing which is a serious matter for the community. The other day I asked the Prime Minister a question regarding companies which had been established in this country with between 50 per cent. and 100 per cent. of foreign capital. I asked whether the formation of such companies did not mean, in effect, that people who were not residents in this country were able to make decisions affecting production in important industries. I asked whether this was not a sacrifice of Australian sovereignty. The Prime Minister said that the suggestion was absurd. But let us see what Dr. Coombs says about it. Surely he will be accepted as an authority because he was appointed, in the first instance, by a Labour Government and was retained by the present Government. Consequently, he must be an authority in whom both sides of politics have some confidence. Dr. Coombs
Said, referring to overseas borrowing -
Then there was the political problem of how far we wished to extend foreign ownership of Australia’s assets and enterprises.
Evidently, Dr. Coombs could see the danger. He could see the problem. I remind honorable members that when the decision to curtail the production of lead and zinc at Mount Isa was made, it was made not in
Australia by Australian interests, or by the Australian Government, but by an American, organization of overseas shareholders. Dr. Coombs said that there was a danger that increasing borrowings from overseas would so increase the claims that non-Australians had on production, that they would become embarrassing. That is exactly what is going to happen. The income payable overseas, including undistributed profits, in 1948-49 represented 4.5 per cent. of our export income. By June, 1957, the figure had reached 8.5 per cent.
In the few minutes that remain to me I want to say a word on the social services problem because the Government has tried to establish the idea that it has cared for people who are in need. No member of the Labour Party has ever argued that any government has done sufficient for these people. But those who wish to make a fair analysis, not merely of the amount of money spent on the needy but also of the value of the money spent, will find that Labour governments have done infinitely more than any anti-Labour government has ever attempted to do.
The Government proposes that age and invalid pensions should rise to £4 15s. a week and the Treasurer has referred to the suplementary allowance of 10s. a week which was provided last year. Who gets that allowance. To qualify, a pensioner has to be single and has to be paying rent. The department, under instructions from the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is doing everything possible to keep down the expenditure on this item. Some unfortunate people have been forced to buy their homes in order to keep a roof over their heads. Properties are being offered for sale and the occupants are afraid that if they do not purchase them they will be evicted. So they borrow money from relatives and friends and pay a deposit on their home. In many cases, the instalments they pay to-day are twice what they were paying in rent. But because they are purchase instalments and not rent the Minister for Social Services has declared that the pensioners concerned are ineligible for the supplementary allowance.
In connexion with war pensions, I have mentioned the famous case of an exserviceman, Mr. Loughlin. Here was an ex-serviceman on a war pension of 10s. 3d. per week and receiving an invalid pension as well. That was his total income. Yet the Minister for Social Services and his departmental officers said that this exserviceman was not eligible for the supplementary allowance because he was receiving 3d. a week above the permissible income. The allowance for a wife remains unchanged. The means test is unchanged. Why are not these unfortunate aged pensioners and civilian widows permitted to earn more than £3 10s. per week without losing the miserable pension provided by this Government? The Treasurer, in trying to gloss over the position, said -
I should like to draw attention to what the position of a pensioner couple may be when the new rates come into force. Their pensions together may amount to £9 10s. per week. They may, in addition, have income of £7 per week without suffering any loss of income, making a total combined income of £16 10s. per week.
The right honorable gentleman said that they could own a home and a motor car and have up to £400 in the bank. The Government refuses free medicine to people so situated because they are unable to qualify under the means test if they have an income of £2 a week in addition to the pension. However, very few pensioners are as fortunately placed as the example used by the Treasurer.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The whole agonized appraisal of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was disclosed in his opening statement. He said, “ Whenever something happens, this Government is always lucky “. If that is so, surely it is very wise of the electors to return a lucky government. But the honorable member does not give this Government credit for any planning whatever. He criticized it in a mass of figures. If those figures were fed into an electronic computer, goodness knows what would come out. If there was anybody I was sorry for, other than those who had to listen to the honorable member, it was the “ Hansard “ reporter. Could honorable members imagine anybody taking down those figures even if they meant something? The honorable member used the difference between the Estimates and the actual receipts of income tax in the past year. Surely, he knows there was a fall in revenue and that it was due to the fall in the price of wool. When the Budget was estimated, there was no knowledge of the opening prices of wool. Secondly, the fall in revenue does not indicate the true prosperity of the country. The second point the honorable member made was that the only State government in Australia which had a surplus was the New South Wales Government. No government in Australia blames the Commonwealth more than the New South Wales Government does. If it had a surplus, surely the Commonwealth Government must have given it sufficient funds and tax reimbursements.
General Motors-Holden’s Limited and many other companies were attacked by the honorable member for East Sydney. Does he want all our companies to make losses? Are not company profits a healthy sign of a sound economy? Must we have an economy where all companies are depressed? There is no understanding by a socialist of the system of private free enterprise. I listened to the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) with great interest. I ask those who heard the right honorable gentleman speak: Did he refer once to the future expansion of Australia and to its future stability? Did he refer once to planning so that the future employment of our children, our immigrants and the population generally might be protected by a wise financial policy? No! The right honorable gentleman did not make one reference to those vital matters. The most important part of budgeting is to provide for the future of Australia by planning finances and economic policy so that all factors can operate in harmony in an atmosphere which will promote progress.
The Leader of the Opposition, however, attacked the proposed 5 per cent, reduction of income tax. He said it was a rich man’s Budget. He said there would be more money for the wealthy. He spoke of minor individual things whereas the financial statement of the Government must mean progress not only this year but in future years also. I felt that his speech was a shocking indictment of a party whose main speakers so far have not dealt once with the expansion of the Australian economy. They devoted themselves entirely to vote-catching criticism, mostly in a carping sense. This Government has been in office for ten years. It has gone from strength to strength. It has had difficult problems during its term of office, but all that the Opposition can do is to deal with minor matters as they apply to limited classes of individuals. The honorable member for East Sydney said that the pensioners had never received proper treatment from this Government. If that is so, why did they vote this Government into office? Surely, that is the best test. If they have enough confidence in the Government to put it back into office, surely they are the people who will suffer, according to the honorable member. But they have returned this Government time and time again.
The most important part of the Treasurer’s Budget Speech in my opinion was this passage -
However, it is not simply a matter of holding our position. Expansion must go on. Each year brings a larger number of additional people - chiefly migrants and young folk leaving school - for whom occupations must be provided.
That is part of the budgetary work of the Government. We know that the whole world is worried about the danger of inflation. The Leader of the Opposition referred to creeping inflation. That is one of the problems of our modern complex society, and this Budget is designed to combat it. Honorable members may recall that the Leader of the Opposition said the Government was saved by the investments of the private banks in providing loan money. He said the taxpayers should have been protected in that respect and that money should be issued through central bank credit at 1 per cent. There is no form of finance more inflationary than central bank credit, which after all is the printing of money. Yet the Leader of the Opposition recommends it.
President Eisenhower insisted on a balanced Budget in the United States of America in order to stop creeping inflation. Every time more central bank credit is issued, it aggravates inflation. This Government does not agree with that form of finance. The financial experts of the Australian Labour Party do not recognize the importance of stopping the expansion of central bank credit. Everybody in the country believes he can make a better Budget than the Treasurer, but budgeting requires a view of the wide complexities and the great fields of government.
We have to expand. There is need for greater population. We will not hold Australia unless we have a larger population. That is one of the reasons why this Budget is designed to provide for expansion in the future. No constructive criticism has come from Her Majesty’s Opposition. The fact that we are taking an increased number of immigrants is highly inflationary. All immigration is inflationary at first until the immigrants themselves either by services or production start to check inflation by the creation of employment. Opposition speakers have referred to employment. That is not a task directly of the Commonwealth Government but of the State governments. The Commonwealth Government has no constitutional powers in relation to employment. Its vital responsibility is to create, by its financial policy, an atmosphere in which employment can be fostered.
– Has not the Commonwealth power under the Constitution to deal with employment?
– There is no responsibility whatever on the Commonwealth Government in that respect. My authority for that statement is the Leader of the Opposition himself. An important matter to which I wish to direct attention is this: We must prepare now for the tremendous competition we will meet from Communist countries in the world’s markets. We have been advised and we know that trade will be used by the Communist countries as a weapon. This is a problem that we must examine when we are considering any policy of expansion, or any financial policy. Time is running out for us. Only the other day we learned that Russia has entered the small car market. Egypt is beginning to make its presence felt in the trading world, and we know that China is striving to compete in trade with the Western nations. Trade can be used as a weapon, and when used in this way it is something that we must learn to fear, because under dictatorships, such as those existing in Communist countries, the individual worker is not considered. In a socialist state the worker is merely a pawn. His standard of living is of no great moment to the dictators. In this country, however, the position is different, because our economic structure is so built that the worker may enjoy some of the profits of progress.
I believe that we should examine our cost structure very carefully. There is one tax affecting the cost structure that I dislike intensely; that is the pay-roll tax. I have never been convinced that this is a fair tax. It is somewhat similar to the land tax imposed by the Cahill Government in New South Wales. Land tax is purely a capital tax, and it is one that hits at primary production. The pay-roll tax is an imposition that I particularly dislike. I notice from the estimate in this Budget that it is expected to produce nearly £50,000,000 in the coming year. Of course, it would be quite easy for me to suggest that we should abolish the pay-roll tax and simply carry on, but that could not be done, because the £50,000,000 would have to be replaced. But the cost of replacing it would not be very high because, after all, quite a substantial amount of money received from this form of tax is paid by State instrumentalities, such as local government authorities, and the amount lost by abolishing the pay-roll tax would be offset, to some extent, by a reduction in tax reimbursements to the States.
The pay-roll tax is a tax on costs, and I believe it is unjust. I do not consider it equitable that people should pay more simply because they employ more labour. The question is, however, whether the tax can be reduced. I feel that there were opportunities for the Government to reduce the tax in this coming year. Of course, it is quite easy for me to put forward one proposition. General Eisenhower had one plan for defeating the German army, while Field Marshal Montgomery had another. But only one plan can be carried out at one time. The plan adopted in this Budget may be the right one, but I would have liked to see an attempt made to reduce costs by abolishing or reducing the pay-roll tax, because I believe that within a very short time, perhaps in the next two years, and certainly within four or five years, we must start to meet this intense competition from Communist countries. I do not believe it would cost very much to remove the pay-roll tax. The relief that it is pro posed to give by reducing income tax by 5 per cent, might better have been granted by way of a reduction of pay-roll tax, because, of the amount lost by abolishing this tax, quite a substantial proportion would be saved by reducing tax reimbursements to the States, and a further proportion would be recovered by increased income tax. However, as I said before, only one plan may be implemented at one time.
I would like also to touch on the question of coal production. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said that it was quite wrong that mechanization of the coal industry should put people out of work. I call this foggy thinking. If we can reduce the cost of coal we will be able to export more and consume more. We can conserve our overseas balances, because we can reduce the price of coal until it is less than that of the oil that we import from overseas. The coal industry, then, will ultimately recover of itself, provided that the price of the product is competitive. But Labour says, “ No, put more men to work and reduce automation “. This seems to me to be a backward step. It takes one back to the kind of thinking that was indulged in in the days of the introduction of the spinning and weaving machines.
Another factor that is responsible for a good deal of our high cost structure is represented by strikes, go-slow tactics, and other forms of industrial unrest. From this point of view, the last year has been a remarkably good one. However, I am not convinced that, in this enlightened era of arbitration, strikes are to the advantage of the country. I believe that a strike against an award is dishonest. When arbitration is resorted to, both sides should accept the decision, and if this is so, how can a strike be honorable? I do not disagree with the holding of strikes in cases of great provocation, but I deplore a planned strike such as resulted from the recent black ban on shipping. The point at issue had nothing to do with Australia in that case.
In every little strike, every penny lost is at the expense of the general public, the pensioner and the worker. They are the big sufferers. At present in America there is a big steel strike going on. The steel companies are making large profits, I know, but in our modern, complex society it is necessary for industry to make big profits, so that it can plough back the money into the industry in the form of modern equipment. I have no great objection to such a practice. Of course, it is the job of the trade unions to see that the workers get a fair proportion of the profits. However, we find that in America the feeling is growing that the labour organizations are adopting too powerful a role in negotiations. They are forcing prices up more and more, resulting in the creeping inflation that is so damaging to people living on fixed incomes resulting from years of thrift and saving.
I believe the time is approaching when the whole system of trade unionism will be changed. The old days of the individual capitalist empires, controlled by the Carnegies and the Rockefellers, are finished. Instead of a few people owning vast industrial fortunes, they are now owned by millions of shareholders, by subscribers to various unit trusts and the great life assurance companies. These fortunes are now in the hands, not of a few individuals, but of the people. What Labour calls the people’s assets are now the great companies rather than the Government institutions. I ask honorable members to consider for a moment the recent bus strike in Sydney. That is an example of what happens to the people’s assets. They are not used for the benefit of the people, but rather for the benefit of trade union leaders.
An incentive was needed in this Budget towards increasing production and strengthening the country’s economy. For this purpose the Government has used the 5 per cent, reduction in income tax. It may be right or Lt may be wrong, but I would have preferred a reduction in the pay-roll tax, because I believe we will very shortly have to meet intense competition in world markets.
I am very glad that the Government has again improved the lot of the pensioner. Every one of us would have liked to make the increase greater but it is a question of what the economy can stand, and I think the the Government has made a very wise decision. I noticed in one of the newspapers recently a very intelligent comment, to the effect that people have come to think that Budget time is a time for hand-outs. To listen to honorable members opposite, one would think that this was so, and that there should be more hand-outs. It is not so; the purpose of the Budget is to secure the future of all the people, and to ensure reasonable social justice, having regard to the nation’s capacity to pay for such benefits. We have seen a mass of petitions presented to this Parliament, asking that the pension rate should be increased to an amount at least equal to half the basic wage. Does anybody think that it would be right to give a married couple a pension equal to half the basic wage, at the same time permitting them to have other income of £7 a week, when many men have to support a wife and family on little more than the basic wage? Of course that would not be just. The Government has been wise in its approach to social services.
I think the time is fast approaching when we must do something about national insurance. I know that great problems are involved, but I believe that in the not far distant future some government, whether it be a Liberal-Country Party government or a Labour government, must solve those problems. A nation can never be strong while permitting social injustices to exist. The people who practise thrift and who save, and whose savings help the progress of this nation, are denied access to certain social services because of the means test. If the Government cannot introduce a national insurance scheme by ordinary governmental methods it should find some way of introducing such a scheme through private societies. Something could be attempted along the lines of the parliamentary retiring allowance scheme, which works very satisfactorily from the point of view of honorable members.
Some of the altered telephone charges, as they will be applied to country areas, are not objectionable. I believe that zoning will be to the advantage of people living in rural areas. However, I am not entirely in agreement with the proposal to increase the postal charges for newspapers and magazines posted in bulk. I think that the Government should review this proposal. I am certain that it is a mistake and should be rectified.
With regard to health benefits, I am sure that anybody who has studied the English health scheme will realize the tremendous burden that anything free becomes to the taxpayer, and will appreciate the advantages of our scheme. There is room for improvement in any scheme and the proposals outlined in the Budget are very wise and sound. I am sure that we in Australia will enjoy possibly the best health scheme of any country.
The proposal to increase benefits for major operations is something that we have needed for a long time. So far, 1 have found very little opposition to the proposal to charge 5s. for each prescription under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Some anomalies will crop up, as for instance where the fee charged will be more than the cost of the drugs prescribed. However, those anomalies can be ironed out in the process of time.
One of the great problems that I feel is facing us in this war of ideologies is the problem of taxation in the free world. Lenin said “ If you want socialism, raise taxes and gradually, by penal taxes, you will destroy incentive and the people will accept socialism “.
One aspect of the Budget with which I do not agree is the financing of capital works to the tune of £142,000,000 out of revenue. The Commonwealth pays for all its works out of taxation. Those works are necessary, but if we can increase production and encourage greater profits, and so widen the scope of taxation, the time may come when we can finance capital works from loan money. I do not think that the present generation should be forced indefinitely to pay for works that will benefit posterity.
I am surprised that so far in this debate no honorable member has referred to monopolies and combines. Unless the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) who is to follow me in the debate raises this matter - I do not think he will because he is a reasonable man - it must mean that there has been a change of thinking in the Labour movement. In the past honorable members opposite have continually preached the dangers of monopolies and combines in Australia. But no honorable member ever says that this firm or that firm is creating a monopoly. We have heard of high profits and high dividends but we have never heard of the people who are allegedly creating combines. I wonder how many of the present mergers and strengthening of companies are being forced by mili tant trade unionism. I believe that many such mergers are brought about in order to achieve protection from militant trade unionism.
Our system of business in Australia is changing quickly, as it is the world over. To-day, more and more people are investing in industry. Instead of Labour’s conception of the people’s assets in the form of government-owned railways or other transport services, the real assets of the people are held by tens of thousands of small investors.
For the last ten years, until this year, each Budget that has been brought down has been met by a blast of criticism from the metropolitan press. This is the first Budget that has not been attacked. I wonder whether the critics are waking up and beginning to realize that Australia’s present strong position has not been brought about by good luck but is the result of good management. A person spoke to me recently about the Richardson Committee report on salaries. I answered him by telling him to look around the world to-day. I asked him whether he knew of any country - the United States, Brazil, France, Germany, England - that was better governed than Australia.
.- About the only point in the speech of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) with which I can agree is his statement that the Budget should endeavour to be fair to all people. This first budget brought down by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) is not fair to all people. I should like to quote some the Treasurer’s remarks. He was referring to the question of tax relief and he said - . . there is always the further question of what changes can or should be made in the current system of raising revenues from various sources . . there can sometimes be a case for adjusting the structure of taxes and charges so as to adapt it to changing circumstances. The result of such a review can well be that, while a case is established for reducing certain taxes or charges, a case will also be found for raising others.
That is a problem that the Treasurer seems to imply exists, but it is a problem to which he gave no attention whatever in the Budget. In fact, he turned the wheel of progress in the opposite direction, because the trifling changes that have been made on what is regarded as a progressive tax scale have simply applied a flat rate of reduction, which can only result in making the tax system less progressive, or what the economists call regressive. That is, the burden is being shared less fairly now, in terms of total revenue, to the disadvantage of the poorer sections of the community. I propose to illustrate this situation by citing several examples of taxes as they operate on individuals in particular circumstances, and further to look at a document which must be considered by this Parliament when it is attempting to evaluate the effects of the Budget, that is the document presented by the Treasurer with the Budget, and known as the White Paper on National Income and Expenditure.
I want to make some comparisons to show how the distribution of the national income, which is supposed to be the sum of incomes in the community, amongst the various sections of the community is in many respects unsatisfactory. One method by which some redressing could have taken place would have been as the honorable member for Hume suggested. That is to say, the Treasurer, instead of making these trifling reductions in the income tax, should have made some attempt to remove anomalies in indirect taxes - sales tax and pay-roll tax - as they apply to particular individuals in the community.
I suppose, Mr. Chairman, that if ten years ago it had been suggested that we would now be talking in the National Parliament about £1,000 per year being more or less an average income we would have been laughed out of existence. But what has happened? To-day, what the Statistician is pleased to call the average wage does not mean the basic wage. It means what people earn, not only the basic amount, but also the margins for skill; and since in these days people cannot live on what they earn for a 40-hour week, it includes, on an average, five or six hours a week overtime. Of course, when you are talking about averages you must imagine that some people earn under the average while others receive more than the average. The average wage at the moment is, as the leader of my party has suggested, round about £1,040 a year, equal to about £20 or £21 a week.
For my first example, I shall show what is the amount of income tax being paid at the moment by an individual who has an income of £1,000 a year. If he is a single man without any dependants, he has been paying at the rate of £106 a year. The Treasurer’s concession - a 5 per cent, reduction of tax - will reduce the amount by £5 roughly, to £101. If the taxpayer has a wife but no dependent children, he has been paying just on £80 a year. In other words, the difference between the tax paid by a married man and that paid by a single man in receipt of an original income of £1,000 is £26 only, which shows how much of a fiction it is when we talk about the value of the concessional allowance of £143 for a wife. If the taxpayer has a wife and one dependent child, the amount of tax that he has been paying will be reduced from £80 to £64 a year. In other words, the value to him of the concessional claim for a dependent child is a £15 reduction in his income tax.
The typical family man in the community in receipt of an average wage of £1,000 a year and having a dependent wife and two children has paid income tax at the rate of £54 a year. That will be reduced this year by 54s. as a result of the generosity of the Treasurer, but there is the further factor pointed out by my leader that this year his income will have risen by £39 because of the 15s. a week increase in the basic wage and his tax would have increased to a figure in the vicinity of £60.
At present, the average man has £1 per week taken out of his wages for income tax. I suggest, Mr. Chairman, that if we make the kind of appraisal that the Treasurer suggests we ought to make we must conclude that the man receiving the average wage, and having a wife and two children to support is overtaxed when he pays roughly £1 a week in income tax. Yet the honorable member for Hume talks about justice to all people! We want a much more substantial revision of the structure of taxation than the few trifling reductions that have been made in the present Budget. That is one example.
The other example I wish to cite is more of the aggregate kind. I think we have to ask ourselves again about the balancing of taxes. On the one hand, we suggest that the most just form of taxation a community can levy is progressive income taxation, that the higher the individual’s income the greater is the proportion of that income that should be taken from him in the form of tax. On the other hand, we regard indirect taxation as a very clumsy piece of machinery for sharing the burden among the community, because the tax falls according to the consumption just as the new imposts in postal charges will fall. Yet the tax will be levied, because it is a tax, according to the number of letters you write or the number of telephone calls that you make, with no relation to your income. I shall try to show the kind of changes that have taken place in social thinking. The year 1938-39 was a tranquil year, when the States levied their own income taxation and when reliance was placed upon indirect taxes rather than upon direct taxes as the means of raising revenue. The total revenues collected by the Commonwealth Government in those days were much less in aggregate than they are now, but it is the proportions that are significant. In that year customs plus excise plus sales tax accounted for 75 per cent, roughly of the total revenue raised by the Commonwealth. Income tax accounted for 16 per cent. Fourteen years later-
– The honorable member should get on to the State taxes.
– I am talking about the revenue that the Commonwealth raises, which is the problem that faces this Parliament. I shall take the State taxes into account afterwards. The concern of this National Parliament is the raising of revenues for which we are responsible. By 1952-53, which was two or three years after this Government had come into office but was still continuing some of the policy of the Labour Administration, the amount of customs, plus excise, plus sales tax had fallen from 75 per cent, of total collections of the Commonwealth to 30 per cent. The progressive income tax levied on individuals and companies accounted for 62 per cent, of the total revenue. What was the position in the last financial year? Customs, excise and sales tax rose to roughly 40 per cent, of the total revenues.
If you make an analysis on the expected revenues for this year, the pattern is much the same. The proportion of total tax collections coming from income tax has fallen from 62 per cent, to 53 per cent. So that there is a distinct difference between the tax pattern in 1958-59 and that in 1952-53. In terms of the expected revenue of £1,200,000,000 for the current financial year, if we were collecting 62 per cent., as in 1952-53, instead of the present 53 per cent., in income tax, something over £100,000,000 more would be coming from income tax, and you would have approximately £100,000,000 less coming from customs and excise, and the sales tax. You could almost abolish the sales tax and collect £100,000,000 of additional revenue in income tax.
If we look at the way in which income tax is distributed at present in the Australian community and plenty of examples have been given here this evening - we see where the bulk of the income tax comes from. It comes from individuals receiving incomes of £2,000 a year or more, and from companies. The honorable member for Hume talked about monopoly in the Australian community. If he looks at page 152 of the Budget papers, he will find that in the year ended 30th June, 1957, there were in Australia 78 companies with taxable incomes in excess of £1,000,000, and that the total income derived by those companies was £237,431,000, or about one-third of the profits made by all companies in Australia. I believe that monopoly does exist in the Australian community, and I suggest that it can be narrowed down, at least initially, to a mere handful of the total number of companies. We know where to start if we wish to seek out excessive profits.
As I said earlier, Mr. Chairman, the place where we can find the true story of income distribution in the Australian community is the document known as the White Paper on National Income and Expenditure, which has been distributed coincidentally with the presentation of the Budget for almost the last ten years. It gives the figures for two very important things - what is called the national income, on the one hand, and, on the other, an important item known as the gross national product. The White Paper for the financial year 1958-59, which we have recently received, shows that Australia’s national income for the year ended 30th June, 1958, was £5,021,000,000, of which £3,046,000,000, or 61.5 per cent., was derived from wages and salaries. The income of farms and other private businesses accounted for £953,000,000, or 19.3 per cent. Company income accounted for £630,000,000, or 12.7 per cent. Rent and interest - the other component of the national income - accounted for £322,000,000, or 6.5 per cent.
I should like to contrast that pattern of national income distribution with the pattern of distribution in the United States of America. I think that the contrast is of some significance. I am sure that my friend, the honorable member for Hume, would not regard the United States as a socialist country. There, too, a document somewhat similar to our White Paper on National Income and Expenditure is produced. The details for the year ended 30th June, 1958, are contained in the July, 1959, issue of a publication entitled “ Survey of Current Business “, which is published by the Office of Business Economics of the United States Department of Commerce. It shows that the national income of the United States for the year 1958 was 366.2 billion dollars. But 70 per cent, of it was accounted for by wages and salaries, instead of 61.5 per cent, as in Australia. The United States, after all, is the citadel of the public corporation, but only 10 per cent, of the national income there was derived by public companies, compared with 12.7 per cent, in Australia. If companies in Australia were taking only the same share of the national income as is taken by_ companies in the United States, they would derive £135,000,000 less of profits. The additional £135,000,000 that companies in Australia are taking in profits is taken out of the pockets of the rest of the community by way of additional prices. What I am suggesting is that, as the Treasurer has indicated, there are different possible combinations of national income distribution as between wages and salaries, companies and businesses, and you get two quite distinct patterns as between the United States of America and Australia.
Let us go now to the other item, which I suggest is the more significant thing that ought to be taken into account in making these comparisons. I refer to what is called the gross national product. This is the national income, with the addition of two very significant items - the total collections of indirect taxes, which go into the prices of goods and services, and what are known in this country as depreciation allowances, and in the United States as depletion allowances. The total of indirect taxes in Australia is staggering. It takes into account indirect taxes levied by both the Commonwealth and the States, including levies for local government activities. In the financial year 1958-59, indirect taxes in Australia totalled £701,000,000, or 11.3 per cent, of the gross national product - in other words, of the aggregate value of the goods and services bought by the Australian community. Allowances for depreciation, which go back into the coffers of corporate business and private business, totalled £475,000,000, or 7.7 per cent, of the gross national product. One of these two items is determinable by governments and the other is determinable by private enterprise. The two of them add 19 per cent, to the prices of goods and services in the Australian community.
In the United States of America, by contrast, where the gross national product totals 441.7 billion dollars, indirect taxes account for 39 billion dollars, or 8.8 per cent, of the gross national product, compared with 11.3 per cent, in Australia. If we had in Australia the same level of indirect taxes as applies in the United States - approximately 30 per cent, less in indirect taxes than we have - about £200,000,000 less would be collected in Australia in indirect taxes than is collected at present.
This is the sort of thing which highlights what inflation is doing to the Australian community, because indirect taxes are inflationary taxes. Inflation is built into them automatically. They are levied ad valorem on goods and services, and because concessions to the lower income groups have remained virtually unchanged instead of being increased as they should have been increased, the lower income groups in Australia are paying in income tax much more than they should be paying. In addition, they are being mulcted by these indirect taxes which fall more heavily on them pro rata than does the progressive income tax. That is the sort of question that the Treasurer should be analyzing at the moment. He says that he intends to set up a committee to examine the structure of taxation. His predecessor said that twelve months ago, but m the meantime the position has deteriorated and nothing has been done. The Treasurer surely has enough people available to enable him to present this information in a way comprehensible to the ordinary man in the street, who is so vitally concerned.
The other matter that is of some significance at the moment is the share of the national income that is going to companies every year. Between 1948-49 and 1958-59, a period of ten years, the national income increased two and a half times, from about £2,000,000,000 to £5,000,000,000. During the same period, the company profits increased from £214,000,000 to £630,000,000, nearly three times as much. Another significant figure was mentioned by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). It expresses the share of company income which goes to foreign individuals. That has increased during the same period from £19,000,000 to £77,000,000 - four times as much. A large part of the money increase is attributable to the effect of inflation, but it is the proportionate distribution that one must study. The foreign share has increased from 8.9 per cent, to 12.2 per cent, of company income. Another fact of significance - because it has to do with this all-important question of prices - is that the profits of manufacturing concerns rose, between 1948-49 and 1957-58, the last year available, from £91,000,000 to £311,000,000, or roughly three and a half times. I emphasize that though the national income has increased two and a half times, manufacturing company profits have increased three and a half times. This, too, shows what is being taken out of the hide of the community in the form of prices for goods and services provided by the manufacturing industries.
I wish to make a final comparison which again highlights the maldistribution between various sectors of the community. In 1948-49 indirect taxes aggregated £221,000,000. By 1958-59, ten years later, they had risen to £701,000,000. Instead of being 9.7 per cent, of the gross national product, they had risen to 11.3 per cent. Depreciation allowances, which are a further element in costing, had risen from £96,000,000 in 1948-49, to £475,000,000 in 1958-59, or almost five times as much. They had risen from 4.2 per cent, to 7.7 per cent, of the gross national product. One of the causes of inflation is the prices charged by private enterprise for its products. The effect of these high prices is distributed through the income stream of the community. It has been aggravated by the failure of the Government to apply principles of justice in determining the tax structure. If a progressive tax structure means anything it means that, as prices rise, concessional allowances to taxpayers in respect of wife and child rise accordingly. That has not happened in the Australian community. In fact, if the Treasurer will make a systematic examination of the last report of the Commissioner of Taxation - that for the year 1956 - he will realize that the average family man would almost be better off if concessional allowances were abolished and child endowment were doubled. That is a staggering fact about a tax structure that is believed to be progressive.
At the very time that value has been whittled away from these tax concessions, Liberal-Australian Country Party treasurers have done such ridiculous things as extend to £400 the deduction that may be claimed in respect of insurance premiums. Where is the logic in suggesting that if your income is so high as to permit you to pay £400 a year in insurance premiums you should be favoured three times as much as is the ordinary person, in respect of his concessional allowances for his wife? One is given an exemption in respect of £400 of income and the other in respect of only £143. There is no logic in that, and it is time that the present position was altered.
House adjourned at 10.38 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
m asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
For the period from 1st January, 1954, to the beginning of July, 1959, the figures are as follows: - 1. (a) Europeans convicted of killing Europeans, nil. (b) Europeans convicted of killing natives - Convicted of manslaughter, 1. (Fined £150 - fine paid. (The Sear case.)) (c) Natives convicted of killing natives, 583. The details are - convicted of wilful murder, 314; convicted of murder, 120; convicted of manslaughter, 148; convicted of infanticide, 1. (d) Natives convicted of killing Europeans - convicted of murder, 20. Death sentences pronounced by Mr. Justice Gore subsequently commuted in each case to imprisonment with hard labour for ten years. (This arose from an attack on two Administration patrol officers at Telefomin in 1953.)
The following statement contains the names of the trial judges, the number of cases heard by each, and a summary of the sentences imposed in respect of the cases in 1. (c) above: -
Chief Justice A. H. Mann.
Total number of natives convicted of killing natives, 53.
Number found guilty of wilful murder, 30. Death sentences recorded against each and subsequently commuted to imprisonment ranging from two years with hard labour to life imprisonment. One accused was granted pardon conditional on being detained in custody at a mental hospital during Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Number found guilty of manslaughter, 23. Sentences range from: “To the rising of the Court “ and three months I.H.L. (suspended) to seven years imprisonment with hard labour (I.H.L.).
Mr. Justice Gore.
Total number of natives convicted of killing natives, 209.
Number found guilty of wilful murder, 134. Death sentence recorded against each and subsequently commuted to imprisonment ranging from one year I.H.L. to life imprisonment. One accused was released and two received sentences of three and a half years I.H.L. to be performed as attendance at school.
Number found guilty of murder, 44. Sentences imposed range from: Twelve months I.H.L. to life imprisonment.
Number found guilty of manslaughter, 31. Sentences range from: “To the rising of the Court “ to four years I.H.L.
Mr. Justice Bignold.
Total number convicted of killing natives, 139.
Number found guilty of wilful murder, 56. Death sentence was recorded against 55 accused and sentences commuted to imprisonment ranging from two years I.H.L. to fifteen years I.H.L. Death sentence was pronounced against one accused and the sentence executed, 14th November, 1957.
Native (female) found guilty of infanticide, 1. Sentenced “ To the rising of the court “.
Number found guilty of murder, 35. Sentences range from: Two and a half years I.H.L. to twelve years I.H.L.
Number found guilty of manslaughter, 47. Sentences range from: “ Bound over in the sum of £50 “, “ released on recognizance “ and “ to the rising of the Court “ to five years I.H.L.
Mr. Justice Kelly.
Total number of natives convicted of killing natives, 136.
Number found guilty of wilful murder, 67. Death sentence recorded against each and subsequently commuted to imprisonment ranging from six months I.H.L. to fifteen years I.H.L.
Number found guilty of murder, 31. Sentences range from: “To the rising of the court” to four years I.H.L.
Number found guilty of manslaughter, 38. Sentences range from: “Discharged upon entering into recognizance “ and “ to the rising of the court “ to seven years I.H.L.
Late Chief Justice Sir Beaumont Phillips.
Total number of natives convicted of killing natives, 41.
Number found guilty of wilful murder, 25. Death sentence was pronounced against two accused and recorded against 23. Death sentences were commuted in respect of 24 to imprisonment ranging from five years I.H.L. to life imprisonment. The sentence of death was executed against one accused on 16th December, 1954.
Number found guilty of murder, 9. Sentences range from: Three years I.H.L. to six years I.H.L.
Number found guilty of manslaughter, 7. Sentences range from: Four months I.H.L. to six years I.H.L. concurrent and includes one sentence of two years without hard labour.
Acting Judge Sir Colman O’Loghlen.
Total number of natives convicted of killing natives, 5.
Number found guilty of wilful murder, 2. Death sentence was recorded against each and subsequently commuted to seven years I.H.L. and ten years I.H.L. respectively.
Number found guilty of murder, 1. Sentence of five years I.H.L. imposed.
Number found guilty of manslaughter, 2. Sentences imposed were nine months I.H.L. and one year I.H.L. respectively. 3 and 4. See 2 above.
m asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1 and 2. The following table sets out the respective dates: -
m asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. On 3rd September, 1957, at my invitation, an exploratory meeting was attended by representatives of the Australian National University, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the tobacco industry and the Commonwealth Departments of Primary Industry and Health. It was decided that the Commonwealth Department of Health should investigate the possibilities of a detailed statistical investigation to ascertain the incidence of bronchogenic carcinoma under different environmental conditions in Australia. This statistical study has been undertaken but is not yet complete. As part of this study provision has been made for the financing by the Commonwealth of certain pathological research to be undertaken by the Australian College of Pathologists into the influence of tobacco smoking on lung cancer.
m asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
What action has he taken on the resolutions of the National Health and Medical Research Council in November, 1958, and May, 1959, that his department send an Australian representative to the annual conference on antibiotics in the United States?
– The council’s resolutions are receiving consideration.
m asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
On what dates has the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee met since the 7th November, 1958?
– The committee met on 6th March, 1959.
m asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has furnished the following reply: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 August 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1959/19590818_reps_23_hor24/>.