26th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Locock) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. I preface it by stating that during the last three years the Government has adopted the practice, generally speaking, of delaying the introduction of legislation until the final two weeks of the sessional period. Will the right honourable gentleman consider establishing a joint parliamentary committee to consider the more general introduction of legislation during a session, with particular regard being paid to the procedures in the House of Commons in the consideration of its legislation?
– I appreciate the honourable gentleman’s question. I assure him that I share his concern that legislation should come forward to this Parliament in an orderly fashion and be dealt with in a satisfactory way. Every parliament throughout the world with which I have had any contact has this problem of legislation building up towards the end of a sessional period. This does not mean that the subject matters come to the attention of most honourable members in a novel way because frequently the legislation follows upon detailed statements of policy. Those statements of policy must necessarily be transformed into detailed legislative form. This matter has been exercising my attention and the attention of my colleagues in the Government parties. We are currently giving study, through a committee of those parties, to the procedures in the hope that we shall be able to effect some improvements in the present position. If as a result of these discussions we feel that it would be useful to confer with representatives of the Opposition to see whether together we can agree upon more satisfactory parliamentary procedures, we will be glad to do that.
– I ask the Minister for Immigration a question. The Minister will recall my question last week in which I inquired as to the prospects of the total planned intake of migrants for 1966-67 being achieved. In view of the Minister’s reply, in which he indicated that the overall target of 148,000 migrant arrivals will not be achieved this year, will he now indicate what are the prospects for 1967-68?
– I could not at this stage foretell what the programme for next year will be. I am quite optimistic that we will have an assisted programme of about 92,000 migrants, which was the assisted programme figure for this year, but I cannot say that I expect 70,000 or 72,000 of them to come from the United Kingdom. The fact is that applications from the United Kingdom were down quite sharply in the early part of this year. As it takes about six months before a person, after making application, is able ta leave the United Kingdom, I think we will have a short fall from that country, although I am glad to say that the rate of applications has picked up in the last few weeks and is higher than it was in the corresponding period of last year. This is a situation full of optimism.
Figures for movements next year are likely to be down a few thousand on figures for this year. On the other hand I am very hopeful that as a result of changed circumstances in other parts of Europe - one of the reasons why I am going overseas is to endeavour to exploit those circumstances - we will see a very big increase in the flow from those parts of Europe. If we do get that big increase in flow it will mean that the number of assisted migrants will be up to 92,000, although there will be a different distribution. I cannot express a view about full fare paying passengers at this time. The programme will not be formulated until the Budget discussions in July. By that time much clearer trends will be known to us about the rate of movement of full fare paying passengers. I hope there will be no diminution of the overall programme.
– I ask the Minister for Territories: Has the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Assembly of Papua and New Guinea reported that much of the housing provided by the Minister’s Department for local officers is sub-standard and frequently without adequate water, sewerage and cooking facilities? Did a doctor describe houses at Vanimo as ideal for ‘cultivating the spread of tuberculosis’? Are many local officers still waiting for local accommodation? What steps has the Minister taken to overcome the deplorable housing situation, which ranks second only to the inadequate wage rate as a cause of growing New Guinean resentment against Australia?
– There has been a report by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Assembly which indicated the housing situation of local officers. I agree that this housing is of a low standard.
– What is the Minister doing about it?
– Let me complete my answer. The provision of housing is no easy undertaking. We have a tremendous task in Papua and New Guinea to gradually build up educational facilities, health facilities and economic opportunities for the people of the Territory. We have to decide how we are to spend the substantial amount of funds made available by the Australian taxpayer, so we have to relate our Budget structure to the circumstances of the economy. This too is not easy. The Leader of the Opposition made a scathing remark about the wage scale. This is related to the economy of the Territory, as are also, for the time being, the housing standards.
In an area such as Port Moresby, if full facilities of sewerage, water supply and electricity are to be provided, before we start building a house we are faced with a heavy engineering cost of over $2,000. If another $6,000 or $8,000 is spent on the structure it would be beyond the capacity of the average person receiving a wage or salary in the Territory to pay a proper economic rent. Our aim is to build a local house, designed for local conditions, and to use local materials. We have spent no end of effort in this regard. Experts from the mainland have examined this situation and reported on it. I believe we are now reaching a stage at which we have a satisfactory building and that we can go ahead and create better conditions. 1 point out to the Leader of the Opposition that a lot is said about the wage scales of local officers and about their housing conditions, but nothing is said about the fact that about 60% of the people of the Territory are on a subsistence existence. The more we spend on higher wages and on housing the less will be spent on the advancement of these other people.
– I ask the Minister for National Development whether, in view of the recent statements that he has made in the House that Cabinet will soon be considering certain water conservation proposals, he can assure the House that Cabinet will be considering these proposals in the spirit of the Prime Minister’s policy announcement in November last to create a national water resources development programme?
– Yes. As a matter of fact, Cabinet has completed its consideration and approval in principle has been given. Very soon I shall be making a statement on the actual policy that the Government will follow when implementing this national water resources programme.
– I ask the Postmaster-General whether the Overseas Telecommunications Commission has acquired a site of 724 acres at Gnangara in Western Australia for its wireless project and whether the Commission was unaware that a 320-acre section of this land had formerly belonged to the Commonwealth. Is it a fact that the Commonwealth sold this parcel of land in 1965 for $19,200 and that the Overseas Telecommunications Commission bought it back in 1966 for $128,000, losing $108,800 on the deal? Is this bad business transaction the reason for the Overseas Telecommunications Commission’s wireless project area at Ardross having to be cut up for building blocks in order to pay for the land at Gnangara, which twelve months ago belonged to the Commonwealth, though the land at Ardross is needed for parkland and for civic reasons?
– There seems to be an element of persistency about questions regarding the Overseas Telecommunications Commission’s operations near Perth. I have already answered questions in relation to the matter. I point out that many of the questions that have been asked by the honourable member come within the province not of myself but of my colleague, the Minister for the Interior. I refer to questions on the purchase and sale of the land to which he has referred. The Commission is responsible for its own purchases and sales, subject to the Minister’s approval where the purchase price is more than $40,000 or, in the case of a sale, where the original purchase price exceeded that sum. I told the honourable member yesterday that I have not received a submission from the Commission but that when I do, it will be considered by the Government. I am not in a position to know that the land at Ardross would be required for park purposes. No representations in this regard have been made directly to me by anybody. All aspects of the matter will be taken into consideration when I receive a report from the Overseas Telecommunications Commission.
– Is the Postmaster-General aware that, as a result of the great increases in trunk line calls from Katherine, Darwin, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs to southern States, there are long delays and even losses of up to 50% of calls each day? In view of the proposed increase in charges for these services, I now ask him: What is the developmental programme and when will the extra lines that have been promised be in service?
– One of the purposes for which increased charges are required is so that the Post Office can give additional service to the people of this country.I appreciate the shortage of telephone lines, not so much within the internal system of the Northern Territory, but rather between the switching centre, which is Darwin, and capital cities in the eastern and southern States. Within the next few months additional channels will be provided between Darwin and Brisbane, Darwin and Sydney and Alice Springs and Adelaide. The provision of additional channels is included in next year’s programme. These, we would expect, will be introduced by degrees; perhaps some towards the end of the next financial year and the balance in the following financial year.
– My question also is addressed to the Postmaster-General. How powerful are regulations when the PostmasterGeneral can increase certain postal charges without specific parliamentary approval? Is it true that at the weekend the Postmaster-General announced that the Government will secure $47m of its attempted increase of $67 m by using regulations, in spite of the defeat of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill in another place and its possible defeat for a second time in the same place?
– Order! I think the honourable member’s question relates to a debate in another place in the current sittings and is out of order.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Does he agree that there is need for a national productivity council in Australia?
– There is no doubt that the improvement of productivity in Australia is at the very root of increased wages and incomes and improved standards of living generally. My Department has initiated productivity improvement programmes on a very wide scale. At the beginning of May we had 172 separate groups working in different industries. They consist of people in those industries who come together in the first place with the aid of trained officers of my Department to exchange ideas. As a result tangible savings amounting to many millions of dollars have been achieved by industry. This work is successful because it operates at the ground level. A lot of people are enthusiastic and the firms concerned pay for it themselves. I feel some reluctance about adopting the approach mentioned by the honourable member, who no doubt refers to a recent political affairs publication. This, as I recollect, calls for the creation of an elaborate body rather than moving from the ground up. Improved productivity is essentially a practical matter in the factory, at the work bench or on the farm. We already organise the productivity groups on a State basis. I am going to Queensland very shortly to address the group there. This work has been successful and is expanding rapidly. There may come a time when it can be translated to the national level, but at this stage I doubt whether the sort of highfalutin body that is suggested would be useful. Just because the pursuit of a particular idea is useful and profitable, it is sometimes thought that the Government should automatically take it over and pour a lot of money into the exercise. Some people think that this should include a sort of annual picnic in Canberra at public expense to discuss a subject in general terms. But I do not think that this approach meets the situation with which we are currently dealing. However, I believe that the time will come when a national productivity body could profitably be established on sound foundations.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Has his Government yet decided whether Australian Regular Army personnel returning from Vietnam will be granted assistance to take up farming pursuits under a war service land settlement scheme? If not, when can such a decision be expected? As his Government has announced that under the Defence (Re-establishment) Act national servicemen returning from Vietnam may borrow $6,000 for settlement in agriculture, can the Prime Minister tell the House what sort of farm or agricultural holding that amount would finance for a returned serviceman? Will he review this obviously inadequate amount with a view to increasing it substantially?
– The matters raised in the honourable gentleman’s question have been under active consideration and a good deal of progress has been made. I will give him a detailed answer which I hope will cover the points he has raised.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Territories and in so doing refer to an earlier unanswered question in which I asked him to consider allowing the .free enterprise banks to operate in the schools of the Northern Territory and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea as they are being allowed to do in the Australian Capital Territory. I believe that the Minister now has an answer to this question and I would like to ask it again.
– In Papua and New Guinea the trading banks operate in schools under the control of the Administration. No approach has been made by the private trading banks to operate in the Northern Territory. I point out to the honourable member that our schools there are controlled and administered on behalf of the Commonwealth by the South Australian Education Department. If any approach is made by the trading banks it will he most sympathetically considered.
– I wish to ask the Minister for the Interior a question, which I preface by saying that I have made representations over a number of years to previous Postmasters-General concerning an area of 100 acres overlooking the Swan and the Canning Rivers at Wireless Hill at Applecross. I ask the Minister whether he will give consideration to transferring this land to the State Government for use as a park. The land, with its magnificent views, would be ideal for a park and this would be the best possible use to which it could be put.
– I cannot give the honourable member details of this land but I should like to say that if the State makes an approach to acquire it and we have no Commonwealth use for it, we shall consider disposing of the land to the State. We shall not give the State the land; it is not our practice to give Commonwealth land away but we shall come to some sort of concessional arrangement with the State if it proposes to use the land strictly for recreational purposes.
– I address my question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. It has recently been announced that according to statistics Australia has one of the highest motor vehicle fatality rates in the world. Will the Minister tell the House what progress is being made by the Government through its agencies to initiate a realistic educational programme covering all sections of the community, especially engineers, so that they may incorporate the necessary safety features in the design of roads and vehicles; people in authority, so that they can devise suitable and sensible safety laws and adequate means of enforcement; and school children, so that on leaving school they will have the right moral principles in regard to road safety?
– It is quite true that mortality from road accidents in Australia is far higher than anyone would like to see. It is not always easy to make comparisons with other countries; we cannot be certain that we are comparing identical things. For example, some countries would count as a road fatality a person who was injured in a road accident and died within a month; others may use different periods of time in measuring their statistics. These are not always exact comparisons. It is hard to say precisely what progress is being made. The Australian picture improved materially after a road safety campaign was instituted, largely with Commonwealth funds. Our death rate at one stage was as high as twelve persons for each 10,000 vehicles. This was reduced quite quickly to about eight persons for each 10,000 vehicles. I am sorry that it has not improved much more quickly and has not really improved on that figure in recent years. But this reduction was influenced by a publicity campaign carried out through the Australian Road Safety Council.
So far as educating children at schools is concerned, this is a matter that falls within the direct control of the States. Some schools have a degree of education on road safety contained in their curricula, and in many States the police forces contribute a great deal of time to educating school children and trying to inculcate in them an awareness - an instinct as it were - of the need for safe actions on the roads both as pedestrians and vehicle drivers. Furthermore, General Motors-Holden’s Pty Ltd have been responsible for a generous gesture in offering to provide vehicles for training young people to drive. I believe this is a field that could be exploited to an even greater degree, and I believe also that this firm and the schools that have taken advantage of the offer are to be commended. Some schools in some States say that they cannot fit this type of instruction into a regular place in their education curricula. That is their decision to make; it is their policy and the Commonwealth cannot interfere with it.
The Commonwealth Bureau of Roads, which has been established by the Commonwealth Government, will naturally study the safety features of road engineering; this is one of the matters that it has in hand. This study is linked also with that of the construction authorities in the States, which are turning their attention to this matter. The Commonwealth Government cannot assume full responsibility - indeed, it has only a very limited responsibility - in the field of road safety. At the same time, I believe it is playing a fairly full part in this matter. It has provided $350,000 a year, to be devoted largely to road safety publicity in an attempt to educate the public about the importance of the matter.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Social Services a question. [ preface my question by saying that the Minister is aware that significant numbers of male cane farmers have been granted unemployment benefits, particularly in areas ravaged by drought and where income has been seriously affected by low sugar prices. In order to clarify the Government’s decisions in this matter of unemployment benefits, I ask the Minister: What are the criteria that he is using to determine whether a cane farmer, or any other farmer, is eligible to apply for and receive unemployment benefits?
– The criteria for eligibility for all the social service benefits are specifically set out in the social service legislation that has been passed by this Parliament. As to the eligibility for unemployment benefits, it is necessary for the person who wishes to make a claim to be ready, willing and able to undertake employment. Speaking of the cane farmers to which the honourable member for Dawson has referred. I appreciate that in some circumstances difficulties are encountered by members of the rural community. People living long distances from the possible point of employment would have to travel backwards and forwards every day to seek employment. As a result, some discretion is exercised. Beyond this there are certain means test requirements that govern the eligibility of all persons for this particular benefit. Perhaps it would be simpler if I provided for the honourable member a detailed analysis of the exact circumstances in which the people with whom the honourable member is concerned can become entitled to unemployment benefits. But the general situation is as I have described it.
– I address a question to the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry. It refers to the application by the United Kingdom to join the European Common Market. Can the Minister say what sort of timetable is envisaged in the consideration by the European Economic Community of this application? Further, can he say what programme of action the Department of Trade and Industry and the Australian Government have in mind over the next few months regarding this matter? Finally, has the Minister any detailed assurances from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom regarding the safeguarding of the interests of such Australian industries as the dairying, fruit and sugar industries?
– As the honourable gentleman will be aware, there has been no announcement as to the specific details of the timetable, but he will also be aware that it is not only the United Kingdom which is making application to enter the European Economic Community, and no doubt the Secretariat of the EEC will need to take into account all the applications and determine its own timetable. As to steps being taken, and to be taken, by this Government concerning the protection of Australia’s interests at the time of the United Kingdom entry into the EEC, the honourable member will be aware that the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Industry has been in the United Kingdom recently and during his visit there he had discussions with representatives of the United Kingdom Government. In addition the Prime Minister is shortly to visit that country and no doubt he will be in similar consultations.
As to the specific industries to which the honourable member for Indi referred, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in his speech to the House of Commons when he announced his Government’s intention to seek entry to the European Economic Community, specifically referred to the difficulties of Commonwealth sugar producers. The other industries mentioned by the honourable member were those which were subject to prolonged discussion during the last effort by the United Kingdom to enter the Community. They have been and will be raised by representatives of this Government in future discussions prior to any final decision by the United Kingdom and by the countries of the European Economic Community on the future of Britain’s application.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. Will he seriously consider, in the next Budget proposals, granting taxation concessions for fares to and from work in view of the fact that, with their transfer of employment, many employees on low incomes are suffering considerable economic hardship, as exists on the northern coalfields of New South Wales?
– 1 will, as the honourable member requests, give consideration prior to the Budget to the problem he has raised, but I cannot give him any expectation or hope that in the Budget he will see relief in the terms he asks for.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. The Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Wills show much concern for North Vietnamese-
-Order! I point out to the honourable member for Mitchell that the Minister for Defence is not responsible for the actions of the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Wills or any member of the Opposition.
– Thank you, Sir. Can the Minister supply the Parliament with the number and categories of South Vietnamese civilians killed by the Vietcong over the past twelve months?
– I do not have available the statistics of the number of persons killed in South Vietnam by the Vietcong, but the last available authentic figures 1 have indicate that, for the first half of this year, the figure was something like 1,000 killed by the Vietcong as a matter of direct Vietcong policy. The victims include village leaders, school teachers, some candidates for elections and so forth. This killing is all part and parcel of the Vietcong policy of making it impossible for the Government of South Vietnam to re-establish something like a normal pattern of life in that unhappy country. By comparison, of course, it does highlight the point hinted at by the honourable gentleman - the ease with which the
Opposition uncritically accepts the propa ganda figures given in the kind of literature that we often hear published in this House.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Civil Aviation a question. What is the penalty, if any, imposed on airline companies for failing to conform to regulations of the Department of Civil Aviation in respect of the servicing of aircraft? I refer particularly to the lengths of time specified within which various aircraft parts must receive attention.
– I think this question has some relation to a matter which is before a Board of Accident Inquiry at the moment.
– This matter is not sub judice.
– I will not refer to a specific case. In general terms, regulations must be adhered to, and if it is found that an aircraft has not been serviced in accordance with regulations that aircraft is grounded.
– Will the Minister for National Development clarify the remark contained in his Press statement on the export of uranium to the effect that permission to export more than 1,000 tons will be subject to special negotiations? Can he give the House an assurance that individual discoveries referred to him will be looked at on the basis of reserves and the economics of the situation to determine how much of the metal in such finds will be approved for export?
– I am glad that the honourable member has given me an opportunity to speak once again on our policy in respect of uranium because I believe there are certain misunderstandings about the policy on new discoveries. The policy of the Government is designed to stimulate the search for uranium in Australia while at the same time preserving what is regarded as the minimum quantity which will be adequate for our own use in the foreseeable future. In the case of a new discovery the normal procedure would be for the company concerned to negotiate with the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. Then I as the Minister would look at the results of these negotiations with a view to encouraging as far as possible the export of whatever amount we believed we could allow to be exported. Each new discovery would be looked at to assess the economics of the situation, bearing in mind various matters such as those to which I have referred. I point out, of course, that a new major discovery would immediately call for a review of the policy on uranium exports. Just as the discoveries of iron ore led to an alteration in the policy on the export of iron ore, so I believe a major discovery of uranium would immediately lead to an increase in the amount of that metal allowed to be exported.
– I direct my question to the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry, ls he aware that Queensland Alumina Ltd, at Gladstone, will produce 600,000 tons of alumina from Weipa bauxite, that only about one third of this will be used in Australia and the rest will be exported? Is it a fact that this company has applied for the payroll tax rebates given as an export incentive?
– I am not aware of the circumstances to which the honourable member refers: consequently I will treat the question as if it were on the notice paper and will forward him a reply in the usual way.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for National Development. Is it a fact that in dry periods the waters of the River Murray can be kept at normal level by the release of additional water from Snowy Mountains scheme storages? Is the Minister aware that maintaining the river water at normal level is of great importance to primary producers and vital to those who irrigate with water pumped from the river, and that it is also very necessary in keeping down the salt content of the water in the river? Will the Minister, in view of the exceptionally dry conditions now prevailing, please treat as urgent the need to supplement the flow of the Murray River?
– As the honourable member will be aware, the completion or near completion of many of the works in the Snowy-Murray area has led to considerable diversion of additional water into the Hume Weir. Additional diversion into the River Murray is now likely to be at a rate of about 400,000 acre feet per annum. Of course, once the water is in the Hume Weir it comes under the control of the River Murray Commission. Releases of water are made by the Commission in the light of circumstances at a particular time. So far as the level is concerned, there is a minimum level above which the river must be maintained, lt is certainly above this height everywhere at present.
– It is very low now.
– I realise that what the honourable member is getting at is that probably farmers prefer to have a higher than minimum level because it is then cheaper for them to pump water and they do not have the difficulty of pumping at a low level. But the problem is that if the river level is maintained at too great a height there is a waste of water and if a dry year followed there might be insufficient storage left in the Hume Weir. Of course, all these matters are taken into account by the Commission when it makes releases. The same is true of the saline content. Regular readings are taken either by the Commission or by the Victorian State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, and as a result of these readings additional water is sent down the Murray so as to ensure that the salinity is always kept at reasonable levels
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service, ls it a fact that the latest reports show that 70,000 Australians are unemployed? Is it a fact, also, that this figure is 15,000 more than the figure at the end of December last? Would it be true to say that the figures do not include an army of married women who are dependent in some part on employment but who do not report to Commonwealth labour agencies when dismissed? Can the Minister advise the House what action his Government proposes to take to check this dangerous trend?
– To talk about a dangerous trend is, of course, to talk utter nonsense. I believe, however, that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith is always entitled to a little poetic licence. I address myself first to the subject of married women, about whom the honourable member is so concerned. Naturally we do not know about the ones who do not register with the Commonwealth Employment Service seeking work. One assumes that if they want work, that is what they will do. Employment is currently at a very high level.
– I am talking about unemployment.
– The unemployment the honourable member talks about is a product of his mind and of supposition. The current employment situation is healthy and it betokens a good, sound economy. We hope that this state will long continue.
– I ask the Minister for National Development whether his attention has been called to a most helpful article in a recent issue of the ‘Australian Accountant’ entitled The Role of BenefitCost Analysis in Public Investment Projects’, in which the author points out that one of the main difficulties in benefit-cost analysis is that a high degree of economic integrity is an essential prerequisite because results one way or another can be easily manipulated. In this context I ask: Was the unfavourable assessment of the Ord project based on a benefit-cost analysis? If so, how were the benefits to the cattle industry arising out of the implementation of the scheme assessed?
– I have not seen the article to which the honourable member has referred. I will be glad if he will let me have a copy of it. The Government, particularly the Treasurer, has standards for assessing cost benefit analyses. Admittedly these standards are always what one might call a guesstimate, but this is the only way in which these matters can be looked at closely. There are always fluctuations. The normal way in which these cost benefit analyses are taken out is to get what are likely to be the minimum benefits on one side and the maximum benefits on the other side and to run out a series of estimates so that the final estimate falls somewhere between the minimum and the maximum benefits.
I realise that these are most difficult assessments. As a matter of fact, at a recent meeting of the Australian Water Resources Council it was decided that inquiries should be made throughout the world as to cost benefit analyses carried out by other countries. These inquiries would enable us to compare the system used in Australia with methods used in the United States and other countries. I am sure that this information will be of assistance to us when it comes to hand.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1966, I present the report relating to the following proposed work:
Provision of engineering services lo Casuarina sub-division, neighbourhood No. 2, Darwin, Northern Territory.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– by leave - The Government recognises that a need exists for the further development of television services in Australia. At present, there are thirty-nine national and forty-five commercial high powered stations and thirty-four translator or relay stations either operating or approved, covering over 91% of the Australian population. This means that television has been extended in the last eleven years to cover a vast area of the Australian continent. However, there are some areas, either because of their remoteness, comparatively small population or the lack of adequate relay facilities, that have not yet been served. The areas to which I refer particularly are Renmark in South Australia, Kalgoorlie and Geraldton in Western Australia, Mt Isa in Queensland, and Darwin. The Government has now decided to extend television in due course to those specific areas.
I must make it clear, however, that it will not be practicable to implement this decision in the short term for Kalgoorlie and Geraldton. In those two cases, the provision of a national service must be dependent on the provision of planned broadband facilities. As the provision of a dual service - national and commercial - is inherent in Government policy, the Government in the meantime will be prepared to discuss with those interested the practicability of establishing commercial stations in all the areas concerned. As honourable members will be aware, the system of national and commercial operation has generally been appropriate, has worked well, and has been satisfactory to the viewing public.
This decision by the Government is not to be interpreted as being the end of the television development programme. On the contrary, the Government has asked the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to continue its technical studies of effective methods of bringing television progressively to other areas throughout the Commonwealth. This will include the extension, where appropriate, of national and commercial translator services,
I present the following paper:
Television Services - Extension to Additional Areas- Ministerial Statement, 17 May 1967.
– I ask the Postmaster-General to move that the House take note of the paper so that I may move that the debate be adjourned.
– What is the PostmasterGeneral frightened of? Does he not want a debate on this subject? I will move that the House take note of the paper.
-The honourable member for Stirling may not move that the House take note of the paper. Only the Minister may move that the House take note of the paper.
– I move:
Debate (on motion by Mr Webb) adjourned.
– I asked for leave to make a statement regarding the proposed agreement for the mining of copper on Bougainville Island.
– Leave is granted on condition that the Minister moves that the House takes note of the paper.
– The agreement is that the House will not take note of the paper.
– Agreement with whom?
– I understand that the agreement is with the Labor Party.
– There is no agreement. Leave is granted on condition that the Minister moves that the House take note of the paper.
– Such a motion will be proposed.
Mr BARNES (Mcpherson- Minister for Territories) - by leave - A draft agreement has been negotiated for the establishment of a major mining project on Bougainville Island in the Territory of Papua and New Guniea. As a result of exploration work during the last three years, undertaken by Conzinc Riotinto of Australia, a major low grade copper deposit has been proven. Over 90 million tons of ore averaging 0.63% copper and 0.58 dwt. per ton gold have been indicated and geological observations suggest the presence of further substantial ore bodies. Further work will be needed to establish fully the economic feasibility of the very large scale mining project which will have to be launched to bring the venture to fruition. Present indications are that a total investment well in excess of $100- million will be involved in an operation requiring the provision of roads, a port, dams, a power station and township as well as a mine and mill, and treating as much as 10 million tons of ore per annum. An operation of that magnitude would, by the mid 1970s, double the 1965-66 rate of Territory exports of $50m.
The company has already spent $4m in exploration work and is in the process of spending another $6m during the current year. There are good prospects that a commercially worthwhile operation will result. Accordingly a draft agreement has been worked out over many months between the Department of Territories and the Administration of Papua and New Guinea on the one hand and the company on the other. The draft agreement aims to achieve a permanently close and mutually beneficial partnership between the expatriate enterprise and the people of the Territory. The draft agreement provides for substantial local equity participation and for a three year tax holiday and certain other tax concessions to the company during the early period, to be followed once the venture has been established by a fifty-fifty arrangement for taxing the company’s income.
The provisions for equity participation will give an opportunity for the people of the Territory, either individually or through the Administration, to retain a permanent substantial interest in this massive project. Once the company decides to go ahead with the project and provided that the Government is satisfied that the venture is sound and offers reasonable prospects of profitable operation, the Government will ensure that an option over 20% of the operating company’s equity capital is taken up either on behalf of or by the people of the Territory. It is proposed that the Territory equity will be held by the Administration or an approved agency and will eventually become available for purchase on appropriate terms by eligible residents of the Territory. Once the project is firmly established, some eight to ten years after the commencement of production, and the company becomes liable to pay to the Administration 50% of its taxable income after certain appropriate adjustments, the Administration expects to receive annual revenue of between $10m and SI 2m from the project.
The people of the Territory stand to benefit in four ways from the success of this project. In the first instance, the people of Bougainville Island will reap lasting benefits from massive investment by the company in roads, a port, power and water supplies and improved public amenities by way of schools and medical services that will be provided by the Administration. Secondly, both the people of Bougainville and of the Territory as a whole will benefit from training and employment opportunities in both technical and staff positions and from local purchases by the company. Payments by way of taxation and royalties will, in due course, add substantially to Territory revenues. When the enterprise reaches the dividend stage, dividends will accrue on the 20% local share of the company’s equity.
Because of the great economic and political significance of this project to the Territory it is essential that an agreement covering its many facets should be entered into between the Administration of Papua and New Guinea and the operating company and that it should be submitted to the Territory House of Assembly for approval. The Administration of the Territory participated throughout in the negotiations, and the Administrator’s Council was kept informed of progress from time to time and was consulted in detail on the terms of the proposed agreement. A Bill to ratify the agreement will be introduced during the next session of the Papua and New Guinea House of Assembly but it will not be proceeded with until a later session. Honourable members will thus be able to assure themselves that the terms of the agreement accord with the wishes of their electorates. The successful conclusion of this agreement with CRA will be a milestone in the Territory’s economic development.
I present the following paper:
Papua and New Guinea - Proposed Agreement for Copper Mining on Bougainville Island - Ministerial Statement, 17 May 1967 - and move:
That the House take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Mr Whitlam) adjourned.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Dairying Industry Bill 1967.
Processed Milk Products Bounty Bill 1967.
Debate resumed from 16 May (vide page 2179), on motion by Mr Bowen:
That the House take note of the following statement:
Loss of HMAS Voyager -
Ministerial Statement, 16 May 1967.
Upon which Mr St John had moved by way of amendment:
That the following words be added to the motion: and is of the opinion that a select committee should be appointed to inquire into and report on this whole matter’.
– With other honourable members, I have in front of me an amendment suggested by the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson). Naturally, I would be out of order if I directed my remarks solely to that amendment, but I think it is in order for me to say, knowing that the honourable member will move the amendment if he has the opportunity to speak - and I think that he will - that I naturally strongly support the amendment that he will move. As the House knows, the honourable member for Batman has a deep respect for his old Service and the men who serve in it, and he is fully qualified to comment on matters pertaining to the Navy. Like him, I feel strongly about the events that occurred in this House yesterday. It was obvious what the newspaper headlines would be this morning. I have no quarrel with the headlines because, after all, it is the duty of the newspapers to present to the public the events that occur in this, the Parliament of the Commonwealth.
I cannot say, as the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) did, that I spent seven hours with one person and gained some impressions about the people in the Navy and what it should do. But I can say that for nearly three years I was highly privileged to be Minister for that Service and to be closely associated not with one man for seven hours but with some 17,000 officers and men.I have the greatest respect for them and the greatest appreciation of the part they are playing and have played in helping to maintain our security. I am amazed that such an intelligent person as the honourable member for Warringah obviously could believe that a man, when his ship was undergoing refit, was -I quote his words - ‘perpetually drunk - if not asleep or sick, attempting to recuperate’. Later on in his speech the honourable member said that this man was a chronic drunkard. But he knew that the person who supplied him with this information was the person who stated that this same captain opened the bowling for the ship’s cricket team, which was fleet champion, was a handy batsman and a good squash player. Since these sports are hardly played at sea on a destroyer, one can assume that they are played on land.
Lieutenant-Commander Cabban said in his statement that he knew Captain Stevens did not drink at sea. One can see that, if the statement about Captain Stevens’ drinking habits was wildly exaggerated, the rest of the evidence of itself could not be true. The honourable member for Warringah did say, of course, that he would not care even if the Minister for the Navy (Mr Chipp) brought along a stack of statements from serving officers saying that they could not remember, or could not corroborate the evidence. From my own experience of officers of every level I believe I can accept their word when they are asked to give it and believe that this House also can do so. I do not appreciate the thought implied, either intentionally or unintentionally, by the honourable member for Warringah that when this officer took over the ‘Voyager’ the ship became a hazard just waiting for an accident to occur. There is ample evidence to prove that this is incorrect and it is unfair to many persons on the ship other than Captain Stevens himself. As a matter of fact, the new Executive Officer happened to be a son of a man I have known all my life and one of the most able officers in the Royal Australian Navy. But for his sudden death I am certain he would have risen to great heights in the Service.
But the main question that has been posed in this debate relates to whether evidence that could have been presented was presented. I think it should be made quite clear that the decision as to whether evidence should be presented to the Commission was in the main the responsibility of counsel assisting the Commission, and was particularly his responsibility with this evidence. It was certainly not the responsibility of the Australian Naval Board. I want to touch on three aspect of this matter. I realise that twenty minutes in a debate of this nature is perhaps not long enough and therefore I want to come to these aspects as quickly as I possibly can. They are, firstly, the legal aspect; secondly, the naval aspect; and, thirdly, the political aspect. It has been implied that something was wrong with the Commission and some people have gone so far as to say that pressure was used on the Commission to make it reach certain decisions. To me this is a blow against many people whose integrity has never been doubted in a lifetime of public service. On the legal side, of course, we have the Royal Commissioner himself, Mr Justice Spicer. He is a man with a reputation throughout Australia for his capacity in inquiries of all sorts. He has conducted inquiries into civil marine disasters and into civil airline disasters. At no stage in a life’s history of service to the community and to the state could anyone say that he would be the type of man, even if approached, who would not immediately withdraw from any commission if there were any suggestion that there should not be completely fair play.
The Naval Board at the time has come in for a lot of criticism. I suppose in respect of this episode I am the meat in the sandwich. I was not the Minister at the time of the collision, although I was Minister designate. My colleague and friend, the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes), was the Minister for the Navy and my colleague and friend the present Minister for the Navy took over late last year. When the accident occurred the Naval Board consisted of five Admirals and the permanent Secretary of the Department. The Admirals were Vice-Admiral Harrington, since deceased, Rear-Admiral Smith, Rear-Admiral George, Rear-Admiral Morrison and RearAdmiral McNicoll. Mr Sam Landau was the permanent Head of the Department of the Navy. I challenge anyone in this House to say that the Service records alone of these officers are not equal to or better than those of any serving officers in the Navy. Their integrity is such that it cannot possibly be doubted.
I move to the political side. If it was not the Naval Board - I can assure the House that it was not - and” if it was not the legal aspect, which brings Mr Justice Spicer into it, perhaps it was a political matter. I would like to see the person inside this House or outside it who could say that the eminent gentlemen associated with this at the time and later can in any way be suspected or accused of giving any instruction that a finding that they thought would protect someone should be returned. Various Ministers were involved. One Prime Minister was involved. He was Sir Robert Menzies. The Attorney-General at the time was Sir Garfield Barwick. Later the Attorney-General was the present Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden). There were three Ministers for Defence - the present Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck), the late Senator Paltridge, and the present Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall). Can anyone say that any of these men lack integrity, as is implied in the accusation that somebody asked the Commission to bring forth a certain finding?
I respect the right of the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) to bring this matter before the House and I hope later to say something else about the efforts he has made to get what he believes he should have, or to have done what he believes should be done. I thought he posed four questions in his speech. The first was whether everything was done that the Prime Minister said would be done. The Prime Minister, in a statement following the presentation of the report of the Royal Commission to Parliament, particularly mentioned two points. The first was that the Navy would henceforth appoint a man whose special job it would be to investigate all stages of all sorts of accidents in the Navy and report back so that action could be taken. This appointment was made under the title of Co-ordinator of Naval Safety and, though I say it myself, it was an outstanding success. Some of the things achieved by it assisted the Navy tremendously. The second point was that a special committee of Cabinet was to report on various aspects of naval administration, promotion and so on. That committee consisted of the Minister for Defence at the time, the Minister for Health - both since deceased - the present Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn), Mr Fairhall and myself. The committee spent many hours, little suspected by honourable members of this Parliament when they went home after a session, probing through every activity of the Navy, making recommendations and reporting back to Cabinet.
I remember that something was said in another place and I remember well the words of my colleague, the honourable member for La Trobe. He said: ‘The main thing is to be able, when everything is over, to look in the mirror and look oneself in the eye’. I have no hesitation in saying that I, the members of the Naval Board, and the members of that special Cabinet committee can at any stage look ourselves in the eyes and have nothing to worry about. The next question posed by the honourable member was in these terms: Was evidence suppressed by the Government or the Naval Board? I have already covered that. A third question was: If the evidence was relevant, why did the Naval Board allow a man to be promoted and remain in command of a ship? As a matter of fact, that was the first thing that struck me when I first saw the evidence about which so much has been said. I assure the House that a thorough investigation into that very matter was carried out at my direction and I reported to the Government the result of the investigation.
The fourth question posed by the honourable member was: If this was so, were Captain Robertson, Commander Kelly and Sub-Lieutenant Bate unjustly treated? It was an astonishing thing that no-one ever asked me that until four weeks ago when someone suggested that the Naval Board had penalised Commander Kelly and SubLieutenant Bate. I assured the person who asked the question that this was not so. I said that both had been promoted since and were proceeding with their tasks in the Navy with very great credit to themselves. I know there has been a lot of distaste in the mouths of some people over this collision. The honourable member for La Trobe mentioned that he could not understand why a court of inquiry such as inquired into the ‘WD Atlas’ incident could not have made an investigation into this naval disaster. The answer is simply that there is no machinery for this; apart from a naval inquiry the only recourse is to a royal commission. I have no hesitation in saying that I believe that the system of constituting a marine court of inquiry with a judge, assisted by assessors who are experts in the field of marine activities, has considerable merit. I go so far as to say that this question has exercised the minds of the members of the Naval Board.
I believe that I should protect some people who are not members of Parliament but are worthy of protection. Strong criticism was levelled at Admiral Becher for his part in the inquiry. The honourable member for La Trobe, who criticised Admiral Becher, said that he wanted evidence not from officers under examination by other officers but from officers under oath. He went on to say:
No officer can be blamed for what he says on oath.
I remind the House that Admiral Becher was under oath. As I remember his evidence he said that what he would do would depend on the amount of experience that he had in a particular job. Under cross-examination by Mr Smyth who asked Admiral Becher what he would have done, the admiral said: ‘Are you speaking to me as an admiral or as a captain of a ship?’ Mr Smyth answered: As a captain’. Admiral Becher then said: This would depend on the amount of experience I had’. Admiral Becher was under oath and that was the answer that he believed in and gave.
I maintain that there is a considerable difference between immediate words of comfort that one might express to an officer who has obviously undergone a frightful ordeal and was still under continuing strain and the reply given under oath and after full consideration to a question asked at a royal commission. A comparison was made of the two sets of answers given. I happen to be the only person in this House who was present on the carrier the morning after that awful accident when I, with the Minister for the Navy at that time and the Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Harrington, flew out to the vessel. It was obvious that despite the severe strain that he was under, Captain Robertson was still completely in control of his ship. I said that 1 thought that he would have wanted a rest and he said: ‘There is time for that when we get to Sydney’. I pay a tribute to him because it is often forgotten, in the mess of adverse publicity about the incident, that if it bad not been for the magnificent job of the men of HMAS ‘Melbourne’ the casualty list would have been considerably higher than eighty-two dead.
I must take up some of the points that the honourable member for La Trobe made in his seventy-minute speech. The Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) gave a most clear exposition of the legal aspects of this case. The honourable member for La Trobe said: ‘I accept that, but you have not been here very long and you were not here when it happened’. It is obvious that the Attorney-General, who has had access to far more evidence and notes than any private member of the House has seen, has been here much longer than the honourable member for Warringah, who was quoted as the authority for what I might term the opposing case in this matter. If one moves into the realm of the causes of this collision one finds it a highly technical field indeed - one that few, if any, in this House could be capable of entering. However, I suppose that as laymen we can express some view or exercise judgment on the overall conduct of the inquiry, the finding and the effect upon the men of the Royal Australian Navy. I have been told in this House that morale is important but it is not the allimportant thing. To me it is vitally important that the morale of 17,000 officers and men should be maintained at the highest possible level It is often forgotten that over the years since the Second World War and during the cold war situation, there have been men in uncomfortable ships and trying climates doing work never spoken about - all for the benefit of this country and honourable members who sit in this House. I regret that those officers and men, when they read the headlines about this debate, may think that we have not a deep interest in and appreciation of what they are doing for Australia.
Three particular matters are raised in this debate. I want quickly to cover them. No matter how much debate, charge and counter-charge and proof or lack of proof there is, nothing will alter the fact that eighty-two men died. No debate will turn back the clock. The second point is that Captain Robertson, of his own volition, resigned from the Navy. No-one did more than I and the Naval Board to attempt to dissuade him from that course. Appointment to a shore station was not a demotion-; it was due to the exigencies of the Service - something that every ex-serviceman and serviceman in the country can understand. Whatever course is followed nothing can happen in respect of that matter. The third matter relates to something else that will not be changed - the attitude of my friend, the honourable member for La Trobe, and some of those who support him. It is not true to say that he has been fobbed off and this is the last effort that can be made. No honourable member has been given more consideration, on any subject, by a Prime Minister, Ministers and Cabinet than the honourable member for La Trobe in respect of the subject that he has raised. The position is that those who have been conducting the affairs of this country for a long time are perfectly satisfied with the explanations given in relation to the accident but others are not. So they take the further steps. I suppose this is democracy. Many people would say that they are better democrats than I am. But I still have a feeling that there are people who must be protected, if in your own mind you believe that nothing you can do will make any difference to the eventual course of events. What is the function of Parliament with respect to these matters? [Extension of time granted.]
I thank the House for its indulgence, but I hope that I shall not take the full time. What is the function of Parliament with respect to these matters? The advisers of the Government perform their function in submitting the estimates of what they believe are the needs of the Services, and it is up to the Government then to make a decision having in mind the overall picture of national responsibility and administration. To the Parliament itself, however, falls another great responsibility, which is the most important thing so far as I am concerned. If anything that is said or done will interfere with the morale of a Service in a detrimental way, it is an action that lessens our own security. I believe this exercise, whatever it finally achieves, cannot fail to have an adverse effect on the morale of the Royal Australian Navy. I sympathise with my colleague the present Minister for the Navy (Mr Chipp), because he will bear the burden with the. Navy. I know that the Navy will be determined to prove to the people of Australia and to some members of this Parliament that it is still worthy of the name that it has earned during this nation’s history.
As to my own actions or the actions of the Naval Board I say that I have a completely clear conscience. I believe that the morale of the Service was low, but it was only by the magnificent efforts of naval personnel that it was raised to the level it has reached today. Perhaps it would be advisable for some honourable members here who may be proficient in their own professional field and who know little of the activities of the Royal Australian Navy to seek out information on what the Service has done so quietly and efficiently in respect of confrontation in Malaysia and activities in Vietnam. I would invite a couple of them to spend a few days at sea with the men who man our ships so that they might find out that these vessels are not merely pieces of danger, floating around and driven by inebriates. They would then find out ;hat the ships are controlled by highly skilled gentlemen, dedicated to the task of protecting this land.
– I move:
On page 3 of the Royal Commission’s report reference is made to the last flimsy, which is now in the possession of the Stevens family. That flimsy was issued by RearAdmiral McNicoll and covered the period of Captain Stevens service in ‘Voyager* from January 1963 to January 1964. ft says:
Has conducted himself to my entire satisfaction. A keen and enthusiastic captain of HMAS “Voyager*.
That is the last report on Captain Stevens, and the gentleman who made it as a RearAd mira 1 is now the Chief of the Naval Staff- Sir Alan McNicoll.
– Is he the brother of David McNicoll?
– I do not know whose brother he is. I do not know the gentleman. Although 1 served in the Navy for some thirty years I do not know who his parents or friends are. I put on record that this is the last report on Captain Duncan Stevens. Now, after what was said in this House yesterday, it would appear that the Navy is nothing else but an enlarged drinking parlour. I shall have something to say about that as time goes on, because it is just the reverse. I hope that people will take note of what happens so far as drink is concerned in the Royal Australian Navy.
Mr Acting Speaker, this tragic event took place at 2056 hours on 10th February 1964. The report was delivered in this House on 13th August 1964 and was debated on 15th September 1964. These charges have now been made against Captain Stevens by Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. 1 have never heard of such charges. I did not know that charges of this nature were going to come up. I have always set out to do what I could for Captain Robertson whenever the matter has been brought up in this House. I have maintained that he should get his pension. I am all for anything to do with that sort of thing and I shall continue to be. However, I cannot sit here and listen to these charges levelled against a man. They are absolutely untrue because the things that are alleged just could not happen. As the honourable member for Perth (Mr Chaney) said, for anyone to get up here and state - on the say so of another member of this House or a report given to him - that the man was alleged to have been drunk for six months and nobody knew about it, is a very cruel and untrue statement because no officer in the Royal Australian Navy could be in such a condition and not be found out. It is impossible, and I shall explain why it is impossible.
When liquor is delivered on board one of Her Majesty’s ships it goes to the gangway. It is not received by an officer at the gangway but by the most senior petty officer in the ship, the Master at Arms, and it is entered in the gangway wine book. It is then checked off to the wardroom. The name of every person in the Royal Australian Navy who has a drink is put on a sheet. One can see how much every officer in the Royal Australian Navy drinks day by day, week by week, and month by month. At the end of three months when the senior officer or the admiral comes around to inspect the ship all such books are put on the wardroom table, and it has always been the general understanding among officers that the gangway wine book and the wardroom wine account books are the two topmost books on the table.
– What about the brandy?
– I shall tell the honourable member about the brandy, too. The first books that the admiral or the senior officer sees are generally the gangway wine book and the wardroom mess book. He can see at a glance how much liquor has been consumed on that ship. I ask the House to remember that, because my friend asks: ‘What about the brandy?’. This is proof of what 1 was saying. It has been recorded in the evidence that Captain Stevens ordered a triple brandy. But what did he do? He rang the bell and asked his steward to go down and get him a triple brandy. The fact of his doing that would mean that a triple brandy was entered against his name. If anyone claims that this man is just an out and out alcoholic, I ask: What would an alcoholic do? Unfortunately when I was in the Merchant Navy I served with a poor unfortunate man who was an alcoholic. An alcoholic would not say to the steward: ‘Go down and get me a brandy’. He would have his own bottle in his own locker and he would not bother about drinking the liquor from a glass; he would get behind the locker door and take a swig.
– How could he get it on board?
– He could bring it aboard in a suit case if he wanted to do so. Captain Stevens was not that type of man. He sent down to the ward room for the drink. I ask honourable members to remember that. Mention was made of three ratings, or sailors as they are now referred to, whose bodies contained alcohol - this being revealed by post mortems. Sailors in the Navy are allowed to have beer under supervision. It is issued under supervision and the very day that this unfortunate ship sank was a beer day. Does any honourable member suggest that beer issue day should be cut out? We have heard suggestions in this House that our old Australians - the Aboriginals - should be allowed to drink beer and that the people of New Guinea and Papua can drink beer. It has been said that the body of Able Seaman Parker - and I am sorry that the unfortunate man’s name was mentioned - when hauled from the water was found to contain alcohol. Because of this, is beer issue day to be abolished? As far as I can find out, there is no proof that Captain Stevens was a known alcoholic.
Last night while this debate was proceeding I was called to the telephone. A person named Commander McNeil], whom I have never seen and do not know, had telephoned. He said: ‘I have been trying to find out the names of members who will be taking part in the debate and the man on the switchboard told me that you would be. I want to tell you that I was the principal medical officer in Hong Kong. I have just heard on the wireless the allegations against Captain Stevens. I want to tell you that they are untrue. You can use this information in the House. Captain Stevens came to me privately with his stomach condition. He had a serious stomach condition. At times the pain was so great that the man was forced to double over and to gasp for breath.’ Members may ask: Why did not the Naval Board know about these things when he came up for medical examination? Why was not this found out and why was he not relieved of his command? It is human nature, when a person’s job is at stake, to claim to be fit when asked by a doctor how that person is. I will make a confession. I have done the same thing, and I did it within the last six months. When I appeared before the Marine Board doctor in Victoria and he asked: ‘How is your health?’, although I knew that I had a slipped disc I said: ‘It has never been better’. Now I have that off my mind.
Captain Stevens was suffering from intense stomach trouble and I am sure that when he knew his job was at stake he would have claimed that medically he was all right. It has been suggested that the whole case has been one-sided. All we have heard has been blame of Captain Stevens. Little has been said about Captain Robertson. It was implied that Captain Stevens was court martial led and that we knew nothing about it. Courts martial in the Navy are not confidential. They are not secret. Courts martial returns are hung up in convenient places in ships for any man - whether he be the lowest person or the highest person on the ship - to read. They are hung up in shore establishments and anywhere that sailors congregate. When I heard that Captain Stevens had been the subject of a court martial I rang the Navy office and said that I would like to know what happened at the court martial. This morning the information was sent to me.
It appears that in November 1949 Lieutenant Stevens, as he then was, was captain of a small boom defence vessel Koala’ and he was bringing it from New Guinea to Australia. Coming down through the Barrier Reef he hit a shoal just off Three Islands Light. He got the ship off the shoal without damage but when he got to
Sydney he was charged with hazarding Koala’, stranding ‘Koala’ and suffering Koala’ to be stranded. He was up on three charges. He was found guilty on the first charge only and was adjudicated to be reprimanded, which is the lightest penalty that can be inflicted. He was not dismissed and he was not reduced in rank. The court martial investigated the full facts of the incident. It is wrong to say that information about this man is being hidden. Some eighteen years ago when he was a lieutenant his ship hit a reef. The Navy did its duty and he was court martialled. The Officer of the Watch was charged with negligently or by default hazarding ‘Koala’ and with negligently or by default stranding ‘Koala’. This indicates that justice was done by the court martial and I hope that members who have referred to the court martial will understand that nothing has been kept back.
The accident that we are now considering took place at 2056 hours on the night of 10th February 1964.I hope that the honourable members who have presented a case for the appointment of a select committee will give great consideration to this matter. What did Captain Robertson think of Captain Stevens? Did Captain Robertson think or know that Captain Stevens was a drunkard? In my opinion he did not. I have the greatest respect for Captain Robertson’s standing and I am sure he would not carry out manoeuvres with a drunkard. He would not place his ship, and claim station No. 1, on the port quarter of ‘Melbourne’ doing 22 knots and then give a signal ‘alter course together’, because his reputation was at stake. Remember that Captain Robertson was in tactical command, and the man in tactical command is in charge of both ships. He was not in charge of the safety of ‘Voyager’ but he was in charge of the manoeuvres and he gave the orders as I said in this House when the debate on the incident took place, and I retract nothing of what I said then.
He gave the order for the ships to alter course together and when the alter course together took place ‘Voyager’ was then put automatically ahead of ‘Melbourne’. I am not complaining about that. I could say that it might have been better to have altered to course in succession or to have said to ‘Voyager’: ‘I am searching for the wind; keep clear’. But would a man of
Captain Robertson’s standing and integrity, knowing that Captain Stevens’ reputation was as has been suggested, have endangered his ship and ‘Voyager’, particularly if he knew that astern of him was a man who had been drunk for six months? This is the most damnable accusation that has ever been made.
– That would have been a real danger.
– Of course it would have been. Then the collision occurred, and a finding has been made and I do not intend to go over that sort of thing. But if this is taken further, as some people want it taken, there is evidence in this record of the proceedings of the royal commission that will cause a lot of people to have a few things to say. Quite a lot of people who have drawn up diagrams as to what happened will be placed in an awkward position. If this is what is required, then go ahead with it, but I do not want to see an inquiry. There is no need for it. What is to be gained by bringing this matter up again? Only more heartbreak for many people who are wondering how their husbands or their sons lost their lives.
One of my colleagues asks by way of interjection what was Captain Robertson’s opinion of Captain Stevens. Captain Robertson had quite a lot to say about Captain Stevens.
– He never served with him.
– One does not have to serve with a man to know what he is like. Let me tell the House something about the Royal Australian Navy. It is a very small navy. It is a very efficient navy, but as it is a small navy every officer in it knows the habits of all the other officers. They all know what an officer’s capabilities are. They know how many times he changes his singlet, how he holds his knife and fork, how many times he has given a wharf a thump. Those things are known all over the fleet. I heard in this debate a reference to a collision between ‘Voyager’ and ‘Vampire’. I want to tell the House that every time a ship goes alongside a wharf or a pier or a buoy that ship is in collision. That has been established by law. A collision takes place at some time when the ship goes alongside. If, through wind and tide, the ship sits down rather heavily the collision is then more severe. But in many cases when a ship goes alongside a wharf some paint is scraped off the ship’s side, a pile is split or something similar occurs. But people do not rake up that sort of thing. I am not going to stand here and boast about the number of times I have put a ship alongside a wharf, but I have banged as many wharves as most people. And what do you say when you do that? You say: ‘Can you get some men over the side and cover up those abrasions?’ [Extension of time granted.]
I thank the House, and I hope it will not be necessary for me to take my full time. I was concerned yesterday when these charges were made. They have caused me to do a lot of homework in going through some of the evidence, and I have marked parts of the evidence which I think may be pertinent to this case. At page 3159 we find the record of Mr Street’s cross-examination of Captain G. J. Willis. It is in these terms:
– You were in command of HMAS ‘Vampire’ during the manoeuvres in 1963 in Far Eastern waters when Captain Stevens was in command of ‘Voyager’? - That is correct.
Did your two ships operate together quite frequently during that period in Far Eastern waters? - I think I am correct in saying that we were only actually operating separately for a period of a fortnight in the whole of the time we were away from Australia.
Did you hold any opinion, and if so would you tell me what it is, as to Captain Stevens’ competence as a station keeper and ship manoeuvrer when turning together or operating in close company with other ships? - I found him completely competent, a very able officer. He never caused me any worry as to where he was or what he was doing during any manoeuvre. I was always quite confident that he would be doing as I expected him to do, and I never had any reason to correct him.
There are several similar passages if people want to look them up. There is evidence by Admiral Gatacre recorded on page 2860. There is the evidence on page 2969 of Petty Officer Robert Palmer, and there is evidence on page 2163 of Lieutenant J. K. Conder, Royal Navy. This is what that junior officer said:
HIS HONOUR- What about the Captain? Did you have knowledge of the Captain at any time? - Only as a junior lieutenant.
Had you seen him in operation a good deal? - I had seen him on the bridge a fair amount.
At times when you had been on the bridge?Yes.
What would you say about his competence? Or perhaps you are not able to express any view, I do not know. - Thoroughly competent.
Yet, Mr Acting Speaker, we heard this man described yesterday as perhaps the worst man who ever existed in the Royal Australian Navy. I hope honourable members will take these remarks to heart and that they will throw out the suggestions that have been made because there is no proof of these allegations. Let me repeat: if any honourable member in this House had been in the company of a man who was a complete drunk for six months, what would he have done about it? Would he have said to himself: ‘The old man is still drunk and we are going to sea next week. We are going to Far Eastern waters and he is still drunk.’ Would he have left it at that? Of course he would not. There is provision in such a case for an officer to take the matter up with the senior officer on the station concerned. This happened once to my knowledge in the Royal Australian Navy during World War II, not in Australia but in England, and I was very close to that happening. But if people want to know about it I do not intend to bring it up now because the man concerned is alive. But this provision does exist.
Lieutenant-Commander Cabban served with Captain Stevens for twelve months during the whole of which time, according to him, Captain Stevens was a drunkard. Would not all honourable members think that in those circumstances LieutenantCommander Cabban, whether he thought about himself or not, had a duty to perform on behalf of all the people who were subordinate to him? Did he think it was right that when this man was drunk all the time, as he alleges, the ship should be taken to sea? All he had to do to avoid it was to go and see a senior officer ashore, at Garden Island or wherever the station was, and say. I want to speak to you confidentially, Sir. I am very worried about the ship. Will you come down with me now and have a look at the Captain, who is drunk in his bed?’ - for that is what he now alleges.
Mr Acting Speaker, I cannot stomach this sort of thing, and neither can anybody else. Let me say this in conclusion: Last Friday I attended quite a large naval reunion, and the people there were quite distressed about this matter. They asked me - and I do so now in response to that request - to express their dismay at the statements which appeared in the Melbourne Truth’ in large letters, like one I have before me at the moment, before this matter was brought before the House. About the biggest letters that they could find were used to produce the headlines ‘Voyager Scandal’, This is what it’s all about’ and ‘Drunken Duncan’. I forget what the Minister for the Navy then said about it, but yesterday he said that he had received a letter from Captain Plunkett-Cole, retired, who supplied information on what he knew about Captain Stevens when he served with him. I am not a lawyer, but so far as I am concerned these allegations are tantamount to hearsay. There is not one sworn statement, yet here learned counsel have said: ‘This is the evidence’. Why, it is not even put ;n as a statutory declaration or witnessed by a humble justice of the peace. Somebody comes along and says of Captain Stevens: Do you know what he did?’
If Lieutenant-Commander Cabban was distressed about the situation - he was then out of the Navy, having left it before the Voyager’ disaster - I should like to know why he did not get in touch with these members of Parliament before September 1964 when this matter was debated in the House. Imagine a member of this House being about to take part in a debate of this nature and being in possession of the evidence, or so-called evidence, that was discussed yesterday. No member of this House who was a member at that time has risen and said: ‘1 knew about this in September 1 964, but I said nothing about it’.
– He told Mr Smyth.
– 1 am talking about evidence that was brought up in this House yesterday.
– I did.
– You did?
– Then I hope the honourable member will explain it to the House.
Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)ls the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment, moved by the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson) and I reserve my right to speak later.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) agreed to with the concurrence of an absolute majority:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) finishing his speech.
– The Opposition supports the amendment moved by the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) and will vote for it in division. We shall vote against the further amendment proposed by the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson), whose remarks in support of his amendment scarcely accorded with the remarks he made when the “Voyager’ disaster was debated, in this Parliament in 1964. Be that as it may, I shall return to our honourable friend from Batman in due course. In the meantime I want to say that the Government’s case has been handled by two Ministers who bad no ministerial responsibility at the time of the ‘Voyager’ disaster and took no part in the debate on the report of the royal commission. The present Minister for the Navy (Mr Chipp) was not then in the Ministry and the present Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) was not a member of the House at that time. I do not say this disrespectfully of him, but it is true that he was not here and probably he did not hear what was then said. The present Minister for Health (Dr Forbes), who was Acting Minister for the Navy at the time of the disaster, has not spoken in this debate - a fact that to me is significant.
– He is out of the country.
– If he is out of the country, it is even more significant. Belatedly and, one would judge from the expression on his face, rather begrudgingly and reluctantly, the Treasurer, who participated in the debates of September 1964, at long last has moved himself to speak in this debate. The central issue really is not whether Captain Duncan Stevens had been drinking at the time of the collision and it is not even whether Captain Stevens was unfit to be in command of the ‘Voyager’. However, these two questions are basic to what really is the central issue; that is, whether the Naval Board suppressed or was responsible for suppressing or withholding vital evidence concerning the character and drinking habits of Captain Stevens. It must surely be accepted that evidence bearing upon the suitability of Captain Stevens to be in command of the destroyer must have been highly relevant to an inquiry into the cause of the disaster.
The honourable member for Warringah, the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess), and the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) have established a prima facie case that this vital evidence was suppressed and was withheld from the royal commission. There was evidence that Captain Stevens was addicted to alcohol. Moreover, as stated by the honourable member for Warringah, there is evidence that he was in fact a chronic drunkard. This is the question that should be decided. We do not know whether this evidence can be proved.
I am not saying whether the allegation ia true, but if in point of fact Captain Stevens was a chronic drunkard it becomes difficult to believe that this fact was not known to the Naval Board. If it were true and not known to the Board the immediate question that must be asked is: Why was it not known? On the other hand, if the Naval Board were aware of the drinking habits of Captain Stevens, a question to be answered is: Why were the ‘Voyager’ and its officers and men placed under his control? In any event, if the allegations against Captain Stevens that have now been made by members on the Government side can be sustained, a charge of negligence, if not criminal negligence, rests upon the shoulders of some or all members of the Naval Board. If the supressed evidence could have sustained these charges against the Naval Board, the supression would have been of vital concern to the Board. We express no opinion as to whether the evidence that was withheld from the Commission would have established negligence or worse against the Naval Board. However, we agree with those who declare that such vital evidence should not have been withheld. While there appears to have been a compelling motive on the part of the Naval Board for suppressing this evidence of guilt against itself, notwithstanding this fact that we are not prepared to say that the Board was responsible for its suppression.
However, one thing is certain. The evidence concerning the drinking habits of
Captain Stevens was withheld from the Commission by somebody. It could have been withheld at the instigation of a member or members of the Naval Board. On this we are not even prepared to speculate. The evidence could have been withheld with or without the knowledge and connivance of the Government. For these reasons counsel representing the Naval Board would have had an interest in the evidence that Lieutenant-Commander Cabban could have offered. Motives for wanting to suppress or to withhold Cabban’s evidence could, of course, also be ascribed to Mr F. M. Osborne, solicitor for the relatives of Captain Stevens, lt is of no importance that Mr Osborne is a former Minister of this Government and that he holds an important political position in one of the parties which form the Government. This is of no consequence and should not be allowed to come into the matter at all, as some newspapers are now suggesting.
To the extent that the Government could have committed itself to the belief that it ought to protect the reputation of the Naval Board right or wrong, the Government also could have had an interest in suppressing such vital evidence. If these possibilities are in fact realities, then both the Naval Board and the Government must have had powerful motives for suppressing Cabban’s evidence. If this is so the Government dare not now agree to the appointment of a select committee of this Parliament to examine the matter further. It dare not do this because if it has suppressed Cabban’s evidence, the select committee will bring this fact to light.
The honourable member for Warringah last night very convincingly pointed out that one could often find simple explanations for what seemed to be complex matters. Is it not a possible explanation of the Naval Board’s action in withholding evidence concerning Captain Stevens that it was actuated more by a desire to protect itself than to protect the reputation of the dead sea captain? After all, the responsibility for giving to Captain Stevens the command of ‘Voyager’ did rest with the Naval Board. The Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) said yesterday that any evidence as to Captain Steven’s drinking habits would not have changed the finding of the
Commission that ‘Voyager’ was responsible for the collision. It may not have changed that particular finding, but surely it would have greatly changed the emphasis and the interpretation given to the finding by the Government. If we read the speeches of the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, made on 15th and 24th September 1964, we will see that he went out of his way to highlight and to emphasise the criticisms made by the Commission of Captain Robertson of Melbourne*. In his ministerial statement of 15th September there is only one reference by name to Captain Stevens, in which Sir Robert Menzies praises his record and praises his naval experience. Sir Robert Menzies’ sole reference to the principal finding of the Commission was in these terms:
It will be recalled that although the Royal Commissioner places the primary responsibility for the collision upon ‘Voyager’, without feeling able to apportion individual blame among its bridge officers, he did make critical remarks about three of those on the bridge of ‘Melbourne’.
Sir Robert then proceeded, as recorded in four columns of Hansard, to detail the criticisms made of Captain Robertson, SubLieutenant Bate and Acting Commander Kelly of ‘Melbourne’. At the very best Sir Robert damned Captain Robertson with faint praise. He even explained to the House why it was that Captain Robertson should not - in fact could not - be court martialled. Nobody had ever suggested that Captain Robertson should be court martialled. Anybody who read Sir Robert Menzies’ ministerial statement and took that as the sole authoritative account of the Commission’s findings and of the Government’s views on those findings could conclude only that a great measure of blame attached to ‘Melbourne’. In his speech on 24th September 1964 on a censure motion moved by the Opposition, the former Prime Minister went further in casting suspicion on Captain Robertson. He said:
The Royal Commissioner . . . offered quite substantial criticisms of the conduct of those on the bridge of ‘Melbourne*. In these circumstances, it is a misuse of language to say that, in effect, the judge convicted these on the bridge of Voyager’ and exonerated those on the bridge of Melbourne’. In these matters let us have justice all round. The case for ‘Voyager1 has never been put, because the people who were on her bridge are not here to put it. We do know the case for Melbourne’. All I am saying to the House . . . is that it is not correct to say that the sole responsibility for the collision was put on those aboard
Voyager’. If honourable members look at the criticisms made of those on the bridge of ‘Melbourne’, they will see that the criticisms were substantia], although stated, very properly, with great moderation.
Surely the only inference to be drawn from that speech was that the Government wanted to imply that a very great measure of responsibility lay with ‘Melbourne’ and Captain Robertson. Indeed, Sir Robert Menzies almost hinted in the last sentence I quoted that the degree of blame was even greater than the Commission had specifically stated. What other possible reason could Sir Robert Menzies, speaking for the Government, have had for so deliberately, repeatedly and lengthily emphasising the criticisms of ‘Melbourne’ and its Captain? Does anybody believe that if the evidence of Lieutenant-Commander Cabban had been called and tested Sir Robert Menzies would have been able to imply that a major degree of blame rested with ‘Melbourne’? It is just not true to say, as the Attorney-General said, that this evidence, if proven, would have been irrelevant to the findings of the Commission. The emphasis placed on those findings would have been so greatly different as to amount to an entirely different set of findings. If this evidence had been brought forward and proven, the Parliament and the public would certainly not have accepted without protest Captain Robertson’s demotion by his being posted to a junior shore post.
Much has been said about Captain Robertson, for and against. I want to refer to an extract from a letter received by the honourable member for Dalley (Mr O’Connor) from the father of one of the men who lost his life in this tragic disaster. This particular member of the crew of Voyager’ had received a posthumous award for outstanding bravery. In his letter, which is available for anybody to see, the man’s father says that he believes that Captain Robertson was blameless for what happened. He further declares that in his opinion Captain Robertson has been made a scapegoat by the Government.
The Minister for the Navy (Mr Chipp) end the Attorney-General both say that whatever Captain. Stevens’s drinking habits in port may have been, they are irrelevant to his ability to be in charge of ‘Voyager’ because he did not drink at sea. The Ministers both say flatly that Captain
Stevens did not drink at sea, yet the simple fact is that Captain Stevens hid been drinking one and a half hours before the collision - at sea. Notwithstanding that on the night of the disaster the naval radio at Jervis Bay signalled the position of ‘Voyager’ as west of the Blue Mountains near Lithgow, in point of fact it was at sea and Captain Stevens had been drinking that night at sea. We do not have to inquire into all this nonsense about whether the Navy regards an ordinary brandy as a triple brandy, and I am not claiming that Captain Stevens was drunk, but the fact remains that it is just not true to say, on the evidence that we know and which was admitted by the Government, that Captain Stevens did not drink at sea. Irrespective of whether it was his general practice not to drink at sea, he had been drinking that night. Whether he got all of his drink at sea from the wardroom and had it listed on the Am list or whether he took drink on board with him in his bag, as the honourable member for Batman says sometimes happens with officers on ships, is beside the point, lt is regrettable that the Minister should have chosen, while the proceedings of the House were being broadcast, to refer to the late Captain Stevens by a hurtful and damaging nickname. 1 regret - and I think all honourable members join wilh me in expressing regret - that the honourable member for Batman, too, should have chosen to repeat this unfortunate nickname a moment ago by referring to a newspaper article published in Melbourne. This served no useful purpose, but could only deepen the suspicion against Captain Stevens, lt must have caused quite unnecessary pain to his family. No other honourable member mentioned that nickname and no other honourable member would have mentioned it. The Minister and the honourable member for Batman are the only two speakers who have chosen to drag this name into the debate. In doing so they have succeeded in doing the very thing which both said they deplore in others.
Let us examine some further statements by the Minister for the Navy. During the maiden speech of the honourable member for Warringah last night, when that honourable member was referring to statements made by Lieutenant-Commander Cabban, the Minister, before he was physically restrained by the Leader of the House (Mr
Snedden), interjected: Who verifies them? It is plain nonsense to suggest that those statements cannot be verified. LieutenantCommander Cabban details times, places and events involving many people whose names he knows and is willing to give. He mentions naval officers, ships doctors and people in Tokyo and other places who could easily prove or disprove what Cabban says. If what Lieutenant-Commander Cabban says is a lie, if it is an invention or a delusion, or if it is a piece of vindictiveness, his statement could be discredited easily, quickly and completely.
Let us look at how the Minister for thz Navy attempted to refute LieutenantCommander Cabban. Alongside extracts from Cabban’s statement he placed statements by Captain Willis and LieutenantCommander Griffith. The Minister was at pains to point out that Willis and Griffith were in a position to know the truth of Cabban’s allegations concerning an earlier collision between ‘Voyager’ and ‘Vampire*. In fact, their two statements cancel one another out. Griffith says that ‘Voyager’ came alongside “Vampire” rather heavily’. My car came alongside another car rather heavily last week and it caused quite a deal of damage.
– Be honest, Read on.
– Griffith says that the ‘Voyager’ ‘came alongside “Vampire” rather heavily’ and ‘sustained minor superficial’ damage. On the other hand, Willis says: ‘I have no recollection of the alleged collision’. None at all. He adds: ‘If any damage had been done, the collision would have been reported in the usual way*. The Minister went on to say that if one further examined Lieutenant-Commander Griffith’s statement one would find that what that statement does is to corroborate in general the fact that some sort of collision did occur. While not viewing i’ as seriously, apparently, as Cabban did, Willis denies that anything of the sort happened. Griffith confirms Cabban concerning Captain Steven’s’ tendency not to handle his own ship personally. Further, Griffith does not refute the statement about Captain Stevens’ drinking habits.
The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), in his rather remarkable aboutturn last night - and I say ‘about-turn’ ad visedly, and I can understand why he is looking so uncomfortable about it - alleged that the honourable member for Warringah, an eminent senior counsel and a former acting judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, who has many years more experience at the bar than the five months which the honourable member for Moreton has to his credit at the police court in Brisbane, was attempting to reverse the onus of proof by requiring the Government to disprove Cabban’s allegations. This is not what is being asked for by those honourable members on the Government side who spoke yesterday. We are not asking that there should be a criminal court case or a civilian court case; we are asking that a select committee make an inquiry. In any event, it is irrelevant to talk about the reversal of the onus of proof, because again this is not what the honourable member for Warringah asked for. It is not what the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner), another eminent barrister, asked for; it is not what the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) asked for. The honourable members who have spoken in this debate have merely asked that a select committee be appointed so that Lieutenant-Commander Cabban may be called before it and thus be given the opportunity - indeed, the onus - of proving his allegations. There can be no question of proving or disproving unless and until a witness is called on the subject on which he wishes to give evidence. In view of the gravity of the matter and the fact that Cabban was denied an opportunity at the Royal Commission to prove his statements, or to have them disproved, I submit that the Government cannot resist the demand for a select committee without laying itself open to the charge that it fears the result.
In spite of what is contained in the Stevens flimsy - the last one ever issued - which was quoted by the honourable member for Batman, and which he says was signed by Rear-Admiral Sir Alan McNicoll, many people believe that the Chief of the Naval Staff, Rear-Admiral McNicoll, knew of Captain Stevens’ drinking habits. I understand that Rear-Admiral McNicoll had something to say about this flimsy which the Stevens family still has in its possession. He said that there was no reference in it to drunkenness or the like. He went to great pains to praise this officer but many people believe that the Chief of the Naval Staff, Rear-Admiral McNicoll, knew of Captain Stevens’ drinking habits.
– Wrong. Shame.
– I said that some people say that he knew - and I repeat - knew of his drinking habits. I say it again.
– Would the honourable gentleman like to say that outside?
– I say, inside that many people believe that he knew about the drinking habits. In spite of this the Minister said that Rear-Admiral McNicoll bad stated that there was nothing in the confidential report on Captain Stevens about Captain Stevens’ drinking habits and that if anyone was not prepared to take his word for it he would make a statutory declaration to that effect. What an extraordinary offer. Here was the Chief of the Naval Staff so uncertain as to whether people would accept his word as an officer and a gentleman that he offered to substantiate it in a statutory declaration. If there is any justification for such a need then surely there is justification for his dismissal immediately as Chief of the Naval Staff. At this point I mention that I asked the House to remember that the Minister read extracts from a confidential report supplied by the Naval Board and refused my invitation to table the full report. To Parliament he has the right to refuse such a request; but to a select committee, with wide enough terms of reference, neither he nor Admiral McNicoll nor any other member of the Naval Board would be able to withhold this document or any other document that might be called for by the Committee.
The actions of the Government in this matter bear the hallmark of looseness with facts and truth. The Government appears more concerned with manipulating the facts than with establishing the truth. Honourable members have instanced the difficulties they have had in obtaining papers, dates, and precise information. The only information that is disclosed is that which suits the Government. We know that amounts of up to $80,000 were provided for dependants of those lost in HMAS Voyager’ in out of court settlements. This praiseworthy generosity is in striking contrast with the treatment that others have received. One can only suspect that the Navy wanted to prevent any public legal proceedings which might have brought hidden information to the light of day.
I promised that I would refer to the speech made by the honourable member for Batman in 1964. I will do so because I think it is relevant; more relevant in view of the fact that the honourable member has assured us in his remarks today that he retracts nothing of what he said then. At page 1086 of Hansard of 15th September 1964 the honourable member for Batman is recorded as saying:
I feel that part of the blame lies with those in much higher places that the Captain, the Navigator and the Officer of the Wat.-h, and these men must not be made scapegoats, for they are the result of bad management and planning. Therefore, the management and the planning must take the blame, and the Navy must be rearranged. It is obvious that the Navy is not aware of ils shortcomings. Therefore, the Government must set in motion the necessary machinery to reorganise the Navy. The Navy appears to be too aloof and unrealistic in these things. It is remote, it is out of station and for its own good must quickly get into line. Eighty-two men have lost their lives and this debate must not be turned into a political football match. We on this side of the House are not looking for gain but for action, and immediate action, by the Government to make the general conduct and the command of the Royal Australian Navy more efficient.
All of us will be lacking in our sense of duty if we do not insist that the wrongs now prevailing in the Royal Australian Navy be quickly righted. The whole system of training of all personnel, from admiral to ordinary seamen, must be overhauled and overhauled quickly. The Navy has failed to learn a lesson from the earlier tragedy involving the whaler from,H.M.A.S. ‘Sydney’ when five young officers lost their lives in Whitsunday Passage. To show the Navy’s muddled thinking I want to direct the attention of the House to the way in which the Navy thought about whalers at that time and the way in which it thinks now. At page 33 of his report on the ‘Voyager’ disaster the Commissioner said-
He quoted what the Commissioner said about whalers and then asked the House to note particularly the last remark of the Commissioner on this aspect, that these whalers, according to the Navy, could not sink. He quoted further extracts from the report to show that they could sink and that they did sink. Yet the Navy continued to use them. However, he had not finished with the Navy, by a long way. He was still after its blood and he still means what he then said. He does not retract one word. He believes every word, and so do I and most other people. The honourable member for Batman is an expert, an ex-naval officer, and who would know better the shortcomings of the Navy? Who in this Parliament would be a more authoritative person to speak on the subject of the Navy? Let us hear him again. He is still speaking in the House on that day:
Nobody can deny that on past performances the Royal Australian Navy has been in decline. The men at the head of affairs have failed to take remedial action and, because of that, we find this tragedy on our hands. The ships ‘Melbourne’ and Voyager’ and their captains, officers and men are the victims of circumstance. If punishment or denial of promotion is handed out to the captains and officers of ‘Melbourne’, the real problem will not be solved. It goes far deeper than that. There must be an overhaul of the top echelon, because its members, and its members alone, are responsible.
So said the honourable member for Batman, a retired captain, about who is responsible for what is happening in the Navy. I hope that the honourable gentleman will forgive me for having to mention this matter but he did say that he had no idea of the charges concerning Captain Stevens.
– If I could take a point of order-
– There is no point of order al this stage. Will he come forward after I have finished my remarks, place his right hand on the dispatch box, as Profumo did, and declare to this House that he did not know about these charges twelve months ago? Will he deny that he passed the remark about what a tragedy it was that he had heard of drunken Duncan? These are matters of great moment to this Parliament when honourable gentlemen make these charges about the Navy, which I have quoted from Hansard. Nobody could have known more about the Navy than this former naval officer who says:
There must be an overhaul of the top echelon, because its members, and its members alone, are responsible.
How do we get that overhaul? How can we establish beyond doubt that this is what is needed other than by means of a select committee, where serving officers of the Navy will come forward and be compelled to tell the truth on oath, without fear of demotion or of being otherwise disciplined. I want to emphasise that I do not support the insinuated aspersions cast upon the honour and integrity of the Royal Commissioner, Sir John Spicer, and I do not suggest that Mr Smyth, Q.C., acted in an improper manner. It goes without saying that if this evidence was withheld from the Royal Commissioner, he could not have taken it into account. How could he have adjudicated upon that which was withheld from him? Nothing that we can now do can bring back the lives of the officers and ratings who died on that terrible night at sea on 10th February 1964. But a select committee could discover what caused the incredible, as it was described by Captain Robertson, to happen on that night, and could recommend action to ensure that it would never happen again and that there should be a reconstruction of the Navy at the top, for which the honourable member for Batman pleaded in this House in 1964.
The Minister for the Navy has made the unworthy and unwarranted suggestion ‘hat those who have raised the matter are improperly pursuing the dead. I am sorry to have to say this about the honourable gentleman, but that is a very serious allegation to make against an honourable member of this Parliament. Indeed, a more serious allegation could not possibly have been made by one honourable member against another. Nothing is improper which leads, or which may lead, to the discovery of the persons or the methods responsible for the death of others. This kind of pursuit of the truth is going on right now with the Winton air disaster inquiry. It might be <aid that the ghosts of all who died that night are pursuing those responsible for ‘heir death. If the pursuit of one man or of many men, dead or living, leads to the discovery of other guilty parties or of practices which, if unchanged, could lead to a repetition of such a disaster, then this debate will have been well justified. I say again that I make no comment on the suggestion that the Government fixed the Commission. I now demand that the Government refrain from fixing this Parliament. This is surely the occasion when the Parliament of the people of the Commonwealth of Australia ought to be able to rise above politics.
– I speak as one who has been in every Cabinet discussion relating to the Voyager’ disaster, who went through every word of the evidence and the findings of the Royal Commissioner and who participated in the debate on the last occasion when the subject was before the House. I have done this because to me this was a frightful collision; a frightful accident. I felt, as I believe every member in the House felt, very deeply for the people who suffered in this disaster, for the survivors of those who died and for those who held the Royal Australian Navy in the highest regard. This debate has centred round two aspects: firstly, whether vital evidence was, in fact, suppressed; and secondly, to use the horrible phrase of the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John), whether Captain Stevens was a chronic drunkard. No evidence to this effect has been brought forward.
Let me recount the historical background of the matter and the actual findings of the Royal Commissioner. I shall not traverse in detail what was said yesterday afternoon in the House by my colleague the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Bowen) who set out the whole history of the ‘Voyager’ disaster. He pointed to two facts that must be kept in mind if honourable members are not to lose the perspective against which this problem must be viewed. First, the Royal Commissioner held that ‘Voyager’ was culpable. He could not go any further than that. He could not find which of the officers on the bridge was responsible, because they died in the collision and all the signals equipment and the signals went down when ‘Voyager’ was destroyed. So it is not possible to sheet home more than this single fact, that ‘Voyager’ was responsible and that no other party was responsible directly for this collision. Secondly, the- Royal Commissioner held that if the Captain df ‘Melbourne’, Captain Robertson, had acted a little more quickly there was a possibility - and no more than a possibility - that the accident might have been avoided. These were the .findings of the Royal Commission, as briefly as I can express them.
What do the three honourable gentlemen on the Government side of the House who have raised this matter and the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) hope to get out of another inquiry? Do they want to prove that Voyager’ was more guilty? Do they want to prove - and they cannot prove it - that if Captain Robertson had acted a little more quickly he might have avoided the accident? In fact, another inquiry can do no more than the Royal Commissioner did and that was to find where the responsibility lay. When we were making an inquiry into the cause of this disaster we had to ask the question: Where did the responsibility lie? Fairly and squarely the Royal Commissioner said: ‘In this case, “Voyager” was responsible.’ That is the background against which we must look at this problem. May I next ask this question: What vital evidence was suppressed? The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) went into Hansard as saying that there is no further evidence other than that which was known at the time by Mr Smyth, who was assisting the Commissioner, or was contained in the document that was submitted by LieutenantCommander Cabban. I believe that to be true. What was done? Lieutenant-Commander Cabban, on whom most of the responsibility falls and whose evidence is in fact directly under consideration here, was interviewed by a police officer and his evidence was available to Mr Smyth. Equally, Mr Smyth and his assistant interviewed LieutenantCommander Cabban. They found that his evidence was not relevant and they were not prepared to submit it to the Commission.
Nobody has argued that in substance the full and long statement of LieutenantCommander Cabban adds anything to what was already known by counsel assisting the Commissioner. This was the only evidence; there was nothing more than this evidence that could have been put in. In his wisdom, counsel assisting the Commissioner decided not to put it in, because he regarded it as irrelevant and he did not regard Lieutenant-Commander Cabban as a credible witness. I do not want to say too much in terms of personalities, but it deserves to be mentioned that LieutenantCommander Cabban was twice grounded for crashing his aircraft and then was deprived of his naval air certificate. He twice asked whether he could leave the Navy because he was dissatisfied and disenchanted with it. On the second occasion he was given permission to leave and did so in a disenchanted frame of mind. All this shows the attitude of the man whose evidence is now substantially relied upon.
I now turn to the next question that is of great importance here. In the paper presented by Lieutenant-Commander Cabban, which was uncorroborated, he stated that he would rely on the corroboration of another naval officer. That officer has in fact denied the accuracy of the statement and he was not prepared to give evidence in support of LieutenantCommander Cabban. Therefore, on this first question of whether vital evidence had in fact been suppressed, it is clear enough on the facts that in substance all the evidence was known to counsel assisting the Commissioner, that he regarded the Cabban allegations as irrelevant and that in any event, if it had been introduced, it could not have made any difference to the finding, which was that ‘Voyager’ was culpable. What do the honourable member for Hindmarsh and the honourable member for La Trobe hope to achieve? Unless they want to find ‘Melbourne’ culpable they can do no better than the Royal Commission and find the ‘Voyager’ was culpable.
The second and very important question deals with the statement of my friend from Warringah that Captain Stevens was a chronic drunkard. Again I use his phrase. This, I believe, was a shocking accusation to make without any facts at all to support it. Let me take honourable members back over the facts. The record of this man has been made available to us. Nowhere in his record is there any evidence that he was even a heavy drinker, let alone a chronic drunkard. On the night in question, according to the evidence of the survivors, everything on the ship seemed to be in shipshape order and there were no facts to which they could draw attention which would show that those on the bridge were under the influence of alcohol. What is just as important, and perhaps even more important than any of these statements, is that Professor Reuben Blackburn, who is a personal friend of mine, one of the most eminent physicians in this country and the Professor of Medicine at Sydney University, found as a result of an autopsy that the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream of Captain Stevens could not have affected his conduct and that in fact he was not under the influence of alcohol. This was evidence found as a matter of fact and accepted by the Royal Commission.
Notwithstanding all that, accusations are made of chronic drunkenness by this man. If we care to go further we can see the evidence not only of officers in the Royal Australian Navy but also of officers in the Royal Navy that this man was a splendid officer and was able to carry out his duties effectively and well. I was glad to hear the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson) speak today. He disposed of the idea that there could have been excessive drinking on this ship. The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) is giggling his head off. He usually asks that there be decorous conduct in this chamber but he is the first to transgress the rule. The honourable member for Batman is to be commended for what he said about the naval practice which permits the tracing of every nip of alcohol that is consumed on board ship, by reference to both the gangway wine book and the ward room wine sheets. These books and sheets are open to everyone to inspect. Every senior officer can tell by a perusal of them the exact quantity of alcohol that has been consumed by a senior officer. I believe it can be stated quite categorically that there is no evidence based on these facts that Captain Stevens drank substantially while he was at sea.
We have the other deplorable statement made by the honourable gentleman from Hindmarsh that Admiral McNicoll knew of the drinking habits of Captain Stevens. I have just discussed this with Admiral McNicoll and, with his approval, I can categorically deny that Admiral NcNicoll knew or had ever been informed that large amounts of drink had been consumed by, or of the alleged drinking habits of, Captain Stevens. This was another untruth, another fabrication introduced into this debate.
– He did not say that. He said that other people believed it.
– Do not be untruthful again. The phrase he actually used was that Admiral McNicoll knew of his drinking habits. I want to state ki clear language that I do not think there is evidence that Captain Stevens drank to excess and 1 do not think the statement’ that he was a chronic drunkard is supported by the facts.
Let me turn to the second subject I want to mention - the standard of efficiency in the Australian Navy. I had the opportunity to speak in the debate in the -House on the previous occasion and I pay tribute to the standard of efficiency of the Navy. Honourable members need not take my remarks as the best evidence that can be produced. I quote four statements by the Royal Commissioner himself. I believe that these are sufficient to make it clear that there was no necessity at that time to inquire into the efficiency of the Navy. The Commissioner said:
There can be no question but that the two ships were suitable for the task in which they were engaged. Indeed they were the very vessels required for touch-and-go exercises at night.
As to the preparedness of the ships and their equipment, the following appears from the evidence . . .
I conclude therefore that the ships and their equipment were in a proper state of preparedness for the exercise.
This was of vital importance. He went on to analyse the efficiency and preparedness of the crews and then said:
Despite the limited experience of both officers of the Watch, I do not think that any criticism can properly be directed against their respective appointments.
Those statements were made by the Royal Commissioner himself. He found that the Navy was efficient; that it carried out this exercise efficiently and that there was no reason for criticism of the efficiency of the Navy as a whole because of the collision. The Government did not let the matter rest there. We felt that in the interests of this country and especially in the interests of the Navy - this is something that should have been brought out in this debate - we should establish a standing naval committee of investigation and also appoint a Cabinet committee to scrutinise the activities of the Navy, and that if the Cabinet was not satisfied with the reports frequently received it could take executive action to ensure that changes took place. The former Prime Mintister said that the committee would meet regularly to consider ways and means of reviewing naval methods so as to make improvements where these were found to be desirable. I have in my hand a list of eight different changes made in order to ensure the greatest efficiency in the Navy and to see that naval standards were maintained and if practicable lifted to a higher level. It lists these measures: A Co-ordinator of Naval Safety to be appointed; frequent inspection of ships; the necessity for carrying out internal work in ships; winching of helicopters. Four or five other matters referred to by the Royal Commissioner were under investigation. We on this side of the House are aware of the great efficiency of the Navy. We are confident that we have a Navy which, though small, is of a high standard.
Let me deal now with a speech which I deplore, even though it was the first speech in this House by a new member. I think that on this occasion the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) jumped to the conclusion that all the blame for the omissions I mentioned was upon those who conducted the inquiry and that the one person who could be believed was LieutenantCommander Cabban. I want to test that statement by referring to what the honourable member has said. First of all he took the somewhat strange course of referring to the blood alcohol test of Able Seaman Parker. Let me say that Able Seaman Parker was not on duty on the night of the accident. So a man who was not on duty and could not have been held responsible for the collision that occurred has been drawn into this affair. Secondly - and this is rather remarkable because one would at least expect that a man with the reputation of being an eminent Queen’s Counsel would have checked his facts - as reported at page 2170 of Hansard the honourable member said:
The slightest peccadillo by Captain Robertson, a man with a most distinguished record . . . is mentioned.
That was mentioned in evidence. The honourable member mentioned Captain Robertson’s record and referred to the Vendetta’ incident. He said that this kind of thing was suppressed in the case of Captain Stevens. He was there referring to the ‘Koala’ incident.
The first thing to ask is: Who in fact produced the evidence? Was it introduced by Mr Smyth, counsel assisting the Commission? It was not; it was introduced by counsel for Captain Robertson. No accusation was made by counsel assisting the Commission about the ‘Vendetta’ incident or about the skill of Captain Robertson. The honourable member referred to the ‘Koala’ incident, as I have said, and this is where it is important to distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant. This is where the honourable member for Warringah might have been expected to show a greater degree of caution. The simple fact is that Mr Smyth rejected both pieces of evidence on the ground that they were not relevant to the accident. They were not relevant to the Voyager’ inquiry. Finally the honourable member employed the tactic of suspicion and innuendo. He criticised Professor Ruthven Blackburn, an eminent and able man and an acknowledged expert in the interpretation of autopsies of the heart and alcohol in the heart. Professor Blackburn is a man of unimpeachable reputation and is known all over Sydney and perhaps throughout New South Wales for his integrity, decency and efficiency. Not content to leave the matter there the honourable member scathingly referred to butting in by the Royal Commissioner himself.
As the one who made the accusation the honourable member ought to stand up to the charge that Captain Stevens was a chronic drunkard. I say that the credibility of these witnesses has first to be tested. When it is tested against the facts the evidence is found to be wanting and should be forgotten by this House. I believe that my remarks will assist in this matter. I have had much soul searching during the time I have lived with this problem. I have enormous sympathy for the people who might be injured or hurt by this discussion. The Government has not closed its options. The Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) after considering all the points that have been raised will take the matter back to the party room and then decide exactly what is to be done.
-I wish to make a personal explanation in relation to two matters. Under standing order 66, 1 seek your leave to explain myself in regard to those matters.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I claim to have been misquoted or misunderstood by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) in two respects and I wish to correct his reference to them. He said that I had referred to Captain Stevens as a chronic drunkard. The context will show quite clearly that all I said was that if Lieutenant-Commander Cabban’s evidence is correct - and I wanted to have it tested before a proper tribunal - it showed Captain Stevens to be a chronic drunkard. To anyone reading my speech as a whole the remark in the context is perfectly clear. I have said specifically that I cannot vouch for Cabban. I believe LieutenantCommander Cabban but his words should be tested in the proper way. I said that if his remarks are taken at face value - they are clear enough according to what was read by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) - they show a picture of a chronic drunkard. I did not allege that he was a chronic drunkard. This is a matter to be tested.
Secondly, I made no personal imputation against Professor Blackburn. I said - and I adhere to it - that he is not an expert on the effects of alcohol.
Debate (on motion by Mr Snedden) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) proposed:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the passage without delay of a Post and TelegraphRates Bill and that Standing Order 169 be suspended in relation to that Bill.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I oppose the motion on several grounds. Standing order 169 provides:
The Speaker or, subject to the provisions of Standing Order 233, the Chairman, may, in his discretion, disallow any motion or amendment which is the same in substance as any question, which, during the same session, has been resolved in the affirmative or negative.
The intention of the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) in moving for the suspension of this standing order is to get over the embarrassment of the defeat of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill in another place. The Government can use its brutal majority to get the Bill passed by this House. Last night the debate on the Broadcasting and Television Bill was gagged in this chamber after only one speaker on this side of the House had had an opportunity to address the Chair. The Leader of the House went back on an arrangement that he had made with the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) in regard to the conduct of the debate, and decided that the debate would terminate last night. We on this side of the House are just as determined to defeat the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill as we were during the course of the previous debate because we consider that the charges claimed to be necessary by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) are unnecessary. Therefore, we oppose the suspension of this standing order because its suspension would permit a debate to proceed on a Bill that has already been adequately debated in this chamber and adequately debated but defeated in another place.
– This motion is simply a subterfuge by the Government to try to get round the general constitutional provisions which establish this Parliament. It is attempting to use the members of this House as a rubber stamp so that it can shuttle this legislation backwards and forwards to the Senate. That is against both the general traditions of Parliament and the Standing Orders. It is unfortunate that at the present time the Standing Orders seem to mean little indeed. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden) will put up any kind of subterfuge he can dream up and will use his numbers to get round the Standing Orders. I believe that this House should give close scrutiny to the way in which this matter is being handled, for if this is to continue we may as well tear up this book of Standing Orders.
That the motion (Mr Sneddon’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker-Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Hulme, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
It is not my intention to repeat the second reading speech that I made when a similar matter was before the House a few days ago. Nevertheless, I believe that I should clarify some points. This is particularly so since, on the earlier occasion, I did not have the opportunity to answer some of the charges that were made. Firstly, I want to clear the confusion that exists, or has existed, in relation to the overall
Charges and the way in which they may be implemented. At the beginning of my Second reading speech on the other Bill I made it clear that I was dealing with a totality of charges, some of which were covered by the then Bill and others that were covered by different means. 1 referred to the matters that were included in the Bill and then pointed out that the other matters to which I was then going to refer were covered by regulation or by administrative acts.
It seemed that members of this House, the Press and, I think the public, assumed that the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill included matters that were covered in the schedules which accompanied my second reading speech, lt was only when I discussed the matter with a Press represent.tative on the following Tuesday that I was able to make him understand that the Bill covered internal postal charges and that authority was given under the Act for certain charges to be adjusted by regulation and for other charges to be adjusted by administrative act. Other newspapers then suddenly decided that I had made a new announcement. I had made no new announcement at all; I had merely tried to clarify the position.
In addition, there was confusion in the public mind. It was suggested that because the Bill had been defeated in the Senate 1 was going to make alterations by regulation in respect of the matters contained in the Bill. 1 should think that honourable members would be sufficiently experienced to know that if it is necessary to bring down a rates Bill it is not possible to apply the charges contained in it by regulation if the Bill is, in fact, rejected. That is the reason why this Bill is being brought before the House at this time.
As to the matters of which I spoke on the previous occasion, external postal charges adjustments, can be covered by regulation or by administrative act. However, the matters that relate to internal postal charges can be determined ony by the approval of the Parliament. They were rejected in the first instance by the Senate and 1 now bring them back so that the Senate may. I hope, have another opportunity to consider them. I hope that, on reflection, the Senate will believe that there is good reason why the charges should be adjusted from 1st July, lt is a very simple proposition. If the Senate is going to say: ‘This is a Budget matter and the adjustments should apply from 1st November”, we will bs without between S7m and $10m of revenue, and this deficiency will have to be made up in some other way.
– Stop wasting time. The Senate rejected the proposed adjustments.
– The honourable member can interject as much as he likes. 1 have the opportunity to try to present to the House and to the public some explanation so that they will understand what the Government is putting to them in this Bill. If the Senate says that this is a Budget matter, it will be necessary for the Government to find alternative means in the Budget session to recover the S7m to Si Om that will be lost because of a rejection of the Bill now.
Another matter about which I believe there is much confusion in the public mind - and, I regret to say, in the Parliament - is the amount of capital on which interest is charged. In the debates in this place and in another place it seemed to be suggested that because the Post Office received $202m this year this amount will be added to the money financed by the Treasury, and interest will be payable on it. I point out that there is provision for depreciation year by year. The amount of depreciation is recovered from the revenues that are received from the various charges which are made. This amount is paid to the Treasury. In years when there is a profit, the profit also is paid to the Treasury and these amounts become virtually a contra against the amount of capital that the Treasury makes available to the Post Office as part of the Appropriation Bill approved by the Parliament. Let me put it another way: if honourable members look at the balance sheet of the Post Office they will see an addition to the assets of the Post Office and, at the same time, they will see a provision for depreciation. The net amount between these two figures - $138m - is the amount on which interest is paid by the Post Office; not on the $202m which, in fact, is appropriated by the Parliament. I believe that these matters should be clearly understood by honourable members if they are to make an intelligent contribution to the debate in the Parliament.
I come now to another matter which was the subject of criticism in relation to interest, and it is the philosophy of whether or not there should be an interest charge against the Post Office on moneys advanced by the Treasury. I am not going to enter into a debate on this matter. Several members from the Government side made the position quite clear in the original debate. They pointed out that this subject was raised by the Public Accounts Committee. It was then referred by the Government, which accepted the suggestion of the Public Accounts Committee, to an ad hoc committee comprising three persons from outside the Public Service and two public servants. Those five people came to the unanimous conclusion that interest should be charged. We have said that the interest charged would have to be received from the people who used facilities and services of the Post Office or would have to be received by way of additional taxation.
I have taken the opportunity to have a look at what the situation would be if these interest charges were not made on business undertakings conducted by the Commonwealth. In this regard I do not believe there is any difference between interest charges on the Post Office and dividends which might be paid by Qantas Empire Airways Ltd or other companies that are completely Commonwealth owned, because dividends are merely returns on capital that has been lent to those companies or interest on capital advanced by the Treasury.
All these Commonwealth business undertakings are required to pay interest, or required to pay a dividend, and some of them pay taxes. They include the Post Office, the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, the Australian National Airlines Commission, Qantas Empire Airways Ltd, the Australian National Line, the Snowy Mountains Authority, the Government Printer and the ACT Electricity Authority. The combined total received from all these authorities in the year 1965-66 was $94m. The contention, which I repeat, is that if this is not received from the authorities which have the use of the money, and is not paid for by the people who use the services, then it must come from increased taxation. Let me interpolate here that a very small proportion of the Australian people would use the services of Qantas, but if we accept the philisophy of the Labor Party the Australian public would pay interest on the money used by that undertaking for the purchase of aircraft or for other purposes. The same philosophy applies in the case of the Post Office; those who use the services should pay for them.
But what would be the effect of the loss by the Treasury of $94m through the removal of this requirement and the consequent necessity to obtain the money for interest or dividend from another source, which obviously must be taxation? In the year 1965-66 this amount of $94m would have represented an increase of 5i% in individual taxation, or a 5.5c in the $1 increase in company taxation, or a 25% rise in sales tax, or nearly a 60% rise in payroll tax, or a 9% increase in customs and excise. 1 remind honourable members and the people of Australia that this is the situation with which they would be faced if the Government did not require the users of services to meet these interest payments or these increased charges which are related to the capital that is used. 1 believe that the people would agree that what has been adopted as a policy by the Government, that the users should pay rather than that the money should come out of general taxation, is the correct approach to this matter.
I move on the some of the criticisms which were voiced in the debate. As honourable members know, the Senate rejected the Bill when it first came forward. The principal criticism that I could find - and I listened to the debate in this House and 1 have read the record of the debate that took place in the Senate - was that these increases in fact should have been included in the Budget and not brought in at this time to apply from 1st July, a date which will precede the introduction of the Budget. Let me put this quite deliberately to honourable members opposite: If they will go back to 21st June 1949, when a Labor government was in power, they will find that the then Postmaster-General, Senator Cameron, introduced a bill for the increase of postal charges to apply from 1st July of that year.
– By how much? By one half penny.
– It is not a question of how much. I am talking in terms of the principle. It is quite beside the point to ask how much the increase was. The principle which has been enunciated by the Labor Party on this occasion is that these increases should be introduced as a Budget measure, but the fact is that similar increases were not introduced as a Budget measure in 1949. They were increased on 21st June 1949 and they had the support of Mr Chifley. How many times in the last eighteen years have I heard honourable members opposite tell us what a remarkable financial person Mr Chifley was. I believe it is reasonable to say that he was regarded by honourable members opposite as one of the most outstanding men in finance that the Parliament has ever produced. Yet in the Senate last week the Labor Party in fact rejected completely the principles which were established by a Labor Government in 1949 under the leadership of Ben Chifley.
I say that the Labor Party has in fact changed the principle which it established in 1949. For what reason it has clone so nobody would know, but I suggest to the House, as I do to the Australian public, that it has been done merely for political purposes. Because the Labor Opposition in the Senate happens to have a majority when it adds to its numbers the independent senators and the members of the Democratic Labor Party, it has taken the opportunity to reject the Bill, not on the basis of real principle but merely on the basis of political expediency, and in the doing of it has delegated the leadership of the ALP to the DLP. I remind the House that the move to oppose this measure was initiated in the Senate by Senator Gair, and it was supported by the ALP to the point at which the ALP. together with the DLP and the independents, caused the rejection of the Bill.
We arc told from lime to time that the ALP has no time for the DLP. Yet it will accept DLP leadership when there is an opportunity of defeating something which is essential in the interests of the Australian people, as this Bill is. Later I will refer to another Bill on which the ALP has adopted more or less the same attitude.
The next criticism that has been levelled against the Post Office is that it is inefficient. Well, I have read line by line what was said by honourable members opposite and by their supporters in another place, and I have not been able to find any speaker who has pinpointed any inefficiencies within the Post Office.
– What about the twenty to thirty letters a day destroyed by the sorting machine?
– I am not going to take notice of the magpie opposite. If he is not going to be controlled I will completely disregard him.
– Order! The honourable member for Newcastle must cease interjecting.
– What are these inefficiencies that have been referred to?
– What is wrong with the fiveday roster’?
– This is not an inefficiency of the I’o-t Office. I am not going to discuss that matter in relation to this Bill. The point is that no inefficiencies have been indicated by honourable members opposite in the working of the Post Office. When I say that, 1 am the last to suggest that any business undertaking is 100% efficient. I have said publicly outside the House and 1 say it again inside the House that the Post Office does not have 100% efficiency. We do not look for 100% efficiency. If any honourable member here sat, as a mail sorter sits, at a bench day by day. eight hours a day and five days a week - and many of them have been at the job for fifteen or sixteen n years - placing each letter that comes forward in one of about forty-eight different cells, he would not believe that a person could be 100% accurate over such a period of time. As 1 said in the House some time ago. if we can achieve 98% efficiency we will have reached the ultimate that can be expected in efficiency in the Post Office. If these people are to bc criticised because they are not 100% efficient let me remind honourable members opposite that they are criticising the people whom they were claiming a few weeks ago to be their supporters in an election. So this criticism is not really levelled against the Government, it is levelled against the people who are supposed to support the members of the Opposition in an election. So let the House reflect a little on one or two of the matters I referred to in my earlier second reading speech.
Over the past six years there has been a 31% increase in output in postal services and a 10% rise in the number of people employed on postal operations. Last year postal output rose by 4.1% with a 1.8% increase in the number of employees. Do these percentage rises suggest inefficiency at any level in the Post Office? There has not been an increase in postal charges since 1959. A small downward adjustment was made last year following the introduction of decimal currency. Can honourable members opposite point to any business organisation in Australia that has not increased its charges over the same period?
– The boilermakers have not increased their charges. 1 told the Minister that last week.
– I think they have really. Can honourable members opposite show me a business that has not increased its charges over the period I mentioned? I might well refer at this stage to increases in charges for newspaper advertising and prices charged for newspapers. Only recently ‘Woman’s Day’ increased its charge by 50%, as did the ‘Australian Women’s Weekly’. I understand also that the price of the ‘Readers Digest’ has risen from 20c to 30c a copy. Further, I understand that the proprietors of the two Sydney evening newspapers are negotiating on whether to increase their prices from 5c to 7c a copy. Members opposite might rightly criticise the Post Office because of the proposed increases in charges, but they should bear in mind that since 1959 there has been an increase of 22% in the cost of consumer services generally. The proposed overall increases in post office charges are not commensurate with that 22% rise. Therefore I suggest that the proposed rises in charges are as completely justified now as they were when other increases in postal charges were made by the Australian Labor Party in June 1949.
Three years ago there were increases in telephone rentals and installation fees, but not in local call charges or trunk call fees, which last were increased in 1959. Time will not permit me to give statistics to prove the growth rate in the number of telephone calls made. It is sufficient for me to intimate that in regard to trunk telephone calls the demand increase this year compared with last year is 16%. Naturally an increase of this magnitude means that a lot more trunk circuits are needed to handle the calls as well as much more switching equipment and more telephone exchanges. Surely the public will accept the fact that if they want these services, somebody must pay for them. The Treasury has generously assisted the Post Office. When I became PostmasterGeneral three and a half years ago the appropriation for capital works for the financial year was $138m. This year it has risen to S202m, which I suggest is a pretty substantial increase. I do not think that we can reasonably expect the Treasury to go on, year after year, increasing the appropriation for capital works and not receiving a penny out of loan funds for the purpose. Any loan raisings made by the Commonwealth go completely to the State governments. Every item of capital works for the Commonwealth is paid for out of revenue. It is a reasonable expectation that the Post Office should not get less from the Treasury and that if it has to increase its services, at least it should make some contribution towards meeting the expense.
The charges for which this Bill provides in relation to postal services and the other services, represent an attempt to provide out of Post Office financial resources the means of meeting some of the ever increasing demands by the community for postal and other services. If these charges are rejected by honourable members opposite, it will not be my responsibility or that of the Government that the Post Office cannot give members what they require. Every member of this House writes letters to me about additional services that their constituents require from the Post Office. It will not be the Government’s responsibility, should the proposed increases be rejected, that the demands for these services cannot be met. The responsibility will lie with the Australian Labor Party here or in another place in combination with the Australian Democratic Labor Party.
As 1 have said, there has been no increase in postal charges since 1959. Yet there has been a 40% increase in the wages of postmen and mail sorters. Do Opposition members object to those increases? Silence reigns. I know perfectly well that honourable members opposite are always claiming that these employees are underpaid. Also, since 1959 postal clerks have received a 50% rise in their wages. If Opposition members decide to follow this situation through not on the basis of political expediency but because they are interested in providing the services required of the Post Office by the Australian public, they will go along with this Bill. There is no indication of inefficiency within the Post Office. Rather, I believe it to be as efficient an organisation as any other large business undertaking or industrial organisation in Australia.
I come again to the rejection of principle by the Australian Labor Party. It is public knowledge that last week the former leader of the Party, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), intimated quite clearly that he believed it to be totally wrong for the Senate to reject a Bill of this type. Not only the voice of the honourable member for Melbourne is heard to say this. A somewhat similar statement was made a few years ago by the present Leader of the Australian Labor Party. He said that this sort of Bill should not be rejected and that it was not the responsibility or the right of the Senate to reject this sort of measure. What has the Opposition done about this principle? Has it been thrown out the door as was another principle on the issue that this is not necessarily a Budget matter? I ask honourable members opposite to explain to the public why their attitude on these principles has been changed. I do not think that the honourable member for Melbourne has changed his view since last week, but Opposition members have come under the domination of a new leader who believes that by changing some basic principles or policies the Party will gain electoral success in the long distant future.
We should take note, as should the public of Australia, of these policy changes of the Australian Labor Party. I have said that it is necessary for us to obtain more capital if we are to provide adequate services for the community. I ask honourable members opposite to realise that their colleagues, in doing what they have done in the Senate, are accepting the leadership of Senator Gair, the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party. In this situation the Opposition is hoping that by co-operating with the Democratic Labor Party it will gain an electoral advantage.
– The Government has played around with that Party for years and now it has fallen out with it.
– I believe that the Opposition considers that by getting closer to the Democratic Labor Party it may gain some electorate advantage in the future. It will take a lot to convince the Australian community that this is not the Opposition’s tactic. I believe that at the last election in November the Government received a mandate from the people to govern this country according to its best interests as the Government sees them. I remind honourable members, that, apart from a few replacements for members who have died, there was no election for the Senate at that time.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– When the sitting was suspended I was at the point of indicating to the House that at the election held in November last year the Government received a mandate to manage the country’s affairs. The Post and Telegraph Roles Bill was rejected in the Senate. We must remind ourselves that very few senators appeared before the public in the November election. The only ones who did so were seeking election to replace senators who had died. So I suggest that the responsibility of the Senate in this matter is to acknowledge the authority of the Australian people, through this Government, to manage the affairs of this country.
In this House the Government has a record majority. I know that this fact is not appreciated by honourable members opposite. I know that they are doing everything they can in the hope that they might make up a bit of ground here and there. I believe that while the totality of this measure may appear to be unpopular to the Australian public, it is unpopular only because it has not been properly explained to the Australian public. It is of no use anybody’s suggesting to me that newspapers have given to the Australian public a complete understanding of the necessity for this Bill.
This afternoon I intimated that in most areas of the Post Office there have not been increases in charges since 1959. I indicated that in the matter of increased charges the Post Office compared more than favourably with any other section of the business community. The public and honourable members should appreciate what the Post Office has tried to achieve in the years since the last war, and particularly since this Government came to office. We have introduced automatic mail handling equipment, which has enabled us, in general terms, to maintain the standard whereby a letter is received into the postal service one day and delivered during the next. There is an 80% automatic operation of telephones within the community at present. The subscriber trunk dialling system is developing rapidly. Many honourable members know that whereas some years ago a delay of four or five hours was experienced in contacting a distant party, today with subscriber trunk dialling a connection may be made almost instantaneously.
It is essential in relation to subscriber trunk dialling that we have broad band systems extending around and across Australia. In the last few years we have brought into being a broad band system extending from Cairns all the way to Melbourne, across Bass Strait and down through Tasmania, and across to Adelaide and the south western sector of Western Australia. At present we are undertaking, at a cost of$8m, a broad band system between South Australia and Perth. All this work cannot continue unless the Bill is passed and unless money becomes available to the Post Office to continue this essential work in the interests of the Australian people.
I should not need to remind honourable members of the TRESS automatic system of telegram handling. Under this system a telegram lodged, perhaps in Fremantle, is not handled again until it reaches Brisbane or Cairns. Under this system telegrams are delivered, particularly on week days, more quickly than was possible under the old system.
Honourable members will recall that a few years ago, when Sir Charles Davidson was Postmaster-General, there was a surcharge on all ordinary letter mail carried by air within the country. That surcharge was removed under our Post Haste scheme. Surely these things are understood by honourable members. Surely they are acknowledged as a concession and an attempt by the Government to improve the telephone and postal facilities available in this community.
When we look at our rebuilding programme we find that no fewer than 3,000 new buildings have been erected for the Post Office since 1949 at a cost of $14 lm. I say to senators, who I hope will read the rest of my remarks in Hansard: ‘Do you not have a responsibility to the Australian public as against a purely political responsibility?’I believe that they should acknowledge an obligation to respect the authority of the Government - an authority which has been given by the Australian people. The senators may say that we do not have an authority for this Bill. Would they say at the same time that we did not have an authority in relation to homes savings grants? That scheme was put before the people at the last election and was approved by them, but the Senate did not pass the legislation.
I suggest to honourable members opposite that it is time they took stock of their situation and appreciated that what the Government is doing in this case is in the interests of the Australian people. We are not playing politics; it is the Labor Party which is playing politics. As I have said two or three times already today, if the Labor Party wants to abrogate its leadership to Senator Gair, that is its responsibility, but if it believes that it will get any marks for its actions from the Australian public at election time, it is very much mistaken.
Motion (by Mr Webb) put:
That the debate be now adjourned.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker - Mr P. E. Lucock)
Majority .. ..29
Question so resolved in the negative.
Mr WEBB (Stirling) LS. 15] - Mr Acting Speaker, the action of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) in reintroducing the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill is pettish. He was thwarted in his desire to increase the postal charges and has again introduced this Bill. Let me say on behalf of the Opposition that we are just as determined to oppose it in this place and defeat it in the other place on this occasion as we were on the last occasion. The Postmaster-General said that we were following the Democratic Labour Party. We all know that the DLP has been the great friend of the Postmaster-General and honourable members on the opposite side. Many honourable members on the Government side of the chamber are in this place as a result of preference votes from the DLP. The DLP has always been an opponent of ours; but on this issue the DLP is supporting us and we gladly accept its support. We are prepared to co-operate with the angels from heaven or the fiends from hell in order to defeat this measure. We are not like St Anthony the Hermit who refused to do right because the devil told him to. The Postmaster-General may be able to use the brutal majority that the Government has in this House to defeat our opposition, but in another place he will find it more difficult. The PostmasterGeneral should remember that the Australian people are with us on this issue. If he doubts that, there is always one way in which he can find out.
The Postmaster-General is most arrogant. He is so sure of himself that he has already sent advice to the post offices that these charges are to operate from 1st July. In my opinion his action in that regard is an affront to the will of the Parliament. This Bill has been turned down once by the Parliament. Yet the Postmaster-General has sent his instructions out to the Department and has reintroduced the measure anticipating that he will get it passed on this occasion. Honourable members saw an example of his arrogance today when he refused to move that the statement he presented on television services be noted so that the matter could be debated in this chamber if that were wanted. When he refused to meet my request and move that the House take note of the paper, the Leader of the House, the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden) stepped in and did so in order that the subject could be placed on the notice paper for debate. That is an example of the arrogance of the Postmaster-General. He did not have even the courtesy to give me, as leading for the Opposition in this debate, a copy of his second reading speech, and has refused to have the debate adjourned to enable us to study his remarks. The debate could have been continued tomorrow or at some other time. The PostmasterGeneral quoted a lot of figures in his speech. What chance do we have now to analyse those figures when we do not have a copy of his remarks?
This Bill has been referred to as a ‘little Budget’ and that is what it is. It will bring into Consolidated Revenue very nearly the equivalent of a 5% increase in personal taxation. Increased Post Office charges are expected to bring in an extra $67m. The increases will fall very heavily on consumer spending. The main impact will be felt by the lower income groups. Business interests are already warning that if the increases are approved they will be passed on to the public. I want to draw the attention of honourable members to the statement of the acting director of the New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures who, on 6th May 1967, said:
Undoubtedly, the whole price structure will rise - including food and everything else. To put costs up 20 per cent overnight is an -extremely bold signal. It’s like a green light to the rest of the business community.
The Postmaster-General claims that the increases are necessary to offset increased financial losses by the Post Office which could be as high as $45m by 1970-71. How can it be said that the Post Office is suffering losses? Last financial year there was a loss of $124,117, but this was. after $60.3m had been passed to Consolidated Revenue as interest payable to the Government on funds that were provided to the Post Office. This amount represents a net operating surplus of about $60. 2m. When one looks at the expenses of the Post Office one finds that since 1960 a charge has been levied for interest. Before that time revenue for the Post Office was provided by the Commonwealth Government from taxation and from whatever profits the Post Office might have been making from time to time. Now the Government provides finance for capital expenditure, charges the Post Office interest on funds that it has already received from the taxpayers and then increases postal rates to pay the interest back to itself. It loads the Post Office with a debt of about S60m more than the cost of the services. The taxpayer pays twice in that he pays by way of taxation and again by increased Post Office charges. This method of financing was condemned by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, who had this to say at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in March 1959:
The proposition is that we charge ourselves interest, we throw into deficit a couple of great undertakings that we have referred to, and we then raise the wind in order to meet that deficit - because it all comes back to us. Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of bookkeeping and does not produce one pennyworth of financial results.
That principle has been reversed since this Government has been in office. Another important point is revealed on page 1 3 of the financial and statistical statement provided by the Postmaster-General, in which honourable members will see that the average rate of interest applicable to funds provided to 30th June 1965 was 4.885% whereas in the following year the rate was 5.25%. If the Treasury keeps on inflating the interest rate chargeable to the Post Office each financial year, it will be able in the next financial year to hide the impact of the new increased rates and charges. During the last Budget debate the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) referred to the commercial accounts for the year ended 30th June 1966. He pointed out that the activities of the Post Office are divided into postal services and telecommunication services and said:
On the side of the postal services the commercial accounts show a loss of SI Om. On the side of the telecommunications service they show a profit of $1Om, so the Post Office overall runs evenly, expenditure and revenue matching.
I do not suggest that that should be the final test. All I suggest is that, on a commercial basis, in the year ended 30th June 1966 the break-even point was reached and that this must be considered in terms of the total expenditure of $400m. Honourable members are now asked to accept the Minister’s assertion that ‘the proposed rates, after having been carefully considered, represent reasonable charges for the future’. If this Bill is agreed to, the public will have imposed upon it extra charges amounting to $67m, or S 1,250,000 a week. What the Postmaster-General is saying, in effect, is that Post Office finances have deteriorated to the extent of S67m since August last year when the Budget was considered. Apparently the financial transactions of the Post Office were then satisfactory because nothing was mentioned in that Budget about increased Post Office charges; and they could have been considered to be satisfactory right up to the Budget next August, when these matters are usually reviewed. But, of course, do not forget that in August 1966 an election was pending. Therefore, the Government was not willing to do anything about Post Office charges at that point of time. On 1st May 1967 the Postmaster-General says that there has been a deterioration in the Post Office finances amounting to $67m in a total expenditure of over S400m. He is finding it hard to justify these increases. As a matter of fact, he has not justified them to the Opposition.
The Minister has criticised honourable members on this side of the House for having said that the proposed increases, if there were to be any increases, should have Deen introduced in the Budget session. I point out that if it had been intended to include these increased charges in the forthcoming Budget proposals the Postmaster-General, in accordance with recent practice, would have produced an interim statement of his Department’s finances in order to assist honourable members in the Budget debate. That has not been done in the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill which was introduced last week, nor has it been done in this debate. The PostmasterGeneral has not produced a financial statement dealing with the affairs of his Department and he has not proved to the Parliament that the increased charges are justified. Therefore, honourable members will agree that they have been introduced for an entirely different reason.
During the Budget debate these proposed increases could have been assessed with all the other financial factors that are debated when the Budget is under consideration. The Postmaster-General has become a tax collector. The Government was hoping to get away with these increased charges and hoping that they would all be forgotten by the time that the Budget came forward, when, possibly, further increases could have been introduced without the present proposed increases being introduced at the same time. During the present debate the Minister raised the point that in 1949 the Chifley Government had increased postal charges. The honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) asked him, by way of interjection, by what amount, but the Minister did not answer him. Either he did not know, or did not want to know. In fact, the amount was £6m. The cost of postage stamps was increased by a id. That is quite different from the proposed increases. The Minister claimed that this Bill should be treated as a money Bill and be allowed to pass. How times change. In 1949 the present Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) during the debate to which the Postmaster-General made reference, had this to say:
Here we have a Commonwealth owned and controlled Socialistic monopoly that handles our postal, telephone and telegraphic services. The Government has for many years, as possibly have other governments in the past, referred with pride to the achievements of this Socialist enterprise. For many years this government monopoly earned very substantial revenues, and showed an excess of revenue over expenditure amounting to many millions of pounds. Between 1941 and 1947 the excess of revenue over expenditure, after taking into account various capital charges, was, I undersand, about £36,000,000.
The first comment that I desire to make on that position is that our postal and telegraphic services, following upon the additional war-time letter rate of id and other increases, have been used as revenue earners. It has not been a matter of providing a service and making a charge to cover additional costs-
– The present Prime Minister. He said that the Post Office, because it was a Socialist monopoly, was not intended only to cover operational costs. Honourable members should remember that interest was not charged in 1949. That was not imposed until I960. Other portions of the Prime Minister’s speech on that occasion are very interesting. He said:
The point that I wish to stress is that, since in the past the excess revenues have been contributed by particular sections of the community - that is to say, by people who use the services for business and professional purposes - now that a loss is to be experienced the same sections of th; community are to carry the heaviest burden. The point is quite clear. When additional funds are raised by increasing the charges of a government undertaking, that is in the nature of a sectional lax.
That is exactly the charge we level at the Government. The ordinary taxpayer will be hit very hard, not only because business interests will pass the increased charges on to the consumers but also because, in proportion, the postal increases are heaviest on the little people.
The new section of the Act, section 6B, provides for a reduced ra:e for bulk postage. For instance, for 5,000 letters and up to 25,000, a discount of 5% is allowed; for 25,000 to 100,000, the discount is 10%; over 100,000, the discount is 15%; and in special circumstances a further discount of 10% is allowed. This means that the discount can be 25%. Of course, certain tags are attached. The person sending the letters must undertake the pre-sorting and add post codes to the letters. But the point is that the reductions are allowed to those who deal in bulk mailing. The discount for The Householder’ mail will be 40%, but this replaces the present discount of 30%. This may be of help financially to some business interests, but it does not help the little person. While it reduces the rates for bulk postage, the rates are increased substantially for ordinary letters, letter cards and post cards. The rates for telegrams and telephone calls are also increased.
Bulk users will be given big discounts; but what about the rest of the community? The rate for a letter, letter card or postcard weighing 1 oz or less will rise from 4c to 5c, an increase of 25%. The Postmaster-General boasts that the letter postage charge was reduced with the introduction of decimal currency. But even allowing for that, the increase is still 20% for a letter of 1 oz or less. Some rates have jumped even more. The postal rates for other articles have increased by as much as 125%. The und;r-privileged people will be hit pretty badly. The pensioner, the widow and the mother writing to her son will all be hit twice. They must pay more for postage for telegrams and for telephone calls, and in addition they will bear the burden of the increased prices that business interests will pass on to them as a result of the increased postal charges they must meet.
Under the Second Schedule, the cost of telegrams has jumped from 30c to 36c for the first twelve words anc from 5c for each two additional words to 3c for each additional word. That is a substantial increase for a service that is not of a very high standard. I have already given the Parliament instances of the poor service and 1 will not mention any more, but the PostmasterGeneral must have received many complaints about the telegram service. Telephones have now become a luxury. How can the pensioner afford these increases? Pensioners are really the people who need a telephone. The Postmaster-General made quite a song about the charges that were not covered by the Bill. He mentioned them in his second reading speech last week and he has pointed out that they can be introduced by regulation or administrative action. He was referring mainly to increased telephone charges. If they were outside the ambit of the Bill, as we know they were, why did he mention them in his second reading speech? He cannot blame the Press or the public if he is accused of going against the will of the Parliament by increasing these charges by regulation or administrative action if this, measure is defeated. He stands to be condemned for such action if, he having mentioned these charges in his second reading speech, the measure we are now debating is defeated and he increases by regulation the charges that really do not come within the ambit of the Bill.
Telephone charges are to be increased. Charges for local calls will increase from 10c for three calls to 12c for three calls and trunk line calls will be increased substantially. This will hit the country people hard. Almost every one of our friends sitting in the corner here - the members of the Country Party - during the last debate criticised the Postmaster-General for increasing trunk line charges and for certain other provisions in the measure, but when the matter was put to the vote they were over voting with the Government and not on this side of the chamber with the members of the Australian Labor Party who opposed the increases. All they wanted was to make their speeches so that they could circulate copies of them to their constituents. The copies of their speeches showed how they spoke but not how they voted.
The present telephone users, as a result of this measure, will be slugged. They will in fact pay an additional tax. Incidentally, if honourable members look at the financial report of the Department they will see that the telephone branch showed a surplus of SIO.217,224. When referring to postal charges the Minister said:
I believe, and I am sure that honourable members will agree, that it would be wrong to expect taxpayers generally to bear these costs in the form of increased taxation. Rather, T believe that they should be borne by those who use the services.
But now he reverses the argument and makes the present telephone users pay an additional tax, even though that section of the Department is showing what could be called a substantial profit.
During the course of the last debate I referred to a table, which was incorporated in Hansard, showing how the postal and telephone charges in Australia compared with those in Great Britain, Canada, the United States and New Zealand. I will not quote from it again, except to say that it shows our charges are substantially more than those in the other countries in almost every respect. The Minister tonight did not mention this point. Why should we pay higher charges than do people with a similar service in other countries? The table shows that the charge for an air mail letter sent from Australia to Britain is 25c and for an air mail letter sent from Britain to Australia it is 20c. So it is cheaper for a son or a daughter in Britain to send an air mail letter to the mother in Australia than it is for the mother to send a letter to them in Britain.
The Minister said that, in criticising the efficiency of the Post Office, we were criticising the staff. I say emphatically that that is not so. We have not been critical of the staff of the Post Office, but we are critical of the Postmaster-General’s administration of the Post Office. We are not the only ones who are critical of his administration. Representatives from unions covering postal workers met the Postmaster-General on the day he introduced the Bill increasing the charges, and they criticised him also. During the last debate I quoted from the notes left with him by the deputation. In these notes the Postmaster-General was criticised. I will not refer to this again, but it is in Hansard if anyone wants to refer to it.
– Who wrote this?
– As the honourable member can see, my notes are in my writing; nobody writes as badly as I do. The PostmasterGeneral said that the Government believes it must do everything that is reasonably possible to meet the needs of the Australian public and to expand and improve the efficiency of the service. These increased charges will be no guarantee of increased efficiency. I should like to quote from the editorial in the ‘West Australian’ of 10th May 1967, which stated:
Taxpayers have reason to be unhappy about the financial operations of the whole field of public communications administered by PostmasterGeneral Hulme. The new scale of postal and telecommunication charges suggests that the post office is being used as a taxing medium. The increased charges will ensure that the Treasury continues to get interest for interest-free capital funds taken out of revenue. In other words, the taxpayer pays twice - once in taxation and again in post-office charges.
Only a week or two ago the Commonwealth was emphasising to the Arbitration Commission that costs must be kept down. Now it is inflating costs to give the post office a big surplus after subsidising the Treasury.
If Mr Hulme’s figures justifying the sudden increase in charges can be taken at their face value it means that the government has allowed post-office finances to run down till the election was safely out of the way.
However, the basis of Mr Hulme’s calculations is unsatisfactory. Public confidence, shaken by the OTC disclosures and by the scale of the unheralded increase in charges at a time of widespread service complaints, needs to be restored by a thorough inquiry into the whole system of post-office finances.
For some time the Postmaster-General’s Department has been the subject of criticism from the Press, customers and some members of Parliament. Criticism came from the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) only the other day. It has not yet been answered satisfactorily in this House. The fact is that the Post Office is not as efficient as it was twelve months ago and its efficiency has been deteriorating over the past five or six years. Last week, in his original second reading speech, a copy of which on that occasion we managed to get, the Postmaster-General said:
That is true. The Post Office is finding it difficult to recruit staff. This is the reason for some of its inefficiency. The Amalgamated Postal Workers Union agrees that staffing is difficult but points out that the rates of pay do not compare with those prevailing in outside industry. Jobs outside are made more attractive by over-award payments and by fringe benefits. Workers will not join the Post Office to work a six-day week when they can get higher wages for a five-day week in outside employment. This is a factor in the difficulty in recruiting staff. Table 11 of the latest issue of the ‘Financial and Statistical Bulletin* shows that the total number of articles handled increased from 1961 to 1966 by about 500 million a year - an increase of 34.86%. Table 40 shows that the number of officers grouped under the heading of ‘mail officer’ throughout the nation for the same period had increased by only 51 1, or 7.8%. These figures are up to 30th June 1966. The number of mail officers in 1963 was the same as in 1961, a total of 5,715; but during that period the number of articles handled had increased by about 150 million or 7.53%. The same number of men have been doing very much more work and working much more efficiently; yet these increased charges are to be imposed.
The Postmaster-General, asI said during the previous debate, should consider reviewing the whole set-up of the Post Office. Some have suggested an inquiry; I have suggested that the Post Office should be divorced from the Public Service Board. I have pointed out that it is too big an undertaking to be managed by the Public Service Board, which controls so many employees. The Union, of course, holds the view as I suggested to Parliament last week - and which is part of our policy - that a commission similar in structure to that administering TransAustralia Airlines, or the Overseas Telecommunications Commission would give better service to the community. Industrial relations would be on a much more stable basis than at present. During the previous debate I drew attention to reorganisation on similar lines being undertaken in the British Post Office and I quoted from a document that I have before me now. I do not want to go into it again but I suggest that the Minister look at the idea of setting up a corporation to manage the Post Office. Consideration is being given to a similar reorganisation of the United States Post Office.
Having said that, I want finally to say to the House that the Opposition will oppose this Bill by every means within its power. We are far from satisfied that the increases are necessary. We accuse the Government of using the Post Office as a tax collector for the Treasury. We accuse the Government of beating the gun in the hope that the increases will be forgotten when the forthcoming Budget is introduced. We accuse the Postmaster-General of blundering and creating inefficiency in his Department. We accuse the Government of placing the burden of these increased charges on the users of the services, firstly by the imposition of the higher charges themselves and secondly because the business community has already said that it will pass on the charges to the consumer. I repeat that if we can beat these proposals, we do not care with whom we co-operate in this place or in another place. But defeat them we will.
Debate (on motion by Mr Snedden) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 2257).
Motion (by Mr Snedden) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would preventthe Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) finishing his speech without interruption.
– The House has had a very thorough discussion on this particular matter. Three of my ministerial colleagues have taken part in the debate, as has a former Minister for the Navy from the Government side. It is not my purpose at this stage to go over the ground again or to try to canvass all the points that have already been raised. We have reached a stage where the Parliament must recognise as I am sure most, if not all, honourable members from the outset have recognised, that we have an obligation to do justice - justice to the living and justice to the dead. We also have an obligation to do justice to the Royal Australian Navy. I believe that we have a fine Navy with a splendid record - a Navy that has inherited the British tradition of naval efficiency and gallantry. Certainly our own Navy, though small in size, has maintained a standard which is not surpassed by that of any other Navy in any part of the world. It is a Navy operating in the best tradition established by what we believe to be the best of all navies, the British Navy. Yet, as a result of allegations that have been made and canvassed in the course of this debate, justice is in danger of being obscured and, in the case of some people, denied unless this Parliament can resolve these matters as they should most properly be resolved.
I devote the first portion of what I have to say to what I term a ground clearing operation. Although the allegations that have been canvassed here have been directed in particular against the commander of the ‘Voyager’ on the night of this tragic collision, by implication they have reached out to other people; indeed, they have reached out to my predecessor, Sir Robert Menzies, who was then Prime
Minister. There was created an atmosphere that the Government, in order to avoid some political embarrassment for itself, concealed evidence which should properly have been placed before the Royal Commission. Some cloud has been cast over even the Royal Commissioner himself, and certainly there have been references to counsel assisting the Royal Commission, the Chiefs of the Naval Staff, the Naval Board, and other senior naval officers. All these things I believe have created a situation which must be cleared. Let me say a few words in relation to my distinguished predecessor.
– Do not blame him for it.
– I am not attempting to blame him, and I hope that no one else will blame him. What I want to make clear in relation to Sir Robert Menzies is that from the outset of this unhappy business he was determined that there would be the most searching inquiry into its causes. This was the reason that motivated him in deciding to have a Royal Commission rather than an inquiry by the Naval Board, which would have been in accordance with normal naval practice. To remind the House of what Sir Robert Menzies said in his ministerial statement concerning the loss of HMAS ‘Voyager’, I quote his words from page 1074 of Hansard of 15th September 1964 as follows:
I do not seek to minimise the tragic nature of the ‘Voyager’ collision, with its appalling consequences in lives lost. That is why we instituted the most searching public inquiry in the whole of our defence history.
As one who was close to my predecessor at that time, being the Deputy Leader of his own Party and a senior member of the Cabinet, I can well recall the atmosphere and the spirit in which he addressed himself to these matters. So far as he was concerned, he wanted an inquiry that would produce the truth, not just for the Government to see but for the information of the people of this country. That is the spirit in which 1 and my colleagues have dealt with every aspect of this matter that has since come before us.
There have been suggestions or allegations that Sir Robert Menzies bore some prejudice against Captain Robertson, but I never heard him utter words of prejudice, or for that matter words of criticism, against Captain Robertson. At the bottom of page 1075 of Hansard of 15th September 1964 Sir Robert Menzies is reported to have said:
Of the general capacity, not only of Captain Robertson but of Captain Stevens, there cannot be any real doubt. Each had a splendid record and very considerable naval experience.
That is not the language of a man who bears prejudice or is trying in some way to do a disservice or to belittle one of our respected Service officers. Something was made of the fact that Captain Robertson had difficulty in securing senior counsel. The facts as I understand them are that at the beginning of the inquiry Captain Robertson did not want counsel; he felt that bis own specialist naval knowledge would be of strength to him in whatever might be alleged during the inquiry. But as the proceedings developed and his own position came under challenge, it was suggested to him that he should have counsel. He applied for counsel. At the time it is true that he was first allotted junior counsel, but what has to be borne in mind is that he was not the only officer whose position was under some analysis and examination by the Royal Commission; there were several such officers, and if senior counsel were to be provided for each of them there would have been something of a practical problem. This matter was raised by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess). Very properly he formed a view, no doubt after consultation or as a result of what came to him from Captain Robertson. As he will know, he finally brought this matter to me. I in turn took it to my leader, Sir Robert Menzies. I can assure the honourable member and the House that as soon as I made my own recommendation on this matter and explained the reasons for it, Sir Robert Menzies readily consented. It is a distortion of the situation to say, as has been said earlier in this debate, that this was the result of some pressure because there was a Party meeting coming up. It was dealt with on its merits and as it should have been dealt with. Thereafter Captain Robertson had the assistance of senior counsel.
I make a brief reference to Mr Justice Spicer because it has been said that as a former Attorney-General and a Minister in a Menzies Government he was not an appropriate person to have been appointed to this Royal Commission. I do not think any member - from whatever party - who was in this Parliament at the time when Sir John Spicer was a senator and the AttorneyGeneral will have any other view than that he is a man of integrity, whose objectivity and capacity for complete impartiality fitted him to deal with a matter of this sort. 1 have never heard that seriously contested by any contemporary of his from any section of the Parliament. The fact of the matter is that over the years Sir John Spicer has built up something of a name as an expert in these disaster cases. I took the trouble only today to get some details of a number of these matters in which he has conducted inquiries. I find that he has conducted at least seven investigations - the Trans-Australia Airlines Friendship disaster at Mackay; the Ansett-ANA Viscount disaster at Botany Bay; the AnsettANA Viscount crash at Winton; three marine courts of inquiry, including the Atlas’ inquiry and two in Western Australia so he was not unfamiliar with these naval matters, and the ‘Voyager’ Royal Commission. Therefore, I do not think the House will allow any argument to rest on the basis that these proceedings suffered on the grounds of lack of competence or impartiality on the part of the Royal Commissioner.
Counsel assisting the Royal Commissioner has come in for his share of criticism, it being alleged that he deliberately withheld evidence which had a material bearing on the matters before the Commission. The implication is that he did this to cover up in some way for the Navy or to withhold in information which could have been of embarrassment lo the Navy. The irony of this is that shortly before this he came under a great deal ot criticism because it was alleged th.it h;s cross-examination and his analysis of Navy actions were much too severe. I do not think the House will place very much reliance upon that charge either. Some of my colleagues - including the present Minister for Education and Science (Senator Gorton) who had been Minister for the Navy until a couple of months before this incident and my colleague the honourable member for Perth (Mr Chaney) who was at the time of the incident Minister for the Navy - have by implication come under a cloud. If one draws from these allegations the belief that in some way the Navy was not in good shape and was not being properly conducted, the inference is that the Ministers I have mentioned, Chiefs of Naval Staff, the Naval Board and senior officers of the Navy, were not doing their duty properly by the nation. This charge all hangs on a single fabric, so far as the Parliament is concerned, and the fabric is the uncorroborated statement of LieutenantCommander Cabban. There has not been any other evidence or material of consequence put before the Parliament in the days of this debate which goes beyond the statement that has been under debate and which comes from Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. I ask the House to weigh this because if the reputations of so many men in high places and if the prestige of the Australian Navy are at stake in this debate then the grounds for these charges and these suspicions must be thoroughly examined.
Of course, those who have spoken in the debate have said: ‘This is our purpose. This is what we want to achieve. We want to see whether these statements do hang together and whether they are worthy of credence.’ I have no wish to make any sort of personal attack upon LieutenantCommander Cabban. I believe him to be a conscientious man with a sense of public duty which he has demonstrated with some courage by the way in which he has brought these matters forward. But as my colleague the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) pointed out earlier today, if we are to rely on this statement and build this structure upon that single statement then we cannot ignore some of the elements in the past record or in the personal history of the man who makes the statement.
– So now the Prime Minister will drop the bucket.
– The honourable gentleman is accustomed to that technique. I am putting as dispassionately as I can facts I believe to be relevant. If he thinks that ‘they are not, he can say so or form his judgment upon them, but I think it is of relevance when statements are made - so far not corroborated, although great publicity has been given to the matter throughout Australia, and, 1 should imagine throughout the English speaking world. So far as I am aware no member on the opposite side of the House has brought forward any substantial corroboration of the series of allegations that has been made. Here is a man who, having as a member of the Naval Air Arm, failed to make the grade and, being removed from that posting, sought twice to resign from the Navy; and who in the course of the first application said that he was disillusioned with the Navy. I think these are relevant facts. I do not wish to over-emphasise them but they are relevant when, I repeat, the basis of the allegations is the statement coming from this man.
These statements bear on the career and reputation of a man who had given long and able service in the navy of this country. He is a man who can no longer speak for himself, because he went down with his ship, and we have a duty to do justice to him as we have a duty to do justice to the living. I mentioned a little earlier Captain Robertson. I think it is relevant again to remind the House of what Captain Robertson had to say about Captain Stevens in the transcript, as recorded, of the Royal Commission on the loss of the ‘Voyager’. Captain Robertson was being questioned by Mr Jenkyn, Q.C., as follows:
Did you know Captain Stevens personally? - Yes.
Do you know his record as an officer? - Yes.
Do you know him as a competent commander of a destroyer? - Yes.
And so this vessel which was manoeuvring with you you knew was at least skippered or commanded by a competent captain? - Yes, but let me just qualify that. I knew his reputation as a very successful naval officer. From my own personal knowledge I had not served in a ship with him and so I cannot honestly say that 1 knew him as a good commander but I knew his reputation was certainly that, and I have no reason to doubt it at all. Ours is a small Navy and Captain Robertson was, as I understand it, about the age then of what would be the age today of Captain Stevens had Captain Stevens survived. In other words, they were contemporaries in the same fleet - in a small navy. I doubt if he would, on oath, have been expressing himself in these terms if he had reason to believe that there were attributes of Captain Stevens which made him an incompetent officer or which, on the occasion in question, would have raised doubts in his mind as to the course the other vessel was taking.
I want to put to the House - and I do it with some reluctance but with a full sense of responsibility - confidential reports which were made over the ten years leading up to the incident which brought about the death of Captain Stevens. My predecessor gave powerful reasons why these confidential reports should not be made public. He pointed out that the officers who provide these reports arc normally not below the rank of captain which, in naval terms, is the equivalent of a full colonel in the Army - in other words a senior officer of the Navy. The reports are made to the superior officer of the officer reporting. If the reports are to be quoted publicly from time to time, then some inhibitions would be placed on the reporting officers and the usefulness of the reports would be eroded. We have thought long about whether these reports should be made public and until the debate of the last two days it had been our decision, although we know of them and their substance, that they would not be made known. I believe that in justice to the memory of this dead naval officer and in view of the allegations that have been made against him, we have a duty to his family, to his memory and to the public to make known what his fellow officers thought of him at that time. [Extension of time granted] I thank the House and 1 shall endeavour not to abuse its patience, but the seriousness of this matter is well appreciated.
I asked for reports going back over the ten year period leading up to the ‘Voyager’ incident. The first report is signed by an acting captain of the Royal Australian Navy. It speaks of Lieutenant-Commander Stevens, as he then was, as a very capable, forthright and reliable officer, really keen, alert and zealous who has the interest of the Service at heart and who does not spare himself to improve conditions. The report continues:
He will do well. Physically fit and plays most games. A good messmate who is maturing with responsibility.
The next report covers the period 1st December 1953 to 27th October 1954 and states:
An extremely proficient and resourceful officer with a flair for organisation. Cheerful and very loyal with the interest of the Service at heart.
A good leader and does not spare himself in the performance of his duties.
Plays most games reasonably well and keeps himself fit.
Thenext two reportscover very short periods and are marked by the officers concerned: ‘Insufficient knowledge’ and Insufficient knowledge. Time only’.
– What dates do they cover?
– They cover the periods 29th October 1954 to 15th April 1955 and 9th June 1955 to 22nd September 1955.
– What about the one in between, the one you have missed?
– I have not missed any, and I ask the honourable member for Hindmarsh to restrain his normal impulses and behave himself. This report covers the period from 23rd September 1955 to 26th October 1955 and it reads:
A volatile officer, extremely loyal and capable, who should do very well in the Service. Keeps himself fit.
The next one covers the period from 1 5th October 1955 to 15th April 1956. It is signed by a captain of the Navy. It is customary for the next senior officer to whom one of these reports is forwarded to sign the document, or the flimsy, as I think it is called, and to add a remark if he thinks that necessary or desirable. This report reads:
An outstanding officer who lives for the Service. Full of initiative and drive. Quick to make decisions and an officer who welcomes responsibility. Possesses a high professional standard. The ship’s present state is due to a great degree to the qualities of her captain. This officer has served under me in another appointment and with my previous and present experience of him I would be glad to have him in higher rank at any future time.
To this the rear-admiral added ‘Concur’ and his signature. The next one is for the period from 23rd September 1955 to 7th July 1956:
A proficient seaman with plenty of initiative and drive. He has the ability to make decisions without any unnecessary delay. At times wears a doleful expression which is quite misleading. Extremely hardworking but nevertheless can relax. Most pronounced quality is that of loyalty. In view of his non-specialist training and his considerable small ship experience I am not sure regarding the measure of success in staff appointments at this stage of his career.
The rear-admiral who sighted this merely signed it without comment. The next report is for the period from 7th July 1956 to 19th December 1956. He was at that time a training commander and had been promoted commander. The report reads:
A keen and enthusiastic officer who has the ability to bring out the best in the young ratings under training. He sets a high personal example to the officers under him and has good power of command. A good organiser and keen games player. He deserves very great credit for his work as Chief Marshal at the Olympic Games. A most likeable personality.
Then I come to a report covering the period from 14th January 1957 to 1 1th July 1958:
A very good officer with marked qualities of leadership. He tackles everything with enthusiasm and has the faculty of inspiring loyalty and keenness in his juniors. As well as efficiently fulfilling his duties as Training Commander he has run the F.N.D. Cricket Club and Australian Rules Football Club with success and was in charge of the arrangements for the Inter Service Sports 1957-58 for which the Navy was host Service. These also were a great success. He is a good mixer, a splendid messmate and has considerable personal charm.
The next report is from 28th July 1958 to 15th December 1958. He was then an executive officer. The report reads:
I feel Stevens is finding it a little difficult being second in command. He is a forceful character with only average brain power, and because of this he is inclined to rush his fence s. At present he makes too much noise too frequently to inspire quiet confidence in a carrier. I have told him of this failing. He is energetic, of sober habits and zealous. When he finds his feet and has a little more experience, I am confident he will be a complete success in his present appointment.
That was signed by a captain and countersigned by a rear-admiral. Then I have a report from 17th December 1958 to 7th August 1959, when he was still an executive officer:
A smart and enthusiastic officer who gives of his best at all times. He is inclined to brood over problems. A very good games player.
To that the rear-admiral added:
Concur. He has been a successful Commander of the Flagship.
I have another report for the period from 17th December 1958 to 3rd December 1959:
A keen and hardworking officer who has achieved good results. He is a firm and fair disciplinarian both with officers and men. He has been more cheerful and brooded less since his ulcer was successfully treated. Of good physique and smart in appearance. A keen and good games player.
That report was followed by these remarks of the rear-admiral:
Concur. He has been an efficient Commander of the Flagship.
Then there is a report for the period 14th March 1960 to 12th August 1960. The significance of this one is that it covers a period when he was in England as a student at the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich, lt is signed by a captain of the Royal Navy and there is an additional signature of a British rear-admiral. The report reads:
A cheerful and very likeable officer whom 1 would welcome on my staff. Stevens has played a full part in all activities of the Staff College and has contributed well. Very co-operative. He should make a sound and reliable staff Officer, i believe this officer would be a useful Captain and therefore recommend him for promotion now. The rear-admiral added: ‘Concur’. Captain Stevens was at the Naval Staff at the Admiralty during the period from 27th October 1960 to 7th March 1961, and this report was made on him:
A bluff and cheerful officer who goes into his work with enthusiasm and has very quickly found out how the Admiralty organisation works. He is conscientious, outspoken and willing to seek advice, and he is pulling his weight well. I am impressed by his commonsense outlook, particularly on Commonwealth matters. He is not ready for promotion yet, but I believe he will be suitable after a little more experience.
That was signed by a captain of the Royal Navy and under ‘Remarks of Senior Officer’ we find ‘Forwarded’ and the signature of a vice-admiral, Fifth Sea Lord. Commander Stevens was still with the Admiralty between 27th October 1960 and 18th September 1961, and for that period the following report on him was made:
The more 1 see of this officer the more I am impressed by him, and the more I like him. He is bluff and cheerful, but by no means a blowhard. He gets on well with everyone and earns their respect for his professional knowledge and vigour. His commonsense is refreshing. Withal he is always prepared to seek and accept advice, and has learned rapidly how best to set about progressing a project in the Admiralty machinery. As an ‘integrated’ officer he has access to matters he might not see in a purely national capacity, but I have absolute confidence in his discretion and- no fear that he will abuse this position. I believe he will do well in a higher rank.
The vice-admiral added ‘Concur’. He was still at the Admiralty between 27th October 1960 and 9th March 1962, and I have this report:
I have nothing to add to my remarks on this officer in his last report except to confirm that I recommend him for promotion.
That was signed by a rear-admiral and the vice-admiral added ‘Concur’. Then there is a report from the Naval Staff Admiralty, for the period from 10th March 1962 to 7th December 1962:
A vigorous and forceful officer who deserves the goodwill which exists between him and all his contacts. He has dealt very effectively with the multiplicity of business for which he has been responsible. Coming directly from the Staff College, I believe that he has faced a challenging task with determination and efficiency. I do not doubt that he has found it useful experience both in general Staff work and also in the work of a Service Ministry.
That again was signed by a captain of the Royal Navy and to it was added Concur’ by a rear-admiral. Then there is a report on Captain D. H. Stevens, Commanding Officer, HMAS ‘Voyager’, for the period 1st February 1963 to 20th July 1963:
A popular and pleasant officer, who has a ready smile and is fine company. He has worked hard and well while with the Far East Fleet to good effect. Very enthusiastic and rarely disheartened. There is sound material here but at present I cannot rate Stevens’ chance of reaching flag rank higher than good.
That was signed by a vice-admiral, and another vice-admiral added:
I agree. Stevens has shown himself to be a good Post Captain.
The last report I shall read in this connection covers the period from 2nd January 1963 to 6th January 1964:
A very keen officer of average intelligence who is devoted to the Service. He has a volatile nature, considerable dash and much enthusiasm. He does not strike me as having great abilities and has probably reached his ceiling, though he will always give his best to the Service in any capacity.
That was signed by a rear-admiral and the senior officer, a vice-admiral, added: ‘Noted - I concur’. That is the last of the reports up to the time of this episode.
– Are they the originals or copies?
– They are copies. If the honourable gentleman believes that I would supply the House with false copies, he might say so.
– You put in an anonymous letter once.
– I ask the honourable member to refrain from interjecting.
– I leave the matter to the fairminded judgment of the members of this House. A man has been the subject of confidential reports by senior officers from the rank of captain up to vice-admiral. More than twenty individual reporters are in the list that I have given to the House tonight. If the Leader of the Opposition wishes to study their names I shall make the reports available to him, but for obvious reasons they should not be generally canvassed. This has been the responsible judgment not only of officers of our own Navy but also of officers of the British Navy in Great Britain and outside that country. We are now told on the uncorroborated evidence of one man that we have been dealing with a chronic drunkard, a man who was not fit to command a ship at sea. Is it reasonable for anybody seriously to believe that the charge could be made that any one of these men, let alone all twenty of them, would be so lacking in a sense of duty and so lacking in a sense of responsibility to seamen under the command of such an officer and going on operational duty with their lives at hazard, that the officers concerned would fail to report some blemish in the character of this man that made him unfit to control a ship or made him a hazard to the lives of the men under his command? That is what we have been asked over recent days to believe about this man.
I ask honourable members to take their minds back twenty-four hours to the allegations that were being bandied about this place. Sir, I think I should put before the House one further piece of information that comes from a highly responsible source. It was prompted by the article that appeared in a Melbourne newspaper on 13th May. I am authorised to make this statement public on the authority of the Minister for the Navy (Mr Chipp), who in turn was authorised by the gentleman concerned to release it. The Medical Director-General of the Navy, Surgeon Rear-Admiral Coplans, has stated:
Even before his admission to hospital for treatment of his duodenal ulcer, he drove me many times both in the city and in the country. I refer to this because I do not normally like being driven by other drivers, but I never at any time had any doubts about Captain Stevens’ ability to drive, and he was one of the few drivers in whom I felt confident at all times.
I do not believe that Captain Stevens, with his history of dyspepsia and peptic ulceration, would knowingly suffer the pain, and risk the possible complications, of aggravation by over indulgence in alcohol.
Somebody might say: That sounds all right, but what about that triple brandy?’ There was evidence that, not having ordered anything to drink earlier in the day, on the night of this accident he ordered a triple brandy. A triple brandy sounds an enormous drink, but I suppose that if the Captain had ordered a tot of rum nobody would have thought it an enormous intake for a sailor. After all, the daily issue in the British Navy of a tot of rum has been going on for more than a century certainly and perhaps back beyond Nelson’s time for all I know. A tot of rum consists of between 2.6 and 3 ounces and is the equivalent of a triple brandy. The medical evidence was that the autopsy which was conducted in an area of the body that would produce the least favourable results for this man, showed an alcohol concentration of 0.025%. Much was made earlier in the debate of this result representing a rather considerable degree of alcohol absorption. It has been pointed out that 0.05% is normally regarded as the threshold at which insobriety commences but my understanding is that in Great Britain a man is taken to have reached the threshold of insobriety at 0.08%. In New Zealand, I think, it is taken as being reached at 0.07%. I speak subject to correction on this point.
I do not want to canvass these matters in any technical spirit or in all their detail. They have been discussed by other members who are much more competent to deal with them. All I am trying to do is bring this episode back into something of the perspective that I believe it should rate. I have mentioned these matters in a desire to do justice to this dead man who served his country for so many years, on the evidence before us, with great devotion, loyalty and ability. Nowhere in that record does there appear anything to suggest that his personal habits had disqualified him in any way for the conduct of a naval command. Earlier today the honourable member for Batman (Mr Benson) quoted some other evidence in relation to this man’s physical condition. For reasons that we all understand he was not disposed to mention that his ulcer had played up again with him, but there is the evidence about the pain in which he found himself. There is also information to the effect that in times of great pain he would, as I have known other duodenal ulcer sufferers to do, take some spirits and water to ease the pain. However, what is alleged is a far cry from that. Indeed, the very symptoms that were alleged against him are so inconsistent with a degree of alcoholic indulgence except indulgence such that no man could possibly carry out his normal naval duties, that they become consistent with a physical condition that was seriously affected by this peptic and ulcerated condition about which the Medical Director-General spoke.
I return for a moment to a point raised by the honourable member for Batman in relation to Lieutenant-Commander Cabban. He asked: Why. if he felt that this man was in this chronically unsatisfactory condition, did he not make a report to a superior officer?’ I ask that again, as did the honourable member for Batman, because it would be entirely in accordance with the duties expected of an officer of the Navy, even if it were a superior officer whom he was reporting. It would be entirely in accordance with the duty expected of him to report this condition to another officer of even more superior rank who could take appropriate action. I can tell the House that there is an interesting precedent for this in that one junior officer who did feel it his duty so to notify his superiors subsequently became Chief of the Naval Staff of the Royal Australian Navy. It did no detriment to his position in the Navy and is entirely consistent with what could reasonably have been expected of him.
I do not ask the House to judge these events tonight. I believe that not only is the dead man Stevens in a sense on trial in this Parliament in this debate, together with others to whom I have referred and over whom a cloud has been cast, but also the Parliament itself is on trial as an institution. We are expected by the people of this country to behave with a sense of responsibility and a spirit of fairness in relation to this issue. The Government has not held back any material factor relating to this matter of which I am aware. After my colleague, the honourable member for La Trobe, had, for understandable reasons which we all can respect, pressed this matter so vigorously, it was discussed with him and considered by Cabinet.
We came to the conclusion that we would not be justified in having any further public inquiry into this matter. Now that the House has had all the relevant information before it and has had an opportunity to discuss the matter, it is for the House to judge what course we should adopt. There are various possibilities. A select committee has been suggested, but anybody who has followed the debate closely during the last two days would have grounds for questioning whether this Parliament, in this atmosphere and with so many personally committed in their views on this subject, is the appropriate tribunal to resolve, as between competing evidence, which should prevail. I leave that thought with honourable members. I do not exclude from my own mind a select committee as a possibility. There are other possibilities. I do not exclude any of them. There is the possibility of further judicial inquiry.
There is the possibility that this matter having been canvassed and laid bare as it has, with the question being asked of it whether this evidence would in any way have affected the findings of the Royal Commission, we perhaps should consider whether any useful purpose would be served in further pursuing the matter and whether we would be justified in harrowing the feelings of others indefinitely by carrying these processes on. These are all matters which arise for judgment and I suggest to the House that it should not attempt to exercise its judgment tonight.
I would like to have an opportunity to discuss these matters further with my colleagues and the members of our Parties. I have no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) would wish to take a similar opportunity to discuss the matters with members of his party. I would expect to be in a position to report to the House at some stage tomorrow the recommendation which the Government would make to it regarding the future course to be taken on this matter. I would hope that that recommendation would be based upon a responsible assessment, invoking that spirit of fair play and decent justice that I am sure all of us would wish to bring to our conclusions on this matter.
Debate (on motion by Mr Erwin) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 2272).
– I wish to support my colleague, the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb), in indicating the continued objection of the Opposition to this legislation. As the honourable member has said, this Bill is identical with a measure which was introduced less than a fortnight ago, which was passed by this House, in spite of opposition from this side and which subsequently was rejected in another place. When the Opposition opposed the earlier legislation in this House it indicated that insufficient information had been presented by the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) to justify increases of the magnitude proposed.
To bring the House back to a realisation
Of what is involved in the Bill, I point out that the increased charges, which were to take place as from 1st July 1.967, would have added S30m on the postal side and S37m from telephone charges to the revenues of the Post Office. To put the matter in its perspective I point out that in the Budget accounts which were passed by this House in August and September 1966 - 1 will draw a distinction in a moment between the Budget accounts and what are called the commercial accounts of the Post Office - the projected estimate of revenue for the Post Office was $435m. Now it is suggested that as a result of reviews made by the Department it is necessary to increase revenue in the next financial year from $435m to more than $500m. Very little evidence has been given as to the nature of those reviews, although the Postmaster-General indicated that they had been made carefully after a reasonable assessment of circumstances and so on. An increase of $67m to an estimated revenue to the end of June 1967 of $435m is an increase in the region of 16%. There has been nothing in the speech by the PostmasterGeneral of a fortnight ago or the speech given this evening to show that the projected increase is necessary. I ask honourable members to remember that in the Budget - and we dealt with it not so long ago; we did not finalise discussion on the Estimates until September and October 1966 - on the evidence brought forward by the Treasury and the Postmaster-General it was decided that $43 5m was the likely estimate of revenues of the Department and the likely estimate of expenditure was $302.7m for administration and $205.2m for buildings, works, etc.
I have before me the latest figures available from the Treasury. They are for the ten months ended 30th April 1967, and are presented under the authority of the Treasurer, the Honourable William McMahon, and are dated 3rd May 1967, some twelve or thirteen days ago. They show that for the ten months ended 30th April the revenue of the Post Office was near enough to S352m. Five-sixths of the financial year have gone. It might be expected that the revenue for the next two months will be a further S70m or so. I point out that revenue in the last month was S34m. Those figures reveal that it might be expected that the total revenue of the Postmaster-General’s Department for this financial year will reveal no great disparity from the Budget estimate.
I turn now to the projected expenditures on both accounts. It was estimated that in the full year total administrative expenditure would be S302.6m. To the end of April 1967 - a period of ten months, or five-sixths of the year - the total expenditure was S250m. Again, it might be expected that in the next two months, the projected expenditure will be a further S50m because last month it was almost S25m. So expenditure on the administrative side will be almost identical with the projection made when the Budget was determined. Similarly with buildings and works. Whereas total expenditure for the full twelve months was estimated at $205m, for the ten months ended April 1967 - five-sixths of the year - it was $168m. Last month expenditure was $16m. It could be projected that in the remaining two months the expenditure will come to very close, or possibly slightly under, the estimated figure.
In the light of the figures I have given - and after all they are all that honourable members have to go on, in the absence of some estimated commercial statement up to last month, or projected to 30th June next - one can only say that on both the revenue side and the expenditure side the Post Office seems to be operating as projected in the Budget which we debated in- August and September last year. I suggest that on the evidence the figures show that on the telephone side the Postmaster-General’s Department is making a profit. Yet the public is asked to pay an extra $30m for the postal side. The last commercial accounts, which are in respect of the year ended 30th June 1966, show that on the commercial transactions the Post Office lost near enough to $10m while the telephone side made $10m. So, overall, the Department balanced its accounts. The cash accounts - and I do not deny that these do not reveal the whole story - reveal the position as the House was supposed to see it in August and September last year; in the ten months that have transpired of this financial year, on both the revenue and expenditure sides, the results are almost identical with the projections. Therefore, where is the need for the additional $30m revenue from postal services and the additional $37m from telephone services? In a full year the increased revenue sought would amount to S67m which is an increase in total revenue of 16%. Where is the justification for this? It is because that information is not forthcoming
– The honourable member has not read properly.
– The Postmaster-General has not presented the facts properly.
– I presented the facts in the second reading speech when I introduced the Bill.
– That information is not in the second reading speech that the Postmaster-General made on the last occasion.
– It is.
– The Postmaster-General came into this House not more than two hours ago and made his second speech on this Bill and has not had the decency to give honourable members an opportunity to have a proper look at his remarks. He, or the Government, expected us to deal with this matter immediately. I know that the Postmaster-General is only a cog in a very creaking wheel, but he did not extend to the House that to which it was entitled - a proper opportunity to study the remarks that he chose to make.
– There is nothing in the Standing Orders to demand that.
– I submit that no information has so far been given to this House to warrant an increase of $67m in the projected revenue of the Postmaster-General’s Department for the next twelve months. After all, are the cash accounts presented by the Treasury worthless? Are the accounts that are-
– This is a business.
– I will come to the business side of the matter in a moment. This is not the way that the finances of the Post Office should be presented to Parliament for contemplation. The Postmaster-General has chosen to turn about the words used in another place where it was said - and I repeat the words here: ‘We believe that the Post Office finances can be properly contemplated only in the full perspective of the Budget’. What the Postmaster-General aims to do - and he ought to be honest enough. to say so - is to take $67m worth of agony out of the next Budget before it is announced.
– Why did you not do that in 1949?
– If the Minister is addressing that remark to me individually, 1 was not here in 1949. If he is addressing it to the Opposition collectively I might say that at least in 1967 we are not thinking in the ways of 1949. I sometimes think the Minister is. That is one of the things wrong with the finances of the Post Office; instead of thinking in a modern way the PostmasterGeneral is harking back to some rules of the past. He has chosen to intrude into the argument the question of the Post Office as a commercial undertaking. He has chosen to put up all sorts of arguments and then answer them in the way he wanted to answer them. I want to put before this House some of the questions that I think have to be considered by a Parliament when it is making a decision like the one involved in this legislation. If the Parliament is to make the decision intelligently it ought to have much more information than it has at the moment. I hope that despite the relative heat of our words the PostmasterGeneral and I may still regard ourselves as friends though we might differ across the table on some aspects. I agree with him that in some respects the Post Office is a commercial undertaking. I do not agree with him that in all respects it is a commercial undertaking. If he had listened last week to some of his supporters in this House, members of the Country Party, he would know that they, also, do not agree with him.
– The honourable member should speak for himself.
– Maybe the members of the Country Party do not agree amongst themselves. I would not hold that against the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) for here is a matter on which there may well be differences of opinion. However, at least two members of the Country Party suggested that, in view of the vast distances and the geography of this country, it is wrong that all the costs of expansion of telephone services should be met out of what might be called the commercial accounts of the organisation. All I am contending is that there may be commercial aspects but at least there is agreement, also, about non-commercial aspects.
I invite the attention of the House and of the Postmaster-General to a most interesting article that appeared in a recent issue of ‘Public Administration’, the journal of the Royal Institute of Public Administration, volume 44 of 1966. The article was written by Mr Roger L. Wettenhall on the recoup concept in public enterprise. The author, who was Hallsworth Research Fellow in the Department of Government at the University of Manchester is also a lecturer in public administration at the University of Tasmania. He was writing about nationalised undertakings, of which the Post Office could well be an example. He wrote:
Several important questions have been raised in the debates about the financing-
I hope that the Minister will listen to this-
– I have read it.
– I tried to follow him and I hope that he will do likewise to me. Mr Wettenhall wrote:
Several important questions have been raised in the debates about the financing of Britain’s nationalised industries over the past decades. To one of these - whether an industry should aim to make a profit and thus contribute to its own capital needs rather than only try to avoid making a loss - it would seem that an affirmative answer has been given.
In other words, it is not altogether black or white: there are some elements of grey. The article goes on:
This is a statement of the ideal; in railways and coal, for example, it is difficult to envisage its attainment in the foreseeable future. To a related question - whether an enterprise should be run as a commercial concern rather than as a public service - a qualified affirmative has been given. By definition, this choice can never be an absolute one in public enterprise. To a third question that has been posed, Britain has officially replied in the negative. This concerns the desirability of separate treatment in enterprise’s accounts of the commercial and service elements in its operations. But the official answer has not stilled the general debate, and the separatist view has persisted in many quarters.
Those words indicate that a lot of questions have to be answered before one can make the sort of categorical assertion that the Minister is willing to make. He comes in glibly and says to honourable members: ‘If you do not do the thing in this way rather than that way, it makes an overall difference to the budget’.
– Has the honourable member compared that article with the report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries in the United Kingdom?
– They did not run parallel, one with the other.
– Of course not. No one committee runs parallel with another. It simply suggests to me that we can choose to be eclectic and select the point of view that suits us. At least it indicates that there are differences of degree. The PostmasterGeneral has raised this question of charging interest. I do not believe that a public utility is like a private undertaking. I said that here a few days ago. A private enterprise cannot survive unless it makes a profit for its shareholders. The difference between a private enterprise and a public utility is that the first has a limited number of shareholders whereas the second has everybody in the community as shareholders. In my view, the concept of profit does not arise with a public utility.
The Minister is trying to intrude into (he financing of public utilities the idea that they should earn more for their current services than those services cost, and that that surplus should be used as capital for expansion of the undertaking. That is done by private enterprise and the PostmasterGeneral wants it to be done by public enterprise. However, in private enterprise there is something over and above the provision of future capital - the enterprise still has to make dividend payments to shareholders. In my opinion that is a concept that does not, or ought not apply to public enterprises. The Postmaster-General spoke about the interest component, which he is using in his considerations, as he has said. The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) referred to this point in some detail. The Minister believes that the present users of telephones should somehow pay for future use. That is an arguable sort of hypothesis. Even when the PostmasterGeneral does hit upon an interest rate, his accounts will show that he does not stick to it year after year. For example. the interest rate that was current about twelve months ago was some 4.8% by comparison with the present rate of approximately 5.4%.
That difference does not appear to be great, but applied over a capitalisation of $800m in Post Office transactions it can make a difference of SI Om or so a year. In this way, dependant on the interest rate charged the Minister can ensure that on commercial grounds the Post Office shows a profit rather than a loss. That is a pretty shifting ground upon which to base a new series of charges. After all, why choose 5i% as the rate of interest?
– It is elementary.
– Why not choose 4%? The honourable member for Cowper as a member of the Country Party wants costs of production lower rather than higher, ls he willing to justify the adoption of a rate of 5£% as a component in the present accounts rather than, say, a rate of 4%? It could make a difference as high as from $20m to $3 Om in the annual financial results of the Post Office. If the honourable member is willing to sanction the higher rate and at the same time wants to complain against costs, let him rise in his place and say so. I ask the House to consider this question: In the light of the accounts in the ten months since the previous Budget, where is the Postmaster-General’s warrant to justify this additional imposition of $67m unless it is done with the aim of ploughing back profits into the organisation? I ask the Postmaster-General the same question. Let him ask it of those who advise him and of outside people, if his advisers do not have the answer. Instead of providing capital for the Post Office out of ordinary revenues, the Government prefers to take it out of the hides, if I may use that expression, of the present users of the services today. If that is the Government’s concept, it should say so, but this is not a concept that can be isolated from the whole perspective of the Budget. That is our case. It is not that in no circumstances should the charges of the Post Office be changed, but that when the charges are changed the Government should have the accounts for the full year and a projected series of accounts for the coming year to go by.
We have neither of these. We do not have the complete results for this financial year. If we take the commercial accounts rather than the cash accounts, we will not have them until after the Budget is presented in August or September of this year. But until the Government has those accounts, it will have neither the projected cash expectation for the next twelve months or the ultimate commercial result for the previous twelve months. Yet the Postmaster-General was willing to come along the other evening and, in a speech that no-one knew would be made, suggested that the charges should be increased. This was a closely kept secret. It was like certain adjustments that were made in the Appropriation Bills. It had all the portents of a little budget but the Government did not have the courage to call it such. If the Government is able to get away with this, it will take out of the Budget some of its agony before the proper time comes. The worst that can happen in the overall finances of the Government if this Bill is not passed is that the increases will be deferred. The Government would not be able to impose them from 1st July 1967. They may begin to run after the Budget is passed as a whole from 1st September 1967 or possibly 1st October 1967. In other words, the users of the services may be saved a quarter of the additional impost of some $16m out of the projected S67m.
I do not intend to stand or fall by what was done by Senator Cameron in 1949; but I am prepared to stand or fall, at least as far as argument is concerned, by the evidence that is produced to me in 1967. We have not been given any evidence to justify the imposts that will be put upon the people from 1st July. The imposition of increases in this way is irregular, because their proper import cannot be seen except in the full perspective of the Budget. I submit that the only reason that they are being introduced now is to beat the gun and to make the Budget seem to be a little less unpleasant than in aggregate it is. The Government thinks that the people then will have forgotten the part that has already been imposed.
Much has been said about this being part of the financial arrangements of the Government. If it is, there is only one place in which the part can be put to the whole and that is in the Budget. Whatever may happen to this Bill in another place, we would have opposed it in this House whether it was a money bill or not. We would have opposed it on the lack of merit of the case, and the lack of merit still persists. It is not a money bill and the Senate is free to adjudicate upon it. I will not read section 53 of the Constitution again; I should not need to do so. But at least the Senate has the same power over this measure as we have. It can adjudicate upon it in its own way and it should do as we should do. The Senate should adjudicate upon the measure on the basis of the lack of evidence to justify the increases and because of the lack of evidence the Senate ought to reject it, as I hope this House will.
– -I join with my colleague, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) in opposing this measure. It is a Bill for an Act to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902- 1965. This is the second time a measure with this purpose has been introduced into this House within the last two weeks. We opposed the first measure and we oppose this measure. The first measure was defeated in another place and the Government is persisting with the proposal. Of course, the Government has not really told us why it is persisting with the proposal. I suggested in my speech on the previous occasion that this is part of the overall economic policy of the Government, because we know that it has economic problems. We know that overseas reserves have fallen by more than $200m already in this financial year and the Government possibly has taken some economic action in this regard. But this is the first time that the Government has, as an interim action, used the Post Office as a tax collector.
No statement has been made by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) or the Treasurer (Mr McMahon). We can ask why the Government is so anxious to push through the increased postal and telegraph charges. Another $67m will be raised by this form of indirect taxation. It is a regressive tax. It places a burden on industry and the burden, of course, will be passed on to the mass consumers. About 80% of the taxpayers earn less than $59 a week and this is the section of the community that will be called on to pay this increased taxation. As industries feel the effect of the increases, they will pass the additional charges on to the consumers in their prices. It will be the section of the community that I have mentioned that will bear the burden resulting from the increased prices. We know, of course, that this section of the community is not the section that controls the bulk of Australia’s wealth. Why is this little budget being introduced now? Why have we not heard an explanation from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer? They are responsible for the overall economic policy of the country, not the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme). Why were these charges not part of the Budget introduced last August? It is well worth quoting from an editorial written by the Financial Editor of the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ on 2nd May of this year. This appears under the heading ‘The PMG as a tax collector’:
Mr Hulme’s sudden announcement of sharply increased PMG charges from July 1 amounts to a ‘little-little Budget’.
Though not disclosing the exact figure, the PMG’s Department is deliberately budgeting for a big commercial surplus in 1967-68 - the biggest planned surplus in our lifetime.
Of course we know now that the amount will be $67m but when that editorial was written the Postmaster-General had not disclosed a figure. The editorial continues:
The first unanswered question is why the Government has decided to do this. The second question is why it has also broken with precedent by announcing the new PMG charges at this time of year instead of the customary Budget night in August.
Mr Hulme alone, as PMG, was not able to supply the material for full answers last night.
I listened tonight and the PostmasterGeneral has certainly not told us why these charges are to be increased. The editorial goes on:
The pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme from the years when taxpayers used to regularly subsidise substantial true operating PMG deficits as well as providing its capital fund requirements. . . .
As a form of pure taxation, they are regressive. They follow the pattern of regressiveness that all the increased State budgetary charges have done this financial year.
May I give some of the historical background of the years from 1948-49. The Chifley Administration used the Post Office as a service to the community. The Statement of Income and Expenditure discloses a deficit of $6m in 1949-50. This covers the last six months of the Chifley
Administration and the first half-year of the Menzies Administration. The deficit was S14m in 1950-51; in 1951-52 it was $4m. In 1952-53 the deficit was again S4m and in 1953-54, $2m. The Budget was balanced in 1954-55 but a deficit of about S8m appeared in 1955-56. This pattern was maintained right through the 1950s until 1959-60 when a new budgetary system was brought into being and an interest charge was established, in that year, interest charges amounted to $30. 6m. Last year the charge for interest for the Post Office alone was $64.4m.
It is interesting to note that at the time of the change in the accounting system the figures that had previously appeared openly in the Statement of Income and Expenditure disappeared from view. Obviously they revealed that more and more the Post Office was being used as a revenue raiser.- Post Office charges were becoming part of a system of taxation. As I said earlier, last financial year interest charges totalled $64. 4m. It was said that the balance sheet of the Post Office showed a loss of $124,000 in 1965-66. The Government forgot to remind us that the Post Office had achieved a surplus but by this new accounting system had paid back into Consolidated Revenue the interest charge of S64.4m. The increased revenue of $67m a year from the higher charges proposed will mean an increase in revenue of $130m compared to the years that the Postmaster-General harps about - 1948-49 and 1949-50. Over $130m will be raised by this regressive indirect taxation. This is a tax passed on into the cost structure and increases the inflationary trend within the Australian economy.
If we look at the figures showing how the Post Office can be used to raise indirect taxation it is interesting to observe what happens with local telephone calls made each year. Last financial year local telephone calls amounted to 2,103 million. The charge was 10c for three calls; now it is proposed to charge 4c a call - an increase of 2c on three telephone calls, which will give the Post Office an additional $14m in one year. In 1956-57 the Post Office raised in revenue on local telephone calls the sum of $28. 2m. Last financial year revenue had increased to $82. 5m. an increase in nine years of more than $54 m.
Has anyone’s wage packet increased nearly three times in the same way? Of course not. This is a sectional tax imposed by a sectional government. The Government has failed at all times to tax directly. Instead it has adopted the dishonest method of imposing indirect taxation.
Let me deal with the charges for letters. For the first ounce we are charged 4c. The rate is to be increased to 5c for the first ounce and the charge for each additional ounce will rise from 3c to 4c up to 4 oz. In 1965-66 the Post Office handled 1,893 million letters. This again is a conservative estimate. I can only work on a conservative estimate because we do not know how many letters were sent out at the 1 oz rate and how many at more than 1 oz. However, nearly 2,000 million letters were sent out and at a conservative estimate this would return to the Post Office about S20m. This is the way the Government is using the Post Office for the purpose of indirect taxation. The editorial went on:
The Commonwealth’s refusal to finance any purl of Australia’s increased defence, war and development costs by means of direct taxation (the most progressive form) is becoming truly remarkable.
This is no statement from the Labour Party. It comes from the Financial Editor of that conservative newspaper the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, who says that it is remarkable that this Government will not increase direct taxation. On the other hand, the Government has continued to increase indirect taxation in every aspect. In the Budget two years ago it increased income tax by 2i%. That provision reaped for the Government approximately $40m. However, the Government found that the most lucrative way to increase its income was by indirect taxation, and it increased the petrol tax by 3d a gallon, which in the new currency would be 21c The 3d a gallon increase gained for the Government about $50m, and I suggest’ that in the next Budget the Government will again increase indirect taxation, by way of petrol tax. I have no doubt that on this occasion it will be 3c, which is in excess of 3d, and this will reap anything from $50m to S60m. I make this prediction now for, as the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ pointed out, the Government has failed to introduce progressive, direct taxation by way of income tax, which is a tax on the wealth of those who earn it, instead of a hidden tax which will be taken into the cost structure and passed on to the mass consumer.
– Complete nonsense.
– Of course, the PostmasterGeneral is a conservative and a sectional Minister. That is why the PostmasterGeneral is introducing these regressive taxes, and why, under the administration of the Government to which he belongs, indirect taxation has been increased by about $130m per annum since 1959-60. Prior to that year the Post Office was used as a means of providing a service t’o the community and not as a tax gatherer. The present Government has continually used this means of sectional taxation. Earlier this evening I heard the Postmaster-General praise Mr Chifley.
– 1 said that honourable members opposite had praised him over the past sixteen or seventeen years. I did not praise him.
-I misunderstood the PostmasterGeneral, for I thought that he had praised Mr Chifley, because Mr Chifley was at least an honest Treasurer and he increased taxation directly. The PostmasterGeneral’s Government is a sectional administration which taxes indirectly. I remind him that his sectional government represents sectional interests, including big business and the oligopolies and monopolies of this country. But even they are critical of this Government. In the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ of 8th May 1967 the following comment appeared:
They are quite astronomical and come as a tremendous shock’, said the secretary of the Retail Traders Association of New South Wales, Mr J. B. Griffin.
They are a heavy additional burden on business, which is just emerging from the doldrums of the last twelve months.
There is likely to be a quite substantial lift in prices generally, in consequence.’
This was said not by a member of the Opposition in this Parliament but by Mr Griffin, the secretary of the Retail Traders Association of New South Wales, who was speaking on the increased postal charges which, he said, will increase prices substantially. Who pays the increased prices? Is it the wealthy section of the people who are represented by the Postmaster-General and his Government - that wealthy section of the community that really controls the wealth of this country? No, of course not. lt is 80% of th; taxpayers of this country, who earn less than $59 per week, who will pay. It is unfortunate that we cannot get through to the great mass of the people to explain that this sectional Government waves a jingoistic rag and evokes a mystic fear every time an election approaches. The Government seeks to divert people and to create mystic fears concerning the hordes that will surge down and take over our country. However, eventually, with our communications, the truth will get through to the people. Mr Chifley said that the most sensitive nerve is the hip pocket nerve.
I have no doubt that in time the electors will swing against the Government as they did in 1961, following the economic steps it took in November 1960 to curb the fall iri the overseas reserves. I wonder whether this action by the Government to increase Post Office charges is the first step towards similar public reaction. We know that the overseas reserves have dropped to the lowest level in the past four years; they are now the lowest they have been since March 1963, and this might be one of the reasons why the Government is acting now. Is this one of its overall economic policies? The Postmaster-General has not given us this information, nor has either the Treasurer or the Prime Minister expressed the Government’s policy, so we know nothing of the challenges to the economy. We know that this Government has been relying more and more on the inflow of private, indiscriminate, unplanned foreign investment, especially from the United States of America and the United Kingdom. We know, also, that over the past six to eight months these sources have begun to dry up. During this period our overseas reserves have fallen by more than $200m. Is this one of the reasons? Is this tax increase a part of the overall economic policy of the Government? Is this one of the reasons why these increased charges are being made? We have not been told. Increases totalled $67m, but did the PostmasterGeneral tell us that they would total $67m?
– The Postmaster-General did not. No budgetary system was worked out. Now the figure has been revealed, and the net result could be well in excess of that amount. The Opposition opposed this legislation when it was before the House on the last occasion, and we oppose it now. lt is particularly interesting to note that no Government member has risen to support the action of the Postmaster-General. Members of the Country Party who earlier were critical of the Government’s proposed increased charges are not rising to speak now. Members of the Liberal Party have not risen to answer some of the criticisms levelled by the three Opposition speakers who have spoken tonight. We oppose the legislation here, and when k goes to another place we will defeat it again. When this legislation is defeated by the democratic procedures that exist in the bicameral system, will the Government use the snide way of introducing the increases by means of regulations? Will the Minister declare that if the Bill is defeated in another place he will increase the charges by way of regulation? I support my colleagues in their opposition to increased postal and telegraph charges. We will join with other independent members of other political parties in another place to defeat this regressive taxation that is proposed by the sectional Government which is in power in Australia.
– I oppose the proposed postal and telephone charges announced by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) tonight and last Wednesday night. In his second reading speech tonight the Minister referred to a number of points, one being the alleged support of the Australian Labor Party for the Australian Democratic Labor Party in another place. Let me put the record straight on this point. The Australian Labor Party is not supporting the Democratic Labor Party. We made a decision in the Parliamentary Labor Party Caucus in the clear knowledge and belief that we would vote against the legislation irrespective of how any other party voted. We are opposed to the legislation irrespective of what anyone else thinks about it or what anyone else proposes doing about it. If the DLP wanted to do as it has been doing for the last eleven years, namely, support the Minister’s Government, that would not affect our vote.
I wonder whether there has been a falling out between the Government and its friends. After all, the Postmaster-General is here today by the grace of the DLP, so he cannot complain if occasionally it votes against him. He is lucky to be here, and is lucky to have been here for the last ten years. Had it not been for the DLP he would not be here today. Let us be clear about the DLP. Whose party finances that splinter group? It is not the Labor Party. The Minister knows that it is the Liberal Party and Liberal Party supporters who are responsible for financing the Democratic Labor Party. It is from the Minister’s Party that the DLP gets the money to finance its election campaigns. These people spend much more money on their election campaigns than does the Labor Party.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Failes)Order! I suggest to the honourable member that the finances of political parties are not a subject for debate in this Bill.
– Thank you, Sir. So much for the finances of the political parties - I raised this subject because the Minister suggested that the Labor Party supported the Democratic Labor Party in opposing the Bill. We vote as we see fit. We oppose the Bill because we believe that the proposed increases are not founded on sound financial grounds. The Minister made much of the point that it is the Labor Party’s policy not to use the other place to defeat money Bills. This is not a money Bill. I ask the Minister to show honourable members where it is a money Bill, lt is not a money Bill and we are entitled to deal with it in any way we see fit. The Minister has asked why we oppose the Bill.
The Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) made a Press statement - not in this place, but outside - to the effect that the Labor Party was only trying to gain political capital out of its opposition to the Bill. Let us examine what his Party did a few years ago. Much has been said in the debate tonight, and in previous debates, about the Labor Government introducing heavy increases in postal charges in 1949. We have been asked why the charges were not increased in the Budget at that time. I am not going to be like the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) and try to justify what the Labor Party did when it was in government in 1949, but I do know that in the eight years between 1941 and 1949 there was only one increase in postal charges, and that was from 2d to 2id, so what can the Postmaster-General say about that? Since 1930 when the postal charge was 2d a letter for less than 1 oz every increase, with the exception of that id, has been introduced by a Liberal Party and Country Party government. The charge will have been increased from 2d to 6d - or 5c as we now call it - if this legislation is passed. Government members have something to answer for in relation to increased postal charges.
However, let me refer to the situation in June 1949 and to the attitude of the Liberal Party and Country Party Opposition at that time. It is interesting to note that the Prime Minister, who was then simply the honourable member for Fawkner, opposed the increase. I am pleased to note that my old friend, the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull), has walked into the chamber because, for his information, I will quote part of his speech in 1949. He was then the member for Wimmera. According to ‘Hansard’ of 15th June 1949 he commenced speaking at 8.44 p.m. and, at page 1037, he is reported to have said:
At present, the Government could well meet that loss from Consolidated Revenue, but with the approach of the general election it is keen to reduce taxes. But the Government has difficulty in reducing taxes without increasing postal, telephone and telegraph charges when the Post Office is operating at a loss.
This is what my honourable friend from Mallee, who has just come into the chamber, said in 1949.
– I have been here all night.
– This is you I have quoted. You are a great one at telling us what someone said in 1949 or 1946, but this is what you said in 1949 when you opposed the postal charges proposed by the then Labor Government.
-Order! The honourable member for Newcastle will address the Chair.
– I will address the Chair, Sir. I will look at you and I will point at the honourable member for Mallee while I speak. I hope 1 am pointing in the right direction. The honourable member for Mallee is great at telling us what other people have had to say and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to tell him what he had to say in 1949. Let me deal now with what other honourable members said at about that particular time. A member of the then Opposition, now Sir Arthur Fadden but then just Mr Fadden, moved an amendment to the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1949 as follows:
That all words after ‘That’ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: ‘the bill be referred to a select committee of this House appointed to inquire into and report upon the deterioration in the finances of the Postmaster-General’s Department which has resulted in the imposition of these heavy increases in charges at a time when revenue from other sources is at a record high level.
So the Minister can see that the then Opposition, of which some of his colleagues were members, opposed the imposition of increases at that time. I previously asked the Minister whether this was humbug on their part, and whether they were political opportunists. The Minister, who is now sitting at the table, seems to be acknowledging that this was so. This is very interesting. 1 will guarantee that old Artie will give him something for his corner when they next meet, for having implied that he was a humbug at that time. When the question was put to a vote the then Opposition, composed of Parties which now form the Government, opposed it and supported the amendment. But who voted for the amendment? Only the people who were then in opposition, and of them the only ones who are still with us are the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull), then the member for Wimmera, Mr J. McEwen and Mr H. Holt. I think they are the same people who are honourable members of this House now. When the debate reached the stage of a vote on the second reading the same honourable members voted against if. So I think it can fairly be said that when the Government Parties were in opposition they opposed this kind of legislation. I have read through the documents and I cannot find any sound reason why they did oppose it at that time. There was then no substantial surplus standing to the credit of the Postmaster-General’s Department, as is the case today. At that time the Department was not paying the Treasury S64m a year in interest, as it must do now because of the way in which the Government has manoeuvred and manipulated the Department’s finances.
This Government has a lot to answer for in increasing postal charges on this occasion. We on this side believe that this measure takes the form of a little budget. Sixty-seven million dollars is a lot of money, §30m of it representing postal charge increases and S37m being increased charges for telegrams and telephones. Remember that this section of the Department is still showing a very substantial profit, which I will deal with in more detail shortly.
In a speech only last Saturday week the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury), addressing a public relations organisation in New South Wales, made a strong plea for some stability in prices and some stability in wages. He said that we should not load the economy with an increase in wages. He was trying to soften up the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which is at present hearing an application by the trade unions for increases in the basic wage and margins. I believe the Minister was trying to make it easier for that authority to arrive at a decision. We all know that if we put forward a point of view often enough, and the Press give it sufficient coverage, the decision on the matter is made so much easier and more palatable to many people in the community. But while condemning any increase in wages with its obvious effect on the price and cost structure cf this country, nothing has been said by any Government member in condemnation of this aditional charge of S67m, which will place a further burden on the overall price structure of the country.
The Minister has said that he has received no complaints of inefficiency in the Postmster-General’s Department.
– No proof, I said.
– Well, I will give him some proof in a minute. Let me briefly read a statement which was handed to me, as a member of the Labor Party’s Industrial Committee, on the very day on which, unbeknownst to us and also to the people who prepared this statement, the Minister was making arrangements to deliver his speech in the House announcing the increased charges. There were three unions concerned, the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, the Australian Postmasters Association and the Union of Postal Clerks and Telegraphists. Their representatives came to Canberra and saw the Minister and the Labor Party’s Industrial Committee. They made charges of inefficiency in the Post Office. I have their statement here which speaks of ‘inefficiency and misguided policies in the Post Office. The planned incapacity to meet increasing community needs are all adversely affecting every sector of commerce and industry and other public services. The responsibility is not the Postal Unions’, not the Postal Administration’s - it is the Minister’s and the Government’s.’ This is what the unions think about the Government and the Minister and their administration of the affairs of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
– What was their specific complaint?
– I cannot talk to the honourable member because I would have to turn my back on Mr Deputy Speaker. As to inefficiency within the Department let me say quite frankly that I felt embarrassed last year at having to write so many letters to the Minister directing his attention to inefficiencies in mail delivery. I am quite honest about this; I felt embarrassed at having to write these letters. Yet the Minister says he has had no proof of inefficiency in the Department. Let me tell him again that two letters were posted, one to me and one to the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James), from Canberra on a Monday. I received mine on the Thursday in Newcastle and the honourable member for Hunter received his on the Friday. I told the Minister during a speech recently on the motion for the adjournment of the House that I had posted a parcel to a particular union in Sydney and that it was not delivered until about a week later. If that is not inefficiency I do not know what is.
I also told the Minister and the House about an industrial concern in Newcastle whose mail was opened by one of its competitors and the information contained therein used in an attempt to prevent de livery of supplies to that organisation. I brought these facts to the attention of the Postmaster-General and asked what he would do about it. He and his Department were not even prepared to prosecute the offenders who had deliberately retained and opened the letter in question and attempted to use the information contained in it against a particular company.
Numerous business houses in Newcastle have taken to packaging their mail and consigning it to their parent organisations and other companies in Sydney by road and rail transport because of the inefficiency of the Postmaster-General’s Department. They know that this is illegal, but they also know that this is the only way they can be sure of having their mail delivered the following day. When the Minister says he has no proof of inefficiency in the Department lel him remember some of these specific instances to which I refer.
On the subject of telephones 1 wrote to the Minister on Tuesday of this week. This again is quite interesting. I refer now to two articles that appeared in the Newcastle ‘Sun’ on Tuesday 9th May and Wednesday 10th May. An allegation was made on 9th May that linesmen and technicians of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department had been using an instrument called a buttinski - they gave it this name, I did not. This is an instrument that is used to tap wires. It was alleged by certain people that linesmen and technicians were using these instruments to make both local and trunk line calls. I do not know where the newspapers got their information, but the Newcastle Divisional Engineer, Mr S. J. Dixon, said that linesmen and technicians usually rang specified numbers when testing lines. The article in the Newcastle ‘Sun’ of 1 1 th May, reporting Mr Dixon’s statement, said: lt they do ring a number that registers on a meter, the linesman or technician completes a form which enables the subscriber to receive a rebate’.
I have not time to read all the article, but Mr Dixon was also reported as saying:
I have been here thirteen years and in that time one complaint regarding calls by a linesman from a private subscriber’s telephone has been made. The subscriber claimed that about ten calls had been made from his telephone by a linesman. The subscriber was given a full rebate without question.’
There must be some foundation for these newspaper allegations. If this is one case in which ten calls were made from a subscriber’s line, how many calls have been made without the knowledge of subscribers? How many honourable members have made representations to either the Minister or a District Telephone Officer complaining on behalf of constituents that telephone accounts have been much larger than expected? I know that I have made such complaints on numerous occasions.
There are just a few other points I would like to deal with while discussing this matter. The first concerns bulk postage. It is interesting to refer to the second reading speech that the Minister mac’.e on a previous occasion. We were not paid the courtesy of being given a copy of his speech today or of the debate being adjourned so that at least we could read what he had to say in his second reading speech before taking up the debate. Therefore we have to refer hack to what he had to say on another occasion. On the question of bulk postage, which concerns me, he said:
A substantial concession is being retained for registered Australian publications. At the present lime the cost of handling the average newspaper or periodical posted in bulk is 7c, and the average revenue derived is about 1.75c. The average subsidy is more than 5c for each individually addressed newspaper and periodical.
I should like to ask the Minister questions similar to those that I put to him on a previous occasion. What happens to this mail? Is it economical to carry it at what appears to be an inordinately low rate? According to the Minister’s statement, it costs 7c to handle bulk postage but it is carried for only’ 1 .75c - more than 5c below cost.
– The honourable member has said that there was no justification for the increase.
– I want the Postmaster-General to tell us the reason why he wants to carry certain types of mail for less than cost. Inquiries that I have made reveal that other government departments are charged the full amount for services provided. This applies to services relating to social service payments. Also, the Postmaster-General’s Department makes a profit on each savings bank deposit that it handles. Why are the full rates imposed for handling electoral postal votes, for conveying applications for age or invalid pensions through the mail, and so on? This sort of mail is carried free of cost for the applicant; the charge is met by the department concerned.
– The Post Office does not pay for it.
– That is correct, but the Post Office is carrying bulk mail at charges below cost. The PostmasterGeneral, who told us this, compared bulk rate charges in Australia with those in Britain and New Zealand. He said that the bulk rate in Australia is cheap compared with rates applicable in Great Britain and in New Zealand for the posting of newspapers. The Minister said also:
A British publisher distributing 1,000 separately addressed papers, each weighing one ounce, would pay postage equivalent to SA31.25. At the hulk rate in Australia, a publisher would pay $3.33 for the same service at present, and $5 al the proposed rate.
– Is the honourable member trying to justify the increases proposed in the Bill? It would seem that he is trying to prove that they are justified.
– I am showing that bulk mail is being carried at a much lower rate than the ordinary letter rate of 4c for one ounce or less, as it is now. or 5c as it will be. Some explanation shot,;u <& given about why the Postmaster-General’s Department is carrying bulk mail at such a low rate, particularly when in 1959 the Ad Hoc Committee of Inquiry into .he Commercial Accounts of the Post Office reported that over a period of time the OR on bulk postage was £56,799 - 1 emphasise that that is pounds not dollars - and in the financial year 1958-59 £2,753 was also lost in this way. We are entitled to some positive information on why we have to grant these concessions. Postmen who have to deliver this type of mail tell me that it imposes a substantial increase in the amount of work that they have to do. They claim that’ if they did not have to handle bulk postage they could carry anything from 20% to 25% more in their deliveries in a day. It is still costing more to deliver bulk postage than ordinary mail because of the space that it takes up in the mailman’s bag. I have spoken to a number of postmen in suburban areas and they have told me this. But what must be the effect of carrying this sort of mail in the city, where postmen have to lug around their big bags loaded with second class mail composed, in the main, of bulk postage articles. In the limited time available to me I should like to deal with a few other points. The Minister might permit me to incorporte in Hansard some information prepared for me by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Statistical Service in relation to postal charges over the past ten years.
– What is it about?
– Postal charges set out in the Postmaster-General’s Department’s profit and loss account for the years 1956-57 to 1965-66.
– Why does not the honourable member read it?
– I know the Minister would like me to waste my time reading it. I should prefer to have it incorporated in Hansard, but instead I shall have to summarise it. According to the information before me, last year the loss on postal services was $10,341,000 and over the last ten years the total deficit on these services totalled $16,919,000. However, last year there was a profit of $10,217,000 on telecommunication services compared with a surplus of $6,830,000 in 1964-65 and a total surplus of $47,688,000 over the past ten years. I believe that these facts are a clear condemnation of the Minister, who has attempted to justify increases in postal and telephone charges that will return annually at least $37m. One of the burdens to be borne by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is an interest charge payable to the Treasury that in the past seven years has totalled $323,198,727. Last year’s interest payments amounted to $64,401,139. I should like to know how anyone could justify this charge in respect of a Department that is supposed to be a public instrumentality providing a service for the people by handling mail related to social service and repatriation pensions, war service homes, electoral matters and immigration. I could take up quite some time describing the mail that this Department handles and the services that it provides for the public. I do not regard the interest charge imposed on this Department as fair and reasonable and I am completely opposed to its payment. In the few moments still available to me I shall deal with these telephone charges. Last week we saw honourable members from the rabbit burrow in the corner of this chamber-
– I forgot myself, Mr Deputy Speaker. Last week the members of the Australian Country Party, of which 1 believe you are a member-
-Order! At no time should the honourable member refer to the Chair in that way.
– I meant no reflection on you, Mr Deputy Speaker. 1 believe that you are proud to be a member of the Country Party. Last week a number of members of that Party spoke for five to ten minutes each on this Bill so that they might obtain Press releases for their newspapers. One after the other those members said this, that and the other thing against’ the proposed postal charges, but what they did not go on to say was that later they would vote against the Australian Labor Party’s amendment. When the division bells rang they moved over to the Government side and voted against the amendment. They spoke against the proposed charges to obtain local publicity, but they moved over to the Government side of the chamber when the vote was taken. Those are the members whose constituents are most vitally affected by the proposed trunk line charges. If anyone between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. makes a trunk line call over a distance exceeding 300 miles but not exceeding 400 miles the proposed charge will be $1.80 compared with the present charge of $1.20. This increase represents a substantial rise for country people. Yet Country Party members are willing to remain in their places and not lift one finger in opposition to the proposal other than to make statements for publicity purposes. Indeed, they voted for the Bill. Those members know as well as I do that one of the best ways to assist decentralisation is by charging substantially reduced rates for trunk line telephone calls made by country industries even if this results in a substantial decline in revenue for the Department. When the Labor Party advocated equalisation of petrol prices, the Government parties jumped on the bandwagon and introduced legislation which went only part of the way. Labor was prepared to effect complete equalisation of petrol prices; the Government went only part of the way. The Government was prepared to use general revenue to subsidise that form of decentralisation. Why does the Country Party not urge the Government to act similarly with regard to the Post Office? To adopt the argument advanced by the honourable gentleman who was honourable member for Wimmera in 1949, why is it that funds cannot now be found from Consolidated Revenue in order to subsidise some aspect of the Post Office’s finances? This the Labor Party would support .
We advocate that trunk line calls be provided to country subscribers at reduced rates so that country dwellers may enjoy some of the benefits available to city telephone users. A city dweller may make calls over a radius, in the case of Sydney and even Newcastle, of about 30 miles and remain in conversation all day if need be, for a cost at present of 10c for three calls or, if this Bill becomes law, 4c a call. But country dwellers will be asked to pay under this legislation $1.80 for a call of three minutes duration to a subscriber more than 400 miles distant. These are the people whom honourable members in the corner are supposed to represent.
We on this side oppose completely the proposed increases. The Postmaster-General has not placed before us one ounce of evidence to justify them. We believe that the Post Office is being used as an instrument of direct taxation. Under this legislation everybody, irrespective of his income, will contribute to the Treasury. We oppose the Bill because we consider the proposed increases to be unfair and unreasonable. We know that our colleagues in another place will continue to oppose the increases, irrespective of what any other political party thinks or want to do about this legislation.
- Mr Acting Speaker-; -
Motion (by Mr Hulme) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker - Mr P. E. Lucock)
Majority . . . . 29
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker - Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to speak to clause 4 and in particular to proposed new section 6b (1.) (b) which deals with bulk postage. I understand this clause would also cover the posting of accounts. I want to refer to a matter about which I have had some correspondence with the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) and the previous Attorney-General, now the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden). I notice that in the last annual financial report of the Postmaster-General’s Department it is stated that a sum of $5,439,079 is owed to the Department for work done. I want to refer to the posting of an account to a constituent of mine who was a contractor in Melbourne. In Easter of 1965 certain damage was done to postal equipment in a building in Melbourne because of a failure in a water service. My constituent finished his contract there and later retired to Hervey Bay. He deducted from his account what he considered to be an adequate allowance of $200 to cover the cost of the repairs but in April 1966 he received from the Department an account for repairs to the postal equipment. It was for a sum about three times what he estimated the work would cost. He questioned this amount and eventually received a letter from the Deputy Crown Solicitor in Melbourne stating that unless payment was made legal action would be taken against him. Through his representatives in Melbourne this man arranged for a cheque to be lodged and at the same time he sent a protest to the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Melbourne, and made representations to me on the matter.
Eventually, the Attorney-General, through the Crown Solicitor, said that this was a matter for the Postmaster-General’s Department. He queried the cost. Time passed and the man found that he was getting nowhere because the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs had said that this was the cost and that the Department would not enter into any further argument with him. This was eighteen months after the actual occurrence. He has now written to say that rather than go to court he is prepared to pay the account. The difference is not worth the cost of litigating the issue. He writes that the Department should rightly meet part of the cost and that the cost charged by the Department was far in excess of a realistic estimate of the work, that 50 man hours would have been sufficient instead of the 154 charged. He writes that as the distance was 75 feet how could 82 yards of cable be used? This man believes that he was charged twice for the same work. There should be some avenue of appeal against excessive charging, as this man believed occurred in this instance. He argues that an independent check upon the charges should have been carried out. In this instance the work was done without any advice about it or the cost involved being given to him. Though apparently an officer of the Department submitted an estimate of the work, none was given to the contractor. This man has no appeal against the charge that was levied against him and he asks that an independent person - someone from the Department of Works or familiar with the cost of such work - should arbitrate on whether these charges are just. It should not be done by those who impose the charges sitting in judgment on whether they were right or wrong.
This, is not the first instance relating to amounts owing to the Postmaster-General’s Department that has come to my notice. Persons in debt to the Department have to put aside from one year to another an amount of money to meet accounts that they cannot assess properly. If, as in this instance, an account turns out to be three times the amount originally set aside, the person finds himself in real trouble. I believe some tightening up is needed in the furnishing of these accounts at an early date. It is not reasonable for a person to expect to receive an account for such charges fourteen months after they were incurred. Though some investigation might be made by the Postmaster-General into the method of forwarding parcels and posting articles in bulk, some attention should be given, also, to the method by which postal accounts are being forwarded to sundry debtors of the Department.
– I should like the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) to explain some of the charges that are proposed under clause 5 of the Bill. It is noticeable that there has been a fairly substantial increase of 25% in the cost of posting letters, lettercards and postcards. For those of not more than 1 oz in weight, the charge will rise from 4c to 5c; for those weighing not more than 2 oz, the increase is from 7c to 9c; for those of not more than 3 oz, the increase is from 10c to 13c; and for those of not more than 4 oz in weight, the increase is from 13c to 17c. So the schedule goes on.
There is a substantial increase in the rate of postage for the letters of lighter weight.
Surprisingly enough, as the letters become heavier, the rate goes down. At present a letter weighing 7 oz costs 22c to post, but the new cost under the Bill will be only 21c. The cost of posting a 12 oz letter is now 37c, but under the new rates it will be only 25c. A letter weighing 16 oz - some letters might weigh as much as that - now costs 49c but under the new Bill it will cost only 29c. That seems rather strange when, according to the Minister, the reason for the increased charges is the need for additional funds. I cannot understand why that is so. Honourable members know that most citizens will post the lighter letters and therefore the increased charges will be borne mainly by the person who posts letters weighing one, two or three ounces. Heavier letters usually come from people engaged in bulk postage such as some business firms and financial institutions - not the ordinary people. For them the rate goes down. I think that requires some explanation.
Under ‘other items’, the present charge of 4c for articles weighing not more than 2 oz is to be increased to 5c - an increase of 25%. With articles weighing 3 and 4 oz, the new rate is more than double the present rate. The charge for 4 oz goes from 4c to 9c, an increase of 125%. That requires some explanation. I have received quite a number of complaints dealing with this aspect, and I suppose the Minister must have received them too. Let me read one telegram from the secretary of the Printing and Allied Trades Employers Federation of Australia:
Printers Federation alarmed at huge increases in postal rates affecting printed matter. . . .
I quote from another telegram from the Postal Users Research Council:
Postal Users Research Council representing printing publishing and paper industries greatly concerned at increase to postal rates particularly to general printed matter rale of 125%. . . .
There are letters, too. The PostmasterGeneral would have received one that I have in my hand. I received a copy of the one sent to him. It is from the managing director of Thomson Publications (Australia) Pty Ltd complaining about the same thing - this increase of 125% for the first 4 oz and how it affects the firm’s business. It states that the proposed other articles rate would mean an increase of postage costs on one of their publications of 7c a copy per month. The letter states:
Since we post 12,500 of each issue this means an increase of$875 a month, $10,500 per annum, substantially more than expected profit in any one year. An increase in advertising rates necessary to counter this impost would be prohibitive. It would appear therefore that we have no alternative but to cease publication.
He refers to another publication, the ‘Building Products News’ - the PostmasterGeneral has the letter - and points out that the increases will cause unemployment because the firm will not be able to produce the publication. It employs fourteen highly qualified persons full time plus twenty others in different work. It appears that some explanation is required here.I have another letter of complaint along similar lines from Seven Seas Stamps. I am sure that the Minister himself has received a similar letter from that firm. As a matter of fact, it was mentioned by an honourable member of the Country Party during the debate on the former occasion. He asked the Minister to look into it and possibly the Minister has already done so. Then we come to registered publications. The general rate for registered publications will rise from 4c for 8 oz to 5c for the first 6 oz and 4c for each additional 6 oz. This is an increase of 125% or so. I make these comments because I think there must be some explanation for the reductions I have mentioned - the heavier ordinary letters and letter cards get the cheaper the rate becomes - and for the higher charges in the circumstances outlined in the letters that I have mentioned.
- Mr Deputy Chairman–
Motion (by Mr Snedden) put -
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman - Hon. W. C. Haworth)
Majority .. ..29
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr Hulme) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– On two previous occasions I have asked, and now, for the third time, I ask the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme): What is the estimated loss by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department on bulk postage? Honourable members are entitled to know. From federation until 1958-59 there has been an accumulated total loss of £58m on this type of postage. No separate figures are available since 1958-59 and I should like the Minister to tell the House what is the position. Is bulk postage carried at a profit or at cost? If it is not carried at a profit or at cost what is the amount of the loss involved?
– Quite a substantial loss at the present time.
– Can the Minister give us an indication why bulk postage is being carried, to use bis words, at a substantial loss when such a large increase is being imposed on persons who use the postal facilities of his Department?
– The charge is not high enough. That is the reason why it is being carried at a loss.
– Why is it being carried at a rate which nets a substantial loss?
– Because it is the rate that has been fixed and I am trying to adjust it, but the Opposition seems to be objecting to it.
– I am not objecting. I think all the facts should be put before the House.
– I would like the Minister to explain the basis upon which air freight is carried by the airline companies for the Post Office. It seems to me that the postal service provides a substantial bonus or subsidy for the airlines. The amount paid for internal air carriage was $3,567, and $13.891m was paid for external air carriage. A few years ago I asked a question about this matter because the rate charged by airlines seemed to be substantially more than the general or express rate. Is the postal system being used to provide a subsidy to the internal airline services?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) agreed to:
That government business shall take precedence over general business tomorrow.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate:
Supply Bill (No. 2) 1967-68.
Income Tax Assessment Bill (No. 2) 1967.
Estate Duty Assessment Bill 1967.
Gift Duty Assessment Bill 1967.
Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill 1967.
Wool Industry Bill 1967.
States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill 1967.
States Grants (Teachers Colleges) Bill 1967.
Supply Bill (No. 1) 1967-68.
Debate resumed from 9th May (vide page 1856) on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This Bill represents what might be termed death bed repentance by the Government. The Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) said in his second reading speech that the Bill provides for a grant of $6m to be made available to certain types of eligible companies for industrial research and development. To be eligible the research has to result in new projects or processes as defined, and broadly a subsidy is payable on a fifty-fifty basis within certain limits of expenditure. The grants will be made available to secondary industry and to mining. The Opposition does not oppose the Bill but will move amendments. We consider that the Bill is loosely drawn, pragmatic and empirical and represents a further extension of the prerogative powers of the executive Government as instanced by the proposed operation of section 20 which confers vast discretionary powers on the Minister. We view this Bill as a counterpart, in terms of an empirical approach, of the recent Homes Savings Grant Bill, and we can anticipate from time to time a spate of amending legislation to remedy the obvious gaps that will be quickly revealed. The sum of $6m was mentioned by the Prime Minister in his election policy speech; it was arbitrarily chosen. As a matter of fact with the system of making grants, one can say that it rings true to the usual form of the Government and that the funds will be distributed on the principle of, ‘to those that hath shall be given’ and the rewards will be inversely proportionate to the needs of the benefiting companies. It would appear from the best information that can be obtained that the fees being paid at the present time to overseas companies in respect of licensing agreements with their Australian associates is of the order of $100m a year. It would also appear that nothing less than SI 00m in grants would be the amount that is required if we are to come within even striking distance of meeting the needs of industrial research in Australian industry today. lt is noteworthy that the Bill has been presented by the sorcerer’s apprentice and not by the sorcerer himself. We are indebted, of course, to the junior Minister, the Minister for Social Services (Mr Sinclair) for some of the disclosures he made during the course of his speech; I shall deal with them at a later stage. The best that can be said for this Bill is that it is spreading scarcity unevenly. It is true that in Heaven there is more joy over one sinner who doth repent than over one hundred just men that do not need repentance. But by this measure the Government might be going not to the ordinary penitents’ bench but on a pilgrimage to a Japanese Canossa, and bartering Australian secondary industry in return for the sale of surplus primary produce.
This legislation is at best peripheral, for it deals with only the fringe of a major problem. The question of the operation of technology in relation to secondary industry and mining is only one facet of a whole, which might be coped with ultimately only by considering the related problems of education, science, technology and management. We live in an age of science and technology, when the only constants are the speed of light and the equivalent speed of electricity. Of course, the Government proceeds at a snail’s pace. Honourable members might not appreciate the fact that today three-quarters of all scientists who have ever lived are still alive. In the development of Australian secondary industry we have been importing technology in an economic rake’s progress, without imposing terms to protect Australian industry and its natural resources.
It has been said that the fund of man’s scientific knowledge has doubled over ten years, and in that regard I shall quote the recently expressed words of my Leader who in an address given in another State said:
In the next twenty years we shall see a period of greater technological development than the Industrial Revolution achieved in 200 years.
Electronics, automation and nuclear power will affect pur control over our environment in twenty years more than steam and the internal combustion engine have done in those 200 years.
Where does Australia stand today in relation to secondary industries? In that regard 1 quote from the Directory of Overseas Investment in Australian Industry, an official publication from’ the Department of Trade and Industry issued to all honourable members in 1966. I refer honourable members to table I, which deals with the assets of Australian manufacturing firms that have an equity interest owned overseas and classified by the percentage of ordinary capital owned overseas. The figures disclosed there are alarming. In the total the valuation of the assets was made up - this was a concept which was used relating to the total value of all assets of all Australian firms within the respective categories - of current assets; fixed assets, net of depreciation; investments and intangible assets. Of the total assets valued at S6,086m no less than $4,729m in value was under the control of overseas firms. The breakup was as follows: Less than 25% control, $75m; from 25% and under 50%, $140m; from 50% and under 75%, $699m; from 75% and under 100%, $460m; and then the most alarming statistic of all, 100% controlled, $3.355m out of a total of $6,086, -a matter of about 55% of absolute control. As to the percentage of assets held by the various nations, Britain held 46% of the overseas holdings; the United States held 37.8%; and Canada 3.8%. The other was a miscellany of holdings by smaller nations.
Since the 1930s we have seen a remarkable reversal of the composition of Australian employment. In the 1930s, and in 1933 in particular, primary industry employed 24% of the Australian work force and manufacturing 32%, but the fall of Singapore and the need for Australia to stand on its own feet and develop its own industry soon reversed that process. Today Australia is one of the most highly industrialised countries of the world. At the present time - and the figures are typically stale ones with this dilatory Government - 38% of our employment is in manufacturing and 12% only is in primary and mining industry. As a matter of fact, in terms of industrialisation taken as a percentage of employment, we rank as high as and even exceed the relative percentages in the United States of America. At the same time Australian industry has been isolated from other countries and within this country has been notably fragmented by distance. We have what is essentially a derivative industrial structure which is the offshoot of British, American and European industry and technology.
The extent of foreign ownership and control is alarming. We could perhaps take a lesson from Canada’s plight. I understand that at one time - it may still apply - in Canada as much as a 150% tax rebate was given for expenditure on industrial research. At the present time the orthodox figures show that 35% of Australian industry is wholly under foreign ownership, and, of course, a proportion of much less than 50% of the shareholding can control board room decisions. We find that the ultimate destiny of Australian industry can be decided from the Board rooms of Washington, Detroit, London, Tokyo and Osaka. It is only in steel, cement, glass, paper and sugar that we have wholly Australian owned and controlled secondary industries. In the case of sugar I refer to the refining industry. Fragmentation and distance between the States have resulted in the margin between the manufacturing prices and retail prices in Australia being abour the highest in any part of the world. The Minister referred to Australian industry as having a rapid access to overseas industrial research. He said that a wide sector of Australian industry was accustomed to looking abroad for its technology. He referred also to the hesitancy of a major sector of Australian industry to embark on technological research because it believed it was a gamble. I think the major note of his warning was when he said:
We have, in fact, imported 10% of our capital for expansion and 80% of our technology. This Government will merit the universal execration and contempt of future generations. As the Minister said in his second reading speech, it is necessary to alter the attitude of Australian industry, to reduce production costs and to stimulate expansion. In that regard I quote from an editorial in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald* of 11th May as follows:
Only on Monday Mr Holt, opening the third International Congress on Human Relations in Melbourne, denied that Australia was depending too much on imported knowledge. On Tuesday Mr Holt’s colleague, Mr Sinclair, said what a great number of experts have been saying for a long time, that Australia is in danger of becoming a nation of copyists relying on overseas technological development.
It is time that the Minister told the Prime Minister what the truth is, because I think we are indebted to him for a particularly frank statement of the position. What is, in fact, the attitude of Australian industry to technology, research and general development? Here may I quote a magnificent report from the Stanford Research Institute - which recently made a survey entitled The Development of Australia - which was circulated to all honourable members in 1964. On page 261 of the report it was said:
It is difficult, however, to resist the conclusion that, in addition to this uncertainty, long familiarity with operations in a sheltered market makes it difficult for many leaders of Australian enterprise to move boldly and imaginatively in pursuit of the vaguer and more hazardous opportunities that are offered by plunging into competitive world markets. The success of overseas enterprise with relatively small capital venture and technology, which often does not add very greatly to what is known in Australia, causes some chagrin; but it is really due to managerial risktaking based soundly upon competent technical and economic research which enables the risks to be accurately estimated. The sooner Australian industry equips itself with such research facilities, the sooner it will be able to hire both the extra capital and the knowhow which it lacks and, therefore, be able to take calculated risks with reasonable expectation of success.
We live in the age of the mammoth international or multinational corporations hurdling barriers of tariff and of nationality. We live in an age of managerial revolution, when technocrats are assuming increasingly influential roles in national affairs and where a meritocracy is commencing to dominate and control the affairs of all major industrial nations. There is no need today for any country which seeks to exploit another to send an army of occupation, a viceroy and all the accompanying panoply of domination. Australia noticeably lacks resistance to predators. When we first came to this country our superior technology and arms enabled us to take it over from the indigenous inhabitants. The original fauna of Australia has not been able to resist the various types of stock that we introduced. By the same token Australian industry today is showing a notable inability to resist the economic predators from overseas who have come into this country and who have worked some good but in the ultimate will work tremendous harm to our economy. The percentage of the gross national product which the various industralised countries are prepared to allocate for research and development is worth noting. The figures I have are the latest available and they relate to the year 1962. It is time the Government was stirred up on this point. The percentage of the gross national product spent in this way in the United States of America in that year was 3.1. In the Soviet Union, the proportion expended was 2.6%; in the United Kingdom it was 2.2%; in the Netherlands it was 1.8%; in France it was 1.5%; in Germany it was 1.3%; in Belgium it was 1%; and in Australia it was a laggardly and miserable 0.7%. These figures include both government and private research and development expenditure. Today we have government apathy and neglect at a time when industries not known 15 or 20 years ago now employ over 50% of the labour force in advanced industrial countries. Authorities in the field of technology have stated that ultimately it may be necessary to retrain men two and three times in a lifetime.
In this connection I would like to quote from a paper by Dr Boas, delivered to the Australia and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science in February 1964, in which he said:
To decide whether sufficient new knowledge is being made available in Australia, let us compare the proportion of the gross national product spent on research and development in Australia with that spent in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. These countries spend about three times the proportion we spend in Australia. However, this deficiency is entirely brought about by the fact that our industry spends only about one-tenth-
One-tenth, mark you - of the fraction of the gross national product on research and development which is spent in the U.S.A., whereas the governments in both countries spend about equal fractions.
In addition to stimulating research in industry, there is a need for stimulating research in general and supporting individual research projects of intrinsic merit. This support has to be given independently of the grants to institutions.
The number of engineers and scientists per 10,000 of the population is also worthy of note. In Australia the figure is 1.7; in the United Kingdom it is 2.6; in the United States of America it is 4.6; and in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics it is 6.5. In a publication by the Stanford Research Institute, a most authoritative body, one of the leading think tanks in the United States of America, the following statement appears:
It has been reported to us that many leaders of industry feel that adequately trained technicians with diplomas from technical schools are recruited at an earlier age (and more cheaply) and trained in the business. If true, this amounts to a preference to recruits who will accept the philosophy of current business practice. That philosophy, practical as it may be, inevitably derives, as Lord Keynes once pointed out, from the teachings of some defunct economist. It is important, at this critical juncture of Australian development, when the different transition must be made from a sheltered local market to the rigours of international competition in world markets, to call upon the best available knowledge and to be flexible enough to at least consider whatever challenges to accepted business practice may emerge both on the technical and on the managerial side.
A large sector of Australian industry, I regret to say, prefers the quickie technicians - I do not attempt to denigrate the technician; industry prefers him for the immediate results which can be obtained - whilst at the same time employing imported technology. This, of course, is part of the outmoded folk lore of sectors of Australian industry. In these days of computers we have to deal with stale statistics provided by this Government. The notable lack of statistics in the Minister’s second reading speech indicates the ad hoc approach of the Government to many of these problems. Government research expenditure in Australia for the year 1962- 63 was$1 18m. Professor Williams, in his work ‘Industrial Research and Economic Growth in Australia’, said that private industrial research in the same year cost only $18m. So far as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is concerned, it would appear that expenditure is split 50-50 as between primary industry and industrial research. Are engineers, metallurgists, geologists and mining engineers available in sufficient numbers? Let us consider the gaps in university enrolments in this regard. Perhaps I may quote Professor Boas in his address to the ANZAAS Conference to which I previously referred. He said:
Thus there is, in general, a lack of utilisation of existing knowledge, i.e. insufficient use is being made of scientific and technological know-how available in books and readily accessible publications. This deficiency is due to the fact that technically trained men are not employed in sufficient numbers in industry, and those who are employed are often not given the status to ensure that expert advice is accepted. There arises the question of whether engineers and metallurgists are available in sufficient numbers. There would certainly be a great shortage were industry to recruit the staff it should have. However-
This is of great significance: at the University of Melbourne the quota for engineering students has never been filled, and the professors of metallurgy of the Universities of Melbourne, N-:w South Wales and Queensland have entitled me to say that their schools could take at least 50% more students without requiring an increase in space, equipment or senior staff. The fact that more students do not offer themselves for the courses in metallurgy is largely due to the ignorance of the community that metallurgy is a career in its own right and the Australian Institute of Metals is at present engaged in a campaign to attract more students to metallurgy.
As to the text of the Bill itself, we make certain criticisms. The first and most notable of these refers to the definition of an eligible company. The definition as it stands ignores persons not trading as companies. That is a defect which will be the subject of an amendment to be moved at an appropriate time. The second criticism that we make is that the definition of an eligible company merely says that it has to be a company incorporated under the law of a Territory or of a State of the Commonwealth. An overseas company manufacturing in Australia can incorporate and register a subsidiary company in Australia and claim benefits. The definition is sloppy in the extreme. This is one of the dangers that may arise, of course, out of a conventional licensing agreement between an overseas proprietor and its Australian associate. A usual clause is what is termed a feed-back clause. An Australian subsidiary licensed to use the techniques of an overseas company must in return provide free of cost to the overseas principal the results of any further research undertaken in this country. The definition in its present form will further subsidise overseas technology which is already exploiting Australian secondary industry.
Again - and this is a matter that needs serious consideration by the House - public moneys are to be expended for, as the Bill stands, exclusively private benefit. I refer particularly to the selective grants which apply to expenditure of over $50,000 which must have been devoted to some particular research or technique that would be in the national interest. This kind of grant is to be at the discretion of the Minister. In the case of general grants under $50,000 expenditure, they are as of right.
Now, let us examine the policy of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation regarding patents. Patents are taken out whenever the CSIRO Executive considers them to be in the public interest. They are judged under the following heads: Firstly, when there is a danger of others obtaining patents covering the result of CSIRO work; secondly, when it seems likely that an invention will be exploited commercially only if it is covered by patents; thirdly, when it is desirable for the CSIRO to maintain an interest in ,’he quality and efficiency of production through the licensing of patents; fourthly, when an invention maintains or increases the use of Australian products overseas; and, fifthly, and rarely, when substantial royalties might be earned from overseas licences. Sir, if the Government is to come in on what is virtually a fifty-fifty partnership in making grants to industry, why is it not entitled to 50% interest in the results of its expenditure?
– Because we believe in free enterprise.
– Naturally, and the Government is hell bent for destruction in the process. There is - and this a general criticism - no attempt at selectivity in the grants in terms of value to Australia’s scale of national priorities. Vital areas of research and technology are excluded, particularly methods engineering and operations research. As the Bil] stands, and the counterpart is significantly in the social services legislation, the greatest benefits are likely to be given to those who need them least. Major firms such as the Broken Hill Pty
Co. Ltd and the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. - I will not run through the list of firms - can benefit under selective grants. The question to which the Opposition wants an answer from the Minister for Social Services, who at the moment does not even pay us the courtesy of listening to the question is: How far will guide line directives be issued under section 20 in such cases or, to put it in the vernacular, are the biggest pigs at the trough to benefit most? Will the Minister, by directive guide lines gazetted under his proposed statutory powers, reduce the hand out in appropriate cases? Will he reduce the grants to be given? Is it to be suggested that companies which are virtually in a monopoly position in Australia and have complete control of a particular industry and its technology are to continue to profit as a result of this legislation?
Another most interesting angle is this: the Government makes great play of its generosity in providing $6m as a grant. In actual fact, only about $4m will remain with industries, whichever may be the ultimate beneficiaries, because under the present scales of taxation not less than $2m of that amount will flow back into the Commonwealth’s own coffers. No provision exists in the legislation for the grants to be exempt from taxation. Another criticism that we make is that pure research is not to be subsidised. The criterion which the Act prescribes is that the research must result in products or processes. No attempt is made on the part of the Government to come to grips with the brain drain or the needs of universities and technical institutes. In this regard, I wish to quote from a further paper that was delivered at the ANZAAS conference in 1964. It was said then:
The degree to which the educational system has been geared to national economic progress varies widely between different countries yet clearly some balance is desirable if the system is not to be wasteful of resources. A shortage of trained manpower will lead to technological bottlenecks; overproduction relative to existing employment opportunities may trigger off an exodus of talent; and misallocations between particular sectors of the educational process, such as pure science at the expense of applied science, or vice versa, may limit the overall effect of education on social and technical cor conditions
The key role of the universities in France, and of the technical high schools in German industry and the remarkable success of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States of America are to be contrasted strongly with the social and academic prejudices which have retarded scientific and technological education in Great Britain and, in turn, in Australia.
Apart from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation the only public or quasi-public organisations that are engaged in technological and scientific research are the Australian Mineral Development Laboratories in Adelaide and the Unisearch auxiliary of the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The further criticism we make of this legislation is that although benefits are provided for employers none are to be given for the employees of the respective firms who in many instances will be responsible for research and development. The legislation also provides no criteria for managerial efficiency. Indeed clause 5 (2) excludes methods engineering and operational research. In certain circumstances market research can be vital to the success of the sale of the products of a particular form of technology.
I come now to licensing agreements. I need not remind honourable members that the Minister for Trade and Industry has repeatedly sidestepped questions that I have addressed to him on the proposals that the Government intends to adopt to deal with the existing situation. According to the figures of the Minister approximately 1,100 licensing agreements are in existence as between Australian companies, firms or individuals and their overseas associates. In SOO of these agreements export restrictions are imposed, in Japan no licensing agreement can be entered into without the approval of the government and the registration of the agreement. In the venacular, Australia is a wide open slather for any international company that chooses to come here and exploit the limitations of our technology.
The final criticism the Opposition makes is that the Government does not contemplate the establishment of a national research and development corporation. So far economics has not produced any general theory of research. A national research and development corporation would plan and encourage both pure and applied science and technology and help individual inventive initiative. Of course, planning is a dirty word or a non-word for this Government Our general economic conditions vis-a-vis various trade competitors should frighten this Government and every Australian citizen. Britain is hell bent on entering the Common Market. Moreover, we are faced with severe competition from Japanese manufacturers. Also we are faced with the probability that to the extent that we are denied a market in Britain for our primary produce, a deal will be made with Japan. In that event Japan will have all the cards in her favour. No doubt Japan will insist - and the deal will be made by the Minister for Trade and Industry - that extra primary produce will be sold to that country to the detriment of goods produced by Australian secondary industries. Let there be no mistake about it.
Mr McGeorge Bundy formerly the special assistant to the President of the United States, has had this to say:
It may be important over the next ten or fifteen years that there should be more scientists who are ex-scientists, doing wholly unscientific things, acting as Cabinet and sub-Cabinet officers without a specific responsibility for research. The interpretations of science and government, science and public policy, science and politics, are bound to increase.
This Government has introduced a Ministry of Education and Science as a political afterthought. It is nothing more than a political gimmick.
In conclusion I point out that according to world authorities the prospects are that the world could easily split up into numerous separate autarchic trading blocs. In the case of Australia we will be in a bloc which will have geographic boundaries much similar to those of the former greater South East Asian co-prosperity sphere, which was the Japanese slogan on which it entered World War II. In that event, how can we compare with the efficiency of these people in terms of technology? Will it be that we will have won the war and lost the’ peace? The Japanese have learned the merits of technology and they will be our biggest trading competitors in any trading bloc in the Pacific. Unless this Government is prepared to really come to grips with this problem we will face a similar form of economic servitude to that which we had with the United Kingdom for generations. Unless this Government is prepared really to come to grips with the problem, Australia’s fate will be to provide the source of raw materials, to be a quarry for minerals, and to be exploited by dominant and superior technology.
– Will the honourable member explain the question of eligible persons? He has an amendment which deals with eligible persons.
– We will deal with that matter when we come to the Committee stage.
Debate (on motion by Mr Stokes) adjourned.
Thursday, 18 May 1967
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-I want to raise three matters tonight relating to the Postmaster-General’s Department. Two of them relate to telephone services in my electorate, and the third one relates to the employment by the Australian Broadcasting Commission of a person who suffers from a disability. The first matter relates to the telephone exchange at Kilcoy which is a fairly large and prosperous town in the electorate of Oxley. It is at the bottom end of the. Burnett Valley, I suppose one could say, if one stretches that valley a little bit. Kilcoy is certainly on the road to the Burnett Valley. As I have said, it is a rich area. It is a rural area. About 350 subscribers are connected to the telephone service there. People in Kilcoy want an automatic telephone service. Some time ago there was great excitement because the Postmaster-General’s Department moved into the area and constructed a modern and quite attractive brick and concrete building. This was quite a number of months ago. The people were advised that this building was to house an automatic exchange. Since then it has remained in a state of grand and permanent vacancy.
The shire council has contacted me and has expressed its concern at this situation. The fact is that the Postmaster-General’s Department not only gives no indication as to when the building is to be used as an automatic telephone exchange for approximately 350 subscribers who are connected to the telephone service, but it shows a complete lack of interest in this project.I have made representations to the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme), but he has made it clear that the people of Kilcoy cannot expect an automatic telephone service in the foreseeable future. I quote from a letter that he sent to me: it Ls necessary to allocate available resources to centres where the need for new facilities is the greatest and, in the circumstances, the Department would not be justified in replacing the manual equipment at Kilcoy at this juncture.
So several thousand dollars that have gone into this building by way of capital investment will lie idle. We have heard a lot from the Postmaster-General in the last few days about the efficiency of his Department, but surely it is bad business to allow a capital investment of this size to lie idle and not earn anything. Surely this state of affairs indicates slackness and a form of inefficiency on the part of the Department. It is jolly bad business that a building erected at substantial cost, allegedly to house an automatic exchange, should be allowed to lie vacant due to some rapid change in departmental policy. The people of the area are concerned about this matter. Speaking for them the local shire council has asked me to make representations to the Postmaster-General. Those representations have failed. The council has asked me to raise the matter in me Parliament. This is a ludicrous situation. 1 made representations to the PostmasterGeneral about the lack of action to provide the automatic exchange. There was no complaint about the efficiency of the girls on the manual exchange; my experience and knowledge of the service they provide has convinced me that they are as efficient as they can be with a manual exchange. What did this glorious Department decide when I made representations to have a more desirable automatic exchange installed at Kilcoy? It immediately carried out a check on the services provided by the manual exchange. In his written reply to my representations the Postmaster-General said:
Four telephonists are employed at that exchange and 1 understand that they are experienced and efficient operators. Furthermore, test checks have shown that calls are being connected promptly.
Who is complaining about this? The calls are being connected as promptly as they can be with a manual exchange, but an automatic exchange is a much superior facility to which the people of the area are entitled. An automatic exchange would serve not only the people of Kilcoy town itself but also those in a substantial surrounding area - an area that continues to grow. We know that generally there is a drift away from rural areas, but Kilcoy continues to grow. The people of this area are entitled to an automatic exchange. It is grossly unfair that people living in city areas should get the lion’s share of improved services. People in country areas deserve some consideration, and they should get it. I hope that the Postmaster-General will not just neglect my representations. He need not think that this will be the last time that he will hear about this matter. This case will be raised regularly. I intend to badger him until the people of the Kilcoy area get what they are entitled to - an automatic exchange. The provision of this facility is overdue in this substantial *nd fairly rich area.
The people of the Crossdale-Murrumba area also have contacted me. They complain that the automatic exchange provided for their area is out of date. I have discovered that it is an automatic box-type unit which was used in a suburban area of Ipswich. It was discovered to be out of date, inefficient and unable to give an adequate service to the subscribers of the area. What did the Postmaster-General in a LiberalCountry Party Government do? He transshipped the equipment to a country area. As a result there are now in the CrossdaleMurrumba area delays on calls, cases of lines dropping out in the middle of calls and a completely inefficient and unsatisfactory service for the people of this rural area. Most of the area served by this telephone service is grazing and timber country. The people of the area need a telephone service in case of emergency. They need a service for their convenience and comfort just as much as city people need one. The need of the country people is more compelling because residences are more widely scattered than they are in the city.
One of the first matters I raised upon my election to Parliament was the improvement of the telephone service in the Crossdale area. I was promised that improvements would be carried out within twelve months. Well, we finally got the Crossdale manual subscribers onto .the automatic exchange at Murrumba, but it is completely overloaded, outdated and plagued by the deficiencies I have mentioned. They are now being told that they will get some other form of automatic exchange which will be an improvement the Department freely admits that the present exchange is not good enough - but the punchline is that there is no indication when they can expect the improved service. Like the people in Kilcoy, they will be left high and dry. Why does not this Government do something for the country people to offset the peculiar disadvantages they suffer by living in the country? It is up to this Government, as it is to any government, to see that the people in the country receive consideration for the disabilities that they experience.
I have only two or three minutes left so I shall have to compress what I have to say next into that limited time. Let me say, first, that it is shocking that private members have so much difficulty in raising the many matters that are brought to them by their constituents. But enough of that otherwise I will not get to the third, final and very important matter that I now want to raise. A young man who is an announcer with the Australian Broadcasting Commission finds himself disadvantaged. He is a diabetic, and because he is a diabetic, and because of the peculiar rules of the ABC in relation to its superannuation fund he is not regarded as medically fit and cannot be accepted as a subscriber to the superannuation fund. Consequently, in accor- dance with the rules governing employment in the ABC, he cannot expect to become a permanent employee. This disadvantages him. It prevents him obtaining certain promotion and appointments.
Prior to joining the ABC this man was with a commercial radio company which passed him as sufficiently fit to be a subscriber to its superannuation fund during the period of his employment Prior to that he belonged to another radio organisation and, as I recollect, was a subscriber to its superannuation fund, being found sufficiently fit medically to belong to that fund. Diabetics have various degrees of illness. This man’s degree of illness is not so great as to (a) preclude him subscribing to the fund, and (b) totally destroy his future progress within the ABC.
The Government’s outlook is completely unenlightened. It is restricting this man’s opportunity for future progress and, therefore, it is discriminatory. It should not be tolerated by the Government, least of all by the Postmaster-General. This House should resent it and support any action that might be taken to give this man the opportunity to obtain permanent employment.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.33 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice:
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following answer to the honourable member’s questions:
At 10.50 a.m. on Sunday, 13th November 1966, the offic er on duty at the Customs House received a phone call from an unknown person who indicated that, if the Customs Department investigation officers visited a number 65 at Billyard Avenue, Wahroonga, before 3.30 p.m. that day, and looked behind the books, they would find a quantity of heroin.
As it was his duty to do, the officer immediately notified a senior officer of the Prevention and Detection Section and, as a result, two senior officers of that Section visited the address mentioned by the anonymous phone caller at approximately 1.30 p.m.
The officers, after explaining the reason for their visit, and some discussion, indicated that they were satisfied that the phone call had been a hoax. They expressed their regret and retired without making any search. At the same time, they sought the co-operation of the owner by asking if he could supply them with the name of any person whom he might think would have been responsible for the phone call.
I am sure all members will appreciate that officers of the Department of Customs and Excise have a responsibility to follow up all information or allegations whether supplied anonymously or otherwise in relation to offences against Customs law.
I have examined the file and I am satisfied that the officers carried out their duties properly. I am not prepared to reveal the name of the officer who took the phone call or the names of the officers who carried out the interview in the course of their duties.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice:
What was the total amount of excise duty collected during the years 1965 and 1966 on:
cigars and cigarettes,
whisky and other spirits, and
locally refined petrol.
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following answers to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
Some years ago my Department banned the use of JP-4 although this involved a financial penalty to the airlines, JP-4 can only be used at airports where kerosene is not available, and then only with the prior consent of the Director-General.
As it happens, I have just received a report from a United Kingdom safety group which made an independent study of this matter and concluded in quite strong terms that kerosene was a safer type of fuel. It went on to say that ‘the Australian lead must eventually be followed and the use of JP-4 banned by international agreement’.
In view of attacks made on our safety standards in recent weeks, the detailed comment of the United Kingdom safety group is worth reporting to the House. It said:
We are most gratified to note that JP-4 is outlawed in Australia. We understand this ruling followed publication of the MoA report, but we think it may also have been prompted by a suspected intention of an Australian operator to use JP-4. The Australian Department of Civil Aviation is to be congratulated on being the only airworthiness authority which has squarely faced its public responsibility in this matter.
Sensibly, the D.C.A. recognised that kerosene may not be available at all airports at which Australian aircraft may wish to refuel. To allow for these cases, the use of JP-4 is permitted with the prior consent of the DirectorGeneral.
The Australian sense of responsibility is not confined to the fuel issue. Over the question of the carriage of life saving equipment for survival in water, the D.C.A. is in advance of other countries.
We recommend that the Federal Aviation Agency and like minded authorities look to the Australian D.C.A. for an object lesson in the exercise of public responsibility.’
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice:
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following answers to the honourable member’s questions:
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice:
What is the estimated shortage of (a) schools and (b) teachers of (i) primary and (if) secondary standard in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In relation to the number of pupils actually in school, the number of teachers is reasonable both at primary level where the ratio is about one teacher to thirty-five pupils and at secondary technical level where it is about one teacher to twenty pupils.
At secondary level, provision has been made for all children passing the required standard of entry to secondary school and who wish to continue to secondary or technical school.
The number in primary school is about 205,000, representing nearly half of the total number of local children in the Territory in the six to twelve age group. The aim with primary education is to provide education appropriate to the circumstances of the Territory. There is no compulsory education for local children in the Territory but numbers in primary school are growing each year as increasing resources become available.
asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1. (a) 420,000 (est.)
In addition, unsubsidised mission school enrolments number an estimated 36,000.
asked the Minister for Ter ritories, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 May 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1967/19670517_reps_26_hor55/>.