18th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Supply and Shipping been, drawn to the statement made by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse), in the House df Representatives on Wednesday last that he had been informed that 1,800,000 second-hand bags had been exported from Australia, and that of this number 1,200,000 second-hand bags had been sent to South Africa? Has the Minister investigated that statement ? If so, can he say whether it is correct or not?
– by leave- In his speech on tho motion for the adjournment of the House of Representatives last Wednesday the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) stated that he understood that one bag merchant in Sydney offered to sell to the Australian Wheat Board 1,800,000 second-hand bags which had been used only once. The board was said to have refused the offer and the merchant thereupon shipped 1,200,000 of these bags to South Africa and 600,000 to islands in the Pacific. The honorable member’s statement would lead the Parliament and the’ wheat-growers of Australia to believe that because of some imaginary reluctance to use second-hand bags, despite the huge harvest, a large quantity of second-hand bags which were available in Sydney have been lost to this country. He has also led our Indian friends to believe that, despite our requests for an additional quota because of our bumper harvest, we have so many bags to spare that we could permit nearly 2,000,000 bags to be exported.
What are the facts? First, the bags mentioned by the honorable member were not available in Australia. At a time, like this, when so much publicity is being sought by people who claim to be friends of the wheat-grower, but who, in fact, are doing him a disservice, hosts of people come to light with offers of bags of all shapes, sizes and qualities and at prices which they think that we, in desperation, will be glad to pay. These bags have been alleged to be in various places, from Hong Kong to Lisbon, but the jute Controller and the Wheat Board prefer to buy their goods from reputable shippers who may be relied upon to deliver them and whose prices are competitive. Sufficient goods can be bought in these quarters without going to mushroom traders who seek only to make quick and large profits out of Australian wheatgrowers. As I have already said in this chamber the total quantity of cornsacks purchased will ultimately meet al) requirements. The delay in delivery is due to circumstances over which not even the honorable member for Calare could exercise any control.
Secondly, with respect to the export pf bags from Australia, I have made inquiries and find that the total quantity of bags exported from Australia during the year ended the 30 th November, 1947, was 196,000 bags, all of which were second-hand. Of these 74,500 have been sent to Australian territories as containers for copra and other island produce for return to Australia. A further 50,800 have been exported to the islands in the Pacific for the same purpose, and 61,000 have been sent to South Africa to be used mainly for importation into Australia of asbestos and wattle bark. Asbestos is of particular value, as the honorable member probably knows, in the manufacture of housing materials. Some of the bags sent to South Africa were actually returns of bags belonging to South African shippers of various goods, for which the bags had been used as containers.
No export of jute, or jute goods, from Australia is possible without the approval of the Jute Controller, who exercises very strict control over this class of export. The effectiveness of this control will be apparent when it is realized that Australia will import 76,000,000 bags this year, and that fewer than 200,000, all second-hand, have been permitted to leave the country for essential purposes only and for the packaging of goods to be imported into Australia.
I do not know where the honorable member obtained his information, but, clearly, he did not take any steps to check the accuracy of his allegations Unfounded and misleading statements of this kind might disturb our excellent relations with the Indian Government, and endanger our vital supplies of jute goods for our primary producers. I can only assume that the irresponsible statement by the honorable member was due to his inexperience and to his gullibility in accepting, without proof, assertions such as he put forward. I deeply regret that the honorable member made this statement, because it has already caused considerable embarrassment to the Government in our relationships with the Indian authorities, particularly the Indian Food Mission which is at present in Australia discussing a reciprocal trade arrangement between the two dominions. This embarrassment, of course, arises not only from the fact that Australia is expected to act in a responsible manner in regard to the jute allocations made by India, but also in view of the extremely delicate relations at present existing between South Africa and India.
– I wish to ask the
Postmaster-General a question dealing with a hideous anomaly in repect of postal rates for parcels. At present, the charge ranges from 6d. per lb. inside the 30-mile radius and 9d. per lb. outside the 30-mile radius up to1s. 3d. per lb. interstate. I have before me a table of the charges from which I shall cite one glaring anomaly. Whilst the charge for delivering a parcel weighing 11 lb. within the 30-mile radius is shown to be1s. 9d., the charge for delivering a parcel of the same weight interstate is 7s. 3d.
– The honorable senator is making a statement. If he desires to do so, he should ask for leave. What is the honorable senator’s question?
– In view of the anomaly that I have indicated, will the Postmaster-General review the whole of the charges for postal deliveries interstate and intra-state with a view to removing anomalies? Having regard to the approach of the Yule-tide season will he give urgent consideration to this matter ?
– No doubt the department had good reasons for fixing the existing rates, but, in view of the request of the honorable senator, I shall have inquiries made to ascertain whether any anomalies exist and, if so, whether they can be removed.
– I lay on the table reports of the Tariff Board on the following subjects: -
Spun synthetic fibre piece goods.
Ordered to be printed.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs been drawn to an article in to-day’s Smith’s Weekly, in which it is stated that investigators employed by that newspaper have uncovered the operations of a cleverly organized gang of criminals who are trafficking in clothes coupons in Brisbane and Sydney ? Is it a fact, as claimed in that newspaper, that the magnitude of these illicit operations has so far escaped the attention of the Rationing Commission? If not, in view of the fact that Smith’s Weekly states that it has copies of letters and the full facts of such transactions in its possession, will the Minister order an immediate inquiry and, if possible, will he make a statement on the subject before the Senate rises?
– My attention has not been directed to the article referred to by the honorable senator, and, consequently, I do not know what is contained in it. If such a statement has been made, I suggest that the proprietors of Smith’s Weekly should get in touch with the police authorities. I shall give to the matter the consideration due to any report that is published in Smith’s Weekly.
Threats to Members
– As several members of the Parliament, including myself, have received from the Fascist organization known as the Citizens Rights League, letters threatening assassination by shooting, can the Minister acting for the Attorney-General inform me whether, in the event of attempted assassination, I should be within my rights to riddle the bodies of my assailants with bullets in self defence?
Senator McKENNA This is not the proper place in which to seek legal advice upon courses of action, particularly without charge. I point out that any advice given to a person as to the measures he may take in self-defence is fraught with a good deal of danger. A person may go only so far as is necessary to repel rea danger, and no further. A person who can judge where to expect bullets, or what degree of force is justified to repel ii threatened assassination, must exercise u nice degree of judgment indeed. I know nothing of the threats to which the honorable senator has referred and, therefore, I do not know the sources from which they have emanated; :but threats of that kind, if made, are punishable merely as threats, even before they arc translated into action.
– The Minister himself is threatened in some of the communications I have received.
– Having regard to the honorable senator’s proportions and my own, iE should regard his chances of escape as better than mine. If there is any real danger to the honorable senator, he should convey the threats in detail to me, in which event I shall see what oan be done to protect him.
Western Australian Service - Payment of Crews
– At a recent conference of members of the “Federated Chambers of Commerce in Western Australia, it was recommended that the first ship to leave the eastern States each month should call at the port of Esperance. Will the Minister for Supply and Shipping give consideration to this proposal, with a view to arranging the loading of vessels in such a way that the cargo for that port shall be given special consideration ?
– I shall ask the officers of my department to examine the proposal, and will advise the honorable senator of the result later.
asked the Minister for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The answers to i:he honorable senator’s questions are ti.follows : -
At the present time the Australian Shipping Board has on charter 22 vessels, whose total trews approximate 008. Two additional vessels will commence charter with the board within the next two or three weeks. Crew.* receive conditions and pay in accordance with the articles appropriate to their flag. Those ari’ not identical with Australian conditions mid rate* of pay. When engaged in the coal and iron ore trade, crews receive special disability allowances, and in addition receive special concessions for handling beams and hatches in ordinary working hours. There are no Government chartered vessels operating intra-state.
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, upon notice -
Research, recently completed a survey of the cattle industry in Central and North Queensland?
– The Minister acting for the Minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
Trade with Japan.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister the following questions, upon notice - 1.In view of the importance of the wool industry to Australian economy, will the Prime Minister commenton a newspaper report of 20th November that it is not the policy of General MacArthur’s Head-quarters to encourage the purchase by the Japanese of Australian wool ?
– ThePrime Minister has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
– On the 24th November Senator Murray asked the following question : -
I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Army whether consideration has been given to the provision and issue of suitable shoes, in lieu of boots, for walking-out purposes. Hat; consideration been given to the provision of a better type of summer uniform, and to improving the material used in the manufacture of uniforms?
The Minister for the Army has supplied the following answers: -
The question of improving the material used in the manufacture of uniforms is at present the subject of investigation.
– I desire to inform the Senate that on Thursday last Mr. Kenneth Binns, Parliamentary Librarian, retired from the service of the Commonwealth after 36 years, during nineteen of which he occupied the chief position. Largely as a result of his untiring efforts during that time, the legislative reference services and general reading facilities provided by the library have so improved that to-day honorable senators can secure most of the assistance in their work which printed materials can provide. There are, however, other aspects of Mr. Binns’s work, perhaps less well known to honorable senators, but of great importance to students, research workers and writers generally in Australia. The library’s collection of books, maps, pictures and manuscripts relating to Australia, built up during his term of office, is one of the largest in existence, and is being completed by the copying on micro-film of more than 1,000,000 pages of material in the Public Record Office, London, bearing on our early history. Another aspect of Mr. Binns’s service which has come prominently before honorable senators is his recognition of the place of documentary and educational films as a new means for communicating ideas, and it seems to me a natural expansion of the library’s information service to members. Mr. Binns is fortunate in that he is still young enough to enjoy his retirement, and the good wishes of myself and all honorable senators go with him.
– by leave - On behalf of the Government, I desire to pay tribute to the work of Mr. Binns. The growing complexity of Commonwealth legislation and administration during the last few years has tested the capacities, not only of the Ministers of this Government, but also, of those who have to serve them. Mr. Binns’s special responsibility, which he has discharged with conspicuous ability and courtesy, has been to assemble in the library and to make available for the Parliament, the Government, and the Public Service, material to assist them in the government of the country. The Government has depended upon the advice and guidance of Mr. Binns, as Parliamentary Librarian, in certain matters affecting books and the publishing of books. During the war, for example, Mr. Binns was a member of the Book Sponsorship Committee, a body charged with the responsibility of deciding what books were essential in the national, interest. My colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice) appreciates Mr. Binns work in connexion with book censorship, and similar matters. On behalf of the Government, I wish Mr. Binns well. I hope he will long be spared to enjoy his well-earned retirement. He will now be able to devote much more time to those hobbies in which he is so much absorbed, that is, cabinet making - I do not mean ministerially - and bowls, and I am confident that as a result he will retain that youthfulness and enthusiasm which characterize him at present.
– by leave - On behalf of the members of the Opposition, I desire to pay tribute to the services that Mr. Binns has given to this Parliament for so many years. He took office as Parliamentary Librarian in 1928, which was the year when I was first elected to the Senate. I suppose I have, therefore, had the privilege of knowing him for longer than most other honorable senators. I have certainly known him for long enough to be able to admire to the full his outstanding capacity as an officer of the Parliament and his personal qualities as a guide, philosopher and friend to myself as well as, I am sure, to honorable senators in general.
You, sir, and the Leader of the Senate (Senator Ashley) have referred to different aspects of Mr. Binns’s career. I desire to refer briefly to other aspects. Under Mr. Binns, the National Library has served not only the Commonwealth Parliament and departments, but has often acted as a central service and advisory agency to the States. I know, for instance, that the library service of my own State of Queensland, both for the Parliament and the university, has benefited from his counsel and his assistance in the training of the staff. Honorable senators from Tasmania will know that the remarkable development of the library service in that State really began with the report which Mr. Binns prepared for the Tasmanian Government in 1943. Finally, as a representative of the Australian Country party, I have noted with appreciation Mr. Binns’s efforts to bring books to the people outback in such areas as the Northern Territory, New Guinea, Norfolk Island and Nauru.
I desire to add my own good wishes and those of my colleagues for a long and happy retirement.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) put -
That Standing Order 68 be suspended up to and including Friday, the 5th December, to enable new business to be commenced after 10.30 p.m.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Senator McKenna, and read a first time.
Motion (by Senator McKenna) put - That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through its remaining stages without delay.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
On the 22nd July, 1946, the Australian delegate to the International Health Conference signed, subject to approval and acceptance by the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia, the constitution of the World Health Organization and the arrangement establishing an interim commission of that body. The object of this bill is to approve of Australia becoming a member of the World Health Organization and the acceptance by Australia of the arrangement establishing the interim commission. In order to appreciate the significance of this bill, it is appropriate briefly to review the steps leading to the formation of the World Health Organization. At the United Nations Conference on International Organization at San Francisco on the 25th April, 1945, at the instigation of Brazil, the word “ health “ was introduced in the Charter of the United Nations. The conference also recognized the importance of health problems and their solution by approving unanimously a joint declaration proposed by Brazil and China for the purpose of establishing an international health organization. On the 15th February, 1946, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations adopted a resolution calling for a Technical Preparatory Committee on Health and for an international health conference to be convened. The Technical Preparatory Committee met in Paris on the 18th March. 1946, and prepared agenda foi ar. international health conference. The proposals agreed upon were circulated among all members of the United Nations, and a resolution recommending participation as observers of nations not members of the United Nations at the International Health Conference was adopted. The International Health Conference met in New York from the :19 th June, to the 22nd July, 1946. Delegations from all of the 31 United Nations took part in the deliberations, and representatives from thirteen non-member nations attended the meetings as observers.
Concerning the role of existing international organizations dealing in the field of public: health, it had been decided in Paris that the Office Internationale ti’ Hygiene Publique should be absorbed by the “World. Health Organization and the same action was agreed upon regarding the fate of the heal ti i section of the League of Nations and of the epidemiologic intelligence of the health section of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. The conference decided that the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau should be integrated with the organization through “ common action based on mutual consent “.
The following instruments were established at the conference: -
Representatives of all the United Nations signed the charter at the end of the meeting, China and the United Kingdom without reservation, and. the remainder of the nations ad referendum. Ten nations not members of the United Nations also affixed their signatures to the constitution. Nations which did not attend the conference will be admitted as members when their applications have been approved by a simple majority vote of the Health Assembly.
The World Health Organization will come into being when 26 members of the United Nations ratify the signatures of their delegates. For the period between this International Health Conference and the first meeting of the World Health Organization, the conference set up an Interim Commission to conduct the essential business of the organization and to work out details of agreements between the World Health Organization and other international agencies. The Interim Commission consists of eighteen nations of which Australia is one. The representatives are all persons technically qualified in the field of health and are charged with doing all the preparatory work for the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization is to be brought into relationship with the United Nations as a specialized agency. The Interim Commission has been established under the arrangement concluded for that purpose and is now functioning with the limits of the specific functions allotted by the International Health Conference pending the final establishment of the World Health Organization.
This bill provides for the approval of the deposit of acceptance by Australia of membership of the World Health Organization and for the acceptance of the arrangement establishing the Interim Commission. The more important aspects of the constitution of the organization are set out in the following sections of the first schedule of the bill: - The preamble states inter alia that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity; and that governments’ have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provisions of adequate health and social measures. Article 1 sets out the objective. Article 2 sets out the functions. Articles 3-8 relate to membership and associate membership. Articles 9-4.2 deal with the organs of the organization. Article 43 deals with the head-quarters of the organization. Articles 44-54 and Article 71 deal with regional, arrangements.
It may be noted that the status of the South Pacific Commission will not be affected since the latter body was not in existence at the” time of signature of the constitution. On the other hand, article 70 provides that “ the organization shall establish effective relations and co-operate closely with such other intergovernmental organizations as may be desirable” and this will permit of suitable liaison to prevent overlapping between the I wo bodies.
Articles S5-60 deal with budget and expenses. The membership of the organization is very wide and it is- not expected that Australia will be called upon to bear more than 1.79 per cent, of the cost. Estimates of the probable annual running expenses must at present be based on probabilities and analogy with other such organizations. The figure of 4,000,000 dollars has been suggested by the secretariat of the Interim Coinmission. This would mean, as a future maximum for the organization’s budget, an annual contribution from Australia of 71,600 dollars. Articles 61-65 deal with reports submitted by member States. Article? 7S-S2 deal with entry into force.
The foundation of the World Health Organization thus has been laid. It is appropriate that the first conference to be call wl by the United Nations was the International Health Conference, which established the World Health Organization. This honour went to the field of public health and medicine and emphasized its role in the development of international peace. The pas emphasis on defensive measures is giving way to a new concept - a more positive attitude which seeks to broaden, the knowledge and usefulness of health efforts. When nations enjoy good health in the broadest possible sense, the prospects of world peace will be greatly enhanced. It is on this premise that the World Health Organization was founded.
One of the first tasks of the new organization will concern the scourges of man accentuated by the devastation of wai’. To-day, there is a new realization that the accomplishments of medical science in the more technically advanced countries must be shared with all nations. Beyond the immediate needs, the World Health Organization looks forward, by the pooling of such resources of all nations, to protecting the people of all nations from the ravages of disease, to ensuring to every individual a standard of health compatible with the technical achievements of the medical sciences and to adjust his environment in combination with education. In short, it looks forward to “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health “ and well-being.
Ii is becoming increasingly clear that medical science can contribute to man’s ability to live harmoniously in a changing environment. Improved health enhances standards of living, promotes economic prosperity and contributes to the fundamental freedoms. While the responsibility for health within its own borders is of primary concern to each nation, the measure of success can be greatly increased through international teamwork. The World Health Organization should be the co-ordinating agency to provide information, leadership and assistance in every phase of health work. Not only will it aid in disseminating and applying all of the known scientific knowledge to -preventing disease and promoting health, but also it will encourage and conduct scientific research to control disease. Cancer, heart diseases, mental illness, malaria, tuberculosis, syphilis and degenerative diseases are obvious conditions for such international scientific endeavour.
During the last 40 years, nations have acquired some experience in international health action through efforts to prevent pestilential disease from spreading between nations. During the years between the two world wars, those efforts were broadened to include mutual help in disease control, in training of health personnel, in obtaining valuable statistics, and, during the war, the United Nations pooled fully their military efforts to prevent disease. Such experience will not be wasted. The prevailing epidemic of cholera in Egypt and in the newly-created dominions of India and Pakistan strain to the limit the quarantine barrier of this country to prevent the introduction of disease. It is because of Australia’s geographical position in proximity to countries where epidemics of disease are so frequent and enhanced by movements of displaced persons, because of the increasing speed of aircraft and the consequent greater risk of exposure to these diseases by the people of this country, that it is imperative that quarantine practices should be standardized and overseen by an international agency.
Australia played a considerable part in the setting up of the World Health Organization and has been a member of the Interim Commission since its inception. The World Health Organization is a collective instrument to promote physical and mental well-being, to control disease, to expand scientific knowledge, and to contribute to harmonious relationships between the peoples of all nations. It is a powerful instrument in the interests of peace, and Australia cannot afford to do otherwise than play its part in contributing to the accomplishment of the tasks that lie ahead. Twenty-one nations have ratified the deposit of acceptance of the instruments of the constitution of the World Health Organization and the arrangement establishing the Interim Commission, and it is urgently required that Australia should ratify its acceptance of these instruments to ensure becoming a foundation member of the organization. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cooper) adjourned.
Bill presented by Senator McKenna, and read a first time.
Motion (by Senator McKenna) put -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through its remaining stages without delay.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the bill is to amend and strengthen the Quarantine Act. Recent experience has shown that air travel has gravely increased the danger to which Australia is exposed by the introduction of quarantinable disease. The additional risk rests largely on two factors, viz.: the speed of air travel and the fact that aircraft cross the seaboard and traverse the interior of the country. This bill has, in the main, been drafted to provide power to deal with these problems.
So long as oversea traffic arriving in this country was comparatively slow and confined to the seaboard, the existing powers were sufficient, but, with the increasing volume and speed of air travel, a new concept of quarantine has emerged. It is no longer sufficient to watch for the appearance or the suspicion of disease in people arriving in this country, but measures must be adopted to ensure, as far as possible, that those who use international air travel are themselves unlikely to contract certain diseases and disseminate them in Australia. For this purpose, stringent requirements, in respect of prophylactic measures, are imposed on people travelling to Australia by air. Certain difficulties have arisen in implementing these requirements, and these difficulties were emphasized during the recent quarantine at Darwin of a flying boat, which arrived there with a passenger who was suspected of suffering from cholera. The bill is designed to make the provisions of the act explicit in these matters, and to place beyond doubt the legality of the restrictions it is desired to impose.
I shall outline, briefly, the problem which is facing our quarantine service. A person travelling by air arrives in Australia a few days or even hours after leaving places in Asia, which are known foci of diseases non-existent here. Within the past three weeks an aircraft from Shanghai landed at Biak next day, and twenty-five hours later was in Sydney. This aircraft carried nearly 40 people who hud spent varying periods in China. Such people could conceivably be infected with smallpox, and remain apparently well until nearly two weeks after they had disembarked in Sydney and dispersed to various parts of Australia. No words of mine are needed to draw attention to the dire possibilities inherent in such a situation. This particular aircraft crossed the Australian coastline somewhere in North Australia, and, for several hours, was travelling over the interior of the country. There was risk of forced landing or of deviation from the set course through conditions beyond control. On occasions, aircraft have been unable, on account of weather, to make a landing at Darwin, and have been diverted to inland centres such as Katherine, or Cloncurry. Consideration of these factors indicates that past conceptions of quarantine must be modified. No longer may quarantine be limited in application to first ports of entry on the seaboard. It must be made applicable to any part of Australia, and an organization to enforce it must be set up in various inland centres. It is considered that these amendments will provide power necessary for this purpose.
A further factor of great importance in this problem is the necessity for speed in applying the essential measures whenever and wherever they are needed. To achieve this, it is proposed to endow the Minister with emergency powers so that immediate steps may be taken to handle such a situation in any part of the country. It is possible that odd cases of quarantinable disease may penetrate even the most efficient defences. Such cases may appear in an isolated area where there might be no properly developed control. The provisions of the bill would enable such a locality to be declared a quarantine area, and would permit the imposition of the necessary measures. It may become necessary to make- use of or to take over the local hospital, to take over or establish a laboratory, to impose isolation or quarantine on the area, and prohibit ingress to or egress from such an area.
The general disease picture throughout the world at the present time is somewhat alarming. This situation is a common sequel to and corollary of war, and of the disturbed conditions which now exist in so many countries in Asia and Europe. Cholera is rife in Egypt, in Pakistan and in India, and these are countries traversed by so much of the air traffic coming to Australia. Many countries in Europe and along the Mediterranean littoral are constantly reporting diseases, which were previously rare or non-existent within their borders. Typhus, cholera, smallpox and plague now regularly appear on the epidemiological maps of countries which have been free of them for generations. It is proposed that, before embarkation for Australia, persons leaving certain areas, which would have been proclaimed as infected with a specific disease, should be properly protected by the appropriate vaccination or inoculation, and that they should carry a valid certificate to this effect. To achieve this object the bill proposes to place the responsibility, under heavy penalty, on the master and owner not to permit the transport to Australia, on their aircraft, of any person not in possession of the required certificates.
The possibility must be borne in mind that other diseases, which do not present an immediate threat to this country, may, at some future date, do so. In this regard yellow fever and pandemic influenza come to mind. It may become desirable to prohibit entirely the entry into Australia by air of people from certain places. The bill proposes power to enforce this action, by imposing a heavy penalty on the master or owner of an aircraft which transports such people to our land.
With the exception of the minor amendments agreed to by the Parliament in May of this year, the Quarantine Act has not been amended since 1924. This opportunity has been taken to include several minor . amendments to meet modern conditions. I shall summarize the provisions of the bill as follows: First, to confer on the Minister power to meet an emergency arising through the outbreak of disease in a remote part of Australia; secondly, to provide that persons leaving proclaimed areas outside Australia should have certificates of inoculation or vaccination before embarking for Australia; thirdly, to prohibit the embarkation of persons from proclaimed areas for transport to Australia; and fourthly, to effect minor alterations to the Quarantine Act to confirm existing practices and to meet modern conditions, lt is the earnest desire of the Government that this country should continue to be preserved from the appalling epidemics which are prevalent in many lands, and, while I occupy my present portfolio, I shall give my full support to all measures which will assist in achieving this purpose.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cooper) adjourned.
125 ill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment,.
Bill received from the Home of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McKenna) read a first time.
Senator McKENNA (Tasmania Minister for Health and Minister for Social Services) “4.1”. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Fu safeguard the Australian people from intiation and depression, and to keep in check the profiteer and the racketeer, are nation-wide problems. They can only be solved by nation-wide action. The object nf this bill is to amend the Constitution so as to give to this National Parliament the ‘necessary powers. The bill proposes to give power to make laws with respect to “ rents and prices (including charges) “. These powers will have to be exercised particularly throughout the present critical years of the transition from war to peace. But the need for their exercise will not lapse when the transition is completed, however far ahead that may .be. They will bc needed again from time to time, whenever economic conditions become unstable. The object of the bill is to give permanent nation-wide protection to every tenant, every income-earner, every housewife, anxious about what bor weekly budget will buy, to every user of services and. indeed, to every purchase]’ as well as to primary producers dependent on unsheltered markets.
If honorable senators will glance at the bill, they will see that the proposed new power is one to make Jaws first and foremost about rents. In an economic sense, rents are only a particular group of prices. But there must be no doubt whether they are included in the power. They are a vital element in the life of the people. In the first place, rent absorbs a large proportion of the income of most: families. Unless rents are kept at a reasonable figure, other forms of price control will not be effective to maintain the living standards of the community. Moreover, the shortage of housing is. unfortunately, likely to last longer than other present shortages, and rent control will therefore bo essential for a long time to come. I shall have something further to say on the subject of rents, but, generally speaking, my remarks on the subject of prices will be applicable also to rents.
A vital duty of a national government is to give its people that freedom from fear and want which was held out to them in the Atlantic Charter as one of the aims which made the sacrifices of the war worth while. I shall show that the power to control rents and prices is a power without which the Commonwealth Parliament will be severely handicapped in carrying out this duty in the economic sphere. The Australian Government is, therefore, convinced that the people should be given the opportunity to arm themselves, through their Parliament, with these essential powers.
In the past, the economic security of the common man has been menaced by recurring economic depressions, bringing in their train the miseries of unemployment and want. These depressions have usually been preceded by periods of unhealthy expansion, leading to inflation and the crash from boom to slump. The horrors of war have always been followed by this cycle, which is scarcely less terrible in its effects in the post-war period. In modern times these economic troubles have not been confined to single countries, but have been world-wide. They are not, however, like droughts and earthquakes, something which man cannot influence. They are the result of man’s activities or neglect, and it is within his power to prevent them. The problem of recurring depressions must be tackled on a worldwide basis, and Australia is playing its full part in the work which is being done iri this direction. But an important part of the problem must be tackled within our own economy. Moreover, we must be ready to act quickly whenever the necessity arises, lt is of no use to wait till a depression hits us. The vital thing is to see that boom conditions of an unhealthy kind, which, as experience shows, lond to depression, do not develop. Moreover, apart from the prospect of depression, there is another evil which must be fought vigorously in boom times, and when houses and goods are in short supply - the evil of exploitation by profiteers. When money is plentiful among some sections of the community and houses and 400d8 are scarce, unscrupulous landlords or vendors can, if not controlled, exploit iiic, rest of the community. Even in times when goods tire plentiful, the creation of monopolies leads to the same evil. We nil know the enormous profits which were made during and after the war of 1914- 1918. Thanks to control of rents and prices, there was much less profiteering in Australia during the recent war, but the sudden removal of these controls at the present time would undoubtedly lead to profiteering. We have only to see what is happening in other countries, such as the United States of America, to realize this. In. that country prices rose so steeply within a. few months of the removal of control that an attempt may be made to restore prices control. But with the flood-gates once opened, who can say whether they can be shut again ?
No intelligent person, would be so foolish as to think that all fluctuations of rents and prices can. be avoided. If costs, especially costs of imported goods and materials, are rising, prices must rise. But the people rely on their Government to see that the rises are justified, and to see that increases of wages intended to improve living standards do so, and are not made the excuse for unreasonable increases of prices and rents. I shall show later that an essential weapon in these two battles - the battles against depression and exploitation - is the power to control rents and prices. I shall also show that the States are not in a position, to handle, these weapons effectively. The people will look to the National Parliament - and rightly - to grapple with these national problems. The Government is confident that they will freely grant the powers necessary to enable it to do so.
The introduction of this bill does not mean that the Government considers that it will be necessary to operate prices control indefinitely, or to operate it in the detailed and complete form to which we have become accustomed during recent years. Prices control in that form is necessary only in a period of general excess of demand over supply - a condition which is now being steadily removed. As shortages disappear, so can prices control disappear, until it will become essentially a reserve power, operating only when and where it is required for the health of the economy. Prices control will be required beyond the transition period in relation, for instance, to houses and rents, where shortages must be expected to continue for some time. Where the production of certain commodities is under the control of monopolies, prices control may be necessary to ensure that the industry concerned shall pursue a policy of high output, low prices and moderate profits, rather than, a policy of low output, high prices and excessive, profits. Similarly, where industries have been granted tariff pro.tection to enable thom to carry on against overseas competition, prices control will he essential to ensure that this tariff protection shall not be used to exploit local consumer*.
Periods of expanding activity occur from time to time in any economy, as a result, for instance, of the development of new public and private investment. It will lie possible for prices control to check the increase of prices that would otherwise result from this pressure of demand on resources of production. It is the effect on costs of this increase of prices which has in the past, led business men suddenly to change their minds about undertaking new production, and has led to financial crisis followed by prolonged depression. If prices control can prevent the development of this inflationary tendency, that alone will be the greatest single factor contributing to the avoidance of subsequent depression. In the other direction, continual difficulty has .been caused in the Australian economy by violent collapses of overseas prices for our exports. Prices control cannot prevent these falls from taking place, but when drops occur, prices control can, by maintaining minimum local prices, help to cushion their effects on the incomes of primary producers and on the Australian economy generally.
I shall come back later to a further consideration of these long-term aspects of price control. I turn now to a consideration of the immediate need for rent and price control in Australia during this period of transition from war to peace - a period of difficulties which cannot be ended until production is again able to meet all the demands of the fully employed people. I need not draw in great detail the picture of what would happen if the present rent control were removed. Although good progress is being made with housing, there must inevitably be a shortage of houses for a long time yet. The war-time lag in housing has gone too long and has grown too big to be overtaken within any brief period. But while any shortage remains there must be protection for the homeseekers against extortionate charges for accommodation. After World War I., rents rose steadily throughout the ‘twenties, right up to the beginning of the depression in 1929, .by which time they were 50 per cent, higher than in 1918, Even in normal times, the rack-renter is always with us. In these present times, when for many people a roof is about the hardest thing to obtain, it would be a Roman holiday for him were there no authority at hand to say what is a fair price to charge for the dwellings he has to let. I am not saying that all landlords are of that grasping unscrupulous breed; far from it. But there are always some - and their number tends to grow with opportunity - who are willing to take the last penny from people whenever there is either a general shortage or i local shortage such as occurs from time to time in particular places.
Turning to prices generally, there can be no doubt that external and internal inflationary pressures will continue for some time. The prices of imported goods are now more than two and a half times their pre-war level, and are still rising. These cost increases have been pressing throughout the war, and have, thanks to prices control, been absorbed by the economy with a minimum of disturbance. Internal pressures are equally strong. The incomes of primary producers, who are enjoying record production and record prices, will be at an all-time high this year. Prices for our exported goods are also more than two and a half times their pre-war level. There have been substantial increases of the basic wage and of skill margins during this year. Wage costs will be still further increased by the adoption throughout Australia, on the 1st January next year, of the 40-hour working week. There is, in addition, a large volume of liquid balances accumulated by the people as a result of war-time shortages, which still await spending. Prices control has so far given owners of savings an assurance that the real value of these balances will be maintained. A threat to the continuance of price stability, as a result of the cessation of prices control, may cause a wave of buying as a hedge against inflation and thus bring about the inflation that we fear. Against this high and increasing volume of spending power, there is a serious deficiency of goods. Despite our high export income, imports are held back by dollar shortages and the production difficulties of easier currency areas, like the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. We may not be able to import even enough goods to balance our exports, let alone to import surplus goods to meet excess spending pressure. In the domestic sphere, production is running at a high and increasing level, but is still seriously short of the people’s needs. The postponement of capital replacement and expansion during the war requires an abnormally large proportion of current production to be devoted to the production of capital goods. In addition to this heavy and continuing drain on resources to meet capital requirements, shortages of labour and materials, and the hangover of war-time disorganization of production, are causing bottlenecks in several lines of essential production.
An important feature of the Australian economy at present is the substantial subsidies being paid by the Government to prevent cost increases from passing into the price structure. An abrupt removal of these subsidies, as would be required by the cessation of prices control, would cause an equally abrupt rise of prices. This represents an inflationary force which must be controlled until it can safely be released. With all these inflationary forces at work in Australia, it cannot be doubted that an immediate relaxation of prices control would lead inevitably to price increases comparable with those that have occurred recently in the United States of America. There, within five months of the abandonment of prices control, retail prices generally rose by 14 per cent., and food prices rose by 29 per cent. After a temporary setback, these prices have resumed their .upward trend. These figures should be compared with the increase of prices in Australia; in the whole two years since the end of the war, the rise of prices generally has been only 6 per cent., and, of food prices alone, 1 per cent.
The war-time history of prices control gives us firm ground for confidence that the system brings real advantages to the community and that it is possible to administer prices control, successfully. Rent control during the war was amazingly successful. Rents, on an average, increased by less than 1 per cent. During World War I. retail prices rose 32 per cent., and two years later they were 70 per cent, above the pre-war level. During World War II. they rose 23 per cent., and two years later they are only 30 per cent, above pre-war rates. World War XI. lasted six years, as against four years for the earlier struggle, and involved a far greater strain on our resources. The post-war period has also been far more difficult, due to the greater dislocation in Australia and overseas. Apart from our own arrears of civilian production, the war-torn countries of Europe and Asia have not been able to make anything like their normal contribution to our needs. Instead, they have been a drain on our supplies. In spite of far greater shortages and disorganization of production, prices control has thus far saved Australia from the worst effects of a second post-war boom. If it is continued through the transition period, we may reasonably hope to avoid the worst effects of a slump such as occurred in 1921.
Although, with the full concurrence of the State governments, the Commonwealth assumed full power to control rents and prices at the outbreak of thewar, it has exercised these powers only to the degree rendered strictly necessary by circumstances arising out of the war. During the first two and a half years of the war, for instance, only a relatively few commodities were made subject to control, because general shortages did not put in an appearance until after the Pacific war broke out. When it is realized that the post-war boom lasted two years after World War I., which was so much milder in its economic effects than World War II., it can be understood why no great measure of de-control has been permitted up to the present stage - early in the third post-war year. Nevertheless, the Government looks forward to the time when it will be able to lay down the burden of assessing most price increases and revert to the state of affairs before the Japanese war, when only a relatively small list of items was in short supply and under control, and traders did their own pricing under a formula, subject only to occasional check. Recently the Commonwealth Government has returned to State and local government control of goods and services handled by State, semi-governmental and local governing bodies, including transport, gas and electricity undertakings, and also locally produced and consumed goods and services, such as milk and taxicab fares. A considerable extension of this process will take place in consultation with the States.
I turn now to a more detailed consideration of the bill before the Senate: The amendment of the Constitution proposed would give the Commonwealth Parliament power to legislate with respect to rents and prices, including charges. The power over rents would cover the fixing, or “ pegging of rents and would include power to provide for the determination of fair rents and, as an incidental matter, to protect tenants against eviction. It would apply to rents of goods as well as rents of land and buildings. The power sought with respect to prices would enable Parliament to control and regulate the prices at which property of any kind, including commodities, land and shares in companies, is sold. Explicit power to control charges is included in the bill in order lo remove any doubt about charges which are in the nature of prices or rents, but in relation to which the term “ prices “ or “ rents “ may not ordinarily be used, as, for example, charges for hail-dressing or for board and lodging. The words proposed would ako include charges for the use of money, or, in other words, interest.
Since minimum, as well as maximum, prices could be fixed under the power, it could be used to ensure a home consumption price for primary products. Minimum prices could also be used to prevent disorder and losses to holders of stocks of imported goods which might follow a sudden collapse of raw material prices overseas. Furthermore, the new power would make clear the right of the Commonwealth to pay subsidies for the purpose of maintaining reasonable prices to consumers, as well as producers, for essential goods such as potatoes and dairy products.
Control over rents and prices by the Commonwealth is at present carried on by regulations in force under the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act. That act depends for its validity on the “ defence power “ of the Commonwealth. The High Court has held that the extension of the defence power to measures necessary to the economic stability of the country does not cease abruptly with the end of hostilities in a war. The power retains a wide scope during the period of transition from conditions of war to conditions of peace. But the scope of the power in constantly dwindling, and it, affords a very uncertain basis for measures essential to Australia’s economic sta.bility. With this consideration in view the Government sought the assistance of the State governments, all of which expressed willingness to support the continuance of price control on a national , basis during the post-war transition period. Whilst all States introduced legislation continuing price and rent, control for limited periods, in some States this legislation has expired and in others it will do so shortly. The legislation has already expired in Victoria, which is, of course, a vital State. Even in States where the legislation has been continued, it has been continued only for limited periods, and there is no assurance that it will be continued as long as is necessary. This creates the position that, in some States, at. any rate, price control now virtually rests upon the “defence power “, and will have legal validity only as long as that power is held to support it.
Moreover, even if there were any certainty that the defence power is adequate to cover the winding-up of wartime controls and measures necessary during the period of transition to conditions of peace, the Commonwealth would still be without adequate power to deal with and guard against future economic disturbances. The permanent power to act effectively and promptly in economic crises is, in the opinion of the Government, an essential power of a national Parliament, quite apart from present circumstances. It is very likely that there will be long periods during which these powers will not be exercised or will be exercised only in limited fields, but they will be a vital weapon in the nation’s defences against inflationary booms followed by economic depressions. It is these circumstances which have led the Government to recommend to Parliament, that the people he asked, by way of referendum, to give the .Commonwealth Parliament power to legislate for the control of rents and prices.
As rent is one of the main items of the average person’s living costs, movements in rents have an important influence upon social and economic stability. Moreover, rents in various parts of the country ought, as far as possible, to be kept at even levels, otherwise all kinds of dislocations will occur. State governments have power to control rents, but it is unlikely that they will all do so at the same time and in the same way. We know what happened to rents after the last war, when control could have been exorcised only by State governments. If rents are allowed to rise in one State but not in others, wages will rise in that State above the general level. With wages, many other costs and. prices will rise as well. As a result the whole economy may he thrown out of balance. In practical terms, uniform control of rents can be secured only if it, is applied by the Commonwealth Government,. State governments also have power to control prices, hut mainly because commodities can move freely between the States, it is not practicable for State governments to control more than a limited range of commodities produced and sold locally. Where goods such as galvanized iron are produced in only one State it would be impracticable for the government of any importing State to maintain an adequate control over consumers’ prices while prices charged by the manufacturers were beyond their control. Consequently, since the States have only a. limited practical power to control prices, and the Commonwealth has not. in normal peace-time, any legal power to do so, there is not any really effective power to control prices anywhere within the country. This, obviously, is a. serious anomaly.
Stress has already been laid on the responsibility of the Commonwealth for the preservation of economic stability. This means, in plain terms, the prevention of booms and slumps, which in the past have brought so much loss, unemployment and misery. It means the maintenance of steady incomes for producers, in town and country alike. It means the preservation of a stable purchasing power for money, and. the protection and improvement of living standards for the various classes within the community. This is of particular importance to pensioners, to people with fixed incomes, and to all who contribute to the savings of the community. Control of prices is wrapped up with all these things. Rises and falls of prices are part and parcel of booms and slumps. They determine also the value of money and the distribution of the national output among the community. Again, control of profiteering and monopolies is closely bound up with prices, and this is a field in which, for the most part, only Commonwealth action can be effective. Since monopolies are often nation-wide in scope, State governments are virtually powerless to deal with them.
Furthermore, many of the special functions of the Commonwealth are dependent upon a. power to regulate prices. The Commonwealth, for example, is concerned with ;he overseas marketing of our exports. Primary producers are only too well aware that high prices are likely to be followed by low prices. AH systems of guaranteed prices and home-consumption prices designed to promote orderly marketing will be greatly strengthened if the Commonwealth Parliament has power to legislate for rninimum prices. Such a power would overcome many of the difficulties created in the rural economy by section 92 of the Constitution. Again, it is the Commonwealth which fixes levels of tariff protection for local industries. It does so with a view to assisting such industries to establish themselves and expand. However, unless the prices charged by local industries for their products can be supervised and regulated, there is always a risk that tariff protection may be abused and the community exploited. Producers are likely to rely on tariff protection to maintain their high prices, instead of increasing their efficiency and moderating their profits in order to reduce their prices.
All those considerations add up to an overwhelming case for giving the Commonwealth power to legislate on rents and prices. It is the only authority in Australia, which can exercise such a power effectively. It has had such a. power during the war and post-war period, and has used it with highly beneficial results. It will need such a power in the future if it is to preserve and advance the economic welfare of the nation through a time which threatens very great dangers and difficulties. There is no short cut to this end, and we should be warned by the example of other countries that the quick and easy step of abandoning all controls can bring far worse troubles than those it was sought to avoid. Unless the power to control prices is written into the Constitution now, it will not be available to the Australian people when it is most needed.
The question is not a political one. It is a simple question, as every Australian should realize, of making sure that nation-wide protection can be given in times of difficulty to the tenant, the wage-earner, and the house-wife, to the primary producer and, in fact, to every Australian who has to pay for land or :goods or services of any kind. And that, honorable senators will agree, includes every Australian.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cooper) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 27th November (vide page 2792), on motion by Senator Cameron -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill proposes to amend the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920-1946. In 1938 legislation was enacted for the control and administration of all patriotic funds, and that came about as the result of experience gained during and after “World War I., when irregularities occurred in the handling of money subscribed by the public. I believe that the action taken then was a wise one, because it has enabled proper control and administra-tion to be exercised over the huge sums collected during and after the recent war. By their generous response to the appeals that were made, the Australian people showed what they thought of our service men and women who were engaged in the hazardous work of defending this country. During the war, £20,500,000 was subscribed to patriotic funds that came under the administration of the Commonwealth, and, in addition, many millions of pounds were subscribed to funds administered under the laws of the various States. The act set out the specific objects for which this money could be used; it provided that it was to be used for the welfare of members of the defence forces and of their families or dependants, as well as for the welfare of members of the forces of other dominions or Allied countries, and war victims. It was very well drafted and covered those who were most in need of assistance. A sum of £15,700,000 was spent upon the relief of the classes of persons I have just mentioned. I consider that it was very wisely used, and certainly it was appreciated by all members of the forces.
At the conclusion of hostilities, there was a balance of £4,200,000. Administrative costs were very low, amounting only to 3.9 per cent, of the total sum spent. It is, therefore, quite clear that everything possible was done to see that those for whom the moneys were collected received the maximum benefit that it was possible to give to them. The small administrative costs show that a great deal of the work was done by voluntary workers. Many of them were women. They came from all sections of the community ; they were actuated hy a common desire to play their part in bringing about the final victory, and eventually the objective for which they worked was attained. Australia can justifiably be proud of the wonderful effort made by this huge body of voluntary workers.
The bill provides for the control of patriotic funds, which are now being controlled by National Security Regulations made under the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act, to he transferred to the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. The obvious reason for this is that it is considered that, as the funds will not be wound up for a considerable time to come, it is necessary to ensure that they shall be controlled by a permanent act of Parliament so that there will be continuity of administration. I am in agreement with this opinion, hut I consider that the proposed new section 118a will give to the Government far too wide a power over these funds and assets. The proposed new section provides - (1.) The Governor-General may make regulations in relation to -
the establishment of patriotic funds;
I should like to know whether the exservicemen’s associations were consulted upon this proposal. The Federal Congress of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia was held in Canberra a short time ago, and no doubt at that time the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) had full knowledge of the bill he was proposing to introduce. In my opinion, he should have taken that opportunity to ascertain the opinion of the delegates attending that congress; he should have put the proposed new section before them and sought their view upon its very extensive and far-reaching provisions.
The proposed new section will give to the Government unlimited power over the funds that were collected. I am strongly opposed to the granting of unlimited power of this type to any government. I believe the present Minister has every sympathy with the ex-service men and women and desires to do the right thing, but if this proposal is agreed to it will mean the granting of a power that could quite easily be misused by any extremist government that might occupy the treasury bench at some future date. Very large sums were raised. for the specific purpose of assisting ex-service personnel, and they will be in jeopardy if this bill becomes an act in its present form,
I am aware that there are certain funds which are vested in trustees. Many of these trustees have died or left the district, and the funds have become dormant. I agree that it is necessary to pass legislation to enable them to be wound up. I believe that in at least four States besides Queensland such legislation has been in operation for some time. During the period they have administered these patriotic funds, the various States have done an excellent job. They have instituted definite safeguards and taken care to see that the money is spent on the objects on which it was intended that it should be spent. For instance, in Queensland the names of the different funds must be registered, and returns must be furnished to the Auditor-General so that it can be ascertained whether the funds have been properly administered. As to the funds in respect of whose administration the States have been allowed to make laws, I believe that until they are finally wound up the States should be allowed to continue to administer them. I think it would be advisable to allow the States, which did such good work during the war period, to carry on with that work; it will ensure that the funds are spent on the purposes for which they were collected. In each of the States some moneys were collected specifically for the use of units raised in those States ; it was intended that the money should be spent upon the individuals serving in those units. These funds were in addition to the others gathered on a Commonwealthwide basis, and it is only right that the States should be allowed to proceed with the disbursement of them. There is provision in the legislation passed by the States for the winding-up of the various funds raised in the States, but now the Commonwealth, by means of this legislation, is taking full power to wind up all patriotic funds regardless of how, or by whom, they are being administered at present. There is a grave danger that with the passage of this measure, a government of extremists would wind up these funds and appropriate these assets.
So far as I can see, the bill gives power to the Minister for Repatriation - this may be an extreme case but the authority it there - to wind up the funds and for his department to take over their assets. Some of the . present ex-servicemen’s organizations will be in existence for many years to come. That should cover any objection that may be held in regard to the appointment of individual trustees. If trusteeship were conferred upon the State executives of organizations such as the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, capable administration would be assured for many years to come. The league has a federal council with which the State executives maintain contact, so, if the Minister so desired, he could always get in touch with the central body to find out anything that he wanted to know about funds of which this organization acted as a trustee. A small committee representing ex-servicemen’s organizations in each State could manage the winding-up of any fund which it was thought should be wound up, and could adjudicate on the disbursement of the assets, should any dispute occur in. regard to this matter.
This system would be far more appreciated by the thousands of ex-servicemen and women of this country than the a arrangement provided for in this measure whereby the Minister for Repatriation will become the custodian of the funds. Servicemen would retain some say in the manner in which the funds which originally were collected for their benefit should be disbursed. No doubt, decentralization of control, by giving more responsibility ro the State organizations, would tend to more efficient supervision because these organizations would be in close contact with the individuals who were receiving benefits from the funds. A better and quicker distribution to people in need of assistance would result. I believe that to vest control over the winding-up of all funds in a central body, especially a government organization, is both an unnecessary and a retrograde step. It would be far better for the funds which are now being efficiently managed by the responsible State authorities to continue under their present administration, . unless the Minister for Repatriation was specifically requested to assume control. In the event of something unforeseen occurring, the trustees of a fund might not be able to carry on, and in such an event the Minister could be requested to take over the fund. This would give an opportunity for those who did not wish to carry on as trustees to ask the Minister to assume control, and, at the same time, the compulsory winding-up of funds against the wishes of ex-service men and women would be obviated. I ask the Minister to give consideration to my representations in the interests of the exservice men and women of this country.
– On the face of things, this is a very harmless and apparently innocuous bill. In fact, most people would agree as to the necessity for it in view of its very desir able declared purpose; but there is one question that I should like to ask: Just what are the Government’s intentions? The hill, in effect, gives to the Government power to make regulations to control patriotic funds. Undoubtedly it is desirable to have proper safeguards for the control of these funds and to -secure the proper accounting of patriotic funds, particularly where there is no State legislation covering this operation ; but why is it necessary to have these controls imposed by regulation? We have had too much government by regulation. The people of Australia are tired of regulations, and war-time regulations are being abandoned in scores; yet at this late stage, the Government places before us a bill which will perpetuate this system by enabling the making of regulations relating to patriotic funds.
I ask again : What; is the Government’s real intention? I* am very much opposed to giving any ministry a blank cheque. It is not right thai: general sweeping power such as this should be conferred upon any government, and i believe that the question of what regulations or controls should be imposed upon patriotic funds which, have rendered such splendid service not only during the war, but also in the initial years of peace, should be placed before this chamber and strongly debated. When this bill was introduced in the House of Representatives, the Minister stated that the regulations would be generally the same as those now in operation. The word “generally” causes me some concern, and there are one or two matters that I should like to place before members of this chamber and the public generally. The first is this : There is still a great deal of work to be done by the main patriotic funds, and, whilst it may be desirable to wind up certain small funds, the objectives of which were immediate and have been accomplished, there are many years of self-sacrificing work ahead of other organizations.
The Minister mentioned the Australian Red Cross Society and one or two other organizations as necessitating continuance. I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the Australian Red Cross Society, and to those members of it who laboured so nobly during the war and are continuing their fine work to-day. There are many other worthy organizations, and I shall mention just one or two to illustrate my point. First, there is Legacy, which cares for war widows and their children: There is work for this organization stretching ahead for many years. “We are proud indeed of its activities. Then there is the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, which administers various special funds that will have to be continued for some years. There are other admirable organizations, but gaps exist in the coverage given by the various semiofficial funds and they are rightly filled by the general patriotic funds. For instance, the Canteens Trust Funds provide many valuable services, including the alleviation of distress, and the provision of assistance for education. But we find from this measure that the Canteens Trust Funds can only help war widows who are in distress, and can only educate children; so, if a, war widow is to be helped by educating her in a craft - the work now being done by the organization beaded by Mrs. Vasey - it is doubtful whether any assistance can be obtained from the Canteens Trust Funds. Therefore, this work has to be carried out from patriotic funds.
In a similar category is the young man who wishes to change his apprenticeship. Take for instance a young lad from a. country town who was apprenticed to a carpenter - the only apprenticeship available in his town. He served three years of his apprenticeship, enlisted, and served for five years in the forces. He emerges from war service convinced that he has both a liking and an aptitude for refrigeration engineering. He is now 24 years of age and seeks to change his apprenticeship. Here too, patriotic funds have to be drawn upon to provide assistance. Much the same conditions apply to ex-servicewomen. Consider the case of a 24-year old shop assistant who enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service and during her war service learned a great deal about diets. In civilian life she tries to become a dietician, but there is no repatriation provision to meet her case. Once again patriotic funds or similar aids come to the rescue. I mention these matters purely to draw the attention of this chamber to the fact that there is much work ahead for the major funds, apart from the relief of distress and educational activities of the Canteens Trust Funds. There are blinded ex-servicemen and tuberculosis sufferers and their dependants to be cared for; permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen, including ex-prisoners of war, to be reestablished in civil life, and so on. There are years of work ahead in these avenues.
This legislation and the regulations that will be made under it should provide for the continuance - and continuance for some years - of these activities. I ask the Minister in charge of the bill (Senator Cameron), whether he will give the members of this chamber an assurance of the Government’s intention to encourage the continuance of these funds under their committee management, and that they will not be wound up or passed over to the Department of Repatriation. My second point is that there is admitted to be State legislation covering the position in five States. Every State except Tasmania has its own legislation. The existing regulations exempt any State which has satisfactory State legislation. I should like an assurance from the Minister that it is the intention of the Government to continue the present method, that it does not intend to override existing State legislation, or to limit future State legislation, or to impose Commonwealth control and possibly establish Commonwealth-wide aggregation of funds, under the Repatriation Commission or committees. There is no need for any clash of authorities. Where there is no State legislation, the Commonwealth is, perhaps, entitled to step in ; but where State legislation is adequate there is no need for Commonwealth regulations. I emphasize particularly that in Queensland the position is covered not by regulations but by detailed State legislation.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister for an assurance that the proposed new regulations will not differ from the present regulations, and that provision will be made to exempt States already possessing adequate control; that is, in effect, that the regulations will apply only to States which have not passed legislation on this matter. I should like the Minister to assure the Senate that continuity, not closure, is the Government’s objective; and that continuity will be permitted under the management of the existing committees which did so much during the war and are continuing to do so much for the relief of distress among ex-service men and women.
– I endorse entirely the general proposition that the administration of patriotic funds publicly subscribed should be tinder official supervision. However, the definition of “ patriotic funds “ in proposed new sub-section 2 of proposed new section 118a is very wide. It embraces “ any funds established, or to he established, for the purpose of providing comforts or financial or other assistance for (a) members of the defence force or their families or dependants; and (b) members of the forces of any parts of His Majesty’s dominions. . . Exactly, how far will that extend ? This measure is not confined to the administration of funds publicly subscribed. It is quite conceivable that it will apply to funds raised, perhaps, by the Commercial Travellers Association, or any guild, craft or union, for the purpose of establishing scholarships for the benefit of children of a member of the defence forces. In that contingency, a fund subscribed privately for such a purpose could come within the scope of the measure. On the other hand, clubs, such as the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, have among their objects the provision of material benefits for their members and dependants of members. Such funds also come within this definition. I do not assume for one moment that the Government intends to interfere with the control, management or direction of scholarship funds, such as I have mentioned, or with the funds of bodies like the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. However,, why have a definition so extravagantly wide as to cover such funds? I should like an assurance from the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) that the Government does not intend to interfere with privately subscribed public funds. I should much prefer that the bill be amended expressly to exclude such funds as I have indicated.
As has been mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) and Senator Rankin, the Queensland Government, following World War I., legislated to provide for the administration of patriotic funds publicly subscribed. 1 suggest, with all due respect to the draftsman who will be called upon to draw the regulations for the administration of public funds contemplated under this measure, that he would do well to peruse the Queensland legislation of 1939 as amended in 1942. Under that legislation every conceivable protection is given to the subscribing public in respect of the objects for which funds may be established, and ensures that no fraud can he perpetrated upon the public. The administration and destination of such funds are fully provided for. The Chief Secretary must approve the objects before any fund can be established. Those funds are subject to audit by the State AuditorGeneral. If functions are run ostensibly for the purpose of raising patriotic funds, a very keen audit is made under which only limited deductions are allowed in respect of expenses. That legislation covers, minutely and adequately, the whole gamut of the problems contemplated in this measure.
I feel constrained to emphasize that the Senate is not merely a rubber stamp for the convenience of the House of Representatives. The Senate is essentially a council of the States; and on behalf of Queensland I protest strongly against this further intrusion on the part of the Commonwealth into a matter which is essentially a State matter. Let the Commonwealth get on with its duty to deal with the wider and bigger issues, and leave to the States matters which are essentially within the province of the States. I object most strongly to the Commonwealth intruding itself thus further into what is essentially a State affair.
.- I. commend the Government for introducing this measure whereby, for the first time in our history, we shall attempt to control adequately all patriotic funds in this country. Senator O’sullivan referred to Queensland legislation passed in 1939 and subsequently amended in 1942. That legislation shows that the Queensland Government was alive to the necessity for protecting the very people whom patriotic funds are supposed to protect. Let us suppose that the Queensland legislation is all that Senator O’sullivan claims it to be. The fact remains that other States may not have provided equal safeguards. This measure is for the purpose of protecting, on an Australia-wide basis, ex-service men and women and their dependants in their hour of need. I am pleased that these funds are to :be placed under the control of the Repatriation Commission, because the sole purpose of that body since its establishment has been the protection of ex-service . per.sonnel, whether they be sick, incapacitated or in full health, .and to ensure that the wives and families of ex-service personnel shall receive all the assistance that they need. Acting on behalf of exservice personnel, I have had many conferences with the repatriation authorities, and I am of opinion that the Repatriation Commission is, of all bodies, best qualified to administer these funds.
The objections raised by Senator Rankin to this measure are based on incorrect premises. The honorable senator cited the case of a young lady, 24 years of age, who, upon her discharge from the forces, expressed a desire to become a dietician. I point out to the honorable senator that full provision is made under the Government’s rehabilitation legislation to cater for the needs of cases of that kind. The honorable senator also cited the case of a young man who had served three years of his apprenticeship before enlisting in the forces. I have been a member of an apprenticeship committee, and I know well what has been done in hundreds of similar cases. In almost every instance, the ex-serviceman has been replaced in industry and given the opportunity which many people, including, perhaps, the honorable. “ senator,, appear to believe has been denied to ex-servicemen. 1 agree with Senator O’sullivan that rh<- Senate must not regard itself simply as a rubber stamp; and I make that observation irrespective of the government in office. This measure should be supported by every honorable senator. Every one of us is aware of what hae taken place in the past involving mismanagement of patriotic funds. The Australian Red Cross Society will be exempt from this measure. Every one knows of the fine work that the Red Cross does in looking after the interests of the masses of the people, whether in war or peace. That organization provides assistance to people in any country who are found to be suffering as the result of plague or disease. The measure sets out specifically the funds which will be controlled; and I repeat that the body best qualified to administer such funds is the Repatriation Commission.
– As an ex-serviceman, I support this measure, the object of which is to unify control of the various patriotic funds that have been raised in Australia for the benefit of ex-service personnel and their dependants. The objections raised by the Opposition appear to be groundless. For instance, Senator Rankin said that there is grave danger in giving control of patriotic funds to what she implied may be an extravagant government. However, her argument was refuted by her own colleague, Senator O’sullivan, who said that this is essentially a State matter. If it be a State matter, and the control of these funds is allowed to revert to the various States, it is obvious that the very danger to which Senator Rankin refers would be increased, because the control would not rest in the hands of one government, but be divided among a number of possibly extravagant governments. It is an earnest of the desire of the Australian Government to ensure that the funds raised for the- benefit of exservice personnel and their dependants shall be brought under proper control and used for the purposes for which they were raised. The bill is an indication that the Government realizes the need for action on a uniform basis. It would be ridiculous to adopt Senator O’Sullivan’s suggestion and allow the control to revert to- the States. Under such a system there would be friction, preferential treatment and differentiation in the disbursement of the money. Even the few Opposition senators in this Parliament cannot agree among themselves as to what is best; Senator Rankin is apprehensive that’ some extravagant Minister may have control of these funds, whilst Senator O’Sullivan wants to hand over the control r,o a number of Ministers each of whom may be extravagant. I have pleasure in supporting the bill.
– It is time that such a measure as that now before the Senate was introduced to tie up any loose ends which may exist in the administration of patriotic funds and to get them on a Commonwealthwide basis so that all may know what is being done with the money. Ample safeguards exist as there is provision for the funds to be subject to inspection. It is a growing practice of the Opposition to set up bogies and to suggest that Ministers may do this or that. In Tasmania great success has attended the administration of post-war matters affecting exservice men and woman. When this bill becomes law patriotic funds will come under the control of a fine body of citizens on the local repatriation committee, who are aware of the circumstances of the ex-servicemen with whom they have been closely associated. I pay my tribute to the local repatriation committees, especially those in Tasmania., for the way in which they have carried out their responsibilities. I am sure that the high standards that they have set will be maintained in connexion with the administration of these funds. I have no fears at all as to their impartiality and ability. There is no reason to fear that any Minister for Repatriation will become a despot: who will impose his will on the organizations which will administer these funds. The Australian Red Cross Society has done a magnificent job, and I am pleased that it will continue to function. I support the bill.
– in reply - It would appear that members of the Opposition are of the opinion that this measure gives too much power to the Government, and that those powers are likely to be used arbitrarily. The answer to that is that the Government has proved most con clusively that its approach to all the problems associated with, ex-service men and women has been sympathetic and generous to the limit of its resources.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) asked whether the various organizations had been consulted in this matter. I am advised that the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, made representations to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) and that it was assured that there was no need for anxiety on its part, as the bill relates only to patriotic funds associated with World War II. and does not affect the ordinary funds of the league. The Leader of the Opposition also suggested that a committee representative of ex-servicemen’s organizations and other interested parties should be appointed in each State, or for .particular districts, with power to decide what should bc done with the unexpended moneys remaining in the fund. When a fund is ready to be wound up the Repatriation Commission will be pleased to receive any proposal as to the purposes to which the unexpended money should be applied. There is no need to appoint special bodies to do this work. The Australian Government has a definite responsibility in relation to these funds, and cannot allow matters to get out of control. No government would act in an arbitrary way, even if it could do so, because, after all, power is relative, not absolute. The present Government acts on the principle of conference and agreement, as far as possible, before taking action, particularly in matters affecting ex-service men and women.
Senator Rankin referred to regulations. The existing regulations cover about seven pages of detailed matter. As all the members of the Opposition in this chamber are on the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, they will be in a position to examine closely the regulations that are promulgated from time to time. If they have a good knowledge of the Acts Interpretation Act and study the regulations carefully there should not be much danger of any undesirable regulation escaping notice. Within fifteen days of its tabling any regulation which is considered to be contrary to the best interests of ex-service men and women may. be disallowed, and therefore it is not a matter of giving a blank cheque to the Government.
Senator O’Sullivan’s suggestion that, those funds should be placed under the authority of the States has been effectively answered by Senator Katz and Senator Sandford. In my second-reading speech, I pointed out that an arrangement was entered into between the Commonwealth and the States for the division of responsibility, based on the various classes of funds. A fund may be Australiawide or may operate in more than one State; it may operate in a territory or territories of the Commonwealth; or it may operate within a State. The representatives of the States agreed that the Commonwealth should have the powers provided for in this bill. To my unsophisticated mind there is something in the contention of Senator Katz that because representatives of the State governments could not agree with one another they thought that the Australian Government; was the most competent authority to administer these funds. I believe that experience will prove that lii at, is so.
– Has special consideration been given to Legacy Clubs?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Regulations).
– I appreciate the explanation given by the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron) but I should like some information regarding claus 3. First, I desire to assure him that members of the Opposition do not doubt his sympathy with ex-service men and women, but we are concerned about the position which may arise in the future. If an extremist government were in power this clause would open the gate wide for the confiscation of these funds. 1 draw attention to paragraphs c and d of sub-section 1 of proposed new section 118 a, which provides for the making of regulations in relation to the control and distribution of moneys and assets raised or acquired by patriotic funds and the winding up of patriotic funds and disposal of the assets and moneys of the funds. Surely the proposed new section is intended to wind up patriotic funds, and I should like the Minister to indicate whether it is proposed to exercise that, power. I do not believe that the present Government desires to exercise it, but why has the Government deemed it necessary to include this power in the bill if it is not to be used?
I desire to correct a statement made by the Minister to the effect that the promulgation of regulations does not mean that they will take effect regardless of the opinions of honorable senators. The Minister pointed out that within fifteen days of regulations being tabled in the Parliament, a. motion to disallow them may be submitted. However, I point out to the Minister that because members of the Opposition in this chamber number only three, it is impossible in practice to have regulations disallowed.
– Taking all the circumstances into consideration, I do not think that the power is as wide as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) contends. Let us assume for a moment that, I am the Minister for Repatriation and that I desire to wind up quite arbitrarily a particular patriotic fund. However anxious I may be to do so, I cannot, act without, informing thi Parliament of my intention and- giving its members an opportunity to challenge my proposal. Although it is true that members of the Opposition in this chamber number only three, I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition could seriously contend that the 33 honorable senators who support the Government would negative any reasonable criticism put forward by the members of the Opposition.
– That is only the Minister’s opinion.
– Amongst supporters of the Government in this chamber there are a. number who had war service, and they arc vitally interested in the welfare of ex-servicemen, and many of them have indicated quite clearly that hey would certainly not be parties to any act of injustice to ex-servicemen.
– I do not mean acts of the present Government, but acts of some future government.
– If the honorable senator wants to ensure that exservicemen’s organizations shall always be fairly treated, he should throw his support behind the Government.
– Surely the Government does not need any further numbers than it has at present?
– I do not think that there is any real danger that the Government will misuse the powers proposed to be conferred upon it by this bill, particularly as it cannot be suggested that the Government has accorded exservicemen other than fair treatment in the measures which it has initiated in regard to them.
– If that be so, why are the words of the present clause of such wide application?
– It is sound policy to give as wide an application as possible to the words of any statute relating to the handling of public funds. It is impossible to eliminate entirely the risk of dishonesty or mismanagement in any fund, and therefore any statute relating to such funds must provide an efficient remedy in case of default. In any event, adequate safeguards operate to prevent any misuse by the Government of its power under this clause, because regulations are open to discussion and cnrcism by members of Parliament and exservicemen generally, as well as the public, which is always keenly concerned in the administration of patriotic funds.
– It is high time that some concrete provision was made to control the collection and distribution of patriotic funds. This debate recalled to my mind that, at the time of the Agadir incident, in 1911-12, when Kaiser “Wilhelm rattled a sabre in its scabbard, and the people of Australia went wild, and in various cities patriotic funds were established to receive donations towards the cost of presenting a dreadnought to the Royal Navy. The citizens of Sydney subscribed more than £500,000, but, so far as I know, that fund has still not been disbursed. Quite frankly, I doubt whether the sums promised to be donated were ever actually subscribed. I know that Anthony Hordern and Sons Limited undertook to subscribe many thousands of pounds which were never collected, and that a number of big firms and patriotic institutions in Sydeny made similar offers. That was the first occasion on which we heard of “the little boy from Manly “ and “ the mother of nine “, catchcries which we have heard so often in patriotic appeals since. If it is a fact that large sums which were subscribed were never collected, the Australian Government might now say to those institutions : “ On such and such an occasion you undertook to donate a certain 611II for the purchase of a dreadnought, ! but you never subscribed that money. You got all the benefit of posing as a patriot anxious to defend the Empire, hut it cost you nothing. If you undertook to donate that money then, it is now high time that we collected it for distribution amongst those who did do something to defend their country “.
– Those debts would be statute-barred by now.
– A lot of interest has accrued on them, and the principal and interest would amount to substantial sums. Senator O’Sullivan must know of the wave of feeling which swept Australia on the occasion to which I have referred, because it must have reached Queensland. There have been several similar instances since ; moneys have been donated, and no one knows what has happened to them. I certainly advocate that patriotic funds should be under the control of some central administrative body in order that they may be disbursed for the benefit of people who have done something for the Empire.
– Senator Large apparently not only shares my fears, but also substantiates them. Indeed, he even suggests that money should be collected from people who undertook to donate it. I’ invite his attention to a fund which was opened during the war to purchase a warship to replace the H.M.A.S. Sydney. Are we to understand that the fund which was subscribed to replace that warship will be liable to confiscation by the Minister for Repatriation? The moneys subscribed to that fund were not intended tobe employed for general patriotic purposes, but were intended to be expended on the purchase of another warship. If all patriotic funds are to be subject to the absolute control of the Minister, as proposed by this clause, I believe that I am quite justified in mentioning particularly the public fund to which I have just referred.
– I have already stated that the bill will apply only to patriotic funds raised during and since World War I., and I cannot imagine that the Government would interfere with funds such as that mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition.
– Will the Minister consider narrowing the definition of “patriotic funds”? The present definition is far too wide, although I think that we all agree that public funds should be subject to some official control. The clause state that “patriotic funds” means any funds established, or to be established . . . “, and I suggest that the words “ by public subscription “ should be added. I under stood the Minister to say that discussions have taken place with representative exservicemen’s bodies, and that being the case I ask him to include a provision to exempt funds privately subscribed for the benefit of dependants of members of the forces. Will the Minister consider an amendment to exempt the Legacy Club, whose funds have been subscribed by the public for the benefit of the dependants of those who died during the war? The administration of that fund has been excellent, and although I understand that the Government does not intend to intrude on the administration of that fund, or of those of similar reputable bodies, a great deal of public discontent and anxiety would be allayed if the Minister would give an assurance that the Government is prepared to exempt ex-servicemen’s funds and other funds privately subscribed, such as the Commercial
Travellers Association Fund and the War Widows Guild Fund from the operation of the bill. With the permission of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) I propose to read a telegram which he has just received from a Mrs. Vasey, which states -
Am very perturbed over powers given Minister in new Patriotic Fund Bill.Can you give me any information regarding its present and future scope?
That telegram certainly indicates that some anxiety exists in the minds of those associated with the administration of funds which are at present functioning to the satisfaction of all concerned. With regard to the other aspect of administration dealt with in this clause, I have no doubt that the funds mentioned therein should be under public control. However. I would appreciate an assurance from the Minister in regard to the funds which 1 have mentioned.
– I cannot agree to narrow the definition of “ patriotic funds “. The employment of words without exact qualifications often involves us in considerable difficulty, because two meanings are usually assigned to such expressions, namely, that accorded to them by a dictionary, and that accorded to them by the speaker who uses them. To delve into the question of definitions is to get into deep water, particularly in dealing with people who excel at making definitions even more confused than they really are. I assure the honorable senator that as far as the Legacy funds are concerned, they will be perfectly safe ; there will be no interference with them.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from5.33 to 8 p.m.
Second Reading. Debate resumed (vide page 3024.)
– In moving the second reading of this bill earlier to-day, the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) gave me the impression that he was endeavouring to build up in the minds of the people a fear that if power over prices and rents were not given to the central Government chaos, hardship, and depression would be their lot. First I point out that the Opposition is fully alive to the necessity to maintain control over rents and prices until the present gap between the supply of essential goods, and the demand for them has been bridged. “We fully realize that if these controls were removed immediately, chaos would result. We are not opposed to price control in itself; but’ we are opposed to the method by which the Government seeks to impose that control. We maintain that the Australian Government has full authority to carry on prices control for a further twelve months, and I shall deal with that aspect of the matter later in my speech.
The object of this bill is to transfer to the Commonwealth the powers of the States to control rents and prices. Let us analyse the position to-day: To do that, we should first read the first plank of the Labour party’s platform, which is “socialization of the means of production, distribution, and exchange “. I view the introduction of this measure very seriously, particularly in the light of certain legislation that was passed by this chamber a few days ago. I refer to the Banking Bill, the effect of which will be to create a banking monopoly in this country, and give to the central Government complete power over our entire financial structure. In effect, that measure socializes the means of exchange. If we link the Banking Bill and all that it means to the community, with the avowed policy of the Labour party to socialize the means of production, distribution and exchange, we can only regard the measure now before us most seriously. This measure provides for the holding of a referendum on the question of giving to the central Government permanent control over rents and prices. Literally, that means that the central Government would have complete control over all in dustries. Coupled with the Banking Bill, an affirmative vote by the people on the assumption by the Commonwealth of permanent powers in respect of rents and prices would mean the implementation of the Labour party’s socialization platform. The central Government will be able to determine what type, and what quantity, of goods shall be produced ; and how could this be described other than as socialization of industry? 1 maintain therefore that the measure now under consideration means very much more than we have been led to believe.
The Minister endeavoured to paint a grim picture of what would happen to the people of this country in the future if the Government were refused the power that it now seeks; but I draw attention to what is likely to happen if these powers be granted : A government of the type that is now in occupation of the treasury bench would bc able to socialize industry completely. Is the Government sincere in its expressed desire for permanent control over prices and rents, or is it more interested in its socialization policy and making use of post-war difficulties to further its socialization scheme? As I have said, the Government is endeavouring to instil fear into the minds of the Australian people as to what may happen if the powers provided for in this measure are not granted. A similar campaign was carried out at. the 1944 referendum. On that occasion, mothers were led to believe that if the referendum proposals were defeated, child endowment payments would cease. The proposals were defeated, but child endowment payments continued. Now an endeavour is being made to lead the people to believe that unless permanent power over prices and rents is conferred upon the Commonwealth Government, all existing control will cease, and chaos will follow. such fears are groundless, as I shall show.
During the war, complete powers were given to the central Government. This was necessary and, in the interests of the war effort, the people of this country were willing to sacrifice temporarily some of their freedoms so that the war might be won as speedily as possible. They realized that the entire democratic way of life was at stake and that an all-in effort had to be made to defeat the enemy. I admit that the controls still existing cannot be ended abruptly. It is necessary for them to remain until the disturbed condition of our economic life, which has continued into the peace, has been overcome. However, controls can, and should, be gradually released as opportunity offers. The Opposition does not advocate their immediate withdrawal. We believe that as production improves and more commodities of which there is now a scarcity become available, restrictions should be eased. But in this measure, the central Government seeks power to perpetuate the control of prices and rents. I listened carefully to the Minister’s second-reading speech, and I admit that he did say that, in time, he expected the controls to be removed gradually; but if the referendum proposals provided for in this measure be agreed to by the people, control of ,prices and rents will remain for all time.
The 1044 referendum was held while the war was still on, and the necessity for controls, including the control of prices, was much greater than it is to-day. Yet, on that occasion the Government only sought power to control prices and rents for a period of five years after the cessation of hostilities. Why then is it necessary, to-day, to seek this power permanently? Surely, during the war the position was very much graver than it is to-day? That referendum was defeated. Even in those critical days the people refused to give this power to the central government even for the limited period of five years. However, under ihe Defence (Transitional Provisions) Bill now before the Parliament, the Government will retain these controls until the end of 1948. These powers have proved effective up to date. During the currency of the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act, the Commonwealth has had full power in this respect. It is admitted that shortages of essential consumer goods exist at present. Such shortages have been part of the aftermath of every war; and, following the recent war, which was the most destructive in the world’s history, the present grave shortage of goods is not surprising. Perhaps, we feel most the shortage of building materials, to which the shortage of housing is due. So long as the shortage of houses continues it is essential to control rentals. The mei]]bers of the Opposition parties, therefore, do not wish to decontrol rents immediately. We realize that were that control lifted before the shortage of houses was overtaken, rentals would -soar sky high. Control over rentals must be retained until the lag in housing is ovetaken
The Commonwealth realizes that the States are better equipped to undertake housing programmes. Consequently, the Commonwealth has decided to confine its activities to financing the States in that sphere. Recently, Ave passed a measure authorizing the Government to borrow an additional £13,000,000 for that purpose. As the States are on the spot, as it wore, they are better able to undertake actual construction. In view of that arrangement, it is difficult to understand why the Government should seek permanent control of house rentals throughout the Commonwealth. We know that the types of homes vary in each State. That being so, the State authorities, with their officers on the spot, with first-hand knowledge of local factors governing the COS of homes, are obviously the proper authorities to control rentals.
It is quite evident that the key to this problem is increased production, because the need for prices control exists only so long as goods are in short supply. If goods were available in proportion to the spending power of the community, it is only logical that prices control would not be necessary. Under such conditions competition would automatically govern price levels.
– The honorable senator believes that it is necessary to retain prices control?
– Yes ; but, as I said earlier, although I do not oppose the temporary retention of prices control, 1 oppose the method by which the Government proposes to deal with this problem. Prices control would not be necessary if sufficient goods were available to meet, the public demand. However, unfortunately, the rate of production in some industries at present is far .below that ruling in 1939. For instance, evidence given before the Public Works Committee a few days ago revealed a great disparity between the rate of output per man-hour to-day in the building industry compared with the rate in 1939. The witness said that whereas in 1939 a bricklayer laid from 1,000 to 1,100 bricks a day, the rate at present is only from 300 to 350 bricks a day.
– He was a liar.
– Evidence was also given that, whereas in 1939 a carpenter used to hang twelve doors a day, at present the average is only four doors a day. ‘ This decrease of the rate of output not only means that fewer houses are being constructed, but also that the cost of home-building is increasing. That is one reason why control of rents should be retained for the time being. Higher costs must tend to force up rents. From what [ have said it will be clear that the best way of lowering prices is to increase the rate of output in industry. Increased production will automatically establish competition among sellers. That is obvious. The greater the quantity of goods produced, the greater will be the competition among sellers. To-day, however, the competition is between purchasers, and their competition tends to force up prices. Experience shows that when goods are in plentiful supply on a free market there is no need to impose prices controls. What is required is some incentive to the people to increase production. That incentive does not now exist. On many occasions previously members of the Opposition parties have pointed out these facts to the Government, and urged that it should supply that incentive to industry generally by reducing taxes. There can be no doubt that when goods are in short supply, black marketing increases and establishes conditions under which goods go to the highest bidder. It is common knowledge that in Queensland a person who wishes to build his own home cannot obtain such essential articles as baths* basins and sinks unless he is prepared to purchase them on the black market at exorbitant prices.
I have no doubt that Government supporters will endeavour to lead the public to believe that the Opposition parties are opposed to prices control. However, as I said in my opening remarks, that is entirely incorrect. We are not opposed to the principle of prices control, but we are opposed to the method by which the Government now seeks to retain prices control. As I have already said, the Commonwealth, under the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Bill now before the Parliament, will retain control over rents and prices, until the end of 1948. That measure is supported not only by the States but also by the Opposition parties; and that fact clearly indicates that the Opposition parties are fully alive to the need to retain such controls, but only until such time as goods now in short supply again become available in abundance. Until that day arrives, selective prices control must be maintained particularly in respect of essential goods such as building materials and equipment. These controls are now being exercised by the central Government and the States, without involving any alteration of the Constitution. The States have always enjoyed complete power to control prices and rentals.
– They have never exercised that power.
– That statement is not correct, because some States have exercised that power for many years. This power to control prices and rents has always resided in the States as a sovereign right. When the Constitution was framed this power was left in the hands of the States.
– They have never operated it.
– That is not so. It has operated in Queensland under State government control.
– It has .been operated in that State by the Australian Government.
– No; it has been in the hands of the State. Since 1920, the Profiteering Prevention Act has been in operation in Queensland. That legislation has empowered the State to fix maximum prices for a great number of essential commodities. The Prices Commissioner has done a good job.
– Is he ne t a Commonwealth officer?
– He is a State officer on loan to the Commonwealth.
– Is he not exercising federal powers?
– At the present time he is, because the Commonwealth has usurped the powers of the States. But before the Commonwealth took over complete powers during the war those powers were exercised in Queensland by the State Government. The legislation has been administered by the State without undue interference with industry. Similarly, the Queensland Fair Rents Act has operated to prevent the exploitation of the people in connexion with house rentals. I am firmly convinced that, if given a fair chance, industry in Australia will gradually overcome the present shortages. During the war industry was subjected to a good deal if disorganization, and it has taken time to settle down to peace conditions. However, I believe that the existing shortages will gradually be overcome if industry is given a reasonable chance. Every encouragement should be given to industries to expand and to produce good* which arc in short supply. Moreover, every inducement should be offered to new capital to enter the industrial field. The law of supply and demand would then operate as a sound national economic basis. That is important. Industry should gradually expand and production should increase on a basis which would ensure that costs would be kept as low as possible, owing to the competition which would exist between manufacture ivand producers of goods of all kinds. In the meantime, the public would be fully protected from exploitation by reason of the power already held by the Government, a power which, if necessary, could be extended. It would have to be extended after the end of December, 1948. Finally, the States could resume the control which is their sovereign right. For these reasons I consider that the granting of permanent powers to a central government is not justified.
– Having listened to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper), I can understand why Senator Grant recently said that some people are consistent in their inconsistency. The Leader of the Opposition says that there should be prices control, but he objects to the method of implementing that control. We haze heard a good deal recently about the need for a referendum to decide something that is already provided for in the Constitution. The Government intends to give to the Opposition something for which it has been asking, namely, a referendum as to whether the control of prices and rents shall be continued. The Opposition objects to the proposal. I cannot understand the real desire of the Opposition. Its leader said that the Minister who introduced the bill had created a fear on the part of the people that unless permanent control over prices and rents were granted there would be another depression. I do not think that the Minister suggested anything of the kind. He did not say that there would he a depression.
– I referred, to chaos, hardship and depression.
– The Leader of the Opposition raised the old bogy of the socialization of industry and of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
– It is not a bogy.
– This bill has no connexion with the socialization of industry. It is a measure for the control of capitalism and has nothing to do with socialism. The Leader of the Opposition has endeavoured to mislead the people. He advocated the control of prices by the States. I shall leave that matter to the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna), who is better able to discuss its legal aspects than I am. I was in the House of Representatives recently when the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) replied to the Leader of the Opposition in that chamber (Mr. Menzies) when the latter advocated State control of prices. On that occasion, the Prime Minister said that some time ago he had called a conference of Premiers, and that they had unanimously agreed to introduce certain legislation of a uniform character into the several State parliaments. But what happened later? The State Premiers fell down on the job. In relating the facts, the Prime Minister said that he did not blame the Premiers. He blamed the State Legislative Councils. In the light of experience, how can we expect the State parliaments to enact relevant legislation?
As our economy is based upon a policy of production for profit, this bill will not give to the workers equivalent value for their labour. That being so, we must do the best possible to protect their interests. As I. see it, controls are absolutely necessary. 1. agree that we cannot effect 100 per cent, protection. I have had some experience of the operations of a fair rents hoard. We found that, notwithstanding the existence of the board, some landlords were charging workers rent equal to a rate of 37 per cent, on the capital invested. The formula laid down was a 4£ per cent, return after all outgoings had been accounted for. Luckily, the people concerned came to the court, and when the board saw what had occurred it ordered the repayment of vast sums of money. That action had a steadying effect on other landlords, and rentals have teen kept fairly stable since then. Unfortunately, no control can be 1.00 per cent, effective. After World War T. we were told that rents and prices rose to 70 per cent, above pre-war rates. Prices have not risen so greatly as the result of the war of 1939-45. It is true that prices have risen, but chiefly because there has been a shortage of goods. What has caused that shortage ? It is due to people being taken away from the production of consumer goods to engage in war work. That caused a hig lag and some time will (lapse before it can be overtaken.
The Leader of the Opposition said that what is needed is more production. The Government is trying to get increased production, and in some directions production to-day exceeds the figures for 1939. The Government is trying to get as many immigrant? as possible so that production may be still further accelerated. It must: Ke remembered that a tradesman is not made overnight. Many goods consumed in Australia are imported, from overseas, which means that our prices are based on landed costs in Australia. On a previous occasion I explained that dinner plates obtainable in Czechoslovakia for ls. each have been sold in Australia for 12s. 6d. each. How was (hat possible? In addition to the price of the plates in Czechoslovakia, charges for freight, insurance, duty, and handling, as well as profit were added. Then the wholesaler added his margin of profit, ranging from 20 per cent, to 50 per cent, of the landed cost. It will be seen that the wholesaler makes a profit even on the charges that he pays. That means the consumers pay not only the duty and other charges, but also a further 25 ner cent, or even 50 per cent. Goods manufactured in this country also are subject to control. If we trace this matter right from the raw material to the finished article we shall find that many goods change hands many times. On each occasion those who handle them add a percentage to the cost. So long as goods are in short supply, and there is a demand for them so long will people add a little to costs in order to make an additional profit for themselves. An officer of the Prices Branch comes along and says, “ Show me your figures, and I shall determine the price which you are entitled to charge for your goods “.
Whilst prices control has undoubtedly had the effect of preventing general increases of prices, the fact remains that vendors have been able to increase prices by sneaking in small items here and there in respect, of which increases are not justified. Those small items amount in the aggregate to huge sums, and the resultant increase of prices represents the beginning of inflation. Detection of small unwarranted increases of prices is very difficult, and because of that difficulty it is virtually impossible to prevent them. Notwithstanding the present shortage of goods in this country, every industry i? showing higher margins of profit, and companies are paying larger dividends than they did before the war. Nevertheless, those companies and their friends begrudge the slightest increase of wages to the workers, and I contend that something should be done to compel them to reduce their profits by increasing workers’ wages. Although prices are. increasing all the time w ages do nor increase in proportion.
In Australia the Arbitration Court determines wages according to certain principles based on the cost of living. Index figures are published from time to time to show the actual cost of certain essentials such as rent, food and clothing. In 1907 the cost of living index allowed that, the average rent of a worker’s dwelling represented one day’s wages. The average rent fit that time was 7s. a week. To-day men and women are paying at least the equivalent of two days’ wages in rent, and J” know of cases where people are paying 37s. 6’d. a week, and more, for ordinary four-roomed houses. Everyone must realize the necessity for some sort of control in order to safeguard the welfare of The people. After all, the worker has only his labour to sell, and he has no rights other than his right to work. As I explained previously, wages are fixed by the Arbitration Court, and from time to rime adjustments are made in those wages. Some people believe that wages go up first and prices follow, but that is absolutely wrong. The cycle of events is that prices rise, and wages follow; but the injustice of that system lies in the fact that the rise of wages does not correspond with the rise of the cost of living. The net result is that the higher the cost of living and wages ascend, the worse off are the workers; they are always the ones who suffer most. I ask honorable senators to consider what is happening in “.France to-day and to look for the cause of that situation.
– The Communists are the cause of it.
– But who makes Communists? The class whom the honorable senator represents is responsible. The capitalist class in Prance compel led an earlier government; to remove price controls, and government after government did its utmost to enable the capitalists to extract the maximum profits. That situation continued, until the workers could no longer subsist on their wages. The result is that to-day the workers of France are fighting for higher wages to sustain themselves and their families, find the state of turmoil which now exists is so great that it looks as though France must collapse. We hear a great deal in Australia of communism; in fact, any one who seeks to improve the lot of the workers is culled a Communist. If the capitalists are right in branding those who -seek to improve workers’ conditions as Communists, then we should all be Communists, because our first duty is to improve the lot of the working people. In the United States of America the workers of that country found that the cost of liv ing rose so rapidly that they had to demand, an increase of wages of 12s. a day to cope with it. We do not want a repetition in Australia of the uncontrolled exploitation which brought about that situation. Sometimes, however, I feel that members of the Opposition really want to precipitate such a state of affairs here, because they know that in the depression which must follow it the monopolists reap their greatest profits. We all know that in a time of depression the £.1 buys more than it does at any other time.
– What absolute tripe !
– It is not tripe, it is true; and I believe that the capitalists of this country desire to see another depression. If we discontinue the present system of prices control, we may find ourselves chasing a willo’thewisp, as they are in France and the United States of America .to-day.
The Leader of the Opposition said that if there were greater production there would he no necessity for prices control. Supporters of the Government quite agree with that contention, because they know that when the supply of commodities excoeds the demand commodities are sold at a figure something near their real value. However, it is our duty to provide for conditions such as those which exist at present, and which may recur in time of war or national calamity. I commend the bill and I believe that its passage will have a steadying effect on the present monopolists.
– The necessity for the introduction of this measure indicates the inadequacy of the power of the National Parliament to deal with matters of such vital importance to Australia. From time to time appeals have been made to the people to clothe this Parliament with sufficient powers to enable it to function in the real interests of the people, but up to the pre:ent the people have shown themselves reluctant to grant increased powers to the Commonwealth. Although one or two minor amendments have been made to the Constitution to enlarge the powers of the Australian Parliament, we still find ourselves confronted with the necessity for asking the people to confer authority on the Commonwealth to control rents and prices. I do not intend to engage in an academic discussion on the subject; I propose instead to impress upon the Senate and the people of Australia the necessity for conferring on the Common-wealth power to deal with the important matter of control of rents and prices.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) said that the States already have power to fix prices. That is true, inasmuch as the States are sovereign bodies, because, unlike the National Parliament, they are not restricted by a written constitution. Because they are invested with sovereign powers, they can do all things other than pass legislation concerning subjects which were specifically allocated to the Commonwealth at the time of federation. But does any honorable senator suggest that such an important matter as the determination of rents and prices could be dealt with more effectively by six separate State parliaments than by one national parliament? It is true, as has been stated, that the Government, actuated by a desire to surrender some of its wartime powers, suggested to the States that, they should take over some of the temporary powers exercised by it in regard to the control of rents and prices. However, we must ask ourselves what has been our experience of their efforts up to the present. Has any State Parliament attempted to deal effectively with the situation? In the State of Victoria, which I represent, the Cain Government, which was a Labour one, introduced a bill, entitled the “ Economic Stability Bill “, which was designed to empower it to discharge certain functions in relation to prices control which had been exercised by the National Government during wartime. What happened to that bill? It was defeated in the Legislative Council. The result is that if a successful attack were made on the right of the National Government to exercise prices control under the “ defence power “, upon which that Government is at present relying, the people of Victoria would be left without any protection whatever against exploitation. It is idle for the Leader of the Opposition, any other member of the Opposition, or any opponent of the Government to suggest that this Parliament already has the power to continue the present controls. We have only to refer to the judgment delivered in the case which was litigated in the High Court recently. The justices of that court were equally divided in their opinions as to whether the National Government could constitutionally continue to exercise certain powers in relation to prices control, and it was only because the Chief Justice, Sir John Latham, decided in favour of the Commonwealth that it can continue to exercise those powers. However, that is a most precarious basis for the continued exercise of prices control, and another decision of the High Court might very well destroy that power.
Does any one suggest that the conditions of people in this country are any worse, because of the operation of controls, than they were during the war? Of course, we no longer feel the blast of war. and Australian lives are no longer being sacrificed to defend our country ; but it is equally true that the nation faces great peril in the present period of transition, and the future of the country is as much at stake now as it was during the war. Senator Morrow referred to the present condition of France, and I believe that his diagnosis of the cause of the troubles of the French people is correct. He explained how the internal economy of France was undermined by the greed of the capitalists, and the present struggle -which is being waged by the French people is simply an attempt on their part to obtain additional amenities of life. He also asked us to consider the position in the United States of America. Presentday conditions in that country constitute an example of which Australia should take note. The American Government acceded to the demands that were made for the lifting of controls, and as a result its President is now appealing to Congress to reimpose controls. He is doing that because he fears for the nation’s future. The United States of America is looked upon as one of the most wealthy countries in the world; it is held up as the glorious example of individual effort, and as a country in which every one thinks and acts for himself. As a result of the American people thinking and acting for themselves, the nation is likely to be brought down. Bearing in mind the conditions existing in those countries, I feel that the people of Australia would be more than foolish if they did not grant to their National Parliament the necessary power to control the economy of the country during these dangerous days.
The Leader of the Opposition suggested that increased production would solve the problem. Can any one say that production in the United States of America is lagging? The Americans are producing goods in abundance, but, notwithstanding that, we know what is happening there. Production will not meet the situation as it exists in Australia today. I do not deny that if we could increase production in the very near future there would be a levelling of prices, but the fact remains that, no matter what may happen, there will be underproduction in Australia for a number of years. The demand for goods to-day is great because of the Government’s policy of full employment, and because of the spending power in the hands of the people as a result of the increased prosperity during the war and since. The people’s pockets are full of money and, naturally, they desire to spend it. Consequently, the supply will not be sufficient to meet the demand for a number of years. Tt is, therefore, essential that these controls should be imposed.
I was surprised to read in the Melbourne newspapers this morning that the new Liberal-Country party Government in Victoria, upon taking office, paid a tribute to the work of the Cain Government in regard to its housing problem. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that all that was necessary to overtake the lag- in housing was for some bricklayers to lay a few more bricks.
– It would certainly help.
– It would, but there are other factors of which the honorable senator is fully aware. He is fully aware of the enormous demands that were made by the war upon materials that could be used for building ; he knows of the vast quantities of materials that were consumed during the war ; he knows of the materials that were used in the building of aerodromes and of other things for war purposes. At the moment there is not sufficient man-power to enable the lag to be overtaken. It was refresh ing to read that the Minister in charge of Housing in the new Government in Victoria paid a tribute to the work of the Cain Government in its efforts to overcome the housing shortage.. That shows conclusively that that Government, if it is to emulate the work of the Cain Government in regard to housing, will have a full-time job on its hands. I hope that, in the interests of the people of Victoria, it will carry on with the good work. I mention that in order to show that the argument adduced by the Leader of the Opposition is far from the point.
It is amusing to hear honorable senators opposite say that they are in favour of prices control, that they recognize that it must remain, but that they object to the manner in which it is proposed to exercise it. I point out to honorable senators opposite that the States are not willing to do it. And even if they were, how could State legislation be effective in dealing with matters affecting the whole of Australia? Goods are not manufactured in any one State alone. There is still interstate trade as well as intra-state trade, and in fixing costs it is necessary to have a tribunal dealing with the question from an Australian point of view.
When the debates took place on the fiscal policy of this country, the argument used by the protectionists in those days was that if Australia was to develop as a nation there would have to be a uniform tariff operating throughout the length and breadth of. the Commonwealth. The old free-traders wanted to pick and choose, they wanted to have a go on their own, so to speak; but, fortunately for this country, those who were in charge of this Parliament in its early days were possessed of an Australian outlook; they were not as petty in their political views as are honorable senators opposite to-day. They brought in a tariff system which dealt with Australia as a whole.
What were the objections raised to State wages boards in the early days of arbitration in this country? Objections were raised not only to State wages boards, but also to the principle of the fixation of wages by any tribunal at all. It was suggesed in those days that the good old law of supply and demand should determine the wage that the worker should he paid for his labour. Employers resented the idea of some tribunal coming between themselves and the worker to do justice. They asked, “ How can we compete fairly one with the other if there is a tribunal in Victoria determining one set of wages and conditions for, we will say, the boot operators in that State, and if there is another tribunal in New South Wales, or no tribunal at all, determining a rate different from that prevailing in Victoria?”. One of the strongest arguments for the setting up of a Federal Arbitration Court was that its awards would, subject to the jurisdiction of the Court, be binding on the employers in all States, and that as a consequence the Commonwealth as a whole could develop its secondary industries. Objection was raised by certain employers to other employers not being subject to an Arbitration Court award; it was said that those employers who were not subject to the award of the Court would have an unfair advantage over those employers who were subject to the a.ward. We can visualize the position that would exist in Australia, if there were six different tribunals in six different States attempting to deal, with rents and prices. Just imagine the position of our primary producers in Victoria, New South. Wales, .South Australia or other parts of the Commonwealth if different conditions existed in different States.
– Would the honorable senator like a man in Darwin to fix rents in Melbourne?
– I am not suggesting that a man in Darwin would fix the rents of the people in Melbourne under this proposal, but I am suggesting that, if this power is granted to the Government, the rents in Darwin, Melbourne and elsewhere will be determined in an efficient manner and not in an inefficient manner, as would be likely to happen if honorable senators opposite got their way or if the people of Australia were so foolish as not to give to this Parliament the power to deal with the question on a national basis. 1 know there will be a great deal of opposition to this measure by certain interested people. I know that those who would like to exploit the workers to-day because of the housing shortage will oppose this legislation. They, at least, are being kept in their pla.ee, because rents have been effectively controlled. Just imagine what would be the position of the great masses of the people in our great cities if there were no control over rents. It has been suggested that State tribunals might deal with that. In Victoria there is a fair rents court, hut that court can deal only with appeals from people who feel that they are aggrieved. If a landlord increases the rent, the tenant has to go to the trouble of appealing to this court, and he runs the risk of incurring some expense. Such an institution as nhat would be entirely useless. The authority to determine these matters must lie one which can give derisions prior to, and not. after, the event. As far as I can see. our position in Victoria would be intolerable if the Commonwealth lost this power.
In addition to the great mass of workers, there is another very important section of the community with much to lose if the power now held by the Commonwealth were suddenly taken from it by a decision of the High Court. I refer to those people who to-day are living on what are termed fixed incomes. Take for instance superannuated public servants. Already they have had to face increased prices. What will be the position of these people should price control be abolished? And what’ about other members of the community who are living on the income from investment? such as bonds? Honorable senators opposite often claim that they represent some of the less fortunate classes in the community, such as widows; what will happen to these people if the control of prices ceases? Every body who lives on a fixed income will be affected. Recently, a great fuss was made in this chamber about the fate of shareholders in the private banks under the bank nationalization legislation. Rut at least, under that measure the Government intends to pay a fair market value for the shares that are acquired ; but where would the shareholders in the banks and in other organization® be if prices control were removed, and the present inflationary trends were permitted to develop? Obviously, one is led to the view that the opposition to the banking legislation in the House of Representatives and in the Senate was prompted not so much by a desire to safeguard the interests of iiic shareholders as to protect the privileges of those who control and direct the private financial institutions. Similarly, in opposing this bill, members of the Opposition parties are more concerned with the fate of those who earn great profits than with the interests of private individuals whose purchasing power will be severely depleted should prices rise. The abolition of prices control would greatly favour those wealthy concerns, which as the result of manipulation of markets are able to amass even greater wealth.
I am grieved indeed to know that there are individuals in. the community who are prepared to sacrifice the Australian people for n political advantage - something that is not lasting but which will fade with the passing years. On the other hand, should the economy of this country be destroyed, its restoration would be far more difficult and would lake much longer than the rehabilitation of political fortunes. Therefore, I lt apo that when the people are called upon to vote upon the proposals provided for in this measure, they will not fall completely for the specious arguments that are now being advanced by the Opposition. It is idle for the Leader of the Opposition to say that he and his party would be prepared to support a measure providing for the granting to the Commonwealth of power over prices and rents for a limited period only. The honorable gentleman knows that such a proposal could be attacked in the High Court, and that if such an attack were successful all protection would be lost.
Although the Commonwealth seeks permanent power over prices and rents, that does not mean that the Parliament would exercise this power constantly. It would be a referred power to be utilized only in time of emergency. Should the balance between production and consumption be restored, there would be no need for the Government to interfere by fixing prices. Rut this is a. power that a national government must have and ‘ hold for use in national emergency. Do honorable senators opposite suggest that the power which the framers of the Constitution gave to this Parliament to be exercised in time of war should be wiped out? Certainly not. They know that these powers, drastic as they are, and providing for control, not only of the economy of this country, but also of its inhabitants, are only to be used when necessary. Similarly the power the Government, seeks under this measure would only be exercised in time of emergency. Such a time is now, and, I believe, for a few years to come. I hope that when this measure has been passed and the issues are placed before the electorate, the people of Australia will realize the necessity to clothe their National Parliament with all the power that it may require to enable u.s to face the future with the greatest of confidence, and to safeguard ourselves against conditions such a.? those in Europe, and those now developing in the United States of America. The Australian community will be very foolish indued if it does not entrust this additional power to the National Parliament. 1 support, the bill.
– Having heard the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) speak on behalf of hi.s colleagues, it would be interesting to know how be will vote at the referendum. He started off by saying that he was not opposed to prices control in itself or to certain forms of prices control. 1 remind the Senate that during the past 40 yea w the price at which a man may sell his labour has been fixed. But 1 have not heard one member of the Opposition object to that. Wages have been fixed by arbitration machinery, thus determining the price at which a man may sell his labour. Apparently, that is quite acceptable to the Leader of the Opposition ; but he objects strongly to any attempt to fix the prices of commodities that a man has to buy with his fixed remuneration. I am wondering just who the Leader of the Opposition represents in this chamber. He admits that a shortage of supplies leads to blackmarketing. We all concede the difficulty of policing black-marketing; but the honorable senator said that in Queensland any one who wished to build a home had to go on to the black market to obtain the necessary materials. In view of that admission, how can he oppose the granting of permanent control of prices to the Australian Government? The only conclusion that we can come to is that the honorable gentleman is supporting those individuals who are reaping the profits from the black markets. Otherwise, he would not have made such a foolish statement.
The Leader of the Opposition also said that the shortage of materials would he overcome in the course of time, hut he conveniently omitted to be more specific. He knows full well that throughout the Commonwealth to-day there is a shortage of approximately 400,000 or 500,000 homes, and that with the increase of population and the arrival of a large number of migrants, it will be many years before that lag can be overtaken. Does the honorable gentleman suggest that with the expiry of the Commonwealth’s control over prices under the defence powers twelve months from now home-builders should be forced to rely on black market supplies of materials for the next 10 or 15 years that it may take to overcome the housing shortage? That is the only construction that can be placed upon the honorable senator’s statements.
The Leader of the Opposition also referred to the Government’s alleged intention to socialize the means of production, distribution and exchange. Speaking on the Banking Bill some days ago, be said that when that measure had been passed, the Government would have all the necessary power to implement its socialization policy. But apparently he has forgotten that statement, because he has said to-day that should the Government’s referendum proposals be carried, it would then have all the power necessary to implement its socialization programme. The honorable gentleman knows full well that any government, regardless of its political colour, can only go so far as the Constitution permits it. This Government has gone as far in the direction of nationalization as the Constitution allows.
I come now to another interesting omission from the honorable senator’s speech. I should like to know just where he stands in regard to primary producers.
Is he against guaranteed prices for primary products ? That is something to which he made no reference in his speech. Only a few weeks ago orchardists were clamouring for the continuance of the apple and pear acquisition scheme to cover the current season’s crop. That scheme guarantees them a fixed price. Last season urgent representations were made to the Government to renew contracts for potatoes and other commodities produced in Tasmania. But it must be obvious that it would he impossible for the Government to continue to guarantee prices for primary products if it no longer had control over prices. In view of this demand by the primary producing community for guaranteed prices, I should like to know what the Leader of the Opposition has to say on this point. Representations are still being made to the Government. I point out also that many primary producing districts which are completely devoid of secondary industries carried the last referendum proposals for Commonwealth control of the marketing of primary products.
The Leader of the Opposition conveniently omitted to refer to those matters. Is he in favour of an exserviceman, who is desirous to-day of purchasing his property, being charged double the just value of the property, and in that way being exploited by persons whom he risked his life to defend? Does not the Leader of the Opposition believe that the central Government should have power to maintain prices of property at their just values? Or, does he wish to see ex-service personnel exploited owing to lack of prices control? If that is his desire he will oppose the referendum. If he wishes to see the primary producers again facing the hazards of the law of supply and demand, under which system the producers find themselves well off to-day but “ broke “ to-morrow, he will oppose the referendum; but if he wishes to give security to the primary producers, he will join with the majority of them in supporting this proposal. Already we have evidence of unprecedented industrial development in this country. Many new industries will be established in the near future. Should prices control be removed, what will be the effect upon such development? Once prices control is lifted, inflation will be encouraged with the result that the cost of establishing large factories will be doubled. That in itself is bad enough, but we must also remember that all excess costs of that kind will inevitably be passed on to the consumers in the prices of the goods produced by those factories. At the same time, the wages of the worker have been fixed for the last 40 years, and he will be obliged to bear that additional cost out of his restricted income. Apparently, honorable senators opposite agree that the wages of the worker should be fixed, but, object to the prices of the commodities which the wage-earner must buy being fixed. Once prices control is lifted the wage-earner, from his fixed earnings, will be obliged to meet additional payments in respect of rental.
What will be the reaction upon the primary producer, if the Government is not allowed to retain power to control the prices of his commodities ? Once such controls are lifted, no government will he able to continue to subsidize primary industries. The Leader of the Opposition also conveniently omitted to refer to the dairying industry, although honorable members of the opposition parties never cease alleging that the Government has failed to give sufficient assistance to the industry. The Government must have power to control the prices of primary products in order to be enabled to continue to subsidize primary production.
– There are such things as State grants.
– The Leader of the Opposition knows quite well that the present Government was the first to make available a subsidy to the dairying industry.
– That is not correct.
– The Leader of the Opposition was a member of the Senate long before I was elected to this chamber, but he has never produced evidence to disprove that statement. Once the Government loses power to control the prices of primary products, it cannot continue to subsidize primary industry, and the inevitable result will be chaos. A case which recently came to my notice will serve to illustrate what will happen in such circumstances. In respect of a consignment of primary products purchased in Tasmania, one party made a profit of £30 a ton before it was sold in Queensland. I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition would not support profiteering of that kind. If he does, I can understand his attitude towards this measure.
The Government has had to overcome many difficulties since it obtained power to control prices under the Commonwealth’s defence power. I refer particularly to difficulties arising in respect of the administration of prices controlMainly because this branch has been, more or less temporary, and, therefore, unable to offer security of employment, it has not succeeded in attracting firstclass staff. On the staffs of the Prices Commissioner there were many square pegs in round holes. We cannot expect to overcome that difficulty until we are able to guarantee security to employees in that branch. Until we are able to do so, many anomalies will arise. I have not the slightest doubt that opponents of the referendum will endeavour to mislead the public by citing instances of inefficient administration in respect of prices control up to date. Opponents of the proposal to be submitted at the referendum will seek, by fair means or foul, to defeat it. They will concentrate on small issues and anomalies. I have no doubt that they will play up instances of which the following case, which recently came to my notice, is typical. A businessman with three or four sources of income, who was engaged in selling a particular line, the price of which had. been fixed, received a letter from the Prices Branch asking for details of his income during the preceding five years from all his investments. Such a request was absurd. The officer who was responsible for making it is what I describe as a square peg in a round hole. Of course, anomalies of that kind will he fully publicized by opponents of the referendum proposal. Other anomalies have arisen due to the inexperience of departmental officers, whom the department has been obliged to engage because it could not attract more experienced personnel who feared that prices control was likely to he abandoned at any time. I shall cite another case of inefficiency. It has been the practice to bring officers engaged in valuing properties from their home State to a State in which they have no knowledge of local conditions, and, consequently, are not capable of doing their work efficiently. In one case the valuator on the spot valued a property at £3,000, but later an officer of a subtreasury reduced the valuation to £996. Apparently, the latter believed that he was better able, sitting in his office, to do the job than the man on the spot who inspected the property. I mention those anomalies in the hope that when the referendum proposal is carried, Ministers will check up on these staffs to ensure that such anomalies shall not be repeated in the future.
I was hopeful that this measure would be dealt with on a non-party political basis, because the whole future of our economy depends upon the success of the referendum. Should the Government’s proposal be rejected by the people, our economy will be thrown into chaos. Nobody knows that better than members of Opposition parties. They have had sufficient experience of life to know that should prices control be abolished, even twelve months hence, we shall be confronted with inflation. Knowing those facts, I cannot understand why the Opposition parties, for once in their history, have not, in the interests of our people as a whole, dealt with this measure on a non-party political basis instead of with the object of safeguarding the interests of the few who benefit by any misfortune which befalls the masses of the people, such as those people in Queensland who the Leader of the Opposition said could not obtain baths, basins and sinks unless they were prepared to purchase them at exorbitant prices on the black market. Apparently, there are more profiteering merchants in Queensland than in any of the other States. Only the profiteer and racketeer will benefit should the Government’s proposal be rejected by the people at the forthcoming referendum. I urge honorable senators opposite to consider carefully the effect of such a- decision upon our economy as a whole. No government, regardless of party politics, could continue the existing prices control unless the referendum proposal were carried. I am certain that, provided the people are told the truth, they will endorse the Government’s proposal by an overwhelming majority.
– I. support the measure. I shall do everything within my power to work for an affirmative vote at the referendum. The Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) in his second-reading speech said -
The question is not u political one. It is a simple question, as every Australian should realize, of making sure that nation-wide protection can be given in times of difficulty to the tenant, the wage-earner and the housewife, to the primary producer and in fact to every Australian who has to pay for land or goods or services of any kind.
I regret that the Opposition parties have intruded party politics into this matter instead of adopting a national outlook. This is not a party-political matter. The issue involves the very destiny of our people. We know that through prices and other controls imposed during the war Australia emerged successfully from its period of travail. Australia’s internal economy is so sound as to be the envy of other nations. That is because there has been in office a government prepared to act fearlessly, regardless of the consequences to itself. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) says that he is not opposed to prices control in itself, but that he objects to the methods by which those controls are exercised. What does he object to in this bill?
– I stated my objections clearly.
– The honorable senator said that the reason for this legislation was that it is a leading plank in the platform of the Labour party, which aims ultimately at the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. He has endeavoured to convey the impression that if this proposal is given legislative effect, and is subsequently agreed to by the people, the Government will have authority to direct what type and quantity of goods shall be produced in this country. That is merely a supposition, and -a repetition of statements which have appeared in the press and have been spoken over the radio in connexion with the Government’s banking proposals. It is another example of misrepresentation deliberately placed before the people. If we consider the proposal squarely, we moist ask ourselves how,by regulating the prices of commodities and rents, power will be giventhe Government to direct the type and quantity of goods that are to be produced. Although such a statement is mere rubbish, I am confident that when this proposal is placed before the people it will be repeated.
Let us consider this matter from a national point of view and free from all party-political aspects. We should make up our minds whether this proposal is, or is not, in the interests of the people of Australia. There is to-day tremendous purchasing power in the hands of the people and, at the same time, a great shortage of consumable goods. That being so, there must be some medium whereby we can control the prices of the goods in. short supply.
– I desire to inform the Senate that the Right Reverend Dr. E. S. Woods, Bishop of Lichfield, and a member of the House of Lords, is within the precincts of the chamber. With the concurrence of honorable senators I shall invite him to take a seat on the floor of the Senate, beside the President’s chair.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
Bishop Woods thereupon entered the chamber and was seated accordingly.
– I deeply appreciate the opportunity to continue my speech in the presence of such an eminent visitor as Bishop Woods, of the House of Lords. I trust that as the result of his presence in the chamber, I shall be inspired to say what I have in my mind in a better way than otherwise would be the case.
I was pointing out that because of goods being in short supply in this country, and alsobecause of the tremendous purchasing power in the hands of the people, it is necessary that there shall be control over the prices charged for various commodities. We know that there are always persons willing to profiteer as a result of the economic circumstances which exist from time to time. The Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) has told us that after World War I. rents increased by 50 per cent. between 1918 and 1929. As the result of the application of controls during and since World War II., rents have not increased to anything like the same degree. All that the Government is asking the people to do is to give to the Commonwealth authority to act in their interests.
It has been said that the State governments could control prices effectively. I believe that they have the power to do so, but the question arises whether they will, in fact, do so. In each State, excepting Queensland, there is a Legislative Council elected on a restricted franchise and, therefore, representing only a section of the people. Should the democratically elected Houses of the State parliaments pass legislation designed to protect the people it is doubtful whether the Legislative Councils would concur, and so enable such legislation to he placed on the statute-book. Fear that the Upper Houses will act in an undemocratic way is not without foundation, because we have only to recall what happened after the State Premiers, at a conference of Ministers, had agreed to introduce legislation to give to the Commonwealth power to control prices. Honorable senators will remember that an interesting situation developed in some of the States when legislation for that purpose came before their Parliaments. I understand that in Western Australia the legislation which passed through the Legislative Assembly was so emasculated in the Legislative Council as to be practically unrecognizable.
Another point is the capacity of the State parliaments to do the job. Under the defence powers conferred on the Commonwealth by the Constitution it may do certain things, but the High Court has held that the power exists only for a limited period after the country has ceased to be at war. How long the High Court may regard the defence power as being exercisable I cannot say. It may be five years, or ten years; or it may be only one or two years. No one can say at this stage how long action taken under defence power conferred on the Commonwealth would be regarded as valid. The power to control prices has already been extended to the end of 1947, and there is now before the Parliament a bill to extend it still further, to the end of 1948, but whether there will be a further’ extension until 1949 no one can say. Even assuming that that extension were granted, and that the powers of the Commonwealth were extended for a further year, what is there to prevent anyone from appealing to the High Court for a determination that these powers are no longer valid? In my opinion, it is too risky to have the destiny of Australia dependent on circumstances which may arise as the result of litigation in the High Court. It is a physical impossibility for six States to pass legislation of an exactly similar kind. The immediate result of six separate Parliaments making different decisions would be a state of chaos not only in relation to the cost of commodities but also with regard to the fixation of wages. Some States would be more favorably situated in regard to trade than were other States. We have to make up our minds whether the proposal contained in this bill is in the best interests of the people. Despite the arguments of the Opposition and statements in the press, I express my strong conviction that this legislation is necessary in the interests of the people of Australia. I do not say that prices control should continue indefinitely. I submit that determination of the period during which these powers should be exercised depends solely upon economic necessity. It is a matter of common sense that as supply overtakes demand controls will be relaxed, until they ultimately cease to be exercised at all. Of course, any one who listened to the arguments of critics of the Government would imagine that the Government had introduced this bill in order to confer some advantage upon itself-
– The Gov wants more power.
– More power for what? Apparently the honorable senator contends that this Government has something to gain by the passage of this bill, and he suggests that that something is more power. But what does the Government want extra power for?
– That is what I want to know.
– The power which the Government is seeking is to be exercised for the benefit of the people, and certainly not for the benefit of the Government because the Government will gain nothing by it. What could it possibly gain from securing the power it now seeks ?
– It wants more and more power.
– Like a parrot on a fence, the honorable senator repeats the word “ power “. I cannot understand why, in a democratic country whose citizens advocate freedom of speech and religion and freedom from want, political representatives cannot get away from petty party politics on a matter of such importance.
– That is exactly what I say-
– I say to the honorable senator, and to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper), that thenpresent attitude is concerned with mere party politics rather than the national welfare. I say that deliberately, and I make the same accusation against the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Menzies). Why cannot all parties combine to explain to the people the necessity for the adoption of the present proposal? The Opposition should co-operate with us in explaining to the people just what the Government is trying to do for them. Members of the Opposition agree that controls are necessary, and they have indicated that they are not prepared to remove them either now or at any given time in the future. Their whole case is that the Government is pressing this proposal because it desires to acquire more power for its own use. Of course, that is a deliberate mis-statement, because they know that the Government cannot gain any advantage from this proposal. Why would the Government want additional power of this nature, if it were not to be employed for the benefit of the people ? The criticism of members of the Opposition consists almost entirely of suppositions, and they have an unhappy knack of endeavouring to thrust their suppositions on the people. While ever I have a voice left I shall resist misrepresentation of that kind. The people of this country must be protected. One result of the forthcoming bounteous harvest and of the profitable sale of our wool overseas, apart altogether from the expansion of our secondary industries, is that the purchasing power of the people will be considerably expanded in the near future. The present spending r:oyer of the community is already considerable, and because it will shortly be augmented in the way I have indicated, it is more than ever necesary to take action to prevent the occurrence of an inflationary cycle. If effective action is riot taken now nothing can prevent the profiteers of this country from exploiting the people, and we know that the result of their .activities will be to produce the misery associated with inflation.
In 1945, the Government did me the honour of sending me to the United States of America, where I was able to study .conditions at first hand. On my -return I informed the Senate of what I had observed, and I mentioned particularly the high prices of commodities. I prophesied then that when the war -with Germany had ended undoubtedly the United States Government would immediately cancel large numbers of war contracts and that hundreds of thousands of people would lose their employment, and I made the same prophesy in regard to the cessation of hostilities with Japan. My prophesies were confirmed by the course of subsequent events. Furthermore, the position in America was aggravated by the decision of the government at the end of the war to remove price controls. A steak which already cost 12s. 6d. in 1945 now costs very much more. The great increase of price in respect of that one item is indicative of the extent of the increases of prices generally which have occurred, and undoubtedly the United States of America is now heading for an economic smash. The President of the United States of America is striving to re-impose price controls in order to present such an occurrence, because he and the members of his Government realize that if the old system of laisser-faire is allowed to continue, “free enterprise”, with its concomitant monopolies and cartels, will assuredly precipitate an economic crisis. The Australian Government must keep in mind the effects which such an occurrence in the United States of America would- have on world economy, and on that of this country in particular. Furthermore, Australia owes a duty to the United Kingdom to assist that country in the grave economic difficulties which confront it, consequent on the exhaustive efforts which it made to save civilization during the long war which ended only two years ago.
I invite honorable senators to consider the situation in France to-day. That country is in a state of turmoil because of the rapacity of French capitalists who have exploited the resources of the country to the point where the people have rebelled. The same thing has happened in Italy, and we know that Europe’s economy cannot recover until that of Germany is placed on a sound basis. In our own country we are confronted with something in the nature of a financial crisis because of the shortage of dollars. Those are all factors which have actuated the Government in its decision to introduce the present proposal. Honorable senators must consider the difficulties in which this country may possibly be placed twelve months hence, and the more one thinks of those matters, the more one realizes the necessity for the introduction of such a proposal as the present one. It has been argued that State governments can exercise the powers which the National Government is seeking, but the difficulties in the way of securing effective, uniform action by the States are such that national control is obviously the only solution of the problem.
In the course of his remarks, the Leader of the Opposition referred to press reports of certain evidence which was given before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, and he emphasized that portion of that evidence which stated that bricklayers now lay only 250 to 300 bricks a day as compared with 900 to 1,000 before the war, and that carpenters now hang only four doors a day as compared with twelve before the war. Whilst it is a fact that evidence to that effect was given yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition could not have been aware of later evidence which completely refuted it. I make that explanation for him because I believe that he is honest and would not wilfully make a false statement. Only this morning evidence was tendered to the committee which refuted the statements which I have mentioned, but unfortunately members of the press were not present at the time, so that no correction will be made of the published statements. “Without endeavouring to influence the deliberations of the committee, of which I am a member, I emphasize that the evidence given this morning completely contradicts the contention voiced by the Leader of the Opposition. That leaves me to point out the unfairness of the press, because, whilst it is always eager to publish information which is derogatory of the Government, it will not publish information to the contrary. The attitude of the press in this regard was, in my opinion, largely responsible for the recent defeat of the Victorian Labour Government.
Having regard to the acknowledged necessity for control of prices, I propose to quote a resolution of the Federated Chambers of Commerce of “Western Australia to indicate the attitude of the interests which are opposing this bill. The eighteenth annua] conference of that body recently adopted a resolution in the following terms: -
Tl is conference considers that the Federal Government has intentionally departed from the original principle of prices control and is Using Prices regulations to reduce margins of profit operating prior to September, 1939, and has every intention to continue so doing. This conference, therefore, recommends that steps bc taken to commence a campaign for the abolition of the present system of price control by - (a) publicity; (6) representations to State and Federal Governments; (c) representations to Federal Liberal and Country parties.
That resolution indicates quite clearly the opposition of vested interests to prices control. Their complaint is that the Government is seeking to reduce their margins of profit. Of course, if businessmen wish to make greater profits than they did before 1939 they can do so only by eliminating the present system qf prices control. The moment at which this Country eliminates price fixation while price fixation is still necessary will be the moment when a period of inflation will begin. There obtains now what has never before obtained in the Commonwealth of Australia - namely, full employment.
I conclude by saying that the reason for this legislation and the subsequent referendum is to safeguard the Australian people from inflation and depression and to keep in check the profiteer and the racketeer. It is nothing more and nothing less than that.
– I listened with great interest to the address of the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna). If and when I deliver an address such as that - and in this changing world, I do not know when that might he; in the light of the elections in Victoria it may be earlier than some honorable senators opposite fear and than we on this side hope - I shall expect the Minister to accuse me of indulging in generalizations, of being a little platitudinous. In that event, I should have to admit to some degree of guilt. The manner in which the Minister touched upon most things other than the reasons for the introduction of this bill was remarkable. As an instance of some of his pious generalizations I quote this passage from his speech -
To safeguard the Australian people from inflation and depression, and to keep in check the profiteer and the racketeer. . . .
That is highly desirable. It is not seriously suggested that ‘there is any responsible section of the Australian people which is prepared to throw the rest of the community to the profiteering wolves. The position has not been fairly or frankly stated. There is no suggestion that price control should be immediately relinquished. If there were, the issue could have been fought twelve months ago. At that time an extension was granted, and it has been indicated that a further thirteen months’ extension will be granted without any hesitation. It has not been fairly and frankly said that it was the Menzies government that put the legislation creating this machinery on the statute-book of the Commonwealth. To suggest that the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Menzies) and the members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party are waiting, like snarling wolves, to descend immediately upon the innocents who are without the protection of price control is not only grossly untrue but shockingly unfair - and the Minister knows that. The Minister further said -
The object of this bill is to amend the Constitution so as to give to this National Parliament the necessary powers.
These powers .are not necessary to continue price control. The extension for a further thirteen months of the powers under the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act is not being disputed; but the question of granting permanent powers is another matter. Permanent powers are not necessary unless it is intended to ride rough-shod over the sovereignty of the States. That these powers were never intended to be permanent in the beginning is clearly indicated by all the speeches made by responsible ministers until within the last six or eight weeks. I quote another passage from the Minister’s second-reading speech -
In an economic sense, rents are only a particular group of prices; but there must be no doubt whether they are included in the power. They are a vital element in the life of the people.
I agree with that. For over 27 years the government of Queensland has realized that rents are a vital element in the living costs of the mass of the people. For 27 years - until its administration was, by consent, taken over by the Commonwealth Government - there was a very effective and efficient system of rent control in Queensland. It is not a matter, as one honorable senator tended to imply, of a long and tedious process of appeal, which rather suggests an appeal from the decision of one court to another court of a higher status. The fair rents court in Queensland provides a very inexpensive way of determining rents, and I say that with humility and with sorrow, because, the legal fraternity has no right of audience in it. “Whether or not that makes the proceedings less expensive, I do not know ; the agents may charge more than the lawyers. It is an informal court, very free of access and very speedy of determination. It has operated very effectively for over 27 years.
Another pious statement made by the Minister was -
A vital duty of the National Government is to give its people that freedom from fear and from want which was held out to them in the Atlantic Charter as one of the aims which made the sacrifices of the war worth while.
That is a very commendable sentiment, and one with which we cannot disagree; but in the meantime we are waiting to get to the case. The speeech made by the Minister was not entirely untypical of legal proceedings. If a counsel has a case where the evidence is not very attractive from his point of view, and where there are very few, if any, good points which he can dress up to present to the jury, it is not unusual, if he is a clever and skilled advocate - and I do not underestimate the Minister’s skill and ability - for him to touch upon everything but the evidence. He may take the jury for a long trip round the beautiful views and touch upon everything except the case before jit. With great skill, the Minister’ on this occasion touched upon everything but the case before the Senate. He gave expression to some very attractive sentiments - sentiments which will find a ready echo and response in all our hearts. They were thrown in for good measure, but, like the flowers that bloom in the spring, they have nothing to do with the case.
In one part of his speech the Minister indulged in a little fear-mongering. In case we had enjoyed the trip too much, he referred to the threat of a coming depression. Then he went on to speak of the evil exploitation by profiteers. I shall deal with that later, indicating the manner in which it has been dealt with so effectively in Queensland. He said -
Thanks to rent and price control, there was much less profiteering in Australia during the recent war.
That is very true, but I am sorry to say that he spoke no word of recognition of the government that was responsible for .putting the necessary legislation on the statute-book. The late John Curtin paid a very sincere and generous tribute to the efficacy of that legislation, which enabled him to carry on, but I have not heard it mentioned in debate in this chamber and I have not read of it being referred to in the speeches made in the House of Representatives. The
Minister went on to say something that was very fair and very unworthy of a worthy champion of a worthy cause. He said -
Thanks to rent and price control, there was much less profiteering in Australia during the recent war, but the sudden removal of these controls at the present time would undoubtedly lead to profiteering.
There is not the slightest suggestion that anybody wants, or that anybody would permit, a sudden and immediate cessation of these controls. Honorable senators know that the question of these powers ceasing to be exercised by the Commonwealth Government will not arise for over thirteen months, and during that period the sovereign powers of the States will have ample opportunity to find means of cushioning the effect of the transitional period.
– Can the honorable senator read the mind of the High Court?
– I .wish I could, but that again, like the flowers that bloom in the spring, has nothing to do with the case. The Minister said -
We also see that the States are not in a position to handle these weapons effectively.
I heard nothing said and I read nothing which would afford any proof or substantiation of that proposition. In has reply the Minister may be able to point to something I have missed, but, seeing that the .States are sovereign States, I do not see why they cannot exercise any powers except those that have been expressly handed over to the Commonwealth. That proposition is not quite sound as it stands. The Government is asking for a certain power, and that power must reside somewhere now. If it is not in the hands of the Commonwealth, then it must be in the hands of the States. It cannot be in mid-air.
– That is a kindergarten argument. ,
– If the Commonwealth has not the power now, it means that the States must have it. Honorable senators opposite may know where the power resides. If it does not reside in the States or in the Commonwealth, I should like the Minister in his reply to explain to me just where it does reside.
In another part of his speech the Minister said -
Price control will be required beyond the transition period in relation, for instance, to houses and rents, where shortages must be expected to continue for some time.
This is where I suspect there is a nigger in the woodpile. I want to know what has happened to cause the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and other Ministers of the Crown to change their minds between now and the time they made the statements I shall quote. In July, 1945, the then Acting Prime Minister, Mr. Forde, said -
The Government is in agreement that the relaxation of the controls should be gradual and that the ultimate objective is to achieve an economic position that will permit removal of price control. That point of view has been expressed officially by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government.
Professor Copland’s report on economic policy tabled in the Parliament on the 20th April, 1945, stated -
Price control, priorities in essential materials and investment control - none of those controls will be necessary in the long run when the economy is again functioning normally.
Mr. M. E. McCarthy, the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner, said on the 5th September, 1946 -
The Government has already announced that its policy will be towards the abandonment of price control as soon as circumstances permit; that is when supply catches up with demand and competitive trading is resumed.
Then, on 31st May of this year, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) said -
The Government has no desire to retain controls longer than is absolutely necessary, and as it is found that present controls can be removed the Government will take action in this direction.
I should be very interested to hear an explanation of the sudden change of opinion. After all, May of this year is not a long time ago, and on that date the Prime Minister disclaimed any intention of seeking permanent powers such as those sought in this measure. What has happened to change his mind?
In his second-reading speech, the Minister said that prices control could not prevent falls in prices taking place, but that when drops occurred, prices control could, by maintaining minimum legal prices, help to cushion their effect on primary producers, and on the Australian economy generally. I ask the Minister to explain why the provisions of the Constitution in sections 51 and 90 are inadequate. Section 51 states -
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the (Commonwealth with respect to: -
Bounties on the production or export of goods, but so that such bounties shall bo uniform throughout the Commonwealth.
Then section 90 provides -
On the imposition of uniform duties of customs, the power of the Parliament to impose duties of customs and of excise, and to grant bounties on the production or export of goods, shall .become exclusive.
I submit, therefore, that the claim that price fixation is necessary to make up for what is now done by bounties, and that bounties cannot be made under the law #s it now stands, is not correct.
The Minister then traversed inflation, shortages, imports and exports. His discourse was admirable and interesting, hut it did not give much support to the bill now before us. My attitude, and that x>i the party to which I belong, has been quite clear throughout. It was the Menzies administration that placed upon (the statute book the machinery under which prices control has operated since the beginning of the war. It does not add any point to the arguments in favour of the bill for cheap sneers to be made about members of the Opposition in this chamber because we happen to hold different views as to the method by which the general principle of prices control should be administered. The operation of prices control is so intricate and so peculiar to the States that I have no hesitation in saying that it is better administered by the States. I point out, too, that the arrangements which, from time to time since the outbreak of war, have been made between the Commonwealth and the .States, have never at any stage indicated that these powers would be better exercised by the Commonwealth than by the States. In 1942, an agreement was reached between the Commonwealth and the States, particularly in regard to taxation, but also in regard to other matters. I shall read the preamble of the relevant Queensland legislation - the Financial Arrangements and Development Aid Act 1942 - to indicate to hon orable senators that this further intrusion into the realm of the States - this encroachment on the sovereignty of the States - was never contemplated:
An Act relating to financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the State of Queensland and for such purpose to suspend the imposition of State Income Tax and Income (State Development) Tax during the present war and for a prescribed period thereafter; to make further provision in aid of the planned economic development of the State having in view war and post-war requirements and for other purposes.
And whereas in order to aid all development of the State on its existing system of planned works co-ordination and having in view the existing war and post-war problems it is necessary and desirable in the interests of the general well being of the State to make other provisions in that behalf.
The point I wish to make is that it was clearly indicated, and placed on record in this statute, that the development of the State of Queensland was to continue along existing lines. That attitude was assented to by the Prime Minister until as recently as May of this year. It was not until the banking bill was trotted out that anything to the contrary was suggested. Certainly, it had been suggested in general terms at a previous referendum, but the proposals were rejected by the people. Now the Government has produced this measure, and instead of “ two little girls in blue we have “ two little boys in red “. The banking bill is being given a playmate.
I should lake to give to honorable senators some indication of the thoroughness with which the Government of Queensland has, for 27 years, provided against many of the ills that have been emphasized so strongly by honorable senators opposite - the ills of monopolies, profiteering and extortion. It would be indeed a sad state of affairs if the public had not been adequately protected, and any Government that permitted unbridled exploitation of its people would not deserve to live very long. The Queensland act to which I shall refer now was given assent on the 11th March, 1920 - more than 27 years ago. It is entitled -
An act to make provision against the charging of unfair prices for certain commodities and for other incidental purposes.
Honorable senators may wonder what kind of commodities are encompassed. Section 3 shows that the range is, very wide indeed. It provides for the inclusion of -
There is really nothing conceivable within the wants of man, woman or child that is not subject to control. In regard to profiteering, the measure provides that it is unlawful for any trader to sell any article at a price in excess of the declared price and that it is an offence to refuse to sell at the declared price any article which is in stock. Provision is also made that if a trader refuses to sell at the declared price commodities that are in his possession, the price fixing authorities may commandeer those commodities at the fixed price and thereby make them available to the public. The powers of the Prices Commissioner are fully set out in section 20. He has power to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath, and to commit witnesses for perjury and so forth. Monopolies too are covered. Section 17 provides -
Every person commits an offence who -
To contemplate a measure wider in its ramifications and more complete in its scope for the purpose of dealing with monopolies and combines, the fixing of prices, and the prosecution and punishment of individuals who violate the “ Profiteering Prevention Act “ as it is familiarly called, would be most difficult. Another reason why I consider that prices andrent control can be better operated locally than from Canberra, is that in the event of a complaint being made and an inquiry being held, almost invariably the matter would have to be referred to Canberra before a direction to prosecute was given. That would cause delay and general inefficiency. On the other hand, if the machinery is local and decisions are made locally, there is much greater efficiency and expedition. What are the functions and duties of this chamber? The concept in the minds of the founders of the Constitution was that the Senate should be essentially a council of States. It was envisaged that the federation should comprise really two sections, the national union, as it were, expressed in the House of Representatives and the States represented in theSenate. In the concept of the founders of the Constitution we are here to represent not so much the individuals of the States as the States themselves, the individuals of the States being represented in another place. For that reason, I ask honorable senators to satisfy themselves whether the States have the power, capacity, machinery and sovereignty to exercise these controls. What reason can we find to justify denuding the States of a right which is essentially their own?
Quick and Garran in their Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, at page 415, dealing with reports of discussions at the conventions which led up to federation, state -
It may not be unprofitable to review a few of the grounds upon which this opinion is hazarded-
That is the opinion that the Senate is theStates’ House -
In the first place, the very structure of the general government contemplated one partly federal and partly national. It not only recognized the existence of State governments, but perpetuated them, leaving them in the enjoyment of a large portion of the rights of sovereignty, and giving to the general government a few powers, and those only which were necessary for national purposes.
Bearing that in mind, I submit that no case has been made out to justify this measure, which contemplates a mutilation and whittling down of the sovereignty of the States. Professor Bland, Professor of Public Administration in the University of Sydney and a leading Australian authority on the science of government, said recently - 1 see danger in the Canberra move-
He was referring to powers sought by the Government at the previous referendum - to take move powers from, the States. Let Canberra, concern itself with national affairs such us defence and foreign affairs, leaving to the States those functions for which the States arc better fitted . . . things that they can do better for us than Canberra can.
I challenge honorable senators opposite to state precisely and without equivocation their attitude towards the sovereignty of the States. Are they pledged to bring about unification and to mutilate and destroy the sovereignty of the States, or arc they merely going to whittle down the sovereignty of the States bit by bit? There was a time when I, personally, was very strongly inclined towards unification, but whether it is that I have grown older, or that Canberra has grown more arrogant, my attitude at present is, “ No more power to Canberra “. These powers which affect the people of the States so intimately are much more effectively and expeditiously administered by the States.
– Including the Legislative Councils.
Sena tor O’SULLIVAN.- Perhaps, Mr. President, at your leisure, you will let the honorable senator know what happened to the Legislative Council in Queensland. I shall be interested to hear whether the Government is doing this as one more step towards complete unification, and, precisely, what is the Government’s attitude towards the sovereignty of the States. When this particular limb has been cut off, what power does the Government contemplate taking next from the States? What is the next mutilation which the poor unfortunate States are going to suffer?
I oppose the whole conception of this scheme. The Leader of the Opposition in, the House, of Representatives (Mr. Menzies), when he placed the National Security Act on the statute-book, showed his real attitude towards prices control. Tha.t is still the attitude of the Opposition parties. But now the exigencies of war have passed, and as soon as it is practicable to hand back to the States the powers that are properly theirs the sooner we should do so. In time of war it was necessary, in order to meet the particular emergency, that there should be only one authority in this sphere, but now that we are endeavouring to get back to the happier and calmer days of peace let us get back to the ways of peace also, and hand to the States the rights, responsibilities and duties which are properly theirs. I am sure that if, and when, this issue is put to the people they will say - and I say this with all respect to the Prime Minister - “ No more power to Chifley”.
– Senator O’Sullivan stressed right through his speech the question of power. This is a question of power; and the position as I see it is whether the power to control rents and prices is to be vested in private individuals and monopolies or in the Government which is directly responsible to the people. In the past when power was exercised by private individuals and monopolies it was exercised by them trthe very limit. They charged the highest rents as landlords and the highest prices as sellers of commodities whenever the opportunity offered. That was the position. Then, when the war came, and the Government was compelled to do something to prevent a state of affairs from developing which would prevent it from giving effect to its war-time policy, it brought in a measure of rents and prices control under its war-time powers. Those controls were proved to be very necessary, indeed. Prices control operated within certain limitations. In my judgment, it did not operate to the degree that it should have, but in time of peace, or what some people call peace, the same control can be operated with benefit to the people as a whole, particularly the wage-earners.
Parodoxical though it may seem, whether prices are increased or reduced the purchasing power of wages is reduced. Obviously, when rents and prices are increased the effect is to reduce the purchasing power of wages, and when rents and prices are reduced the Statistician very obligingly informs the responsible authorities that the cost of living has been reduced, because rents and prices have been reduced and, consequently, the purchasing power of wages is reduced again. So the wage-earner is in the position that unless something is done in the direction indicated by the Government under this measure he will suffer a constant reduction of the purchasing power of his wages. The power to which Senator O’Sullivan referred has existed for all time, but if exercised by the Government it would act as a very necessary brake in the interests of wage earners, who are necessary not only as the producers of wealth but also as consumers. It is not of much use to increase production unless we make the necessary provision for increasing consumption. The purchasing power of wages, apart from rents and prices, to which I have referred, is a constantly diminishing factor. It is diminishing because the labour time required in the production of services is a diminishing factor, and because wages are based on the cost of subsistence and not on the values created by the workers.
If wages were based on the values created by the workers, the purchasing power of wages, instead of being a diminishing factor, would be an increasing factor. That reminds me that Senator O’Sullivan, in reply to a statement by Senator Morrow, suggested that it was not true that the purchasing power of the £1 note to-day is considerably less than it was in 1907. But that fact cannot be denied. That is another indication of the way in which the purchasing power of wages is a diminishing factor. Because -the purchasing power of wages as distinct from nominal wages is falling, there is a need for subsidi.es. Various governments, including the present Government, have subsidized both manufacturers and distributors so that the goods they manufacture or sell can be purchased at prices which the people can afford. Various governments have also provided social “services and other benefits for the people, such as old-age and invalid pensions, widows’ pensions, child endowment, unemployment benefits, and sp on, in order to offset the reduction of the purchasing power of wages that is taking place.
A power which can be used to advantage during military warfare can be used to advantage also in time of economic warfare. That warfare is going on all the time, both within nations and internationally. Periodically it is responsible /Senator Cameron. for military warfare. If action similar to that which is being taken in Australia had been taken in the United States of America and France, I believe that the position of those countries would be vastly different from what it is to-day. Instead of a chaotic and revolutionary situation developing, there would be a much more effective approach to the solution of these problems. In those countries power is vested largely in private monopolies. The position in those countries is the practical outcome of private monopoly control, under which the highest rents and prices are charged whilst the lowest rates are paid for services rendered. If Senator O’Sullivan and his colleagues had their way the position in the future would be similar to what it has been in the past, and landlords and owners of the means of. production would be a law unto themselves. The policy to which they would give effect as landlords would be the eviction of workers unable to pay their rent, and as employers they would follow a policy of hiring and firing.
– People can be evicted now if they do not pay their rent.
– That is so, but they cannot be evicted so easily as in the past. The power of landlords to evict tenants has been curtailed. The landlord is no longer a law entirely unto himself; he cannot increase rents arbitrarily. Nor has he the power to evict a tenant as easily as in the past. “We have also to consider the position in regard to rents and prices from the point of view that I have frequently mentioned in this chamber. Included in rents and prices are capital charges which are being recovered over and over again. That state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely. The price of almost every commodity that is purchased and the rent of almost every house, particularly a house that has been erected for some years, includes capital charges which are entirely unwarranted. Unless that fact is taken into consideration and rents and prices are controlled as is now proposed by the Government, the state of affiars in which industrial disputes easily arise will continue. These disturbances are the outcome of that state of affairs. If those who are opposed to this bill think that they can go on recovering capital costs indefinitely at the expense of the wageearners they will live to be disillusioned. It has been said that in the hard school of disillusionment we learn lessons that reasoning fails to teach. Those who are opposed to this bill come within that category; they are disillusioned only as the result of experience and after the damage has been done. “When forced to do so, they make a virtue of necessity by supporting legislation which hitherto they condemned vigorously. I recall the days when Labour first advocated invalid and old-age pensions. It was said then that if those pensions were granted and became a charge on Consolidated Revenue the result would be that workers would become extravagant and would spend all their earnings. It was urged then that people should be encouraged to be thrifty and save for their old-age. As time passed, the position became more and more acute, until those who were opposed to old-age pensions made a ‘ complete volte face and agreed that pensions were necessary. They were educated by ex-‘ perience rather than by abstract reasoning.
Reference has been made to socialism and nationalism. The opponents of the bill would have us believe that the terms are synonomous. but they are not. Socialism means ownership in common of the means of production as distinct from, and opposed to, the private ownership of the means of production. Nationalism is simply a state of national control of the means of production under existing conditions, or as some prefer to call it, it is simply a form of state capitalism. When we are working under the wage system as we are to-day, the position under nationalization is one in which the responsibility of controlling the essential means of production and services is a matter for the Government rather than for private individuals or private monopolies. Under these conditions the people are in a better position to determine policies than they would be under private control. I refer to the United States of America, the home of monopolies. The policy of these monopolies is decided not by the government but by the boards of directors which are independent of the government and the people. The government and the people are not consulted. These monopolies spend vast sums of money for the purposes of controlling Congress or the government, as the case may be. When elections are held in the United States of America, this money is spent, as here, in order to subsidize newspapers, speakers and various people who will put up a case justifying the existence and the policy of the monopolies. To a large degree, the monopolies control the press, the radio, and ultimately the Parliament. Fortunately, they are not the masters of the situation to the extent that they imagine. No matter what they do, their power is relative, and everything depends upon the degree to which a majority of the people, particularly the workers, are prepared to acquiesce in their subjection by these monopolies. Where they are prepared to resist or acquiesce, and where their efforts are supported by their votes, or by strike action, the policy of the monopoly is determined accordingly. In this so-called enlightened age such a state of affairs should not exist. The approach to these problems should be much more intelligent. But we find to-day that the approach in those countries is one more by an appeal to physical force than to reason. So we have the condition of affairs to which I have directed attention.
Senator Cooper and Senator O’Sullivan referred to the sovereignty of the State governments. I remember the time before federation when the sovereignty of the States was much greater than it is to-day. Because of the chaotic state of affairs then, because of the so-called border barbarism, because of the dividing and conflicting authorities, what is known as federation came into existence. The more intelligent representatives of the people realized that such a chaotic state of affairs should not be allowed to continue, and that unless there was some better or some more uniform kind of government, the nation could not expect to carry on so successfully as would be possible under some centralized form of government. That is precisely how federation became into being. As time goes on, we find that in order to achieve those things that we desire we have to rely more on the central government than on the State governments, which are divided among themselves. That happened during “World Wars I. and II. Just imagine six State governments organizing, as they did prior to federation, six State armies and six institutions of all kinds necessary to carry on the war! We should not have been able to make any progress. What applied in the cases which I have mentioned, applies to-day. In order to get the best results, and provide for the people the best we can under our conditions of life and existing laws, we must do something which the State governments are not prepared to do, or cannot do. Without this action we cannot make the progress that we desire. Consequently, the statement that we are encroaching upon the sovereign rights of the State governments is untrue. What is true is that we are prepared to make it possible for Australia to progress by means which the State governments have failed to adopt.
All along the line, the State governments have possessed power to control rents and prices, but they found themselves in a comparatively helpless position in the years of the financial and economic depression. The record of the Australian anti-Labour Government was not very much better then, because it endeavoured to give effect to a policy which was in conformity with desires of the .State governments. For all practical purposes, this Government is facing realities and making a virtue of necessity. This Government could not justify its existence if it did not make the necessary provision to control rents and prices much more effectively in the future than has been done in the past. The Government has been elected for that purpose. When the representatives of this Government approached the people at the last elections these things were explained from various angles, and the .people decided to return the Government to power. For all practical purposes the Government has been given a mandate to do what it proposes’ to do in this bill. Responsibility for these powers rests with the people rather than the Government. Power to control rents and prices is a power which, to use Senator O’Sullivan’s own words, is dwindling. Realizing the necessity for doing something to prevent “this power from dwindling down to “vanishing -point, the Government says to the .people, “ We require additional power to be written into the Constitution so that we shall have the right in your name to control rents and prices in the future. We shall be responsible to. you for the policy we adopt in that connexion. We point out to you, as we can, how effective these controls were during the war period”.
As the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) said in his second-reading speech, the power to control rents has been operated most, effectively. Had it not been for the control of rents exercised by the Government, thousands of men and women would be paying much higher rents than they do to-day, and many of them would have been evicted from their dwellings. The Government points to that as one example of what it has accomplished through prices control. As we have been able to accomplish that in time of war, we say confidently that we can accomplish much more in time of peace. We say to the people: - “Do not judge us on promises alone, but on our performance in time of war, judge us by what we have done and what we should be capable of doing in times of peace “. Finally, we say to the people: “If we are to safeguard your interests, we must have this power. If you do not grant us that power the responsibility for what may happen will be yours, not ours “.
– The purpose of this bill should be evident to anyone who has any real interest in Australia and Australians. Members of the Opposition agree in principle with the proposals contained in the measure but they oppose it on the ground that .if the powers contained in the bill were given to a Labour government they would be abused, and that this proposal is nothing more than a subtle measure to bind the people hand and foot to a “ Labour dictatorship “. Of course, that is nothing new; we heard it all before during the debate on the Banking Bill. I suggest to members of the Opposition that it would be far better for them to give up playing politics and “ come clean “. They should realize that this bill has been brought forward in the interests of Australians, and is entitled to be treated as a non-party measure intended to promote the continuance and improvement of the present satisfactory control of prices and rents. We do not want the present situation to deteriorate, and that is the reason why the Government seeks authority from the people to continue the present controls. Supporters of the Government know that removal of the present controls will result in a rapid deterioration of our economic position.
As I said previously, the arguments advanced by members of the Opposition against this measure were expounded, amplified and repeated by them during the debate on the Banking Bill, but it is obvious that the real reason for their opposition is that the powers to be con.fered by this bill will be exercised by a Labour government. Surely, it should be apparent to them that no government can govern unless it has power to do so. No government can anticipate the course of events or foresee the crises of the future. If governments twenty years ago could have foreseen the conditions which exist to-day they would have taken action then to prevent their occurrence. The Government is taking the long view, and it envisages possibilities which may adversely affect us in the future. When the present Government was elected by the people they did not expect it to remain idle and allow events to take their course. They did not want the country to be plunged again into the slough of depression of which we have had such bitter experience, nor did they want the law of the jungle to be introduced because the Government which they elected chose to make a cowardly retreat behind the inadequacy of the Constitution. The position is that the Constitution does not provide the power necessary to deal with the present abnormal situation, and no government having any intestinal fortitude would shrink from taking the necessary steps to clothe itself with adequate power. As supporters of a Labour government, we cannot shelter behind the “ inadequacy of the Constitution “ and say: “We have not the power to do these things “. If we have not the power to do these things then let us create it. The referendum which this bill authorizes will enable the people to grant the power which we need, and in asking the people to vote on our proposal we shall only be doing what is expected of us. When a Labour government is elected it is expected to carry out Labour policy. What kind of a government would the present one be if it were not prepared to take positive action? I have always adopted the attitude that it is better to do something, even if il will not achieve all that one requires, than to do nothing.
There can be no doubt that the Government’s proposal is intended to benefit the nation. Need I remind honorable senators of what happened in the United .States of America when price controls were removed? The removal of rents controls in that country brought about conditions so chaotic that the Truman administration was forced within a matter of weeks to re-impose those controls. Rents had risen by as much as 50 per cent, in a few days. We have only to consider what has happened in Malaya, China and other Eastern countries where the law of “survival of the fittest “ obtains and the black market reigns supreme. In China the unfortunate people of that country have to draw ox-carts laden with currency in order to purchase the necessaries of life. Although I cannot imagine that such a state of affairs would ever obtain in Australia under any government, even under an anti-Labour government which sought to bring about such conditions, we must have regard to the existence of unscrupulous people in our midst who would not hesitate to plunder the community. We all know of the operations of rent “ racketeers “ who are taking advantage of the present acute shortage of accommodation. I propose to mention some of the convictions which have been recorded recently against people of that type. In one case a landlord was convicted of compelling a person to purchase goods from him before he transferred the tenancy of the premises concerned. The magistrate, who imposed a fine of £80 on him, said - .
I am satisfied the defendant is one of the class of persons which are too common to-day; they capitalize on the housing shortage and the extremes to which people will go when they have to get homes.
In three other cases fines totalling £60 were imposed on one man, and he was also required to refund a total of £900 for requiring a sum of money other than rent to be paid in consideration of the transfer and extension of a lease. In the first case he was fined £20, with £3 3s. costs, and ordered to refund £300, in the second case he was fined £20, with £3 3s. costs, and ordered to refund £450, and in the third case he was fined £20, with £3 3s. costs, and ordered to refund £150. In another case a landlord was fined £150 for overcharge of rent, whilst another landlord was fined £50 for illegally evicting a tenant, and many other similar cases could be mentioned. In the cases to which I have referred people who were punished took the risk of breaking the law and were detected; but one can imagine what would happen if there were no law to restrain people of that type. Whilst it is unfortunate that we have people of that type in our midst, it is the responsibility of the Government to protect the community from their nefarious practices.
I firmly believe in profiting by experience, and members of the Government would be foolish indeed if they did not avail themselves of the experience of rent control in other countries. Rent control has operated continuously in New Zealand since 1936, and there is no indication that it is to be abandoned. A similar system of control was introduced in certain parts of Canada in 1940, and by 1942 it applied generally throughout Canada, Rent control was first introduced in South Africa in 1942, and it applied to residential properties. Later its operation was extended to cover hotels. The people of that country obviously believe that rent control is necessary to safeguard the interests of tenants, lodgers and boarders. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) agreed to-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow at 10.30 a.m.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1947 - Nos. 91 and 92 - Amalgamated Engineering Union, and others.
No. 93 - Postal Telecommunication Technicians’ Association, and others.
No. 94 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 95 - Professional Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
Nos. 96 and 97 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
No. 98 - Australian Journalists’ Association.
No. 99 - Postmaster-General’s Department State Heads of Branches Association.
No. 100 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
Australian National Airlines Act - Second Annual Report, including Financial Accounts, of the Australian National Airlines Commission, for year 1946-47.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Civil Aviation- G. W. C. Wright.
Postmaster-General - A. H. Baddeley, V. P. Brand, R. D. Ellis, J. T. Kilgariff, D. L. Overheu.
Works and Housing - L. A. Dobbs, L. W. Gilmour, J. J. Keogh, W. C. LeBas, W. A. McQuiggan, A. Mitchell, J. N. F. Newbold, N. H. Perkins, F. S. Saw, H. D. Turner, W. F. J. Vallins, D. H. R. Wood.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act -
National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations-Order - War service land settlement - Queensland (dated 11th November, 1947).
National Security (Maritime Industry) Regulations - Order - No. 63.
National Security (Prices) Regulations - Orders - Nos. 3122 (substitute copy). 3164-65, 3168-77, 3183.
National Security (Rationing) Regulations - Orders - Nos. 147-150.
Order - Control of Tinplate (No. 2).
Immigrati on - Go vern men t Policy - Minis - terial Statement, 28th November, 1947.
Ordered to be printed.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for - Defence purposes - Elizabeth Bay (Sydney), New South Wales.
Postal purposes - Belgrave, Victoria.
Peace Treaties between the Allied and Associated Powers of the one part, and of the other part -
Social Services Consolidated Act - Fifth and Sixth Reports of the Director-General of Social Services, foryears 1945-46 and 1946-47.
Ordered to be printed.
Senate adjourned at 11.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 3 December 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1947/19471203_senate_18_195/>.