18th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 pm., and read prayers.
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1948-49.
Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill (No. 2) 1948-49.
– On Thursday last there was a meeting in a room at Parliament House between Mr. McCaffrey, private secretary to Mr. Fadden, Leader of the Australian Country party, and publicity agent for the Australian Country party, and Mr. Healy, secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, who is a well-known Communist. Will you, Mr. President, take steps to ensure that rooms in Parliament House arc not again used for this purpose ?
– I shall look into the matter.
– During the recent floods at Maitland I understand that about 600 people were rescued by amphibious jeeps. Had those vehicles not been available it is possible that many of those people would have been drowned. Will the Minister for Shipping and Fuel confer with the Minister for Defence and the Minister for the Army to see whether it is possible for those vehicles to be left at Newcastle so that they may be available for use in the event of any area to the north of Newcastle being again flooded?
– I understand from the Prime Minister that immediately this tragic occurrence took place arrangements were made with the responsible’ heads of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force to render all assistance possible. Wonderful assistance was rendered by service personnel during the floods in the northern distracts, and many lives and much valuable property were saved. I shall take up the matter and see if some arrangement along the lines that the honorable senator has suggested can be made. As he implied, the matter is primarily one for the State Government. The Australian Government will be prepared to co-pperate in any way it possibly can with the State Government and the local government authorities concerned.
– In view of the co-ordinated drive to eradicate tuberculosis in this country can the Minister for Health inform me whether all migrants entering Australia are X-rayed as a precaution against the disease? If not, will he take steps to ensure that all migrants are X-rayed for this purpose?
– All displaced persons and other persons coming to Australia under the aegis of the Government are medically examined before they leave their country of origin. Such examination includes an X-ray of the chest. Such persons are again X-rayed when they arrive in Australia and arc placed in holding camps for a period of six weeks, and any investigation that appears to be necessary is immediately undertaken. Of course, no X-ray examinations are made of persons who come to Australia from England at their own expense. Such persons are perfectly free to come and go as they wish, and no machinery exists to have them X-rayed. All persons who come to this country under Government control are X-rayed. In the new camps recently established steps have been taken to install modern X-ray plant for the examination of persons of the class which the honorable senator has in mind.
– I understand that the Minister for Shipping and Fuel has available a reply to a question asked by Senator Arnold on the 22nd June concerning the number of coal-mines put out of production as the result of the recent floods in northern New South Wales.
– I am now in a position to advise the honorable senator of the extent of the losses of coal production which arose because of recent floods in the coal-fields. The rains became serious in the coal-fields on Friday, the 17th June, when 22 mines were idle for the loss of 9,200 tons of coal. On the following Monday, the 20th June, 34 mines were idle for the loss of 13,500 tons of coal. On Tuesday, 24 mines were idle for the loss of 9,500 tons. On Wednesday, 25 mines were idle for the loss of 9,200 tons. On Thursday, 21 mines lost 5,100 tons, and last Friday, 4,500 tons were lost when nineteen mines were idle. The total loss because of weather conditions over that period was 51,000 tons. Despite the seriousness of this loss, especially in our present situation, it may interest honorable senators to know that the total loss from the floods is less than the loss of 56,500 tons which occurred the day before the floods commenced when all the pits were idle to enable the miners to attend aggregate meetings called by the Combined Mining Union. Council. The figures which I have just given to the Senate refer to the actual losses of coal production. In addition, the transport and movement of many thousands of tons of coal was seriously disorganized last week by the flood conditions.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following answers: - 1. (a) 48,365 tons (estimated) paddy rice, equivalent to approximately 30,000 tons of milled rice.
Rice forwarded to Malaya was sent at the request of the United Kingdom Government.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following answers: -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– I have received the following replies to the honorable senator’s questions from the Australian Broadcasting Commission : -
The 4QN bulletins total62 minutes weekly (two bulletins daily totalling eleven minutes Monday to Friday inclusive, and one seven minutes bulletin on Saturday ) . The time of the broadcasts are 8 a.m. and 6.55 p.m. Monday to Friday, inclusive, and 8 a.m. on Saturday. 2. (a) One regional officer, part of whose duties include the reading of news bulletins and administrative authority for the Townsville news service. One graded journalist who, in addition to supplying material for and editing the regional bulletins, supplies material for national, State and short-wave bulletins. No other staff are employed in connexion with the news service in Townsville.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows: -
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) agreed to-
T hat leavebe given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Lighthouses Act 1911-1942.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) 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 provision by the Commonwealth of lighthouses and other aids to marine navigation is authorized by the Lighthouses Act 1911-1942. The authority provided by that act, however, does not extend to the Territory of Papua or to the Territory of New Guinea. The primary object of the bill is to bring about such an extension so as to enable the establishment and maintenance of marine aids to navigation in the territories to be undertaken by the Marine Branch of the Department of Shipping and Fuel. Prior to the outbreak of war, the maintenance of lights and marine aids was undertaken by the administrations of the Territory of Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. When the civil administrations were withdrawn from those territories, after the outbreak of war, control of the lights was assumed by the Navy. That was necessary as a war measure. During the period of naval control, a number of additional aids to marine navigation were installed in the area. The Navy continued to attend to the control and maintenance of the lights until April, 1948. With the ending of naval control, careful consideration was given to the question of the future control of marine aids to navigation in the area, and the Government decided that the most economical and efficient means of carrying out the work would be for it to be undertaken by the Marine Branch of the Department of Shipping and Fuel. The Marine Branch is responsible for the maintenance of lighthouses and other marine aids on the Australian coast, and has at its disposal lighthouse steamers, equipment and the skilled personnel necessary to carry out this work. During the war years, the men available to the territory administrations for this type of work were dispersed, and vessels and other equipment necessary for servicing the lights were lost. The Government considered that it would be preferable to extend the activities of the wellestablished and experienced Marine Branch organization rather than to reestablish a separate organization in the territories. This arrangement has the additional advantage that it will permit the work of rehabilitation of the territorylights to he proceeded with more expeditiously than would be possible if the territories organization had to be reestablished. The bill is to give statutory authority to this decision. It is not proposed to extend to the territories sections 13 to18 of the act. These sections provide authority for the levying of light dues and incidental matters such as refunds, remission and exemptions. It is intended that light dues levied in the Territories of Papua and New Guinea will continue to be collected under the existing ordinances and regulations. In due course, it is proposed to make arrangements for a uniform system of collections to be applied throughout the two territories.
The bill also makes provision for two further amendments to the Lighthouses Act. The first relates to the obligation to report any damage caused to a lighthouse or marine mark. In the case of the territories, any such report is to be sent to the Deputy Director of Lighthouses and Navigation, Brisbane, or to some other officer appointed by the Minister for the purpose. Opportunity has also been taken to repeal section 9 of the act, which was introduced in 1911.
That section provides that when any lighthouse has been acquired or erected by the ‘Commonwealth it shall, as soon as practicable, be connected by telegraph or telephone to the nearest telegraph or telephone office and the expense incurred shall be charged to the Department administering the act. It is unlikely that this section could be complied with in the territories for many years to come, and in any event, wireless communication is now used where difficulties are encountered in using land lines or cables. The requirement is of no practical value because administrative needs make it essential that means or communication be maintained with all manned lighthouses and in all cases the best possible means of keeping contact with lighthouses are used. The bill will place the territory lighthouses directly under the Commonwealth “Lighthouse Service which has the organization and skilled officers to enable it to extend its activities with the least possible delay and with a minimum of cost.
[3.27 J. - This measure is of a non-controversial nature, and will bring within the jurisdiction of the Marine Branch of the Department of Shipping and Fuel the lighthouses that are situated in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. It is generally conceded that that branch has done a wonderful job for many years past, and it will be a distinct advantage for those lighthouses to be placed under its control. Section 9 of the principal act that will be repealed by this measure provides that lighthouses shall be provided with telephonic or telegraphic facilities. I quite agree with the Minister’s contention that it would be impossible at present for lighthouses on the northern side of New Guinea and Papua to be connected with the telegraph or telephone system. In view of the vast strides that have been made in the field of wireless communications there is no reason to believe that those lighthouses would not be able to maintain constant communication by that means. However, I should like the Minister to inform the Senate whether it is intended tha-t the staffs of the lighthouses in Papua and New Guinea are to be transferred to the control of the Marine Branch of his department, or whether they will remain under the jurisdiction of the Papua and New Guinea administration. I have no intention to oppose this bill, and shall facilitate its speedy passage.
. - in reply - I thank the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) for his support of this measure. The staff of the lighthouses in Papua and New Guinea will not be transferred to the Marine Branch of my department.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 22nd June (vide page 1255), on motion by Senator Ashley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– As honorable senators know, special grants are paid by the Commonwealth to certain States to recoup the losses that they sustain as a result of federation. This bill will authorize the payment of special grants to South Australia and Tasmania. The Commonwealth Grants Commission was established some time ago to go fully into this matter and to recommend the amounts of grants that should be made from year to year. Its recommendations have been accepted by the Government, and the amounts have been paid. As a result of applications submitted by South Australia and Tasmania for additional grants during the year 1948-49, the commission further examined the position in those two States and recommended that supplementary grants of £600,000 and £100,000 should be paid to South Australia and Tasmania respectively. The bill now before the Senate is to approve the payment of those grants. I understand that these amounts will be taken into consideration when the grants for the year 1950-51 axe being reviewed. In his second-reading speech the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator
Ashley) said that the expected deficit in South Australia for the year 1948-49 would be £3,317,000. As the grant for that year was £2,250,000, the margin of safety that the commission assessed was £1,067,000. Tasmania’s original expected deficit for the year 1948-49 was £1,479,000 and the original grant made to that State for the current year was £900,000, the margin of safety assessed by the commission being £579,000. It is now proposed to make a supplementary grant of £100,000 to that State. Whereas the supplementary grant to South Australia is approximately 70 per cent, of the margin of safety assessed by the commission for that State, the supplementary grant to be made to Tasmania is approximately only 17 per cent, of the margin of safety. I should like the Minister to explain the disparity between those percentages. In his second-reading speech he pointed out that South Australia’s expected deficit was £1,067,000 but, apparently, this was reduced to £800,000, and when the commission further examined the financial position of that State it fixed the margin of safety at £200,000 and recommended a grant of £600,000 as being sufficient to meet its requirements for the remainder of the current financial year. I take it that the grant of £600,000 plus the margin of safety of £200,000 accounts for South Australia’s expected deficit of £800,000. Tasmania’s expected deficit was £1,479,000, but following an improvement in that State’s finances it is now expected that the balance of £579,000, which represents the commission’s margin of safety, will be reduced to £442,000, or an improvement of £137,000. Having reviewed the position again the commission now recommends a margin of safety of £342,000 and the supplementary grant of £100,000 now proposed accounts for the expected deficit of £442,000 for the current financial year. I should like the Minister to indicate the basis on which the commission has assessed the supplementary grants.
– Although I appreciate the services rendered by the Commonwealth Grants Commission I believe that the time has arrived when a more just basis should be evolved on which to assist the financially weaker States to adjust their finances. The Parliaments of the claimant States are elected by the people of those States, and it seems to me to be wrong that an outside body such as the Commonwealth Grants Commission can dictate not only to those Parliaments but also to this Parliament how those States should budget to meet their needs. I do not accept the view that the commission is better equipped than are the Parliaments and Governments of the claimant States to make such a decision. The elected representatives of the people in the claimant States are fully aware of local conditions and the possibilities and resources of the areas which they control. They possess a greater knowledge in that respect than the commission has. At present a State may be undertaking certain long-range programmes which will be of untold benefit to the people within its boundaries; but under present conditions the commission can dictate to the Government of that State and force upon it the commission’s view that certain projects are not necessary. In such circumstances, the commission can refuse to take into account the expenditure involved on such projects when assessing the grant to be made to the State. Consequently, the State concerned must prune its estimates accordingly. In other words, the Commonwealth Grants Commission is a super-parliament which can override the authority of the Government of a claimant State in deciding what is best for the people of that State. Therefore, I emphasize that the time has arrived when the present method of assessing grants to the claimant States should be thoroughly overhauled. As a Tasmanian I strongly object to the commission being able to dictate to the Government of that State in the way I have indicated. It is useless for any honorable senator to say that the commission does not, in fact, dictate to the governments of the claimant States. It has done so for many years, and it is continuing to do so. Should the Government of a claimant State have commenced a project and expended a certain amount of money upon it, it would be obliged to abandon that project if the commission declared the project not to be necessary and, therefore, no provision for it should be- made in the State’s budget. The commission is a body superimposed on the governments of the claimant States. It is clear that a State which is striving to develop its resources to the greatest possible degree cannot adopt a really effective policy so long as an outside body, such as the Commonwealth Grants Commission, can make it prune its budget to its bare necessities. That is what the commission is doing. Frequently, the Government of Tasmania has been seriously hampered by the action of the commission in pruning the amounts which it has claimed in the form of grants. The three men who comprise the commission can override the parliaments and governments of the claimant States. What is the use of our democratic parliamentary system when a government after having been elected to carry out a certain policy can be prevented from doing so by an outside body? I repeat that the present method of assessing grants to the claimant States should be thoroughly overhauled.
. - in reply - The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) inquired how the Commonwealth Grants Commission arrived at the margin of safety in respect of each of the claimant States. Members of all parties will agree that over the years the commission has done a wonderful job in furnishing to the Australian Government the information it requires for the purpose of providing financial assistance to the claimant States. The object of those grants is to do justice to those States in relation to the financially stronger States. It is not true as Senator Aylett has said, that the commission dictates the policy of the government of each of the claimant States.
– It is doing so in Tasmania.
– Senator Aylett has made certain charges against the commission, and I am attempting to furnish a proper reply to those charges. What the Commonwealth Grants Commission has done is to insist that those States which are still operating industrial undertakings, such as railways, at a loss shall increase the charges made for those services in accordance with increased costs of operation, in order to place their undertakings in a similar financial position to that of other States whose undertakings are not operating at a loss.
– Such requests by the grants commission are merely suggestions, anyhow.
– That is so. The commission does not in any way interfere in matters connected with the development of a State or related’ to its public works. It has not the power, nor does it attempt to do so. It is not correct to say that the Commonwealth Grants Commission is a “super parliament”; in fact, such an allegation is entirely unfounded. No member of the Parliament who knows anything of the work performed by the commission over the years can deny that it has done a splendid job. What would be the position of any administration, Labour or non-Labour, which did not have available to it the specialized knowledge that has been acquired by the commission ? It is all very well for -the representatives of a State which may feel aggrieved at a particular decision of the commission to suggest that that body should be abolished or that its members should be changed, but the fact remains that no complaints have been received concerning the discharge of its functions by the commission. On the contrary, the justice and fairness of its recommendations have been favorably commented upon not only by the present Government but also by preceding administrations.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended’.
Bill (on motion by Senator Armstrong) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to set up the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority under the defence powers of the Commonwealth. As honorable senators are aware, defence plans are divided into four categories: regional security; the defence forces, which include the Navy, the Army and the Air Force; defence research; and, finally, the industrial capacity of the nation to support a defence machine. It is in respect of the two last mentioned aspects that the bill has its greatest application, for it proposes to harness 1,720,000 kilowatts of hydro-electric power.
I do not propose at this stage to trace in detail the full history of the many Snowy River diversion schemes which have been initiated from time to time and1 go back as far as 18S4. Suffice it to say that varying proposals have been put forward for consideration. Most of them, however, were limited by sectional outlooks, (particularly in the early periods, and even until as late as 1915. Up to that stage not one of the proposals brought forward envisaged’ dam construction; they were all schemes for irrigation. They received considerable verbal support in drought years, but as soon as the rains came they were quickly forgotten. However, between 1915 and 191S, the Public Works Department of New South Wales gave consideration to harnessing portion of the Snowy River for electricity, and envisaged an estimated output of 150,000 kilowatts. In that scheme no consideration was given to irrigation ; the plans did not progress further than the blueprint stage. However, the scheme achieved’ one very important thing; it created a definite line of thought on the possibility of utilizing hydro-electric power in this area. From then until the middle of the ‘twenties further proposals were discussed, each one more ambitious than the last. However, a bias in favour of irrigation then became manifest. Again nothing was clone until 1937, when two Swedish engineers made an investigation, on behalf of the Government of New South Wales.
The whole emphasis of their report and recommendation was placed upon hydroelectric power. To summarize the history of the schemes, between 1884 and 1937 proposals were made, first for irrigation, then for power, then again for irrigation, and, finally, in favour of power generation.
The proposal for the development of hydro-electric power which was contained in the report of the Swedish engineers, was to be implemented by the construction of a dam at Jindabyne and a tunnel to cut across the great loop of the Snowy River at Biddi Point. It was estimated that by that means 250,000 kilowatts would’ be generated. Later, proposals were made for the diversion of the water to the Murrumbidgee Valley, for irrigation of the Lower Murrumbidgee with some minor power development, and also for the use of the waters for public water supplies in Sydney. In 1942, the New South Wales Government appointed a committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. J. W. Main, Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department, to investigate the various proposals and to report thereon. The committee submitted its report in 1944, and’ recommended the diversion of the Snowy River to the Murrumbidgee River. In making that recommendation the committee performed a considerable public service because it drew attention to the practicability of using the Snowy River to provide water for inland irrigation. The New South Wales Government adopted that report. However, since the implementation of the recommendations contained in it would have prevented the Victorian Government from going ahead with its proposed hydro-electric .schemes on the Snowy River in Victoria, and since the Commonwealth Government had the right under the Seat of Governmnent Acceptance Act to the use of the Snowy River for the production of power for the Australian. Capital Territory, a conference of Ministers of the Commonwealth and th® two States was called toconsider the New South Wales proposal, together with the suggestion that the Snowy should be diverted into the Murray rather than into the Murrumbidgee. It was recognized that the latter proposal had never been investigated in any detail,. and the conference agreed to the Australian Government carrying out a preliminary investigation into the practicability and implications of diversion to the Murray. The Department of “Works and Housing carried out the engineering investigation and the Department of Post-war Reconstruction examined the agricultural aspects. They jointly reported to a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in 1947. That was the first occasion on which a scheme that provided water for both hydro-electric power and irrigation was devised. That report stated that, on the information then available, there was no reason to doubt the practicability of the proposal ; nor was there any doubt that it offered a very great advantage over diversion to the Mumimbidgee because of greatly increased power production. From the agricultural point of view, however, it stated that, although the diverted waters could be used to great advantage in either the Murray valley or the Mumimbidgee valley, on balance, better results would accrue from a diversion to the Mumimbidgee. In dealing with that part of the report on irrigation, the committee gave its opinion on whether the whole of the water could he best used in either area, as the engineers’ reports at that time had not shown that it was possible to have two diversions, one to the Murrumbidgee via the Tumut River and one to the Murray. Therefore, it did not consider whether it would be best to have two-thirds in the Murrumbidgee and one-third in the Murray, because, as I pointed out, at that time it was not known whether such a scheme was possible economically and as an engineering proposition .until after the report of the Common wealth and State Committee, which was set up in 1947. That committee consisted of Dr. L. F. Loder and Mr. A. S. Brown, for the Commonwealth; Messrs. J. M. Main, F. H. Brewster and V. J. Y. Brain from New South Wales; Messrs. L. R. East find E. Bate from Victoria. Dr. Loder, Director-General of the Department of W Works and Housing was chairman. It was their report, which was submitted in November, 1948, that showed the great possibilities of water being used for both power and irrigation and at the same time the possibility of the two diversions. The purpose of the
Ministers who .agreed to the appointment of that committee was to continue >and complete the investigation and comparison of the two proposals. The ‘Committee was greatly aided in its task by aerial photographs taken by the Royal Australian Air Force and a good deal of additional information produced by surveys and other work carried out by the various Commonwealth and State departments. The much wider scope and the greater detail of the information thus provided to the committee allowed it to extend its consideration to other streams in the area, and, as a result, it recommended to the meeting of Commonwealth and State Ministers in February, 1949, that, in its opinion, neither of the two original schemes should be adopted. It considered that a totally new .and much more comprehensive proposal, involving’ the use of the waters of the Tumut River and the Tooma River, as well as those of the Murrumbidgee, the Murray and the Snowy, should be put in ‘hand.
A brief explanation of the scheme recommended envisages the diversion of 235,000 acre-feet annually from the Snowy into the Tumut, which is a tributary of the Mumimbidgee, and the diversion of 334,000 acre-feet annually from the Tooma, which is a tributary of the Murray, into the Tumut, thence to the Murrumbidgee. The result of the two diversions would be that the Murrumbidgee would gain 569,000 acre-feet a year, or about two-thirds of the average annual flow of the Snowy. To make up for the loss of the Tooma waters, at least one-third of the Snowy would have to be diverted to the Murray. Further investigation of the best way to use the final third is now being made, and the committee will report before the end of June on that aspect. The Commonwealth and State Ministers were unanimous in agreeing to the proposals advanced for the use of the two-thirds of the Snowy waters, and have agreed to preliminary work being put in hand pending a decision about the final third. The net result of the proposals is that the power output which, even with the full diversion to the Murray, was estimated at 1,100,000 kilowatts, will under the new proposal be increased to not less than 1,565,000 kilowatts, and, if the final third is diverted to the Murray, to 1,720,000 kilowatts - which is nearly as much as all the power stations in Australia can produce to-day.
I desire at this point to make a brief comparison of these proposals with the achievements of the Tennessee Valley Authority, because its work has world recognition. The Snowy, as I have just pointed out, has a potential installed power of 1,720,000 kilowatts. The Tennessee Valley has 2,056,000 kilowatts, or a difference in favour of the Tennessee Valley Authority of 336,000 kilowatts. The estimate for the Snowy has been made on a conservative basis. I have no doubt that, as the scheme progresses, by the harnessing of smaller streams, we shall have a greater installed output of hydro-electric power than that of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The estimated output of kilowatt hours from the Snowy is 6,650,000,000 as against 9,707,000,000 from the Tennessee Valley. I make this explanation because some people when comparing the two schemes, quote kilowatt hours of the Tennessee Valley Authority against installed kilowatt power of the Snowy. It must be remembered that with a normal load factor of approximately 45 per cent., which is the load factor estimated in the Snowy scheme, one kilowatt would produce 3,942 kilowatt hours a year. Moreover, this great amount of power can be produced and delivered to the capital cities of Melbourne and Sydney at about half of the cost of producing electricity by steam stations burning coal or oil. With sufficient cheap power and adequate water, there is no reason why there should not develop in the Murrumbidgee and Murray areas great inland cities, which could feed out their secondary production to the coastal capitals of Australia. If the power is used for decentralized industries near the source of supply - and I hope it will be so used - the cost may well be little more than one-third of the present cost of power in our capital cities. Honorable senators may be surprised at that statement and may well ask how power can be produced at such a very low cost per unit when confronted with the total capital cost of the proposals, which may be between £170,000,000 and £200,000,000, including transmission costs. The reason why this scheme is so highly economical is that large volumes of waters are available at such great heights. One gallon of water a second dropping 1,000 feet can produce enough electric power to provide for the needs of 90 Australians at their present average consumption. The significance is in the great height that the water falls, from the highest power stations at the 5,0’00-ft. level to where it will finally be discharged to the Murray River or the Tumut River at only 1,000 feet above sea-level. Because of our capacity to harness power at such a great height, the same water may be used many times. Added to this fact, the snow in the mountain areas acts as a natural storage space for many months of the year. This makes it possible for the power produced in the area to be so cheap and attractive.
It is well recognized throughout the world to-day that power has become the most efficient tool of the machine age. At the same time hydro-electric power is the cheapest, most economical and most flexible form of power and, once the capital works are completed’, it requires the least amount of man-power per kilowatt of any form of electrical “production. The potential output of this great scheme represents in coal 4,000,000 tons a year, or approximately one-third of our present output. This means that if we desired to produce electricity through steam stations fired by coal, it would take 4,000,000 tons of our best black New South Wales coal, which is one of our most valuable assets. Coal is, however, a wasting asset. Easing of the coal demand and the stepping up of industrial production in basic materials will be of great assistance to our peace-time economy, and will assist considerably the States of South Australia and Western Australia, which still rely on coal and steel products from the eastern side of Australia. For the purpose of further comparison I point out that if we desired to produce the same amount of electricity by the use of fuel oil, it would take 1,500,000 gallons of oil a day or 547,000,000 gallons a year. It is hard to realize that this great amount of energy has been running to waste each year. These facts indicate the enormous wealth which is waiting to be harnessed in the snow-capped mountains of Kosciusko. They should also indicate what great assistance this steadily flowing amount of electrical energy would mean to the industrial effort of our nation should Australia be faced with the threat of war.
The Government, therefore, proposes to establish an authority immediately under its defence powers to carry out this most important national work. The requirements of power for its munitions factories and laboratories and its defence research installations, even in time of peace, are reaching very high figures. In time of war, the power requirements for defence will be so great that it is computed, they will be in excess of even the whole of the power that can be produced by this great scheme. In time of peace, power not required for defence purposes can be made available not only to the Australian Capital Territory but also to the power grids of the States of New South Wales and Victoria for normal industrial purposes. I point out that many defence research projects in view, while needing a great deal of power at certain times, can in general be operated so that their demand will come at a time when the industrial demand is very low. Furthermore, attention is drawn to the vulnerability of most of our present major power stations, which for reasons of economy must be located near the coast, where they would .be extremely open to enemy attack in time of war. They require also the labour of many thousands of men to mine and transport the coal required for their operation. In the Snowy Mountains scheme, sixteen power stations will be located underground, scattered miles apart in almost inaccessible mountain country, and thus virtually safe from attack. Further, the operation of those stations will require but a handful of men to produce their full capacity in time of emergency. From the point of view of defence, these matters are of the greatest significance, and it is for this reason that the Government considers that it should in the national interest undertake and prosecute with the utmost vigour the development of these great power resources.
In order that the development of the scheme may be integrated with the power development of the States concerned, consistent with defence needs, it is the Government’s intention to set up an advisory committee consisting of representatives of the Commonwealth and the two States to advise it continually as to how such integration may best be obtained. This committee will also be expected to advise the Government on irrigation matters insofar as they may be affected by the operation of the authority which will be set up under the bill. After the water has passed through the turbines, it will flow inland, where the irrigation authorities can utilize it for the purpose of food production with comparatively small expenditure, as the whole of the costs of diversion and much of the cost of regulation will automatically be met by the sale of electricity. It will thus become tha task of the respective State irrigation authorities to prepare and organize to receive this water so as to ensure its most effective use. This will be, in itself, an enormous undertaking, for the scheme, by the addition of waters from other streams previously mentioned, will make available’ for irrigation no less than an additional 1,800,000 acre-feet of water. For the purpose of comparison, this means approximately three to four times the amount of water which is at present used by the Leeton-Griffith Irrigation Area. Therefore, one cannot fail to recognize that before the irrigation authorities lies a very important and very large task to ensure that full and effective use will be made of these waters.
The bill first provides for the appointment of a commissioner and two associate commissioners, who will be charged with the responsibility of carrying out the construction of this undertaking. Powers will be given under the bill for the authority to purchase land, plant, materials and equipment, together with normal powers associated with any constructing organization charged with such a large undertaking.
I am sure that the authority will receive the full co-operation of State and local government instrumentalities, which will be asked to undertake some of the important aspects of the construction work. The States of New South Wales and Victoria have considerable knowledge and experience of many phases of the work to be undertaken. The authority will also give consideration to the engagement of contractors from other parts of the world who have skilled teams capable of carrying out some of the construction work. At the same time, a. day labour organization will be set up. The functions of the authority will be limited to the generation of electricity in the Snowy Mountains area. This is the mountainous area near Mount Kosciusko in the south-east of New South Wales. Jurisdiction is given to the authority to transmit electricity generated, but it is confidently expected by the Government that the States of New South Wales and Victoria will erect and maintain the necessary transmission lines, as in peace-time they will be large users of the electricity produced, and in time of emergency the whole of the electricity supplies would in any case need to be integrated through the power grids of the States. This is one of the important aspects of the undertaking to which the advisory committee that I have mentioned will be expected to give serious attention. Of course, there may be certain defence establishments or requirements of the Australian Capital Territory which would justify the authority constructing its own transmission lines, although it is doubtful whether, even for this purpose, any major works would be undertaken, as a State power grid would probably be the most effective channel of transmission.
The Government is ever mindful of the fears that have quite naturally been expressed, particularly by residents of the lower Snowy Valley, as to the effect on rural lands of the diversion of the Snowy waters. Therefore, power has been given to the authority to carry out works, even outside the prescribed area, which may be necessary to prevent or mitigate any such damage. For instance, it may be necessary to provide some small storage in the lower Snowy Valley to augment the summer flow in that area. It is recognized, also, that the Government of New South Wales has a particular interest in this area by virtue of its development of the Kosciusko Park. Therefore, the bill provides that, in carrying out its work, the authority shall cause as little inconvenience and do as little damage as possible. Provision is made for compensation where the authority must unavoidably cause injury to any property, and a minimum of restriction has been placed on the activities of individuals or State authorities within the prescribed area. Provided that the works of any other instrumentality do not conflict with the works of the Snowy authority, the bill allows complete freedom to such persons or instrumentalities. The bill is not a complex one. It is simple and has a clear and definite purpose - to set up an authority with adequate powers to construct the largest public works undertaking ever conceived in this country, one that is pregnant with good for the whole community. It will make available large blocks of electric power for defence in the event of war, and for industrial activities in times of peace, as well us large quantities of controlled water for irrigation. This is a work that has been talked of for 70 years. The Government has firmly resolved that words shall be converted to deeds and that this great wealth potential must be harnessed for the defence of the country and in such a way that the continued flowing wealth of power and irrigation water will be enjoyed by future generations.
Debate (on motion by Senator COOPER) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 22nd June (vide page 1250), on motion by Senator Ashley -
That the hill be now read a second time.
– The bill provides for the supply of certain sums of money for various Commonwealth departments. Some of this money has been earmarked for the development of the Northern Territory, and therefore I propose to discuss one of the main products of the territory. It is very important to Australia as a profitable export commodity, and is also of great importance to the United Kingdom. I refer to meat. Most of Australia’s beef is produced in the Northern Territory, where there are immense land holdings upon which large herds of cattle are raised. That area of Australia is, in effect, a vast food storehouse. For many years I have studied the problem of transporting cattle from the Northern Territory to the large meat works, most of which are situated at the coast, without spoiling the condition of the animals. The matter of getting cattle over long distances without droving them on the hoof has been a serious problem for many years.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - The honorable senator must connect his remarks with the bill.
—I presume that some development of the Northern Territory is contemplated in view of the appropriation we are considering. I am endeavouring to show how the Northern Territory could be developed with a minimum, of expenditure, so that handsome profits could be made as a result of increased export beef trade. For years past many of the cattle from that area have had to travel between 1,000 miles and 1,500 miles on the hoof to New South “Wales. I am confining my remarks to Queensland and New South Wales because I am more familiar with the conditions existing there. After reaching the areas where they are to be depastured, there is a lapse of between twelve months and two years before they are sufficiently fat to be killed for export. During the war period several important developments took place in the Northern Territory and Queensland. The north-south road from Alice Springs to Darwin and the east-west road from just south of Tennant Creek, to Mount Isa in Queensland were constructed. The vast area of the Barkly Tableland could be readily tapped by the construction of feeder roads to the main bituminized roads. That area comprises some of the best grazing land in the Northern Territory, and has been developed to a degree. Many thousands of head of good beef cattle are run there. That area, could easily be linked up with the Barkly Highway, which is a well-built bitumen road. For some years road-trains have operated in the Northern Territory, but the absence of made roads in many areas has prevented the quick development of that means of transportation. It has been proved that road-trains are capable of transporting successfully large numbers of cattle over good roads. In one instance a load of cattle was carried from Anthony Lagoon to Alice Springs, and thence to Adelaide. That was not a successful test because the road-train had to traverse between 150 and 200 miles of unmade road from the loading point to the bitumen road, and a certain amount of bruising occurred. The Barkly Highway runs in close proximity’ to thousands of square miles of good improved grazing country. All that is needed is to grade about 40 or 50 miles of roadway in order to give access from large grazing properties in that area to the bitumen road. Those properties would then be within a hundred to three hundred miles of a good road to the rail-head at Mount Isa, from where the cattle could be railed to Townsville. The whole journey would then not occupy any more than 24 hours. By this means the enormously wealthy Barkly Tableland area could be tapped successfully and cattle delivered to the meatworks in Townsville without losing their condition through travelling on the hoof for many hundreds of miles. I suggest that the Government should accelerate the development of the road-train method of cattle transportation, by which quick returns could be assured. I understand that the Department of the Interior is already considering this aspect of the matter. Some private companies are already running road-trains in the Northern Territory. As I have already pointed out this would overcome the waiting period of between twelve months and two years involved under the old method of transporting beasts on the hoof from the stations to areas in Queensland and New South Wales to be depastured. I hope that the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) will persuade the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) to approve of the scheme of transporting cattle from the Barkly Tableland to the fail head at Mount Isa by road trains being tried out. I am confident that the expenditure of a comparatively small amount of money on the construction of feeder-roads from the stations to the bituminized roads is warranted, and that the amount of extra beef production .thereby gained would help considerably to fill the present gap in the meat requirements of Great Britain.
1 4.26]. - in reply - The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) digressed a little beyond the scope of the measure before the chamber when offering criticisms and suggestions in connexion with the development of the meat industry in the Northern Territory. This bill provides for an appropriation of £13,694,000 to enable Commonwealth: works in progress at the 30th June, 1949, to be continued pending the approval of the budget by the Parliament. The matter of the meat industry in the Northern Territory and Queensland is only very incidental to that work, and oan only be related to it in connexion with the provision of roads.
– That is the point that I have endeavoured to make.
– The bill before the chamber covers works in progress for the Department of Works and Housing, the Postmaster-General’s Department, the Department of Civil Aviation, and the Department of Defence. That work oan only be .remotely connected to the transportation of cattle from the Northern Territory. Action in connexion with the .provision of roads has already been instituted by the Government. Not long ago the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) visited the northern parts of New South Wales and in .addition an interdepartmental committee consisting of the Secretary of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, representatives of the Transport Department, Department of Works and Housing and the Department of Post-war Reconstruction, has investigated this matter for the purpose of deciding where roads that would be of the most assistance to this industry should be constructed in the northern part of Queensland. That committee returned to Sydney only last week. I assure the honorable senator that the Government has not been remiss in any way in considering the minimum developments required to enable the meat industry to ‘be expanded as quickly as possible. I repeat that this bill has no relation, beyond the provision of roads, to the beef industry, or to the establishment of that industry in the Northern Territory or the northern part of Queensland. Consideration is also being given to the expansion of the road train method of transportation of cattle.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.
– An amount of £400 is provided in respect of the Department of External Territories. I should like to know the reason for that provision. Last week the Senate passed estimates for that department amounting to £24,130 and we were then informed that that money would be used in the development of the territories.
– The amount of £400 is required to meet certain expenses of the Department of External Territories until the budget is presented.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 22nd June (vide page 1254), on motion by Senator
That the hill be now read a second time.
– Under this measure we are asked to ratify the International Wheat Agreement which was negotiated at a conference held at Washington in February and March of this year. The Opposition recognizes the great amount of work which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) and his departmental officers performed in conducting those negotiations on behalf of Australia. However, it is most unfortunate that the Parliament will not be able to amend the proposed agreement. We must either accept it as it stands or reject it in its entirety; we are faced with an accomplished fact. In those circumstances, the Parliament can only express approval, or disapproval, of the agreement which has been signed on behalf of the Government. The agreement provides for the sale of the wheat crops of this country for a period of four years. I regret that under it the wheat-growers are not to be given any say in the disposal of their product. I understand that the Government did not invite a representative of the Australian Wheat Board, which is a statutory body, and is composed of a majority of representatives of the growers themselves, to tate part in negotiating the agreement. One would have thought that such an invitation would be extended to that body which not only decides wheatgrowing policy but also deals with the sale of wheat. The Government also failed to seek the advice of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation when it was negotiating the agreement. That body represents the 60,000 wheat-growers in this country, and the Government, out of common courtesy, should have invited at least one representative of the federation and the Australian Wheat Board to express the views of those bodies in the course of the negotiations. However, the Government refused to seek the valuable advice that could have been made available to it on their behalf. The Australian Wheat Growers Federation was eager to submit its views to the Government. Indeed it offered to pay the expenses of a representative of the federation to attend the conference held at Washington in an unofficial advisory capacity. The Government refused to allow such a representative to attend that conference.
We can expect that similar agreements will he made for the disposal of surplus products of other important primary industries, and I have no doubt that those engaged in such industries are concerned to know whether the Government will treat them in the same way as it has treated the wheat-growers in -this instance. I have in mind, particularly, the beef industry. It has been rumoured that negotiations have already been commenced between the Australian Government and the United Kingdom for the sale of our surplus beef production. When our beef producers realize how the Government completely by-passed the wheat-growers when it was negotiating the agreement now before us, they will be concerned to know whether the Government will ignore their views in respect of any negotiations which may directly concern their industry. The Government should be only too willing to seek the advice of practical men who have brought the meat industry through good times and bad; but I have no doubt that it will treat the beef producers in the same way as it has treated the wheat-growers. The Government cannot blame the Opposition parties if they place their own construction upon its arbitrary action which savours of the socialization of production. Why should the Government entirely ignore the views of the real producers in negotiating agreements of this kind? I can only conclude that it seeks thereby to further its plans for the full socialization of production in this country.
The parties to the agreement are five wheat-growing nations or sellers on the one hand and 36 importing countries, or buyers, on the other hand. The history of the wheat industry has not been entirely happy. The industry has experienced periods of low prices as well as periods of higher prices. No stabilization scheme of any kind has existed. Prosperity in the industry, which was caused by high prices for wheat and was accompanied by a substantial appreciation of the value of wheat land, was followed by a collapse of the overseas markets for wheat, which caused disaster to Australian wheat-growers. The ensuing instability of the wheat industry has caused many previous administrations, of varying political complexions, serious concern, and so long ago as 1938 the Australian Government entered into an international agreement to stabilize the price of wheat. Unfortunately that agreement was broken and the scheme collapsed. Australia entered into another international agreement, which was ratified by the Parliament only last year, but because the
United States of America, which is one of the major wheat-growing nations of the world, failed to ratify the agreement, the stabilization scheme collapsed. I point out that because of the huge wheat acreage of the United States of America and tha tremendous quantities of grain which it exports, the participation of that nation in any international scheme is an essential prerequisite to its success. At the same time, I realize that if it had not been for the very great assistance rendered by the United States of America to the distressed nations of the world during the last two years, the world’s economy would be much more unstable than it is.
The bill sets out the maximum and minimum prices at which wheat may be bought and sold bv the signatory nations. Those limitations will apply for four years from the 1st August next. The maximum price, which is quoted in dollars, that Australia may charge for wheat sold to countries which are reasonably close to us is approximately lis. 2d. a bushel, reckoned in Australian currency. The maximum price which may be charged for wheat sold to more distant countries varies, but according to my calculation, the United Kingdom will not be required to pay more than from 10s. lid. to Ils. a bushel. Whilst the maximum prices which sellers may charge are set out in the agreement, honorable senators must realize that buyers are not compelled to pay the maximum. The agreement also provides for the fixed minimum price to be reduced during each of the four years of the scheme’s operation. The minimum fixed for the first year is 9s. 3d. a bushel, so that during that year the actual price paid for Australian wheat may vary between 9s. 3d. and lis. 2d. a bushel. Although sellers may demand the maximum, buyers may be prepared to pay only the minimum price, and the minimum price fixed for the fourth year of operation of the scheme is from approximately 7s. to 7s. 3d. a bushel. It follows, therefore, that if there is an abundance of wheat in the world’s markets in four year’s time Australian wheat may be sold for as little as 7s. a bushel. I emphasize that that would not be a very satisfactory return to growers in view of the high costs of production which they are called upon to pay.
Any international scheme must of necessity specify the currency in which payments are to be made, because only by those means can any stable standard of value be maintained. For the purpose of the International Wheat Agreement the currency of the United States of America, which is the most stable in the world to-day, has been selected as the common denominator. That currency should, at least, remain stable during the next four years. Whilst I approve of payments for Australian wheat being made in dollars, I point out that payment for much of the primary produce which Australia sells to the United Kingdom is made in sterling, because the various agreements which regulate the sale of our commodities fix the prices in sterling currency. The consequence is that Australian primary producers must depend upon the continuance of the present exchange rate between sterling and Australian currency if they are to receive full value for their produce. The only exception is wool, which is our largest and most valuable export, and the price of which is determined in Australian currency. As soon as a consignment of wool is sold the grazier concerned knows exactly how much he will receive, and his cheque is not affected by subsequent fluctuations of currency values. If the same principle were applied to the sale of other commodities, particularly those which are regulated by long-term agreements, primary producers would not have to encounter the very serious risk of financial loss that is caused by fluctuation of currency values. Whilst payments calculated on the present sterling basis give to primary producers a reasonable return, any depreciation of sterling value would react most detrimentally to them. I am pleased, therefore, that the international wheat agreement has been based on a stable currency.
– Does the Leader of the Opposition approve of that arrangement ?
– Certainly. The point that I am now making is that whilst the dollar currency is the most stable currency on which to base an international wheat scheme, it would not be a. satisfactory basis for agreements for the export of other primary produce, suck as butter, beef and sugar, . which are sold principally in the sterling area. Since the total export value of those commodities aggregates many millions of pounds annually 1 cannot understand why, since we are the sellers, we should not insist upon the prices of those commodities being fixed in Australian currency. If the ratio between sterling and the Australian currencies remains stable, no harm could come to those who import our produce and we should be protecting the interests of our primary producers. However, we cannot overlook the fact that there has been considerable talk of depreciating sterling currency, and that considerable pressure has been exerted upon the British Government to devalue its currency. That being so, it is our duty to protect the interests of our primary producers by endeavouring, as far as is possible, to ensure that the prices of our produce shall not be subject to currency fluctuations.
– Our primary producers would he subject to those risks even if there was an international agreement.
– If the prices of our primary produce were fixed in Australian money our primary producers would be protected from any loss arising from fluctuations of overseas currencies. Instead of the value of a consignment of Australian produce, worth in this country, say, £A.1,250, being assessed at fstg.1,000, its monetary value should be assessed as £A.1,250. The Government, which has in its service officials who are experienced in calculating the operation of exchange rates, could fix the prices of our produce at figures which would safeguard the interests of our primary producers, and would, I repeat, remove the dangers inherent in any scheme of calculating the return to growers upon prices fixed, in accordance with the values of overseas currencies.
– Docs the Leader of the Opposition suggest that the maximum and minimum prices of wheat should be quoted in Australian currency in the international agreement?
– No. For the reasons that I have already explained I consider that the price of wheat should be fixed in terms of dollars. The point which I have endeavoured to make is that the prices of Australian commodities that are sold .to sterling countries should be assessed in Australian currency, as is the case with our wool. In that way they would be assured of receiving fair prices for their produce.
In the International Wheat Agreement, there are advantages and also disadvantages. The first obvious advantage is that the price of at least a portion of the world’s wheat crop will be stabilized for a period of four years. That will be a great benefit to wheatgrowers. They will know that for four years at least, the price of export wheat will not fall below the figure agreed upon. The first immediate disadvantage is that wheat-growers are to be called upon in the early years of the agreement, to make an immediate sacrifice in return for some future problematical gain. The international price of wheat on the 1st August is to be approximately lis. 2d. a bushel. That is less than world parity to-day. It is also less than the price at which the United Kingdom Government has contracted to buy 60,000,000 bushels of Australian wheat, and I understand that any of that quantity that has not been delivered bv the 1st August will be paid for at the international price of lis. 2d. a bushel. Therefore, the Australian wheat-grower will make an immediate sacrifice in respect of wheat which, in effect, has already been sold. Whether or not Australian wheat-growers generally are prepared to accept that price for a four-year guarantee of stability on the overseas market, we do not know, because the various wheatgrowers’ organizations were not given a chance to approve or disapprove of the agreement before it was signed. A further disadvantage that I see in the proposal is that not all the wheat-exporting countries are parties to the agreement. The agreement provides for the sale of 456,000,000 bushels annually, delivery to be made either in wheat or flour. Australia’s quota of that quantity is 80,000,000 bushels. Canada will supply 203,000,000 bushels, France 3,300,000 bushels, the United States of America 168,069,000 bushels, and
Uruguay 1,837,185 bushels. Because of the relatively small export quotas allocated to France and Uruguay, those countries are of little importance as sellers. In fact, last year, France was a substantial importer of wheat, and it is problematical whether it will be able to supply its quota in future seasons. Virtually, therefore, there are three wheat suppliers, the biggest of which is Canada, and the next is the United States of America. We should realize that although the United States of America has an average export surplus of approximately 500,000,000 bushels annually, it will supply only 168,069,000 bushels to the pool. Last year, Australia produced 220,000,000 bushels of wheat. A repetition of that production in future years will mean that, allowing 60,000,000 bushels for home consumption, Australia will have a total exportable surplus of 160,000,000 bushels, of which only 80,000,000 bushels will go into the international pool. The Minister said in his second-reading speech, however, that Australia’s average production is 160,000,000 bushels. Allowing 80,000,000 bushels for export under the agreement, and 60,000,000 bushels for home consumption, there will be an exportable surplus of 20,000,000 bushels surplus. It is solely a matter of production. If production is high, naturally the surplus available for export will be greater. However, Australia’s average exportable surplus is very small indeed compared with that of the world generally. It is estimated that the average exportable world surplus is between 900,000,000 and 1,000,000,000 bushels annually. The total exports provided for in the agreement account for less than half of that surplus. According to figures given by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, importing nations require an average of between 700,000,000 and 750,000,000 bushels a year. That leaves an exportable surplus of approximately 200,000,000 bushels. Wheat producing countries that have not signed the agreement include Russia, Argentina and the Danubian countries. In the past, all those countries have been substantial exporters. The question, therefore, is. “ How much wheat oan those countries put on the world’s market, and at what price ? “ That must be given careful consideration. The obligations upon purchasers under .the agreement are not enforceable. Purchasing nations simply agree to buy so much wheat, and the exporting nations agree to sell so rauch. The obligation is much firmer on the seller than on the buyer. For instance, a buyer nation might delay its purchases for say, twelve months. If the sale of Australian wheat was delayed for that period, a difficult storage position would arise in this country. That is a possibility that must be faced. Under the agreement, there are 36 buyer nations of which ten have agreed to purchase more than 10,000,000 bushels annually. The greatest purchaser will be the United Kingdom with 177,000,000 (bushels. I do not suggest for a .minute that the United Kingdom, or certain other nations, would repudiate the obligation placed upon them under the agreement, but there is a distinct possibility that within a fewyears the world’s markets may be flooded with wheat and countries outside the agreement may be quoting wheat at much less than the agreement price. As the result, some huyer nations that have signed the agreement, might endeavour to escape their obligations by purchasing their wheat from non-agreement countries. I point out, too, that should Australian production increase, and a much larger exportable surplus become available, anything that we export in excess of 80,000,000 bushels would have to be sold at world parity. An increase of the price of wheat on the world’s markets would benefit us considerably, but the general impression is. that the price of wheat will fall unless an international calamity such as a widespread drought is encountered. Undoubtedly there is a moral obligation on wheat exporting or importing countries to subscribe to this agreement. I .point out also that as long as Marshall aid is being provided to certain countries, pressure can be brought to bear upon ‘them to fulfil their obligations under this agreement.
My final point is that the agreement, if it has done nothing else, has focussed attention on one bright spot in a chaotic world. It would appear that there is sufficient wheat to feed the many millions of the world’s population. That is an important factor. I hope that the agreement will run its course and that the farmers will have the benefit of a stable price for their product for at least four years to come.
– I sincerely hope that the wish of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) will be fulfilled and that the Internationa] Wheat Agreement will bring economic stability to the wheatgrowers for at least four years. That is the whole purpose of the agreement. It has been designed to provide for the future. As production increases, our chances of making international agreements will decrease because the law of supply and demand will again come into force. It will cause competition amongst sellers, and such competition gives buyers the chance to insist on low prices. Such a situation can arise very quickly when there is a world surplus of wheat. The idea of having international wheat agreements is to protect producers against such risks. I regret very much that the Leader of the Opposition again used the parrot cry of “ socialization “. We are becoming a little tired of hearing it.
– Then why does not the Government change its ways?
– There is no need for us to change our ways. We are satisfied that our policy operates in the best interests of the people. We will not allow Australians to starve if we can do anything to prevent it. The Opposition’s slogan about socialization does no good. It proves nothing. In any case, the honorable gentleman’s suggestion that the agreement involves socialization cannot bo reconciled with the facts. I remind him that representatives of 42 countries negotiated the agreement, and I am sure that the governments of at least some of those countries are opposed to socialization. In fact, some of them may not be greatly interested in the preservation of democracy. The honorable gentleman’s criticism was a mere generalization. The agreement is multi-lateral, and its purpose is clear.
What would be the attitude of mind of the growers if this Parliament failed to ratify the agreement and if, subsequently, over-production caused a “ flop “ in the market? I am sure that they would blame this Government if prices fell disastrously as the result of a glut and they were not protected by an agreement. The Government must take a chance as a party to the agreement. We have to consider what will ultimately provide the best results for producers not only in Australia but also in other exporting countries. I can foresee no disadvantages in the agreement. It provides that certain countries shall purchase specified quantities of wheat from producing countries at specified prices. I cannot see much wrong with that. The plan provides for a maximum price of 1.80 dollars a bushel. Commenting on this provision in his secondreading speech the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice) said -
The Government was very loth even at this point to agree to a lower maximum, but after a c.i refill review of all the circumstances and after consulting the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, it was decided to do so. The federation took the view that, whilst it was not satisfied with a maximum of 1.80 dollars, the Government should accept that maximum and become a party to the proposed agreement.
That statement shows clearly that the Government did not act entirely on its own initiative and in accordance with its own ideas when it decided to recommend ratification of the agreement. It had the authority and the backing of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. That is an important fact which may have been overlooked by the Leader of the Opposition. The honorable gentleman said that the growers should have some say in the disposal of their product. The fact is that they have had, and still have, their say. Their interests are further safeguarded in my opinion because their wheat will be sold by the Australian Wheat Board. I do not think that anybody would claim that the board has at any time willingly or intentionally done anything detrimental to the interests of the growers. As the result of cooperation between the Government and the board, the growers have received benefits to which they are justly entitled but which otherwise they would not have received.
Criticism of the Government’s wheat marketing policy on the ground that it is “ socialistic “ is meaningless. The Leader of the Opposition must decide definitely whether he will support or oppose this legislation. He has said that he will support the ratification of. the agreement, and therefore his criticism appears to he- ill-considered and futile. I do not know how he would explain his conduct to the wheat-growers if he opposed the plan, especially if increasing production should lead to pricecutting in the future. It will not be denied that the price of wheat has revealed a tendency to fall. That is the result of increasing production throughout the world. It is not of much use to grow wheat unless we can sell it at prices, above the cost of production. The producers must live. History can guide us in planning for the future of the wheat industry. During the ‘twenties the price of wheat was more’ or less stable on an open world market. However, the situation changed as time passed because people who had not been engaged in the industry previously were attracted to it by the profitable price. The relationship of production to demand was not considered in those days as necessity has since forced us to consider it. The open market price rose to about 6s. a bushel. That was an attractive figure in those days, and many people bought land and worked hard in order to produce wheat. But prices fell suddenly. The market became glutted because of the influx of new producers, and everybody suffered. There are no niceties in business, and the price continued to fall until, within a fairly short period, it reached a level of about ls. lOd. a bushel. In fact, I recall that some wheat was sold in Western Australia for less than ls. a bushel. The inevitable result was that many people who had established themselves as wheat-growers had to get out of the industry at considerable financial loss. Under open marketing conditions, the world price of wheat or any other commodity is determined by the quantity that is available for sale. If a buyer can choose from a large number of sellers, all of whom have large stocks, he will not offer fancy prices. Although I have every sympathy with the United Kingdom in its present circumstances and agree tha.t Australia should do everything possible to assist it to overcome its difficulties, I am obliged to view the situation realistically. One of the main planks in the platforms of British political parties has always been what is known as “ the cheap breakfast table “. In consequence, governments have had to press hard bargains so as to keep the cost of living at the lowest possible level. However, under the international agreement, the United Kingdom Government and the governments of other importing countries will undertake to purchase from the exporting countries, including Australia, specified quantities of wheat at guaranteed prices over a period of years. The maximum level of the contract price has been reduced from the initial proposed rate of 2 dollars a bushel, which the United States Congress refused to ratify last year, to 1.80 dollars. There has been an increase of wheat production in the world, and obviously the purchasers of wheat will not continue to pay high prices if they can obtain their requirements of wheat for a lower price. This is indicated by the fact that the maximum price has decreased from 2 dollars to 1.80 dollars under this agreement. There is a range of minimum prices also. Under .the 1948 agreement, which was not ratified, the minimum prices would have been : 1948-49, 1.50 dollars; 1949-50, 1.40 dollars; 1950- 51, 1.30 dollars; 1951-52, 1.20 dollars; and 1952-53, 1.10 dollars. The minimum price under the present agreement is 1.20 dollars; in 1949-50 it will be 1.50 dollars; 1950-51, 1.40 dollars; 1951- 52, 1.30 dollars; and in 1952-53, 1.20 dollars. A more liberal minimum price is provided in this agreement than was provided under the 1948 agreement. We must either take it or leave it, because an unknown quantity of wheat will be available from other countries. I understand that during the negotiations for this agreement the Russian representatives asked for an export quota of 100,000,000 bushels a year.” That country could supply more than that quantity for export. Argentina is not mentioned in this agreement, although that country could export a tremendous quantity of wheat. The United States of America is supplying wheat to Germany and Japan as well as looking after its home market. That country could export a large quantity of wheat. I understand that Prance is now in a position to export, 3,000,000 bushels a year, although that country until recently imported 36,000,000 bushels a year. That country has not only made up the 36,000,000 bushels a year that it previously imported, hut also now has wheat available for export. “Without dealing with the niceties of this agreement and with what the previous agreement proposed, I consider that this legislation will benefit the wheat-growers of this country, because they will be assured of a fixed price for 80,000,000 bushels exported each year. Of course we must be prepared to take whatever price we can get for exports in excess of 80,000,000 bushels. Judged by the’ increased production now being achieved we may not get as much as 1.80 dollars a bushel for our exports in excess of 80,000,000 bushels a year during the currency of this agreement. We cannot treat this matter lightly. Although I do not wish to hurt anybody by my remarks, I consider that over the years wheat has become a “ political football “. We must endeavour to go much further with international marketing in the future than in the past. Where would the wheat-growers of this country have been if it had not been for stabilization? Where would they have been had not this Government arranged in 1944 that they should receive 4s. Id. a bushel for their produce? What will be their position in the future if there is not an understanding with relation to international trade? This is a very important aspect of international affairs. Down the centuries international clashes have nearly always occurred as the result of greed. History shows that avarice has played a very big part in machinations culminating in war. A nation with goods to sell naturally endeavours to obtain buyers at the best possible price. If, on the other hand, we can get the representatives of different countries together around a table, and they agree that certain countries will sell a given quantity of a commodity at a given price, over a given number of years, some stability is achieved. In the absence of such an agreement the law of supply and demand operates. Although that may be a good thing in some instances, it is a very bad thing in others. I consider that this agreement is not quite so good as waa the one that we hoped to establish twelve months ago, which had to “go overboard “ because of the attitude of the Congress of the United States of America. According to recent press reports many signatory nations are still required to ratify this agreement, although it is provided that their approval can be obtained’ later. It is also necessary, I believe, that the Australian Parliament shall ratify the agreement before the end of this month. It is to become operative on the 1st August next. I do not think that this agreement could be replaced by anything else successfully, although I understand that the Liberal party has suggested that any agreement of this character should be for a period of at least ten years. I do not think that it is feasible to expect any country to say to another country, “We will agree to buy your goods for a period of ten years at a certain price “. That would be unfair.
– The price should be fixed on a formula.
– It is fixed on a formula for four years. If buying is to be fixed on a formula for longer than four years - and this formula has shown a decline of prices - the further the agreement goes the lower the price will become. In a period of four or five years there may be serious international calamities, or tremendous losses in wheat crops. What would the position then be? A formula for a period of ten years would have to be very elastic. Elasticity is evident in this agreement by provision for a decrease of minimum prices from 1.50 dollars down to 1.20 dollars over a period of four years. Under the agreement, the council to be estabilshed must communicate with the whole of the participating countries about twelve months prior to the end of the four-year period, with a view to continuing or renewing the agreement so that there is no necessity to have a long-term agreement. A long term is provided for under legislation that we are discussing.
– in reply - It is evident that this measure has the unanimous support of the Senate. That is not surprising because it is generally accepted that in this agreement the best possible conditions have been achieved, especially in view of the seriously disturbed conditions obtaining throughout the world at present. Although 5t has been suggested that the agreement should have covered a longer period, the Government has endeavoured to obtain the very best possible conditions in the interests of the wheat-growers and our economy. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) has not seriously criticized this measure. I understand that he supports the agreement, although he made a minor criticism of the manner in which the Government handled negotiations. He complained that the industry was not consulted, and that its representatives did not have an opportunity to be present when it was being discussed. However, because of the number of countries interested in this agreement it was not possible to have representatives of every interested body present when the negotiations were taking place. But the Government was careful to obtain the opinion of the growers ; and we know that the agreement has the general approval of those who are engaged in the industry.’ I regard the measure as being most important. If the agreement can be fully implemented for the stipulated period of four years it will stabilize not only conditions in the industry but also our economy as a whole. Judging from the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition he approves the agreement although he did not say so in so many words. His only criticism of the measure was that it savoured of socialization. It is not altogether new to learn that primary producers are prepared to accept a little socialization when it suits them. However, I see no evidence of socialization under this measure. It is extraordinary that the Australian Country party invariably opposes any measure, particularly when it is introduced by a Labour government, that is designed to stabilize conditions in primary industries. If I know anything about primary production at all I know that stabilization is the objective of all primary producers. They wish to avoid violent fluctuations of prices, particularly downward trends; and prices are declining at present. I believe that the agreement will be acceptable to all who have the interests of the wheat industry at heart. I shall not prolong the debate. It is pleasing to note that the measure has received the support of all parties and has been dealt with in so brief a period by the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Sitting suspended from, 5.50 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from the 23rd June (vide page 1392), on motion by Senator Armstrong -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill proposes to increase the amount of the advance which may be made to applicants by the War Service Homes Division from £1,500, in the case of a home under mortgage, and £1,750 in respect of a building which is subject to a contract of sale, to £2,000. Whilst that proposal will undoubtedly confer some advantage on ex-servicemen who desire to acquire homes, we must ask ourselves whether the motive which actuated the Government in introducing the measure was to enable ex-servicemen to build larger homes, or to furnish their homes with more amenities, or whether the real reason was that it is not now possible to build a decent home for less than £2,000. If the increased cost of building is the real reason for the proposed increase the proposal must be viewed in the light of presentday building costs, because I doubt whether even the larger amount will be sufficient to enable ex-servicemen to build decent homes. We must realize that applicants are called upon, not only to provide a substantial deposit for the erection of a home, but they must also purchase the land on which the home is to be built. The Senate has recently discussed’ the causes of the increased cost of building, including higher wages, the scarcity of building materials and the reduced output of building workers consequent upon the introduction of the 40-hour week, and we are all aware of present-day costs. Honorable senators are also aware that representations have been made to the Government recently by exservicemen’s organizations to reduce the current rate of interest of 3$ per cent. Although that rate of interest is substantially lower than the rate charged some years ago, I point out that, in accordance with the progressive increase of the cost of building, the amount of the advance, on which interest has to be paid, has increased progressively from £750 to the present maximum of £1,750, and the actual burden of interest which has to be borne by the ex-servicemen has increased more than proportionately. When the matter was debated in the House of Representatives recently it was suggested that the Government should reduce the present interest rates, and I agree with that suggestion. In the course of the debate on another measure that took place a few days ago I urged the Government to re-appoint the joint parliamentary committee which investigated the operation of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, and I recalled that that committee, which was appointed in 1942, functioned most effectively and carried out an exhaustive review of the effectiveness of the pension rates. If a similar committee were again appointed it could, with considerable advantage, investigate the various suggestions which have been made to lighten the interest burden on those who acquire war service homes. Members of th.e Parliament who have had’ war service in either World War I. or World War II. should be appointed to the committee because their experience would be invaluable.
As an alternative to reducing interest rates, it has been suggested that the Government might directly subsidize the repayment of advances. It is interesting to note that in New Zealand, where conditions generally, including the provision of housing accommodation, are similar to those which obtain in Australia, loans are made to ex-servicemen f ree of interest and repayment is based on a formula which has been prepared on actuarial advice. The operation of that scheme hasproved it to be sound, and I suggest that the scheme should be thoroughly examined. For example, in some dominions ex-servicemen who build their own homes are not obliged to pay sales tax or customs duties on building materials. I anticipate that the Government will say that in Australia those charges do not amount to more than a fraction of the cost of home building, but I am convinced, as the result of investigations which I made recently, that a home builder would be saved at least £30. Whilst that amount may not appear considerable in relation to the total cost of erecting a home, I point out that when an individual has to invest every penny that he has in acquiring a home, a saving of even £10 is greatly appreciated. Some consideration should also be given to applying the principle of making rebates in respect of each additional member of an ex-serviceman’s family, for which there is precedent in other countries. Financial relief is never more needed than when additional members of a family arrive.
I have taken the trouble to examine some previous reports of the war service homes authorities. Whilst we all realize that the exigencies of war prevented the erection of any considerable number of homes during the war, either for exservicemen or for other members of the community, the number of houses erected or acquired for ex-servicemen by the War Service Homes Division since the war ended is disappointingly small. In 1945- 46, 61 homes were constructed; in 1946- 47, 502 were erected ; and in 1947-48 1,247 were completed. Unfortunately the figures for 1948-49 are not yet available.
– More than 2,000 homes were erected or acquired during eleven months of the current financial year, which is very satisfactory.
– That indicates that the number of houses built is increasing, and the number built in 1950 will doubtless amount to considerably more than 2,000. It was stated by the Minister for Works and Housing recently that the number of homes built by the War Service Homes Division during the past three years totalled 3,750, and that it was a record. However, 1 point out that from 1921 to 1923, the corresponding period after World War I., 6,160 homes were built, or financial assistance provided for their construction by the War Service Homes Commission. Between the 1st July, 1946, and the 30th May of this year, the total was 3,829. Obviously. it is not possible to build another 2,000 homes in the last month of the current financial year. Therefore, construction in the 1921-23 period, represented a much greater achievement than does the figure for the past three years.
Generally speaking, the war service homes organization has done a wonderful job. When it came into existence 30 year ago, it was faced with the enormous task of organizing its administration, purchasing land and financing homes. No doubt, since those days it has made some mistakes, but no big business undertaking can be. carried on without making mistakes. A huge number of war service homes have been built, and generally speaking, the workmanship, and architecture has been of a high standard. I hope that the time will soon come again when, instead of building 5,000 homes in three years, we shall see that figure increased many fold. To-day there is a long waiting list of ex-servicemen. I have no desire to delay the passage of this measure. The finance necessary to implement it has already been voted. The purpose of the bill is to carry on with the construction of war service homes in the 1949-50 period.
– Although apparently the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) went to some trouble to obtain figures that he has cited to-night, I regret to say that they are wrong. The official figures issued by the War Service Homes Division reveal a much more satisfactory position. The bill raises the limit of an advance for a war service home to £2,000. The Leader of the Opposition spoke of interest rates. I am sure that most honorable senators will agree that in spite of the Opposition parties, the Labour Government has established a record of interest reduction which no previous administration ever matched. When Labour assumed office, it would have been most difficult to reduce interest rates on existing war service homes, because they had been financed by loan funds on which fixed rates of interest had to be paid. It would have been necessary for the Government to draw substantially upon current revenues to reduce interest rates on war service homes constructed by previous administrations, and I do not think that honorable senators opposite would have supported such action. However, the Government has reduced interest rates generally by the correct method. I refer to the regulating of the bank rate of interest in such a way as not to prejudice either the borrower or the lender. In that way, an economic balance’ has been maintained. Under Labour’s administration, interest rates have reached a record low figure. Figures issued by the War Service Homes Division show that in 1945-46, 109 war service homes were completed, and 311 were purchased and the mortgages discharged, making .a total of 420. In 1946-47, 502 homes were completed, and 1761 were purchased and the mortgages discharged, making a total of 2,263 homes. provided. In the following year, 1,247 homes were completed, and 2,430 purchased and the mortgages discharged, making a total of 3,677.
– But that number of houses was not actually built.
– I am speaking of providing homes for ex-servicemen, which is the objective of the Government. If the War Service Homes Division buys a home, obviously, another one is built for the person who sold it.
– That is only in theory.
– From the 1st July, 1948 to the 31st May, 1949, the number of homes completed under the group scheme was 188, whereas for individuals the number was 1,892. Homes purchased and the mortgages discharged numbered 3,124, making a total of 5,204 homes provided for . ex-servicemen. The Leader of the Opposition is arguing that that total does not represent houses actually built. Nevertheless 11,564 homes have been provided. Apparently he is not prepared to accept the sane argument that if a house which is suitable for an exserviceman is purchased, another house is built for the vendor. The scheme is being carried out efficiently and effectively.
– But it is not building homes.
– It is providing homes.
– Buying is not building.
– As I have said a home has to be built for the man who sells his house to a returned soldier. During May of this year, 257 homes were completed and 660 contracts let. That is a record for a month’s operations. Group homes now under construction total 1,898, and individual homes, 3,327, making a total of 5,225. That is a proud achievement. In addition, of course, the Commonwealth and State housing scheme is providing homes for people other than ex-servicemen. Most of those homes should have been built many years ago when ample manpower and material were available but they were not built owing to the neglect of anti-Labour administrations. That makes all the more difficult the Government’s task to-day of providing houses for ex-servicemen. However, its record is excellent. The Leader of the Opposition said that the increased advance was necessary because building workers were receiving higher rates of pay. That is only half of the story. That accounts for only 15 per cent, of the increase. The Opposition claims that the defeat of the Government’s prices referendum proposals did not affect housing costs, but the figures do not support that contention. The Australian Housing Cost Index for the six capital cities, rose by 11 per cent, in 1948. However, from March, 1947 to March, 1949, the increase was 26 per cent. Obviously, the reason for that substantial increase was the abandonment of prices control by the Commonwealth. Basic building materials including lead, zinc and copper are being exported for higher prices than can be obtained in this country. It is interesting to note that in the two-year period that I have mentioned, the in creases of housing costs in the various capital cities were as follows : -
An analysis of those costs reveals a significant factor. During the entire period in which prices were controlled by the Commonwealth, building costs increased least in Perth. Now we find that in the two years from March 1947 to March 1949, the increase of building costs in Perth was greater than in any other capital city. That simply means that the people who provided much of the money to fight the Government’s referendum proposals are now reaping their reward. Under Commonwealth prices control, prices in Perth were very low, but since the Commonwealth vacated the field, those people have been able to get back much of the money that they invested in referendum publicity.
– The 40-hour week has increased costs.
– The honorable senator talks of the 40-hour week. I shall have something to say about that too. In spite of the 40-hour week, production of building materials has increased. For instance the output of bricks rose from 430,000,000 in 1946, to 548,000,000 in 1947, and to 609,000,000 in 1948. The output of cement too has increased, the figures for 1946, 1947 and 1948 being respectively, 848,000 tons, 965,000 tons and 998,000 tons. I can understand that these figures are not very palatable to the Leader of the Opposition.
– They are probably not right.
– I can vouch for their accuracy. They come from the Commonwealth Statistician. In 1946, the output of sawn timber was 979,000,000 super, feet. By 1947 that had increased to 1,089,000,000 super, feet, and last year, it was 1,153,000,000 super, feet. Production of fibrous plaster sheets increased from 7,520,000 square yards in 1946, to 10,375,000 in 1947, and 12.348,000 in 3948. Production of asbestos cementincreased in a like manner. In 1946, 35,313,000 roofing tiles were manufactured ; in 1947, the figure was 39,789,000, and in 1948, 44,141,000. Prom 1946 to 1947, the production of stoves rose from 40,577 to 89,847 - an increase of more than 100 per cent. By 1948, the output had reached 137,939, representing an increase of more than 300 per cent, on the 1946 figure.
– And the prices of houses has increased by 100 per cent.
– I have cited figures showing that housing costs increased by 26 per cent, from March, 1947, to March, 1-949. That, as I have said was due mainly to the defeat of the referendum. When the war ended, the production of baths was practically negligible. By 1946, the output had reached 48,363. There was a decrease to 43,065 in 1947, hut a substantial rise occurred again in 1948 when the number produced was 63,2S6, representing an increase of more than 50 per cent, on the 1946 figure. The production of earthenware basins jumped from 56,932 in 1946 to 80,898 in 1948. The increase in respect of earthenware sinks was somewhat smaller, the figure for 1946 being 42,564 compared with 43,371 in 1948. It is stupid to make broad, general statements in the hope that they will damage the Government’s prestige. The Leader of the Opposition has asked for figures, but when we cite the official figures, as I have just done, he engages in a continuous fire of interjections in an attempt to prevent them from being heard. The number of men engaged in building trades has increased by 35 per cent, since before the war. Many of those men were trained under the Government’s re-establishment scheme. Some of them served only two years of their apprenticeship and reached a stage of 40 per cent, efficiency. They work with journeymen and do a good job, but naturally their work cannot be so effective as that of fully qualified tradesmen. Another disadvantage that affects the building industry arose from the fact that many tradesmen enlisted in the armed forces during the war and thus were not available to train young boys in their trade. However, the most regrettable fact is that young men who could have been trained before the war never had the opportunity to work in any building trade because antiLabour governments did not encourage home building. It is highly unfair of the Opposition to criticize the Government so hypocritically. The Leader of the Opposition disparaged the Government’s housing record and challenged the efficiency of workers in the building industry, but the figures that I have .cited disprove his assertions. He also said that interest rates were’ too high, hut the truth ds that they are now lower than they ever were under the administration of anti-Labour governments. They have been fixed by proper methods, which the Opposition solidly opposed. When honorable senators opposite demand that interest .rates be reduced, they expose themselves as hypocrites. Their arguments in this instance were as unbalanced as their policies have been on other occasions. T commend the bill to the Senate.
– Although this .bill is absolutely essentia], I believe that there are other ways and means by which we can assist exservicemen to purchase war service homes. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) asked whether an exserviceman would be able to get a (better house at the increased price for which the bill provides. The answer to his question is “ Definitely no He must know that the increase of housing costs, as Senator Cooke pointed out, resulted from the defeat of the Government’s proposals at the prices referendum. Many prices sky-rocketed after the referendum and returned soldiers are suffering now because they must pay higher prices for houses. I can see little hope of an exserviceman on the basic wage being able to pay £1,750 or £2,000 for an ordinary home if he is expected also to pay interest on the money. He would be a very old man, if he lived long enough, before he owned the house. However, I believe that there are means by which interest and other charges can be considerably reduced. There is no need to charge more than li per cent, interest on the cost of an ex-serviceman’s home or any other home. Furthermore, I believe that the
Attorney-General’s Department and the War Service Homes Division could cooperate to reduce the heavy incidental charges that are incurred :by applicants for war service homes. An ex-serviceman who wants to obtain a war service home at <a cost of £1,950 is required under general law to pay £80 for the transfer of the deeds. That appears to me to be unnecessarily expensive. Somebody must be getting a “out” out of it. Delays are also caused by legal procedure. These are expensive to the prospective occupant and should not be tolerated under present conditions, when houses are so scarce. One instance with which I am acquainted is that of a house that was completed as long ago as last Christmas but ha3 not yet become available for occupation. A firm of private solicitors waited from Christmas until the 15th March before making any attempt to submit the transaction for Treasury approval. The application was returned to the solicitors on the 21st March by the Treasury. Then the documents had to be submitted to the War Service Homes Division and forwarded to the Attorney-General’s agent at Hobart. Although the papers were returned to the solicitors on the 21st March, they were not forwarded to the War Service Homes Division before the beginning of April. The transaction had not been completed when I made inquiries about it last night. The papers have been in the hands of the Attorney-General’s agent in Hobart for approximately two months. I consider that the delay was caused principally by the private solicitors and was lengthened by the slowness of the AttorneyGeneral’s agent at Hobart. The bill will increase the permissible cost of a war service home from £1,750 to £2,000. Therefore an applicant will be entitled to borrow up to £1,750 in order to purchase a home worth £2,000. The War Service Homes Division will purchase the home for him, provided that he has an amount of £250 to pay as a cash deposit. This increase is absolutely necessary because only a very poor type of home could be bought to-day for less than £1,750, Costs have soared tremendously since the Government’s price control proposals were defeated at the referendum. In view of those increases,
I consider that the charge of £80 that a man must pay for the transfer of the deeds of the property that he wants to buy before he can secure the financial assistance of the War Service Homes Division is excessive and unwarranted. The Attorney-General’s Department should take action to relieve war service homes applicants of that heavy burden. I hope that we shall soon be able to take action in this Parliament to reduce interest charges in respect of war service homes and all other homes for working people. A working man can have very little hope of discharging the cost of a home with the interest rate at 3J per cent. We must do something to reduce that rate. It should not exceed 1-V per cent. I believe that we can effect such a reduction if we tackle the problem seriously.
– in reply - I thank the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) and other honorable senators for their support of this bill. As the Leader of the . Opposition and Senator Aylett have said, one of the principal reasons for the decision to increase the maximum amount that may be made available by loan to the . purchaser of a war service home has . been the increased cost of building. The increase has been so great that we cannot ignore it, and the intention of the bill .is to help ex-servicemen to obtain suitable homes. The Leader of the Opposition and Senator Aylett also criticized the interest charges to which purchasers . of war service homes are liable. The present rate of 3f per cent. ha3 been the subject of very earnest consideration by the Government. In fact, it is considerably below the lowest rate at which money can be borrowed privately and, although it may seem substantial, it is the minimum that the Government is prepared to permit at this stage. However, I assure the Senate that the interest charge is continually under review and, as soon as relief can be afforded, the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) will take action. The main barrage of attack by the Leader of the Opposition was based upon a comparison of the num- berg of war service homes that were built in the period immediately after World War I. and the numbers that have been built since the end of World War II. A fair comparison of the facts shows that the record of the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Works and Housing under this Government has been astonishingly good. When World War II. ended, the war service homes scheme was administered by the former War Service Homes Commission. The achievements of the commission were almost negligible. I do not know the reason for that, but I know that very few homes were built during the two years immediately following the termination of hostilities. However, when the Minister for Works and Housing was appointed to that office in 1946, he prepared and introduced legislation that dispensed with the commission and established the War Service Homes Division within the Department of Works and Housing. He placed Mr. Lucas in charge of the division, and since that date the progress of the war service homes programme has been almost spectacular. In the year 1946-47, 502 homes were built. In the succeeding year, the number completed was 1,204, and in 1948-49 the total was 2,400. It is notable that steady progress was made each year. At the 30th June next, more than 5,000 homes will be under construction. That is a very impressive achievement. The figure at the end of the current year will be almost double the highest level reached in the peak period immediately following World War I. to which the Leader of the Opposition referred. That great improvement has resulted from the vigorous and efficient work of the Minister for Works and Housing. Very great praise is due to him on that account.
– Those houses have not yet been completed.
– It might appear to be unwise to count them before they are completed, but the fact remains that the Minister for Works and Housing has been most conservative in his estimates. He has not let the’ Parliament down, and he will not let it down unless some extraordinary catastrophe, such as the present coal strike, vitally affects the home-building programme. “The standard of the houses that are being built to-day under the war service homes scheme is high. Many of the homes that were built after World War I. were of poor quality. It would be most unfair to generalize on the subject, but the truth is that many of the homes that were built after World War I. were of low standard and caused many complaints by the returned soldiers who occupied them. The type of cottage that is now made available to war service homes applicants is very good. Senator Aylett said that the costs to ex-servicemen should be reduced. The honorable senator stressed particularly the amount of money that the ex-serviceman has paid by the time that he finally takes over his home. However, the position is not quite as stated by the honorable senator. When the exserviceman finally takes over his home, the transfer must go through the titles department of the State in which the home is situated. A Commonwealth charge is not made.
– I said that £80 was paid to outside solicitors.
– It goes through the lands titles office.
– There is a different provision under the law in Tasmania.
– If an exserviceman has paid that much to a solicitor it must have been after the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) left that State.
– That is happening now, unless it has been rectified lately.
– The exserviceman should not be charged so much as that. All of the work that would normally be done by the AttorneyGeneral’s Department is done by the officers of the War Service Homes Division. The only charge made is about £1 or £1 10s. for handling the transfer.
– Would that be for stamp duty?
– I am referring to cases in which ex-servicemen purchase homes from private contractors.
– That is somewhat beyond the provisions of this measure.
– Those homes are purchased through the War Service Homes Division. .
– The stamp duty on transfer must be paid to the relevant State government. The charge should never be as much as £80. It should be only about £20. If £S0 is being charged to an ex-serviceman I am afraid that that is a condemnation of the members of the legal profession handling the business. I do not like to say that, however, because so many eminent members of the legal fraternity are connected with the Parliament. I thank the Senate for its reception of this measure, and I thank Senator Cooke particularly for his wide survey of a very difficult situation. The Minister in charge of the War Service Homes Division of the Department of Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) and his officers are entitled to a great deal of praise for their compilation of the figures that I have quoted during this debate. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) said that the 5,000 homes that were mentioned are not yet completed. However, knowing the Minister as we do, I am convinced that lie would not make such an estimate unless he was confident that in normal circumstances the work would, be carried out.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 23rd June (vide page 1402), on motion by Senator McKenna -
That the hill be now rend a second time.
– This measure is described as -
A bill for an act to make provision for the prevention of irregularities in connexion with elections for offices in organizations . . .
If the bill went any way at all towards providing ways and means whereby irregularities, as defined in the bill, may be obviated, it would naturally receive the most cordial support of honorable senators on this side of the chamber. An examination of the bill, however, discloses that there is no provision whatever for any such prevention. Although there is a very weak sedative for those suffering after the evil and mischief has been perpetrated, there is no provision, whatever, from the commencement to the end of the’ bill, whereby the ills from which the economic life of this country is suffering can be anticipated or avoided. Much provision is made whereby, after certain events have been established, certain other things may be done. I challenge the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) in his answer to this debate to deny that under the definition of ‘ malpractice “ there is not already existing both under the common law and the criminal code, adequate measures whereby people so offending may be punished and people so injured may have their injury remedied. Clause 4 of the - bill provides - “Irregularity”, in relation to an election for an office, includes a breach of the rules of an organization or of a branch of an organization, and any act, omission or other means whereby the full and free recording of votes by all persons entitled to record votes, and by no other persons, or a correct ascertainment or declaration of the results of the voting is, or is attempted to be, prevented or hindered.
The Minister knows that there are many reported and recorded cases of remedies being provided for people who considered that they had suffered ain injustice as a result of an election for directors of a company, or positions in trade unions and other organizations, after they had established that they had been wrongly and unlawfully the victims of actions by other people. The law as it now stands provides ample remedy. What is the idea of pretending that here is .something new, something whereby evils which are corrupting our industrial life, will be prevented? There is not the slightest suggestion that any step contemplated will prevent malpractice. This measure will add nothing to the existing law in that connexion.
– There is nothing to stop a man from committing murder.
– Although there is provision for punishment for certain offences such as forgery and impersonation, those acts are already punishable by law. That is what makes the whole bill a hollow sham. It is an insult to the intelligence of the people, and an imposition on their credulity for the Government to hope to persuade them that herein lies some relief, and a guarantee that the frauds and the malpractices from which they have suffered in the past shall now be prevented. Let us contemplate the heavy onus thrown on people who feel that they have suffered an injury. In the first place, they have . to be members of an employers’ or an employees’ organization, and must make out a prima facie case to the satisfaction of the Industrial Registrar. Under the law as it now stands, there is no need for them to go to the Industrial Registrar. They may go to the ordinary civil courts and obtain their remedies. Although in many instances people may feel morally certain that a fraud has been perpetrated, they may be completely unable to adduce evidence in support of that belief. It can be taken for granted that the people that have been accustomed through the years to indulge in these malpractices do not leave fingerprints and evidence of bungling all over the place. They are not neophytes; they are well informed and1 they are very snide, clever, and cunning in the methods that they use to accomplish their unlawful ends. One may feel morally convinced of a fraud or malpractice as described in this bill having been perpetrated and yet not have a tittle of evidence to place before the court. Some enterprising, young, courageous members of an organization may take their courage into their hands and make an application to the Industrial Registrar. Although he may be sympathetic to their claim, and feel that they were earnest and honest in their application, judicially he may be forced to say that there was nothing on which the application could be based; that it was pure assumption and suspicion.
– Would that not happen in civil cases, also?
– Yes ; but imagine the fate of members of an organization making such an application and losing it. What would be the future of their industrial life with that organization? They would be hounded out.
– They are to-day.
– That would be so unless there was complete evidence which even a blind man could see. But the point I make is that should such a state of affairs exist and evidence of it be available to any of the parties concerned, there would be no need for this measure at all, because in such circumstances the parties could now obtain full and ample relief from any court of competent jurisdiction. And in certain instances not only civil action but also criminal proceedings could be taken. For the Government to come forward now and suggest that under this measure it is providing a means of protection against fraud is sheer eyewash. It will be said, quite wrongly, that members of the Opposition parties, are not in the least concerned about trade unions. Apart from the fact that this measure and the principal act cover both employer and employee organizations, any sensible person must realize that if we are going to have economic and industrial security, if we are to escape from the law of the jungle and complete anarchy in our industrial relationships, we must have a powerful, independent and democratically-controlled trade union movement. If this bill were designed to strengthen the democratic control of the trade union movement it would receive the unanimous support of all sections of the community. Apparently my colleagues and I, in the Opposition parties feel much more strongly than does the Government that sane, powerful and democraticallycontrolled trade unions are essential in this country. We believe that at present trade unions and their members are being undermined and white-anted by a spirit which is entirely alien to Australians. But this measure is but a weak sham as a means of dealing with that menace which threatens to destroy the Australian trade union movement.
– What would the honorable senator put in its place?
– I shall answer that question later. In order to show that I am in very good company in my view that the existence of a strong trade union movement is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of industrial peace, I shall quote some remarks of an eminent gentleman in the person of Lord Birkenhead, who was at one time Lord Chancellor of England, when, incidentally, he was dealing with a situation then confronting Great Britain which was very similar to the tragic situation that now confronts Australia. He was dealing with a general strike. It has been said, and I subscribe entirely to the view, that there is no such thing as a general strike, but rather war against the community, the State and constituted authority. Lord Birkenhead, when dealing with the absolute necessity for strong powerful trade unions, emphasized the necessity to have not only some body to make collective bargains between labour and capital, but also organizations capable of ensuring that the terms of such bargains shall be carried out. He said -
It cannot bc too plainly stated that the only alternative to anarchy in our general industrial arrangements is the existence of a sane and sober trade unionist system which is capable not only of agreeing to but of enforcing a stable bargain. It sounds very attractive to a people justly exasperated by trade unionist pretensions to say: “Smash the Unions “. But in this advice madness lies. Capital and Labour must co-exist in this country. If a definite and irretrievable breach be established between them both alike will perish, and with them the nation, too, will perish. No one who has the slightest understanding of the subtleties and ramifications of British trade can even conceive of its healthy resurrection except upon the basis that there are principals upon both sides who can speak for those who have given them authority. It would indeed be a dark day for British enterprise if no great industry could deal upon a broad and general scale with those who, equally with themselves, are concerned with that industry. In other words, collective bargaining has not only come to stay, but without it, industrial peace is inconceivable.
I make that quotation in order to emphasize, if emphasis is necessary, that it is essential to the well being of Australia, that we have a powerful, sane and democraticallycontrolled trade union movement in this country.
– That is the object of the bill.
– The Government claims that the object of the bill is to protect trade unions and to prevent malpractices in trade unions. I challenge the Minister as a lawyer, when he is replying to the debate, to point to one provision in the measure that does not already exist under our criminal and civil law to prevent any malpractice as defined in the bill. Certainly, under the measure, some machinery will be set up to deal with malpractices after they have been proved, but the bill does not contain one real provision for the prevention of any malpractice.
– How could the honorable senator anticipate a malpractice?
– I shall tell the honorable senator later. As this measure amends the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. the Opposition parties deeply deplore the Government’s failure to incorporate in it any of the recommendations made in the report furnished to the Government in October last by the Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court and the Chief Conciliation Commissioner, which was tabled in the Parliament in December last. Six months have elapsed since that report was released. In it the Chief Judge and the Chief Conciliation Commissioner made some very cogent recommendations for streamlining the already streamlined arbitration law. But what has the Government done in that respect? Precisely nothing. Typical of the attitude it has adopted on many occasions of serious national import, it has maintained a dignified silence.
What has prompted the Government to introduce this sham bill? “Sham” is a very strong word, and I do not use strong language wildly, or bitterly. However, I feel, strongly about the fact that on this occasion the Government has made no attempt to face up with courage to the situation which now confronts it. lt has made no attempt under the measure to take action to prevent what the bill admits exists. There is no question about the existence of the evil mentioned in the measure. The Minister, in his secondreading speech, said’ that the eighteenth Commonwealth triennial conference of the Australian Labour party, held in September last, appointed a committee to investigate this matter and that that committee reported -
The Committee feels that it is necessary for action to be taken to prevent any individual member of a trade union being- unjustly penalized for his political beliefs. “ Prevent “ is the word upon which I place emphasis, and “prevent” is the word used in the bill. I again challenge the Minister to point to one provision in the measure whereby any attempt is being made to enable preventive action to be taken against the irregularities mentioned in the bill. Certainly, machinery is to be set up to deal with such irregularities after they have been established to the satisfaction of the Industrial Registrar and to the satisfaction of the Chief Judge. What a tedious process! It does not represent prevention at all, but a weak sedative to be given after the headache has occurred. What is preventing the Government from facing up to the situation that confronts it? It cannot be said that it is not aware of the difficulties which beset trade unions in this country. At present, are we not being held to ransom by a. disorderly organization which is defying the law and has declared war against the community and constituted authority? What more goading does the Government need to make it take a realistic view of the danger that is threatening to engulf the community as a whole? All it can d’o is to introduce this sham bill to enable certain action to be taken if certain people can establish the existence of an irregularity to the satisfaction of the Industrial Registrar and if that official can persuade the judge to take action and if the judge is satisfied that such action is justified.
– This process will be cheaper.
– It can never be cheaper to sell out to anarchy, or to weaken constituted authority. The Government is pledged to maintain peace, order, and good government. Does the honorable senator say that it is cheaper to sell out to anarchy? That is not a proper attitude for constituted authority to take. No constituted authority should sell out to anarchy because it is cheaper to do so. The sooner the Government gives the community real protection from anarchy the sooner it will establish industrial peace. There is no need to emphasize the urgency for legislation of the kind that is indicated in the title of this measure. What is preventing the Government from taking appropriate action to prevent industrial anarchy? The reason is not that the Government is not aware of the fact that the community d-s now being held to ransom and that industry is threatened with anarchy. Surely, Ministers and honorable senators opposite read the newspapers and do not need to :be convinced that a serious strike is now taking place, that open warfare is being waged against the community and constituted authority. The Government cannot advance ignorance of those facts as an excuse for its failure to deal effectively with the situation that confronts it. There can be only one other reason for its failure in that respect, and that is cowardice and fear of the turbulent trade unions concerned.
– Excuse our mirth.
– The fact that the country is now being held to ransom is not a cause for mirth. We are now just as much’ at war as we have been at any time during the last ten years ; but on this occasion our enemy is not without but within. I trust .that the Government will have sufficient courage to fight that enemy, and that it will insist upon unconditional surrender and acknowledgment of constituted authority. Cowardice can be the only explanation for the Government’s failure to introduce legislation which, in fact, will prevent malpractices in. industrial organizations. I appeal to it to spurn the friendship of enemies of the State, because there is no question that the organizations concerned are enemies of the State. The Government must also despise the threats of those organizations. The people as a whole will be behind it in any resolute action it takes to ensure that there shall be no repetition of this ‘challenge by anarchy to constituted authority and the present war against the community. I do not propose to speak at greater length. I have been asked what action I suggest that the Government should take. There is only one way by which the irregularities defined in the measure can be prevented and that is by the institution of secret ballots in trade unions.
– “Would the honorable senator apply that provision to employers’ organizations?
– I should apply it to all industrial organizations registered under the principal act.
– And the lawyers, too?
– It is difficult to make any impression upon honorable senators, who have, obviously, not read the bill. If the Minister for Health has the patience, he will explain, in the course of his reply to the debate, that “ industrial organizations “, as defined in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, cover both employers and employees. The provisions of that act are plain to all those who care to read them.
– Did not the honorable senator oppose the present Government’s attempt to obtain power to legislate in respect of industrial conditions?
– Mr. Deputy President, have you also to listen to such idle interjections ?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - Order! All interjections are disorderly, and the honorable senator must not reply to them.
– I was saying how painful it must be for you to have to entertain such idle interjections, which are also, I agree, disorderly. I shall now address my remarks directly to you, sir. There is only one method by which serious industrial disturbances such as the present coal strike can be prevented, and that is by enacting that a secret ballot must bc taken before a strike is declared. Why is the Government so afraid of the secret ballot?
– Does the honorable senator approve of trade union members being compelled to vote at secret ballots ?
– I do not like compulsion in any form, but since it is necessary for the preservation of peace and the smooth working of our industrial system I unhesitatingly support it. Let us take some practical and definite step to overcome the shocking state of affairs with which we are at present confronted. If some honorable senators opposite are prepared to assert that they are perfectly satisfied with the present system, then God help the country. I am far from satisfied. The only means by which we can protect decent trade unionists is by providing that major decisions on industrial disputes shall be taken by unions only after a secret ballot of members has been taken. Again, I repeat that sane trade unionism is vitally essential to our economy and our social welfare, and that those who are enemies of Australia are also the enemies of the trade unions of this country. I am quite sure, and I believe that no honorable senator opposite who has thought about the matter at all will dispute the fact, that the Communists are attempting to destroy the trade union movement. In the name of everything that is decent, why have not honorable senators opposite the courage to go out and fight the enemy that is assailing them? That enemy can he fought in only one way.
– This legislation does not prevent the taking of secret ballots.
– It does not prevent the taking of secret ballots; but it does not provide for them to be taken, except in certain circumstances, the occurrence of which is most unlikely. The bill may affect trade unions which do not need the benefit of its provisions, whilst those unions which should be assisted will not be affected at all by its passage. There is not the slightest possibility of the measure chafing the shoulders or the necks of those unions that need it most. In fact, they will he completely unscathed by it. The measure is a hollow sham and an imposition upon the credulity and the intelligence of the people.
I do not propose to elaborate the complete details of the machinery which I suggest should be established to provide for the taking of secret ballots. Such details as the exact method of taking a vote can be outlined later. At the moment I am concerned only with a broad principle. That principle is the right of trades unionists to make a decision by secret ballot. That right is sacred to the Australian people. Upon that principle democracy has been built throughout the world. In the name of decency why can we not introduce that principle into the trade unions and the organizations which are registered under the
Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act? Nothing short of a secret ballot will afford to trade unionists that protection to which they are entitled. Nothing short of that principle will afford to the people the protection of their duly elected government, to which they are entitled. I appeal to the Government and its supporters to take their courage in their hands, to despise the pretended friendship of their real enemies, and to remind themselves that they are responsible for the preservation of peace, order and good government of Australia while Labour is in office. I urge them to take effective steps to restore order in this country, and to determine that those who are fighting constituted authority shall be forced into unconditional surrender to it. I therefore move -
That all words after “That” be left out. with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to make provision that all elections of officials and all decisions in relation to an industrial dispute by any registered association he determined by a secret ballot of members taken under the supervision of the Registrar of the Industrial Court.
– I second the amendment.
.- I am astounded that Senator O’sullivan, who is an able lawyer, should not have had the intelligence to comprehend the purpose and scope of the measure before us, which were outlined in the speech delivered by the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna). That speech made it plain that the measure represents an attempt to overcome the conflict between our ideology and that of an alien people. In Australia, as in other parts of the world, there are people who are actively opposed to our way of life. They are popularly identified as supporters of the Soviet form of government. The people of Australia and their Government believe in democracy, as opposed to the belief of the Communists who advocate the dictatorship of the proletariat. The recent activities of the Communists in this country have been such that action to combat them is necessary. Indeed, it is all the more necessary that we should take defensive action because, as the Minister pointed out, the Australian form of government is probably the most demo cratic in the world. The present Labour Administration has, through its members and delegates, impressed the representatives of other countries and won their respect at the series of important conferences which have been held overseas in the last few years. Furthermore, I remind the Senate and the people of Australia that the Labour movement in this country has stood the test of time. It has produced men of the calibre of Andrew Fisher, John Curtin, Ben Chifley, and Dr. Evatt. Broadly speaking that movement is based upon two wings, from which it draws its support. They are composed of the political or social idealists, on the one hand, and the representatives of the trade unions of this country, on the other. As the result of their combined efforts we have a Labour government to-day. When members of this chamber recently visited certain overseas countries, they were reminded that no other body of workers in the world enjoys conditions approaching those of the Australian workers. I repeat that those conditions are the result of the efforts of more than one generation of political and industrial reformers in this country. As an instance of the truly democratic nature of the present Labour Government, I point out that its policy is determined by conferences between representatives of itself, the federal executive of the Australian Labour party, and the trade union movement. Two members of each of those three bodies confer to discuss current trends and to formulate measures to safeguard the interests of the workers of this country. When Labour is in office the Prime Minister, who is always the leader of the Parliamentary Labour party, attends and confers with the representatives of the Australian Labour party and the trade union movement. At a recent conference, which was attended by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), it was decided to resist those who would endanger our way of life, and who have, in the process, captured control of some of our trade unions.
Senator O’Sullivan challenged supporters of the Government to deal with the subversive elements which are menacing our way of life. Apparently, he overlooked the fact that the measure now before the Senate does not deal with strikes. I speak for the Australian Labour party, when I say that members of this party are more concerned about the current upheaval on the coalfields than are members of the Opposition because, unlike them, we do not seek to obtain some political advantage from the present crisis. I remind honorable senators opposite, who are exhorting the Government to take ruthless action against the Communists, that their present attitude is in striking contrast with the attitude which they have adopted towards the trade unions in the past. I need only to recall the attitude of the reactionaries towards the Tolpuddle martyrs. Because those unfortunate workers attempted to form trade unions they were persecuted, and many of them were transported to Botany Bay. In Australia, the opponents of Labour have behaved similarly. “When decisions have been given in favour of the workers by the duly constituted industrial tribunals, the employers have invariably appealed against those awards. Ever since the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was established they have resolutely opposed the making of awards by that tribunal in favour of the workers. Furthermore, those workers who have had the courage to stand up for the principle of trade unionism, including even those who have represented the workers on wages boards, have been victimized. I know of cases in which delegates of employees who have made representations before wages boards, have been victimized by employers. At one time the appearance of an employees’ delegate before the board was the signal for his employer to telephone other employers in the metropolitan area to have him blacklisted. Those are the people who to-day pose as the protectors of the workers and trade unionism. We on this side of the chamber deplore a strike such as that on the coal-field at present, because we know that the greatest sufferers in any strike are the wives and children of the workers. The Opposition asks, “ Why not order a secret ballot? “ There is no provision in the act for a secret ballot on such matters. In any event, what would the result of a secret ballot be? Say, for instance, the miners who are at present on strike, refused1 at a secret ballot to return to work, what action could the Government take? It could not force the men to go into the mines. The Australian Government appreciates the economic position in which this country is placed to-day. It knows, too, that coal will be produced only if the miners agree to produce it. No good purpose can be served by heed? ing the political propaganda of those who condemn this section or that section of the community. Those who talk of a possible industrial upheaval do so because they believe that they may be able to score some little political advantage. I am not a lawyer, but the Minister in charge of the bill is an eminent barrister. He knows that the machinery of the law can be set in motion only after an infringement of the law has taken place. That is the purpose of this bill. Senator O’sullivan claimed that any person who felt aggrieved at the result of a ballot had his rights under common law. Does Senator O’sullivan suggest that the Minister for Health, who on several occasions has acted as Attorney-General to the Commonwealth, is not aware of that ? The bill provides in proposed new section 96a-
Where’ a member of an organization, or a person who, within the preceding period of twelve months, has been a member of an organization, claims that there has been an irregularity in or in connexion with an election for an office in the organization, or in a branch of the organization, he may lodge an application for an inquiry by the Court into the matter.
Does that not show that the Government stands for everything that is clean in trade unionism? Of course it does. The purpose of the bill is to prevent the victimization of individuals. An aggrieved person will have freedom of action in the sense that he will not have to meet expenses out of his own pocket, or perhaps to mortgage his home, to take advantage of his legal rights. He will only have to satisfy the Registrar that there has been recourse to improper practices. The Registrar may then refer the matter to the court. The Government believes that every unionist should have a right to vote, and should be protected from victimization.
– Bv a secret ballot?
– A secret ballot may be held if a union so desires. I remind
Senator O’sullivan that last night, in this city, the party of which he is a member selected a Liberal candidate for the Australian Capital Territory seat in the House of Representatives. At the selection meeting, members of the Liberal party were permitted to be present only as “ observers “. In Victoria last Saturday week, there was an election for the Legislative Council, and a fine example of democracy it was ! In that State the Liberal party has disfranchised two out of every three adults. At the election to which I have referred, three Labour candidates were returned to the Legislative Council with a total of 56,000 votes. Nine Liberal candidates were returned with a total of 96,000 votes. Therefore, each Labour candidate had to poll approximately 18,000 votes to be elected, whereas the Liberal candidates required only approximately 9,000 each. That shows how much the Liberal party is concerned with the interests of the rank and file of the trade union movement.
This measure may have some defects, but they are not of the kind mentioned by Senator O’sullivan. The Government has decided to intervene in the administration of the trade unions because it believes such actions should be taken in the interests of the Australian people. “We realize that we may lose something by the passing of this measure, but whether we lose or gain, we are determined that every person who is a member of a trade union, not only shall have the right to vote, but also shall bc given legal protection.
– ‘Senator O’Sullivan’s defence of democracy is not consistent with has amendment to this measure which is designed to take away the democratic rights of an organization that is conducting its affairs in an orderly manner. The effect of his amendment, if I understand it correctly, would be to make compulsory the holding by a government or court official of secret ballots on all union matters. If that is a wrong interpretation of the honorable senator’s intention, I am open to correction. To-day, thousands of good unionists are conducting their affairs sincerely and honestly; yet the honorable senator wants to take that democratic right away from them. He wants to deprive them of a freedom that they cherish, and to subject them to compulsion. I say to the honorable senator that it is not physically possible to prevent a breach of the law from occurring. However, if an offence has been committed, legal action can be taken, and penalties imposed. Murders and robberies are being committed every day, and they cannot be prevented. Obviously, it is not possible to convict an organization of an offence until that offence has been committed. Senator 0’.Sulliv.an apparently would like to see trade unions convicted without having committed an offence, because that would be possible if his amendment were carried. Such a state of affairs would not be in accordance with the Australian way of life. The bill provides that should irregularities occur, certain action may be taken. The only way to prevent the recurrence of an offence is to impose a penalty that will act as a deterrent. For instance, penalties may be imposed upon speeding motorists and capital punishment may be ordered for certain criminal offences. This bill is aimed at preventing a. recurrence of what has happened in the past, and what is happening at present. If it can be shown that a union ballot may have been faked, the court may intervene and order a secret ballot. For instance, 10,000 sincere unionists may find their organization in the hands of a small minority. That position could be rectified under the provisions of this measure. If Senator O’Sullivan is opposed to the bill, he is supporting the Communists who have gained control of certain unions by faking ballots. The honorable senator claimed that such anomalies could be rectified at present, but- he did not mention ohe instance of successful action being taken in that direction. He should be aware, as a legal man, that at present, there is nothing to prevent a section of a union from taking charge of an office, and forcing the elected officers out. The only redress available to the elected officers at present would be to take action in the courts for common assault. That has happened. However, a successful action in a. civil court would not mean reinstatement in a union, nor would it necessarily bring compensation for expenses incurred. The honorable senator has said that the law already exists. There is no law to provide ‘ them with justice. Yet, although this bill is designed so that justice can be meted out as it should be meted out, the honorable gentleman opposes it and says that it is only farcical. It sets out plainly that any man who can establish a prima facie case that he has been victimized by officials of his union, on account of his political beliefs or any other beliefs, can go to the Arbitration Court and obtain redress. There is no court to-day where a man can obtain redress in such circumstances.
In support of his argument, Senator O’sullivan asked what sort of a life a man would lead amongst his fellow unionists if he appealed to the Registrar of the Arbitration Court under the terms of this bill and had his case rejected. Has the honorable senator never heard of the struggles of the men who fought for justice in their unions and were almost kicked to death in their own unions and blackballed out of other unions? There were two cases of victimization in Victoria recently. Men who had fallen foul of the executive officials of their union sought jobs in another industry, but the officials followed, them and told their fellow workers that they were nonunionists and had refused to join a trade union. The truth was that they had been expelled from their union on account of their political beliefs and the officials would not allow them to return to it. That is the sort of thing that this bill is designed to try to prevent. Senator O’sullivan has complained that the bill contains no power to prevent- injustice. Nobody can prevent a man from committing a crime, but the criminal can be brought to justice and action can be taken to compensate anybody who has suffered from his actions. There is no way of getting justice for a unionist who is victimized to-day. This bill will be the means of making justice available. Senator O’Sullivan’s lack of knowledge of industrial matters in Australia has led him to think that people who belong to one section of the community can be pushed about while others are left to conduct their own affairs without interference. If it be just that we should apply compulsion to every trade union, it is also just that we should apply compulsion to every other organization in Australia that works in any way for or against the economic well-being of the people. If we apply certain methods to one section of the community, we must apply the same methods to all other sections if we honestly .claim to be democratic. This bill deals with trade unions that are registered with the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. In order to follow Senator O’Sullivan’s arguments to their logical conclusion, we should apply its provisions to every organization in Australia. Why not include the British Medical Association, which is one of the strongest combinations in the world and has a very strong organization in Australia? Why not have a secret ballot of members of the association in order to determine whether they wish to cooperate in the Government’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme? Why not hold secret ballots of lawyers on important issues that affect them? Why not compel secret ballots of company shareholders on questions of policy affecting their companies? And why does not the Liberal party hold secret ballots? In one breath to-night Senator O’Sullivan spoke of preserving democracy, and in the next breath he attacked it. Any lawyer should know that it is practically impossible to prevent a man from doing something that he has made up his mind to do. I could not prevent Senator O’sullivan from submitting himself as a candidate at the next election if he decided to do so. Even if it were an offence against the law, he could still be a candidate. The law could be invoked only after he had committed the offence. After criticizing the bill at great length, the honorable senator sat down without making one suggestion that would help to prevent injustices. I should have been happy to consider his suggestions if he had been able to demonstrate how we could give effect to them. He said that voting at union elections should be made compulsory. Would that prevent irregularities? The amendment that he has moved would not enable the Arbitration Court to prevent men from committing offences. However, anybody who causes irregularities can be punished under the terms of this measure.
Surely the honorable senator has studied it and has seen the penalties that it provides. If he has not studied it, he should have done so before moving such a stupid amendment as the one that he has proposed, which aims to take democracy out of the reach of good honest trade unionists who are conducting their affairs properly. Just for the sake of punishing a small minority, the honorable gentleman wants to victimize every trade unionist in Australia.
– I was surprised to hear the arguments that were advanced by Senator O’sullivan. His outlook was typical of the general outlook of the Liberal party on matters of this kind. He and his colleagues are not concerned about the welfare of the worker. The basis of the honorable gentleman’s argument was that a person who considered that he had suffered some injustice or loss or had been injured by an improper practice could take action under the civil law as it now stands. What could he gain by such action? He could obtain damages in respect of any loss that he might have sustained or for any injury to his reputation. We know that a man will still be able to take such action to secure redress of such wrongs after this bill becomes law. The bill aims at preventing irregularities and empowering groups of people or individuals to correct wrongs so that democracy can operate in the trade unions and the wishes of the majority of their members can be put into effect. It will not provide anybody with a means of obtaining damages, compensation or the protection of the law on account of anything that may have been done to him. It will safeguard democracy and the trade unions in a way that is not possible under common law. The honorable senator’s ignorance is evident not so much from things that he does not know as from the things that he does know but regards in the wrong light. That is what has made his argument ridiculous. He does not understand what the Government is trying to do.
– I certainly do not. Does the honorable senator know?
– I do, and I am explaining it to the honorable gentleman because I am convinced of his ignorance. He has complained that the bill con tains no provision for the prevention of wrongs. One cannot prevent a man from doing wrong. That is a matter ot common sense. However, one can provide penalties for wrong-doers, and this ‘bill will establish legal penalties for certain acts that are not punishable now. It will enable an individual or group of individuals to correct a wrong that might be done by another group of individuals. It will even go further than that. Proposed new section 96m provides that the Registrar of the Arbitration Court may conduct union elections upon request by the union or branch.
Senator O’sullivan admitted that he did not like compulsion. I know that he does not like it when it is applied to himself and others who have adopted the policy of laissez-faire. However, he would have no hesitation about amending this measure so as to apply compulsion to one section of the community in which he is not interested. The honorable gentleman would have us believe that most Australian unionists are unfair and immoral and do not want justice to be done. I consider that the trouble in the trade unions is caused only by an interfering minority. Senator O’sullivan knows very little about trade unions. If he were more conversant with their affairs, he would know that any proposed amendment of a union’s constitution must be submitted to its full membership. When this bill becomes law, any union will have the right to amend its constitution to provide that its officers must be elected by ballots conducted by the Arbitration Court. The proper democratic development of the trade unions has been impeded by the tactics of the employers. The men have had a hard fight to establish their organizations. They have been loyal to their principles and have contributed from their earnings, very often meagre, in order to organize themselves and put an end to the chaos to which Senator O’sullivan has referred. This measure will enable a union to approach the Arbitration Court after altering its constitution and have its elections conducted by a nominated: member of the court. They can have free democracy, not the “ compulsory democracy “ that Hitler forced upon many of the German trade unions and that Russia has forced upon its trade unions. There are trade unions in Russia all right, but they bear no resemblance to Australian trade unions. Their members have the “compulsory right to do compulsorily what they are told to do”. They have compulsory ballots, but they are compelled to vote for the men whom they are told to support. That is the sort of situation that could arise from Senator O’Sullivan’s proposal. There is very little difference between the basic principles of Hitlerism and those of communism.
Senator O’Sullivan has proposed that secret ballots be conducted, with compulsory voting, for the purpose of resolving any major union issue, such as a proposal to strike. How ridiculous! I was chairman of the State disputes committee in Western Australia that dealt with a dispute caused by poor ventilation in a mine. The miners struggled unsuccessfully for six months to have the ventilation improved. Two men collapsed from the effects of foul air and had to be carried off the level. Others were affected, butstill nothing was done by the management. According to Senator O’Sullivan, a secret ballot should have been held amongst all members of the union throughout Australia to decide whether the men should work under those conditions or not. What a wonderful scheme! A comedian could make good use of it. This subject is worthy of serious reasoning, but Senator O’Sullivan has not treated it as it deserves to be treated. The men in the mine where the trouble occurred stopped work and the faulty ventilation was rectified within seven days, although we had been told that the necessary materials were not available. Another instance of the sort of trouble that has to be handled promptly comes to my mind. In this case a man lost his life. A new type of heavy locomotive was placed in service in Western Australia, but it was so large that when it passed through one tunnel it forced the clean air out and threw fumes back over the locomotive crew. One man died on the engine tender. The unionists said that a deviation would have to be made around the tunnel. The railways commissioner said that crews on that type of locomotive could wear wet rags over their faces and lie down on the footplate while passing through the tunnel and that nothing else need be done. A secret ballot on an issue like that would have taken three or four months to complete. But the men stopped work. The Labour Government intervened “ in the public interest” in the Arbitration Court, which met at 11 o’clock that night, and decided that no engine was to go through the tunnel and that a deviation must be built. Every man has a right to stop work immediately where his life or personal welfare may be impaired. I contend that if a ballot had been taken on that occasion it would have revealed 99 per cent. of the voters in favour of a strike. If the law were amended as proposed by the Opposition, and it were found, after a ballot, that the majority of the union members concerned favoured a strike, such strike would then be legal. In such an event there would be no negotiation in the Arbitration Court. The men involved could then sit back and laugh and the position would be made more difficult for any person trying to negotiate a settlement. I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
The following papers were’ pre sented : -
Nauru - Report to General Assembly of the United Nations on Administration of Nauru for year 1047-48.
New Guinea - Report to General Assembly of the United Nations on Administration of New Guinea for year 1947-48.
Ordered to be printed.
Customs Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1949, No. 34.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act - National Security (Prices) Regulations - Order - No. 3431.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for -
Defence purposes -
Meekatharra East, Western Australia. Noonkanbah, Western Australia.
Department of Civil Aviation purposes - Nyngan, New South Wales.
Postal purposes -
Fortitude Valley, Queensland.
Hall’s Creek, Western Australia.
North Brighton, Victoria.
Temora, New South Wales.
Victoria Point, Queensland.
Senate adjourned at 10.0 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 June 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1949/19490628_senate_18_203/>.