18th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
-Is the Minister for Shipping ‘ and Fuel aware that the acute shortage of petrol threatens to bring to a standstill the supply of such essential primary products as milk and food? Does not the threat of such a major disaster warrant the withdrawal of petrol from defence reserve stocks ? If the Government is not prepared to draw upon the defence reserves, does that mean that it is content to sit down and watch thc.disaster occur ?
– The Leader of the Opposition is as well aware of the Government’s view of the petrol situation as I am, because I have explained it in the chamber during the last few days. The present acute situation is due to the action of the oil companies, which oversold ‘from their stocks to the extent of 22,500,000 gallons, and provided 5,250,000 gallons during the coal strike, so that their stocks have been depleted by approximately 28,000,000 gallons, although they had previously undertaken that they would sell only on the scale that obtained during the period when petrol was rationed. The consequence of their action now k that only approximately 55,000,000 gallons of petrol are available in Australia, contrary to the assurances given by members of the Opposition, and particularly by the Leader of the Australian Country party, that there was plenty of petrol available. The decision to retain n certain quantity of petrol as a defence reserve^ was made by the Government, not on its own initiative, but on the strong recommendations of the chiefs of staff of the armed services, who stated that 50,000,000 gallons of petrol was the absolute minimum necessary to provide for the national security. Apart from the danger of war occurring, there is always the possibility of transport of petrol to Australia being interrupted. 1 point out that the present stock of 55,000,000 gallons ia the lowest that has been held in this country for many years. At the outbreak of the recent war we had a stock of 83,000,000 gallons. Whilst thu honorable senator, no doubt, believes that his party is obtaining useful political propaganda from its attempts to exploit the shortage of petrol, I warn him that the statements that he has made, and particularly the statements that have been made by the Leader of hie party in the House of Representatives concerning the present acute shortage and the alleged possibility of importing petrol, have gravely aggravated the present situation and further dislocated the life of the community.
– In view of the agitation by a small but vociferous minority, who believe in a system that breeds and encourages war, for the reintroduction of compulsory military service, I draw the attention of the Minister for Supply and Fuel to a report that appeared in yesterday’s issue of the Melbourne Herald under the heading “ Conscription under fire in United Kingdom “. Are the views set forth in that article in accordance, with the views .held by the Government on this matter ?
- Senator Obyrne was’ -good enough to mention this matter to me earlier to-day. Portion of the article in the Melbourne Herald reads -
REGULAR ARMY WEAKENED.
(“Herald” Special Service.)
London, Wednesday. - Demands for a more efficient arid economical Army from the Treasury, military ex.perts and the public may lead to reconsideration of the present conscription system.
The agitation against the existing system is reinforced by overwhelming evidence of anomalies which have important lessons for Australia and for the latest convert to conscription - New Zealand. . . .
To-day the Daily Hail, in an editorial, says flatly : “ If Britain is to have an efficient fighting service, conscription must go “.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction furnish the Senate with particulars of the number of able students that have been provided with advanced education as a result of the Common* wealth grant for this purpose, and the amount that will be expended by the Commonwealth to provide these scholarships? Is it a fact that the Australian Government proposes to institute a different system of education to ensure that no child possessing the requisite standard of intelligence to undertake advanced education will be prevented from doing so because of limited financial resources? “What amount of money is the Government prepared to provide to implement the new scheme?
– I have not in> mediately at my disposal the information sought. However, I can inform the honorable senator that tens of thousands of ex-service men and women have been financed through tertiary education in the various universities under the reconstruction training scheme. Although 3 am unable to. say offhand what is the total expenditure involved I shall , obtain particulars of the number of such students and the amount of money that has been expended by the Commonwealth for this purpose. Apart from that scheme, thi Government is sponsoring another scheme through the Universities Commission and- the , Office of Education to grant about 720 scholarships a year for some years. The fees of the students selected will be paid, and in addition, they will be granted financial assistance to meet their living expenses whilst studying. The Government has also recently announced a scheme under which 3,000 university scholarships will be made available each year. They will bc awarded on the basis of the results of competitive examinations. University fees will be paid in every case. A means test will be applied in respect of living allowances, but it will be more liberal than the test that operates at present. Speaking from memory; the living allow’ances that will be paid are £130 per annum for scholarship ‘holders living at home and approximately £169 per annum for those who are living away from home. The Government considers that this will give every young Australian who has the necessary mental and scholastic ability an opportunity to qualify for a profession or to acquire university education in the highest degree. The scheme will be put into effect in the very near future. T understand that it is designed to become effective on the new basis from the 1st January, 1951, but in the meantime, having regard to the great dearth of doctors and dentists in Australia, I am hopeful that the Government will push on with the scheme so as to expedite the filling of the vast gaps in those professions.
– In view of the fact that many young people have reached the age of 21 years since the last general election was held and that many other voters have moved to different electorates,, will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior ask his colleague to make arrangements for the electoral authorities to give as much radio publicity as possible to the fact that all Commonwealth electoral rolls will be closed on the 31st October ? ‘
– The Minister for the Interior has given attention to this matter. I have heard radio broadcasts .’reminding people that the electoral rolls will be’ closed on the 31st Octobeand that voting at the forthcoming general election will be compulsory However, I shall bring the honorable senator’s question to the notice of the Minister for the Interior and ascertain whether anything further can be done to remind the voters of their obligations.
– Will you, Hi. President, ascertain whether anything can be done to install an -up-to-date lighting system in this chamber when it is being remodelled in order to accommodate the new and. larger Senate that will be returned after the general election? The present lighting system is a disgrace to us and to Australia and it is time that we had it brought up to date so as to save honorable senators from eye strain.
– I have pointed out on many occasions that it is not strictly in order for honorable senators to direct questions to the President in this way, but, being a very accommodating man, I am pleased to answer Senator Aylett’s question. We have done everything within our power up to the present to meet the honorable senator’s wishes. We have had no complaints from other honorable senators, but that does not matter as far as I am concerned. If only one honorable senator is dissatisfied, I shall do my best to help him. It is unfortunate, of course, that we cannot use God’s daylight in this chamber. It would be preferable to electric light. I assure the honorable senator that I shall investigate his request and I hope that, when he returns next year, in good health and full of fighting vigour for his work in the .Senate, his wishes will be satisfied.
– If it is possible to install improved lighting in King’s Hall and various offices in the building why cannot similar lighting be installed in the Senate chamber?
– I do not think that it is impossible to improve the existing lighting in this chamber. During the day the King’s Hall is illuminated by natural light. However, I shall examine other lighting systems and, if it is at all possible to do so, lighting of the standard that the honorable senator so ardently desires will be provided.
asked the Minister for Shipping and Fuel, upon notice -
In view of representations which have been made from time to time concerning shipments from Tasmania,, particularly of timber, will the Minister indicate what progress lias been made by the Australian Shipping Board in shipping timber from Tasmania to the mainland?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
My inquiries reveal that over recent weeks the Australian Shipping Board has been able to arrange substantial liftings of timber. During the months of August and September almost 4,000,000 feet was shipped to Melbourne and Adelaide. It is anticipated that a further n.000.000 feet will be shipped in October by Australian Shipping Board vessels which arc now loaded or are at present loading to clear before the end of this month.
The board has also allotted the vessel Delungra to operate a regular service between Melbourne, Burnie and Devonport. In addition it will maintain a regular service .at approximately four to five-weekly intervals with two D class vessels between Melbourne, Launceston, Devonport, Burnie and Adelaide, and return. These services will assist greatly in maintaining the regular flow of timber and other commodities between Tasmania and the mainland.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Ashley) read a first time.
– I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill now before honorable senators proposes certain amendments of the Income Tax Assessment Act forecast in the budget speech. Of the several provisions, the most important relates to tie amendment effecting an extension of the depreciation allowances for wear and tear of plant and machinery. Honorable senators will recollect that this Government has, since the cessation of hostilities, introduced several measures designed to assist in the post-war rehabilitation of industry and in the establishment of neve industries in Australia. Amongst the taxation concessions granted to industry was a special initial depreciation allowance on plant and equipment installed during the period from the 1st July, 1945, to the 30th June, 1950. The special allowance amounted to one-fifth of the cost of the plant and equipment, and was allowed in the year of installation in addition to the annual deduction of depreciation at normal rates. This special depreciation allowance, besides assisting in the establishment of new businesses, has afforded substantial aid to primary and secondary industries in offsetting, to a considerable degree, the inflated cost of plant and equipment in the post-war period. The Government has recognized, not only that the cost of plant has increased since 1945, but also that inflated costs will Continue into the indefinite future. Consequently, the need for this special depreciation allowance will remain after June, 3 950. It is accordingly proposed in the bill to extend the period of operation of this allowance for an additional period of two years until the 30th June, 1952. It has also been recognized that, in some industries, an allowance of one-fifth of the cast may not be adequate, and it is proposed to permit taxpayers, if they so elect, to deduct twofifths of the cost of the plant in the year in which it is installed. Annual depreciation will be deducted in addition to the special initial depreciation allowance.
A further amendment proposed in this bill relates to the concessional rebate of tax allowed for life assurance premiums, superannuation fund contributions, friendly society dues and similar ‘ payments. Since 1936, the maximum amount of such payments in respect of which a rebate has been allowed to a taxpayer in any year has been £100. Representations have been .received by the Government from various organizations that the maximum of £100 is inadequate, and that many taxpayers on comparatively low incomes are committed to payments in excess of £100 annually for superannuation purposes. In the light of the increased commitments which taxpayers are now obliged to incur in mating adequate provision for their retirement and for their dependants, the Government proposes to raise the maximum to £150. The bill also provides for a minor technical amendment which will authorize the allowance of a credit to taxpayers in respect of tax instalment stamps which they have purchased but which have been destroyed before being presented in payment of tax. An explanatory memorandum has been prepared for the information of honorable senators, as is usual with bills amending the Income Tax Assessment Act. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cooper) adjourned.
Rill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McKenna) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the bill is to amend the ‘ Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act 1947-1948, to provide for the grant- : ing of an additional £1,000,000 to the States for roads in sparsely populated areas, timber country and rural areas. The bill is further evidence of this Government’s recognition of the conditions and difficulties faced by people living away from the capital cities and big towns, and the amount now provided will bring the total assistance granted by this Government for this particular section of the community, to £3,000,000 for the current financial year. I think it advisable to mention, however, that the Commonwealth Government is not quite satisfied that the work for which it has provided the money is being carried out as expeditiously or effectively as it expected. As honorable senators know, the bill, when passed, will bring the Commonwealth contribution for this purpose to £6,000,000 in the last three financial years. Under the grant for last year, funds were made available to no less than 581 local government areas. There has been some delay in receiving all returns of actual expenditure from the States, but those that are available indicate that there are grounds for some concern by the Government that the money so provided for people in the outback areas is not being spent by the State road authorities and the local government bodies as quickly as could be desired. I am aware, of course, that there are real difficulties, such as shortage of labour and materials and, in some States, the difficulty of obtaining road-making plant, but, taking everything into consideration, the cause for our concern still stands. Action is being taken to establish a close liaison with the State road authorities to see that the intentions of this Parliament are carried into effect.
When speaking on the matter of general assistance by the Commonwealth to the States for road construction and maintenance, it is appropriate to review the history and current position of these grants. As honorable senators are aware, the first Commonwealth grant for roads was made to the States in 1922-23, the grant at that time being £50,000. By 1925-26 the amount had increased to £750,000 but was restricted to developmental projects. In 1926 the system of yearly grants was replaced by the Federal Aid Roads Act, under which the fixed sum of £2,000,000 per annum was made available. In 1931, however, that act was amended to provide a different basis upon which allocations were made and the altered practice continued until 1937. In that year, the Federal Aid Roads and Works Act was introduced, and it has operated for a period of ten years. In turn this was replaced by the current act which, as I have indicated, has been amended during the life of this Parliament, to provide additional funds.
The Senate and the public of Australia . will be interested to know how sympathetically and practically this Government has assisted the States. In 1938-39 the money provided under the various sections of the Commonwealth act was approximately £4,250,000. In 1946-47, after the termination of the war, £4,800,000 was provided and in 1947-48 the amount was again increased to approximately £6,000,000. In 1948-49 the aid was approximately £7,200,000 and, if the present proposal ‘is agreed to, the current financial year should bring the Commonwealth aid to the States to approximately £8,500,000. That figure does not include the sum of £500,000 provided for roads of access to Commonwealth properties and for strategic roads under section 7 of the act. The provision of funds by this Government is a very real contribution towards solving the road problems of the Commonwealth. The States themselves, however, must have some regard to the precautions which are necessary to preserve the assets created or maintained largely by the assistance they receive from this Government. I am referring to the ever-increasing trend towards heavier and unrestricted loads to be carried by road transport’. This is resulting in serious deterioration of the roads. As honorable senators know this is not a problem peculiar to Australia. It is common throughout the world, and in the United States of America it is a vital problem to-day. As an illustration of the damage that can be caused by lack of proper control over these matters, I cite only one case. Recently in the United States of America a vehicle carrying a record overload of 87,000 lb. in one single trip caused road damage to the amount of 15,000 dollars. This problem has been receiving the attention of the various transport authorities for some time and, as the Senate is aware, .the Australian Transport Advisory Council has set up an Australian Motor Vehicle Standards Committee of technical experts to prepare advice on the best methods of controlling and designing limits in vehicle construction, taking load factors into consideration. Every endeavour will be made by the Government to ensure as far as possible that the recommendations of the Australian Motor Vehicle Standards Committee are adopted by the various States. There can be no argument that this Government should require that assets thus created or maintained by Commonwealth assistance should be protected against deterioration or damage in the way I have described. I am sure that this measure of assistance to those people who have to forgo many amenities because of inadequate road facilities will receive the wholehearted support of this Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cooper) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) agreed to -
That leave be given tobring in a bill for an act to ensure, so far as Commonwealth legislative power permits, a just and orderly sharing of liquid fuel amongst the people of Australia while such fuel is in short supply, and forotherpurposes.
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 purpose of this bill is suitably described in the title, namely -
To ensure, so far as Commonwealth Legislative Power permits, a just and orderly Sharing of Liquid Fuel amongst the people of Australia while such Fuel is in short supply, and for other purposes.
As honorable senators know, petrol rationing, which was in operation under the National Security Act 1939-1946, and later, the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act 1946-1948, was declared invalid by the High Court on the 6th June, 1949.
The position which has arisen since is that the Commonwealth has no power over the distribution of petrol within Australia. Petrol costs dollars, and as Australia has an insufficiency of dollars it is not possible to obtain sufficient petrol to meet the unrestricted demand. In a speech in the Senate earlier this week, I reviewed fully Australia’s position with regard to dollars and the effect on petrol imports. To recount the matter briefly, the net dollar cost involved in petrol and other petroleum products is the largest single item in the sterling area dollar deficit. The overall dollar deficit of the sterling area has been the most difficult financial and economic problem facing the British Commonwealth, and despite the strenuous action which has been taken by the United Kingdom and other governments in the sterling area the gold and dollar reserves are already lower than what is regarded generally as the minimum safe level. Australia does not earn sufficient dollars to pay for our essential imports from the dollar area, and has to rely on the United Kingdom for additional dollars. . Some months ago, the shortage of dollar currency available to countries in the sterling area became so serious that the Government of the United Kingdom arranged a conference to review the dollar currency position. At that conference the various governments undertook to reduce imports from the dollar area in the year ending the 30th June, 1950, to 75 per cent of the value of imports from that area during the year 1948. By that agreement Australia is bound to reduce its dollar expenditure. While drastic reductions in dollar allocations have been made to other imports, no reduction in dollar costs of petroleum products has been made. Clearly, it is not possible to contemplate the increase in the dollar cost of these products which would be necessary to meet an unrestricted demand.
As it was clear to the Government that the insufficiency of petrol to meet an unrestricted demand would result in confusion and hardship, immediately after the High Court gave its decision the Australian Government convened a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, which was held at Canberra on the 17th June. At that conference the premiers were given all the information at the disposal of the Australian Government regarding theseriousness of the dollar position, including some information of a confidential nature. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley)- urged the State premiers to take action either by way of the States imposing rationing, or by giving the Commonwealth power to do so.
That conference was inconclusive, as also was a further conference held on the 16th August. It was not until the third conference held on the 28th September that the premiers reached a decision. They unanimously agreed that the Australian Government had complete control over the importation of petrol and that if, as the result of the exercise of such control, rationing became essential to ensure an equitable distribution to essential users, the imposition of such rationing was a matter for determination by the Australian Government. The States of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia stated that they had already referred powers to the Commonwealth, and would raise no objection to the exercise of such powers by the Commonwealth. Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania agreed to introduce legislation to give Commonwealth regulations the effect of State laws to enable a uniform system of rationing to. become operative.
On the day following the conference, officers of the Department of Shipping and Fuel and of the various State Liquid Fuel Control Boards conferred with a view to the re-introduction of petrol rationing as soon as the passage of the necessary legislation and the preliminary work necessary permitted. It was decided that the 15th November was the earliest possible date on which petrol rationing could be resumed1, in view of the necessity to issue beforehand possibly 500,000 licences in place of licences lost or destroyed, and licences in respect of new or transferred vehicles. All arrangements are in hand for rationing to commence on the 15th November, when a two and a half months’ issue of tickets to last to the end of J January, 1950, will be made. The ration will be on the same scale as immediately prior to the cessation of rationing. The events which have occurred since the High Court decision was announced, indicate clearly that until supplies of petrol can be substantially increased, rationing is the only reasonable method to ensure that all users shall o’btain a fair share of the supplies available.
I say very definitely that the Australian Government cannot accept any responsibility for the serious position which has arisen within the last few weeks. The day after the High Court’s decision was announced, the executives of the oil companies were called together and asked to restrict their sales to the quotas obtaining under rationing, because the Government was not in a position to increase imports beyond the quantity required under rationing. Notwithstanding that request, which was repeated at a further conference in Canberra two days later, the oil companies increased their sales to such an extent that for the three months, June, July and August, even after allowing for 5,250,000 gallons excess consumption necessary to maintain essential services during the coal strike, the sales were 22,000,000 gallons, or 21 per cent, in excess of what they would have been had rationing been in operation. Preliminary figures of sales for September show an excess of a further 2,250,000 gallons over the rationed quota.
At the end of May stocks held by the oil companies at seaboard were approximately 73,000,000 gallons. It was feared that with the demand much in excess of the quantities which could be imported, a reduction in stock level would occur to an extent which would be dangerous from the point of view of the security of Australia. The Defence Committee, which includes the chiefs of staff of the three services, made a firm recommendation to the Government that in the interests of defence stocks of petrol at seaboard should not be allowed to be reduced substantially below the amount then in stock, but that under no consideration should they fall below 50,000,000 gallons. In this connexion, I may mention that at the beginning of the last war, seaboard stocks in Australia amounted to 81,000,000 gallons. As the course of the war at that time was away from Australia, there was then no difficulty in getting further supplies. In the case of a future war, however, it could easily happen that overseas supplies would be interfered with immediately, necessitating dependence, at least for a period, on stocks within Australia. Apart from the question of war, however, the stocks held under the provisions of the Liquid Fuel (Defence Stocks) Act 1949 would comprise the last reserve against any interruption of supplies from abroad or any sudden increase of requirements for vital purposes in Australia. Such contingencies could occur even without war.
Much as the Australian Government deplores the interruption to industry which has occurred during recent weeks, in view of its heavy responsibility for the security of Australia, whether because of war or other calamity, it could not allow the reserve stock, which is the very minimum recommended by the Defence Committee, to be broached. Even if some of this reserve stock had been released there existed no orderly system of distribution which would ensure that it went to essential users. It will be observed from clause 3 that the provision of the act will apply to the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, to the States of New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia, which have already referred powers to the Commonwealth, and to any State which adopts the act. Clause 12, which relates to the withdrawal of liquid fuel from bond, extends and applies to the whole of the Commonwealth. The three States which have not referred powers to the Commonwealth, namely, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, have at present bills before their respective parliaments designed to give Commonwealth regulations the effect of State laws, in order to enable a uniform system of rationing to become operative.
The bill provides in clause 6 that the Governor-General may make regulations with respect to the rationing of any liquid fuel, control of the distribution of liquid fuel with a view to the just and orderly sharing of the available liquid fuel, and incidental matters. The incidental matters referred to include the prevention of unjust advantage to individuals by the hoarding of stocks of liquid fuel, whether before or after the commencement of the act. It is the intention of this Government, and, I believe, of the State governments, to take suitable action in regard to petrol held by hoarders, who are substantially responsible for the present disruption of essential transport. Persons who fail to declare or who understate the amount of the stocks that they hold will be subject to the maximum penalties provided in the bill. The regulations generally will follow the lines of those previously in operation under the National Security Act. Clause 13, is important in that it provides that, for the purpose of enabling a specified law of a State relating to the distribution or rationing of liquid fuel to operate, the Minister may declare that the operation of the Commonwealth act shall be suspended in the State specified. The concluding clause provides that the act shall cease to be in force on a date to be fixed by proclamation but shall not continue in force after the 31st August, 1950, which date is approximately the present limit of the reference of powers to the Commonwealth by certain States. I commend thebill to honorable senators as presenting the best solution, within the limits of Commonwealth legislative power, of the serious problem which confronts the people of Australia atpresent in relation to the distribution of liquid fuel.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cooper) adjourned.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 20th October (vide page 1737).
Proposed vote - Refunds of Revenue, £12,000,000 - agreed to.
Advance to the Treasurer.
Proposed vote, £10,000,000.
– I assume that the proposed vote covers some of the items that have already been discussed in respect of other departments. I cannot find details of the proposed appropriation in the Estimates, and I should like the Minister to tell the Senate the purposes for which the money will be used.
– The amount of the proposed vote represents expenditure that will be incurred between now and the end of the year that is not otherwise provided for.
Proposed vote agreed to.
War (1914-18) Services.
Proposed vote, £1,691,000.
War (1939-45) Services.
Proposed vote, £5,951,000. (Ordered to be considered together.)
.- The two proposed votes that the committee is considering refer to various departments and involve expenditure apart from the appropriations that have already been made for those departments. The net amount of the proposed vote for “ “War (1939-45) Services “, £5,951,000, is very much lower than the appropriation for 1948-49. The amount voted last year was £31,130,000, and expenditure actually amounted to £34,712,028. I notice that the proposed total expenditure for 1949-50 is £51,951,000. That total will be reduced by miscellaneous credits of £11,000,000 and an amount chargeable to the Loan Fund of £35,000,000, leaving a balance of estimated expenditure of £5,951,000. Division 195 deals with war service land settlement, and the amount proposed to be expended for the acquisition, development and improvement of land is £2,600,000. The appropriation for 1948-49 was £3,350,000, of which £2,190,129 was expended. Will the Minister explain why the full amount of the vote for last year was not used ? The Opposition is keenly interested in war service land settlement.
.- The fact that only £2,600,000 is proposed to be appropriated this year, although £3,350,000 was appropriated for 1948-49, is due to delays that have occurred in the acquisition of lande in the States. This matter is dealt with chiefly by the States some of which act as agents for the Australian Government. The States initiate the selection of available properties that they consider suitable for the purposes of the scheme and they carry out all developmental and improvement works. They furnish estimates of the amount of capital funds that will be required from the Government. In past, years, the Government has relied to a large degree on those estimates. However, the estimates furnished by the States, particularly in respect of 1948-49, proved to be optimistic in so far as the number of properties that became available for acquisition in that year did not reach expectations. That is the reason for the increased allocation now being provided under this heading. In addi tion, adequate labour and materials have not been available to carry out the developmental work envisaged. Of the properties submitted by the States, the Government has approved for acquisition 1,220, comprising 7,355,350 acres. The number of properties under consideration as to their suitability, or in respect of which reports are being awaited from valuing authorities regarding prices, total 116, of an aggregate area of 468,852 acres, whilst 118 properties of an area of 860,933 acres have been withdrawn by the States, and 173 properties of a total area of 768,209 acres have been rejected by the Government as ‘being unsuitable for soldier settlement.
– The sum of £375,000 is being provided as the Commonwealth’s contribution to the writing down of costs of acquisition. Whilst the sum of £350,000 was voted for this purpose last year only £5,846 was actually expended. Can the Minister give more details concerning that item?
– The comparatively low expenditure of the amount voted last year and the increase of that vote this year are due to fluctuations in the number of properties submitted by the States for approval to the Government, details of which I have just given to the Senate. Actual expenditure under this heading will depend mainly on the progress that will be made during the year in the valuation of holdings under clause 6 of the Government’s agreement with the States covering this matter, and it is estimated that the sum of £375,000 will be adequate for that purpose.
– I should like further information with respect to the item “ Interest and rent Concessions “ in respect of war service land settlement, for which the sum of £110,000 is now being allocated. Last year the sum of £160,000 was voted for that purpose, whilst only £56,022 was actually expended.
– The increase of that allocation over the actual expenditure last year is due to the rapid acceleration in the acquisition of properties.
– The lower allocation compared with the amount voted last year does not imply that these concessions are being restricted?
– In respect of the Department of Post-war Reconstruction the sum of £1.3,000 is being allocated for “expenses of employment in Australia of European scientists and technicians “. “Will the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) indicate the nature of the duties performed by those scientists and technicians and whether their services are freely made available to the States?
The sum of £6,000 is being allocated as a grant in respect of town planning at St. Mary’s, New South Wales. What is the reason for making such a grant in respect of one town? Is the Government providing similar assistance in respect of any other areas in any of the other States?
– Senator Murray will recall that the Government took advantage of the fact that it could obtain the services of many German scientists of a type not available in this country. To the advantage of our economy, we have brought to .Australia approximately 50 of those scientists. They have been brought here at the Government’s expense and their services are made available not only to State governments but also to private industry. As many as 39 scientists arrived in one group recently. The great majority of them have been joined by their families and fire remaining in Australia on a permanent basis. They have been brought here to engage in fields which are not adequately covered by scientific knowledge in Australia. They are a distinct acquisition to our economy and their services have been eagerly sought by the State governments and private enterprise; many of them are now employed permanently in various spheres of private industry.
Originally, the sum of £10,000 was voted as a grant towards town planning at St. Mary’s, New South Wales, and of that amount £4,000 was expended last year. The sum of £6,000 now being allocated represents the unexpended balance of the sum originally voted for that purpose. I cannot point to any features that distinguish St. Mary’s from many localities in Tasmania but I remind honorable senators that St. Mary’s was developed as a munitions town during the war. It grew apace with the concentration of men, women, and families, and factory accommodation, in the area. I take it that the Commonwealth is making an exception of St. Mary’s, because it believes that it has an immediate responsibility for activity in that area. The Commonwealth would, of course, be travelling beyond its proper sphere if it were to embark promiscuously on townplanning projects throughout Australia. That is not the function of the Commonwealth in normal circumstances. It is a matter for the State governments and for municipal authorities. In relation to St. Mary’s, however, where the Commonwealth itself has promoted activity and where so many people are Commonwealth employees, we ‘believe that we have a special responsibility.
– I take it that the provision of £2,610,000 for university training and £5,000,000 for technical training will cover living allowances paid to ex-service personnel.
– I d.raw the attention of the committee to the unfair distinction between the living allowances paid to male and female trainees. A. male trainee with no dependants receives an allowance of £3 10s. a week, whereas a female receives only £2 13s. a week. I am certain most ex-service women who are receiving university or technical training have to pay board or assist in the maintenance of the establishment in which they reside. The discrimination therefore seems to be unfair, and I contend that it should cease.
– I undertake to call the attention of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) to the honorable senator’s comments. It is true that a distinction exists but I do not think that any good purpose could be served by embarking now upon an essay on the reasons for it. I appreciate the honorable senator’s viewpoint, and I shall direct the Minister’s attention to it-
– An appropriation of £1,000 is being made for correspondence courses under the services education scheme. In 1948-49 the vote was £9,000 but only £7’74 of that sum was expended. I should like some information about those correspondence courses. What was the reason for the low expenditure last year compared with the sum voted? Were the correspondence courses not available to the degree expected?
– At present, there is little activity in the services education scheme, and that is the reason for the appropriation of the very nominal sum of £1,000 this year. There has been some lag in the rendering of claims by government instrumentalities, and that accounts for the increase of this year’s vote over the actual expenditure last year.
– Genuine claimants who have not previously rendered their accounts will not be denied the payments that are due to them?
– No; their entitlement will not be affected. The estimated expenditure of £1,000 this year includes provision for tuition under two headings. The first covers fees for correspondence tuition by governmental and private institutions. There are 150 subjects at £2 15s. each, making £400. Secondly, refunds of correspondence course deposits, class fees, &c, will account for a further £400. The sum of £100 is provided for incidental and other expenditure. Books and materials for correspondence students under the control of the Department of the Army, will absorb £100, making a total of £1,000.
– I should like to know whether both the lend-lease accounts mentioned in Division 200b and Division 200c have now been finalized as no provision is made for expenditure under this division.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Proposed vote - Commonwealth Railways, £2,277,000 - agreed to.
Postmaster-General’s Department. Proposed vote, £38,338,000.
.- The Postal Department is one of the Government’s biggest business undertakings. Estimated expenditure for 1949-50 is £3S,33S,000. The vote for last year was £34,220,000, so that this year’s appropriation represents an increase of approximately £4,000,000. However, the increase over actual expenditure last year is only about £1,000,000. The activities of the department were debated at length when the legislation increasing postal charges was before the Senate. Opposition senators on that occasion expressed concern at the fact that this department, which had shown substantial profits in years gone by, was now operating at a loss. There are many items of expenditure by the Postal Department which naturally will be increased in the current year due to the higher basic wage and the introduction of the 40-hour week. Members of the Parliament are continually receiving requests from large numbers of people for the installation of telephone services, and I should appreciate some information from the Postmaster-General concerning the present position in relation to the installation of telephones. Of course, the greater the number of installations the greater the total revenue of the department, winch should result in a reduction of the cost of the service to subscribers. I take the opportunity now to pay tribute to the courteous and efficient service rendered by officers of the department with whom I have had the pleasure of doing business for many years. The services of the Postmaster-General’s Department are probably availed of by members of the public more than are the services of any other Commonwealth department, and the officers of that department are literally in contact with members of the public during every hour of the day. I wish that I could make a similar eulogistic reference to the PostmasterGeneral himself, who must accept his share of the Government’s responsibility for the unsatisfactory state of the department’s finances.
– I express at once my appreciation of the fine tribute paid by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) to the efforts of members of the staff of the department that I administer. As the honorable senator pointed out, those officers come in contact with members of the public more closely than do officers of any other department, and it is gratifying to know that their services are appreciated. As I have said on many occasions, the officers of the department served the country particularly well during the war, and they continue to serve it equally well in time of peace.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to the financial loss sustained by the department during the last financial year. Of course, the reason for the loss is quite apparent. The department has had to pay as much as 300 per cent, more for materials than it did before the war, and it was inevitable than an undertaking which purchases so much material should experience a sharp increase of its operating costs. However, the department is not attempting, to pass on any more than the actual increases of costs that it has to meet. The average increase of the charges made for the various services provided by the department amounts to only 16 per cent., so that it is clear that the department is not attempting to obtain any more additional revenue from those who use its services than is absolutely necessary for it to pay its way. Indeed, the greatest economy is exercised in the administration of the department, and every item of expenditure is closely scrutinized. I can assure honorable senators that not a penny of the public money is wasted. However, I must point out that those from whom the department purchases its supplies are not nearly so conscientious. In my opinion the charges imposed for many of the materials that we purchase from the contractors are exorbitant, and often include capital charges that were not incurred by the suppliers at all. Of course, the owners of materials in short supply are virtually holding a pistol at the head of the department because we must obtain supplies of certain materials if we are to continue to serve the people.
Reference was made by the Leader of the Opposition to the part played by the increased expenditure on wages as the result of increases of the basic wage and the introduction of the 40-hour week, and suggested that those increases were .largely responsible for the department having sustained a loss on its operations. Of course, the fact is that, although increases have been made of the basic wage, the purchasing power of that wage has not actually increased. Those who receive only the basic wage are not able to purchase any more goods or services now than they did when that wage was much lower. The so-called increases of the basic wage are intended merely to compensate for the decreased purchasing power of that wage. “When I worked as a plumber before “World “War I., I .received three sovereigns and six shillings for a 48-hour week. Although such a payment would now have a purchasing power approximately equal to £13, I would not be able to purchase any more goods or services with £13 than I could with three sovereigns and six shillings before “World “War I. Those employees of the Postal Department who have received increases of the basic wage have not received any real increase at all because the increases have not enabled them to buy any more food, purchase any more clothes, or build any better homes than they could previously. Of course, the principal reason for the higher cost of living and the decreased purchasing power of wages has been the greed of large manufacturers and industrialists. As an instance, I have already mentioned that many contractors have taken advantage of the Postal Department’s necessity to obtain supplies to extract the maximum amount that they could from the public purse.
The Leader of the Opposition referred particularly to the large number of people who are still waiting for telephones. Materials for telephone installations are still in short supply. The bank of material and equipment that the department had accumulated before the recent war was seriously depleted during the war, and because of difficulties since the war it has not been possible to replace that stock. However, during the past three years more than 172,000 services have been installed, and during 1948-49, 65,000 new subscribers were connected. That constituted an all-time record. Before the war the average annual number of new installations was 31,000. Now that equipment is coming to hand in increasing quantities, it is expected that during the current financial year at least 90,000 new telephones will be installed. Qf course, the department’s programme is contingent upon the supply of the materials required, particularly cables and building materials. However, I emphasize that, irrespective of what the department may achieve during the current financial year, it has already established an all-time record in providing new services. I add that .the present abnormal demand for telephones did not exist in pre-war years. From about 1926 until 1940 the department was canvassing for the opportunity to install telephone services. Postmen were paid a commission for orders. Since the cessation of hostilities, however, the position has been reversed. Thousands of people who never previously considered having telephones installed in their homes are now seeking them. There appears to be a greater necessity for people to use telephone services now than before the war.
– I, also, pay tribute to the efficiency of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Bearing in mind the long distances over which our telephone services extend, Australia compares favorably with other countries. In connexion with the proposed vote of £38,338,000 for 1949-50, whilst estimates have been shown in respect of all States and the Northern Territory, there is no reference to proposed expenditure in the territories of Papua and New Guinea. Will the Postmaster-General inform me who controls the postal services in those territories, and whether it is the intention of the Postal Department to take over those services? If so, can the Minister say when that is likely to be done? I realize fully that the Postal Department has inherited a legacy in relation to maintenance and extension of services. Due to the short-sighted policies of previous administrations the profits of this huge undertaking were not returned to the community by way of improved services and the provision of adequate amenities for postal employees. The Postal Department has a big leeway to make up. I am very concerned about the condition of postmasters’ residences and post offices in country areas. Frequently those buildings artsituated in side streets, and are altogether too small. Usually the banks, hotels, churches, and picture shows are the best buildings in country towns, and they generally occupy favoured sites. I should like the Minister to inform me what steps are contemplated to rectify this position.
– The postal services in the territories of Papua and New Guinea are controlled by the local administration. I agree with Senator Murray that in many instances the buildings owned by the Postmaster-General’s Department in country areas are inadequate. Many are obsolete, and others are in a dilapidated condition. When I was in Western Australia several weeks ago I saw two or three Postal Department buildings that were propped up in order to prevent them from falling down. They had been ravaged by white ants. The department’s building programme has been neglected ever since federation. Previous governments have lived within their meanness. During the years of the depression, of course, it was both physically and financially impossible for new postal buildings to be erected. Now, however, the department is pursuing a very ambitious plan in this connexion. Only recently I was proud to have the opportunity to open new post offices in some of the States. Every effort is being made to replace dilapidated and obsolete postal buildings with new premises, and, whereever possible, postal employees will be provided with the amenities to which they are entitled. At present the acute shortage of man-power and materials is hampering somewhat the implementation of this policy. However, I am hopeful that in the near future, after this Government has been returned1 to office, it will be possible to bring the Postal Department up-to-date in the way that I have indicated.
– The Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) has overlooked an important part of my inquiry. Will he inform me whether, in the interests of efficiency, the Postal Department contemplates taking over the control of the communications system in the territories of Papua and New Guinea? If so, when is that likely to occur?
– This matter has been discussed on a number of occasions, and is still being considered. No finality has yet been reached.
– It is indeed pleasing to see such an ambitious programme extending its services to the public being pursued by the Postal Department. A number of postal services were extended in Queensland during the war period, and because of the large area of that State, I offer no criticism of the fact that expenditure exceeded’ the vote in 1948-49 by £521,223. In South Australia the vote for 1948-49 was exceeded by £277,920. The expenditure on the services of the Postal Department has enabled considerable progress to be made in that State. However, South Australia is a much smaller State than Western Australia. In 1948-49, expenditure in Western Australia exceeded the vote by only £110,928. Because of the vastness of Western Australia it is essential that its development should be encouraged. Will the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) inform me whether any impediment exists to prevent works being carried out in Western Australia on the same extensive scale as is evident in other States ? I do not want to be unduly critical in this matter, because the Postal Department has provided excellent services in Western Australia and has assisted to open up vast areas. I realize also, that there must be a progressive policy in all branches of the department in order to provide efficient services to the public. I stress, however, that expansion of postal services should be undertaken in Western Australia at least as expeditiously as in other States. If an impediment does exist whereby Western Australia is not favoured’ by expenditure beyond the vote to the same degree as in other States, what is being done to remedy the position? Has the shortage of technicians and material any bearing on this aspect of the matter?
– Broadly speaking, the policy of the Postal Department is determined by the needs of each State from time to time, bearing in mind the availability of labour and material. Extension and improvements must, of course, be undertaken in the light of the overall needs in all parts of Australia. There is no discrimination between States. The work that is required to be done in every State is considered on its merits. The department periodically convenes meetings of deputy directors of posts and telegraphs and the heads of engineering branches for the purpose of considering reports upon the works programmes of the States. In addition, committees meet regularly in each State. Reports are submitted from those conferences to the Central Office concerning the amount of work that has to be done, works that are urgent as compared with other works, costs, and the availability of materials. I have been acquainted with conditions in Western Australia since 1S93, and therefore I know a great deal about the isolated parts of that State. I shall do everything within my power to -bring postal and telegraphic facilities in those regions up to date. As I have said, I was amazed at the dilapidated state of some of the post offices that I saw when I visited Western Australia a few weeks ago. Note3 have been taken and reports have been called for about such places, and I assure the honorable senator that, while I am privileged to hold the office of Postmaster.General. everything possible will be done to increase the facilities that are provided, not only in Western. Australia, but also in the other States.
Senator CRITCHLEY (South Aus
Minister’s statements about the problem of housing postmasters and the improvement of shabby post offices. I appreciate the difficulties with which he is faced. However, I am greatly concerned about the situation of telephone linemen and technicians, and I make a special plea on their behalf. The volume of technical work carried out by the Postal Department is continually increasing, and therefore the numbers of linemen and technicians are increasing also. These men are required to travel great distances to their work, and some of them have been separated intermittently from their wives and families for years. The housing arrangements that are made for them in South Australia are totally inadequate, and I am sure that the situation in other States is the same. I realize that the Government is required to cope with tremendous difficulties as the result of shortages of man-power and materials. However, the men on whose ‘behalf I speak have given great service to the people of Australia through the Postal Department and they deserve special consideration. The camps in which they are obliged to live while at work are much better now than they have ever’ been; but, for the sake of the happiness of the men and their families, the Government should set aside a sum of money immediately with the .object of providing family accommodation for its employees as soon as possible in the central localities where the gangs have their head-quarters. Under present conditions, many linemen and technicians incur heavy expenses because of the necessity for maintaining separate homes for their families. I do not deny that postmasters need proper accommodation; but the unfortunate situation of the men of whom I speak calls for sympathetic and prompt action. I am also concerned about the large numbers of temporary officers employed by .the Postal Department. I know that the situation is aggravated by seasonal conditions, such as the heavy volume of Christmas postal work, which necessitates the engagement of many casual workers. However, many officers employed on clerical and technical work in a temporary capacity could reasonably be granted permanent appointments. ‘ I do not suggest, of course, that a man 30 or 40 years of age with special qualifications should be promoted over die heads of officers who joined the postal service in their youth and worked their way up by their own ability. But I consider that temporary officers should he given an opportunity, after a reasonable term of satisfactory service, to achieve economic security in permanent positions.
– The housing problem has not been neglected by the Government. The policy of State governments in the days before federation was to provide accommodation for postmasters and other postal officers, hut that policy was abandoned after federation. and was not revived until the present Government took the matter in hand. Tenders have been called, and accepted I understand, for 1,000 homes for Commonwealth employees. Some of those houses will be allotted to postal officers. That programme will be expanded in the near future if possible. The Government recently appointed an inter-departmental committee to investigate the problem of providing additional housing accommodation for telephone linemen, especially in remote districts. It holds the view, and rightly so, that employees should not be transferred from one place to another without being provided with the housing facilities to which they are entitled. As one means of improving the situation of linemen, the Government has adopted. a policy of providing mobile change rooms, dining rooms and kitchens, so that the hardships that were caused during the floods at Kempsey, Maitland and Broken Hill will not be repeated. Instead of haying to camp in tents and work in wet clothes, the men will have mobile huts. This policy will he implemented as quickly as possible. Only recently I had the privilege of declaring open a new mobile dining room and- change room at Sydney. We intend to revolutionize conditions in that respect. For instance, in Queensland recently men who worked breast-high’ in water in flooded areas had no facilities to change their clothes beyond what they provided for themselves beside their trucks. That position will be rectified by providing mobile units in times of emergency to enable employees working under such conditions to change and dine under decent conditions. Whenever I see employees of the department sitting in the gutter having their morning tea, I wonder for how long such conditions will be tolerated. However, I have witnessed such sights all my life. Sometimes I criticize the employees of the department and those of other departments forbeing content to sit in the gutter to have their meals while the boss eats in thebest dining-room in the locality. I hope ‘that I shall live long enough to see that policy put in reverse gear.
Senator Critchley referred to temporary employees. I am sure that he is aware that during the Christmas season the department has no option but to engage thousands of temporary employees in order to cope with the Christmas rush. The ordinary staff could not do the work at such periods. I believe that it will he admitted that it is impossible to make permanent the employees engaged on a casual basis at such periods. Indeed, those persons do not expect to be made permanent. Many of them are university students and persons’ who merely seek employment for a limited period at that time of the year. However, persons engaged on a temporary basis who are likely to be continuously employed are being made permanent wherever it is possible to do so. The Postal Department has a greater proportion of permanent employees than any other department, and it will continue the policy of making permanent persons who give some guarantee that they will remain at their employment for a reasonable period of time.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) agreed to-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Tuesday next, at 3 p.m.
The following paper was presented : -
Australian Broadcasting Act - Order - Political Broadcasts (Federal Elections) (No. 2).
Senate adjourned at 12.20 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 21 October 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1949/19491021_senate_18_205/>.