19th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and road prayers.
– Is the Minister for Trade and Customs aware that the output of Australian fish canneries in 1949-50 was one-third less than it was in 1948-49, and that during 1949-50 over 17,000,000 lb. of canned fish was imported into Australia, or over two and a half times as much as was produced in this country in that period ? In view of these facts, will the Minister ensure that the interests of Australian fishermen and fish canneries will he fully protected at the forthcoming conference at Torquay, England, concerning the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade?
– I am not aware of the precise details and figures mentioned by the honorable senator, but I know that for some time prior to the election of the Menzies Government representations were made to the Commonwealth, on behalf of the Australian canned fish industry, for a measure of protection to ‘be provided, and that nothing in that connexion-was done by the Chifley Government. Representations have been made to me about this matter since I have been Minister for . Trade and Customs. In view of the value and importance of this industry, I have made a reference to the Tariff Board, arising from which I trust that adequate protection - whatever may he necessary for the purpose of preserving and encouraging the industry - will te afforded. The important aspect is that the properly constituted authority already Has a reference before it.
Senator ANNABELLE RANKIN.Is the Minister representing the Minister for -Supply aware of the anxiety that exists in Queensland about supplies of tinplate for the processing of the 1951 summer crop of pineapples! What steps are being taken, by the Government to assist Queensland users of this commodity to obtain their requirements?
– Both the Minister for Supply and I are aware of the shortage of tinplate in this country, and the matter has been under review for some time past. No doubt Senator Annabelle Rankin is aware that a big proportion of the tinplate that is used in Australia comes from dollar areas. At an early date I shall obtain a considered reply by the Minister for Supply con.cerning the specific aspect of the matter mentioned by the honorable senator.
– I should be glad if the Minister representing the Treasurer would obtain for me detailed answers to the following questions : - (a) How many motor tyres were manufactured in Australia between June, 1949, and September, 1950; (6) what were the sizes, and what quantity of each size wes produced - name of company producing each category to be indicated ; (c) what quantities were supplied to the Department of Supply, the Department of the Army, and the Department of Air, respectively; (d) what quantities of each size of tyre manufactured were exported during the period mentioned, and to what countries were they exported; and (e) the names of .the companies that were issued with permits to export motor tyres?
– I shall ascertain whether the information sought by the honorable senator is available, and, if so, I will furnish him with it.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, by point ing out. that naval personnel returning to their homes in Tasmania on leave are supplied with warrants for their conveyance by ship and rail from Melbourne to Hobart, which occupies .two days. As the journey takes only two hours by air, will the Minister make it possible for the naval personnel mentioned to apply their ship and rail warrants as part payment for air travel, provided that they pay the remainder of the cost themselves?
– I shall have inquiries made to see whether the honorable senator’s proposal could be adopted, and I shall inform him of the result in due course.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy the following question : -
Is it a fact that naval ratings of H.M.A.S. Shoalhaven, who recently returned to Australia from- Korea, have been Bashed and battered by Communists in Sydney and Melbourne; if so, what steps has the Government taken to prevent these despicable acts.
– The Minister for the Navy has furnished me with the following reply :: -
Naturally I arn very concerned about events that have taken place since H.M.A.S. Shoalhaven returned to Australia after assisting the United Nations forces in Korean waters. Unfortunately, assaults have been made on members of the vessel’s crew .who are now on leave in Sydney and in Melbourne. These matters arc in the hands of the Naval Intelligence Division and the civil police. I should like to make the observation that I believe that the delay in the passing of the necessary legislation to deal with Communist activities’ in Australia is giving a lot of encouragement, or false confidence, to those people to do what they have been doing. If the civil police or the Naval Intelligence authorities can locate the perpetrators of the crimes, the law will be enforced against them with the utmost rigour.
– .As age and invalid pensioners have to pay extortionate prices for pharmaceutical compounds, will the Minister for Social Services take steps to ensure that they shall receive medicine free at the earliest possible moment?
– The matter raked by Senator Katz comes properly within the jurisdiction of my colleague, the Minister for Health, who, I understand, has almost completed a scheme under which the facilities mentioned will be made available to age and invalid pensioners. I am aware that my colleague expects that the medical service part of the proposals will come into operation within a few weeks. I also know that he is very hopeful that, at the same time, he will be able to complete arrangements for putting into effect a pharmaceutical benefit plan on a similar basis. The Minister’s present expectation is that a free medical and pharmaceutical service will become available on the 1st November to age and invalid pensioners and their dependants. There is still a fair amount of detailed work to complete. Arrangements have to be made for the identification of pensioners, so that they can establish their right to the service with members of the medical profession and with the chemists. It is also necessary to complete an agreement with the chemists, and the making of all these arrangements takes time. The Minister for Health is engaged very energetically on the matter, and we all hope to see the plan come into operation on the date that he expects.
– Is the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport aware that, as a result of the Western Australian fruit-growers reverting to the system of private marketing of fruit, the improvement of shipping services to the ports of Western Australia has become more urgent? Oan the Minister report that an improved service on a roster system has been arranged for the ports of Esperance, Albany, Fremantle and Geraldton ? If so, what are the details of the roster, and upon what date will the improved service begin? What assistance, if any, is the Government affording the fruit-growing industry during the transition period between the disposal of fruit by acquisition and its sale on the open market? Has a satisfactory shipping service been arranged for the exportable surplus of fruit?
– Priority is given to essential cargoes, ‘but so far the plans that we have prepared for a regular shipping service to the ports mentioned by the honorable senator have been frustrated by the action of-
Opposition Senators. - The Communists !
– Some honorable senators opposite seem to get amusement out of the situation. Apparently, they are so simple that anything will amuse them. Because of the difficulties we are experiencing, it is almost impossible to keep ships running to a regular schedule. The staff of my department, together with the steamship owners, are doing everything possible to ensure that a regular and adequate shipping service is maintained to the outports of Western Australia.
– Has the Minister yet received a report on the negotiations which, according to a statement that ‘he made during the last sessional period, have been taking place between the shipowners, the Australian Shipping Board and the Government of Western Australia ?
– I shall look into that matter, and if it is possible to make any information available I shall be pleased to do so.
asked the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The Acting Minister for Defence has supplied the following information : -
The Prime Minister announced on the 26th May that the British Commonwealth Occupa-tion Force was to be withdrawn from. Japan. However, following the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, the Government decided that the plans for the return of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force to Australia should be held in abeyance, as stated by the Prime Minister on 30th June.
SENATOR N. E. MoKENNA.
– by leave - On Friday last the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) handed to the press a statement which reflected on the proceedings of this Senate. It was published iti several of the afternoon newspapers and in practically the whole of the morning newspapers throughout Australia. I propose to read the concluding portion of it, which is the passage to which I take exception. It reads -
The only people who are profiting from those time-wasting dodges are the Communists who really ought to present Mr. Chifley and Senator McKenna with framed and illuminated votes of .thanks.
Government Senators - Hear, hear!
– I expected that applause from honorable senators opposite. The statement continues -
All these Labour leaders are doing at present is to give the Communists more free time in which to do their dirty work! “
So spoke the Prime Minister and “ Hear, hear ! “ say the supporters of the Government. On the following day I delivered to the parliamentary press gallery, where all newspapers are represented, copies of a statement in reply, which I propose in a moment or two to read to the Senate. I have no doubt that the pressmen at Canberra who saw the statement sent it to their newspapers. I merely record the fact that so far as I have been able to discover, not one word of my reply appeared in any newspaper in Australia.
– It could not have been much good.
– In order to make it known that the Prime Minister’s insulting calumny was not allowed to pass unchallenged I take this first opportunity while the proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast to give at least some publicity to my reply which hitherto has not seen the light of day. The reply that I made was as follows: -
Mr. Menzies has added one more calumny to those he has already publicly confessed.
I pause there to say that I used the word “ calumny “ in its exact dictionary definition, wherein it is defined as a false, malicious and injurious accusation. My statement continued -
This oblique reference to Mr. Chifley and myself as supporters of Communism and Com munists, highlights the danger of entrusting to this Prime Minister and the Members of his Government - so intolerant of any viewpoint opposed to their own - power to “ declare “ any person unless that person is afforded the protection of ordinary courts and usual processes of law.
This insult amounts to a “ declaration “ of Mr. Chifley and myself. The Prime Minister shares with the Communists an expertness in the “ smear “ technique.
On Friday Mr. Menzies proceeded to the Sydney University where he delivered an impassioned plea for freedom of thought - after condemning earlier in the day, the exercise of that very right in the National Parliament itself by his colleagues of the Parliament. It is saddening that the Prime Minister of Australia should descend to insult and calumny. I do not propose to follow him into those fields.
Mr. Menzies is not content with power to ramo ve Communists from the Public Service and Trade Union office. He asks also for power to “declare” a person who has never held or sought any such position or office - and is never likely to do so - so that the person will not be “ eligible “ for appointment. In short lie asks for power to “ declare “ any Australian. He has already demonstrated how he would abuse that power.
I repeat that this statement, which was delivered to the press gallery on Saturday morning, did not appear in any of the newspapers of Australia. There is another aspect of this matter upon which I should like to pass a few observations. Now that the proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast, and the public of Australia is taking a much greater interest on what goes on here, a grave responsibility rests on every member of the Parliament so to behave as not to lower the general standard of behaviour in the community. I put that as a general proposition applying not merely to the Prime Minister but to every member of this Parliament. Very much scandal may emanate from the high platform of this Parliament and affect particularly the young people of Australia. It should be regarded as a signal honour to represent the people in the Australian Parliament. If there is rudeness here, we must expect rudeness in the community ; if there are insults in this Parliament, we must expect insults in the community; if the evils of calumny and detraction are to be practised here, we must expect those evils in the community. If the legislators of this nation do not scruple to misrepresent, we must expect misrepresentation in the community. On no Australian does the responsibility of which I have spoken rest more heavily than on the Prime Minister. The amount of personal abuse, insult and calumny flowing from the Prime Minister in recent months shows that either he does not recognize his great personal responsibility-
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable senator has been granted leave to explain matters of a personal nature.
– And he is doing it.
– The honorable senator is not following that course at all. He is delivering a homily upon the conduct of affairs in the Senate. The greatest offenders against the conduct of affairs in this chamber are the members of the honorable senator’s own party. He is making a statement in circumstances - -
– What is the point of order?
– That the honorable senator is not making a personal statement.
– 1 understood that Senator McKenna asked for leave to make a statement. Leave was granted, and he is now making his statement. He is in order.
– I rise to a point of order. My understanding is that Senator McKenna ‘ asked for leave to make a statement concerning certain reflections cast on him by the Prime Minister. I suggest that for the honorable senator to embark on a statement beyond those grounds indicates that he has obtained leave by false pretences.
– Order ! Senator McKenna has leave to make a statement concerning certain remarks of the Prime Minister.
– Concerning himself.
– Order ! Senator McKenna has already stated that the remarks concern him.
– When I was interrupted, I was saying that the amount of personal abuse, insult and calumny flowing from the Prime Minister these days shows that either he does not recognize his great personal responsibility, or that he holds it in little regard. We have had many words from the right honorable gentleman on the subject of communism. I should like him, or someone on his behalf, to recount his deeds against communism.
– I rise to a point of order. I am sure that you will agree, Mr. President, that the forms of procedure in the Senate should be observed. Senator McKenna asked for leave in special circumstances, to make a statement of personal explanation. Leave was granted. The only provision in the Standing Orders under which he is entitled to make such a statement is contained in Standing Order 408, which reads -
By the indulgence of the Senate-
An indulgence which we do not expect to be abused - a senator may explain matters of a personal nature, although there be no question before the Senate, but such matters may not be debated.
Senator McKenna is making a secondreading speech upon a measure that is not before the Senate. He is not making an explanation of a personal nature. There is no provision in the Standing Orders under which the honorable senator may proceed along the lines that he is following. Unless he is to violate the Standing Orders completely, he must confine himself to explaining matters of a personal nature - that is, personal to himself - and t should not indulge in personal abuse of the Prime Minister.
– Senator McKenna, what were the words in which you asked for leave to make a statement ?
– I did not have them written down previously, but I can repeat them. I made a rapid note of them. I applied for leave of the Senate to reply to a statement of the Prime Minister reflecting upon me personally.
– Under what standing order?
– I do not propose to answer the questions of the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– Order ! All interjections are disorderly, as Ministers should know. Senator McKenna asked for leave to make a statement, and leave was granted. He did not specifically ask for leave to make a personal explanation. He has referred to what Mr. Menzies has said and has given expression to generalized statements. The honorable senator may proceed.
– When I was interrupted again, I was saying that I should like the Prime Minister, or some one on his behalf, to recount his deeds against communism. If that be done, I shall list my own actions in the fight against communism. I have no hesitation in claiming that my record in the matter of deeds against communism will be far more imposing than that of the Prime Minister.
– I lay on the table the following paper : -
Tariff Board - Annual Report for year 1949- 50 together with summary of recommendations.
The report is accompanied by an annexure that summarizes the recommendations made by the board and sets out the action that has been taken in respect of them. It is not proposed that the annexure shall be printed. I move -
That the report only be printed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the resumption of the debate upon Government Business, Order of the Day No. 1 (Communist Party Dissolution Bill), being made an Order of the Day for a later hour this day. namely, 8 p.m.
I assure the Opposition, without any reservation whatever, that, at any time between now and 8 p.m., the Government is prepared to proceed to a vote upon the measure that .Senator McKenna, with so much heat and assumed earnestness and sincerity, said was of paramount importance. The Government considers that the Communist Party Dissolution Bill is a measure of even greater importance than that. I have stressed that fact on several occasions.
Even if the Constitution Alteration (Prices) Bill were passed, it provides, at most, for the establishment of machinery for the holding of a referendum, which could not be held this year, but if the Communist Party Dissolution Bill were passed, effect could be given to it at once, and the wreckers and saboteurs who are frustrating the industrial effort of our nation and disrupting our economy could be dealt with forthwith. A moment ago, Senator McKenna appeared to be quite upset because he had been justly rebuked by the Prime Minister.
– I rise to order. Standing Order 408, which was read by the Minister for Trade and Customs a short time ago, provides quite clearly that the statement to which it refers cannot be debated after being made. I contend that the Minister is now debating the statement made by Senator McKenna.
– The motion proposed by the Minister is a motion for the suspension of ‘Standing and Sessional Orders. The Minister may proceed with his remarks.
– Before I was interrupted, I was saying that Senator McKenna appeared to smart very sorely-
– Order ! It would be better if the Minister confined his remarks to the motion that he has proposed and stated the reasons why he desires the Standing and Sessional Orders to be suspended. If he does that, he will be perfectly in order.
– If we proceed with the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, there will be no danger of either the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) or Senator McKenna being again rebuked by the Prime Minister for failing to deal with a measure that is of firstrate national importance. I am certain that it affords the Prime Minister no pleasure to reprimand publicly the Leader of the Opposition or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this chamber. The right honorable gentleman is conscious of the responsibilities of the Parliament and of the dignity and prestige that it should enjoy. If we get on with our business, some of the lost dignity and prestige of the Parliament may be restored. I commend to the Senate, in all sincerity, the motion that I have proposed.
I repeat that the Government is prepared, at any time between now and 8 p.m., to proceed to a vote on the measure that the Opposition has stated to be one of great urgency. If that measure were out of the way, we could proceed to deal with the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. If the Opposition fails to support this motion, it will be casting its mantle of protection over Communist wreckers in this country.
– I second the motion.
Senator ASHLEY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) [3.371. -The Opposition opposes the proposed alteration of the order of business. Yesterday, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) and his followers sat here dumb, but now, because our proceedings are being broadcast, they are trying to waste the time of the Senate. I point out that on every occasion when a Minister or member of the Government parties rises in this chamber, he makes some reference to the Communist party. I do not know what honorable senators opposite would have to talk about if there were no Communist party in Australia.
The fundamental principles of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill presented to the Parliament by the Government were not affected in any way by the amendments of the measure that were made in this chamber at the instance of the Labour party. Under the amended bill, the Government had power to ban the Communist party and its affiliated organizations, and also to confiscate their property. In addition, it could have dealt with Communists under the provisions of the Crimes Act. Under the measure as amended, the Government had power to remove Communists from trade unions and from positions in the Commonwealth Public Service. Apparently it does not want the bill as much as it says it does.
The Opposition is opposed to the motion proposed by the Minister for Trade and Customs. It does not intend to surrender the opportunity that presents itself, while our proceedings are being broadcast, to let the people of Australia know of the hardships that some persons are suffering to-day as a result of soaring prices, which are due to the actions of the spineless Menzies Government.
Motion (by Senator Aylett) agreed to-
That the question be now put.
Question put -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the resumption of the debate upon Government business, Order of the Day No. 1 (Communist Party Dissolution Bill) being made an Order of the Day for a later hour this day, namely, 8 p.m.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from the 10th October (vide page 470), on motion by Senator McKenna -
That the bill be read a second time.
– Last night I pointed out to honorable senators the urgency for a referendum to be held to enable the people of this country to decide whether the Constitution should be altered in order that the control of prices might once again be vested in the Commonwealth, until supplies of goods are equal to the demand. There is no more urgent problem agitating the minds of the people. By its frustrating activities in this chamber to-day, the Government has again endeavoured to mislead the people of Australia about the real position, because no more urgent necessity exists than to curb the steep spiralling of prices and to evolve a method to keep the cost of living within the measure of the purse. In the past, gallup polls have been a fairly good indication of the minds of the people. If we are to take any notice of them at all then we must certainly take notice of the gallup poll that was recently conducted in connexion with the subject of rising prices. According to the Melbourne Herald of the 5th October, 57 per cent, of the people questioned in all States said that the most ‘urgent matter facing the country to-day was the subject of prices control, and that power to control prices should once again be given to the Commonwealth; 35 per cent, were opposed to that course of action, whilst S per cent, were undecided. In his two recent broadcasts the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has stated that inflation is the greatest problem confronting the Government, and this view has also been supported by the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey), according to statements that have appeared in the press. All that the Opposition asks is that the electors of Australia should be given the opportunity to assist the Parliament to do what its leading spokesmen have said it is unable to do at present. The Prime Minister has stated that the job is too big for the Government parties to handle, although honorable senators will recollect that prior to the last general election supporters of the Government told the people that if they were returned to office they would put value back into the fi, and so reduce the cost of living. I am amazed that the Prime Minister should have taken disciplinary action - as it is apparent he has done - to prevent honorable senators opposite saying openly that they have changed their minds and now desire to fall into line with the popular mind of the people and support the control of prices being again vested in the Commonwealth. I am convinced that, if given the opportunity to do so, the people of this country would express themselves in no uncertain manner, in favour of the re-institution of prices control by the Commonwealth. Government supporters who have spoken on this bill have said that it would take three or four months to compete preparations for the taking of a referendum, and to get prices machinery into operation. Perhaps, because of the bad administrative methods of this Government, it might take a considerable time, but even so, it is necessary to start somewhere. I have a vivid recollection of the early days of the second world war, when members of the Royal Australian Air Force were forced to go up in Wirraways at Darwin to meet the Japanese Zeros. When members of our party complained of the matter in the Parliament, we were told that it would take too long to establish factories and tool up for the making of aeroplanes capable of meeting the Zeros on equal terms. For that reason, apparently, our airmen, who were among the bravest in the world, were sent up in toy aeroplanes to sacrifice their lives in combat with the Japanese. That was the result of maladministration by a government drawn from the parties which support the present Government. It is now proposed to sacrifice the people of Australia in another economic depression, because nothing is more certain than that a depression will follow the present period of inflation.
In November of last year, anti-Labour candidates misled the people with insidious propaganda. As I pointed out last night, an important political race was begun then. The present Leaders of the Government entered that great champion named “ Value back in the fi “, owned by Bob Menzies and Artie Fadden and to be ridden by “ Lower Prices “. However, when the horses went to the post, it was seen that the owners has substituted for “ Value back into the fi “ that old crock “ Commo “, by “ Hot
Money “ out of “ Yankee Dollar “, a beast that has nearly outlived its usefulness and that it was to be ridden by “Inflation” instead of by “Lower Prices “. Now the horses are nearing the winning post, and that great champion, “Prosperity”, entered by Mr. Chifley, is drawing up on the old crock “ Commo “. We do not want the race to be decided by a photo or by the judge. We want to leave the decision to the people. They lost their money on the old crock “ Commo and we want them to have an opportunity to say whom they will support in the future.
The bill introduced by Senator McKenna should be passed by the House of Representatives, so that the people may express their opinion upon the proposal contained therein. Members of the Government have been shedding crocodile tears because a certain other measure has not been brought before the Senate. The action of the Government in the House of Representatives is a clear indication of what it would do if it had control of both Houses of the Parliament. No discussion would then be allowed on legislation. Everything would be “guillotined” through the Parliament, and no one would have an opportunity to say whether he was in favour of a measure or against it. I have not been behind the Iron Curtain, but I believe that those are the tactics followed by those whom honora’ble senators describe as “ Commos “. We may be sure that the same tactics would be followed in Australia if the Government had a majority in the Senate.
It has been claimed by honorable senators opposite that the Labour party gained its majority in the Senate by subterfuge, as the result of an amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act the year before last. Had the Senate been elected under the old franchise its composition would have been almost the same as it is now, and the Labour party would still have had a majority. However, we use our majority only when we believe that we are acting in the best interests of the people. It should not be forgotten that the Labour party represents the largest group of voters in Australia. We represent 49 per cent, of the electors. The Australian Country party represents 13 per cent., and the Liberal party the rest. We have a responsibility to those whom we represent, who are mainly the workers. Their living conditions are governed by arbitration tribunals. The Labour party believes in arbitration, and arbitration courts are the only institutions which, under capitalism, can ensure some measure of justice to the workers. However, they cannot render full justice unless and until some similar organization is established to control the cost of living.
In May, 1949, the Australian Council of Trades Unions lodged a claim with the Commonwealth Arbitration Court for an increase of the basic wage. It has been announced in the press and over the air that the court will give its decision tomorrow. The workers who believe in arbitration are not Communists, and they have been waiting patiently since May of last year for a decision on their claims. Even if the decision should be in favour of the unions, the increased payments will not be retrospective. If the basic wage is increased, manufacturers and retailers will immediately increase the prices of their commodities, claiming that the increase is necessary in order to meet the higher wage. Thus, the workers, instead of receiving any benefit from the increased wage, will probably be worse off. As I pointed out last night, if a breadcarter receives an increase of 10s. a week, the baker will increase the price of bread by id. a loaf, because that is the smallest increase possible. Assuming that the carter delivers 300 loaves of bread a day, the takings of the baker will be increased by about 12s. a day. Thus, from one breadcarter working 5 days a week, the baker will make an additional profit of £2 10s. a week. I do not say that the baker will be to blame, but such a situation reinforces our claim that prices should be controlled by the one institution capable of controlling them, namely the Commonwealth. That is why we are asking that the people should be given the opportunity to say whether they wish the Commonwealth to resume the control of prices.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
Motion (.by Senator Sandford) put -
That Senator Hendrickson be granted an extension of time for thirty minutes.
The Senate divided. (The Deputy President; - Senator T. M. Nicholls).
Majority . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Government senators have refused to participate in the debate on this bill because the Prime Minister has directed them not to do so. On numerous occasions the right honorable gentleman has stated that he believes in fascism. That is no secret because his views on fascism have been frequently published in the press. Using the fascist tactic, he said to honorable senators opposite, “ You must not debate this bill. I, the great Feuhrer. will tell the people of Australia what they should do when I like and how I like “. This is the right honorable gentleman who divulged budget secrets to the people through the press and over the air a full week before the budget was to be introduced into the Parliament. Yesterday honorable senators opposite indicated that they were prepared to conclude the debate on this measure at any hour. To-day they have given us an assurance that it can be concluded by the hour at which the sitting of the Senate is suspended for dinner. If it is, and if they support the measure, as we hope they will, the unanimous vote of the Senate will force the Prime Minister to give the people an opportunity to decide whether or not prices control should be re-intro duced. The workers are most vitally concerned in this matter for the only commodity they have to sell is their labour power. If the Commonwealth Arbitration Court determines that a tradesman shall work for a certain wage,, and the worker refuses to abide by its determination, he is regarded by members of the Government either as a Communist or as a person who is engaged in subversive activities ; but the grower of wool or wheat, or the manufacturer of an essential requirement of the people who may charge what he likes for his product is regarded by them as a hero simply because he makes heavy contributions to their political funds. No consideration is extended by honorable senators opposite to the workers who are subject to arbitration awards. Not many honorable senators opposite understand the functions of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Those who were formerly members of the Labour party and have some knowledge of the trade union viewpoint understand it thoroughly. By and large the members of trade unions are prepared to abide by the determinations of the court, but if the Government is sincerely desirous of bringing about increased production it must devise some better means to enable the workers of Australia to obtain a moTe equitable share of the wealth that they produce. Unless the wealth produced by the workers is more equitably distributed, harmony in industry and increased production will never be achieved.
Tn 1940 and 1941, prior to the introduction of prices control the cost of food, rent, clothing and ordinary household items increased by 12.3 per cent. In the period from 1942 to 1945, when prices control was in. operation, the cost of living increased by only 3.2 per cent., or 9.1 per cent, less than in the preceding two years. The results achieved by the system of prices control operated by the Chifley Government should be carefully studied by the members of the Government. In 1946, when wage pegging was lifted, but when prices control was still in operation, the cost of living increased by only 3.8 per cent., or .6 per cent, more than during the period from 1942 to 1945. These figures prove conclusively that wages have little or nothing to do with rising prices. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court is the sole authority which has the right to determine what share of the wealth produced in the country shall be enjoyed by its. workers. It is now suggested that the court should be clothed with the same power as the High Court to cite trade unions for contempt of court if their
Members refuse to obey its decisions. The Amalgamated Engineering Union, which refused to obey certain determinations of the court, was initially fined £100. Later, because the members of that organization continued to refuse to abide by the court’s decision, the union was fined an additional £500. The court is now considering whether or not it has power to deregister the union. Those unions are fighting tooth and nail in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Some of their members are not prepared to accept the rulings of the court because they and their wives and families are not able to enjoy that standard of living to which they are entitled in this era of prosperity. Something must be done to arrest the spiralling of prices if we are to attain greater harmony in industry and more production.
If the Government is sincere in its desire to rid the country of Communists it must realize that in flation and deflation breed communism, fascism, and Nazi-ism. Most of us who took an active part in industry prior to the depression of 1930 had the opportunity to associate with some of Australia’s greatest unionists and citizens. They were men who had fought overseas and had won honours in the first world, war. Because of the depression of 1930 they lost their jobs, their homes and their furniture; their children were without food. It was not because those men did not want to work but because inflation had reached a stage where they could find no place in society. They were forced to declare themselves Communists or other “ ists “. They became Communists because they were soured and disappointed with a society which had promised them that if they went away and fought for their country they would at least have the right to live in it when they returned. If the Government of to-day is not prepared to give the workers of this country a fair share of the commodities they produce, which can be done only by rigidly controlling prices during shortage of the necessaries of life, legislation passed in this Parliament, whether aimed against communism, fascism or Nazi-ism, will be ineffective. “When Naziism first appeared in Germany in 1933 it owed its rise to the poverty of the people. Honorable senators know what the people of Germany suffered during the years of dictatorship in that country. If the Government is sincere it must realize, as has been pointed out from this side of the chamber on numerous occasions, that if there are subversive elements in this country they can be dealt with under the Crimes Act. If there are subversive elements in the Public .Service they can be dealt with under the Commonwealth Public Service Act. If the Opposition believed the Government to be sincere in introducing anti-Communist legislation, it would support the legislation and suggest amendments designed to make it operate more effectively.
The measure introduced by Senator McKenna, proposing to alter the Constitution in order once again to permit the Australian Government to control prices, is a sincere one. I am astounded that there has been no contribution from the Government side of this chamber. Honorable senators opposite have blamed spiralling prices for the increased postal charges, and they attacked the exPostmasterGeneral. Senator Cameron, when he spoke yesterday. An attack was also made concerning the 40-hour week. But the 40-hour week has not caused the cost of living to rise. That rise is due, in some instances, to persons working in industries that are not essential to a proper standard of living for the people of this country. In the days of the depression Postal Department employees, in some instances, were working only three days, or 24 hours, a week, whilst others had no work at all. The people who now constitute the Government said then that there was over production, and that that was why the people could not obtain the commodities they needed. The fact is there was no over production, but that our system of distribution during the depression was just as inadequate as it is to-day. If the Government is not prepared to accept the bill now before the Senate and so assist members of the great trade unions and the supporters of the great Australian Labour party to do everything possible in order to bring prices to a decent level, the time is not far distant when it will no longer have the privilege of saying whether Communists may or may not remain in this country. I commend the bill to the Senate.
– I rise to support the bill. Particularly at this stage in the economic life of Australia, it is a very important measure indeed. I have had some first-hand knowledge of price fixing and I know something about the practical side of prices control. Prom 1920 onwards, in the State which I represent, there was in operation an act entitled the Profiteering Prevention Act. For a number of years I carried out certain administrative work in connexion with that act which operated until the commencement of World War II. When the Australian Government took control of prices the act was more or less suspended. I am in a position to make a survey of prices control carried out in peace-time, during the war period, during the period following the war, and also during what is known as an inflationary period. Honorable senators will therefore appreciate that I am familiar with the factors that should be taken into account by price-fixing authorities. I have a knowledge of the effect that efficient prices control has upon wages and values in the community. It is well known and recognized that there is a relationship between wages and values generally, so that values of property are related indirectly to the basic wage. When there is a low basic wage operating, values are comparatively low, but with a high basic wage values increase correspondingly. In order to discuss the measure now before the Senate it was necessary for me to conduct a very thorough examination of the Constitution - the most exhaustive examination of it that I have ever made. That was done for the purpose of ascertaining whether it contained any provision that could be implemented in some way or another to regulate prices. After my examination, I arrived at the conclusion that there was no provision that could be used for the regulation of prices by the Commonwealth unless the Constitution were amended. I thought that was a very peculiar omission, as the framers of the Constitution dealt with so many important matters when they drafted it. Undoubtedly, they gave full consideration to the problems that were then confronting Australia and to those that could then be foreseen. But the Constitution is not perfect. There are -several respects in which it falls short of what the Constitution of Australia really should be. For instance, it has always been a matter of wonderment to me why the Commonwealth has not complete control of education in Australia. The necessity for that is being brought home rather forcibly to us at the present time. If we examine the daily press, we find advertisements inserted by the Commonwealth for technical staff. The Commonwealth requires youths who have attained a certain educational standard, but it appears that it has no say in the training of youths to that standard.
Another shortcoming of the Constitution, as far as I could see, was the lack of control of lands by the Commonwealth. We have an Australian government, but it controls no lands except in what are known as the territories of the Commonwealth. The States actually own Australia and control the lands. That is one of the matters for which the framers of the Constitution should have made provision.
An important matter to which the framers of the Constitution did give consideration is referred to in placitum (xxxv.) of section 51 of the Constitution, which reads as follows : -
Conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of a.ny one State.
It seems peculiar that when the framers of the Constitution inserted that provission they did not at the same time give consideration to prices. If a constitution had to be framed to-day and the same persons were called upon to frame it, they would, undoubtedly, with the knowledge gained during the last 50 years, make provision for the Commonwealth to control prices as well as to have full authority to prevent and settle industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State. I submit that the two matters are correlated. One ia an implementation of the other.
In 1907, an inquiry was conducted under the Excise Act. The matter under review was the cost of producing certain agricultural machinery in Australia so that a decision could be made regarding the duty to be imposed upon machinery of a similar kind imported into this country. After an exhaustive inquiry, a decision was made. That decision really forms the foundation of all basic wage decisions. The judgment is known in industrial spheres as the Harvester judgment. It is generally believed that it was delivered by a Commonwealth industrial court, but actually it was delivered after an inquiry conducted under the Excise Act. The hearing of the Harvester case was a prolonged affair, because the proceedings were conducted on the same lines as a criminal trial. One party claimed that the cost of living was at a certain figure and the other claimed that it was not as high as that. Evidence was tendered to the court upon matters such as the cost of women’s stockings, shoes and frocks, how many potatoes and how much meat would be eaten in a week by a family of three or four persons, how many hats a man would require in a year and how often the members of a family went out to entertainments. Finally, a decision was made.
I have referred to that case because another examination of the basic wage was made in Australia recently. The old-fashioned method that was adopted in 1907 was used again in 1949 and 1950. One would think, reading the evidence, and taking the length of the hearing into consideration, that it was a criminal trial. An application was made by the trade unions for the basic wage to be increased to £10 a week. I have no doubt that, had the hearing been more prolonged, the basic wage would, of its own account, owing to quarterly adjustments, have reached the sum of £10 per week. The point I want to make is that after the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which was placed upon the statute-book under the provisions of the placitum to which I have referred, had operated for a number of years it was found that wages were not commen-surate with the increased cost of living. They were insufficient. It is interesting to recall what the Prime Minister of Australia in 1919 said about that matter in a policy speech. He said -
The cause of much of the industrial unrest, which is like fuel to the fires of bolshevism and direct action, arises with the real wage of the worker, that is to say, the things he can buy with the money he receives. This real wage decreases with an increase in the cost of living. Once it is admitted that it is in the interests of the community that such a wage shall be paid as will enable a man to marry and bring up children in decent, wholesome conditions - and that point has been settled long ago - it seems obvious that we must devise better machinery for ensuring the payment of such a wage than at present exists. Means must be found that will ensure that the minimum wage shall be adjusted automatically, or almost automatically, with the cost of living, so that within the limits of the minimum wage at least the sovereign shall always purchase the same amount of the necessaries of life.
That statement was made by the Prime Minister of Australia in 1919.
-. - Who was he?
- Mr. Hughes. After that statement was made, suitable action was taken to have the basic wage adjusted quarterly. A statistical formula was adopted that permitted information to be obtained from all over Australia at regular intervals so that, at the end of each quarter, the basic wage could be adjusted automatically. That system has operated since then. It may not be a perfect system but it is as good as can be devised, and it is accepted by all workers in’ industry as a fairly satisfactory system. If it were possible in 1920 to devise a statistical formula for the purpose of ascertaining the cost of living and adjusting the basic wage quarterly, should it not be possible in 1950 to introduce a statistical formula that will allow the prosperity of Australia to be gauged quarterly so that an allowance can be added to the basic wage in respect of that prosperity? I expect that there will be an increase of the basic wage on the grounds of prosperity. I expect also that during this quarter there will be an unprecedented increase of the basic wage due to the higher cost of living. Et should be an easy matter to ascertain what the prosperity of Australia is. Information that was not available to us years ago is now available and can be acquired easily. The national income is not only assessable but also predictable. By that I mean that Australia should be able to fix a basic wage that will agree with its present prosperity and also to adjust that wage to meet the situations that may exist in later years. Notwithstanding the method of adjusting the basic wage quarterly, certain happenings in the community render the system somewhat deficient. I can best illustrate my point by referring to a practice that has developed in Brisbane in connexion with many retail butchers who obtain their supplies from wholesale butchers. The prices charged by the wholesalers are fixed, and the wholesalers have stated that they are too low. In many instances the wholesalers charge the retailers for pigs which are never delivered to them. The excess sums involved, varying according to the volume of business of the retailers, from £10 to £50 a week. The retail prices of meat, also, are fixed, but in order to recoup themselves for the excess charges by the wholesalers, the retailers charge the public prices greater than the fixed prices. I know what I am talking about, because I have examined the accounts of some of the retail butchers. I know that the carters have not delivered the pigs to the retailers, and I know what prices the retail butchers are charging the public. This is a clear case of black marketing by the wholesalers, and it shows that the true cost of living is not properly registered.
The wages problems in this country are very complex, due to the fact that there are so many wage-fixing tribunals. First, there is the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, which deals with many matters in addition to wages. In Victoria, the Wages Board system operates. That system was adopted by Napoleon Bonaparte when he was engaged in wars in Europe. South Australia has compromised between the Wages Board system and an industrial court, and also uses the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, f.n Queensland there is the State Indus trial Court. Workers in that State prefer to apply to the State court than to the Commonwealth court. If we desire to achieve uniformity in respect of wages, this difficulty is not insurmountable. Much of the trouble could be overcome by the appointment of an economic council, comprised of economists from the six States, and including Commonwealth representation. Such a council should be able to devise a method to determine the prosperity allowance that should be paid to the workers periodically. It could also evolve a better method to ascertain the cost of living from time to time. It has been suggested that one way in which the inflationary tendencies that exist to-day could be checked would be to revert to a longer working week. The test of the worth of that suggestion would be whether the person making it would work the longer week himself, or whether he merely expects others to work the longer week.
As honorable senators are aware, we have not always had a 40-hour week in this country. I contend that when the working week exceeded 48 hours, the people were worse off than they are to-day. I shall quote from a Government Gazette of 1910, the working hours then recognized, because that is an interesting aspect of the matter. With relation to shop assistants and butchers employed in retail butcher shops, under the heading “ hours “ it is stated “ no person shall be employed in or about or in connexion with any shop for a longer period than 58 hours in any one week “. In another award, applying to the employees in breweries, it is stated, “ the ordinary working hours shall not exceed 54 in any one week “. In an award that applied to thepastrycooking and bread-making industry, the hours were fixed at 60 a week. That is exactly 50 per cent, more than the present working week. In the gasmakingindustry, where men have to do heavy work, such as stoking and throwing thecoal into retorts, the working hours were fixed at 56 a week, to be worked in shifts not exceeding eight hours a day. In those days the men worked seven days a week. The working hours of cooks in hotels were rather longer than those of other employees in those days. For instance, chefs and cooks, including apprentices and improvers, were required to work not exceeding 60 hours a week, but the ordinary working hours of chefs and apprentices in another group were 63 hours a week. In yet another group it was 66 hours a week. The ordinary hours of kitchen men and kitchen maids did not exceed 70 hours a week. I shall now mention another award, which is of especial interest because the membership of the union concerned has now grown to many thousands. I refer to an award that applied to the carting trade. It is stated “ the ordinary working period of drivers should not exceed 62 hours in any one week, exclusive of such time taken up in bedding and watering horses and cleaningstables on Sundays and holidays “. They “were required to work 62 hours a week, and any additional time necessary to look after the horses, clean up the stables, wash the vehicles, and do everything else that was necessary.
– That is what the Government would like to see happen to-day.
– The workers worked, longer hours in those days. Were they tiny better off then compared with now? Will the extension of working hours check high prices? Will the workers, whose co-operation has been sought, agree to co-operate with any government whilst blackmarketing is being carried out in the meat industry, and greedy, rapacious wholesale meat merchants are making fortunes at their expense? Are they going to co-operate and surrender their 40-hour week by working longer hours for the purpose of reducing prices? I do not think so. The 4S-hour week commenced to operate in this country in 1916, and was worked almost universally until 1925, when the 44-hour week was introduced. Some people have stated that the high prices to-day are due to the shorter working week. I remind the Senate that in 1925 the basic wage was £4 5s. a week. It remained constant at that rate for the following five years. In 1930 it was reduced by 5s. a week. J submit that the ordinary working week of employees has nothing whatever to do with prices. I shall illustrate my line of thought on this matter by mentioning some details of a film that was viewed by some honorable senators recently. It revealed the workings of various sections of a clothing factory. On many occasions, I have seen the operations performed in factories. In the film, a man was shown cutting out the collars for 300 shirts in three seconds. There was just one quick movement of the hand applied to an electric cutter. Unless one had seen the operation in a factory previously, one would probably not have known what was happening. When one man can perform such a task in a few seconds, there should be no need for a long working week. Surely the mechanization of industry should have the effect of getting work done more speedily and more efficiently. Every week, when honorable senators come to Canberra, they do the journey in a matter of hours, whereas, not long ago, it would have taken them as many days. Because of the mechanization of industry, one man can now do the work, not of two or three men, but of ten or perhaps twenty men.
At the present time, we are not so badly off even with high prices. That applies, at any rate, to all those whose wages are regulated according to the “ C “ series index. They are certainly a great deal better off than are those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners and people living on annuities. Persons in receipt of benefits under the Unemployment and Sickness Benefit Act are at a serious disadvantage. The rates payable under that act were fixed in 1945. A man who ‘becomes unemployed receives £1 5s. a week, together with an allowance of £1 a week for his wife. In 1945, the basie wage was £4 17s. a week. Thus, if we equate the payments under the act with the basic wage at its present level of £6 16s. a week, we find that the rate, instead of being £2 5s. a week for a man and his wife, should ‘be £3 3s. 6d. a week. The present discrepancy is 18s. 6d. a week. In Queensland, the workers have a genuine grievance regarding the operation of the Unemployment and Sickness Benefit Act. For years there was in operation in Queensland the Unemployed Workers Insurance Act, which I administered for a long period. Payments under that act were all related to the basic wage and, in addition, full allowance was made for northern and central regional payments. At present, a widow’s pension, class 1, is £1 17s. 6d. a week. In October, 1948, the basic wage was £5 17s. On the comparison of the present basic wage, a widow’s pension should be £2 3s. a week. Persons on fixed incomes and on pensions are the ones who are really suffering because of high prices, and for them something should be done as early as possible.
In Australia to-day we are passing through a period of inflation. It is clear that no individual has caused inflation. We cannot lay the blame at the doorstep of any one, and just as no individual began inflation, so no one, as an individual, can terminate it. People are looking to governments, particularly to the Commonwealth Government, to do something to control economic forces in such a way as to make for economic security. We have been told that inflation is due to the high prices being obtained for wool, wheat, metals and meat. The demand for those commodities in Australia is not great. The demand comes from outside Australia. It is due to our international trading that there is inflation in Australia to-day. Inflation can be remedied in this way : Pools can be established to provide for the needs of the people of Australia. There is no reason why there should not be a No. 1 pool and a No. 2 pool for wool. Prom No. 1 pool supplies of wool would be drawn for use at home. From No. 2 pool, wool would be exported. For my part, I am very pleased that the wool-growers are getting high prices for their wool, but those high prices are threatening the employment of thousands of persons in woollen mills and textile factories, as well as in retail industries. One of the greatest problems facing merchants and big departmental stores is to buy goods at a price which will be within the reach of the buying public.
Inflation can carry within it the seeds of its own destruction. An economic change can occur overnight, and we can pass almost immediately from a feast to a famine. While there is inflation, the people have no feeling of security. They know that at any time they may find themselves facing the opposite of inflation, which is an economic depression. Perhaps a majority of us here have vivid memories of the last depression. I can well remember when it was a common thing to see bright youths, who had obtained junior and senior passes at school, presenting themselves in hundreds for employment at the lowest kind of labouring work offering. Often, between 200 and 300 youths would offer themselves for one or two jobs. Those were the days when we saw men “ jumping the rattler “. Unable to pay their fare on the railways when travelling in search of work, they hid themselves on trains and, when discovered, sometimes served short terms of imprisonment. However, they had no alternative but to act as they did.
Quite recently, arrangements were made to guarantee the price of cotton. I can remember being in the main cottongrowing district of Queensland in 1934, and seeing as many as 60 men coming in on a train sitting on top of trucks. Most of them did not have even decent swags. If they had been arrested by the police they would have been thankful because at least they would have been given something to eat, and would have had a dry place to sleep at night. Some of them were engaged to pick cotton, and they were required to sleep in the open fields, for the reason that the cottongrowers did not themselves have houses to sleep in. Most of the growers were living in bag humpies to which had been applied a mixture of whiting and size.
Those were the days of the depression, and it is possible for us to pass again from a period of prosperity into a period of depression. There is no security for the people whether the country is passing through a period of inflation or a period of depression. The people have no choice as to which they will have, but they know that they want economic security. They would like the Government to take action to control prices, and to direct economic forces so as to guarantee them economic security.
We have been told that, because of the probability that about £500,000,000 will come into Australia from the sale of wool, the economy of the country may be seriously disturbed. It seems strange to me that we should be afraid of becoming prosperous. I am sure that the people are not afraid of prosperity. The only thing they fear is that the Government will fail to take action, legislatively and administratively, to protect them against the impact of inflation. If we are going to experience an even worse degree of inflation, let us prepare ourselves by looking at what is happening in America. In the press last week we were told of a conference of 7,000 bankers in New York on the subject of inflation. They were all scared to death. They all admitted that prices had risen by 25 per cent, since June of this year, that commercial bank loans had expanded by 2,500,000,000 dollars in three weeks, that prices would -rise by a further 10 per cent, this year, and that there was a great demand for farm land. American producers are not reaping the benefit of high overseas prices for wool, metal, meat and wheat. Inflation in the United States of America is vastly different from what it is in this country. Inflation in America may be due to preparation for war. I remind the Senate that, prior to the commencement of the World War II., there were 12,000,000 unemployed in that country. The entire economic structure not only of Australia, but also of the world generally, calls for some attention when people have to suffer, not only in times of depression, but also during periods of inflation. If our Constitution can be amended to include provision for the control of prices by the Commonwealth, that will be an important step towards establishing a measure of economic security.
– I congratulate Senator Bena upon his maiden speech. I am sure that all honorable senators have been impressed by his sincerity and moderation. In those respects his speech was in direct contrast to those of some of his colleagues in the Opposition. We have listened to a long succession of speeches by Opposition senators, and various aspects of this measure have been fully discussed. We have complete answers to all the Opposition’s arguments, most of which will not bear very close 1 examination. Our answers will be given at the appropriate time, which, I assure the Opposition, is not far distant.
In fact, some answers have already beengiven by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his broadcast last Friday night. The right honorable gentleman dealt with the situation in which this country finds itself to-day, and I believe that the proposed measures that he outlined will be adequate to deal effectively with what, admittedly is a dangerous situation. In view of the Government’s anxiety to proceed with legislation that it considers vital to the welfare of the people of Australia - I refer to the Communist Party Dissolution Bill - and in view of the Opposition’s declaration that the bill now before the Senate is an urgent measure, I move -
That the question be now put.
– The Standing Orders provide that an honorable senator submitting the motion : “ That the question be now put “ must do so without comment. Therefore, I rule the motion out of order.
– I move -
That the question be now put.
– I call Senator Arnold.
– I rise to order. The Chair has before it a motion by Senator McCallum - “ That the question be now put “. That motion was submitted without comment, and I ask you, Mr. President, to uphold the traditional procedure of this chamber by submitting Senator McCallum’s motion to the Senate.
- Senator Arnold was on his feet before Senator McCallum submitted his motion. Senator Arnold has the call..
– I, too, take this opportunity to offer my congratulations to Senator Benn upon his maiden speech in the Senate. His well-reasoned arguments, presented ably and with great clarity, were indeed a credit to one who is a newcomer to this chamber, The honorable senator has shown himself to be a decided acquisition to the Senate. As he has pointed out, we in this country are facing a grave problem which, if allowed to remain unsolved may result in financial and economic chaos. The problem is not new. It was foreseen years ago. When the Chifley Government held office, realizing the possible outcome of dangerous economic trends, it invited the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, then in Opposition, to join in an appeal to the Australian people to confer authority upon the Commonwealth to continue to administer prices control. That cooperation was refused either for party political purposes, or because of a genuine belief that the exercise of prices control by the Commonwealth was not the best method of tackling the situation. Honorable senators opposite succeeded in persuading people of this country to vote for the handing over of prices control to the States.
– And the States have failed badly.
– That cannot be denied. A negative vote was cast at the 1948 prices referendum in spite of the unfortunate experience of other countries that had removed prices control. Even at that time the anti-Labour parties realized that some form of control of prices was necessary, but they considered that the administration of such a control should be in the hands of the States and not of the National Parliament which, during the war years when hundreds of millions of pounds had been poured into the community, had kept the economy of this country stable. Opposing Labour’s referendum proposals, members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party said to the people of the Commonwealth “Do not trust the Commonwealth Parliament with those additional powers. Lot the States exercise them, and all will lie well “. Unfortunately the Australian people believed that, just as they believed the anti-Labour propaganda at the last election. Some day, the people of this country will pass judgment upon honorable senators opposite and their colleagues in the House of Representatives for their failure to implement their election promises. The Government knows, of course, that a problem of inflation exists to-day and that some form of prices control is necessary. Last year its supporters promised that if they were elected to office, they would restore value to the £1. They said that the purchasing power of the £1 was falling rapidly, and would continue to fall unless the Labour
Administration was dismissed. This Government has been in office now for ten months, but so far it has been able only to make excuses for its failures. Instead of inflation being curbed, the purchasing power of the £1 has slipped further and further. It is of little satisfaction to the Labour party to be able to say to the Government now, “ We told you three years ago that prices could be controlled only by the National Parliament “. Value can be restored to the £1 only by a repetition of Labour’s courageous action during the war years. Having waited for ten months for the Government to implement its election promise to put value back into the £1, the Opposition can wait no longer. We cannot sit idly by while the Government allows the Australian economy to reach a state of complete confusion.
Therefore, on behalf of the Opposition, Senator McKenna has introduced into this chamber a measure which, if successful in this Parliament and in the electorate at the subsequent referendum, will do much to arrest soaring prices. The measure is urgent. The necessity for it has been emphasized by Senator McKenna, and I agree with all that he has said. If we still believed that the Government intended to implement the promises on which it was elected to office on the 10th December, we should be prepared to wait a little longer. Having watched the months go by, one after another, with prices steadily getting further out of hand, we should be recreant to the trust imposed in us by the people if we failed to ask the Government to seek the authority of the people to vest in the National Parliament power to control prices. We all know what occurred in Germany and other European countries after the 1914-1S war. Week after week the German Reichsmark deteriorated in value until a wheelbarrow full of Reichsmarks was required for the purchase of a loaf of bread. The Australian people are now wondering how soon they, too, will need a wheelbarrow full of £1 notes to buy a loaf of bread. The time has long since passed when the Government should have applied the necessary remedies to halt the inflationary process. Senator Hannaford told us to-day that the Government has a scheme for the control of prices and that if we are only patient it will tell us what it proposes to do about the matter. I remind him that we have waited patiently for more than ten months for the Government to grapple with this problem, but without avail. The people should not be asked to wait any longer. The Government has said, in effect, “ If you will only give us a chance to develop our plans we shall take the necessary action We demand immediate action. In this bill the Opposition has suggested what steps the Government should take. We ask honorable senators opposite to support us in our attempt to bring about an alteration of the Constitution so that before this year ends the Commonwealth Parliament will be able to take effective action to control prices. We should not be asked to listen to mere promises to put value back into the £1. Action to do so should he taken immediately. If the Government is not prepared to take it, the Opposition is willing to do so in its stead.
The problem of inflation is by no means a new one. When the Labour Government was in office during the war years it poured out millions of pounds in the production of munitions of war which were ‘used solely for the purpose of destruction. The Labour party realized at that time that the utilization of the resources of the nation almost solely for war purposes would inevitably result in shortages of various kinds in later years. We realized that although money would be plentiful in the post-war years, grave shortages of commodities would occur and prices would rise accordingly as the supply failed to meet the demand. I realize that to a great degree the .causes of inflation have been beyond the control of this Government, but I condemn it foi- not having taken action of any kind to honour the promise so confidently made ten months ago by Government spokesmen that they would halt inflation and put value back into the £1. If in truth thi? leaders of the Government parties were only hoping to be able to do so, they should not have made such an extravagant promise. Having made it they are now looking for a way out. We suggest a way out for the Government in the bill that is now before us. In 1947 we foresaw the occurrence of the state of affairs that now exists. We knew then that our reliance on the defence power in time of peace would not survive a challenge in the High Court and that in relying on the defence power to control prices we were on very shaky ground. The officers of the Prices Branch also knew the insecurity of their position and naturally they sought other employment when the opportunity offered. Resignations of prices officials became so numerous and the problem of maintaining an efficient prices organization became so great that the Labour Government decided to take a referendum, of the people in order to ascertain whether or not they would clothe the Commonwealth Parliament with power to control prices. The issues were fully debated in this Parliament before they were placed before the people, and the ease for and against the proposal was given the greatest publicity during the referendum campaign. The members of the then Opposition, who now support the Government of this country, said to the people, in effect, “ There is no need, for the Commonwealth Parliament to have such a power. The States are able to undertake the task much more efficiently than is the Commonwealth “. We warned the people that it would be impossible for all States effectively to control the prices of goods manufactured or produced in only one State.
Let us consider the position that has arisen to-day as the result of divided control. Recently my wife and I passed a greengrocer’s shop and noticed that cauliflowers displayed in the window were offered for sale at 3s. My wife regarded that price as a bargain, but when we sought to buy a cauliflower at that price we found that the greengrocer was charging 3s., not for a whole cauliflower, but for half a cauliflower. One does not need to be a statistician to realize what is happening in the community. We have only to look at the shop windows to see the phenomenal heights to which the prices of vegetables and, indeed, of all commodities have risen under State control. The people of New South Wales depend to a large degree on Tasmania for potatoes and on Victoria for onions. Periodically we are told that potatoes and onions are unprocurable when we know that thousands of tons of those commodities are held in Tasmania and Victoria. “When presented with that fact greengrocers say, “ In New South Wales we are not permitted to sell onions at more than 4d. per lb. The fixed pi-ice in Victoria is higher and, naturally Victorian producers will not send supplies to New South Wales unless the local fixed price is raised “. What can the State governments do in the circumstances? They are forced either to deprive their people of a particular commodity ur to authorize a price rise which will attract exporters from other States. This is the state of affairs we expected would eventuate from divided control. We foresaw that under the State system of prices control goods would not flow freely from one State to another. Only by fixing uniform prices throughout the Commonwealth can this difficulty be overcome.
Time after time we warned the people that unless they agreed to vest in the Commonwealth power to control prices a state of chaos would eventually exist. It is no satisfaction for us to be able to say now, “We told you so”. The people having accepted the advice of the anti-Labour parties to leave the control of prices to the States, and the States having proved themselves totally incapable of dealing with the problem, we now ask that the people be given an opportunity to reconsider the matter again in the light of their experiences. The New South Wales Prices Minister, Mr. Finnan, has publicly stated that the States cannot effectively control prices. On that evidence alone the Government should be pressing on with a measure of this kind. Before the year has ended the people of Australia, with the combined support of the Government and Opposition parties, should be given an opportunity to decide whether or not this Parliament should be clothed with power to control prices. The more fortunate people in the community can well afford to wait a little longer for the Government to make up its mind on this subject; but the very large number of people in receipt of fixed incomes, to whom every price rise means a little less comfort and fewer of the things that make life more tolerable, cannot afford to do so. The 400,000 age and invalid pensioners are acutely conscious of the effect of uncontrolled prices on their standard of living. When this week they find they have to pay Id. per lb. for onions more than they paid last week, that an apple now costs them no less than 5d. and that the prices of all their requirements are increasing from day to day, they cannot afford to be tolerant. They remember the promise made by the spokesmen of the present Government during the general election campaign that if the anti-Labour parties were returned to office prices would be stabilized and value would be rostered to the fi.
Those who during their working life set aside money to provide for their old age, being too proud to accept assistance from the State, and tho,e who have taken out insurance policies or contributed to superannuation schemes so that they may be independent in their declining years, find to their dismay that every week the purchasing value of their income declines still further. How much longer are they to be asked to be tolerant? They want to know how much higher prices will rise before the Government is forced to take action to control them. With the greatest confidence the leaders of the anti-Labour parties said to the people during the last general election campaign, “If you return us to office we shall put value back into the £1 “. The majority of the people believing in their sincerity elected them to office in the confident expectation that they would at least do something to honour their promise. When the members of the Government parties stated that they would halt the spiralling of prices, and put back value into the currency, the people, in their helplessness, turned to them and gave them their allegiance. They expected the Government to honour its promises. To-day, those people are sadly distressed and disillusioned, because they reposed their trust in the Government. The people thought that before the year was out they would be in a better position than they were when the Labour party went out of office. It is of no great comfort to them, or to the Australian Labour party, for the Government to announce that they will now have to expect the sort of thing we suggested several years ago.
To-day, money appears to be slowly losing its value. When young people endeavour to erect their own homes, they are told that for a modest house of ten or eleven squares the cost will be approximately £2,000, When the plans and specifications arc drawn up, and a tender is received from the contractor, the £2,000 is found to have risen to £2,100. There is a rise and fall clause in the contract. Because the contractor may wait several months for bricks or for some other reason, when a commencement is made on the house, and the young people are overjoyed because they feel it will not be long before they have their own home, the contractor says to them, “ I am sorry, but an additional £100 has gone on to the cost of your house “. The young couple hope for the best as they watch, month after month, the erection of their home. Finally, they are informed they may occupy the house, by which time the cost has risen to perhaps £2,300 or £2,400. They are then faced with the problem of paying for the home, and buying furniture and food. To-day, with the spiralling of costs, and with the reduced value of money, they do not know from one week to another just how they will meet the commitments they have incurred.
People in small industries, who are buying and using materials from week to week, do not know what their costs will be. They may buy brass or steel this week, and next month when their order is delivered, find that an extra 5 or 10 per cent, has been added. Everybody is in the same position as the Government - one of complete hopelessness. The people :ire told to be patient, and that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has already indicated that he will- do something very soon. Presumably, the budget will reveal what action he intends to take. It is an extraordinary situation that the Parliament should have no inkling of what the budget contains, and has no right to have any inkling until it is presented, when every one else in Australia seems to know what is contained in it. When this problem of prices control is discussed in the Senate, Opposition members are told to be patient for a little longer and that the budget will put everything right. I am waiting very patiently to see what the budget contains, but I have-not very much hope, because I remember what ha.? happened during the last ten months. After the last general election I had a feeling that because the Government was so confident of its ability to put value into the £1 it must have some formula or some idea of what it would do. I thought it could not wilfully have gone to the people of Australia and told them so blatantly it would put value into the £1, unless it intended to do something about it. As time went on, I expected measures to be introduced in this Parliament designed to stop this spiralling of prices, but I have now arrived at the conclusion that the time has passed for hopeful waiting. Opposition members must take action and we have therefore presented to the Parliament legislation to control prices. We believe that if the Government will again impose prices control, something may be done to prevent further spiralling of prices.
Theoretically, it is true that whether there are shortages or not, it does not cost any more to produce commodities. If a person is manufacturing chairs the cost should not be affected whether they are in short supply or are plentiful. I defy any one to show me how the value of an article, such as a piece of furniture or something of that sort, is affected in the slightest degree because the article is in short or in plentiful supply. The value of the article should be the same in both sets of circumstances, but wo know very well that unless there is control of prices, and unless the Government protects the people against those who will make as much profit as possible, goods will become more expensive. The only way in which that can be overcome is by the re-introduction of prices control.
Government members say that because goods are in short supply they must automatically rise in cost. If we had an efficient prices control system, that would not happen.
The Senate has been told that when there is full employment the people have plenty of money, and there is no need for control of prices. It is contended that unemployment would solve the problem, because if prices rise too high there will be unemployment, and the situation will therefore tend to right itself. But that has not happened. The Government has allowed the situation to drift, until to-day it has become completely out of hand.
I am reminded of a form of control that was exercised a year or so ago, when the Labour party was in power. According to newspaper reports, although it is not yet within the knowledge of this Parliament, the Government is apparently proposing to re-institute capital issues control. Of course, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of those reports, as I take my information from the press of Australia. The Government has not been prepared to inform the members of this chamber or those of the House of Representatives, what it has in mind, although, if the newspaper reports are tobe believed, it is intending to re-introduce capital issues control. At the last general election members of the Government parties told the electors they believed in throwing aside every form of control. They stated that there should be no controls on industry, and that it should be free to operate as it wished. Now, although control of capital issues was removed a year or two ago, apparently the Government wisely intends to re-institute it. Unless the money that has been poured into this country and stored up awaiting opportunities for investment, is channelled into useful ventures, it will be used foi- purposes of speculation, and to compete for manpower with useful industries. The result will be that we shall not be able to purchase the commodities we require, build homes, buy timber or bricks and tiles, and that the man-power of Australia will be diverted to less useful employment I believe that if a capital issues board is set up, it will prove a very useful means of controlling our economy. Just how the Government proposes to do it. 1 do not know at this stage. Already many millions of pounds of capital have been poured into all sorts of ventures in Australia, particularly in industries producing luxury goods. That is understandable, because that is where the big profits are made. The prices control authorities of the States are not greatly concerned about the prices that are charged for luxuries. It is not considered that their production affects the economy of the country, and so those funds are channelled into avenues where they will return huge rewards to the speculators. There would be nothing wrong with that, if it were not for the fact that it takes away from useful industry man-power and materials which, at this stage of our economy, should be producing commodities that the Australian community requires.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting, I had dealt with the proposal of the Opposition that, at the earliest possible date, a referendum be held for the purpose of asking the people of this country to decide whether the National Parliament shall be given power to control prices. In stating the reasons why the Opposition regards this measure as urgent, I pointed out that when, two or three years ago, we tried to impress upon the Australian people the necessity of giving the National Parliament the right to control prices, the members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party told the people that the control of prices by the Commonwealth was neither necessary nor desirable and convinced them that prices control ought not to be the function of this Parliament and that it could be administered more effectively by the State parliaments. We now have ample evidence of how ineffective State prices control can be. During the last year, prices have increased to such a degree that the people have become distressed and alarmed. They are now wondering what action is to be taken to grapple with this problem.
Ten months ago the members of the present Government parties promised the Australian people that if they were returned to power they would not only check the prices spiral but would also proceed rapidly, as one of their first tasks, to put value back into the £1, but all that the Government has done has been to make vague promises about what it will do in the future. The people of Australia are not prepared to wait any longer for those promises to be implemented. It has been said that if we will wait a little longer we shall learn of the measures proposed in the budget to combat inflation. We are told months ago that the
Government had plans to prevent price increases, but nothing has been done, and the Opposition now feels that it would be recreant to the duty imposed upon it by the people if it did not present to the Parliament an. effective means of checking the prices spiral.
We regard this as a most urgent measure. The people are losing confidence in this Government. Their standard of living is being frittered away. It is easy for persons who are well cared for to sneer, but there are hundreds of thousands of people whose only income is the pension of approximately £2 a week that is paid by this Government and on that sum they have to feed, clothe and house themselves. The purchasing power of their pensions is diminishing daily. Is it any wonder that they are apprehensive and worried? Is it any wonder that they are losing confidence in the Government when, after ten months of promises, nothing has been done and the position is deteriorating still further ? We believe that if the Government, with the Opposition, went to the people of Australia and asked that the Commonwealth be given power to control prices in this country, the request would be acceded to. Then we should not be faced with the position of one State government trying to control prices in that State and producers in another State refusing to send their goods to it unless prices are increased and, when they do send them, obtaining a. better price than they would obtain in their own State, which is then faced with the threat of having to go without those goods unless it, in turn, increases prices. The hopelessness of the present position is revealed by the ‘fact that State Ministers are saying to the Australian people that they can no longer control prices effectively in six different States.
We have presented this measure to the Parliament, believing that if the Government is not prepared itself to do something, the Opposition should show the way. We believe that we ought to tell the people of Australia, by whatever means we can use, what the position is. I have been prompted to say that because of an incident that occurred in this chamber to-day. It was necessary for Senator McKenna to ask for leave to make a statement so that he could defeat the blackout that the Australian press has imposed upon him and which has prevented him from putting his views forward to the people of Australia. The Prime Minister made very serious accusations against Senator McKenna, who, wishing to reply to those accusations, distributed to the members of the press gallery in this Parliament copies of a considered reply. A complete blackout was imposed upon him by the press.
– The iron curtain.
– I agree. That is typical of the treatment that the Labour party receives at the hands of the press, which publishes statements and pronouncements of the Government and colours the news in favour of one political party. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this chamber has to ask the Senate for leave to make a statement because he has been unable to secure the publication of that statement in the press, is it not right foi- the Labour party to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to reach the people of Australia and to use whatever means of expression it can use to do so? It would appear that our right to freedom of expression is somewhat limited to-day.
The Opposition, regarding the present prices spiral as the most important problem facing Australia at the present time, and realizing that hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from the effects of that spiral - people who placed their confidence in a government which, ten months ago, promised that it would do something about it but which, up till now, has done nothing - believes that it has acted properly by presenting this measure to the Parliament. The Government has failed miserably to implement its promises. We ask it now to accept the lead given by the Opposition and to make some effort to control prices in Australia.
– Before dealing with the bill, I congratulate Senator Benn upon his very fine maiden speech. This measure is of the utmost importance to every Australian. The Government has accused the Opposition of deliberately wasting time by introducing it into the Senate, but surely, for every one of us - and I include honorable senators opposite - there is no subject more important than the present economic position of Australia to -which we could devote our attention. For ten months this Government has given us nothing but excuses, promises, and procrastination. It has been dodging and delaying, hoping, like Mr. Micawber, that something will turn up. It has been pointed out repeatedly that, in a country like Australia, the stabilization of the economy is of the utmost importance, but yet we have been told that the most important task facing us to-day is to ban a political party. We have been told by the Prime Minister in his broadcasts that if we do that we shall cure all the ills that now beset us, but the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey) differs from the Prime Minister, for he has said that defence is secondary in importance to the necessity to stabilize our economy, put value back into the £1, and insert in the Constitution a provision that will give the Australian Government, of whatever party it may be formed, power to- prevent the present terrific inflation and uncertainty and thus restore confidence to the people of this great country of ours. Of what use would it be for us to have a large and efficient army if the soldiers who were fighting overseas had in the back of their minds the fear that they would return to a country with an unstable economy? I remember the promises that were made to us when we went to war. We were told that we should come back to a land flowing with milk and honey and that everything would be right for us, but now we find that in every way the position is becoming more desperate. All the amenities that we were promised are receding into the background and our savings, deferred pay and war gratuity have lost some of their value.
The Prime Minister, when he assumed office, said that the law of supply and demand would operate and that it would bring prices down and cheapen the cost of living. When the Labour party was in power it did its best to bring to the notice of the people of Australia the disability from which it was suffering because of the limitations imposed upon it by the Constitution. It endeavoured to persuade the people that they should agree to an alteration of the Constitution to give the Commonwealth power to control prices. The Labour party’s case was that unchecked inflation would hit hardest of all those on fixed incomes, and those who were relying on pensions and other social service benefits, superannuation and insurance benefits, interest on Commonwealth bonds and other investments, repatriation benefits, deferred pay and the war gratuity. Many people saved money during the time of the depression when a £1 was really a £1. They put their hard-earned savings carefully away into a bank, invested them in securities or took out life insurance policies. They expected that their savings would provide them with certain amenities in their old age. But what is the position to-day of a person of 65 or 70 years of age who has a life insurance policy for £500 that it due to mature? During the dark days of the depression those people went to a lot of trouble and made sacrifices in order to pay their premiums. They looked forward to the day when their insurance policies would mature and they would be able to discharge mortgages on their homes or go for extended trips. To-day, however, the purchasing power of the proceeds of their insurance policies is only about half of what it was at that time.
With relation to the rents and prices referendum, we were convinced that the six States could not work satisfactorily together. Experience has shown that we were right. It has been proved that the States cannot do the job effectively. There has been considerable competition and bargaining among the States since the Commonwealth relinquished control of prices. In Tasmania no Victorian manufactured hardware is available to meet local requirements until specified quotas of timber and cement have been sent to Victoria. That is one of the great weaknesses in the present system of price fixing. When supporters of the present Government were sitting in opposition they claimed that these matters could be far more effectively dealt with by private enterprise than by the Government, and that if the referendum was defeated the position would be adjusted. automatically. But a look at the mess that the economy of this country is in to-day shows how erroneous that view was. Extraordinary things are happening. In Tasmania, which is one of the most important timber-producing States in Australia, millions of super feet of timber are being exported to places overseas, and to other Australian States, because of the greater profit margins received. The position now is such that we are compelled to import from Sweden large quantities of timber, in order that the housebuilding programme may proceed, and we are told that this is the right type of economy to have in Australia. The timber merchants in Tasmania have decided that only certain types of timber should be cut. As a result Tasmania is now importing more than 500,000 super feet of Swedish softwood each year for use as weatherboards. It was claimed during the referendum campaign that the natural law of supply and demand would prevail, but it is quite evident that the profit motive is uppermost in the minds of the timber merchants. In many instances the wishes of ex-servicemen and other home-seekers who desire to build their own homes or to extend existing buildings are being ignored completely. We have been told that the budget shortly to be presented to the Parliament will contain cures for all of our economic ills. However, it is common knowledge that already four or five attempts have been made by supporters of the Government to agree on what the budget should contain.
Since the present Government took office it has done nothing to honour its promises to the people to increase age, invalid and ex-service pensions, or to liberalize payments to social services recipients. Although the average basic wage is £7 a week, a married totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman receives a pension of only £5 6s. a week and an allowance of £1 4s. for his wife; a total of only £6 10s. a week. I point out that, since December, 1949, in Tasmania alone between 30 and 40 old diggers have passed on. The promised increases of pension were denied to them during the closing months of their lives. From day to day age and invalid pensioners who have been looking forward to the expected increases are being disappointed, and may not still be living by the time the increases materialize. The Government by its procrastination has denied to social services beneficiaries hundreds of thousands of pounds to date. Many honorable senators will recollect the criticism that was offered by supporters of the Government, when in opposition, of the measures that labour intended to take in order to control the economy of this country, and they will also recall the nature of the criticism of Labour’s desire to amend the Constitution to provide that the Commonwealth should continue to control prices. To-day there is a form of wages control in every State. There are both Commonwealth and State awards, and wages are fixed by determinations following conferences between the various parties.I point out, however, that although the amount that a man shall receive for his labour is fixed, there is no control of the value that he shall receive for his wages. That is the great weakness in the system. To-day the worker is fighting a continuing battle to bring home more money each week to his wife and children. Having brought his wages home he is entitled to a guarantee of their purchasing value, in terms of food, clothing comfort and amusement. I point out that in a wealthy country such as Australia is the cost of sport and recreation should be taken into consideration when the basic wage is being computed. Wages have little real value unless they are related to purchasing power. In times of high basic wages prices rise. Higher values have been placed on property, whilst rent and other charges have risen. Of what value are high wages unless the wage-earner can purchase the things that I have enumerated? In addition the wageearners should be enabled to make adequate provision for the education of their children, and for their old age.
Honorable senators have a good deal of knowledge about the plight of persons in fixed income groups. Whilst traders engaged in wholesale and retail businesses are able to adjust their prices and costs according to changing conditions, wage-earners, whether they be bank employees, factory bands, or white-collar workers, are penalized because the apportionment of their remuneration has been decided before they receive it. It is perfectly true that in many instances basic wage rises have not been granted until months after increases have occurred in everyday costs. The wage-earner is forced to chase laboriously after the increased cost of living. On the one hand, big business, because of its access to well-informed intelligence services, can look ahead, adjust costing, and make provision for contingencies in the light of trading trends overseas. As honorable senators know, big business undertakings are able to employ lobbyists in Canberra during parliamentary sessions to keep themselves fully informed about probable variations of tariffs and probable exchange fluctuations, as a result of which they are able to make adequate provision for the future. On the other hand, wage and salary earners, particularly those in the fixed income groups, must be content to plod along and wait for something to happen. In many instances they are penalized by having to wait perhaps twelve months for an adjustment in their remuneration according to increases that have occurred. Even small shopkeepers can effect immediate adjustments in order to offset increased prices for commodities. The wage and salary earners are always miles behind.
Very few bankruptcies have occurred in the ranks of big and small businessmen during the last twelve months. I have not heard of any major undertaking becoming insolvent in that period. Extraordinarily high dividends have been distributed, and in one instance the ordinary dividend paid by a. retail firm was 60 per cent., compared with 32.5 per cent, in the previous year The gross profit of that undertaking was £495,000, compared with £251,000 in the preceeding year. This is not an isolated example of soaring profits, but is indicative of the position generally. Big retail establishments, such as David Jones Limited in Sydney and the Myer Emporium Limited in Melbourne are showing huge turnovers, and in many instances the value of individual articles is not commensurate with their price.
The latest statistics issued by the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia show that deposits total £750,000,000. In normal times this would represent a tremendous purchasing power. However, due to the inflationary tendencies that have developed, these savings, which have been put away for a rainy day or for special purposes, have deteriorated in value. If something is not done to halt the spiralling of prices the spending power of these savings will decline still further. That is why Labour views this matter so very seriously and, because of its majority in this chamber, has taken the initiative and exercised its prerogative to bring to the notice of the people the lack of action, procrastination, and insincerity of the present Government, which has done no more during its ten months in office than to make extravagant promises. Night after night supporters of the Government have broadcast speeches in which they have claimed that the banning of political parties is the only remedy for a state of affairs that they themselves have brought about.
The value of the war gratuityhas steadily declined, and despite repeated representations by returned servicemen’s organizations the Government has refused to adjust the amounts payable so that the recipients would receive the same purchasing power as if the gratuity had been paid to them immediately following World War II. 1 point out that the gratuity was computed in 1945, on the basis of 2s. 6d. a day for overseas service and 6d. a day for service within Australia. It cannot be denied that 2s. 6d. would buy much more in 1945 than to-day. The purchasing value of the gratuity has declined by nearly 50 per cent., and therefore the token of esteem and gratitude that the Government of the day made to the ex-servicemen on behalf of the people of Australia has likewise deteriorated by 50 per cent., because of the present Government’s inability to put value back into the £1.
This Government has been totally unable to stabilize the economy of this country. Let us consider the promises that supporters of the Government made to the people in relation to the farmers and those engaged in industry. They claimed that if the present Government parties were elected to office they would remove subsidies and all controls and that there would be an “ open go “ for everybody. Let us see how this, has affected Western Australia and. Tasmania which, because of their isolation, are somewhat differently situated from the other States. Tasmania has to import wheat but, because the Commonwealth no longer subsidies freight charges on wheat, the Government of Tasmania has to subsidize wheat freights as an alternative to allowing the price of bread to be increased by a loaf. Formerly, potato production in Tasmania was subsidized by an amount of £25,000 a year, by means of assistance in freight charges on superphosphate. Now, although we are told that production should be increased, the subsidy has been withdrawn. Farmers cannot be expected to increase production unless an adequate price is paid for their product, or unless they are assisted in some other way, such as by the payment of a subsidy on fertilizers.
I wish now to refer to extravagant press and radio advertising by big commercial enterprises. We have been told that in business the law of supply and demand operates, I wonder whether any one has worked out the cost to the firms concerned of the radio session known as “Sharing the wealth jackpot “. On one night recently £600 was given away as a single prize, and before the night was out another prize of £S0 was awarded. When w c consider the salaries paid to such radio personalities as Jack Davey, and to Bob Dyer in the session sponsored by the Atlantic Union Oil Company Limited it becomes apparent how much certain firms are paying away for advertising.
It seems extraordinary that when commodities are scarce thousands of pounds should be spent in advertising them, although every one is quite prepared to buy. As for petrol, surely the best form of advertising that any company could employ would be to reduce the price. The major oil companies, by mutual arrangement, determine the price of petrol, and I cannot see how the law of supply and demand operates in regard to that commodity. I am sure that if an oil company were to reduce the .price of petrol by 2d. a gallon, it would be able to sell all the petrol it wanted to sell without the trouble of advertising at all. Nevertheless, night after night, some of the oil companies throw money down the sink in the form of advertising sessions. Whether it is to disguise their profits or to avoid taxation I do not know. Certainly, much of the advertising is deliberately wasteful, seeing that it relates to commodities which are so scarce that prospective buyers have to wait twelve months to obtain supplies.
The Government has made a grave error in regard to civilian rehabilitation. During and after the war, a very fine rehabilitation service was set up for thepurpose of restoring maimed and invalid persons to health and usefulness. The organization was originally established for the rehabilitation of men suffering from wai- injuries, and it was extended by the former Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna), to include the rehabilitation of civilians. Many thousands of persons now in receipt of invalid pensions could be restored to usefulness by proper treatment. Now the Government, apparently with the idea of saving money, has curtailed the service formerly rendered to physically disabled members of the community. It is false economy. Since 1949, no fewer than 1,400 persons have been reclaimed from the pension list through the rehabilitation service. They are now earning their own living and have had their selfrespect restored. In addition, several hundreds of thousands of pounds a year are saved in pensions. The whole rehabilitation service was costing only £250,000 a year, but the direct saving to the Treasury over a period would have been enormous. Perhaps the Government’s new policy is in keeping with the attitude expressed recently by the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner), when he said that it was time that the pensioners were put to work. If this new policy is part of the Government’s programme for putting value hack into the £1, it seems to me that the Government is taking a mean advantage of an unfortunate section of the community.
Frequent references have been made in this chamber and in the House of Representatives to recent dealings in currency. We have heard much talk about “ hot ‘r dollars and “ cold “ sterling. It seems significant that this movement of currency began only after the visit of the
Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) to London and New York, Would we be justified in assuming that some arrangement was made with the big financiers in Britain and America, which has led to this dealing in currencies? There is also the extraordinary fact that it was thought necessary to borrow 100,000,000 dollars at a time when, in the United States of America and Canada, there is a tremendous demand for Australian currency and Australian securities. Do not such transactions produce dollars for Australia ? It seems wrong that a country like Australia, which possesses vast assets, should have to borrow money abroad, while overseas investors are eagerly buying Australian securities.
The Government has claimed great credit for having obtained a loan for 3 00,000,000 dollars. The present dealings in currencies reminds me of the operations of certain shrewd financial manipulators who operated in Paris, London and New York a few years ago. They smuggled sterling into France and converted it into French francs, which were then greatly depreciated. They then transferred their credits to Switzerland, which had a stable currency, and used them for the purchase of watches for export to the United States of America. Thus, Swiss francs were converted into dollars, and the dollars were then sent across to London and turned into sterling. The financial manipulators were in that way able to make a profit of millions of francs with no greater effort than that involved in transferring currency from one country to another. So great did the scandal become that the Government of the United Kingdom had to step in and put a stop to the transactions but before the traffic was ended many prominent persons in Great Britain were heavily fined for breaking the regulations. We have been told that no less than £300,000,000 has been transferred to Australia recently in the course of currency transactions, and it would appear that a profit of something in the vicinity of £75,000,000 has been obtained by the manipulators. Such transactions did not take place when a Labour Government was in office, and when the situation was watched closely by the Commonwealth Bank and its advisers. -Senator Gorton and other Government supporters have had a good deal to say about production. Senator Benn pointed out that there was no truth in the charge that production has declined in Australia. As a matter of fact, production in Australia has increased in the last decade more than in any other country. The value of factory production in Australia during the last .160 years totalled more than £1,000,000,000. In Australia to-day we manufacture everything from 12,000-ton ships to instruments capable of measuring one-millionth of an inch. In 1939, there were 26,000 factories in Australia, whereas last year the number was 37,467. During the same period, the number of factory employees increased by 42 per cent., and capital assets increased in value from £274,000,000 to £382,000,000, an increase of approximately 39 per cent. The value of secondary production increased in that period from £203,000,000 to £412,000,000. The increase in value and quantity of output was 102 per cent. That, in my opinion, is a convincing reply to the allegation that, because of the machinations of the “ Commos “, Australian workmen are not producing as much as they should produce. The average Australian workman to-day, particularly in the heavy industries of which I have some knowledge, is as good as his counterpart in any other part of the world. Like the Australian soldier, he is skilled, adaptable, versatile, and full of initiative. He will do his best provided that he is given the incentive and the opportunity to work.
The present Government parties promised, that if elected to office, they would eliminate waste and extravagance; but, we find that expenditure in 1949-50 was £606,000,000, compared with £554,000,000 in 1948-49, an increase of £52,000,000. The Government has been subjected to pressure from various sections of the community, including financial interests, the wool barons, and the press. We are told that the Government’s budget for the current financial year will cure our economic ills, but how honorable senators opposite can hope to satisfy everybody I do not know. The Labour Government made no attempt to please everybody. What it set out to do, and in fact did very well, was to stabilize the Australian economy, improve social services, and keep extravagance and waste at a minimum. Supporters of the present Administration made many election promises last year. I have before me an advertisement which includes the sentence, “ Ten sound reasons why every woman should vote Liberal on the 10th December “. The advertisement appeared in Woman of the 20th November, 1949. One of the alleged “ sound reasons “ for electing the present Administration was that the cost of living would be reduced. In what way has the cost of living been reduced since December, 1949 ? Another “ sound reason “ was that wage standards would be maintained ; but owing to the falling purchasing power of the £1 wage standards have not been maintained. The people were promised too that social services would be maintained. We are still waiting for some action on that promise. If the present situation is to be remedied and chaos averted, action must be taken quickly. Otherwise, the people will take the matter into their own hands, and demand a referendum on prices control or an immediate change of government. We have been told frequently that value would be restored to our currency if workers produced more. A few decades ago, workers laboured for up to 60 hours a week. The working week has been progressively shortened since then, but the introduction of machines and mass production methods have enabled output to keep up with demand. There is no longer any need for men to work for as many hours each week as their fathers and grandfathers worked ; yet, addressing the State Council of the Liberal party at Launceston, not long ago, the federal president of the organization said that, in his opinion, if the Australian workers tackled their task realistically and were prepared to revert to a 56-hour week, the present economic situation would improve immediately. Surely that was an extraordinary statement. Hours of labour have nothing to do with costs and prices. It is the work done in those hours which counts.
We have been told that the Government proposes to tackle the problem of inflation in the near future. An excess profits tax is to be introduced. But it is not sufficient merely to collect taxes from profiteers after excessive prices have been charged and an intolerable burden has been placed on those in receipt of fixed incomes. That is tantamount to closing the stable door after the horse, has bolted. We have been told, too, that the Government proposes to exercise certain banking controls, but how can banking controls be exercised unless the Government controls the Commonwealth Bank? We have always been led to believe that the present Government parties are opposed to governmental controls and it seems strange indeed that they should now be proposing to re-introduce certain controls: The wool industry is to be regulated by the imposition of a tax on exports of wool ; but we have not been told how or when this will be done. It is just another one of those things that the Government is going to do. What is the Government’s general plan to tackle the problem of inflation? Has it such a plan? If so, when will we be told of it? Clearly, an overall emergency plan is required now. Action must be taken immediately if the process of inflation is to be halted. The situation cannot be met by a series of disjointed measures. There must be a master plan which includes prices control. The aim of this bill is to meet the deficiency caused by the defeat of the prices referendum at the instigation of supporters of the Liberal party and the Australian Country .party in 1947. The Opposition is seeking a guarantee that the standard of living of the people of this country will be commensurate with increased production, and the higher profits that are being made. There is an urgent need for co-operation between a” parties to fight the evils of inflation.
Dealing with present-day conditions, the annual report of the Tariff Board for 1949-50, which has just been circulated to honorable senators, contains several interesting passages. It should be remembered that members of that board are skilled in analysing economic trends. On the subject of the devaluation of the Australian currency, the report states -
Just as the depreciation of Australian currency has increased our. immunity from United States nf America and Canadian competition. it has increased the immunity nf United Kingdom exporters and. even without import restrictions, has increased the value to them of the preferences provided in the Australian Tariff. The present conditions should not be regarded as permanent, but while they exist they provide, to varying degrees, an unparalleled opportunity for an attack on costs.
Costs mean prices. The Government has an opportunity now to introduce an overall plan to attack this great problem before it is too late. The report continues -
The rises in costs in Australia are duc to many causes. High export prices for primary products continue: the demand for many commodities exceeds the supply, forcing up prices; the shortage of labour is responsible for competitive bidding by employers.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important factors in increasing costs to-day is competition amongst employers for the available labour. Female employees particularly are being attracted away from essential industries such as fruitpreserving in which award wages are paid, to luxury industries which have unlimited access to the spending power of the public, and can thus offer higher wages. The report continues -
Shortages of raw materials force manufacturers to use more expensive substitutes or import such materials from overseas at higher prices.
The concluding passage on this subject is as follows : -
The continuing rise in costs and prices is the most serious problem facing Australian manufacturers. The persistence of this upward ti end, at a time when there is evidence of more stability overseas, may create competitive conditions less favorable to local industry than those that have existed since the war. It is al] the more necessary, in the circumstances, Unit the attack on costs be intensified.
We have endeavoured to show the urgency of this measure. We have illustrated clearly the instability of our economy and the fear that is in the minds of the Australian people. Such instability and fear are ready breeding grounds for communism and other “isms “. The fear that is abroad in this country to-day is similar to that which obsessed the minds of the German people when inflation got out of hand after World War I. I saw evidence of similar fears in China and Japan after World War II. In Shanghai the people lost confidence in their leader, Chiang Kai-shek, and his Government, and in the Bank of China. The purchasing power of the Chinese dollar had deteriorated to such a degree that almost a sugar-bag full of dollars was needed to pay for a few sections on a tram. For days, the position was so hopeless that conductors made no attempt to collect fares. I should not like to see anything like that happen in this country. I do not think that it will happen, because long before such a state of affairs was reached, the Australian people would rise in righteous wrath and throw out any government that refused to take remedial action. That may be the fate of this Administration if it does not soon set to work to rectify the present situation. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has elaborated over the air and in the press his fourteen-point programme to curb inflation. The wool tax plan, which is to be included in the budget, has been furiously debated. Representations have been made in regard to it, by both telegram and letter, not only to members of the Labour party, but also to Government supporters. It has been said that the plan will not be brought into operation unless it is agreed to by the wool-growers. How the Government expects to obtain the co-operation of the wool-growers I do not know. Probably the Government will finally decide to impose a fixed levy, a measure which the Prime Minister said he would not resort to if he were elected to office. The Government is again reversing its form. It also proposes to establish a basic materials control. When we were in office we were told that the Labour Government was punch-drunk with power and that it instituted controls for the sake of control. What basic materials does the Government propose to control, and how will they be controlled? Will iron, steel, cement and timber be controlled, and how will the Government go about its task? During the war, the Labour Government, notwithstanding that it had the requisite authority under its defence power, had the greatest difficulty in controlling basic war materials. Unless we secure the co-operation of the big industrial corporations, these controls will be in word only. We were also told that with the restoration of free competition price levels would adjust themselves. Do honorable senators opposite realize how big manufacturing concerns operate their businesses? Do they realize that manufacturing concerns dictate the prices at which the commodities they produce shall be sold, and that as a consequence there is no real competition between them? Do they realize that the eight or nine shipping companies that operate on the Australian coast have reached an agreement on freight rates and that all of them charge exactly the same freight rates? We were told that return to free competition would eliminate arrangements of that kind, but in practice we find that the big monopolies decide what charges they will levy on the people. Those charges are strictly adhered to. The large shipping companies have mapped out the spheres in which each shall engage. They have organized an interchange of transhipments. Some of the big English companies which have subsidiary control of our Australian companies frequently over-carry transhipment cargoes. They have established large depots in Sydney and Melbourne. In many instances, consignments are unloaded from the overseas vessel and loaded on interstate ships, which take them back to the ports from which they have been over-carried. Yet, we have been told that, given a free hand, private enterprise would co-operate with the Government. We know from bitter experience that manufacturers, for their own protection, have decided that the age of cut-throat competition has ended, and they have mapped out the spheres in which each will operate. Certain manufacturing concerns do not trade in Tasmania because trade in that State has been allotted to another organization. Similarly, other concerns do not operate in Queensland because the trade in that State has been allotted to others. If given a free hand, manufacturing interests co-operate with one another and institute a system of trading which is solely for their own benefit. Thus they are able to earn large profits for their shareholders.
The crux of this matter is whether there is still time in which to tackle this problem. If the Government procrastinates any longer, a situation that will have very serious consequences to Australia may develop. It is of no use for the Government to blame political organizations such as the Communist party or any other political party, for the inflation that now exists in this community. Time and time again in answer to questions Ministers say, in effect, “ Curse the Commos ; they got us into this mess”; but they know that all over the world signs of unrest are visible and forces are at work which may bring this country to ruin. Unless the Government acts promptly we shall rush headlong towards another depression. I have great pleasure in supporting this bill. I impress upon the Government the utmost importance of acting quickly. Time is the most important factor in any action that it may take. It is of no use for it to attempt to defer this request of the Labour Opposition that the people should be asked by referendum whether or not they will agree to clothe the Commonwealth Parliament with power to make laws relating to the control of prices. If our request is not acceded to, the Government will have only itself to blame.
Motion (by Senator McCallum) put -
That the question be now put.
The Senate divided. (The Deputy President - Senator. T. M. Nicholls.)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative-
-This hill should be apposed because it is a mere time-wasting device. Every argument in its favour has been advanced by Opposition speakers over and over again. We have sat silent because Senator McKenna who introduced it said that it was a matter of urgency. Opposition senators by repeating ad nauseum every platitude they could possibly utter have shown that they do not consider it a matter of urgency. Not one glint of solid argument was adduced except in the maiden speech of Senator Benn. The speeches of other honorable senators opposite have been unimaginative and dull to the point of being boring. I protest against the majority in this chamber wasting the time of the Senate and acting as political saboteurs in a-n attempt to prevent us from carrying on the government of the country. I urge honorable senators opposite to press on with the vital business before the Senate.
– I rise to order. I regard the expression “ political saboteurs “ as offensive to me, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– The dictionary definition of the word is not offensive.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - Order! Senator Aylett regards the term as offensive to him and I therefore ask Senator McCallum to withdraw it.
– I have uttered no offensive words, and accordingly I refuse to withdraw.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- Then I name the honorable senator.
– I rise to order.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- No point of order is involved. I have named Senator McCallum, and I now ask him to stand in his place and to make such apology or explanation as he may think fit.
– The only ex- planation I have to make is that the phrase complained of is not offensive. The words “ political saboteur “ simply mean a person who is wasting the time of the Senate. They can mean nothing else. To-d.ay I listened in silence to Senator
McKenna making the most offensive remarks about the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). I have used the term in its dictionary meaning and, accordingly, it cannot be characterized as offensive. It is a descriptive term.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order ! I call upon the Leader of the Opposition to move the necessary motion.
– I rise to order. Standing Order 418 provides -
No Senator shall use offensive words against either House of Parliament or any Member of such House-
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Read the remainder of the standing order about imputations.
– I was about to do so. The standing order continues - or of any House of a State Parliament, or against any Statute, unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal, and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on Members shall be considered highly disorderly.
I submit that Senator McCallum has used no words that could be said to be offensive words against any member of this Senate. I think I am entitled, sir, to put my objection. If you, Mr. Deputy President, hold that the words used are offensive-
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- I certainly do.
– Against whom?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Against the honorable senator I have named - Senator McCallum. He had the opportunity to withdraw.
– I suggest with respect that he has not used offensive words against himself, Mr. Deputy President.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- I happen to be in the chair, and I am the judge of that.
– I am also entitled to make a submission, and I submit that you should listen to that submission.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order !
– I rise to a point of order.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order ! There can be only one point of order at a time. Senator Spicer is now speaking to his point of order.
– That is so. I have risen to a point of order and I desire to make my submissions in relation to that point of order. It is quite clear that Senator McCallum has not used offensive words against himself. I take it that you do not suggest that, Mr. Deputy President. Further, it is not possible to say that he has used offensive words against Senator Aylett. There must be some limit to this standing order.
– The words are offensive to me, interpret them as you will.
– That is not the point. Many words are uttered on the other side of this chamber which are offensive to me, but they are not offensive words under the standing order. I invite you, sir, before you make a final decision on this matter, to peruse May’s Parliamentary Practice on this subject. My recollection is that there are two or three pages in which are set out the type of words falling within this standing order, that is, words which are of their nature offensive against a particular member.
– Or members.
– No. The reference must be against a particular member. Time and again since I have been in the Senate on this occasion, members on the other side of the chamber have described members on this side as fascists. That is offensive to me, but I cannot bring myself to get up and say that those words come within the terms of this standing order. They are not offensive in themselves and they are not directed against an individual. With great respect, I suggest there is nothing in what Senator McCallum has said which could be regarded as the use by him of offensive words against Senator Aylett.
– Let the honorable senator come outside and call us saboteurs.
– In those circumstances, I submit no breach of the standing order has been committed.
– I rise to a point of order. I take it, Mr. Deputy President, that you have already given a ruling on this particular incident.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT . - That is so. I gave Senator McCallum the opportunity to withdraw, but he did not accept it.
– I take it, further, that once having given a ruling on this matter, it is not in order for the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) or any one else to raise a point of order on your ruling. If he disagrees with your ruling, he must move disagreement with it; but as the ruling has already been given, nobody has the right to raise a point of order on what you, Mr. Deputy President, have already ruled.
– I call upon the Leader of the Opposition to move the necessary motion.
– to a point of order. Having regard to the proceedings to date and to what has just been said, your ruling has not yet been given complete effect. I submit it is still within your discretion, Mr. Deputy President, whether you carry out to the limit what apparently is in your mind, or whether you pay heed to the representations made to you that the words complained of are not, in fact, offensive within the terms of the standing order. Unless they are offensive within the terms of the standing order - that is, personally offensive to and reflective upon the character of an individual - they do not incur the penalties of the standing order in question. The honorable senator about to incur, the penalty of your wrath has explained-
– It is not my wrath. It is his own action.
– explained that he used the word “ saboteur “ in its dictionary meaning. I think originally the word referred to French workers who threw something into machinery to stop it from working properly. If Senator Aylett’s conscience is pricking him and he feels he is throwing a spanner into the machinery of government, Senator McCallum can hardly be blamed. I do suggest, sir, that you pay heed to the explanation given with all respect by Senator McCallum that he did not impute any personal impropriety to any member of the Opposition.
– I call upon Senator Ashley to move the necessary motion.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) put -
That Senator McCallum be suspended from the sitting of the Senate.
The Senate divided. (The Deputy President - Senator T. M. Nicholls.)
Majority . ….. 8
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Senator McCallum thereupon withdrew from the chamber.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! No objection canbe taken to my ruling at this stage. The AttorneyGeneral knows as well as I do that objection to a ruling must be taken at the time the ruling is given, not afterwards. I call Senator Sandford.
Senator Spicer. - Mr. Deputy President
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order! I have called Senator Sandford.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! No point of order is involved at this stage.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - What is the point of order?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order! The Attorney-General cannot reflect upon a vote of the Senate.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - The vote was very definite, and upheld my ruling.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT .- Order! There is no point of order involved at this juncture. I call Senator Sandford.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order! I ask the Attorney-General to resume his seat.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order ! There is no point of order involved.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Definitely.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- At this juncture, I do.
– From the actions of honorable senators opposite, it is obvious that they are endeavouring to make a farce of this chamber and to use every possible subterfuge.
– I rise to order. The statement that I am making a farce of this chamber and indulging in subterfuge is offensive to me. In accordance with your previous ruling, Mr. Deputy President, I ask for an unqualified withdrawal.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! The incident is closed. I ask Senator Sandford to proceed with his speech.
– Mr. Deputy President
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! There is no point of order involved.
– Mr. Deputy President
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order! I ask Senator Wright to resume his seat.
– I rise to a point of order.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Senator Wright, if you continue to disregard the ruling of the Chair, I shall name you.
– I have regarded your ruling, Mr. Deputy President. I am exercising my right as a senator occupying a seat in this chamber to rise to a point of order.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - I have ruled that no point of order is involved. You can disagree with that ruling if you wish.
– May I be heard before you finally decide that question?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order ! Are you disagreeing with my ruling ?
– I wish to be heard before you finally decide that question.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - I have ruled that no point of order is involved in the remarks to which you took exception. I ask you to resume your seat. I call upon Senator Sandford to continue with his speech. The incident is closed.
– I rise to order.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order! There is no point of order involved.
– I rise to a point of order. I wish to disagree with your ruling that Senator Wright resume his seat.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- The question is that my ruling be disagreed with.
– I thought you said there was no point of order involved.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - If you wish to disagree with my ruling, the motion of dissent must be submitted in writing and at once.
– Then you do agree that there is a point of order involved?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order! Are you disagreeing with my ruling?
– Before I go any further, I wish to know whether you agree that there is a point of order involved.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Are you dissenting from my ruling?
– I am. Do you agree that there is a point of order involved in that?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - I have already ruled that no point of order is involved.
– If you have ruled that no point of order is involved, what would be the use of submitting my motion in writing?
– It is obvious where the political saboteurs are.
Government members rising,
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Order! The incident is closed.
– I rise to order. I do not rise for fun or for a joke. I strongly object to the words used by Senator Sandford, and I ask that they be withdrawn.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - I ask Senator Sandford to withdraw the remark to which Senator Kendall has taken exception.
– I withdraw and apologize. Before I was rudely interrupted, I was about to congratulate Senator Benn upon his very fine and constructive maiden address. 1 am sorry that the proceedings of the Senate are not being televised. If they were, the people of Australia would have seen the incident that has just occurred. They would also have seen honorable senators opposite, who are supposed to be responsible ‘members and supporters of a responsible Government, maintaining a stoney silence upon this vital and urgent measure that we have submitted to the Parliament, and apparently taking part in a sit-down strike, possibly acting under orders. They have decided that they will not say anything about a problem that vitally affects the Australian people.
– The honorable senator is waiting until next Monday, when he will get his instructions from the outside junta.
– Senator Guy would not know how to follow instructions if he were given any. Never before in the history of political endeavour in this country have so many witnessed for so long so much indecision, inaction and inertia as has been displayed by the Menzies-Fadden Government. That clearly indicates that what I have said before is still perfectly true; that is, that from the political point of view, Mr. Menzies, the present Prime Minister of Australia, has never faced an enemy or successfully faced an issue. During the last ten months this Government has done nothing tangible to further the interests of the people as a whole or to implement the rash promises that were made by members of the present Government parties during the last general election campaign.
One of the most urgent problems to be dealt with at the present time is the inflationary spiral that is depriving the Australian people - mainly the Australian workers, because they are suffering most - of the fruits of their labours. Prices of all commodities are rising continuously throughout Australia, but all that some senior members of this Government have done has been to bask in the sunlight of overseas publicity. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Spender) is overseas now. I read in the press recently that he has advocated the destruction of certain forces in Asia. That indicates to me that a very apt title for the honorable gentleman would be “ Pistol Packing Percy “.
– What has this to do with the bill?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order! Senator Sandford must connect his remarks with the bill. I point out that Standing Order 418 provides that no honorable senator shall reflect upon any member of the other House.
– I have not done so. I am endeavouring to point out that senior Ministers of the MenziesFadden Government, especially the Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs, are devoting more attention to obtaining overseas publicity for themselves than to finding a solution of a problem that is of vital importance to the Australian economy. The Government has failed to make available to the Australian people the pharmaceutical and medical benefits for which provision was made by the Chifley Government prior to the 1949 general election. We are now witnessing the spectacle of the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) - I think he could be more aptly referred to as Sir “ Blank “ Page - continually retreating before the British Medical Association and depriving the people of this country, especially low wage earners, pensioners and the aged, sick and infirm, of the medical and pharmaceutical benefits to which they are justly entitled.
One of the principal pre-election promises made by Mr. Menzies and Mr. Fadden was that, if they were returned to power, they would put value back into the £1. What has been done by the Government to implement that definite promise? There was no equivocation. They did not say that they would try to do it; they said that they would do it. They said that they had a concrete plan to put more value into the £1 and increase the purchasing power of wages. The Prime Minister, in his policy speech, said that the present Government parties, if they were returned, would - he did not say, “ will try “ or “ may “ - reduce living costs and increase real wages. He did not say that he and his supporters would endeavour to work out a plan; he said that they actually had a practical plan for increasing the purchasing power of wages, reducing the cost of living and putting value back into the £1. The Government has done absolutely nothing to implement that promise. In replying to questions asked by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, Ministers invariably refer to communism. The Communist Party Dissolution Bill is being used by the Government to hide its sins of omission.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order!’ The honorable senator cannot discuss the Communist Party Dissolution Bill at this stage.
– I am pointing out that the only answers we get from Ministers when we ask what the Government proposes to do to put value back into the £1-
– Stop this cant.
– Keep quiet, “ Never Ever “ Wright. When we ask what the Government intends to do to put value back in the £1, we are met with the old talk about the Communist Party Dissolution Bil] and are told that the actions of the Communist party in Australia are preventing the Government from implementing its promises. The Communist question is being used by the Government to evade doing its duty to the people and to pull wool over the eyes of the electors. The Government is endeavouring to induce the people to believe that if that bill were passed, all the trouble caused by rising prices would disappear. Will any honorable senator opposite deny that the measure we are now discussing, which is designed to enable a referendum to be held at which, the people can say whether they want the Commonwealth again to control prices, is a vital measure? If honorable senators opposite were truthful, they would admit that this is a most vital and urgent matter for the people of Australia as a whole. However, they continue to make excuses and to blame the Communists for rising prices. If they were sincere, they would admit readily that the Government could have banned the Communist party three months ago. The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) must admit thai that is so. At the moment, he is reading the Standing Orders, taking little interest in what I am saying, and doubtless will raise another point of order directly.
– I rise to order. I understood that the honorable senator was addressing himself to the most urgent measure in the mind of the Opposition, the Constitution Alteration (Prices) Bill.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Senator Sandford should confine his remarks to the bill before the Senate.
– I contend that this question is irrevocably bound up with high prices, at least for the purpose of this debate.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- The honorable senator is in order mentioning that aspect in passing, but he may not deal with the merits and demerits of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill at this stage.
– I am not dealing with the merits or demerits of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. All that I am saying is that the arguments of honorable senators opposite are fictitious, because they could have banned the Communist party three months ago. The plain fact is that that measure was not aimed at certain people, but at the Australian Labour party. However, the wish is father to the thought. There will not be any split in our ranks over this issue.- It is not causing us nearly so much concern as the suggested revaluation of the £1 is causing the Government. I remind the Senate that this measure is to enable the holding of a referendum to alter the Constitution to give the Commonwealth power to control prices. The Prime Minister has stated that this subject is of first-class importance, and, according to the Minister for National Development (Mr. Casey), it is more important at this stage than defence. Yet, during this debate, as I have already mentioned, not one Government supporter has spoken to this measure to-day.
– Does the honorable senator think that the Opposition will be able to last until Monday?
– Senator Gorton is apparently incapable of speaking on the matter at all. As I have already stated, if the proceedings of this chamber were being televised, the people of Australia would be able to witness the amazing spectacle of Government senators sitting in their places, some half asleep, and others reading books and newspapers, while such an urgent matter is before the Senate. The Labour Opposition in this chamber is endeavouring to do something tangible to halt rising prices. The bill being debated is one to enable the people to decide by referendum whether control over prices, similar to that that was exercised during wartime, should be vested in the Commonwealth. Honorable senators will recollect that prices were effectively controlled by the Commonwealth prior to the referendum that was held in 1948. It cannot be denied that during the period that the Commonwealth exercised control over prices, the economic stability of this country was greater than that of any other country in the world. Immediately prior to the referendum on rents and prices held on the 29th May, 194S, supporters of the present Government went out on the hustings, and did all that they could to persuade the people to vote against the proposal. The present Prime Minister said publicly in Sydney in the early part of that campaign, “ If we defeat the referendum we will defeat the Chifley Labour Government”. That is all that they wanted to do. However, during its ten months in office the present Government has done nothing whatever to halt rising costs. All that it has done has been to make payments to its friends. An outstanding example of that is its attempt to re-establish the Commonwealth Bank Board, and to hand back to the people who helped it during the last general election campaign, control of the financial system of this country.
Although the people are so alarmed about the continued rise of prices, it has remained for the Australian Labour party to take the initiative to do something tangible to control prices. Almost daily the newspapers contain reports of additional increases, the most recent being increases of fares, freights, and everyday household commodities, which have reduced considerably the purchasing power of the wages of the workers. Even the Melbourne Herald - which is not a pro-Labour newspaper - stated in its leading article on the 4th October, “ Inflation must still be faced “. That is evidence of the fact that all sections of the community consider that the Government should take steps to check inflation. The article concluded with these words -
The Government must still go further in building a fully effective anti-inflationary programme, if it is to make good its undertaking to raise the purchasing power of money.
I do not suggest that the control of prices is the be-all and end-all of the matter. The Opposition does not suggest that prices control would cure all of our economic and financial ills. However, it is one of the fundamental and vital ingredients towards restoring the economic stability that was enjoyed in this country during the regime of the Chifley Labour ‘ Government. What is wrong with allowing the people to decide the issue?
The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) asked why the
Opposition wished to persist with this matter in view of the fact that it would take at least two or three months before it could be referred to the people by referendum. I point out that the longer we delay the passage of the bill, the longer it will be before the people will be able to decide the issue. Of course, I realize that there are many people in Australia at present who would willingly lay down my life for their country. It is quite apparent that supporters of the Government are not so much concerned with putting value back into the fi, and thus restoring the purchasing power of money, as they are with making things all right for the people who helped them during the last general election campaign. A3 I have already mentioned, their efforts have been mainly directed to the handing back of the control of the financial machinery of this country to the interests that helped them so considerably during that campaign. During the referendum campaign the members of the anti-Labour v parties had the colossal effrontery to advise the people that six separate State parliaments could more effectively control prices than could one Commonwealth-wide organization. However, only recently a State Premier appealed to the Commonwealth to submit again to the people the proposal that the Commonwealth should be authorized to control prices. Obviously, under individual State control of prices, goods are diverted to the States where the highest prices are obtainable for those commodities, irrespective of the needs of the people. This contention is borne out by the fact that only last week the Sydney press foreshadowed an increase of 3½d. per lb. in the price of beef, which is supplied mainly from Queensland. I emphasize that the people of Australia are becoming increasingly alarmed by continually rising prices. However, the supporters of the present Government cannot even make up their minds whether the Australian currency should be re-valued. Because of the conflicting statements that have appeared in the press about this subject, as was mentioned by Senator McKenna when introducing this measure, between £:00:000,000 and £400,000,000 of what is called “ hot” money has been attracted to Australia. The foreign investors are prepared to take the risk, and are, apparently, convinced that the Government will ultimately, revalue the £1. In that event, the Government will allow the currency manipulators to exploit the people of Australia, and to make a profit of about £75,000,000 on the deal. High prices for wool have caused the Government to consider freezing a part of the proceeds of wool sales. Such action would not seriously affect the big graziers, but it would penalize the small farmers who may have urgent need of the money in order to meet their obligations. What an absurd situation it is for the Government to allow the proposal for the revaluation of the £1 to be publicly debated, as it were, for so long a period. A decision on so vital a matter should have been made overnight in order to prevent speculation.
Government supporters have said that one of the principal reasons for high prices is that the workers are not producing enough. The answer to inflation, they say, is more production. Let us study the facts. Actually, the production of most commodities, including wool, wheat, butter, meat, basic building materials, and even coal, has increased enormously over the last few years, and is still increasing. There is a shortage, but that is due to the extraordinary demand. It is not true to say that the solution of existing problems lies in more production, thus implying that the workers are not producing as much as they could or should. It has been claimed that the 40-hour week is responsible in part for the shortage of commodities, but that has been shown to be a fallacious argument. Government supporters have also blamed high wages for the present inflationary trend, but Mr. Clyde Bedell, a prominent American advertising consultant, who visited Australia at the invitation of the Melbourne Herald, is reported to have discussed the subject in these terms -
American advertising consultant, Clyde Bedell, visiting Australia on the invitation of the Melbourne Herald, shocked his hosts this week with a blunt statement that “ high - wages should not necessarily mean high prices …” Mr. Bedell said : - “ High wages should not necessarily mean high prices. In a progressively improving modern economy, high wages should go with low prices, as long as workers’ productivity is high.
The misconception that high wages mean . high prices is common to every young nation and every young economy.”
The old view prevailed in U.S.A. until 191G, when the late Henry Ford had the courage to challenge it.
Ford’s great contributions to the American economy were precisely those that were most uneconomic at the moments of their birth.
In 1916, when he shocked the world with his minimum wage of five dollars a day, he was an economic heretic - a crackpot.
A few days ago, I listened to a broadcast by the Prime Minister on the subject of preparing Australia for defence - or for war. Among other things he said that we should prepare, not after war broke out, but now. Apparently, he has changed since 1939-41. At that time, when Australia was engaged in total war, he could not agree with the members of his own party, and he and the present Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) were complaining about being stabbed in the back. [Quorum formed.’] One member of the then Menzies Government said of him that he could not lead a flock of homing pigeons.
– “What has that to do with prices?
– If the present Prime Minister was incapable of leading the country in 1940, how much less capable must he be of grappling now with the vital problem of inflation? Apparently, he has not yet learned to lead the “ homing pigeons “. During the last ten months, he has not been able to put through the Parliament any worthwhile legislation, or to suggest any solution of the problems with which we are confronted. To-night, Senator McCallum accused the Opposition of adopting obstructionist tactics. This chamber is a house of review.
– How is the word spelled ?
– Because members of the Opposition have had the intestinal fortitude to take the initiative, and bring in a measure designed to arrest inflation, because they have not been prepared to acquiesce meekly in everything the Government has proposed, they are charged with being obstructive. I point out that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) was in opposition on this side of the chamber in 1931 when the Scullin Government was in office, and the then Opposition frustrated all attempts by the Scullin Government to get its legislation through the Parliament.
– We never took the business out of the hands of the Government.
– The then Opposition took the food out of the mouths of women and children.
- Senator Guy was a member of the Labour party then. He ought to know all about sabotage, because he was one of those who sabotaged the Scullin Government.
– I urge Senator Sandford to take no notice of unseemly interjections from Ministers, but to confine himself to a discussion of the bill.
– Apparently, the Government expects the Senate to be no more than a rubber stamp for the House of Representatives. Because we do not accept everything that the Government puts forward, Government supporters take points of order and complain about what we do. The fact remains that the .Senate is a house of review, and that we are endeavouring to protect the people of Australia from the ill effects of hasty legislation. Ministers have had the temerity to say that the measure now before the Senate, which was designed to arrest inflation, is of secondary importance to the banning of a certain party in Australia. As I pointed out previously, the Government, if it wanted to, could have banned that party three months ago. I asked the AttorneyGeneral if that were so, and he could not deny it. Even my little friend from Tasmania has no reply to that. He knows quite well that the Government could have banned the Communist party three months ago had it desired to do so. I invite Senator Wright to deny that now if he can.
– Carry on with your Pecksniffian cant.
– As I have said, the Senate is intended to be a house of review. Its function is to protect people of the Commonwealth against hasty, dictatorial, and fascist legislation such as the Communist Party Dissolution Bill as it was originally introduced into this chamber. Had it not been for the Labour Opposition in the Senate, the Fuhrer’s “ yes men “ and storm troopers on the Government side of the chamber would immediately have secured the passage of the bill through thi3 chamber in a form in which, I contend, was the most vicious legislation ever introduced in any English-speaking country. I repeat that if the Government had been sincere in its professed desire to suppress the Communists, it could have banned the Communist party three months ago; so who has given the Communist party three months grace? Honorable senators opposite cannot deny that they have only themselves to blame for the delay.
– I rise to order. 1 have been listening most patiently to these repeated references-
– What is your point of order?
– I was stating it with due deliberation. I have been listening to these tedious references to another measure that is on the notice-paper of this chamber.
– What is your point of order?
– I was waiting for Senator Sandford’s irrelevances to be noticed by the Chair. My point of order is that references to the Communist Party Dissolution Bill are out of order in this debate.
– That is a matter for the Chair to determine. I remind Senator Sandford that he should not wander far from the bill. Admittedly all honorable senators occasionally depart from the subject-matter before the Chair. They may have reasons for so doing, but sometimes those reasons are hard to find. However, if Senator Sandford will confine his remarks to the bill he will avoid arguments.
– What I was endeavouring to explain to those dense people on the Government benches was that the Senate should be a house of review and not merely a rubber stamp for the House of Representatives. During the term of office of the Scullin Government, there was in this chamber an antiLabour majority, one mem’ber of which was the present Minister for Repatriation. In those days, thousands of Australian men and women and children were literally starving. The Scullin Government was endeavouring to assist them, but it was frustrated continually by a hostile Senate. The interests represented by the anti-Labour majority in this chamber did everything possible to harass the Scullin Administration and prevent it from doing anything tangible in the interests of the people. The conditions that this country experienced in those days will occur again if the Government pursues its present policy of inaction. Honorable senators opposite talk of supply and demand: I remind them that, during the depression, there was no lack of supply and no lack of demand, but unfortunately the demand was not effective because purchasing power was lacking. A similar position is arising now due to inflation. Something must he done to arrest the drift. In introducing this measure, we are asking the Government to fulfil its responsibilities to the people of Australia and to admit the vital importance of prices control, administered on a Common.wealthwide basis. Surely no Government supporter will argue that the people of this country should- not be given an opportunity to say whether they want prices control to be administered by the Commonwealth. Why should any one wish to deny the people that democratic right? Honorable senators opposite are great believers in Gallup polls. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 57 per cent, of the people of Australia favoured the reintroduction of prices control by the Commonwealth. Why deny the people the right to determine this matter at a referendum? We hear frequent references in this chamber to obstructionist tactics. The Opposition is endeavouring to have this bill dealt with as quickly as possible.
– Have a vote on it now.
– We have not yet heard whether the Government opposes or supports the bill.
– That can soon be tested.
– Will the honorable senator vote for the bill?
– Most Government supporters in this chamber have sat in stony silence throughout this debate. The Futhrer’s storm troopers, having made a strategic withdrawal from the field, are now engaged in a sit-down strike. As I said earlier, half of them are half asleep. Some are nearly always half asleep. Others are reading, and not taking the slightest notice of what is being said on this vitally important subject. This is a matter that should transcend party politics. The bill has not been introduced as a party measure. We have introduced it because we know that the people of Australia are becoming alarmed by the continual price rises over the last few months.
– Is it an urgent bill?
– ‘Then why delay it?
– Because we want to know the Government’s views on it. The Opposition has been forced to take the initiative. The Government has done nothing in its ten months of office.
Senator Cooper interjecting.
– Order ! I ask the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to keep quiet. He should set an example. This constant interruption must be most irritating to Senator Sandford. Certainly it is irritating to me. The Minister will have an opportunity to speak for one hour on the bill if he so desires, and I am sure that he will be heard in silence.
– I hope that the Minister will speak for an hour on this measure, but it is quite obvious that honorable senators opposite have been instructed to keep quiet. For a long time they did not even interject. Until Senator McCallum went off the deep end, we did not hear one word from them. I repeat that this measure is urgent and vital. Honorable senators opposite can show their sincerity by supporting it and using their influence to secure its passage through the House of Representatives. A referendum on the administration of prices control by the Commonwealth Government will then be held. I ask the Government to accept this measure in the spirit in which it is offered. It is designed to safeguard the interests of the Australian people. Under the MenziesFadden “ bitzer “ Government, the economy of this country has got almost out of hand.. So far, in this debate, there has been little response from honorable senators opposite. It looks as if we shall have to light a fire beneath their feet. They may see a light when they feel the heat. Again I express the hope that this measure will speedily pass through both Houses of the Parliament so that the people of the Commonwealth may express their views on the issue at the earliest possible moment.
Senator Aylett having been catted by the Chair,
– After giving the call to Senator Aylett, I heard an honorable senator on my right say, “ Do we not get a chance to speak? “ The usual practice in this chamber is for the party whips to provide me with a list of speakers on a bill. I asked Senator “Wright at one stage whether any honorable senator on his side of the chamber wished to speak, and he said, “Not at present”. It is only fair that if an honorable senator on the Government side of the chamber wishes to speak, his name should be given to me. At present, the next name on my list is that of Senator Aylett, and that is why I have called him. If any honorable senators on the Government side wish to speak they should inform their party whip so that their names may be placed on my list.
– This is one occasion on which the Opposition in this chamber agrees with the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), although he is the leader of an opposing party. The right honorable gentleman has said over the air, not once, but several times, that the most important problem confronting Australia to-day is that of checking inflation. In spite of the election promises of honorable senators opposite, the Government has not taken any action in the past ten months to arrest rising prices, and we on the Opposition side have had to shoulder the burden of initiating action. Last week Senator McCallum made a clear admission of the Government’s bewilderment and inability to cope with the present situation when he said that honorable senators on the Government side did not know what to do to check inflation.
– I ask the honorable senator not to distort Senator McCallum’s words. Senator McCallum, having been suspended, is not in a position to correct these misstatements.
– I am not distorting the honorable senator’s words in any way.
– The honorable senator has completely misrepresented him.
– If Senator McCallum had behaved himself to-night he would now be present in the Senate. Had the Government attempted to fulfil its broken promises it might have halted inflation. During the general election campaign the leaders of the parties opposite vaingloriously promised that if they were returned to office they would put value back into the £1. Had the Government taken action to stabilize the purchasing power of the £1 at its existing level when the Government was elected to office,, prices would not have risen as rapidly as they have done in recent months, our standard of living would not have been brought to such a low level, and the economic stability of this country would not have been jeopardized. The Australian £3 will not purchase nearly us much to-day as it would purchase when the Government first took office. Having failed to honour its promise to put value buck into the £1 and to halt inflation the Government is now seeking an easy way cut of its dilemma. Notwithstanding that the prices of many commodities have doubled and even trebled and that the cost of living has skyrocketed the Government still refuses to act. The Prime, Minister said during the general election campaign that he would abolish controls. Now the right honorable gentleman is advocating the imposition of additional controls. He also said that he would continue the payment of subsidies, stabilize our economy and force down the cost of living. Since the right honorable gentleman has been in office lie has ceased the payment of some subsidies and as a. result the higher costs incurred by primary producers have been passed on to consumers in every section of the community. He has attempted to state the causes of inflation. On the 6th October he stated over the air and in the press that high import prices were among the causes of inflation. He said that import prices were three times as high as they were in. pre-war years and that the cost of imports had risen much more than had the general level of Australian costs and prices. On the following day, in outlining his fourteen point plan to curb inflation he told the people that inflation could be curbed by importing more goods to this country. He seemed to have forgotten that only on the preceding day he had said that the prevailing high prices for imports, constituted one of the causes of inflation.
– It is apparent that the honorable senator does not understand sound economics.
– If that constitutes sound economics it is understood by only two persons, namely, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). No one else regards economics of,that kind as a cure for the ills from which this country is suffering. In the short space of 24 hours the Prime Minister completely contradicted himself. He also said that other causes of inflation were under-production in basic industries and the slow turn round of ships in our ports. I do not know whether or not production in our basic industries has declined since this Government took office. If the workers in our basic industries are producing less than they formerly did, and if the turn round of ships in our ports is slower than it was before, such a state of affairs is a condemnation of this Government. The Prime Minister also said that if we all saw our duty to the community plainly and performed it resolutely conditions would quickly improve. I do not know to whom lie referred. If he was referring to the industrial workers, I suggest that he and his colleagues should explain to them how they could increase their production. The right honorable gentleman said that another cause of inflation wis the 40- hour week. I fail to see how he relates the 40-hour week to rising costs. Surely he is aware of the fact that by the utilization of modern machinery one man can now produce as much as 50 or 60 men could formerly produce. It does not say much for the capacity of the members of the Government. They should be aware of the fact that a 40-hour week was introduced in our basic industries about 30 years ago. The 40- hour week is by no means a new development in this country. .The Prime Minister has presented lamentable arguments to excuse the inflation that exists in this community. He has also said that the influx of migrants has contributed to rising prices and inflation. Never was a greater insult hurled at new Australians. In effect, the right honorable gentleman has said that new Australians cannot produce sufficient food and clothing to meet their own needs and that they are a burden on the workers of this country. That is the only interpretation that can be placed on his words. According to his reasoning, if the population of this country is doubled during the next twelve months our standards of living will be cut by half. Another reason advanced by him is the increase of the rate of social services payments during and since the war. Imagine the Prime Minister of Australia stating that the pension paid to the aged, the invalids and the widows of Australia is so high that it has forced up the price of goods ! In what way has the payment of a pension of £2 2s. 6d. to invalid and aged persons affected prices? What our aged and invalid pensioners are suffering from is not inflation but the deflation of their meal tickets. No longer are they able to purchase sufficient of the necessaries of life because of the high prices that are ruling to-day. The increase of the pension rate has in no way contributed to recent price rises, because pensioners have to exist to-day on the same rate of pension as was paid two years ago. Never have more ridiculous statements been made by any Prime Minister of this country. Does the right honorable gentleman suggest that the pension rate should be reduced? Having regard to the circumstances that exist to-day, if the pension rate were reduced many pensioners would die of starvation. Never have weaker arguments been submitted by the leader of a political party. He has broken every promise that he has made to the electors. As another means to halt inflation, the Prime Minister proposes to take men out of production and put them into the Army. He regards rising prices as of priority No. 1 and defence as of priority No. 2. Time and again the right honorable gentleman has emphasized that we need increased production to cope with inflation, yet he proposes now to take hundreds of thousands of men out of our factories and to put them into military camps. The Director of Recruiting has recently told us that he has been unable to obtain sufficient uniforms to meet the requirements of the training programme. We must have guns, fighter planes and bombers and all the implements of war that are necessary for the training of these young men. How will he obtain his requirements if hundreds of thousands of young men are taken out of production?
– Does the honorable senator suggest that we have not the equipment with which to train the men?
– It is the duty of those who are responsible for the training of our defence forces to ensure that the necessary equipment is available. That is a smoke-screen put out to hide inflation and rising prices. It is a smoke-screen to cover what is happening with regard to the Army. The Government is calling for recruits for the Army. A Royal Australian Air Force officer on the reserve list, who had been captain of heavy bombers, and had had four and a half years’ experience during World War II., recently received a notice asking him to join up again. He made a special trip from Tasmania to Melbourne in order to ascertain particulars. He was directed to . Spencer-street, where the sergeant, who interviewed him could not tell him anything. He was then taken in a motor car to Albert Park, where a flightlieutenant could not tell him any more. He returned to Tasmania. I know of another man who offered his services. He had been a flight lieutenant in the Air Force, and the recruiting authorities offered him a job on the ground as a corporal. I also know of a young man, 28 years of age, who saw service in New Guinea, had experienced jungle fighting, and had been a lieutenant in the infantry. He applied for a commission in the army, and although he was physically fit, and possessed the best character any man could have, the authorities wrote back and told him there were vacancies only in the infantry corps, but that there was none for him. The Government speaks about cutting down expenditure in order to prevent the inflation that exists, yet while men such as those I have mentioned are offering their services and being rejected the Government is appointing more recruiting staff. There is a Director of Recruiting, a Subdirector of Recruiting, and a big staff under them. Yet when men offer themselves for enlistment, the authorities write back and tell them there are no vacancies.
The Opposition is endeavouring to save the country from the chaos into which it is heading. We proposed legislation to alter the Constitution, in order to make it possible for the government of the day, regardless of its political colour, to be able to control prices. Without legislation such as that, it is impossible at the present time to stabilize the economy of this country. Let us take some of the points raised by the Prime Minister indicating the ways in which he intends to cure this inflationary trend, and to stop rising prices. He says, “ In preparing the budget, we have cut the works programme submitted by the departments, other than defence works, by 20 per cent. We are aiming at a further cut of 20 per cent, in works expenditure, on local manpower and materials. We will also urge the State governments to make corresponding cuts “. At the present time, the National Works Council has mapped out only the most urgent works necessary to maintain the economy, rate of production and the defence of this country. The Prime Minister of Australia now says that the first thing he proposes doing is to cut those things by 20 per cent. After the people recover from the shock of the first cut of 20 per cent., he intends to impose a further 20 per cent. cut. It would be most interesting to know just where he will make this 40 per cent, cut in works that have” been given number one priority. It will also be interesting to learn how the States will react to those cuts. When [ say “ the States “ I include the States which have Liberal and Liberal-Country party governments. If the Prime Minister intends to impose a 20 per cent, cut in urgent works such as the Snowy Mountains scheme, the Tasmanian hydroelectric scheme, or the big rail and road schemes necessary for the opening up and development of this country, he will merely heap disaster upon an already disastrous position. When I say “ a disastrous position “ I am emphasizing the words of the Prime Minister when he said that the greatest crisis ever experienced by this country is that which confronts it to-day. He was referring to the economy of the country getting out of hand because of rising prices and inflationary trends.
The Prime Minister then says, :< Immediately upon the passing into law of the Communist legislation, we will set about destroying the influence of the Communists in key industries “. That is one of his cures for rising prices and inflation. If the Prime Minister wishes to prevent any sabotage that may be occurring in industry, and which he claims can be prevented by legislation banning the Communist party, I remind him that there are two other acts of Parliament which may be used for that purpose. There are the Crimes Act and the Defence Act. They were used by the Chifley Government to curb such activities, but the present Government to date has not had the spine or the courage to take action against any Communist who has been sabotaging industry in this country. Being spineless and lacking in courage, it has fallen down on its promise to the electors to ban the Communist party, although, as Senator Hendrickson has pointed out, it has had full power to do so for the last ten months. Yet, whenever Opposition senators in this chamber mention rising prices, the members of the Government say it is due to disruption in industry, caused by the Communists with whom we, on this side of the Senate, will not allow them to deal. Never was there a more incorrect or more untrue statement than that. Nobody knows better than they do that they could have dealt with the Communists the day after they took office ten months ago.
Let us deal further with Mr. Menzies’s jewels. He says, “We will invite employers and employees to join the Government in a drive for production. We are anticipating the co-operation of the members of the Opposition.” I should like to point out that the members of the Opposition have never, at any time, refused to co-operate with any government or organization in order to bring about increased production or improve the economy of this country. I am endeavouring to drum a little common sense into the heads of Government members who have been dormant for the last ten months. They have done nothing, and I am trying to impress on them the urgency of some form of action. It is of no avail for the Government to try to lead the people to believe that the Opposition does not co-operate in order to bring about increased production. If the Prime Minister believed that a conference could check -rising prices and inflation, it should have been held ten months ago.
Tha Prime Minister also said, “ “We will continue to re-organize Commonwealth departments in the interests of efficiency “. He has already told us how lie intends to cut down expenditure on Commonwealth departments. He has broadcast it all over the country, and !has stated that when the Opposition was in power it was irresponsible and extravagant, and that under its administration one person in every four was in government employment. After a few months in office, the Government itself increased the Commonwealth Public Service ‘by over 6,000 employees. That is apparently how the Prime Minister is .re-organizing the service. That would also involve increasing expenditure on wages, allowances, motor cars, and all the other things involved in the employment of another 6,000 persons in six months. That is not a bad effort. It is a grand idea to stop rising prices and inflation!
The Prime Minister went on to say, “ “We propose to take steps to prevent the almost fantastic prices of wool having too violent and inflationary an effect, particularly during the current financial’ year “. If the right honorable gentleman considers he can stop inflation and rising prices by controlling the wool clip, how does he intend to do it? There are a couple of hundred million pounds of extra income because of the high price of wool. The Prime Minister, over the radio, says that this money is bringing about wholesale inflation. A less truthful statement was never uttered, and it should never have been uttered by a Prime Minister who knows that his Government takes in income tax 16s. out of every £1 earned by wool-growers. Where is there to he found any wool-grower who is not paying 15s. in the £1 income tax to-day? They could almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. Even the small wool-grower, who was struggling to pay his income tax a few years ago, is now receiving £10,000 or £12,000 for his clip, which would take him into that income tax group to which I have referred.
The Prime Minister speaks of taking another 20 per cent, out of the proceeds of the wool clip. When he takes that 20 per cent, out, what becomes of the £200,000,000 mentioned by the right honorable gentleman ? I suggest that that statement is being used as a hoax and a camouflage. He is endeavouring to hoodwink the public to cover up his broken promises that he would put value back into the £1, stop rising prices, ban the Communist party, and all the rest of it. He is using that as a scare, just as he is using the Communist bogy as a scare. To-day, he talks of a war scare. I believe I have to-night demonstrated to honorable senators and to the people of Australia what is behind the Prime Minister’s smoke-screen.
The right honorable gentleman goes on to say, “As in a period of inflation and rising prices, profits tend to rise, there are certain businesses in which acute scarcity of commodities enables a few sellers to obtain extravagant profits. We propose excess profits tax. This is a novelty in peace-time”. I do not know about that being a novelty in peace-time, but it is certainly a novelty for such a statement to come from a Prime Minister who promised the people he would reduce taxes. It is difficult to see how such a tax will benefit the invalid pensioner, who, according to the Prime Minister, is also causing inflation with his pension of £2 2s. 6d. a week. An excess profits tax will not give him any more money, nor will it effect a decrease in the price of the commodities he requires. Such a- tax will merely take the excess profits from the profiteer ; it will not lower the cost of living.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) . - Order ! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- The Senate being a States House, I wish to refer to the disability from which Tasmania is suffering as a result of the cancellation of the wheat freight subsidy. In October, 1949, the Australian Wheat Board announced that it would no longer be responsible for the payment of freight charges on wheat sent by sea to Tasmania. Subsequently, the Tasmanian Parliament passed the Appropriation (Wheat Freights) Act, providing for the payment by the State of the freight charges in order to prevent an increase of the price of bread, other wheat products and stock food in Tasmania. The cost to the State of the subsidy for the nine months ended on the 30th June, 1950, was £144,236.
Tasmania is not a bread flour wheat producing State, and provision for the payment of this subsidy on the increasing quantity of wheat required to be imported to meet the needs of its growing population will be an added burden on the State. It is estimated that it will amount to £260,000 in 1950-51. The cost of paying freight and incidental charges on wheat shipped to Tasmania would be negligible to the Australian Wheat Board. Spread over the Australian wheat crop of 180,000,000 bushels, it would amount to little more than 0.33d. a bushel, but the coat to the Tasmanian public, would be 18s. a head of population. Working . on the basis that Tasmanian wheat imports for 1950-51 will be 2,000,000 bushels, it has been calculated that the payment of this subsidy would cause the price of a2-lb. loaf of bread to increase by1d. That would immediately cause a rise in the cost of living. In Tasmania, wheat is used extensively in the dairying, stock, pig-raising and poultry industries, because no other grains are available locally. As the products of these industries are largely consumed within the State, the extra cost of wheat consumed would quickly find its way into the cost of living and would affect costs of production. The inflationary tendency caused by increased sea freights is contrary to the Australian Government’s expressed policy of, as far as possible, putting value back into the £1. I ask the Government to make some provision to offset the effects of the decision of the Australian Wheat Board to discontinue the payment of freight charges on wheat shipped to Tasmania. The Government and people of Tasmania as well as honorable senators on both sides of this chamber would be very pleased if that were done. The discontinuance of the freight subsidy will cause a rise in the cost of living, and it is a matter that should be examined. I hope that, if it is possible for it to do so, the Government will order the Australian Wheat Board to pay these freight charges, so that the increase of the price of broad, which is the staff of life, can be kept within reasonable limits.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act- Appointments - Department -
Attorney-General’s- C. E. S. Park.
Parliamentary Library - H. R. Field.
Treasury - C. A. Gordon.
Senate adjourned at 11.6 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 11 October 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1950/19501011_senate_19_209/>.