19th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Air seen a newspaper report that the Australian National Airlines Commission, which operates Trans-Australia Airlines, made a profit of £200,000 in the past year? Is he aware that this profit was made notwithstanding the fact that Trans-Australia Airlines has been obliged to pay more than £200,000 in aerodrome charges which its competitor has .not paid? Will the Minister make a straightforward and unequivocal statement refuting the rumours that the Government intends to sell Trans-Australia -Airlines to. an airline-shipping monopoly? ^Senator McLEAY. - I advise the honorable senator not to take too much notice of rumours. I shall convey the honorable senator’s question to the Minister for Civil Aviation, and a considered reply will be furnished later.
-On the 14th November, Senator Willesee asked the following question: -
Will the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral inform the Senate whether ‘the formula applied by the Postmaster-General’s Department to the raising of non-official post offices to official status, has revealed that the non-official post office at Hawthorn Wes’t, in Victoria, should be raised to official statusIs it a fact that the Postmaster-General has over-ruled the departmental recommendation and restricted that post office to non-official status! Docs the Government intend to alter the formula that was applied by the former Labour Government T
The Postmaster-General’ has supplied the following answer: -
The volume1 of postal business at Hawthorn West is now sufficient to justify the provision of an official office. If this action were taken al present, however, the services of - the existing postmistress would have to be dispensed with, and, in view of the man-power situation and the fact that the office is being conducted satisfactorily under existing conditions, it ha* been decided to defer any alteration of status of the office for the time being. The honorable senator may rest assured that an official post office will be established as soon as the circumstances permit. It has been the policy of the department to give consideration to the raising of a non-official post office to official status when the volume of business or other special factors justify such a course; that policy is being continued.
– Is the Minister representing the Prime Minister aware that very heavy losses of sheep have been suffered by wool-growers in Queensland this year through the blowfly pest ? Will the Minister advise the Senate whether any officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization have devoted any portion of their time to seeking a means of destroying or combating this pest? If such work has been done, are the reports of the officers concerned available for perusal by honorable senators? .
– Recently, in ‘ the course of a tour through western Queensland, I visited a station at Charlotte Plains, just outside Cunnamulla, on which there is an experimental - station of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Considerable research into the blowfly menace has been carried out there. I do not know whether any reports on that work are available, but if they are I shall be happy to procure them for anybody who is interested.
– In the early morning news broadcast from the Australian Broadcasting Commission to-day, no mention was made of the proceedings of the Senate, although yesterday there was introduced into this chamber a measure of nation-wide interest affecting many thousands of ex-servicemen and their dependants, and providing for the expenditure of many millions of pounds. I ask you, Mr President, whether the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee has any control over the early morning Australian Broadcasting Commission news broadcast? If so, will you, as a member of that committee, bring this matter up for consideration with a view to getting a fair deal for the Senate.
– The Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee has no control over the news broadcasts made by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It is concerned solely with the broadcasting of the proceedings of this chamber and of the House of Representatives. As several honorable senators directed my attention to the fact that this morning’s news-broadcast contained no reference to the consideration given ‘by this chamber yesterday to the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill, which is of the greatest importance to thousands of ex-servicemen, particularly to those who were blinded or injured during World War II., I made certain investigations. I have ascertained that reference to the debate was included in the report sent to Sydney by the commission’s reporter in Canberra. Doubtless, as is the case with many other reports made by newspapermen, the commission’s sub-editor in Sydney blue-pencilled a portion of the report with the result that no reference was made to this matter in this morning’s news-broadcast. In fairness to the commission, it must be said that the time available for the preparation of the news-broadcasts is very short. A decision on what shall be included in the broadcast is left to a responsible officer of the commission in Sydney. I assure honorable senators that reference to the debate was included in the despatch that was sent to Sydney by the commission’s Canberra representative, and that if blame is attachable to any one for its omission from this morning’s broadcast, it rests on the officer at the Sydney end. We have no control over these matters.
– In view of the answer given by the President to the question asked by Senator Courtice, I ask the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral whether he will inform the Australian Broadcasting Commission that the omission from this morning’s broadcast of any reference to that fact that this very important bill was before the Senate last night, is regarded most seriously by the Senate. The general manager of the commission should be informed that in all re.ports of the proceedings of this Parliament the views that have been expressed by supporters of the Government and of the Opposition should be equally covered.
– I assure theLeader of the Opposition that I shall beonly too pleased to bring this matter to’ the notice of the Postmaster-General, who* I am certain will ask that reference to the proceedings of this Senate shall in future be included in its news broadcasts to the people of Australia.
– About two years ago, the Repatriation Department arranged for a call-up of former prisoners of war in World War II. in order that a survey could be made of their general health. Will the Minister for Repatriation state whether the survey is still actively in progress, how many former prisoners of war have been called up, and how many have been surveyed? As it is possible that Army records contain addresses at which former prisoners of war no longer reside, will the Minister arrange for the publication of advertisements in the press advising all former prisoners of war of the quickest method of obtaining the check-up ?
– I know that a very comprehensive check-up has been made of former prisoners of war, and that a great many of them have been medically examined. It is probable that some former prisoners of war living in outlying parts of Australia have not yet been examined. I shall obtain the information for which the honorable senator lias asked and furnish it to him as soon as possible.
– Has the Minister representing the Treasurer seen a report to the effect that the President of the United States of America, Mr. Truman, has introduced into the Senate of that country an excess profits bill which, it is expected, will bring in 4.000,000,000 dollars in revenue? Is the Minister in a position to inform the Senate what revenue it is expected to receive as a result of the proposed Australian excess profits legislation?
– The form and the nature of the excess profits legislation is under consideration by the Treasurer. As his deliberations have not yet been finalized, the Treasurer would not yet be in a position to supply the information sought by the honorable senator.
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The following answers are now supplied to the questions asked by the honorable senator : - 1 and 2. Inquiry into the matter raised by the honorable senator suggests that he has been misinformed. I am advised that there is no company registered in Victoria under the name of Allied Bruce Small Associates Limited. A company, however, under the name of Bruce Small Proprietary Limited does exist, and has made available to me a copy of the agreement made between itand each of its 110 branch managers throughout Australia. I shall be glad to let the honorable senator examine this document, and satisfy himself that there is no foundation for the suggestion implied in his questions. In fairness to the company however, I inform the Senate that the salary clause in the agreement provides for an adjustment of salaries based on the net sales results of the branch each month; contains an incentive plan whereby branch managers may increase their earnings above the salary scale provided; and concludes with the following paragraph: -
It is at all times understood that in no instance shall the total remuneration received by a branch manager be less than the amount prescribed under the award for branch managers.
The answer to the honorable senator’s first question, therefore, is “ no “ ; in the circumstances the second question does not arise.
– I desire to address a question to you, Mr. President. It frequently happens in this chamber that Ministers have replies to questions that are not on the notice-paper, and it is neces sary for the Ministers to communicate with the honorable senators who asked those questions in order that they shall know when to ask the Ministers if replies are available. I suggest that there should be some procedure adopted whereby Ministers who have answers available to such questions should inform the President, so that the information may be supplied without the necessity for observing the formality of honorable senators asking for replies.
– I shall discuss the matter with Ministers in order to see what can be done.
Motion (by Senator ANNABELLe
Rankin) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave of absence for four weeks be granted to Senator Tate on account of absence overseas.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Spooner) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
As previously announced by the Government, a comprehensive review of the sales tax law has been made in the light of the many requests that have been made from time to time for relief from sales tax in respect of numerous classes of goods. Naturally, it has not been practicable to accede to all those requests, but relief has been given to the greatest degree possible in the present circumstances. New exemptions relate chiefly to building materials and foodstuffs. Most goods of those classes were already exempt, but the amendments now proposed will provide further considerable relief in this direction.
The building materials now added to the list of exemptions include builders’ hardware such as nails, bolts, screws, door handles, locks, and similar fittings of a kind installed by builders as fixtures in bouses. The former exemption of specified household electrical fittings has been extended to cover certain classes of electrical fittings previously excluded because of’ the extent of their use in buildings other than houses. Bath heaters, sink heaters and similar water beating equipment of a kind installed as fixtures in houses have also been brought within the scope of the exemptions. Exemption has also been extended to structural steel in the form of girders, which, although it is used mostly in industrial and business premises, is to some extent used in buildings such as hostels, which provide residential accommodation. These concessions will reduce building costs and assist in solving problems of housing arid accommodation generally.
The further exemptions of foodstuffs are designed chiefly to eliminate competitive anomalies, and they relate to foods that are closely comparable with other foods previously covered by the exemptions. The new exemptions include certain foods in the form of sandwich spreads, relishes and meat extracts. The restoration of coffee and cocoa to the exemption schedule is consistent with the fact that they are sold in competition with tea, which does not bear sales tax. Tce has been included among the exemptions, in response to strong representations, because this commodity serves an important function in the preservation of foods and its use is widespread. The exemption of ice conforms with the exemption of electricity, gas and kerosene, which are used in refrigerators for the same purpose.
Complaints have been made from time to time that sales tax is payable in respect of tractor-drawn trailers for use in agricultural industry, whilst horse-drawn trailers for use in that industry are exempt. This anomaly is being removed by extending the exemption to cover both classes of trailers.
Clause 4 of the bill, which specifies the new exemptions, makes provision for amendments to be made in the first schedule to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act. The effect of the amendments will be more readily understood from the explanatory statement that has been circulated for the information of honorable senators. The further exemptions will involve a loss of revenue of approximately £1,000,000 in a full year, or approximately £640,000 in the current financial year.
The bill, however, is not confined to the allowance of further exemptions. The Government has given much thought to taking action to decrease the demand for goods which may be classified as being of a less essential character.’ Australia is at present handicapped by shortages of certain essential goods, whilst other less essential goods are available to the public in large quantities, and sell readily even at high prices. The taxing of these latter goods at higher rates is regarded as clearly justifiable for more than one reason. In the first place, a heavier tax can be expected to check the demand for such goods, to cause a diversion of labour to employment of greater value to the nation, and to release more materials for goods which are of a more essential character. In the second place, it is fitting that persons who are in a position to spend money on less essential goods should be required to make a greater contribution to the national revenue than those who are obliged to confine their spending to necessities.
Whilst it is not proposed to increase the general rate of sales tax, which at present stands at S-J per cent., it is proposed that certain goods now subject to that rate shall bear a higher rate. The rate of tax on motor cars is being increased from 8i per cent, to 10 per cent. The general rate of 8^ per cent, will continue to apply to motor vehicles such as trucks, lorries, utilities, delivery vans and motor buses. The general rate of 8^ per cent, will also continue to apply to parts and accessories for motor cars, because these goods are also used as parts or accessories for trucks or utilities.
Musical instruments, wireless receiving sets, gramophones and parts, and accessories for these goods will be subject to tax at the rate of 25 per cent, which was the rate previously applied to them during the war period. Batteries for wireless sets are not affected by the increase, and they remain taxable at the general rate of 8£ per cent.
The rate of tax is being increased to 33^ per cent, in respect of jewellery, imitation jewellery, fancy goods, watches and clocks other than alarm clocks, plated ware and crystal and cut glass ware. This rate is also being applied to handbags, travelling bags and other classes of bags and baskets as well as toilet and beauty preparations, cameras, photographs, photographic film and other photographic equipment, and fur garments. Of the goods named in this group, jewellery, imitation jewellery, toilet preparations and fur garments have hitherto been subject to tax at the rate of 25 per cent.
Professional photographers who engage in the production of photographs for sale and who pay tax on the finished photographs will not be affected by the increased rate of tax on cameras and photographic equipment and materials. These persons, in common with other manufacturers, will obtain their raw materials and aids to manufacture in the form of equipment free of sales tax. They will pay tax at the higher rate on their finished photographs-
Cosmetics and other toilet preparations have been subject to tax at 25 per cent. The rate of tax on the containers in which these products are sold has been Sh per cent. It is proposed in the bill that the new maximum rate of 33-J per cent, will apply not only to cosmetics and toilet preparations but also to the containers in which they are sold.
The goods affected by the increases in rates are specified in the amendments relating to the second, third and fourth schedules to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act. Goods covered by items in these schedules will be subject to tax at the rates of 10 per cent., 25 per cent, and 33J(- per cent., respectively. Details of the goods affected are set out in the explanatory statement which has been circulated. These increases, it is estimated, will bring in approximately £10,000,000 additional revenue in a full year, or about £7,500,000 for the balance of the current financial year. In accordance with the usual practice, it is provided in the bill that the amendments shall be deemed to have come into operation on and from the 13th October, .1950. I commend the bill to honorable senators, not only because of its anti-inflationary effects, but also because of the benefits arising from the removal of anomalies.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
SALES TAX BILLS (Nos. 1 to 9) 1950.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator O’sullivan) proposed -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of all or several of the Sales Tax Bills Nos. 1 to 9 being put in one motion, at each stage, and the consideration of all or several of such bills together in committee of the whole.
– This is a most unusual procedure.
– It is the procedure always followed in connexion with sales tax bills.
– The Opposition was not consulted previously.
– I knew about it myself only this morning.
– I do not intend to oppose the motion, but I should have been consulted.
– No discourtesy was intended.
– There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bills (on motion by Senator Spooner) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bills be now read a second time.
The purpose of these bills is to declare the new rates of sales tax payable, on and after the 1 3th October, 1950, in respect of goods of the various classifications specified in the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill which has just received the attention of honorable senators. That bill contains provisions for a new second schedule and a new fourth schedule to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act, and the bills now brought forward impose tax at the rate of 10 per cent, and 33-J per cent., respectively, in respect of goods covered by the provisions of those schedules. The rate of 25 per cent, will apply to goods covered by the third schedule as amended. The general rate of 8-J per cent., which applies to foods not specified in any of the schedules, remains unchanged. As already indicated, the effect of these bills, in association with the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill, upon the various classes of goods in question, is clearly set out in the explanatory statement which has been circulated among honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McLeay) read a first time.
– I move -
Thm the bill bc now read a second time.
In this bill the Government proposes to introduce a new system of Commonwealth payments for roads purposes to replace the provisions of the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act which expired on the 30th June of this year. Briefly, the main proposals are - (fi) to make available each year for roads a larger amount of money than under the former legislation and to ensure that the aggregate grant will increase as petrol consumption increases; (J) to provide from this money a specific grant to the States for roads in rural areas as well as a grant for general roads purposes; (c) to give the States express permission to use any part of either of these grants to assist local authorities in the construction and upkeep of roads; (d) to provide for continuity in roads programmes by making the legislation operative for five years; and (e) to set aside annual sums for Commonwealth expenditure on strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth property and for the promotion of road safety.
Those proposals have been framed by the Government after very careful study of the present-day problem of roads finance in Australia. Many representations have been received on various aspects of the subject from State governments, local authorities, transport, motoring and producers’ organizations and other bodies. The views of people highlyexperienced in the engineering and administrative problems of roads have been obtained, and the proposals in their present form were discussed with the State Premiers at the Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers last September. I need not stress here the importance to a country like Australia of a sound and efficient roads system. Transportation always has been and probably always will be one of the basic economic problems of this country, and roads are one of the main factors in the problem of transportation. From :i developmental stand-point, roads ;:v. the means to tap large areas of valuable resources. From the productivity standpoint, roads involve the difference between slow, arduous and costly transportation and the fast and cheap movement of goods from place to place. From the defence stand-point, roads, together with railways and airways, provide the strategic life-lines for the land defence of the continent. With the development of motor transportation, the relative importance of roads has grown enormously and it will probably continue to grow.
During the twenty years before World War II., a great deal of valuable work was done to provide a net-work of roads throughout Australia and this work would undoubtedly have gone a great deal further by now had it not been for the war. That roads system proved of incalculable value in the period of national danger. When in the war years, however, man-power, equipment and materials were drawn away into the war effort, new construction of roads for civil purposes come practically to a stand-still, and standards of maintenance on. existing roads tended to decline. A number of important new roads were, of course, built for military purposes during the war, and though the economic value of some of those roads is limited, they remain as important links in our national roads organization. After the Avar, labour, materials and plant remained scarce. Since then the position has improved only gradually. Meanwhile, the volume of road traffic was increasing, and the heavier and faster types of vehicles which had appeared were causing greater wear and tear on road surfaces. Costs of road construction and maintenance had risen very considerably.
Primarily, roads are the responsibility of the State governments and local authorities, and the Commonwealth Government has no desire to encroach upon that responsibility. Over many years, however, successive Commonwealth governments have recognized the developmental and defensive importance of roads and have made grants to the States for expenditure on road construction and maintenance. The first such grant was made in 1923, and in 1926 the Bruce-Page Government negotiated with the States a ten-year agreement under which the Commonwealth was to pay £2,000,000 yearly to the States for roads purposes. That agreement is generally regarded as a landmark in the progress of the Australian roads system. During the war, Commonwealth roads payments to the States continued though on a diminished scale, because civil consumption of petrol, to which roads grants were related, also diminished. Expenditure on roads was restricted in those years, however, and the State governments were all able to build up substantial balances in their roads funds.
The effect of the Commonwealth Aid Roads and Works Act of 1947, and of amendments to that act in the two following years, was to increase the amount of Commonwealth roads payments to the States, and the rise in petrol consumption was also tending to increase those payments. Over the past three financial years, total Commonwealth payments for roads have averaged £7,700,000 a year compared with £3,800,000 a year in the three years 1936 to 1939. Whilst experience has varied from State to State, it seems that, by and large, shortage of labour and materials has done more than any lack of money to hold up progress on road work. Some of the State Governments still have substantial balances in their roads funds.
It is obvious that there is a vast amount of work to be done on roads in the next few years. A great deal of leeway has to be caught up in repairing and rebuilding roads and bridges. Heavier types of vehicles are making necessary heavier forms of construction, not only on main roads and highways but also on secondary roads. An immense programme of new road building is waiting to be done, both in rural areas and in and around municipalities where the establishment of industries and the development of housing projects require the construction of roads and streets. Road construction and maintenance being a function of the States, Commonwealth financial assistance for roads should be regarded as supplementary to State resources, and not as relieving the States of any obligation to provide their share of additional finance for the large volume of road work that is now necessary. Since it is clear, however, that much more money will be required for roads in the next few years, the Commonwealth Government is prepared again to increase very substantially its. contribution to this vital national work.
It is now proposed, therefore, to set aside for roads payments each year for the next five years an amount equal to 6d. a gallon of customs duty on imported petrol entered for civil consumption and 3£d. a gallon excise on locally produced petrol. As before, aviation spirit will not be included in the calculation of these amounts. In the present financial year it is estimated that the amount of money so set aside will be approximately £12,000,000. By way of comparison, I recall that Commonwealth payments for roads in 1949-50 were approximately £9,400,000. Moreover, since the full amount of the proposed payments is to be related to proceeds of duties on petrol, it will increase year by year to the extent that petrol consumption increases. On present trends in petrol consumption, the proposed payments would increase by about £1,000,000 a year, though of course it is not possible to predict whether the present trends will be maintained. I should point out that under the former legislation only part of the total payments increased with petrol consumption, so that the proposals in this bill afford the possibility of a greater annual rate of increase in road payments.
On the question of allocating Commonwealth roads grants between different classes of roads or different areas, the Government has heard many different views. Formerly, Commonwealth road grants to States were made for road purposes generally. Then, in the 1947 act. a specific grunt was made for roads in sparsely settled areas and timber country: That was in addition to general roads grants. In the light of all the information and advice available, it appears to the Government that there is a strong case for making two separate grants. Whilst the States should be in a position to maintain and extend their roads systems as a whole, including main roads, trunk roads and highways, there are good grounds for the view that we have reached a stage when special attention should be given to what might be called secondary roads, which exist principally in rural areas. These are the roads which run off the main roads and traverse the actual farming and pastoral areas and extend into the undeveloped regions. Sometimes they carry a good deal of traffic, sometimes relatively little; but all of them are highly important to the people in the areas concerned. They are also very important to the economy as a whole, because they are the means to bring the wealth of primary products out to the main roads and to the railways. The Government therefore proposes to make a special grant for roads in rural areas as well as a general road3 grant. This principle was introduced in the former legislation and proved to be very valuable. In that legislation, however, the purposes of the grant were defined in ways that could be taken to limit its scope unduly, and doubts arose from time to time as to what roads were eligible for expenditure under the grant. In the new proposals the scope of the grant will be widened to comprehend all roads in rural areas, other than main roads, trunk roads and highways. For example, it will now cover what are called feeder roads and developmental roads as well as roads in sparsely settled areas and roads serving soldier settlements. It will also include roads in country municipalities and shires. This was a point at issue under the former legislation because it was considered that funds made available for sparsely settled or rural areas could not be spent in and around country towns. There seems very little point in this, however. The roads in and around country towns serve the surrounding districts as well as the towns themselves. Many of them bear quite heavy traffic and entail considerable costs of upkeep. It seems entirely proper, therefore, to bring them within a grant for roads in rural areas. For this special grant for rural roads the Government proposes to allocate 35 per cent, of the total amount to be set aside for roads purposes annually. That is to say, the amount will be equal to 35 per cent, of the proceeds of 6d. a gallon customs duty and 3-Jd. a gallon excise on petrol. In the current year, the amount is estimated at £4,200,000 which would be £1,200,000 greater than the grant made in 1949-50 under the former legislation covering roads in sparsely settled areas. The increase will thus be approximately 40 per cent. Moreover, unlike the former grant, which was limited to a specific amount, the proposed grant will increase as petrol consumption increases.
Apart from this special grant, it is proposed to make, as before, a general grant to the States for the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of roads generally. Unlike the grant for general roads purposes made under the previous legislation, this grant may also be used for the purchase of road-making equipment. This money will therefore be available to State governments to spend as they think fit on roads purposes whilst up to one-sixth of the amount may be spent on works connected with road or water transport. The States will be able to use these funds as they deem necessary in either urban or rural areas. They may finance works carried out by their own roads organizations or, as I shall explain in more detail presently, they may assist local authorities financially to carry out roads works and purchase road-making equipment. The amount of this general grant will be equal to 65 per cent, of the total amount to be set aside by the Commonwealth each year, less £600,000 a year which is to be allocated for strategic roads and for road safety. The estimated amount in this financial year is £7,200,000, compared with the payment of £5,800,000 in 1949-50. As under the former legislation, this general grant will increase with greater petrol consumption.
At this stage I wish to make clear the attitude of the Commonwealth Government to the matter of assistance to local authorities for roads purposes. Many urgent representations have been made to the Government on this subject, about which, however, there ought to be no misunderstanding. Local authority affairs, including local authority finances belong to the province of the State governments, and the Commonwealth cannot and should not undertake responsibility in that field. The Government, of course, recognizes the very important functions of local authorities and regards it as necessary that they should be in a position to carry out those functions adequately. That, however, is primarily the concern of the State governments and the Australian Government will not try to intervene. In this legislation, therefore, it is made perfectly plain that the State governments may use any of the money to be received under the general roads grant for assistance to local authorities, either in urban or in rural areas, and also that they may use any part of the’ grant for roads in rural areas to assist local authorities in those areas. Beyond that, however, it does not go and in the matter of the allocation by the State governments of the money received under either of these grants, it is for the local authorities to deal with the State governments and not with the Australian Government.
Apart from the grants to the State governments for roads, the Government proposes, as under the former legislation, to set aside an amount of £500,000 per year for the construction and maintenance of strategic roads and roads of access to Commonwealth property. These strategic roads were built during the war as a part of the defence organisation of the Commonwealth, and it is important from a defence standpoint to keep them up to a proper standard of maintenance. In some cases they run through Commonwealth territories and are, therefore, wholly the responsibility of the Commonwealth. In other instances, however, they are located in the States and whilst they may not have an economic value sufficient to justify the States maintaining them at the requisite standard, expenditure upon them by the Commonwealth will undoubtedly have some economic benefit both to the States as such and to the community as a whole.
The proposal to make £100,000 a year available for promotion of road safety continues the provision which has been made in recent years. I expect honorable senators to agree that money effectively spent on road safety could hardly be devoted to a more laudable purpose.
To sum up, the payments which it is estimated will be made in the current financial year under this legislation compare with the road payments made last, year as follows: -
On the term for which the legislation should operate, some balancing of considerations is necessary. Since authorities responsible for roads1 should be in a position to plan ahead and work to definite programmes, it is important that financial provision for roads programmes should be assured for a reasonably long term. On the other hand, the probability that circumstances affecting transportation and roads will continue to change makes it inadvisable to project legislation too far into the future. The Government has reached the conclusion that a term of five years will probably be found appropriate. At the end of that period it can be expected that the subject will again be due for reconsideration.
The proposed distribution of the grants to the States will follow the formula which has applied under previous legislation. That is to say, 5 per cent, of each of the two grants will be paid to Tasmania, and 95 per cent, to the five mainland States, on the basis of three-fifths according to population of the States as at the 1947 census and twofifths according to the areas of the States. This formula has on the whole proved satisfactory in the past and there are no apparent reasons why it should not be found at least as satisfactory during the term of this legislation.
I mentioned earlier that provision has been made in this bill to the effect that one-sixth of the grant for general roads purposes may be used by the States at their discretion for works connected with road and water transport. It was recognized in earlier years that there were some people who used petrol and paid tax on it but did not use the roads in their ordinary business and, therefore, got no direct benefit from the roads grants. Typical of such people are the owners of fishing boats and motor launches. For this reason the States were, permitted to use a portion of the grants for transport works other than roads and under this provision the States were able to make money available to construct boat havens, jetties, and so on for the benefit of owners and users of small water-craft. The provision in this bill is intended to serve a similar purpose, lt may be noted that here, as elsewhere in the bill, the States are permitted to use the Commonwealth grants in certain ways but are not required to do so.
Together with the funds avialable to the States from sources of their own, the moneys to be provided under this bill should ensure that adequate finance will be available for roads during the next five years. Apart from Commonwealth grants, total receipts of State roads funds, other than loan moneys, in the last financial year amounted to £11,600,000. This year the amount will be considerably greater because motor registrations are increasing and because three of the States have lately increased motor taxation. Commonwealth and State payments combined, therefore, seem likely to provide between £23,000,000 and £24,000,000 for roads in this financial year, and the amount can be expected to increase in subsequent years with increasing motor, registrations and consumption of petrol. I have not, of course, included in these figures the substantial sums which local authorities raise from rates and which are partly available for expenditure on roads and streets; nor have I mentioned the balances in State roads funds. At the 30th June this year these balances amounted to nearly £5,500,000 and in some of the States at least the balances were larger than necessary for working purposes. All told, I should say that, on a reasonable estimate, there should be something like £30,000,000 a year available for expenditure on roads throughout Australia during the next five years and even allowing for higher costs of labour and materials, this should be ample provision for the purposes. We have to keep in mind that important though we all recognize roads development to be, there are many other great fields of constructional work which have high priority claims to man-power, materials and finance, and road programmes must be framed with due regard to the requirements of those other projects.
I feel confident in commending this bill to honorable senators as one designed to promote great constructive progress throughout the whole of Australia and to bring great benefits to all sections of the community.
Debate, (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
– I suggest to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) that the .Senate should sit late in order to complete consideration of this measure, and I mention that the House of Representatives sat till 4 o’clock this morning in order to dispose of it. It is not a controversial measure, but as its operation is retrospective to the 1st July, and as the conditions of payment have been altered considerably, the technical officers and administrative staffs of the various
States will be required to perform a considerable amount of detailed work before Christmas. Every hour that honorable senators are able to save those persons will be something that they will appreciate.
I move -
That the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour of the day.
– I inform the Minister in charge of this bill that it is futile to move a motion that the measure be dealt with at a later hour during the day. This is the first intimation that the Opposition has had that such a suggestion would be made. Any delay that has been occasioned is the responsibility of the Government, and I remind honorable senators opposite that this legislation could have been introduced earlier. An arrangement that was made with members of the House of Representatives yesterday was broken. The Opposition understood that the bill would have passed through all stages in the House of Representatives by 6 o’clock last night, so that it could be dealt with in this chamber this morning. The practice of endeavouring to rush important bills through the Senate was condemned by members of the Government when they were in opposition. I have no objection to bills of a minor character being given a speedy passage, but I point “ out that this is an important measure and that the sum of £12,000,000 is involved. The Minister suggests that because he has brought along the bill this morning, it shall be dealt with to-day, despite the nature of other business to be conducted in this chamber. I inform him that there is no possibility of discussion of the measure being finalized to-day.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I am rather astounded by the attitude of Senator Ashley-
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - The Minister may not discuss that matter now, as the motion has been negatived by the Senate.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) agreed to-
That the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
Debate resumed from the 16th Novem- ber (vide page 2504), on motion by Senator Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This measure has been introduced for the purposes of amending post and telegraph rates. Apparently, the Postal Department, in common with every other business in Australia, has been affected by the malady of inflation. The Postal Department is the largest business undertaking in the Commonwealth, employing approximately 100,000 permanent and temporary employees. The knowledge that, despite increased charges amounting to £5,500,000 imposed during the term of office of the Labour Government, the department is now facing a deficit of £10,000,000, will cause considerable alarm to the people of Australia. It is an extraordinary situation. I draw attention to the statement made by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) during his second-reading speech on this bill, when he stated -
The revised rates will not suffice to balance the department’s commercial accounts for 1950-51.
I point out that the Government is running true to form and is approaching this problem with the same timidity as it approaches every problem concerning the welfare of the people of this country. The Minister continued -
It is expected that they will bring in additional annual revenue of £6,700,000, but. as they will operate for only seven months of the present financial year, the extra revenue this year will be slightly less than £4,000,000.
I come now to the interesting part of the honorable gentleman’s speech, when he spoke of “an expected deficit of more than £8,000,000”. That statement suggests that he was endeavouring to make the sum sound as small as possible. When the impact of the recent increase of the basic wage is felt, that deficit will be not one penny less than £10,000,000. Yet this Government proposes to budget for a deficit of only £6,700,000 for the full year and £4,000,000 for the remaining seven months of that year. I again charge the Government with timidity concerning this matter. It must know that early in the new year it will have to face the problems confronting the Postal Department. Despite the criticisms made by some honorable senators opposite, when they were in opposition in this chamber, that the Postal Department was inefficient, the efficiency of the postal and telegraph services of this country has reached a level which is the envy of many private business organizations and reflects the greatest credit upon those who are responsible for the conduct of those services. Surely no Minister will suggest that the departmental heads and employees of the department are overpaid. In fact, they are underpaid. I do not blame this Government or any previous government for that, because decisions on the remuneration of the staff of the department are made by the Public Service Board. I challenge any honorable senator opposite to point to any of the activities of the department that are conducted inefficiently or to any waste of public money due to the overpayment of the staff from the Director-General down to the messenger boys. The department has been subjected to all the difficulties that are encountered by every business undertaking in these days, and it has overcome them successfully. I have mentioned those facts in order to emphasize the effect of inflation upon this country at the present time. Although the department is conducted efficiently and without waste, its deficit has doubled within twelve months. That shows the rapidity with which the malady of inflation is attacking this country.
– The malady of working too little. .
- -Senator Maher will have an opportunity to work and talk later.
It is true that over the years the Postal Department has earned huge surpluses. It has been claimed often that those surpluses should have been credited to the department and it has been suggested that any undertaking, especially a national undertaking, that earns a huge surplus is- either charging too much for the services that it provides, or is not providing services commensurate with the revenue that it receives. I point out that the department makes an annual contribution of approximately £500,000 to the depreciation and exchange fund, and it is also required to pay interest upon capital expenditure. Between 1930-31 and 1948-49 the interest upon capital expenditure paid by the department was £35,422,580. That accounts for a large proportion of the surpluses to which reference is constantly made, and which certainly have been earned. The department incurred a deficit in 1931, and then earned surpluses until 1948-49. The surplus in 1947-48 was £1,849,781, and in 1944-45 it reached the record figure of £6,674,594’. The department incurred a deficit last financial year and will do so again this year, because rising costs have had an adverse effect upon it, as they have had upon every other business undertaking in Australia.
This bill is a further example of the failure of the Government to stabilize the Australian economy. The Government has failed to honour its promise to put value back into the £1. In addition, the proposed . increases of post and telegraph charges will impose an additional burden of £6,000,000 a year upon the- people of this country or £4,000,000 for the remainder of this financial year. The effect of the recent increase of the basic wage will be to increase the department’s deficit considerably. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) has been very frank and has said that it has been estimated that, in the light of known and probable extra costs, the loss incurred by the department during this year will bc over £8,000,000. From my experience of the department, I believe that it will bc over £10,000,000. I shall be interested to hear why the Government does not intend to increase post and telegraph charges now to a degree sufficient to offset the estimated deficit for this financial year.
The intention of the Government i» that the proposed increases shall become operative next month. I ask the Minister in charge of the bill to request the PostmasterGeneral to consider postponing the operation of the increase until the 1st January of next year, because during the Christmas season people use the post and telegraph services extensively to send greetings and gifts to their relatives and friends.
The bill makes provision for the rental charges for domestic telephones to be increased by 25s. a year. I ask the Government to give some consideration in this connexion to pensioners and blind people. Yesterday, a measure was passed through this chamber which provided for well-deserved increases of the repatriation benefits paid to ex-servicemen. It received the approbation of every honorable senator. I suggest that the proposed increase should not be applied to pensioners - particularly blind pensioners - who gain additional income under grave disabilities.
Some honorable senators who now support the Government severely attacked the former Government’s proposal to increase postal charges when they were sitting in opposition last year. I should like to know whether the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) is still of the same opinion about this matter as he was last year. During the secondreading debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1949, as reported in Hansard, Vol. 202 at page 1067, he stated-
The speech made by the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) included a number of general statements about the department, the most important of which was that during the current financial year it is estimated that the department’s finances will show a deficit of £3,500,000. … 1 am sure that I speak for the people of Australia generally when T say that they are alarmed to learn that the finances of the department are in such a state. . . .
I am sure that the people of this country will be gravely alarmed to learn that the Postal Department will probably incur a deficit of £10,000,000 for this financial year, despite the proposed increases, which are almost double the increases that were imposed by the former Labour Administration.
– What does the Leader of the Opposition propose to do about it?
– That is a job for the Government that is at present “ carrying the baby “. The honorable senator went on to say -
Telegraph rates will also be increased. The base rate of 9d. for a telegram of fourteen words to pass between telegraph offices which are not more than 15 miles apart is proposed to be increased to ls. 3d., which represents an increase of 66 per cent. . . .
I point out that a similar increase of 6d. for base rate telegrams is now proposed to be made. He continued -
Most stock sales are effected by telegram, and rural settlers transact a great deal of business by that means. It is obvious, therefore, that primary producers and country dwellers generally will be most adversely affected by the proposed increases…..
The effect of this bill, however, will be toplace an additional impost of approximately £5,500,000 a year on the general public.
That was not nearly so bad as is thepresent proposal to increase postal charges to yield an additional £4,000,000- in a period of seven months. Despite the proposed increases, it is likely that thedepartment will incur a deficit of £10,000,000 for the year. The Government has not the courage to attack thisproblem as it should be attacked. It should make provision for the full amount required instead of fiddling with thematter. Obviously, postal charges will have to be increased again early in thenew year. The honorable senator concluded by saying -
I suggest that the Prime Minister should’ ask for the Minister’s resignation forthwith,, and that this bill should be withdrawn from the Senate until such time as a successor is appointed and has had an opportunity tomake a complete overhaul of the department.
The complete volte-face by the Minister is indeed extraordinary. Had it not been; for the realistic approach by Labourgovernments -that were in office between 1941 and 1949, to problems associated’ with the Postal Department, I am convinced that the anticipated deficit of the Postal Department this financial year would be greater. The Chifley Government’s policy of wise expenditureconserved funds for expenditure on capital works, and thus fostered and developed the department’s activities and’ enabled it to earn increased revenueSome honorable senators will recollect that in 1947 the Labour administration-, then in office authorized the Postal’ Department to proceed with a bold programme of works, involving longdistanceplanning, estimated to cost £42,000,000.. That was an entirely new approach tothe problems of the Postal Department.. I do not deny that cheese-paring policies in relation to the department had .been followed in former years by both Labour and non-Labour governments. In fact, in days gone by, a progressive estimate of necessary capital expenditure was not available, and it was not possible for previous governments to undertake longrange planning and purchase materials ahead. It was likewise impossible to train technicians and other men for service in the department. The long-range planning of Labour governments between 1941 and 1949 resulted in increased efficiency in the Postal .Department. For the first time in its history the Postal Department was empowered to place orders for essential material well ahead, in the knowledge that the necessary funds would be available to pay for them. That has proved of considerable value in connexion with materials that are now in short supply, and has enabled the various sections of the department to continue to operate efficiently. Because of steadily rising prices, the .regular ordering of materials saved the department and the taxpayers many hundreds of thousands of pounds. It also made possible the recruitment of workmen to carry out undertakings at the lowest possible price. The thousands of additional telephones which the department installed in accordance with the Labour Government’s policy has brought in additional revenue. But for the action of the Labour Government in obtaining materials and drawing up a programme of work, the financial position of the department would not be so good to-day. The policy of the Labour Government not only stimulated development, but also conserved public funds by a programme of wise spending. The ordering of materials in increasing quantities permitted the department to proceed with its programme without serious interruption. There have been some checks because of delays in the supply of individual items, but such delays are common to every business. In some instances, the inability of contractors to obtain raw materials was a factor making for delay.
When the Labour Government came into office in 1941, almost all of the highly technical equipment required by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department was purchased overseas, with the result that. during the war, great difficulty was experienced in obtaining even limited supplies of apparatus. What was the position when the present Government took office? Factories had been established in various parts of the Commonwealth for the manufacture of equipment for domestic automatic exchanges and other apparatus, as well as for the production of cable cords. When I was Postmaster-General, one of our greatest problems was to obtain cord for connecting telephones. Now, several factories in Australia are producing such cord, and skilled men have been trained to work in them. Local manufacturers cannot supply the entire requirements of the department, and it is still necessary to obtain some materials from abroad. However, the manufacturing facilities that exist in Australia to-day are sufficient to enable the Postmaster-General’s Department to be largely independent of imports should another war break out. In order to carry out an extensive developmental programme in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, and to assist in the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen, the Labour Government arranged for the training of a large staff. I was associated with the beginning of that training programme. Thousands of men who had been in the armed forces were recruited and trained for work associated with the extension of postal services.
A good deal has been said about the provision of automatic telephone exchanges in rural areas. This matter received the special attention of the Chifley Government. While it was in power, orders were placed for 650 exchange in,stallations. Recently, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony), in the course of a statement, accepted full credit for the installation of new automatic telephone exchanges. Actually, the Labour Government had made all arrangements for thu installations long before the Menzies Government came into office. If the orders had not been placed by the department, while the Labour Government was in office. it. would not now be possible to proceed with a progressive programme for the installation of rural automatic exchanges. When I was PostmasterGeneral, I asked the department to give particular attention to the installation of automatic exchanges in rural areas, and to provide a cheap service for the people. I believe that people who live in sparsely populated areas, and who are engaged in producing wealth for the nation, are entitled to the same amenities as are the more fortunate people who live in’ the cities. Only by the installation of automatic exchanges can a day and night service be provided in thinly populated districts. A manual exchange cannot be kept open continuously unless there is a certain number of subscribers.
I propose now to give some examples of the work which was achieved under the Labour Government during its last three years of office. In the year preceding the war, 1938-39, the net increase in the number of telephones was only 31,821 compared with an increase of 49,100 in 1946-47. In 1947-48 the increase was 5S,000, and in 1948-49 it was 65,000. The hours of attendance at more than 2,000 country exchanges were extended, with the result that 82 per cent, of subscribers in the country now enjoy a full day and night service, and an additional 13 per cent, are connected to exchanges that are open in the evenings. During the same three years, 11,000 public telephones were installed. A low schedule of rental charges to rural telephone subscribers was maintained.
Many residents in rural districts live a long way from the telephone exchange, and are required to pay additional charges in respect of lines extending for more than two miles from the exchange. Those extra rental fees were reduced in January, 1946, to a nominal amount and 34,000 subscribers benefited to the amount of £28,000 a year. A more liberal policy was introduced in regard to providing public lines to connect new areas with the trunk line system, and the construction of 253 lines was authorized. New trunk lines, to the number of 1,326, were brought into service, and a programme to modernize important trunk line exchanges was put under way. A total of 330 new post offices were opened ; 460 house-to-house letter deliveries were introduced, and 730 existing letter deliveries were extended in frequency or area; 573 new road mail services were introduced; 939 existing routes were extended, and 1,019 services were increased in frequency. The number of air mail services was increased from 42 to 68, and several services were provided in sparsely populated areas to carry mail matter at ordinary rates. The route mileage of demestic air mail services was increased from 27,000 to 40,000. One thousand two hundred and twenty four street letter receivers were provided, and 2,017 new telegraph channels were opened. Modern phonogram and picturegram services were installed in capital cities.
During the eight years of Labour rule, the working conditions of postal employees were greatly improved, not only in regard to wages and allowances, but also in regard to amenities. When I became Postmaster-General, there was no such thing as a break for morning tea. An employee was lucky if he could slip out to a water tap for a drink. Later, canteen services were installed, and they have been greatly appreciated by employees. It has always been the experience that if fair conditions are provided for employees they will respond by giving better service. I have no doubt that, under the present Government, those amenities will continue to be provided. v
Sitting suspended from 18.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– The valuable service that has been rendered by postal employees is recognized by all sections of the community. I am sure that no honorable senator will question that. I make no apology for the action of the Chifley Government in improving working conditions and salaries and wages in the Postal Department. Ifr is true that, in recent years, due mainly to the shortage of man-power, industrial conditions generally throughout the Commonwealth have improved considerably, but I remind the Senate that the benefits extended by the Labour Administration to postal employees, were given before that time and without any such compulsion. Certain sections of the Postal Department are still suffering disabilities which would have been remedied by now had the Labour Government continued in office.
Reference has been made to the effect of the 40-hour week on the Postal Department. I remind the Senate that, prior to the introduction of the 40-hour week in 1948, many officials of the Postal Department were already working less than 40 hours. It was only right that their fellow workers should benefit from the general application of a shorter working week to industry. In those circumstances, the Labour Government had no hesitation in applying the Arbitration Court’s determination to the department.
The Chifley Government gave to nonofficial postmasters the first increase of wages that they had received for twenty years. Their working conditions were also improved. Those people render a valuable service to the community particularly in the sparsely populated outback areas, where, in times of adversity such as flood, and fire, they remain at their posts and keep telephonic communications open. I hope that the claims of these people for further improvements of their conditions, and increases of their pay, will be sympathetically considered by the Government. As the majority of non-official post offices are in rural areas, they should be the particular concern of members of the Australian Country party, of which the Postmaster-General himself is a member.
Having regard to the important service that the Postal Department is rendering, and the inescapable increases of costs with which it is faced, the Labour party recognizes that the only alternatives to an increase of postal tariffs would be either to curtail services severely, which of course would not be in the interests of the community, or to finance Postal Department deficits out of Consolidated Revenue. I emphasize that had it not been for the foresight of the Labour Government in placing orders for materials well ahead, much of the work that is being carried out to-day by the Postal Department could not have been undertaken. The Chifley Government’s prudence in this connexion saved the department many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and made possible the provision of many of the services for which the present Government is seeking credit to-day. I do not deny the Government any credit to which it is justly entitled, but the foundation of the Postal Department’s developmental plan was laid by the Curtin and Chifley Governments.
I come now t certain criticism of the Labour Government that was made by the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) last June when a measure to increase postal charges was before the Senate. The honorable senator said that many of the customers of the Postal Department - . . are not surprised because, as intelligent people, they know that, regardless of the efficiency of the permanent staff of the Postal Department, if socialism is to be applied to that great undertaking, the cost to the taxpayer must be heavy.
Evidently the application of Liberalism and the policy of the Australian Country party to the Postal Department, despite the efficiency of the staff, has not lightened the burden on the taxpayer. On the contrary, that burden has been increased almost intolerably. In 1949-50 the Postal Department incurred a deficit of £5,500,000. The deficit for- the current financial year is estimated at more than £10.000.000. The honorable senator went on to say -
This only goes to show that, regardless of the efficiency of the permanent administrators, if the political head who is temporarily in charge is bent on socialisation, the state of affairs that we are now contemplating is inevitable.
There has been no improvement in postal finances since this Government assumed office. In fact the drift has been accelerated. It is regrettable indeed that the people of this country were deceived by the policy speeches of the leaders of the present Government parties. Honorable senators opposite promised, among other things, to put value back into the £1, knowing well that that promise could not be fulfilled. Their desire to get back to the treasury bench was so great that they made foolish and irresponsible statements. They, resorted to every form of deception. It is unfortunate that the people of this country now have to suffer because those promises have not been fulfilled. Of course, no responsible person ever believed that this Government could put value back into the £1, but we all expected that at least some attempt would be made to halt inflation. No such attempt has been made, and I hope that something will be done soon to obviate the necessity for institutions such as the Postal Department continually to increase their tariffs in the mad %ace of inflation in this country to-day. As I have said, the deficit of the Postal Department has doubled in twelve months. Clearly it will become even higher if the inactivity of this Government during its first eleven months of office can be taken as a sample of its administration.
I express my appreciation of the services that have been rendered by the Postal Department to people of this country. I am confident that, no matter what Government is in power, the loyal and efficient service of postal employees will be continued. I invite the Minister for Trade and Customs who so trenchantly criticized the increases of postal charges made last year, to say whether he has now changed the opinions that he then expressed, merely because he is now on the Government side of the chamber. I hope that the Postal Department will continue the efficient work that it has done in the past in the interests of the welfare of the people of the Commonwealth.
– The increased charges imposed by this legislation are regretted, but in view of current trends, they are inevitable. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) expressed alarm at the prospect of a Postal Department deficit of £10,000,000 for the current financial year. He attributed the drift in postal finances to what he termed the malady of inflation. Let us review the scene. Has the honorable senator taken into account the fact that the State and Commonwealth parliaments agreed to the introduction of a 40-hour week in place of a 44-hour week? Does he accept his share of the responsibility, and that of the party to which he belongs, which had no hesitation in jumping on the communistic band wagon and shouting loudly for a reduced working week.
– I rise to order! The honorable senator has said that I had no hesitation in jumping on to the communistic band wagon. I take exception to that remark, and ask that it be withdrawn.
– If the words are offensive to the Leader of the Opposition, I withdraw them. I was speaking metaphorically. The Communist party wasthe spear head of the movement for a 40-hour week, and the Labour party tagged along with the Communists. The tail wagged the dog. Support for the movement gathered strength until ultimately a case was presented to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which acceded to the application. That was the start of the economic troubles that now beset us. Therefore, when the Leader of the Opposition refers to the malady of inflation, he should not lose sight of the fact that he played some part in setting the inflationary spiral in motion. The effect of the 40-hour week must be felt in thepostal services. Obviously if working time is reduced by more than 10 per cent., more employees must be engaged, and costs will consequently be higher. More people must be employed in the postal services to-day than were employed when the 44-hour week operated. In introducing the bill, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) stated that the introduction of the 40-hour week in the Postmaster-General’s Department had resulted last year in an increase of £1,000,000 in its wages bill, whilst the cost of overtime resulting from the adoption of the 40-hour week amounted to £1,300,000 for last financial year, compared with only £317,000 in 1946-47. The overtime aspect must be seriously considered because, with the shortage of manpower, there is an increasing, demand for skilled workmen to work more than a 40- hour week. The payment of time and a half or double time for overtime increases costs, not only in the Postal Department, but throughout industry generally. Overtime was really the cause of the existing tramway strike in Brisbane. The tramway men are opposed to working a 44-hour week. They secured a 40-hour week; but they are prepared to work 44 hours or more on an overtime basis. When the Department of Transport of the Brisbane City Council decided to curtail some night services, a certain amount of overtime was eliminated, and the tramway men went on strike, insisting that they should work longer hours in order to enjoy the benefits of overtime. The overtime necessary to maintain all important governmental services, because of the operation of the 40-hour week, costs an enormous amount of money.
– How would the honorable senator like to live on a tramway man’s wage?
– I have lived on much less than the wage paid to a tramway man to-day. I have had to work hard. I started my working life a long way behind scratch. I have worked for a basic wage of £2 10s. a week. I shall revert to that matter a little later. The Minister also gave us the interesting information that the wage bill of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has risen since the end of the war from £14,000,000 to £38,000,000, taking into account the additional cost involved in the recent basic wage judgment. He also said that the recent basic wage judgment will cost the Postal Department an additional £4,000,000 per annum in the wages bill. That is big money.
– Not at a time when the Government “ pinches “ money, £103,000,000 at a time from one section of the community.
– When we consider that there are 90,000 employees in this great department, these figures become understandable.
The Leader of the Opposition expressed alarm at the Government’s estimate of the deficit that will be revealed in the accounts of the Postal Department this financial year. He charged the Government with timidity in not asking parliamentary approval for heavier increases of charges in order to meet the anticipated deficit, which he has estimated will be £10,000,000. He said, in effect, that the Postmaster-:General (Mr. Anthony) should have taken a full bite at the apple while he was on the job.
– What does, the honorable senator think of that suggestion?
– No doubt, in asking for increased charges to be approved by the Parliament to meet only a portion of the probable deficit at the end of the year, the Minister was actuated by the fact that he cannot foresee what conditions may arise from day to day. There may be further awards of the industrial court, involving additional increases of wages before the 30th June next. Undoubtedly, he will have to ask for approval for increased charges, if not during the current financial year, at least after the Parliament has re-assembled in the spring of next year. I do not think that that can be avoided. We have to face realities. It is not a question of the lack of courage. The Postmaster-General requires money to carry on the multiplicity of services provided by his department. If he does not increase charges to balance the departmental budget he will be faced with the grim alternative of dispensing with the services of many employees, and of curtailing many existing services. I am sure that honorable senators generally are not eager for him to pursue that course. The Leader of the Opposition, in offering what I might describe as moderate criticism of the proposals in this bill, is skating on very thin ice. The Chifley Government, of which he was a member, increased postal charges by approximately £5,500,000 only last year. Even allowing for the increases imposed by the Chifley Government there was a deficit of £1,500,000 in the finances of the department in that year. The Minister for Repatriation has informed the Senate that there will be a deficit of £8,000,000 for the current financial .year if the existing rates are adhered to. The Leader of the Opposition has estimated that the deficit will be £10,000,000.
– The Minister said that it would be more than £8,000,000.
– When the final figures are available the Minister’s estimate may be found to be reasonably accurate.
– I invite the honorable senator to read the Minister’s second-reading speech. He said that the deficit will probably exceed £8,000,000.
– His estimation, expressed in round figures, was £8,000,000. From these new rates, he expects to get £6,700,000 additional revenue annually. As the new tariff will be applicable for only seven months of this financial year the additional revenue collectable for the balance of the year will be approximately only £4,000,000. It is clear that the department will incur a substantial deficit when the accounts have been closed at the 30th June, 1951. That brings me back to the point which I made earlier - that we must face realities. The privileges and concessions conferred by the parliaments and the courts through the granting of high wages and fewer working hours have to be paid for by some one, somehow, somewhere, and some time. Apparently, the Leader of the Opposition is one of the idealists who are constantly looking for a pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow, and stands in with the group of people who want the wage and hour standards of 1950, and the living costs of 1939. That has never worked in this country, and it will never work either here or in any country.
– What does the honorable senator suggest?
– I shall make some interesting suggestions when the budget is under discussion but I should be out of order if I did so now.
Although provision has been made to increase telephone rentals used for private and business needs in the more densely populated areas, mostly metropolitan, I am pleased to note that in areas served by from 1 to 300 lines a reduction of 5s. in the rental is to be made, and that no variation has been made in respect of areas served by 301 to 1,000 lines. This concession will apply principally to telephone users in rural areas and will be welcomed by them. It has been made on just grounds.
– That concession was made by the Chifley Government.
– If that is so, and if the Leader of the Opposition had any share in granting it, I give him credit for his action. Provision has also been made to increase the postage rates. A few years ago. a campaign was conducted, I think by Mr. J. Henniker Heaton, a member of the House of Commons, for universal penny postage. For some years penny postage was in operation in this country, but at that time the costs of wages, goods and services were correspondingly low. At that time the basic wage was approximately £3 a week. Now, it is approaching £9 a week. The postage rate has moved progressively in the same ratio. When penny postage was in existence about 30 years ago, a suit of clothes could be purchased for £4 4s. In those halcyon days a tailor would throw in an extra pair of trousers for good measure. Shoes and boots could be bought for 10s. a pair, and socks for from 6d. to 9d. a pair. First-class hotel accommodation in country towns could then be obtained for 8s. a day. Moreover, at that time hotel proprietors were pleased to accommodate a patron. That sort of hotel proprietor is rarely seen in these days. Thirsty souls could buy an imperial pint of beer for 4d. and the grocer never failed to throw in a bag of lollies for the kiddies when his customer paid the monthly account. In this advanced socialistic era, all that has gone by the board. In those palmy days at Christmas time, the grocer never forgot to throw in a bottle of wine or a bottle of whisky according to the value of the customer’s account. That has all gone with the wind. After 30 years what has the wage-earner to show for all the strife, strikes, political and industrial efforts? Have any real gains been made? His wages have risen,- but costs have risen in the same ratio. All the strife, bitterness, political and industrial effort have been of little purpose. Three pounds to-day will buy no more than £1 would buy 30 years ago. What is the use of having a fistful of bank-notes each week if they will not buy any more than could be bought for £1 or £2 thirty years ago? All the struggle and strife by political Labour men, industrial Labour unions and trade unions has been futile. We have proof of its failure in the postage stamp, which will cost 3d. when this bill is passed, but which cost only Id. 30 years ago. The cost of the postage stamp has increased threefold; wages have increased threefold; but the cost of all services and commodities has also increased threefold, and we are again back where we started. I invite honorable senators to compare present conditions with those of 30 years ago, in order to ascertain whether the purchasing power of wages is now any greater than it was then. The wage-earner now receives more bank-notes in his pay envelope, but increased wages necessarily mean increased costs and those cost3 cancel the advantages of increased wages. This bill to increase* postal charges, in order to meet increased costs occasioned by fewer hours of work, provides proof of that contention. Thirty years ago a sixteen-word telegram cost 9d., whereas to-day provision is being made for an increase from ls. 6d. to 2s. for a fourteen-word telegram. As the Minister has already informed the Senate, the parcels rate of 6d per lb. was approved twenty years ago. It is now being increased to 9d. for the carriage of parcels up to 30 miles, and from 9d. to ls. per lb. for carriage within a State. Those increased charges are part of the price which the community must pay because of decisions made in this Parliament and by industrial tribunals. Had the Labour Government still been in power, I have no doubt that it would have done exactly the same as it did last year and as this Government is compelled to do now.
– That is quite correct.
– Apparently we are unanimous on that point. I wish to compliment the Postmaster-General on the vigorous approach he has made to all the problems connected with the administration of the Postal Department. Last May he announced in Parliament that better telephone services would be provided in rural districts. As an example, assuming that the premises of six applicants are located at distances between two and three miles from an exchange and that there is no existing departmental pole line on the route, the department will erect the lines for the full distance. Formerly, departmental construction would terminate approximately If miles from the exchange, and the applicants would be required to erect lines for distances of from $ mile to H miles at a total cost of about £200. Similar concessions have been granted by the Minister in connexion with other rural telephone services. Those concessions and improved services are proving most helpful to telephone subscribers who live away from towns and cities. Much was done by the BrucePage Government in the ‘twenties to improve telephone facilities for country- dwellers, and I am certain that under the direction of the present PostmasterGeneral that good work will continue. I wish to see every rural home, in Queensland particularly, and in Australia as a whole, supplied with a telephone. Those who venture to the far interior of thiscountry, and produce wealth in remote and lonely places, are entitled to that amenity.
I desire to pay a tribute to the splendidwork being performed by mail contractors in the bush. Their work, for themost part, is performed by means of” motor vehicles, but there are still many who are obliged to negotiate such rough country that the mails must be carried on horseback or by packhorse. I onceowned a property in the Dawson Riverdistrict, out of Taroom, where the mail was delivered on horseback once a week. The contractor, Mr. Hughie McCorley. known to every one as “ Old Hughie “,. ran that mail service in hail, rain or shine for 27 years. Men such as that are still doing the job to-day. They get the mails through and in that way help tobrighten the lives of the bush folk. Last year the eastern portion of Australia experienced phenomenal rains and floods. Many mail contractors in the black soil country of the far western, central western and north western divisions of” Queensland incurred heavy expense because of the necessity to replace differentials, clutch gears, brakes, tyres and tubeswhich had been damaged in the heavy black soil of the boggy roads. I suggest to the Minister that consideration, might be given to that matter. Those men are not organized in the same way as are wharf labourers and coal-miners,, and they have not easy access to Ministers. They are struggling individuals scattered over a vast territory. I met many of them during the State election campaign in Queensland last year. They havegiven very faithful service, and if it is not possible for compensation to be paid to them for the losses that they have incured, perhaps the services that they haverendered might be sympathetically weighed when tenders for mail contractsare due for renewal.
When the Postal Department was under State control many post offices were erected in Queensland by men who looked- ahead and built against future requirements. The post offices they built were commodious, and they stand to-day as fine examples of architectural beauty and design. The post offices at Rockhampton, Townsville and Warwick are in that category.
– Who built the post office at Brisbane?
– I did not include that one. Senator Cameron, as an exPostmasterGeneral, should know that I omitted that post office for a good reason. I had hoped that during his term of office something would be done to provide a new post office for Bisbane However, that did not eventuate and under present-day conditions it would seem to be very far distant. Prior to federation, successive PostmasterGenerals of Queensland were big men who looked far ahead. They not only provided post offices in many of the cities find towns that met the needs of the moment, but they also provided against the future development of those cities and towns.
– They did not do very much for Brisbane !
– I have already exempted Brisbane. Since federation, in my opinion the standard of post office architecture has greatly deteriorated. Most of the post office buildings erected since then lack an air of permanency, while many of them are of weatherboard construction and must have a very limited life. All too frequently they are built to meet immediate requirements, and no provision is made for the expansion of towns and cities in a fast developing State such as Queensland. Although the population of this country to-day is approximately 8,000,000, in 50 years time it may well be 20,000,000 or 30,000,000. The persons who are entrusted with the task of administering government departments should bear that in mind. The criticism may be made that nothing can be done to-day because of the shortage of labour and materials. I admit that that shortage exists, but 1 suggest that it will pass. The Treasury building in Brisbane is a magnificent example of architecture. Senator Robertson has informed me that her father worked as a leading hand or a foreman on the construction of that building. It is a work that will endure. 1 trust that when future government buildings are being erected we shall not, in the interests of speed, overlook the need to give a lead to the general public by erecting buildings that will meet the requirements not only of the times, but also of the future, and that emphasis will be placed on architectural design. Some public buildings at present being erected in Queensland are constructed of fibro cement, which demonstrates my statement that quality and design are being sacrificed for the sake of speed. No attempt is ever made to demolish such buildings, and we go on from year to year and from decade to decade using buildings that do not accord with our conception of what government buildings should be.
It would be agreeable to me, and no doubt to all honorable senators, if costs, wages, and hours of labour could be stabilized. thereby eliminating the need for increased postal rates. But we are being tossed about on the stormy seas of inflation. It is clear that further increased charges are inevitable in the future. The recent basic wage judgment will put into circulation approximately £150,000,000 of new money against the same physical volume of production and will cause a rise in prices of all goods and services, including those provided by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, of from 10 per cent, to 15 per cent. The increase of the basic wage will punch another gaping hole in the purchasing power of the Australian £1 and will make increased charges by the Postal Department, and by all other departments, as certain as the rising of the sun. However, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. I support the bill.
– I do not intend to traverse the same ground as that covered by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley). He has given honorable senators a very good idea of what was done during the term of office of the Labour Government. AH I wish to say in passing is that when the Curtin Government came into power in 1941 it inherited a Postal Department that had been starved for years. In consequence of that, it was faced with the task of overcoming enormous arrears of work. There were arrears from the depression years and the war years. During the depression years, there was no lack of man-power and materials in this country with which to keep the department reasonably up to date, but there was a lack of governments who were possessed of the necessary initiative, knowledge and general capacity to do the task that should have been done. Consequently, during the 1930’s the Postal Department was starved and hundreds of thousands of workers were semi-starved. Almost unlimited material was available, but it was not used. The Labour party inherited that state of affairs when it came into power. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, the Labour Government, having considered the work that had to be done, decided to budget for three years ahead rather than from year to year, and authorized the expenditure of £42,000,000. Subsequently, the Postal Department made all the progress to which the Leader of the Opposition referred and prepared the way for what is being done to-day.
Senator Maher referred to inflation. As one who is very interested in what we call inflation, I waited for him to say what he meant by that word. He said that inflation was the cause of all our troubles, and that it was caused by the 40-hour week and increased wages. Neither a 40-hour week nor a 20-hour week would cause inflation if our currency were based upon the principle of value for value.
– Hours of work could be reduced and wages increased until the stage was reached when we were unable to sell our products because of high costs.
– It would not be difficult to dispose of our products if there were sufficient purchasing power in the hands of the people who wanted them. When the people lack purchasing power, as they have done over the years, it is clear that there is a lack of knowledge and possibly something worse than that - an attempt to exploit the workers and impoverish them to the border-line of necessity in order to increase profits. I shall not deal with that matter now, but
I point out to Senator Maher that the 40-hour week did not cause inflation. Incidentally, the 40-hour week was not pioneered by the Communists. We spoke of the 40-hour week in Coolgardie in 1S96. All that the Communists did in their support of the 40-hour week was to play on a pitch that had already been established by leaders of the Labour movement.
– The Labour movement was demanding an eight-hour day then. Its slogan was “ Eight hours work and eight hours ‘pay “.
– That is so. As we progressed, and as labour time became a diminishing factor in production, the workers said, quite rightly, that the more they produced, the more they should receive. But that did not happen. The position moved, so to speak, in reverse gear, and the more the workers produced, the less they received of what they produced. The mechanization of industry has enabled workers to produce enormously in excess of what they receive as wages. The more that they produce, the smaller is the proportion of the total wealth that they receive.
Senator Maher referred to increases of wages. When we speak of wages, we must bear in mind that wages in terms of money are one thing and that wages in terms of commodities are another thing. The real value of a wage is not the money that the worker receives but what he is able to purchase with his wage. Although employees of the Postal Department and other undertakings have received considerable increases of wages in terms of money, they have not received increases in terms of the commodities that they can purchase with their wages. No antiLabour Government has ever attempted to adjust that position as it could be adjusted. I disagree entirely with Senator Maher’s statement that wages have increased. Any one who knows anything about the subject will admit that real wages have not increased, although, in order to mislead people who do not know any better, it has been made to appear that they have increased. Unfortunately, the workers generally, owing to their State school educations, are kept in ignorance - and purposely so - of the true position. Although the basic wage is now nearly £9 a week, the purchasing power of that wage is no greater than was the purchasing power of the wage that the workers received 30 years ago. Indeed, I do not think it is as great. The confidence trick that has been played is largely responsible for the present state of finances of the Postal Department.
– Why does the honorable senator say that a confidence trick has been played?
– There is not the slightest doubt about it. The workers have been taught to believe that they receive in the form of wages what they earn, but in fact they receive only a small proportion of what they’ earn. That is part and parcel of the confidence trick that has been perpetrated by politicians, bankers, and others who profit by keeping the workers in ignorance and as near as possible to the poverty line. If the workers received all that they earned, there would be no poverty and no surpluses for war purposes. When the workers produce greatly in excess of what they receive, there is an enormous surplus that is used for luxury offices,* luxury residences, and luxury transport. In addition, enormous sums of money are available to be expended upon war purposes. The real cause of poverty and war is that the workers are not receiving anything like what they produce. The whole scheme of things, capitalistically, is a colossal confidence trick, of which the majority of the workers are the innocent victims.
– Why does not the Labour party explain that to the workers ?
– That is what I am doing now. I am faced in this chamber with the almost impossible task of penetrating thick skulls with bright ideas.
The sum and substance of the contention of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) is that increases of post and telegraph charges are necessary owing to increased costs. That is true up to a point. During the last general election campaign, the Government parties said that if they were returned to power they would control costs, but the Go vernment has not attempted to do that. What it has done, for all practical purposes, has been to give the merchants and suppliers of material a free hand to charge what they like for the materials that most of us require. Consequently, the Postal Department is in the unfortunate position that it must pay unwarranted prices for the materials that it requires; otherwise it does not get them. In times of war, of course, the Commonwealth can acquire the materials that it needs. The Government has given suppliers of materials practically a free hand to charge what they think fit for the supplies that the Postal Department needs.
– If prices are controlled, the black-marketeer comes into the picture and demands even higher prices.
– If we rationed purchasing power in the same way as we rationed food there would not be a black market, because there would be insufficient purchasing power to pay blackmarket prices. We could control the position in Australia as far as suppliers of materials in this country are concerned, although we could not exercise the same measure of control over suppliers in overseas countries, but the Government hae not attempted to exercise control of suppliers in this country. It has allowed them to charge what; they like for their material, and now it has come to the Parliament and said that it cannot pay its way.
Since 1939, the work of the Postal Department has increased enormously. In that year, the approximate turnover of the department was £180,000,000, compared with approximately £500,000,000 at the present time. That is an indication of the enormous increase of developmental work and postal business conducted by the department. The Government has. stated that the proposed increases will increase the revenue of the department by £6,700,000, but, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, it is probable that the deficit in respect of the next financial year will be greater than that. If the Government does not change its policy in this connexion, what the Leader of the Opposition said would occur- will occur. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) in his second-reading speech gave the Senate an indication of the extent to which costs have increased. He said -
To quote instances, the following rises have occurred during the period: -
Public telephone cabinets from £41 to £71. Telephone instruments from £3 3s. to £o 2s. One hundred pair cable from £333 to £600. Copper wire from £142 to £310. Postal uniforms from £5 8s. to £7 14s. 1 emphasize that there has been no real increase in the actual cost of labour and commodities, but there has been an enormous increase in terms of inflated or debased currency. That is part and parcel of the confidence trick to which I have referred. The Minister has stated that unforseen additional costs occurred during the year 1949-50 including increases in wages and salaries as a result of arbitration awards, prices of materials, payments to non-official postmasters, and freight cartage and mail conveyance charges. Whilst that is true up to a point, we must establish the difference between the artificial, fictitious or fraudulent cost, and real cost. The Minister went on to say -
The alternative to the adoption of new Charges to place the department on a sounder financial footing would be to -
Curtail services and maintenance work with consequent detriment to national development and depreciation of valuable public assets;
Dismiss large numbers of the staff;
Throw an additional burden on the taxpayers;
Stimulate the demand for Post Office facilities by making them available at rates much less than those justified by the costs incurred or by their value to users.
I am confident that all honorable senators would oppose, the curtailing of services, while large numbers of staff could not be dismissed because, as Senator Maher has pointed out, the staff at present works under very different conditions from those that obtained 30 years ago. The department is now highly mechanized, as a result of which considerably more work is being carried out than formerly, with less labour power. No doubt honorable senators have seen postmen performing their duties on motor cycles, and many mechanical devices are used at the various post offices. I remind the Minister that the burden will be thrown on to the tax-payers whether we like it or not. However, the wealthy taxpayers will not bear the burden of the increases, because the cost of distributing millions of circulars by post each year is passed on to the consumers by big business establishments, in the form of increased charges. In the main, additional costs usually fall fairly and squarely on the shoulders of people in the lower-income groups. In the majority of instances the increased charges that are set out in the schedule to the bill will be absorbed in increased prices of commodities that are required by workers. In most other countries the same technique has been adopted, with the same result.
The Minister has stated that special attention is being given to the maintenance of sufficient facilities for the public. I trust that the policy of the former Government will be preserved in this connexion. Additional railways should be constructed in sparsely populated areas. I should like to see telephonic and postal facilities provided in all sparsely populated centres. _ This would assist the policy of decentralization in this country, because the cities would cease to attract workers from rural areas. Generally speaking, people living in those areas lead healthier lives than city workers do. The conversion of 650 rural manual exchanges to automatic exchanges will prove of considerable benefit to the people in the areas concerned. The Minister also stated in his second-reading speech -
Since 1939 telegraph business has risen by more than 100 per cent., but staff has grown by less than 80 per cent.; telephone traffic has increased by 60 per cent, but little more than 40 per cent, additional staff are employed. The growth in postal staff has been only slightly greater than the increase in business in spite of the greater frequency and scope of mail services and letter deliveries, as well as a substantial growth in the volume and diversity of services carried out for other departments. Administrative and professional officers now represent only 7.2 per cent, oi all employees compared with 7.8 per cent, in 1939.
– There is a big difference between a percentage and a figure.
– The Postal Department has extended its business and is now employing less labour power. In terms of depreciated currency, however, the deficit is apparently irreconcilable. The real cost of providing postal services to-day is less than formerly, although the artificially loaded, fictitious, or fraudulent cost is much higher. This is the fundamental anomaly or contradiction in connexion with the working of the Postal Department that will have to he overcome if the department is to be improved. The Postal Department should not be allowed to deteriorate as it did in the years prior to 1939. At the outbreak of World War II. much of the equipment of the department was obsolete. However, I consider that we were extremely fortunate to have a big reservoir of trained personnel in that department. Speaking from memory, approximately 7,000 ordinary personnel of the department joined the fighting services, and about 800 executive officers were seconded to other departments. It is vital to Australia that the equipment of the Postal Department should be kept up to- date. It should not again be allowed to become obsolete.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women that are employed by the Postal Department. They are slaves to duty to a far greater degree than are many other men and women with whom I have been associated. I have never known a more conscientious body of workers, particularly during periods of emergency. At the time of the wide-spread floods in New South Wales, telephonists worked waist-deep in water, and during the recent bad weather in northern Queensland telegraph linemen were exposed to risk of attack by sharks and crocodiles when endeavouring to restore communications. They did a wonderful job under very trying and difficult conditions. As I have stated before in this chamber, the time is fast approaching when we shall have to consider reorganizing our internal economy, in order to meet recurring deficits from Consolidated Revenue. If deficits are to be made up in that way, the higher income groups of the population will have to pay more into Consolidated Revenue. We cannot allow the Postal Department to be starved much longer.
Reference has been made to the Brisbane Post Office. Various governments during the last twenty years have promised to provide a new general post office in Brisbane, but nothing has been done. The South Brisbane Post Office, which we closed down, was housed in a hovel that was originally a butcher’s shop. When it became too dilapidated to use as a shop, it was taken over by the Postal Department. I have been informed that the Brisbane Post Office was built by convict labour. I am sure that Senator Maher would like to see postal and other works in Australia still done by conscript labour, if not by convict labour. The Brisbane Post Office could have been replaced by a new building years before the war, but nothing was done. There are in Australia about 2,000 official post offices, and 8,000 nonofficial post offices. Most of the official post offices could well be replaced by up-to-date buildings. I agree with Senator Maher that the use of prefabricated buildings as post offices should not be tolerated. In country towns, the three best buildings are usually the hotel, the picture theatre and the church, whilst the post office, which is the most useful of all, is a dilapidated structure. There is always plenty of money to provide bank premises, also, and good residences for bank managers, but the postmaster is usually housed in a dilapidated building.
– That seems to be an argument in favour of private enterprise.
– Private enterprise prospers by robbing the workers. There are only two ways of making profit - !by underpaying the workers, or by overcharging the public. Private enterprise is legalized or, at any rate, tolerated, robbery. In time of war, governments have to bring ‘private enterprise under control. The trouble is that we have never been able to control it effectively. Private enterprise is robbing the Postal Department to-day by charging too much for materials and services.
– The best telephone service in the world Ls in the United States of America, and is run by private enterprise.
– I suppose that is why there were 6,000,000 unemployed persons in the United States of America when the Korean war broke out. If private enterprise were kept under control, as it must be ultimately, it would be possible to provide modern postal buildings, and to make the working conditions of postal employees ideal. In Brisbane, postal employees are working in an old brewery cellar that is infested by rats, and because of the conditions men are contracting tuberculosis and other diseases. The cafeteria used to be in the basement until we insisted that it be established in a new building. If private enterprise were controlled, Australia, instead of being privately owned as it is now, would be collectively owned by the people, who have the best right to it.
– Then we should all be living under conditions similar to those in Russia.
– I have no doubt that conditions are bad in other countries, but that is no reason why we should tolerate bad conditions here. Indeed, if conditions are bad in Russia or Germany or America, we should regard the fact as a good reason why we ought to set a better example. That is the ideal of the Labour movement. After all, what is the purpose of life ? It is living, and part of our purpose should be to make our lives better worth living. Our motto should be, “ The greatest good for the greatest number “, but the disciples of private enterprise would reverse the motto. My only complaint is that the Labour movement is inclined to acquese too much in the subjection of the workers. If it were otherwise, honorable senators opposite would not be here. They would be replaced by others with more progressive views.
– Surely the honorable senator would not describe the waterside workers as quiescent.
– The waterside workers are much the same as other people.
– The ships are quiescent, but the waterside workers are not.
– I was a waterside worker once. On the Fremantle wharf, as far back as 1910, I carried wheat for ls. 3d. an hour. In my day, the waterside workers were treated like cattle. Every day, 500 or 600 men gathered at the picking-up place and, so far as the employers were concerned, they could starve if they did not work under the conditions laid down by the employers. Senator Robertson could learn something about the conditions that obtained in her own State. If we are to prevent recurring deficits in the Postal Department, it will be necessary to control banking and prices. Deficits cannot be prevented while contractors and suppliers of materials are allowed to be a law unto themselves. They fix their own charges, and all the Government can do is “ to pass the buck”. A proper measure of control could be instituted without inflicting hardship or inconvenience.
Big business is not concerned about increases of postal charges. The increases will go into the price of commodities, and will be paid by the workers. It is true that the workers do not post many letters, but, in the long run, they will have to find the millions of pounds which big business interests pay in postage. I trust that what I have said will provide food for thought for members of the Government. If they do not heed my words, deficits will continue to increase until the standard postage rate for a letter will be 6d. or more, and other charges will be increased proportionately.
– It was inevitable that a measure of this kind would have to come before the Senate sooner or later. If previous governments had been able to foresee the development that would take place in Australia, we should not now be faced with such colossal costs for the provision of telephone services. We are paying dearly for the maladministration of the Postal Department in the years that followed the resignation as PostmasterGeneral of the late Senator Gibson. He was the only Postmaster-General before 1941 who drew up a comprehensive programme for the extension of telephone facilities. After his time, anti-Labour governments seemed to lose interest in the Postal Department. A few weeks ago the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) said that he was ashamed to go to his own electorate because of the disgraceful condition of the Lismore post office.
We have been told that higher postal charges are necessary because of the increase of the basic wage, the institution of the 40-hour week, and the fact that the workers will not work hard enough. I shall try to show to the Senate that that is not correct. The high cost of providing and maintaining postal and telephonic services to-day is due mainly to the neglect of the needs of the department during the depression years, and to the high price of materials. I could take honorable senators on a trip through the Commonwealth and show them many telephone exchanges that are in an even worse condition than the Lismore telephone exchange. Those conditions have not existed only in the last five or ten years ; they have existed for at least twenty years. In the years between the depression and the start of the World War II., executive officers of the Postal Department tried vainly to convince successive anti-Labour governments of the need to make funds available for the improvement of postal and telephonic facilities and services. In those days, the revenue derived from the Postal Department was never used to increase the salaries and wages of postal employees or to provide amenities for them. The profits were paid to consolidated revenue to obviate the necessity to increase taxes. Developmental work was starved for finance. Plans prepared by engineers of the Postal Department were pigeon-holed. The story always was that sufficient funds were not available. In the meantime, buildings that had been erected 50 or 60 years previously were falling into a lamentable state of disrepair, telephone lines were collapsing, and men were working under the most primitive conditions. That is when the job of placing our postal facilities and services on a sound basis should have been started. Year after year, departmental officials prepared estimates for new post offices, telephone exchanges, trunk lines, and other services, but always the anti-Labour governments, of which the present Minister for Repatriation (Senator ‘Cooper) was a supporter, refused to make the necessary funds available. There was no shortage of materials, and thousands of Australians were unable to obtain employment.
We were told by the Minister in hissecondreading speech that, since 1944-45- the price of public telephone cabinets had increased from £41 to £71, telephone instruments from £3 3s. to £5 2s., 100 pair- eable from £333 to £600 a mile, copper wire from £142 to £310 a mile, and postal uniforms from £5 8s. to £7 14s. Honorable senators can gauge from that table what the cost of post office and telephone materials and equipment was in the 1930’s when, year after year, developmental plans prepared by postal officials were summarily rejected by non-Labour governments. Had those governments measured up to their responsibilities, they would have provided the Postal Department with sufficient funds at least to maintain its services, and thus much of the heavy maintenance and replacement expenditure with which we are now confronted would have been obviated.
Senator Maher said that we should get. back to the conditions of 30 years ago. I have no doubt that he would like to do so.. Those were the days when a telegraph messenger whom I knew, was transferred from Melbourne to Sydney at a salary of £39 per annum, plus £13 per annum living-away allowance. His board cost him £1 a week, which left him nothing at all for clothing, medical or other expenses and he had to remain a charge on his parents. That was typical of the Postal Department 30 years ago. Surely no one wants to return to those days. I remember too that married men on the line staff were sent away from their families to country districts for two or three years. Many of them were unable to return to their homes at all during that period, and, in some instances, upon their return, their young children did not recognize them.
Senator Maher also said that linemen and other postal workers did not work even for 40 hours a week. I should like the honorable senator to come with me to a line camp and see how those men work digging trenches for underground’ cables, erecting telegraph poles, or running wires. There are no better workers in any industry in the Commonwealth, and I say that as one who had 25 years experience in the Postal Department. Before idle dreamers such as Senator Maher seek to take away the good name of postal workers, they should endeavour to see for themselves how those men labour. As Senator Cameron said, during the recent floods in Queensland and New South “Wales linemen worked up to their necks in water in an endeavour to maintain telephonic communications. In the great Victorian bush fires of 1925 and 1943, they risked their lives in blazing forests. Those are the men who to-day Senator Maher and his colleagues seek to malign.
Had it not been for the foresight of the Labour Government in 1941, Postal Department deficits to-day would be infinitely greater than they are. From the time that the Labour administration assumed office, it was prepared to accept the advice of its postal advisers, and a start was made on a comprehensive programme of expansion. The real credit for that work is due not to the present Administration, but to postal engineers, planners, and workers. Had it not been for wise administration by the present Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) and later by Senator Cameron, the Postal Department would not have reached its present stage of efficiency and development.
We are told that there is every possibility of a third world war. At the outbreak of World War II. the Postal Department was confronted .with the urgent necessity to provide telephonic communications for the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force. Senior officers of the services will vouch for the fact that, in those days, telephone equipment had to be taken from private establishments in huge quantities to meet the needs of outarmed forces. That was the result of neglect in the years when, although materials and equipment were cheap and man-power was available in abundance, nothing was done. During the depression men were asked to work as casual linemen in country areas. They were treated like animals. Married men had to leave their families and keep two homes going on the basic wage of £4 a week. Many of them were unable to see their families for perhaps three, six or twelve months. Some had been unemployed, and had had few square meals for many months, ye! they were expected to work eight and three-quarter hours a day with pneumatic picks digging trenches for underground cables. Those are the days to which Senator Maher apparently would liketo return. In the depression years too,, no technicians were trained, although hundreds of men were seeking employment. That was the origin of the present shortage of trained staff, including telegraphists and linemen.
No mention is made in the Minister’s second-reading speech of the provision of amenities for postal workers, particularly in country towns. In some towns, postal employees, many of whom are ex-servicemen, have to eat their meals in the street. They have no washing facilities or rooms where they may change their clothing after working with dirty materials such as creosote and tar. They are ashamed when fellow passengers in trams and trains move away from them. Those are the conditions under which linemen work.
– In outback areas ?
– No. They operate in areas within a radius of 20 miles of Melbourne. As the result of the 40-hour week, the wages bill of the department was increased last year by £1,000,000 and the cost of overtime was increased by £317,000. The operating costs of the department have risen principally as the result of increases of the prices of materials. In the period from 1932 to 1934, the works programmes of the department were prepared five, ten or fifteen years in advance. Half a dozen large motor trucks would be needed to clear the pigeon-holes in the department’s offices in Melbourne of developmental plans which were prepared years ago which have had to be scrapped because of the maladministration of the Menzies Government in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of World War II.
Because postal workers have always upheld the principle of arbitration, they have been given a raw deal. Had they followed the example of their comrades in the militant trade unions, and held up the services which are vital to the welfare of the people, they would probably be much better off than they are to-day. They will not tolerate existing conditions much longer. In the past they have always accepted without question the decisions of either the Public Service Board or the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator. Whatever honorable senators opposite may say to the contrary, the wages of postal workers have always been pegged, but the cost of living has never been pegged. Postal workers receive only those wage increases which are granted by the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator. Honorable senators opposite frequently ask us whether we favour the pegging of wages. The wages of public servants have always been pegged. The Public Service Arbitrator took no less than eighteen months to reach a decision on the most recent claim lodged by postal workers for increased wages. The Postal Department would be in a very much better position to-day but for the maladministration of a non-Labour government in the early years of the depression. It would not be capable of providing the services which it provides to-day had it not been administered by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) and Senator Cameron during the regime of the Labour administrations. Both of them permitted the trained and efficient officers of the department to exercise their judgment in matters concerning its administration and the government of the day invariably accepted their recommendations. As the result of their wise administration, the department has been able largely to overtake the lag in the provision of services that commenced at the outbreak of World War II. This Government will be forced to carry on the programme laid down by the Chifley Government for the expansion of postal, telegraph and telephone services. The Government is now asking the department to curtail its expenditure. If the expenditure of the department is cut the services which it provides must be curtailed.
– It is noteworthy that when Senator Cameron, who was Postmaster-General in the Chifley Government, vacated his office in December, 1949, his successor, the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), on taking over his office, paid a great tribute to the work done by his predecessor. He said that the department as administered by Senator Cameron had exercised economy, had adopted the latest labour-saving devices, had observed modern methods of procedure and had applied proper checks and that the output of work of the staff had been eminently satisfactory. He has since administered the department on the lines laid down by his predecessor. Prior to relinquishing office Senator Cameron said that as a result of the 40-hour week, the activities of the department had resulted in a deficit of £5,000,000.
– That is a ridiculous statement.
– Those were his very words.
– He did not say that without qualification.
– He would not hazard a guess at the additional cost of materials resulting from the 40-hour week. The Postmaster-General anticipates that the operations of the department this year will result in a deficit of approximately £8,000,000.
I was astonished at some of the extraordinary statements that were made by Senator Hendrickson. I cannot believe it is true that 30 years ago linemen were often away from their homes and their families for three years on end.
– That is quite correct.
– No one would believe such a statement. I compliment the honorable senator, however, on having paid a tribute to a former PostmasterGeneral, the late Senator Gibson, with whom I was privileged to sit in this Senate for a short period. As a representative of the Australian Country party, Senator Gibson was well aware of the need for improving telephone communications in country areas. He was, I believe, chiefly responsible for the installation of automatic telephone exchanges in Australia. I was glad to hear Senator Hendrickson speak so well of his work. I believe that the installation of automatic telephone exchanges in country areas is of much greater importance than the installation of television stations.
The Postmaster-General’s Department is operated not for profit but for the purpose of providing services to the people. The financial stability of this great socialistic concern is threatened because of rising costs resulting principally from the 40-hour week. This country cannot afford a 40-hour week. In spite of the increase of postal, telephone and telegraph charges, the department is faced with a deficit of £8,000,000 at the end of this financial year.
– It will have to face the prospect of a deficit in the following year.
– If so, we shall have to meet the position as best we can. It is not unlikely that in the future contributions from Consolidated Revenue will have’ to be made to meet the deficits resulting from the transactions of the department, thereby spreading the loss over the whole community.
Some of the charges made by the department are to be increased by 33 per cent, and others by 50 per cent. In one instance a 60 per cent, increase is contemplated. When this bill is passed charges will almost reach the limit to which they can be safely increased. It is regrettable that such heavy increases have to be made, but they are inevitable because of rising prices.
The department provides many services for other departments but for which, I understand, it receives no payment. Among other things, it handles invalid, age, widow and war pensions, child endowment, allotments of members of the naval, military and air forces, repayments on war service homes, deposits and withdrawals for the Commonwealth Savings Bank, beer duty stamps, savings certificates, income tax stamps and entertainments tax coupons. The department is called upon to do a vast amount of work which is outside its normal activities. I had hoped that some of these extra services might be taken from that department and spread over other Commonwealth departments, but I have been unable to learn what other Common wealth instrumentalities could handle the work as efficiently and expeditiously as it is handled by postal employees.
There is one aspect of the administration of the Postmaster-General’s Department about which, until recently, I knew nothing. I do not believe that it is generally known that it operates a scheme for the training of engineers.
– The honorable senator is twenty years behind the times.
– I do not think that the general public is aware of the existence of this scheme. The Postal Department recruits undergraduates in engineering and trains them for its special purposes.
– It also provides engineering scholarships.
– According to the Auditor-General’s report the scheme has not been in operation for twenty years, as Senator Murray has said, but only since 1949. These men are trained for service as telephone and radio engineers. I commend the scheme. The cadets are selected from undergraduates who have completed at least one year of the engineering course at a recognized university. They remain at the university until they have completed the degree course. Graduates continue to be cadets for a further twelve months, during which period they receive general departmental training, and are then appointed as engineers- to specialize in a certain type of work. I consider that that is an excellent arrangement. During their course of training cadet engineers are paid salaries equivalent to those of clerks in the Commonwealth Public Service, and the university fees vary according to the salaries the cadets are paid. It is an excellent opportunity for lads who have attended universities fdr twelve months. Unfortunately, the parents of many boys are unable, for financial reasons, to send them to a university, and therefore this scheme is of no assistance in such cases. But the department has gone further. It has selected boys from the leaving certificate classes and has provided them with an opportunity to be trained.
I congratulate it. I am not at all concerned whether it was a Labour government or a Liberal government that introduced the scheme. All I am concerned with is that it is in operation and is providing the Postal Department with trained men.
As I stated earlier, increases of postal rates are inevitable. It gives me no cause for happiness that they should be necessary, but the plain fact is that they are necessary. Even so, they will not provide sufficient revenue to balance the budget. Honorable senators will no doubt agree that the Postal Department provides excellent service. As a country man, I consider that an automatic country telephone exchange is one of the greatest boons that can be provided for country people.
No tribute is too high to pay to the great number of unofficial postmasters and postmistresses. I was delighted when Senator Maher commended the men who carry the mails in outback areas, but perhaps that commendation should be extended to include the great body of mail-carriers in all parts of the Commonwealth. Australians should be proud of the fact that they have such an efficient organization as the Postal Department. Although I consider that the increased charges will not be sufficient to meet the cost of services rendered and to be rendered in the future, I support this bill. In the near future this Government or some other government may find it necessary to consider whether the Postal Department deficit should be made good from Consolidated Revenue or by some other means.
– I have listened with great interest to the debate, and I also followed attentatively the very lengthy and comprehensive second-reading speech of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper). Having acquired some background knowledge of the Postal Department, I claim to know something of its organization. My earning career commenced in a humble capacity in that great institution, and three of my brothers have worked in . various capacities in that department.
In reviewing the lengthy statement of the Minister and in surveying the Postal Department to-day, it appears to me that the department is now suffering because of the short-sighted policy, adopted for many years by successive governments, particularly antiLabour governments, of paying into Consolidated Revenue the profits made by the department, instead of providing better services, replacing worn out and obsolete equipment and considering the welfare of the departmental employees by providing them with proper housing and amenities. In those days the Postal Department showed considerable surpluses, and if those profits had been devoted to improving services they would be much more efficient to-day, and the department would not be in the deplorable position of facing huge deficits.
I wish to deal with some comments made by Senator Maher during his speech. It is perhaps characteristic of Senator Maher and of other honorable senators opposite, to decry praiseworthy efforts of the Labour Government by inferring that it had unlimited powers to increase charges. Honorable senators opposite also raise the Communist bogy whenever matters of this kind are being discussed. Senator Maher spoke at length concerning the 40-hour week, which he blamed, together with the Communists, for the necessity to increase postal charges. I point out to the honorable senator that increased charges are inevitable. All over the world charges for all commodities, including labour and equipment, are rising. It is not so much a question of the number of hours worked as of efficiency and the work that is accomplished during those hours. Senator Maher became so confused during his speech that at times I did not know whether he was speaking for or against the bill. He appeared to be speaking more or less in an apologetic manner. He referred to the fact that 30 years ago grocers gave away bags of sweets and that publicans distributed free bottles of beer. It almost appeared to me that he was attempting to suggest that similar inducements should be offered in order to obtain installations of telephones. Although the Postal Department is not able to cope with the thousands of application* foi- telephones at the present time, Senator Maher should appreciate that it desires no such inducement from the public before making installations.
Whenever a measure such as this is under discussion, honorable senators opposite state that many of the problems arise because the workers are doing less work for more money. The fact is that with all the mechanical and laboursaving devices in operation to-day, the worker is actually producing more than ever. If honorable senators opposite care to examine the time-cost records of any factory or industry, they will find that that statement is correct. Provided that an industry is efficiently run - and I know that the Postal Department is efficiently run - it will be found that the worker is performing more work to-day than he did 30 years ago. For instance, the Postal Department utilizes devices for selling stamps automatically, and tens of thousands of girls have been displaced because of the introduction of automatic telephone exchanges. The deep trenches that were once dug by men with picks and shovels are now dug by machines which dig miles in the time that it would take men to dig yards. Science has been harnessed for the efficient working of the department. The argument concerning high wages and shorter hours is similar to the old smoke screen of communism, which is always relied on to explain why the policy of the Menzies Government has not been implemented. My personal experience has been that the Postal Department is as efficient as any similar organization in the world. It is efficient because it is owned and controlled by the Government. Postal services in the United States of America and South America are controlled by private companies. The efficiency of the Postal Department to-day is a tribute to its employees and to former Ministers, especially Labour Ministers. We have seen the tremendous growth that it made during the post-war years. It is absurd for the members of the Government to claim that credit for all the progress and all the service rendered to the community by the department is due to this Government, which has been in office only eleven months.
I wish now to deal with official and non-official post offices. In the outback it is often found that post offices are established in stores, railway stations, garages and private homes. The postmaster is usually the guide, philosopher and friend of the people, and he has in his possession information which is much sought after. He renders many services outside his official duties, and the post office is often the meeting place for the rural community. It is there that people collect their mail and exchange information. Many of the social activities of the community radiate from that office. I pay my humble tribute to the work dona by postmasters and postmistresses in. rural communities, and I emphasize their importance to those communities. When! postal charges are being increased in the future, I should like to see unofficial postmasters and postmistresses accorded every consideration. In the past it was the custom to construct a building for use as a post office and to install in it only the equipment necessary for the conduct of postal business; no amenities were provided for employees. But now the average worker, whether he be employed by a government undertaking or a private organization, expects certain amenities to be provided for him. There are organizations within the Postal Department whose object is, among other things, to ensure that the working conditions of employees are as good as possible. Much has been done in connexion with the provision of amenities, but much remains to be done.
The Postal Department is undertaking on behalf of other government departments and instrumentalities an enormous amount of work that is not connected with the provision of postal and telegraph services. Sural post offices act as agents for the Commonwealth Savings Bank. Postmasters are required to handle large sums of money, and a great responsibility is cast upon them. That they are men of high integrity is shown by the fact that cases of embezzlement are very rare. Postmasters pay child endowment and age, invalid and other pensions. In rural and outback areas, they act as agents for the Repatriation Department in connexion with the payment of repatriation pensions. When rationing was in force, they were responsible for the issue of ration cards and books. Postal officials man voting booths during State and Federal elections. Postmasters are responsible for the issue of excise stamps on beer and for the payment of allotments to the wives of servicemen. All those duties are outside the scope of the ordinary work of the Postal Department. If postal officials could concentrate their energies upon postal duties, they would have a great deal more time at their disposal and the implementation of the department’s developmental programme would be accelerated. I should like the Minister, when he replies, to inform the Senate whether the department is paid by other government departments for the services that it performs on their behalf.
I have been struck by the great trust that the Australian people repose in postal officials in connexion with the return of articles. The department makes every endeavour to return dead letters and parcels that have not been wrapped properly. It does its utmost to ensure the delivery of parcels and mail on which the address has been badly written or is incomplete.
I have always been somewhat critical of the activities of the department in connexion with housing and building works. I believe that the movement of postmasters, line foremen and engineers would be facilitated if in every town the department had housing accommodation that it could offer to its employees. I know that many postal officials have refused promotion because they could not secure accommodation for themselves and their families in the towns to which the department wished to send them. It is a bad thing when men are prepared to stagnate in a job and refuse promotion because they cannot obtain suitable accommodation. I suggest that the department should establish its own bousing and maintenance branch, build bouses and become its own landlord. If that were done, its employees would be more mobile than they are now, and able officers would not be reluctant to move from one town to another upon promotion.
The contract system is responsible for much waste and delay. Postal officials have told me that, even when only minor improvements or repairs have been required, the department has had to seek the assistance of the Department of Works and Housing, and contracts for the work have been let to outside contractors. Much delay and unnecessary expenditure would be avoided if the department established a building branch which could do necessary work quickly. Under the present system, sometimes weeks and. even months elapse before a tender is accepted, and in some instances the condition of the building upon which the work is required to be done deteriorates to such a degree during that time that the contract price is sufficient to cover only half of the work that must be done.
The department endeavours to keep its officers informed of developments overseas. Mr. Chippindall, Mr. Vanthoff and other officers have been sent abroad to study the latest methods. The department has a communications research laboratory. I am surprised that Senator Mattner is not aware of what is being done to train tele-technicians, engineers, line foremen and other officers. The department has a cadet system. Any person who has sufficient initiative and ability is given facilities to undergo a course of training at a university. For many years the department has trained its own engineers. It has provided facilities for members of the clerical division to attend universities and obtain degrees. That work has been in progress for many years, in conjunction with the training of telephone mechanics and linemen. In each State, the department has established training establishments at which recruits are given courses of instruction. At the end of the courses, the recruits are sufficiently skilled to be allocated to working parties as fully qualified tradesmen.
– I referred to the undergraduates. That scheme was instituted in 1949.
– For nearly twenty years the department has been training its own engineers, and undergraduates were brought in recently because there was a shortage of engineers.
We have been told of the great progress that has been made in telecommunications. I do not believe that the department should install fancy gadgets at the present time, when there is a crying need for telephones in country areas. To men on the land in rural and outback areas, a telephone is essential, because it helps to relieve the feeling of isolation and loneliness from which they suffer. The installation of a telephone enables them to talk with their neighbours, and also gives them a feeling of security because they know that they can summon quickly medical and other assistance that they may require. The department should ensure that the installation of telephones in rural areas is given a high priority. In the cities, people meet one another regularly, their newspapers are delivered to them daily and they can place their orders for goods by word of mouth, if necessary; but persons in isolated communities are at a great disadvantage in those respects.
The Minister, in his second-reading speech, said that 6,000 additional men, mostly ex-servicemen, had been recruited by the department. The Postal Department has always been looked upon as a reservoir from which, in a time of emergency, trained men and vital equipment can be drawn. The department plays a very important part in our defence scheme. I know the tremendous value of the services that were rendered to the Signals Corps during the last war by members and ex-members of the staff of that department. I can say confidently that, but for the trained men and essential equipment provided by the department, the communications system of our armed forces in the Middle East and New Guinea would have broken down. The postal engineers became very fine signals officers, and I learned to respect their ingenuity and ability to improvise. I have read a report that was submitted by’ the Commanding Officer of an American Signals Unit in New Guinea in which he stated that he should like men with similar qualifications to those in the Australian Army, to be recruited into the American armed forces.
An anomaly that exists in relation to the remuneration of junior male and female postal officials in the Postal De partment should be rectified. At present there is a great demand for all types of labour in industry. Youths receive wage3 of up to JE9 a week for unskilled work in dead-end jobs. Drink waiters in hotels are paid as much as £12 a week. But the Postal Department pays its junior officials of eighteen years of age only £167 a year. On attaining nineteen years of age they are paid £191 a year, which is less than £4 a week. Unskilled adult labourers in industry are being paid from £10 to £12 a week. This is a matter to which serious consideration will have to be paid if the Postal Department is to obtain suitable workers to train to fill various posts in the department in the future. I consider that the decentralization policy should be applied to the Postal Department, in order to relieve congestion in the general post offices in our capital cities. In recent years architects have favoured the building of bigger post offices. I should prefer a larger number of smaller post offices to be established in order to relieve the parking problem in our cities, and obviate the necessity for large numbers of people crowding into central post offices. Then is ample justification for the establishment of many additional post offices in outlying suburbs in the metropolitan areas. I consider that huge buildings of the present architectural design are becoming obsolete in the growing and crowded world of to-day.
In his second-reading speech the Minister implied that because an anti-Labour government was now in office, great improvements would be effected in the Postal Department. I remind him that the Postal Department was established before federation, and that its policy varies according to the times. During good times in the past, there have been large expenditures in order to improve postal facilities. The majority of people to-day are in receipt of relatively high incomes, and there is an extraordinarily heavy demand for telephones, as well as other very desirable facilities. The people now have more money than they ever had before, with the result that there is a big demand for motor cars. As the demand exceeds the supply, there are frequently long delays in connexion with the delivery of new motor cars. Similar delays are being experienced in obtaining telephones.
Many farmers have been required to spend large sums of money on the installation of poles, insulators, and cross-arms in order to extend main telephone lines across adjoining properties, to their homes. In outback country districts a telephone line may serve three or four properties. The telephone service is invaluable in such areas. It enables farmers to give and receive warnings of bushfires, and to seek medical assistance in the event of sickness. Information about meteorological disturbances and floods is also communicated by means of the telephone. In war-time, telephones installed on headlands have proved invaluable for the purpose of coastal -watchers advising naval and army intelligence officers of any suspicious movements observed. Although private telephones -enable the ready exchange of greetings, they also provide means of communicating warnings or requests in times of emergency.
I consider that stamp booklets containing a dozen stamps, nicely perforated and stapled, and with postal information on the cover, should again be made available for purchase at post offices. They provided convenient means of carrying postage stamps, and the up-to-date information about postal charges on the cover was very useful for reference purposes. I hope that the Minister will make representations to the Postmaster-General to re-introduce this facility.
Television is a subject in which many people are interested. Towards the end of the last Parliament, the Labour Government announced that it proposed to establish a television station in each State. However, the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) has envisaged the establishment of only one experimental station in Sydney, which will be owned and controlled by private enterprise. Traditionally, Labour is opposed to monopolies. The previous Labour Government considered that this tremendously important medium, which has had a marked effect on home life in Great Britain and in the United States of America, should be controlled by the people through the. National Parliament. However, an extraordinary approach has been made to this subject by the Postmaster-General. The control of television by private enterprise could result in the development of a serious state of affairs in this country. On the 14th May, 1949, the Labour Government that was then in office announced that television would be introduced into Australia, but that the commercial networks would be debarred from participating in it. It was proposed to establish a transmitting station in. each of the six capital cities, which would serve 60 per cent, of the population, and it was predicted that television receiving sets would cost from £50 to £60 each. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department invited tenders foi the supply of television equipment, which was to be of the finest standard in the world, being 625 lines to the inch, as that would give a better and clearer picture than television transmitting apparatus in the United Kingdom or the United States of America. Eleven tenders had been received by the 15th June, 1949. On the 12th September, 1949, Electronic Industries Limited of South Melbourne and Pye Limited of Cambridge sought to restrain the Government from letting tenders to Amalgamated “Wireless (Australasia) Limited, and to restrain the Postmaster-General’s Department from making certain components. Mr. A. G. “Warner, a member of the Legislative Council of Victoria, is a director of Pye (Australia) Limited. On the 12th January, 1950, the Postmaster-General decided not to accept tenders that had been recommended by the Chifley Labour Government. Big business had got to work in order to destroy all the plans that had been made by Labour to provide television for the people in each State. The PostmasterGeneral cancelled all the arrangements that had been made by the Labour Government, because, he said, coloured television might come in, and be an improvement on the methods now in existence. On the 15th January last, the Sydney Morning Herald stated in an editorial -
Television has long since passed the experimental stage. . . . The new Government has a decision to make on policy. Having made it, it should lose no time in getting television services under way.
On the 17th January, the PostmasterGeneral said in a press statement that commercial stations would be given the right to operate television services. Thus, private enterprise is to be. allowed to assume the same monopolistic control over television as operates in the United States of America, where all sorts of matter detrimental to the minds and morals of the people is televised. Up to the 20th September, the only television project that had been approved was the installation of an experimental transmitter in Sydney. Apparently, the cost is to be met out of public funds, and if the tests prove satisfactory the company concerned may erect other stations. The unfortunate part is that the cost of the experiment will have to be borne by the taxpayers. If the project proves unprofitable, it will probably die a natural death, and eventually television will have to be taken over by the Postal Department. The Labour Government had gone a long way towards establishing television in Australia, but after the change of government, big business stepped in, and put the skids under the plans that had been prepared. The result is that, instead of there being a television station in every State, as the people expected, there is now only the possibility that at some future date an experimental station will be erected in Sydney. I am not concerned with the kind of system that is adopted, but I am concerned with principles. The Labour party has always been opposed to monopolies. It is particularly opposed to handing over to private commercial interests a medium of communication that can be used for the dissemination of sensational matter dealing with murder, robbery, sex &c, because it would be tantamount to treachery to the people of Australia.
Under the Labour Government, the Postal Department made steady progress, but the present Government has done very little during the last ten months except to increase postal charges. Indeed, the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) warned us that the present increases were only a forerunner of others to come. He said -
The revised rates will not suffice to balance the department’s commercial accounts for 1950-51. It is expected that they will bring in additional annual revenue of £6,700,000, but am they will operate for only seven months of the present financial year, the extra revenue this year will be slightly less than £4,000,000. In view of the expected deficit of more than £80,000,000 which would be recorded if charges were not increased, the result for 1950-51, even allowing for additional revenue from the new rates, will still show a substantial loss - probably more than £4,000,000. In these circumstances, and in the light of the rise in costs which is likely to continue for son time, the rates may require to be further reviewed at a later date.
It is obvious that while this Government remains in office we can expect no relief from high charges. The present increases constitute a further turn in the inflationary spiral. The Government’s only remedy for the economic evils that afflict us is to increase the charges for government services. For increases over which it has no control, it blames the Communists or the Australian Labour party. It is prepared to blame any one but itself for its failure to honour its election promise to halt inflation and stabilize priw-3. The Government is constantly increasing the burden on taxpayers. So far, it has failed to bring down legislation of a kind that will be adequate to deal with the situation.
.- I wish to register my protest against the proposed increase of parcel postage rates by 50 per cent. I am sure that, in this respect, the Government acted without being fully aware of the implications. In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) said that the present rates had been in operation for twenty years. That should have been a warning to the Government to proceed carefully. In all cities and large towns in Australia, there are departmental stores which conduct mail order services. They issue catalogues and advertise in the press so. that country dwellers may know what they have to offer. “When city people want to buy something, they go to the stores and make the best bargain they can, but some country people live 100 miles, and even 300 miles, from the nearest shop. Let us consider the position of a married couple living on a station in Queensland near to the South Australian border. They draw their groceries from the station store, but for their clothing and household goods they have to send an order to a departmental store in the city. It may be asked why they do not go to the nearest store for their supplies but, apart from the great amount of travelling that would be involved, country stores do not carry a wide variety of goods. Officers of the Postal Department should have considered the size of the mail order business carried on through the post before they recommended the increase of postage rates on parcels. The Government professes to believe in a policy of decentralization, but how can people be induced to remain in the country if they cannot get supplies easily and quickly? Postage on parcels despatched by mail order houses is not paid by the trader, but by the purchaser. Thus, the boundary rider on an outback station who orders a flannel shirt from the city will have to pay more for it because of the increase of postage rates. I am sure that during the last twenty years parcel postage rates have been considered many times, and governments must have believed that there was a good reason for not increasing them. It remained for this Government, which professes to be concerned about the cost of living, to increase postage rates so that people living in the outback will have to pay more for their supplies. I invite the Minister for Social Services, when replying to the debate, to explain why country people, to whom we must look for greater production, are being made to pay more for the clothing and other necessaries that they obtain from mail order firms in the cities.
– In his speech on the second reading of this bill in the House of Representatives, the ‘ Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) said -
I urge honorable members to give careful consideration to the bill, which is non-political in character. I know that it will be supported by all honorable members who appreciate the vital need for a national communications service which will provide adequate and satisfactory facilities so essential to the development and welfare of Australia.
Those words might have been most impressive had they been uttered by any one but the present Postmaster-General. Later in my speech, to show the sickening level of hypocrisy to which members of this Government are prepared to sink, I shall contrast those remarks with the same honorable gentleman’s criticism of a measure similar to this that was introduced about a year ago by the Chifley Government.
One alternative to increasing postal charges would be to curtail services and maintenance work. That, of course, would be extremely detrimental to national development, and for that reason the proposal cannot be countenanced. Another alternative would be to dismiss large numbers of postal employees but in view of the huge amount of capital that is invested in our postal undertakings that would impose an additional burden on the taxpayers. Therefore, this Government is adopting the proper course by increasing post and telephone charges. Recently, I had an opportunity to. inspect the post office and telephone exchange at Lismore in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, and to see the conditions under which the staff is working. In the circumstances the employees are doing a really wonderful job. The space that is available for the exchange is totally inadequate but, in the face of the difficulties, the telephone girls are carrying out their work in a manner that deserves the highest commendation. I have no doubt that similar conditions exist throughout the Commonwealth because of the enormously increased demand for telephone services.
When Labour was in office, the introduction of the 40-hour week was severely criticized by the anti-Labour parties, and in the course of this debate, honorable senators opposite have attributed at least some of the present difficulties in providing postal and telephonic services to the introduction of the shorter working week. At Lismore, 24 telephone exchange operators are required to handle the normal daily business. At another exchange that I inspected in the heart of Sydney - an automatic exchange with 5,000 connexions - there is a supervisory staff of only three. It is clear, therefore, that the 40-hour week has little bearing on the efficiency of the services that are provided by the Postal Department. The telephone services could be vastly improved by the installation of automatic exchanges, and for honorable senators opposite to claim that the lack of adequate postal and telephone services to-day is due entirely to the 40-hour week is most unwise, particularly in view of the PostmasterGeneral’s plea that this measure be considered on a non-party basis. The 40-hour week ha9 nothing whatever to do with the administration of the Postal Department. Undoubtedly it has had some effect on individual industries but the increased charges proposed in this measure are necessary and we must face them.
As previous speakers have pointed out, the Postal Department renders services to other Commonwealth departments, particularly the Department of Social Services and the Electoral Branch of the Department of the Interior. There is no compensating payment for that work.
The demand for increased and improved telephone services is so great that current expenditure on that work might well be doubled. Launceston, which has a population of 47,000, still has a manual exchange, and the telephone service available to residents of that city leaves much to be desired. I am hopeful that, under the Postal Department’s developmental programme, it will not be long before an automatic exchange is provided at Launceston.
I revert now to the plea that was made by the Postmaster-General in his secondreading speech for non-party consideration of this measure. The honorable gentleman also said -
As a further example of the progressive and realistic policy which has been adopted by the department, I refer to the generous conditions under which telephone services are provided to country residents.
In the House of Representatives on the 29th June, 1949, the Minister said -
I resent the increased charges by the Postal Department. I resent them particularly on behalf of country people, who will suffer most. A great deal of the mail matter goes out into the country, and it is the country people who must ultimately bear a great deal of the cost involved in the increase of parcel postage rates. No one can deny that country people will bear most of the increased charges for long distance telephone calls . . However, becuse of the dictatorial powers exercised by this Government and the fact that this monopoly has no competition, the public must bear these increased charges and suffer the consequences.
That speech was typical of the campaign that the present Government parties waged in opposition to Labour legislation. There was absolutely no foundation for the honorable member’s charges against Labour’s administration of the Postal Department. Those charges were made purely for political purposes, when the proceedings of the House of Representatives were being broadcast, in an endeavour to persuade country residents particularly, that the Labour Government was acting unjustly. The present Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) who, if he is qualified to hold his important office, can be expected to be scrupulously honest, was also guilty of sickening hypocrisy. Speaking on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill introduced by the Labour Government last year, he said -
A brow-beaten Labour caucus has no qualms about taxing the farmer and the worker even more heavily than he is taxed to-day, because, surely even the most rabid Labourite in this House no longer regards telephones or telegrams as a luxury.
Such utterances cannot fail to make an impression in the minds of the people of this country who are looking to their political leaders for guidance. Similar criticism was offered by the present Speaker in the House of Representatives, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) who, at present, is out of this country. I do not propose to quote his remarks. Members of this Parliament who seek to make political capital out of measures such as this are guilty of political dishonesty, and I hope that the present Government parties have learned their lesson and will in future refrain from irresponsible criticism. The increased charges provided for in this measure have been necessitated by rising costs and by the developmental programme of the Postal Department. The fact that this Government has found it necessary, so early in its term of office, further to increase postal charges, emphasizes the insincerity of the criticism that its supporters offered to a similar measure introduced by the preceding administration. The Labour party is just as ambitious for this nation as is any other party. Labour legislation has always had as its object, the stabilizing of the Australian economy, and the preservation or improvement of living standards; yet, by resorting to half-truths and sneering references, members of the anti-Labour parties have sought, over and over again, particularly when the proceedings of the Parliament have been broadcast, to discredit the Labour movement. Hansard can furnish many glaring examples of the dishonest propaganda to which honorable senators opposite resorted so frequently.
This Government has been forced by economic circumstances to increase postal and telephone charges. Those increases will place an added burden on the shoulders of people who already are struggling against uncontrolled inflation, but this is the only path that is open to the Government if the Postal Department is to meet recurring costs and at the same time finance its developmental plan.
– To assist the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) who, I know, is eager to have this bill passed as quickly as possible, I shall be brief. After all, I might want the honorable senator’s cooperation some day in having provision made for the construction of some new post offices. Far too much stress has been placed on the 40-hour week in the course of this debate. It is rather surprising to find that a Government which has pledged itself to curb inflation is itself jumping on the band wagon and increasing postal and telephonic charges throughout the Commonwealth. It has, of course, no choice. It has had to accept the inevitable. In introducing this legislation to increase the price of services rendered by the Postal Department the Minister for Repatriation stressed the cost to the department of the 40-hour week. In supporting the bill Senator Maher > attacked the arbitration system under which postal officers are working and through the agency of which the 40- hour week was adopted in this country. Senator Maher would have us put the clock back 30 years. In a speech which lasted for about three-quarters of an hour he dealt at length with conditions that existed 30 years ago. He said that in spite of all the industrial strife that has taken place in the intervening years postal and other workers are not now any better off. He, too, dealt with the effect of the 40-hour week on the finances of the department, but he went further than the Minister and said that this country cannot afford a 40-hour week. Neither the Minister nor Senator Maher emphasized the point that the increased activities of the Postal Department have meant additional work for its employees. It has been said that in some branches the department’s activities have increased by 60 per cent. If that is so, the revenue received by those branches must have been increased proportionately. A close examination of the Minister’s secondreading speech reveals that staff increases have not been commensurate with increased business.
The Postal Department carries out many functions on behalf of other departments. When the Minister replies to the debate he should inform the Senate what reimbursement, if any, it receives from other departments for the work it performed on their behalf. The department acts as agent for the Commonwealth Savings Bank, conducting savings bank business throughout the length and breadth of the continent. The Minister should state whether or not it is paid for that work, and if payment is made, whether it is commensurate with the volume of work performed. The department pays invalid, age, and widows’ pensions and child endowment on behalf of the Department of Social Services. It also undertakes work on behalf of the Department of the Interior, and the Treasury for which it sells “ payasyouearn “ tax stamps. Indeed its activities embrace some portion of the functions of at least half of the Commonwealth departments. All of these activities impose a heavy strain on its staff and must contribute to the loss incurred on its operations. The Postal Department is the greatest socialistic instrumentality in the Commonwealth and it will always remain so regardless of the political party which forms the government of the day.
Potential telephone users have to wait for long periods for telephones. I know the great difficulties which the department faces in obtaining the telephones and exchange and cable equipment, and competent installation staff. It seems strange that despite some improvement of the man-power position since this Government has been in office the waiting period for telephones in Tasmania has been extended. In that State the position is very much worse now than it was when the Labour Government was in office.’ In many instances promises have been made that telephones would be provided within a short period but nothing has been done to honour them. In one instance an applicant who is engaged in business was informed that he would be provided with a telephone in three weeks. After two months had gone by and the unfortunate man was still without a telephone, he made representations to the postal officials in Hobart. They then informed him that a telephone could not be provided for him for at least six months. This delay took place notwithstanding the fact that the Postmaster-General had told me that 35 lines were available for connexion with the exchange in the area. That man has been waiting for a telephone service for two or three years and during that time many private individuals who must have had some “ pull “ with the department were able to obtain a service. That sort of thing makes us wonder whether the administration of the department is as good as it should be. It is possible that delays have resulted from the changes that have occurred in the occupancy of the office of Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs, Hobart. A new officer seems to be appointed to that position every few months. When such rapid administrative changes are made it is impossible for the officers concerned to keep track of all the works in progress in the State. The Postmaster-General should inquire into this matter. If he desires further information about the case I have mentioned, I shall be glad to furnish it to him.
As the result of the far-sighted policy of the present Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) and Senator Cameron when they occupied the portfolio of Postmaster-General, automatic telephone exchanges have ‘been established in many country districts. I regret to say that Tasmania has been less fortunate than have other States in this sphere. No further move “seems to have been made to extend the provision of automatic exchanges in country districts. I hope that the present Postmaster-General will implement the excellent installation programme laid down by his predecessor. Adequate telephonic facilities are of first importance in the development of outback areas.
I propose now to refer to the changed policy of the department in relation to the opening of new post offices. Previously, when new post office buildings were to be opened it was the custom for honorable senators of all the parties represented in this chamber to be invited to attend the ceremony. An invitation was invariably extended to any honorable senator who had particularly interested himself in the erection of the new building. That policy has recently been changed and invitations are now restricted to the local member for the district, even though he may have done very little to influence the department to provide the new building. Those who have striven for the provision of new post offices or new post office buildings are too frequently ignored. This change in policy of the department is to be deprecated. I ask the Minister in charge of the bill to bring this matter to the notice of the Postmaster-General with a view to having the former practice restored.
The policy of the department in relation to non-official post offices should be changed. I know the disabilities that are suffered by those who live in the out-back areas. The remuneration paid to non-official postmasters in outback areas is so unattractive that considerable difficulty is experienced in inducing suitable persons to undertake the work. Many non-official post offices are located in dwellings that are completely unsuited for that purpose. When Senator Cameron was PostmasterGeneral I drew his attention to the fact that a girl was conducting a non-official post office with a turnover of about £1,200 a month in a shed built of iron which had originally formed part of the outhouse of an old hotel. I asked that more suitable premises be provided. The honorable senator informed me that he had no authority under the act’ to build a new post office in that district. I pressed my request but be refused it on three occasions. How the legislative difficulties were overcome I do not know, but eventually he succeeded in having a new post office built with an attached dwelling. It has now been opened. Considering the work I had done in getting the post office buildings erected I should have received an invitation to the opening ceremony, but I knew nothing about it until three or four weeks after the ceremony had been held. Those concerned were guilty of grave discourtesy.
The remuneration of non-official postmasters should be reviewed in the light of the existing high cost of living. It should be fixed on the basis not of the quantity of mail handled by the office but of the productivity of the district in which it is located. The salary offered to non-official postmasters is very often so low that only those who are down and out will accept it. Non-official postmasters do a good job and are generally most obliging. Most of them work beyond the prescribed hours of business. They do a most important job in outback areas and they should be suitably rewarded for helping to develop this country. Those who conduct non-official post offices in their own dwellings are entitled to suitable accommodation. The hovels in which many country post offices are housed should be demolished. I do not cast any slur upon the people in whose homes postal business is transacted, because they are obliging the members of the public by conducting that business, but I consider that provision should be made for the construction of decent dwellings for such people, together with suitable office space. They should also receive proper remuneration.
– in reply - I appreciate the manner in which this bill has been received by the Senate. I shall endeavour to be as brief as possible in dealing with the various matters that have arisen during the debate. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) was good enough to quote from portion of a speech which I made in June, 1949. At that time a bill had been introduced by the then PostmasterGeneral, Senator Cameron, to increase tele phone charges. I suggested in that speech that the then Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, might ask for the resignation of the Postmaster-General. The right honorable gentleman did not adopt my suggestion, but some months later the people of Australia asked for Senator Cameron’s resignation as PostmasterGeneral. I also suggested at that time that the bill should be withdrawn until the Parliament had been overhauled.
Since this Government took office, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) has reviewed all main aspects of the operations of the Postal Department, and he is satisfied that the administration is sparing no efforts to reduce expenditure to the lowest possible level consistent with the provision of adequate services to the public. He made that clear in his secondreading speech in the House of Representatives, and he also emphasized that the need for making further increases in postal, telegraph and telephone charge.was almost wholly due to inescapable extra costs resulting from causes over which the department had no control.
As has been stated during this debate, the Postal Department is the greatest industrial and commercial undertaking in Australia, but it nevertheless has certain obligations which do not apply to normal business concerns. The department is required to pioneer the back country, and it has obligations to erect telephone lines in sparsely populated areas and in areas that have not been developed to any degree. To that extent it has an obligation to the public which is not an immediately profitable one. However, it is not. proposed that the department should be run at a loss. The previous Government also held that view, and it introduced a bill, a little over a year ago, to increase postal charges. The then PostmasterGeneral, Senator Cameron, in speaking to that measure, stressed the fact that the reduction of working hours from 44 to 40 a week had been responsible for a considerable increase in the costs of running the department. Honorable senators will appreciate that those costs have again increased considerably since that time. During his speech this morning, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) said that he was astonished to learn that, despite the increased charges introduced by a Labour Government and approved in June, 1949, which were expected to yield £5,500,000 in additional revenue, a further increase of £6,750,000 in postal charges is now proposed. That is not surprising when allowance is made for the heavy additional cost of wages and materials even since June, 1949, apart from the fact of the recent basic wage judgment, and the cost-of-living adjustment of £18 a year, which came into force on the 1st November. The annual wages bill has risen by £5,250,000, the cost of road, rail and airmail services has increased by more than £1,000,000, and expenditure on materials required for maintenance by £500,000.
The honorable senator accused the Government of timidity in approaching the problem of adjusting Postal Department earnings to meet the large deficit expected at the end of this financial year. He also referred to a probable loss of £10,000,000 in the department’s commercial accounts after making allowance for the effect of the recent basic wage increase. In approaching that question, the Government did not show any timidity. On the contrary, it adopted a logical and sensible course. The deficit for the present financial year is likely to be about £8,000,000.
– The Minister said “’ over £S,000,000 “ in his second-reading speech.
– “ More than £8,000,000” were the exact words. The precise amount will depend on factors which cannot be estimated accurately at this stage. The volume of business transacted will be an important factor, and any slackening due to the effect of the new tariffs, or any deterioration of the international situation may well affect the financial position of the department. As five months of the financial year have already lapsed, the balancing of the department’s accounts for the present year would involve the introduction of prohibitive charges for some services. That would not be in harmony with the overall policy of the Government, which is to reduce costs to the lowest possible level. Consequently, it was considered preferable to apply charges which are fully justified from the stand-point of the value of services to users, and to review the matter at the close of the financial year in the light of the actual position for 1950-51, and the estimated figures for 1951-52.
The Leader of the Opposition also suggested that consideration should be given to postponing the introduction of the new rates until the 1st January, 1951, in order to avoid imposing them during the heavy Christmas traffic. That suggestion is scarcely consistent with the honorable senator’s charge of timidity in approaching the problem. The Government is satisfied that the proposed rates are fully justified, and that it is fair that they should be applied without delay. Although the Christmas business is heavy, the handling of that large volume of postal articles involves considerable additional expense for wages, overtime and transport. Furthermore, if the new tariffs were delayed for one month, as the honorable senator has suggested, the Postal Department’s revenue would suffer to the amount of approximately £600,000, which would add to the expected large deficit. Although I can appreciate the honorable senator’s concern for those people who despatch considerable quantities of mail at Christmas time, if the matter is viewed from a financial angle, it will be seen that the suggestion would result in a considerable los9 to the department.
In listening to the speeches of honorable senators it was evident that there was full agreement concerning the necessity for extra charges in order to meet rising costs and expenditure. Although some honorable senators suggested that a little liberality might be granted in certain directions, I gather that the general consensus of opinion is that the increased rates are necessary. The only alternatives to increasing postal charges are an increase in general taxation in order to cover the loss that the department might incur, the curtailing of the services of the department, the borrowing of money in order to bridge the gap, or the dismissal of members of the staff. I am certain that none of those methods would be acceptable to the Government or to the Opposition. The only way open, therefore, is to increase charges.
– That is so.
– That is what is being done. During the debate, certain other matters were mentioned by honorable senators.
– Would the Minister be good enough to deal with the matters raised by me concerning pensioners and blind persons?
Sitting suspended from. 5.58 to 8 p.m.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) requested that sympathetic consideration be given to the question of waiving the proposed increase of the rentals of domestic telephone services when the services were leased by pensioners and blind people. The Postal Department has no authority to grant concessional rates to those classes of people, and no attempt to do so was made by the previous Government. It would be difficult to avoid the doubtful use of telephones, because in many instances the instruments could be used also by other people. However, I shall refer the honorable senator’s suggestion to the PostmasterGeneral in order that he may consider the general question of granting some tariff concessions, to pensioners and blind people in cases where telephone services leased by them are used exclusively by them.
Senator Maher said that many buildings and post offices that were constructed when postal services were under State control had been built with a veiw to meeting long-range requirements and that they were of fine architectural design. He added that since federation the standard of post office architecture had deteriorated and expressed the opinion that buildings erected in recent years did not make sufficient provision for future needs. A very substantial post office building programme has been prepared. On present costs, it will involve an expenditure of approximately £100,000,000. The programme will be carried out as soon as practicable. The’ designs for post offices and other buildings that are being developed by the Department of Works and Housing and the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, working in close co-operation, will provide buildings of a high architectural standard that will meet the needs of the Australian community for many years to come. The Government will erect post offices and telephone exchanges as rapidly as possible. It has placed orders for a large number of prefabricated buildings of attractive design in order to facilitate the rapid expansion of services to meet the public demand.
Senator Cameron expressed the hope that. this Government would continue to expand and improve telephone facilities in sparsely populated areas. On behalf of the Postmaster-General, I. assure the honorable senator that the importance of improving existing facilities in rural areas is fully recognized. As an indication of the liberal policy that has been adopted, I mention the recent improvement of the conditions under which telephone lines are made available to subscribers in country areas. The basis upon which they are provided can hardly be justified from the economic viewpoint, but the Government believes that what it is doing in this connexion is fully justified from the stand-point of developing our national resources and assisting decentralization.
I do not know what grounds Senator Hendrickson had for saying that the Government had asked the Postal Department to curtail its expenditure. The statement was not correct. The Government is making available £21,500,000 in respect of the department’s works programme for the present financial year, compared with the sum of £16,724,000 that was made available by the previous Government for that purpose in 1949-50. In addition, the budget that was presented to the Parliament recently made provision for an allocation of £5,000,000 to the department for the purchase of urgently needed and essential materials. The honorable senator also referred to the output of postal workers generally and said that he resented any implication that they were not working hard enough. I want to make it clear that the Government has a high regard for the valuable work that is being done by the great body of employees of the Postal Department and for the way in which they respond to the call in periods of emergency when normal communications have been destroyed or severely damaged by floods, cyclones and bush fires.
Senator Murray said that it would be convenient to the public to have booklets of postage stamps and suggested that the Postmaster-General should endeavour to make adequate supplies of those booklets available at post offices. Prior to the war, booklets of postage stamps were in popular demand and several millions of them were sold annually, but in recent years, owing to the difficulties experienced by the Commonwealth stamp printer in securing machinery, adequate labour and stocks of materials, supplies almost ceased. The matter has been taken up actively by the Postmaster-General, with the result that the Commonwealth stamp printer is pressing on with the installation of special machinery and expects to be able to meet all demands for booklets by the early part of next year.
The many services performed by the Postal Department for other government departments were .criticized by Senator Murray and Senator Aylett. They said that if those functions were taken from the department, it would be able to devote more time to the improvement and expansion of postal, telephone and telegraph facilities. I have been informed that the department performs a variety of services for other government departments, including the payment of pensions and child endowment, the issue of Navy, Army and Air Force allotments, the conducting, of Commonwealth Savings Bank transactions and the sale of estate duty and beer stamps. If the Postal Department ceased to perform those services, the cost to the taxpayer of providing them would be much greater than it is at present. The department received a cash payment of £278,600 in respect of the provision of those services in 1948-49, and in its commercial accounts it took credit for a further sum of £184,000, making a total of £462,600, which was considered adequate to recompense the department for costs incurred in carrying out the work. Under the Post and Telegraph Bates Act, meteorological telegrams are transmitted free, but in the department’s commercial accounts earnings are credited with the full value of all messages transmitted.
Senator Benn protested against the proposed increased rates for parcels, and said that residents in outback areas would be the main sufferers from the increases. He suggested that the proposal had not received sufficient consideration by the Government. In my second-reading speech, I explained that the present rates had been in force for twenty years. They are far too low in comparison with the handling and distribution costs, and in some groups are even less than the charges made by the railways for the carriage of parcels, although parcels sent by post are delivered to the addressee’s premises. The proposed rates will still be low in view of the service provided and the costs incurred by the department.
The Government’s policy in connexion with the installation of rural automatic telephone exchanges was criticized by Senator Aylett. I assure the honorable senator that the policy of the Government is to continue the installation of those exchanges. For bis information, I point out that since this Government assumed office 40 rural automatic telephone exchanges have been installed in a period of ten months compared with fourteen in 1948-49.
– Preliminary work upon those exchanges was done before the Government assumed office.
– I ask the honorable senator to give credit where credit is due. In ten months, 40 rural automatic exchanges have been installed. The programme for this financial year envisages the installation of 150 of these exchanges, and the Government proposes greatly to accelerate the rate of installation in future years. Senator Aylett also referred to the delay in connecting new telephone services in Tasmania, and said that the position had become worse. When the Chifley Government vacated office, there were 3,295 outstanding applications for telephone services in Tasmania. By the 30th September, the figure had been reduced to 3,008. The position should improve steadly from now onwards a9 works designed to alleviate the position are completed.
Senator Murray referred to television and to the action taken by this Government to vary a proposal of the Chifley Government that a national television station should be installed in each capital city. I do not propose at this stage to make a full statement about television, because I should not be in order if I did so, but I can say definitely that the television station that will be installed in Sydney as soon, as possible will be operated as a national station and not, as Senator Murray suggested, as a commercial station. Tenders for equipment conforming to the standards specified by the Chifley Government closed yesterday, and the Postmaster-General is awaiting a report on them from the Postal Department and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. It is the intention of the Government that commercial enterprise should be encouraged to co-operate in the development of television in this country, but the Government has not yet reached a decision regarding the manner in which the co-operation should be provided. I was very pleased to hear the Leader of the Opposition pay tribute to the excellent services that are rendered by non-official postmasters, of whom there are approximately 7,000, principally in rural areas. The Government is fully conscious of the good work that these men and women perform, and it highly appreciates the spirit of public service that has actuated them to perform this work, frequently at great inconvenience to themselves. I need hardly assure honorable senators that the valuable services of these persons will not be overlooked by this Government. “While it has been more or less mutually agreed that the increased charges provided for in the bill are necessary, I remind honorable senators that during my second-reading speech I indicated that it may be necessary to further review postal charges at a later date if it is found that the present increases will not enable the Postal Department to meet the considerably increased costs of maintaining postal facilities. I take this opportunity to express my personal appreciation of the courteous and generous treatment that the officers of the Postmaster-General’s
Department have extended to me for many years past.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (First Schedule).
– I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that provision has not been made in the clause in relation to existing and proposed yearly rates of telephone exchange rentals for services within a 2 miles radius of the exchange. I understand that the Government intends to reduce exchange rentals for business services, residence services, two-party services, and threeparty services from exchanges with up to 300 group lines, with a radius of 5 miles, by 5s. a year.
Similar concessions should be made to blind people and pensioners. I raised this matter during the second-reading debate, and the Minister’s reply was that the department is not empowered to give concessions to blind people or pensioners. That was an absurd statement for the Minister to make, because the PostmasterGeneral could, without the authority of the Parliament, direct that the concession should be. allowed.
.- The first matter referred to by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) is a balancing concession. In such areas the fee for a local call has been’ increased from 1½d. to 2d. In metropolitan areas it will continue to be 2d. It is intended to reduce the telephone exchange rentals that the Leader of the Opposition has mentioned as a concession to certain subscribers in rural areas. I assure the Leader of the Opposition that honorable senators who support the Government are just as sympathetic in their consideration of blind people as are honorable senators opposite.
– As I have already told the Minister, I appreciate the Government’s extension of the concession to ex-servicemen.
– The Leader of the Opposition has not recited the whole of my reply to his submission.. I stated that I would refer his suggestion to my colleague, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) for consideration of whether the tariff concession that he has mentioned could be extended to pensioners and blind people who have leased telephone services for their exclusive used.
– I did not repeat all that the Minister said, because I considered that it would be unfair for me to do so. However, in view of his attitude, I shall now do so. He stated that he was concerned about the doubtful use of telephones leased by pensioners and blind people. Although I do not know what the Minister was implying, I remind him that when the Postal Department receives an intimation from the police that the illegal use of a telephone is suspected, the instrument may be disconnected. The Minister’s use of the word “ doubtful “ implies something very serious so far as pensioners and blind people are concerned. The Minister has stated that he will make representations to the Postmaster-General. This matter should be clarified while the measure is being considered by the committee. No. concession will be granted to pensioners and blind people after the measure becomes law, unless the Minister guarantees now that that will be done.
. - I can give the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) no guarantee whatever. He has misconstrued the purport of my reply. I may have used the word “ doubtful “ in the wrong, sense. I meant to imply that if a telephone was leased at a concession rate to a pensioner or a blind person residing in a boarding house it could be used by persons not entitled to the concession. I feel sure that honorable senators will agree that the concession should not be granted if there was a possibility that the instrument would not be used exclusively by the lessee in respect of whom the benefit was intended.
– The Postal Department exercises vigilance in the matter of the use of telephones, and prompt action is taken by the department when it is discovered that telephones are being used illegally. A person is privileged these days if he has a telephone installed in his home, in view of the number of outstanding applications for this facility. Although I am not blaming the Government for installation delays, the position would have been much worse but for the efficiency of the previous Labour Government. I do not think that the Minister would suggest that there would be doubtful use of a telephone installed in the home of a man and his wife who were both pensioners. I am not seeking special privileges for pensioners and blind persons. I am merely submitting that consideration should be given to extending a concession to pensioners and blind people.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 22nd November (vide page 2827), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- When the debate was interrupted last evening, I was decribing the construction of dog-proof fences. They are similar to rabbit-proof fences, but twice as high. At the top barbed wire or ordinary fencing wire is strung along in cantilever manner to prevent dogs from jumping over. No grazier could feel that his flock was safe unless his property was enclosed by a dog-proof fence. There are thousands of such properties in Queensland alone. A grazier who wishes to fence his property against dogs is first, faced with the difficulty of getting wire netting, and then with the problem of getting labour to do the work.
Another disability suffered by graziers in the outback regions is the shortage of water, which is not due to any negligence on the part of the land-holders. Because of the long dry spells that occur in western Queensland, it is almost impossible to provide adequate water facilities. The rainfall is sporadic. Droughts may last for years. A drought of three or four years’ duration is a common experience. In parts of New ‘South Wales, Queensland and South Australia, it is usual to have running streams and green pastures, but that does not apply to the western parts of Queensland. Graziers must sink bores for water and then, if the supply is to be maintained, the bores must be encased, and bore casing is almost unprocurable. In any event, it is practically impossible to obtain labour for the sinking of the bores. When water is obtained by boring, it is sometimes hot enough when it comes to the surface to cook egg3 in. Drains have to be made for miles to convey the water to the stock.
As another precaution against long, dry spells it is desirable that fodder should be stored on grazing properties. Such natural grasses as Mitchell grass and Flinders grass make good “ensilage, but before it can be conserved it is necessary to build silos. Here, again, it is difficult to obtain cement and labour. On most grazing properties, existing buildings are not suitable for the- climate. The people who work there are entitled to have their sleeping quarters wired against flies and mosquitoes. There is no reason why septic tanks should not be .provided instead of the cesspits at present in use, some of which are 10 feet deep, and are a breeding place for flies of all kinds. Station workers, managers, and the owners who visit their properties from time to time, are entitled to good living conditions. We know how hard it is to obtain building materials even in the cities. In the outback it is practically impossible to get either materials and labour.
Bulldozers are needed for the making of dams in which to store water. Many of the dams are miniature lakes, and it takes three months to six months to make one. Tractors are needed for roadmaking, timber clearing, &c, as well as for ploughing fire ‘breaks and digging drains. Scoops are also needed, and they are difficult to obtain. In any case, a scoop or a .plough is of little use without a tractor to pull it. Then, even if the material and equipment can be obtained, there always remains the shortage of. labour.
The grazing industry is far from beinghighly developed, but at the present time,, most graziers have the money with which to effect improvements if only material and labour were available. Never before have graziers been in such a satisfactory financial position. Never before have they had the money with which to effect improvements, and it is particularly unfortunate that now, when they have the money with which to make their properties more productive, they are held up by the shortage of labour and materials
Government supporters, in defending this confiscatory legislation, asked what was the alternative to it. If I did not have in mind something better than this legislation, I should regard all the words that I have spoken as wasted. I suggest that,- instead of confiscating part of the proceeds of wool sales, the Government should issue pastoral improvement bonds for purchase by graziers. They could be non-transferable, and could be issued in denominations from £100 to £20,000 on a clear understanding that, when cashed the proceeds would be used only for improving the properties of the holders. Interest would be paid on them at the same rate as on savings bank deposits. The value of the bonds should be deducted from the taxable income of the grazier who bought them. The issue and purchase of such bonds should be regarded as the main scheme for dealing with the present situation. The provisions of this bill should beregarded only as an alternative. I suggest that there be inserted in the bill the following clause: -
This act shall not .apply to any grazierwho hae voluntarily purchased from the Commonwealth Government pastoral improvement bonds of a value equal to the amount which would have been deducted under this act if” no such bonds had been purchased.
Only if a grazier failed to purchase bondswould the provisions of the act apply to him. The purpose of my proposal. would be to increase production in the grazing industry, and, at the same time, to create a reservoir of employment.
Stress has been laid during this discussion on the fact that the present high prices for wool will not continue indefinitely. Just how long they will last is not known but we believe that there will be no reduction for some time. In the meantime the plan that I have suggested could be put into operation. The following statistics of the number of sheep in this country at the 31st March, 1949, are interesting: -
It is interesting to note that the estimated value of the wool clip for the current year is £500,000,000. On that figure, the average price of a fleece works out at about £4 12s. I consider that the value of fleeces alone warrants something more being done at this stage in the history of the wool industry than merely taking £103,000,000 from the graziers. The industry needs to be vastly improved. I am particularly interested in the industry from the employment point of view. Many thousands of Australians look to the wool industry for their livelihood. Unfortunately, in the past graziers have suffered severe losses. Two or three years ago, Queensland had 20,000,000 sheep. By 1949, that figure had been reduced to 16,000,000. Half a century ago Queensland had as many sheep as it has to-day. Due to droughts, bad watering facilities, and low prices for wool, the industry has not been able to make any headway ; in fact, as I have shown, it has slipped back. It has not been uncommon for more than 1,000,000 sheep to be lost through drought in a single year. That is serious, and if anything could be done on the lines that I have proposed to improve the situation, and to prevent a recurrence of past heavy losses, it would be well worth while doing it in the interests of the nation.
Several honorable senators who spoke in this debate yesterday said that the impost to be levied under this legislation was a tax. That has been denied, yet, throughout the bill, we find references to the “ commissioner “. The word is used fourteen times on one page. The commissioner referred to is, of course, the Commissioner of Taxation. Clearly, the purpose of the bill is to take money from the wool-growers and to give it to the Commissioner of Taxation. If that is not taxation, it is confiscation. Honorable senators opposite may choose whichever word they like, but the effect on the grazier will be the same. The scheme has also been referred to as a form of “ pay-as-you-earn “ taxation, but it is also a “ spend-as-you-pay “ form of revenue raising because as the money is received it will also be going out and it is problematical whether the woolgrowers will get any material benefit out of the scheme at all. If it were possible to introduce a scheme on the lines that I have suggested, benefits would accrue not only to graziers, but also to workers in industry, and to business people.
This legislation is probably the best that the Government has been able to devise, and, presumably, unless the Government decides to accept the suggestion that I have made, this measure and those complementary to it will be passed. They will cause widespread dissension among graziers, who, I contend, should be encouraged to increase production, and should not be bludgeoned by the Government.
– As the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) has said, the purpose of this legislation is to require wool producers to pay to the Commonwealth onefifth of the proceeds of wool sold after the 28th August, 1950. The plan will have the effect of withholding from circulation in the general economy a percentage of the increased spending power that is flowing from the phenomenal wool prices now obtaining and will assist to ease the pressure of inflation.
The taxable income of Australian woolgrowers in 1945-46 - the first post-war financial year - was £25,000,000. In 1949-50, it was £157,000,000, and the estimate for the current financial year is £380,000,000. Expressed differently, the gross income from wool in 1946-47 was £97,000,000 ; last year it was £325,000,000, and the estimate for the current financial year is £500,000,000. In 1949-50, the average price for a bale of wool was £80; so far this year it has been £150, an all-time record. It must be evident to wool-growers that, in the present disturbed state of our economy, an increase of £175,000,000 over last year in wool returns could have severe effects if heavy spending is to be the result.
– The Government is going to spend the money anyway.
– That is a very pertinent interjection, and I shall deal with it in a moment. While we must hail this great accretion of new wealth with the utmost satisfaction, the wool-growers are in duty bound to co-operate with the Australian Government in its endeavours to maintain the purchasing power of our currency. The position is quite clear and I hope that those thoughts sink deeply into the minds of honorable senators because I believe that I am on firm ground. This year, but for this proposal to deduct 20 per cent, of the gross earning of woolgrowers, there would be £175,000,000 of new wool money in circulation. In addition, owing to the recent decision to increase the basic wage, there will be £150,000,000 of other new money in circulation. Furthermore, there will be £70,000,000 of new money in circulation as the result of the payment of the war gratuity. Finally, it is estimated that next year’s intake of immigrants will be 200,000. On an assessment of £5 a week for each immigrant not engaged in productive work-
– What does the honorable senator mean by “ not engaged in productive work”?
– I am referring to jobs that do not produce new wealth, such as building and labouring jobs. Building is not productive work. The wages that will be paid to the additional 200,000 immigrants will approximate £50,000,000. In the four items that- I have mentioned there is a total of £445,000,000 of new money. The release of that huge sum would have a serious effect on our economy. Thenew money would be competing for a non-expanding volume of goods produced. In such circumstances, the stability of the.£l would receive a very severe buffeting to put it very mildly. As I see the position, we can put into cold storage any optimistic plans that we may have for putting value back into the £1. Our job is to keep the £1 steady at its present level. To put value back into the £1 we would require the co-operation of the Labour party in pegging wages for two years at least, and in re-introducing a 44- hour week. When I say that, I express only my own opinion. I am not committing any one else. I firmly believe that inflation can be curbed only by the means that I outlined. Trade unions in Great Britain agreed to those steps being taken, and their good sense has enabled the Attlee Government to balance its trade with the United States of America, an achievement that seemed impossible only two years ago. By their cooperation with the Attlee Government they put Great Britain back on the map. I am not differentiating on party lines. This matter is too serious for that. We can halt inflation in this country with the goodwill and co-operation of the trade unions by returning to a 44-hour week and imposing wage pegging for a few years. As wages rise, necessarily costs follow, and so the inflationary spiral goes on. If we pursued the course that has .been suggested by Opposition senators in this debate we shall soon reach the point at which the basic wage was £25 a week but would not purchase a halfpennyworth more goods than did the basic wage of £3 a week twenty years ago. All persons of common sense will agree with me on that point. We must try to resolve our difference in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill for the betterment of the country.
In this bill the Government proposes to skim off one-fifth of the gross wool return, or approximately £103,000,000 a year, as a resistance measure against inflation. It has been argued in this debate that as the Government will spend that money in accordance with its budgetary needs this bill will not check inflation. I think it was Senator Armstrong who emphasized that point and said that in such circumstances we might as well leave the money in the hands of the wool-growers. Some members of the Opposition have asked what is the difference between the Government taking the money from the wool-growers and spending it and leaving the money in the hands of the wool-growers for them to spend it. They contend that it would be better to leave the money in the hands of the individual wool-growers on the ground that nothing could be gained by skimming off this money from the wool-growers and handing it to the Government to be used to balance the budget. At first sight that argument appears to be sound but if this money is not available to the Government it will be necessary to raise approximately £100,000,000 by way of taxation. Thus, the wool-grower left with his £103,000,000, which we propose to skim off, and the Government with an additional £100,000,000 of taxes, would have between them £203,000,000 for simultaneous spending. In those circumstances inflation would quickly worsen. Honorable senators will, I am sure, appreciate that point. If we adopted their suggestion and left the money in the pockets of the wool-growers to be spent as they so desired and the Government had to raise an additional £100,000,000 to meet its budgetary needs, the Government and the woolgrowers would compete against each other in the simultaneous spending of £203,000,000 which, of course, would worsen the inflationary trend.
The wool sales deduction is not a wool tax, as Opposition Senators have contended for political propaganda purposes. It is a sum which will be drawn off for the prepayment of tax. Under the terms of this bill each wool-grower will receive a wool deduction certificate. If, for example, a wool-grower’s gross wool income amounts to £10,000, a certificate will be issued for £2,000, or one fifth of his total wool income. If in the following year his tax assessment amounts to £1,800, the Commissioner of Taxation, on presentation of the certificate, will receipt his assessment in full and refund to him the balance of £200. That is fair enough and simple enough. The woolgrower will therefore, lose nothing but will suffer only a deferment of one-fifth of his income for taxation purposes only.
I think that the wool-growers will admit that in present circumstances some action was called for to protect the economy of this country. Three courses were open to the Government. First, it could have revalued the £1. That would have involved an actual loss of 25 per cent, of the income of the wool-growers and as a direct consequence a corresponding, drop in the value of sheep. Secondly, it could have provided for income tax prepayment by a 20 per cent, skim off the wool income of the growers, as it proposed in this bill. Thirdly, it could have imposed an export tax on wool and/or fixed a home consumption price for wool. If individual wool-growers were asked to select whichever of these methods they preferred, I have no doubt which of them they would choose when the matter was fully explained to them.
Senator O’Flaherty made it clear last night that, if the opportunity offered, the Labour party would repeal this measure as Labour stands for the principle of taxation in accordance with ability to pay. His words contained the clear inference that in present circumstances the Labour party would be eager and willing not only to “ shear “ the wool-grower for tax but “ shave “ him as well. The woolgrowers should beware of false friends and particularly of Senator O’Flaherty, who, in a seductive appeal, extended Labour’s sympathy for what he alleged was the Australian Country party’s betrayal of the wool producers. Let me paraphrase a few old lines that are familiar to us all -
Do not trust him, O wool-grower
Tho’ his voice he soft and sweet.
It is fair to assume that if the Labour party had the opportunity it would impose a wool export tax, or alternatively, that it would increase the income tax scale. A clear statement to that effect was made by no less a person than Senator O’Flaherty who said that if it had the opportunity the Labour party would repeal this legislation and substitute for it a measure based on capacity to pay.
On the present scale of wool values how heavily would the wool-growers be “ slugged “ on their capacity to pay !
Mr. Hanlon, the Premier of Queensland, who has a considerable influence in the Labour movement of Australia, made no bones about it. In the Queensland Parliament he favoured the imposition of a home-consumption price for wool. It has been calculated that a homeconsumption price would involve the wool-growers in a loss of £50,000,000 per annum, in addition to the heavy tax which is now levied on them. It is important to emphasize that the wool sales deduction is not a tax and that there has been no alteration of the tax scale which stands exactly as we inherited it from the Chifley Government. If, as Opposition spokesmen contend, big profits are ‘being made by those who are engaged in trade and commerce, it is well to remember that they pay tax on the same scale as the grazier, on the principle of “the more you earn the more you pay”.’ All those who make big profits, whether they be engaged in primary or secondary industry, are in the 9am e boat. All of them pay in accordance with the high tax scale which was imposed by the Government which Senator O’Flaherty and honorable senators opposite supported and which is based on Labour’s principle that those who earn big profits shall pay heavy taxes. The graziers are paying heavy taxes to-day. The higher their income under the phenomenal increase of wool values, the higher the scale on which their tax is imposed and the greater the volume of tax they contribute to the economy of the country.
– Does the honorable senator agree with that principle?
– I do. As an attempt is being made to drive a wedge between the wool-grower and the man engaged in trade and commerce who reaps enormous profits, I emphasize that both of them are sitting in the same boat and pay taxes on the same scale. The grazier makes his proper contribution to the economy of this country in accordance with that principle.
It has become fashionable for the press, as well as certain long-haired economists and some politicians, to make a scapegoat of the wool-grower and to create the impression that the high price of wool is the main cause of inflation in this country. The high price of wool undoubtedly increases inflation but it is only secondary to the real cause which is under-production of essential goods. An important point which should not be lost sight of is that the high price of wool means that a given quantity of wool exports will now purchase a greater volume of imports, which, in turn, meansthat we now have much greater funds overseas to pay for materials and capital equipment than we had in former years. Another important point which should not be lost sight of is that if underproduction continues - and that seems to be the theme at the moment - obviously much of the surplus currency can be absorbed in the purchase of imported goods, and that in itself has a very strongeasing effect on inflationary pressure. It would benefit this country if we expanded! local production by working harder. If the people of this country wish to have an easy time, to have happy week-ends,, to work less and to demand high wages for their labour, the country will sufferaccordingly. We shall be obliged to turn to the people of other countries, who areprepared to work hard, and to buy commodities from them in order to absorb our surplus currency. We must face theposition and decide whether we are prepared to tighten our belts, to buck in and do the job, to work hard and to produce the goods which this country needs in order to absorb the surplus currency which is available, or whether we desire to purchase goods produced by people in other countries who do work hard. During the last world war it was frequently stated that Hitler had a secret weapon, and I believe that he had. It was the willingness of the German people to work hard in order to produce the commodities that Germany required. A few days ago I met Mr. McDonald, the editor of the Brisbane Telegraph, who had recently returned from a visit to Japan. He told me that the outstanding impression gained during his tour was of the willingness of the Japanese people to work hard in an endeavour to redeem their country and to build up its economy on the ashes of defeat. We should not become so conceited that we think that we are the only people in the world. There are other people, and if those people are working hard and selling their goods they will undersell us. Our job is to produce the goods that the country needs, but we have not been doing so. If we wish to put a brake on inflationary trends, and are prepared to produce the required quantum of goods to absorb the surplus currency, much of the money now going out of the country to pay for imports could circulate here with great profit to us all.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that we should get some kanakas over here?
– The honorable senator is completely out of touch with the economic situation, and he has incorrectly interpreted my viewpoint. I do not advocate the employment of kanakas or of any other cheap labour. I believe in the highest possible standards of living that this country can provide for its citizens, but I have sufficient common sense to know that we cannot have a high standard of living unless we are prepared to work hard in order to achieve it. If we do so we shall be entitled to the benefits of a high and ever rising standard of living, but we cannot have it on the present basis.
The first important point which I wish to emphasize to honorable senators is that if under-production continues in this country we must utilize our surplus currency for the purchasing of imported goods.
– Who wrote that for the honorable senator?
– That is the second time I have heard the honorable senator make that interjection. Senator Maher is not being fairly treated.
– What is the rat talking about?
– I rise to a point of order. Senator Hendrickson called me a rat, and I ask for a withdrawal of that remark.
– I did not call the honorable senator a rat. I said it to my colleague sitting here; but if Senator McCallum wishes to take it up and thinks that he is a rat, he may do so.
– Mr. Deputy President, you have taken the strictest action concerning me, and I demand justice from other people.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - I ask Senator Hendrickson to withdraw the remark.
– I did not call the honorable senator a rat.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - I ask the honorable senator to withdraw the remark.
– I withdraw it, but I maintain that I did not call the honorable senator a rat.
– The second reason why the high prices being received for wool are of great advantage to the economy of this country is that the big gap between the record Treasury expenditure and revenue receipts will be bridged by the additional tax receipts from the tremendous wool income. That is an important point. Those who write scare headlines and speak of “ fantastic “ wool prices fail to take into account the great prosperity which those prices have brought to this country. Those prices will help the country to bridge the gap between revenue and expenditure on defence, war gratuities and other items. The taxpayer thus escapes the imposition of heavier taxes in order to meet the present-day needs of the Commonwealth and State governments.
– The honorable senator should tell that to the country people. That is his excuse for selling them out.
– I think that the country people in Queensland and generally throughout Australia understand my viewpoint far better than anything Senator Amour could suggest to them. I am one who has the backbone and the courage to. stand up for what I believe to be right, whether it means political defeat or otherwise. If I feel I am right in giving that lead to the people, I shall sink or swim according to their verdict. When I speak tonight I speak as my conscience directs and in accordance with what I believe are the best interests of my fellow citizens.
The high wool incomes, far from being a source of danger to our economy, will be beneficial to our economy, as long as we successfully channel off, as we are doing by means of this bill, some of the excess money that is available. Legislation of this kind is designed to protect the ordinary John Citizen, the taxpayer of this country. The money collected from the woolgrowers will be used for budgetary purposes as a final set-off against their tax assessments. To those honorable senators who claim that many woolgrowers will suffer hardship because of the introduction of this measure, I say that the bill makes provision for hardship. The wool-grower whose financial position is affected by floods, drought, bushfires, blowflies, loss of stock and fencing, or who has a large overdraft to meet, will be protected. Last evening Senator Benn referred to a station property in Queensland which carried 46,000 sheep. In ordinary circumstances one would assume that such a property would belong to a member of the capitalist class who would be making enormous profits. In the words of a soapbox Labour orator, he would no doubt be said to be acting in a manner contrary to the best interests of the people of this country. Senator Benn, who is an honest representative from Queensland, was sufficiently conscientious to mention the matter in the Parliament and to inform honorable senators that the financial position of the owner of that property was so bad, because of continuous drought conditions and the obligation to maintain a big staff, that he was unable to find such a comparatively small sum as £500 or £600 in order to provide staff quarters on the property. That would seem incredible, but I know from my own experience that what the honorable senator said is correct.
– He does not tell untruths.
– His statement is not questioned, but to the ordinary man in the street it would seem to be entirely wrong and a perversion of the truth. That case would come within the hardship provisions of this measure. I have no doubt that many small wool-growers in Queensland will be obliged to seek assist ance under those provisions, which give to those concerned an opportunity to make written application for relief to the Commissioner of Taxation. I am certain, from my experience in life, that in 99 per cent, of such cases the Commissioner would grant the relief requested. In the remaining 1 per cent, of cases it would be possible for the dissatisfied persons to appeal to the Land Valuation Board against the Commissioner’s verdict.
Many people hold the belief that the wool-grower is rolling in riches. From time to time I have heard declamations from members of the Australian Labour party against those whom they called “wool barons”. Those persons were held up to scorn and ridicule as men who were rolling in riches. I cannot remember any wool-grower who was not at some time or other heavily in debt. If he lived well, as least as far as outward appearances were concerned, he was still obliged to throw his hat through the bank manager’s door before venturing to enter. It is only because of the series of good seasons and the greatly increased wool prices during the past three years that many graziers have been able to show a credit balance for the first time. Even to-day I know many graziers who, because of heavy taxes and high costs, are still operating on substantial overdrafts. “Wool-growers have their rights, but they also have obligations and responsibilities to the community. Do not let us forget that. All that I can say to my fellow wool-growers is “ Count your blessings “.
– Senator Maher said that he spoke as his conscience directed him. It is fortunate that the honorable senator’s speech will be recorded in Hansard, because the electors of Queensland who read it will be able to judge for themselves whether or not he has a conscience. Having told the Senate of the advantages that would accrue to the country and to the wool-growers if £103,000,000 were skimmed from receipts for wool this year, he concluded his speech by saying that at the present time it would be difficult to find a wool-grower who was not heavily in debt or operating upon an overdraft.
This measure is designed to drive small wool-growers out of business. It is in conformity with other legislation relating to the wool-growers that was introduced into the Parliament in 1939 by a Liberal government, which claimed that it was the wool-growers’ saviour. When I was at home sick last week, I listened to the broadcast of the debate upon this bill that took place in the House of Representatives, and I was amazed to hear a supporter of the Government refer to the Labour party as “ the new-found friend of the woolgrowers “. Doubtless that phrase will be used in this debate by some honorable senators opposite who speak later, because I have noticed that some of their colleagues who have already spoken have repeated almost word for word portions of the speeches that were made upon this measure in the House of Representatives by members of the Government parties. It wall be interesting to see whether Government senators say, as was said by their colleagues in the House of Representatives, that the Labour party is the new-found friend of wool-growers and primary producers. If the Labour party has not been the friend of the primary producers since federation, then primary producers, especially woolgrowers, have never had a friend politically.
Let me examine the statements that were made by Senator Maher, who spoke as his conscience directed him. Before he- told us how much the wool-growers are in debt at the present time, he said that he supported the proposal to skim £103,000,000 from their income this year. In addition to the income tax that the wool-growers will be required to pay, £103,000,000 will be taken from them. Some day, that money may be returned to them. Senator Maher argued that if the £103,000,000 were not taken from the wool-growers it would have to be raised by taxation. He said that that would accentuate the present inflationary trend, because the £103,000,000 raised by taxation would be put into circulation by the Government and the wool-growers, who he claims are heavily in debt and still have big overdrafts, would put into circulation the £103,000,000 that the Government now proposes to deduct from them, making a total of £206,000,000. But the honorable senator omitted to point out that if taxes upon large incomes were increased, the wool-growers - if most of them are in the higher income group, as the Government has tried to make out - would be required to pay a large proportion of that £103,000,000 in taxes, that is an indication of the manner in which the honorable senator’s conscience directed him to speak. He omitted to tell us that the imposition of an increased rate of income tax upon large incomes would result in a large proportion of the £103,000,000 being taken from the woolgrowers. His claim that the wool-growers would still have that money, even if taxes were increased, showed that his conscience is sometimes at variance with his mathematics. If approximately £70,000,000 were taken from the woolgrowers by increased taxes, they could not still have that money. The absurdity of the honorable senator’s argument must be apparent even to children at the primary school stage.
Honorable senators opposite have claimed that if this £103,000,000 is not taken from the wool-growers, the woolgrowers will put it into circulation. I do not believe that wool-growers would immediately spend the whole of their surplus income. If I am any judge, a_ wool-grower who received a few thousand pounds more than he received last year would not begin to live at a higher standard than previously. His standard of living would already be satisfactory to him. If he used the money at all, he would use it to increase his production. Is there any commodity that is scarcer than wool at the present time? If the Government believes that increased production will cause a reduction of prices, it should encourage the production of a commodity the price of which has increased tremendously. If the Government believes that increased production means reduced prices, why does it propose to take from the wool-growers money that they need urgently to enable them to increase production? The big woolgrowers may not be able to increase their production, but if the Government gave the small wool-growers an opportunity to do so the result would be surprising. ‘
As I have said, this measure is designed to force the small wool-growers out of business.
– Rubbish !
– Senator Maher has always been in the fortunate position of being a member of a section of the grazing community that numbers its sheep by tens of thousands and not by hundreds. In 1.939, 40 per cent, of the Australian wool-growers produced only 6 per cent, of the wool produced in Australia. Those figures indicate that there are many small wool-growers and few big ones. By means of this obnoxious measure, the Government is endeavouring to drive those small producers out of business.
Let us examine the position of a small wool-grower who will be paid £2,000 for his wool this year. Let us assume that he is struggling to improve his pastures and increase the size of his flocks. If he were successful in doing that, he would be able to produce more wool, thus helping to combat inflation. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) have had much to say about inflation, and have claimed that it cannot be checked without an increase of production. The small wool-grower whose position we ara considering doubtless will want to expend a. considerable proportion of the £2,000 to improve his pastures and increase the size of his flocks, but he will find it difficult to do so, because from his income of £2,000 there will be deducted £150 as a result of the operation of the 7$ per cent, levy, and £400 as a result of the operation of this measure, a. total of £550. If he employs any permanent labour to improve his pastures, as many wool-growers do, he may be involved in an expenditure of £1,000, in which event he will be left with the magnificent sum of £450, with which he will be required to pay social services contributions and, possibly, income tax. If that is not a procedure designed to discourage small wool-growers and force them out of business, I do not know what is. I do not suggest that the Government’s proposals will worry big wool-growers who have tens of thousands of sheep and are in a very comfortable position, but small wool-growers will be adversely affected by being deprived of money that they need urgently to improve their properties. I agree that they will get it back some day, but why should the Government take it away from them at a time when they need it urgently? Other primary producers with incomes of £50,000 a year, because they are in a different line of business, will escape any deduction.
– The wool-grower that the honorable senator has in mind would have a right of appeal.
– An appeal would involve him in additional expense. Let us assume that he lives 200 miles from the capital city. If he wanted to appeal, he would have to get into his motor car, if he had one, and drive 200 miles to the capital city in order to interview the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation. Then he- would have to stay in the city over night, or perhaps longer, and drive 200 miles back to his home. Doubtless the relief for which he applied would be granted to him, but another burden would have been imposed upon him. During my twelve years as a member of the National Parliament I have had many interviews with Deputy Commissioners of Taxation at which I have acted on behalf of other persons. Those persons travelled to the taxation offices at their own expense and lost working time in doing so, as would small wool-growers who invoked the provisions of this measure relating to appeals.
If the Government thinks it right to impose this burden upon small woolgrowers, why does not it impose a similar burden upon large wheat-growers? Why has the Government selected the woolgrowers? Why has it not required the big fruit-growers and the big manufacturers to bear at least some of the burden ? What justification is there for selecting one section of the community on which to impose this tax? The Constitution specifically provides that there should be no discrimination between the States or parts of a State. Surely, this’ is discrimination of the worst kind. If this measure were tested before the High Court of Australia, I am convinced that it would be held to be unconstitutional. Senator McCallum has stated that this measure is necessary because of the high prices being paid overseas for our wool, and to enable Australia to increase its purchases overseas. I point out that our wool will continue to be exported, and this measure will not affect the prices being paid for it overseas. I have never heard a more stupid statement by a representative of the people in this chamber. The honorable senator also stated that this measure would help to curb inflation. That was another ridiculous statement. He also claimed that if the money that the Government proposes to deduct from wool-growers’ cheques was left in the hands of the wool-growers, they would spend it in the purchase of motor cars and expensive clothing, thereby increasing the inflationary tendency. What opportunity would a small wool-grower such as the one to whom I have referred have of purchasing a new motor car with. £450? Relatively few new motor cars can be bought for less than £1,000. I agree with Senator McCallum’s contention that the proposed deductions would be a prepayment of tax similar to deductions from the salaries and wages of other sections of the community. He contended that if money proposed to be withheld from the wool-growers was paid to them they would spend portion of it improving their properties, thereby robbing other industries of production. I have already mentioned that, according to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the industry in connexion with which increased production would reduce prices is the wool industry. Why does the honorable senator object strongly to the graziers being permitted to apply this money to increasing their production? Why should not the Taxation Branch give the graziers rebates from this money when making rebates in connexion with this year’s income tax? They should be granted rebates this year, not a year hence. In effect, by carrying forward the credit established by these deductions, the Government will be mortgaging 1951-52 revenue in order to provide for estimated expenditure in 1950-51. What assurance is there that the present high prices being obtained for wool will be realized in future years? Nobody who has studied world events would imagine for a moment that the present high prices will be maintained year after year. In time, wool prices will return to a level commensurate with the prices of other commodities.
When wool prices slump, they will corns back with a thump as on a former occasion. Some honorable senators will remember that prices of sheepskins collapsed overnight, ruining many merchants. A man who had been dealing in sheepskins for over 30 years in Melbourne, and whose reputation was renowned throughout Australia, became bankrupt overnight, despite the fact that prior to the slump he had cash reserves of £70,000 in addition to stock. I sound a note of warning that the price of wool could slump overnight. Yet the Government is mortgaging revenue from this source for a couple of years ahead. I point out that when wool slumps, the incomes of farmers will be assessed on the basis of the present high rate of income, despite the fact that their income may fall by two-thirds. The Government will then have to refund to the wool-growers not only approximately £103,000,000 but also an addition . 1 £150,000,000, being tax already paid. In the year in which that occurred, the Government would have to pay to the wool-growers from revenue much more than £200,000,000. If this measure becomes law, I am convinced that the Government that happens to be in office when the slump in wool prices comes will be faced with an awful mess. If that government should happen . to be the present Government, it is a matter for conjecture on what industry it will apply the screws. Although supporters of the Government have claimed that they are opposed to socialism and control, this measure can only be described as a socialist screw. It savours of legislation of the pattern that would be enacted in a State like Soviet Russia. I remind honorable senators opposite that legislation of the nature of the present measure was not enacted during the regime of the former Labour Government that they choose to refer to as a socialist government.
– The previous Government took the men as well as the wool.
– That is perfectly true. At one stage the former Government took the men in order to save the honorable senator who has just interjected, and all other Australian women, from the ravages of the Japanese. I claim that Labour was fully justified in its action.
– Apparently the honorable senator misunderstood what 1 said.
– There is no justification for the open robbery contemplated by this measure. There is no justification for the enactment of such a dishonest measure in order to raise money to meet estimated expenditure during this financial year. I am convinced that it is for that purpose that the bill has been brought forward.
– What is dishonest about it?
– The revenue for a couple of years ahead is being mortgaged to finance this year’s budget. Is not that dishonest?
– The honorable senator should study the bill in order to find out what it is all about.
– If I am wrong, there is no reason why Senator Scott should not seize a golden opportunity to tell the people of Australia what is the real position.
– What about the export tax on rabbit skins ?
– I shall not apologize for anything that I have said, because I know that I have analysed the facts correctly. Although supporters of the Government have described honorable senators on this side of the chamber as the new found friends of the graziers, I remind them that no /anti-Labour government - by whatever title it was known - has done as much for the primary producers of this country as did the former Labour Government. A measure that was introduced by a Liberal government in 1939, ostensibly to assist the wool-growers, was about as equitable as is the measure now being considered. One supporter of the Australian Country party at that time did not agree with the measure, but he did not have the courage to call for a division and vote against it. I refer to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who usually does not pull his punches. When speaking to the measure, he stated that if he had been a member of the Opposition, and the Labour party had been in office and had done such a thing as the Lyons-Page Government had done, the withering sarcasm and blistering comments of the opponents of Labour undoubtedly would have scorched the palmtrees of paradise. That measure related to a contract that Australia entered into with the British Government for the duration of the war, and for twelve months after the war, to confiscate and sell the whole of the wool crop of Australia for 13.4d. per lb., which was 2d. per lb. less than the price in the contract that was made with the British Government during World War I. The Australian people lost £35,000,000 as a result of the wool contract entered into with Great Britain during World War I. When speaking about the 1939 contract, Mr. John E. Hamilton, a former president of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, stated that the British Government should be congratulated on securing the clip at so reasonable a price, which was much less than anybody had expected. For that reason, he stated that he was wondering whether there were any conditions of which he knew nothing attached to the contract. He subsequently stated that he would not be surprised if provision had been made for an increase of price in certain circumstances. The only additional amount that Australia could have derived from the contract would have been 50 per cent, of the profit on Australian wool re-sold by Great Britain to other countries. However, very little wool was re-sold. But manufactured woollen articles were sold to other countries. It was not sold as greasy wool. In that way, the British Government and the British manufacturers got all the profit, and the Australian woolgrowers got none.
– Yes, but the Australian wool-growers made their patriotic contribution to save Britain.
– In 1939, the nonLabour Government stabbed the woolgrowers in the back. They tried to put the small growers out of production, just as the present Government is trying to do. At that time, there were between 90,000 and 100,000 wool-growers in Australia. Eighty-five per cent, of them produced less than 50 bales each a year, or only 53 per cent, of the total wool production. Of that 85 per cent., 45 per cent, produced less than ten bales of wool, and their total production was only 6 per cent, of the entire clip. The relative percentages would be much the same to-day. Repeated requests were made by farmers’ organizations to the Liberal Government in 1939 for a review of the wool contract with Great Britain.
– It was the United Australia party Government then.
– That does not matter. The men who composed that Government are, for the most part, members of the present Government. If some honorable senator opposite were to change his name by deed poll he would still be the same person.
– In other words, it does not matter how many times a Chinaman changes his name, he is still a Chinaman.
– That is so. Fanners’ organizations carried resolutions asking that the contract price of wool be raised to 15id. per lb., but the then Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, refused to make any representations to the British Government on the subject, notwithstanding the fact that the contract provided for periodic reviews. The growers claimed that the cost of production was not less than 14d. per lb., and the late Chief Judge Dethridge estimated that it was not less than 16d. It was not until the Labour Government came into office that the contract was reviewed, and .the price raised. The wool-growers commended the Labour Government for what it had done for them. Because of the wool contract, Australia lost millions of dollars, the value of which we now realize in these days of a dollar shortage.
But that is not the whole story. Senator Maher squealed about the need for taking defence precautions at a time of emergency. The anti-Labour Government that was in power in 1939 must have been well aware that our potential enemies were Germany and Japan. If it did not know that, it had no right to be in power. Even a school child could have said at that time who wove the potential enemies of Australia. It was obvious that Australia should prepare quickly for its defence. That was the situation when the government of the day appointed as wool appraisers nine Japanese, three Italians and ten Germans at salaries of £950 each. Australians could have been found to fill the positions. The Government, which was led by the present Prime Minister, (Mr. Menzies), assisted by the present Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) and the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) deliberately appointed as wool appraisers men who were the potential enemies of our country. Those same leaders are in power to-day, and are leading the rank and file of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party by the nose. Senator Maher said that we would have to work harder and harder, and get back to a 44-hour week. He praised Hitler for the way in which he ensured increased production in Germany. If the Germans did not work under the conditions he prescribed, they were thrown into concentration camps. Senator Maher indicated that he favoured the introduction into Australia of conditions similar to those that prevailed in Germany under Hitler. Does he also want concentration camps to be established in this country? Senator Maher said that the bringing of an additional 200,000 immigrants to Australia would not result in increased production. He is not very complimentary to the immigrants whom his government is bringing in. He said, further, that the population of Australia could be doubled without increasing the amount of currency in circulation. Those were stupid observations to make. We have been told that this measure is designed as a counter to inflation. If the Government hopes to curb inflation it will have to do something more than ask for a greater effort from those who are already doing a good job. If it is not possible to get increased production without requiring people to work harder it is time we sacked all the scientists. Senator Maher said that Australia was better off 30 years, ago, and he advocated a return to the conditions then prevailing.
The Labour party has been twitted with having discovered a new friendship for the graziers, but when I told the story of what the anti-Labour government did to the wool-growers in 1939 there was dead silence amongst honorable senators opposite. The action of that government was iniquitous. It robbed the wool-growers, and all the people of Australia, by selling Australian wool for 13.4d. per lb. when South Africa was getting 2s. 6d. per lb.
– What did the English growers get under a Labour government?
– I know that the price went up and up. The anti-Labour Government in 1939 also dealt harshly with primary producers including wheatgrowers. For instance, wheat was sold at about 2s. a bushel, but immediately the Labour Government came into office the price was increased to 5s. a bushel. The dairy-farmers had never received assistance from any government from the time of federation until the Labour Government came into office in 1941. Then the price of butter fat was increased, and subsidies amounting to £6,500,000 were paid. The anti-Labour government had refused to increase the price even after repeated representations had been made to it on the subject. When the Labour Government came into office in 194.1, the dairy herds of Australian were going out of existence because the dairyfarmers could not continue producing at less than the cost of production. Senator Mattner professed to be very interested in the potato-growers, but in 1939, under an anti-Labour government, potatoes were sold at prices varying from £2 to £4 a ton.
– In Tasmania and Victoria.
– That is a deliberate lie.
– Did Senator Mattner say that a statement made by Senator Aylett was a deliberate lie?
– Senator Aylett said that in 1939 potatoes were sold at from £2 to £4 a ton. That is not true.
– I heard you say that something said by Senator Aylett was a deliberate lie. You must withdraw that statement.
– I withdraw it.
– I remind the honorable senator that I am not speaking of the far west of Australia now. I am speaking of the State of Tasmania. I repeat that potato-growers in that State were compelled to sell their crops for between £2 and £4 a ton.
– Not in 1939.
– Yes. I did not say that they had to dispose of all of their potatoes at that price. When the Labour Government came to office in 1941, it found that it had to go to the assistance of most primary industries. Insufficient potatoes were being grown to meet the needs of our fighting forces, with which Senator Mattner now seems to be so concerned. The previous anti-Labour Government had not done anything to rectify the situation. Like the woolgrowers, the potato-growers were going out of production because their return was not sufficient to cover production costs. Labour came to their assistance by guaranteeing £12 a ton for potatoes. Subsequently that price was increased. Other primary industries had to be assisted also; yet members of the present Government parties pose as the friends of the primary producers ! When Labour came to power, primary producers generally were in a precarious position. They were being asked to sell their products for less than the production costs. Few primary industries knew the meaning of the word “ stabilization “. However, once they were put on an economic basis by the Labour Government, they began to develop. To show what some primary producers at least think of the Labour party, I shall quote a letter that was written by Mr. A. C. Everett, a member of the State executive of the Victorian Wheat and Woolgrowers Association” and of the central council of the Victorian Country party, to the secretary of the Federal Parliamentary Labour party, Mr. Makin. Mr. Everett, whose name will be familiar to most honorable senators opposite, said that he desired to express his appreciation of the Labour party’s action in bringing, the claims of wheat-growers before the Commonwealth Government. He added : -
I have always had confidence in the ability of the Federal Labour Party to do something tangible for the wheat industry. You have proved that many times and I take this opportunity to thank those members that put the case so ably. It is the same policy as the Scullin Government introduced in 1930 and which was defeated by the votes of two members of the so-called Country Party in the Senate. It is the only policy for the wheat industry. The money must be found from the proper place - the Commonwealth Bank - mid free of interest.
I congratulate your party for being consistent; you have adopted a policy and you Iia ve stuck to it. If such a policy is put into operation, it will improve the internal economy of the industry; promote employment and cause a return to prosperity.
I want to thank and congratulate Mr. McHugh for his very able speech on the motion for -the adjournment of the House to discuss the position of the wheat industry. I can now understand why the people of Wakefield returned Mr. McHugh. lt is now quite clear that the Labour party will have an overwhelming victory at the next elections. You may think it strange that 1 should write in these tones when I was a member of a central executive of another party. The fact is that the Country Party will never put sufficient members into the Federal House to form a Government, so what I can do is to look to the Labour Party to put these reforms into operation.
I again thank your party for what it has done for our industry, and wish you every success; particularly at the next general elections.
Again I remind the Senate that that letter did not come from a branch of the Australian Labour party or of the Communist party about which our dearly beloved Christian friends opposite have so much to say. It came from a representative of an important primary producers’ organization. The Labour administration that came to power in 1941 was the first government in the history of federation to do something tangible to stabilize our primary industries, including the wool industry. If those industries are to prosper, they must be assisted and encouraged. This Government will not be assisting the wool industry by taking away the working capital of the small wool-grower. Nobody can deny that that will be the effect of this bill. All that honorable senators opposite have been able to offer in defence of this bill is a comparison of income tax paid by woolgrowers in 1939, with that paid in 1949, and the estimated payments for this year. No mention has been made of the fact that until recent years probably 30 per cent, of Australian wool-growers were not liable to pay any income tax at all because of the inadequacy of their incomes. Most of the huge income tax payments of which Government supporters have spoken were probably contributed by about 20 per cent, of the wool-growers. A further 30 per cent, may have made a small contribution, but the remaining 50 per cent, paid no tax at all. The total income tax contributed by wool-growers has no significance at all. To ascertain the true position, we should find out how much tax is being paid by the wool-grower who has only 200 or 300 sheep; how much is being paid by the wool-grower who has 500 sheep and so on until we find how much is being paid by the big wool-grower who ha3 perhaps 250,000 sheep. Such an analysis would show clearly the origin of the increased income tax payments by woolgrowers.
I come now to the effect of inflation on the wool industry. Does any honorable senator opposite believe that a wool-grower who has, say, 100,000 sheep is being forced by inflation to deny himself the luxuries of life? The truth is that the big woolgrowers could not possibly buy any more luxuries than they are buying to-day. If the money that this Government proposes to deduct from the incomes of woolgrowers were to be left in their possession, it would probably be invested in industry. This measure will deny wool-growers the opportunity to make such investments. Their money is to be confiscated. The Minister for Defence (Mr. McBride) admitted candidly that this scheme was in effect a compulsory loan. Do honorable senators opposite believe that they are acting fairly by singling out one section of the community for an impost of this kind? The Government claims that the money is required for defence purposes. Are we to believe that if the £103,000,000 were not to be taken from the woolgrowers, it could not be obtained by other means for defence? This proposed confiscation of wool-growers’ funds is the type of legislation that one would expect in Soviet Russia. If t.he Government is not prepared to obtain the money that it requires by direct taxation, equitably spread over all sections of the community, would not the manly course be to go to the wool-growers and ask them for a 10:.T of £103,000,000 for defence purposes?
The Chifley Government never failed to obtain a patriotic response to such appeals, but apparently honorable senators opposite do not think that a LiberalCountry party government would be quite so successful. That appears to me to be a clear admission that although the people of this country including the woolgrowers, had every confidence in the Labour Administration, they do not hold this Government in quite such high regard.
Sittings of the Senate.
– Order! In accordance with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– In fairness to the Senate, I wish to intimate that, in view of the still substantial legislative programme that has to be completed before the Parliament adjourns, it may be necessary to ask the Senate to sit until a later hour in future. It may be necessary to ask the Senate to sit on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings and also on Friday evenings. The sittings will depend on the expedition with which the business of the Government is disposed of by the Senate. It is only fair that I should inform honorable senators of -this proposal in case they wish to make arrangements for next Friday.
– I am astonished by the statement which ha3 just been made by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan). Several consultations have been held between the Government and the Opposition with regard to the sittings of the Senate. The Opposition has agreed to meet the wishes of the Government if the business before this chamber warrants its doing so. We are agreeable to sit until midnight each night and to meet at 1.1 a.m. on Wednesday. Such an arrangement should give us sufficient time to dispose of the business of the Senate. We have been disturbed by the failure of the
Government to give the Senate an opportunity to discuss the budget papers. If the Government holds up its business in this chamber it must accept full responsibility for so doing. The Opposition is prepared to help it to dispose of the bills that remain to be dealt with. As far as I can gather, only two bills will be before the Senate until Wednesday; both of them can be disposed of within the time limits I have indicated. I do not think that there will be any need for the suspension of the sessional order which provides that the Senate shall conclude its weekly sittings on Thursdays.
– I supplement the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) by drawing attention to the fact that it has been repeatedly alleged by spokesmen for the Government that its legislative programme has been delayed by the Senate and, in particular, by the Labour Opposition in the Senate. Apart from the Post and Telegraphs Rates Bill, which was disposed of to-day, only three bills arc listed on the notice-paper and these have been partly discussed. I expect that two of them will be disposed of rapidly on Tuesday and that only the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill will remain to be completed. The debate on that measure should not occupy a great deal of time. The Minister for Trade and Customs lias spoken of the need to sit for longer periods next week.
– I spoke of it as a possibility only.
– I accept the Minister’s correction. I merely wish to drive home the point that that possibility arises through the fault of the Government and not in any way through any action on the part of the Labour Opposition in this chamber.
– The budget is before us.
– It is not available for discussion by the Senate. The budget papers were before the Senate some time ago, but the budget has nol yet been discussed. The Leader of the Opposition reminds me that this has been the most extraordinary budget session we have ever known. Although the budget itself has not been discussed, bills which stem from it have been brought before the Senate, including the Wool Sales Deduction (Administration) Bill and its ancillary measures. To-day, no fewer than nine sales tax bills were transmitted to the Senate.. In addition, legislation providing for the payment of increased repatriation and pensions has been introduced.
– The Leader of the Opposition has already discussed the budget.
– Only one hour has been devoted to its consideration. The Government has afforded no opportunity for a general discussion of even the budget papers. I emphasize the fact th at the propaganda which the Government is so fond of disseminating, that the Senate is holding up its legislation, is completely false. In .reality, only one measure is left for discussion on Tuesday, but it is clear from press reports and from the notice-paper of the House of Representatives that 39 or 40 bills have yet to come to the Senate. The fact that they are not before tho Senate is in no way attributable to the Labour party either in the House of Representatires or in this chamber. If there is a flood of bills and the sittings of the Senate must be extended, as the Minister has indicated, responsibility for that state of affairs lies at the door of the Government and in no way can be attributed to the Opposition.
– I am glad to have an assurance from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Ashley) and Senator McKenna that the matters which remain on the notice-paper will be dealt with on Tuesday. As, under the Standing Orders of the Senate, it is possible for each honorable senator to speak for an hour on every bill that comes before this chamber, I can perhaps be pardoned if I show some feeling of relief,, especially after having had to suffer the lengthy speeches we have heard to-night. Senator McKenna has said that, apart from the budget papers, only two matters are listed on the notice-paper. There are three - the Wool Sales Deduction (Administration) Bill and its ancillary measures, which involve an amount of £103,000,000, the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill, and the Sales Tax Bills. If we can dispose of them on Tuesday, I am sure that I speak for my leader in saying that we shall be well content. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) has reminded me that the Commonwealth Aid Roads Bill still remains to be completed. Thus, four bills are ready to be proceeded with, each being a major piece of legislation. Responsibility for failure to discuss the budget papers rests solely on the shoulders of Opposition senators. For weeks and weeks in this Senate we went through the perfectly futile business of discussing a nonsensical measure relating to prices. The business of the Senate has not run to normal schedule solely because the time which we would ordinarily devote to the budget papers was in truth wasted on a measure introduced by the Opposition entirely for propaganda purposes. Opposition senators now frankly admit that that propaganda has badly misfired. I should be glad to see a spirit of sweet reasonableness prevail on Tuesday, and I trust that the Opposition will assist the Government by settling down to hard work instead of wasting another day as this day has been wasted.
– If the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) is eager to obtain the co-operation of the Opposition” he has done his cause no good by the speech which he has just made. The Opposition has at all times consulted the Government in arranging the business of the Senate. The Minister attempted to mislead the Senate into believing that certain papers were available for discussion when in fact they were not available. The Government has withheld the budget from the Senate and insisted on discussing the measures that arise out of it. Obviously, the Government does not want the co-operation of the Opposition and is trying to hide its ineptitude by falsely accusing the Opposition of delaying the passage of its business. By departing from normal practice, it is itself responsible for any delay that has occurred. If the Government plays the game cleanly, it will receive the co-operation of the Opposition; if it insists upon putting the ‘cart before the horse, as it has done up to date, that co-operation will not be forthcoming.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Health- P. D. Abbott.
Postmaster-General’s - H. Barber. ‘
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for -
Department of Civil Aviation purposes - Meekatharra, Western Australia.
Immigration purposes - Port Stephens, New South Wales.
Postal purposes - Broome, Western Australia.
Papua and New Guinea Act - Ordinances - 1950-
No. 25 - Public Service.
No. 20 - Restricted Areas.
Senate adjourned at 10.42 p.m,
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 23 November 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1950/19501123_senate_19_210/>.