20th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I direct the attention of the Minister for Shipping and Transport to a statement that appeared in to-day’s press concerning the first annual report furnished by the Stevedoring Industry Board, in the course of which the board points out that during 1949-50, 9,000,000 man-tours were wasted on the waterfront. In view of that statement will the Minister take steps to restore efficiency to operations on- the waterfront and to prevent shipping companies and stevedoring organizations from increasing shipping freights or fares or stevedoring charges in order to cover losses incurred by their inefficiency, which is a major_ cause, of the inflationary spiral that is at present destroying the Australian economy?
– Although I noticed a reference to the board’s report in to-day’s press, I have not yet had time to study the report. However, from other reports that I have studied, and from my own observations, I am convinced that the blackmailing tactics of the Communists are one of the main reasons for inefficiency on the waterfront.
– Will the Minister for Shipping and Transport inform mc who is the employing authority on the wharfs? .My question has been prompted by an article in to-day’s Sydney Morning Herald relating to the reports of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, for the year 1949-50, in which it has been claimed that 9,000,000 man-hours have been wasted. What has become of the old fashioned remedy of. the “sack” to deal with men who play up in the manner that has been reported?
– The Australian. Stevedoring Industry Board that was established by the former Labour Government is the employing authority on the waterfront. By legislation, a monopoly in respect of such employment was givenho the members of the Waterside Workers Federation, which was instructed to increase the number of men available for waterfront employment. So far, however, that request has not been complied with at many ports. The n: matter is at present being examined by my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service.
– I ask the Minister for .Transport and. Shipping whether” it is not a fact that’ the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board stated in its. recent report that the slow turn-round of ships in Australian .ports is due in large measure, to the faulty and inadequate machinery that is used for the purpose of loading and discharging cargoes. If that is so, can the Minister state whether it is possible, in the interests of the nation, for the Government to compel the employers of labour on the wharfs to -introduce modern methods? Is it also possible for the Government to intervene to. -the extent” of placing on wharfs throughout- Australia modern machinery. and equipment for the purpose of. facilitating the loading and unloading of ships?
– I have not yet had an opportunity to study the report in detail.’ If the statement attributed to the board by the honorable senator is in fact included in its report, I do not subscribe to that- view.- The previous Government established a body known as the Commonwealth’ Handling Equipment Fool which lias supplied a considerable quantity -of equipment for use on the waterfront. From the examination that I have made of the reports that have been received, the nain ports of- Australia are well supplied with modern- equipment. From time to time the pool adds to its supply of equipment, and requests from port authorities for the supply of such equipment usually are granted and the hire of equipment approved. Concerning the State of Queensland, in which the honorable senator is interested, I point out that at Mackay, where .thousands ‘ of pounds were spent in providing the most modern equipment for the handling of sugar,, it has been found that the more modern and the more effective the machinery, the slower the work of the waterside workers. That has also been found to be the case in other ports of Australia. I assure the honorable senator that. the department under my control is doing everything that it possibly can in’ order to make available the most modern equipment. It will assist in any way it can port authorities who make application for assistance.
– 1 ask tho Minister for Shipping and Transport whether it is not a fact that the only mechanical handling equipment that has been installed on the waterfront, namely, forklift trucks, was provided by the Labour Government? Is it not a fact that the major cause of the delay in the turnround of ships is the practice of commercial interests. in New South Wales and in other States of leaving goods on the wharfs for a considerable length of time ?
– The answer to both questions is “ No “.
– The Minister ‘ for Shipping and Transport, has stated that most efficient’ equipment has.’been installed at, -Mackay Harbour as. .a result of;. the. activities of the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool,, which was established by a previous government. Is it - not a fact that all of that equipment was installed by the Mackay Harbour Board ? In view of the suggestions that have been made about the loss of time on the waterfront, is it not a fact that the report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board, to which reference was made to-day, covered the financial year ended the 30th June, 1950, during one-half of which this country wab administered by a Labour government?
– The answer to both questions is “ Yes “.
– Will the Minister inform tho Senate at an early dato of tho extent and nature of the mechanization of tho waterfront industry that has been undertaken by the present Govern.ment,
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is “ Yes ‘”.
– On the 28th June Senator Critchley asked me the following question : -
Is the Minister representing ‘the PostmasterGeneral able to inform the Senate what decision, if any. has been made by the Government in consequence of the requests that have been made by people resident in the Wallaroo Mine» District, South Australia, in -connexion with the provision of proper conveniences for the public who desire to use the telephone at tha local Post Office? I point out to thu Minister that the public telephone is completely exposed to the elements mid tl: t n» amenities whatever are provided for resident” who hare occasion to UBe it. If no decision has yet been made by the Postmaster -General, will lie undertake to make an inspection of the Post Office concerned!
I have since obtained the following information from : the PostmasterGeneral : -
The existing headbox cabinet is in n somewhat exposed location, and the Department has undertaken to replace it with a- full length cabinet as soon as practicable, having regard to the availability of cabinets and the need to meet the urgent requirements of other places, which at present have no public telephone facilities, at all.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon- notice - “l.- Is it a fact that the wages provisions oi an award referred .to as- Determination No-. 87 of .1950, and made by the Public Service Arbitrator, have not been observed by the P<stmasterGeneral’s Department?
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers : -
– -Recently, a pair of ladies shoes branded “ Carmelletes “ on the inside of the sole, and “ Opera Shoe Company” on the bottom, were lodged with me for examination. The uppers were made of box hide and had roan lining with roan sock. The soles had been gummed on and had broken away from their proper position; that is, they had become completely detached from the shoe. I understand that that is a common fault with this brand and make of shoe. In view of the increasing cost of living, will the Minister for Trade and Customs ask the Prime Minister to arrange for footwear manufacture in this country to be listed for discussion at the next conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers with a view to fixing standards for all classes of footwear?
– The subjectmatter of the honorable senator’s question is not one on which the Australian Government can intrude. The honorable senator is probably aware that chambers of commerce and chambers of manufactures are members of a standards association. I do not know whether the footwear to which the honorable senator has referred is made in Australia or is imported. If it is imported, the Australian
Government has a certain degree of control prior to importation, but none after the footwear has been released from customs. Sales and distribution are properly within the province of the States, which can legislate should circumstances warrant the passage of legislation. If the shoes are made in this country, control of sales is entirely a matter for the States’. The Australian Government has no authority whatever.
– -Recently a deputation of honorable members and honorable senators from Tasmania representing both sides of politics waited upon the Minister for Shipping and Transport to urge the allocation to the Tasmania service of another vessel to replace Taroona which is now undergoing repairs. Can the Minister inform me now whether the Government has taken any action in this matter?
– Arrangements have been made for Wanganella to do at least one trip, and perhaps three, to Tasmania, depending on the circumstances. In addition, officials of my department are negotiating with the Australian steamship owners with a view to securing another vessel to run between the mainland and Tasmania.
– Can the Minister for Shipping and Transport say whether it is true that the Communistcontrolled Seamen’s Union refuses to take Wanganella to New Zealand, but agreed to take the vessel to Tasmania ? If those statements are true, will the Minister agree that, to that degree at least, the Communist-controlled Seamen’s Union is dictating shipping movements to the Government ?
– I appreciate the importance of the question. As the honorable senator has stated, Wanganella is going to Tasmania and we hope that Aorangi will go to New Zealand and Canada.
– Did the seamen refuse to take Wanganella to New Zealand ?
– I understand that they did.
– In view of the many conflicting statements that are being made about the large number of immigrants now reaching Australia and their value to the community, will the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration ask that a considered statement be made to the Senate showing how the new Australians have been distributed among our industries, and indicating whether they have increased production sufficiently to meet their own needs and to justify continuation of the present flow of immigrants? If production has not been increased to this degree, will the Government consider slowing down the influx of new Australians?
– I am sure that the Minister for Immigration would be able to provide a most illuminating and informative statement on the contribution nhat new Australians have made to the economy of this country during the past few years. I shall certainly bring the honorable senator’s suggestion to the notice of the Minister and ascertain from him whether a statement can be made.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport a question concerning communism. Is it. not a fact that during the recent general election campaign the Government parties told the people of this country that if returned to office they would handle the Communist issue? In to-day’s press the Minister is reported to have stated that 9,000,000 paid hours have been lost in the waterfront industry through Communist influence, which has resulted in an increase of the cost of commodities to the taxpayers of Australia.
Tho 1 ‘RESIDENT. - The honorable senator should frame his question without undue preliminary remarks.
– Although the Communist Party Dissolution Act was, declared invalid by the High Court, of Australia, is it not a fact that the Government lias power under the Crimes Act to deal with communism?
– The best legal advice in this matter is that the Government does not possess the necessary power :it. present. It is essential that the Govern ment should have the additional power provided in. the legislation mentioned to enable it to deal effectively with communism. I hope that a bill to authorize the holding of a referendum on this subject will be passed by this chamber within a fortnight.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform me whether it is a fact that exports of steel and other metaliferous products have increased since Labour relinquished office. If so, what has been the total production of such commodities, and can he inform the Senate of the export and import figures for each category? In view of the present shortages of these commodities, why were export licences issued in respect of them? In the light of urgent defence preparations, and large-scale Commonwealth and States developmental programmes, will the Minister undertake to prohibit the export of any further quantity of these essential commodities?
– I am .jure that the honorable senator does not imagine that I carry around in my head the detailed figures that he seeks. Comparatively little steel has been exported and such quantities as have been exported have gone to New Zealand and neighbouring Pacific Islands which are dependent on Australia for steel. I shall furnish the honorable senator with full details in lue course,
– -Will the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture inquire into an allegation that has been made by a member of the cattle committee of the Graziers Federal Council of Queensland to the effect that the vaccine developed by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for the treatment of blackleg disease in calves has failed? If that allegation is found to be true, will the Minister arrange for the importation of vaccine from the United States of America?
– I shall bring that matter to the notice of the Minister and obtain a reply for the honorable senator.
– I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister whether the Government is aware of” the magnificent work that was carried out for nearly half a century by the late Mrs. Daisy Bates, O.B.E., on behalf of the aborigines of central Australia? Is the Government also aware that it is proposed to erect a memorial to that great worker ? If so, will the Government consider making a substantial monetary grant in order that a worthwhile memorial, such as a native hospital, may be built in central Australia, which was the scene of her best and greatest work ?
– I am sure that the splendid and noble work performed by Mrs. Daisy Bates is appreciated by all Australians. Whether the Government has given any thought to the proposed memorial, I do not know. I suggest that the honorable senator place her question on the notice-paper and I shall have the matter examined and n reply furnished.
– Has the Minister for Shipping aud Transport seen an article that was published in the Melbourne Herald of the 29th June under the heading, “ Answer to Rail Gauge Problem ? “ which reads -
Has Spain the answer to Australia’s broken railway gauge problem? . . . The Spanish gauge is 5 ft. 0 in., while the French and British gauge is 4 ft. 84 in. Spain’s experiment now points to a saving of two or three days in the transit of perishable goods by rail to Britain. Gantries installed at frontier junctions lift the trucks while one set of wheels is rolled off and another rolled in. Two sets of rails have been laid on the sleepers in the junctions, one inside the other.
– Order ! I ask the honorable senator to state his ques-tion as concisely as possible. A certain amount of explanatory matter is permissible in prefacing a question, but it must be as concise as possible.
– Will the Minister have inquiries made to ascertain whether anything of value to the Commonwealth can be gleaned from this Spanish railway practice ?
– I have read a reference to the experiment to which the honorable senator has referred. I assure him that the technical officers of my department engaged on railway standardization problems are keeping a close watch on new experiments such as that to which the honorable senator has referred in order to ascertain whether they have any practical value in this country. The device mentioned by the honorable senator is now being examined by them.
– In view of the promises made by the Government that value would be restored to the £1, and in view of the hardships suffered by the people as a result of inflation, when does the Government propose to begin restoring value to the £1 ?
– I suggest that the honorable senator, when he feels impelled to talk about restoring value to the fi, should examine his own conscience in order to find out who took the value out of the £1.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
What steps, if any. have been taken to implement the suggestion that Federal Government properties should be liable for rates imposed by local government authorities?
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
This is a. matter of some complexity which has engaged the attention of the Government for some time. A committee appointed for the purpose has completed its investigations and has now furnished a report which is receiving the consideration of the Government.
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.
The provisions of this bill are the same as those of the two Commonwealth’ Bank
Bills which furnished the grounds for the double dissolution granted by His Excellency the Governor-General in March of this year. The measure gives effect to the banking proposals for which the Government obtained a clear mandate at the 1949 elections. During the last Parliament the Government endeavoured to implement those proposals but, notwithstanding the wishes of the electors, members of the Opposition delayed consideration of the measure and finally failed to pass it. The resultant deadlock was resolved by the majority which the people gave the Government at the recent elections. The verdict of the people was expressed in a clear and most unmistakable manner. The mandate given in 3949 has been re-affirmed, and the Government has returned to power to implement its policy fully and completely.
I do not think, it is necessary to give an explanation in detail of the provisions of the bill. It is in exactly the same terms as the two previous bills which were debated at length in this Senate. I think that it will be sufficient if I refer to its main purposes. Provision is made in the bill for the repeal of the Banking Act 1947 which sought to nationalize the private trading banks. The High Court and the Privy Council have declared that act to bc invalid in certain major respects. Still, it is necessary and advisable that that legislation should be repealed. Some honorable senators opposite have stated in debate that they still desire to see trading banks nationalized. The electors of Australia have shown in the clearest way that they are opposed to bank nationalization. The Government, therefore, feels that it should show where it stands by repealing the 1479 act, and that i.« being done in this measure.
The system of control of the Commonwealth Bank has been the central issue on which agreement could not be reached with honorable senators opposite. The Importance of monetary policy as a factor in the economic development and welfare of the country is such that we are convinced that the determination of this policy should not be made by one man, either in the bank or in the Government. Accordingly, provision has been made in the bill for the establishment of a Com- monwealth Bank Board under the chairmanship of the Governor. The bill makes the board fully responsible to Parliament, thereby restoring to the elected representatives of the people the ultimate responsibility for monetary and banking policy.
The legislation provides that the bank shall keep the Government informed upon the monetary and banking policy of the bank. If the Government and the bank differ on a policy issue, the Treasurer
M.nd the board must endeavour to reach agreement. If the Treasurer and the board should be unable to reach agreement, the board is required to furnish a statement of its views. The Treasurer may then submit a recommendation to the Governor-General who, acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council, may, by order, determine the policy to be adopted by the bank. This procedure will ensure that any submission to the Governor-General on such issues will be made after full consideration by the Government. Where, in such circumstances, the Government becomes responsible, for the policy to be adopted by the bank, the bill directs the Treasurer to inform the bank accordingly, and to have a statement of the policy, together with a statement of the views of the Government and of the bank, laid before each House of the Parliament, within fifteen sitting days after the policy has= been communicated to the bank. The relevant provisions of the bill are framed to give effect to the principle that great financial issues should be the ultimate responsibility of the elected representatives of the people.
In supporting the continuation of the present system of one-man control honorable senators opposite have attacked the policy adopted at different times by the previous bank board, particularly that followed in the great depression. When this measure was first introduced I outlined the gradual development of the technique of central banking in Australia. When the original bank board was established in 1924 even the older central banks in Europe had not fully developed - an efficient central banking technique. On looking back it is possible to see how the work of the board could at times have been improved, but notwithstanding this the development of central banking in Australia made great progress during the period of board control. It should be remembered that the tremendous responsibilities of war-time finance, undertaken by the bank in the period 1939-45, were discharged with outstanding success under board management. The plain fact is that by the time the board was abolished in 1945, it had developed into an efficient and effective instrument of central bank control. The confidence of the public is essential to the successful functioning of a central bank. The Government is convinced that a central bank controlled by a board consisting of men appropriately chosen for their integrity, ability and knowledge will command greater public confidence than if it is controlled by any single person.
In his recently published book.The Growth of a Central Bank, the late ProfessorL. F.Giblin, who was closely associated with the Commonwealth Bank for a considerable period, supported the Government’s policy of controlby a board. “While Professor Giblin did not hesitate to criticize certain phases of the board’s work in its earlier years, his final (minion was definitely in favour of control by a. board and he concluded his book with the following words: -
By the middle ‘thirties, the technical equipment of the Bank was getting into good shape, and among the Bank staff interest in and understanding of central banking were becoming more widely diffused. The Banking Commission gave a very useful stimulus in1936 and1937. When the war came,banking problems tooka new interest and urgency and at the same time theincreasingco-operation with Government added realism to the Board’s deliberations. There was steady improvement in the finalityof the Beard’s work from the middle ‘thirties on, and when it expired in1945 it had become a reasonably satisfactory instrument for its purpose. There is little doubt that had it beencontinued, it would have soon reached a high level of efficiency.
From a general point of view the abolition of the Board is a matter for regret. For many years the problems of government have become too com plicated for any but the most general overall supervision by Parliament and Ministers: and. Parliaments have become, perhaps, less qualified to deal with them. One escape is to throw decision more and more into the hands of the permanent public servant: and in spite of the popular clamour against “bureaucracy”, this devolution is often necessary and wise. The other escape is through the setting up of boards and commissions, which are givena task in broad terms and left free to carry it out and be judged by the results. Much experiment in this procedureis required before its usefulness can be properly judged. The Bank Board was an interesting experiment of this kind which was stopped before its final achievement could be properly appraised.
The bill also provides a means for the board to add to the capital resources of the General Banking Division, the Rural Credits Department, the Mortgage Bank Department and the Industrial Finance. Department, up to a total of £5,000,000. These additional resources will enable the bank more effectively to meet growing demands for finance, particularly for housing and primary production.
In conclusion, I again direct attention to the following main features of the bill : -
I commend the bill to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Armstrong) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 3rd July (vide page 755), on motion by Senator Coo pek -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– It is not unusual to say in certain circumstances that one regrets opposing a measure, but on this occasion the Opposition has no choice but to oppose the bill now before the Senate. Truly, the wheel has turned a full circle and, as the months go by, the’ political dishonesty of this Government becomes more and more apparent to more and more people. The parties that promised the world in order to gain office are now being asked to stand up to their promises. The. parties that were to put value back into the £1 are destroying the £1. The parties that were against controls are now exercising controls. The parties that were to reduce taxes are increasing taxes. The parties that were to fight inflation are feeding the fires of inflation. The parties that, in 1949, opposed an increase of £5,000,000 a year in postal charges imposed by the Chifley Government are now in process of increasing those charges by £20,000,000 a year. Only a few months ago the Menzies-Fadden Government increased postal rates by £8,000,000 a year. This bill will increase those charges by a further £12,000,000 a year, .makins: a total of £20,000,000 since the Government was elected in 1949. I remind honorable senators that the increase of £5,000,000 made by the Chifley Government was the first increase of postal charges since 1941. I have no hesitation in saying that the problem of postal finances was vastly accentuated when the Commonwealth lost control of prices. Because the inflationary spiral continues unchecked, the Government is now forced to seek parliamentary approval for its proposal to increase postal charges by £12,000,000 a year. When the Chifley Government increased the rates by £5,000,000 a year had the then Opposition been honest, it would have examined the proposal fairly, but the outcry against the proposal was spontaneous though ill advised. I shall remind honorable senators of some of the things that were said by present Ministers about the Chifley Government’s legislation. The present Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) said -
I submit that if the shareholders of any private company had a statement presented to them similar to that which this Government has presented to the. shareholders of the Postal Department, who are the people of Australia, they would probably seek the replacement of the board of directors responsible for such a result.
I wonder what the honorable member has to say now that he has been responsible for multiplying that £5,000,000 by 400 per cent, in eighteen months. The present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) said, in the same debate -
The decision of the Government to inflict this additional impact upon an already unduly heavily taxed community must be examined in the light of two consideration?.
First, on the surface, it would appear that the bill provides further evidence of bad budgeting by the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and a gross incompetence on the part of the right honorable gentleman and his advisers in the Treasury.
I remind honorable senators of those statements because they are interesting when compared with the reasons that are now advanced in support of this measure. I shall not quote at length from the speeches made by honorable senators opposite when opposing the Chifley Government’s legislation to increase postal charges, but I shall select a few interesting passages to show their wholesale misundertanding of the situation then existing, and the incompetency that they reveal to-day. The present Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) said -
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 socialization the state of affairs that we are now contemplating is inevitable.
– Profound words; I have read them all.
– The Minister says, “ Profound words but few people will agree with him. They may sound profound to him, but that, after all, is the measure of their profundity. The honorable senator’s charge on that occasion was that the then PostmasterGeneral was bent on socialization, and that therefore it was necessary to as the people for a further £5,000,000 a year in postal rates. Surely it is logical to assume from that argument that the present Postmaster-General, who has asked for an additional £20,000,000 in postal charges since he assumed office less than two years ago, is four times as bad a socialist, or perhaps I should say four times as good a socialist, as was his predecessor. The fact remains, however, that, according to the statement made by the present Minister for Trade and Customs, we should have a close look at the administration of the Postal Department.
Apparently we , can say good-bye to television at least for some years. Television is one of the greatest scientific advances of modern times, but this Government’s attitude towards its introduction in this country is absolutely hopeless. The Government will not have anything to do with television. The excuse offered is that the Government wants to wait for the latest technical improvements. ‘ If it persists in that attitude, naturally nothing will be done, because if perfection is to be insisted upon right from the start, then there will be no start. A beginning must be made somewhere, and the Government’s fundamental mistake is that it is not prepared to make n beginning anywhere.
However, I have not risen to indulge in destructive criticism. My view i« that if we can help to shore up the incompetency of this Administration we should do so. We cannot ignore the incompetency that ha« resulted in the present state of affairs. When the supporters of the Government parties were sitting in Opposition during Labour’s regime they claimed that it should be an easy matter to administer the country efficiently. However, now that they are in office the country is running headlong into a horrible mess under their administration. They cannot .claim that they had a bad start. Actually more was done during the last three years of the Chifley Labour Admini stration to improve the services of the Postal Department than ever previously. A long-term programme was drawn up, involving an expenditure of about £42,000,000 in three years. When the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in the various States came to Canberra they were told to get on with the job of bringing the Postal Department to a high state of efficiency as soon as possible. They were told, in effect, to expend their authorized allocations as S001 as possible in order to make our great postal organization efficient,, and they then proceeded to carry out their instructions. Within those three years, about £37,500,000 of the total authorized expenditure of £42,000,000 was expended on the development of the Postal Department. It is of no use for the Government to blame the previous Labour Government’ for the present desperate situation. The Government should be reaping a handsome return from that expenditure. During the three years covered by the programme of the Labour Government, 180 new automatic telephone exchanges were erected; 1,900 telephone trunk lines were provided; 300 telegraph channels were installed; and 1,700 public telephones were brought into service. More than 50 new or extended post office buildings were completed, and work on 70 other new post office building jobs was commenced. It was a period of considerable activity.
Although 1 have not an inside working knowledge of the Postal Department, I shall endeavour to approach a consideration of the present situation OIl a constructive level. As an outsider, T. shall advance several suggestions to try to help the administration, to save money. I consider that an efficiency committee should be established in the Postal Department. I do not believe that the. ‘Public Service efficiency committee would be suitable to carry out the work that I have in mind. The suggested committee should be composed of highly placed efficiency experts possessing both technical and clerical knowledge, who could move around within this tremendous organization to ensure that the available man-power was being properly used to the best advantage. It seems to me that in this way the administration could be saved considerable expenditure.
L consider that the telephone callcharge system should be abolished in favour of a system somewhat similar to the one that is at present in operation in New Zealand, under which an annual rental is charged for each telephone used for business or private purposes. I do not know on what basis the annual rental is computed, but I believe that it is reasonable. Individual calls are not tallied, but are covered by the annual charge. By this means the Postal Department would receive approximately the same amount of revenue annually from telephone subscribers as under the present call-charge system. The work that is involved in tabulating individual calls for every telephone in use must be colossal. There would not appear to be any practical difficulty involved in estimating the expected revenue from telephone services, and deciding upon the annual inclusive rentals to be charged according to the number of telephones in use. Payment of the assessed rental would entitle the subscriber to an unlimited number of. calls. For a number of years I have been closely associated with people who are experienced in the inner workings of the Postal Department. My personal secretary has been an employee of that department for a number of years. Although friends have told me repeatedly that the Postmaster-General’s Department is the most efficient organization in this country I have not been able to agree with them. When we compare our services with the facilities that are provided by postal departments in other countries of the world it is apparent that much remains to be done in Australia before our Postal Department can be considered to be fully efficient. The Government should make constant efforts to right the present state of affairs in the Postal Department. Only by attaining greater efficiency will the Government bo able to look forward to an appreciable period during which it will not be necessary to seek an increase of postal charges in order to meet rising costs.
At present a tremendous amount of work- is being performed by the Postal Department in connexion with broadcast listeners’ licences. The department should be relieved of some of that work. [ contend that the licence-fee for the first year, should ]-c included in the selling price of wireless receiving sets. Retailers should maintain lists of sales which, together with the amount of licence-fees collected in the manner that I have suggested, should be furnished to the Postal Department periodically. From such lists the names and addresses of wireless licensees should be entered in a register in the department, from which renewal reminders should be sent out every succeeding twelve months. It is essential that reminders should be sent to licence-holders, because frequently the owning of a wireless set is treated in a somewhat casual manner. I concede that a number of problems would arise in implementing my suggestion, but I am convinced that they could all be overcome satisfactorily. I have merely advanced the germ of an idea, without fully developing it. The amount of uncollected revenue through the operation of unlicensed radio receivers must be enormous. According to a recent press report, the Postal Department is at present employing ten inspectors in order to try to reduce the number of unlicensed radio receivers in use. Advertisements drawing attention to the necessity for holding a licence in respect of each wireless set in a person’s possession also appear in the newspapers frequently. I commend to the Minister some thought along that line, because something saved is something gained.
Another matter in which an intangible loss is suffered by the Postal Department is its failure to obtain full value from the training system operated by it. Under that complex system hundreds of people undergo a course of intensive training which enables them to become very efficient. However, there is a high rate of turnover of labour, particularly among the temporary employees of the department, so that many of the young men and women who are trained by the department are lost to it because on completion nf their training they find that the wages are too low. Those persons have a certain ability, which is proved by the fact that outside employers are prepared to pay them higher wages. Instead of working out the wages of an employee over four or five years of an incremental scale, he should be permitted to move on to tho highest rate cf p’r.y as soon as he is fully trained. It should not be necessary for him to wait for several years in order to reach the top of the scale. The most important factor in any organization is man-power. If man-power is trained and then lost, it represents a substantial loss to the organization that trained it.
My criticism of the Postal Department, or perhaps, more correctly, of government policy, is directed at the method of accounting that is adopted. It has been mentioned that more than 200,000 telephones were installed between the years 1947-50 during the regime of the Chifley Government. Instead of the cost of those installations being debited to capital expenditure and ammortized over their life, which would be twenty years at the minimum, it was debited direct to current amounts as having being spent under the heading of repairs and maintenance. It vw shown accordingly in the budget. How any one could obtain a clear picture of Postal Department finances is therefore beyond my comprehension. In addition to that, the Postal Department performs all kinds of work for other government departments, for which it receives nominal payments. Those payments are not nearly equal to the cost of the labour and materials expended. I suggest to the Government that it is necessary to avoid rushing back to the Parliament for the allocation of more money.
A newspaper article recently stated that dealers had approved the design of the 3d. stamps. The place of the 3d. stamp will soon be taken by the 3½d. stamp. Prices are rising so rapidly that by the time a stamp of a certain denomination is approved, a stamp of another denomination is required. I suggest that the Government roust try to hold the line. It should devote much time and consideration to the problem and decide whether the establishment of a committee charged with the examination of Postal Department activities is not warranted. The organization in now so tremendous that there are bound to be many instances in which time, money and labour could be saved. At this time, all those factors are very important to the Government.
I do not wish to delay the Senate in dealing with this matter, because many honorable senators on this side of the chamber wish to speak during the debate on this bill. Some of them are better qualified to do so that I am, because they have spent years of their lives as employees of the Postal Department. I consider that I have been justly critical of the complete hypocrisy of the approach of the Government to this matter. I say to the members of the Australian Country party that these increased charges apply particularly to country people who will now be required to pay 40 per cent, more for postage on letter cards, 50 per cent, more on letters, 50 per cent, more to register a letter, and from 89 to 100 per cent, more to send a telegram. The present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) who was then a member of the Opposition, had this to say on the 29th June, 1949. I quote from Hansard, volume 203, at page 1741-
A brow-beaten Labour caucus apparently 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. In the final analysis the workers and the producers will be the one who will have to meet these increased charges.
Those words are just as true to-day as they were then. I suggest that if there is one occupation that should keep the members of the Government busy it is that of eating their own words.
– I rise to support the bill. In doing so I must say at the outset that the measure is supported by the logic of necessity. It must be agreed that the facts presented by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) gave us a position of realism in connexion with the Postal Department, and its operations and finances as they are to-day. In apologizing for an increase that had been made during the regime of the Chifley Government, Senator Armstrong stated that the wheel had turned a full circle. He then complained about the fact that rising costs since that time have made further increases necessary. The opportunity to stop the flood from flowing through the dyke is when the first small leak is seen. The Chifley Government might have done much during its term of office to correct those matters to which the honorable senator has referred and which were largely the cause of the, present high costs.
The suggestion that television has been put aside and will not be permitted to develop because this bill has been introduced, or because of certain views that have been expressed, is entirely wrong. Television will come to this country as quickly, or perhaps more quickly, during the regime of this Government than if any other government were in office. The Government is fully aware of the uses of television, not only in time of peace, but possibly also during time of war.
As Senator Armstrong has stated, the Postal Department spends a great deal of money on its works, amounting to approximately £15,000,000 a year. In the period to which the honorable senator referred, which was just after the end of World War II., when there was a great backlag of works and maintenance, the department, in common with other government departments, carried out a considerable building programme.
The suggestion that there should be no charge for telephone calls sounds intriguing. Simplicity of accounting methods is the principal reason put forward for it. I consider, however, that if the private subscribers of this country are not required to pay for telephone calls, the amount which they are subsequently charged will be out of all proportion to the use that they make of telephones. The principle that those who use a. facility should pay for its maintenance is a sound one, and I consider that the system in operation at the present time provides for fair distribution of the cost of service and maintenance of telephone facilities. Senator Armstrong also stated that the country people are subject to certain increases of charges. .That statement requires to have added to it the fact that the country people have not been penalized and their charges have not been increased to any greater degree than have those of the people of the cities. The proposed increases apply to domestic services within the Commonwealth and also to international services. Thus, country dwellers will not feel the increased charges any more than will the people who reside in the cities. I do not propose to go through the proposed alterations in the tariffs because they have been well publicized and are well known. To go through them in detail would be a tedious process. The necessity for the proposed increased rates is also well known. As a member of the Postal Union, Australia has international obligations in the postal field. Prices and costs of goods and services are rising all over the world. The stamping and posting in Australia of a letter for delivery to an overseas country may eventually result in an international adjustment in Switzerland through the agency of the Postal Union.
There are several matters that were not mentioned by the Minister in his secondreading speech which have a bearing on the necessity for these proposed increases. The Minister has indicated that he and his top level administrators have given close consideration to departmental efficiency as a means of reducing administrative costs. He has said that unless charges are varied to meet additional expenditure arising from higher wages granted by industrial tribunals and other additional costs, the deficit on the activities of the Postal Department in 1951-52 may exceed £12,000,000. He continued -
I emphasize that these heavy losses are in no way attributable to any lack of economical operation of services by the administration. The Government is satisfied that the work of providing, operating and maintaining the wide range of facilities provided to the public .is carried out efficiently.
That indicates that he has examined closely the functioning of his department. I propose to offer certain suggestions which may aid him in his desire to promote efficiency. In a later part of his speech, he said that notwithstanding the fact that during the last ten years the department’s entire range of costs had risen by well over 100 per cent, the general effect of these proposed variations, and those of 1949 and 1950, will lie to increase the over-all level of tariffs by less than 75 per cent. I should like the Minister to elaborate that statement because it would be unusual if an increase of costs by 100 per cent, CO 111 (i bt sufficiently supported by an increase of only 75 per cent, in the level of tariffs. The Minister continued -
Nevertheless, increasing efforts are being marie to improve procedures, to eliminate weaknesses and to secure the maximum output from employees. I am glad to state that, in respect of a majority of employees . . . where the output can be measured effectively, it. in as good as it was many years ago.
I do not believe that undue emphasis should be placed on the output of the staff. New systems should be introduced and improved management techniques should be adopted to parallel any increased efficiency among the staff.
There are certain basic weaknesses in the approach of the Government to the problem of the Postal Department. While 1 commend the Minister and his officers for their persistent endeavours to reduce costs and to promote efficiency, 1 believe that other avenues for the more efficient handling of the activities of the department should be explored. The Minister has said that in such a large organization as the Postal Department improvements are always possible. I agree with him. The problem that faces him and his officers is not concerned solely with present increases of costs. The question now is : How can we avoid future increases? The Postal Department has always virtually pegged the prices of its services. Indeed it is one of the few instrumentalities conducted by the Government the cost of whose services are pegged. Although I do not favour any system of pegging or control, the pegging of charges for services ‘in this organization has existed since the Postal Department began. The PostmasterGeneral and his officers must ask themselves whether any drastic reforms in the operation of the department can be made as a means of helping to offset rising costs. I believe that many reforms could be instituted. The attempts of the departmental officers to promote efficiency may be likened to those of a man who, having an old machine or a motor car, tunes it to its peak of efficiency and does everything possible to make it run as smoothly as he can, but cannot reach perfection because of limitations inherent in the construction of the machine or motor car.
A new approach to the. problems of the Postal Department is necessary. Like our cities, it has grown over the years, and its growth has been just as illogical as has been the growth of our cities. In the early years of its operation, no over-all plan for its development over a period of, say, 20 or 25 years, was evolved. I have not been able to obtain any indication that the department even now has a long-term programme to meet our rapidly increasing population. In my opinion many of the general post offices in the States are uneconomically operated. I do not criticize the Minister or his officers when I say that the general post offices in our capital cities are wasteful mammoths and should be moved from their present locations. The Postal Department is principally a huge transport organization which picks up mails and transports them from one place to another. Its true function is principally that of a transport organization. It is a terrible mistake to locate an industry of such magnitude in the very heart of a great city. I speak, particularly, of Sydney because I know that city well, but the same is true of the other capital cities. It has been estimated that in Sydney congestion is responsible for adding 40 per cent, to transport costs. Experts should examine the function of various sections of the department, and recommend where they can best be performed. It is important that the department should retreat from the congested areas. By so doing millions of pounds could be saved in the provision of buildings and in the handling of mail and parcels. The present los3 on mail transport because of congestion is heavy and continuous. I have seen strings of mail trucks waiting to go into the General Post Office in Sydney, while inside men in the sorting section have been standing idle because, the arrival of the mail was delayed. The present Postmaster-General has inherited this unsatisfactory state of affairs, but he now has an opportunity to do something about it.
The Postal Department conducts many operations in addition to the collection and distribution of mail matter. For instance, it operates large engineering workshops, and manufactures a great deal of technical equipment. I suggest that, before any extensions are made to workshops or plant engaged on such work, the authorities should consider establishing workshops in country towns. I see no reason why equipment needed by the Postal Department should not be manufactured in country towns. There need be no loss of efficiency, and it would be a step in the direction of decentralization. Indeed, costs would be reduced, and the development of country centres materially assisted.
Thousands of men and women are employed in the Sydney General Post Office. Every morning they must travel to that central point in the city, thus aggravating congestion in trams, buses and ferries. The remedy lies in removing some of the activities of the General Post Office to outlying suburbs and others to country towns. I know a great deal about the inertia of the departmental mind. During the Avar I was in close contact with government departments. 1 have a great admiration for the men in our Public Service, but I know that they have a tendency to preserve the status quo. They do not like change. It will require all the drive of the PostmasterGeneral, and of some of the top-level men in the department, to change the present system, but the change should be made. The assembling and sorting of mail matter should be removed from the centre of the city. More use should be made of automatic appliances. The Postal Department is not the only agent that collects, transports and delivers parcels. There are about fifteen others in Sydney, but the Postal Department is the only organization which concentrates its activities in the very heart of the city. Even the office for the handling of second-class matter is in a congested area near the railway station. If more efficient methods can be introduced on the lines ! suggest it might be possible to avoid further increases of postal charges.
When I was in the Department of Works and Housing it was my duty to review the works programmes of the Postal Department, and to sit in conference with senior officers of that department. Therefore. I am not speaking of something that I merely read; I am speaking from experience. The present method of considering works programmes is wrong. Postal inspectors are able and efficient men in their own line, but they are not necessarily fitted by training and experience to consider works programmes and problems associated with constructional work. The practice is to bring a list of proposed works in each State to a central point, where a representative of the Postal Department, with no technical knowledge in that particular field, sits in with technical officers of the Department of Works and Housing, and requirements are discussed and estimates made. It is not fair to call on men with no training in that field to decide what is necessary in order to achieve efficiency in the department. The Department of Works and Housing is consulted, hut it is like calling in the doctor after a diagnosis has been made by a layman.
I believe that an efficiency expert who submits proposals should stay on the job and see that they are put into effect. He should not just make suggestions, and then run away. The faulty lay-out of so many of our post offices, which causes inconvenience and. loss of time to members of the public as well as to employees, could be avoided if the department had available to it the services of specialists in production, structural work and equipment who by reason of their training arc familial” with the solution of problems of accommodation and equipment necessary for the efficient handling of business.
Another matter of importance is the attitude that has become general throughout the department - :that of ignoringthe cost of structural work, nearly all of which is carried out by day labour or the cost-plus system. Tt should be possible for the department to formulate a programme of its building requirements for at least six months ahead and to let contracts for the completion of the programme, thus saving the Government a great deal of money. Similarly, I cannot see any valid reason why the construction of telephone lines in country areas and the connexion of country subscribers to the telephone system should not be carried out on the contract system. It is not right to condemn the present day-labour system merely because one happens from time to time to sec workmen standing idle for some hours, because the only reliable guide t<r their value is the amount of work that they perform in, say, a month. However, despite the objections of technical officers of the department, to permit work to be performed by contract, I cannot see any logical,’ or even technical, reason why most of the work could not be done by contract. The experience not only of government departments but also of undertakings of all kinds is that it is much cheaper to have constructional work carried out by contract.
The Postal Department is, in a real sense, a part of the country’s defence system, and I remind honorable senators that during the last two world wars that department not only carried the huge Additional volume of traffic occasioned by war but also provided a. very great number of highly skilled technicians to operate the vital communication systems of the armed services. It is obvious, therefore, that the personnel and equipment of the department should be as efficient as possible. Another matter to which I particularly direct the attention of the Government is the inadequacy of the remuneration of the department for work performed for other departments. The local postmaster in a small town is invariably the “jack of all trades” for all other government departments. He carries out a huge volume of extraneous duties, including the receipt of tenders for the Department of Works and Housing and supervises all kinds of tasks carried out on behalf of other departments. For all that additional work the Postal Department receives no additional remuneration. It is important, in the interests of efficiency alone, that the department should be served, particularly in country areas, by a contented staff, and I therefore suggest that its officers should be relieved, as far as possible, of the extraneous duties that they now perform; and in those instances where it is necessary for them to carry out such duties they should be adequately recompensed for doing so.
When the proposed new rates for telephone services are in force I hope that government departments, which have for too long enjoyed an unjustified priority in obtaining telephones, will be compelled to surrender that priority to private enter- prises that really need telephones. After all, many pivate enterprises are rendering much more essential service to the community than are many government departments. Telephones are provided for far too many subordinate officials in. government departments who do not need them, and the Government is suffering a double financial burden in consequence. In the first place, it has to pay for the installation, use and maintenance of thousands of telephones in government offices that are not needed, whilst at the same time it has to forgo the revenue that would be received from those telephones if they were rented by private subscribers. in conclusion, I repeat that I support the passage of the bill because I believe that the introduction of higher charges for telephone and postal services is unavoidable. However, I appeal to the Postmaster-General to give consideration to the matters that I have mentioned and particularly to my suggestion for the appointment of a sectional committee of officers specially qualified to advise the department on the means of improving its efficiency. After all, the Postal Department is the largest communications and transport organization in Australia, and we want it to continue its fine record of service to the community.
– I was keenly interested in the speech made by Senator Tate, which was, in the main, constructive. At the outset, however, I desire to correct a misapprehension in the honorable senator’s mind. He asserted that the technical officers of the Postal Department were not justified in opposing the carrying out on contract of such work as the construction of telephone lines. Because of the knowledge that I gained in twenty years’ service in the department prior to World War II., I flatly contradict that assertion. I recall what happened during the twenties when the department allowed such work to be carried out under the contract system. One or two examples will suffice. Contractors who were required to erect telephone poles frequently found that in order to place the ends of the poles in the ground to the prescribed depth it was necessary for them to bore through, perhaps, 3 or 4 feet of rock. In order to avoid the extra work and expense entailed in such an operation they merely cut 3 or 4 feet off the pole, without, of course, the knowledge of the department’s officers. That was a particularly reprehensible practice because it added greatly to the already serious risk of injury encountered by telephone linemen who have to climb the telephone poles in order to effect repairs. Experience also showed that in many instances trenches intended to carry telephone cables were not dug deep enough, with the result that perhaps 50 or 60 subscribers were disconnected from the service whenever some heavy vehicle passed over the trench. Although the contract system may save the Government some money, it has proved in the past to be inefficient and often dangerous. I consider, therefore, that very careful consideration should be given to any proposal to revert to that system.
Senator Tate also criticized the wartime Labour Administration for wasteful expenditure. The fact is that when Labour assumed office in 1941, after the anti-Labour parties had been in office for so many years, it found that no provision had been made for the expansion of the department to meet the exceptional demands of war-time, and, in consequence, many major works had to be carried out by the Government in the shortest possible time and quite regardless of their cost. Responsibility for that state of affairs rests squarely on the shoulders of the various anti-Labour administrations of the ‘thirties, which could have done so much for the department when labour and materials were freely available. Indeed, throughout the ‘thirties various senior officials of the department constantly implored successive anti-Labour governments to carry out works and to provide modern facilities in order to ensure that our comunications system would be able to meet the added demands that would be thrown upon it if war, which was then threatening, occurred.
Although this measure must be passed unless we are determined to prevent the department from rendering proper service to the community, I cannot help referring to the “Jekyll and Hyde” attitude adopted by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), who represents the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) in this chamber. Honorable senators will recall that when the former Labour Administration introduced a similar measure to increase postal and telephone charges in 1949 the Minister,’ who was then Leader of the Opposition, bitterly opposed its passage. Notwithstanding that the Government of which he is a member subsequently increased the charges for postal services, the Minister now blandly assures us that it 13 right and necessary for us to make a further increase of those charges. In fact, one effect of the passage of the measure will be to authorize the Government to hit the pockets of the primary producers, and. therefore, I believe that although we are reluctantly compelled to increase the charges, we cannot accept the assurance of the Minister as a sufficient reason for doing so. After all, the departmentoperates as a public utility and its services should be available to all sections of the community as efficiently and as cheaply as possible. I point out at once that although the proposed increase of postal rates will not cost the average Australian working man more than a few pence in a month, because he probably writes only one or two letters in that time, it will ultimately cost him considerably more. Large business enterprises which send out tens of thousands of letters every month will, of course, have to expend much more on their mail than they do at present, but they will not bear the burden because they will pass it on to the workers by increasing the price of their goods and services. We who represent the workers want the Parliament to understand that it is impossible for them to pass on increased postal charges. They have to grin and bear them. I remind members of the Australian Country party’ that primary producers too cannot pass on those charges. They are forced to sell their commodities at prices fixed by Collinsstreet farmers. The burden of financing our postal services therefore is borne ultimately by the man on the land and by working-class people generally.
Senator Tate said that he was happy to support the bill. In my opinion honorable senators opposite should hang their heads in shame. I do not blame all of them. Senator Tate, for instance, has some sound ideas about the financing of public utilities. The present Government parties have promised the people faithfully to get rid of the “ Corns “ and to restore board control to the Commonwealth Bank. They are going ahead with those things. Foremost in their minds, of course, is the restoration of the Commonwealth Bank Board. Action against the Communists is a side issue for the moment. But honorable senators opposite seem to have forgotten that they also promised to put value back into the £1. During the 1949 election campaign, they told the people that the “ Chifley £1 “ was worth only 10s. I contested their argument at the time, but I shall not canvass that matter to-day. The point I wish to make is that, if the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) was correct in saying that at that time the Chifley £1 was worth only 10s., then at least so far as postal charges are concerned, the MenziesFadden £1 of to-day is worth only 5s. or 6s. because since 1949 those charges have been increased by 50 per cent, or more. What does the Government propose to do about inflation? When we on this side of the chamber endeavour to discharge our duty to our constituents by asking questions on various subjects, we are often told that our questions involve matters of government policy, and that no answers can be given. When will the Government announce its policy? When will it tell us what it proposes to do to implement its 1949 promise to put value back into the £1 ? We are eagerly awaiting a statement of policy on that matter, and I hope that such a statement will be made soon.
The depressed conditions in the postal service in the early 1930’s were not attributable to inadequate postal revenue. The Postal Department made substantial profits in those days. Senior officers of the department drew the attention of successive occupants of the office of PostmasterGeneral to the need to use some of the profits to improve the postal facilities offered to the public, and the amenities of postal workers who were then working under slave conditions. However, the anti-Labour governments that held office in those years would not accept the advice of their departmental advisers because the profits from the Postal Department were being used to ease the burden of taxes on the monied sections of the community. That is why the Postal Department to-day is faced with a colossal problem in meeting the demands that are being made upon it. The huge bill that now confronts the people of the Commonwealth for the provision of additional and modernized postal facilities is attributable in a large measure to a neglect of postal services in the 1930’s.
No one will question the ability of Sir Harry Brown who was Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs for many years. I had the pleasure of working under him, and I know that the improved methods and better facilities that were introduced during his regime earned the approval of all political parties and of people in all parts of the Commonwealth. Had he been given an opportunity to carry out the programme that he knew to be necessary, our problem to-day would not be nearly as great as it is. The chaos that exists in our postal services cannot be blamed upon officials of the Postal Department. As one who has had experience of estimating costs of postal works, I know that jobs which, during my association with the department would have cost, say, £1,000, are costing £4,000 to-day, due mainly to the increased cost of materials. Many estimates made in those days were pigeon-holed and did not see the light of day until 1945 when a Labour government saw the necessity to meet the increasing demand for postal facilities by business houses and the public generally. I realize that it is no use crying over spilt milk, but to those honorable senators who have not heard postal charges discussed in this chamber before, I point out that the blame for existing conditions lies not with the Labour party, but with a succession of anti-Labour governments. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) and the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) will appreciate the truth of what I am saying. The whole trouble in the Postal Department to-day is due to lack of foresight.
In his second-reading speech the Minister sought to attribute the necessity to increase postal charges mainly to the increased wages of postal employees, but I remind him that wages have increased by only 100 per cent., whereas the cost of materials has risen by 300 per cent, or 400 per cent. It is unjust, therefore, to attribute rising costs solely to the increased wages bill. It is true, as the Minister has said, that methods of carrying out Postal Department work have improved considerably in recent years. At one time, if a break occurred in a telephone line, say, 20 miles from the nearest centre, a man was sent out on a bicycle with a cross-arm,’ a ladder, and wire. He was obliged to ride to the location of the break, repair the line, and then ride home. To-day, motor vans carry employees to repair jobs with the result that the work can be carried out in a fraction of the time. Credit for such improvements is not due to the present Government but to the governments in which .Senator Ashley and Senator Cameron administered the Postal Department. They were prepared to listen to the reasoning of men who had had life-long experience in the department. They believed, as we all do, in “ horses for courses “. They made money available to enable postal works to be carried out as they should be carried out. Whereas, not many years ago, post holes were dug with picks and shovels, they are now dug by post-hole sinkers, and mechanical excavators are in common use. Telephone work costs less to-day per i,lan-hour than it did during the depression, and is carried out more efficiently. I say again, therefore, that the need for this substantial increase of postal charges cannot be attributed to the increased salaries or improved amenities of postal employees as the Minister sought to do.
I listened in vain to the Minister’s second-reading speech for an indication that the amenities of postal workers would be improved. Amenities to-day, both in the cities and in the country districts, are deplorable. In rural areas, linemen work in all weathers. They are required to handle creosote, tar and other materials that make them filthy. When they return to their depots at the end of the day, they have nowhere to wash their hands or change their dirty clothing, and they are forced to go like slaves among their fellow workers. Tram and train travellers shun them because of the state of their clothing. I realize that Senator Scott will not understand what T am saying because he has never worked La his life and never will. That is why he thinks this is a joke. It is a .very serious matter. Some of the men of whom I speak fought in World War I. with me, and others in World War DC. The conditions under which they work are no joke to them; but, as I have said, I listened vainly for some indication that the amenities provided for those loyal men of the postal service are to be improved. If the Postal Workers Uni07 were led by some “ Com.” affiliated’ with Government supporters, its members would no doubt be enjoying much better conditions than they have to-day, but because they are prepared to abideby arbitration awards, and to give their best to the Commonwealth, they areneglected. In some country districts, line foremen who are obliged to do quitea lot of writing, are not provided even with a tent in which they can do that work. They have to do their writing at home, but I have no doubt that should a line foreman be caught at home during working hours by an inspector, his legitimate excuse that he was doing office work would ‘not be accepted and he might lose his job.
I was glad to hear Senator Tate urgethe decentralization of city postal worts and establishments. That need should be borne in mind in connexion with the proposed new Brisbane General Post Office. I understand that that project is to be started shortly. Of course, the people of Brisbane have been told that for the last twenty years. I hope that the Government will accept some of Senator Tate’s suggestions.
We on this side of the chamber knew that an enormous increase of postal’ charges would be inevitable before the end of this year, and we could not understand why the Government’s legislation last year provided for an increase of only £8,000,000. We realize now that honorable senators opposite knew that there would be an election this year. If, in addition to “ pinching “ wool money from the primary producers, the Government had increased postal charges by the full £20,000,000, the numbers in this chamber to-day might have been reversed. That is why the Government was not prepared to go the whole hog last year-
Honorable senators opposite are endeavouring, with filthy propaganda over the air and in the press, to lull the electors into political sleep in the hope that two years from now–
– Order ! I have been very patient with the honorable senator. I ask him to confine his remarks to the bill.
– That is what I am trying to do.
– I have no doubt that the honorable senator has the ability to do it, and I ask him again to confine his remarks to the bill.
– The Government hopes that when the next general election takes place two years hence, the people will have forgotten about this legislation. The Government did not receive a mandate from the people to increase postal charges, but it is going merrily on its way. The proposed increases will be passed on to the people who are least able to bear them. I refer particularly to the’ working classes and the primary producers. During the regime of the previous Labour Government I travelled through country districts on many occasions with the then PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron) and the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice). In the majority of (owns that we visited new telephone exchanges, post offices, or cable yards were urgently required. It was only on rare occasions that Senator Cameron was not prepared to confer with the officer in charge, and to see that the necessary works were carried out in due course. At that time Labour asked the people of Australia to give the Commonwealth power to continue to control prices. If we had received that power the Parliament would not now be confronted with the measure being considered to increase postal charges.
– I cannot allow Senator Hendrickson to continue his present line of argument. There is nothing in the measure before the chamber dealing with prices control.
– I am merely pointing out that increased postal charges are just as harmful to the working classes as are increased costs of other commodities. As I have pointed out previously, big business passes on increased charges to people who are least able to afford them, and who have no means of passing them on to any one else. The Government would, have the people believe that the proposed increases, as well as the increases that were approved last year, have become necessary only since 1941. The main reason for the proposals before us I am not permitted to mention during this debate. However, presumably I shall have an opportunity to refer to this alleged reason fully during the debate on another measure that is shortly to come before the chamber.
When the Minister for Repatriation was sitting in Opposition in June, 1949, he severely criticized the then Labour Government’s proposal to increase postal charges. As reported in Hansard, volume 202, at page 1068, he stated -
Increased postal and telephonic charges incurred by business organizations will be passed on to the public in higher prices for the goods that they sell, or the services that they provide.
The Minister adopted a vastly different attitude to this matter in his secondreading speech. He asserted that the whole of the present trouble can be laid at the feet of the previous Labour Government. In his speech on the 16th June, 1949, he also stated -
When the Labour Government assumed office in 1041, the Postal Department was a most profitable undertaking.
That confirms what I have already pointed out. Although the Postal Department was a profitable undertaking, its employees were treated like slaves during the depression years. When in office, Labour endeavoured to provide decent conditions for the postal employees, and to ensure that the people of this country would in future obtain the efficient postal services to which they were justly entitled. The honorable senator also stated - ‘
It is fashionable to-day for Labour supporters to boast of the achievements of the Labour Government in tho past seven years and to decry everything that was done by previous administrations.
I have already drawn attention to what was done by previous administrations. Anybody with a knowledge of the working of the Postal Department would acknowledge readily that what I have asserted is correct. On many occasions Labour was ashamed that it could not improve the conditions of postal employees. However, we promised them better conditions in the future. That is why Labour received the solid support of the Postal Employees Union, whose members knew that Labour intended, as time went on, not only to improve postal services to the people, but also to provide additional amenities for the postal employees. Unfortunately, under the present Government, t services and amenities will revert to the standard of those provided in the ‘thirties. The postal employees will be left to live and die out in the fields or on the roads, or wherever they eat their meals or do their clerical work.
– Where are they buried ?
– The honorable senator who has just interjected would probably leave them to burn. He would probably force them into the mines in Kalgoorlie to produce gold, which cannot be eaten. This is a most serious matter. I am 100 per cent, behind the suggestion of the Australian Labour party that there should be appointed a committee to inquire into the administration of postal services, or, alternatively, that the suggestion of Senator Tate should be adopted. Of course we know that this bill will be passed because of the Government’s numerical superiority in this chamber. If a committee were appointed’ we would be able to go before the electors in due course with confidence, in the knowledge that there had been provided the best possible facilities consistent with available labour and materials. The Government should acknowledge that whenever Labour was in office between 1901 and 1 949 the administration did a remarkably good job in providing and constantly improving postal services. I emphatically oppose this measure.
– The Government admits readily that the Postal Department is probably the most important public utility in Australia and that the people are constantly looking to the department to provide improved services. This country now has a population of approximately 8,500,000 people, the majority of whom make use of the postal facilities. I am not altogether happy about the proposal to increase postal charges because, having lived in country districts, I know that the country people will be called upon to bear a disproportionate share of the increases. As has already been pointed out by other honorable senators, it has become necessary for the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) to seek approval for increased postal charges as a result of increased wages and increased costs generally. The price of underground cable of Australian manufacture has risen from £273 to £730 a ton, while the cost of underground cable imported from the United Kingdom is now £969 a ton. Many people will ask why the Postal Department does not use solely cable manufactured in this country. The answer is that since the war we have been trying to catch up with the work that has accumulated as a result of restricted output during the war years. When the local manufacturers were unable to supply all the cable required the Postal Department decided to obtain supplies wherever possible, in order to overtake arrears and to provide additional essential services. Soon after the postal charges were increased last year the basic wage was increased by £1 a week. As a result of the additional expenditure involved and the increased cost of materials, there is now no alternative to an increase of postal charges. I do not think that any one would advocate the cutting down of essential services in order to curtail expenditure.
In consequence of the large increase of our population by immigration the number of inward and outward letters handled by the department has increased tremendously, and is still increasing daily. Furthermore, the increased work involved in the handling of age and invalid pensions, child endowment payments, and other extraneous duties has made necessary the extension of postal premises and the provision of new premises. Of course, I realize that the Postal Department is compensated by other departments for the value of services rendered on their behalf, but I wonder if it is fully compensated. Another honorable senator has already pointed out that a postmaster in a country town has to be a “ jack of all trades “. He has to perform many and various duties Although honorable senators on this side of the chamber are not happy about the proposed increases, we realize that we are living in a mad world to-day and that the prices of commodities generally are rising. Until prices become stable the Parliament will have to consider from time to time additional measures to increase postal charges still further. We must remember that one of the. causes of increasing costs is the 40-hour week. Honorable senators opposite have referred to the depression period. 1 well remember those days, and I would point out that I know what it is to work hard for a living. Some trade unions are now advocating a further decrease to 3t> working hours a week. As the number of weekly working hours decreases, so do prices increase. This is a national problem ; no one political party is capable of dealing with it. In view of the many activities of the Postal Department 1 sometimes wonder whether it is possible to determine accurately which department is causing the greatest loss. It would not do any harm to have a full investigation of this subject.
The present annual cost of a broadcast listener’s licence is fi. I understood the Minister for Repatriation ( (Senator Cooper) to imply that an increase of this fee is contemplated, and will be the subject of another measure to be introduced. As the licence fee is uniform throughout Australia, the service available to listeners in the several States also should be uniform. Although many broadcast programmes are available to people in New South Wales and Victoria, in many instances people in Western Australia can only receive the broadcast of cue radio station. I understand that representatives of the Australian Broadcasting Commission are at present in Western Australia studying this problem, and I trust that it will be possible to improve conditions in this respect for the people of that State. I suggest that an improvement could be effected by increasing the broadcasting power of some of the radio stations in Western Australia, and a considerable improvement would be effected if additional broadcasting stations could be provided in that State.At present the reception in some parts of the south-west of Western Australia is very poor. Compared with the United States of America, Great Britain, and New Zealand, the power of broadcasting in Australia, with its vast areas to be served, is relatively low. I refer particularly to Western Australia, because that State comprises one third of the total area of the Commonwealth. Commercial broadcasting stations in Western Australia are now operating on 2,000ilowatts ooutput, which I consider could be increased to 3,000, 4,000 or even 5,000 kilowatts. It has been announced that consideration will be given to increasing the power of seme commercial broadcasting stations in Australia, and it is to be hoped that those in Western Australia will receive favorable treatment. A frequency shift has been suggested. That matter could be considered in order to provide better radio reception in Western Australia.
Nobody wishes to see a halt called to the installation of automatic telephones and the provision of automatic telephone exchanges in country towns. That work is necessary in order that subscribers may have the benefit of a 24-hour service, especially in areas where there are perhaps only twenty subscribers. It is now very difficult to get farmers to operate country exchanges, as they did in the past, because it is a full-time job and the recompense is not commensurate with the work that is entailed. Many farmers performed such tasks in the past in order to provide themselves and their neighbours with a service to which people in more populous areas had been accustomed for many years. It is because of the cost of installation of automatic telephone exchanges, in addition to the increased costs of equipment, that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is experiencing difficulty in proceeding levels that work. While present price levels are maintained, the primary producers will not greatly feel the effect of these increased charges, but if prices should fall, I suggest that the increases in react very unfavorably on subscribers in country areas.
The Minister for Repatriation has explained the reasons for the introduction of this bill. The proposal to increase charges was not kept secret because an election was about to be held. During the last six months of the previous Parliament, no member of the Parliament knew that there was to be a general election. In fact, I am aware that even on the day before the granting of the request for a double dissolution, honorable senators on the other side of the chamber stated that there would be no election. This bill was introduced when it became apparent that the present charges could not be continued. Services such as these must be paid for. That fact must be faced, even though it is without a great deal of pleasure that we do so. Having heard the second-reading speech of the Minister, I believe that it will not be necessary in the near future to impose further increases. If it is. some subscribers will be obliged to dispense with their telephones.
The Minister has also stated that the matter of telephone services to disabled soldiers will be considered. I trust that that matter will not be overlooked, because disabled soldiers have real need of telephones and they may not be able to retain them at the proposed rate of charges. I look forward to the time when it will be possible to reduce postal charges, because I believe that there should be a telephone in every house, particularly in country areas. The suggestion that telephones should be installed and no charge made for calls does not appeal to me. If that were done, it would be found that some people would use their telephones much more than others. Those who make numerous calls should pay for them. If there were a flat rate, it would involve the overloading of lines because many people would appreciate that it did not cost any more to make a large number of calls, and telephones would therefore be used on unnecessary occasions.
As has been pointed out during this debate, the increase of -id. in the postage on letters will react to the disadvantage of country people, particularly those on the land. They are not able to pass on increased postal charges in the same way as are business people. Although telephone rentals in the country have not been increased at the same rate as those in metropolitan areas, they have been will soon be too high for many of them.
All honorable senators who have dealings with the Postal Department will appreciate that its employees are fully occupied, particularly at busy periods such as Easter and Christmas-time. In most country towns the girls employed in the telephone exchanges are kept busy. However, some of the services which were formerly provided by the Postal Department have now gone by the board. Some years ago, if a person sent a telegram and it was not delivered he knew that the person to whom it was addressed was not at home. In those days, when a delivery boy took a telegram to a home he did not leave it under the door when there was nobody to receive it, but returned it to the post office and left a card at the house. In recent times I have noticed that in country areas letters are placed under doors. In February of this year I despatched a telegram from Albany and it was put under the door of a house to which it should not have been delivered. It remained there for a fortnight until the owner of the house, who had been away, returned. A fortnight later it was delivered to the person who should have received it originally. Unfortunately, that seems to be the attitude of modern youth towards life. It is a much more casual attitude than it used to be. If the idea of service to the public could again be instilled in Postal Department employees, the department would earn for itself a better name than it has to-day.
It is to be hoped that within the next few months this Government will take action to stabilize prices so that there will not be a recurrence of the position in which the Postal Department now finds itself. I believe that something will be done in the near future, and I look forward to that time. I support the bill.
– Now that the general election is over, the Government has introduced a bill to increase postal and telephonic charges. All through the second-reading speech of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) the necessity for such increased charges was attributed to increases of the basic wage. The honorable senator referred to that fact time and again. We all know that the majority of people are eager that prices should he controlled, but no action in that connexion lias been taken by the Government. Its inaction has left the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration no alternative to increasing the basic -wage ii an endeavour to meet the spiralling cost of living. That is tragic because workers in industry generally do not wish to receive increases of the basic wage. They appreciate that every increase in the base rate in turn increases the cost of living. They desire that there should be fixed prices for the commodities which they buy. j contend that the £12,000,000 which it is proposed to collect from the increased postal charges will come from the pockets of the working class of this country. It is a penalty imposed upon that class by the Government. As Senator Piesse has stated, the country people will be able to bear the increased charges because of the high prices they are at present receiving for the commodities that they produce. Should those prices fall, they also will suffer hardship. However, I suggest that i he honorable senator was shedding crocodile tears, because he knows that the wool l.t-.x applies to the small wool-grower as well as to the squatter, and that it is just as essentia] for one to have a telephone n,« it is for the other. The small woolgrower, like the worker who has had a telephone installed in his house, will be forced to surrender the instrument because of these increased charges.
It does not make a great deal of difference whether one uses the telephone or not, because the number of calls for which ii subscriber is charged is estimated, and he receives an account based on that estimate. I have suggested to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and the members of the Government that telephone meters should be provided. The authorities that supply water, gas and electricity provide meters, but the Postal Department, with its technicians who are second to none in the world, does not. During the last half-year my wife was in hospital for a month and went to Toowoomba for a month after being discharged. The Parliament was sitting at that time. The general election followed and I was away from home for a month, so that our home was vacant for two months. Nevertheless, my account for telephone calls during that half-year was greater than it was for the previous period.
Sitting suspended from, 5.29 to 8 p.m.
– The proposed increased tariff for telegrams will impose a very heavy strain on pensioners and persons in receipt of fixed incomes whose families reside at some distance from them, and whose only mean3 of intercommunication in cases of emergency is by telegram. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) might well consider the granting of concessional rates to such persons. Consideration might also be given to the desirability of revising the poundage on a £5 money order’ which is unduly high compared with that charged in respect of money orders of higher denominations. The £5 money order is regarded as the working man’s cheque and is used by him to pay many small accounts. I urge the PostmasterGeneral to consider the reduction of that charge.
In another place an amendment was proposed which sought the appointment of a select committee to inquire into and report upon this legislation, but it was rejected by the Government. In 1949, when the Menzies Government was first elected the Broadcasting Committee was disbanded and no attempt has since been made by the Government to revive it. A committee such as that could have made valuable suggestions in regard to this bill. A committee representative of all political parties in the Parliament should be appointed to investigate and report on the operations of the Postal Department. The increased charges that will be levied on the public under this measure will be paid into Consolidated Revenue together with other earnings of the Postal Department. Each year estimates of expenditure for the department are prepared by its officers and submitted to the Treasurer for approval; but almost invariably the original estimates are reduced at the direction of the Treasurer. Those who believe that the additional levies that will be imposed when this bill, becomes law will be used to meet the requirements of the Postal Department know nothing about government finance.
Honorable senators will recall that in 1945 the Labour Government, as a part of its post-war reconstruction programme, provided an additional £42,000,000 for developmental works for the Postal Department. The development and expansion of the activities of the department should be undertaken as a national project. The department is still in the experimental stage in relation to some of its activities and a tremendous amount of work still remains to be done before it will be able to provide the services demanded by the public. Money for that purpose should be provided either from Consolidated Revenue or from loan funds. Country dwellers and workers and businessmen in the cities should not be expected to meet these developmental costs ; they should be borne by the nation as a whole. Is it the intention of the Government that the Postal Department and other government departments that are still in the process of development should operate at a profit during the developmental period ? In this connexion it is appropriate to quote the words of Mr.. Sheehan, Minister for Transport in the New South Wales Government in relation to the operation of his Government’s instrumentalities. According to the Sydney Daily Telegraph of the 3rd July, Mr. Sheehan is reported to have said -
The State Government would not increase fares or freights at present. Nobody could make the transport service pay in New South Wales in the present circumstances. Only the closing of unprofitable railway lines and tram and bus routes could make them pay; lint-
And here is the kernel of the matter - the transport services are a social service as well as a business undertaking. These lines must stay open.
During the year ended 30th June last the New South Wales Government lost £7,900,000 on the operation of its railways, tramways and buses. It realized that in the interests of the development of the State certain. railway and tramway lines and bus routes must be continued even at a loss. The Postal Department is responsible for the maintenance of telephone lines that traverse the country from east to west and from north to south. Telephone lines connecting Canberra with
Perth and other distant centres must bi» maintained even though some loss is incurred.
– By how much were railway fares and freights increased in New South Wales last year?
– That is beside the point. I am directing my remarks to the bill that is now” before us which, if the Government’s programme is adhered to, will become law on the 9th July. The Postal Department instead of progressing is regressing. I know that a tremendous amount of concrete conduit has been placed underground for many miles in the metropolitan area of Sydney, but I am not sure whether cable has yet been pulled for installation in it. Every member of this Senate well knows that it is practically impossible for a would-be subscriber to obtain a telephone. Almost invariably the reply given to an applicant for a telephone service is that the department appreciates his difficulties but that the switchboard in the area in which he lives is already so overloaded that a service cannot be provided. I understand that the Postal Department expects that at some future time 75 per cent, of the people will enjoy the benefits of a telephone service. At present exchange equipment is being installed in caravans and in small buildings which are totally unsuited for the purpose. Properly constructed buildings should be provided to house .valuable equipment of that kind. The Commonwealth is unable to proceed with the construction of suitable buildings because the State governments are not prepared to release the necessary building materials. I trust that at the next conference #f Commonwealth and State Ministers the States will agree to make sufficient building materials available to enable the Commonwealth to push ahead with its building programme. The States should not be able to say to the Commonwealth, “ You may not build a post office here “.
I propose now to deal briefly with the installation of duplex telephone services. I know of a sick woman who had had a telephone installed in her house for many years. She was requested to share a duplex service with her next door neighbour. She suffers from grave heart trouble. Her neighbour has a large family of daughters. Honorable senators can imagine the difficulties she might be placed in if she agreed to share a duplex’ service with her neighbour. At a time when she urgently needed the services of a doctor she might have to wait until one of the young girls had ended a long telephone call. I know how young girls frequently conduct lengthy conversations on the telephone. This unfortunate woman might die while she was waiting to use her telephone because the duplex line was being used by her neighbour.
The officers of this great department are the acme of civility and courtesy. If the department is to progress, as it must if it is to meet the requirements of the people, it will have to attract to its service another man of the calibre of its former chief, Sir Harry Brown. The direction of this great public undertaking should be placed in the hands of very competent officers. The Postal Department is one of the largest single organizations in Australia, as departments which render flic same service are in many other countries. In the United States of America telephone services are provided by the Bell Telephone Company and the Federal Communications Commission, but Australia with an almost equivalent area is served by a system that is controlled and operated by the Postal Department. The direction and control of this organization is a. tremendous job. The department has to provide telephone services to the farthest flung parts of the continent and it has also to provide the technical equipment for broadcasting services that have a popular appeal. The organization and control of its many activities is thus a very great and important task.
Senator Tate has advocated a return to the contract system for mail deliveries and has suggested that the General Post Offices in each of the capital cities should be removed to more suitable sites. Such extraordinary suggestions have never previously been made in this Senate. As all honorable senators are aware the general post office is usually the principal building in every city in the world. Does the honorable senator suggest that the Sydney General Post Office should be established at Redfern and that business-men and their employees should go there to conduct their business? A good deal has been said during this debate about the economies that may be effected in the department. Honorable senators should not forget that its ramifications extend far beyond the provision of normal postal, telegraph and telephone services. It has to provide for the collection and delivery of mails in all parts of Australia and it has to cope with all inward and outward overseas mails. It has to make provision for the despatch and receipt of telegrams, the sale of stamps, the issue of postal notes and money orders, the safe carriage of registered articles and the transmission of broadcasting services. In its laboratories it undertakes research work, not only for its own purposes but also for those of other departments as well as private organizations and ‘ industries. In addition it acts as the agent for many other Commonwealth departments. It is responsible for conducting the business of the Commonwealth Savings Bank, the payment of invalid, age and widows pensions, child endowment, war pensions and “Navy, Army and Air Force allotments and the collection of repayments on war service homes. The return to the Postal Department for rendering these services is £528,000 a year. It has been estimated that the department receives remuneration at the rate of about ¾d. for each item of service and that if an officer on £10 a week were to devote all his time to such work, and’ were to perform the services at the rate of one a minute the cost would be Id. per service, so that the department would lose £d. on each one. “We know, of course, that in the case of pension payments each service may occupy two or three minutes. It may be asked why the Postal Department should continue to render services which must result in a loss. The answer, of course, is that the department, being a national undertaking, is rendering a national service. Communications are of the utmost importance to any nation. So important is the work that the department is doing that every facility in the way of building and plant should be provided.
Debate (on motion by Senator Maher) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 3rd July (vide page 751), on motion by Senator O’Sullivan -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– Bills of this kind have been coming before the Commonwealth Parliament ever since 1915, when the first agreement was reached between the Commonwealth and the State of Queensland about the price of sugar in Australia. It has always been accepted that such agreements are in the best interests of the sugar industry and of Australia generally. The present proposed agreement, which is to cover a period of about five years, provides that the price of sugar shall be increased by 1½d. per lb. That need surprise no one. It must be obvious that the price of sugar cannot remain static during a time of inflation such as the present. Practically everything associated with the production of sugar has increased in price, including farm implements, tractors, shipping and railway freights and bags.
The sugar industry is of great importance to Australia. Under the agreement the Commonwealth guarantees a fixed price for sugar, and in return the Government of Queensland and those engaged in the sugar industry undertake to supply the sugar that Australia needs. Provision is made for reviewing the agreement from time to time at the request of either of the parties. It would be a good thing if a similar agreement were made in respect of other industries so that the Government, after inquiring into the cost of production could, decide the price at which the commodity should be sold. Ever since 1915 the sugar industry has been investigated continually by expert accountants, and the price has been based upon their findings. I am glad that the Government has seen fit to accept the representations of the Queensland Government for an increased price.
In the early days it was believed that tropical Queensland was not a fit place for white people to work in, and the sugar industry was carried on with indentured labour from the Pacific islands. The masters of sailing ships were paid so much a head for bringing the islanders to Australia, and the islanders themselves were paid at the rate of about half-a-crown a week for their work. Sugar was then produced in Australia under what amounted to slave conditions. Since then, conditions have greatly improved for all those associated with the industry, particularly for the workers and the canegrowers.
For the most part, the sugar industry is conducted on co-operative lines. There are about8,000 cane-growers, and the average farm is about 40 acres area. The land is cultivated intensively. Wages represent between 60 per cent. and 70 per cent of the cost of producing sugar, and, as we know, wages have increased greatly during thelast few years.
The sugar industry has been responsible for the development of the coastal regions of northern Queensland, and it has encouraged the settlement of a vigorous and virile population. There is no place in it for weaklings. All those who visit the sugar-producing districts of Queensland return convinced that the industry deserves well of the Australian public. There has been some adverse comment because of the occasional difficulty of obtaining sugar in the southern States. As a matter of fact, many commodities have been scarce for one reason or another, and in the case of sugar the scarcity has been due mostly to transport difficulties. Generally speaking, however, the industry has served Australia well.
The agreement now under consideration relates to raw sugar only. The refineries buy the raw sugar from the producers, and refine it at a fixed price. Like practically every other manufacturing process, the cost of refining sugar has increased, due to higher wages and dearer coal. When the cost of refining increases the refinery cannot afford to pay so much for the raw sugar.
Half the quantity of sugar produced in Australia is exported, most of it to Great Britain. To-day, the people of Australia buy their sugar more cheaply than do those of any other country in the world, but that was not always so. The sugar industry is efficient in all its phases, from the growing of the cane to the completion of the product. Therefore I hope that the Senate will agree to the passage of the bill. The previous Labour administration found it necessary on two occasions to introduce legislation to increase the price of sugar. There has been a tremendous increase of all industrial costs and it is unreasonable to expect one industry to bear the increased costs without some increase of its returns.
The searchlight of investigation has been focused on the industry by royal commissions and investigating authorities for many years, and it is constantly open to examination by the Australian Government’s expert advisers. In 1915 a special tribunal was established to determine the proper basis of allocation between canegrowers and millers of the money received for the sale of refined sugar, and that tribunal makes a fair allocation to all sections of the sugar industry. However, the responsibility rests with the Australian Government, in the first place, to determine the proper price to be paid for refined sugar, an that is the reason why the present Government has introduced this legislation. Che industry has served Australia well over the years, and the price paid by consumers of sugar in Australia for that commodity is less than that paid in Great Britain, which imports sugar from Cuba and other countries where it is grown by black labour. I remind honorable senators that when Australia had to import sugar our people had to pay as much as ls. per lb. for it, and even at that price plentiful supplies were not always available.
Although complaints are sometimes made by tie southern States of Australia, and notably by Tasmania, that sufficient quantities of sugar are not made available to them, the fact is that any maldistribution of sugar supplies is due to factors outside the control of the sugar industry. For example, I recall an occasion while I was Minister for Trade and Customs in the Chifley Administration, when I had to send a cruiser from Sydney to Melbourne to bring supplies to Victoria because, owing to an industrial disturbance, sugar could not be transported to that State by ordinary means. However, the agreement made between the Australian Government and the Queensland Government in 1915 carefully protects the interests of all States in this matter of distribution of. supplies. Because there is no sugar refinery in Tasmania, which is an important, fruit producing and exporting State, the agreement provides that supplies of refined sugar must be made available t<> that State at all times.
I have been associated with the sugar industry in Australia for 50 years, and I know that it was begun literally under slave conditions. Overseers armed with stockwhips and revolvers, and accompanied by savage dogs, speeded up the unfortunate kanakas in the cane-fields. At that time there were only a few big plantations in Queensland. Later, Sir Edmund Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister, went to the cane-fields and told us that because of the introduction of the White Australia policy the kanakas must go. Australia was then confronted with the responsibility of supplying the man-power for the industry. The first Australians in the industry worked 64 hours a week and received only 22s. 6d. in wages. Even to-day the sugar-growing industry is still conducted by small farmers. Climatic conditions were then, and still are, at times, almost intolerable. Nevertheless, the industry, which is conducted on co-operative lines, is a most harmonious one and sets an example to all other Australian industries. A bounty had to be paid by the Australian Government to finance the industry during the transitional period after the kanakas were withdrawn. Those engaged in the industry from the early days have been through very difficult times. However, they have availed themselves of scientific and technical developments and to-day the sugar industry in this country is probably more efficiently conducted than it is in any other country. About ten years ago, some world-famous authorities on sugar production were brought to this country to investigate the industry, and, so far from finding fault with the conduct of the industry here, they said that they had learned much and that our industry was outstandingly efficient. Australian sugar-cane is the sweetest in the world, and the yield per ton of cane is higher than that of any other sugar-growing country. The
Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited lias clone its utmost to increase its plant, and in recent years has ordered nearly £3,000,000 worth of machinery in order to increase its production. In fact, all those engaged in the industry realize their obligation to Australia, and they are doing everything possible to provide adequate supplies of sugar.
The original agreement that was made in 1915 provided that the progress of the industry should be subject to review every five years and that the price of sugar could be varied from time to time. This measure has been introduced by an anti-Labour Administration, and it is interesting to recall that the only occasion on which the price of sugar was reduced occurred when the Lyons Government, which was an anti-Labour administration, reduced the price. That happened during the depression and the reduction was made because of the necessity to reduce the cost of living in that exceptional period. In conclusion, I say in all sincerity that the proposed increase of price is fully warranted, and I hope that all members of the Senate will support the passage of the bill because the successful conduct of this industry is important to any national scheme to combat the current inflationary trend.
.- 1 have great pleasure in supporting the bill because I believe that the sugar industry is of national importance. One peculiarity of the industry is that sugar can be grown in tropical regions, and because of that peculiarity we have been ‘able to develop and populate an area of north-eastern Australia that would otherwise have remained undeveloped. In fact, the development of the industry in Queensland has resulted in the greatest aggregation of white people in any tropical area. As Senator Courtice pointed out, there are approximately S,000 cane-growers in Queensland. In the Mackay area, in which I reside, there are about 1,800 growers. It is obvious, therefore, that a considerable number of people are dependent upon the industry for their livelihood.
An important aspect of the industry is
I hat it has always given a fair deal to the community and has never asked for anything to which it is not entitled. The facts mentioned by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) in the course of his speech prove that, although the industry is most efficiently conducted, its costs have increased considerably. Another important aspect of the sugar industry is that it has dealt very fairly with other Australian industries, and particularly with the jam and fruit-processing industries. Manufacturers of foodstuffs for export have been able to purchase their requirements of sugar at current overseas market prices, whilst manufacturers who purchase sugar to process foodstuffs for consumption in Australia receive a rebate of £2 4s. a ton. The result is that the fund standing to the. credit of that section of the industry is about £1,100,000 to-day. An agreement has been reached to suspend payments to the fund because the price of exported sugar is higher than that of locally consumed sugar, and there is no necessity for the fund. However, should the fund fall below £500,000, contributions will be started again. It is clear, therefore, that manufacturers using sugar to process their products have not suffered because of those occasions when the price of sugar was higher in Australia.
Had it not been for the Australian sugar industry,’ the people of this country would have had to pay about £100 a ton for imported sugar during the 1914-18 war. As it was, they had to pay only a little more than £20 a ton. During the depression, when price0 generally fell considerably, the sugar industry was called upon to make its contribution towards the solution of our economic problem. If I remember rightly, the industry voluntarily agreed to a reduction in the Australian price of id. per lb. as a gesture to the Australian people who were living under depression conditions. Between the two world wars, the world price of sugar fell so low that it was exported from Australia at a considerable loss. Many people asked, “ Why grow sugar and export it at a loss ? “ but the Australian sugar industry was playing an important part in our economy. Australia was in sore need of overseas credits and our sales of sugar overseas, even although they were being made at a loss to the industry, were helping tho national economy by increasing our overseas balances. To-day, the Australian price of sugar is well below world parity. Imported sugar would cost about £100 a ton if refined in this country, so the Australian people are still receiving sugar at a very low price. As the Minister said in his second-reading speech, Australians buy the cheapest sugar in the world. In some countries which were not mentioned in the Minister’s statement, sugar costs 2s. 6d. per lb., but generally speaking the price of sugar in this country is about one-third of that ruling overseas. Therefore, in granting this increase in the price of sugar, the Government is not giving to the sugar industry any more than is its due considering rising costs and the price that the sugar-growers would receive for their product if it were sold on the world’s markets.
I emphasize that the sugar agreement is not an agreement between the Australian Government and the sugargrowers. It is an agreement between the Government of Queensland, and the Australian Government. The Queensland Government purchases the sugar from the growers at the mills. In other words, as soon as the sugar has been manufactured, it becomes the property of the Queensland Government. That administration negotiates a price with the. Australian Government, and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited carries out the refining. The Queensland Sugar Board, acting as the agent for the Queensland Government, allows the company to organize the distribution of sugar. The sugar is supplied to the capital cities and then distributed on a fair basis. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is an extremely efficient organization. The payment for refining is fixed by the State Government, through the board. The export of sugar is financed by the board through the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, which receives a small commission for this service. In short, the organization of the industry is a matter for the Queensland Government and the Australian Govern ment and, as I have said, the industry works very efficiently, right from the breeding of the plants.
As many honorable senators probably do not know much about sugar growing, I shall endeavour to enlighten them. Various types of cane are being grown in Australia. There is a series of experimental stations throughout the sugargrowing areas of Queensland. Those stations which are most efficient are financed by the industry itself, with the exception of an annual contribution of £7,000 by the Queensland Government. They are engaged mainly in breeding new varieties of cane. Out of the thousands of plants grown each year, one suitable type may be selected. It is multiplied over a period of years, and, when it has proved itself, specimens are circulated amongst the sugar-growers. Then further tests are carried out in the field by the growers themselves. When a variety has ultimately been found to be suitable it is approved for commercial production. As a result of the work of the experimental stations, it has been possible to increase considerably the tonnage of sugar cane grown per acre, and also the sugar content of the cane itself. The tonnage of cane produced per acre depends upon various factors. One is the number of sticks forming the stool. The more sticks the bigger the stool, and the taller the sticks, the more weight of cane. All those things are considered when determining what variety of plant should be distributed. Another important factor is the disease resistance of plants. Pests and diseases cost the sugar industry a lot of money. The judicious use of fertilizers, too, can do much to increase cane tonnage and improve the sugar content. Some of the good varieties of cane run down after a few years and have to be replaced. Preparation of the soil is most important. The soil is worked to a very fine tilth before the cane is planted. The cost of fertilizers such as sulphate of ammonia is high. The planting of sugar cane is different from the sowing of most other crops. Sugar is grown from sticks of cane cut up into pieces, each with at least one eye. There again we find ample evidence of efficiency in the industry. The ingenuity of sugar-growers, and their desire to reduce costs, has resulted in the invention of the cutterplanter. This machine travels along a drill, automatically cuts sticks of cane at the required length, lays them flat in the drill, applies a small quantity of fertilizer, and finally by dragging a chain, covers the pieces of cane. Progress has been made too in combating diseases. For instance, means have been evolved to deal with pineapple disease which in the past has caused heavy losses. There is now a machine that sprays the cane before planting to make it resistant to pineapple disease.
The sugar industry also plays a very important part in our economy by employing many thousands of people. The demand for labour is, of course, seasonal. There is a crushing season, and a slack season. However, when the crushing season ends, every effort is made to absorb the available labour in other avenues of employment. This is particularly desirable in these days ot J a bour shortages. The crushing season extends from June until December, or occasionally until the end of January or even the beginning of February. Once the monsoonal rains arrive in the northern areas, sugar cane harvesting is extremely difficult with the result that crushing operations are sometimes suspended as they were last season when, in the Mackay district £1,250,000 worth of sugar cane was left standing in the field Many varieties of sugar cane are useless after they have stood for some time, and they have to be ploughed into the soil. That is a dead loss to the growers. Honorable senators will see that. sugargrowing is not all honey.
The ingenuity of sugar cane growers has been applied also to the cutting of cane. At present most cane is cut stick by stick by men wielding long-bladed knives. To speed up the cutting the dead leaves are burned off the cane. Over a period of years, many thousands of pounds has been expended on experiments to find a means of cutting cane by machine. In the district from which I come there are now more sugar harvesters than there are in the rest of Queensland. There are six or eight types of cane harvesters, and it seems that, in the near future much of the sugar cane in Queensland will be cut by machine. That will be a great step forward for the industry. Not only does hand cutting require a lot of labour, but also it is very heavy work. When cane cutters have been returning from the fields in the evening, I have heard tourists say, “ Look at the black fellows “ ; but they were not black fellows. They were white men who had been cutting cane in the fields. The burned cane becomes ingrained in the skin and is very difficult to remove. Cutting it heavy work ; indeed, it is much heavier than a lot of other agricultural work that I could mention. Most of the Queensland sugar mills are run on a co-operative basis, being owned by the sugar-farmers. A new sugar mill of reasonable size is to-day worth about £2,000,000. It will be appreciated that as there are about 30 such mills in Queensland, a lot of money is invested in the sugar industry in that State. Despite the fact that the industry is very efficiently conducted, many people engaged in it have no hesitation in spending considerable sums of money in order to improve the mills and to achieve even greater efficiency. Last year, the overseas technologists who visited Queensland were so impressed with the efficiency of the sugar mills in that State that they asked permission to send their delegates back at a future date, which they did, to learn more about the milling of sugar. That was a very fine gesture and recognition.
The Queensland sugar industry has grown very rapidly. When Queensland agreed to federation, I understand that it consented to abolish black labour in the sugar industry only on condition that protection would always be provided for the sugar industry. In former years, 11 tons of sugar cane was required to produce a tan of sugar. To-day a ton of sugar is produced from only 7 tons of sugar cane. Megass, the cane fibre that is left after the juice has been extracted from the sugar cane, is burned to provide power to operate the mills. No part of the cane is wasted. I am convinced that, as a result of scientific research, other industries will rise out of the sugar industry’s by-products. Recently a conference of the sugar-millers of Queensland decided to establish an organization to carry out sugar research. That body will be not unlike a sugar university. The leaders of the industry are so keen on attaining the greatest possible degree of efficiency that they invited applications, not only from qualified men in Australia, but also from overseas, for the position of director. The salary was so attractive that 70 applications were received. I am glad to be able to inform honorable senators that a Queenslander, Dr. Kerr, director of the Queensland Experimental Sugar Bureau, was selected to fill the post. It is expected that research work will be commenced before the end of this year. In addition to studying mill technology with a view to attaining greater milling efficiency, this organization later on will carry out an analysis of soil in the sugar f,ane growing areas as well as other agricultural aspects. That the leaders of the sugar industry in Queensland are prepared to spend from £60,000 to £70,000 to establish the first section of a building to house this organization is evidence of their keen desire to elevate the industry to a maximum state of efficiency. The utmost co-operation exists between employers and employees in the growing, experimental, cutting, farming, and milling sections of the industry. Indeed I know of no other industry where the same degree of cooperation has been attained. A man prominent in the sugar industry in the Mackay district recently pointed out to me that mill workers carry out stacking work in the mills for 2s. 6d. a ton, compared with stacking charges of 13s. 3d. a ton in the waterfront industry. One cannot, but admire the loyalty of the hard-working men in the sugar industry.
As honorable senators know, the distribution of sugar is handled by the Colonial Sugar .Refining Company Limited. Despite the criticism that has been levelled at that organization I am convinced that it is most efficiently managed. As evidence of its efficiency, the Queensland Labour Government has continued for many years to permit the company to handle the refining and distribution of sugar. I stress that every consideration should be extended to the sugar industry, which, in common with other industries in this country, has had many ups and downs. At present Great Britain is dabbling with an agreement for the supply of sugar by Cuba, and certain fears in this respect have been” expressed by the Queensland sugar growers. In 1949, Mr. Hanlon, the Premier of Queensland, went to England to negotiate an agreement to provide for the growing of an additional tonnage of sugar-cane in Queensland. He recently visited England again in connexion with the matter, but an agreement has not yet been, signed. Unfortunately Great Britain hasaltered several of the original terms. I suggest that the Commonwealth should send to England to finalize the agreement the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan), or a senior Minister with a full knowledge of the Queensland sugar industry. I point out that for some years the production of sugar in Queensland has been limited. The conclusion of the proposed agreement would enable the industry to be further developed. Generally speaking, the people living in the southern parts of Australia recognize the necessity for the development of Queensland. The greater proportion of the people of this country live in the south.
I do not think it is generally known that a bounty is not provided for the sugar industry; the Government does not give anything but protection to that industry, similar to the protection provided to the secondary industries. Large quantities of the products of the south are consumed in Queensland. On the shelves of the stores in the north one can see the labels of many Sydney and Melbourne manufacturers. The loss of the sugar industry would indeed be a loss to the southern industries. Although the southerners have been obtaining their requirements of sugar at a cheap rate the people of Queensland have had to pay relatively more for the manufactures of the south because of the. impact of tariff protection and freight. We have never quibbled about protection for southern industries. I am glad that there is general acceptance of the value of the sugar industry. The people of Queensland greatly appreciate the prompt consideration that was given to their request for an increase of the price of sugar by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). From my conversations with the right honorable gentleman in connexion with this matter I am convinced that he is seized with the importance of this industry to Australia. Senator Sheehan. - How much will the increase cost the Government?
– So that, in effect, the honorable senator is thanking the Prime Minister for being generous with other people’s money.
– The sugar industry is grateful to the Prime Minister for his prompt action. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) has also played a very important part in this matter by pointing out to the Cabinet the necessity for maintaining the sugar industry on a proper basis. He has lived in the sugargrowing areas and knows this industry from A to Z. A number of leaders of the industry have expressed appreciation of the very able manner in which the. Minister for Trade and Customs has grappled with this problem and presented the facts to the Parliament. The honorable member for Dawson (Mr. Davidson) is a sugar-grower as well as a distinguished soldier. He also has played a very prominent part in the discussions with the Prime Minister about the sugar industry. I am sure that the Queensland Government is very pleased with the proposed rise of price. As I remarked at the outset, the sugar industry is one of our mostimportant national industries. Much machinery is used in the sugar-cane industry. During the last war, when tractors and other machinery were urgently needed by the Commonwealth, the sugar industry was able to play a very important part in the defence preparations by making such equipment available. Furthermore, many men employed in the industry exhibited a readiness to shoulder their portion of the burden of war. These are matters that should not be forgotten. The cities of Bundaberg, Mackay, Cairns, Maryborough and Townsville, in the coastal areas of Queensland, owe their rise to the sugar industry, while Ingham, Innisfail, Home Hill and Ayr also arc fine towns in the sugar-growing areas. As one travels through the coastal districts of
Queensland it is apparent that the sugar industry has played a very important part in developing this bastion of the Commonwealth from the point of view of future defence. The bill before the chamber proves conclusively that the Commonwealth recognizes the value to Australia of our sugar industry.
. -During his second-reading speech the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) stressed that the proposed increase of the price of sugar had become necessary because of increased prices of materials. He did not say why the cost of materials had risen and he did not indicate the degree to which inflation was increasing such costs, or the degree to which the lack of prices control had been responsible for increased costs of materials. Obviously the Government is prepared to allow the people who control the prices of materials to become a law unto themselves and then, by act of Parliament, to provide that the price of sugar shall be raised against the consumers. As has been pointed out many times from this side of the chamber, the Government has promised emphatically, dogmatically, and frequently that it would put value back into the £1. In other words, the members of the Government parties stated that they would not only control the prices of materials but they would also control inflation. However, nothing has been done. They are now continuing their policy of inaction by stating that they must increase the price of sugar to 6½d. per lb to the consumer.
Senator Wood has emphasized the efficiency of the sugar industry. I do not doubt that that is so and that it is much more efficient than the Government or the consumers of sugar who voted for the Government. There is such a thing as equity, but there has been no evidence of it in connexion with the increase of the price of sugar. What the Government is saying, in effect, is that those who inflate the currency and increase the price of materials are a law unto themselves, whereas the consumers must be forced to pay higher prices or submit to uncontrolled inflation because of uncontrolled prices.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator George Rankin). -Order! I suggest that the honorable senator should return to a discussion of the bill. We are here not to put value into the £1, but into sugar.
– May I remind honorable senators of what the Minister for Trade and Customs stated during his second-reading speech on this bill? The honorable senator used the following words : -
Material costs have risen by at least 80 per cent, since August, 1039; sulphate of ammonia, despite the operation of the Commonwealth subsidy, has increased by 114 per cent.; and jute sacks and hessian, which must be imported, cost 7-id. each and 5d. a yard respectively in 1039, whereas at to-day’s prices they would cost (is. Gd. each and 4s. a yard.
Why have the prices of those materials increased and why has not the Government taken action to prevent such increases? Unless we deal with the cons as well as the pros-
– Did the honorable senator say “ corns “ ?
– No. I was not speaking of the Minister for Trade and Customs. In order to form some idea of the position, honorable senators opposite should try to see the matter from the point of view of the Opposition. The Minister has made certain statements, and I do not doubt that he was justified in doing so, but what I wish to know is why the price has been increased, particularly as I am of the opinion, as the result of practical experience and study of the subject, that prices can be controlled. If that is so, obviously there should be no necessity to increase the price of sugar.
– Why did the Chifley Government increase the price of sugar ?
– If it did so, I am sure that it did it more effectively than has the present Government. While I agree with Senator Wood and other honorable senators who have spoken during this debate that, those in charge of the sugar industry and their employees are efficient, I repeat that there is such a thing as equity. Where do tho consumers come in? We are asked to believe, by implication at least, that no corrective legislation can be enacted for the control of prices. I do not accept that that is so. I say emphatically that prices can be controlled. If they were controlled, I suggest that we would not be faced with the present state of affairs.
The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is a private monopoly acting in co-operation with the Queensland Government and the Australian Government. My complaint is that honorable senators are not told, as they are entitled to be told, why the price of sugar has been increased. We have not been informed, for example, of the extent to which capital costs have been recovered as the result of recapitalization of lands, buildings and machinery. We are not told of the extent to which profits have been increased, nor are we told many other matters that it is necessary to know in order to form an intelligent opinion on the proposed increase of price. The policy of the Australian Labour party is that the sugar industry should be nationalized instead of being controlled, as it is at present, by a board of directors which isresponsible only to the shareholders of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. It should be a nationalized industry, responsible to the people represented by the government of the day. If it were nationalized there would be more equity in the fixing of prices, and the price of sugar, instead of being increased would be reduced. As the industry became more and more efficient, costs would diminish.
Prices must be divided into two categories. There are those that may hr termed the real or economic costs, and there are the fictitious or inflationary monetary costs. The honorable senator who cares to make an intelligent comparison will readily see that the economic cost of producing sugar is constantly being reduced and that the monetary cost is increasing. That is the fundamental problem with which this Government is faced, and it is one with which it must come to grips sooner or later. It cannot go on indefinitely condoning and justifying increased prices. I suggest that the wage-earners, pensioners and others on fixed incomes are those who are required to pay increased prices. Business firms are able to pass on increased costs. I ; really boils down to the fact that those, who are the least able to pay the proposed increases are required to do so.
Reference has been made during this debate to the shortage of sugar at the moment. I have it on the most reliable authority that sugar is being boarded by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited in order to bring pressure to beni’ on the Queensland Government and the Australian Government. I suggest that when the price has been increased th: sugar will be released to the public. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited charges the same price for brown sugar as it does for white, although I arn certain that the production costs of brow> sugar are not as great. If a person is not prepared to accept brown sugar at the same price as white he is obliged to do without sugar. That is an example of deliberate, corrupt organization of n shortage for the purpose of increasing the price of a commodity. It is all very well for Senator Wood and other honorable senators opposite to speak of the splendid sugar industry, but it must br remembered that it is a private monopoly. Another such monopoly, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which one of the most efficient organizations in Australia, has been subsidized and assisted in every way possible by various Australian governments. Yet the production costs of steel have never been so low and the price of steel so high. That is a fundamental contradiction which must be reconciled by honorable senators opposite.
I conclude my remarks by reminding the Government that it cannot’ ignore the part that inflation and the lack of control of prices are playing in increased costs to the lower income groups. That situation cannot go on indefinitely. The agony cannot be prolonged. I trust that in the very near future a much more intelligent approach will be made to the problem. I trust that a distinction will be drawn between what we call the economics of production and the finance of production. They constitute two very different propositions. Because production costs are stated in terms of a deflated or depreciated currency it does not follow that economic costs have increased. As Senator Wood and other honorable senators are prepared to admit, industry has become more and more efficient, and as its efficiency increases actual and real costs become lower and lower, but consumers are expected to pay more and more for their requirements. The reverse should be the case. Honorable senators opposite may justify that state of affairs if they are able to do so. If they approach this matter as it should be approached they will find, as I have found, that it cannot be justified, and that they owe a collective apology to the consumers of sugar for being instrumental in increasing the price of that commodity.
. - in reply - I thank honorable senators on both sides of the Senate for the reception they have given to this measure. Senator Courtice, who opened the debate for the Opposition, is a man who, both inside and outside the Parliament, has done a tremendous amount of work for the welfare of the sugar industry. He has not only a theoretical, but also a practical interest in it. I appreciate very much the blessing which he bestowed on the measure this afternoon. There is one matter on which I wish to correct him. The honorable senator stated that in 1933 the retail price of sugar was reduced from 4£d. to 4d. per lb. by the Lyons Government. It is true that the late Mr. Lyons, who was then Prime Minister of Australia, signed an agreement on behalf of the Commonwealth which resulted in such a reduction, but what the honorable senator omitted to say was that such a reduction had been voluntarily agreed to by the industry because of the depressed period through which the Australian economy was then passing. The honorable senator also omitted to say that the agreement was signed on behalf of the Queensland Government by the then representative of the electorate of Mackay in the Queensland Parliament, who is now the chairman of the Queensland Cane Board. As the honorable senator is well aware, for an agreement to be effective it must be signed by the parties who participate in it. In this instance an agreement was signed by the Queensland .Labour Government on behalf of that State, and by the Lyons Government on behalf of the Commonwealth. That sacrifice was made up to the cane-growers during the term of office of Senator Courtice as Minister for Trade and Customs.
I was interested in the somewhat whimsical but extraordinarily dangerous philosophy that was expounded by my friend, Senator Cameron. I had hoped that with the passing of the years his philosophy would take another turn. The honorable senator appeal’s to be very distressed by the fact that costs are increasing, yet in his own day and time he contributed very largely to increased costs by warning the people of the undesirable results of hard work. In this chamber, and in articles written by the honorable senator he has propounded a philosophy that was discarded 100 years ago, but to which he still adheres. He advised people not to work too hard lest they work themselves out of a job. If the people do not work hard, prices must increase. The sugar industry, as the result of its efficiency, has been able to absorb higher costs that have been brought about by persons engaged in other industries who are less hardworking than ave those in the sugar industry. If the workers in industry generally are efficient, why are costs not being reduced ? The sugar industry pays generous wages. The logical outcome of Senator Cameron’s address is that we should reduce wages. We are not prepared to pursue such a policy or any other policy which would have that effect. Between 50 and 60 per cent, of the costs of production is attributable to wages, salaries and emoluments paid to field and mill workers and others directly employed in the sugar industry. The wages paid in the industry have increased very greatly since 1949. For instance, the rates paid to field workers have increased by 97 per cent, and to mill workers, by 105 per cent. In addition, as Senator Cameron is well aware, the industry has had to pay higher freight rates, and increased prices for bags, sacks, fertilizers and other requirements. Notwithstanding those increased charges and the steep increases in wages ranging from 97 to 105 per cent., the price of sugar has been increased only 25 per cent, since 1939.
– The industry must have been doing very well before 1939.
– That is a cheap remark, which any one who knew anything about the sugar industry would not make. Those who are employed in the sugar industry work hard and because they are efficient the industry has been able to meet the added costs to which I have referred without unduly increasing the price of its product.
Senator Cameron also attacked the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, which is one of the most efficient industrial organizations in this country and one to which the people of Australia owe a great debt of gratitude. The honorable senator complained that Australian consumers have to pay too much for sugar. Apparently he did not listen to my second-reading speech in which I compared the price of sugar in Australia with its price in other countries. For the information of the honorable senator I shall repeat the comparison. In January last when sugar was sold in Australia for 5cl. per lb. the price of sugar, expressed in Australian currency, was approximately 8¾d. per lb. in New Zealand, 6kl. in the United Kingdom, 10-d. in Canada, 5¼d. in South Africa, 9d. in India, 10¾d. in the United States of America, ls. 2d. in France, ls. 6d. in Italy, and 2s. lid. in Spain. Although the whole of our sugar is grown by whites it is sold at the cheapest price to the local consumer. At one period the Australian price was higher than world parity. In 1934, when the world price of sugar was £7 lis. 3d. a ton the price in Australia was £24 a ton, which meant that Australians were paying ‘ approximately 4d. per lb. when the overseas price was approximately 2£d. per lb. Approximately one-half of the sugar produced in Australia is exported, the present export price being £33 10s. a ton. The whole of our exported sugar is sold to the United Kingdom at a preferential price. The present price of Cuban sugar is approximately £70 a ton. Although the overseas price of raw sugar is approximately £33 a ton the local price is only £20 10s. a ton. Solely because of the higher price obtained on the overseas market the Australian sugar industry is able to sell its product to Australian consumers at a price below world parity.
I expected Senator Cameron to make some comments about the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited because I have heard many people claim that the profits made by that company are so large that an increase of the price of sugar is not justified. I remind the honorable senator that the company will not obtain any direct benefit as a. refiner from the proposed price increase. It has, I admit, vast interests’ apart from its refineries. It is interested in sugar mills and in many manufacturing concerns which treat the by-products of sugar.
– Its profits will be increased as the result of the increased price of sugar.
– Not directly Opposition senators have suggested that the sugar industry should be nationalized. E know of no industry that has been nationalized - and I do not exclude the Postal Department - that has not subsequently been, conducted at a loss. The heavy losses invariably incurred by government undertakings have had to be met by the taxpayers. I thank honorable senators for the general support which they have accorded to the measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time. in committee:
– Clause 4 of the schedule provides that the Queensland Government shall purchase all raw sugar manufactured from sugar cane grown in New South Wales during the seasons of 1951-52, J952-r>3, 1953-54, 1954-55 and 1955-56. Paragraph 5 provides that the agreement shall continue to operate until 1956. Under sub-clause (1) (ft) the Queensland Government is to make sugar, and other sugar products the product of raw sugar, manufactured during the seasons 1950-51 to 1955-56 inclusive, available for sale and delivery in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Fremantle, Hobart and Launceston, and under sub-clause (1) (6) it is to make such sugar and sugar products available in Darwin. I should like to know what the Government intends to do about the shortage of sugar that occurs from time to time in the States. I agree with what has been said about the efficiency of the sugar industry in northern Queensland, but where does the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited come in? The grower has been guaranteed a fair price. Has the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited the right to stand between the grower and the consumer? I understand that vast quantities of sugar are stored in the company’s warehouses. It has been suggested that the company will not receive anything extra as the result of the proposed price increase. I hope that the Government will ensure that the company does not in fact receive a rake-off. If the Parliament passes this bill providing for the payment of an increased price of sugar, surely there is an obligation on those who control the industry to ensure that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited shall make sugar available to the public. To-day, the people are paying the same price for brown sugar as is prescribed in. the agreement for refined sugar. When there was a shortage of sugar, some time ago, we were told that the refining plant of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited at Yarraville, in Victoria, was incapable of producing more refined sugar. Who is responsible for seeing that the company’s plant is equal to requirements? The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) has claimed that the company will, not make anything extra out of the increased price, but the fact remains that the great wealth of the company is derived, directly and indirectly, from the sugar industry. The company is the bottleneck that is preventing the proper distribution of refined sugar. It is surely the duty of the Government to see that this great monopoly perforins its proper function.
– Senator Sheehan appears’ to be the victim of a common misunderstanding. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is not concerned with the price of sugar. It receives under an agreement £1 a ton for refining, packing and transporting the sugar. Of course, the company has other interests apart from this activity. The scarcity of refined sugar lias nothing to do with the capacity of the refineries. As Senator “Wood pointed out, there was recently a waterfront strike at Mackay, and a sugar ship was held up. That was not the first time that such a thing took place. If the loading of sugar is delayed over a long period during humid weather, it deteriorates rapidly. It is not true, as Senator Sheehan suggested, that the same price is being charged for raw sugar as for refined sugar. Under the agreement, the raw sugar is bought by the Queensland Government, for which the Queensland Sugar Board acts as agent. As I have explained, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited receives £1 a ton for refining, packing, transporting and distributing the sugar. The reason for the recurring shortages of refined sugar is the scarcity of labour in the refineries and the scarcity of coal. Representations have been made by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited to the Victorian Government in an effort to get more coal. Tho refineries are efficient, and the plant is adequate. The trouble is due to shortages of labour and coal. Frequently, there is delay in obtaining raw sugar from Queensland because of trouble on the waterfront, a matter about which my colleague, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator McLeay) has spoken.
.- I dissociate myself from the extravagant and misinformed remarks of Senator Sheehan, but it is true that Victoria gets a worse deal in respect of refined sugar than do the other States. I believe that the Victorian quota is supposed to be 50 per cent, of what was supplied in 1946. hut we are not getting 50 per cent. Other States receive a larger proportion of the 1946 quota. I can see no reason why Victoria should be treated differently from the other States. I should like to know what the Government proposes to do to ensure that justice is done to the people of Victoria. I know that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has improved its refining capacity at Yarraville from 3,000 tons to 3,500 tons a year, but Victoria is still worse off than the other States. Retailers of refined sugar complain that the distributors, in allotting quotas, make no allowance, for increasing popula tion. Storekeepers in expanding districts are still receiving only 50 per cent, of the 1946 quota, so that the amount available to each person is less than the amount available in districts with a static population. Action should be taken by the Government or by the Colonial Sugar Refining- Company Limited to remedy this injustice by the allotment of new quotas based either on increased turnover in the shops or on a census of population.
– The first point raised by Senator Gorton is covered by clause 5 of the agreement, which provides that the Queensland Government shall make sugar available in all the State capitals, and in Launceston and Darwin. That is the obligation which the Queensland Government assumes under the agreement, but the actual delivery of the sugar is undertaken by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited as agent for the Queensland Government. Although there is no direct agreement between the Commonwealth and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, the company has at all times behaved with a deep sense of its responsibility. It has been most co-operative and willing to help. It is true that shortages occur more often in Victoria than in other States, except, perhaps Tasmania. Certainly more complaints are received from Victoria, but perhaps that is because the Tasmanians are more long suffering. I believe, however, that the complaints are received from Victoria because of the seasonal demand there for sugar. During the fruit-packing season the demand is high. Then there is likely to be an acute shortage of sugar, whilst at other times there is an apparent abundance. It is the practice of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, if a shortage develops in one State, to transport sugar at its own expense from other States to supply the need.
– Clause 11 of the agreement, which provides that the Queensland Government shall, if requested by the Commonwealth, establish a sugar depot at Hobart, had its origin as far back as 1935, and is indicative of the attention which a former
Prime Minister, Mr. J. A. Lyons, always paid to the needs of Tasmania. The obligation on the Queensland Government, in certain specified circumstances, to establish a depot at Hobart was embodied in the Sugar Agreement Act made in 1935. I point out at once that, contrary to general belief, the area of Tasmania is such that three distribution centres are necessary to supply all parts of the island. In a time of scarcity, the absence of reserve stocks in any one distribution centre could cause an acute shortage in the area that it should serve. The three principal geographical divisions of Tasmania are the Hobart district, the Launceston district and the north-west coast. Before the bill is passed by the House of Representatives, I should like the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) to consider expanding the obligation, in certain circumstances, of the Queensland Government to maintain stocks of sugar in Hobart to require that Government to maintain reserve stocks in each of the three divisions. In order to make my submissions clear I shall read clause 11 of the proposed agreement, which is as follows: -
Tli.it thu Queensland Government, if and when requested by the Commonwealth Government, shall establish a sugar depot at Hobart provided that the Commonwealth Government shall not make such a request unless the request be accompanied by evidence proving that a general shortage of sugar has occurred i,i Hobart which is due to wholesale merchants in Hobart or the Queensland Sugar Board failing to adhere to the present arrangements whereby special reserve stocks’ of sugar are supplied to and held by such merchants.
That clause, requires that the Commonwealth Government shall not request the Queeusland Government to establish a sugar depot, at, Hobart unless its request is “ accompanied by evidence proving that a general shortage of sugar has occurred in Hobart”. I submit that the authority which Tasmania has to satisfy should not be the Queensland Government but iiic Australian Government. Otherwife Tasmania will be placed in a most unfair position.
The use of the expression “ failing to adhere” furnishes a. possible cause of misunderstanding, and I should like to be informed more precisely what is meant by those words. I ask for an assurance from the Minister that even if the general
Snnotor Wright. shortage contemplated in the clause be due to circumstances entirely beyond the control of the Queensland Sugar Board or the Hobart merchants, the interpretation that will be placed upon those words shall not prejudice the rights of Tasmania. We are, of course, also victims of the grave shortage of goods and services that was lamented by Senator Sheehan in the course of his remarks. I raise these points because the shortage of sugar in Tasmania, has caused most serious inconvenience not, only in Hobart but also in the northwestern part of Tasmania. Only three months ago I know that residents in that area were unable to obtain even the smallest quantities of sugar for domestic consumption. Although no request has been made since 1935 for the establishment of a depot in Hobart, I point out that circumstances may require Tasmania to request the Australian Government to compel the Queensland Government to fulfil its obligation to establish such a depot.
Senator COURTICE (Queensland) 1 10.6]. - The matter raised by Senator Wright is not new, and his suggestion that the Queensland Government is responsible for the alleged maldistribution of sugar is quite unfounded. Before the last occasion on which the agreement was renewed the Australian Government communicated with the Queensland Government in order to ensure that the terms of the agreement for the provision, in certain specified circumstances, of a depot in Hobart, would be carried out, because it was recognized then that supplies of sugar cannot always be shipped to Tasmania. However, I understand that the merchants and industrial consumers of sugar in Tasmania are opposed to the construction of another depot because they believe that that would increase the cost of that commodity because handling costs would be higher. Neither the Queensland Government nor the sugar-growers are responsible for the situation that has arisen. The Queensland Government purchases the raw sugar and sells it to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited to be refined and distributed throughout Australia. At present all sorts of difficulties, including an acute shortage of shipping and transport of all kinds, confront the company, which docs the best that it can. I mention that fact merely in order to emphasize that the occasional failure of supplies of sugar in certain States is not the fault of the Queensland Government or of the sugar-growers. Queensland itself suffers from an acute shortage of goods manufactured in southern States for the reason that sufficient shipping is not available to transport those goods to Queensland. For similar reasons the people do not receive Tasmanian apples in that State.
— T want the obligation of the Queensland Government to provide sufficient sugar for Tasmania to bc made unite clear in the agreement.
– The agreement is quite clear. Furthermore, I understand that the persons in Tasmania who arc most, concerned about sugar supplies are not, in favour of the construction of an additional depot in Hobart. Although Senator Gorton complained of the allocation of sugar in Victoria, I suggest that, for the reasons T have outlined, the responsibility rests with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. After all, honorable senators must realize that thi; population and prosperity of Australia have increased tremendously, particularly during the regime of the former Labour administration, and the annual consumption of sugar has increased by more than 100,000 tons. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has been greatly handicapped in its efforts to refine sufficient sugar to keep pace with the increased demand because it has not sufficient plant. I know that when I was Minister for Trade and Customs in the. Chifley Administration the company had ordered £300,000,000 worth of additional plant. However, from my lengthy experience of the industry I am sure that the company is doing its utmost to increase its refining capacity.
Senator HENTY (Tasmania) [10 1.2 1. - The need to establish a depot in Hobart has been overcome by an agreement made between, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited with the wholesale merchants in Hobart, which ensures that in normal times a sufficient stock of sugar will be maintained at Hobart. If sufficient ships were available there would bo no need for such a depot to be established, and, in any event, its establish ment would increase the cost of distributing sugar in Tasmania. The agreement which was made in 1935, has been honoured by the ‘ parties, but it is dependent upon sufficient supplies of refined sugar arriving from Sydney. As Senator Wright pointed out, Tasmania really falls into three distinct, geographical areas. Hobart and the northern part of the island receive their supplies of refined sugar from Sydney, subject, of course, to the availability of shipping. However, the maintenance of supplies for the north-western area of Tasmania presents a problem, and requires special attention because it is dependent upon supplies from the refinery in Melbourne. That refinery has had great difficulty in providing sufficient supplies even for Victoria, .and people in that State have to be content very often with raw sugar. If the Melbourne refinery could arrange for the north-west coast to be supplied partly from Sydney through the regular shipping services to Devonport and Burnie the difficulty would be overcome. During the last year or two, the north-western area of Tasmania has suffered more than any other part of the State from sugar shortages.
– I thank Senator Courtice for his help in this matter. In reply to Senator Wright, I have no doubt that clause 11 was inserted, not for the protection of the Queensland Government, but to place an obligation on the Queensland Government for the protection of the Tasmanian people. At least, that is my interpretation of the provision. As Senator Courtice has said, there has been no reluctance on the part of the Queensland Government to meet in full its obligations under the sugar agreement.
The point raised by Senator Wright about depots has been partly cleared up by Senator Henty. No request has been made at any time for the establishment of depots in Tasmania, but some time ago the Tasmanian merchants agreed to carry twice their normal stocks. That meant that a month’s supply would be held. Whatever shortages have occurred have been due to lack of shipping, breakdown? at the mainland refineries, or the inability nf Tasmanian merchants for some other reason to obtain stocks of sugar. Unfortunately, shortages have sometimes occurred at periods of peak demand.
– I regret that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) has not told us what is to become of the sugar that is at present held in store by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. This measure will become operative when it receives the assent of the Governor-General. Will any of the increased price that the company will receive for the sugar now held in its stores be passed on to the sugar-growers, or will it all be retained by the company ? I should also like the Minister to answer the point that I raised in connexion with the refining of sugar. He has said that, because of transport dislocations and certain other factors, sugar has not been reaching the southern States for refining. Is the Minister serious in making that explanation? Is it not a fact that there is ample raw sugar available in the southern States, thus indicating that transport facilities from Queensland to Victoria are adequate? If there is raw sugar in Victoria, why is it not being refined? Is not the lack of refined sugar proof that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is falling down on its job? Surely there is some authority in this country that can deal with this company if it is withholding from consumers this very important item of food. Sugar is a vital commodity not only to householders but also to manufacturers who use it in- the processing of certain products. The Minister and his colleagues are always loud in their protests if the wharf labourers or some other workers stop the wheels of industry. They are prepared to go to great lengths to ensure that the work shall be resumed, but, against this company, they stand helpless. Apparently the company can defy the Government. I. have not heard any honorable senator opposite say that the Government will insist upon this organization, which i.holding the Australian people to ransom, fulfilling its obligations. I have no doubt that the Queensland sugar-growers would he delighted if there were a greater consumption of their products in this count ry. If the Colonial Sugar Refining Com pany Limited is standing between the growers and the consuming public, it is up to the Australian Government to do something about it. It should not merely sit idly by in the belief that when this measure has been passed through both Houses of the Parliament, that will be the end of the matter. The Government should insist that the sugar at present in the storehouses of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited shall be sold to the public before the increased price becomes operative. Does the Government realize that the increase of ltd. per lb. in the price of sugar will have a serious effect on the basic wage? Sugar is an important item in the list of commodities considered by the statistician in determining the basic wage. The Opposition is’ agreeing to the increased price because of the plight of the sugar industry, but 1 see no reason why the public of this country should be robbed of 1½d. for every pound of sugar now held in the store by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited.
– In my second-reading speech on thi* measure, I thought I had made it clear that the sugar does not belong to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. Senator Sheehan is endeavouring to raise feeling against the company. Again I remind the committee that, as soon as sugar is manufactured, it becomes the property of the Queensland Government. The Queensland Sugar Board, acting for the Queensland Government, arranges for the refining and the distribution of sugar through the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. Therefore, it is of no advantage to that company to withhold refined sugar and permit the consumption of raw sugar. If the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited were falling down on its job, I am sure that the Queensland Government, which is a Labour administration, would soon take steps to remedy the trouble. The company is being attacked by honorable senators opposite merely because it is a big concern, but I am sure that every one in the sugar industry will admit, as. I have no doubt the Queensland Government does, that the company is most efficient and renders excellent service not only to sugar-growers but also to the public at large. It illbecomes any honorable senator to throw mud at a company that is doing a good job. The difficulties encountered in keeping supplies of sugar flowing to the, public are greater than they appear to bc on the surface.
Senator Sheehan said that sugargrowers would like to see the public consume more sugar. As I have said the sugar-growers are loyal people. They certainly have no desire to restrict sugar consumption in this country, even though sugar sent overseas brings a higher price. I believe that I should state these facts as a Queenslander and as one who lives in the largest sugar-growing district in the Commonwealth. I should not like a stigma to be placed on the name of a company which is a most efficient and capable organization.
Senator CHAMBERLAIN (Tasmania) 10.25]. - I. support, what Senator Wright and Senator Henty have =aid about sugar shortages in Tasmania. Whether the reason lias been inadequate shipping or something else, the fact remains that sugar has at times been unprocurable in that State. Those shortages have farreaching effects. Large quantities of fruit are wo? ted because manufacturers and housewives cannot get sugar for fruit preserving or jam making. In that way thrift is discouraged. I do not know what the remedy is, but all Tasmanians know that regular supplies of sugar must be made available to that State. Tasmanians do not object, to the increase of the price of sugar. They realize that prices are rising at present, but they object to the. too frequent cessation of supplies.
– I regret the tone of Senator Sheehan’? remarks. The fact that he is not well informed, or not informed at all, on this matter is no reason why he should have, made the imputations that he did. Had the honorable senator really been seeking information, he could have obtained it. As Senator Wood has said, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited renders an excellent service. It does not own the sugar.
– It renders a poor service to the consumer.
– If that is so, why did the Labour Government not remedy the trouble during its eight years in office? It might have been able to exert some influence before the Queensland Government last renewed the agreement. Throughout the years, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has remained aloof from party politics. It has rendered good service regardless of the political complexion of State or Federal governments. It has also received every consideration from all governments. It is regrettable that Senator Sheehan should have thrown a political brick into an otherwise peaceful pool. He endeavoured to gain some party advantage by attacking an organization that is the agent of tho Queensland Labour Government but, as Senator Wood has said, tho Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is performing an excellent service not only to the sugar industry but also to the people of Australia generally. If there is any flaw in the existing system, it is up to the Queensland Government, in consultation with the Australian Government if it so desires, to make other arrangements for the distribution of sugar, but no attempt to do that was made while Senator Courtice was Minister for Trade and Customs in the Chifley Government. No fault was found with the service rendered by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited in those days.
The bill provides that the increased price will become effective when the measure receives the Royal assent. However, that will only determine the price set out in the schedule. There will be nothing to stop the State Prices Ministers from deciding that 6jd. per lb. is not enough and increasing the price to say 9d. per lb. On the other hand, they maydecide that 6$d. is too much, and that the price should be reduced to 5d. The margin allowed to retailers is to be increased from .12-1- per cent, to 13f per cent., and that to wholesalers, from 2 per cent, to 1 per Cent. It is considered that those increases can be met by the increase of I4d. per lb. in the retail price. How ever, as I have said, the matter is finally one for the State Prices Ministers.
Senator Sheehan has suggested that the shortage of sugar is due to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited holdings huge stocks in anticipation of a price rise. I do not believe that for a moment. The increased payments to cane-growers will be made on all cane sold after the proclamation of this legislation. The precise date from which wholesalers and retailers will receive their margin, will be determined by the Prices Ministers, but I do not believe that large stocks of sugar are being held to fleece the public.
– Is it not a fact that the shortage of sugar in Tasmania and Victoria is due largely to the increased consumption of sugar in this country? Senator Courtice and other honorable senators who are conversant with the sugar industry know that the lack of refining capacity of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has been responsible for the bottleneck in connexion with the distribution of sugar from Sydney and Melbourne to Tasmania. I am not attacking the Government. I know that, in common with other organizations, that company has been unable to secure all of the machinery it requires in order to increase the capacity of its plant. However, there is an implied obligation on either the Australian Government or the Queensland Government to make provision for the refining of sufficient sugar to supply the people of Tasmania and Victoria.
Senator O’SULLIVAN (QueenslandMinister for Trade and Customs) 1 10.32]. - Senator Ashley’s contention is partly true. The two main reasons for the acute shortage in Victoria, are shortage of man-power and the frequent nonavail.ability of coal. In Queensland the main difficulty arises on the waterfront. New South Wales does not experience that difficulty to the same degree. The refineries in Victoria are not working at full capacity because they cannot get sufficient man-power and are unable to obtain a regular supply of suitable coal. Senator Sheehan should know the position firsti:ind. From time to time the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has applied for Commonwealth assistance to make coal available. The greatest diffi culties as far as Tasmania is concerned are its dependence on Victorian refineries and interruption of transport.
Senator MORROW (Tasmania) 1 10.34]. - I wish to stress the necessity for the establishment of depots both in Hobart and on the north-west coast of Tasmania. Shortages occur year after year in that State, particularly during the fruit season, when housewives require sugar for bottling the fruit. I can remember recurring shortages during the last sixteen years. Many complaints are made by housewives year after year. In my opinion clause 11 of the schedule is not Sufficiently definite. It provides -
That the Queensland Government, if and when requested by the Commonwealth Government, shall establish a sugar depot at Hobart provided that the Commonwealth Government shall not make such a request unless the request be accompanied by evidence proving that a general shortage of sugar has occurred in Hobart which is due to wholesale merchants in Hobart or. the Queensland Sugar Board failing to adhere to the present arrangements whereby special reserve stocks of sugar are supplied to and held by such merchants.
– I have listened very carefully to the able speeches that have been made about the importance of the sugar industry in Queensland, and I am convinced that it is a most efficient industry. Furthermore, I am sure that the glowing tributes that have been paid to that industry have been warranted. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) has accused Senator Sheehan of having thrown a brick into the rather tranquil pool. I do not believe that Senator Sheehan’s argument was fully understood by the Minister. Senator Sheehan pointed out that he had been given to understand that the storage space of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, in Melbourne, is full of reserve sugar. He asked the Minister whether that sugar would be distributed at the current price, or held and distributed after, the proposed rise, at the increased price. I remind the committee that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is one of the greatest financial organizations in this country. Its ten.tacles spread out into many channels. It exerts a very powerful influence in the financial world. The company makes a lot of money out of refining sugar and has large sums invested in this and other allied industries. Senator Sheehan was not attacking the sugar-growers; he was merely trying to elicit information as to what the Government intends to do about the surplus stocks that are in the storehouses of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited and in the warehouses of various distributors in Tasmania and other parts of Australia. Senator Sheehan pointed out, in effect, that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is riding on the backs of the Queensland sugar-growers and the consumers. That company is too powerful financially to escape criticism in a consideration of the measure before the committee. The Minister should assure honorable senators that the position is well in hand and that there will not be any exploitation of the consumers by this powerful organization, either directly or through its subsidiaries. The Opposition seeks an assurance that the rise of 1½d. per lb., which is intended to benefit the growers, will not become a gift to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited.
– This will be the third time that I have explained the position. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited does not at any time own the sugar, but gets paid about £1 a ton for the packing, transportation and distribution of it. The company cannot and will not participate in the proposed increase. My information is that no appreciable reserves are held. A similar position arose in 1949 when the Minister for Trade and Customs in the previous Labour Government,
Senator Courtice, introduced the Sugar Agreement Bill 1949, clause 2 of which was identical with clause 2 of the measure before the committee. It reads -
This Act shall come into operation on the day of which it receives the Royal Assent.
On that occasion I do not recall Labour supporters asking what would happen in relation to reserve stocks. I do not believe that the reserve stocks to-day are more extensive than those of 1949. There was then in existence a system of price fixation, which is still in operation under the control of the States. I am quite sure that no fantastic rake-off or illicit gain or huge dishonest profit will be made out of the proposed increase. I hope that I have made the position perfectly clear.
– Although the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) has cleared up the matter that was raised by Senator Sheehan, he has not shown that there exists any control in relation to the wholesalers. In the past, the position in Tasmania has been that when an increase of the price of sugar was pending, sugar wholesalers sold sugar by the ton to people who usually bought it a bag at a time from the retail stores. The sugar was carted to the country districts and held in rat-proof stores until the increased price was announced. It was then brought back and sold on the open market at the higher price. While sugar was so “ bottled up “ the consumers were unable to procure sufficient sugar to meet their requirements. I point out that from January this year until the recent general election there was a shortage of sugar in various parts of Tasmania. In fact there is still a shortage of this commodity, and housewives can obtain only about -J- lb. at a time from the grocers. Frequently no sugar is available. I have spoken to many people in Tasmania who have not been able to obtain sugar for weeks. Senator Morrow has already stressed the necessity for the establishment of storage depots in Hobart and on the north and north-west coasts of Tasmania. It is well known that if storage facilities are provided only in Hobart’ the growers will handle sugar merely to oblige their customers; it would not repay them the cost of handling. Who is obliged to pay the extra freight involved in its transport to the north-west coast? I suggest that the position in Tasmania will not be improved unless storage space for sugar can be made available in the north or northwest of the State. The manufacturers, who are also the wholesalers, make sure that they have plenty of sugar in stock in Hobart, but the housewives of Tasmania cannot procure any. That state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed (vide page 883).
. -This bill proposes certain amendments of the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-1950. It is designed to increase charges for services supplied to the public by the postal, telegraph and telephone divisions of the PostmasterGeneral’sDepartment. I think that it is a matter for general regret that increases of this kind must be imposed, but I propose to indicate that such a course of action is inevitable.
As the Minister for Repatriation ( Senator Cooper) indicated in his secondroading speech, the estimated loss incurred by the department for the financial year ended the 30th June last, was 45,000,000. If the present tariffs were continued, the deficit for the year 1951-52, after allowing for likely additional increases in the cost of labour, materials, freights and mail conveyance, could well be £12,000,000. Obviously, provision must be made against such a possibility. The postal tariff increases imposed by the Labour Government in 1949 raised the annual revenue of the department by £5,500,000. The legislation introduced in the Senate last November and debated by many honorable senators, was estimated to produce an additional £6,700,000 a year. Only eight months have elapsed since that legislation was introduced and the amount of additional revenue that has been collected should not exceed £4,000,000.
During the financial year ended the 30th June, 1951, the Postmaster-General’s Department was required to find £8,700,000 as the direct upshot of awards of industrial tribunals. It is as well for honorable senators to keep that fact firmly fixed in their minds. The individual amounts involved in the sum of £8,700,000 should be set out to explain the reason for postal tariffs being so heavily increased. The £1 a week increase of the basic wage was of course the greatest factor in increasing costs. It cost the Postal Department £2,300,000. Cost of living adjustments consequential on that award amounted to £1,650,000. Those adjustments were made on the 1st November, 1950, and the 1st February and the 1st May last. In addition, there were consequential marginal increases which were estimated to cost £1,200,000. Additional staff increments amounted to £1,750,000, and overtime and holidays for the staff cost an additional £800,000. Higher costs of materials amounted to £600,000, and additional mail services cost £400,000. Those individual sums total £8,700,000. When the deficit of £1,150,000 for the financial year ended the 30th June, 1950, is added, it will be seen that an additional £9,850,000 had to be raised in order to meet the requirements of the department for the last financial year. That is the background of the proposed increases.
In his letter of the 13th June last, which J understand has been circulated to honorable senators, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) set out comparative figures which are very interesting. I. know that most honorable senators are conversant with those figures, but I consider that the public also should have an understanding of the underlying reasons for the proposed heavy increases.I shall select a few items which I suggest typify general trends. In connexion with annual wage rate?, it is interesting to note that a postal lineman in 1941 received £290 a year, whereas to-day he is paid £602 a year, representing an increase of 104 per cent. Similar increases apply to postal officers, telegraphists and telephonists. In 1941 underground cable cost £273 a mile, whereas to-day it costs £730a mile for Australian cable or £969 for imported cable. Copper wire, which is used extensivelyby the Department, cost £130 a ton in 1949, and has soared to £278 for the Australian product or £348 imported. Cement which cost £4 5s. a ton ten years ago’ now costs £8 7s.10d. a ton Australian or £14 3s. a ton imported. Postmen’s uniforms which cost £4 5s. 3d. in 1941 now cost £9 2s., or an increase of 114 per cent. Staff increases also give an indication of the general trend. In 1041 there were 51,535 employees of the Postal Department, whereas this year there are 79,953, an increase of 28,418, or 55 per cent. Those increases are due in the main to expansion of Postal Department activities. The 40-hour week naturally has had a great bearing on those trends.
Mention of the 40-hour week brings into consideration the question of overtime. As the Minister mentioned during his second-reading speech, the introduction of the 40-hour week led to a direct increase of £1,000,000 in the wages bill of the Postal Department, because of increased overtime. The overtime bill, which amounted to £317,000 for the financial year ended the 30th June, 1947,. will exceed £2,000,000 this year. Because of the shortage of labour the department is obliged to ask its regular officers to work overtime. If the extent of that overtime could be reduced, it would not be necessary for such heavy increases in postal tariffs as are proposed by this legislation.
The 40-hour week also caused substantial increases in the cost of materials used by the Postmaster-General’s Department, and subsequently wage increases in outside industries have added to the cost of wages and materials. Pressure by the Communist party, supported by the Australian Labour party, was responsible for the introduction of the 40-hour week. It came into operation during the immediate post-war period when, because of six years dislocation of industry, we were short of most of our essential requirements. In my opinion, the reduction of working hours by 10 per cent. after six years of war was lunacy. All of our subsequent economic troubles commenced with its introduction. As production fell, the demand for commodities in short supply increased. Prices began to rise, and wage increases followed. The pursuit of prices by wages is capable of destroying our whole economy unless it is arrested at some point. We might well use the biblical injunction in that connexion and say,’” As ye sow, so shall ye reap “. The Australian Labour party sowed the seeds of the 40-hour week, and the whole nation now stands aghast at the harvest of economic turmoil which has been reaped. The dislocation of Postal Department finances represents but a fraction of the trouble that it has caused in Australian industry. When these proposed increases were first announced members of the Government parties felt that perhaps some war-time complexes such as, “ Hang the cost “, still lingered in the minds of some of the officers of the department and that as a result some laxity might have existed. A committee of Government members was appointed to consider the proposed increases in consultation with the Postmaster-General and his departmental chiefs. As a member of that committee I acknowledge the courtesy and frankness of the PostmasterGeneral, and the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr. Chippendall, and of those of his officers with whom we came in contact.
– 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.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The. following papers were pre sented : -
Nauru - Report to General Assembly of the United Nations on Administration of Nauru for year 1949-50.
New Guinea - Report to General Assembly of the United Nations on Administration of New Guinea for year 1940-50.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act - National Security (Industrial Property) Regulations - Order - Inventions and Designs’.
Lands Acquisition - Act - Land acquired for Postal purposes at Floreat Park. Western Australia.
Public Service Arbitration Act - Determina tion by theArbitrator, &c. - 1951 - No. 59 - Civil Aviation Employees’ Association of Australia..
Senate adjourned at11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 4 July 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1951/19510704_senate_20_213/>.