21st Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. A. M. Mcmullin) took the chair at ?< p.m., and read prayers.
Senator Critchley and Senator Paltridge having asked questions which they were requested to put on the noticepaper,
– I direct the attention of honorable senators to the desirability of giving notice of questions such as those which Senator Critchley and Senator Paltridge have just asked. It would help very considerably if such’ questions were put on notice. .
Senator Cooke having asked a question which he was requested to put on the notice-paper,
– Honorable senators are placing me in the position of having to rule out of order questions such as that asked by Senator Cooke. It is obviously unfair to ask a. Minister to reply to a lengthy question of that nature without giving him an opportunity to consider his reply. First, such a procedure is of no advantage from the point of view of the broadcasting of proceedings and, secondly, the matter has to be looked at from the point of view of the
Hansard report. I ask honorable senators, when they propose to ask lengthy questions, to consider whether or not those questions should bc placed on the notice-paper.
– Has the Minister acting for the Minister for Trade and Customs received a report which indicates that the incomes of Queensland tobacco-growers have been adversely affected by a reduction of 20 per cent, in the prices obtained at the sales of tobacco in Queensland this week? Will the Minister consider the serious losses that have been suffered by tobacco-growers and investigate the possibility, and also the advisability, of increasing the proportion of Australian-grown tobacco to imported tobacco for local use, in order that the returns to growers may be restored to the level they reached during May last?
– I have not seen a report of the tobacco sales held in Queensland this week, and I do not know what happened there. Within the past few days, I have had a long discussion with a deputation which included representatives of the tobacco-growers and some manufacturers. At that stage, the prices that had been received this year for tobacco leaf were very substantially above the level of the market last year. The members of the deputation included representatives of manufacturers who use a large proportion of Australian leaf, and the purpose of the deputation was to emphasize to me the difficulties of their position resulting from the fact that they had to pay high prices for Australian leaf and they could not economically buy it, manufacture it into tobacco products and sell their goods in competition with brands that contained mostly imported leaf. At that time it was an open question whether, when the balance of the crop was sold, the price would not even out, although still at a much higher level than the market last year. -The situation is in a state of flux. Different views are held by the growers, the manufacturers who are using a larger proportion of Australian leaf and those who use a greater proportion of imported leaf. I listened to the arguments for two hours and I am not prepared to express an opinion at this stage about the right course to take. The position will not be put into the proper perspective until the close of the selling season this year, in Victoria as well as in Queensland. I promised those concerned that I would keep closely in touch with developments, and would crystallize my ideas and consult with them again. I said that I would make recommendations to the Government if the course of events showed that such recommendations were required. The suggestions that were made to me were for a course of action entirely different from that advocated by the honorable senator.
– On two or three occasions this year - the last one only a fortnight ago- a serious defect has developed in airliners operated by Trans-Australia Airlines and travelling to Western Australia. The defect in each case resulted in a delay at Parafield aerodrome of four to four and a half hours. Such delays mean a serious loss of time to business people travelling to Western Australia, and are annoying to other passengers, especially those with young children. A delay is also caused at the Perth aerodrome to those who are travelling on the return trip to the eastern States. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation inform the Senate whether it would be possible for an emergency aircraft to be stationed at Parafield for use in circumstances such as those to which I have referred! Could it not be a matter of departmental arrangement that as many passengers as can be accommodated be transferred to the aircraft of Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, which leaves Parafield about the same hour?
– I appreciate the difficulties that have been experienced by honorable senators from Western Australia because of recent delays to aircraft. I shall bring the matter to the notice of the Minister for Civil Aviation and ascertain whether anything can be done along the lines that the honorable senator has suggested.
– I understand that the Minister for Shipping and Transport has an answer to a question which I asked recently. On that occasion I pointed out that Tasmania was increasingly dependent on air transport because of its isolation from the mainland, and I asked why the schedule of cheaper fares which had come into operation between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane did not apply to air travel to Tasmania.
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has informed me that this matter is entirely one for consideration by the airline companies concerned. The main function of the Department of Civil Aviation is to ensure that, whatever services are operated, the aircraft conform to the standards of safety and airworthiness of the Department of Civil Aviation. Reduced fares on the MelbourneSydneyBrisbane routes have been made possible by providing increased seating capacity and a somewhat reduced standard of catering. It is thought that this air coach, or second-class service, will prove popular on the selected routes because of the large amount of traffic available.
On the 29th September, Senator Tangney asked me the following question : -
Is the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation aware of the negotiations to have airliners of the British Overseas Airways Corporation on the London-Sydney run routed through Perth V In view of the rapid industrial development of Western Australia and the high standard of the airport at Perth, will the Minister have an investigation made of the practicability of the suggestion?
The Minister for Civil Aviation has supplied the following answer: -
The United Kingdom Government has made representations to the Australian Government to allow some of the British Overseas Airways Corporation’s services on the London-Sydney service to operate through Perth. Further information is at present being sought from the United Kingdom Government of the corporation’s proposals and upon receipt of this information the Minister will examine the proposal.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has furnished the following reply to the honorable senator’s questions : - 1 and 2. During the early part of this year, discussions were held between officials of thu Department of Civil Aviation and MacRobertson Miller Aviation Company Limited on the subject of the contractual arrangements between the Commonwealth and the company governing the operation of air services by the company in Western Australia and to Darwin. It was noted that the economy of MacRobertson Miller’s operations had improved considerably over the previous year, and that a reduction in subsidy was possible, lt was decided by the Minister that any reduction of the subsidy paid by the Commonwealth should be to thu benefit of the Commonwealth and not for the purpose of reducing fares and freight rate*. The company is still subsidized to the order of £:10,000 per annum.
– Will the Minister for Shipping and Transport, who is acting for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, inform the Senate whether any protests have been received by the Government in connexion with complaints that members of the crew of the Japanese ship Kenkoku Maru were recently observed by seamen and waterside workers in Townsville taking numerous photographs by day and by night of the wharfs, the harbour and the town, and immediately developing them in a well-equipped room in the ship? If the answer to that question is in the affirmative, will the Minister state what action is being taken by the Government to restrict such activities of crew members of Japanese vessels, which may endanger our national security?
– I should be pleased to bring the honorable senator’s questions to the notice of the responsible Minister and obtain a reply.
– My question is addressed to the Minister acting for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of the fact that the Commonwealth is providing a large sum of money to ensure that the Olympic Games will be held in Melbourne in 1956, and as, in the main, only the people of Victoria and a comparatively few interstate travellers will be able to see worldfamous athletes taking part in the games, will the Minister recommend to the Prime Minister that the Government make a grant of, say, £10,000, to be divided fairly between senior amateur athletic associations in other States, to enable them to arrange, either before or after the Olympic Games, major athletic meetings to which Australian athletes and visiting athletes could be invited, and thereby possibly provide an opportunity for many hundreds of thousands of Australians to see those athletes in action?
– I shall be pleased to refer the question to the Prime Minister and to get a reply for the honorable senator.
– In view of the fact that the oil and uranium industries are of tremendous importance to the economic future of this country, and as the only indications that the general public have of how these industries are progressing are reports of alarming fluctuations of the value on the stock exchange of shares in the companies that .have been given control of these two great national assets, will the Minister for National Development give further consideration to a question that I addressed to him some months ago, in which I asked for periodical reports to be made on the state of these industries and for a survey of their future prospects to be undertaken by a responsible representative of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, and so expose the questionable tactics of the bulls and bears of the stock exchange, which can only damage the confidence of the Australian people in important industries?
– The honorable senator asked me a similar question without notice some time ago and I answered it as best I could, although it was rather a difficult question to answer off the cuff. The department told me that the answer I gave was, in the circumstances, a good one. _ In a proposal such as this, we might run into more difficulties than we contemplated originally. These companies are not under Commonwealth control. They are working under licences issued by State governments. It is doubtful whether the Commonwealth has a legal capacity that would require it to make reports of this kind. In addition, it ismore than doubtful whether the preparation and circulation of such reports would achieve the results that the honorable senator desires. At the present time, a company that is doing surveying or prospecting work can submit samples to the Bureau of Mineral Resources. If it does so, the bureau will give a certificate, or whatever the correct term may ber indicating the worth of the samples. I think it is generally recognized that in dealings with many mining shares a national characteristic of indulging in a little gambling comes into operation. What the purchasers of the shares do is a matter for their own judgment. I express the personal view that, although the honorable senator may dislike fluctuations in the market value of shares of this kind, in the final analysis the great interest that has been shown in shares of oil companies has resulted in the provision of capital for oil exploration which it was not possible to attract in past years. It is of tremendous national importance that all possible sources of oil should be explored. I think that, in the case of these companies, many are called but few are chosen. A number of them will not be as successful as those concerned in their flotation may have expected.
– I noticed in to-day’s Canberra Times that on Friday, in Sydney, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture will farewell an Australian trade mission to South-East Asia. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether a request was made for a Minister, senator or member of the Commonwealth Parliament to lead or to be associated with this delegation. Is a Minister, senator or member accompanying the delegation? If not, does the Minister not consider that the inclusion of a senator or member of this Parliament in the delegation would have been a distinct advantage? Will the Minister consider including a senator or member of the
Parliament in future delegations which may go to South-East Asia or other places for trade or cultural purposes?
– The officer in charge of this trade mission, who is now in Canberra, has had very wide experience in South-East Asia. It was thought that a man who had had wide commercial experience in that area would be suitable to lead the delegation. I promise Senator Laught that I shall have his suggestion examined when future trade missions are arranged.
– Is the Minister for Shipping and Transport aware that the Waterside Workers Federation is gravely concerned about amendments which it expects will be made to the Stevedoring Industry Act, and which it contends will materially affect the rates of pay and conditions of work of its members? Has the Minister received any representations from the federation? Does he intend to consider such matters as the admission of members to the organization, attendance money, application of redundancy and use of outside labour? If the Minister has not already done so, will he make it possible for the federation to make representations to him?
– Matters affecting waterside workers are administered by the Minister for Labour and National Service, who is in charge of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. I have seen reports on this subject in the press hut, as they concern a matter of Government policy which is administered by another Minister, I shall direct the attention of that Minister to the points that have been raised by the honorable senator. I am not in a position to give a considered reply as to the policy of the Government on this matter.
– Several weeks ago, in answer to a question that I asked with relation to the shipping of steel plates to Devonport, the Minister for Shipping and Transport informed me that Wanaka was picking up the plates. Is he now able to say whether Wanaka has left Sydney on its scheduled voyage direct to Devonport? If it has not done so, what is the cause of the hold-up? Will the Minister endeavour to ensure the observance of a regular shipping schedule between Sydney and Devonport? I remind him that it is seven weeks since a ship reached Devonport after a direct passage from Sydney.
– I shall look into the matter and supply the honorable senator with an answer as soon as possible.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport which I think he will be able to answer, because he must be well aware of what is going on. Oan the Minister say how many ships are now on the slips being built for the Commonwealth shipping line ? Has the Department of Shipping and Transport made efforts recently to sell these ships that are owned by the people of Australia, and has it received offers from private enterprise for them ?
– There are 21 ships on order in Australian yards and they will cost the Commonwealth approximately £24,000,000. Sufficient orders have been placed with the yards to keep them busy for the next five years. The future of the ships is a matter of Government policy. When the Government has made up its mind, it will let Senator Brown know.
– On the 16th September, Senator Wedgwood asked me whether any cases of carcinoma of the lung had been accepted as due to war service, and if so, how many of the people concerned had served in World War I. She also inquired the date of acceptance of the latest case of carcinoma of the lung in a member who served in World War I.
I now inform the honorable senator that cases of carcinoma of the lung have been accepted as due to the member’s war service. It is not possible to say the number of cases accepted amongst personnel who served in World War I. To obtain that information would require extensive research and entail considerable expense. A case of carcinoma qf the lung in a member who served in World War I. was accepted on the 21st June, 1954.
On the 12th August, Senator Marriott asked me a question in regard to the provision of accommodation for widows at theRepatriation General Hospital in Hobart. I have investigated the matter fully and now supply the following answer : -
An amount of £50,000 was included in the “ Proposed 1954-55 New Works Programme” for the provision of additional accommodation at Repatriation General Hospital, Hobart. In view of the size of the project, and having regard to the amount of New Works which could be carried out under the supervision of the Works Department during 1954-55, it was decided that the project could not be commenced during 1054-55 and consequently, no amount was authorized in the Approved 1954-55 New Works Programme. The amount of £50,000 was a token figure in order to have some moneys available should approval be given to the project. However, it is considered that the actual cost will be much higher than that amount.
At the present time a review is being made of the statistics relating to the provision of hospital treatment for eligible patients in Tasmania, and in particular, in regard to the number of additional beds required to enable all eligible patients to be treated at the Repatriation General Hospital, Hobart.
Immediately a definite proposal as to the
number of additional beds considered necessary ; and
any other buildings essential as the result of the additional bed accommodation : is decided, the Works Department will be asked to give an estimate of the cost of the proposals. This will then be referred to the Departments of Treasury and Works for submission to the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Works for consideration and approval to commence designing during 1954-55 in preparation for early commencement of the building in 1955-50.
Although the average daily number of female members in hospital at departmental expense in Tasmania in recent years has only been two (2) it is anticipated that provision will be made for six beds for females. This number is the minimum considered economical in view of the need for segregation, provision of separate toilet facilities, and the staffing requirements. As a result, there should always be two or three beds available for the treatment of war widows. There is no authority for the provision of accommodation for the express purpose of treating war widows, as the eligibility for the admission of war widows is that such may be arranged only provided there are empty beds at repatriation general hospitals which are not required for the treatment of female members.
asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– I have obtained the following information in reply to the honorable senator : -
Proviso (c) to sub-section (1.) of section 101 of the Repatriation Act 1920-1954 reads : - if the member or any of his dependants is entitled under -
Section 103 of the Repatriation Act 1920- 1954 reads: -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the Commonwealth shall not be liable to pay to any person pensions at . rates which in the aggregate exceed the rate at which pension would have been payable to that person if the incapacity or death or both in respect of which the pensions are payable were attributable to service in one war only.
I have considered the matter and am satisfied that proviso (c) of sub-section (1.) of section 101 should not be repealed. If the proviso was repealed a person who served in the Australian Forces during the 1914 and 1939 wars, and suffered incapacity as a result of each war, would be placed at a disadvantage when compared with a person who served during one war in the Australian Forces and with other Dominion Forces during the other war.
– The PostmasterGeneral’s Department proposed to arrange a television demonstration at the Royal Hobart Show during the week after next, but I understand that, owing to technical difficulties, it will not now be able to do so. In these circumstances, will the Minister representing the Minister who is acting for the PostmasterGeneral endeavour to arrange for a demonstration to be given at the Royal Hobart Regatta early next year? I point out that the regatta is probably the largest public event held in Tasmania. It will have special significance next year, as it has been announced that His Excellency the Governor-General and Lady Slim will attend.
– I shall be very pleased to direct the attention of the Minister who is acting for the PostmasterGeneral to the honorable senator’s question, and I shall endeavour to obtain a considered reply for him as early as possible.
– I ask the Minister acting for the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether it is a fact that the United Kingdom duty on Australian wine is 40s. a gallon? Is it a fact that, prior to World War II., Australia exported approximately 4,000,000 gallons of wine to the United Kingdom each year, whereas only about 1,000,000 gallons are now being exported each year? If this serious drop in our export of wine has occurred, will the Minister tell the Senate what he has done to regain the British market? Will he also say whether any negotiations have taken place with the United Kingdom Government for a reduction of the duty on Australian wine? If such negotiations have taken place, what results have been achieved?
– The figures cited by the honorable senator are substantially correct. I think the rates of duty vary according to the different types of wine, but it is generally regarded by the wine industry in this country that the duties imposed by the United Kingdom Government are excessive. I can assure honorable senators that I appreciate the importance of the industry, and that the strongest possible representations have been made at the highest level for a reduction of the duty. Representations are again being made now, and will continue to be made in an endeavour to obtain some redress.
– Has the Government given any consideration recently to the standardization of railway gauges throughout the Commonwealth, which was recommended by Lord Kitchener in 1912 and was found to be needed so urgently during the war years for defence purposes ?
– The standardization of our railway gauges has been engaging the attention of the Department of Shipping and Transport and of the Government for some time. Certain work is going on at present, although admittedly it is only a fraction of what has to be done. However, our chief problem to-day is to get sufficient men and materials to carry out the projects already in hand.
– Can the Minister for Shipping and Transport say whether negotiations have been conducted recently between the Government and the Silverton Tramway Company, which operates that portion of the railway line between Broken Hill and Cockburn, which, of course, would be a necessary preliminary to standardizing the line between Port Pirie and Broken Hill? If such negotiations have been conducted, can the Minister inform the Senate of their nature?
– Preliminary discussions took place on a departmental level some time ago, but as far as Government policy is concerned, no decision has been made about standardizing the track from Port Pirie to Broken Hill, which would involve acquiring that portion of the line in New South Wales owned by the Silverton Tramway Company. As I stated earlier, we are finding it difficult to obtain sufficient material and men to do the standardization work we have in hand already. Therefore, I do nol; think that this matter will be considered in the near future.
– During the debate on the Estimates, I asked a question about the division of the Hansard reports for the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Minister for Shipping and Transport, in his most courteous way, tried to answer the question, but he did not give me much information. I ask you, Mr. President, whether this gross misuse of public moneys-
– I rise to order. The Standing Orders provide that, in asking a question, an honorable senator may not make imputations, use ironical expressions, or introduce hypothetical matter. I submit that Senator Brown has done all three of those.
– I ask Senator Brown to state his question.
– I think it is only right that I should have an opportunity to express myself in my own way. I should like to know whether you, Mr. President, were consulted about the splitting of the Hansard reports ? Was it necessary’ to consult you about this matter ? Who initiated the move and for what reason? What advantage has accrued to either the Senate or the House of Representatives from the separate publication of the reports, and why should public money be wasted in this way?
– The House of Representatives has full authority over its own Hansard. The publication of Hansard was divided at the request of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I point out to honorable senators that, shortly, they will be faced with the prospect of a daily Hansard for the Senate as well as for the House of Representatives. The first step that was taken in breaking Hansard into two parts has now led to what, I think, will be a very good thing for the Senate. In my opinion, it will be of benefit to honorable senators to have a daily report of the proceedings of the Senate. That will be a matter on which honorable senators will be informed within the next few days.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Air, upon notice -
– I have received the following replies to the honorable senator’s questions: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following replies to the honorable senator’s questions: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Interior has furnished, the following reply to the honorable senator’s questions : -
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
What types of cereal or other craps are considered best suited in the establishment of agriculture in the Ord River Valley, Western Australia, having regard to the various economic, social and technical factors involved?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
The suitability of crops for the establishment of agriculture in the Ord River Valley is under investigation at a research station located in the area. This research station, which is financed jointly by the Commonwealth and Western Australian governments, has concentrated on securing technical data on the performance of crops and pastures under irrigation in the Ord River Valley. Until this technical information is available it has not been possible to assess the economic and social factors involved in the establishment of Agriculture in the area.
The main technical information which the experiments have yielded up to date may be summarized as follows: -
Sugar cane has proved the outstanding crop so far investigated. Varieties selected by the Queensland Government as suitable for irrigated agriculture have been tried, and several of these have proved well adapted to the locality. The better varieties yield between 45 and 50 tons of cane for a twelve months’ plant crop and over 30 tons for a first ratoon crop. For canes harvested towards the end of the dry season, the sugar content is such that 61/2 to 8 tons of cane are required for each ton of sugar. Cane harvested in May-June reaches 8 to 9 tons cane per ton sugar. There have been no serious outbreaks of pest or diseases, and no serious obstacles have been met with in the cultivation of the crop. On all the agricultural evidence to date, there is now no hesitation in confidently recommending sugar as a crop for this locality.
Rice also shows great promise in the locality. Efforts so far have been expended in testing a very wide range of varieties and selections have been made for high yielding varieties of the main types of rice. These are now being tested on a larger scale. In the forthcoming season it is planned to plant approximately 20 acres of rice. Yields of the better varieties, on small-scale plots, have ranged between 11/2 and 2 tons per acre. It is believed that with bigger plots (where bird damage is less concentrated) and better fertilizer practices, yields of the order given above should be obtained without difficulty. Although high, continuous yields of rice from year to year over larger plots have not yet been produced, there is considerable confidence on the part of the staff of the research station that rice is a crop well suited to the locality.
Sorghum has yielded very well, and yields of over 2 tons per acre have been obtained from dry season crops, but this crop appears peculiarly liable to bird damage.
Wheat has also been grown as a dry season crop under irrigation in recent years. Last year an area of 21/4 acres yielded 34 bushels per acre.
Other crops tried have included cotton, peanuts, sunflower, safflower and tobacco. Of these safflower - an oilseed crop - has given promising results.
Much work has been done on irrigated pastures. These suffer from the difficulty that the pastures on the clay soils are often too wet for use in the rainy season, and the grass grows rank, whilst no suitable grass has as yet been discovered for good dry season growth.
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
In connexion with an item, viz., “ Construction of long-shore wharf at Albany (Western Australia) £1,900,000”, which appears in the list of developmental projects issued by the National Development Department: -
What amount of work, and how many wharfs, does this expenditure envisage ?
Does this amount of £1,900,000 represent the total expenditure planned for the work, or does the State Government have to find additional money and, if so, how much?
Are any conditions attached to the supply of Commonwealth moneys that would preclude the construction of more than one berth as at present planned by the State Government?
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
The construction of a long-shore wharf at Albany, Western Australia, is a development project entirely under the control of the State Government, which is providing the funds from its own sources. My department does not hold detailed information about the project. However, from information supplied to it by the Public Works Department of Western Australia, the project appears to involve dredging, reclamation of 74 acres of land, and the construction of a wharf comprising two berths to handle increased freight, including bulk wheat shipments.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
Commonwealth Grants Commission - Twenty-first Report (1954).
The recommendations contained in the report will be adopted by the Government and the enabling legislation will be introduced in the House of Representatives to-day.
The following bills were returned from the House of Representatives, without amendment : -
Repatriation Bill 1954.
Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill 1954.
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Audit Bill 1954.
Social Services Bill 1954.
Repatriation Bill 1954.
Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill 1954.
Message received from the House of Representatives intimating that it had agreed to the appointment of a joint committee on foreign affairs, and requesting the concurrence of the Senate therein, and the appointment of seven members of the Senate to the committee.
Department of External Affairs.
Proposed vote, £1,714,000.
– I notice that no provision has been made in the current estimates for the Department of External Affairs for Australian representation in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I presume that that is because diplomatic relationships with that country have been discontinued ?
– However, I thought that, in those circumstances, the United Kingdom Embassy would do work in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for this country, and I should like to know whether a charge has been made for such work. An item of £200 for expenditure in Shanghai appeared on last year’s estimates for the Department of External Affairs, and I should also like to know how that money was expended.
– On a previous occasion, Senator Armstrong asked a question in relation to the provision that had been made for the training of diplomatic cadets. I have now been informed that a university degree was formerly not essential for diplomatic cadets and that a large number of cadets was chosen. Many of them were ex-servicemen who had been away from their academic work for some years. It was considered necessary, under those circumstances, that the cadets’ training should include a period of intensive university training in fields which would be of particular use. The intake of cadets has now been reduced, and it is expected that all the successful applicants will have high academic qualifications. A system of in-service training has, therefore, been substituted for university work, supplemented, where necessary, by additional study in particular subjects such as languages in order to broaden the cadet’s knowledge. Some university college fees are paid, but they are included under Item 6 of Division 17b.
The United Kingdom Embassy in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics now acts for the Australian Government but whatever it does for us does not involve any charge so there is no need for any provision to be made on the Estimates in that regard.
The Shanghai item to which Senator Armstrong referred related to certain storage charges on cars and furniture which have since been sold. Therefore, that expenditure has not been incurred again this year.
– I invite the attention of the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) to Division 23 which concerns the Australian Embassy in the Republic of Ireland. I understand that the Australian representative in the Republic of Ireland is living in a residence in a part of Dublin which is quite out of keeping with the importance of this country and of the country in which he is serving us. His residence has been described to me as the kind of house that may be found in a housing commission area in Australia. It is of small dimensions, quite out of keeping with the prestige of the position, and it does not provide adequate conveniences and facilities for our esteemed representative. I urge the Minister to look into this matter as soon as possible, with a view to effecting an improvement.
I am very concerned whether the Department of External Affairs has paid attention to several matters that were mentioned in the Sixth Report of the Public Accounts Committee. Paragraph 73, which contains the committee’s conclusions, reads -
Having completed its examination of the accounts of the Department of External Affairs, the Committee makes the following comments : -
I should like the Minister to inform me whether a review of the functions of the Department of External Affairs has been undertaken, and if it has, with what result.
I come now to sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 73 which reads -
Review of overseas staff -
Apparently, the Public Accounts Committee heard evidence from the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, because paragraph 12 of the report states -
The Secretary thought that there should be an annual or even a six-monthly review of the posts; he, however, had no staff to make the inspections which might be a function of the Public Service Board.
I should like the Minister to inform me whether annual or six-monthly reviews of our overseas posts have been carried out, because I have been told by persons who have returned from abroad recently that some of our representatives overseas are becoming out of touch with Australian affairs, particularly the big development that is occurring in this country. It may well be that our representatives overseas are inclined to let their minds cogitate on the affairs of the country in which they are living, including its pastimes and sports. From what I have heard from reliable sources, regular inspections would provide opportunities to bring our representatives up to date in relation to Australian affairs.
I come now to a matter of very great importance, which has been referred to in the report of the Public Accounts Committee. The report indicates that the erection of elaborate offices and residences for the Australian High Commission and staff in New Delhi, to cost about £400,000, is contemplated. The Public Accounts Committee expressed the opinion that the charter of the Public Works Committee should be enlarged in order to enable that committee to investigate this proposed large project. The sixth report of the Public Accounts Committee was published about a year ago. I should like the Minister to inform me whether the Government intends to arrange for a check-over of the proposed expenditure on buildings in New Delhi. As the matters that I have mentioned appear to be the main issues that were raised by the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the Department of External Affairs, I should be grateful if the Minister would furnish me with the information I have sought.
.- I should like the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs to say whether he and the department are completely satisfied with the representation that is being provided for Australia in Moscow by the British Embassy, which is now acting for us there. It will he remembered that, some time ago, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics rup tured diplomatic relations with Australia. If we are being properly represented in Moscow by the British Embassy - as I am sure we are - it would appear from the figures before us that, as a result of Soviet Russia breaking diplomatic relations with us, we have been saved an expenditure of £76,000 each year. If, as it appears, that is the position, it seems that we have made a net gain of £76,000 a year, because there are no losses which should be offset against that amount. I should like the Minister to state his views, and those of the department, on this aspect of the matter. If, at some future time, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics considers that it would be advantageous from Russia’s point of view to re-open the Russian Embassy in Australia, which was closed in a moment of pique, certain factors should be considered. I think we should say to Russia, in effect, “ If you wish to re-open your embassy in Australia, it should be staffed by no more personnel than you allow us to send to our embassy in Moscow “ - assuming that there would be a reciprocal reopening of embassies. It should also he made quite clear that we would impose on Russian diplomats appointed to the Russian Embassy in Australia, restrictions similar to those imposed on our diplomats in Russia. Various circumstances that have been in the public gaze for some time lend point to that suggestion.
The establishment of a ring of diplomatic posts in countries to the north of Australia, including Indonesia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Pakistan, has provided us with a network of listening posts of considerable value to this country. Finally, I should like to know whether the Minister can add anything to the information already in the possession of the Senate in relation to the establishment of the Australian Embassy in Ireland, particularly as to whether it has been possible to proceed with the negotiations. As the Senate was told earlier to-day, and as we have read frequently in the press, Indonesia is running into economic difficulties. If that is so, I should like to know whether the Department of External Affairs, through its post in Indonesia, has any information to indicate why the Government of that country refuses to allow tourists from Australia and other places to enter Indonesia with foreign currency which they would be glad to spend there, and which would help to solve the economic problems of which we hear.
– When last year’s Estimates were before us, 1 queried the provision of a substantially increased sum of money for the Australian Embassy in Japan. I find now that, in spite of the assurances given on that occasion by the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) that the extra money was necessary, actual expenditure during the year was considerably below the sum voted. For instance, expenditure on postage, telegrams, telephone services and cablegrams was nearly £2,000 less than the estimate. Similarly, expenditure on the maintenance of the office and the Ambassador’s residence fell far short of the vote. The sum voted was £S,100, but only £4,996 was actually expended. For incidental and other expenditure, the sum of £8,000 was provided in last year’s Estimates, but of that sum only £3,352 was actually expended. There is also :t substantial disparity between the vote and the actual expenditure under the heading “ Increase in Imprest Advance “.
– Expenditure last, year fell to its lowest figure.
– Yes, but when I queried the increase of the vote last year I was assured that extra money would be required for all sorts of nebulous purposes, some of which were far from clear to me. I find now that my query on that occasion was amply justified. Possibly there may be some simple explanation of the matter. If so, I should like to know what it is.
.- Australia has no direct representation in China and apparently any business that we have with that country is transacted through the British Foreign Office. If we turn to page 85 of the AuditorGeneral’s report for the year ended the 30th June, 1954, we find, under the heading of the Department of External Affairs, the following information : - £3,881 18s. Id. - Payments to distressed Australians in China by the British Foreign Office. Vouchers were lost.
I have no doubt that circumstances can arise in which vouchers can be lost, but surely when this happens in the carrying out of ordinary business such as the making of payments to persons in distress, there is carelessness on the part of somebody in the British Foreign Office. The Auditor-General’s report does not say whether the vouchers were lost in China or in transit between Australia and China. I do not think that the Parliament should be asked to accept the bald statement that vouchers were lost; some further explanation of the matter should be given. I should like to know whether further inquiries were made by the Department of External Affairs about the vouchers. The sum involved is not large, I know, but at least it is enough to provide a house for a homeless Australian family. I should like some definite information from the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer). I should like to know whether the loss of the vouchers was investigated fully.
.- When the Estimates for 1953-54 were before us, I drew attention to the growing importance of Spain and to the fact that Australia, having no representation in that country, relied upon the United Kingdom to transact, our business there. If a person in this country wants to make some inquiries about business in Spain, he has to go to the British authorities, and the British authorities in Spain handle any inquiries made in that country about Australia. But there is only one satisfactory way to transact business with another country, and that is to have our own representative in that country. Why we are not represented in Spain I do not know, because almost every other country of the British Commonwealth has representation there. Last year, I urged the Government to consider the establishment of Australian representation in Spain, even if it were only nominal representation, so that Australia would be recognized. Surely it would be relatively simple to have our ambassador in Paris look after affairs in Spain as well. He could be given plenipotentiary powers so that although he was ambassador to France, he would also have authority to act in Spain. If that arrangement were not considered suitable, perhaps the job could be done by our Minister in Italy.
At present, trade between Australia and Spain is very small, but about eighteen months or two years ago, there was an opportunity to sell Australian wheat to Spain. At that time, the disposal of our wheat surplus was becoming a problem. The head of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture was travelling overseas at the time, and I asked him whether he would endeavour to ‘line up markets for Australian wheat in Spain. Unfortunately, because of the difficulty of air connexion between London and Spain he was not able to go there. But I think the matter is one that the Government could well examine. No matter how highly we may regard representation through the United Kingdom Government, on trade matters that is not good representation for Australia. The only good representation for Australia is direct representation by Australian trained diplomats and trade promotion officials. In Spain to-day the United Kingdom Government has an ambassador, the Canadian Government has an ambassador, Pakistan has a minister, Ceylon has an ambassador, and South Africa has a minister. No fewer than 54 countries have diplomatic representation in Spain. Obviously, those countries regard representation in Spain as being of great importance.
Before World War II. there was traditional trade between Australia and Spain, but now it has almost disappeared. However, the opportunity will occur again because the United States of America, under its recent pact with Spain, is to expend 226,000,000 dollars immediately on the construction of bases in that country. Spain has been drawn into the orbit of European defence by this pact, and consequently there will be a rise of living standards. Obviously more trade will develop, and Australian representation in Spain may lead to greater trade with this country. There are cities in Spain which are very largely concerned in the production of woollen goods. We all know, of course, that many small provincial towns in France are devoted almost entirely to wool spinning and weaving. A similar position exists in Spain, although to a smaller degree. Quite a substantial quantity of wool is used in Spain. Undoubtedly Spain is a country that could buy our wool, wheat, rabbit skins and agricultural machinery. Although I referred this matter to the Minister about twelve months ago, nothing has happened. At that time he seemed to think that the establishment of such a post would be too expensive and that its importance would not justify such expense. The Spaniards have occupied an important place in history and appear to be ready to do so again. It is rather strange that people who speak of Franco in friendly terms these days are often regarded as fascists, although it is quite all right, apparently, to have dealings with Tito. During the last few weeks, I have noticed that Yugoslavia has entered into trade agreements with some of the iron curtain countries, but I think that Tito has too much intelligence to move back behind the iron curtain again. If a flare-up in Europe should occur, I think we know where Spain would stand, but we cannot be so certain about Yugoslavia.
– We have no embassy in Yugoslavia.
– I know that. I have referred to Yugoslavia merely to point out the desirability of having representation in Spain, but if it comes to that, I think we should have representation in Yugoslavia as well. It might be possible, perhaps, to place our representation in Spain under the aegis of our Minister in Paris or our Minister in Rome. If we had one or two trade men in Spain, in addition to that, [ think our representation there would be satisfactory, and that all Australians who wanted to develop trade with Spain would be able to do so.
Senator Gorton referred to the value to Australia of a ring of listening posts in the Pacific, extending from the. Philippines to Hong Kong, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, and so on. However, the honorable senator left out the most important place for a listening post in the Pacific area. I refer to Formosa. Although the British have recognized the Government of red China, they consider Formosa of such importance that they have representation there. Naturally, they cannot Lave diplomatic representation, but they sent a trade man to Taipeh, the capital of Formosa. Although that man has no diplomatic status, obviously he represents Great Britain in Formosa. He is there to find out what is going on and to report to the British Government. This is another instance where, in my opinion, it is not necessary for us to set up a separate organization. Our representation in Formosa could be placed under the control of Dr. Walker, our ambassador in .Japan, or Admiral Moore, our minister in the Philippines, and whoever was appointed could perhaps undertake periodical visits to Formosa. In that way, Australia could be well-informed of events in that part of the world, which is becoming of increasing importance to us.
The suggestions which I have mads should not cost very much to put into effect, and I think that the Department of External Affairs should give them full consideration. I should like the department to consider particularly the question of Australian representation in Spain, because Spain is, perhaps, the only important European country in which we are not represented. Almost every other Commonwealth country has representation there, and I think that Australia would be well advised to follow suit.
– I wish to refer to a matter of administration concerning the Department of External Affairs. As honorable senators are aware, from time to time officers of the department are appointed to overseas posts. Naturally, a great many arrangements have to be made before they go. I understand that, some months ago, it was found on two occasions that, when the officers and their families who had been selected to go overseas were medically examined, there was something wrong and they were not permitted to go, although several hundred pounds had been expended in connexion with the movement of furniture and effects, and other matters. I suggest that, in future, such medical examinations should be made before arrangements are completed, with a view to saving selected officers a lot of trouble and expense. Although this may seem a relatively minor matter, it is of importance to the, officers who are appointed to overseas posts.
– I should like the Minister to inform me why it is that the cost of maintaining High Commissioners in Canada, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and other Commonwealth countries is debited to the Department of External Affairs, although the cost of the High Commissioner’s office in the United Kingdom is debited to the Prime Minister’s Department. As far as I can see, the only reference to representation in London is that referred to in division 41, which is an amount of £14,400 for salaries and allowances of five officers of the External Affairs Department.
.- I should like the Ministor to give me some information about certain rather startling comments concerning the Department of External Affairs which appear in the latest annual report of the Auditor-General. For instance, the following passage appears at the top of page 24: -
The department has been informed of the following unsatisfactory matter observed in the audit of its accounts: -
Failure to follow proper procedures for obtaining supplies and services and in letting contracts, thereby incurring expenditure without approval and without safeguarding the interests of the Commonwealth;
Perhaps the Minister would be good enough to inform me who was responsible for that failure. The following comment also appears at page 24, in connexion with Australia’s contribution to the United Nations organization : -
Australia, as a. member of the United Nations organization. is entitled to a credit of 626,774 United States dollars arising from the transfer of the assets of the League of Nations. The General Assembly has apportioned over a period of seventeen years the credit to be applied against Australia’s annual contribution to the organization. The net contribution only is debited to Division 190, Department of External Affairs, Item 7 - United Nations - Contributions. The credit, however, arises from expenditure which was debited to a vote of the Prime Minister’s Department entitled. “Contribution to cost nf Secretariat - League of Nations “. This has the effect of understating by 31,050 United
Suites dollars - per annum the expenditure cost of Australia in support of the United Nations and the question arises whether it is correct to set-off, ‘Without Parliamentary authority, against expenditure from one vote i credit arising from expenditure on an entirely different vote. The fact that the Commonwealth receives a claim for only a net amount does not appear to be adequate reason for vitiating the important principle involved.
As a layman, with ordinary intelligence, 1 find it hard to follow those comments without a fuller explanation of the anomalies referred to. The report of the Auditor-General continues -
The Department of the Treasury is of tha opinion that, as the credit does not take the form of a cash receipt, there is no receipt into Consolidated Revenue and that the authority for the set-off is adequately covered bv the Charter of the United. Nations Act li»45.
The Auditor-General goes on to say that the matter was referred to the secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, who had expressed a certain opinion on it. The report continues -
Notwithstanding that this is correct as a matter of law, the important factor still remains that 520,774 dollars provided from one appropriation over the years when the League ni Rations Secretariat was in existence is being used for the purposes of another appropriation, concerning the United Nations contribution, without any advice to thu Parliament, thus vitiating an important principle of parliamentary control over expenditure. A somewhat similar position exists in relation to a credit of 17.S08 United States dollars which Australia is entitled to receive annually from 1051 to 1055 from the International Labour Organization.
Without a great deal of research, it is impossible for me to follow the full import of the Auditor-General’s comments. I bring the matter forward so that it may be ironed out, and to obviate the necessity for future comments of this kind by the Auditor-General.
– I do not wish to criticize the proposed expenditure of the Department of External Affairs, but I consider that Australia, would benefit from a greater measure of direct representation in countries overseas than we have at present. I think that all honorable senators appreciate the importance to Australia of Singapore and Malaya generally. It is vital for us to obtain direct information from those places. I support the remarks of both Senator Gorton and Senator Armstrong in relation to this matter. It seems to me that we should have direct diplomatic representation in any country in which such representation would be of advantage to’ Australia. I have just returned from a visit to Africa, and I can assure honorable senators that the people of Africa are hungry for information about Australia. As far as I was able to see, in most of the places I visited, there was nobody who could give them such information. In Rhodesia, I saw a shop window full of Australian canned fish. I mention that to show that it is possible for Australia to develop trade with Africa. On the ship on which I returned, there were six African farmers who had deserted the African scene to go to Australia and New Zealand and start afresh on the land. They sought us out aboard the ship for information. I realize the value of direct representation in Ceylon and the fine work that is being done there by Mr. Cutler. We spent a week in Ceylon and had an opportunity to observe the situation personally. Mr. Cutler is” an excellent source of information on matters concerning Australia, apart from trade, which is his primary consideration. I have nothing but praise for the work that he is doing there. If we had representatives of similar calibre in other places, Australia would derive benefits of a value far exceeding the cost of that representation. Probably one representative could do the work adequately in .the eastern part of Africa. I agree with Senator Armstrong that Australia should have a representative in Spain and similar places. Such a representative would be able to give us information upon the happenings there, as well as disseminating information about Australia. We cannot get information without a. direct representative, and I hope that the Government will consider my suggestions.
– I propose to reply to honorable senators in the order in which various matters have been raised. I believe that I have already replied to Senator Armstrong’s questions about Australian representation in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Senator
Laught asked about the residence of the Australian representative in Dublin. Australia has no ambassador in Dublin at present. Negotiations took place concerning this matter some time ago, but did not result in the appointment of an ambassador. The officer in charge of the embassy in Dublin lives in an area within a few hundred yards of a number of other diplomatic representatives. If an ambassador were appointed to the post in Dublin, steps would be taken to ensure that he would be housed in a place suitable for an ambassa’dor.
Senator Laught also sought some information in connexion with a. review of the functions- of the Department of External Affairs. That matter was raised in the report of the Public Accounts Committee. I am informed that action is now being taken to publish a general revision of the functions of the Department of External Affairs and other departments as well. Obviously, the functions of one department cannot be altered without involving other departments that may take over some of its functions. Senator Laught also drew attention to the fact that a review of overseas staffs and posts was desirable. That kind of inspection and review is undertaken as often as possible. For example, nine posts have been inspected in recent months, and further inspections are being arranged. In addition to inspections, I know from conversations that I have had with the Minister for External Affairs (the Right Honorable R. G. Casey) that his own idea is that an officer should not remain in one post too long. If he does, there is a danger of the officer getting out of touch with the atmosphere and the attitude of Australia, and perhaps becoming too susceptible to the atmosphere of the country in which he is stationed. Honorable senators can be sure that the Minister is fully conscious of that possibility, and is anxious to move officers around within a reasonable space of time so that the difficulties that I have mentioned shall not arise. Senator Laught also referred to the Australian buildings at New Delhi. That project is now under revision, and the Minister for External Affairs is considering the desirability of referring it to the Public Works Committee.
Senator Gorton raised some questions about the possible future representation of Australia in Moscow. No more dangerous question could be answered in connexion with the Department of External Affairs than one that is entirely hypothetical. Frankly, I am not prepared to suggest what might be done* by the Australian Government in unknown circumstances if the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics made an approach at some unknown time for the reestablishment of relations that have been broken off. I do not believe that any good purpose would be served by discussing that matter at this stage. I can say, however, that the fact that Great Britain’s representation of Australia in Moscow is satisfactory, does not necessarily mean that we may properly conclude that that, in itself, provides a reason why direct representation should not be re-established in Russia. Such reasoning is not necessarily sound. Although the United Kingdom is effectively representing Australia in Moscow, there are places where it might be said that there could be no satisfactory substitute for direct representation, no matter how satisfactory the agent might be. I. am not saying that in connexion with Australian representation in Russia at present.
I am not able to give Senator Gorton the exact date upon which the diplomatic posts to the north of Australia in Asia were opened. It has been a continuous process since about 1945. The most recent appointments in that area were those to Saigon and Rangoon where embassies were opened in 1952.
Senator Cooke made some reference to the disparity that existed between the estimate for certain items in connexion with the embassy in Japan last year and the actual expenditure. The figures that are before the committee clearly reveal some discrepancy. The explanation is that expenditure was not as high as the original estimate. I am informed that there is no simple explanation. In some cases, economies were made in various items as the year passed, and, as a result, it was not necessary to indulge in the full amount of expenditure that was anticipated. However, as I pointed out to Senator Cooke by way of interjection, this year the estimated figure is nearer to the lower amount of actual expenditure than to the estimated expenditure last year.
Senator Benn referred to an item in the Auditor-General’s report in connexion with the loss of certain vouchers for expenditure incurred in China. I am informed that the United Kingdom Government was unable to produce the vouchers. No doubt that was because of the somewhat troubled state of China. The explanation is that the vouchers never passed into the possession of the Australian Government.
Senator Armstrong referred to the desirability of having representation in Spain. The problem always arises of weighing the advantages to be obtained from representation in a particular country against the costs that are involved, and some judgment must be exercised. The matter is under review from time to time, and I shall refer the comments that have been made by Senator Armstrong to the Minister for External Affairs when he returns to Australia.
– “Will some attention be given also to representation at Formosa ?
– The honorable senator’s statements on both matters , will be brought to the- attention of the Minister. Senator Brown referred to the undesirability of moving officers’ furniture before they had passed a medical examination to determine whether they were fit to take up an overseas post. Medical examinations are compulsory for all officers who have appointments overseas, and they are provided free for the wives and children of officers as well. Officers’ furniture is not moved first. The honorable senator might have been referring to an officer whose luggage had been sent away.
– I forgot to state that, according to information I have reecived, an officer sold his home, and when he could not go abroad he was left without a house.
– That is another matter altogether. I understood the honorable senator to state that an officer’s furniture had been sent overseas.
– The main point is that there had not been a medical examination before final arrangements were made.
– I appreciate that, and that is the course that is normally followed. I know of no case in which an officer’s furniture was sent away, and he was shown subsequently, upon medical examination, to be unfit so that unnecessary expense was incurred in shifting the furniture. I understand that that has not occurred. There may have been a case of an officer’s luggage being sent on ahead of him and a subsequent medical examination indicating that he was not medically fit for the post.
– “Will the Minister inquire whether any officer, having sold his home here, was found subsequently to be medically unfit?
– I shall make inquiries about that. Senator Critchley raised a query on the Auditor-General’s report. I think the answers to the questions asked by the honorable senator are to be found in the report itself. Certain unsatisfactory matters are referred to in paragraph 33, but it appears from the report that the department has that steps are being taken to rectify those matters. Attention having been called to them, they will be put on a proper basis.
In paragraph 35 of the report, the Auditor-General refers to certain funds that become available to us from the transfer of assets of the League of Nations and are set off against our contributions to the United Nations. In relation to the procedure adopted, the Auditor-General takes a view which appears to be contrary to the view taken by the Treasury and the secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department. The point, as I understand it, is that we make a contribution to the United Nations each year.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– I suggest that the Government invite the heads of States to the north of Australia to make official visits to this country. Dr. Soekarno., of Indonesia, is a man who is grappling with the tremendous problems that confront a young nation. On certain matters, there has been a conflict of opinion between his country and ours. That conflict, which is unavoidable from our point of view, makes it all the more important that we should have the closest personal contact with him. I think it would be a very good idea to invite him to visit Australia as the guest of the Government, so that members of the Parliament will be able to meet him and so that he will be able to meet Australians and see this country.
Another man who could well be invited to visit Australia is Mr. Ramon Magsaysay, the President of the Philippines. He is a man with a most interesting background. He is still very young, but he is recognized as an outstanding man in public affairs in the Philippines. He, too, has a tremendously difficult job. The Philippines was almost ruined by the war. I suppose Manila wits one of the cities most heavily damaged during World War II. At one time, inflation reached a higher level in the Philippines than anywhere else, although things may have settled down by now. I think it would be a gesture of friendship to invite Mr. Magsaysay to Australia on an official visit.
. - I agree that the’ Department of External Affairs is a very important department. I endorse the view that we should have the best possible representatives in other countries, so that Australia’s potentialities can be brought to the notice of business people in those countries. Officers of the Department of External Affairs stationed in various countries are responsible for bringing to the notice of the people of those countries what Australia has to offer them.
I notice that the salaries of officers of the department are practically, the same, irrespective of the countries in which they are stationed, A salary of £2,500 a year seems to be the ruling rate for an ambassador or a Minister, and £6S0 a year seems to be the rate for a secretary-typist. That strikes me as rather anomalous. I assume that the salaries are paid in Australian currency, but there are differences between the values of Australian currency in various countries. I do not know whether anything is done to offset the differences between the purchasing power of the Australian £1 in various countries. Are the members of the staff of these missions Australians, or are they natives of the countries concerned? I should like an explanation from the Minister on these matters’, because I believe that the salaries paid to Australian diplomatic representatives abroad and their staffs should be such as to guarantee that those people will be energetic and prepared to make every effort to ensure that the interests of Australia will be well looked after in the countries in which they are stationed.
– I am told that the salaries are identical in most cases, but differences in costs of living are met by allowances. Apparently that is a satisfactory way of dealing with the problem. The salaries paid to locally engaged staff are related to local public service standards.
– When the Minister’s time expired a few minutes ago, he had not completed his remarks on points that I raised, but he had said enough to convince me that the matters referred to in paragraph 33 of the Auditor-General’s report were being dealt with. I regret that I did not notice the statement that steps were being taken to rectify them. I should like some clarification of the conflicting statements referred to in paragraph 35 of the report. Dealing with the dollar credits to which Australia is entitled as a result of a transfer of assets of the League of Nations, the AuditorGeneral states -
The matter was referred to the Secretary, Attorney-General’s Department, who has expressed the view that the annual credits cannot be described as “ revenues or moneys raised or received by the Executive Government of the Commonwealth “ within the meaning of section 81 of the Constitution and that the net contribution paid to the United Nations is the amount “ drawn from the Treasury of the Commonwealth “ in accordance with section 83 of the Constitution. He further indicated that so long as an appropriation was obtained for that amount, the requirements of the Constitution were observed.
The point I am concerned about is that the effect of this procedure is to understate by 31,650 dollars per annum the expenditure cost of Australia in support of the United Nations. The AuditorGeneral states -
The question arises whether it is correct to set off, without Parliamentary authority, against expenditure from one vote a credit arising from expenditure on an entirely different vote.
Apparently, the Attorney-General’s Department is satisfied that the procedure adopted is quite in order, but I do not think it reflects the true position. It is not a procedure that honorable senators or other people can follow easily. In effect, we are setting off 31,650 dollars per annum against the cost of Australia’s support of the United Nations. I ask the Attorney-General to say whether there is some way to overcome the difficulty and to make the position a little clearer. After all, quite a few dollars are involved.
Senator SPICER (Victoria - AttorneyGeneral) T5-11]- - This is not the first occasion on which there has been a difference of opinion between the AuditorGeneral, the Treasury and the law officers. I do not say that in any unkind way, because such differences are perfectly legitimate. From the legal viewpoint, the question arises whether the expenditure involved in our representation at the United Nations has been properly authorized by the Parliament. The view of the law officers is that it has been properly authorized. The Parliament has authorized expenditure of the net sum, which is all that is required. From an accountancy viewpoint, I can understand that the Auditor-General considered it necessary to draw attention to the fact that the net sum, the sum we paid to the United Nations, was arrived at by taking into account a sum which came to us from certain assets of the League of Nations and was credited to us under the authority of the charter of the United Nations or some other document. There is nothing wrong in this procedure. The Auditor-General has said, quite properly, that, from an accountancy viewpoint, he has to draw attention to the fact that the amount which the Parliament has authorized to be paid to the United
Nations perhaps does not represent in one sense the whole of our contribution for that year, because there has been added to it a sum, for which we get credit, derived from the assets of the League of Nations. On the other hand, the lawyers say that the matter is being dealt with quite properly and in accordance with the Constitution. The view of the Department of the Treasury is that as the credit does not take the form of a cash receipt, there is no receipt into Consolidated Revenue and the authority for the set-off is adequately conveyed by the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945. We are indebted to the Auditor-General for drawing attention to this matter but, as the Parliament knows exactly what has happened, I suggest there is no room for criticism, especially in view of the statements in the Auditor-General’s report.
– I refer to Division No. 17, Department of External Affairs. In my opinion, the Monthly Notes published by the department is the finest publication issued by any government department. The notes are of great value to members of the Parliament. I ask the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) to be kind enough to tell me the basis of distribution. I should like to know the organizations and persons to whom they are sent. Are they distributed overseas, or is the distribution confined to Australia? Can any member of the public become entitled to receive them, either free of charge or for an annual subscription? It is important that the work of the Government, and particularly of the Department of External Affairs, should be made known. I believe that a feature of government departments in the United Kingdom is the publications that they issue which are available for purchase in Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. I suggest to the Attorney-General that this excellent publication should be more readily available to the people. of this country.
I mentioned recently in this chamber that, in my opinion, a map of Antarctica showing Australian interests in that area should be printed. Senator Byrne made the suggestion that it should be printed-
– I rise to order. I am informed that Antarctica is included in item 190. It is not included in the Estimates with which we are now dealing, but comes under the heading of Miscellaneous Services. I suggest that it would be more appropriate for the honorable senator to deal with Antarctica when the committee is considering Miscellaneous Services.
– I shall be pleased to do that.
– I do not wish to stir up a hornet’s nest but the Auditor-General has” stated very clearly and definitely that, because of the accounts procedure adopted, the Department of External Affairs has understated by 31,650 United States dollars per annum the amount of Australia’s contribution to the United Nations organization. I suppose the Auditor-General arrived at that conclusion after making a minute examination of the expenditure involved. I want to know whether this state of affairs can be remedied. Was the AuditorGeneral correct in stating that the department had understated its expenditure in support of the United Nations organization by 31,650 dollars? I presume that the Auditor-General is fairly sure of his ground.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I think that the Attorney-General has already made a perfectly clear statement on this subject. I do not wish to stifle debate, but Senator Critchley has now raised this subject twice.
– I think that it is a senator’s prerogative to request whatever information the Attorney-General may be willing to give.
– I agree with Senator Laught that Current Notes is a most excellent publication. At present, about 5,000 copies are made available monthly. They go to libraries in Australia and overseas and to schools and universities in this country and abroad. A certain number of copies pass to units of the armed forces, to the newspapers and to learned societies. They are all distributed gratis. Any one who wants a copy can obtain it for the asking. I understand that circulation would be increased if necessary in order to meet any increased demand.
I shall not indulge in further argument with Senator Critchley. I have endeavoured to explain the situation as I understand it. The Auditor-General, on the one hand, has reported that the department has underestimated its expenditure on this item by showing it in a certain way. He has said that Australia’s contribution to the United Nations comprises the amount that we actually pay plus an amount that is credited to Australia by way of “ set-off “. I fully appreciate that point of view. There is no mystery about it. On the other hand, the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s- Department believes that this item has been properly authorized in accordance with constitutional practice.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £7,911,000.
.- The Auditor-General mentioned at page 27 of his annual report that a certain airline company had failed to pay sales tax amounting to approximately £393,750 in respect of aircraft which it had imported into Australia since February, 1946. An investigation by Taxation Branch officials disclosed that, in addition to £143,750 payable on two aircraft which were imported at the end of 1953 in respect of which an extension of time to pay had been granted, the company had not paid sales tax of approximately £250,000 on fifteen other aircraft which had been imported in previous years. Apparently the company managed to avoid the payment of sales tax by devious means. It secured the entry of aircraft into Australia by quoting the number of its certificate of registration under the Sales Tax Assessment Act, but it failed to declare when the aircraft were placed in commission and it failed to pay the sales tax involved. The total amount of such tax was still owing to the Government on the 30th June last, but does not appear in the Auditor-General’s statement of outstanding taxes because it had not been assessed by the Commissioner for Taxation at that date. The recent amendments to tb( Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act provided that sales tax should be repayable on aircraft and that sales tax should not be payable on aircraft sold since the 1st January, 1946.
I ask the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) the name of the company that has failed to pay this tax. It seems to me most undesirable that all aircraft companies should come under the shadow of suspicion. If the Minister is not prepared to disclose the name of the company that failed to pay, I ask him to disclose the name of the companies that have met their obligations in respect to the payment of sales tax on aircraft since 1946. The Minister stated previously that he was not prepared to disclose the private affairs of a taxpayer, but it is the custom of the Taxation Branch to publish every twelve months the names of defaulting individual taxpayers and the names of companies which may have omitted to pay tax, sometimes for completely technical reasons. As the names of those persons and companies are published, the Government cannot claim that it has any scruple about publishing lists of other tax defaulters. It is a reasonable request that the Minister should supply the name of this company.
– The Auditor-General stated that sales tax amounting to approximately £393.750 had not been paid by an airline company. Of this sum, approximately £250,000 was applicable to the importation of fifteen aircraft between 1946 and 1953. The discovery that that amount of sales tax had not been paid was only made in the second half of 1953. This discovery followed representations that were made through the Department of Civil Aviation to the Government for the exemption of aeroplanes from sales tax. Pending the Government’s consideration of these representations, action was not taken by the Commissioner of Taxation to calculate and assess the sales tax that had not been paid. The present position is, therefore, that the unpaid amount is only approximately known. The administration of the sales tax legislation is vested by the Parliament in the Commissioner of Taxation. The Parliament has imposed on the commissioner &nd his officers rigid secrecy provisions, but it has also directed that the commissioner shall furnish to it, each year, an annual report on the working of the legislation. In this report, it has been customary for the commissioner to include the names of taxpayers who have evaded tax in circumstances which warrant the imposition of penalties. The greatest care is exercised in the compilation of this list in order to ensure that the actual amount of tax evaded is established, and that there has, in fact, been an evasion of tax which warrants the imposition of a penalty. Unless a taxpayer is publicly prosecuted under the penal provisions of the taxing laws, this is the only means by which his income tax affairs may be made public by the Commissioner of Taxation.
– Are evasions of income tax and sales tax grouped in the same list? This is a sales tax problem.
– Yes. I shall qualify that answer later on if I am wrong. In the present case, the actual amount of tax evaded has not been calculated for the purpose of deciding whether the evasion took place in circumstances warranting a penalty. This action has been withheld pending consideration of the representations that have been made to the Government for the complete exemption of aeroplanes from sales tax as from the 1st January, 1946. In the data that was prepared for the Government’s consideration by the Department of Civil Aviation it was stated that the company concerned had acted in good faith, believing that imported aeroplanes and especially secondhand aeroplanes were exempt from sales tax although it knew that spare parts were not so exempt. If that statement is accepted for the purpose of assessing liability under the Sales Tax Assessment Act, the special provisions of the sales tax procedure legislation would operate to set aside the Government’s claim on any tax unpaid in respect of a transaction which took place more than three years prior to the date of its discovery, or of demand for payment having been made by the Commissioner of Taxation. Whilst, therefore, it may be permissible for the Auditor-General to say that an approximate amount of tax has not been paid bv an unnamed taxpayer, it would be dangerous in the extreme to connect that statement with a named taxpayer, in circumstances which may give the impression that that taxpayer had evaded the payment of sales tax and had not acted in good faith.
The Government has announced its intention to exempt aeroplanes from sales tax retrospectively from the 1st January, 1946, and has published its reasons for doing so. Exemption is being granted in respect of aeroplanes for all purposes. When the sales tax legislation was first introduced in 1930, the major field of exemptions did not include aeroplanes, but in 1934, when the list of exemptions was revised, provision was made for the exemption of aeroplanes. That exemption remained in force until November, 1940, when, because of the exigencies of war, a number of exemptions, including all those related to aeroplanes, were withdrawn. Last year, the law was amended to authorize the exemption of aircraft other than those used for commercial purposes. This was done largely as a result of requests for relief from tax by aero clubs, which render valuable service to the community in the teaching of flying. From a thorough examination made since that date, it was apparent that the imposition of sales tax on aeroplanes had placed a heavy burden on commercial airline operators by increasing substantially the already high cost of new aircraft, and that it had also resulted in higher fare freight costs. Their difficulty was accentuated by the necessity to spend large sums of money for the purchase of a considerable number of new aircraft to replace old machines, in order to maintain efficient services. It is relevant to note that ships are not subject to sales tax, and railway rolling stock does not attract sales tax because of the general exemption of government departments.
For those reasons, it has been decided to make the exemptions absolute, as was thi case before 1940. The exemption will apply not only to freight and passenger airliners, but also to aircraft used for agricultural purposes, such as for spraying fertilizer and seed. The exemption of aeroplanes will be effective as and from the 1st January, 1946. The exemption applied to Trans-Australia Airlines until 1952, when that concern was made subject to tax, and exemption was granted to British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines Limited and Quantas Empire Airways Limited in 1946 and 1947 respectively. Therefore, the Government believes that it is just and proper to restore the exemption which existed for aeroplanes from 1934 to 1940. Immediately after World War II. ended, the development of air transport services in Australia was resumed. As it is the clearly stated policy of this Government that competition between government airlines and privately owned airlines shall be on equal terms, the pre-dating of the exemption of aeroplanes will remove some inconsistencies as between the government airline and several private operators.
In the course of the examination of the subject it was discovered that some aeroplanes had been imported and put into operation without sales tax having been paid on them. This was effected by the irregular but inadvertent use of taxpayers’ services, and in the belief that the protection from sales tax that applied to government airlines would apply also to other commercial transport systems. It was not unreasonable for a private operator to think that he would be treated similarly to the government-owned concern. I find it difficult to blame a private operator, in those circumstances, for making a mistake. Why should he not think that his aeroplane would not be treated, for taxation purposes, in the same way as a government purchase? The exemption which will be provided by legislation that will be shortly introduced, will obviate the necessity for retrospective action and substantially restore equality of treatment to all competing air lines. The backdating of the exemption may necessitate certain refunds, but these will be comparatively small. They will be payable mainly to small airline operators and aero clubs. The exemption of parts of aeroplanes did not come into operation until the 19th August, 1954, the date of commencement of the amending bill. It is realized that this provision will still leave the government airline in a position of advantage compared with private operators, as far as transactions prior to November, 1952, are concerned, but the Civil Aviation Agreement Act 1952 ensures equality of treatment from the date of its enactment. If the Government’s proposals are accepted by the Parliament, the amount now stated to have been short paid by the airline company concerned will no longer be payable, and an accusation that it has been guilty of tax evasion could lead to a claim for heavy damages. The Government has no reason to fear disclosure, and deprecates the suggestion that there is anything sinister in non-disclosure. This nondisclosure is based solely upon the fact that the Parliament itself has said that the affairs of individual taxpayers can be disclosed only in certain circumstances. The Government will obey the instruction of the Parliament. The Government’s intention to exempt aeroplanes from sales tax as from the 1st January, 1946, is based upon its view that competition between government-owned and privatelyowned airlines should be fair and equal. As the government-owned airline - TransAustralia Airlines - enjoyed exemption up to 1952, and British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines Limited and Qantas Airways Limited have enjoyed exemption since 1946-47 respectively, it proposed that privately-owned airlines shall be similarly treated.
T have made a completely fair find frank statement to the Senate on this matter in the belief that there is no possible . ground for criticism of the Government for the action that will be proposed in the legislation which will come before the Parliament, ;i it d which the Parliament can then debate. On the contrary, instead of there being any grounds for criticism, the Government is entitled to expect commendation for the policy it has adopted.
Senator HENDRICKSON (Victoria) 1*5.41]. - Some time ago, the manufacturers of plum puddings, who use considerable quantities of dried fruits, brought to my notice the fact that the imposition of sales tax at the rate of 12£ per cent, on dried fruits had a considerable bearing on their manufacturing costs. Admittedly, sales tax is not imposed on our exports of dried, fruits, but due to our high costs of production we are not exporting large quantities of that commodity. As the
Government of the United States of America subsidizes American growers of fruit for the dried fruits industry on the basis of 50 per cent, of the cost of production, it is difficult for Australia to sell its dried fruits overseas. I asked’ the Minister acting for the Minister for Trade and Customs whether hewould endeavour to persuade th: Government to exempt our dried fruits from sales tax, in view of the fact that the United States of America is assisting: its primary producers by means of subsidies. I consider that our dried fruitsshould be exempt from sale3 tax in orderto enable them to compete with theAmerican products on the English market. Unless the Government assists the’ dried fruits industry, many of thereturned servicemen who entered the industry after World War I. will be ruined. I point out that their cost of production is based on a basic wage of £12 for a week of 40 hours. How can dried fruits produced on that cost basis compete on the open market with the dried fruits of countries which observe a 44-hour working week and a basie wage of about £6 a week?
– Can the honorable senator give details in relation to the cost of production in America?
– Irrespective of the cost of production in America,, the subsidizing of American dried fruits for export by 50 per cent, of the cost of production .makes it difficult for Australia to sell its dried fruits in England,, where the basic wage is about £6 a week,, and there is a 44-hour working week.
– Could we not work, a little longer?
– SenatorKendall may work longer if he wishes todo so. I remind the Government that the plight of ex-servicemen who engagein fruit-growing for the dried fruits industry along the Murray River isperilous, due to the imposition of sales tax of 12£ per cent, on the locally consumed dried fruits. I consider that dried’ fruits used in cakes, puddings, and otherfood items in Australia should be freed’ of the 12^ per cent, sales tax, in orderto encourage more people to eat dried fruits. In response to the question that
I addressed to the Minister, I was informed that the Government was not prepared to grant any concession to the dried fruits industry. He said that further consideration would be given to the request later. I say quite frankly that it is of no use to close the stable door after the pony has gone. More material assistance is required now, and I call on other honorable senators from Victoria, who are aware of conditions in the dried fruits areas, to support me in seeking that assistance. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who represents the Treasurer in this chamber, stated that sales tax had been removed from aeroplanes. If the Government is prepared to exempt aircraft from sales tax, surely it should also be prepared to exempt a product which is largely grown by returned soldiers of World War I., and so give the consuming public an opportunity to absorb some of the surplus crop. I do not know the exact quantity of dried fruits that we export to Great Britain but I do know that about this time of the year hundreds of thousands of cases of plum puddings are sent to the United Kingdom for sale during the Christmas season.
Sitting suspended from 5.47 to 8 p.m.
– Early consideration should be given by the Government to the. position of the dried fruits industry. If the present situation is not remedied, not only will serious difficulties face the growers of dried fruits, but also employment in factories in the capital cities will fall. The imposition of sales tax at the rate of 12J per cent, is equal to 4d. on each tin of plum pudding produced.
– With some reluctance I rise to order. The business before the committee is the consideration of the Estimates of the Department of the Treasury. With respect, I submit that the honorable senator is wandering a long way from the expenditure involved in administering that department. He is dealing with the income of the Treasury, and the ramifications of sales tax legislation. That, I contend, is beyond the scope of the present debate, and if the honorable senator is permitted to continue, there will be nothing to prevent other honorable senators from raising matters connected with sales tax. We might then have a very interesting debate on sales tax, but that is not now the business of the committee. Senator Hendrickson will have a chance to deal with the imposition of sales tax on dried fruits when the sales tax legislation is before this chamber. Indeed, I put the view that the honorable senator is debarred from raising that matter now because at this very moment, amending sales tax legislation is at the secondreading stage in the House of Representatives and may be introduced into this chamber to-morrow. Standing Order 416 states -
No senator shall allude to any debate of the current session. in the House of Representatives or to any measure impending therein.
That standing order, I contend, precludes a discussion in this chamber at present of sales tax items or sales tax legislation generally. Indeed, good sense suggests that that should be so because, otherwise, we should be diverted from the business before the committee and find ourselves running off at a tangent and debating the pros and cons of sales tax legislation.
– Speaking to the point of order, I shall deal first with the standing order to which the Minister has referred. It provides -
No senator shall allude to any debate of the current session in the House of Representatives or to any measure impending therein.
Senator Hendrickson has made no reference to the sales tax legislation now before the House of Representatives. I submit, therefore, that Standing Order 416 is not relevant to the present situation. The Minister claimed also that Senator Hendrickson was wandering too wide of the matter under discussion. I submit that when departmental estimates are under consideration, the whole of the activities of those departments are opened up for debate. It is very unusual to restrict a debate on the Estimates so long as the remarks of honorable senators are confined to the activities of the various departments under review. Not only is that the traditional practice, but also it is completely in accord with the Standing
Orders, and I trust that in no circumstances, Mr. Chairman, will you impose narrow limits on the scope of this debate.
– The Minister claimed in support of his point of order that Senator Hendrickson was not entitled to mention the sales tax on dried fruits. I remind the committee that, prior to the dinner adjournment, the Minister himself gave a lengthy discourse on the abolition of sales tax on aeroplanes. Speaking from memory, I think that you, Mr. Chairman, had to tell the Minister that his time had expired. He had occupied the whole fifteen minutes allowed to him telling us why the Government had remitted hundreds of thousands of pounds of sales tax on aeroplanes, and now takes a point of order on a line of action he, himself, followed.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - The Minister has taken the point of order that Senator Hendrickson’s remarks were not relevant to the matter now before the committee inasmuch as he was embarking on a discussion of the ramifications of the sales tax. The honorable senator had an opportunity when the Estimates and budget papers were being debated by the Senate to refer fully to this matter, and to any other matters that he chose to raise. He had another opportunity to do that on the motion for the first reading of the Appropriation Bill. It has been ruled before on more than one occasion that, whilst the discussion on the first reading of an appropriation bill should have very wide scope, at the committee stage the debate must be relevant to an item of the Estimates. Looking through the Estimates for the Treasury, I cannot discover any reference to sales tax or to its effect on any particular industry. The proposed items of expenditure relate mainly to the administration of the Treasury and its branches. For that reason, I rule that the Minister’s point of order is well founded, and that Senator Hendrickson may not continue his remarks on the subject of sales tax.
– I do not wish to disagree with your ruling, Mr. Chairman. I merely point out that some time ago I asked a question about the imposition of sales tax on dried fruits, and I had to wait some time for a reply from the responsible Minister. I did not receive that reply until after the debate on the Estimates and budget papers had been gagged. You have ruled that there was ample opportunity to discuss this matter previously. I have been asked by the people concerned why I did not raise this matter.
– The honorable senator will have an opportunity to raise it, when the sales tax legislation is before this Senate.
– I rise to order. I ask you to consider the possibility, Mr. Chairman, that if the ruling you have just given is permitted to stand, honorable senators will be prevented from discussing the annual report of the Auditor-General on the Treasurer’s statement of receipts and expenditure, and upon other accounts for the financial year 1953-54. You will notice that the Auditor-General’s report deals with various items of expenditure by certain departments. Included in those matters is sales tax and income tax. Whilst it is true that Senator Hendrickson may have an opportunity to discuss a particular item of sales tax at a later stage, the important point I contend is that your ruling will deny honorable senators an opportunity to secure from the Government explanations of various matters referred to in the Auditor-General’s report.
– My ruling will not prevent references to any matter in the Auditor-General’s report that is connected with an item of the Estimates. The Auditor-General’s report has already been referred to on more than one occasion to-day, but such references have been confined to matters that are related to departmental administration and expenditure. I have always given the widest possible latitude in debates, but 1 do not intend to allow second-reading speeches to be made at the committee stage of any bill. I shall he prepared to allow discussion of any matter that is connected with departmental Estimates.
– You have altered your ruling, Mr. Chairman.
– I have not altered my ruling. I have said that I will not permit a second-reading speech to be made at the committee stage of a bill. The first point of order was that your remarks about sales tax were irrelevant. I have ruled that they were irrelevant, and I will not permit you to continue in that strain. A further point of order was taken that my ruling would prevent honorable senators from referring to matters mentioned in the Auditor-General’s report. I have stated quite clearly that any matter contained in the Auditor-General’s report that can be connected with the Estimates will be relevant to this discussion. I have made my position quite clear. If Senator Hendrickson does not agree with my ruling he has his remedy.
– I claim, Mr. Chairman, that the Minister raised his point of order, not on the ground that has been made the subject of your ruling, but on the ground that sales tax legislation is before the House of Representatives.
– Order ! I did not refer in my ruling to the legislation before the House of Representatives. I upheld the point of order on the ground that the discussion of sales tax matters was irrelevant, and was contrary to the Standing Orders.
– I rise to order. I invite your attention, Mr. Chairman, to Division 44, Taxation Branch. The first item under the heading Salaries and payments in the nature of salary is “ Salaries and allowances as per Schedule, page 147 “. I then invite you, Mr. Chairman, to turn to pages 146 and 147. Under the heading “ Taxation Branch (See Division No. 44)”, on page 146, reference is made to sales tax in each of the States. Obviously, the salaries and allowances referred to in Division 44, which total £4,730,000, are expressly incorporated on the subsequent pages to which I have referred. Although I accept your ruling that discussion must be relevant to the matter immediately before the committee, I think that perhaps you may have overlooked the fact that sales tax administration and matters connected with it are expressly incorporated under the Estimates for the Treasury in the item I have mentioned. If, by your ruling, you mean that there oan be no reference to sales tax, I think you must acknowledge that you will deny the committee the right to refer to matters that are expressly incorporated in the Estimates for the Department of the Treasury. Provision is made for the payment of salaries to the commissioner and the whole of his staff, and I submit that that raises immediately the whole question of the administration of the’ Taxation Branch, particularly its sales tax activities. As your attention was not directed to that fact at an earlier stage, I invite your indulgence, for a brief period, of Senator Hendrickson.
– As far as I can see, there was no necessity for me to be reminded of the matters referred to by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) before I gave my ruling. Sales tax policy, the methods by which the percentages are arrived at and the effect of sales tax on industry are definitely not matters concerning the administration of sales tax. The salaries set out in the schedule are for the officers of the Department of the Treasury who administer particular policies of the department, and for that reason I rule that the debate should have no wider scope than that which I have already stated. The factors referred to by the Leader of the Opposition have no bearing on the discussion which I have already ruled out of order.
– On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, I should be grateful for your help. This afternoon I raised a matter, when you were not in the chair, concerning sales tax on aircraft, which was referred to in the Auditor-General’s report. At that time, I referred to the rebate of sales tax on aircraft of an amount of £393,000. I referred to that matter when the proposed votes for the Department of the Treasury, in respect of salaries and allowances amounting to £4,730,000, were being discussed. I suggest that an item as large as £393,000, in respect of rebated sales tax, has a definite bearing on the Estimates for the Taxation Branch. I discussed the matter at some length this afternoon, and the Minister went to a great deal of trouble to answer me and devoted about twenty minutes to discussion on that aspect of sales tax. In the course of his answer, I thought he made a number of inaccurate statements. In the light of your ruling, would I be in order in referring to that matter again at a later stage?
– Definitely not. I was not in the chair at the time to which the honorable senator referred. Events that transpired during debate when I was not in the chair cannot affect the ruling I have given. The item to which the honorable senator referred does not appear in the votes with which the committee is dealing. These votes relate to the costs of administration of the Department of the Treasury. Honorable senators may discuss whether they consider those costs reasonable or unreasonable, and they may ask for information about them.
– I wish to bring the debate back to the Estimates.
– Order ! Is the honorable senator raising a point of order ?
– No. I wish to speak about the Estimates.
– The honorable senator may not do so at this stage.
– In order to test the matter, Mr. Chairman, with some regret I formally object to your ruling to the effect that, under the heading of the Department of the Treasury, there may be no discussion of sales tax administration or policy. I merely add to what I have already said, that this is the one great opportunity in the year for honorable senators to traverse the activities of departments. This is an opportunity that occurs year after year for us to rake over departments, to ask questions and to seek information. I should have thought there would he no controverting that proposition. Very few opportunities occur when Ministers sit at the table and account to the chamber for the activities of the departments they administer or those of Ministers whom they represent in the Senate. During my ten years experience in the Senate, I have not found the debate on such matters curtailed in this way. I feel strongly that the ruling is not accurate, in view of the express incorporation, in the items we are considering, of salaries and expenses in connexion with the administration of the sales tax activities of the Taxation Branch. I therefore take objection to your ruling and submit my reasons in writing.
– Mr. Chairman
– Order! The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) objected to my ruling, and the matter cannot be debated at this stage. I shall report dissent from my ruling to the President.
In the Senate:
– I have to report that the Leader of the Opposition has dissented from my ruling, which was to the effect that, under the heading of the Department of the Treasury, there may be no discussion of sales tax administration or policy.
– It seems to me that the ruling of the chairman is unduly restrictive. I pointed’ out to him that, earlier in the day,. I had discussed an item referred to in the Auditor-General’s report concerning an amount of £393,000 which was owing by an aircraft company in respect to sales tax on aircraft. That money has not been paid, and I made the point that an item of that magnitude must definitely affect the Estimates of the Department of the Treasury. The chairman ruled that that was not so. On page 27 of the Auditor-General’s report, reference is also made to another item of sales tax, amounting to £666,000, which was outstanding at the 30th June last. Surely the debate will be restricted unduly if, under those two items referred to in the Auditor-General’s report, honorable senators are not allowed to speak about sales tax, except in reference to the amount of money which is to be paid to officers of the Taxation Branch by way of salary. That is restrictive and unfair. This afternoon, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) replied to me on this matter at great length. He went to considerable trouble to canvass the position thoroughly. He spoke probably for twenty minutes in so doing, and his reply included what I believe to be inaccuracies. I thought at the time that I should like to deal with the matter again later, and obtain clarification of several points. I do not say positively that some of the Minister’s statements were inaccurate, but they seemed to me to be inaccurate. Possibly further explanation by the Minister would prove that he gave me the truth. Apparently, according to the ruling of the Chairman of Committees (Senator Reid), I am debarred from re-opening the matter and seeking further information from the Minister to clarify the reasons why an airline company failed to pay £383,000 in sales tax because the matter is to be remedied in legislation that is to come before the Senate soon. That is one of the reasons why the Opposition has taken this unusual course of objecting to the ruling of the Chairman of Committees.
– I have always held the view that, in the final analysis, good law and common sense are synonymous terms. Earlier in the day, .Senator Armstrong who is Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, referred to a matter in the Auditor-General’s report. He had referred to it previously on several occasions. Rightly or wrongly, I considered that I would be acting courteously towards him if I gave him an explanation, and I did so. The explanation was very largely the second-reading speech that was delivered by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in the House of Representatives on a bill that is now before that chamber and which, in the ordinary course of events, will be debated in the Senate to-morrow. I believe that we must get sense into the debate, and I came to the conclusion that what could happen to-night would he a debate upon the merits of sales tax upon aeroplanes and dried fruits. In my judgment that is a. long way from what we normally do when we are discussing departmental estimates, but that was the point of view that I took. I thought it was a good point of view to adopt so that we might get an orderly debate in the Senate. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) said that this was an opportunity to debate other issues, and that it might not present itself again. My reply to that is that whatever the general rule may be, it does not apply to the matter that has been raised by Senator Armstrong because, whether we like it or not, the relevant bill will be before the Senate to-morrow and that will he the occasion for honorable senators who so desire to explore fully that matter in all its ramifications.
– The Minister can tell us all about aeroplanes to-morrow.
– I have to do so, and honorable senators will have to listen. Do we propose to go over the whole matter to-night and do it again to-morrow? I finish where I started, by repeating that good law and common sense are synonymous. I thought that I adopted a common-sense attitude in taking a point of order, and I hope that your ruling, Mr. President, will conform with common sense, and that you will support the ruling of the Chairman.
– I believe honorable senators will agree that the Opposition in this chamber is always tolerant in debate. There is a general desire in the Senate, Mr. President, to observe your rulings punctiliously on all occasions. The Senate is now discussing Division 44 - Taxation Branch. This matter has been referred to by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). One of the items that he dealt with in particular was salaries and payments in the nature of salary, and the sum allotted for the year 1954-55 is £4,730,000. During your absence, Mr. President, the Leader of the Opposition referred to sales tax and the amount that would be expended in salaries in the collection of sales tax. He also pointed out that the salaries payable to public servants for the collection of income tax were involved in that amount. I submit that the item of £4,730,000 covers the expenditure that will be incurred by the Australian Government in collecting taxes. Does it not appear that if that sum is to be expended by the Australian Government for the collection of taxes, one of the taxes to be collected will be sales tax? Honorable senators are strictly in order when they refer to incidents that involve the work of the officers of the Taxation Branch. If they were not in order, we would have no debate at all. We know how sales tax is collected, because we hear the objections of traders to their share of the work. If the imposition of the sales tax could be simplified further, and the range of sales tax *were shortened, there would be less work to be performed in the collection of sales tax and, consequently, the expenditure would not be so high. When an honorable senator on the Opposition side refers to a subject that involves sales tax, he is referring to the expenditure of the sum of money that will be spent by the Australian Government in salaries and in other ways for that purpose. I submit that the Opposition is quite right in the point that it has taken.
I propose to speak to this item after you have given your ruling, Mr. President, and I shall deal with uniform taxation because that is a form of taxation that necessarily throws the whole of the work of collecting income tax upon the Australian Government. I shall be strictly within my rights in referring to it. Some honorable senators might claim that I may not deal with a particular incident or case, but that I can deal, in a general way, with uniform taxation. Reverting to the point that has been raised in consequence of Senator Hendrickson^ remarks, I point out that he was dealing only with taxation as it applied to a certain thing.
– Plum pudding.
– Because the subject under discussion is plum pudding, there is no reason why honorable senators should scoff at it. Ice cream and other products are just as important to many persons in the community who like them. They are foodstuffs. These matters concern the public and I submit that honorable senators are entitled to refer to them in this chamber while this item is under discussion.
– I am deeply concerned with the matter that is before the Senate, and I trust that honorable senators on both sides will treat it as a matter or great importance. I have been concerned recently with the rulings that have been given in committee especially by the Chairman of Committees (Senator Reid). He has not been among us very long. He has been placed in a very responsible position, where he is called upon to give snap rulings, after very limited experience in this Senate.
– He has had long parliamentary experience.
– It may be that the Chairman of Committees has had long parliamentary experience, but in another place and in another parliament where the standing orders are entirely different from the Standing Orders of the Commonwealth Parliament. I agree with the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) that it might be proper for honorable senators to defer their remarks in the knowledge that tomorrow another bill will be introduced into the Senate that will allow full scope for debate on the subject of sales tax, but that is not the question. It may be fortuitous that to-morrow a bill related to this question will be introduced in the Senate, but there may be other occasions when a similar set of circumstances will not prevail. .Standing orders are standing orders irrespective of what will happen to-morrow or the next day. The question before the Senate is very important because the ruling on it will be binding upon all Chairmen of Committees in future until it is disallowed. This afternoon, a Temporary Chairman of Committees allowed the Minister for National Development to discuss at length the action of the Government in foregoing sales tax on imported aeroplanes.
– That was in reply.
– It was in reply,, but it was allowed. The Chairman of Committees, in reply to a point of order raised by me early this afternoon, had already ruled that any matter referred to in the Auditor-General’s report might be discussed while the Estimates were before the Senate.
– The Chairman has not done so.
– He has already indicated that, during the course of this debate, he would be prepared to allow discussion on any matter contained in the annual report of the Auditor-General. Now the Chairman has changed that attitude and you, Mr. President, are being asked to determine the matter. I appeal to you to uphold the privileges of the Senate, and the right of honorable senators to discuss untrammelled the Estimates for the various departments at least once a year. Honorable senators should criticize them or praise them as they like, but this is their opportunity to discuss them as a Senate. The motion of dissent has been submitted in an attempt to preserve to honorable senators on both sides of the chamber their right to discuss the Estimates. Do not take that right away from the Senate. We have very limited rights as a Senate to discuss expenditure by the Government. We have no right to reject financial measures. We have a right only to criticize them and to make requests. I appeal earnestly to honorable senators to support this objection and preserve the rights of the Senate. It may be that we shall be asked to consider to-morrow a bill under which we can discuss these matters and, therefore, that we shall refrain voluntarily from discussing them this evening, but that is another matter. I appeal to honorable senators to uphold the right of the Senate to discuss these very important matters.
– One has only to consider the full significance of the proposition which has been advanced by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) to realize how absurd it is. The proposition, as I understand it, is that because we are discussing the estimated expenditure of various Commonwealth departments, it becomes possible, in the committee stage of this bill, to deal with every piece of legislation on the statute-book of this country which is in operation to-day, and to argue that any statute at present in operation should be amended or repealed, for reasons which any honorable senator cares to put forward. That is what the proposition means. Therefore, I suggest it is a proposition which only has to be stated to indicate how absurd it is.
It has been suggested that the ruling given by the Chairman of Committees is one that will unfairly curtail debate. We have been told that it is the inalienable right of honorable senators on an occasion such as this to discuss any subject under the sun. I want to examine that statement for a moment, because I think the members of the Opposition are confusing two stages of the bill. The Standing Orders provide expressly that on the motion for the first reading of the Appropriation Bill honorable senators can discuss any subject under the sun. On the first reading of the bill, they are entitled to talk about any subject they like for an hour and a half.
– Provided they are not gagged.
– There would be no talk of gagging if honorable senators would apply their minds to the real subjects they should be discussing. The motion for the first reading of the Appropriation Bill is the occasion when honorable senators are entitled to roam all round the world and deal with any subject they like. But when we get to the committee stage of the bill - that is the stage at which we are at present - a different rule applies. That rule applies just as much to this bill as to any other bill that comes before the Senate. Standing Order 203 states-
The discussion shall bc confined to the clause or amendment before the committee.
That is the rule by which we are governed now. The discussion is confined to the items that appear in this schedule. Let us take, as an illustration, the items that relate to the Department of the Treasury. There are certain provisions for salaries and the payment of salaries. A question that we are entitled to discuss is whether those estimated salaries are such that we should approve of them, having regard to the kind of administration that must necessarily be undertaken by the Treasury in accordance with legislation which this Parliament itself has passed. There is no item in the schedule to which any honorable senator could legitimately refer and say, “ I am entitled to discuss the question whether plum puddings should be taxed “. Does the question whether plum puddings are included in the sales tax schedules affect the salaries that should be paid to officers of the Taxation Branch who administer the sales tax legislation?
– What about aeroplanes?
– Let us have a look at the position in regard to aeroplanes. It has been suggested that some tax is to be remitted.
Has it been remitted? As I understand the position, some legislation is before the Parliament at present Under which some tax remission may be made, but it is for the Parliament to determine whether the remission shall be made. It has not been made yet. “When the bill containing that provision comes before the Senate, honorable senators will have an opportunity to discuss that matter.
– Assume that the bill will not come before the Senate. In those circumstances, when would the Senate have an opportunity to discuss the matter?
– If the bill were not coming before the Senate, there would be no remission of the tax. So we should not have anything to talk about on that subject. Honorable senators opposite can have it which way they like. Senator Armstrong talked about a remission of tax which has not been made, and which could be made only by legislation.
– It is going to be made.
– “We are told it is going to be made. It will be made if the Parliament agrees to it, but there is not a word in the Estimates about it. Whether the remission is made or not, it will not affect one penny of the items in the schedule that we are discussing to-night. Therefore, I suggest that the subject-matter which it is claimed we should discuss is entirely irrelevant to the matters now before us. For those reasons, we should have no hesitation in accepting the ruling - the very proper ruling, if I may say so - which the Chairman of Committees has given. It is a ruling which, if adopted, as I hope it will be, -will give members of the Senate time and opportunity to devote themselves to the real task which they should undertake when this schedule is before them, instead of discussing a lot of matters that have no relevance whatever to the estimated expenditure that we are asked to approve.
– One of the statements made by Senator Spooner when he raised his point of order was that there was a possibility that legislation dealing specifically with the sales tax would be brought into this chamber. Standing Order 419 deals with the anticipation of legislation. It states -
No senator shall digress from the subject- matter of any question under discussion-
That, of course, is very much in issue to-night - nor anticipate the discussion of any subject which appears on the notice-paper.
There is a specific prohibition of the discussion of subjects appearing on the notice-paper and, by implication, there is an invitation to discuss widely subjects that do not appear on the noticepaper. In raising his point of order, Senator Spooner obviously thought that honorable senators should not anticipate legislation - legislation which is within his knowledge but which cannot be within our knowledge, and which should not be within the judicial knowledge of the Chairman of Committees - whereas the appropriate standing order prohibits only the anticipation of discussion of any subject that appears on the notice-paper. As I have already said, the implication of the standing order is that, within the limits of relevancy, all other subjects may be discussed, lt may be that Senator Spooner’s submission affected the Chairman of Committees in arriving at his decision and giving his ruling on the point of order. If so, I say that to the extent to which he accepted Senator Spooner’s submission, his ruling is invalid. If that proposition were put to him, I believe he would accept it.
Let me deal with the relevance of the intended discussion to the staffing of government departments. It is almost elementary that Government policy, if put into operation, must inevitably have an effect on departmental staffs. If there is a vital or radical alteration of policy, particularly of revenue policy, almost inescapably that will be reflected directly in the staffing and organization of the departments concerned. If the sales tax legislation is amended to embrace a greater number of items, inevitably that change of policy will be reflected in the staff situation. On many occasions in this chamber,- honorable senators, having noticed some alteration of the staff of a department, ask the Minister to give the reason for the alteration. They ask, for instance, “ “Why is it that the department has only 25 assessors this year, whereas last year it had 45 ? “ The answer may be? “ There has been a change of the legislation. A number of items have been removed from the ambit of the sales tax and, as a direct result of that change, we have been able to reduce or redistribute staff “. There is a direct association between policy and staff. The number of personnel engaged in the administration of any aspect of Government policy and the salaries paid to them can be related directly and logically to the policy that those people are called upon to execute. Therefore, I say that, quite apart from our desire to discuss this matter, any honorable senator could rise and, without subtlety, but by continuous or sporadic reference to the staffing position as a reflection of policy, directly discuss in detail, revenue policy or expenditure policy. If he did so, he could not properly be called to order, in my opinion, by whoever was presiding at the time.
For those reasons, I submit that the attempt that is now being made to curtail the debate flies in the face of logic, and could have the effect in the future of restricting the Senate if it wanted particularly to discuss policy as reflected in overall government administrative costs. Let us imagine a position in which staff were employed at a cost of £100,000 a year. Would I not be entitled then to ask the Minister what those people were doing? If he said they were employed to collect a tax, the revenue from which was only £10,000 a year, would I not then be entitled to attack the policy of the Government in levying a tax which resulted in a net loss to the revenue of £90,000 a year? Would not that be a very logical and reasonable thing to do? Could anybody properly prevent me from doing it? The connexion between administration and policy is so close that the two are virtually inseparable. For that reason, I say that in looking at the staffing position of government departments and examining the cost of public administration, we should be allowed to look also at the policy of which those things are a direct reflection.
– I shall briefly state how I came to give the ruling to which objection has been taken. An honorable senator who was discussing the Estimates had stated that a sales tax of 12-J per cent, had resulted in an increase in the price of dried fruits and other commodities. He proceeded to enlarge on that point. Senator Spooner rose to order.
– I rise to order. The honorable senator is referring to speeches which were made when the Senate was in committee. Standing Order 413 states -
No Senator shall allude to any Debate of the same session upon a Question or Bill not being then under discussion, nor to any speech made in committee,-‘. -
– Yes - the standing order continues - except by the indulgence of the Senate for personal explanations.
But no indulgence of the Senate has been sought, so that provision does not apply. The honorable senator has now demonstrated to the Senate why his ruling was wrong and should not be upheld. He has supplied a new and additional iea son by indicating that he is not even familiar with Standing Order 413.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin). - The advice which the honorable senator has just given would have been valuable had it been offered at an earlier stage of the discussion. That standing order would have applied to much of what I have heard said in this chamber since I returned. Senator Reid is entitled to develop his argument.
– I do not intend to trespass on the Standing Orders, but I consider that the situation should be set out clearly. When I was in the chair I tried to give effect to the Standing Orders.’
– I rise to order. Is Senator Reid making a personal explanation?
- Senator Reid is stating his reasons for having given his ruling. He is not making a personal explanation.
– My ruling was given on the grounds that were set out by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) when lie spoke on this subject. An opportunity is given for a wide discussion during the debate on the budget papers and the debate on the motion for the first reading of the Appropriation Bill. My ruling was given in the belief that, in committee, matters of policy should not be dealt with at length. Senator Byrne stated that, under my ruling, he would be prevented from asking the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) a question in reference to the payment of salaries amounting to £100,000. That would be entirely an administrative matter. Any question could be asked in committee concerning salaries or class of work or administration generally. I explained that I was quite prepared to let the discussion proceed on those matters. But I contended that debate on the general ramifications of a department, the method of imposing sales tax, how it should be applied, and the effect on industry, was not permissible because, as the Attorney-General said, there is ample opportunity for a full debate on such matters when the budget papers and the first reading of the Appropriation Bill are under discussion.
As a bill in relation to sales tax would be before the Senate in the. near future I ruled that the honorable senator’s remarks were out of order. Although there was another ground for upholding the point of order, I did not at that stage refer to it because I had sufficient reason to refuse to allow the honorable senator to continue his remarks on the grounds that they were not relevant to the items that were before the committee. The subject of reference to the AuditorGeneral’s report has been raised in the debate that has taken place since my ruling was given. Senator Sheehan said that I ruled that, provided a matter had been referred to in the Auditor-General’s report, it was relevant to the proceedings of the committee. That is not correct. I said that, provided that matters to which the Auditor-General had referred could be related to the items before the committee, discussion on them would be in order. I do not want the Senate to think that I am trying to exceed my duties. I have had fairly wide experience in a State house. Senator Sheehan said that standing orders in one house differed very much from those in another; but, in relation to this matter, there is absolutely no difference. If the honorable senator had sat under a Chairman of Committees in a Labour government he would realize how stringently that type of standing order is enforced. 1 have been trying to be fair and reasonable. I have, at all times, given a fairly wide interpretation to the Standing Orders, but when an honorable senator spoke on the effects of sales tax on industry my contention was that he was out of order and I ruled accordingly.
– I was making my contribution to the debate, and the Chairman of Committees was quite prepared to allow me to proproceed, when the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) raised the point of order that, because a bill would come to this chamber from another place at a later date, I should desist from pursuing the line that I had been pursuing. That point of order was upheld by the Chairman of Committees (Senator Reid). The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) then expressed objection to the Chairman’s ruling. Senator Reid has now given another interpretation to his ruling in order to make it agree with the remarks that have been passed by the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer). But the point of order that was raised by the Minister for National Development was that the Senate would have ample time in which to discuss sales tax when a bill which is now in another place came before this chamber at a later date. The Chairman of Committees ruled in favour of the Minister. Until Senator Spooner raised his point of order, the Chairman of Committees had been prepared to allow me to proceed as other speakers had proceeded in the committee stages of the bill. Therefore, I say that that point of order should be rejected, and that the debate should be allowed to proceed along the lines that I was following. As pointed out by Opposition senators, a certain staff is employed for the purpose of collecting sales tax. If sales tax were lifted on the commodities that the Opposition has mentioned, the salaries bill could be reduced by £1,000 or £2,000. That contention has a definite bearing on the matter which was before the committee.
The Senate has been told by the Attorney-General and by Senator Reid that it had ample time in which to discuss these matters during the debate on the budget papers. But the debate on the budget papers was gagged. Honorable senators did not have time to discuss the many things that they wished to discuss in that debate. Further, I did not receive a reply from the responsible Minister to the the questions that I had asked, until after the budget had been approved, although perhaps that was not his fault. That is why I wanted to state my case just as Senator Spooner stated his case in regard to aeroplanes earlier in the proceedings of the committee.
– In taking objection to the ruling of the Chairman of Committees (Senator Reid), the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) stated that discussion on matters of policy, if they could be related to the administration of a department, could be permitted. In other words, he contended that if the Opposition could establish that a matter of policy, such as the rate of sales tax on plum pudding, could be related to the salaries of officers of the Department of Taxation, Division 44, then discussion on the matter of policy would be relevant to the items before the committee. One would require a vivid imagination to relate such a matter to the administration of a department; but supposing that policy in relation to the sales tax on plum puddings could be related to the salaries of Taxation Branch officials, discussion on that policy would not be permissible because Standing Order 203 states -
The discission shall be confined to the Clause or Amendment before the committee.
It will be noted that the discussion must not merely be related, but must be confined, to the clause before the committee. In confining dicussion to the item relating to salaries, one could not, by any stretch of the imagination, drag in the subject of plum pudding. If it were otherwise, as the Attorney-General said, the debate would become chaotic.
I am sorry that the point of order was taken because the Chairmen of Committees, all of them, have been most generous in allowing debates to extend over a very wide field. I am of the opinion that Standing Order 203 should be examined by the appropriate standing committee in relation to debates on the Estimates. Obviously, a reasonably intelligent debate cannot be carried on if one has specific regard to Standing Order 203. The Opposition has brought this trouble on its own head because now a decision is necessary as to what is really meant by Standing Order 203, and in making that decision, one can only agree with the ruling of the Chairman of Committees.
– Senator Vincent said that he was sorry that a point of order had been taken.
– I rise to order! Standing Order 407 provides -
Unless otherwise provided, every senator may speak once -
On any question before the Senate:
– Order ! The Leader of the Opposition has not spoken before on the matter before the Chair.
– I think that Senator Kendall is confusing my activities in committee with those in the Senate. I raised a point of order, and ir. has been ruled that I spoke to that point of order. Senator Vincent stated that he regretted that a point of order had been taken. I agree with him, and I sincerely hope that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) also agrees with him. When the Minister rose to address himself to the motion, he said that he took a point of order as a matter of common sense. I shall discuss that ground. Senator Hendrickson was addressing himself to a matter relating to sales tax, when the Minister raised his point of order. An honorable senator is allowed a quarter of an hour in which to address the chamber during this debate, and Senator Hendrickson would have concluded his speech within two or three minutes. The Minister, by his own. action, has delayed the passage of the Appropriation Bill by at least an hour. I suggest that he displayed very little common sense. Had the Minister appreciated the fact that a debate of this kind affords to honorable senators an opportunity to raise all kinds of matters relevant to a certain department, he would now have been much further ahead from the point of view of the passage of the bill.
I come now to the question that was raised by the Attorney-General (.Senator Spicer), when he stated that, because it was permissible for an honorable senator, during the debate on the motion for the first reading of this bill, to address the chamber for an hour and a half, there was no need to go into detail in committee.
– That is not what the Minister said. He cited Standing Order 203.
– I direct the attention of the Senate to the fact that the bill contains only four relatively short .clauses, but the Second Schedule to the bill comprises 196 closely printed foolscap pages, not one-fiftieth of which could even be read by an honorable senator in the time allotted to him. Adequate time for detailed discussion should be allowed at the committee stage. It was absurd for the Attorney-General to say there was no need for us to go into detail at the committee stage.
The Attorney-General also claimed that it would be absurd if, during the consideration of the Estimates for a certain department, an honorable senator could deal with an act administered by that department, because that practice would allow honorable senators to address themselves to a variety of legislation. I point out that we have that right in committee, because the Chairman asks, “Are there any requests ? “ “Why would it not be a proper request, if Senator Hendrickson or any other honorable senator said, “ I request that some of the time for which the Commissioner of Taxation and his staff are paid should be devoted to a consideration of whether sales tax should not be lifted from a particular item “ ?
– The Chairman acts in accordance with Standing Order 203.
– I submit that, from a coldly legal viewpoint, as well as a. traditional viewpoint, the Chairman of Committees was in errol1. I do not think that, by his remarks, he helped to clarify his ruling. “We have a traditional right in this matter, which should not be abrogated. I shall be disappointed if some Government senators do not support my objection to the ruling.
– I believe that the Chairman of Committees gave a correct ruling. We must apply ourselves to the particular item in the schedule that is before the committee. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has referred to our rights. On the 7th December, 1927, when an appropriation measure was being discussed in this chamber, the then President, Senator the Honorable Sir George Newlands, stated - as reported in Mansard, Volume 117, at page 2738 -
On the first reading of an Appropriation Bill wide latitude is all’owed in debate, but at the Committee stage discussion must be relevant to an item in the schedule, and, within the discretion of the Chairman, may be confined strictly to that item.
It will be seen from that ruling, that discussion must be relevant to an item in the schedule. An important part of the ruling refers to the discretion of the Chairman. As I have said, the Chairman acted strictly in accordance with precedent. If honorable senators were to conform strictly to the Standing Orders, by addressing themselves to a certain item in the schedule, they would enhance the prestige of this chamber.
– Having listened to argument from both sides of the Senate, I uphold the ruling of the Chairman.
In committee: Consideration resumed (vide page 688).
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £7,911,000.
– I refer to the item, “ Salaries and allowances as per schedule, page 148 “ under Division 47 - Superannuation Board - for which the proposed vote is £56,000. The Department of the Treasury is charged with the dual duty of protecting the interests of the Superannuation Board and those of contributors to the Superannuation Fund. We should consider whether those functions are being discharged correctly. During the last twelve months, petitions from public servants have been presented to the Senate, in which attention was directed to the fact that, due to inflation, in many instances pensions payable from the fund were insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for the recipients. “Will the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who represents the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in this chamber, inform me whether proper consideration has been given to the petitions that I have mentioned, and what steps have been taken to ensure that the pensions of public servants shall be an appropriate reward for their services. I hope the Minister will inform me of what the Government has done to rectify the injustices to which attention has been directed in petitions presented to this chamber.
– I refer to Division 49 - Government Printer. According to the schedule of salaries and wages, provision has been made for a salary of £2,122 for the Government Printer, who is the head of a sub-department, as it were, for which the proposed vote is £222,500. The office is at present vacant. Included in that proposed vote is provision of £95,000 for salaries and wages, and £120,000 for temporary and casual employees. Provision is made for extra duty pay amounting to £7,500. I believe that the Government is not making sufficient provision to attract to this very important and responsible office a man of vast experience. The whole question of government printing should be considered more searchingly than ever before. I wish to mention the functions of the Government Printer, with particular reference to the printing of acts and other parliamentary papers In. October, 1953, I addressed a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer on a matter of very great importance. I directed attention to the fact that from eight months to nine months elapsed before copies of consolidated income tax legislation were made available to the public. When the Parliament altered the income tax law in November of a year, it would be July or August of the following year before the consolidated act was available. As there are from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 taxpayers in this country, this delay must be looked into. The answer given to me indicated that considerable delay had taken place between the preparation of the draft of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Act in December, 1952, and the printing. It was the end of July, 1953, before the Government Printer finished his work. All of the delay did not occur in the Government Printing Office. There must be a complete lack of liaison between the Attorney-General’s Department, the Taxation Branch, and the Government Printer. We may not be paying enough attention to the staff and management of this important office. We should have a look at what is happening in other parts of the world in relation to government printing, where copies of acts may be procured readily from stationery offices. In Adelaide, copies of Commonwealth acts are available only at a small office in the Sub-Treasury, whereas in Great Britain, the Government Stationery Office is a prominent building in London, where copies of government publications are readily available. They may also be obtained from stationery shops. I should like to see a complete reorganization of this important office so. that important government publications could be printed and distributed within a matter of a few days. Sometimes almost a year elapses before a report is printed. That delay is, of course, not entirely due to the Government Printing Office. However, I understand that congestion does occur there, and that consequently delays are inevitable. I was very pleased to read in to-day’s Adelaide Advertiser an advertisement for a Commonwealth Government Printer. I notice that applications are widely sought for this position. The Commonwealth is seeking some one who has had experience in the management and control of a modern printing establishment, and is promising that assistance in the provision of housing accommodation will be given. The salary to be paid upon appointment will be commensurate with experience and qualifications. So, it looks as if the Government is making a strenuous effort to obtain the services of a good printer. I fear, however, that the financial provision made in the Estimates for this joh» may not be adequate for such a responsible position, and I ask the
Government to consider offering a higher figure than that now before us, because I regard the rapid printing of government documents as of supreme importance. It is essential that there should be as little delay as possible between the passing of laws by this Parliament and their availability in printed form to the general public. I plead, therefore, for a more modern method of distributing such documents.
– In view of the debate that took place earlier to-night about the scope of the discussion on the Estimates, I should like your guidance, Mr. Temporary Chairman, before embarking upon the subject which I propose to raise now. It relates to the administration of the Commonwealth Bank in relation to the provision by the Commonwealth of a guarantee in accordance with certain legislation passed by the Parliament. This matter was the subject of a question that I directed to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) in his capacity as Minister representing the Treasurer, a week or so ago. Will I be permitted to. discuss this matter in relation to the Estimates for the Department of the Treasury ? Possibly I may be able to use as a peg on which to hang my remarks the provision made in the schedule of salaries and allowances for officers of the Banking Trade and Industry Branch of the Treasury.
– I cannot give a ruling on that matter at this stage. I suggest you go ahead with your remarks.
– A week or two ago, I directed a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer on the subject of the guarantee for £1,500,000 given by the Commonwealth to the Commonwealth Bank in respect of a sum obtained by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited from that bank. Section 4 of the Civil Aviation Agreement Act of 1952 provides that the Commonwealth Government may give guarantees up to the sum of £3,000,000 in respect of loans by financial institutions to that company for certain purposes, including the purchase of aircraft. I am not making an attack on Australian National
Airways Proprietary Limited. My concern is with the activities of the Industrial Finance’ Department of the Commonwealth Bank. I asked the Minister whether the sum of £1,500,000 which was lent, and which was the subject of a bill of sale, reference to which appears in a Brisbane mercantile gazette and, no doubt, in similar journals in the other cities, was made available by the Industrial Finance Department of the Commonwealth Bank or by the Central Bank, and whether, if the money was made available by the Industrial Finance Department, it came from that department’s own resources, or whether the Industrial Finance Department would be recouped by the Central Bank. I was concerned because, when looking at the balance-sheets of the Commonwealth Bank for the last few years, I found that loans by the Industrial Finance Department had amounted to £24,361,790 in 1953.
– Order ! I ask the honorable senator to state how he proposes to connect his remarks with the Estimates.
– I am endeavouring to relate my remarks to Division 42 of the Estimates, and more particularly to the Banking Trade and Industry Branch pf the Treasury, which is staffed by a first assistant secretary, an assistant secretary, chief finance officers, and so on. I do not know what the functions of any of those officers are, but, apparently, the whole branch is concerned with banking, trade and industry. I do not criticize the officers of that branch for any lack of supervision in this matter because, possibly, they have not the statutory power. Nevertheless, I thought that this might be an adequate prop on which to hang the matter that I wish to bring before the committee.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.It is hanging very precariously.
– I do not know whether I can attach it any more firmly, but I hope that, having got this far, I will be granted the indulgence of the Chair to complete my remarks. Alternatively, perhaps you, Mr. Chairman, can suggest a more appropriate item of the Estimates to which I can relate my remarks.
– I scarcely think that is my prerogative.
– Are you ruling that I am not entitled to proceed?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.No, not at this stage.
– I have said loans by the Industrial Finance Department of the Commonwealth Bank in the year 1953 amounted to approximately £22,979,000. In 1952, the corresponding figure was approximately £24,680,000. In other words, there was a decline in the amount of money made available by that department of the Commonwealth Bank to industry in general. It would appear, therefore, that the Commonwealth Bank i3 pursuing some sort of credit restriction policy or, alternatively, that it has no money available for lending. This is where I come to the point of my submission: The charter of the Industrial Finance Department-
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! I cannot allow the honorable senator to debate the credit policy of the Commonwealth Bank.
– I am dealing now with the charter of the Industrial Finance Department, and I am referring to the policy of the Government and to the responsibility of the officers of the Banking, Trade and Finance Branch of the Treasury, to ensure that banking, trade and finance, particularly banking, are carried out in accordance with the statute under which the banks, especially the Commonwealth Bank which is a government instrumentality, operate. I submit with deference that I should be allowed to proceed while I pursue that line. Section 95 of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945-1948, under which the Industrial Finance Department of the bank was established, states -
The functions of the Industrial Finance Department shall be - (») to provide finance for the establishment and development of industrial undertakings, particularly small undertakings ;
That is the significant point. In other words, this department of the bank has a particular responsibility to make moneys available to small industrial undertakings. That was the whole intent of the legislation. If at any stage the bank finds it necessary, because of general economic conditions, or because of the state of its own finances to restrict credit, that restriction obviously must be applied in the last instance to those undertakings whose interests are particularly the bank’s concern. We find, however, that, at a time when the Industrial Finance Department has been reducing the amount of loans, the sum of £1,500,000 has been tied up in one particular organization. That is the point I am bringing to the Minister’s notice. That is why I have asked which department of the Commonwealth Bank made this money available. If the Industrial Finance Department has made such a huge sum available to one concern - £1,500,000 out of funds totalling £25,000,000 is a large proportion - and that department is not being recouped by any other section of the bank, I say that it is acting in violation of the charter under which it was established, and avoiding the obligation for which it was created. The Minister stated in his reply to my question - and it is a very proper point although I do not know whether it is validly made in this case -
This question raises matters of banker/customer relationship and the internal administration of the Commonwealth Bank about which I am unable to comment.
I feel that, in view of the submissions I have made, the Minister might reconsider his answer, and might feel disposed to tell the committee the circumstances surrounding the lending of this money. A statute recently passed by the Parliament entitles the Commonwealth Government to guarantee certain loan3. Surely when the Government uses that power and gives a guarantee, the Parliament is entitled to know the name of the lending authority. The Government’s obligation to the people and to the Parliament to disclose that information, should outweigh the desirability, which on most occasions I should acknowledge to the full, of preserving banker and customer relations. The Industrial Finance Department, functioning as such, and in the terms of its charter, is a most important economic instrumentality in our community. In a nation such as this, which is looking for the proper and adequate expansion of industry and which requires development, the credit made available by the Industrial Finance Department can be a significant component in a balanced programme of national development. Should the bank in any way restrict its ability to carry out that statutory objective, and should such conduct on the part of the bank be condoned by the Government when it is asked to give its guarantee, a very bad service would be done to the community and the position would merit comment by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who represents the Treasurer in this chamber. I do not suggest for a moment that there is anything in this matter other than what appears from the facts that I have stated. Nevertheless, I should like to know whether the Industrial Finance Department made this money available from its own resources, and whether, as the result of that tremendous financial commitment to a very big organization, the bank was prevented from acting strictly in accordance with its charter. I should also like to know whether other applicants, of the type in immediate contemplation by the legislation, were precluded from receiving the financial assistance they desired? The case of a man who was unable to obtain such assistance has been mentioned to me casually, but I do not know whether that was so. It is significant, however, that this branch of the bank has reduced the total amount of money put out on loan. In my opinion, it is time for the bank to give absolute priority to those who are its prime responsibility. I ask the Minister to have another look at the answer which he kindly gave to me a week or so ago and to consider again the prohibition implicit in banker- and customer relationships. I also ask him to consider whether he does not think that the over-riding right of this Parliament to learn more of this guarantee, and the circumstances in which it was made, outweighs any justifiable reticence he otherwise might have in this matter.
– 1 seek information concerning two items referred to in Division 44 - Taxation Branch. The first is item B 2. - Office requisites and equipment, stationery and printing. The vote last year was £377,400 and expenditure was £309,269, so that there -was a shortfall of more than £68,000 which, in an oldestablished department, is sufficiently large to require some explanation. I notice that the item refers to equipment. It has occurred to me that, possibly, the Taxation Branch had in mind the purchase of some equipment and that the purchase was not made. However, even if that were so, it seems to me that this year’s estimate of £320,000 would not provide sufficient funds to enable such a purchase to be made.
The second item to which I refer is law costs, referred to in Division 44b. The vote last year was £66,000, and expenditure was £78,352. I should like the Minister to explain what actually happens in respect of the engagement of legal advice. To what extent does the Taxation Branch depend upon the legal officers of the Commonwealth, and what factors influence it in going beyond the legal advice which is available within the service? Would it be possible for the Taxation Branch to retain its own legal advisers to do all its legal work, and has a comparison been made to see whether any saving could be effected thereby?
– Division 45 relates to taxation boards of review. I take this opportunity to say that I have heard laudatory expressions of opinion in regard to the work done by these boards. I believe that they interpret their duties in relation to taxpayers in a very fair and objective way. They are, of course, a most important part of the Taxation Branch. I should like the Minister to tell us how many boards of review there are in existence, and whether they sit continuously. In addition, can he give the committee information relating to the number of cases that are at present awaiting hearing by the boards? It has been reported to me that delays in hearings have occurred, and I understand that the Taxation Branch is taking action in the matter, but I do not know the nature of that action.
.- I should like to ask a question concerning Division 42, Section B - General Expenses. It appears, under this section, that office requisites and equipment, stationery aud printing are estimated to cost £25,000 during this year, whereas last year they cost only £8,353. In other words, they are going to cost three times as much this year as they cost last year. It is possible to put a very ominous interpretation indeed on these figures. I do not know whether it means that the Treasury, pursuing its usual occupation of telling ali the other government departments which are concerned with the government of the country that they cannot do what they want to do in the way they want to do it, considers that it will require three times as much office equipment and stationery in order to bring these other departments under Treasury domination. If it does not mean that, what is the reason for the vote increasing threefold in one year?
The other point I wish to raise appears at page 146 of the schedule of salaries and allowances in respect of the Department of the Treasury. Honorable senators will see that the salaries and allowances of officers on the unattached list pending suitable vacancies will cost an estimated £11,960 this year as compared with £1,612 last year. Does that mean that there are now six times as many officers on the unattached list awaiting suitable vacancies, and if so, why? Why cannot the Treasury employ those officers to tell other departments that they cannot do what they want to do in the way they want to do it?
– I direct the attention of the committee to Division 44, Taxation Branch - Salaries and Payments in the Nature of Salary, and the work done by employees of that branch. I also wish to refer to the item “ Outstanding Taxation “ in the Auditor-General’s report, and to point out the very great improvement that has taken place in this connexion during the last twelve months. The position regarding tax assessed and outstanding at the 30th June last, compared with the position at the 30th June, 1953, is quite interesting. A year or so ago, income tax outstanding amounted to £124,000,000, whereas it is now £81,000,000. The total amount of tax outstanding at the 30th June, 1953, was £127,000,000, whereas, at the 30th June last, it was £83,000,000, which, shows a very considerable improvement in the work of getting in outstanding tax. I trust that the departmental officers will continue to overcome this back lag.
I turn now to Division 44b, travelling and subsistence allowances in respect of officers of the Taxation Branch, for which £95,000 is to be set aside this year. I should like to know what proportion of that amount i3 related to travelling and subsistence allowances for officers of the branch who visit country centres. As honorable senators are no doubt aware, the branch sends to major country centres throughout Australia responsible officers during the months of July and August for the purpose of assisting taxpayers, particularly wage-earners, to fill in their taxation returns. Because of that service, in a very short while - sometimes in a matter of days - refunds come back to those taxpayers. I think that the Taxation Branch is to be commended for that service.
– Senator Cooke referred to the question of superannuation payments to retired Commonwealth public servants. I remind the honorable senator that the rates of Commonwealth superannuation were increased appreciably last year. Of course, there is always room for argument about what is a reasonable rate of superannuation, but I assure the honorable senator that the Government has this matter continually under consideration. Senator Laught referred to a situation at the Government Printing Office which has been giving the Administration some little concern. Recently, £32,000 was expended on the purchase of modern plant from England for the Government Printing Office. There is an extensive plan in hand to attract staff that is required for the printing office, and applications for the position of Government Printer are under consideration. Difficulty has been experienced in attracting skilled tradesmen to do the work of the
Government Printing Office. If staff were available, two shifts could be worked with better results generally.
I am sorry that I cannot deal in detail with Senator Byrne’s dissertation about the Industrial Finance Department of the Commonwealth Bank. I suggest that, as a general principle, it is not likely that the Commonwealth Bank will do anything in contravention of its own charter, or that the bank will leave itself short of funds for the purposes for which its industrial finance section was constituted. I believe, on the contrary, that all presumption should be in the other direction. Senator Paltridge referred to the item, “ Office requisites and equipment, stationery and printing, £320,000 “ under Division 44 - Taxation Branch. The answer is that during 1954-55, it will be necessary to replace a considerable number of worn-out office machines with new machines for use in connexion with the introduction of new procedures. Thirtyfour machines will be purchased for the income tax office group.
Senator Paltridge raised a rather interesting point about the item, “Law costs, £50,000 “ under Division 44 - Taxation Branch. Expenditure on this item was £78,352 in 1953 and the proposed vote for 1954-55 is £50,000. Last year, expenditure included approximately £30,000 in connexion with an appeal to the Privy Council by the Squatting Investment Company Limited. Possibly the honorable senator has overlooked the fact that when the Taxation Branch becomes involved in litigation, it has to retain counsel. Generally, the Taxation Branch uses the services of the Crown Law Officers, but when it is involved in litigation in a court, it is necessary to retain counsel. In reply to Senator Vincent, there are three taxation boards of review - one each in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. I regret that I have no information available about the back lag of cases, if there is one now awaiting hearing by the boards of review. Under Division 42 - Administrative, Senator Gorton referred to the item, “ Office requisites and equipment, stationery and printing, £25,000” compared with £8,353 actual’ expenditure last year. The increase is almost wholly accounted for by the provision of £16,000 for the purchase of new comprehensive accounting machines that are to be used in the Treasury at Canberra and in the sub-Treasuries in each State. The purchase of these machines will be justified by the saving of time that will result and by similar benefits. I am informed that the larger number of officers shown on the unattached list is due to the fact that a re-organization of the Department of the Treasury is now in progress and the staff has not been finally provided or decided upon.
– Can the Minister give more details of the kind of reorganization that is in progress?
– I should prefer to answer that question by letter because it is difficult to pick out the details from the papers that are available to me.
– Will the Minister give me a written reply ?
– I shall ask the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to write to the honorable senator. Senator Laught asked whether it would be possible to dissect the travelling expenses for country taxation officers. I am informed that that information is not readily available, but a general indication that the amount is only comparatively a small proportion of the vote is given by the fact that the biggest proportion of the proposed vote of £95,000 is used for taxation investigators as distinct from taxation advisers.
– On the matter raised by Senator Laught regarding expenditure on travelling allowances and subsistence of taxation officers who visit the country, I do not believe that the honorable senator wanted to know the exact amount that had been provided for the purpose. I understood that he wanted to know whether the proposed expenditure included that required for the new activity of the Taxation Branch in sending officers to various country centres. The reply that has been given by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) indicated that it is included in the proposed vote, and I am pleased that the amount has been increased to £95,000 compared with an actual expenditure last year of £91,860. The vote for that purpose last year was £183,500, but the expenditure fell short of that amount. This activity of the Taxation Branch should be extended wherever possible. It has given great satisfaction to taxpayers in country districts, and has also lightened the work of members of both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament. Many country taxpayers are not able to visit the metropolitan areas often, and when they do so, they have difficulty in locating the officers who deal with these matters. Therefore, I believe that this has been an excellent innovation. The Only impression that many taxpayers have had of taxation officers was that gained from published jokes, and they were rather wary of the officers. Many of them have now had an opportunity of coming into contact with representatives of a body of men who are courteous, obliging and helpful to taxpayers when problems are submitted to them. I hope that the increase of the proposed vote over the actual expenditure last year on this item will mean an extension of that excellent service, and that more taxation officers will visit the country where they will be able to assist taxpayers with their problems.
I turn my attention now to Division 4S - Bureau of Census and Statistics. I notice that last year the expenditure on temporary and casual employees under this heading was £101,416 of a vote of £108,000. This year, provision has been made for the expenditure of £91,000. I have examined the schedule applied to this bureau, and I could not see where the staff had been reduced very much. I fully expected that there would be an increase of expenditure last year because of the census that was taken. An army of officers was employed in connexion with the census. I know that there will not be another census possibly for ten years, but I should like to place on record now the fact that there was considerable objection to the manner in which the census was taken, and the method of collecting information. The census returns are supposed to be private. That is stated on the form that was issued to householders, but the householders had to hand the completed forms over to the collectors unsealed. The collectors were not officers of the Bureau of Census and Statistics, sworn to secrecy. They had every opportunity to read the answers that were contained in the forms. As I have said, the next census is far distant in time, but before the last census was taken, there was no discussion in this chamber of the method that was to be adopted in taking the census. The form was not submitted to honorable senators, and we had no opportunity of expressing an opinion. Therefore, I take this opportunity of referring to the matter, and I hope that my criticism will be noted by census officers. I hope that, in future, greater facilities will be afforded for the census forms to be treated as private documents, completed only for the information of the Bureau of Census and Statistics and for officers whose job it is to keep the information they obtain to themselves. Many people told me that the census was not private, as they had been led to believe. Some correspondence appeared in the press in connexion with similar complaints. I hope something will be done about that matter in the future. I am pleased to note that taxation officers are moving about the country giving information to taxpayers.
– I refer to the taxation boards of review. I know the Minister cannot tell me now the number of cases that are waiting to be heard by the boards, but I ask him whether he is prepared to let me have the information privately, so that my query can be settled. I assure him that delay is occurring in the hearing of cases by the boards. I should much appreciate an assurance from him that the information I seek will be given to me in due course.
– I refer to the item in respect of salaries for temporary and casual employees of the Taxation Branch, but my remarks apply with equal force to almost every other government department. I want to say at the outset of my remarks that I know from my observations that there has been some improvement in this connexion since I raised the matter two or three years ago. The point I make is that any honorable senator who has had anything at all to do with the Taxation Branch knows that it employs a very well-trained staff. Even the temporary employees of the branch - I am not referring to officers on the eve of retirement but to young officers, both male and female, who are not yet approaching middle age - are specialists. As these people, with their special knowledge of the ramifications of the taxation legislation, are rendering such valuable service to the Government, I cannot understand why more is not done to give them permanent status. I do not think I shall be contradicted when I say that, certainly since the introduction of uniform taxation, these temporary employees have performed a large proportion of the work of the branch. It is important work, which requires considerable skill and knowledge. I do not think there is any doubt that the temporary employees are rendering a practical service to the community, and that they deserve to be given permanent status. Those remarks, of course, do not apply to the casual employee, although I think in quite a number of instances more attention should be paid to them. I assume that the majority of the casual employees are called upon to do only work of a casual nature. I hope the Government will consider the work that the temporary employees have done for the Taxation Branch and reward them accordingly.
In Division 48, which relates to the Bureau of Census and Statistics, there is an item in respect of the hire, service and maintenance of machines for the tabulation of statistics. I notice that last year £28,186 was expended for this purpose, and that the estimated expenditure for this year is £29,500. That seems to me to be a huge sum for the bureau to pay for the hire, service and maintenance of tabulating machines. I ask the Minister to tell us ‘the firms from which the machines are hired, and in whose employment are the technicians who maintain and service them. I should be very glad, to receive any information he can give me on this item.
– I refer to Division 44 - Taxation Branch. For a change, I shall not criticize the Government, although I realize that, in a debate on the Estimates, honorable senators have an absolute right to criticize the Government’s expenditure of public funds. I shall direct my remarks to item 8, “ Uniform Income Tax - Compensation to State governments for the use of accommodation, furniture and equipment £81,000”. I hope that, because of the wise action taken by the Government recently, the full amount will not be expended in the current year. Since the budget papers were presented to the Parliament, the Government has taken certain action in Hobart on which I congratulate it. It has purchased a building in that city that will provide adequate and decent accommodation for the staff of the Taxation Branch there. I hope I am not out of order in reminding honorable senators that some months ago, speaking on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, I directed attention to the grave need for the Government to take action to improve the conditions under which officers of the Taxation Branch were working. I pointed out that the Commonwealth was occupying three or four buildings in Hobart, including the caretaker’s cottage of the Customs House. Some of the buildings were owned by .private enterprise. They were all occupied by employees of the Taxation Branch, who were working under shocking conditions - conditions that would not be permitted in a private organization. Some of us urged the Government to take action to provide better accommodation for its employees. I congratulate it on having purchased a building which will enable it to give decent working conditions to employees of the Taxation Branch in Hobart, and to vacate premises required by the State Government and private enterprise. As a result, I hope that during the current financial year it will not be necessary to expend the whole of the £81,000 that appears on the Estimates for the payment of rent by the Taxation Branch for the use of other people’s property. (Quorum formed.]
.- I refer to the Division 44- Taxation Branch. I congratulate the branch on having sent its officers throughout the country last year to assist people to complete their income tax returns. That service was of great assistance to many people in country districts, and 1 hope it will be possible to extend it to other centres this year. I want to refer to another matter, although I do not know whether I shall be in order in doing so. I cannot find an appropriate item in the Estimates to which to relate my remarks, but the matter may be wrapped up in items relating to printing. It is referred to in the Auditor-General’s report, where reference is made to a net profit of £5,7,06,000 on the Australian note issue. The point I want to make is that the design of Australian bank notes is altered repeatedly. That is a source of great inconvenience to business people in Australia and, I should say, also to people in countries adjacent to Australia. The 10s. note that was issued recently was very much like the old £10 note. I do not suppose the Bank of England has changed the design of its notes for 50 or 60 years, or probably longer, with the result that Bank of England notes are known everywhere. We have a habit of changing the design of our notes frequently and, as I have said, that causes a great deal of inconvenience. I think it is time that we fixed some standard for our bank notes and adhered to it, so that business people will have no difficulty in recognizing the notes. I ask the Treasury to consider that matter.
– I refer to Division 48 - Bureau of Census and Statistics. Last year, £101,416 was expended on the salaries of temporary and casual employees of the bureau. This year, the estimate for that purpose is £91,000. As a Commonwealthwide census was taken last year, I should like to know whether the salaries of all temporary employees engaged on the census are included in the item of £101,416. If so, why is it necessary for the bureau, in view of the great amount of work involved in taking a census, to ask for only about £10,000 less this year for temporary employees than was expended last year? The bureau is rendering a valuable service to the people of Australia, and its publications are of great benefit to people in every walk of life. However, the Commonwealth Year-Booh, for which the bureau is responsible, has not yet appeared for the last two or three years. The information is published in sections, but it is not collated, as was the case previously. I should like to know why the Commonwealth Year-Book is not being printed now. Is it for reasons of economy?
I endorse the remarks made by Senator Seward about alterations of the design of Commonwealth bank notes. I think it will be appropriate to relate my remarks to Division 49, which deals with the Government Printer. For some reason unknown to me and, I am certain, to almost everybody else in Australia, the colour of our bank notes has been changed. This has caused a good deal of confusion. A lot of people are not blessed with good sight. I have heard from shopkeepers that they are having difficulty in distinguishing between pound notes and ten shilling notes. It would be well to preserve the old, well-defined differences in the colours of notes so as to avoid the present confusion.
I now wish to speak on Division 48b - Bureau of Census and Statistics, Item 5. Hire, service and maintenance of machines for tabulation of statistics. Provision is made for the expenditure of £29,500 in the coming year whereas £28,186 was expended on this item last year. Will the Minister for Repatriation explain why it was necessary to expend £28,186 last year on the hire of machines, which, I suppose, would represent a big proportion of this sum? Would it not be better for this item of expenditure to be eliminated by the purchase of such important machinery? Why does the Bureau find it necessary to expend £29,500 on the hire of machines instead of purchasing them outright ?
– I desire to ask some questions on Division 4Sb, Item 6, “Wool statistical service, £13,500”. I know that during the war years it was essential for the Government to have a complete statistical record of the amount of wool, including various types of counts, that was available to consumer countries and to Australian industry. I suppose it is still necessary to have that information, but I am a little doubtful as to why this amount should be set aside for a continuation of that service by the Bureau of Census and Statistics. Is this service being carried out by the bureau? Or is this payment made to some outside organization which provides this service in order that the Government and industry may know what types of wool are available? Would it be possible for this service to be performed, as I understand it was performed formerly,’ by the various wool-broking firms, which handle wool for export and local consumption? Most wool-broking firms, such as Elder Smith and Company Limited, keep a very complete record of the wool that goes through their hands. They know the amount of wool, the various types of wool, and the various counts of wool that go through their hands. I suggest that this is one item of expenditure that could be abolished because I do not doubt that these statistics could be made available by the various wool-broking firms. This is not a large item of expenditure but I suggest that it could be eliminated. I am sure that the wool-broking firms would be prepared to provide this statistical service to the Government free of charge.
– T wish to speak on Division 4S - Bureau of Census and Statistics. The expenditure under this division last year amounted to £433,637, and the estimate for the current year is £442,000.
– That is for salaries.
– I realize that it is for salaries and work performed. I should like to make these remarks without assistance from anybody. During this year a census was taken, as it is taken every ten years. Most of us attach some importance to the results of the census, one of which is the fixing of the number of seats for which members of the House of Representatives will be elected. We know the trouble and expense to which the Government went recently in order to distribute census forms for the purpose of collecting accurate information. It is very unsatisfactory to find that in some districts the census papers have not been collected. Information is filtering through that in certain portions of Queensland census papers still have not been collected. I expect that these papers will not be collected. Perhaps the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) will be able to inform the Senate whether he has received any reports to the effect that census papers have not been collected in some States.
– My remarks will relate to Division 4S - Bureau of Census and Statistics. At present, important figures are being released by the Bureau of Census and Statistics concerning population in country and city areas. It has been brought to my notice that the bureau has forwarded these figures to various newspapers, both metropolitan and provincial. The bureau has been careful to point out that these figures should not be published before a certain hour on a certain day but, as far as I know, the bureau has not made sufficient provision for the information to reach the newspapers before the stipulated time. Because of the post by which the figures have been sent, they have arrived at certain provincial centres after the stipulated time of release. Consequently, provincial newspapers have been at a disadvantage because they have received these figures after the metropolitan newspapers have released them. This state of affairs has caused considerable comment in certain rural areas in South Australia. I ask the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to ensure that, whenever possible, these figures shall be sent by airmail to provincial newspapers, and that sufficient time i3 allowed for the information to reach the newspapers before the stipulated time of release.
– I shall speak on Division 44- Taxation Branch. I believe that it is the policy of the Government to reduce the number of civil servants employed. However, on looking at the estimates of expenditure for the Department of the Treasury I note that there has been an increase of 143 officers in the Taxation Branch. These are mainly employed in the Taxation Branch offices in Victoria and New south Wales. Why is it that in New South Wales and Victoria the number of employees has increased whilst in Western Australia the number of employees has been reduced?
– With regard to the remarks of Senator Critchley and Senator O’Byrne about the cost of hiring machines, I have to inform the Senate that these machines are hired from the British Tabulating Company Limited. They are not purchased because the company owns the machines and lets them out. They are serviced by, and remain the property of, the company.
– How many of them are used?
– I do not know, but they are very expensive machines. understand that the company does not sell the machines. They only hire them out and service them. I presume that the company holds the patents in respect of the machines. Senator Laughtspoke on the release of census figures. This matter will be brought to the notice of the appropriate authority.
In reply to Senator Benn and Senator O’Byrne, I inform the Senate that the cost of the census is not shown under Division 48 - but is met from a special vote of £850,000 under Division 191 on page 85 of the Estimates. I understand that the increase in taxation staff in New South Wales and Victoria, which was mentioned by Senator Wordsworth, is due to temporary positions having been placed on a permanent basis.
Proposed vote agreed to.
That consideration of the proposed votes for the following departmentsbe postponed : - Attorney-General’s Department.
Department of the Interior.
Department of Works.
Proposed vote, £2,503,000.
– In view of my recent visit to Rum Jungle, I should be glad if the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) would inform me whether the work there is being carried out byan outside agency.
– I inform Senator Armstrong that Territory Enterprises
Limited is carrying on entirely in its own right. It makes its arrangements independently of the Department of Works.
.- I refer to Item 7, Plan printing, under B - General Expenses - of Division 68 - Administrative for which the proposed vote is £22,000, compared with an expenditure on this item in the last financial year of £33,788. Will the Minister inform me of the reason for the reduced provision for this important work?
I come now to Item 17,. “ Incidental and other expenditure £57,000, compared with an expenditure of £33,204 in the last financial year. Would it not be possible for details of proposed expenditure under this heading to be itemized?
I should like to refer, also, to the item “ Purchase of office machines “, £50,000, compared with an expenditure on this item in the last financial year of £6,961. Can the Minister say why such a relatively large provision is being made in this financial year?
– Due to the installation of plan printing machines in three branches, a substantial reduction of expenditure will be effected. The greatly increased provision for the purchase of office machines is due to the fact that the Government has decided to purchase modern accounting machines for detailed projects, costing and other purposes. Although provision was made in the last financial year for the purchase of these machines, agreement with the Public Service Board as to the type of machine which should be bought was not obtained until quite recently. Approval has now been given for the purchase of 21 machines, and provision hasbeen made for payment for seventeen of them during this financial year. As Senator Seward is aware, accounting machines are very expensive items, but they add greatly to the efficiency of an organization.
The honorable senator referred also to the item, Incidental and other expenditure. I have before me a list setting out details. It runs into two typewritten pages. The principal item in the list relates to accident payments and act of grace payments, for which provision of £32,000 has been made. The remainder of the items in the list involve only relatively small amounts. Provision of £6,000 is made for technical investigations in soil testing laboratories, and £3,000 for the purchase of text-books, magazines, and newspapers.
– I do not require any further details.
. I wish to refer to Division 69 - Repairs and Maintenance - for which the proposed vote is £929,000. Paragraph 62 of the annual report of the Auditor-General for the year ended the 30th June, 1954, in relation to the purchase of asbestos cement sheets, reads -
There were unsatisfactory features associated with a contract for the purchase of asbestos cement sheets which resulted in a substantial loss of public funds.
In 1950 the department let a contract for the overseas supply of asbestos cement sheets of British Standard Specification No.690 for £57,602, payment to be made against documents (including a works test certificate when goods were about to be shipped). The department reserved the right to test the materialon delivery.
Notwithstanding the provision for tests, no works tost certificate was received by the department and no test was made by the department on delivery of the goods in October, 1950.
In 1952, following adverse reports, a special test disclosed that the material did not comply with the required specifications.
Subsequently, the Minister approved the disposal by public tender of stocks then held in New South Wales and the acceptance of the highest tender resulted in a loss of approximately £12,000. When added to losses, estimated at £8,000, through breakages on projects throughout the Commonwealth, the total loss on this contract was approximately £20,000.
I point out that a loss of £20,000 of the taxpayers’ money cannot be regarded as peanuts. The fact thatthis loss was incurred through the purchase of inferior asbestos cement sheets is somewhat frightening. The taxpayers of this country are entitled to expect that efficiency shall be exercised in relation to the purchasing of building materials. Apparently a ship load of asbestos cement sheets was purchased at a cost of £57,000, and, due to neglect - apparently by supervisors - a loss of £12,000 was incurred. The Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes) cannot escape responsibility in the matter, because it is his duty to ensure that efficiency shall be displayed by responsible departmental officers. A further loss of £8,000 was incurred through breakages. The Government has been in office sufficiently long to ensure that the staff of the Department of Works is efficient and capable of protecting the interests of the taxpayers. It is very disquieting to learn that £20,000 of their money has gone down the drain through inefficiency. We do not like to see tie Auditor-General referring to such matters ; it is disturbing to learn that they occur. If the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) is aware of any reason for the loss of £20,000 other than the one that I have mentioned, I should be glad if he would inform the committee of it. In view of the acute shortage of building materials, it is most unsatisfactory to learn of this loss. As we all know, there is a severe shortage of asbestos cement sheets for use on farms and in the construction of industrial premises and houses for the people. We have always accepted the report of the Auditor-General as an unimpeachable document,and I hope that the Minister will make an explanation in connexion with this matter.
I should be glad if the Minister would also supply me with details in relation to the proposed votes of £250,000 for repairs and maintenance for the Department of the Interior and £185,000 for repairs and maintenance for the Department of Immigration.
I take this opportunity to refer to the activities of the Department of Works at the Woomera West settlement in South Australia. I give credit to the department for the enormousamount of excellent building construction that it has carried out at the long range weapons establishment. In truth, the departmental officers were pioneers in that area. In the early stages, about eight or ten years ago, they erected small hutments and messrooms. Much of the building programme connected with the Woomera village has been completed, but the construction camp that I have mentioned remains. It is now a slum town on the edge of the village. I ask the Minister to consider eliminating this slum section of the town gradually. I consider that, ultimately, the control of all activities in the Woomera West village, including nurseries, tree-growing, and shops should be vested in the Department of Supply.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Chairman do now leave the chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Chairman having reported accordingly,
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– When intending travellers by TransAustralia Airlines aircraft reach Essendon aerodrome they hear an announcement that country passengers may leave their cars at the aerodrome while they are away and that the cars will be serviced ready for them to pick up when they return. Ihave no objection to that. It is a very Helpful scheme, and I see no reason why similar facilities should not be made available at a busy airport such as Western Junction, in Tasmania. At, that aerodrome, there is a big iron building which was erected during the war years hut which has never been used as a hangar except on one occasion when a couple of Tiger Moth aircraft were housed in it when awaiting sale. Many country people, and even members of Parliament, who travelled to the islands, and to other parts of Tasmania by air used to leave their cars in that building while they were away. The vehicles were not in anybody’s way. How- ever, not long ago a Mr. Strickland was appointed assistant airport manager at Western Junction. To show his authority, he banned the parking of motor cars in what he termed the hangar. He said that the practice was contrary to civil aviation regulations, and was dangerous. Apparently, however, it is not dangerous for Trans-Australia Airlines to park its buses in that building, and Trans-Australia Airlines has no objection to the use of the building for the parking of cars. There is plenty of space, and I fail to see that the parking of cars constitutes any danger whatsoever. Travellers now have to park their cars on what is known as the “ car park ‘’ on the aerodrome where there is no protection whatsoever for them. In winter, radiators are liable to be damaged by frost, and in summer tyres are scorched by the heat or perhaps removed altogether by thieves. The Minister for Civil Aviation should persuade Mr. Strickland to be reasonable in this matter and permit the parking of cars in the iron building. I am sure that that arrangement was most convenient to honorable senators opposite as it was to myself. I am certain that the parking of cars in thebuilding could not possibly be nearly so dangerous as a pilot, under the influence of liquor, playing ringaringarosy on the runway. However, I shall not enlarge upon that matter at this stage. It will keep until a later date pending certain events. I shall have no hesitation in referring to the matter again if I think it necessary to do so. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation to take this matter up and see whether he can induce Mr. Strickland to be a little more reasonable, particularly in view of the service that is rendered by Trans-Australia Airlines in Melbourne.
– On September the 28th, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) announced that, for the immediate present, youths who live beyond a reasonable distance from Citizen Military Forces centres, would have their military training under the national service training scheme deferred. Sir Philip McBride also announced Cabinet’s decision that the training of rural workers would be deferred. That decision was based on the recommendation of the service chiefs. In a broadcast over station 4KQ, Brisbane, last week, the Queensland Treasurer, the Honorable E. J. Walsh, made the rather startling statement that the “ wealthy squattocracy as represented by the Country party has.
Bought an exemption for country lads “.
Country people of Australia have never failed in their duty in time of peace or in time of war. They have always been in the vanguard so far as military obligations are concerned. Mr. Walsh’s statement is absolutely untrue and is what I would call hitting below the belt. I have ascertained from the acting Leader of the Australian Country party, Sir Earle Page, that no representations for deferment of training of rural employees have ever been made to the Commonwealth Government by the Parliamentary Country party, by the Country party organizations of the various States, or by representatives of the pastoral and agricultural industries throughout Australia. I can say. too, that this matter has never been discussed in the party room of the Australian Country party in Canberra. The decision was, as I have said, a Cabinet decision based on the recommendations of the defence authorities and on practicality as well. Those are the facts, and I take this opportunity to give a flat denial of what the Queensland Treasurer said over the air.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Commonwealth Grants Commision Act -
Commonwealth Grants Commission - Twenty-first Report (1954).
Customs Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1954, No. 98.
Customs Act and Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1954, Nos. 100, 101.
Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1954, No. 97.
Egg Export Control Act - Seventh Annual Report of the Australian Egg Board, for year 1953-54.
Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1954, No. 99.
Judiciary Act - Rule of Court, dated 22nd September, 1954 (Statutory Rules 1954, No. 102).’
Lands Acquisition Act - Land,&c., acquired for-
Department of Civil Aviation purposes - Coffs Harbour, New South Wales (2).
Postal purposes -
Bibbenluke, New South Wales.
Bobundara, New South Wales.
Tarcutta, New South Wales.
Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Regulations - 1 954 - No.8 (Health Ordinance). No. 9 (Slaughtering Ordinance). No. 10 (Marine Ordinance). Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Repatriation - H. B. Ryan. Works - T. Andrzejaczek, E. B. Thompson.
Senate adjourned at 11.9 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 13 October 1954, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1954/19541013_senate_21_s4/>.