21st Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Minister for National Development any report to make to the Senate 2-egarding the future of the coal-fields of Australia, following the discussions that were held in Canberra yesterday?
– The honorable senator’s question has left the matter high, wide and handsome. I give him the small comfort that yesterday, together with my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, I had a meeting with representatives of the unions concerned and the Joint Coal Board. I think it may fairly be said that the consensus of opinion was that this Government was doing all that could be done in the circumstances. There is only one additional matter to which I desire to refer. We were asked to endeavour to arrange with the proprietors not to fill vacancies in mines, but to leave thom open, so that if there were any dismissals at other mines those vacancies would be available to the dismissed men. I make the point now that I made yesterday, that there is a good deal of exaggeration concerning the position existing on the coal-fields in New South Wales. The simple fact is that the production and consumption of coal this year is running at a higher level than it was last year. In those circumstances, there should not hi” any cause for panic or excitement. What is happening is that the mines are becoming increasingly efficient, coal is in ample supply, consumers are in a position to pick and choose, and, consequently, are going for the better and cheaper coal; and as a result those mines that are not producing the better and cheaper coal arc feeling the effect so that there are displacements from their staffs. As men are displaced, there have so far been ample vacancies in other mines to absorb them. That is the overall picture. There is, of <our.se, the persona] problem - that whilst there may be vacancies, it might not suit those who are seeking new positions U’ move from one area to another. However, we must look at this matter from the point of view of the industry as whole, and, as I have said, the position is that production is higher than it was last year, the price of coal is lower than it was last year, and there are number? of vacancies for miners on the coal-fields if they should lose their present employment.
– In view of the recent increases that have occurred in shipping freights, and in order to ascertain whether working conditions on ih? waterfront have been in any way responsible for such increases, will the Minister representing the Prime Minister endeavour to have a report obtained from the’ Stevedoring Industry Committee of Inquiry, which is investigating working conditions on the waterfront, and make such report available to honorable senators in time to ensure that any remedial legislation that may be recommended can be dealt with during the current session of Parliament?
– I understand that the inquiry referred to by the honorable senator has been conducted at the instance of my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service. I shall lake up with him the matter raised by the honorable senator and let him have an answer in due course.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport whether it is possible to increase the number of services on the. trans-Australian railway line from five days a week to six or seven days? Many people who do not travel by plane are anxious to travel on this line, and I understand that at present bookings must be made a month in advance. Will the Minister investigate the matter and endeavour to provide additional services ?
– I am happy to be able to inform the honorable senator That, in view of the popularity of the present services, at this moment steps are being taken to increase the number of services. I must confess that, at the moment, J. do not know the precise details of the proposal, but 1 appreciate the need to increase the number of services, and I shall be pleased to give the honorable senator details later of the proposed improvement.
– I direct a ques tion to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services. By way of preface, 1 may say that I have had a number of requests recently from elderly persons for an up-to-date booklet explainin.i> the availability and extent of the Government’s social services benefits. I point out that the current booklet, although issued as recently as two years ago, is now completely out of date because of recent increases of pensions and eli tinges in means test requirements. Will the Minister speak to his colleague, the Minister for Social Services, and pass on ;i request for an early re-issue of the booklet, which should include details of medical, pharmaceutical and other benefits available to- recipients of pensions?
– I shall have great pleasure in conveying the honorable sen (i tor’s request to my colleague. At the same time 1 will make a very strong recommendation that the booklet be reissued, since I have a very lively recollection of a similar booklet that was issued in 1049.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. T refer to the announcement made by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture or, the 4th October to the effect that he bacl decided to admit small quantities of New Zealand potatoes into New South Wales. Tn the course of his statement, the Minister said that the quantities of New Zealand potatoes to be admitted into Australia would not be large enough to cause a slump in prices to the detriment of the interests of Tasmanian and other Australian producers. Will the
Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture give to the Senate his estimate of the quantities of New Zealand potatoes that will be admitted and the period for which the licences will apply ? Will he also give the Senate some assessment of the impact that the New Zealand potatoes will make upon the Sydney market?
– I have discussed this matter with officers of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. Although I cannot state the precise quantities of potatoes that will be introduced into Australia from New Zealand, I can inform Senator Wright that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has discussed the matter with Tasmanian potato-growers’ representatives, including the chairman of the Tasmanian Potato Marketing Board. 1 have been informed that supplies of old Tasmanian potatoes to the Sydney market will cease shortly, and the New Zealand potatoes, that are to be imported will merely fill the gap until further stocks of Tasmanian potatoes are marketed. It is not expected that the New Zealand potatoes will have any real impact on the sale of Tasmanian potatoes in Sydney. I believe that the first shipment of New Zealand potatoes is expected to arrive next week.
– Is the Minister for Shipping and Transport in a position to reply to a question that I asked on the 2Sth September regarding the progress that has been made at conferences between Commonwealth and State representatives on the important problem of uniform road traffic laws throughout Australia?
– This subject has been referred to in previous questions asked by the honorable senator, and on the last occasion on which it was raised, on the : 111,h August, 1954, the late Senator George McLeay, who was then Minister for Shipping and Transport, intimated that he would make available to the honorable senator, when printed, a copy of the report by the Australian Road Traffic Code Committee covering the recommendations made by the committee at the five meetings which had been held so far. A copy was duly forwarded on the 5th January, 1955. As the report indica tes, the committee has dealt with many of the important aspects of traffic laws affecting interstate transport, including such matters as speed limits, right of way at intersections, pedestrian and school Crossings, qualifications for driving licences, stop signs, procedure at railway level crossings, &c. The work of the committee is of a continuing nature, and a further meeting will be convened shortly to deal with a number of other matters which have been listed for consideration. All recommendations made by the committee to date have been approved by the Australian Transport Advisory Council, comprising Commonwealth and State Ministers associated with transport, and commended for adoption by the States and Territories concerned. The recommendations serve to provide a model traffic code to which the various authorities may refer when new or amending legislation is contemplated, with the ultimate object of having uniform practices in all States and Territories. It will be appreciated that the council is purely an advisory body, and that any amending legislation necessary to give effect to the recommendations is the responsibility of the various governments. Many of the recommendations coincide with the laws already in operation in some of the States. In a number of instances, legislation has been, amended to conform to the recommendations, and in others the recommendations will he taken into consideration when legislation next comes up for review. Other aspects of the road accident problem are receiving the constant attention of two other bodies appointed by the Australian Transport Advisory Council, namely, the Australian Road Safety Council and the Australian Motor Vehicle Standards Committee, with a view to taking whatever steps are practicable to effect an improvement in The existing high accident rate.
– Some time ago I asked a question about the Petrov Commission, and I think I was told that an opportunity would be given to the Senate to discuss the report of that commission. Can the Minister for Trade and Customs give the Senate an indication of when such an opportunity may arise?
– It would be very difficult to give a precise date, but I have given honorable senators an assurance that they will have an opportunity to discuss the report. That opportunity probably will arise after the passing of the Appropriation Bill and the Estimates.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, and it refers to representations I made on behalf of the Ringarooma Council for financial assistance to enable repairs to be made to the road to Eddystone lighthouse, in Tasmania. Has the Minister any information concerning the first request, which related to the 5 miles of road not maintained by the Commonwealth, and also to the second request, which related to that part of the road between Musselroe River and the lighthouse, which is maintained by the Commonwealth? Has any allocation of funds been made available for this purpose?
– I have seen a letter, which I think I will sign this afternoon, in relation to this matter. In connexion with one section of the road, the sum of £500 already has been granted for work during this year, but I do not know which section that is. In connexion with the other section, an offer has been made that, should the local authority spend £400, then the Commonwealth would make a further £200 available. However, the honorable senator should appreciate that I am not sure to which sections those figures apply.
– Can the Minister for National Development say whether it is not a fact that the policy of the Menzies-Fadden Government is wholly responsible for the disruption of the coal industry which, on some coal-fields. may involve considerable unemployment?
Does not this situation result from the appointment of a committee of inquiry which advised that the price of coal should he increased, contrary to the advice of the Joint Coal Board, from 1 per cent, on the capital invested in the industry, after all expenses had been covered, including depreciation of assets, with a minimum of ls. a ton net profit, to 6s. a ton profit? Does not the history of the coal industry indicate that the increase at that time was not warranted ; and is that not also borne out by the fact that certain coal proprietors who have contracted with various States, have reduced the price of coal by 6s. a ton and more?
– I thought that I had made it clear, in my previous answer, that there is no disruption on the coalfields. It can hardly be said that an industry is disrupted if its production is increasing. One can hardly say that it has been disrupted if the men leave one coal mine and go to work in another. There is still the same number of employees in the industry, and they are producing the same quantity of coal. I do agree that when men have to change their employment, personal problems are created for them, and we have given the unions concerned every assurance that we shall do what we can to ease any difficulties that they may encounter in the transition period. I was pleased to hear from the unions yesterday that the arrangements in operation are working as satisfactorily as can be expected in the circumstances. With regard to increasing the price of coal, I have never apologized for that, because it has been the foundation of the tremendous improvement that has occurred in the coal-mining industry. When this Government inherited the control of that industry, it was an industry in which nobody was making reasonable profits and, as a result, everybody in the industry was at everybody else’s throat. The fact that the coal-mining industry is now making reasonable profits is, in my opinion, a prime factor in the very substantial reduction of industrial trouble on the coal-fields, and the very substantial investment that has been made in modernizing and mechanizing the mines. That has been one of the principal reasons why we have been able to close down the open cuts and supply coal from the underground mine3. As to the contracts with the various States, the new contract with the Victorian Railways is one of the factors that has created a shift in business from the western districts to the northern districts. That if not pleasing from the view-point of the western districts, but it is inevitable when, on a contract for 150,000 tons of coal a year, the Victorian Railways are able to purchase more cheaply in Newcastle by no less than £400,000 a year. If a State railway system can save £400,000 a year, or anything approaching thai sum - and that is what I understand the Victorian Railways themselves have claimed to save - surely that fact must be a mark of the improvement that has occurred in the coal-mining industry, and an indication that the industry is giving greater satisfaction to its customers.
– My further question to the Minister for National Development i3 supplementary to the question that he has just answered. Is it a fact, that Caledonian Collieries Limited, in the north, increased its profits by 166 per cent, during the first year that the increased price awarded by the Menzies.Fadden coalition operated ? Is it also a fact that other collieries increased their profits by 100 per cent., and some by as much as 300 per cent, as a result of the increased price for coal ?
– I cannot say whether the honorable senator’s figures are right or wrong. However, I do not make any denial of them because I am proud of the fact that the coal-mining industry is making reasonable profits, and I am also proud that, because the companies arc making reasonable profits, they are able to give better conditions to their nien and are able to reduce the volume of industrial trouble on the coal-fields. I do not know the percentage figures the honorable senator quotes. They seem, of course, extraordinarily high. If I remember rightly the price-fixing arrangements that were agreed upon back in 1951 provided for a maximum profit of 25 per cent, to coal companies, out of which they had to pay their taxation which took approximately half of it. If one contrasts that with capital and says it is such and such a percentage more r.han the profits previously earned, all I can say is that that is a further justification for giving the coal-owners a reasonable rate of profit, because it shows how small the profit was previously.
– I should like to ask the Minister for National Development a question supplementary to the one just asked by Senator Ashley. Is it a fact that the Minister most vigorously opposed the referendum asking for powers to legislate on terms and conditions of employment, but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription ? Does not the Minister consider that the present policy of the Government relating to coal-mining, in effect, conscript miners forcing them to move from their home towns to other areas in the State; and, therefore, he favours such a policy when it suits the coal-owners but is against it when it suits the miners?
– The honorable senator misunderstands the position. Under the present arrangements there is absolutely no compulsion on the miners. If a miner loses his position in a particular mine he is offered the choice of a -position in some other mine. It is up to him to say whether he will accept it. The restriction runs in the other way; it is upon the owners. The owners are voluntarily retaining the vacancies that occur in the mines by giving those who have lost their positions the first opportunity to fill those vacancies. The whole arrangement is being carried out on a voluntary basis and I am glad to say in a very happy atmosphere. It was pleasing, indeed, at the conference yesterday to hear the miners’ federation complimenting the owners upon their approach to the problem, and the owners complimenting the federation. There is no compulsion in this arrangement at all; it is entirely voluntary.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice -
Association, of which the Meat InspectorsAssociation is an integral unit, for an increase in wages in December, 1951, has yet to be fully dealt with by the court?
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
It is true, as the honorable senator states, that in December, 1951, the Meat Inspectors Association filed an application with the Public Service Arbitrator. Insofar as the associations’ claim for an increase in salaries was based on the decrease in the purchasing power of money, the proceedings before the Arbitrator became joined with proceedings on a similar claim by some 37 other Public Service organizations. A determination by the Arbitrator ultimately became dependent upon the outcome of the Metal Trades case then before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. As the honorable senator is aware, a final decision in that case was not given until the 5th November, 1954. In the light of that decision, the Public Service Board made a general upwards adjustment of all Public Service salaries with effect from the 23th December, 1954. On the Srd February, 1955, the Arbitrator made a determination in respect of the Public Service organizations’ claim but, on a technical objection taken by one of the organizations, the Chief Judge, ruled that the determination was invalid. The Arbitrator made another determination on the 20th June. The Public Service Board’s appeal to the court from this determination is now proceeding.
asked the Minister representing the Minister acting for the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Minister acting for the Treasurer has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing- the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has provided the following answer:-^
Then: was an increase in the number of sheep air-freighted between the mainland and Western Junction during last financial year, hut a. decrease in the number of cattle and horses. !)0 per cent, of the sheep were moved out of Tasmania and neither the Minister nor the Department is in a position to judge whether this traffic might increase in the foreseeable future. The transfer of cattle to and from aircraft at the airport must be done from vehicles and safety should not therefore be compromised. The weighing and prompt handling of animals is a matter for the operating companies and the inspection for disease the responsibility of the State Government. The Commonwealth will not establish cattle handling yards at airports, nor provide land adjacent to airports for that purpose.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
When does the Minister expect to be in a position to determine the increase in air route charges as provided for in the provisions of the Civil Aviation Agreement Act 1952?
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has provided the following answer: -
The Government fixed the present air navigation charges after a close examination of the costs of providing facilities and of .the general .economic position of the airlines. It recognized that the charges may need to be varied at, some future stage because of the possibility of increased costs in providing the facilities. Accordingly, provision was made in the Civil Aviation Agreement Act for a variation of the charges should this be found necessary. My department has assembled the necessary data relating to cos.t trends in the years since 1952 and at an appropriate time the Government, as a matter of policy, will again review the whole airline position and determine whether the charges should be varied.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice- rr
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answers : -
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin). - I have received from the Leader of the Opposition, Senator McKenna, an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purposes of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
TJ,i,e retrograde decisions announced by the Minister f,or Health for .alteration of tie (pensioner medical service.
. -“I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 13th October, 1955.
– Is the motion supported ?
Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion,
– I have moved this motion because of the fact that on Friday last, the 7th October, the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), on behalf of the Government, announced certain decisions relating to the pensioner medical service. I shall comment adversely on those proposals. This motion is moved in the hope that their implementation will not be proceeded with. The “Opposition regards the new proposal as making an already confused and anomalous position more confused and more anomalous. I invite the Senate to consider the genesis of the pensioner medical service. If honorable senators look in an act of parliament, or any regulation, for details of the pensioner medical service, they will be completely disappointed. They will find one regulation which, briefly, has three clauses, the effect of one of which authorizes the DirectorGeneral of Health to make provision for a general medical practitioner service. That is the head of power - a regulation - under which an agreement has been mads between the Commonwealth Government and the British Medical Association! Details of that agreement are not .available to this Parliament.
T was advised in the course of 1953 in a letter from the Minister for Health that the arrangement consists of a series of letters exchanged between the Government and the British Medical Association. “What a base for a medical service emanating from, the National Parliament - a series of letters between the Government and a private body, even as eminent as the ; British Medical Association, and not dis.closed to the Parliament ! When we pass further into the details of this scheme and come to the entitlement of pensioners, we £nd that it rests in a letter addressed by the Director-General of Health to individual medical practitioners, setting out the terms upon which they may enter the pensioner medical scheme. That is a scheme of limited scope. It indicates plainly that it is merely to provide services that are normally provided under the common form of agreement between a medical officer and a friendly society and provides for “ such other services pf a minor or special character “ - I emphasize the word minor - “ as are ordinarily rendered in the surgery or in the home “. In other words, it is a severely restricted service. It is almost accurate to say that it is restricted to surgery visits and home visits and the things incidental to such visits. It if not a grand or an overall scheme. It does not deal with the major ailments of those in the pensioner field. Accordingly, it is not a scheme to be regarded with great pleasure or admiration. It leaves pensioners in the position of having either to insure and pay, or be dependent upon the bounty of State governments, or hospital institutions, to enable them to go into a hospital with a serious illness, without payment. Tho pensioner medical service, good though it is so far as it goes, does not cover the health of pensioners in their major complaints to a very appreciable degree.
The new proposal - I shall deal with it. in some detail- -which is to restrict the application of the pensioner medical service to new pensioners coming into the field by subjecting them to a fresh income test, is not one that I pretend will affect the great bulk of pensioners in this country. There are five classes of pensioners - age, invalid, widow, service, and those in receipt of tuberculosis allowances. Speaking of the civil pensions field, I point out that at least 80 per cent., and probably 8.5 per cent., of those in that field ‘ have no income apart from their pensions. Accordingly, the new proposal, with the permissible income plus a pension of £5 10s. for a single person .or a pension of £11 plus the permissible income for a pensioner couple will not affect at least from 80 to 85 per cent, of those in that field. That rather emphasizes the extreme meanness of the -proposal, as I shall outline. It does not affect the great bulk of pensioners, but only some of them at the end. I should be prepared to say that there would be very few persons in the whole of the pensions field with permissible income, plus pension, that would amount, under the new proposal, to £4 a week, and bring a pensionable couple up to £15 a week, or anywhere near it. If we take 10 per cent, of the whole field consisting of, say, 600,000 persons, that would represent 60,000 persons in the whole of Australia. I think I am correct in saying that there are about 6,000 doctors practising in Australia. That would represent about ten pensioner patients for each doctor, and if they attended to the whole of them, it would be no great burden on the medical profession. One approaches the new proposals in utter amazement and disgust that they should be implemented in this way.
– Does the honorable senator advocate one doctor to each person ?
– I have said that it would represent one doctor to every ten pensioners in that field, if only about 10 per cent, of the people in the pensions field were receiving about £15 a week from their permissible income and their pension. That is not a great number, when it is spread over the doctors, as it represents only about ten patients for each doctor in that restricted field. To cut that narrow field down further is, in my view, the very quintessence of meanness, and a most retrograde step. There is an anomaly inherent in the scheme in any event, and therefore it is not a good scheme, as a scheme emanating from a national parliament. When the proposed pension increases are paid in the near future, a pensioner couple will receive £4 a week each. In addition, they may have an income of a further £7, so that they may receive £15 in all. They will be entitled, under the ordinary pensioner medical scheme, to the limited benefits of that scheme. But the nian with a wife and child, who receives perhaps only £14 a. week in wages, gets no such benefits. He must meet the medical expenses of himself, his wife and his child out of his earnings of £14 a week, or make a payment to a medical benefit society to cover some portion of the fees.
– That is our argument.
– I am pointing out that, right at the beginning, inherent in the very scheme itself, is an anomaly. That is bad enough; instead of cutting down the benefit that it has designed for these people, the Government should address itself to the task of alleviating the financial plight of a young man, with a wife and a growing family, who earns only £14 a week. There are various approaches that the Government could make to the problem, quite apart from an overall scheme that would embrace every member of the community. There is the matter of paying or subsidizing the contribution of a man in that category to a medical benefits fund. Why could not the Government address its mind to the plight of such a man, instead of cutting down to a few pensioners the already narrow scope of a free medical scheme? It seems to me to be an ill-conceived and very mean approach to the problem.
I am always talking in this Senate about broken promises on the part of this Government, and on this occasion I refer to a very recent one - a promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in 1954. Referring in his policy speech to pensions, and pointing out that no pension increases were proposed at that time, the right honorable gentleman said, in very emphatic terms -
Whatever rate of pension is drawn, they-
Meaning the pensioners- are also entitled to the benefit of the free medical and medicine service.
That was said in April, 1954, and obviously it was intended to convey to all in the pension field, or to potential pensioners, that at least during the term of office which commenced from the election of 1954, such a position would endure. Yet, within eighteen months, we find the Government going back entirely on that assurance, and the proposal has drawn from the press of this country some very scathing comments which I hope the Government will heed and act upon. I am looking at the leading article in the Sydney Sun of yesterday. The heading i3 enough to shake the Government out of its complacency. The heading is “The Glad Hand and the Blackjack”. In other words, at the time when the Government is proposing to give the “ glad hand “ in the form of a 10s. increase of pensions, the blackjack i3 produced, and many in the pension field are struck off the list of those who may receive the free medical service, with its very limited application.
– But the honorable senator said that that cost only 10s.
– I said 10s. a week. I am talking about the amount to be paid to the pensioners.
– They are not taken off the list. Only new pensioners will be affected.
– Persons who would otherwise be in the scheme - potential pensioners who heard the Prime Minister’s promise in 1954 - will be disappointed that they cannot take advantage of the scheme. Let me read a few lines from the leading article in the Sun -
For some gullible voters there must still be an element of surprise in the Federal Government’s decision to put the skids under its own National Health Scheme.
In his policy speech of May, 1954, Prime Minister Menzies while guaranteeing no increase in pensions, said with the emphasis for which he is famous, . . .
Then the article quotes the words of the Prime Minister which I have already read, and proceeds to the following comment : -
Pensioners tightened their already reduced belts and took solace in the fact that, at least, they would get proper doctoring while they wasted away.
Thu Government was more generous this year arid announced it would increase the rate for old age pensioners by 10s. a week - little enough, according to most recipients.
No mention was made at budget time that there was any nigger in the welfare woodpile.
Now Health Minister Sir Earle Page has announced that the Government, for the purpose of the National Health Scheme will split pensioners into seniors and juniors.
Then the article goes on to explain how that proposal will operate, and I shall deal with it in my own words presently. The article continues -
Tin’s fantastic decision has been made while the enabling bill is still before the House and before the 10s. increase in age pensions hh« been paid.
I put it very strongly to the Senate that if this proposal was in contemplation at the time that the budget was drawn up, it should have been announced, and not concealed when the budget proposals were put before the Parliament. To announce, without any qualification, that the pensioners were to get an increase of 10s. a week is one thing, but to conceal at the same time the fact that an inroad was to be made, in a matter in which the pensioners were entitled to think they could claim the benefit of a solemn election promise made in April, 1954, by the Prime Minister, is, in my view and the view of others on this side, exceedingly bad form.
Although I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this, I direct the attention of the Senate to the fact that it is reported very fully in the press that when the National Health Bill was before the Government parties, this proposal, which was implicit in that legislation, was concealed from the members of those parties. I would be interested to hear some person on the Government side deny that that occurred. I have seen no denial of it and I would be very interested to hear one. If it did take place, then I suggest that it is a part of a policy of deliberate concealment from this Parliament when, with this matter in contemplation, no mention of it was made, while the Government sought to take its bow and accept cheers for a budget that gave a pension rise of IO3. a week. The atmosphere surrounding this proposal is altogether unpleasant and unhappy. One of the main features that disturb the Opposition is the fact, acknowledged, one might say, quite specifically, by the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) in the statement that he made last Friday, that the Government is doing this not of its own volition but at the insistence and demand of the British Medical Association. The very terms of his statement indicate that that is so.
– Why not? The doctors provide the service.
– Senator Kendall asks why not, and I answer him by saying that in the matter of providing medical services by this National
Parliament, there should be one body only that determines the scope of those services, and that is the National Parliament. The government of the day should not have outside bodies determining how far the scope of a government scheme will go, and it is completely clear, from what the Minister for Health has said, that the whole concept of cutting back the rather limited pensioner medical service has emanated from the British Medical Association. It is also quite clear that at the demand and ukase of that association the Government meekly bowed its head and did not attempt to put up a fight.
– Why not?
– Senator Kendall again asks why not. He confirms the point that I make, that the Government just acquiesced and bowed its head.
– The members of i he British Medical Association are the people who do the work.
– Yes, they are, but the Government should determine the scope of the services that it shall give to the people of Australia, and it should not be for any section of the community, no matter how important its members are or what work they do, to say to a government, “We are not prepared to co-operate with a government that does not want to give particular benefits “.
– The honorable senator had better say that to the wharf labourers.
– I say (hat to anybody. It is for the Government to determine the scope of its activities
– What about the Opposition’s foreign policy?
– We are talking about medical services. What the new proposals indicate is shown in a passage or two of the statement of the Minister for Health. He said -
All pensioners already enrolled under the pensioner medical scheme would continue to enjoy Tree medical attention for themselves and their dependants for so long as they remain pensioners
We have no contest with that statement,, but later in his statement, the Ministeradded -
Consequently, the British Medical Association informed the Government that it would, continue the pensioner medical scheme on a concessional footing after 31st October,. 1955, only if the service was restricted to pensioners able to satisfy the means test in force at 31st December, 1953. The British Medical Association’s view is that pensioners whose income (other than pension) or property exceeds the level of the 1953 means test, for example £11 a week for a pensioner couple, are not in the truly indigent class, and should provide by insurance or otherwise for the medical attention that they may require.
What a spectacle ! Here we see a sectional body laying down to the government of the day the scope of a service that the Government is pledged to provide. The Government pledged itself to provide this service for three years, but now it ismeekly bowing its head to dictation from an outside body. It is shameful and disgraceful. The facts cannot be denied. The Minister continued -
After a conference of the federal council of the British Medical Association with the Prime Minister and myself, the Government accepted in principle the need to place a ceiling on the pensioner medical service . . Thus the alteration of the law will apply only to new pensions granted after 31st October, 1955, to persons having income or property above the 1953 means test levels. All existing pensioners will continue to be eligible for the pensioner medical service. Once a pensioner has been enrolled in the pensioner medical service, he will retain entitlement to that service for himself and hi6 dependants for so long as he remains a pensioner.
I wish to direct my attention now to the entirely new anomaly that arises. Living in the one street, there may be two. pensioner couples. One couple who have claimed their pensions prior to October this year can have income, including the pension, totalling £15 a week and still get the full benefit of the pensioner medical service. The pensioner couple living in the next house may have had the misfortune to be born a little too late. That is their only sin.’ They cannot qualify for the pension until after the 31st October, 1955, and they have an income of £11 5s. They cannot get a single benefit under the pensioner medical service. What a scheme ! What a disgrace ! Fancy calling that a. national health scheme ! I would expect every supporter of the Government to be ashamed of it. I should like to see one honorable senator on the Government side justify that position. Two couples are living side by side, one couple getting £15 a week, including pension and income, and the other £11 5s. The couple receiving £15 a week get the full pensioner medical service benefits, and the couple receiving £11 5s. a week get nothing. What is the justification for it? What justification can there be? I invite the Minister who will reply on behalf of the Government to justify that proposition
A3 a national approach to the problem of pensioner medical services. I want to hear somebody on the Government side address himself to that question. I do not want it to be avoided, as perhaps it will be.
That is not the only anomaly that will be created by this new proposal. Another anomaly is inherent in the proposal itself. Let us consider the case of two pensioner couples who enter the scheme at the same time after the 31st October. One couple fails to get the benefit of the pensioner medical service because they are in receipt of more than £11 a week from permissible income and the pension. Let us suppose that ‘ the other couple receives exactly £11 a week on the 1st November, and is given the pensioner medical service benefits. According to the statement by the Minister for Health -
Once a pensioner lias been enrolled in the pensioner medical service, he will retain entitlement to that service for himself and bis dependants for so long as he remains a pensioner.
I return to the hypothetical cases that I have mentioned. One couple receives £11 a week and gets the benefit of the pensioner medical service. One month, six weeks, or six months later, after the pensioner has been issued with a card, his income and that of his wife may be increased to £15 a week in all. That pensioner will still get the full benefit of “the pensioner medical service. One of the new class of pensioners - the juniors who enter the scheme after the 1st November - might have an income of £11 5s. Therefore, that couple will be denied the pensioner medical service. They have :not the mental or physical capacity to increase their income. They receive no pensioner medical service benefits because they have no entitlement to them. They remain on an income of £11 5s. throughout their lives, and never once do they benefit under the pensioner medical service, yet the people next door who entered the pensions scheme on the same day with an income of £11 a week, but who now receive £15 a week, get the benefit of the pensioner medical service. Will some honorable senator on the Government side justify that proposition? This is an extraordinary and most ill-conceived approach to an important problem. It is not a matter of enormous scope. Only a relatively small number of pensioners are affected. A survey taken when I was Minister for Health showed that S5 per cent, of pensioners had no income apart from their pensions.
In the light of what I have said, cannot these proposals be described accurately as retrograde? I would expect supporters of the Government to be ashamed of them. Obviously, the present Minister for Health was ashamed of them, because he sought to conceal them until one of his colleagues brought them to light. The Minister knew that, when they were analysed, he would be in difficulties. He wanted to force and coerce honorable senators on the Government side to follow whom? Himself? No, the British Medical Association. These changes in the scheme will perpetuate old anomalies and. create new ones. It amazes me that such a proposal should enter the minds of anybody on the Government side.
Let us consider the plight of the single pensioner - an aged widow or an aged or invalid pensioner. One of those persons can have a pension of £4 a week and a private income of £1 10s. If his income after the 1st November goes beyond £5 10s. at the time he applies for the pension and is granted it, he will get no pensioner medical benefits, and will be forced to look after himself. I invite any supporter of the Government to consider his own plight as an aged person when medical difficulties multiply with the ills of age, on £5 10s. a week, if he were obliged out of that sum to look after all his needs, including his medical needs. How much medical service could he buy?
– How much medical service does any pensioner get out of his pension ?
– It is one answer to say that he may insure, but, of course, he has to pay an appreciable amount for that insurance, even if he is able, with his age and his complaints, to get into a medical benefits fund. Should he succeed in doing so, the benefits from the fund will not pay all the charges he will have to meet at the hands of the medical profession.
I conclude with the hope that those on the Government side of the chamber will have a very good look at these proposals and make a close analysis of them before they commit themselves, the Government and Australia - because action by the Government would commit the whole of Australia - to such a mean, paltry, illconceived and anomalous alteration as this would be. If the Government does go on with this plan - an’d we are speaking in the hope that the proposal will now be dropped-
– Why does not the honorable senator tell us about his own still-born scheme?
– We are discussing the Government scheme at the moment. I can say this about any schemes with which I was associated, that they purported to deal with the whole of the people of Australia on the one basis. They were not ill-conceived schemes for sections. They were not schemes born of the federal council of the British Medical Association. The Labour Government acknowledged the fact that it had to rule, that it was the government, and did not bow its head to the British Medical Association or any other organization. Of that, I am exceedingly proud.
If this proposal is given effect, it will represent one more broken promise, one more disappointment, and one more instance of the abdication of governmental responsibility by this Government. I could multiply the instances of that abdication, but to do so would not be relevant to the motion that I have moved. I. have deliberately confined that motion tothe one question of these proposed alterations of the pensioner medical service.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Reid). - Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I havelistened with a great deal of attention and interest to the remarks of the Leaderof the Opposition (Senator McKenna),. but I cannot help feeling that he said nothing that could not have been said when the proposed amendments comebefore this chamber. I admit that it isexpected that there will be an amendment of the National Health Act. The honorable senator spoke, to a degree, on supposition concerning the nature of that amendment. He quoted a press report of a statement of the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page).
– No. It was a.statement made by the Minister, and obtained from his office to-day.
– That is so. 1 have it here myself. It was made by theMinister, but it is not a bill which is before the Parliament. The honorable senator knows that certain legislation isto come before the Parliament, and I think he would have been well advised tohave had knowledge of the contents of that legislation before moving this motion of censure.
The honorable senator’s motion refers to “ retrograde “ decisions which havebeen announced by the Minister for Health concerning alterations of the pensioner medical service. I understand that the word “ retrograde “ means “ to gobackwards “. If we look at the achievements of this Government in the field of social services, and compare them with the achievements of the previous LabourGovernment, I think it will be obviousthat we have not gone backwards. Labour, when it was in office, did nothing at all in relation to the pensioner medical service. On the other hand, since this Government has been in office, it has placedon the statute-book one of the greatest schemes of medical benefits, including medical benefits for pensioners, in the- world. Indeed, other countries have sent representatives to Australia to study our scheme and to take back the pattern of it, so that a similar scheme might be introduced in their countries.
What has been done, in the. short period of office of this Government, in regard to the pensioner medical benefits scheme? On the medical side, to June, 1955, a total of £7,500,000 had been spent on medical services for pensioners. An additional £3,250,000 had been spent on the provision of free medicine, lt can be said, therefore, that more than £10,500,000 has been spent, since February, 1951, on medical benefits for pensioners. I suggest that that indicates that the attitude of the Government in this respect has not been miserly but, on the contrary, has been extraordinarily generous. I believe that the pensioners themselves agree that that is so. If any honorable senator asks a pensioner what he thinks of the pensioner medical benefits scheme he will be told that never before have pensioners enjoyed such a scheme as that provided by this Government.
– Then why spoil it ?
– We do not propose to do so. We are glad that the pensioners enjoy such a scheme. However, it is not the place of the Opposition to speak about it as a miserly scheme, “because when Labour was in power it did nothing at all about medical benefits for pensioners, although it had eight years in which to do something. To say the least, it is very wrong to try to make the people of Australia believe that this Government has done nothing in this field.
The Leader of the Opposition stated that 6,000 medical practitioners had joined up with the medical scheme. The number is really 4,500.
– I was speaking of the number of doctors in Australia.
– The number of doctors in the scheme is 4,500. Let us -compare the scheme introduced by the previous Labour Government and that introduced by this Government. The Labour Government scheme was con>cerned with nationalization of the medical profession.
– It was a scheme to nationalize health, which would include nationalization of the medical profession. This Government does not believe in nationalization. It believes in free enterprise, and it is of the opinion that the people of Australia should have the opportunity to do something about insuring their own health. In regard to those who cannot afford insurance, such as those who are in receipt of age and invalid pensions, special arrangements have been made for them to receive free medical and pharmaceutical services. That scheme was introduced when the pension was less than it is to-day, and when the permissible income was lower “than it is at the present time. I ask honorable senators opposite what they think the position is going to be as the means test is eased, and as the amount of permissible income is increased. They should also ask themselves what the position will be if the means test is abolished. It may suit the Opposition to say, “ Well, here is a wonderful opportunity for complete nationalization of medicine “. If the Government accepted the suggestions of Senator McKenna and lifted the means test on medical benefits, all the pensioners would be entitled to free medicine and to free medical services. At present, the total of the permissible income and th*> pension is £15 a week and, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, £15 a week is more than the basic wage. Therefore, at present there is a specialized group which can get more than the basic-wage earner, even though the latter often has a wife and family to support. Apparently, the Leader of the Opposition wants us to give free medical benefits to that group of people and nothing to the basic-wage earner. I believe that that is a good point to mention, because if nothing were done about that matter the Government would have pressure .brought to bear on it to supply free medical services to people who are not pensioners, but whose incomes ar« less than £.15 a week. Therefore, I suggest that whatever amendments are ultimately accepted, they will be fully justified.
Not only do the pensioners enjoy free medical treatment and free medicine, they are also eligible for free life-saving drugs.
When the pensioner medical scheme was first introduced in February, 1951, 432,000 people were enrolled. At the present time, about 650,000 pensioners and their dependants are enrolled.
– How many of the pensioners get £15 a week?
- Senator McKenna has stated that about 80 per cent. of the pensioners receive less than that, and for the purposes of the argument I accept his figures. However, I question whether a figure of that kind could be worked out, and whatever the figure may be it will not alter the validity of my argument. I now desire to place before the Senate some concrete figures with regard to the medical services and the medical prescriptions that have been made available to pensioners. From the 30th January, 1951, to the 30th June, 1955, 14,773,000 individual services by doctors have been received by pensioners. I suggest that that is an extraordinarily large number of visits to be made by medical practitioners under the pensioner medical services.
– The visits must have been necessary.
– Yes, of course they were necessary, but the point is that the pensioners have received free services which they would not have received had this Government not made them available. During the period that I have mentioned, 12, 136,000 prescriptions were given to pensioners under the scheme. Moreover, under this Government’s policy of free enterprise, we have been able to work in co-operation with the medical profession. I believe that it is essential to have such co-operation rather than to try to bring pressure to bear on that profession to comply with the Government’s wishes. The fact that 4,500 medical practitioners are now working under the scheme indicates the measure of its success, especially when it is remembered that those doctors are working in harmony with the Government. It is well for honorable senators to remember that not only has Australia found it necessary to have the cooperation of the medical profession in its health schemes, but that the United Kingdom has had the same experience. The
Government of the United Kingdom found it impossible to carry out its own health scheme without the close cooperation of British doctors.
The Leader of the Opposition has charged the Government with putting a ceiling on the pensioner medical service. I am not aware of the exact nature of the amendments that will be put before the Senate, but I inform the Leader of the Opposition that before he objects to this Government putting a ceiling on the pensioner medical service, he should remember that he did not object when the last Labour Government put a ceiling on exservicemen’s pensions. The last Labour Government limited the amount that exservicemen could receive by way of service pension and civil pension. I suggest that such an action by a Labour government was much worse than any action that this Government might take to put a ceiling on the pensioner medical service. I believe that I have now outlined the record of this Government with regard to the pensioner medical scheme, and the health scheme in general, and I suggest that the Opposition will be well advised to wait until the relevant legislation is introduced before it discusses what might be in that legislation. I firmly believe that the Government has done a magnificent job under its national health policy during the six years that it has been in office, and it has also done a great deal to help the pensioners through its pensioner medical service. I am quite sure that the people who are receiving the benefit of both these schemes appreciate what has been done. Those people in receipt of the pension only, who have found great difficulty in paying for medical treatment, have received an extraordinarily good deal from this Government. I move -
That the question be now put.
Question put. The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 13th October, 1955.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin.)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I have received a letter from Senator Paltridge requesting his discharge from further attendance on the Public Accounts Committee.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) - by leave - agreed to -
– I have received a letter from Senator Paltridge requesting his discharge from further attendance on the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) - by leave - agreed to -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Proceed ings Broadcasting Act 1940, Senator Marriott be appointed to the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, in the place of Senator Paltridge resigned from the committee.
Motion (by Senator O’Sullivan) agreed to -
That the following order of the day, Government Business, be discharged : -
Estimates and Budget Papers 1955-50 - Adjourned debate on the motion that the papers be printed.
Debate resumed from the 11th October (vide page 387), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a first time.
.- The debate on the Appropriation Bill provides senators with an opportunity to survey problems facing the community and to me, personally, an opportunity to survey those which this country has faced in the past few years, and to point out where some of the blame for them really lies. During the past six months, and particularly within recent weeks, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and his Cabinet colleagues have been warning the community that inflation is around the corner. In addition to profound statements on the budget, a special statement was made by the Prime Minsiter the week before last on the whole economic position of the nation.
An interesting feature of his survey is that everybody and everything in the -community is blamed for the current problems and in this the Prime Minister is ably supported by his Ministers. The banks and retail stores are blamed because of too much hire purchase business. Importers are blamed for bringing too many goods into the country. The hire purchase companies are blamed because they have operated too freely. The workers are blamed because they are not working hard enough. The employers are blamed for some other reason. The only one who escapes blame in the Prime Minister’s survey is the Prime Minister himself and the Government that he leads.
A government must discharge its responsibilities in a modern democracy. It leads the country and does not follow individual elements in the community. Over the years this Government has shown a lack of leadership and of administrative ability which has brought this country, for the second time since 1949, into a very serious situation. It is much more serious than the Prime Minister has indicated in his survey to the Parliament and the nation, and the Government must take responsibility for that. It is no use the Prime Minister blaming prosperity for the fact that we are in trouble. I, for one, admittedly simple-minded as I am, have always understood that prosperity is a state in which one enjoys oneself because one’s responsibilities are eased and the vision for the future is clear and happy. The Prime Minister talks about prosperity as a reason for the troubles now facing the country.
This sort of thing has happened too often. It is a story of maladministration and lack of leadership. It is the story of a government that came into office after many years in Opposition. After assuming office in 1949, the Government adopted a lackadaisical approach to the problems that arose in .1950 and 1951. I realized that because the Government had been out of office for many years it was understandable that it should have lost the touch of government. The work of government is not accidental. Experience plays a valuable part in it. Men cannot walk off the streets or out of the shades of Opposition, having been there for nine or ten years, and take up the reins of go vernment instantly with the same facility as those who have been in the administrative seats for many years.
For the first year or eighteen months of the Menzies regime it was easy to see that, the economic welfare of Australia was in a decline. The Opposition attributed that state of affairs to lack of experience, but after six years that cannot be said any longer. The Menzies Government led this country into tremendous strain and turmoil in the first two years that it was in office. Uncontrolled inflation was rife, and the value that the Menzies Government promised to restore to the £1 almost disappeared. The famous MenziesFadden £1 of 1939 that was to be put into the hands of the housewife completely disappeared. Even the Chifley £1, which the Menzies supporters were so critical about in 1949, declined in value within the next year or two. I have some interesting figures on the present value of the £1 which were supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. Carver, and used in another place in a recent debate by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser). To-day, in mid-1955, £1 buys what 10s. 6d. bought in mid-1948. As a further illustration of deterioration in value, £1 in mid-1954 could purchase only what 12s. could buy in 1949. That is the value of the £1 which the Menzies Government promised the public in 1949 would be fully restored. “ Uncontrolled inflation “ is hardly an adequate description. An encouraged inflation swept the country and the Government stood by and did nothing despite the warnings of all sorts of responsible people.
Honorable senators will recall the action of the Menzies Government in connexion with customs. In 1949, it eliminated many restrictions and capital issues control. A flood of £100,000,000 of new capital came into the country in that difficult year of 1950-51. Import restrictions, which had been maintained by the Chifley Government, were lifted, and Australia’s overseas credits in the United Kingdom, which had been built up to more than £800,000,000, were swept away in a couple of years. The Government opened the flood gates to imports because it said that that would bring about deflation. It had caused inflation by maladministration, and so, in an attempt to correct the situation, it opened the flood gates of imports. The Government, believed that if sufficient imports came into this country they would lead to a deflationary movement. But in opening the flood gates to imports the Government allowed to come in large, quantities of goods that were readily available, and were being manufactured in Australia, at the time. In addition, it allowed in large quantities of luxury goods. Among the fundamental goods at that time manufactured in considerable quantities in Australia were refrigerators, stoves, and towels. Goods in these categories came into Australia in large quantities, with the result that there was increasing unemployment. One would have thought that the Government had learned a lesson from that experience, hut. Australia, is facing exactly the same position now as it faced then, and I think, that as a result unemployment will soon be just around the corner. That is a serious situation for a country like Australia, which is in need of develop- ‘ ment. 1 do not think that many people realize the extent of the import cuts that the Government has made since April of this . year. I am not now referring to luxury goods. A good many abuses have crept in. Many import licences were granted in 1.052 because of the large volume of imports coming in at that time as a result of the encouragement given to imports. Import licences were given to people who were not bona fide traders, and now some of them are trying to sell the licences to others. Before these new restrictions were imposed, the Government should have studied the whole system of import licensing from, bottom to top, with a view to introducing a system that would do something to solve the problem. It could, for instance, have decided to eliminate the importation of luxuries. Why bring in luxuries at all ? The importation of such luxuries as caviar, imported biscuits from England, and fancy chocolates from Switzerland, could be discontinued, and no one would be any worse off. If we can afford such luxuries, well and good, but if we are not in a position to pay for them, we should adopt a system of licens ing under which they are eliminated. The money that would be expended in bringing in such luxury goods could then be used to import essential goods that, under the present proposal of the Government, are to be cut drastically. In the B category which imposes a 33 per cent, cut, piece goods are included at a special rate of 12^ per cent. I point out that the importation of these goods has already been restricted by 33-J- per cent, in April, and that is now to be followed by another 12-J per cent., according to the last announcement made only a few weeks ago by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan). In other words, the importation of piece goods has been restricted by 42 per cent, since last April. I do not care what industry thinks of, the fact remains that if its raw material supplies are cut by 42 per cent, serious repercussions are inevitable. I believe that the effect of this cut will be seen in the textile industry before the coming Christmas. Manufacturers who hold large stocks may be able to carry on until the new year, but a great majority of dealers in textiles who are dependent on piece goods will, I predict, bc in serious difficulties by Christmas. The second cut announced last week was a panic decision. The effect of the cut of 333 per cent, made last April, has not yet been fully felt, but a. second cut on top of it will aggravate the position for manufacturers, and will almost certainly bring about a serious state of affairs in the new year and throw many Australian workers out of employment.
The position would not have been so serious had the Government left some organization in existence to handle special cases. There would then have been some body to approach for special licences to meet special cases, but when the Government decided on the cuts, it eliminated the committees that had been set up to handle special applications for import licences. I know that the committees that, were established in Sydney and Melbourne were most efficient. They consisted of men with experience of the problems to be faced, and they relieved the Minister for Trade and Customs and his officers here in Canberra of SO per cent, or 90 per cent, of their responsibilities, because, being closer to the problem, they were able to handle applications for special licences with more understanding. I do not think that they granted many applications. I have written a number of letters on this matter, and my experience is that not many applications were granted; but the fact remains that there was some body to approach, and its existence provided people who had grievances, or industrialists in trouble, with an opportunity to state their case. But what is the position facing us now? This second cut will cause a serious state of affairs in many industries. As I have said, before the Government imposed these cuts it should have undertaken a complete overhaul of* the licensing system, with a view to eliminating the importation of luxuries, and spreading the money available for imports, so that essential goods required by the community could be obtained. During the last fifteen years Australian industries have made rapid growth, and the value of primary necessities required by Australian manufacturers runs into astounding figures. Our requirements of aluminium, cotton and rubber, to mention only a few essential goods, have grown considerably in the last fifteen years. “When the Labour Government was in office, I remember hearing the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank mention what he thought was an astounding figure for the imports that Australia would need in order to keep its industries going. Speaking with great solemnity, he mentioned a sum of £250,000,000 as the value of imports that would bo required in a year. How far would £250,000,000 go to-day ? At the end of one year’s transactions we may owe that amount. Our trade balance last year was down by £256,000,000. Those figures show our need for necessary goods being imported, because without them we cannot go ahead. Unless the Government wants to have a . series of crises every couple of years, it must accept its responsibility and deal with this problem. It is indeed a serious state of affairs if we reach a state of prosperity only to find that the Government cannot handle the situation. Surely prosperity can be stabilized. There should not be a series of downward movements every couple of years, with a lowering of the purchasing power of the people and the threat of unemployment. We thought, that we had passed the stage of recurring periods of depression and optimism. We thought that with the knowledge we had gained, and the control we now had over our banking system, we would be able to cushion the impact of these recessions and periods of prosperity. I do hope that the Government is aware of the threat that could easily develop to Australian industries because of the vicious cuts that have been made since April.
This position has been developing over the last year or two. It is not something that has come out of the clouds. This is something that was apparent to the Government, but about which it apparently did nothing. As I said in the opening few words of my speech, the Government now faces the Australian community and blames everybody in the community for the trouble, rather than blame itself. It blames the worker; it blames the 40- hour week. The truth is, according to one report of the Treasurer, that, despite the introduction of the 40-hour week, production by workers in Australia has increased substantially in the last few years. The worker is doing his share. The Government says that it does nol want controls; but it is prepared to peg wages and margins. That is a control of the most vicious kind. Yet, the Government, on the other hand, does not carry its controls to the logical extreme. How can a government justify the pegging of wages and margins, while at the same time leaving prices and profits completely untrammelled ? Is it any wonder that we had an upsurge of restlessness in the industrial world because wages were pegged while prices continued to rise? I gave the Senate figures showing that whilst the £1 was worth 12s. in 1954, it was worth only 10s. 6d. in mid-1955. That showed a deterioration in the value of the £1 while wages were pegged. The worker did his part in the community. He accepted the pegging of wages. Labour Premiers generally accepted the pegging of wages, because they were led to believe that there would be a wholehearted effort by the community, and thai employers - big businesses, banks, and all the rest - would make sacrifices commensurate with those of the workers and, after all, with the decreased purchasing power of money to-day, the worker, on his income, is least able to make a sacrifice. However, prices continued to rise, and although the Government had promised, in 1949 and again in 1950, to introduce some form of excess profits ‘ tax, it did nothing about that matter.
One of the problems that the community faces to-day is that the profit level in industry is too high, and, of course, that is reflected back into everyday costs. Materials, on the manufacture of which large profits are made in one industry, are used in other industries. So that high profit element is reflected in all the goods that the community uses. It is all very well to talk of prosperity, but the fact remains that, as always happens in times of inflation, the people on the lowest incomes are worse off than they ever were. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. «T. R. Fraser) used some figures in the House of Representatives which I think are well worthy of consideration. He worked out, in the very simplest form, just how many loaves of bread, pounds of butter, pounds of steak, and so on, could be purchased with the pension in 1948 and with the new pension which is shortly to be paid. The figures are so interesting that I will read them for the benefit of the Senate. These figures show that a pensioner in September, 1948, could buy 73 loaves of bread, whereas he will now be able to buy only 60 loaves. The figures for butter are roughly the same, it being a more stabilized product. In September, 1948, the pensioner could buy 56 quarts of milk as against 51 now. He could at that time buy .113 lb. of sugar, and now only 106 lb. Whereas previously he was able to buy 339 lb. of potatoes, he can now buy only 177 lb. He could buy 21 lb. of rump steak in 1948, but only 18 lb. now. In 1948, the pensioner could buy 46 lb. of chuck steak and now only 31 lb. He could buy 15i dozen eggs in 1948, but only 13 J dozen now. The only worthwhile comparison is of what the money would previously have bought and what it can buy now. That applies to wages and to pensions. It does not matter how much money is in the pay envelope; the important thing is what that money is worth in terms of the goods that people need to keep body and soul together. Of course, that does not take into account the other responsibilities that the working man must shoulder. If he has a son or daughter at school he must buy the necessary books, or pay for tuition if it is a private school. Here again, I have not considered the increases in transport costs, which have been out of all proportion.
There is no doubt that in the average home the standard of prosperity i9 lower now than it was in 1948-49. The Sydney Morning Herald of the 9th September, 1955, mentioned that there was an aggregate increase in the consumption of food, but that, most disturbingly, the average amount of food eaten by each member of the community had decreased. That has occurred in a country that has an overflow of wheat, and can provide all the things needed by its own people. I think that the Government has fallen down completely on its job, and when I read that it is going to make the grand gesture of reducing its own spending by £10,000,000, it does not bring any cheers from me. I am afraid that a lot of our trouble springs from a lack of wise government spending. What is the Government going to do if it takes £10,000,000 away from its own spending? I suppose we will hear the old story, and the poor old Postal Department will lose half of that amount. Then there will be longer delays in the installation of telephones. I suppose that one of the few business undertakings in which the Commonwealth can be sure of making money is the provision of telephones in homes. I have not seen the actual figures, but I think that one business that we all would like to enter is that of installing and renting telephones. No doubt half of this reduction of £10,000,000 will be in the Postal Department, and that, will have the same result as when restrictions were imposed in 1952. There will be a further lag in telephone installations and a further lag in the establishment of post office branches in the country. The very things that are needed to keep pace with our increasing population are the things which will be reduced when the Government cuts its spending by £10,000,000. On the other hand, the installation of television is proceeding, and that will cost millions of pounds of public and private money. I suppose that television is a good thing and I am looking forward to it personally, but when the Government thinks that the position is so serious that it must spend £10,000,000 less, should it allow the introduction of television, which will cost many millions of pounds? How the Government can possibly justify the expenditure of £23,000,000 on building the ammunition filling factory at St. Mary’s, at cost-plus, is beyond me, and I would like to hear the Government’s reasons for it. In normal times I would agree with it. If we had some unemployment and wanted to provide work, that would be a good reason for undertaking such a project. Do not forget that this has been a government of alarms and crises. After Mr. Menzies became Prime Minister he said in 1950 that there would be war within three years, but in those three years, although the ammunition filling factory might well have been needed, the Government did nothing about it. Now, when it appears that the international situation is clearer, the Government proposes to build this factory, although that £23,000,000 is needed to help to maintain our internal balance and our prosperity. A situation has arisen in connexion with the Housing Commission of New South Wales that is interesting in view of the rising cost of construction in other places. For obvious reasons’, the commission is receiving tenders 8 per cent., 10 per cent., and sometimes 12 per cent, below the estimates of the commission’s officers. The tenders that are being received now are the best, from that point of view, in the history of the commission. The officers might estimate that a fair price is £1,000, and the tenders they are getting are from S per cent, to 12 per cent, below that figure. Although the commission now has an opportunity to build hundreds of houses in New South Wales, it is short of money, and will have only sufficient for a six months’ building programme.
Reports in the press have stated that landlords in Melbourne suburbs have been exploiting immigrants who occupy slum buildings. Old Australians, as well as new Australians, are being exploited in that way, and the position is becoming worse every day. The stage has been reached in New South Wales where even emergency housing cannot be obtained for the most urgent cases, yet the Australian Government proposes to spend £23,000,000 on the new munitions project at St. Mary’s. At the same time, it is reducing the amount of money that will be available for the construction of homes.
In a debate of this sort, one can cover a wide field, but I wish to refer again to one important point. That is, that the primary blame for the present housing situation does not rest upon outside bodies whose names have been cited. The primary blame rests upon the Government. If the Government and the Prime Minister were worthy of their salt, they would say, in effect, “ We are to blame. Let us see how we can. solve this problem “. Unfortunately, I believe that administrative ability is not present in the Government. When similar problems arose in 1952 and caused trouble, that was bad enough, but it is difficult to understand how a similar situation could arise in 1955 as a result, according to the Prime Minister, of our national prosperity. When prices for wool soared to record heights, we were told by the Government that we would be ruined by high wool prices. The Prime Minister spoke to the community and surveyed our problems. He does that beautifully. The right honorable gentleman said, “ We want more wheat. That is the one outstanding product that brings us more income “. Before the echo of his words had died away, the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board said, “ We do not want more wheat “.
Throughout its history, this Government has been one of alarms and excursions. There has been no stability in the thoughts and ideas that have been applied by this Government to the national problems in the past five or six years. The blame for the present situation must be laid fairly and squarely at the door of the Prime Minister himself. He must take that responsibility as the head of the Government. Somebody should tell the right honorable gentleman that a nice speech will not solve the nation’s problems unless it is followed by appropriate action.
– Honorable senators have just listened to one of the most constructive speeches that have been given recently in this chamber. I disagree entirely with a number of the statements made by Senator Armstrong, but I must agree with him fully on the subject of the contentious cuts in import duties on textiles. I believe that those cuts have been too severe, and I fear that they will give rise later, perhaps at the beginning of next year, to unemployment among skilled Australian workers. Nothing is more calculated to destroy the prosperity of a nation than unemployment in that section of the community.
However, I believe that Senator Armstrong was a little ungenerous to the Government in not giving it any praise for the wonderful prosperity that Australia is enjoying. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his budget speech in another place, said -
The budget always is, and ought to be, an occasion for stocktaking on the economic side of our national affairs.
That is certainly true. It is true also that a discussion on the budget provides an opportunity to review the successes or failures of the Government. Even the best of governments has some failures at some time, but I believe that this Government has had such a series of successes that it has taken the sting out of the Opposition. The speeches that have been made on this subject in this chamber have not been challenging at all. They have simply been condemnatory of the success of the Government.
The 1954 budget was heartily condemned by the Opposition, but we can see overwhelming evidence of the great prosperity that Australia has achieved as a result of that budget and the wise manner in which this Government’s measures have been administered. Since this Government took office in 1949, we have steadily built up that national prosperity. It may be that that very prosperity will be our undoing unless we all participate in the co-operative effort for which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has called. The right honorable gentleman has outlined to the nation what the Government is prepared to do. He has asked for an all-out effort to control luxury spending and to preserve the prosperity that Aus tralia is enjoying. The Prime Minister’s programme involves the imposition of new import restrictions, bank credit restraint, restricted hire-purchase terms, a drive for exports, a reduction in government works spending, deferment of projected salary rises for parliamentarians and an appeal to the community to limit its spending generally. Experience has taught us that the citizens of Australia readily respond to any frank and fair statement that comes from the Government, and I believe we can be fully assured that the measures outlined by the Prime Minister have been fair to all sections of the community and have been placed frankly before us. I believe we can count on the citizens of Australia to help to hold the prosperity that we have. With some minor reservations I support this “ Hold It” budget which the Treasurer has presented to us.
We all agree that Australia has enjoyed, and is enjoying, a great measure of prosperity. We have had good seasons, full employment and a high level of taxation. Production has increased although our costs are- still too high. The output of consumer goods has risen 9 per cent, higher than the previous peak in our history. We are very fortunate to live in a country that provides such a high standard of living for the majority of its citizens. Recently, I had the privilege to visit the Far East, in the course of which I went to Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and New Britain. The contrast, in those places, between the “ haves “ and “ have-nots “ is not only very real but also a great shock to anybody who visits them from a country which is enjoying the kind of prosperity that Australia is enjoying at present. It behoves each of us to take a very active part in helping to hold that prosperity. We should also take every step possible to help the millions of people in South-East Asia, many of whom have never had a full meal and have no prospect of ever having one. Unless we show some Christian spirit, I am very much afraid that we shall have trouble from that quarter.
Barbara Ward, that very fine British economist, has stressed over and over again to the Australian public that the secret of peace in the Far East is the provision of food. I repeat again what I have said on numerous occasions, that I think Australia is the food “ bunker “ of the Pacific, and that is. a most important role for this country to play. It dismays me beyond measure to hear people talking of decreased acreages of wheat. We tried to decrease acreages before, and we suffered accordingly. There are thousands of people in Australia who advocate - and I agree with them - that instead of storing away so much of our surplus wheat, so that, ultimately, a lot of it will be food only for the weevils, we should make every endeavour to give it to those Asian countries which are fast becoming wheat consumers. We should remember that not all Asian peoples are wheat-eaters, but a great number, and an increasing proportion, of them are.
Disappointing though it may be to many people, we can assuredly say that nobody is worse off because of the budget which was introduced recently. Indeed, some sections of the community will be very much better off than they were before. It is gratifying that that worthy section of the community, the pensioners, are to receive increased pensions, and it is also gratifying that the increase is to be sufficiently large to enable them to live much more comfortably, although I do not suppose any of us would, agree that the pensioners have yet received quite as much as we would like them to receive.
Three continuing features of the budget to which I object concern indirect taxation. The first of those is the sales tax, which hurts everybody in the community, including pensioners. We pay sales tax on almost everything we buy. I think it is high time that we got rid of these forms of indirect taxation, so that we might know just what we were paying for commodities. I deplore the fact that sales tax and payroll tax are to be continued, and that no provision for depreciation allowances is to be made. As a matter of fact, I think the Government promised, at one time, that depreciation allowances would be made. Of course, pay-roll tax, in these days of high wages, is a temptation to the Treasurer. All these forms of taxation, which really amount to sectional taxes, are bad, and the sooner we get down to a form of direct taxation which covers all our needs, the better everybody will he pleased.
We constantly hear calls for increased production. Yet we continue to impose sales tax on motor vehicles, trucks, machinery used in primary production, and spare parts required for such vehicles. If we were to eliminate Bales tax on equipment of that kind, we should go a long way towards reducing costs of production. As I said before, pay-roll tax is such a tempting tax for the Treasurer to retain, in these days of full employment and high wages, that I am very much afraid that the right honorable gentleman will not remove that tax. Depreciation is a serious matter for big business, but it is even more serious for small producers. If the small people could be assured that depreciation allowances would be made, they would be able to install new machinery, which would not involve the employment of additional labour - and labour, after all, is very hard to get. They would be able to increase their production, and thereby reduce costs.
A number of matters which are referred to in the budget speech could be dealt with more appropriately when the individual Estimates are being discussed, but there are one or two things I wish to say in commendation of the Government. The Opposition has been particularly ungracious in not praising the Government for the prosperity we are all enjoying, and in not referring to the very successful measures that the Government has taken. I commend the Government for increasing pensions, and also for instituting the scheme under which it contributes, on a fl-for-£l basis, towards providing homes for the aged. It is not always money that pensioners need to make them comfortable. Many of them also need homes and companionship. This scheme reflects credit on the churches and charitable organizations for the work that they have done, thereby saving the governments of this country hundreds of thousands of pounds in past years. The scheme has been commended very highly throughout Australia.
I wish to refer also to the free medicine and hospital schemes which have helped pensioners considerably. Only last week I met a pensioner who said, “ Every day I have reason to go down on my knees and thank the Menzies Government for the free medical scheme. To date my wife’s illness has cost over £300. She could never have had the medical attention, which she has had, without the help given through the free medical scheme “. When I hear that scheme condemned, I like to feel that, although the Opposition in the Commonwealth Parliament does not approve of it, the rest of the world approves of it heartily. The governments of other countries send people here to investigate the working of the scheme. I also wish to commend the British Medical Association for being such a splendid watchdog in this connexion, and for pointing out that certain developments could occur which might commit this country to something that was never intended. We should commend these bodies in the community which are ever watchful of such developments.
I propose to read to honorable senators some remarks of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. McMahon), concerning the old peoples’ homes scheme. He said -
Federal grants towards homes for old people have almost reached £1,000,000. The total amount that has been approved under the Aged Persons’ Homes Act is now £998,508 This will benefit some 81 home-building projects and, when the buildings subsidized are completed, accommodation for another 1,804 old people will have been assisted under the act.
That is no mean effort. The Minister continued -
The act provides for grants, on a £l-for-fl basis, towards the capital cost of homes provided for the aged by religious and charitable organizations. Ever since the act was passed late last year, the Government has been assured of ready co-operation from these bodies in tackling what is one of the great problems old people have to face. The response has been splendid, coming as it did from all States of the Commonwealth and% from the Northern Territory, and- representing” such a wide variety of benevolent organizations and churches. It was particularly gratifying to see the development of old people’s homes in provincial areas and country towns. This is well illustrated in the grants just announced.
It is a very good thing that the people of Western Australia have realized the plight of our aged people, and have cooperated so splendidly with the Australian Government in this scheme. The Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page) deserves commendation because the free medicine scheme, for which he was largely responsible, has been very suc cessful. His department is constantly watchful for anything in the nature of fraudulent practice, and suitable action has been taken against a number of offenders. The Minister himself deserves special commendation because he delayed the introduction of the Salk vaccine into Australia. Much as we should like to see the dreaded disease poliomyelitis wiped out in this country, the Minister showed the greatest wisdom by waiting until the result of. the tests of the Salk vaccine was quite apparent, and he could assure the people of the safety of the vaccine, before he authorized its introduction. Quite a number of people criticized the Government’s delay in this matter, but the developments through the use of the vaccine have shown quite clearly that the Minister’s action was very wise.
I also commend the Minister for Health for the prompt action that he took after receiving the Stoller .report. That report shocked everybody in Australia by detailing the deficiencies in the care’ of those who suffer from mental diseases. Immediately the Minister realized the gravity of the report, he no doubt reported to the Government and the Government arranged to contribute £1 for every £2 contributed by the States towards the erection of new buildings in which the mentally afflicted may be housed and may receive proper and decent attention. I suggest that the Stoller report is one of the most valuable reports of its kind that we have ever received, because it drew attention to the great increase of mental illness in this country. Th« Minister’s prompt action in moving the Government to adopt some of the recommendations of Dr. Stoller is highly commendable.
Another matter that I desire to bring before the notice of’ honorable senators is the gold subsidy. My fellow senators from Western Australia realize that subsidies on gold have been of tremendous value to that State. The chairman of the Western Mining Corporation Limited has put the whole matter of the gold subsidy in a nutshell, and I wish to quote his words. He has said -
The subsidy is payable when costs of production exceed £13 10s. per fine ounce of gold and the subsidy payable per ounce is equal to three-quarters of that excess with an upper limit of £2 per ounce.
The subsidy is enabling those mines which, at the moment, have small profit margins, to maintain a vigorous development programme without which they would almost certainly be forced to close.
The object of the subsidy, which is much appreciated by the industry, was to keep in production mines that were in grave danger of closing down through the pressure of increasing costs. Gold is a universally acceptable export. In face of the difficulty of Australian overseas trade, what is now needed is an increase in production of gold, not merely support to maintain current output. The production of gold depends on economics. There are ample areas to prospect and develop if the price warrants. Under the stimulus of the gold price rise in the nineteen thirties Australian production rose from 427,000 ounces in 1929 to 1,040,000 ounces in 1939. Last year’s production was 1,100,000 ounces of gold providing nearly 40,000,000 United States dollars. An additional £5 per ounce with the current tax exemption would put the industry again in a position when prospecting and development would be resumed and could be financed. In view of the need for and value of export income to the economy I believe such support for gold mining would be in the best national interest.
The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) has occupied his position longer than any other Minister for Repatriation, and he is to be commended for the way in which he has administered a large department which is difficult to control. I believe that his department deals with about 500,000 people, and has administered the law in connexion with those persons in a wonderful way.
In the field of commerce and agriculture, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), having survived that awful meeting in Warwick this week, is to be commended for the wonderful way in which he has advocated good prices for Australian products sold overseas. The meat agreement and the wheat stabilization plan are among the* most successful agreements that we have been able to arrive at, and much praise is due to the Minister for the work he has done in trying to stabilize prices within Australia while opening up markets and keeping up prices overseas. Moreover, he has always been fair to the countries overseas which purchase our goods. I do believe that the time has arrived when a number of agreements that we have operated under for some years need revision. For example, the Ottawa agreement should be reviewed without delay.
The problem of our far north-western area in Western Australia - what is calledthe empty north - still remains an urgent problem, and the State government cannot possibly attempt all the developmental work that needs to be done there. I believe that the Australian Government must come to our aid. It was a little disappointing to those of us who have for years advocated closer settlement, to find that the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) refused to grant tax free conditions for twenty years to those who live north of the 26th parallel. Another suggestion was that if those people put 66 per cent, of their earnings back into the area above that parallel, they should receive tax concessions. A number of us believe that such concessions would have attracted more people to the Kimberleys and to the north-west of Western Australia, but we were disappointed. However, we shall keep on working and hoping that some time or other the Australian Government will see the light about this matter.
I compliment the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization for the work that it has done in the north of Western Australia, particularly along the Fitzroy River. That organization has demonstrated that it is quite easy to grow rice on the Fitzroy River flats in exportable quantities. That is most important, because Australia is always on the lookout for new types of goods that can be produced here and which are in demand overseas. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has also conducted experiments on the Ord River and has discovered that that area could become a great producer of sugar cane. It has also been discovered that all that country is rich in minerals, including uranium. We people from Western Australia feel very grateful to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization because under this Government it has conducted in our State a great amount of investigation which has been rewarded with great success.
The air beef lift which has completed its seventh year of successful operation in Australia, has been assisted by the Australian Government. The operators used to receive a subsidy of Id. per lb. for beef carried, but that has been increased, under this Government, to 2d. per lb. and I believe that our meat industry can look forward to good export markets. When I was in the Philippines, which has a population of 22,000,000, I found that the President had ruled that caribou in the country was not to be killed for any purpose at all, and that the people were consuming an increasing amount of Australian beef. I talked Australian beef everywhere I went. We should investigate the possibilities of transporting beef by air to the Philippines. The air beef lift is one of the most fascinating stories in Australian history, second only to that of the Plying Doctor service. If beef were transported to the far eastern countries, which are, after all, only four and a half hours flight from Australia, it would greatly help our export trade.
The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) has done a remarkably good job in all of these countries. I found that his name was highly respected. I found also that Australia had done a wonderful thing in fostering goodwill through its part in the Colombo plan. It is interesting to know that the one-thousandth student from Asian countries is just about to arrive in Australia. We need to concentrate on our attitude towards the countries of South-East Asia. I noticed that recently in Melbourne a. survey was made among high school students seventeen years and over to ascertain Australia’s attitude to the Far East. It was a most illuminating survey because it showed that the younger generation are preaching the gospel of friendship to those countries and are urging a change of attitude in our immigration policy. It is pleasing to know that our immigration scheme has been so successful, and I should like to pay a tribute to the local government and civic authorities for the way they have cooperated with the Government to make the naturalization ceremonies so successful.
There are many other matters I should like to mention, but my time is running out. I shall reserve my remarks on them until the Estimates are being discussed.
– I assure Senator Robertson that many more pensioners are prepared to kick the Government than to pray for it. Later, I shall submit proof of that observation. I have not previously had an opportunity to deal with the budget. It is an historic document; it will probably go down in history as the longest apology ever written in this country, and also the least convincing. It comprises 20 pages of apology on the part of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) for failing to give to those sections of the Australian community the benefits which they ought to have received, and which, if this Government had honoured its election promises, they would have received under this budget. I refer to age, invalid and other classes of pensioners, and to young married people who were expecting some concession in respect of sales tax on furniture. I refer also to the mothers of this country, who believe there should have been some adjustment in child endowment and maternity allowances. But the status quo has been maintained by the Government in respect of all these matters; and the only increase that is to be granted to any section of the Australian community under this budget is a niggardly increase of 10s. a. week to the age and invalid pensioners. That increase does no more than meet the added cost of living since the last budget was presented. If we have these facts in mind and consider them caref ully we shall arrive at no other conclusion than that this budget gives exactly nothing to the people of Australia.
I noted also the statement on the economy that was made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in another place. In that statement I perceived a note of real regret in the Prime Minister’s voice when he said that we were suffering from over-employment. I gained the very distinct impression that he believed it would be far better if we had a certain percentage of unemployment in Australia. Then, perhaps, the workers would become more manageable.
– The honorable senator is a bit suspicious.
– I am very suspicious of the Government, and I have good reason to be, as have the people also, bearing in mind the matters that were discussed in this chamber to-day.
The steel industry has been discussed by preceding speakers. A rather remarkable statement was made by Senator Mattner, who comes from the same State as I do. He was referring to a statement by Senator Armstrong who drew attention to the gravity of the position of the steel industry in Australia, and he said that Senator Armstrong had not told us of a suitable location for an iron and steel works other than Port Kembla. That is an incredible statement, particularly in view of the fact that Senator Mattner is a South Australian. He should be abundantly aware that there is great agitation in South Australia for the establishment of steelworks in the most logical place imaginable, the town of Whyalla. I do not know whether Senator Mattner has ever been to Whyalla or whether he has visited the northern parts of South Australia in recent years. I doubt very much whether he has, because if he had done so he would be sufficiently aware of the agitation in those regions for the establishment of steelworks in that State.
I remind honorable senators, particularly Government supporters, that some eighteen months ago I drew attention to the gravity of the steel position in Australia, but I did not raise even a flicker of interest on the part of honorable senators opposite. During the last eighteen months we have seen a sad deterioration in the position. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, that great steel monopoly which virtually runs this country, has thrown down the gauntlet to the Liberal Government of South Australia.
– I thought somebody said it was the British Medical Association which ran the country.
– That association also dictates its terms the same as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited lays down its terms to Liberal governments. We find the Premier of
South Australia capitulating to a. monopoly against the best interests of the people of that State.
– He does not want to break an agreement.
– Let us have a look at that aspect of the matter. He did not make the contract;, it was made by somebody who had no regard for the welfare of South Australia. If the interests of the people of the State are to be protected, that contract must be broken because it is loaded heavily in favour of a monopolistic company against the interest of those people. There is no doubt about that. We find that a spineless Liberal government in South Australia is not prepared to protect the interests of the people against the steel monopoly.
Sitting suspended from 5.-45 to 8 p.m.
– In my previous remarks I referred to the steel position in Australia, particularly in South Australia, and also to the proposal that a steel mill should be established in the northern part of that State at the town of Whyalla. I mentioned a statement by Senator Mattner that he knew of no other town in Australia besides Port Kembla which was suitable for the establishment of a steel mill. I asked Senator Mattner whether he was aware that there was a town called Whyalla in South Australia, that it was located in close proximity to vast deposits of iron ore, and that there had been continuous agitation in South Australia for the establishment of an industry to produce steel in that locality. I was amazed at Senator Mattner’s remark, as I have been with the attitude of Liberal senators from South Australia - Senators Mattner, Pearson, Hannaford, and to a lesser degree, Senator Laught. Obviously, they are so little concerned about the development of their own State that they would be prepared to allow a monopolistic concern such as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited to determine legislative issues in that State.
When I mentioned that the Premier of South Australia ought to throw down the gauntlet to the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, Senator Pearson interjected and asked whether I advocated the overthrowing of agreements. Within the last few days, and particularly yesterday when the Lands Acquisition Bill was being debated, a great deal has been said about matters affecting the public interest. Each speaker who touched on this subject said that public interest was paramount. If ever there was an example of the public interest being subordinated in South Australia it is the agreement between the South Australian Government and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited concerning steel production. The suggestion that an agreement should be honoured which was entered into between a government and a monopolistic concern such as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited for the purpose of virtually selling out the iron ore in the State of South Australia, is too farcical to be considered. It is tantamount to saying that it is all right for Home to burn if somebody has something in writing.
– Rubbish !
– It is not rubbish. If the Liberal senators from South Australia want an opinion other than mine as to the desirability of the Liberal Government of South Australia tearing up that agreement with this company, I refer them to a statement by the Director of Mines in South Australia, Mr. Dickinson.
– Does he suggest, that it should be torn up?
– Yes, he advises that that should be done. Mr. Dickinson is an employee of the South Australian Liberal Government, and he stated clearly in a report to that Government that it would be in the public interest if the Government of South Australia repudiated in whole, or at least in part, the existing agreement between the company and the State Government.
– There is a great deal of difference between “in whole” and “ in part “.
– Unlike Senator Mattner, Mr. Dickinson advocated that in the interests of .South Australia, a steel mill must be established in the northern part of that State. Apparently, Senator Mattner is at variance with that proposal.
– I am. I should be agreeable if it were built on the other side of the gulf.
– I find it difficult to believe that senators representing the Government party in South Australia should have so little regard for their own State as to oppose the establishment of industries in South Australia and rely for support upon a one-sided agreement between a monopoly and the Liberal Government of that State. Obviously. Liberal senators on the Government side have not heard of the famous poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel, which exemplifies love for one’s native land. I assure them that no minstrel raptures will swell for them in the State of South Australia.
– Is the honorable senator advocating secession?
– I am advocating the establishment of a steel mill in the most logical place in the northern part of South Australia. It is not the first time it has been advocated, but the only people who appear to know nothing about the popular demand for it are the Government senators representing the State of South Australia. The Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, which is vitally interested in the expansion of the steel industry in South Australia, would be amazed to know that, according to Senator Mattner’s remarks, these honorable senators are not aware of the fact that a steel mill at Whyalla is desired by the people of South Australia.
– But steel is needed to-day and to-morrow, not in ten years’ time. The honorable senator’s complaint is that steel is not being produced.
– I remind Senator Mattner that eighteen months ago I raised this matter in the Senate, and if some action had been taken then by this Government and the Liberal Government of South Australia, progress might have been made towards the production of more steel in Australia, and so have avoided the critical situation that has developed through shortage. I note with interest that, according to news from South Australia, a famous German company, the firm of Krupps, which was closely associated with the war between this country and the fascist nations of the world in the not-distant past, has its eyes on the iron ore deposits of South Australia. It will be interesting to see what the Liberal Government of that State does if that firm seeks the right to establish its works in the area. Possibly another monopoly will begin to operate in South Australia, the people will be further oppressed by monopolistic concerns and the Government will refrain from doing anything. If ever a matter required the attention of a royal commission, it is the steel industry in Australia. It is useless for honorable senators opposite to say that it is not a fact that we are entirely at the mercy of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited for our requirements of steel. The question of the expansion of a vital industry in this country is determined, not by governments legislating in the interests of the people, but by the whim of a monopoly.
– Not at all.
– That monopoly is so powerful that it is able to dictate to the Liberal Premier of South Australia and his Government, and to lay down its own terms as to how it will operate in that State. This is a matter for which the Liberal Government of South Australia should be condemned. The Commonwealth Government also is deserving of censure because it has done nothing but talk about the steel industry during the five years it has been in office.
– Why did not the Labour Government get rid of that monopoly when it was in office?
– Obviously, some of the things I am saying do not meet with the approval of honorable senators opposite. I did not expect that they would. Like the Liberal Government of South Australia, the Liberal and Country coalition which, unfortunately, now guides the destinies of Australia, is prepared to dance to the tune of monopolistic concerns in this country. I suggest that the only reason why practical steps to correct a situation which could place the industries of Australia in a position of gravity have not been taken, is that the
Government is afraid to take off the gloves against the people who are powerful enough to determine its fate.
– The honorable senator does not believe that.
– I do. I believe it because I know it is true. The honorable senator who has interjected has done nothing to correct that situation. The Liberal Government of South Australia, acting against the advice of its trained officers has refrained from doing anything practical to increase steel production.
– What would be achieved if the agreement were torn up?
– If the State Government had any backbone, there would be an immediate move on its part to produce steel. Why should that not be done ?
– Has the honorable senator any idea of what it would cost ?
– It does not matter what it would cost. What does it matter how much the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme costs, so long as it assists in the development and expansion of Australia and its industries? If the Government of South Australia had the courage to tear up the inquitous agreement that exists between it and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, it would immediately commence the production of steel. If that were done, it would show that that Government was prepared to face up to its responsibility. If it can be established that a critical situation is developing in the steel industry in this country, it is the business of governments; and if governments do not realize that it is their business, they are not doing their job.
– No agreement would be worth entering into if it could be torn up by one of its signatories at will.
– The honorable senator seems to be concerned about that agreement. Apparently, it does not matter to him whether it operates against the best interests of the people of South
Australia, or deprives this country of much needed steel, or adds to the power of the combine; the agreement must be honoured to the letter.
– I am concerned about the sanctity of contracts.
– I am in conflict with that opinion. The ideas now expressed by honorable senators opposite are in conflict with the statements made by some of them yesterday on the subject of the acquisition of land.
– Will the honorable senator admit that we get the cheapest steel in the world from the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.
– I am not prepared to admit that we get the cheapest steel in the world, but I am prepared to say that we have the resources capable of giving us the cheapest steel in the world, but are not developing them. There can be no denying the fact that governments are afraid to step in against this monopolistic concern.
– What does the honorable senator know about it?
– I think I know as much about it as the honorable senator who interjected knows. He is the honorable senator who did not know the location of a town in South Australia where it was considered desirable to establish a steel mill. Before I leave the subject of steel I emphasize that unless this Government, in co-operation with the Government of South Australia and other State governments, takes action to examine the situation that exists in connexion with steel, and takes such steps as are necessary in the national interest to correct the position, it will find itself confronted with a position of the utmost gravity in the near future. Honorable senators opposite know that. I said earlier that the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the steel industry and other industries associated with it would be a wise step on the part of the Government. I repeat that statement now.
At an earlier stage I referred to pensions, sales tax and child endowment. Before dealing with them individually, I remind the Senate that, in view of the statement by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur
Fadden) in his budget speech that we were living in a period of inflation and rising prices, the Government would have performed only an act of justice if it had increased child endowment, removed sales tax from necessary household commodities, increased the maternity allowance, and given relief to other sections of the community. When we find the Treasurer admitting such things quite definitely in a budget speech it is clear that the Government has not faced up to its responsibilities when it does nothing to meet the needs of the people I have mentioned. It is a crime on the part of the Government that it continues to impose sales tax on items of furniture that are necessary for young couples to establish homes. They are being called upon to bear a burden that they ought not to have to carry. Unless this situation is corrected in the near future, the position of young people who wish to marry will be serious indeed. Senator Robertson, in her references to sales tax, agreed with the views that I now express about sales tax. I have the utmost regard for the honorable senator, but I remind her that when on a former occasion the Labour party moved a number of amendments relating to sales tax, the honorable senator, who was so insistent to-day that sales tax should be removed, voted against them. That is not consistent. There are other items on which sales tax ought to be removed. I have referred to the sales tax on furniture, but would any one say that a washing machine is a luxury? A washing machine is a necessity for every housewife, and a sales tax on washing machines is an unjust imposition. There are many other items from which sales tax should be removed. Honorable senators know about many of them, and so I shall not elaborate that point. I believe that this Government has not faced up to its responsibilities. It tells the people that it has a surplus of £70,000,000, but it is not prepared to spend a few millions on removing a burden that people should not have to carry.
I come now to the pensioners. The Government, realizing that it has failed all sections of the Australian community, has tried to capture some public acclaim by increasing age and invalid pensions by 10s. a week. The truth is that there is no increase at all. The Government boasts about the increase, and it is the only item in the budget that its friends, the newspapers, can give it any credit for, but if the Statistician’s figures are any guide the truth is, that the 10s. will be swallowed up before it is received. The pensioners are well aware of that, and they will not forget the situation in which this Government has placed them.
While on the subject of social services, I shall refer to the burial allowance, which was fixed some considerable time ago at £10. I note from the newspapers that this allowance costs the Government only £300,000 a year. The cost of burial services has risen to such an extent that it would not be unfair to expect this Government to increase the burial allowance to £20. If it did so it would have to pay no more than another £300,000 a year.
I now wish to refer to the sales tax on dried fruits. The Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was asked a question recently by Senator Critchley regarding the state of the dried fruits industry. The Minister gave him a reply which merely indicated the overseas prices of those commodities. I do not blame the Minister for that, because he has just assumed the duties of his portfolio; but he did not give any consideration to the difficulties of the people who are associated with the dried fruits industry. The continuance of sales tax on those foodstuffs that have a dried fruit content is one of the factors which are crippling the dried fruits industry throughout Australia. I paid in this Senate on a previous occasion that sales tax on products containing dried fruits should be removed, and my remarks received a cold reception from some of my friends from South Australia on the other side of the chamber. They said that it would not make much difference to the position. I can tell them that the dried fruit growers of this country think otherwise. They believe that they would enjoy a very material benefit if the sales tax on foodstuffs having a dried fruit content was removed.
I have directed attention to what I consider to be a series of injustices. I regret that time will not permit me to refer to other injustices, but I say in conclusion that there is a host of anomalies apparent in the proposed appropriations that are coming before the Senate, and they will be exposed as the debates on those matters proceed. The Treasurer’s report on the economy of Australia will be given due consideration by honorable senators on this side of the chamber. Suffice it for me to say that this Government has brought down the worst budget in Australia’s history, with the least possible excuse for doing so.
– The honorable Senator who has just resumed his seat has made some very wild statements with regard to the budget and with regard to the steel industry. He is very worried because the Premier of South Australia is supporting this industry. I remind the honorable senator that, just before World War II., the Western Australian Government deliberately decided to hand over Yampi Sound to the Japanese to establish a steel industry there. If that had been done, this country would have been overrun by possibly the most brutal conquerer that the world has known since Genghis Khan.
– That is not a correct statement.
– The honorable senator cannot deny it. What is more, Labour members of this chamber and of another place claimed that the Menzies Government was stopping the development of Western Australia in the interests of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.
– Who sent the pig- iron to the Japanese?
– Do not worry about that. You would have got pig-iron all right; you would have got it in your chest.
Honorable -senators interjecting,
– Order ! Honorable senators will remain quiet.
– With regard to the budget, we would like to see certain things done. Personally I would like to have seen the pay-roll tax removed. It is one of our wor«t taxes, and it has a very bad effect on industry. But there is a limit to what can be done.
This Government has doubled social service payments since it assumed office, and that has to be paid for. We cannot put our hands in the air and pull money out of the sky. There was a gentleman here at one time, Mr. Dedman, who was a great believer in social services. He believed that money could be obtained simply by printing it, and that it did not matter whether there was anything behind it. I can look across this chamber and see men who fought in three wars; men who volunteered to defend this country in the interests of the Empire to which we belong. I am astounded when I hear those men say that we should not be spending £190,000,000 on defence because there is no occasion for it. There has never been a graver occasion than now in the history of Australia or of the world. W e see this “ chop-licking “ going on in Russia, lt is said that the Russians are going to be very peaceful but they are just like the old wolf, who, having torn the throat out of the deer, licks his chops and looks around for another bite. That is their position, and do not forget that the Leader of the Opposition in the other House (Dr. Evatt) is the man responsible for one of the gravest dangers that Australia has ever faced or will face in our generation. We had an absolute mandate over New Guinea, but that right honorable gentleman, as Australian Minister for External Affairs, gave New Guinea to the United Nations when the League of Nations died, unwept, unhonoured and unsung. Why did he do that?
– You know !
– Yes, I do know. It was because he wanted the votes of Indonesia, Pakistan, India, El Salvador and such countries as the negro republic of Haiti, in order that he could get the position of president of the United Nations General Assembly. That is why he handed New Guinea back. I want, to remind honorable senators opposite, who have been talking about defence, of the attitude of the Labour party in 193S. When the Menzies Government was spending £3,000,000 on defence, John Curtin said that there was no justification for it. Honorable senators can read that in Hansard. Mr. Curtin said that there was no justification for the spending of that money, and that the Government at that time was simply trying to work up war hysteria in order to win an election.
– Tell us about 1941 now.
– I will tell you. What is more, men like the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) said, “I would not spend one penny; I would not send one man, to defend New Guinea. Let the men who have gone there to exploit the natives in the plantations and gold mines fight for New Guinea.” I thought that even a rat from East Sydney would know that the nation which held New Guinea was half-way to the conquest of Australia. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said that he would not spend one penny for defence while there was a widow or child-
– I rise to order. 1 object to the words “ rat from East Sydney “. They should be withdrawn.
– Senator George Rankin was not referring to anybody in this chamber.
– Order ! There is no point of order, nor is there any ground for withdrawal in the remark.
– It is quite offensive.
– The honorable senator should wait until he can read it in Hansard.
– When a disloyal mob pulled down the Union Jack and burnt part of it and trampled on the rest of it, Senator Grant went into a hall and said that it was a symbol of oppression and he was glad they did it.
– That is a deliberate lie. Everybody who knows me knows that it is a deliberate lie, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– Order! I an. not going to call upon Senator George Rankin to withdraw the statement.
– But I am telling you, Mr. President, that it is not true.
– Order ! Yon can make a personal explanation at the end of Senator George Rankin’s speech.
– It is offensive, and surely this is the time to make a request. I want him to withdraw it now.
– Order ! I rule that the statement is not offensive.
– Then nothing is offensive.
– The Leader of the Opposition in another place is responsible for the fact that 60,000,000 Indonesians are now within striking distance of New Guinea. He is responsible for the grave danger to Australia resulting from that position, and yet he has declared that we should save money by not spending it on defence. The Leader of the Opposition is largely responsible also for the fact that it is absolutely essential that we should spend all the money we can possibly spare to give our Air Force the best aircraft available, to supply our infantry with the best arms and tanks, and to bring our Navy up to date.
Honorable senators on the Opposition side should not forget that security costs money. This country is worthy of all ihe money we can spend, and it is worth fighting for. I, and thousands of other young Australians of the day, went to Gallipoli in World War I. If we had been armed with Mills bombs we would have swept over Gallipoli that first night. When we had been there for about a week, we were given jam tin bombs. Jam tins were filled with any bits of iron that could be found, and those primitive bombs were the only arms of the kind that we had to oppose the Turkish bombs. They were more dangerous to the men who used them than they were to the enemy.
In World War II., we sent the cream of Australian youth to fight in obsolete aircraft because sufficient money had not been spent on modern types. Honorable senators on the Opposition side talk about what happened in 1941, but the man. who took over the leadership of the nation in 1941 admitted that he could not have done what he did had it not been for the preparations that had been made by the previous government. He could not deny it. In Bendigo, there is a munitions factory for which Sir Philip McBride signed the authority and the Premier of Victoria of that day, Sir Albert Dunstan, supplied the land. The Australian Labour party afterwards tried to claim that it had some say in the establishment of that plant. It knew nothing about it until the factory was being built. Work was done in that factory that could not be done anywhere else in the southern hemisphere, but only in Great Britain and the United States of America. That factory manufactured 8-in. naval guns for our cruisers.
Honorable senators on the Opposition side have claimed that they could save money. They have said that the Government should not spend the proposed vote on defence. I say that our prosperity, which has increased tremendously under the administration of this Government, has enabled us to find sufficient money to make sure of the defence of Australia. If we send men to war again in anything but the very best planes and the very best warships, and if we arm them with anything but the best of weapons that money can buy and the ingenuity of man can produce, we shall be murdering them in cold blood. I have seen numbers of gallant men die because they were not supplied with proper arms. We know the intention of those who say that we should save money by reducing expenditure on defence. We know that if the time comes when they can put their feet on the throats of the western peoples, they will be completely ruthless. The hordes of Genghis Khan will be as nothing compared with those people. They are a most treacherous and bloodthirsty race.
– What about the Japanese?
– The Japanese are a bad lot, but they are not the danger to the world that the Russians are because the Russians are not only prepared to fight, but are using their antireligious propaganda in an attempt to destroy the will of other peoples to fight. The Communist propaganda is so subtle and so good that it is, in many instances, destroying the will to fight and the will of nations to retain their- freedom. The Communists are our greatest danger.
We should defend our land to the last drop of blood in the interests of the generations still to come who have a right to this beautiful country which can produce everything necessary for the happiness of man. We should fight for our freedom, not only the freedom to do our work, but also freedom of religion, and freedom of the world now and in the future. Russia is as imperialistic as Ivan the Terrible or Catherine the Great. The Russians have still the same viewpoint, and are just as determined to overrun the world and force their will upon other nations.
As I said before, we had a mandate from the League of Nations over the Territory of Papua and New Guinea but that mandate was given away without any authority from this Parliament. Instead of the mandate, we now have a trusteeship, which can be taken away from us. It should not be forgotten that the AfroAsian group of nations, and the Russians, could gain control of the United Nations. Not more than a fortnight or three weeks ago, a motion was brought before the United Nations assembly, backed by India, Syria and El Salvador, to the effect that Australia had no right to trusteeship of New Guinea, and that some Asian power should have it.
The same man who gave away the mandate over New Guinea backed Indonesia against a friendly power, Holland. We welcome the Dutch people to this country in their thousands, and we hope to see them come here in hundreds of thousands, because they are first-class settlers and have similar racial origins to our own. Indonesia has claimed West New Guinea for itself, although there is no racial connexion between the Indonesians and the people of New Guinea, nor is there any cultural relationship. Indonesia wants New Guinea as a stepping-stone on the way to Australia. I suggest that, if it succeeds in getting West New Guinea it will not be satisfied, but will want East New Guinea and Papua as well. The Indonesian people do not believe in a colonial policy for Holland, but they are great believers in one for Indonesia. These Indonesians are the same people who murdered, within 3 miles of the capital city, Australian officers who had gone to Indonesia under a safe conduct from Dr. Soekarno. They were murdered in cold blood and torn to pieces. They are the same people who ravished and murdered nurses from our ships. Those nurses whom they did not murder they betrayed to the Japanese, so that they could do the same.
If this Government did not spend the money it is spending on bringing our defences up to date, it would be guilty of one of the greatest betrayals in the history of the world - the betrayal of the people of Australia. If the Opposition ever forces our armed services to be sent into the field poor in arms, it will be betraying them. It will be murdering them, not the enemy. Their blood will be on the heads of the supporters of the Opposition.
We had a mandate over New Guinea before, and, despite the “ blah “ which has been published in the newspapers by General Whitney, boosting Macarthur our troops at Milne Bay were the first to meet the Japanese face to face, and to drive back a superior force. Even our Governor-General said, in my hearing, that the greatest boost that the troops in Burma ever got was when they heard that the Australians had met the Japanese face to face and had driven back a superior force. He said that that feat destroyed the story, which was being published throughout the world, that the Japanese infantry were invincible. The Australians fought their way over the Kokoda trail and retook Papua and New Guinea. There was no justification whatever for surrendering the mandate. As I say, the man who did so did it for one reason, which was to gain the support of nations such as Indonesia, Pakistan, India, ‘El Salvador, and the negro Republic of Haiti, nations which should have very little say in world affairs, because they are of very little importance in the world. I except India, which is a vast country with an enormous population and a country which, I fear, some day may be a very great danger to the Western people, because there is no question that Communist China is trying to get India into its orbit and to get it to join the Communist nations. I have seen Indian soldiers. Many of them are extremely brave men who will fight with distinction and credit alongside any white man.
I regret that a greater sum of money has not been provided in this budget for the development of the Northern Territory. I have been over a great part of the Territory. Banka Banka station, which was owned by a man named Paddy Ambrose when I was there, turned off some of the finest cattle I have ever seen. I think the area of that station was 150 square miles. Victoria River Downs, which was owned by Lord Luke, had an area of 1,200 square miles, and the cattle on it were a disgrace. They were just rubbish. There were hundreds of scrub bulls, and generally, the cattle were mongrels. The people who operate properties such as that are keeping away men who would work the Northern Territory, while they themselves make no attempt to develop it. Lord Vestey’s crowd owns a great chain of stations, including some beautiful country. Rosewood, of about 180 square miles, was sending more first-class cattle to the freezing works at Wyndham than was Wave Hill, of 8,000 square miles, under the dead hand of Vestey’s.
I said, when I came back from the Northern Territory, that if I had my way I would declare an open season for every man concerned or connected with Vesteys, and that I would give five guineas a scalp. I had the satisfaction of meeting Lord Vestey two years afterwards. I was introduced to him by Dr. Joyce, in Melbourne. Dr. Joyce asked Lord Vestey, “ Do you know General Rankin “ ? Lord Vestey said, “No, I don’t, but I have seen ‘something- of what he has said “. Then he said to me, “ Of course, you have changed your mind about us in the Territory, I suppose? You were going to pay so much a scalp “. I said “ Yes, I have changed my mind. I have raised the ante. I would give 25 guineas now “.
After the war, a Labour government was in power. It did not settle one man in the Northern Territory, although there were hundreds of young men, with money behind them, who were prepared to go to the Territory had they been given the chance to do so. Dedman, with his postwar reconstruction, did not settle one man there.
– He settled a lot down here, though.
– Yes, he settled them like the nigger did with the axe. It is impossible for a man to settle on some of the country in the north unless he has a fair amount of capital behind him. However, in other areas like Banka Banka and Rosewood the Government should certainly spend money to settle young men who have some capital. There are areas in the north where 100 square miles of land can be made into a wonderful holding, and men who are settled on holdings like that will be right where Australia needs them most. They should be the type of men who will fight for their own property and also for their own country. Every man who is settled there will be an asset to Australia.
There are areas in the north, as mentioned by Senator Robertson, where almost anything can be grown. At the Carlton Reach on the Ord river, and along the Victoria river, vast storage works could be built, and with the water so impounded I have no doubt that almost any crops could be grown. I suggest that tea, coffee, rice and many other commodities which at present we are importing for overseas, could be grown there both for our own use and for export. I hope that the Government will adopt a firm attitude about this matter and allocate money for the settlement of young and vigorous men and their families on the land in our north.
In the north-west of Western Australia there is also a vast area of land that needs to be settled, and I suggest that taxation remissions should be given by the Government to encourage people to go to those places. Moreover, roads and other aids to transport should be built in that area to assist in its settlement by young men and their families, who will then be in a position to make that country safe for Australia.
I believe that the Government is doing the best that it can in the interests of Australia, although perhaps it could go a little further in this particular matter. I should like to see taxes reduced, of course, but there are indications of reductions of prices of our primary products on overseas markets, and perhaps we should be considering that aspect of the economy in relation to our present rate of taxation. Also, we have traitorous governments in this country who have subsidized the product of coloured labour as against our own products. They have subsidized companies which, sell fats produced by coloured labour in competition with the products of Australian dairy men. I believe that that should be stopped. We must realize that in every State dairymen represent an important section of the com muni ity, and their products are very important in our economy.
– The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) is aware of that.
– Yes, and I am also aware of it. It is quite likely that some person was incited to make an attack upon the Minister at the meeting in Warwick. In relation to that matter, a man said to me, “Did you notice that certain dairymen’s organizations in Queensland were talking about joining the Labour party ? “ I said, “ If that is so, all I can say is that those whom the Lord wishes to destroy he first makes mad “.
I have heard much talk about monopolies in. Australia, particularly the socalled steel monopoly. Some people who were prepared to bring the Japanese into Yampi Sound, and betray Australia into their hands, are the very people who talk about great steel monopolies in Australia. I have no brief for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, but I have been around about Australia a fair bit and I have noticed that wherever that company has establishments the housing and the amenities that it has supplied for its workmen are an example to all other employers in this country. Moreover, the goods produced by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited are a credit to them. I do not believe that that company should control our steel industry, but I do say that worse things could happen to us. The company is an Australian company, and it is owned largely by small Australian shareholders. It is better to encourage an industry like that, rather than to turn our iron ore supplies over to a foreign power and put that power in a position to strike at the heart of this grand country.
– I have listened carefully to the speech just delivered by Senator George Rankin, and I quite agree with him in his stated attitude towards the development of the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia However, he should remember that the Government is very dilatory in relation to vital national matters such as the development of our north. Something has to be done on a national scale to develop the parts of this continent that lie north of the 36th parallel of latitude.
I now propose to deal in particular with great and important national projects. On the 24th August, the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) introduced his budget into the House of Representatives, and in doing so he confessed that there was some degree of inflation in this country. He said - . . By the end of the financial year we had around us the unmistakable signs of active inflation.
It is, to bc sure, still a mild and incipient form of inflation if compared with out experience in the period up to 1952. Although costs and prices have started to - rise again they have not yet gone very far. Nor is there anything yet to compare with the bottlenecks in industry and the acute shortages of supplies which typified that earlier period.
That statement is typical of Government statements made upon the introduction of each successive budget since 1950. To say that we are now seeing the first signs of inflation is wrong and dishonest. When this Government took over in 1949-50 the basic wage was £6 9s. a week whereas now, as a result of inflation the’ basic wage has more than doubled. There has been progressive inflation. Any government with the interest of the nation at heart would have been concerned, but this Government was not concerned or it would have pursued a more consistent policy in dealing with the higher cost of production and falling markets overseas that challenged Australia during this period of inflation. All these things were apparent for years and were pointed out by the Opposition; and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) now admits that what has happened is the result of those factors. However, so confused were the coalition parties that we have had the unique experience in the National Parliament of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), failing to speak in the budget debate in support of his Treasurer, but issuing a separate statement on the economy of Australia a month later, on the 27th September, 1955.
– And a very good one, too.
– The honorable senator says it is a good one. It certainly explains the position up to a point, but the Government has done nothing about the situation after explaining it to the country. It has not taken one definite step to correct the position apart from imposing import restrictions in an attempt to bring down our import figure by £80,000,000. The Government has avoided the Parliament. The budget was brought down in August and at that time it was quite obvious and patent to the Government, to the Parliament and to most thinking people that our economic position was unstable and unsound. If the Government had done the honest thing it would have taken effective measures at that time. But it did not suit the Government to do so. In the interim between the budget speech on the 24th August, and the Prime Minister’s statement on the 27th September, these people who really run the Government of this country - and they are not in this Parliament - conferred with the Prime Minister and made him alter his attitude. They forced him into a position where he handed over to them the vital direction of our economic affairs. He then made a statement on the economy but did not give the Parliament an opportunity to discuss it. What has happened in the meantime? Imports have been cut. But in the interim the big interests in this country were able to increase their stocks to a point where they could withstand the blast, whereas the smaller men, who were not in the fortunate position of knowing what was going to happen, will have to stand up to the rigours of import restrictions and suffer because of the Government’s policy.
Let us trace the history of this vacillating, hot and cold policy that the Government has adopted. In 1950-51 the Government said that we were in a grave economic position, that our national finances were threatened and that we were not producing enough. The Chifley Government had left huge overseas balances, but this Government dissipated those overseas reserves by encouraging imports. It brought imports into this country in huge quantities even to the point of embarrassing Australian industry at that time. Opposition senators on numerous occasions pointed out that young and developing Australian industries were in serious danger and, in some cases, would bc totally destroyed. However, the policy of this Government was to bring in imports without restriction, claiming that it was the only way to avoid inflation. It adopted the policy that by bringing in abundant supplies of machinery and other goods we could produce more and so correct inflation. But the policy aggravated the position further, and the cost structure in Australia continued to rise.
The next change in policy was the sharp cut in imports which embarrassed many people and threw many out of employment. The unemployment situation did not become particularly serious because in a young and developing country it was able to correct itself. Nevertheless, serious disruption took place. The Government’s next change of policy was to insist on obtaining dollar loans. Whereas this country was free of indebtedness to America when Labour left office, now, as a result of international borrowings, we have the very doubtful privilege of being the third highest borrower from America in the world. When we analyse the amount of goods exported by this country to America and the United Kingdom, despite these borrowings and despite all the concessions we have made to these countries, we find that our export market dropped considerably until it reached the stage at which the Treasurer said in this “ prosperity “ budget that our imports exceeded our exports by £173,000,000 during the financial year 1954-55.
– What is wrong with that in a growing country?
– Honorable senators will realize what is wrong with it when we come to the same stage that we reached previously after the “borrow and bust” policy which Sir Earle Page carried out. We are being called to account now.
– The volume of exports has never been higher.
– We were told by the Prime Minister in his statement on the economy -
When the Budget rejected proposals for reduced taxation or allowances, it did so against the background of a state of prosperity in which can bc discerned certain tendencies of a dangerous kind.
The Prime Minister did not, in fact, say as clearly as the Treasurer had said, that inflation had embarrassed the nation and that the Government was incapable of handling the situation. However, quite apart from what I might say is wrong with the policy of the Government, let me quote an economic authority, Mr. W. F. Crick of the Midland Bank, London, who recently visited this country. After his visit to Australia this is what he had to say about the Government’s i policy, which, of course, is not this Parliament’s policy because it is made outside of the Parliament. Mr. Crick, after a study of the Australian economy, said -
Tn particular, the central Government seems to lack any explicit, coherent, economic policy, adaptable to changing current conditions, while its actions seem to be limited to improvisation.
The position could not have been moi e concisely and truthfully expressed. The Government at this stage says that it will not interfere with taxation, and that the status quo will remain. It has a very good reason. The field had been set before this. In the last three budgets the Government made promises to the people to whom it usually makes promises - those who exert most pressure on it. The people who bring pressure to bear on the Government get results. In the 1953 budget the Government made a reduction of £20 a week in taxation to people with incomes of between £4,000 and £5,000 per annum.
– The Government gave other reductions as well.
– Subsequently it made a further reduction of £10 a week,’ making a total of £30 a week in two years. It gave back £6,000,000 in land tax to people who had big holdings, big estates and big incomes. But it gave the age pensioner 2s. 6d. a week - an increase of 4 per cent., or only 9 per cent, of the increase he should have enjoyed if he had received the same proportion of the basic wage as he did when a Labour government was in office.
– That is more than the Labour Government ever did.
– The Labour Government did not break the pensioner with inflation and hand him back 2s. 6d. on a plate - a 4 per cent, increase when it should have been 20 per cent.
– The Labour Government reduced pensions.
– The budget papers made it clear that dividends paid last year were 20 per cent, greater than in 1952-53, and that they were greater that year than in the previous year. There was also considerably lower tax on these immensely increased incomes. But the reduction in taxation over that period to people on lower incomes averaged 2 per cent. The Government has carried out a “ family crusade “ with its promises, but there has been only a small allowable deduction for the family man. The basic wage has doubled, and the allowances should have been increased considerably to assist the family man to live. The Government has said a great deal about child endowment, but it has remained unaltered since 194S.
– That is not correct. This Government allowed endowment for the first child in 1949.
– That may be so, but I am speaking of the man with a family responsibility of at least three or more children. Although the Government granted endowment for the first child in 1949, on its own admission the basic wage, due to inflation, has doubled. There is every reason why child endowment should be reviewed. When it was introduced by a Labour government, even eliminating the first child, it represented 9 per cent, of the basic wage, but it is now below 4 per cent. The Government is pursuing a policy of continuous cheating by inflation.
I consider that there has been a serious breach of democratic government procedure in the way that the budget, and the subsequent economic statement by the Prime Minister, were delivered to the Parliament. The economic statement was made in the House of Representatives, and the Prime Minister exhorted people outside the Parliament to do many things. He blamed the worKer for insufficient production and said that the business man would have to restrict his imports, hire purchase would have to be curtailed and many other reductions made, but the Government did nothing about it. As Mr. Crick said, the Government had no policy. By interfering with import quotas, which it said had to be cut down, the Government made one move which vitally affects the economy of Australia. The Prime Minister said that a statement would be issued by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) in relation to this matter. No such statement has been made in the Senate. The Prime Minister was challenged as to what action he would take, but gave no satisfaction. He merely said that the Minister for Trade and Customs would make a statement in respect of this matter. It was naturally expected that such a statement would be made in the Senate, and that members of the Opposition would then have an opportunity to analyse and criticize it; but the desire of the Government was that this economic state ment should not be discussed in either House of Parliament. After giving due warning to the people outside Parliament the Government issued a press statement’, but no discussion was allowed in either House of the Parliament.
As a result of a blanket import restriction being imposed, many business people have been hurt. “Western Australia always has difficulty in obtaining a quota on. the base years, and consequently feels acutely the imposition of restrictions. Many Western Australian firms trade with principals in the eastern States on a base-year quota. Melbourne and Sydney are able to obtain high rates of imports, but if their quotas are cut down they will say to the States that are dependent on them that they cannot supply the goods. That is a serious situation for Western Australia, and the Government should review its import restrictions and give favorable consideration to allowing special quotas to States such as that.
Although the budget has been highly commended by Government supporter.- it does not suit too many people in the community. The Australian Council of Trades Unions, at its recent conference in September, 1955, passed the followingresolution : -
Congress condemns the budget of the federal Government and the economic policy on which it is based.
We protest against the Government’s refusal to make adequate finance available to meet subsidies of foodstuffs as a means of holding back prices and to provide adequate housing and hospital requirements. This contrasts with excessive expenditure on war preparations.
We support the opposition to the budget expressed in the Parliament by the Labour Opposition. We urge every possible- action to compel the Government to re-cast the budget to provide a substantia] increase in pensions and other social services, improved hospital facilities without increased hospital fees, and housing at low rents and low interest rates on money borrowed for home building.
The Government has failed. It has produced an absolutely static budget at a time when there is a real necessity to move into some of the fields which require Government assistance and guidance. The Government has done nothing about it. It says that this is a status quo budget, and it is appealing to people outside to correct the present position.
I desire now to refer to the Government’s attitude towards Australia’s export trade. With markets falling, the Government has failed to place Australian products overseas. Production is bountiful, as statistics show, but we cannot sell our goods. So long as the Government remains inactive and lets wheat be stored up to rot in the silos and stands idly by while the shipping companies which have financed the Government into office and applied pressure through the Australian National Airways and otherwise to prevent the standardization of railway gauges continue to dictate its policy, there will be trouble. Pressure on the Government has been so strong that the report of a committee on transport, which included Ministers in the Government, was rejected. That is a clear case of the national interest being disregarded as the result of pressure by vested interests.
Let us consider for a moment the position in relation to fruit. The Western Australian Fruitgrowers Association
Incorporated, over the signature of its secretary, Mr. R. G. Cameron, talked about the increase of freights by shipowners, and implored the Government to do something. The association said that increased freights would ruin the fruit industry. It forwarded a letter to members of the Cabinet - the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the former Minister for Shipping and Transport, Senator McLeay, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt). Obviously, the results were unsatisfactory, because they then wrote to members of Parliament asking them to spur the Government into action.
– I did not receive a letter.
– Probably that was because they had lost faith in the honorable senator on account of his inaction. An extract from the letter reads -
I have been directed by the Executive of this Association to bring under your notice the serious position in which the fruit industry of this State will find itself if the Overseas Shipowners persist in their intention to increase freights to the United Kingdom and Europe next year by 10 per cent.
At first sight, this increase may not seem formidable, but such is not the case. The significance of the proposed increase is revealed only when fruit freights to the United Kingdom are examined. In the last pre-war year, 1039, the nett rate of freight for fruit average 3s. 7d. (A.C.) per case. The rate that is proposed for 195(! is 12s. 7d. (A.C.) per case, a figure three and a half times that of 1939.
The letter then contains a tabulated statement which shows that the rates have risen from 3s. 7d. in 1939 to 12s. 7d. for 1956. Figures for the intervening years show a progressive increase. From 3s. 7d. in 1939 the rate rose to 6s. Id. in 1945-46, 8s. 7d. in 1947, 10s. 5d. from 1948 to 1951, 10s. 9d. in 1952-53, lis. 3d. in 1954-55 and 12s. 7d. for the year 1956. Had the proposed increases been in force this year, the additional cost to the apple and pear industry in Western Australia would have been at least £60,000. Although the freights apply not only to the fruit industry, but also to other Australian export industries, the Government has done nothing about them, except to appeal to outside vested interests to play fair. On the other hand, it is understood that the Government proposes to sell its only answer to the shipping combines, namely, the Australian shipping line. That was Hone before by a government, perhaps with a different name but of the same nature, and with the same policy. The name alters from time to time, but the policy remains the same. The shipping companies have this nation by the throat, and if the Government is not prepared to meet its serious challenge to our export industries, any talk about increasing exports will be useless. Compared with the value of imports, our exports are down by £173,000,000, but what does the Prime Minister and his Government say? Their only solution is that we must produce more, and produce it more cheaply. If the produce of this country was marketable at the low cost of production which the Labour Government maintained until it was destroyed, our produce would be readily saleable overseas in competition with produce from other countries.
The trouble is that, during this Government’s term of office, inflation has taken hold of the country to such a degree that, although we have produce to sell, we cannot sell it on the world’s markets, unless the Government is prepared to assist to offset the high cost of production brought about by the inflation which its policy has encouraged, in order to gain political advantage. No honorable senator will deny that the only steps taken by this Government to correct inflation have been to freeze the basic wage and deny margins to skilled men. Despite the promise of the Prime Minister to check excessive profits, there has been no endeavour to do so, or to prevent exploitation by the charging of excessive prices. First, the parties now in office advocated prices control by six States instead of by the Commonwealth Government, and now it has struck a death blow at prices control. Not by indirect means, but openly and flagrantly, the parties opposite now express their opposition to the control of prices. At the same time they condone the control of wages and the pegging of the basic wage. The pegging of the basic wage was another of the Government’s palliatives to meet the economic situation. It was a mere improvisation. The worker on the basic wage and all workers on low wages were given no increase. Nor did the man who had a just claim for a margin receive any margin. The action of the Government has had a most disastrous effect. One serious aspect of this question is that many young men who would have been prepared to serve an apprenticeship to some trade had to jettison the idea and accept employment as unskilled workers in order to make ends meet. That has been detrimental to Australia from a defence point of view.
During all this time inflation remained unchecked because there was no control over the people responsible for it. While workers tightened their belts because of the freezing of the basic wage and the refusal to pay margins to skilled workers, profits continued to rise. This year inflation became so bad that, for the first time, the Government admitted that inflation had caused embarrassment and was bringing Australia to its knees. That is the record presented to us in this budget. If the Government had made a sincere attempt to rectify the position, and to assist Australia to get on its feet again by reducing costs, so that we could sell our exports, the position might have been much different, but notwithstanding the need to expand our export trade, the Government has failed to do its job and to maintain a credit trade balance. I have been warned that my time has almost expired. I have here five papers, each one condemning the Government for its inability to meet the situation that has arisen in the Australian economy. The Treasurer has now gone overseas, presumablyto arrange for some more overseas borrowing. The Prime Minister did not deign to make a speech on the budget brought down by his Treasurer. We are left with a government that is a leaderless legion in the economic field. As happened when import restrictions were imposed, the only measure proposed by the Government to correct the position was not discussed either in the House of Representatives or in the Senate. That reveals a real contempt of the Australian Parliament by the Ministers who have imposed these restrictions upon us.
– To enable the Government to introduce another measure, I ask leave to continue my remarks later.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Spooner) read a first time.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The bill gives effect to the Government’s decision to increase age and invalid pensions by 10s. a week to a new maximum of £4 a week. Widows’ pensions will also be increased by 10s. a week. This will raise the maximum pension to £4 5s. a week for widows who have one or more children under sixteen years and to £3 7s. 6d. a week for other widows. The latter comprise mainly widows over 50 years of age who have no children under sixteen years.
I invite the attention of honorable senators to the fact that this is the fifth general increase in pensions granted by the present Government since it assumed office in December, 1949. The increases in age and invalid pensions have been - In 1950, an increase of 7s. 6d. ; in 1951, an increase of 10s.; in 1952, an increase of 7s. 6d. ; in 1953, an increase of 2s. 6d. ; in 1955, an increase of 10s. These increases aggregate 37s. 6d. a week, and represent an overall increase of 88.2 per cent. on the pension of 42s. 6d. which was paid when a Labour government was last in office. Although a general increase in pensions was not granted last year, the Government made extensive liberalizations in both the income and the property means tests, with the result that some 93,000 age, invalid and widow pensioners received increases in their pensions, many of which were quite substantial.
During recent debates, both in this chamber and in another place, members of the Opposition have stated that the increase of 10s. a week will not restore the purchasing power of the pension to what it was when Labour was in office. T want to state emphatically that this is a completely incorrect statement. The proof is readily available to every honorable senator. The only satisfactory yardstick available for comparing the purchasing value of the pension at different periods is the C series retail price index. The Commonwealth Statistician agrees that this is so. If honorable senators will refer to the bulletins issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, they will find that the C series retail price index number for the September quarter, 1949, which was the last issued before Labour left office, was 1,428. The maximum pension was then 42s. 6d. a week. The latest C series retail price index number is 2,375 for the June quarter, 1955. By simply taking the ratio of these two numbers and applying it to the pension of 42s. 6d. we get the result 70s. 8d. This, I point out, represents the amount of pension which would now be required to give the same purchasing value as the pension of 42s. 6d. had when Labour left office. It would require, therefore, an increase of only 8d. a week to restore the pension to the same purchasing level as it had in December. 1949. The Government, however, is granting an increase of 10s., which will give the pension a purchasing value of 9s. 4d. a week in excess of its value when Labour was last in office. If honorable senators opposite doubt these figures, I invite them to take up the matter themselves with the Commonwealth Statistician, who can he relied upon to state the facts impartially.
On behalf of the Government, I make the definite claim that never before, since the introduction of pensions some 46 years a,£ro. have pensioners been so well provided for by any Australian government. Not only has the pension a greater purchasing power, but the Government has also made two of the most important provisions for the welfare of pensioners that could possibly be made. The first is the pensioner medical service, which enables qualified pensioners to receive free medical treatment and free pharmaceutical benefits. The second is the Aged Persons Homes Act, under which the Commonwealth, by means of financial assistance on a £l-for-£l basis, is encouraging and stimulating the provision by churches and charitable organizations of homes for the aged. This humane and farseeing legislation represents the most positive step ever made by any Australian government towards the solution of the important and urgent problem of suitable accommodation for elderly people who have reached the stage in life when they are unable to live alone. I am pleased to say that the Government is appropriating a further £1,500,000 for grants for homes for the aged during the present financial year.
Although the bill on this occasion does not provide for any specific extensions of the means test, such as were made by the Government last year, I point out that the maximum amount which pensioners will be able to have by way of income, plus pension, will rise by 10s. a week for a. single person and £1 a week for a married couple. The new limits will be £7 10s. a week for single persons and £15 a week for married couples. As a result, the bill will benefit quite a number of persons dependent on superannuation or other, fixed incomes. I should add that, for the purpose of these limits, any income derived from property is entirely disregarded under the amendment which the Government made to the legislation last year.
In view of certain incorrect statements published in a section of the press immediately after the introduction of the budget, I may explain that the increase of 10s. will be a general flat-rate increase, and will be paid to all age, invalid and widow pensioners irrespective of whether the pension is at present paid at the maximum rate or at a reduced rate.
An important amendment contained in the bill which will be welcomed by all honorable senators is the repeal of the provisions which impose what are generally known as “ ceiling limits “. These are special limits on the amount of a civil pension which may be received by a pensioner in addition to a war pension. They were introduced by a Labour government’ in 1948, and have been a source of great irritation to ex-servicemen.
The ceiling limits are, in all cases, lower than the total amounts which may be received by way of civil pension plus income from other sources. For example, at present a person who receives compensation or superannuation of £3 10s. a week may be granted an age pension at the full rate of £3 10s., a total of £7 a week. A person who receives a war pension of £3 10s., however, cannot, at present, obtain an age pension at a higher rate than £2 2s. 6d. a week, making a total of only £5 12s. 6d. a week.
Similarly, at present a married man who receives compensation or superannuation of £7 a week may receive the full age pension of £3 10s. and his wife the same amount, making a total of £14 a week. Another married couple, however, who have the same amount of income in the form of war pensions, may receive age pensions of only £2 12s. 6d. a week between them, making a total of £9 12s. 6d. a week.
This disparity of £1 7s. 6d. a week in the case of a single war pensioner and £4 7s. 6d. a week in the case of a married war pensioner is directly due to the operation of the ceiling limits.
The Government has given this matter very careful consideration, and has come to the conclusion that this discrimination against war pensioners is wrong. The bill, therefore, repeals the ceiling limits and, in future, a war pension will rank merely as other income under the means test. The result will be that a single war pensioner, otherwise eligible, may receive an age or invalid pension at an increased rate, bringing his total pensions up to not more than £7 10s. a week. Similarly, a married couple receiving war pensions may receive age or invalid pensions at increased rates, bringing their total pensions up to not more than £15 a week. These totals are, of course, inclusive of any other income which the pensioners may have. The ceiling limits will also be removed for civilian widows, with similar advantages.
The Government’s decision to remove the restrictions imposed by the ceiling limits will, I am sure, give the greatest satisfaction to all honorable senators as well as to ex-servicemen’s organizations and ex-servicemen generally.
Before leaving this subject, I should refer to the position of blind war pensioners consequent upon the removal of the ceiling limits. The war pension will rank as income for pensioners who are not blind. There is, however, no means test for blind persons and it has been necessary, therefore, to insert a special provision so that blind ex-servicemen will not receive a full age or invalid pension in addition to what is known as the special rate war pension.
The special rate is paid, not only to blinded ex-servicemen, but also to ‘ other ex-servicemen who have become totally and permanently incapacitated through war disabilities. The new rate will be £9 15s. a week and, consequently, a single ex-serviceman who receives it and is not blind will be ineligible for an age or invalid pension because the limit of income, plus pension, is £7 10s. a week.
Where, however, a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman is married, it will be possible for him and his wife to receive age or invalid pensions at a rate which, together with their war pensions, will amount to £15 a week; that is, the new limit of income, plus pensions, for a married couple.
The new provision concerning blind war pensioners will ensure that they are not placed in a better position, so. far as pensions are concerned, than totally and permanently incapacitated war pensioners who are not blind. However, any income which a blind war pensioner may receive from other sources will continue to be disregarded.
Mr. President, I should like to take this opportunity to remind honorable senators, particularly on the opposite side of the chamber, of some of the achievements of this Government in the field of social services since it took office less than six years ago.
First, I again point out that the maximum rate of age and invalid pensions has been increased by 88.2 per cent. This, in itself, is a spectacular achievement. The Government has also raised the ultimate property limit - that is, the limit beyond which no pension is payable - . from £750 to £1,750. It has raised the property exemption from £100 to £200. That is the amount of property which has no effect on the pension. The special exemption of surrender values of life insurance policies has been raised from £200 to £750. Reversionary interests in property, which were formerly exempt up to an amount of £500, are now disregarded entirely.
A special provision introduced in 1951 gave the Director-General of Social Services discretionary power to disregard the value of property in special circumstances. This has given great relief to many pensioners who have let their homes and, through ill health or for other reasons, have been unable to re-occupy them. Further relief was given last year by the amendment under which incomederived from property is entirely excluded from the income means test.
The amount of income which a pensioner may have, without any effect on the pension, has been raised from 30s. a week to £3 10s. a week. For married couples, the increase in permissible income has been from £3 a week to £7 a week. This has not only benefited pensioners receiving fixed incomes, such as superannuation, but it has also encouraged those pensioners, who are able to do so, to engage in part-time employment, and thus supplement their pensions.
In future, it will be possible for a single pensioner to receive the full pension of 4- a week, in addition to other income of £3 10s. a week. He also can own his home, furniture and personal effects, without limit as to value, life insurance policies with a surrender value up to £750, and have money in the bank, or other assets, up to £209. A married couple will be able to receive pensions of £8 a week between them and to have, in addition, other income of £7 a week. They also can own their home, furniture and personal effects,, life insurance policies with a surrender value up to £1,500 between them, and money in the bank or other assets up to £419.
The Government has also doubled the rates of unemployment and sickness benefits and has introduced child endowment for the first child in every family. I have already mentioned the far-reaching step taken by the Government last year for the welfare of elderly people by the legislation providing for grants for suitable homes. I would remind honorable sena tors also of the advance which this Government has made in the great social service now known as the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. The scope of this service was considerably extended by amending legislation passed early this year.
Mr. President, I believe this Government can justly claim to have dealt fairly, in fact generously, with those members of the community who, because of age, ill health, widowhood, or for other reasons, have not been able, in a direct way, to enjoy their share of the general increase in prosperity which has been experienced since it came into office. The Government has every reason to be proud of its record in the field of social services, all the more because its financial commitments in many other directions have reached unprecedented levels.
Some 518,000 age and invalid pensioners, and 41,700 widow pensioners, will receive the general increase of 10s. a week. Approximately 6,500 will receive additional increases because of the removal of the ceiling limits. The increased payments will be made from and including the first fortnightly pension pay-day after the bill becomes law.
The cost of the pension increases, together with those arising from the removal of the ceiling limits, is estimated at £14,933,000 for a full year. The cost for 1955-56 will be £11,200,000. The estimated cost, for 1955-56, of all benefits under the Social Services Act is £179,030,000. In addition, national health benefits and services are estimated to cost £39,374,000, making a total of £218,404,000 for health and social services. It is interesting to note that, in 1949-50, which was the last budget year of the Labour Administration, the Costs of social services and health benefits were £85,300,000 and £7,500,000, respectively.
In conclusion, I would remind honorable senators that social services to-day involve huge cash payments and, unless a government is entirely reckless and irresponsible, it must look at many sides of the problem when determining the level of those payments. The development of social programmes depends, ultimately, on the ability of the community to meet the cost. We must look not only at the present, but also at the future. We have to be sure that national resources are constantly being built up to meet the demands that will be made on them. We have to be sure that the production of goods and services will be sufficient to meet all needs. And we must remember that, with the changing pattern of our population, an increasing proportion of old . people will throw an increasing burden on the productive.
Social service payments represent a share of national production. If we take too much of that production away from the producers, we run a very real risk of stifling their incentive. We must recognize our responsibility to all sections of the community, keeping a fair balance between the needs and claims of the elderly, of those who comprise the work force, of producers and nonproducers, and, no less important, the needs and claims of our children.
The Government seeks to maintain this fair balance between the needs of the various groups in the community. It looks to the future as well as the present. We seek social progress, but social progress on a. sure foundation, backed by the steady development of all our resources. There can be no real social security without economic security. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Tangney) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 466).
– Before the introduction of the Social Services Bill, we had listened to a speech by Senator Cooke which consisted mainly of wind and a garbled farrago of halfexpressed ideas. I gathered that, in the aggregate, the honorable senator’s remarks were designed to advance the claim that the Labour party could do a better job for the country than could the present Government. One need only reflect on the completely moth-eaten and bedraggled economic garment with which the country was clothed in 1949, when the present Government came to office, sufficiently to answer any such suggestion. I think it is as well for honorable senators on both sides of the chamber to face the facts. When we discuss increases of pensions, we should remind ourselves very firmly that we are dealing only in figures, and they have a reality only insofar as, when translated into goods, they represent value to the people.
We have passed through a period of great tribulation from the viewpoint of the economic balance of the country, and we have arrived at a stage which is giving cause for concern to all thoughtful members of the community. We are in a period of transition when we are going to settle down after the inflationary movements which inevitably follow war, to something like a basis on which real values in relation to the rest of the world must come into play. When we recognize that this concern arises from the imbalance of our exports as against our imports, it is simply a question of considering our external trade as a nation. I believe that we must recognize that about 85 per cent, of our exports come from primary industry. That means that we should examine the economy of this country from the viewpoint of seeing what economic justice is being accorded to the agricultural or farming section of the community which is responsible for the greatest proportion of our exports.
As I have said on a previous occasion, a glance at the survey of the national income and expenditure prepared by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) shows that that, section of the community, after enjoying a. somewhat fugitive prosperity in the years from 1950 onwards, is now facing a less impressive rate of progress than the urban section of our population. If we look at the Treasurer’s statement we shall see that the income of farmers in the year 1939-40 was £411,000.000 and in the’ year 1954-55 only £480,000,000. Honorable senators will notice that there has been only a midget increase of income of about £70,000,000, whereas in exactly the same period the wage and salary earners of Australia have improved their incomes from £1.197.000.000 to £2,321,000,000. Therefore, the income of the urban section has been just about; doubled, whereas the income of the rural section has increased by a mere 14 per cent, or 15 per cent.
I noticed to-day in the issue of Muster, of the 4th October, figures which T believe have tremendous significance from the viewpoint of understanding and correcting our economic imbalance. In that newspaper it is disclosed that in relation to the wool industry, which is undoubtedly the backbone of Australia’s export trade, the costs within the industry have been based upon an average price of 85d. per lb. However, the Rural Rank of New South Wales has estimated, in its recent survey of the industry, that on properties which are predominantly wool-producing, and which breed their own replacements, the cost of producing a pound of wool is 62d. On properties which buy replacements the cost is 64d., on properties which breed fat lambs as well as produce wool the cost is 70d. per lb., and on properties where the production of wool, crops and fat lambs is combined, the cost is 58d. per lb. The average price of wool this season, to the present time, is 55d. per lb., and if the expected improvements come to pass the price may reach 60d. per lb.
Those figures pose, in relation to that particular industry, a question which lies at the very basis of the economic imbalance of Australia. That is the cost structure within the country. We must realize that as long as we fool ourselves that we can live in isolation from the rest of the world, and not participate in external trade on a basis that will enable us to exchange our products with the products of other countries, we shall be pauperizing this country, inflating costs beyond real values and following a mere will ‘o the wisp. The emphasis must be placed on the prosperity of the agricultural section of the community, because on that do we depend for the production of the main export commodities that will restore the balance between exports and imports that we have at present lost.
Only last week I read a phrase which emanated from Dr. Young, the Archbishop of Hobart, which appealed immensely to my soul. He said that the future prosperity of Australia should be regarded as coming from the warmth of the good earth rather than from the cold cement floor of the factory. I am not one who is here to reduce the indus trial expansion and growth of this country. Only some one with a mildewed eye would suggest that we should retard industrial expansion in the slightest degree. The proper balance between secondary and primary industry might require that, while focusing our chief emphasis on the encouragement of agriculture, we should extend every encouragement to secondary industry to bring them both into a proper balance. But we should always put the main emphasis on agriculture because it is our mainstay.
In the situation in which we find ourselves, a remedy can be applied only if we ascertain what are the factors that have caused this situation. First, I want to take the line that we, as a parliament, are chiefly concerned with the governmental agencies involved. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has displayed his faith with regard to the matter, and has pointed out that he recognizes that once the Government gives the lead, the people of this country can be relied upon to play their part according to each one’s particular judgment and genius. But we. as a parliament, are particularly concerned in this situation to examine the governmental agencies that we maintain to participate actively in the economy.
First a word with regard to the banking system. It is well known, and an undeniable fact, that since we have had. the present organization between the central bank and the Commonwealth Trading Bank, the Commonwealth Trading Bank has pursued a policy of active expansion in somewhat energetic competition with the trading banks. It is well known that, in order to secure an increasing list of customers, credit has been extended by the Commonwealth Trading Bank to a degree which, I suggest, an independent trading bank would ‘ condemn in the present circumstances. The first thing to be re-examined in this matter is the association that is maintained between the Central Bank and the Commonwealth Trading Bank, where one executive is interested to produce a profit for the trading bank, and at the same time is responsible to establish the proper balance of credit by the proper use of the Central Bank.
Secondly - and I do not yet despair of exciting some interest in this proposition - Australia has reached the stage at which the wage-fixing processes urgently need re-examination. We have an institution which is commonly called a court, but that is a misnomer. We have a court of industrial arbitration which everybody recognizes is an authority completely beyond the power and control of any parliament either Federal or State. It acts through the agency of seven judges and fifteen or sixteen conciliation commissioners, whose edict, in the form of an award, is final. I t is not in the slightest degree responsible to either Federal or State Parliaments. 1. am speaking, of course, of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The State courts are completely responsible to the State parliaments and, as I shall point out in a moment, the State parliaments do irreparable and recurring harm by their mischievous interference with these courts for political purposes. As recently as last week the New South Wales Government directly interfered with the State court in order to make easy a general election in that State. How contemptible!
In the federal sphere we maintain an agency which is completely independent of this Parliament and which has uncontrollable industrial authority. We cannot deny for one minute the degree to which costs have risen in Australia since that fateful and unfortunate day in October, 1950, when Mr. Justice -Foster, Mr. Justice Dunphy - Sir Raymond Kelly, with great prescience, dissenting - announced that decision which artificially inflated the basic wage. I desire to read from an article prepared by an American professor who made a study as recently as December, 1954, of the industrial setup in Australia. There are, to m.y mind, two pregnant paragraphs in his paper on the subject.
– Who was he?
– Professor Kingman Eberhart. He said -
From 1948 to the December quarter of 1952 the Australian price level rose by 73 per cent. In the United Kingdom the price rise for the same period was 28 per cent, but in the United States it was only 1 1 per cent. The exceptional position of Australia can be appreciated by noting that of 21 countries, on which the Statistical Office of the United Nations reported, only one, Chile, experienced a price rise greater than that in Australia since 1948.
The second paragraph is as follows: -
The Australian Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics shows the following international comparisons between the price levels in the June quarter of 1953 and the September quarter of 1939; a rise in Kew Zealand of 76 per cent.; in Canada S3 per cent.; in the United States of America, 90 per cent.; and in Australia, 150 per cent. A difference of this magnitude in the comparative price level increases in the several countries mentioned suggests that some special factor was at work in the Australian economy which was not present elsewhere. The one which first comes to mind is, of course, the Australian machinery of compulsory arbitration and the employment of the system of automatic quarterly wage adjustments tied to the “ C Series Price Index “.
I suggest that that is a very thoughtful contribution to the subject. Anybody who examines the processes which have emanated from the Arbitration Court since 1953 will realize that the selfgenerating machinery that was created then, which was designed to lash into foam the inflation that Mr. Justice Foster and Mr. Justice Dunphy injected into the economy in August, 1950, has been one of the main contributors to the inflation of which we have been victim. I am reinforced in that view by an observation that will be found in last year’s annual report of the Tariff Board. In this impressive report, the board said that the most potent contribution that was made to the stabilizing of Australian economy, which the Senate will remember swung in perfect equilibrium for the six months between September, 1953, and March, 1954, was the Arbitration Court’s decision to suspend the statistical quarterly adjustments of the basic wage. Other factors have re-appeared since that time and I submit that all of these matters show that the most important factor in the Australian economy stems from the Arbitration Court as an agency - constituted as I have described. It is a most important factor, and it is completely independent of any parliament elected by the people. Here in this Parliament we can soberly contemplate a prolonged discussion upon social services payments in detail, and we can be directly responsible for increases in pensions of every sort ; but we avoid the responsibility that should be ours of controlling the agency by which these wage costs should be determined. That jurisdiction cannot be avoided much longer by a Government that wants to remain the government of the country. The greatest aid that can be rendered by the Opposition in regard to these matters would be to give to the section of the community which regards itself as peculiarly dependent upon the Labour party for leadership, that leadership which Sir Vincent Tewson or Mr. Charles Geddes would give if they were in Australia. I remind the Senate of the important statement made within the past six weeks by Mr. Geddes to the trade unions of England - that it would bc industrial suicide for them to clutch at ever-increasing wages if that would mean the strangulation of the export trade of Britain. That is the type of leadership that I plead with the Opposition to supply to the labouring men of Australia. They would find that they had a great deal of support from many hearts on this side of the chamber.
The next thing for which we, as a Parliament, are responsible is the Tariff Board. The Tariff Board has maintained a traditional policy, and will still maintain it to encourage the economic growth of Australian industries in their initial stages of development. I am particularly pleased to see that the Tariff Board has expressed its conception of its duty in these words -
The Board lias been charged with the guardianship of the final barrier to cost inflation and its advice to the Minister on individual items is based on a recognition of this responsibility.
In this report one sees evidence of the conscience that directs the board in the discharge of its responsibilities. It examines the cost structure in a manner to which I shall refer in later debates on the Estimates if I have the opportunity. If that report is studied it will be found to contain remedies that can be applied, and I hope are being applied, to correct effectively the cost structure of Australia. In particular, it makes reference to the terrific transport costs of which the country is victim, not forgetting the fratricidal policies in which the States of Australia engage to maintain their State-supported systems of transport, to the destruction of transport systems carried on by private enterprise. The board does not forget that the organizations associated with transport include some that concern themselves with sea transport, and that chief among them is that pernicious instrument, the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board.
I come to the fourth emanation which is our peculiar responsibility - import restrictions. The Government introduced them three years ago, and in an atmosphere of alarm protested that they would be temporary. I had the idea that they might endure for nine months, but they have gone on with various ups and downs, and now the emergency brake has been applied again in the form of import restrictions to the extent of 80 per cent. The Government is the first to recognize that the effect upon the economy will be two-fold. These restrictions will be a protecting influence to those who will take advantage of them to create greater price pressures internally. At the same time, they will ruin our overseas markets because, when we can no longer import from overseas markets, manufacturers there will naturally seek other markets for their exports. They depend for their very lives on maintaining their exports, and if we do not take them they will find other buyers who will. As far back as last year the Tariff Board, in its report, had this to say about import restrictions -
The near boom conditions in protected industries are partly the result of the import restrictions imposed in 1052.
The board continues in language which I should like to adopt, -
Australia should place itself in the position of being able to meet a similar crisis with the export remedy. This is less spectacular and less disruptive but on the solid basis of unrestricted international trade would be more dignified and more effective.
I conclude by saying that we accept import restrictions as an emergency brake. The Labour party seems to have some degree of sympathy with this type of control. I do not. I feel that it is only an emergency brake, and it must be removed at the earliest possible moment. The only effective method by which it can be removed is to improve and expand exports of Australian steel - of course, satisfying our internal market which we are not doing at the present time. I mention steel because it is one commodity that we can produce at comparable prices with those of world markets. The other method is to produce, principally our primary products, at a cost that will enable the producer to receive a profit when he sells in the markets of the world. In some important respects the cost structure in Australia is prejudicing our chances day by day of promoting the export trade on which we can balance the budget. We have no control over the prices which overseas consumers will pay, and we must always recognize that the producer in Australia will be paid only by the difference between that price and his cost. It is the cost in relation to the price which he can obtain for his produce that is the determining factor. We have control within this country over the cost, and that is our responsibility. It is the feature of the economy which most needs correction.
– I agree with many of the remarks made by Senator Wright, especially his statement that we should expand our export trade. From 1949, when the present Government came into office, it allowed things to go along leisurely because our main exports were wool and wheat, and they were bringing record prices. At that time no one seemed to bother about what might happen in the future, but that was the time when the Government should have taken control and looked for markets, so that we could expand our export trade. Unfortunately, the Government did not do anything. In 1951, when a position similar to that which exists to-day faced Australia, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) called the financial wizards together. That was an attempt by the Government to get some one else to carry the baby. He has done the same thing in 1955. To-night, Senator George Rankin treated us to a lecture on defence, and told us what Labour had done in the past. The honorable senator was rather bitter in his references to the Labour party, but when we look at the record of the Labour party, particularly in times of crisis, and compare it with the record of the Liberal and Australian Country parties, we must conclude that Labour has no reason to be ashamed. Senator George Rankin said that the Government of Western Australia proposed to sell the iron ore deposits at Yampi Sound to the Japanese. It was not a Labour government that proposed to do that. I remember when those negotiations were taking place and the English firm of Brasserts contemplated taking a lease of Cockatoo Island. A little later the present Prime Minister, as head of the Government, collected all the scrap iron he could obtain in this country and sent it to Japan, where it was made into munitions and used against Australians in the war that followed. Honorable senators opposite may smile, but that is a fact.
– What is the difference between sending scrap iron to Japan, and selling wool to Japan to be made into uniforms for Japanese soldiers?
– The budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) reminds me that, in the late twenties, Sir Otto Niemeyer came to Australia to tell the government of the day what to do. Sir Otto Niemeyer was a financial expert from England. The present Prime Minister could well be referred to as “ Sir Otto Menzies “ because the position to-day is exactly the same as it was when Sir Otto Niemeyer came here. The right honorable gentleman has brought Australia to the verge of financial disaster on two occasions - in 1951 and again in 1955 - despite his recent boast that for some years Australia has enjoyed a period of over-full employment and was never more prosperous. If the Prime Minister was speaking the truth when he claimed that Australia was bursting its seams with prosperity, why did he recently call together the financiers and the representatives of hire-purchase organizations and banks, and have conferences with them in this building to discuss what to do ?
– He wanted to be sure that we would retain that prosperity.
– The Prime Minister wants to throw into some one else’s lap the responsibility for dealing with the present financial position. He does not want to carry the responsibility himself. That is the situation at the present time. Between 1945 and 1949 the then Prime
Minister, Mr. Chifley, did not have any conferences with bankers and other financial wizards, but when he left office in 1949 Australia had full employment and an expanding economy, and its people were prosperous. Honorable senators opposite should not delude themselves into believing that they are responsible for the full employment that now exists, because they were not responsible. The seeds of full employment were sown long before the present Government came into office, and the economy of this country was expanding. Indeed, it continued to expand until this Government interfered with bank credit, and prevented many businesses from expanding and thereby employing more people than they employ to-day.
The document presented to the Parliament by the Treasurer is similar to the one presented in 1951 - a document which was called the “ horror “ budget. This year’s budget is a twin of that “ horror “ budget, and honorable senators opposite know it. Unfortunately, the situation to-day is worse than it was in 1951. We find that whenever the people of this country realize that their safety is threatened, they invariably turn to the Labour party. Let us go back to 1914, when Joseph Cook was the Prime Minister of this country. I remember well when he waved the red, white and blue flag, and then negotiated a double dissolution in order to obtain a majority in this chamber. The people at that time had different views. They returned the Fisher Government with a majority in both Houses. When the Fisher Government took charge in 1914 it prevented Hughes and Cook aud others from stabbing the Australian people in the back by introducing conscription. Incidentally, the anticonscription campaign by the Labour party in those days saved the present Prime Minister and a lot of other young fellows in Australia from being shanghaied to France.
Several honorable senators have spoken about the Labour party’s defence policy. The Labour party gave Australia the first Australian imperial Force. It established the Royal Australian Navy. I suppose honorable senators opposite will have a laugh about that, too. The Labour party established the Commonwealth
Bank, and that action prevented the exploitation of this country by profiteers and racketeers. The Commonwealth Bank in those days was known as the Rock of Gibraltar. The Labour party abolished the Commonwealth Bank Board that was appointed subsequently by the parties to which honorable members opposite belong, but that board was re-appointed as soon as those parties regained control.
The Fisher Government was elected with a big majority, and it was just in time to organize the nation on a modern defence footing, and to appeal to the people to assist wherever possible. The same thing happened in 1941, when John Curtin took over after the calamitous administration of the non-Labour Government under the present. Prime Minister. In 1943, when the Curtin Government went to the people, it was returned with a large majority in both Houses. Some honorable senators opposite no doubt, remember being defeated at the elections in 1943. The Curtin Government put this country on a sound war footing after the collapse of the Government led by the present Prime Minister and Treasurer. We all remember the appealto America, which was made in time to save our women and children from being the victims of the Japanese slaughterers who had then invaded the countries north of Australia. That appeal was made by the first Curtin Government in 1942. We have heard Government supporters say that when the Curtin Administration took office in 1941 Australia must have been in a sound defence position, because Mr. Curtin made a broadcast to that effect. However, we know what the situation was in 1939 and up to 1941. The defence position was deteriorating all the time. In Western Australia men were training with broomsticks, because there were no guns for them to use. Men were sent away to the Western Desert who had not even undergone a course in musketry. They had not fired a bullet, or even a blank cartridge, and some had not put a rifle to shoulder, until they went overseas and were supplied with arms by Britain. I am sure that grateful electors will remember the blows struck bv the Labour Government in their interest.
The people of Australia will shortly have a golden opportunity to say whether they will return the present Government or not. If they desire to commit economic suicide, let them have a little more of the Menzies-Fadden Administration, because we know that that will mean another era of soup-kitchens and dole coupons. This Government is incapable of handling the situation as it should be handled. It has bungled the Australian economy ever since 1949, and yet we hear honorable senators opposite congratulating it and throwing bouquets to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer for the magnificent documents that they have presented to this Parliament. The Prime Minister spoke to the nation last Tuesday night about the financial position of the country. He did not even speak on the budget while it was being discussed in the House of Representatives. Immediately after presenting the budget, the Treasurer went on a world trip, to pick up dollars and “ Swiss rolls as they have been described. We find now that the Treasurer has picked up 50,000,000 or 100,000,000 dollars from Canada, and there is a promise of another 100,000,000 dollars in America, but Mr. Menzies will pick those up next June when he goes to the British Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference in England. All that those two gentlemen have been doing is globe-trotting, looking for dollars, and putting this country up for auction. It is on the verge of bankruptcy to-day, and if something is not done we shall be in the same position as we were between 1929 and 1932. The people will then ask the Labour party to form a government to get Australia out of the difficulty.
– That will be the day!
– Yes, it will be the day. It has been done on three or more occasions. Only recently, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said that there was nothing wrong with our economy, and neither there is. But the economy has been badly managed by this Government throughout its term of office. In 1951, the Government convened a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, and representatives of various other bodies interested in the problems of inflation. That conference achieved no worth-while result, although it had been summoned by the Government to enable it to “ pass the buck “, and to escape criticism of its inaction in the economic crisis which then confronted the nation. We have a similar position to-day, although inflation at the present time is much worse than it was in 1951.
This Government is incapable of governing the country in a period of economic crisis, just as previous governments of a similar political complexion were unable to govern, and as the Menzies Government was incapable of governing when we faced the prospect of war with Japan. The Menzies Government of that day collapsed. It was kicked out of office, not by the people of Australia, but by the parties and the newspapers which supported it. They forced it to resign because they knew that their assets were threatened, and that the Government was incapable of coping with the situation. For that reason, the Prime Minister’s own supporters told him to resign. The Australian Labour party took over when the situation was at its worst. The people of Australia returned the Labour party with an absolute majority in both Houses of the Parliament at the general election in 1943. This chamber was almost completely emptied of representatives of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. Indeed, in 1946 there were only two Liberal party senators and one Australian Country party senator in this chamber.
At the present time, we are suffering the penalty imposed by the fact that the outlook of the Australian Country party is dominating the financial situation, which is a repetition of the state of affairs in 1923, the days of the BrucePage Government and its tragic Treasurer. We all remember those days. Today, although we have abundant resources and ever-increasing reserves of manpower, the Prime Minister would have us fear the future. In a speech which the right honorable gentleman delivered recently, concerning the economic situation, he told the nation, baldly, that it was on the rocks, but he advanced no suggestions about corrective measures. I admit that he asked the hire-purchase people to reduce time-payment business in respect of refrigerators, furniture and household effects. He wanted to make a kind of gentleman’s agreement with them, as if an agreement of that kind would have any effect on the economic situation. I do not know whether the financial people whom the Prime Minister called to Canberra gave him any advice.
– He did not tell us about it, if they did.
– That is so. I do not think the financial people are in agreement with the Prime Minister, nor do I think that they will assist him in the way that he expects them to assist. The only way to deal with such people is to introduce legislation to compel them to do what you want them to do, and forget all about gentlemen’s agreements.
The Government, which has control of workers through the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, helped the court to freeze wages. Of course, the Government would not hear of anything being done to interfere with profits. The Arbitration Court, in freezing wages, did a great job for the Government, and only a few months ago, the Government presented the federal judges with increases of their salaries. It gave the Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court an additional £40 a week, and the other members of the court an additional £30 a week. I notice that the members of the court did not refuse to take those increases. Yet, they had the audacity to refuse even to listen to representatives of the trade union movement who were attempting to have wages unpegged, so that the workers might have a better chance of meeting the rising cost of living.
In Western Australia, during the last two years, the cost of living has risen by more than £1 10s. a week, but the wages of the workers have not increased accordingly. Only recently, a new appointee to the Arbitration Court was unable to refuse an increase of 5s. lid. a week to workers in Western Australia, after representations had been made by the trade union movement, supported by the State Government and other organizations. That was the first increase to be granted in more than two years. The real basic wage in Western Australia is £13 16s. a week, but the workers are receiving only £12 12s. a week.
– 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.
– I desire to bring a matter to .the notice of the Senate which I believe is of very great importance, not only to the Senate, but also to the Parliament as a whole. As members of the Parliament we are prone to take for granted the services rendered to us over the years by the officers of this chamber and the members of the staffs of the Parliament and of the Public Service. They give a great deal of service in an unselfish way, and when they leave their positions by retirement or death, very few note their passing.
It is, therefore, with very great regret that I bring to the notice of the Senate the death last week of a very fine woman, who gave many years of service to the Parliament in her capacity as a member of the staff of the National Library. I refer to the late Miss Lillian Foley who, for nearly 30 years, was a very efficient, trusted and helpful member of the staff of the library. She was a. graduate in arts and law of the University of Melbourne, and she gave up a career in the academic world to join the library staff of the Parliament when the Parliament was removed from Melbourne to Canberra. From. 192S she was a member of the cataloguing staff of the parliamentary section of the National Library in Canberra, and she occupied that position until 1939. Upon the outbreak of World War II., she was seconded to the Department of Information so that she could open an information office for the department in Melbourne. Later, as the war progressed, and as the war was being conducted from Melbourne, where many of the war departments were located, she became a liaison officer between the National Library and all Commonwealth departments located in Melbourne, particularly those which had to do with the war effort. In that work she did an excellent and very important job, and it should be noted that it was a completely new avenue of employment for a woman in the Public Service.
Later, she returned to Canberra, her job in Melbourne having been well and faithfully done, and became a reference officer in the library, dealing with members of the Parliament. That is when I first came to know and appreciate the work of Miss Foley. During the time that she was a reference officer for honorable members and senators of the Parliament, she was most unselfish in giving her time and knowledge in our service. She had come to live in Canberra at a time when Canberra was just beginning to be a city, and when it had very few of the amenities that it has to-day. Nevertheless, she had grown to love Canberra over the years. Her knowledge, not only of Canberra, but of the whole parliamentary system was extensive, and from that wise knowledge and understanding she was only too willing to help us in any way at all with any difficulties or problems that confronted us.
In 1945, she went overseas to America, as the first woman from the parliamentary service to be sent on such a mission, to open a library in connexion with the Australian general consulate in New York. She also undertook the establishment of the news and imformation service in New York, and was a great help to Australians who travelled to New York, and to Americans who were seeking information about Australia. While still in America, as a. member of the staff of the National Library, she was able to assist in the purchase of books, pictures, prints and so on for this Parliament and for the parliamentary Library Committee of which I was a member at that time.
Last year, she returned to Australia with her health considerably impaired, and, unfortunately, her death occurred last week in Sydney. I feel that I cannot let this opportunity pass without placing before the Senate the record of the work of this very fine Australian citizen. She was the second woman to be appointed to the National Library, she had the longest record of service of any woman in the Parliamentary service, and to-day in our library there are many young women who are doing an excellent job because they have always had before them the example of Miss Foley. Also Miss Foley was responsible for a great part of the early training of some of the women at present there, and for the training of many of those who preceded them. I therefore express through you, Mr. President, my regret at the passing of Miss Foley, and my sympathy with the members of her family who are left. I am sure that the sympathy of all the members and senators of this Parliament will also go out to her family. We all have the satisfaction of knowing that she did her work very well while a member of the staff of the Parliament for almost thirty years, and we hope that to-day she is enjoying the reward for that long and faithful service to the people of Australia.
– I am sure that all honorable senators, regardless of party, appreciate very warmly the remarks that Senator Tangney has made about the late Miss Foley. We very sincerely endorse what Senator Tangney so eloquently said about her. I am sure that those whose privilege it was to know Miss Foley will always entertain a warm and affectionate memory of her, and of the great work she did as a servant of the people of Australia.
– I join with Senator Tangney and Senator O’Sullivan in expressing my sincere regret at the loss of such a useful and kindly personality as Miss Foley. As a member of the Library Committee, it was my good fortune to see something of the work of Miss Foley, and to know the kindly nature that she had, the wealth of information at her fingertips, the love she had for the work she was doing and her ever-ready willingness to help any member or senator of the Parliament in any matter about which he required information. I do sincerely feel that this Parliament has lost a lady who gave great service both to it and to the country, and I join with the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) and Senator Tangney in expressing the deepest sorrow at the death of Miss Foley and in extending condolences to her family.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.8 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 12 October 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1955/19551012_senate_21_s6/>.