22nd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Don. A. M. McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– by leave - It is my sad duty to inform the Senate that on 12th July, during the Parliamentary recess, a past President of the Senate, the late Honorable John Blyth Hayes, C.M.G., died at his home in Tasmania at the age of 88 years. Born at Bridgewater in Tasmania, the late senator was a member of the House of Assembly of that State from 1913 to 1923, and held the portfolios of Minister for Lands, Works and Agriculture, and Minister controlling the Hydro-Electric Department from 1916 to 1919. He was Minister for Works from 1919 to 1922 and Premier of Tasmania and Minister for Works from 1922 to 1923, when he entered the Senate to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Senator Bakhap. In 1921 he was made a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
During his long and distinguished career in Federal politics - from 1923 until he retired in 1947 - Senator Hayes was a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts from 1926 to 1931, and chairman of that committee in 1932. Appointed a Temporary Chairman of Committees from 1933 to 1938, he was elected as President of the Senate in 1938 and served in that capacity until 1941. I move -
That the Senate expresses its deep regret at the death of the Honorable John Blyth Hayes, C.M.G., former President of the Senate and a former Premier of the State of Tasmania, places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its sincere sympathy to his widow in her bereavement.
– On behalf of the Opposition, I second the motion that the Leader of the Government has moved. I learned only to-day with regret of the fact that the late senator had passed on. Many others, like myself, knew the late senator exceedingly well in this chamber for quite a number of years. Altogether apart from his very distinguished record in public service, he was a man who had no enemies because he had many virtues. The late senator was a man of the most kindly disposition, of impeccable character, and, unlike most politicians, was non-provocative. I very much regret his passing, and my colleagues join with me in that feeling. I extend to his relatives the very deep sympathy of the Opposition.
– The members of the Australian Country party desire to associate themselves with the motion that has been moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. I had the privilege of enjoying the friendship of the late senator for many years during the period that he was in the Senate. We join with the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition in the sentiments that they have expressed in regretting the death of the late Senator J. B. Hayes.
He was always interested in farming, and for the greater part of his life was actively engaged in farming at Scottsdale* Tasmania. He held the positions of Minister for Lands, Works and Agriculture, and Minister controlling the Hydro-Electric Department, in the House of Assembly in Tasmania, from 1913 to 1922. During the period that he was Minister for Lands, he was actively engaged in soldier land settlement after World War I. He also took a great interest in mining and often recounted to me his varied mining experiences in Western Australia when he was over there as a young man in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties of the last century. The late senator had many friends both inside and outside politics. He was always known among his friends as “J. B.” He possessed a fine character, combined with a friendly nature that endeared him to those who came in contact with him. Throughout his career he took a great interest in the development of Tasmania, and on many occasions was able to be of material help in discussions affecting his own State that were brought up in the Senate.
He was also a great worker for the Church of England, and at the time of his death was a church trustee. He had previously held the position of Chairman of Committees of the Church of England Synod, and was a member of the Diocesan Council. My own thoughts in regard to “ J.B.’s “ life can be explained in the words of the Bishop of Tasmania, the Right Reverend Dr. J. F. Cranswick, during the funeral service at St. John’s Church, Launceston. He made the suggestion that the career of the former Tasmanian Premier and senator should be studied in the schools. He said that Mr. Hayes had set a Christian example in politics that could well be followed by all, and that people who were contemplating entering politics would do well to study his career. The passing of “ J. B.” and men like him is a great loss to the community. We should like to pay a tribute to a man who has held many high offices in public life and also to a citizen who was held in very great esteem. We extend our deepest sympathy to his widow in her bereavement.
– I desire to associate the Anti-Communist Labour party with the sentiments that have already been expressed on the death of the late Honorable J. B. Hayes. All we can say is that Senator Hayes lias passed on with a job well done. We join with other honorable senators in expressing our sympathy to his widow and relatives.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable senators standing in their places.
– by leave - It is with regret that I have to inform the Senate of the death, on 14th August, of the Honorable John Norman Lawson, a former Minister of the Crown and member of the House of Representatives for the Division of Macquarie in New South Wales. Mr. Lawson was elected to the House of Representatives at the elections in 1931, 1934 and 1937, and held the portfolio of Minister for Trade and Customs from April, 1939, until February, 1940. He was defeated at the general elections in 1940. He was appointed Temporary Chairman of Committees in 1934, was a member of the Commonwealth delegation that went to England in 1935, and was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer in 1938. Few of us will remember the late member, but his record shows him to have been a man of notable ability, and we express now our appreciation of his services to the Parliament and to the community. I move -
That the Senate expresses its deep regret at the death of the Honorable John Norman Lawson, former Commonwealth Minister and former Member of the House of Representatives for the Division of Macquarie, places on record its appreciation of his meritorious public service and tenders its sincere sympathy to the members of his family in their bereavement.
– I second the motion moved by the Attorney-General (Senator O’sullivan) and associate the Opposition with its terms. I did not have the privilege of knowing the late Mr. Lawson, because he had left the Parliament before I entered it, and I do not think there are many other honorable senators here who knew him. His death was premature. I understand that he was only 59 years of age at the time of his passing. On behalf of the Opposition, I extend our sympathies to his widow and his relatives.
– The Australian Country party desires to be associated with the motion before the Senate. We express our deep regret at the death of John Lawson. I remember him when he was in the House of Representatives. He was a man who quickly came into prominence and obtained a seat in the Cabinet. It is regrettable that his death occurred at a comparatively early age. We tender our deepest sympathy to his relatives in their bereavement.
– I desire to associate myself and the party that I represent with the condolences that have been offered to the bereaved relatives.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable senators standing in their places.
– by leave - I desire to inform the Senate that I will be the leader of the Australian Labour party (Anti-Communist) and that Senator McManus will be the deputy leader.
Senator ASHLEY presented a petition, signed by 5,000 citizens, on behalf of persons in receipt of the age pension, praying that the Government grant an immediate increase of the rate of pension payable.
Petition received and read.
– 1 direct a question to the Attorney-General. The constitution review committee is now without a chairman. As the committee cannot function in those circumstances, will the Government take early steps to bring about the appointment of a chairman so that the committee may proceed with its important work?
– The matter raised by the Leader of the Opposition is one of grave concern to the Government and, in fact, to the whole Parliament. No time will be lost in appointing a chairman, so that the committee will be able to function.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, relates to unemployment in Western Australia. I shall preface my question by saying that in that State some people have made statements recently which, I think, completely misrepresent the unemployment position there. In view or the fact that Western Australia appears to be the only State of the Commonwealth with an unemployment problem, and in view of the further fact that some States - South Australia for example - are experiencing conditions of over-full employment, will the Minister give to the Senate a correct summary of the unemployment position in Western Australia? Will he tell us, in particular, the total number of persons at present registered as unemployed; the number of jobs available and remaining unfilled; the cause of the present unemployment; and the steps, if any, that have been taken by the State Government to alleviate the position? Lastly, will he indicate the attitude of the Commonwealth to the matter?
– I doubt whether I can answer all of the honorable senator’s questions to his or to my own satisfaction. I have here the statistics relating to unemployment in the various States of the Commonwealth.
– Up to what date7
– Up to the 18th August of this year.
– Can they be made available to honorable senators?
– They are contained in a publication issued, I think, by the Department of Labour and National Service. The figures show that in Western Australia there were 2,331 recipients of the unemployment benefit. I inform Senator Ashley, who is interjecting, that I am giving the official statistics prepared by the Commonwealth Statistician. This is not a figment of my imagination. This is not a propaganda document prepared by the Labour party. These are statistics prepared by the Commonwealth Statistician. When the honorable senator says that these figures lie, that is typical of the propaganda in which the Labour party is indulging in an endeavour to exaggerate the position. The figures show that of the 181,000 wage earners in Western Australia, 2,331 are recipients of the unemployment benefit. There are 882 unfilled vacancies and 5,299 applicants for employment. The first thing that I want to say is that the situation that exists in Western Australia has been grossly exaggerated by some of the people who have commented on it. The second thing that I want to say is that there is some unemployment in Western Australia, which is a matter of grave concern to this Government. The Government will do whatever it can to correct that situation. As honorable senators know, the Western Australian Government has made representations to the Commonwealth for help in that direction, and the Commonwealth is giving sympathetic consideration to that request at the moment. Much of the blame for this position lies directly at the door of the Western Australian Government. The fact is that the Western Australian Government, in an election year, deliberately overspent the money it had for housing. The total amount provided for housing in Western Australia in 1954 was £4,000,000. In 1955, which was an election year, the Government of Western Australia spent £5,200,000, or £1,200,000 more than the funds available to it. The Government of Western Australia knew what it was doing, and acted deliberately. Naturally, there had to be a corresponding adjustment in the following year. Leeway has to be picked up to the extent that the money was overspent by the Western Australian Government.
– The Minister should tell that to the Western Australian Government.
– I am telling you. I am putting the position fairly before the Senate. The Commonwealth is being asked to remedy the faults of the Western Australian Government, and we, as a government for the whole of Australia, shall do our best to do so.
– Supplementary to the question asked by Senator Vincent, I direct a question to the Minister for National Development. Will the Minister inform the Senate whether it is possible to get up-to-date figures on employment in Australia? The Minister has cited figures to 18th August. When I applied to the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics for the latest information, I could not get statistics for a period later than the end of June. The “ Monthly Bulletin of Employment Statistics” No. 175, June, 1956, states that, in November, 1955, persons employed in private factories in the six States totalled 497,729. At the end of June, 1956, the number had fallen to 487,618, a reduction of 10,101. Is that correct?
– I have not a clue.
– I have referred to the source of that information. Will the Minister supply up-to-date statistics showing the exact number employed in factories, and the general employment situation in Australia?
– I am sorry that the honorable senator has had difficulty in getting up-to-date information. I suggest that he approach the Department of Labour and National Service. I am sure that that department will be only too pleased to give him the latest figures that are available. I have1 the figures to 18th August. They are only twelve days old, and they are official and accurate. They refer to the position throughout Australia.
– Will the Minister answer my question?
– I am answering your question. The honorable senator has cited figures to the end of June, 1956. 1 will bring those figures up to date by citing the figures for Australia as at 18th August. Those statistics show that wage-earners throughout Australia numbered 2,788,000. Only 10,416 were obtaining unemployment relief; that is, .3 per cent., or less than one-third of 1 per cent.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General by stating that, for the last seven or eight weeks, Tasmania has been in the throes of a postal regulation go-slow strike that is causing grave dislocation of business and much inconvenience to the public generally. Will the Minister inform the Senate - 1. When the departmental regulations were last revised and by whom? 2. Does the Minister concur in the view that regulations which permit the present tragic state of affairs must be outmoded and archaic? 3. If so, will the Minister insist on an immediate revision of the regulations by a competent authority? 4. Will the Minister engage the necessary extra staff immediately to cope with the accumulated mail, and will he retain the services of those workers to deal with peak period business incidental to the Christmas season, thereby eliminating the necessity for overtime work to which the union has stated its objection?
– The honorable senator informed me of the interest that he has taken in this matter and, as it is something of urgency, I referred it to the PostmasterGeneral this morning. He has supplied me with the following information in reply to the honorable senator: -
– I direct a question to the Minister for National Development supplementary to the question that has been asked by Senator Vincent. Will the Minister inform the Senate how many of the 5,299 applicants for positions that he mentioned are unemployed and are unable to obtain unemployment benefit because their wives are working? How many are in part-time employment, working one or two days a week, and, therefore, do not come within the ambit of the unemployment benefit? Those of us who have to deal with the unemployment problem in Western Australia have found that those two factors - the employment of wives and part-time employment - are militating against persons obtaining unemployment benefit. Therefore, they are not being registered as totally unemployed.
– No statistics are available on those two points. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has had analyses made from time to time of classifications of trades and the capacity of those seeking employment to undertake certain types of work. No investigation has been made into the domestic or financial position of the persons concerned, and the information sought by the honorable senator is not known. I believe that the circumstances relating to Western Australia would be the same as those in other States of Australia.
– My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, refers to recent advertisements which called for claims from woolgrowers who, during the war, delivered wool to dealers and have not yet received the moneys due to them under the Joint “Organization. The Australian Wool Reali zation Commission has asked for claims to be submitted at an early date, with a view to paying a first and final dividend to these primary producers.- Will the Minister indicate the approximate date when payment may be received, and the approximate rate of dividend expected to be paid?
– Senator Laught informed me this morning that he proposed to ask this question which, it will be realized, is of some importance to a large number of wool-growers. I therefore approached my colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry, who furnished me with the following information: -
The advertisement referred to by the honorable senator is one inserted by the Australian Wool Realization Commission in various pastoral newspapers throughout Australia in connexion with the distribution of that portion of the Joint Organization profits which has been held up since 1949 on account of the Poulton case.
Australia’s share of the profits resulting from the operations of the Joint Organization in the post-war disposal of wool accumulated in wartime, amounted in all to approximately £93,000,000. The distribution of the whole of this amount, with the exception of £2,500,000, was completed in April, 1955. The £2,500,000 still to be distributed represents the profits on wool which was submitted by growers for war-time appraisement through dealers. The distribution of this amount has been delayed owing to the litigation taken by some dealers claiming that they were entitled to share in the profits arising from the sale of such wool. This litigation, which is known as the Poulton case, commenced in 1949.
The Full High Court gave a unanimous decision in 1953 that the growers of the wool were the people entitled to the profits. However, Mr. Poulton indicated that he intended to seek leave to appeal to the Privy Council against the High Court’s decision and the Government withheld distribution for that reason. By May of this year Mr. Poulton had still not applied for leave to appeal to the Privy Council. Accordingly, the Government, after consulting its legal advisers, decided that the profits should be distributed to the wool-growers and authorized the Australian Wool Realization Commission to proceed with the distribution. The entitlement of each grower will be dependent upon the documentary evidence available. An appeal has since been lodged and was heard by the High Court on 13th August. The High Court decision is awaited.
– My question .is directed to the Minister ‘representing the Postmaster-General. I point out for the information of honorable senators that the matter with which my question deals is very serious, and that a question relating to similar circumstances was recently asked in this Senate. The question relates to claims made by postal workers to the Public Service Board. Most of the persons who work under awards in the Postal Department are taking home each week less than the basic wage, and that is the reason why many of them are at present working to regulations. There is shortage of staff in the department because the salaries offered do not encourage many persons to offer their services. In order to allow the great and efficient postal services to continue, will the Minister make representations to his colleague, the PostmasterGeneral, on behalf of the postal workers in each State, and ask him to intervene with the Public Service Board and urge the granting of the reasonable and just claims made by the Postal Workers Union on behalf of its members?
– I shall be pleased to bring the honorable senator’s question to the notice of my colleague, the PostmasterGeneral.
– In view of the fact that experimental television programmes are already being produced in Victoria, will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General request the PostmasterGeneral to ascertain whether the Postal Department, or the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, could experiment to find out whether televised programmes from Melbourne can be received on the northern and north-west coast of Tasmania, and, if so, what is the greatest distance inland these programmes can be received? Would reception in Tasmania be of a quality that would make it worthwhile for people to purchase and install television sets? Could an early and authoritative statement be made on this matter?
– I am not sure of the exact distance from the transmitter that television programmes may be received, but I doubt whether they could be sent from the mainland to Tasmania in such a way that they would be of any benefit to the people living in that State. However, I £ shall obtain from the Postmaster-General * the information requested and let the honorable senator have it as soon a; possible.
– I preface my question to the Minister for National Development by pointing out that round about the northern coal-fields of New South Wales thousands of acres of land have been devastated in the attempt to get coal by open-cut methods. To-day much of that land has been left in huge mounds and pitted with deep holes and has remained that way for some years. Does the Government intend to allow this land to be left in its present devastated condition, or has it some plan to recover the land and eventually to restore its usefulness?
– To the best of my recollection, every time an open-cut was developed the person, company or interest that obtained the right to develop it did so subject to an obligation to restore the area after the mining operation had been completed. On that, I speak subject to correction. I believe that in all these mining cases mining companies were called upon to make cash deposits with the Joint Coal Board to cover any liability that would accrue in the future. Where the Joint Coal Board itself developed an open-cut mine, it created a reserve out of the proceeds of the sale of the coal and by deduction from the contractor’s price, an amount sufficient to cover the cost of restoring- the area. Therefore, I believe it to be true to say that there is a contractual obligation in existence and that arrangements have been made to restore the land in respect of every open-cut mine. Speaking off the cuff, as it were, if some open-cuts have not been restored as the honorable senator has suggested, I should say that the reason must be either that the open-cut has not been finally discarded as there may still be reserves of coal available to be taken, or the plant and equipment used for restoration is engaged elsewhere. If I am wrong on both those counts I should say that the honorable senator may rest content that arrangements will be made to restore the land after the conclusion of the operations of every open-cut mine.
– My question is [directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, and is on similar lines o that asked by Senator Wardlaw. The reply given by the Minister to Senator Wardlaw indicated that a negative approach is being made to this very important matter. The delivery of mails in Tasmania has reached a stage at which letters take ten days to go from one side of a town to the other. The issues at stake are similar in principle to those which were discussed recently between the Acting Prime Minister and the Premiers - the difference between Federal and State award rates of pay. Discussions and conferences have been held between top-level officials of the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Public Service Board, but this dispute has not been settled. I ask the Minister whether an approach could be made by the Government directly to the Public Service Board in order to have this dispute settled, as every industrial dispute has to be settled. Obviously the Government, eventually, will be forced to settle the matter in some way or other.
– Order! The honorable senator is not now asking a question.
– I ask the Minister whether he will take a more serious view of this matter. At the moment Tasmania is the only State involved, but the trouble can spread further, and in view of the dislocation of the delivery service which is delaying both private and commercial correspondence, will he make every effort to bring the parties together to reach a compromise on this very important issue?
– When I told Senator Wardlaw that I had interviewed the Postmaster-General, I had no reason to doubt that the Minister was taking this question very seriously. I assure Senator O’Byrne that the Postmaster-General is doing everything to have this calamitous strike settled. However, he cannot simply go to the parties and demand a settlement. 1 am certain that he is doing his utmost to have mail delivery services in Tasmania restored to normal.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport whether he is aware of a proposal by private shipping companies to invest £10,000,000 in new ships for the Australian coastal trade. Are any of these ships to be built in Australian shipyards? Is the new shipbuilding programme for private enterprise co-ordinated with the programme of the Australian Shipping Board, and will any of the new ships include modern developments for the carrying of special cargoes?
– The Government has noted with very considerable satisfaction the building plans recently announced by the Australian shipping companies operating along the Australian coast to replace and expand their fleets, and to provide the additional tonnage that will be required in years to come. At the moment, I am not in a position to say how many of the ships will be built in Australian yards. Only when the specifications are drawn up and tenders called, shall I know how many orders for ships will be placed with Australian yards. The Government is hopeful, in view of the encouragement it has extended to the shipbuilding industry by its recent increase of the subsidy, that a good number of the new ships will be built in Australia. There is no co-ordination between the Australian Shipping Board and any of the companies. As each company requires a replacement in its fleet, it makes inquiries and takes action to obtain that replacement. Some of the new ships will include novel features. For example, the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited has announced its intention to build a bulk sugar ship to go into the Queensland trade, and this will be the first ship of its type in Australia. I have not details of other vessels which are in prospect, but I am aware from conversations I have had with the companies, the Australian Shipping Board, and the Australian Shipbuilding Board that many new features will be included in the ships to make them more efficient and able to give a better service to the Australian public.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation whether runways have yet been developed at the Casino aerodrome. If so, did the Commonwealth Department of Works perform the work? What cost was incurred by the Commonwealth Government in carrying out the work?
– I do not know what work has been done at the Casino airport, but I will make inquiries from my colleague, the Minister for Civil Aviation, arid let the honorable senator have an answer as early as possible.
-I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer whether he is aware of any report having been made by the Premier of Victoria to the Parliament of Victoria, or of any public utterance having been made by him, on the results of his trip abroad in search of capital for investment or loan moneys for Victoria. If no such report or statement has yet been made by the Premier of Victoria, will the Minister take steps, when the report is made, to secure a copy of it? Does the Minister know whether the Victorian Premier succeeded in discovering any sources of available loan money which have not previously been approached by the Commonwealth Government?
– I should expect that any report made by the Premier of Victoria on this matter would be primarily for the Victorian Parliament. I am not aware that he has made any formal report. If and when he does made such a statement, I shall be most interested to see it. I should imagine that one of the purposes of the Victorian Premier’s trip abroad was to attract capital for private investment Sn Victoria. I do not think that he aimed at obtaining loans, because that is a function of the Australian Loan Council rather than df any one of the constituent States.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade by saying that I have been informed that, for several months, the Farmers Union of Western Australia has been trying to get a satisfactory answer from the Commonwealth Government concerning trade with France. Is it a fact that trade relations with France have deteriorated to a point at which that country stated that it intended to place a ban on the import of Australian wheat into France because of the lack of reciprocal trade with Australia? Is the Minister aware that the Farmers Union of Western Australia is gravely concerned over this decision, and has stated that, when discussing the matter with the Minister for Primary Industry on the 18th -July, the Minister denied any knowledge of the French Government’s action and that the Farmers Union of Western Australia considered that the Minister’s remarks were evasive and not factual iri regard to this matter? It is the opinion of the Western Australian farmers that primary industry is being damaged and that the rural community is being sacrificed by the Australian Government’s trade restriction policy. Is it a fact that the Acting Prime Minister was written to by the Farmers Union of Western Australia on 8th August, 1952, in stronger and more specific terms in relation to this matter? Will the Minister make a full, frank and factual statement to the Senate on ‘this subject?
– I have not the pleasure of knowing the personalities involved in the Farmers Union of Western Australia, but I have the very great pleasure of knowing the personality of my colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry. When the honorable senator says that the Minister for Primary Industry was evasive, I suggest that he should go back to the Farmers Union in Western Australia and tell its members that they have very sadly misjudged the Minister. As to the question of trade with France, I do not understand the apparent conflict that has arisen between the union and my colleague, because they both have a common interest in this matter. It is to the common interest of the Minister for Primary Industry and of the Department of Trade to expand our exports in every way we possibly can. That is one of the primary functions of the new Department of Trade, and that must also be the objective of the Farmers Union of Western Australia. In trade negotiations there are, of course, from time to time, criticisms and complaints from countries from which we cannot buy as much as we would like to buy, simply because we are not exporting sufficient to give us the purchasing power to take a greater volume of imports. The position in respect of France has been concerning all government departments. We would like to buy more from France than we are buying. France is a very good customer of ours, but I should very much dislike the idea of that trade position developing into a situation in which there is overmuch ‘criticism by one country of another; because each country is trying to do the best it can within the limits of the economic circumstances.
– On the same subject, I should like to ask the Minister if it is not a fact that the French Government held an exhibition in Sydney, and that a great many orders were given by certain people here in the hope that they would be supplied. In the meantime, before the orders could be supplied, is it not a fact that the import restrictions imposed by this Government made it impossible for the French entrepreneurs to supply those goods, and that one of the reasons for the retaliation was the Australian Government’s policy which made it impossible to bring these goods into Australia?
– I went to the French exhibition in Sydney. It was a first-class show and one that should be repeated. I hope that the French exhibitors obtained good business in Australia as a result of that exhibition. When the honorable senator says that they did obtain decent business but that the orders were cancelled because of import restrictions, all I can say, in reply, is that I do not know whether that is true.
– I address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Before the Senate rose for the winter recess, I suggested that, with a view to reducing the defence vote, Australian troops and airmen be recalled from Malaya. I repeat that request in the light of the statement of the Government of the Federation of Malaya that the Communist terrorists were, by the end of last year, not even midly active, and also in the light of a statement made only last week that large numbers of British troops were being recalled to the United Kingdom, and that troops in one ship which had reached the Isthmus of Kra were not permitted to land but returned home immediately. In view, too, of the statements of back-bench Government supporters in another place made during the recess, that a £20,000,000 reduction in defence expenditure could well pave the way to providing additional finance for social services, and also in the light of the most damaging statement that Australia is totally unprepared in spite of the huge waste in the Department of Defence and allied departments, will the Government make an immediate decision to recall Australian troops and airmen from Malaya with the greatest possible expedition?
– Personally, I appreciate the interest which the honorable senator takes in the defence of Australia, but at the present time the Government feels that it is being very well advised by its experts and will continue to be so advised.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. I direct his attention to the fact that in the telephone directory under the list of Commonwealth Government departments appears the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia. . Will he take steps to see that that entry is removed from that list when the new telephone directory is printed as it is considered to be a handicap to the Commonwealth Trading Bank to be listed as a Commonwealth Government department?
– I will bring the matter the honorable senator has raised to the notice of the Postmaster-General.
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development, who administers War Service Homes. Is it a fact that exservicemen, having qualified for a priority entitling them to purchase a home under the War Service Homes group system which previously called for a deposit of £250 for a three-bedroom house, which the exserviceman was able to inspect completed or partially built, are now required to find a deposit of £750 for a similar home before the construction of same has been commenced? Is it not a fact that the only thing the ex-serviceman sees to-day for his deposit of £750 is the proposed plan? What is the reason for substituting the shadow for the substance and for making an enormous increase in the deposit?
– I am not able to assist the honorable senator to any great extent. The position is that the maximum advance under the War Services Homes
Act is £2,750. By deduction, what the honorable senator is saying is that the cost of a war service home has increased from £3,000, that is £2,750 plus £250, to £3,500, which is £2,750 plus £750. To the best of my knowledge and belief that is not correct - that the average war service home, including land, is costing about £3,200. That is to the best of my knowledge.
– Does the Minister suggest that the information I received from the department is incorrect when Mr. Pardy told me that a deposit of £750 is required for a three-bedroom house and a deposit of £660 for a two-bedroom house?
– All I can say is that Senator Ashley is incorrect or I am incorrect. One of us is not right.
– I say that I am right and the Minister is wrong.
– I have the advantage of being the Minister, and probably I am correct and the honorable senator is incorrect.
– Will the Minister for Civil Aviation arrange for airports situated on the coast, particularly those in Western Australia, to be supplied with airsea rescue gear, such as rubber floats and dinghies, to enable the victims of accidents in the sea to be rescued?
– I have no personal knowledge of the subject-matter to which the honorable senator has referred, but I shall bring his question to the notice of my colleague, the Minister for Air, and obtain a considered reply for him.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– As the honorable senator has already been furnished with a reply to his question, with the concurrence of the Senate, I shall have the reply incorporated in “ Hansard “. It is as follows: -
The Minister for Defence has received information from the Minister for the Army as follows: -
I can assure you that there is no intention of the Army acquiring land in the Alligator Creek area near Port Augusta for use as a jungletraining camp.
A problem does arise, however, in South Australia, in conexion with training members of the Citizen Military Forces in jungle warfare. The Citizen Military Force camp in your Slate is located at Lincoln Park, approximately 6 miles south of Port Augusta, in open country quite unsuitable for jungle training.
I feel sure you will agree with me that jungle warfare is an essential and important element of Army training.
In order to arrange for this essential training, it is necessary to provide a suitable site. A proposal is, therefore, under consideration to use portion of the Alligator Creek area for jungle warfare training exercises. This area which is approximately 30 miles from Lincoln Park is the nearest suitable area. These exercises would be conducted for a maximum period of four weeks during March and April of each year when the annual Citizen Military Force camps are held.
Authority for the use of portion of the Alligator Creek area would be sought from the GovernorGeneral in Council under the provisions of section 69 of the Defence Act.
It is not intended to use the Alligator Gorge area for training.
I might state that no decision has as yet been arrived at in connexion with the above-mentioned proposal. However, you can rest assured that nothing will be done that will have the effect of destroying the native flora and fauna in the Alligator Creek and Mambray Creek Reserves.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has furnished the following reply: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice: -
– The Minister for the Interior has furnished the following answer: -
Assent to the following bills reported: -
Broadcasting and Television Bill 1956.
Broadcasting and Television Stations Licence Fees Bill 1956.
Supply Bill (No. 1) 1955-57.
Supply (Works and Services) Bill (No. 1) 1956-57.
States Grants (Universities) Bill 1956.
Cellulose Acetate Flake Bounty Bill 1956.
Rayon Yarn Bounty Bill 1956.
Tractor Bounty Bill 1956.
Australian Coastal Shipping Commission Bill 1956.
Australian Coastal Shipping Agreement Bill 1956.
Housing Agreement Bill 1956.
Conciliation and Arbitration Bill 1956.
Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Bill 1956.
Navigation Bill 1956.
Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court Bill 1956.
Evidence Bill 1956.
Judges’ Pensions Bill 1956.
Northern Territory (Administration) Bill 1956.
Public Service Arbitration Bill 1956.
Coal Industry Bill 1956.
Stevedoring Industry Bill 1956.
States Grants (Coal Mining Industry Long Service Leave) Bill 1956.
National Health Bill 1956.
Supplementary Appropriation Bill 1954-55.
Supplementary Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill 1954-55.
– by leave - Consequent upon his appointment to the position of Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Industrial Court, the Honorable J. A. Spicer, Q.C., has resigned from the ministry and from the Senate. I have been appointed Attorney-General, and I shall perform the duties of that office in addition to my duties as Minister for the Navy. The representational duties in the Senate previously performed by the former Attorney-General have been allocated as follows: - I shall represent the Minister for External Affairs and Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization; Senator Spooner will represent the Minister for Labour and National Service; Senator Cooper will represent the Minister for Territories; and Senator Paltridge will represent the Minister for Immigration.
As honorable senators are no doubt aware, the Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Townley) is still precluded from attending to the duties of his office by reason of his illness.I am sure that all honorable senators will join with roe in wishing him a speedy recovery. During his absence, the Minister for Defence will act as Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation, and will represent the Minister for Shipping and Transport in the House of Representatives.
I also wish to announce to the Senate that His Excellency the Administrator has approved of the following administrative arrangements: - The Attorney-General will administer the sections of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1906-1956 dealing with -
The Minister for Labour and National Service will be responsible for the administration of the remaining provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and for the administration of the Public Service Arbitration Act and the Stevedoring Industry Act.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin). - Pursuant to Standing Order 64, I have received from Senator Gorton an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The national disaster, extending over more than one State, caused by the unprecedented flooding of the Murray Valley this winter, and the desirability of convening immediately a conference between the Commonwealth and the State Governments concerned, in order to survey the public and private damage caused by this flooding and to agree on a national plan for repairing such damage and to prevent a recurrence of such flood damage in the future.
I have also received from Senator Toohey an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The disastrous effects of floods in the Murray River areas of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia necessitating immediate relief action, rehabilitation of devastated areas and preventive measures for the future.
These two requests are similar. The first one in my hand was that received from Senator Gorton.
– I understand, Mr. President, that you will be calling upon Senator Gorton to speak first. The first speaker to a motion such as this is allowed half an hour, and subsequent speakers other than the Minister replying are limited to a quarter of an hour each. This is a matter that far transcends all party political considerations, and all of us, I am quite sure, feel very deeply the tragedy that has overtaken such a vast part of our country. After all, it was in an atmosphere of fire, flood and drought that the term mateship developed in Australia among Australians. I am sure that the debate will be conducted on a high nonparty plane. I move -
That so much of Standing Order 64 be suspended as would prevent Senator Toohey from speaking for thirty minutes to Senator Gorton’s proposed motion.
– There is one point that I think the Leader of the Government (Senator O’Sullivan) might have overlooked. The Opposition offers no objection to the means suggested by him to overcome the unusual difficulty that has arisen, but it wants to be assured that whoever is speaking in relation to this most important matter immediately before another important matter is introduced to-night will be allowed to continue his remarks at a later stage.
– The debate will not be gagged. The full three hours will be allowed.
– Subject to that being so, the Opposition has no objection to the course suggested.
– There being present an absolute majority of all honorable senators and no dissentient voice, the question is resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday next; at 3.30 p.m.
– Is the motion supported?
Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion,
– lt is with considerable regret that I move this motion, because it is the result of a disaster which affects the lives of very many people and the economy of the country as a whole. That regret is tempered to some extent by the knowledge that at the same time Senator Toohey has submitted a similar proposal, and the knowledge that we can discuss this as a national matter in which we are all concerned free of party politics. What I shall have to say will be very brief; indeed, I shall be able to state it in ten or twenty sentences. I have availed myself of the forms of the House so that the Senate may seek to ensure that the Commonwealth Government will direct the most careful and minute attention to this national disaster to see what can be done along the lines suggested in my motion. I do not raise the matter because I believe or think that so far the Commonwealth Government has not done all that has been asked of it. I know that the people in Renmark and Mildura believe that the Government so far has done all that could be asked of it.
– How many persons has the honorable senator met?
– May I say to Senator Hendrickson that I have perhaps a more personal concern about this matter than he has, because my own property is completely surrounded by water and every road leading in to it is completely cut. In the circumstances, I am not saying anything more than what I believe or what I have heard.
– But that does not justify the honorable senator’s statement that the people over there are satisfied. They are not satisfied.
– I am speaking about what I have heard from representatives of the people over there.
– I am not a South Australian. I am. speaking as a Victorian.
– If the honorable senator has heard differently, by all means let himbring it forth. What I have heard is that so far, in response, to requests for men and equipment that have been made by State governments or municipalities through State governments, help has been forthcoming. If the honorable senator has heard differently, by all means let him refute what I have been told. I have heard also that, so far, the only request that has been made - and I wish to say more about this later - for a £l-for-£l contribution to relieve personal damage has also been acceded to by the Commonwealth Government.
I refer now to the limitations that previously have been thought to apply to the Commonwealth Government when disasters of this kind have occurred. We have been told hitherto that the constitutional position is something that cannot be overcome by the Commonwealth Government to enable it to do more than that which it so far has done. Prime Minister after Prime Minister and Treasurer after Treasurer have adopted the attitude which is displayed in the following statement by the Prime Minister of the day which appears in “ Hansard “ of 1949 -
Other Prime Ministers and Treasurers have pointed out, as I have done on many occasions, that any catastrophe that occurs in only one State can be dealt with in the first place only by the Government of that State.
In this particular instance, the damage that has been caused extends beyond the boundaries of any one State. I point out also that the damage in South Australia, in particular, has resulted, to a great degree, from tributaries to, and catchment areas of, a river that are completely outside the boundaries and the control of that State. That applies also to Victoria and New South Wales which also have suffered, although not quite so badly.
The constitutional position here may be different from what hitherto it has always been said to be. The first point I urge upon the Government is that it puts that position to its legal advisers and seeks to overcome the constitutional limitations that I have outlined. I urge, too, that, irrespective of whether that can be done, it would be good and right and proper for the Commonwealth Government either to call a conference or to send an officer to a conference to be called by some or one of the States for the purpose of assessing what damage has been done to public and private buildings, roads, and the farms and orchards of individual persons and then, depending upon the constitutional position, to make plans to rehabilitate and repair the damage. I and the South Australian Government, which has made a request along these lines, attach even more importance to the suggestion for the establishment of a new body or the designation of an existing body to begin to plan now, as far as such plans can be made, for the care and control of catchment areas, the run-off from which has much to do with floods, in order to ensure that the greatest possible amount of soakage resides in those areas, the least possible amount of run-off, and the least possible amount of siltation in the dams that hold back the water from those catchment areas. Such a body could study the trend of a season, know the level of all the water storages in all the States, have its observers at the headwaters in the various States, consult the rainfall figures and note the flow of the small tributaries, and perhaps mitigate floods by letting water out of such storages as, say, Lake Victoria, when it saw that a great deal of water was to come down the River Murray or any of its tributaries, the Goulburn, the Avoca, the Murrumbidgee and the Darling rivers, all of which have come down together this year to cause the present chaos.
I know that it will be quite impossible to prevent floods from occurring now and again if nature really decides that there shall be floods in that area. The Murray Valley is, in effect, a flat plain with a river which, when the flow is even a little above normal, is above the level of the surrounding country. A river of that kind is necessarily confined within levee banks at times when the flow is even only just a little above normal. So if we have a vast quantity of water coming into the river from its various tributaries and if that water, confined between levee banks, rises higher and higher above the flat plain, sooner or later a flood will come, if nature decides that it will come. But measures can be taken to minimize floods and, in some cases, I believe, to prevent them. We should have on hand stocks of materials necessary to fight floods as soon as it is seen that a danger point will be reached. We need sandbags, machinery and volunteers to do all that can be done to strengthen what, if the first things of which I have spoken fail, is the final line of defence - the levee banks along the river sides.
I have used the forms of this chamber, in conjunction with other senators, to urge the Commonwealth to give deep consideration to the points that have been raised and to see what can be done to repair the damage already caused and to set up a body with authority to prevent similar damage in future. I believe that Victoria would favour the River Murray Commission as the appropriate body, but that is a matter for decision by the Commonwealth in consultation with the various State authorities.
– Let me say, first, that I appreciate the action of the Government in securing the suspension of the Standing Orders to enable me to speak for longer than the time prescribed. I do not know now whether 1 shall find it necessary to avail myself of that privilege, but I appreciate what has been done. I think it shows quite clearly that honorable senators on both sides regard this as a matter quite outside the realm of party politics. It is on those lines that I want it to be considered by the Senate. As Senator Gorton has said, this is not a matter which affects only one State. It has affected Victoria and New South Wales, but I think it is beyond doubt that those States have been affected to a far lesser degree than has South Australia. Senator Gorton raised what I consider to be a very important matter when he posed the question whether flood prevention and the rehabilitation of flood-stricken areas should be a nationwide responsibility.
I want to deal with the situation in South Australia. Let me make it clear at once that that is the only area about which 1 can speak with any degree of authority. I want to take a little time to paint a picture showing the position. Unless one actually visits the devastated areas, it is not really possible to gain a conception of the damage that has been done, of the sufferings which have been borne by the people concerned, and of the threats to the business life of the Murray towns of South Australia. I visited these areas last week-end with Senator Critchley and a member of the South Australian Parliament. I understand that Senator Hannaford and possibly other Government members from South Australia have undertaken a similar survey.
When we arrived, we found that we had three means of getting around - by car, by foot, and, in the very worst areas, by Army duck. When I tell honorable senators that we floated over some of the fruit block areas that formerly were very productive gardens, they will gain some idea of the situation. The towns affected by this disaster are situated in an area extending over 200 miles - from Renmark to Murray Bridge - indeed, right through to the Murray mouth itself. Murray Bridge has not yet felt the full impact of the flood, but I have a copy of the “ Advertiser “ of South Australia which shows that one of the most important factories of the town is completely surrounded by water. As I have said, the full impact of the flood has not yet been felt at Murray Bridge.
Turning to the towns along the Upper Murray, we find that those which have been affected most are Renmark - which has taken the full brunt of the flow - Cobdogla, Lyrup, Berri, Mannum and other towns too numerous to mention. These towns are important to South Australia. We do not have a great population in our country areas, and serious damage to even one of our major country towns would have a great impact on the economic life of the State. It is a matter for regret that some of the most gracious towns in South Australia are those which at present are under water from the Murray floods.
Let me deal with the situation at Renmark. The town has only one lifeline - a road with a bridge which at the moment is lapped by the floodwaters on both sides. On one side of the bridge, the levee banks are holding back huge areas of flood water. If the banks broke, those waters would cut the last remaining road link with the town. In the town itself, the hospital has been evacuated and the patients have been taken elsewhere. The hospital building is under some feet of water and the hospital will be out of commission for a period which, at this stage, it is impossible to estimate. We had the unenviable experience of floating round the Renmark High School in an Army duck. Those who had given consideration to the matter regarded that school as being beyond any danger of damage by floods.
Renmark is one of the most magnificent towns in Australia. It is tragic to see the main street, where barriers of silt, dirt and other materials have been thrown up in order to save the last remaining links with the business section of the town. The Renmark Hotel is not threatened at the moment, but the gardens that surround the hotel - they were among the most magnificent in South Australia - have been completely destroyed. Business life in Renmark has almost ceased. That is the situation that obtains in the other towns that I have mentioned.
The fruit-growing areas are important, not only to the economic life of South Australia, but also to the national economy. Some of the major areas producing dried fruits are involved. At least 1,000 acres of vines and citrus fruits are now under water, and it is impossible to say when they can be rehabilitated. The Crescent area of Renmark, one of the most fruitful areas adjacent to the town, is completely under water. It is tragic to see some of the most magnificent places in South Australia covered by miles of flood waters which will not subside for a long time.
About 200 homes between Renmark and Mannum are under water to varying degrees. Some are practically submerged, while others are under 5 feet of water according to circumstances and the conformation of the land. Homes which were regarded with pride by the occupants are partly or wholly submerged, and the calamity is one of the worst in the history of South Australia.
Others who are outside the fruit-growing industry are also suffering grave disabilities. Thousands upon thousands of acres of pasture land along the river have been occupied by dairymen, and this land is completely under water. The dairying industry has been disrupted to such a degree that dairymen have been forced to sell dry stock and calves because they have no pasture upon which to maintain them. This must have a serious effect upon the future of those dairy properties and will cause an unbalance with detrimental consequences to the industry.
Another major problem concerns those who are employed in and around the river towns. Many have lost their employment because of the flood damage, and I shall refer to that matter later because there are some important considerations associated with it. Many of those people worked on the banks of the rivers until their funds were exhausted. They have been forced now to go to Adelaide to seek employment. This matter requires urgent and serious consideration, and I shall have some suggestions to make in that connexion.
I pay tribute to the manner in which the people in the flooded areas have faced this great disaster. I am sure that Senator Hannaford will also testify to the fighting spirit of those people. They were determined to remain on their properties to the end. No words of mine would be adequate to convey my admiration of their efforts. I pay tribute also to the emergency committees, and I refer particularly to the emergency organization at Renmark where the greatest difficulties prevailed. All concerned deserve the gratitude of the South Australian people. We should remember, also, the thousands of voluntary workers who went from all parts of South Australia to help the people who were stricken by floods. Some of them travelled as far as 500 miles to help fight the floods. Gifts of food and other necessaries were given readily.
At Renmark, about 400 people are left in the town out of a total population of approximately 3,000. That means that 80 per cent, of the homes are “unoccupied, and the effect upon the business life of the community is serious. The problems of those people should receive immediate consideration. The business people of Renmark and adjoining towns have invested considerable sums of money in business houses, and they will be hit hard by the disruption of trade and commerce. I know that they are very apprehensive about the future, and they have reason to be so disturbed. I emphasize here that 1 am not overstressing the serious nature of this calamity, and 1 am sure that Senator Critchley, who accompanied me on my visit to the area, will support me in that connexion.
At the moment, I believe the river is stationary, bat the worst is yet to come for those towns which are situated near the mouth of the Murray River. I fear that they will undergo privations and various stages of destruction before the flood reaches its peak and subsides. It has been established that, unless something untoward happens, the flood has reached its peak in the upper reaches. The main danger in many areas arises from the seepage, which is gradually spreading from the banks and levees. That seepage is salty, and will have a destructive effect upon the fruit trees and vines. That is the position at Renmark,, but the disaster can be appreciated fully only by those who have seen the affected! areas.
– Is it thought that this salt will kill the fruit trees?
– It will eventually kill those fruit trees that it reaches. That is the main danger where the flood water lies about for some time. I now come to’ matters which I believe should engage the earnest attention of the Senate, and I have three suggestions to make, all of which should receive the support of honorable senators on both sides of the chamber. Flood relief payments are usually made on a £l-for-£l basis, both the Commonwealth and the State concerned participating. However, I suggest that the present flood position along the Murray River is of such proportions that it cannot be dealt with on that basis. There is no doubt that the Federal Government holds the purse strings, and in any allocation that may be made the State has to allocate its proportions on a £l-‘for-£l basis out of the revenue that it receives from the Commonwealth. It is obvious that at present no State in Australia is able to give sufficient money on a £l-‘for-£l basis, even to start to ameliorate the position in South Australia alone. Therefore, a departure from that principle must be made, and I hope that the suggestion put forward by Senator Gorton will be given the most earnest consideration by the Government.
I believe that the first thing that we must do in the devastated areas of the upper and lower Murray is to provide work on the spot for workmen who. have been displaced as a result of flood damage and are leaving the district. That is a most practical and common-sense approach to that particular problem. Twenty, 30 or even 100 men may have been displaced from employment at Renmark. They are working on the banks until their finances are exhausted, and then they will be forced to go to Adelaide to look for work. That should not be so when there is plenty of work at Renmark, not only in policing the levee banks, but also in the cleaning-up which will become urgently necessary when the floods commence to subside. That is a practical common-sense suggestion which I believe will meet with the support of all ^honorable senators. A sum of money should be allocated to keep these men on the job in the areas where they belong. If that is done it will solve the problem of their employment by employing them where they are most needed, and it will also assist in the rehabilitation of the business and commercial life of the flooded towns. That is a proposition so full of common sense that it must be accepted. However, if anything is to be done along those lines it will have to be done immediately. That suggestion should not be referred to this person or that body, and it should not be considered this week or next week. If it is to be adopted, it must be adopted immediately and, indeed, there is no reason why it should not be.
– It must be done with the collaboration of every State government.
– I understand that, and I shall deal with that matter presently. I come now to a very urgent matter involving the towns affected by floods, that is, the accommodation of displaced persons. More than 200 homes have been inundated in this disaster, and the people who formerly lived in them have had to go somewhere. I regret to tell honorable senators that when I was recently in Berri I saw people who had been displaced from homes of a very good type living in deplorable circumstances. People of all ages were living in a collection of tin shanties on the outer edge of the levees under conditions that were not fit for human beings. The Australian Government, in co-operation with the State governments, should build some type of temporary barracks or living quarters in the towns where people have been displaced from their homes. That is, again, a practical suggestion to deal with an immediate problem. Any such structures that are built need not become a total loss after the people return to their homes, because they could be used for some other useful purpose to be determined later. However, it is essential that some consideration should be given to the housing of these displaced people.
It is true that many of them have been billeted in quarters that are usually reserved for fruit pickers, but there are hundreds of homes on the Murray which will not be habitable for six, eight or even twelve months, according to the damage that the flood has done. That means that when the picking season arrives in the areas not affected by floods, the accommodation now used by homeless persons will no longer be available. Therefore, my suggestion is a practical one, and it is urgently necessary that some allocation of money be made to provide temporary barracks or hostel quarters so that these people can live in the area where they belong and where they can be most usefully employed.
It is not possible at this stage for anybody to assess the total damage that has been caused by floods in South Australia. 1 know that various people have attempted to do so, and that their estimates have ranged from £.2,000,000 to £10,000,000. Although I have seen most of the devastated areas, I have not the faintest idea of what the final cost of rehabilitation may be; but I would not consider that the person who made the estimate of £10,000,000 has overstated the position. This matter is very serious, and those who have seen the flooded areas will agree with me that an all-party delegation should be appointed by the Government to view those areas in order to gain some idea of the devastation and damage. I know that this proposition was put to the South Australian Parliament at my suggestion, and I regret to say that that body did not accept it. However, to lift this matter completely out of the realm of party politics, a decision to send an all-party delegation, however small it may be, to get an idea of the situation in the flooded areas, would be a very good step.
I fully agree with Senator Gorton that some consideration must be given to the measures for preventing a repetition of these disasters, if it is humanly possible to do so. I favour the appointment of some form of commission representative of the Australian Government and of the various States which are, in the main, affected by the repeated floodings of the Murray River. I do not claim to have any expert knowledge of what would be required to prevent a repetition of what has been, perhaps, the greatest disaster in South Australian history, but those people who have technical knowledge about the diversion of waters and the building of banks in the most suitable places should consider this problem. If a similar flood occurred in five or ten years’ time. all those beautiful towns along the river Murray, extending over a distance of 200 miles, would be lost completely, because they could not withstand a repetition of this recent disaster. 1 have tried to introduce a note of necessary urgency into the debate. I recognize that schemes for complete rehabilitation will require long-range planning, but the suggestions I have made to the Senate are practical and common-sense and should receive the immediate consideration and unanimous support of all honorable senators.
– lt is my good fortune to have within my portfolio the River Murray Commission and the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, and they are about the closest contact which a Commonwealth administration has with irrigation matters as they affect our river systems. I always feel that, as a Commonwealth Minister, one is remote and deals with these matters in the broad sense, rather than with actual events as they happen. Against a background such as that, I have been intensely interested to hear the graphic descriptions, by Senator Gorton and Senator Toohey, of the effect of the floods in the areas mentioned, of which I have seen evidence in my ministerial capacity at a somewhat remote level.
I support those two honorable senators in paying tribute to people in the areas affected by the disaster. From all accounts, it is a stirring story of mutual co-operation between the people who suffered this misfortune. All honorable senators nave the greatest sympathy with them in the losses they sustained. I was somewhat surprised that neither of the two honorable senators who spoke mentioned the work of the Murray Valley Development League in this area. That body is constantly making recommendations to me, concerning the present and future development of the Murray Valley. It is the voice of the settlers in each of the three States concerned.
In examining the situation and the various suggestions which have been made. I propose to follow a somewhat unusual course. I intend to discuss first the immediate situation, then t urn to what might be the future position and outline some of the problems which will have to be faced in a long-term programme that aims at better control of the River Murray waters. Honorable senators may consider that my remarks are not very constructive, but in approaching a big problem such as this, it is necessary to have all the facts in proper perspective.
I wish, first, to emphasize the fact that the Australian . Government has acted promptly in this situation. It has not allowed any grass to grow under its feet, but has done what is customary for governments to do in such circumstances, without hesitation or delay. On 8th August last, the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden) in response to representations made to him by the Premier of South Australia (Mr. Playford) advised Mr. Playford that he had instructed the Department of Works and other Commonwealth departments to make available forthwith plant, equipment and men to undertake the construction of levee banks and any other such works as the local authorities requested. He told the Premier also that if the State of South Australia decided to establish a fund for the relief of hardship, the Commonwealth would follow the customary course and subsidize the receipts to that fund on a £l-for-£l basis. The Acting Prime Minister told the South Australian Premier also that the Australian Government would go beyond the £l-for-£l contribution, and if the State Government provided the necessary information, the Commonwealth would consider the contribution of financial assistance to the State Government for the restoration of roads, bridges and local government services. I have no doubt that similar assistance will be available for the Victorian Government.
The honorable senators who have spoken, representing Victoria and South Australia respectively, see this problem as it affects the towns and areas along the River Murray, but a similar situation has arisen in New South Wales. The devastation along the Murray has been no greater than that which occurred in the very rich and fertile districts of the Hunter River in 1950 and 1955.
– They are waiting for the next flood there. Nothing has been done.
– 1 shall deal with that in due course. 1 proposed to refrain from saying what I shall now tell the Senate, because the honorable senator’s interjection compels me to remind him that the Leader of his party went to Singleton, in New South Wales, during the height of the misery of the Hunter River flood and made a most spirited attack, upon the Government of which I have the honour to be a member. He stated that the Government should provide all the funds, and all that was necessary to repair the damage that had been done in the Hunter River valley. He made that attack despite the fact that he was Attorney-General of a government, the Prime Minister of which said, when similar representations were made to him after the 1949 Hunter River valley flood to provide funds to do even more than those things Senator Toohey has mentioned, “This is a matter for the State Government to handle. It can include its plans for flood prevention in the Maitland district in the list of its works which it submits to the Commonwealth for inclusion in the loan programme “.
– That is because the people refused him the power to deal with it from the federal point of view.
– Several Prime Ministers and Treasurers have pointed out as I have done on many occasions, that any catastrophe that happens in only one State should be dealt with in the first place by the government of that State. If that government considers that some relief should be given by way of a grant from the Commonwealth, an approach can be made to the Commonwealth through the appropriate channel. Whether the honorable senator disagrees with that, or agrees with it, that is the procedure that should be adopted in relation to these disasters. This Government has gone a step further than that by not only contributing on £l-for-£l hardship basis, but also by providing assistance to rehabilitate and repair the damage that has been done to public works. This Government made available £200,000 for the Hunter River valley flood of 1950 and £500,000 for the Hunter River valley flood of 1955. I am sure that it will do that, and I hope more also, as a result of this particular flood.
Summarizing what I have already said, this Government has not only done that which is generally done by Commonwealth governments, but also has gone a step further and made an offer to contribute towards the rehabilitation of public works in the area. It has provided the services of its various Commonwealth departments. It is not as easy as it may be thought to go a great deal further than that. I was a member of a committee of Cabinet in 1950 following the Hunter River flood when several Commonwealth Ministers met the State Government of New South Wales and said, in effect, “ This Hunter River flood is a national matter, a tragic matter, and we in some way would like to get together so that we can work out what is the proper thing to do. Will you, as the New South Wales Government, let us know how the Commonwealth Government can help? Can we work out a basis which is reasonable so far as both sides are concerned? “.
– Does South Australia know that?
– The States are very jealous of their sovereign rights. The truth is, of course, that the States have all the knowledge and all the information about the particular circumstances of each flood. They have all the knowledge and information concerning river flows, of the general state of the river and of the works that might be erected to assist the position in the future. The net result of our conversation in 1950 was that we did not hear from the New South Wales Government.
Remembering that conversation, I was intrigued to read only a few months ago of the bill that the New South Wales Government recently brought before its Parliament, the Hunter River Flood Mitigation Bill. That measure is interesting because of the complexity of the problem and the matters that needed to be covered in the legislation in order to make an appropriate attempt at river control for flood mitigation purposes. The explanatory note to the bill contained sixteen main headings to cover the matters that had to be dealt with. So, when we look at this from a long-term point of view, I submit, as a layman, there is too great a tendency to underestimate the technical problems that are inherent in flood mitigation and control.
During the last 48 years, 21 floods have occurred in the Hunter River valley, and in the Murray valley floods occurred in 1867, 1870 and the last two in 1952 and 1955. All the knowledge concerning the flow of the river and the country surrounding the river is very properly within the purview of the State governments. As the State governments have not only the constitutional power but also the “ knowhow “ one cannot lightly bring the Commonwealth Government into this field with any prospect of success. Indeed, when talking to some of the engineers of my own department they adopted that line of argument and even went a stage further and said that flood prevention works could be planned better by technical men even lower down the list than the State officers themselves. In other words, they suggested the municipal and shire technical men with their local knowledge of the contour of the land and the areas that have been previously flooded, are perhaps better qualified in many directions for the task than are officers of the State authority.
This is, of course, a big flood on the Murray. The Murray basin covers oneseventh of the total area of the Commonwealth of Australia and the river and its tributaries total in length one-quarter of the length of all the rivers in Australia. Its 47 tributaries cover an area of 414,000 square miles but they have an average flow of only 10,000,000 acre-feet of water per annum. The usual difficulty of the settlers on the banks of the Murray and its tributaries is not flooding but the fact that year after year there is insufficient water in the Murray to serve their requirements. One of the technical men who have the responsibility of deciding what should be done said to me on the telephone yesterday, “ Suppose we build a dam to avoid flooding and use it for that purpose. It is necessary to keep the dam partially empty so that it is available when the flood waters come “. The alternative would be to do what we want to do with the waters of the Murray, that is, to use them for irrigation purposes more and more. If the available money were used to build a dam, primarily for irrigation purposes, it would not be available for flood relief.
I do not propose to deal with this matter exhaustively or comprehensively. As I have tried to outline, and as I have emphasized over and over again, the Commonwealth stands ready and prepared in this matter. It has gone out of its way to render to the South Australian and Victorian Governments, such help as it can to meet the immediate circumstances and to provide for the future. Whether the proposals that Senator Toohey has advanced are good or bad, I should not like to say. In the final analysis, let the States and the local authorities make up their minds about the best course to adopt, and let the Commonwealth make its contribution, for the people in the areas affected, have the best knowledge as to how to expend the available funds to the best advantage. I find it hard to resist the thought, when faced with national disasters like those to which we have been addressing ourselves, that we in Australia are very short-sighted in many directions. We all know the circumstances that exist. Senator Arnold has spoken with some feeling on the matter. I recall that a few years ago, he moved the adjournment of the Senate in order to discuss a similar matter. We have so much to do in Australia, and such comparatively small resources are available to us that, in relation to big matters such as this, I always feel that it would be wiser for us to mobilize our resources and attack one job at a time. Having completed that job, we could then move on and do the next job, in order that our public expenditure would return its advantages quickly. It is, of course, an exaggeration to say - although it is close enough to being true - that many areas of Australia are littered with uncompleted works due to the lack of resources, and from which we will be unable to derive quickly the full economic value. As a government, we have tried on several occasions to overcome the difficulties involved in establishing an order of priority in relation to national development. Although some honorable senators may consider that that has no bearing on the problem before us, when these matters arise one’s mind reverts automatically to that subject.
I hope that I have not told too depressing a story of what has to be done, in the long-term approach in relation to the river Murray, which is our greatest single national asset. That was not my intention. I believe that one cannot approach any problem unless he tries, first, to sort out the facts. Of course, it is not for a layman to sort out the facts in a matter of this kind; he can only make a start in that direction. The whole history of arrangements between governments in relation to the control of waters is one of extraordinarily protracted negotiation, because water supplies in Australia are so very valuable. This subject has such important economic consequences for each State that no State government can lightly deal with water resources within its boundaries. The River Murray Commission was established after, I think, about 50 years of negotiations between the respective governments. A lengthy period of time was involved, also, before agreement was reached in relation to the Snowy Mountains water. Arrangements relating to the waters of the river Murray are of tremendous consequence to the governments of the three States through which that river flows. As to the immediate problems, it is not a matter of the Commonwealth merely standing ready and prepared; we have acted. The Australian Government has done what it should do in regard to the immediate problem. As to the long-term problem, if the State governments submit to the Commonwealth a programme of approach, we shall be interested to consider it in conjunction with them. I do not think that, at the present time, it would be possible for any government to have fixed thoughts as to what is the correct approach to this matter. It has become apparent to me recently - I hope I am not misstating the position - that, in respect of various rivers, such as the Hunter, the Clarence and the Richmond in New South Wales, the Burdekin in Queensland and even the Ord in North Australia, there are in existence many reports on investigations into the best use that could be made of them. But there does not seem to be a similar background in relation to the river Murray. I think the explanation is that the River Murray Commission - the child that was born after 50 years of negotiation - is a most extraordinary governmental institution. It has no staff. The commission consists of topranking engineers nominated by each of the State governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, with the Commonwealth Minister for Works as president, one engineer and a part-time secretary. The whole of its work - everything that it does - is given to the State instrumentality that knows the job to carry through to completion. The commission has worked so well over the years that it has not been necessary for the same investigation to be carried out in relation to the river Murray as has been made in connexion with other rivers. I conclude by repeating that, on the short-term approach, we have already acted. We have not been unresponsive to, or unreceptive of, proposals that have been made. On the long-term approach to the problem, we shall be interested to consider the representations that are made by the State governments to the Commonwealth; one has already been made by the Victorian Government. I do not feel at liberty to disclose that approach at present, because it is in the nature of Premier to Prime Minister correspondence. As I have said, we shall be interested to consider whatever the States may put forward in regard to the evolving of policy. That is the first step; the first step is not to carry out work, but to lay down plans for the future. We shall be glad to hear the views of the States and to consider them.
– I support the remarks that have been made by both Senator Gorton and my colleague, Senator Toohey, in relation to the recent national calamity. I should say at the outset that I was at a loss to follow some of the Minister’s remarks. I hoped that this debate would continue all the afternoon, and that it would be conducted on non-party lines. I quite candidly admit that it is difficult to formulate a long-range policy aimed at the prevention of a recurrence of severe floods in Australia. I appreciate the difficulty of this or any other government in formulating such a policy and in obtaining the services of the most qualified engineers and persons who are thoroughly conversant with the contour of the areas drained by the rivers that eventually empty into the river Murray. It is not very difficult for me to tell the Senate what I or any other human being thinks should be done straightaway. My colleague has truly stated the position in relation to the communal spirit and the efforts that have been made along the river Murray, particularly at Berri and Renmark. I feel sure that Government senators from South Australia will find no cause for disagreement with Senator Toohey’s statement. No lengthy debate should be required in order to obtain a promise of immediate relief to the people who are suffering, who are devoid of homes and who are living, as Senator Toohey as stated, in makeshift tin shacks on the banks of the river.
Although most of the South Australian senators have not seen the impact of the flood in other States, we have visited the flooded areas in our own State, and we are not unmindful of the difficulties that are being encountered and which have been encountered for some years in New South Wales in particular. The problem now affects the governments of three States and the Commonwealth Government in particular. Unless one saw at such places as Berri the shacks that have been erected and people of all ages trying to cook and to carry on under such conditions, one would find it difficult to believe that he would find such conditions in any settled part of the country. Homes that have been the centre of home life for two or three generations are now submerged up to the roofs. Those houses will never be occupied again because, as a result of the continuous impact of the water, they must give. I submit that there should be no delay by this Government in coming to some arrangement with the State governments concerned. The Government would not be condemned, but rather would be applauded, if it stated that in such cases there should be no undue delay in providing hostels or temporary homes to which people could be removed from the centres that they are forced to occupy through no fault of their own but as the result of what can only be described as being a national calamity.
As the weeks pass, other settlements towards the mouth of the river will be visibly affected. Although possibly the place in question is not known to many people outside South Australia, the following telegram that I received to-day will be of interest to all South Australian senators -
Urgently wanted at Mypolonga fifty temporary homes. Can you help.- Cavanagh.
– Who is the author of the telegram?
– Cavanagh. He is probably unknown to the honorable senator, but well knows the honorable senator.
– I feel sorry for him.
– He is sorry for the honorable senator. The settlement in question is about 100 miles down the river from Renmark. That telegram will give the Senate some idea of the rapidity with which the flood is moving towards the sea and the areas of country that are being submerged. I do not doubt the telegram for one moment; its source is quite reliable. I contend that, when requests of that kind are received, any government is remiss if it does not do something immediately. Again I emphasize that I know it is most difficult to formulate a long rang policy that would be in the best interests of all concerned and which, to some degree, would, prevent a repetition of the calamity that has overtaken these States.
I am also concerned about requests that have been received from local people, particularly business people, in settlements along the river who are perturbed about the probability of men who have been working in canneries, distilleries and other business houses being forced to go to the metropolitan area for jobs. These men must go to work to live. Being specialists in their work and good assets to the local community, they would find little consolation in having to go elsewhere to work. Senator Toohey correctly stated the position when he said that the business people generally were perturbed at the situation. It is vital that this matter should be investigated. Senator Toohey’s suggestion is a good one, and I feel sure that the Government would be doing the right thing if it took steps to retain these men in the districts and areas that they know so well and in which they have worked voluntarily night and day with the great army of workers who have accomplished so much.
I agree with the statement of the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). I should not be quite so forthright in making such a statement, but he is the Minister concerned and he should know that everything that could be done has been done. From my observations and having known these areas for many years, I can visualize nothing that could be done which has not been done in this emergency. I assure the Minister that we have all seen the practical co-operation of the Department of the Army and the Postal Department. Pumps and other Commonwealth equipment have been made available most generously, quickly and spontaneously by the persons who administer the various departments. From that angle I have no complaint. Senator Toohey has stated - and I am sure other honorable senators will agree with him - that if there is one thing that has been given spontaneously it is the co-operation of every section of the community all over the State. It has not been limited to the towns and areas that have been inundated already and in which the waters are causing so much ruin and desolation. I say with all sincerity that I do not think any government should hesitate for a moment to provide assistance when a calamity overtakes citizens and leaves them struggling under the conditions under which the people along the banks of the Murray River are struggling now. The first responsibility of any government is the health and welfare of the people. What has happened along the Murray River can be described only as a national calamity. There is no guarantee that we shall not have another flood like this one in two or three years’ time. As the Minister has suggested, a panel should be formed to consider what can be done to prevent that from occurring. But the first duty of the Government is clear. It must make provision for the safety, feeding, health and welfare of people who, through no fault of their own, have had their homes destroyed.
To those who do not know these areas, I give the assurance that the stories that have appeared in the press and that have been broadcast by the radio stations are by no means exaggerated. This is the most heartbreaking sight that I have seen in my life. The conditions experienced by our soldiers in France, in 1916, were bad enough, but we were at war then and they expected them. But now, in a time of peace, men and women who, in many cases, have toiled since the end of World War I. to develop one of the most bountiful parts of Australia see nothing round them but ruin and desolation. I see no reason why any government should hesitate to provide assistance to feed and shelter those people. Let this Government, irrespective of whom it may offend, go ahead with that job. The people along the Murray are waiting for assistance. They have rendered yeoman service to this country. For God’s sake, let this National Parliament do immediately everything that it can do to ensure that their future shall be made brighter and that their worries about where they will eat and sleep shall be removed.
As to what we shall do in the future, I am afraid that 1 must agree with the Minister that the problem will never be solved. lt is not of much use to argue about whether this Government has given more than any other government, or whether another government refused to do this and that. I am sure that my venerable friend the Minister, grey haired like myself, will agree that if we had our time over again we might look at some things in a different way and that we might not do some of the things that we have done. I conclude by urging the Government to give consideration to the employment of the people forced to leave the localities in which they have lived - localities in which the schools have been closed and the hospitals have been vacated. In some areas, water has been flowing through the windows of those institutions for the last month. People who have had to move from flooded areas are living under the most deplorable conditions. The flood still goes on.
– Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I commend Senator Gorton for the motion he has proposed this afternoon and I commend the members of the Opposition for the way in which they have approached it. I commend also my South Australian friends, Senator Toohey and Senator Critchley, for the instruction they have given to the Senate on the position in the Upper Murray. I can understand the intensity of their feelings, because I have been in the flooded areas, although not precisely where they have been. I have been in the area between Murray Bridge and Wellington on the lower reaches of the Murray. That area has not yet felt the full impact of this calamity, but I can understand the feelings of my South Australian friends. This flood must be seen to be fully appreciated. It is possibly the greatest single disaster experienced by South Australia in the 120 years of its existence. The flood will have a particularly grave effect on South Australia because it is a State with rather limited natural resources. When a highly developed and fertile belt of land is flooded, so severely that part of it may die, that is a great tragedy for South Australia. Consequently, I feel it to be my duty and responsibility to remind the Senate of several aspects of the matter that have not yet been canvassed by my friends opposite.
Let me paint a picture of the lower reaches of the Murray, from Murray Bridge southwards. There are a number of reclaimed swamps, so highly developed that they are able to support considerably more than one dairy cow to the acre all the year round. Adelaide depends upon them largely for its domestic milk supply. The largest of these reclaimed swamps is possibly 10 feet below the level of the river, which is being prevented from engulfing the area by levee banks of sandbags, sand and earth, running for about 15 or 16 miles. It may be known to honorable senators that a number of the settlements in this area were developed by exservicemen of World War I. and World War II.
I pay tribute to the old diggers of World War I. They, like the last two speakers, are grey in the hair and are getting on in years. Now this disaster has hit them, as it has hit their sons and grandsons of World War II. I pay tribute to those people for their fortitude. I know that they are living in improvised places so that they will be able to give their services to try to avert the final disasters that are looming. The disaster looming in the north is the engulfment of Renmark, although it would appear that that has been averted. The disaster looming in the south is the engulfment of the Jervois reclaimed area and the 5,000 or 6,000 dairy cattle on it. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave - It is with deep regret that I have to announce to the Senate the death in Sydney this afternoon of His Excellency, Mr. Douglas Maxwell Moffat, United States of America Ambassador in Australia. Although Mr. Moffat had been in Australia only since March of this year, he had impressed himself upon all of us who were privileged to meet him as a very worthy representative of his great country. It is at such a time as this that the depth and strength of our ties with the United
States of America are revealed. In common with the people of that country, we all feel a great sense of loss. I move -
That the Senate expresses its deep regret at the death of Mr. Douglas Maxwell Moffat who was, at the time of his death, United States Ambassador in Australia, and tenders its sincere sympathy to his wife and family in their bereavement.
– All members of the Opposition were shocked to learn to-day of the tragically sudden death of the United States Ambassador, Mr. Douglas Moffat. We feel deeply for the American people in their loss of a distinguished servant. We realize the tragic situation that arises when a distinguished ambassador dies abroad after a very brief sojourn in the country to which he has been accredited. We feel, in particular, for the members of the family of the deceased ambassador. Not many of us have had an opportunity of knowing Mr. Moffat personally as he came to Australia only recently, but we join sincerely with the members and supporters of the Government in extending to the United States Government our regret at the loss of a distinguished ambassador. We subscribe to the terms of the motion that has been moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and convey our condolences to the family of the deceased ambassador.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable senators standing in their places.
Sitting suspended from 5.43 to 8 p.m.
– I lay on the table the following papers: -
Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure, and Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works, and other Services involving Capital Expenditure, for the year ending 30th June, 1957;
The Budget 1956-57 - Papers presented by the Right Hon. Sir Arthur Fadden in connexion with the Budget of 1956-57; and
National Income and Expenditure 1955-56, and move -
That the papers be printed.
To-night the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) is delivering in another place his budget speech for 1956-57. I should like to refer briefly to some of the main features of the budget and of the context within which it was prepared. On a number of accasions in recent times, the Government has emphasized that the rate of growth Australia has sustained in recent years and the state of high prosperity we have enjoyed are both endangered by certain tendencies current in our economy. In part, these tendencies have originated abroad but, in the main, they are due to pressures created by our own efforts not only to expand rapidly and in many directions but at the same time to achieve higher and higher consumption standards.
To meet these problems, so far as they are capable of being met by governmental action, the Government has developed policy measures designed, on the one hand, to restrain demand and so mitigate pressures on resources and, on the other hand, to promote higher levels of production and exports. In broader terms, our aim has been to strike a balance between the long-term objectives of development and population growth, and the more immediate requirements of preserving the prosperity and stability of the growing community. In general it appears that, while some relief has been obtained from the pressures which have afflicted our economy during the past two years, we have still not reached a fully balanced situation. That applies, particularly to the external side of our economic affairs, but it holds also to a degree for our domestic situation. Although demand has been reduced, it still seems to be running ahead of supply in some directions.
The net result of all our overseas transactions for the year was that our international reserves, fell by £73,000,000. At 30th June last they stood at £355,000,000. Although this figure is somewhat higher than at one stage of the year seemed likely, it still represents an uncomfortably low level of reserves. Although our immediate balance of payments problem is difficult, I do not think that, on a rather longer view, we need despair of a solution. Obviously, a solution depends upon the satisfaction of certain basic conditions and of these some, admittedly, are more or less beyond our own control. For example, our export earnings must depend largely upon world prices for our products and also upon the accessibility of markets - as to which, much in turn depends upon the trading policies of other nations. On the other hand, quantity of export production also counts, and no one can doubt the physical capacity of this country to yield more and more commodities to meet the world’s most basic needs. Even now it can be said that recent achievements in raising the volume of export production, especially rural production, have been highly encouraging. Equally encouraging has been the recent proof that some of our manufacturing industries are capable of entering more largely into the export field, and are extremely keen to do so.
More than this, one need be no great optimist to believe that, locked away in this vast land of ours, are resources capable of enlarging our export potential and diminishing our need for imports. Indeed, scarcely a recent year has passed without something of the kind coming to light. Perhaps as notable an example as any is the growing confirmation of large and rich mineral deposits in Queensland and the Northern Territory. Given adequate development of known fields, new mineral production is capable of adding very substantially to our export earnings within a few years. I may mention here that the Commonwealth Government is now actively exploring with the Government of Queensland the need for improved railway facilities to permit early full-scale development of some of these projects. Instances of this kind seem to make folly of the idea that active pursuit of development is necessarily incompatible with a sound balance of payments position.
There are other conditions to be fulfilled. One has been the theme of much the Government has said, and the object of much the Government has done, in recent times - that is, to prevent the occurrence of inflationary demand conditions which lead to excessive importing and a running down of our international reserves. A further condition is the preservation in this country of such sound and stable economic conditions as will encourage the investment of more overseas capital, on both public and private account - encourage it not only to come here but to stay here and leave its earnings for investment here. Yet another primary condition is that we must bring our cost and price situation under control.
Costs and prices have been tending to rise for the past couple of years, and latterly the rate of increase has become more rapid.
Very many factors have contributed to the rise in costs and prices which has occurred. Higher import prices and shipping freights have had some influence though, in the sum of things, probably not a large one. What we are experiencing to-day is partly the effect - the delayed effect - of the great rise in spending which began more than two years ago and which only in the last few months has begun to taper off. Local production increased, imports increased, but still the rate of expenditure ran ahead of both. Recognition of this fact was the basis for the successive measures which the Government and its associated authorities have applied to moderate demand and relieve the pressure both on local resources and on imports.
Once a general price and cost increase gains momentum, however, it is apt to keep going and even to gather strength, simply through the action of one increase upon another. Something like that seems to be happening now; for even though economic pressures have weakened the cost and price spiral has lately become more rapid. As I have said, it is partly the delayed result of earlier pressures but it is certainly being accentuated by factors such as the automatic adjustment of wage rates under some State wage-fixing systems. It was to eliminate that factor, which is having widespread harmful effects - not least on the interests of wage-earners themselves - that the Government proposed to the States concerned that they should abandon the system, this as the first step to achieving a more orderly and rational system of wage adjustment throughout Australia.
The Government has not proposed any freezing of wages. It does not believe in freezing wages or prices or profits or anything else. On all past experience, that approach solves nothing and it can do very great harm to the economy. As to wages, its fundamental belief is that they should be determined by independent tribunals, which are the proper bodies to assess the issues, weigh the facts and apply consistent principles of justice as between wageearners and employers. It also believes that there is much to be gained from a substantial uniformity throughout Commonwealth and State jurisdictions in the principles and practices of wage determination.
Underlying our whole economic problem has been the conflict between our efforts to enlarge our economy for the future and our effort to achieve higher levels of consumption in the present. At all stages the Government has been keenly conscious that this is the central economic problem of the day and it has shaped its economic policy to meet it. Development and population growth there have to be, but it is perfectly clear that the rate of development has to be kept within reasonable bounds. Hence, we have endeavoured to keep a firm ceiling on public works, which are the branch of development most directly under governmental control, and we have regulated the intake of migrants.
The immigration issue is not to be judged on economic grounds alone. Indeed, I think there would be almost universal agreement that, on strategic and political grounds, we should give high priority to the enlargement of our population. The problem is to decide just how many migrants we can take without putting too great a strain upon our resources at any given time. Generally, the view of the Government is that we should keep the migration target as high as we reasonably can. Furthermore, we are convinced that that there are very great advantages to all concerned in following a steady programme, which means that the intake of migrants should not in any one year either be allowed to rise steeply or be cut back drastically. After reviewing the position carefully from every stand-point the Government has decided that the gross intake of migrants in the current year will be limited to 1 15,000, which is approximately 18,000 fewer than in 1955-56. It has also considered the question of a forward programme and has decided that for general planning purposes, a figure for net immigration equivalent to 1 per cent, of population per year should be our aim. This figure will be reviewed each year in the light of existing economic conditions.
With some variations of emphasis, the basic problem of financial policy has been the same for several years past. In an economy dominated by strong pressures on its resources it has been a clear obligation of the central government, as indeed it is of all public authorities, to keep their demands upon resources under the firmest control. It has equally been an obligation to ensure that the Government’s financial operations added nothing to the total monetary purchasing power of the community. This means taking care that total receipts should at least suffice to cover total outlays, thereby avoiding recourse to bank credit. The Government has made these the guiding aims of its overall financial policy. All in all, no valid reason can be found for departing in any significant degree from that policy now.
Revenue from taxation in 1956-57 is estimated to be nearly £98,000,000 greater than actual revenue in 1955-56. Taxation revenue last year was, of course, some £15,000,000 to £20,000,000 greater than it would have been had not taxation been increased in the last quarter. When the taxation measures were introduced in March it was estimated that, on the basis of prevailing trends in employment, incomes and sales, they would yield approximately £.115,000,000 in a full year and slightly less in 1956-57. Since then there has been some falling-away in sales of articles subject to sales tax, customs and excise and, while it is expected that there will be a recovery in these items as the year goes on, it has been necessary to allow in the Estimates for somewhat lower revenue collections in the meantime.
Miscellaneous revenue is expected to be £.11,500,000 less than last year. Last year various repayments and transfers from trust balances added substantially to this item. This year little revenue from those sources can be foreseen. Allowing for the effect of certain minor taxation concessions and other revenue proposals total revenue from all sources in 1956-57 is estimated to be £1,230,153,000, an increase on last year’s revenue of almost £99,500,000.
Last financial year, the Government provided £190,000,000 for defence. The actual expenditure for the year was £190,716,000. After careful consideration by the Government of the international outlook and other factors which bear on the problem, a vote of £190,000,000 is again being provided for the current financial year.
It is proposed to increase the rates of education allowances payable under the soldiers’ children’s education scheme by weekly amounts ranging from 5s. for children aged twelve to fourteen years living at home to £1 7s. 6d. for students undertaking professional training and living away from home, and to increase the amounts of income which may be received, without affecting the rates of allowances, payable. The new rates and’ conditions will come into operation on 1st January, 1957.
It is also proposed to increase the allowances payable to trainees undergoing fulltime vocational training under the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme, the Korea and Malaya training scheme and the disabled members and widows training scheme. The weekly increases proposed are 12s. for a single trainee, 15s. for a married trainee and 16s. for a married trainee with one or more children. Certain minor alterations are also proposed in the means test governing the payment of service pensions. Altogether these proposals are estimated to cost £221,000 in a full year and £116,000 in 1956-57.
The Government proposes to pay higher pensions to widows and invalids who are receiving means test pensions and who have dependent children. Widow pensioners with one or more children under sixteen years, may at present receive pensions of £4 5s. a week. It is proposed to increase their pensions by 10s. a week for each child after the first. Thus a widow with three children under sixteen may receive an increase of £1 a week, bringing the pension up to £5 5s. a week. Under the means test she may have, in addition, other income of £5 a week - exclusive of income from property - and she may own her home, without: limit as to value, and have other assets up to £1,750.
A similar increase in invalid pensions is. proposed. The pension, which is generally £4 a week, will be increased, subject to the means test, by 10s. a week in respect of each child after the first. Already an allowance of Us. 6d. a week is paid in respect of the first child in such cases. It is also proposed to ensure that a widow who loses her entitlement to a pension when she is between the age of 45 or 50 years, because her youngest, or only, child attains the age of sixteen years, will immediately become eligible for a widow’s pension of £3 7s. 6d. a week, subject to the appropriate means test, instead of having to wait until she reaches 50 years of age. These proposals will come into effect on the first pension pay-day after the necessary amending legislation is passed.
The Government also proposes to consult with the States with a view to introducing, in 1956-57, a scheme for subsidizing, on a £l-for-£l basis with the States, voluntary organizations conducting home nursing services. The proposals which I have just outlined are estimated to cost £778,000 in a full year and £576,000 in this financial year. Taking the latter amount into account, and allowing for the cost of social service and health benefits as provided under existing legislation, the total outlay :from the National Welfare Fund this year is expected to reach £226,620,000, which is £11,754,000 more than actual expenditure in 1955-56.
Total payments to the States in the present year are estimated at £243,770,000 or £23,228,000 more than last year. The tax reimbursement grant payable to the States :in 1956-57 under the formula embodied in existing legislation is estimated at £153,600,000. As already announced, however, the Commonwealth has agreed to provide a special financial assistance grant sufficient to bring the total payment under this head to £174,050,000 or £17,124,000 more than last year. This involves a special financial assistance grant .of approximately £20,450,000. Of this grant an amount of £19,400,000 is to be distributed among the States in the same way as the formula grant and the remaining £1,050,000 will be paid to Victoria in view of certain special financial difficulties being experienced by that State in the current year. Legislation authorizing the payment of this grant will be introduced shortly. Following the recommendation by the Commonwealth Grants Commission, an amount of £18,500,000 has been included in the Estimates for special grants to South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania for 1956-57, A bill to authorize the payment of: the special grants will be introduced when copies of the commission’s report become available. Payments under the Commonwealth Aid Roads legislation are expected to reach £32,500,000 this year or £5,031,000 more than in 1955-56.
The estimates for Capital Works and Services this year amount to £109,738,000 compared with an appropriation last year of £104,000,000 and actual expenditure of £101,900,000. The provision for expenditure this year on the Snowy Mountains scheme is £18,000,000, which is £2,854,000 more than last year’s expenditure of £15,146,000. The increase is due mainly to increased contractual commitments in respect of the projects comprising the upper Tumut section of the scheme. Total expenditure on post office works and equipment, including works expenditure for the national television stations, is estimated at £30,727,000, as compared with actual expenditure of £28,970,000 in 1955-56. An amount of £30,000,000 is being provided again this year for war service homes.
Departmental expenditure for 1956-57 is estimated at £56,040,000, which is an increase of £3,361,000 over last year. This increase reflects rising costs and increased wage and salary payments as a result of the decision of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration to increase the basic wage by 10s. a week. Departmental expenditure in 1956-57 also includes an amount of approximately £700,000 to meet the cost of certain post office services which were previously provided to departments without charge. Estimate expenditure of £14,850,000 on bounties and subsidies in 1956-57 is £2,543,000 less than last year’s actual expenditure of £17,393,000. Last year’s expenditure included £1,733,000 for the tea subsidy, for which no provision is required this year. The amount provided for International Development and Relief in 1956-57 is £5,200,000 compared with actual expenditure in 1955-56 of £5,285,000. Other miscellaneous expenditure in 1956-57 includes amounts of £1,000,000 for Australia’s subscription to the International Finance Corporation and £500,000 for working capital of the newly established Export Payment Insurance Corporation.
Total expenditure from Consolidated Revenue this year is estimated to be £1,121,431,000 which is £52,349,000 greater than the comparable total for 1955-56. Of this increase, £23,228,000 is for additional payments to the States, £11,754,000 for increased expenditure from the National Welfare Fund, £7,838,000 for capital works and services and £7,144,000 for business undertakings.
Apart from expenditure items which are ordinarily charged to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, there are certain prospective items of Commonwealth expenditure for which loan finance will be required. One is war service land settlement, on which expenditure this year is estimated to be £8,500,000. Another is the redemption of war savings certificates, which are expected to amount to £3,000,000.
The Loan Council this year approved a total borrowing programme for State public works and Commonwealth-State housing in 1956-57 of £210,000,000. The Commonwealth, for its part, said that it would be prepared to make advances to the States during the first half of the financial year on the basis of an annual programme of £190.000,000. This undertaking is to be reviewed early in 1957. There is also this year the probability that redemptions of maturing loans will have to be made on a fairly large scale.
Also, the Government of Western Australia has made representations to the Commonwealth as to the special financial difficulties which Western Australia is facing in the current financial year. The matter was discussed at the Loan Council meeting, and the Premiers of the other States expressed their readiness to approve the making of arrangements by which the Commonwealth would give some additional assistance to Western Australia. The matter has since been under discussion with the Western Australian Government.
The position then is, on the one hand, that we have outside the Consolidated Revenue Fund certain Commonwealth expenditures to meet, commitments of uncertain, but undoubtedly large, magnitude to assist the Loan Council programmes, and the prospect of having to meet debt redemptions, perhaps on a fairly large scale. On the other hand, the amount of borrowing we will be able to do, both locally and overseas, must be limited by rather difficult circumstances. Clearly enough, if we are to avoid central bank finance, as we are determined to do, we can only provide for our prospective cash requirements by applying funds from Consolidated Revenue. How much we will require is more than ever a matter of judgment, since there are so many uncertainties about the position; but on the best assessment we can make of the prospect, the amount is very likely to be in excess of £100,000,000.
Our assessment of the economic situation is such that we do not think it opportune at this time to make tax reductions of a general character, which would have the effect of adding to demand. Nor, from a financial stand-point, and having regard particularly to the potentially large commitments which confront us, do we consider the position to warrant any major reduction in our available sources of finance. At the same time, the Government has thought it desirable to make a number of adjustments of a relatively minor character in the income tax field which, however, involve no very large loss of revenue this year.
It is proposed, as from 1st July, 1956, to raise the maximum from £200 to £300 in respect of life insurance premiums, contributions to superannuation funds and similar payments, and to allow subscriptions to hospital and medical benefits funds as a separate deduction. It is proposed to exempt the income derived by hospital and medical benefits funds which are registered organizations under the National Health Act 1953-55.
At present, residents of remote areas of Australia are granted special deductions as a recognition of the disadvantages to which they are subject through uncongenial climatic conditions, isolation and the high cost of living in those areas as compared with other parts of Australia. In the case of Zone A, which broadly covers the area north of the Tropic of Capricorn, the present deduction is £ 120 per annum, and in the case of Zone B is £20 per annum. It is proposed to increase as from 1st July, 1956, the present deductions to £180 and £30 respectively. At the same time, the area of Zone A will be extended to include that, part of Western Australia north of the 26th parallel of latitude, the whole of the Northern Territory, and that part of western Queensland west of the 141st meridian which is now in Zone B.
In 1952, the Government introduced a concessional allowance for expenditure incurred by a taxpayer in the education of children under the age of 21 years. At first, a limit of £50 was placed upon the deduction in respect of each child. In 1953, the maximum deduction was raised to £75 and the scope of the concession was widened. It has now been decided that the maximum deduction will be raised from £75 to £100.
It is proposed to allow deductions for the costs of construction work, such as roads and bridges, giving access to timber stands. This deduction will be based on the estimated life of the timber stand, or 25 years, whichever is the less. At the same time, certain limitations in the present income tax allowances relating to the felling of timber will be removed.
Another proposal concerns the basis of assessment of insurance recovered in consequence of the destruction of planted forests by fire. At present, these insurance recoveries are assessable income of the year in which the insurances are received. It is proposed that the taxpayers concerned shall be granted an option to spread the insurances over five income years.
It is proposed to provide for the deduction of expenditure incurred on the development or purchase of a patent, registered design or copyright, and on the purchase of a licence to use a patent, registered design or copyright. In addition, it is proposed to introduce a provision which will enable taxpayers to deduct expenditure incurred on registration fees and attorney’s fees in obtaining the grant or renewal of a patent, registered design or copyright.
Other minor income tax concessions are proposed in respect of the allowance as deductions of gifts to certain bodies, payments of debts by discharged bankrupts, grants made under the United States Educational Foundation in Australia, dividends paid by private companies out of funds upon which undistributed income tax has been paid, and insurance recoveries in respect of the loss or destruction of depreciable assets. The estimated cost to revenue of the taxation concessions I have outlined mav be summarized as follows: -
The general rates for postal, telephone, and telegraph services -have not been altered since July, 1951, despite the fact that since then inescapable costs resulting from rises in wages and prices, have added greatly to expenditure. The result is that the current level of charges made by the Post Office is far below that justified in the light of working costs. In the light of this position the Government has decided to increase charges. These increases will include an extra id. on letters, commercial papers and printed matter, excluding registered newspapers, periodicals, and books for which the rates will remain unaltered.
It is also proposed to charge a service connexion fee of £10 for each new telephone service provided. The average cost incurred by the department in providing equipment and line work for a new telephone service is more than £250, and new subscribers make no direct contribution to this capital outlay. The Government has decided that, in future, subscribers should make a contribution to the cost of installing or removing a telephone line to another address. Annual telephone rentals in the State capitals and Newcastle will be increased by £1 per annum. Rentals in country areas will not be altered, but the charge for each local call in the country will rise from 2id. to 3d. A new schedule of trunk line .charges is to be introduced. This schedule will provide for an overall increase of about 10 per cent. The Government has also decided that the basic charge for telegrams, up to twelve words, will rise by 6d., and that the rate for each additional word over twelve will be increased by Id. These increases in postal, telegraph and telephone revenue and certain other adjustments of a minor nature are estimated to bring in £5,500,000 in 1956-57 and £7,250,000 in a full year.
The operating cost of sound broadcasting services is estimated to rise from £5,470,000 in 1955-56 to £5,766,000 in 1956-57. Total revenue from sound broadcasting is estimated at only £4,045,000 this year. With existing fees there is therefore the prospect of an operating deficit of about £1,721,000. The Government has decided to introduce legislation to increase the listener’s licence-fee from £2 to £2 15s. per annum. The present concessional fee of 10s. per annum for licences issued to pensioners will not be altered and the fee of 28s. in areas distant from a national broadcasting station will also remain as at present. Free licences will continue to be issued to the blind and to schools. The estimated additional revenue is £.1,100,000 in 1956-57 and £1,500,000 in a full year.
Expenditure on planning programmes and training technicians for the national television service was £120,000 in 1955-56. This year, with the two stations in Sydney and Melbourne coming on the air before Christmas, operating costs are estimated at £1,036,000. In addition, capital expenditure is estimated at £1,830,000 as compared with £342,000 last year. The viewer’s licence-fee of £5 is estimated to yield only £150,000 in 1956-57. In order to reduce the call on the budget for the national television service, the Government has decided to impose a customs and excise duty of £7 on each cathode ray tube to be used in a television set. Tubes used for this purpose will be exempt from sales tax. The estimated revenue from this excise and customs duty this year is £210,000.
After allowing for the effects on revenue of the proposed tax concessions and of the increases in postal, telegraph and telephone charges, the estimate of total revenue from all sources in 1956-57 stands at £1,230,153,000. Total expenditure on items ordinarly charged to the Consolidated Revenue Fund is estimated at £1,121,431,000 so that, on this basis, there would be an excess of revenue over expenditure amounting to £108,722,000. However, after reviewing the various commitments and contingencies outside the Consolidated Revenue Fund which the Government will or may have to meet and for which cash will be required, the Government has decided to apply £108,500,000 from Consolidated Revenue to the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve which was established by legislation last year. There it will be available either to assist in redemption of maturing debt or for investment in loans to assist the Loan Council programmes or to meet other Commonwealth requirements for loan finance. A nominal balance of £222,000 will then remain in the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Inflation cannot be remedied by government action alone. The kind of measures we have taken are designed to restore a state of general balance in the economy, and I think they have had a degree of success in that direction. But inflation draws upon many sources and is helped along by a multitude of actions on the part of individuals and groups. This has to be more widely recognized, and there must be a common will to resist inflation and do the things necessary to avert it - to produce more, to save more, to look for ways of reducing costs and of economizing in resources whatever the line of activity may be. Given such an effort by the whole community, inflation can be mastered and our economic and social life freed from the dislocations and injustices it entails.
Debate (on motion by Senator McKenna) adjourned.
Debate resumed (vide page 32).
– Before the suspension of the sitting, I was dealing with the disastrous flooding of the Murray valley, particularly in South Australia. I believe that Senator Gorton raised a very important constitutional point with regard to a meeting of the Commonwealth and the States, and I hope that the Government will give consideration to that matter as soon as possible. I compliment the Commonwealth on what it has done so far in South Australia. It has made available members of the armed forces and very useful equipment, especially army ducks. I compliment the Commonwealth also on being prepared to contribute to flood relief programmes on a £l-for-£l basis with the States when the States have their programmes ready for submission, and for agreeing to make additional financial provision for roads, bridges and local services.
I want to mention to the Senate that the South Australian Government has appointed His Honour Sir Kingsley Paine to be the adjuster for all matters relating to flood relief. I recall that twenty years ago that gentleman played an important part in the rehabilitation of agricultural life in South Australia. He was one of the motivating forces in the adjustment of farmers’ debts at that time. He made a distinguished contribution to the rehabilitation of agricultural life in South Australia after the depression of the 1930’s. His aim then was to keep people on their farms. I feel sure that in the great task that has been set for him now, his aim will be at all costs to keep people on the land that they know and amongst the friends they have made in these river settlements. I am sure that the South Australian Government has everything geared up for the immediate grant of monetary relief as soon as claims can be assessed in a fair and proper manner.
I am afraid that it will not be possible to prevent future floods, but steps could be taken to mitigate them very considerably. I believe that there should be put into motion immediately a national inquiry into the use of land at the headwaters of the Murray, the Darling and Murrumbidgee river systems. I feel that land use is of great importance. If there could be an extension of pasture development, and if keyline farming and, as it is called, water farming could be adopted in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, there would be a reduction of the vast quantities of water that now find their way into the Murray. The present flood is remarkable. Normally, 5,000 cubic feet of water per second pass Renmark, but at the present time the flow there is at the rate of 130,000 cubic feet a second. So it will be seen that the present flow is about 26 times as great as the normal flow. One of the difficulties facing South Australia can be seen when it is realized that the fall of the Murray in its last hundred miles is no more than an inch in a mile. From the stand-point of spreading, that slight fall presents a tremendous problem. As 1 see the position, if a great national effort could be made to improve farming, pastoral and afforestation methods in the thousands of square miles of this great basin, which, we have been told in this debate, is of the order of one-seventh of the size of Australia, it might be that in the course of time floods would be prevented. I hope that if, in the meantime, there is re-building and rehabilitation of vineyards, residences and sheds, the re-building will be on sites where there is not so great a risk of flooding. Those are great problems and there is not enough time available to me this evening- to canvass them.
I want to make one further point to the Senate. During World War II., the Labour Government then in power in the Com monwealth introduced a system of war damage insurance. I feel that some analogy could be drawn between flood damage and war damage. The war damage insurance scheme was based upon national security regulations, but a flood damage insurance scheme might necessitate a reference of power by the States to the Commonwealth. However, I put to the Senate this evening the suggestion that there is an analogy between war damage and flood damage. Under a flood damage insurance scheme, people likely to be affected by floods would pay premiums. Those premiums would be subsidized by the Government and a fund would be created. We hope that there would be very few calls upon such a fund and that interest would accrue to it year by year. The war damage fund was used mainly to pay claims for damage in Darwin and New Guinea. Fortunately, very little damage was done on the mainland of Australia, except in Darwin and in the northwest of Western Australia. I put it to the Government that when the immediate relief necessary has been provided, earnest consideration be given to the establishment of a flood damage fund. Primary producers normally are prepared to contribute to cattle compensation funds, phylloxera funds and other similar funds. I believe that if the proposition were presented to them they would express themselves as willing to contribute to a flood damage fund.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– This debate has served an extremely useful purpose. One of the pleasant features is that, with very slight exceptions, it has ben lifted above party politics. It is good that a debate such as this should take place in the Senate. The Senate is supposed to be a States House. That was the plan of the framers of the Constitution. Unfortunately, all political parties have played a part in converting it to a party House, but the fact is that all of the States have equal representation in the Senate.
The aspect of flood damage that worries me is the tendency we have to bursts of enthusiasm when the country is faced with a tremendous calamity such as that which has befallen parts of Australia recently.
All parties and all governments have shared these bursts of enthusiasm to do something to remedy the situation, but something much , greater is needed if this debate is to serve any useful purpose. I recognize what this Government has done, but actually it has done no more and no less than have previous governments. Army “ ducks “ were used in Victoria in 1945-46 when disastrous floods hit Koroit. Assistance was given to the afflicted people on a £l-for-£l basis, and there were public appeals for their benefit. No doubt similar action will be taken this time, and I am sure that the Minister for National Developmet (Senator Spooner) will do all that he has promised and, possibly, more. But 1 ask honorable senators: Will that relieve the position?
Some newspapers have estimated that the floods have caused damage totalling about £10,000,000 in the area where Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales join. What concerns me is that possibly the people will say that if they can get enough money, they will re-establish themselves as they were before, but we should ask ourselves whether any individual State, or the affected States collectively, can do anything to meet the situation. Have they sufficient resources to cure or minimize the affliction caused by floods which recur from time to time? I compliment Senator Laught on his suggestion that an overall scheme should be devised to finance schemes for solving this problem. It is ridiculous to think that the States alone can achieve that end. It is true, as the Minister has said, that the States may be jealous of their rights and sovereign powers, but I would be very surprised if the three eastern States refused to give the Commonwealth the required powers if the Australian Government decided to take action. They would also give the Commonwealth all the information it required to devise a scheme to minimize the tragic consequences of the flood.
I express myself in that way because we would be extremely optimistic if we thought that we could cure this affliction. With every flood, there is loss of life and property and the nation suffers an economic setback by the loss of employment and interruptions to railways and other communications, in addition to the ‘economic loss caused by the diversion of man-power and materials to fight the floods. This debate will serve no useful purpose if we merely describe what has happened in the floodstricken areas. I say that with all respect to those who have taken the trouble to visit the flooded areas. They can tell a harrowing story of what they have seen, but that will not help. Are we going to close this debate without at least putting forward some plan? Floods will occur again in the future, and some will be as big as the flood that is now sweeping the country. I believe that the Government should act, and I am not saying that in a political sense. I use the term “ government” because the Government has the necessary power.
– You are not political, are you?
– 1 am not, and 1 have attempted to keep away from party politics. Those honorable senators who have listened to me since I began my speech, and who have been in the chamber all the time I have been speaking, would not interject. Senator Scott has been in the chamber for only a minute or two. He has picked out one word and fallen into a trap.
– I have heard you hundreds of times.
– I do not mind if my friend wants to interject, but I wish he had been in the chamber when I began so that he would know the trend of my remarks. I listened with great interest to the speech of the Minister for National Development, but I have one regret. He made the important statement that if the States put forward a scheme, the Government would give it consideration. I would have been very pleased if he had said that the Government would agree to help the States to put forward a scheme. We must realize that, financially, the task is beyond any State. The party that controls the National Parliament controls the national revenue. The budget that has been presented to-night showed how much money is to go to the States for various works. We have to ask ourselves whether we should allow the river flats to be used for cultivation and agriculture in view of the recurring floods. Should certain areas be taken out of cultivation? We have to know. I know that in some States the governments have placed ex-servicemen on this land.
– lt is highly productive.
– That may be so; but is it economic for the Commonwealth and the States to allow such land to continue to be used? If it is an economic proposition to have those areas cultivated, then let us at least discover some method of minimizing the losses caused by floods. 1 have read statements that the western part of the town of Kempsey in the Hunter Valley should be moved because of flood dangers. When all is said and done, in order to enlarge the Hume Reservoir we moved the whole of the town of Tallangatta. So, if some dwellings should be moved from the low part of Kempsey to higher land, it would not be such a difficult job. 1 hope that honorable senators will not rise in this place when flood after flood has occurred and merely say how frightful they are, and that each government in turn will continue to compensate people for a part of the damage that they have suffered. No matter who may suffer because of floods, whether he is a primary producer, a shopkeeper or anyone else, he will not be as well off after a flood as he would have been if the flood had not occurred.
I believe that some fund should be raised to help flood victims, as suggested by Senator Laught. In the western parts of Victoria some people have grouped together and agreed to levy themselves to provide a certain amount of money to drain their lands. The Government subsidized such persons, sometimes to the extent of £7 to <£1, and drainage schemes have been carried out to bring large areas of land into use. This debate will serve a very useful purpose if it results in the submission of a definite scheme for flood mitigation. The Commonwealth has the money, and it should invite the States concerned - that is the three eastern States and South Australia - to a conference to attempt to devise a scheme to combat floods. According to Professor C. H. Munro of the New South Wales University of Technology, flood control planning in this country is impracticable because we have not sufficient data to work on. If that is so, let us attempt to obtain the necessary data.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I agree with the statement made by Senator Kennelly about the bursts of enthusiasm among honorable senators during debates such as this, and I remind myself of the discussions we have had in the past after suffering a series of droughts. We think then of the vast amount of erosion that takes place in various parts of Australia, and enthusiastically advocate that such problems should be tackled on a national scale. I am of the opinion that soil erosion, bush-fires and floods should all be tackled on a national scale. It is useless to suggest that such matters should be dealt with locally, because they are problems that are with us all the time. To solve them we shall need to expend a tremendous amount of money and determination, and spend a great deal of time in research.
The catastrophe that has overtaken the people who live along the river Murray and its tributaries should be approached with a short-term outlook. We are prone to look upon this flood as one that could have been prevented, but we should remember that the watershed of the river Murray is one of the greatest in the world. It extends over thousands of square miles and through three States. Recently, exceptional weather conditions over that watershed have resulted in floods that are probably unprecedented except for the floods in 1870. 1 suggest that it would be impossible to prevent completely the floods that have taken place, and I do not say that in an attempt to undermine the earnest endeavours made to suggest ways of mitigating the floods. Weather conditions over the river Murray watershed have been so exceptional that we can do virtually nothing to counter them.
We can talk as much as we like about damming streams, but a flood of this nature can be subject to very little control. Therefore, we should take measures to meet the immediate situation. Recently, I visited Renmark and had the opportunity to inform myself of the difficult circumstances under which the people there are living at the present time and which they are likely to experience for many months to come. I have also had discussions with the Minister in charge of the flood emergency in South Australia, and have been given some very useful information about what has been achieved by the State Government in a a attempt to alleviate distress at Renmark and other places along the river Murray in South Australia.
– Too little, too late.
– Nothing of the kind. The State Government has done all in its power to alleviate the distress, and everything possible to build up the levees. These floods are slow-creeping things. The settlers had warning that the river would be very high, and from the outset they concentrated their efforts on the strengthening and raising of levees to keep this vast river under control. To a large extent they have been successful. Honorable senators must remember that this river is one of the greatest physical forces that can be imagined. A vast volume of water is concentrated into one stream in our State. The rich fruit-growing areas adjacent to its banks were threatened with inundation, and the work achieved by the State Government and voluntary workers at Renmark and elsewhere has been nothing short of magnificent. I have no hesitation in paying the highest tribute to all these people - the voluntary helpers and the governments concerned, particularly the State Government, and the present Federal Government for the help it rendered to the State. The magnitude of this matter is beyond description. During my visit to Renmark - a town which could be described only as besieged - the government officers conducting the fight against the creeping insidious menace of rising water had nothing but praise for the assistance received from the State Government and the voluntary workers throughout South Australia.
I wish to point out some of the features of this work. In some places in South Australia the water level of the river Murray is 27 feet higher than normal. All requests for men, materials and plant have been met by the State and Commonwealth governments. Children from the flooded schools have been smoothly transferred to other schools. As roads and ferries have been put out of commission, alternative routes have been provided. A relief organization has been set up to look after distressed persons and to arrange for the agistment of dairy cattle. Thousands of dairy cattle are being transferred to adjacent areas. Fortunately, South Australia has had a wonderful season and there is no great difficulty in agisting cattle. All these matters are well in hand, and I have no doubt that further arrangements will be made to see that production from the milking cattle which formerly grazed on the swamps of the Murray, will be maintained. Specialists in irrigation and drainage have been made available to all areas concerned. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department and the Department of the Army have rendered extremely valuable assitance. Vast quantities of plant have been supplied for the erection and strengthening of levees.
As to the work which has been done on. levees, everyone who visits the flooded areas is impressed by the tremendous problem which confronts the settlers who are resisting the spread of the waters. I saw with my own eyes the sort of work that has to be undertaken to prevent levees from giving way under the enormous pressure of water. Thousands of tons of water are being held back by newly-erected levee banks. I read in the press that, unfortunately, one of the levee banks which protected a wide area of highly productive country was giving way. Much of this country is worth from £600 to £700 an acre. It is covered with orchards and vineyards and is highly developed, and it produces a large proportion of the natural wealth of Australia. These levees have to be patrolled and maintained and strengthened, and if a seepage occurs it cannot be blocked from the outside. The problem is to probe from the inside to find where the jet of water is leaking through, and men are often working up to their waists in bitterly cold water trying to find the leak and stop it. More than 1,000,000 sandbags have been sent to these areas to strengthen the levee banks and to prevent the water of this great river from spreading. I pay my tribute to the short-term work of this kind that has been going on consistently over the weeks, and will continue over the next few months until the river resumed its normal level.
I congratulate Senator Toohey on his well-chosen remarks in dealing with this subject. Some of his suggestions are well worthy of consideration. He said that the labour position and the housing needs of displaced families should be examined. He pointed out that a large number of rural workers, who had been forced out of their jobs because orchards were inundated, could be given constant employment in the vital maintenance work on the levee banks in the flooded areas. The banks must be kept under constant supervision, and it would be a sound proposition to retain the displaced men in those areas, doing this work. The honorable senator’s suggestion about housing is also worthy of consideration.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– Once again, many settlers have suffered losses, and their properties have been devastated, because of floods. Fortunately, on this occasion, no lives have been lost. Those of us who have seen the enormous damage that has occurred in this great national disaster can sympathize deeply with those affected. My heart goes out to them because I know something of the tremendous misery and suffering in which they have been involved.
I am sorry to introduce a discordant note, but I am not impressed with the resolution that has been brought before the Senate to-day by Senator Gorton. It was my duty some eighteen months ago to direct the attention of the Senate to an even greater flood disaster in the Hunter Valley. On that occasion, I put before this chamber a suggestion that the time had arrived when we ought to take preventive measures against these recurring disasters. I felt that nobody was better placed to investigate this problem and report back to the National Parliament on what steps ought to be taken than a select committee of the Senate. But on that occasion only one senator on the Government side felt that the havoc right throughout New South Wales had been such as to warrant him to get on his feet and offer a comment on the suggestion I made.
So, to-night, I am not at all impressed by the resolution that Senator Gorton has brought forward. What does the resolution mean? It simply urges the Government to do something. Honorable senators opposite, despite their grave responsibility to the people they represent, are prepared merely to . urge their colleagues, in view of the disasters caused by floods, to do something about this problem. When the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) says that he has done all he can and is not prepared to do anything more but expects the States to do something, honorable senators opposite remain silent and are not prepared to criticize their Minister for his inaction.
To me these recurring disasters are a grave reflection on the members of - this Senate who allow them to occur year after year without taking some steps to alleviate the position. Senator Laught to-night made a suggestion that some protection along the lines of war damage insurance should be introduced. When I made a similar suggestion some eighteen months ago, not one honorable senator opposite was prepared to admit there was something in it. In merely urging the Government to do something about this problem, honorable senators opposite are falling down on their responsibility to those people who are again suffering a great disaster because of floods. When I spoke previously on this subject it was suggested that I should not allow party-political influence to creep into the discussion. I challenge any honorable senator to point out where I introduced the slightest party-political influence into the debate on that occasion. But to-night, honorable senators on the Government side say that the time has long passed when we ought to do something about this problem and when we ought to be planning to prevent these things from recurring. Even the Minister himself has said that we ought to do something in the way of planning, but not one honorable senator opposite is prepared to suggest any substantial scheme.
I do not doubt the sincerity of Senator Gorton, but it is very peculiar that tonight when he brings this subject forward member after member on the Government side sympathizes with him, although eighteen months ago when a greater disaster occurred not one of them was prepared to offer any comment. To-night, also, an honorable senator from South Australia stated that there are two important problems which ought to be tackled immediately. He said that unemployed men in this area are being sent to Adelaide because they cannot obtain employment. I have not heard any honorable senator opposite urge upon the Minister that he take immediate action on that point.
– Senator Hannaford did so a short while ago.
– Yes, but he was the first honorable senator opposite to mention it and I commend him for doing so. I may be a little bitter on this subject, but I have seen the great havoc that has been wrought by floods. I know what it means, yet, when, eighteen months ago, I put to the Senate, in all sincerity, that we do something to prevent these disasters from recurring, every honorable senator on the Government side remained silent and was not prepared to comment. To-night, when a senator from South Australia said that something ought to be done immediately about unemployment, no suggestion came from Government senators with the exception of Senator Hannaford. He also pointed out the grave problem of accommodation. That again is a practical matter about which Government senators should urge their Minister to do something, but it has been allowed to pass through to the slips without comment.
Floods are natural disasters that befall the Australian people from time after time. It is useless to ask State governments to accept sole responsibility for dealing with such disasters when we know that those governments are living from hand to mouth to-day and are unable, without the assistance of the Commonwealth Government, to develop an effective plan for that purpose. In my own district of Newcastle we have the spectacle now of private citizens, acting in conjunction with university professors, setting up an organization to study the problem. They have already suffered grave financial disabilities but they are now forced to try to find money to enable them to study the problem in the Hunter River valley and to devise means of removing this menace from that area. It is a very wrong position for the people of the Hunter valley to be placed in. This National Parliament, knowing that millions of pounds’ worth of damage is caused year after year, could well see that a few thousand pounds is spent in investigating this problem in order to find ways of preventing floods.
– We cannot do anything about it.
– The honorable senator says that we cannot do anything about it. At the moment in Newcastle the first plan has been put forward but it is said that it will take six years before the problem is fully investigated and a definite plan adopted. However, private citizens are already taking steps to find out just what causes floods in the Hunter River valley.
– It is the rain.
– Obviously, it is the rain. Without rain we would not have the water, but the rain can be controlled. With proper planning something can be done. Surely to goodness we shall not merely throw up our hands and say, “ This has happened for 100 years; nothing can be done about it. When people are drowned or lose all their property we will have a look at the problem and see if we can meet the State Government £1 for £1 in repairing the damage”. If we allow these great disasters to leave so small a scar on our memories that after to-night’s debate we do nothing about the matter, we shall be recreant to the responsibility we accepted when we were elected to the Senate.
– Did not the Commonwealth grant to New South Wales an additional £2,000,000 for flood relief purposes?
– I believe that it did do so, but surely the honorable senator’s mind is not so small that he believes that that amount would enable New South Wales to do very much in that direction. But do not let us engage in party politics; do not let us engage in petty arguments as to whether or not that amount was adequate. The people of Australia have been confronted with this grave problem time after time. In addition, other national disasters, such as droughts and extensive bush fires, have ruined many people. Up to date, we in the National Parliament have not been big enough to find some way of coping with the problem. The people should be assured that, in the event of a national disaster overtaking them, the Commonwealth has in existence plans to get them out of their difficulties. We should try to evolve means of preventing these recurring disasters, but failing prevention, we should make plans to rehabilitate those affected by them. I think that this observation epitomizes the discussion that has taken place on this subject. Let us really do something about the problem, not merely make pious speeches in this chamber and then forget the matter until another disaster occurs.
The problem that we are debating presents a grave challenge to us. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) merely stated that if the South Australian Government submitted a plan for tackling the problem the Commonwealth would have a look at it. I believe that the responsibility of the National Parliament extends far beyond having a look at a plan submitted by a State government, and I urge Government senators to insist on the Minister doing something constructive in the matter.
– I was amazed to hear Senator Arnold say that the motion is not a constructive effort to urge the Government to do something to obviate recurring floods. The mover of the motion (Senator Gorton) did exactly that. He outlined what could be done to, alleviate the situation and to make plans for the future. I am very pleased to be able to support the motion. I should also like to extend my sympathy to the people who are suffering from the very great flood damage, and to say how much I admire the great spirit that they have evinced during their troubles.
In common with other South Australian senators who have spoken during this debate, I have recently visited the flooded areas, and I intend to go there again in the near future. I have also flown over the flooded areas of South Australia, as well as some in New South Wales and Victoria. From my observations, I have been able to realize the vastness of the national problem with which we are confronted.
Last week, I accepted an invitation that was extended to me by the Murray Valley Development League to attend its annual conference in Melbourne in order to hear the suggestions made by delegates towards alleviating this disaster, and towards planning against a recurrence in the future. I was very impressed with some of their constructive thinking, and I believe that some of their views should be placed before the Senate. Unlike Senator Arnold, I shall not criticize what has been done to alleviate the plight of the victims of the present disaster, because I believe that a tremendous amount has been done by everybody concerned. The Commonwealth Government has done all that it has been asked to do, and only this morning the Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden) stated in another place that the Commonwealth would do more when information was received from the States, showing the full extent of the damage. The State governments have done a tremendousamount of work to meet the emergencyLocal governing authorities, also, should be; congratulated on the tremendous effort that, they have made. In many instances, they have almost bankrupted themselves in fighting this great disaster.
Another thing that should be mentioned! is that whole communities in the flooded! areas have been mobilized to fight the: floods. Men, women and children are all: playing their part and performing miraclesof work and perserverance. It has been suggested that an ad hoc committee should be appointed to take evidence of what is. happening in the flooded areas. I fully support that idea. I believe that most of the things that can be done are, in fact, being done, and will continue to be done,, so that I shall not devote very much timeto that aspect of the matter. However, I! should like to address myself to some of the long-range views which, I think, the: mover of the motion put forward in his plan. Senator Gorton made it clear that we cannot avert floods; we can only plan to ease them by maintaining a more even flow of the waters. Therefore, I support, the idea that a committee should be: appointed. The Minister for National! Development (Senator Spooner) stated that-: he would like the States to make the first: move. I should like to see the Commonwealth take the initiative by calling together State representatives in order to discuss the; situation in general. Some speakers during this debate have omitted to refer to the position in Queensland. I believe that Queensland should be represented on such a committee, because if flood prevention measures are to be effective they must begin in that State.
One of the problems that the proposed committee should consider relates to irrigation in dry seasons and flood mitigation in wet seasons. It is the flood mitigation problem that we are discussing to-night. Therefore, I shall enlarge upon that aspect of the matter. I believe that there are four, ways of mitigating floods. The first is to delay the run-off, and keep the water in the catchment area. Every tree that is cleared and every blade of grass that is removed accelerates the flow of water from the catchment area. This morning, in another place, 1 heard a Minister say that the States should carry the responsibility of protecting the State catchment areas. Unfortunately, I do not think that they always carry out the job that they should do in this respect. Therefore, I strongly support the appointment of a committee which could prod the States into performing their proper duties in this regard. There are four main factors to be watched. The first is in relation to grazing. I believe that the Kosciusko Park Trust has resolved that grazing shall not be permitted in the area controlled by the Trust, but nobody is enforcing that decision. It is imperative that grazing in the area should be stopped immediately. Secondly, the graziers in that area tend to burn off the grass in order to promote its rapid growth in the next season. That, also, adds to the erosion and accelerates the flow of water from the area. Afforestation, as Senator Laught has said, has an extremely important bearing on the matter. Every encouragement should be given to reafforestation. The fourth factor relates to the tourist industry. Tourists drive their cars and trucks over soil which is still damp, thus making wheel tracks which immediately start further erosion. These are all problems that should be dealt with by the committee in seeking to delay and reduce the run-off.
The second matter that should be discussed by the committee relates to the containing of some of the flood waters in controlled storage areas. That, of course, would entail a very considerable outlay. As there are very few areas in which such a scheme could be undertaken, it would have a limited range, but it could still help in the control of floods. A third matter that could be discussed would be the improvement of the channels in the rivers, which could be done in four ways. The banks could be protected, the rivers could be dredged to clear them of snags, there could be prevention of the restriction of the flow of water, and there could be a straightening of and a diversion of some of the waters in the main channels. The fourth matter, as Senator Gorton has stated, relates to the protection of some areas by the erection of levees. Of course, it is necessary to ensure that there is not too much building of levees with consequent over-restriction in some of the dangerous areas.
I should like to see such a committee ask the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority how it proposes to allow the water through its power stations when the rivers are augmented by the flow of water from the Snowy River. I should like to see such a committee also draw up a policy in relation to catchment areas in order to ensure that the States carry out their responsibilities in those areas. Moreover, as I said before, I should like to see it investigate the waters in the Upper Darling River with a view to ensuring that there is not an uninterrupted flow of water from the Darling into South Australia. I feel very seriously that there is great scope for a committee to take up all these matters from a national viewpoint and to endeavour to see that each State shall carry out its responsibility. I have great pleasure in supporting the motion.
– I wish to pay a tribute to the voluntary work that is being done, not only in Victoria and South Australia, but also in New South Wales. I thought the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) could have mentioned that the Mumimbidgee River also had been in flood and that the people in part of the Riverina including Hay, Balranald and Wentworth had suffered extreme damage, and that the voluntary effort there had been just as great as that in Victoria and South Australia. I agree with the statement of Senator Buttfield that this is a national problem which calls for national action. It is a responsibility of the National Parliament and I think we agree unanimously that such disasters transcend all party political considerations. But to-night we have been dealing with the effects of the floods. Senator Laught’s suggestion about the establishment of an organization similar to the war damage insurance organization that operated during World War II. is a good one, but we need to go further than that.
I agree with the suggestion that Queens: land could properly be brought into the consultation, and that the governments of that State, Victoria, New South Wales,
South Australia, and the Commonwealth Government should commence an investigation. The Minister suggested that we should collate the information relating to the results of the 1949, 1950, 1951 and the 1956 floods, and also seek the views of the shire councils and municipal authorities about the best methods of dealing with such disasters. But more than that is required. Also needed is the advice of the best engineers in the Commonwealth, and a survey, not merely of South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland or Victoria, but of the whole of the water resources of this great Commonwealth. Until the problem is attacked on a national basis with the co-operation of the States, there will be no chance of obtaining a solution of if. Other kinds of disasters have been mentioned, the damage from which can be mitigated to a considerable degree. The effects of drought can be mitigated by the conservation of fodder and, in the case of bush fires, there have been built up in country areas local bush fire organizations in an effort to minimize damage. But in relation to floods we have no similar oganization, and only when a particular State, be it South Australia, New South Wales or Victoria, is smitten, are levees built to protect the townships through which or adjacent to which the rivers run.
I extend my heartfelt sympathy to those persons at Renmark who have suffered so greatly, but let me remind the Senate that in areas like the Riverina a considerable number of stock, lambs and ewes has been lost or has suffered from foot rot and other complications as a result of the floods. Every animal and every flock that is lost is a national loss. We must try to protect the people in the Riverina. The water has spread for 50, 60 and even 100 miles across the land. I am not so much concerned about the big graziers who probably have enough behind them to meet the situation, but I am concerned about the small farmers who have lost their stock or whose crops have been destroyed or who, if they have not lost their crops, have been unable to sow new crops.
Senator Hannaford has suggested that the Government is adopting short-term measures to overcome the difficulty. It is not a matter for short-term measures; rather is it one for national investigation at the earliest possible opportunity in cooperation with the States that are affected. It is the responsibility of the National Parliament to initiate that investigation. It should not be left to the States in which people have suffered from floods. It is a national responsibility. The Commonwealth should initiate the investigation, in co-operation with the States affected. The subject is of such importance that the best brains available should be brought to bear upon it. If we cannot solve the problem, we may be able to mitigate floods to such an extent that there will be no further losses of life and national losses. Even in this disaster there has, unfortunately, been loss of life.
I again wish to pay tribute to the volunteer forces that have worked so well both day and night. I wish also to express my appreciation to the Army authorities. I made representations to the Army in Sydney and, as a result of those representations, Army personnel rendered great assistance during the floods in the Riverina. I express my appreciation of that help. I hope that the Government will take steps as soon as possible to initiate an investigation, the results of which may enable us at least to mitigate disasters of the kind that we have experienced so often.
– 1 rise to express my sympathy with the victims of this flood and my appreciation of the voluntary workers and other workers who have done so much to mitigate the disaster. I have listened to a great deal of the debate, and I am happy to know that excellent suggestions have been made by everyone who has spoken. I have nothing to add to any of the proposals that have been made for immediate relief. That subject has been very well canvassed already. Some of the suggestions put forward will have to be examined carefully, because there may be something in them.
I wish to address myself to the possibility of a long-term plan for controlling floods and for preventing floods from damaging property. That is a most difficult task. If we have a given amount of water, it has to get away somewhere. We cannot just make it vanish into thin air - although I would not put even that beyond the bounds of possibility in the future, now that experimentation is going so far and is confounding so many of our ideas. At lunchtime, 1 listened to some ingenious suggestions for controlling floods. My first inclination was to compare them with the plans of the White Knight in “ Alice Thro’ the Looking Glass “. He had a plan to keep the Menai Bridge from rusting by boiling it in wine. During the lunchtime discussion, one gentleman proposed the diversion of water, round about Renmark, so that it would get ultimately to Lake Eyre. Suggestions like that sound fantastic, but a tremendous amount of knowledge is required to test them. lt occurred to me that it might be possible to have a system of flood control in the Lachlan, Darling and Murray basins, because of the great slowness, if I may use that term, with which the waters of those rivers advance. They are different in that respect from coastal rivers such as the Hunter, which has been instanced to-night. The flood waters of the coastal rivers come suddenly and get away reasonably quickly. 1 have seen something of floods there. I have been on the Clarence when it has been in full flood. I remember being at Menindie some years ago. The Darling was at its ordinary summer level. It was a peaceful stream. I could have rowed a boat on it. It was not as wide as the Yarra. It was not a great river, but it was a respectable river. I was told that if I came back in six weeks I should see it in flood. Six weeks, mind you! There had been no rain anywhere in New South Wales, but there had been heavy rain in the areas drained by the tributaries in Queensland. After six weeks, I went back to Menindie. I was living at Broken Hill at the time. When I went back, I saw that the Darling was in full flood and that outside the town there was an enormous lake. lt happened that about a month ago I was flying from Broken Hill to Sydney. We went from Broken Hill to Mildura and then we followed the Murrumbidgee. We went over several towns and finally went on to Sydney. I saw from the air what this flood was like. Of course, I did not see the privations and the hazards suffered by the unfortunate people meeting the flood, but we flew low enough for me to realize the enormous extent of it. Land that I had seen several years before as perfectly dry land was just a quagmire. The idea that struck me was that if we knew the contours of the land, possibly we could devise a scheme by which water could be diverted, perhaps by a system of locks. A scheme for a system of locks along the Darling was put forward many years ago. It was a practicable scheme and I think it would have been put into operation then if it could have been made profitable. The idea was to use the system of locks partly for flood control and partly for irrigation, but in dealing with irrigation one has to consider markets, transport and all kinds of other things. The scheme never eventuated, but I think it will do so eventually. In my flight over the area, I saw some great lakes. It seemed to me that, with a system of locks, possibly we could divert water into large areas of comparatively arid and not very useful land.
The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has pointed out the dilemma that confronts us when we have a system of dams. If we are going to use them for irrigation and for hydro-electric purposes, we must keep the dams full, but if we want to use them for flood control, they must be empty. However, I think that a system could be worked out, in view of the slowness with which these rivers flow. On the occasion that I have referred to, I was told that the Darling would be in flood within six weeks. I think that in some cases, a flood can be forecast almost as far ahead as three months. If there were a system of locks and dams, they could be emptied in time to be used as a flood prevention measure. Unless there were an entirely unprecedented flood, probably a system of control could be worked out.
The Commonwealth could very well spend money on research for the purpose of discovering means to mitigate the terrors of floods. There is the system of storing water and letting it out before a flood comes. There is the system of high levees. That has been tried in many countries. We have tried it on our own rivers. Apparently the Mississippi has been running for centuries high above the surrounding plain. Certainly during the whole of the time that the area, has been occupied by civilized men there have been levee banks on either side of it. We call them levees because they were first used in Louisiana, which at one time was a French colony. Re-afforestation and the growth of good grass are factors that will mitigate ordinary floods, but I do not think anything like that would have had much effect on the kind of flood that we have at present.
The contribution that 1 want to make is to suggest that federal money could very well be spent on research to find out what can be done. It may be that, with all the knowledge of engineers, geographers and people who know the terrain, it will be found that the only thing to do when a flood occurs is to get away from it. That is the position at the present time. Nevertheless, the other approach may not be worthless. However hare-brained some of the bright ideas put forward may appear to be, I think they should be investigated. There is the idea of diverting water. We are doing that already. We are diverting the waters of the Snowy into the Murray. At present, that seems rather a grim joke, but I think it is the right policy for the future. We might very well consider whether a general river policy for the whole of the Murray-Darling system could be devised. After all, it is the only extensive river system that we have away from the east coast that will enable us to develop the interior.
I hope that the Minister for National Development will consider my proposals. It may be that the proposals should go to some other body, but he is the Minister responsible for our great irrigation projects, and I believe that we must consider a system of flood control in conjunction with our plans for irrigation. I hope that I have added something constructive to the debate just as preceding speakers have done.
– I commend Senator Gorton for having brought forward the problem that is under discussion by the Senate. He set a pattern for the debate, and I am glad that it has been followed by other speakers. Since Senator Gorton opened the debate, we have heard some excellent speeches from Senators Toohey, Hannaford, Laught, Critchley and others. I agree with much that has been said by Senator Toohey, and I refer, in particular, to the labour difficulties which have arisen along the Murray River. I hope that some solution to that problem will be found. I endorse the statements that have been made by Senator Laught. The proposal that he put before the Senate was constructive and is worthy of examination. He suggested an insurance scheme in which all those who are likely to suffer from floods would be able to participate. Their contributions would form the nucleus of a fund which would be available to the Government when it was faced with a problem such as that which has arisen this year.
I discussed this matter briefly with Hie Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), and he said that it had been examined previously. No doubt good reasons were advanced why the proposal should not be adopted at that time, but even if the premiums drawn from the area concerned were not sufficient to meet an emergency such as the present disaster, they would form the nucleus of a fund which would grow as time passed. The longer the interval between floods, the faster and bigger the fund would grow. I know that the threatened areas could not meet the whole cost, but the fund suggested would be of some assistance. The contributors would feel that they had a right to make a claim on the Government for help to rehabilitate themselves and to meet their immediate losses. In spite of the statements that were made to me by the Minister in a private conversation, I hope that he will have the matter investigated again. Such a fund would be very useful when the Commonwealth and State administrations are searching for money to meet the cost of rehabilitating flood victims.
I have not been to the Murray river area during this flood. The reasons- are well known to honorable senators and to the people who are suffering. I have been out of South Australia for some time, and returned only recently, but Senator Mattner and I intend to pay an early visit to the affected areas. I believe it would be advisable for some of us to visit these areas later, when we may be able to form some estimate of the damage, and to understand what must be done to alleviate the disaster. I commend those honorable senators who have visited the area, and I recognize fully the assistance that has been so readily granted by the Commonwealth Government. Honorable senators have already referred to it, and I shall not elaborate the point, but I know the assistance that has been forthcoming has been appreciated by those who are still battling with the floods.
The Government of South Australia has done everything it could to meet the urgent needs of the people. All the requests that were made by those fighting the floods for men and material have been met by the Commonwealth and by the Government of South Australia. I listened in the South Australian Parliament recently when the Minister for Education outlined the steps that had been taken to transfer the children from the flooded areas to other schools and to house the parents of those children, if necessary, in the metropolitan area. The parents of children in the metropolitan area have responded so well to the call for help that the Minister for Education had more offers than he could accept. Agistment has been arranged for stock by a special committee, and stock has been removed from the swamp area lower down the Murray river than Renmark. Offers of agistment have been forthcoming from all parts of South Australia. The State is having a good season generally, and agistment is plentiful. 1 am pleased that requests for financial help made by the Premier of South Australia to the Commonwealth Treasurer have not fallen on deaf ears. The Acting Prime Minister (Sir Arthur Fadden), as Commonwealth Treasurer, has promised the assistance that we have a right to expect. He has informed the Premier of South Australia that a subsidy will be given on a £l-for-£l basis, and that further financial assistance will be considered when plans are submitted by the Government of South Australia. I am content with that assurance, and I am sure that the people of the Murray river district will accept the offer readily.
Senator Arnold struck a discordant note when he referred to the Commonwealth’s assistance to New South Wales four years ago. Senator Arnold said that something more than a £l-for-£l subsidy was needed, but I remind Senator Arnold that the position was met in 1955-56. The Commonwealth Government increased the tax reimbursement to New South Wales by not less than £2,000,000. What is equally important, the other State Premiers who were present when the duck was carved, agreed that the extra £2,000,000 should go to New South Wales. The pattern has been set. The Treasurer has rightly said that the States must make a contribution, but he has shown that the Commonwealth will give further financial assistance to enable the States to meet an expense which is beyond their capacity.
Since 1950-51, the Commonwealth has granted New South Wales £1,398,000 on a £l-for-£l basis, including £700,000 for road reconstruction. The Commonwealth has given Victoria about £26,000 on a £ l-for-£ 1 basis, but it has not given South Australia anything because that State has had no occasion to make a request for money until the present time. However, the pattern has been set, and I accept the assurance which the Treasurer has given direct to the Premier of South Australia, and the statements made this afternoon in this chamber by the Minister who represents the Treasurer. Nobody is able to assess the requirements of the future, but I accept the Minister’s statement that he considers that those nearest to the situation will be able to make the best recommendation about what is required. It is all very well to rise in this chamber and say in a grandiose way that this Parliament has to face up to the flood position in a realistic manner, but, surely, those closest to the area affected are the best qualified to submit plans in detail about what is required.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin). - Order! The time allowed under Standing Order 64 for this debate has expired.
Senate adjourned at 10.24 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 30 August 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1956/19560830_senate_22_s9/>.