22nd Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. M. McMullin took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister for National Development, by pointing oat that several days ago, at a function at Calder Hall, Cumberland, England, our gracious Queen pressed a switch which directed electric current from Great Britain’s first nuclear power station into the national grid system. Will the Minister, at an early date, make a considered statement to the Senate about Australia’s plans in the field of nuclear power? Further, will he say what effect the development of nuclear power stations will have upon oar already advanced plans for the generation of electric power by conventional methods?
– As it was only this morning that I assumed responsibility for the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, I prefer to leave the question unanswered until I have found out a little more about the subject than 1 know at present. .
asked the Minister representing the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, upon notice -
Will the Minister consult with the Commonweatlh Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to see if a satisfactory substitute can be discovered for paraffin wax, which is now used in the manufacture of drinking straws?
– The Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has supplied the following answer: -
Paraffin wax is undoubtedly the cheapest material which can be used for this purpose. It could be replaced by other waxes or by plastics such as polythene, but all substitutes are likely to be considerably more expensive. Paraffin wax is used in large tonnages for a variety of industrial purposes and the amount which is used in manufacture of drinking straws is relatively small. Presumably paraffin wax will be produced in Australia in increasing quantities as new petroleum refineries come into operation.
In committee: Consideration resumed f”m 18th October (vide page 751).
Department of Defence.
Proposed Vote, £890,000.
Upon which Senator Ashley had moved by way of amendment -
That the House of Representatives be requested to reduce the vote by £1.
.- During the course of the debate on the proposed vote for this department honorable senators will express their views upon not only the administration of the department i ise ,f. but also the defence of Australia, lt is interesting to read the report of the Auditor-General for the year ended 30th Juli.’ last in respect of certain occurrences within this department over a number of years. On page 67 of that report, under the heading “ Losses or Deficiencies of Public Moneys or Property “ the Auditor-General states -
In his Annual Report to the Parliament upon the Treasurers Statement of Receipts an J Expenditure for 1942-43, the then Auditor-General (Mr. R. Abercombie referring to Boards of Inquiry and losses by theft, &c. in the Department of the Army, stated (paragraph 109) -
Losses of cash and stores by theft and other causes consequent on inadequate safeguards and inefficiency have been numerous in the Department of the Army during the year. The apparent leniency of Courts of Inquiry in dealing with such matters was a rather disturbing feature in a number of instances.
It is felt that Commonwealth interests are not sufficiently protected by the existing military regulations and related procedure. By the application and interpretation of the Regulations, Army personnel not infrequently obtain freedom from action or blame where in relatively similar circumstances in the civil service the existence of deficiencies would have established negligence.
These observations hold good disregarding happenings in area’s where the stress of operational duties exist.
Continuing, the Auditor-General had this to say -
My predecessor in office (Mr. J. Brophy) commented in the Annual Report for 1954-55 as follows paragraph 100): -
Mention has been made in the last twelve Annual Reports of the need to ensure by some legislative provision more adequate recover)’ measures where members of the Army and the Royal Australian Air Force are responsible for losses of cash and stores by theft and other causes.
The Treasurer approved of this action in September, 1946, but despite discussions between the Service Departments, the Treasury and the Attorney-General’s Department the matter has not been completed at 30th June, 1955.
In December, 1955, the Department of Air obtained promulgation of a regulation (Statutory Rules 92 of 1955) under the Air Force Act 1923- 1952 dealing with the liability of members for loss caused to the Commonwealth by their neglect or misconduct. The purpose of the regulation was to provide authority for the Air Board to charge against the pay and allowances of an Air Force member, losses of public moneys or property, or the value of damage to property caused by his negligence or misconduct.
The regulation was also intended to confer on the Air Board the same powers as have been exercised by the Naval Board in respect of personnel of the Royal Australian Navy since the promulgation of Naval Financial Regulation 143a in June, 1955, and was a move towards bringing the three Service Boards - Naval, Military and Air - into line in regard to disciplinary measures against Service personnel responsible for losses or deficiencies of public moneys or property.
Disallowance of the regulation was moved by a resolution of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances on the grounds that the Air Force Act authorizes the recovery of losses by civil action only. The regulation was eventually repealed by Statutory Rules 43 of 1956 dated 23rd May, 1956.
As a result of the repeal of the Air Force regulation, the position existing in the Royal Australian Navy regarding the application of Naval Financial Regulation 143a is under consideration by the Naval Board.
The position in the Army and Air Force remains substantially the same as was reported thirteen years ago, whilst clarification is necessary as regards the Navy.
In view of the limitations placed upon the Auditor-General under section 42 of the Audit Act 1901-1955, in respect of surcharges for losses or deficiencies of public moneys or property, early action is necessary to introduce uniform conditions into the regulations of the three Services, to provide, in certain circumstances, for recovery of losses.
I think it is common knowledge that throughout the last year there have been losses through dishonesty and negligence. We are aware than an endeavour was made by the Government to take steps which would allow it to deal effectively by regulation with such dishonesty and negligence. We also know the history of that regulation. Since the regulation was rejected the Government has had ample time to introduce an act which would permit it to deal effectively with the losses and negligence referred to by the Auditor-General. After the regulation was disallowed, for technical reasons, by the Senate, its provisions could quite easily have been incorporated in a bill, which could have been introduced here and given the force of law in a proper way. J now ask the Minister in charge of this department why that action was not taken. The Auditor-General has pointed out that service departments now have insufficient means to recover lawfully losses incurred through theft and negligence. If the dishonesty proceeds unchecked, and if the negligence occurs weekly, we shall continue to have the same spectacle, and it will probably be another thirteen years before definite action is taken. This morning ] want to know from the Minister why he has not provided the service departments with the legal facilities to allow them to proceed against those persons who are responsible for theft and negligence.
– The division now before the committee relates to the vastly important. Department of Defence, for which it is proposed to appropriate the sum of £890,000. The Department of Defence, of course, is responsible for the overall defence strategy and for coordinating the activities of the various service departments and defence establishments. I can imagine only one thing that could be more important than defence, and that is effective world disarmament. I emphasize the word “ effective “. We have not reached that stage yet. When we look back over history and find that, in the past three thousand years, we have had some three thousand wars and 2,900 revolutions, we cannot help but be rather pessimistic about the future. The world has had, on an average, a war and a revolution each year, and that emphasizes the fact that we must be concerned with defence.
– Man is a fighting animal.
– Unfortunately, that is true and, as I have said in this chamber before, what he has learned best in the past three thousand years is how to wage bigger and better wars for his own extermination. There are signs in the world that we are tending towards sanity in the matter of disarmament, but we have not reached that point yet. To-day, we are forced to set a high level of defence expenditure and activity by the pressure and activities of the Communist bloc.
– - Did disarmament present World War II.?
– Nothing prevented World War II., because the war took place. Whilst we of the Australian Labour party deplore the need for defence activities, nevertheless we frankly recognize the need. Ihe Labour party makes no apologies, and . has no need to apologize, for its activities in connexion with the defence of Australia. I merely point to the fact that we successfully saw this country through total war from 1941 to the end of hostilities.
– Ramsay MacDonald’s disarmament of Britain brought on World War II.
– Many factors <bring about war. The Australian Labour party has demonstrated, not only to Australia, but also to the world that it is very properly and primarily concerned with the defence of Australia. It is a first priority to ensure our continued existence as a -nation. Labour recognizes that fact, and nobody can decry the effort that has been made by the Labour party to that end. We recognize, also, that we have various commitments, apart from the need to defend our own country. We acknowledge our commitments to the British Commonwealth of Nations, and under regional pacts made by Australia with other countries. We recognize our obligations to the United Nations organization. Under those three heads we have specific international obligations. We recognize, also, the need to provide for any foreseeable eventuality, such as the Suez crisis which came suddenly out of a clear sky. Other similar crises might arise tomorrow.
I propose to discuss now the immediate difficulties of Australia. In the light of what has happened recently, the people are alarmed and disturbed by the state of our defences. I propose to put before the committee some of the reasons for this alarm, and I think it will be clear, before I conclude, that all of them are based upon the words and the actions of this Government and its advisers and supporters. There is no need for me to go beyond those people in order to justify the concern that the community feels at the moment.
The first point I make is this: Why is there a need for all these service Ministers, eleven years after the end of the war? Have we not reached the stage at which all of these ministries should be co-ordinated? Why do we need separate administrations for defence, the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, supply, defence production and other services? Is it not time that those functions were co-ordinated under one, two, or even three, Ministers, instead of having separate ministries for all of them? As the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) indicated recently, during the last six years this Government has spent £1,031,000,000 on the defence of the country. It comes as a shock to find that 68 per cent, of that amount has been spent on completely expendable matters - mainly on the pay and maintenance of the services. In other words, £707,000,000 of the £1,031,000,000 has gone in that way. There is nothing tangible or physical to show for it, apart from the fact that there has been training of personnel.
– That would include equipment and stores.
– There are maintenance equipment and stores only in that. Buildings, reserves and capital equipment account for 32 per cent., or £324,000,000 of the total. Of that £324,000,000, only £226,000,000 has been spent on capital equipment. That is not only the position now; it was also the position back in 1953, as was disclosed by the National Security Resources Board. The people of Australia, looking at that record of expenditure, are concerned to know just what they have received for it in practical additions to the physical defences of Australia. Presently I hope to show, by reference to statements by the Government, that there is very little to show for it.
I wish to refer to some of the criticisms that have been directed at the Government’s defence policy. First, let me refer to comments of the Public Accounts Committee in its 20th and 25th reports, which were tabled very recently in this Parliament. In those reports, the committee refers to the grievous over-estimating in connexion with defence establishments, to calling for additional funds in the course of a financial year and, above all, to deficiencies in co-ordination between the various departments. Those matters are highlighted particularly in the 25th report by references to the estimates for 1953-54 and 1954-55 of the Department of Works. The committee points out that, in 1953-54, the Estimates provided for expenditure of £16,322.000, but only £9,841,000 was spent, a piece of grievous over-estimating. In the following year, 1954-55, the Estimates provided for expenditure of £13,144,000, and only £8,621,00J was spent. The amazing fact emerges, in paragraphs 77 and 78 of the report, that the Department of Works did not know itself how the £13,144,000 got into the Estimates under ils vote. The department’s programme indicated expenditure of only £9.500.000, and yet, without the knowledge of the department charged with the expenditure, an amount of £13,144,000 found its way into its estimates.
If honorable senators care to refer to pages 39 and 40 of the 25th report of the committee, they will find a record of those events. The Department of Works advised the Public Accounts Committee -
A search has been made of Departmental files but the origin of £13,144,000 is not apparent from the files. lt is little wonder that, in paragraph 78, the committee says, “ The position is profoundly unsatisfactory “. lt concluded in paragraph 81 with this very trenchant commentary -
We are led inescapably to the conclusion that where the defence departments and the Department of Works have to co-operate, there is a serious absence of co-ordination.
There is a most powerful condemnation of the defence activities of this country - carelessness in estimating, grievous error, and finally, an absence of co-ordination. That is the fear that the Opposition and the people of Australia have - that there is no competent control of defence, that departments are running along loosely without direction and cohesive planning. That is supported by this report of the Public Accounts Committee.
I come next to the evidence given before that committee in August by Sir Frederick Shedden, the Secretary of the Department of Defence, who indicated very plainly that the country was not ready for mobilization, either in 1953 or when he spoke in August of this year, only two months ago.
– What does the honorable member mean by “ mobilization “?
– I take it to mean what the Prime Minister said it meant in 1950 when he stated that the country had to be ready for war, not after it broke out, but on the very day it broke out. They are the exact words that he used in 1950 when he foretold war in 1953. 1 say to the honorable senator that 1 take his own Prime Minister’s definition. What the Prime Minister had in mind is completely clear. It is completely clear what he told this country would take place.
– Did he say that there would be war?
– He indicated that we could not waste one minute. He stated that we had to be ready for war in three years, and not one day later.
– The honorable senator should be accurate.
– I have put the Prime Minister’s position clearly and accurately. Honorable senators know that perfectly well. At all even’s the Secretary of the Department of Defence indicated that the country was not ready for mobolization and has not been ready for mobilization at any time during the past six years, despite the objective of this Government, announced to the world, that it did intend so to have the country placed.
The next point that I make in quoting criticism from public servants and those connected with the defence forces is what Wing-Commander Wackett had to say regarding the failure of the Government to replace the present aircraft production with another type or model. 1 am referring now to his statement which was published in the press on 10th August. The report is as follows: -
The Commonwealth Government’s deadline foi naming an Australian-made successor to the Sabre jet fighter was gone, the manager of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Sir Lawrence Wackett, said to-day. A delay in production of a new type aircraft when the Sabre order ended was now unavoidable. Sir Lawrence said it would be about a year before the last new Sabre rolled off the production line at Fishermen’s Bend. The corporation would probably have to make aircraft spares during the expected production gap
The question that arises is, “ What is the Government’s policy in relation to aircraft production? “ The Government, obviously, has been asked by the chairman of the corporation, a former Chief of the Air
Staff, for a lead as to what would be the activity of the department. That lead has not been given. There is an obvious absence of knowledge and planning as to where we are going. That is not the only instance. 1 refer also to a press statement made on 18th September by the Director of Civil Defence, Brigadier Wardell, on a matter that comes under this department in that it is all part of defence. We have had a most remarkable crescendo of criticism from people connected directly with the defence of this country. Brigadier Wardell said that an atomic attack on Australia would find us “ almost completely unprepared “. What an indictment, not of the activities of this Government, but of its inaction - unfortunately, an inaction that is characteristic of it in a good many more fields than defence!
– Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– As no other honorable senator has risen I shall take my second period of fifteen minutes. 1 know it is the wish of the Leader of the Government in the Senate that the defence Estimates be dealt with today in order to avoid bringing the officers concerned back again. I hope to restrict my remarks to a very small compass from now on. Brigadier Wardell said further that plans to protect Melbourne and other cities had been before the Commonwealth Government for well over a year, but that so far no decision had been made. Unfortunately, that is the trouble about the defences of this country - the absence of decisions. These are not my words; they are the words of Brigadier Wardell, a man who is charged with responsibility in this vastly important field. To illustrate its importance, 1 point out . that he further said that tens of thousands of lives would be lost because of inadequate civil defence. Responsibility for the needless loss of tens of thousands of lives alone, if unfortunately atomic war came to this country, ought to put this Government really on its mettle. That is something which should immediately spur it into action. The brigadier continued -
Even when we are given the go-ahead by the Government, it will take three years to train 10 per cent, of the population thoroughly in civil defence. That number would be necessary to make the scheme of any value.
What an indictment it is of a government that has been in office for more than six years that the Director of Civil Defence should comment about its inactivity, with all the serious consequences that may flow from that inactivity!
Senator Benn has just referred to the report of the Auditor-General. The Auditor-General is critical on more heads than one. At page 71 of his report foi the year ended 30th June, 1956, he traces the history of “ H.M.A.S. Hobart” from 1950 - during the term of office of this Government. He said that in 1950 it was decided to modernize the vessel, and that in 1952 it was decided to make it a training cruiser. Then there was an investigation of its possible use as a head-quarters ship in Sydney. He said that in July, 1955, the decision was taken that work on “ Hobart “ should be stopped and the vessel placed in a state of .preservation. 1 direct the attention of the committee to the following paragraphs of his report on this matter: -
Expenditure to 30th June, 1956, on “ modernization “ of “ Hobart “ amounted to £1,430,637. The department estimates that it would cost approximately another £1,000,000 to finish the conversion and modernization of the vessel as a convoy cruiser.
The position is that £1,430,637 has been spent on conversion and modernization of a vessel which, because of changes in Naval policy, is now placed, in its incompleted state, in Reserve and that additional expenditure, estimated at £1,000,000, will have to be incurred before the ship can fulfil a role in the Fleet of the Royal Australian Navy.
What a record of dithering over the full period of six and a half years, pin-pointed not by me as Leader of the Opposition or as a member of the Parliament, but by the Commonwealth Auditor-General! It is very extraordinary for the Auditor-General to go outside the ambit of the accounts of the immediate year and trace the history of such matters. That is the kind of thing that disturbs the Opposition. The people of Australia are concerned when they see such dithering, such indecision, and finally, in this particular instance, such futility. We have got exactly nowhere in regard to “ Hobart “.
The Opposition is concerned, too, at the Government’s attitude to financial provisions made in respect of defence. I have adverted many times in this Senate to instance after instance of amounts of money put into trust funds. I do not have to refer to them in detail again, but 1 may mention, as illustrations, the Strategic Stores and Equipment Reserve Trust Fund, which has been shown, year after year, as containing an amount of £48,000,000; the Defence Equipment and Supplies Trust Fund, containing £20,000,000, and the Korean Operations Pool Trust Fund, with £10,000,000. There are many more millions in other trust funds established with moneys appropriated for the Department of Defence and which that department could not spend. The impression gained by members of the Opposition, and by the people of Australia, is that the Government has purported to spend a vast amount of money, merely for the sake of concealing its inactivity. Part of the concealment consisted in putting these vast amounts of money in trust funds, from which they are not expended for defence purposes, and which are used for purposes utterly unconnected with defence. They are invested, from time to time, in treasurybills, loan funds and the like. It is quite certain that if the money said to be in those trust funds was called for to-day it could not be found. If money was needed to meet an emergency, it would have to be raised by extra taxes or by floating additional loans. I do not have to tell honorable senators the difficulties that the Government would experience in trying to obtain money by either of those two means.
Sir Frederick Shedden pointed out, when he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, that at June, 1955, there was an amount of £98,000,000 in trust funds, which the department was unable to expend. I have directed attention to this matter year after year, but the former secretary of the Department of Defence himself has now made it clear that this is the fact, and the people of this country cannot help but conclude that there has been incompetence in estimating, and an utter lack of planning. This has been demonstrated by the various public officers to whom I have referred, and confirmed by recent events. When the Department of Defence was under attack on 2nd October, the Prime Minister himself asserted that the defence services of this country had never been in better shape in peace-time, but, to the absolute amazement of the people of Australia, only two days later he announced that he had sorted out his ideas on defence over the week-end, ideas that he had gleaned whilst abroad, and that there was to be a complete and immediate review ot defence from top to bottom. The Prime Minister indicated the inadequacy of our defence activities and equipment when he said, on 2nd October, in defending the Department of Defence -
We have modernized the Air Force, nol a* much as we would like-
I particularly emphasize those last words, having in mind that the Government had been in office for six and a half years -
There, out of the mouth of the Prime Minister himself, are two admissions thai condemn his Government, condemn the defence administration and justify the alarm that is felt by the Opposition. After six and a half years of government, the Prime Minister says that he is not happy about our defence equipment, either for the Army or for the Air Force, which are two vital elements in Australia’s defences. Now we are told, in the light of the review that has already taken place, that there is to be a substantial reduction of our defence production programme, and that some 3,000 employees are to be dismissed over the next few years. In other words, defence production is to be substantially reduced. I ask the Attorney-General (Senator O’sullivan) whether he can reconcile those two statements of the Prime Minister, first, that he is not happy about the equipment of the Army or the ‘Air Force, and, secondly, that our defence production activities are to be curtailed.
The problem is very largely bound up with the overall defence strategy that the Government has in mind. It is clear that the Estimates that we are now considering are outdated, because, when this amount of £890,000 was determined, no review, such as that which has recently taken place, was even contemplated. These Estimates, therefore, covering the third year of the threeyear programme announced by the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), are out of date, and that three-year programme will be completely reviewed and, presumably, jettisoned. It is very disturbing to Opposition senators to realize that we are discussing Estimates that are already out of date.
I invite the Minister, when he replies, to tell us what the Government thinks of the recruiting lag. 1 ask him to refer to the inadequate development of our physical defences. In that connexion, 1 shall refer to a reply given by the Minister for Defence earlier this year, when he was asked to make a comparison between our defence preparedness in June, 1950, and that of 1956. He said, at that time, that whereas in June, 1950, the Navy had 24 front-line aircraft, it now has 40. In 1950, there were 22 naval vessels in commission, but in 1956 there are 24 - only two more, and one aircraft carrier fewer than we had in 1950. The Air Force had 360 front-line aircraft in June, 1950, and now it has 388. Certainly, they are of different types, and, perhaps, I could concede that they are improved types. There is, obviously, however, every reason for alarm when we find that, after six and a half years of this Government’s administration, we have only two more naval vessels and 28 more frontline aircraft, even though, in that period, we have spent £1,031,000,000 on defence. That does give us grave cause for concern. 1 conclude by asking the Minister what is the overall plan for Australia’s defence? What is the strategy? What are the relative roles to be played by the Army, the Navy and the Air Force? What is to be our policy, for instance, for aircraft production? Will the Minister indicate just what he feels will be the future role of aircraft in the defence of Australia? I concede that one cannot look ahead more than a few years, because the situation changes so rapidly. I would like him to indicate, though, whether the Government believes that the emphasis should be placed on equipment or on personnel. What difference will nuclear activity make to our defence policy? The Government should tell us immediately why, having two years ago adopted a three-year plan, it has decided at this stage to jettison that plan completely and start afresh. Is it not obvious that the Government has made mistakes? It is obvious, not simply because 1 allege it, but from statements made by public officers of this Commonwealth. The Minister is called upon to make a complete statement about the defences of this country.
– I refer briefly to the remarks of Senator Wordsworth last evening to the effect that there were no experts in defence matters on this side of the chamber. I was appointed Minister of Aircraft Production in 1941, and early in 1942 I discovered that we were not getting the results we had a right to expect. I conferred with the late Sir Harold Clapp, who was chairman of the Aircraft Production Commission, the late Sir John Storey, Director of Department of Aircraft Production, Beaufort Division, and quite a number of others who were associated with aircraft production. I found that the experts were working at cross purposes, and that there was no teamwork. I suggested to them that we should have a conference. First, I was told that they would not take orders from me. I replied that I was not giving any orders, but that I was making a request in view of the fact that they were working at cross purposes and the Government was not getting results. I told them that I had my facts from the workshops and from others, and that they could please themselves whether they had a conference or whether I exposed the whole position on the floor of Parliament.
The conference was held, and the late Sir Harold Darling and myself were the two chief speakers, lt lasted from 3 o’clock until 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and it was a down-to-earth affair. I stated all the facts that I knew. I claimed that I was an expert as a judge of results. I conceded that they might be experts in the manufacture of aircraft, but I pointed out that they had no idea, to use Senator McKenna’s word, of co-ordination. They were divided by economic interests and, above all, by professional jealousies.
At the conference, 1 proposed that unless there was better teamwork I would advise the Government to take over certain major concerns under the National Security Act. Out of that discussion came the Aircraft Production Committee and the experts on it met around the table. They included a representative of the trade unions, the lateMr. N. Roberts, who was a first-class tradesman and, at that time, the organizer of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, a representative of the Treasury, a representative of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and representatives of those actively and prominently associated with aircraft production. That committee met weekly under the chairmanship of Mr. Essington Lewis, and teamwork. was achieved which had not been possible previously. Where experts were found to be at cross purposes the chairman, Mr. Lewis, would appoint a sub-committee, and ask it to report to the committee the following week. That technique produced successful results.
So much for the experts. I am not discrediting them, but as Senator McKenna has pointed out, and as honorable senators know for a fact, there is not that co-ordination and collaboration among the defence experts that the Government has a right to expect. In the example I have given, co-ordination would never have been achieved but for the war and its exigencies. This had an accelerating effect; it brought the experts together, and after that there was very little trouble. 1 had to straighten out another difficulty with the experts. American engines were being fitted to the Beaufort bomber, an English machine, bur the English and Australian experts would not take instructions from the American technicians. As a result, the bombers were being grounded almost as quickly as they came off the line. I stepped in again, and said to the then Chief Director of the Air Force that we would have to have a conference on this matter. I dp not want to name any one, because I am not interested in character assassination, but I wish to give honorable senators some idea of what happened. He said that he would not attend any conference, particularly with a person such as myself. I had very respectfully asked him to meet the Aircraft Production Committee, but he refused to do so. I explained the position to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, and said, “ I recommend that an inquiry be held “. Further trouble arose then because the technicians did not want to give evidence against one another in an inquiry. I persisted, and the result was that the gentleman who tried to prevent the conference being held, together with his crew, resigned and went back to England or India, or wherever they came from, and so the matter was cleared up.
In reply to Senator Wordsworth’s accusation that honorable senators on this side of the chamber lack knowledge of defence matters, I point out that to get results in the defence organization, or any other, teamwork is necessary. Where there are experts who are more or less paranoics or egocentrics men who will not work in unison with one another, pressure must be brought to bear to compel them to do so. As it is said in the Army, you must sergeantmajor them. That was done in the cases 1 have mentioned and splendid results were achieved in aircraft production.
I have mentioned on previous occasions that at that time there was not a fighter aircraft in Australia. Plenty of material and labour were available, but the machine was not being produced. The committee went to work on the Wirraways and modified the design. Subsequently, the Boomerang was produced, and it proved to be a first-class machine. Before Dunkirk, Australia could not manufacture fighter aircraft at an adequate rate, and the experts said that it would take twelve months or two years to tool up, and do everything necessary to produce Boomerang aircraft in anything like useful numbers. The blueprints for this aircraft were completed in February, and in July of the following year the machine was in the air. I claim no credit for that achievement beyond having some knowledge of human engineering, as distinct from mechanical engineering, but the experts were forced to go to work as a team, and so obtained results.
If I am any judge, Australia is in a similar position to-day with regard to defence production. There is a lack of teamwork. Whoever the responsible Ministers may be, they are in fault unless they force the experts to work as a team. They are in the same category as most people who are organizing any effort, whether it is on a job or away from it. If the Minister in charge of defence production finds he is not obtaining results, he must either challenge the experts or challenge his ministerial colleagues. He can get results without resorting to character assassination, and without being unduly personal about the matter. I feel very strongly about what has been said, because it indicates that the Government is content to revert to the status quo ante. Unless it adopts a dynamic and constructive approach, develops a bold imagination, and acts promptly and continually it will not get results.
T would say finally that Senator Ashley. Senator Hendrickson, and other honorable senators who have discussed the defence Estimates, and who have been criticized as not being experts, know just as much about the human element, which is the main element in defence, as does any former brigadier-general in the Army or any one else. 1 trust that the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) and other Opposition senators will not be received by the Government with hostility. We on this side of the Senate have everything to gain and nothing to lose by working in unity with the Government in the matter of defence. When I was Minister for Aircraft Production in the Labour government I encouraged members of the Parliament who were then in Opposition to help me when necessary. The door of my office was always open to any member of the Opposition who wished to give me his views about what should be done. There was no need for him to write for an appointment or to engage in lengthy correspondence. He had only to make a worth-while and practicable suggestion and it was adopted. I commend that example to the Government if it wants to get results.
[10.57J. - On previous occasions, I have protested in the Senate against reductions of the defence vote, and I do so once again. The speeches that have been made during the consideration of this proposed vote indicate that there is muddled thinking about the various defence departments, and that a re-organization of the defence scheme is called for. There is lack of co-ordination between the departments. One may well ask: Have we too many departments concerned with the defence of Australia? I think we have. We need more concentrated effort and better co-ordination of ideas to ensure a defence effort of which we can be proud and which will give us the security for which we look in the future. I think the proposed re-organization about which we have heard will be designed to make Australia’s defence more secure.
The vote for the Department of Air is to be increased slightly. Obviously the Government has given away the Navy, because it proposes to reduce the vote for the Department of the Navy very considerably. In that event it must be depending upon air defence, which is the most essential form of defence for Australia. But it does not propose to increase the vote for the Department of Air enough. Apparently it does not expect our air defences to be any more effective than they were last financial year. That is a great pity. We can see the results of this policy in the employment situation in defence establishments. A great many first-class tradesmen who know their jobs thoroughly have been sacked - that is not too strong a word - and will be lost to the defence effort when they go into private industry. The Government has assured us that they will find jobs in private undertakings as soon as they leave the defence establishments. I should say that they will earn more money in private industry and that it will be impossible to get them back into defence establishments unless they are conscripted for that purpose in time of war. Therefore the Government should look very closely into the dismissal of key aircraft workers and naval dockyard tradesmen. In any future war Australia will have to serve as a dock for the ships of our allies, and skilled dockyard tradesmen will be needed. We need better coordination of the activities of the various defence departments and a more balanced outlook on Australia’s defence requirements so that we may get on with the job.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) mentioned the recognition of the obligations of the Australian Labour party as a political party in a country that is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. If I remember rightly Labour still refuses to support the sending of troops to Malaya in the discharge of Australia’s obligation to defend that part of the world. Labour also believes in the recognition of red China, which would bring our first line of defence much closer to our own shores and would necessitate a considerable expansion of our defence forces and much greater activity in defence production. Formosa is an integral part of the defence plans of the United States of America and the Seato powers, and if it were abandoned we should urgently need greater production for defence, and an expansion of the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force. It is important that we remember these things.
Senator Ashley has moved that the House of Representatives be requested to reduce the proposed vote for the Department of Defence by £1 as a censure on the Government. If he had proposed that it be increased by £1 perhaps I would have been better pleased and would have supported him. But because 1 believe that the defence of Australia is of first importance, and that we are not doing enough in our defence, I must support his proposal.
– Defence expenditure last financial year amounted to £190,716,000, and the Government is asking for an appropriation of £190,000,000 for the current financial year. Senator Cole spoke in general terms about defence expenditure. He, like other Australians, is disturbed about defence. It is not sufficient for provision to be made for the expenditure of £190,000,000 in a stereotyped way. I think every Australian -citizen wants to know just where we stand on defence. I should like the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator O’sullivan) to indicate what proportion of the £190,000,000 sought for this financial year will be spent on staffs’ salaries and wages, fuel, lighting, transport charges and food for members of the forces, and then indicate clearly what proportion can be classified under a heading of capital expenditure. By that statement I mean how much will be spent upon naval construction, aircraft construction, military equipment, permanent buildings and all those things which are the warp and woof of the defence of Australia. That is what we are concerned about. We want a solid defence, and I should like the Minister to indicate the estimated capital expenditure.
As we proceed with the consideration of the Estimates and study the sums that have been spent, we become very disconcerted. A little time ago, Senator McKenna referred to a trust fund. I should like the Minister, when he is replying, to indicate the source from which moneys are obtained lo build up a trust fund. Are the funds obtained from unexpended votes each year? Do they go into the trust fund? If they do, it is a very loose form of estimating, because the Government could spend very little of a vote on capital items, put the balance into a trust fund and then say, “ Later, we will be able to spend this money “.
I turn now to the Auditor-General’s report for the year ended 30th June, 1956. Under the heading “ Store Accounting “, on page 70, he reported -
The improvement in the standard of store accounting, referred to in the Annual Report for 19S3-S4, was maintained during the year, except in respect of the following matters: -
Under the heading “ New South Wales “, he proceeded -
Results of stocktakings of stores on H.M.A. ships reported during the year showed a number of large surpluses and deficiencies. This serious decline in the overall efficiency of ships’ accounting and storekeeping is attributed mainly to the inexperience of the reduced staff available.
A review of stocktakings at depots revealed that 60 reports were awaiting investigation by the Department in connexion with the Garden Island, Randwick and Bunnerong Stores, and that reports, when finalized, frequently showed delays of up to twelve months.
No internal audit or stocktaking has been effected in respect of a class of motor vehicle spares, introduced in 1951.
Shortly before the preparation of this Report advice was received of thefts of victualling stores, believed to be extensive, from the Royal Australian Naval Air Station, Nowra. Proceedings have been instituted against a number of ratings and one civilian. When this Report was compiled departmental investigations and court proceedings were incomplete.
In respect of Victoria, he said -
A stocktaking of plant, machinery and equipment at the Naval Dockyard, Williamstown, has not been carried out for a number of years. Although repeated representations have been made to the Department, the matter was still outstanding when this Report was prepared.
In continuing to read from the AuditorGeneral’s report on these matters, I may touch upon affairs which are purely those of the Department of the Navy, but, as they are an integral part of the defence services, perhaps you, Mr. Chairman, will rule that I am entitled to do so. Under the heading “ Manus Island “ the Auditor-General reported -
Following a visit to Manus Island a departmental inspecting officer reported that storekeeping and store accounting generally were unsatisfactory at this base. Particular reference was made in his report to poor stowage of stores, inaccurate stowage records and the holding of large quantities of redundant and unserviceable stores. Insufficient staff, lack of knowledge of regulations and inadequate supervision were stated to have contributed to the unsatisfactory position. Remedial action is being taken.
In dealing with New South Wales, the AuditorGeneral commented that stocktaking of stores showed large surpluses and deficiencies, which were attributed to a shortage of staff. Surely, the branch of the defence services responsible for these conditions could have obtained sufficient and efficient staff to carry out that simple class of work! I do not think any excuse could be offered by the Minister for the position revealed by the Auditor-General. That official also mentioned that 60 reports were awaiting investigation by the department in connexion with Garden Island, Randwick and Bunnerong stores. Why are 60 reports awaiting attention? Why has not some means been found to enable attention to be given immediately to these reports? This state of affairs reveals negligence to some extent. The thefts mentioned by the Auditor-General should not have occurred. When I make that statement, I feel all the people of Australia will agree with me. There should be sufficient safeguards of the stores of the Commonwealth Government, whether they are under the control of services or not, to protect them against thefts.
The Auditor-General commented that in Victoria, stocktaking of plant, machinery and equipment at the Naval Dockyards, Williamstown, had not been carried out for a number of years. That is inexcusable. Every one knows that, with this class of stores, a stocktaking must be held at least once a year. It is better to have a system which will allow a complete stocktaking every month or every week, but no complete stocktaking has been made in this section for a number of years. Nobody - not even the service department concerned - knows just what is the position in regard to the stores that have gone in, and come out, and been used. Yet, to-day we are asked to agree that another £190,000,000 -should be allocated to the defence services. Even at the little tinpot depot at Manus Island an efficient form of control could not be established. At a place like that, one would think, some action would be taken by some of the officers of the department concerned to protect the interests of the people.
.- Any one who has listened to Senator McKenna speaking on the defence votes or who has followed the trend of criticism over the last few months of the Department of Defence or of any of the service departments within the Department of Defence must be horrified at the evidence of inefficiency and lack of co-ordination which is now becoming so apparent. Every one in this chamber, I am sure, is becoming gravely disturbed about the situation. But I am less horrified and appalled at the disclosed situation than 1 am at the new approach projected by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies).
During the debate on the defence Estimates in another place, the right honorable gentleman said, in effect, “ Well, we will have a complete review of the defence setup with a completely new orientation of our defence proposals “. The basis for this new approach, to use the right honorable gentleman’s own words, is “ from ideas gleaned by me when I was overseas “. The approach to any defence organization must come over a period of years from those who are sent overseas to staff colleges on staff courses, and on co-ordination courses, from those sent to international conferences, and from experts in the service departments. From all those sources, knowledge is gradually accumulated which results in ministerial directions on policy. Here we have an acknowledgment by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), by inference, that the present organization is completely hopeless and that the burden of a new approach rests purely on ideas casually gleaned by him when he went overseas for other purposes. We have not heard that he went over particularly having in mind a review of the British Commonwealth defence services, those of Australia in particular, or that he was accompanied by specialized highlevel military men. All we have heard is that at a certain stage he gleaned certain ideas. I do not know what particular competency the right honorable gentleman has in that connexion. He may have competency in other directions. This is a highly specialized field of government organization, and I cannot believe that one individual, casually approaching it, could come back suffused and surfeited with ideas of reorganization from which the whole new approach is apparently going to stem.
In those circumstances, we are entitled to be more appalled at the new proposition than horrified at the present situation as disclosed. I should imagine that the right honorable gentleman might have said, “ I have certain basic ideas and I am immediately going to send men overseas from the service departments to consult at the highest level, and I am going to take those general ideas in each specific case, study them in detail and integrate them with our Commonwealth defences “. But, instead of doing that, he immediately sets about summoning most of the service chiefs here and apparently laying down a local plan based on ideas gleaned by him overseas, ideas which evidently have not been acceptable 10 his service experts over the intervening years. Apparently, they have been working on the one line, a line which is now completely unsatisfactory, inefficient an. unacceptable. These men are merely to be asked to implement the ideas and suggestions which, in a brief visit, devoted in a large measure to other considerations, he personally was able to accumulate during his attendance at a conference of representatives from the various parts of the Brittish Comonwealth. For those reasons, 1 im appalled at the new approach more than I am horrified at the present situation.
AM honorable senators should insist that 1 1 the defence services are going to be re organized, such action should not be taken on this casual and offhand basis, almost as if it were a palliative to stem public criticism. If we are going to have a look it the defence services, if we are going to continue devoting such a tremendous proportion of our national expenditure to defence and if we are to continue to require the people to make sacrifices in connexion with such important things as their standard of living honorable senators should insist that it be done once and for all and on a basis upon which we can rest securely, a basis which we can put before the Australian people, assuring them that this country is now organized at the highest level, in the most modern terms and in the most efficient manner from the defence point of view. That is the reassurance for which this nation is waiting, but I cannot see that any such reassurance will stem from the Prime Minister’s proposal which is based upon international gleanings from his recent attendance at the conference in London. If the nation is to make sacrifices for the defence of the country, we must insist on this occasion that those sacrifices are justified, that the money is not wasted and that we should get value for our expenditure. There must be a tremendous national effort in this matter. Nobody, for party political considerations, must shrug his shoulders and say, “ At least that has stemmed public criticism for the time being “. On this occasion, the job must really be tackled; it must be done thoroughly to meet all needs in the foreseeable future.
– One of the few things about this year’s budget that has pleased me is the fact that the Government appears to have resisted the very strong campaign that had been waged by Dr. Evatt for a considerable reduction in the defence vote. In view of the present international situation, the Government has been very wise in resisting that campaign and in retaining the defence vote pretty well at what it had been, although 1 realize that with rising costs even keeping the vote at what it had been means in a sense that there has been some slight reduction. I am gravely disturbed, however, at the evidence that has been adduced by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna), Senator Benn, and others. That evidence does not emanate from party political sources; it comes from one who is completely impartial - the Auditor-General - and from a committee of the Parliament on which the Government is adequately represented, the Public Accounts Committee. 1 am gravely alarmed at this evidence that while the people are making sacrifices to maintain the defence vote in the belief that it is necessary in view of the grave international situation, there appears to be a considerable amount of waste, lack of control and, in quite a number of cases, the making away with equipment, supplies and other things for which the people have paid. That must cause great concern among the people of the country, and it will continue to cause them much concern until there is evidence from the Government that it has taken strong action to deal with the situation. 1 am one of those who believe that, if we are to have efficiency and co-ordination, there must not be too many heads, and I am confident that it would be fair to say that, even on the Government side, there is a feeling of uneasiness over the fact that there are too many people in control of our defence instrumentalities to-day. I am sure they must feel that this may very well be one of the reasons for the waste and the lack of control of which such convincing evidence has been given.
When I read, some months ago. a statement from Government sources that in its defence plans the Government intended to place special emphasis on air defence, I thought that was a very wise decision, and I was inclined to commend the Government upon that decision because I have always felt that the late John Curtin showed great foreknowledge when, 1 think first in the late ‘thirties, he put before the people of Australia the view that air defence must be given preference. I was happy to think that, in the present times when air defence is perhaps more important than ever, the Government intended to take action to give preference to the development of the air arm. But, I was amazed when, only a month or two after that statement had been made, it was announced that nothing was to be done by way of making preparations for a new programme of aircraft production when the present programme was completed and when, later again, we were told that the trained staff was to be dispersed and made available to private enterprise. I cannot understand how the Government can justly claim that it intends to give preference to air defence while it embarks on a programme of closing down its aircraft factories. I understand that, because of the very close tolerances allowed in the processes of aircraft manufacture, it takes a considerable time to train staffs for such factories. If I may take the proposition a little further, I understand that in other military establishments which are also affected by the dismissals, it likewise has taken very considerable periods to train the skilled staffs whose employment is to be affected by the Government’s policy in this matter. We all agree that we are confronted with a dangerous international situation. In those circumstances we would expect the Government to retain all its defence factories in operation so that the skilled staffs which will be so essential if war breaks out will be available to produce the munitions of war. Yet, in this period, when we are all concerned with the gravity of the international situation, when we view the future with alarm, the Government has embarked on a large programme of dismissals of the most essential employees who, as a result, would not be. available - certainly not immediately available - in the event of war. I do not think we have had any adequate explanation of why the Government has acted in this way. I know that it has been suggested that other employment with be available to the people dismissed from defence factories. We realize, of course, that the question of the economic future of the dismissed employees and their families is one that must affect all of us and that those employees must obtain other employment if they are to be able to provide for their families. That is an important aspect of the matter, but the really grave aspect is the defence aspect, because we cannot be other than gravely alarmed over the action that the Government has taken. 1 should like to have an assurance from the Government that there is no truth in reports now circulating that those government establishments are in some instances being closed down because of pressure from private enterprise. That is a very grave charge, but it is now being circulated in this country, and, I repeat, I should like the Government to give an assurance that in this matter it has acted in accordance with the best interests of the nation, and has not been influenced in the way suggested in the reports. Until we receive some adequate explanation of why the most essential employees in defence production establishments making equipment for the Army, and in naval dockyards and aircraft factories, are being dispersed, we shall continue to wonder what is the reason for it all, and will continue to be gravely disturbed over the future.
The other night Senator Kendall made what I think is a very fine contribution to the debate when he suggested that staffs in the naval dockyards should be retained and used in, for example, the building of oil tankers. I know that the employees in some of those government establishments have themselves suggested that they should be retained in their present positions in the factories and dockyards by being allowed to undertake contract work, if necessary, for private enterprise, so that they would be immediately available to be swung over to war production should events make that desirable. I think that Senator Kendall’s suggestion is an excellent one, and I think also that the fact that the people employed in these dockyards and factories made a similar suggestion themselves indicates that their beliefs and the honorable senator’s belief coincide in respect of the necessity of retaining those trained staffs in being. As I said before, I think that defence is something on which all of us ought to be able to agree.
– Hear, hear
– We all of us, 1 think, look on the future security of our country as something that must be preserved. It is a very good thing that some honorable senators on the Government side have expressed concern over defence production. I think that I can conclude fairly by saying to the Government that there is great uneasiness in the community in respect of the defence situation, an uneasiness that will not be relieved until the people feel certain that there is proper control of defence establishments. But, today, the people feel certain that there is not such proper control, and their concern will not be relieved until they are assured that establishments essential for our future defence are not being destroyed as a result of a mistaken policy.
– I propose to take only one or two seconds of the time of the Senate to clear up a small matter. When I was speaking earlier some doubt was cast on the accuracy of my reference to a statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in 1950. I propose now to quote exactly the Prime Minister’s words on the occasion to which I referred. I quote from “ The Defence Call to the Nations “, a series of four broadcast addresses by the Prime Minister. Here is what the Prime Minister said in the broadcast on 1st October, 1950 -
The call to-day is to Australia to be ready, not a year after the war begins, but when it begins; on the day that it begins.
– He did not use the words “ complete mobilization “. Thank you very much!
– In my contribution to the debate I propose to deal with the question of aircraft production and air defence. I find myself in agreement with much that Senator McManus has said. Only £53,000,000 of the defence vote has been allocated to the Department of Air, whilst £64,000,000 has been allocated to the Department of the Army. There is a strange disparity there, in view of modern defence trends. It has been stated from responsible sources on the Government side that if this country became involved in international trouble in the immediate future it would be difficult for it to put 1,000 men in the field at the outset. We can reasonably ask ourselves, therefore, how this expenditure of £64,000,000 on the Department of theArmy can be justified. I think it is completely absurd for any government that hasany regard whatever for the defence of the nation to allot to the Army more funds than it allots to the Air Force. I believe, Mr. Chairman, that a certain amount of pressure is put on the Government by departmental chiefs in the various services in respect of the allocations made. The result is that the comparative size of those allocations is arrived at on the basis of pressure rather than on the basis of reason,, because I can think of no other explanation* of why, in modern circumstances, such an unequal allocation should be made as. that which I have mentioned. Surely we must have short memories if we do not recall that the last time this country was. assailed it was by fast aircraft from enemy sources, and that all we had to send against them were obsolete Wirraways. Does this Government want history to repeat itself? It seems so, because I suggest that, with thesituation we are in at the moment, if a similar disaster took place as that which we experienced in the early 1940’s we would be in exactly the same position as we were then in respect of meeting an aggressor. I have repeatedly stressed in the Senate that Australia’s future defence lies almost solely in the air, and I think that that should be evident to anybody whogives any consideration to the trend of modern warfare. What would be the position if this country were assailed by another power? The only means that our potential enemies have of attacking the integrity of this country’s soil consists of fast jet bombers, which the various powers have to-day, carrying their deadly hydrogenbomb loads. The only way in which they could be prevented from reaching our capital cities and destroying them, and consequently destroying this country at one fell swoop is by us having a sufficient number of fast interceptor aircraft to ensure that they shall not reach Australian shores. .
– Does the honorable senator suggest that they should operate from aircraft carriers or from our shores?’
– There is no need for aircraft carriers. Because of the development of modern aircraft, carriers have been rendered practically obsolete. Honorable senators know that the range of aircraft is increasing year by year, and that air records are being broken practically every day. We all know that, or, at least, we should know it.
– The experts have not agreed upon that.
– It appears that the experts have not advised this Government particularly well.
– In short, there is only one expert.
– I thought that there were a certain number of would-be experts on the Government side of the chamber, and apparently Senator Anderson is one of them.
– No, 1 am not certain about this matter, but Senator Toohey is suggesting that he is certain, and that he knows all about it.
– If the honorable senator is not certain about what he is saying, why does he say anything at all? I am not relying on my own ideas about this matter, nor am I relying upon my own knowledge. I am relying upon statements that are reported to have been made by people who have studied the trends of modern air defence. There is no doubt that even the leading air authority in this country - and honorable senators know to whom I am referring - has repeatedly advised this Government that it is not spending enough money on air defence, and is not giving enough attention to the role of air power in the general scheme of national defence. That is true, and all honorable senators know it. I suggest that when only £53,000,000 is allocated to air defence, out of a sum of £190,000,000 provided for defence generally, proper consideration has not been given to the adequate defence of this country. 1 suggest that the sum of £64,000,000 that has been allocated to the Army, was so allocated because of pressure - that is, because of the pressure exerted by people who wanted to maintain themselves in certain (positions regardless of the welfare of this country and regardless of the adequate defence of Australia. I say again that there is nobody on the Government side who can disagree with me, with a clear conscience, when 1 say that the paramount defence arm for Australia in the future is the Air Force. There is no question about that. Honorable senators on the Government side can quibble, and talk about this aspect and that aspect, and about what this person has said and what that person has said; but they cannot escape from the fact that any future assault on this continent will be mounted on the same basis as during World War II. - that is with air power - and such an attack must be met by stronger air power. That fact is quite apparent, but honorable senators on the Government side will not admit it. All the specious arguments that are put forward, and all the red herrings that supporters of the Government attempt to draw across the trail will have no effect on that self-evident fact. There is no need for me to put myself forward as an expert in any field of defence, because the average schoolboy of fourteen years of age recognizes the development of modern aircraft and modern science, and perceives the position exactly as I have stated it will be. 1 come now to aircraft production, and I join with Senator McManus in expressing a protest at what I consider was one of the most foolhardy and stupid acts of this Government. The Government had built up, through its own factories and through contracts that it had let to private firms who had the equipment to manufacture certain aircraft components, an Australiawide organization which was performing an extremely valuable function and making a great contribution to the defence of this country. Yet, at one fell swoop the Government has practically destroyed the whole organization. Eighteen months ago in my own State of South Australia, about 800 men were engaged on aircraft production. However, there have been widespread dismissals in the aircraft industry in that State, and fewer than 200 men are now so engaged. That trend is reflected throughout Australia wherever aircraft production work is being carried out. I know that in explanation of the course which has been followed by the Government, a ministerial statement has been made to the effect that the course was necessary because of reorganization, and that the Government has received advice from its defence chiefs and experts concerning the necessity to reorganize our defences. Up to a point, that might constitute a reasonable, logical explanation for this particular situation. My criticism of the Government in respect of its attitude over this decision is that if there were an acute need for re-organization, that re-organization should have been proceeding for some considerable time, and the Government should have organized things in such a way as to retain the services of skilled men.
I am not unfamiliar with aircraft production; as a matter of fact, I have worked in the industry. Therefore, I know that, as Senator McManus said, certain skills have to be acquired by workmen before they can Work to the extremely fine tolerances that are specified in this type of job. After those tradesmen have been trained to a degree sufficient for them to do the work, they are dismissed, and go into private industry, perhaps never to return and justify the time that has been devoted to, and the expense that has been incurred on, training them. The two types of tradesmen who are most adaptable to the fine tolerance aircraft production work are sheet-metal workers and those who have been trained in the more skilled processes of the motor body-building industry. But even with the knowledge that those types of tradesmen already have before they come into the aircraft industry, it takes them a considerable time to acquire the additional ski necessary for the assembling of aircraft components.
Now the situation is - and let us be practical about it, because every honorable senator on the Government-side must recognize it - that if Tom Jones goes to an aircraft factory and acquires that extra skill which is a benefit to him and to the country, and is told after twelve or eighteen months’ employment, without any explanation and without any guarantee for the future, that the establishment is closing down and his services are no longer required, he will look for a job elsewhere. When the Government, after this so-called reorganization has taken place, asks Tom Jones to come back into aircraft production so that he can utilize the skill that he has acquired, he will be very suspicious about the whole thing. He will say “ I had twelve or eighteen months’ employment in this field, and there did not seem to be much future in it because I was dismissed. I am not going to lose a lucrative job in private industry, with my present prospects, in order to take what has been demonstrated to be a hazardous chance of permanent employment in aircraft production “. Is that not the situation? Of course, it is!
The Government is open to the strongest criticism because it has bungled the whole scheme of aircraft production and the whole scheme of air defence. I join with Senator McManus in asking the Government, even at this late hour, to give urgent consideration to what I consider to be a basic defence need of this country; that is, the extension of the aircraft production industry and the expansion of the air defence of Australia.
.- I desire to make a few comments upon what Senator Toohey has told honorable senators. I think it would be a pity if his statement about the air defence of this country were not qualified, lt would be a pity if members of the Senate were to accept it as completely and self-evidently true, because, in my opinion, it is mistaken.
The particular point to which I refer in his statement that defence in the air must, to a great extent, depend upon a modern fleet of interceptor-fighter aircraft. With that statement, 1 disagree. At the present time, fighter aircraft designs, speeds and requirements are changing so rapidly that an interceptor-fighter is either on the drawing boards for the future, or is obsolete. Only mighty countries such as the United States of America and the Soviet Union can afford the immense expenditure which this constant re-tooling, to meet changes iD design, involves. This country is not big enough, or wealthy enough, to manufacture aircraft to constantly changing designs.
What is even more important, many people who are experts on defence believe that the interceptor-fighter aircraft is almost finished. We have now reached the stage when a bomber wishing to attack aD enemy town need not fly over that town. lt can release, 100, 200 or, perhaps, 300 miles away, a missile that can be guided on to the target. In addition to the advantage normally possessed by an attacking force, there is the further advantage that the bomber is travelling at a cruising speed approaching, or even beyond, that of sound. The Vulcan, which visited Canberra a week or two ago, flies just on the fringe of the speed of sound, lt is almost certain that not inceptor aircraft but missiles, fired from the ground, radar-guided, electronically controlled, will be required to counter bombers that can fly at such speeds and release missiles 200 or 300 miles away from the target. Developments in this field take place so quickly that it is almost impossible to be very definite or certain in making statements about the future. I have put these qualifications merely because, 1 think, it would be a pity if the fairly definite statements of Senator Toohey were allowed to go unchallenged.
– Before dealing generally with Senator Ashley’s request which, incidentally, the Government rejects, I should like to refer to some specific matters raised by honorable senators. Senator Benn referred to the Auditor-General’s report on Man us Island. Apart from the general disabilities associated with depots staffed by servicemen, Manus has suffered ‘because of adverse climatic conditions, the necessity to use native labour, and the fact that until recently no commissioned stores officer could be made available for posting there. The situation at Manus is also exceptional inasmuch as the responsibility for works stores valued at £310,000 has had to be undertaken by the Navy since the Department of Works left the island some years ago. In addition, there is a lack of adequate storage facilities. Special efforts are being made to improve the position, and the commanding officer has already reported improvements in stowage and stocktaking. The matter is being followed up.
Senator Toohey’s view that there is no future for the aircraft carrier is not shared by the best-informed opinion in either America or the United Kingdom. I suggest that he should read some recent reports on the defence Estimates presented to the House of Lords. Even Army men, such as Lord Montgomery, would not agree with Senator Toohey. Certainly it is a change of heart, on Lord Montgomery’s part especially, but he now feels that the aircraft carrier has a role of growing importance because the sea lanes must be kept open, and this can best be done by the use of the aircraft carrier.
Senator McManus sought an assurance that some of the plants hitherto run by the defence departments have not been closed down as a result of pressure from private enterprise. I give him an unqualified assurance that private enterprise has not had. and will not have, any influence on the Government’s actions in this mater. Willi Senator McManus, I endorse most heartily the pious hope that one of these days we will have a common defence policy in Australia.
I suppose that the best way to examine the present position in an enlightened fashion is to see what has brought it about. Honorable senators will remember that at the end of World War II. the government of the day, in the last year of its term of office, reduced defence expenditure very substantially. That is quite understandable. After all, a war had just ended. The world was battered and bleeding, and the people of the world were war-weary. This part of the world, in particular, had even reason to hope, and believe that the da of wars was over. Understandably, the expenditure on war preparations was cut substantially in 1949, just before Labour went out of office. In that year defence expenditure was about £54.000,000. I repeat that I am not criticizing the government of the day, because we were all hoping that there would be an enduring peace. The then government, from the end of Work War II. until it went out of office in December. 1949, disposed of small arms factories, machine tools, and many annexes which, during the war, had been used for. or by the defence authorities. Altogether more than £100.000.000 worth of goods stores, plant and equipment were sold. I am stating that as a fact, and not as a criticism. If I had been here then I would probably have endorsed that policy in the hope tha; we were entering an era of peace.
– That equipment was fast becoming obsolete. A change to metric systems was taking place.
– It was the policy of the day to get rid of these implements and instruments of war. Had some of the annexes not been closed down we should not now have had to spend such a huge amount on a filling factory at Si. Mary’s. I mention that purely as a matter of fact.
– You are making a poor getaway.
– The facts speak for themselves. I could detail item by item, upon the equipment that was disposed of.
– It was done with the approval of the then Opposition.
– It was done with the approval of a war-weary people. I am just stating the facts. However, from 1949-50, the period of peace that we all expected to continue receded, and a period of very intense cold war followed. This Government increased expenditure on defence from £54,000,000 in 1949-50 to a peak of £215,000,000 in 1952-53. As the intensity of the cold war increased, so defence expenditure increased. Since 1952- 53, it has been stabilized at a figure in the vicinity of £190,000,000.
In order to indicate this Government’s attitude towards defence generally, I cannot do better than to refer honorable senators to a comprehensive statement that was made on this subject by my colleague, the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) in another place on 11th September. Although it would be well worth while to read it now, to do so would be to engage in tedious repetition. The statement appears in “ Hansard “, and is thus readily available to honorable senators. It shows the trend of defence development and activities since this Government took office. Some very importan points were brought out, which I shall emphasize. The Leader of the Opposition has already referred to some of the matters that I intended to raise. As Sir Philip McBride pointed out, a tremendous percentage of the defence vote is absorbed in maintenance and in the provision of new capital equipment.
Another very important factor that I do not think the Opposition thoroughly appreciates, although it is appreciated by people outside, is this: In December, 1949, there were 34,000 members of the permanent forces. They now total 52,000. The strength of the Citizen Military Forces, including national service trainees, has risen from 22,000 to approximately 100,000. In addition, there are 78,000 national service reservists who have completed their training. Since the national service training scheme was introduced by this Government in 1951, a total of over 180,000 youths have been called up for training. The cost of the scheme to 30th June, 1956, amounted to £103,000,000.
There is another important aspect that I want to bring to the notice of honorable senators. True it is that we have expended, over the years, more than £1,000,000,000 on defence. Pursuant to our obligations to our allies, and as a member of the United Nations, we were excellently represented by our armed forces in Korea. The manner in which our Naval, Army, and Air Force units discharged their duty in Korea reflected great credit on the performance by Australia of its obligations under the United Nations Charter. We have other forces engaged currently with the strategic reserve in Malaya.
Both the Leader of the Opposition and! Senator Ashley have referred to remarks that were made by Sir Frederick Shedden when giving evidence before the Public Accounts Committee. At no stage, did Sir Frederick say that the state of Australia’s defences was unsatisfactory. What he said, and what any one living in a free world would have said, was that, at that moment - and it applies equally at this moment - Australia was not in a state of mobilization. I doubt whether even countries behind the iron curtain are in a state of mobilization.
I should now like to bring to the notice of honorable senators a reply that was made by the Minister for Defence to a question that he was asked in the House of Representatives on 30th August in this connexion. It was as follows: -
I welcome the honorable gentleman’s question-
It related to our state of preparedness for mobilization - because some misapprehension was created in thepublic mind by the answer given, by the official mention, to an apparently simple question put to him by a member of the Public Accounts Committee. Mobilization, as understood by the services, is a technical term. The services consider that when a programme for mobilization has beenagreed upon, in any country, until that programme has been completed that country is not technically ready for mobilization. The simplefact is that in this country we have created” services - in the way of men, equipment and training - to a degree never before experienced here in time of peace. It is true to say that nocountry, not even an aggressor country, is ever technically ready for mobilization. A good illustration of that fact is provided by the last war. Because Hitler was not ready for mobilization on 3rd September, 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany, we had for six months what is known as the “ phoney war “.
The facts that were given by the Minister for Defence in his statement of 11th September, which were previously set out by Sir Frederick Shedden in his evidence before the Public Accounts Committee, demonstrate clearly that never during any earlier period of peace has Australia been better prepared than it is to-day to meet the emergency of war.
– Tell us about the commitments totalling £150,000,000 that have not been satisfied.
– I shall do so. In each year, there remain commitments which have been undertaken but not paid for.
– What for?
– Traditionally, down the years, each year we have incurred commitments for shipbuilding and aircraft production which were not paid for in the year in which they were incurred. A substantial portion of the proposed vote of £190,000,000 will be applied to the discharge of commitments totalling £150,000,000 that have not yet been paid for.
– Does the Minister mean that those commitments of £150,000,000 will be met, in addition to £190,000,000 being otherwise expended on defence?
– I beg to differ from the Minister, and I can prove my contention.
– I point out to Senator Ashley that the commitment of £150,000,000 is for long-term projects in progress, such as shipbuilding and aircraft construction - long-term deliveries. A considerable portion of this amount will be spent in this financial year, and the amount so spent will come out of the vote of £190,000,000.
– That is not what Sir Philip McBride said.
– lt is precisely What he said. Senator McKenna also referred to the cruiser “ Hobart “. As to the defence vote generally, I think that honorable senators will appreciate that there are times of heat and pressure, as well as times of recession. Sometimes, a global war appears more threatening than at other times, and sometimes it looks as though there might be a restricted war - restricted as to the type of armaments used, or restricted inasmuch as it will be confined to a certain area. As the international fever heightens, the possibility of a global war, a thermo-nuclear atomic war, seemsto grow, and later it recedes. The defence programme of a country must be affected by these changes of the international atmosphere.
The Leader of the Opposition asked what was our policy on defence. It is very difficult to define exactly what our policy is, because it depends entirely on whether the world is going to be afflicted with a global war, or whether we are to be called upon to discharge our responsibilities in a local and restricted area. In these rapidly changing times, when we are witnessing new discoveries and new inventions, it is very hard to say, precisely, what our position will be in five or ten years’ time, or even in one year’s time. So rapidly are inventions and developments occurring, that frequently an item of defence equipment is out of date before it comes off the production line.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– As no other honorable senator has risen, I shall take my second period of fifteen minutes.
When it was decided to modernize “ Hobart “, there was some heat in international relations. It was regarded as important that “ Hobart “ should be ready. A question on this subject was asked in another place on 3rd October, and the answer that was given then is the answer that I give now to Senator McKenna. lt was as follows: -
In 1950-51 when the Korean war was at its climax and the threat of global war was considered much greater than now, it was decided that the “Hobart” should be modernized as a first-class light cruiser. However, in view of the reduced world tension, the financial restrictions of 1952 disrupted this plan and it was then decided that she should replace the “ Australia “ as a training ship. Although her primary role was to have been as a training ship, she would also be used in war-time in an anti-raider role. In 1953, when it was decided that one carrier was to be in an opperational s ale, the non-operational carrier became a logical choice for a training ship and thus the primary role of the “ Hobart “ was removed Only refitting work was completed and the “ Hobart “ was placed in reserve. . . . £1,386,170 was spent on refining work and some items of modernization which would be necessary, no matter in what role the ship might be employed. . . . Work done was on the hull, machinery and electrical wiring, which are now good and can bc used in whatever rule in which the ship is completed. . . . The ship could be completed for various roles such as convoy escort or gui.le.1 missile ship. Expenditure necessary :o complete “ Hobart “ would depend on which role was chosen but would be approximately £1,000,000. To build a comparable vessel to-day would cost not less than £10,000,000.
I think that I have dealt with all the points raised by Senator McKenna and the other honorable senators who have spoken. I commend to them the speech made by my colleague, the Minister for Defence, on
I I th September in which he told the complete story of the development and the present state of efficiency of our defences. I think honorable senators will agree that, unless we revert to the use of bows and arrows and can be satisfied that other countries have done likewise, we cannot plan far ahead with any certainty. We hope that the world will enjoy a long period of peace, but we must be prepared to meet our commitments under Seato, Anzus and the United Nations. We must put our defences into such a condition that, if it becomes necessary for the democracies to take military action, we shall be ready to discharge our obligations to our partners and allies in any part of the world.
– I understood that the Minister for the Navy (Senator O’sullivan) would close the debate, but I am glad to see that I was wrong. There was a spirited debate last night, in the course of which I asked for some information, but the Minister has omitted to answer my question about a commitment of £150,000,000. The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride) said in another place that at 30th June of this year the figures were expenditure £190,000.000 and outstanding commitments £150,000,000. He went on to say -
These outstanding commitments relate to objectives authorized in earlier years. When completed, they will provide an even higher degree of preparedness.
The Minister has given no indication of what those commitments are. As I said last night, we have but little to show for the £1,031,000,000 which the Government admits it has spent on defence in the last six years.
The Minister said this morning that in the field of defence we were fully prepared. Honorable senators will remember that in the latter part of last year an Auster aircraft took off without a pilot and that, although the Navy and the Air Force were alerted, it was two and a half hours before that pilotless aircraft, travelling at about 70 miles an hour and cavorting here and there above the largest city of Australia, was destroyed. There is no evidence tha-‘ there was in operation then any radar equipment or other equipment to let the defence forces know that an aeroplane was. so to speak, making an unauthorized flight over Sydney. Modern bombers, which travel at over 600 miles an hour and have a range of from 4,000 to 5.000 miles, could bomb Sydney and be back on their mother ship or mother submarine before the alert was given here. The Minister raised a technical point in regard to mobilization. 1 believe that his interpretation ot the term mobilization is an indication that the country is not fully prepared for war. Sir Frederick Shedden said that we were not ready for mobilization, and there is no man in Australia more competent than he to assess the state of our defences.
I join with Senator McManus and Senator Toohey in deploring the dismissal of workers from government aircraft factories and munitions factories. One does noi have to look far to find the reason for those dismissals. The Government is. opposed entirely to governmental industrial activities, whether they be in relation to aircraft production, munitions production ot any other form of production. Technical staffs and skilled men are being dismissed from government shipbuilding yards, aircraft factories and munitions factories, yet the Government has handed to private enterprise a lucrative contract that represents a wanton waste of public money The St. Mary’s ammunition filling factory is a project which the Government cannot justify. The financing of the project reeks with suspicion and mystery, being based upon a new form of cost-plus in addition to a fee of more than £615,000 for the contractor and £1,250,000 for the architects.
During World War 1. and World War II. more than 100 architects were employed in the service of Australia and its allies in building munitions, armament, and filling factories. Yet, we find this Government paying a fee of £1,250,000 to private architects to do a job which could be done by competent men in the Public Service who have proved their capacity in serving not only this country but also its allies during World War II.
I do not wish to delay the committee, but I make a strong protest against the manner in which the Government is rushing consideration of this proposed vote. The Senate has just re-assembled after a fortnight’s recess, and now the Government proposes to rush the Estimates through. No subject is of greater importance to this nation than that of defence. The Government has been criticized more in regard to its defence preparation than in regard to any other matter brought to the notice of the public of Australia by either the press or members of the Parliament. When honorable senators make inquiries in regard to defence by asking reasonable questions they are wiped off and told that the information cannot be given because it involves Government policy, or something of that sort.
At the termination of World War I., the services of employees in small arms factories were dispensed with. In 1937 and 1938 I protested against the limited production of rifles in the Small Arms Factory in Lithgow. When World War II. broke out the Government could provide only 20 per cent, of the number of rifles required. To-day, we find a repetition of conditions which existed in 1941 when Labour assumed office. In 1941 men were being trained with broomsticks and we had Wirraway aircraft as an umbrella to defend Australia. To-day. we are back to the broomstick and Wirraway era. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the matter before it enforces the dismissal notices that have been issued in munitions, aircraft and armament factories. I say that, because in Lithgow, for instance, it will be impossible to find other employment for the displaced men. Are they to be separated from their families by being forced to work in Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle or somewhere else? It is all very well for the Minister and supporters of the Government to say that plenty of work is available in private enterprise and that employees are merely changing their employment. Let the Government consider the difficulty with which it would be faced, if another war broke out, in re-assembling skilled staff for the production of rifles and other arms. The position would be similar to that which existed in 1941 when Labour assumed office.
I understand that- some dismissals have been postponed for a month because of the intervention of the president, or secretary, of the Australian Council of Trades Unions. I hope the men will not be kept on for a month and then given their dismissal notices as a Christmas present. In a month’s time we will be about to enter upon the festive season. I ask the Government to continue these men in employment or else find other jobs for them. I repeat the suggestion I made to the Leader of the Government that something should be done similar to that which occurred after World War I. when representatives of trade unions assisted to find work for the factories to do. They could again bring to the notice of private enterprise the ability of these factories to produce the requirements of industry such as motor cars, agricultural machinery, and so on. If such requirements were manufactured in these factories skilled staffs would be kept intact so that in the event of an outbreak of war - I hope it will never be needed for that purpose - a nucleus would be available to carry on the manufacture of arms and munitions. I ask the Government to give serious consideration to allowing the employees of munition factories to seek orders in order to keep the factories going.
– In view of the fact that Senator Ashley was a member of a government which virtually demolished our defence structure, his outburst is amazing. lt is probably due to the fact that he is upset and disappointed because at the present time the defences of Australia .are in better shape than at any period in our peace-time history. That seems to be what is worrying the honorable senator. Accordingly, I see no further value in pursuing this debate. I move -
Thai the question be now put.
Question put. The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the House of Representatives be requested to reduce the vote by £1.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid.)
Majority . . 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Navy.
Proposed Vote, £39,065,000.
.- I wish to discuss a matter arising under Division 137, relating to the Department of the Navy, which, despite Senator Toohey’s views, is far from being obsolete. Some of this vote is to cover the pay and allowances of instructors. My remarks are directed to the question of technical education in radio, radar, and electronics. A modern navy without adequate numbers of properly trained electronics personnel is not only deaf but is also blind. It is not too much to say that in World War II. the Battle of the Atlantic was won only because of the technical excellence of the British radar surface detection equipment, which enabled submarine wolf packs to be detected on the surface at night when they were outside effective torpedo range. The Battle of Matapan, which caused the loss of three Italian heavy cruisers, was fought at midnight. The first Italian cruiser was on fire before the squadron was aware of the presence of Royal Navy battleships, and the entire action was over in fifteen minutes. The German battle cruiser “ Scharnhorst “ was detected and sunk by radar fire control gunnery at a distance of approximately 45,000 yards; the gunners of “ Duke of York “ never saw “ Scharnhorst “. That will give you, Mr. Chairman, some indication of the importance of radar and electronics in a modern navy. Most of these incidents took place ten or twelve years ago, and great progress has been made in electronics since then. In all these circumstances, and bearing in mind that a modern cruiser might require 100 officers and ratings to control its radar equipment and also a small complement to handle radio telegraph and radio telephone transmitters, it is clear that a modern navy is heavily dependent on electronics.
The importance of technical education in electronics cannot be overstressed It is the sort of education that cannot be turned on and off like a tap. lt requires welltrained instructors, and a long course of training so that trainees may pick up the rudiments and fundamentals of the subject. For this reason, I urge the Department of the Navy - and perhaps the Army and the Royal Australian Air Force would also benefit - to encourage the growth of the number of amateur radio operators by publicity, and by the grant of technical privileges. My suggestion is not concerned with party politics and probably it will not draw any votes, but 1 believe the state of the nation would be improved by having many men and women trained in electronics. Many women hold amateur licences.
At present there are 2,500 licensed amateur radio operators in Australia, and our experience during the last war indicates that, upon full mobilization, about 43,000 could be absorbed easily into the services. The Postmaster-General’s Department administers the examination for amateur radio operators, which requires a fairly high degree of technical knowledge. If the Department of the Navy had to take a man from the beach and train him to the standard possessed by a licensed amateur radio operator, it would occupy about a year. The time could be a little more or a little less. The cost would be approximately £1,200 to £1,500 for each man. In these circumstances, it is our bounden duty to tap the large reservoir of trained personnel that could be provided by the amateur radio fraternity.
I can give honorable senators an example of how short the Navy was in trained personnel in 1942. The cruiser “Canberra” went out shortly before the Battle of the Coral Sea, and, in order to operate the small amount of radar equipment that it carried, it took two Royal Australian Air Force officers. There were no naval personnel capable of operating the equipment at the time.
We stand to gain in more ways than one by encouraging these amateurs. What I suggest is not new. The first and most obvious way would be to encourage them financially. They buy, provide and maintain their own technical equipment, and we should remit sales tax on all equipment sold to licensed radio amateurs for experimental purposes. It might be argued that this concession would be abused, and that people would take out licences simply to escape sales tax. My answer is that if persons are prepared to do the training and experimental work that is necessary to gain an amateur radic operator’s licence, they should be free of sales tax when equipping themselves te assist the community in time of war or peace
The activities of radio amateurs in peacetime are well known. They have played an important role during floods in Australia and throughout the world. Two years ago, when serious flooding took place in central and northern New South Wales, the entire signal traffic of some portions of the flooded area was conducted by radio amateurs. Those operators left their jobs, and they were not paid by the community or by the Postal Department. They transmitted essential and urgent relief signals, and, for every signal that they sent, they had to pay the Postal Department the equivalent fee for a telegram of that sort. Their work in times of bush fires is also well-known. Radio amateurs are helping to develop international accord and goodwill in those countries which allow amateur radio enthusiasts to operate. There is no prize for guessing which countries do not allow amateur radio operators to function.
Amateur radio operators have ridden in the van of scientific progress. The shortwave transmissions which now link the globe were pioneered by amateurs between Great Britain and Australia. The first communication between Australia and Great Britain was achieved by amateur operators working on the despised short waves. The more enlightened governmental and commercial operators believed that short waves of 48 to 80 metres were useless. They were given to radio amateurs and, in a few years, the amateurs had used those frequencies to achieve the first radio communication between Great Britain and Australia.
This matter is also associated with something that affects the whole community; I refer to juvenile delinquency. If young men and women were busy with the intricacies of radio transmitters and sets they would not have time to join the bodgies and widgies or to demean themselves with the sort of conduct that is causing such worry to those who are interested in the youth of the community. 1 urge the Department of the Navy to do all that it can to encourage the amateur radio fraternity by remitting sales tax on their electronic requirements, and by making the equipment they use free of customs and excise duties.
Senator O’FLAHERTY (South Australia) [12.43J. - 1 direct attention to Division 139 - Royal Australian Naval Reserves - and the provision of £326,000 for pay and allowances in the nature of pay. 1 cannot find details of that expenditure. Does the money represent a retaining fee for men who are held in reserve, or is it to provide retiring allowances? Will the Minister for the Navy (Senator O’sullivan) inform the committee how many officers and ratings are involved?
– I cannot tell the honorable senator how many persons are involved in the vote to which he has referred. They would include permanent officers for the training of naval reserves. The vote is to provide for the payment of reserve officers when they undergo annual training, and for the payment of naval ratings in the reserve who attend parades and drills.
– Will the Minister for the Navy (Senator O’sullivan) inform the committee whether any naval expenditure is proposed in Western Australia? That State has been neglected from the point of view of defence establishments. Huge expenditure has been undertaken in other States, but proposals for naval establishments in Western Australia have not gone past the discussion stage. During World War II., both Albany and Fremantle were very important naval bases for the servicing of lighters, ships, submarines and other craft. In my opinion, Western Australia has been neglected in respect of defence expenditure, and I think that an increased allocation for the State would be justified. I should like the Minister for the Navy to inform me whether land has been reserved in Western Australia by the Department of the Navy for naval installations. Will he consider the advisability of constructing naval establishments in the State, having regard to the fact that during the last war such establishments had to be improvised?
– Senator Cooke has mentioned this matter to me on previous occasions. I am not familiar with all the details of proposed defence expenditure in Western Australia, but 1 shall ascertain them and let the honorable senator know the position.
– I refer to Division 144, Naval Construction, the proposed vote for which is £3,598,000. and Division 146, Machinery and Plant for Naval Establishments, the proposed vote for which is £336,000. Reference has been made recently, both in this chamber and elsewhere, to dismissals of employees at the various defence establishments, including naval establishments. In view of the fact that financial provision is about to be made by this Parliament for the continuation of work in those establishments, 1 should like the Minister for the Navy (Senator O’sullivan) to explain the necessity for the dismissal of artisans and other employees engaged on defence production. Surely it will not be argued that the dismissals are being made because of lack of funds! No doubt, when the Estimates were being prepared by officers of the various departments connected with defence, they had in mind the work that would be necessary during the financial year, and no doubt provision ‘was made accordingly. Nevertheless, dismissal notices have been issued, without warning, to many employees. I hope that the Minister will not say, as has been said on other occasions, that those dismissed from the establishments will have no difficulty in finding other employment. I remind him that last night, at Bendigo, a big meeting was held to protest against the dismissals which are causing grave concern in that important inland city. Those dismissed from the munitions factory at Bendigo will not be able to find alternative employment in the locality, because there is no other work available for them there. It will be necessary for them to break up their homes and seek employment elsewhere.
– I think the honorable senator overlooks the point that if there were more employees the proposed votes would be bigger. The majority of those displaced from at least one government enterprise have already been found employment in another government enterprise, although I understand that that is not the case in regard to the munitions factory at Bendigo.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Other Services - Economic assistance to support defence programme of South-East Asia Treaty Organization member countries.
Proposed Vote, £250,000.
Senator WORDSWORTH (Tasmania) 112.50]. - Division 209K refers to economic assistance to support the defence programme of member countries of the SouthEast Asia Treaty Organization. Why does such assistance come within the proposed votes for the defence services? Is not the assistance only economic assistance, or is it an extension of the Colombo plan?
– The provision is more in the nature of an extension of the Colombo plan. I know that the Ministers in charge of the various defence services were not very happy about the amount coming out of the defence vote. They considered that it should come from some other vote. However, it was decided that it should come from the defence vote because, on a longrange view, such assistance is of defence significance in that the cultivation of friendly relations with the peoples of South-East Asia has an effect upon our defence policy.
– I refer to Division 210, Civil Defence. It is extraordinary that, in 1955- 56. although the proposed vote for civil defence was £234.000, the Government found it necessary to spend only £88.782. The proposed vote for this year is only £70,000.
Th? CHAIRMAN. - Order! We are not yet dealing with Division 210. We are considering Division 209K.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 12.53 to 2.15 p.m.
Proposed vote - Bounties and Subsidies, £13,500,000- agreed to.
Debate resumed from 18th October (vide page 733), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The purpose of this bill is to amend the Defence Act to provide that a soldier may re-engage for further service prior to the expiration of his current engagement and lo stabilize the provisions of the Imperial Army Act in their application to the Australian Military Forces. The Opposition raises no objection to its passage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 18th October (vide page 734), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– This bill becomes necessary as a result of the passing of the Defence Bill 1956. It effects minor amendments to the Air Force Act in relation to the application of the Imperial Air Force Act. The Opposition offers no objection to it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 18th October (vide page 732), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition raises no objection to the passage of this bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 18th October (vide page 723), on motion by Senator O’sullivan -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition offers no objection to this bill. The Attorney-General (Senator O’sullivan), in his second-reading speech, stated -
Winemakers have established that the quality of their high-class fortified wines would be improved by the use of matured brandy and it is intended by this bill to assist the wine industry in its endeavour to improve standards of Australian wines especially where export markets are concerned.
I suppose that the Minister was prompted to insert that statement in his secondreading speech as a result of a report from winemakers. In view of the growing importance of the wine industry in the Australian economy, we sincerely hope that the efforts of the winemakers will be assisted to the fullest extent by this bill, and that they will be successful. We of the Opposition realize, with the Government, the threat of the growing competition which winemakers have to meet from other parts ot the world in the disposal of a high-class product. Competition from South Africa, in particular, has reached a volume which Australian wines have not had to meet in past years.
I speak with some considerable pride on the subject of the Australian wine industry and feel sure that I voice the sentiments of other honorable senators, particularly of all South Australian colleagues, when I express my pleasure at the work and study that has been undertaken by the various winemakers in this industry throughout the length and breadth of South Australia. Our opinions of Australian wine are fortified by the remarks of overseas visitors who are constantly amazed at the quality and improving standards of the South Australian product and of Australian wines generally. In order to overcome the many difficulties which the industry is encountering, not only in South Australia, but also in other parts of the Commonwealth, and particularly in overseas markets, we trust that the hopes of the Government, and the winemakers, will be realized to the fullest as a result of the passing of thisbill, and that the quality of the Australianproduct will be enhanced and its marketing opportunities improved. The Opposition gives this bill its support.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passedthrough its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 18th October (vide page 727), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition offers no objection to this bill and supports its early passage. It is merely a machinery measure. As the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) has explained in his second-reading speech, it is necessary tosubmit a measure of this kind to the Parliament from time to time for the purpose of appropriating from revenue an amount for payment into a trust account. It has norelation to the rates or conditions under which pensions are paid and merely authorizes the provision of funds for the trust account. The Opposition will expedite the passage of the bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 18th October (vide page 726), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill is for the purpose of authorizing the raising of loan moneys totalling £32,150,000 for housing in the various States. As the Senate is aware, a new agreement between the Commonwealth and the States has been signed. I understand that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), who is in charge of the bill, was also in charge of the new agreement when it was submitted. The new agreement is not as good as the old one was. In the first place, it raises the interest rate by 1 per cent. It also does away with the Commonwealth’s portion of the rebate, which, of course, was a great advantage to persons who were living in housing commission homes and who fell upon bad times. The position now is that, if there is to be any rebate, the responsibility will have to rest upon the respective States. Formerly, the Commonwealth paid three-fifths of the money involved. That is an important point. The Government tells us that the period of unemployment of those persons who have been dismissed from the various government factories is more or less only of a transitional nature, that they are being transferred from one job to another. That might or might not be so. I think that, in the main, the transfer to other employment will not be as easy as the Government expects us to believe.
Since its inception, the Victorian Housing Commission has built, in round figures, 30,000 homes at a cost of approximately £68,000,000. Even so, there are still more than 12,000 people on the waiting list. Until recently, the Commonwealth would not allow the State authorities to sell houses unless the persons who wished to buy them could find the whole of the money. I am pleased to say, however, that that arrangement has been altered, and that persons may now buy housing commission homes, as we call them in Victoria, on a deposit basis. Of the 30.000 homes that have been built by the Victorian Housing Commission up to date, in respect of only 676 have deposits been paid. It is true that another 500 or 600 persons have intimated their desire to purchase homes on a deposit basis and that approximately another 3,000 have asked the commission to put a valuation on houses the purchase of which they desire to consider. The total number of persons who have already paid a deposit, who have intimated that deposits will be paid, or who have asked the commission to place a valuation on the house in which they are interested, is 4,200. That figure shows that there are people who are willing to take the risk of purchasing a home, and in these days of changing economic conditions it is a risk. I understand that the Victorian Housing Commission, in placing a valuation on a house, considers what it cost and what the present cost of building would be, and then strikes a mean. On that basis, a house is likely to cost a person about £3,500.
In my belief, the Government foisted the new agreement on the States, because as every one knows, when it was being discussed by the Commonwealth and the States initially, there certainly was no great desire on the part of the States to accept it. Knowing the demeanour of the Minister, one can probably say that eventually he said, “ Well, you take it or else “. He might have couched it in nicer terms than that, but I believe that to the average State Minister that would have been the inference to be drawn from what he said.
Twenty per cent, of the allocation to each State is to be advanced to building societies. Recently, the Minister furnished us with figures relating to the British building societies and more or less indicated that he looked forward to the day when the societies in this country would be able to provide their own finance. There are approximately 266 building societies in Victoria, and they have borrowed, in round figures £45,000,000. Of that amount £41,000,000 has come from the banks. If we dissect the amount a little further, we find that £32,000,000 of the £41,000,000 has come from the Commonwealth and State savings banks. Not a very great proportion, therefore, has come from other banks. Of course, if those other banks have surplus money, they will invest it where they can get the best return, keeping in hand sufficient ready cash to meet any contingency that may arise.
In practically every debate in this chamber we hear a lot about communism. .1 feel that the best way to inhibit the growth of communism or fascism in this country is to provide opportunities for our people to own homes. Give them a stake in the country. Give them decent conditions, and we will achieve more in that way than we could by all the sermons delivered in this House or elsewhere. No one wants to change a way of living with which he is satisfied, but, if he is not satisfied with it. he may decide to try some other way of living. I believe that we could achieve more in this direction by giving the workers decent homes than we can by all the talk that we indulge in in this chamber, much of which, I admit, has as its purpose only the gaining of votes.
Housing is a most important matter. We know that the Government has budgeted this year for a surplus of £108,000,000. The contention has been put forward that this money is needed to assist the States to carry out their works programmes, and so maintain a satisfactory level of employment, but I believe that this Government could have attacked the housing problem in a more vigorous manner. This bill provides for a maximum amount of £32,150,000 to be allocated to the States for housing purposes. I suggest that that amount could have been provided out of the expected surplus of £108,000,000. An interest charge, to cover administration costs, could have been made, at the rate of up to about 2 per cent. In the administration of such a scheme safeguards would have to be provided. We could not lend a person money at 2 per cent, for the purpose of building a house, when the ruling interest rate is 5 per cent, or 5i per cent., and allow him to sell it six months after it had been completed. We would have to provide that such a house could not be sold for a period of five or six years
Let us consider the position of a person who takes home, in his weekly wage envelope, a clear amount of £17 or £20 - and we must remember that there are very few who can take home as much as that. A person who is paid overtime may build his wages up to that amount, but the average net wage is very much less. We should try to help the ordinary worker who is able to take home to his wife £13 or £14 a week. If we wish to do so we must face the situation courageously. We must be prepared to provide him with money, out of this expected surplus, for the purpose of building his home, at the kind of low interest rate that I have suggested, keeping in mind the necessity for certain safeguards. We could not allow a person to make a profit by building a home with this cheap money and then selling it. We must remember that the difference between an interest rate of 2 per cent, and one of 5 per cent, on a housing loan of £3.000 would be about £90 in the first year, gradually decreasing, of course, as the years go bv. A person who borrows money for homebuilding at the ruling rates of interest must nay a lame amount each year in interest before he reduces the principal by one penny.
Should we burden our people with the worry of such heavy debts during the best years of their lives? A person is very fortunate indeed to own a home even after paying it off for 35 or 40 years.
I want to lift this matter above the party political level, because we all have a great responsibility in regard to housing. Consider the position of young persons to-day. In the city in which 1 live, they have to go 8 to 10 miles out to find a home site. Possibly they will have no roads and no sewer. They will probably have electric light, but almost certainly no gas. Foi such a site they will pay from £750 to £1,000 for an ordinary block with a 40- or 50-foot frontage. Do what he may, a man will then be lucky to build an ordinary five-roomed brick veneer home for less than £3,500. I am concerned about this problem, and I sometimes wonder what advice I would give to any young chap with a reasonable job who might ask me my opinion about home-building. No one knows what will be the economic future of this country, because it is so dependent on the vagaries of nature. One asks oneself: What would a drought do to the economy of Australia?
I believe that we should assist young people, in the way that I have suggested, to acquire their homes. The Government would lose nothing by providing this money from its expected surplus of £108,000,000. I am not altogether opposed to the principle of acquiring this surplus by taxation, but I do suggest that the Government should use it properly. It should give it back to the young people who will in the future have to accept many responsibilities. Do not burden them with such a large debt that it will be practically impossible for them to acquire their homes. Unless a young man can look forward with practical certainty to retaining his job until he is 65. I would not advise him to tie a £5.000 debt around his neck. I believe that a lot of young people are thinking along those lines to-day. I know of one young chaD. whose father I have known for a number of yen’s, who. with his savings of £700 or £800. bought a motor car. That was an unwise move, in my opinion as he needed it only for pleasure. He asked, however. “ How can I undertake to repay a debt of £4,000 or £5,000, because, although my job looks all right now, there is no certainty of continuity? “ That young man is unsure of the future, just as every one else is. 1 do not think I am asking too much in suggesting that the amount of money to be allocated for housing under this bill should have been taken out of the Treasurer’s expected surplus for the year.
Another portion of this bill requires that the States must provide a certain amount for houses for personnel of the armed services. I believe that the Commonwealth should have provided these houses for the armed services. The Commonwealth could have undertaken a large housing programme. No one can contend that there is a shortage of materials. Those days are finished in the building industry. _When the building programme for the Olympic Games is completed in Victoria there will be a surplus of building tradesmen in that S’ate. The Government could have undertaken an extensive building programme so as to catch up with the lag in the provision of war service homes. After all, war service homes are the responsibility of the government of the day, and immediately a war service home is completed the Government commences to recoup itself for its cost.
I do not want to say any more at this stage, except to ask the Government not to put too great a burden of interest on the young man and his wife, who decide to start their married life, as we want them to, as good citizens of this nation by owning their own homes. Although we want them to own their homes, we do not want them to have a crushing burden of debt to carry, in addition to the nagging strain and worry of meeting the normal expenses of living. The interest bill on the average home being purchased by the young worker is heavy enough, but if he loses a month’s work through a change in occupation or, what is worse, through sickness he will be almost overwhelmed by his financial commitments.
Many people have done a magnificent job in purchasing their homes, but some houses have to he built for rental. Every honorable senator would be delighted to think that all the people could own their homes, but the fact is that a large percentage rent them. According to Victorian Housing Commission statistics - some of which 1 have cited in this chamber on occasions - many people have made representations to purchase homes, but many others who need homes still want to rent them, only because they are afraid of the future. It may be suggested that they are not prepared to take a risk, and that may be true, but sometimes a man is wise not to burden himself and his family with a load of debt, so that the normal niceties of life have to go by the board.
In Victoria an attempt is being made to sell Housing Commission homes, and I understand that it is practically impossible for a person to rent one of them. However, if a person goes to the Housing Commission with a couple of hundred pounds, and is prepared to tie himself up for 40 or 45 years, he has a chance of buying a home. I have mentioned the number of houses that have been built in Australia, and it is easy to do that, but after all the Government should build houses. 1 am not denying the improvement in the housing position, but there is still a great lag. I am concerned about the person who is not prepared to buy. because he has not the means or is afraid to do so because of his intermittent employment. 1 want him to have a decent home. I admit that the rentals to-day are extremely high, and I shall not enter into a political discussion on who is responsible for that. Tenants are paying £4 and more a week in rent, and I marvel how they can live on the balance of their incomes. If these proceedings were not being broadcast I should express my views on how these people live, but I have some respect for the institution of Parliament and I shall reserve my remarks for another occasion. 1 hope that, although the sum being allocated under the agreement is reduced to approximately £32,000.000. it will help the position. Parliament, or the Government of the day is responsible for bringing thousands of newcomers into this country. There is no objection to that, but it must be remembered that they have to be sheltered. In the inner industrial areas of Melbourne exorbitant prices are being charged for old dwellings, and they are so overcrowded that. I understand, the occupants sleep in relays. That sort of thing emphasizes the great responsibility of Parliament or the Government to provide housing for the people.
I hope that the Minister will consider my request that the amount now under consideration, and similar amounts in the future, should be taken out of the budget surplus, and made available to home seekers at an interest rate of no more than 2 per cent. Some will say that if that were done, the person who last year contracted to pay 5 per cent, will consider that he is being unfairly treated, but no matter what act of Parliament is passed some one seems to suffer a disability. If the Government were to adopt this suggestion it would be proof that it sincerely wished to have every person in the community properly sheltered, and as many as possible in their own homes. If we in this Parliament continue to allow young people to be forced to pay anything from £150 to £225 in interest alone, in addition to rates, taxes, insurance, and the ordinary maintenance costs of a home however new, we shall not be doing all we can and should do to overcome the people’s housing problems.
I have tried to keep the discussion of this matter above the political plane, because I believe every honorable senator has at heart the interests of the young married people who have to carry the heat and burden of the day in every situation with which this nation is confronted. Decent living conditions are one of the greatest obstacles to the growth of all the ideological “ isms “ of the left or the right that unfortunately are so much in evidence at election times. 1 believe that under this measure we can do something that will at least mark us as having imagination, initiative, and drive. No one could validly object to the action of any government which, in-order to house the people, budgeted for a surplus to be raised by taxation and then lent the surplus funds to home-builders at the lowest possible rates of interest. I hope this measure will result in more people obtaining homes so that they may enjoy decent living conditions and be better citizens.
– I congratulate Senator Kennelly on the tone of his remarks. I think I do not flatter him unduly by saying that he has kept the debate on a high plane and has dealt with this bill in a very constructive and informative way. I hope to “ye able to follow his example, although I jo not intend to cover the same ground that he traversed. I agree entirely with him on the fundamental point that proper housing is one of the greatest needs of the community. Indeed, it can be said that it is the community’s prime need. I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Kennelly’s observation that it is, in effect, the best possible bulwark against communism and the other “ isms “ that so often influence people who suffer from bad housing and poor living conditions generally. I believe in the saying that the Englishman’s home is his castle. Proper housing does a great deal to promote happiness and contentment.
This bill is based on an agreement that was ratified by the Housing Agreement Bill 1956, which was considered in this chamber last June. The present debate contrasts somewhat with the debate on that bill, which was marked by a certain amount of acrimony. Some of us may be fundamentally opposed on methods, Mr. Acting Deputy President, but we have common ideas on the need for decent housing for all in the community. Although we on this side of the Senate may not agree with the methods of housing the people enunciated from time to time by the Australian Labour party, we are on common ground in realizing that the people can be adequately housed only by a concerted national effort. The Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement has been entered into in order to obtain that concerted national effort, and this measure is necessary to the implementation of that agreement.
The funds to be provided for the States under the authority of this bill are allocated broadly in proportion to State populations, the total amount being £32,150,000.. which is a great deal of money. I am glad to see that South Australia will receive £3,600,000 to assist in housing the people of that State. As Senator Kennelly has said, the population of Australia has increased markedly in recent years. Our housing efforts must provide for the needs not only of immigrants but also of natural-born Australians who are setting up homes. The allocation of £3,600,000 to South Australia will be a very great help in the work that is being done throughout the State to house the people. At this juncture I should like to mention the work of the South Australian Housing Trust. I intend to make no invidious comparisons between it and various other State housing organizations throughout Australia. The South Australian Housing Trust has functioned for a number of years under the old agreement, and it will continue to function under the new agreement I pay a well-merited tribute to the work done by the South Australian Government in this connexion. The activities of the trust cover a very wide field. Any one who is able to meet the financial commitments for the purchase of a home under a private arrangement or an arrangement with the trust can have a home built wherever he wishes. I should say that costs in South Australia compare very favorably with costs in other States.
A satellite town with the happy name of Elizabeth is being constructed about fifteen miles north of Adelaide. I frequently pass through that area on the way to my property in the northern farming areas. I have seen the magnificent work that is being achieved in the construction and the layout 4)f this satellite town. It is not being built in a haphazard way, but has been carefully planned. The South Australian Government has always insisted that, before housing may be occupied, proper facilities be available to the incoming persons.
– That is under the Housing Trust.
– Yes. In most places, sewerage and other facilities are quite up to date. One can see that this satellite town is being constructed in the most efficient way. I am not one of those people who believe in what may be termed socialistic enterprises. I am traditionally opposed to them, but I am willing to concede that the work of the South Australian Housing Trust in connexion with the satellite town of Elizabeth is being carried out most effectively. Incidentally, I do not like the use of the term “ satellite “ in this instance, because this is almost a selfcontained town. The South Australian Housing Trust, of course, enlists the aid of many thousands of private builders, with the result that work is progressing very well indeed.
I do not want to take up a great deal of time on this measure, because I believe that the principles were thoroughly debated in June, when the Housing Agreement Bill 1956 was being considered. I am glad to know that my State, in common with Western Australia, has agreed to the terms of the new agreement. I am also glad that all State governments have intimated that the Commonwealth scheme is acceptable to them. I do not altogether agree with the comparison that Senator Kennelly made between the old agreement and the new agreement. He said that this agreement is not as good as the old agreement. We may differ on that score, but that is of little consequence. The fact remains that this agreement makes possible the provision of a vast amount of money for the erection of houses in the next five years.
The lag in home building in Australia generally is still quite considerable. That is necessarily so, because of the influx of immigrants. The immigration programme, naturally aggravates the housing situation. It has taken quite a number of years te overcome the lag that existed when this Government came into office. The Government has a magnificent record of achievement in respect of housing. Under the old agreement, about 631,000 houses were built, of which 70 per cent., or 470,000 houses, were erected by this Government. That shows that we have tackled the problem of housing with the utmost energy. Under the old agreement, about £225,000,000 was disbursed to the States for the purpose of building houses through their various organizations. Whatever number of houses may have been erected through the provision of that sum, by far the greatest number of houses has been built by private enterprise during that period. The position may be expressed in another way. Despite the fact that housing authorities have expended about £225,000,000 on the building of houses under the agreement, 84 per cent, of the houses built throughout Australia were privately built. In other words, private enterprise has expended a much greater sum than have governments in providing for the housing needs of the community.
I heartily support this measure. I am pleased that 5 per cent, of the total amount will be made available for the building of homes for serving members of the forces. Senator Kennelly has asked, “Why cannot that be done by the Commonwealth? “ The answer is obvious to me. Why should we set up a completely new organization when organizations which could effectively carry out this work are already operating? Those organizations can do the job; there is no need for us to set up another big Commonwealth machine to build houses. I welcome the provision that 5 per cent, of the money will be set aside for the purpose of building houses for serving members of the forces.
What is, perhaps, even more significant to me is that 20 per cent, of the money will be allocated to building societies and other approved institutions. The remaining 80 per cent., of course, .will be used by the State housing authorities. The provision of 20 per cent, of the money to assist building societies to carry out their valuable work deserves the support of all deep-thinking people. The building society scheme is not so highly developed in South Australia as it is in some of the eastern States, but certain building societies are operating in our State. 1 am glad that their efforts will be assisted by the provision of funds for the very valuable purpose of building houses.
I do not think there is any need for me to add to what I have already said. We are all concerned with this important matter of housing. We all agree that houses are essential to the contentment and happiness of the people. The fact that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), after lengthy negotiations with the States, has obtained their approval to the main provisions of the housing agreement reflects great credit on him. I support the bill. I am sure that it will make a substantial contribution to the welfare and happiness of our people.
– The bill authorizes the Government to raise £32,150.000 in loan moneys, and there is no dispute between the Government parties and the Opposition about the need for and the desirability of doing our utmost to increase the supply of houses in Australia so that all Australians may live in their own homes under the most advantageous conditions. Our opinions differ as to the best methods to be taken to reach this desired objective.
The position is that we have now come to the end of an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the State governments, which covered a ten-year period. We have now entered into a n.-w agreement which embodies some new principles, which, in some measure, represent a new approach to the problem of providing houses for the Australian people. Senator
Kennelly - other honorable senators opposite also said it by way of interjection - stated that, in effect, the Commonwealth Government has said to the State governments, “ Take the new agreement, or else “. In a society in which there are governments of varying political thought, it will be found almost invariably that one party will at least publicly criticize proposals submitted by its opponents. 1 had long discussions with the State Ministers in charge of housing about this new agreement. Of course, not one of my political opponents will admit that this scheme has any merit at all. yet 1 feel confident in saying that the various State Ministers, housing commissions and others interested in housing generally, at least acknowledge that this new approach is an interesting experiment and, in their hearts, wish it well. Building of houses by the Government has not turned out to be the bed of roses that every one thought it would be when the scheme was embarked upon in 1945.
– That is a matter of opinion.
– The whole basis of the 1945 agreement was the building of houses for rental, and 1 have little doubt that in implementing that policy over the ten-year period the State governments and their housing commissions have frequently felt that they were in a position similar to that of the man who had the tiger by the tail and could not let go of the tail for fear of what the head would do to him. The great expansion in the building of homes by governments and housing commissions at subsidized interest rates and upon favorable conditions has created problems which were never contemplated in the initial approach. For instance, it was never contemplated that the Government would subsidize the building of rental homes for people irrespective of their economic position and irrespective of their need for assistance. I hesitate to embark upon this wide subject at this late stage of the debate, but in my opinion the unsympathetic approach to rent control in the various States has been largely responsible for a set of circumstances under which governments have become the only builders of rental homes. There is no future in the expansion of activities along those lines, and I have little doubt at all that irrespective of which side of political thought they represent there are ‘ very few dissenting voices to this general principle among those who are charged with the responsibility of providing houses.
Senator Kennelly spoke of the desirability of providing money for housing at low interest rates. In reply, I repeat what my colleague. Senator Hannaford, said. Even though this £30.000.000 might be a great sum. under present conditions it will provide for only about 16 per cent, of the houses built in Australia. Are we to provide subsidized interest rates for that 16 per cent, in existing circumstances when these houses are to be made available for rental to Senator Kennelly or to me just as freely as to the widow who has five children and is living on a pension? There is no logic in that approach.
– But the Minister knows that neither he, nor I nor any person enjoying the salaries we do has any need to seek housing commission homes. The Minister is only putting up an Aunt Sally.
– Unfortunately, that is not so. The records of tenants of housing commission homes show that a very substantial proportion of them are in receipt of good incomes. For instance, the large block of flats at North Sydney is something more in the nature of housing accommodation for professional people.
Senator Kennelly made the point that those in receipt of low incomes ranging from £13 to £14 a week should be given every assistance; but there is another angle to be considered there. None of these things is as simple as it appears at first sight. I refer to the fact that lists of people waiting for assistance from building societies are packed with names of persons who are in receipt of comparatively good incomes. I had the temerity to read one such list on one occasion. I obtained it on the spur of the moment, giving no prior notice whatever of my wishes, and it contained the names of 50 people awaiting financial accommodation from building societies. I had it incorporated in “ Hansard “. It showed that the vast majority of those people who had saved from £500 to £600 were not tradesmen or employees on what might be termed comparatively small incomes in these modern times. When we are expending government moneys is it not at least desirable and equitable that an appreciable proportion of those moneys be earmarked for the benefit of those people who have had the courage, determination and good sense, despite very difficult circumstances, to save enough for a deposit on a home? I believe that the agreement is turning over a new page in housing legislation, and represents a fresh approach to such legislation - a far better approach. First, it earmarks a percentage of the funds for the benefit of those who want to build houses through building societies, those who have saved their money and are determined to make sacrifices in order to achieve the objective of home-ownership; secondly, it leaves to the States the power to make whatever approach to housing they think best, because under the agreement each State may implement its individual policy in respect of 80 per cent, of the funds provided for housing. There is no tag attached to that proportion of the money.
One of the most interesting developments resulting from this legislation - although it has not yet become crystal clear - is that instead of continuing the principle of building homes for rental, which was embodied in the 1945 act, part of the 80 per cent, of funds with which the States may do as they please in respect of housing is being diverted by them to homeownership schemes. For instance. New South Wales, in addition to making available 20 per cent, of the loan money to the building society movement, as provided in the agreement, is making the homes built with the remaining 80 per cent, of the funds available for sale on very liberal terms. 1 make that statement subject to correction, but I think it is right.
The third point about the new agreement is that the stock of 1 00.000 homes - I think that is the figure - subject to the rental rebate scheme, which were built over the last ten years, with funds bearing the former interest rate of 3 per cent., which will continue for the remainder of the 53-vear period, may be utilized, if the States so desire, for the class of person whom Senator Kennelly and I agree should be assisted - that is. people on low incomes or who may have struck a hard patch of luck an’l been unable to make the progress towards hene-ownership fiat other people have been able to make. 1 believe that the agreement is fair and has liberal provisions through which it will stimulate the building society movement. 1 am sure that we all hope that such stimulation of the building society movement will result in those societies developing in Australia as they have developed in Great Britain, which will mean that more houses will bc built for the expenditure of the amount formerly required to build a smaller number. I believe that building societies provide better houses than government authorities can provide. I make that statement with no wish to decry the work of housing commissions, but because I think that a house is better when it is built, not on a housing settlement, but where the intending purchaser wants it built.
It would make a very great contribution, indeed, to the Australian financial system if the Commonwealth government of the day could use the banks, the insurance companies, thrift and savings schemes, for providing money for housing, as is done in Great Britain, remembering all the time that our budget for some years has included provision for housing of the order of £60,000,000 to £65,000,000.
In that spirit I commend the bill to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– Will the Minister give me some information on how the allocation of money to the various States is based because, for example, Queensland gets less than either South Australia or Western Australia, despite the fact that Queensland has both a larger population and a larger area than those States?
– The answer is that housing funds are provided out of loan moneys. The Australian Loan Council settles the total limit of loan moneys. Assuming the Loan Council sets the total for the year at £190,000,000, that total is distributed among the States in accordance with the terms of the financial agreement and the statutory rights of the States. Each State informs the Commonwealth how much of its share of the total it is appropriating for housing. The amount appropriated in Queensland or any other State is decided by the State government.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 18th October (vide page 736), on motion by Senator Paltridge -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Senate is now being asked to give its approval to an agreement, which was signed last May, to renew a previous agreement that was in existence from 1949 until its supersession by the present agreement. The International Wheat Agreement is a compact whereby importing countries which are members of the agreement contract to purchase a certain volume of wheat from the exporting countries which are members of the agreement, at an agreed price. I would say, Mr. President, that the position to-day is somewhat different from that which existed in the earlier part of this year, when discussions were taking place at Geneva among the various parties to the agreement, and where a good deal of bargaining was indulged in on the price at which wheat should be sold by the exporting countries to the importing countries during the currency of the new agreement. At that time, it looked as though agreement regarding prices could not be reached. As we know, at the moment the world has more wheat than it can consume. Perhaps I should correct that statement by saying that the world has more wheat than can be disposed of for money. Undoubtedly, if all the people of the world were able to purchase their full requirements of wheat there would be no wheat surplus, but, under existing conditions, there is a surplus of this very valuable foodstuff. So we have to make an arrangement in respect of guaranteed prices. Eventually agreement was reached at Geneva.
Whilst the price to be paid under this agreement is 5 cents a bushel lower than the price received under the previous agreement, I feel that it is better for us to enter into the agreement so that the wheatproducers and the consumers will be able to frame their budgets. The Opposition has no criticism of the bill, in principle, because, after all, it was the Labour party, when in office, which popularized the idea of Australian participation in such agreements. It has always been a firm conviction of the Australian Labour party that those who produce the world’s goods are entitled to a fair and reasonable price for their labour. Our party advocates that the worker in industry should have a fair and reasonable wage in order to maintain himself and his family in a reasonable standard of comfort, and we supported the setting up of wages boards and arbitration courts to guarantee to the worker a fair and reasonable price for the commodity which he sells - his labour.
We believe that primary producers are likewise entitled to a fair and reasonable price for their labour in producing the food that we consume. Of course the primary producer, like the worker in days gone by, did not have the protection of arbitration tribunals or stabilizing organizations, but was subject to the old law of supply and demand. When there was a good season in Australia and a bad season somewhere else in the world, the primary producer got the price for his product that the merchant desired to pay to him; but if there was a glut of wheat in this country and throughout the world, he received a very poor price. We all know the position wheat-growers were in when this Parliament was moved to do something to protect their interests. It is remarkable that at the present time some of those who support wheat marketing arrangements were hostile to them when they were first introduced. We are glad that they have been converted.
I know that there are some among the wheat-growers who will speak against this proposal through their representatives in the Senate. They will argue that if, during the period that this agreement has been in existence, they had received the price of wheat sold on the free market they would have got more than they received under the agreement. It remains for them to consider whether the free market price would have been as high as it was if the International Wheat Agreement had not been in existence. We have heard arguments like that from time to time from some of the more conservative wheat-growers of Australia. Indeed, a gentleman who is now a Minister was a very keen critic of the International Wheat Agreement. I do not know whether he has protested against it since he has become a Minister when this matter was going through another place, but I know that he has done so in the past.
One of the regrettable features of this agreement is that we have been unable to induce Australia’s best wheat customer, the United Kingdom, to take its place among the nations which have contracted to purchase our wheat. When the agreement was being considered, there was a difference of opinion between our representatives and those of the United Kingdom over the price to be paid, and, consequently, we lost the United Kingdom market. However, perhaps the United Kingdom will continue to purchase some wheat from us. Although Great Britain was not a signatory to the agreement that has just expired, that country still purchased a considerable quantity of our wheat, but nothing like the amount of 80,000,000 bushels it had purchased during the currency of the former agreement. As the forthcoming harvest, according to the authorities, will be more than sufficient to meet the requirements of the contracting nations, Great Britain will be able to purchase wheat on the open market.
It is worth noting that the nations which are signatories to the agreement were able to come to agreement, and it is necessary for us in Australia, being so anxious to increase our export trade, to realize that in order to overcome difficulties with our overseas balance of payments we must expand our exports. Wheat is a most valuable commodity and it can earn a large amount of money for us overseas. I understand that at the original conference about 60 nations attended, whereas only 44 have guaranteed to purchase quantities of wheat during the year, whilst another six have guaranteed to export wheat. In view of the necessity to build up our export markets, and especially in view of the fact that the United Kingdom is not a signatory to the agreement, we have to look to the East and other places for additional markets.
Eastern countries have always been regarded as principally rice-consuming countries, but they are beginning to develop a desire for our wheat. When I attended the food trades council, during the time f was in London, representatives of Ceylon and of other countries of the British Commonwealth were anxious to obtain Australian wheat and export their rice to other parts of the British Commonwealth. Since that time 1 have noticed that there is a tendency in Eastern countries to become wheat consumers. 1 notice that Japan, for example, is contracting for 36,743,710 bushels. That is a considerable quantity of wheat, and it will not necessarily all come from Australia. But the possibilities are that we, being the nearest of the wheatexporting countries, will supply most of that wheat. Korea wants 2,204,623 bushels. The Philippines Islands are purchasing up to 6,000.000 bushels.
An interesting purchaser is Egypt which is one of the largest contractors and requires about 1 1 ,0 J0.000 bushels of wheat. I hope that the international situation does not deteriorate and that as time passes Egypt will require still more wheat. France, which has always been looked upon as a big wheat-producing country, has not been exporting as much as usual. That is because of the devastation caused by war. We find that France is contributing about 16,000,000 bushels to the pool this year. Another country, Sweden, is contributing 6,000,000. I am pleased to see that the Argentine is a party to the agreement, because it is looked upon as one of Australia’s main competitors. The United States of America is contracting to supply, in round figures, 133,000,000 bushels, but there is some disquiet among wheat-growing nations about the United States Government’s policy of subsidizing primary production. It is feared that there may be a move to unload great surpluses of foodstuffs on the world market. Be that as it may, we have become parties to this agreement. It is an accomplished fact, and we support it. Some details of it could, of course, be criticized. Every “ i “ has not been dotted and every “ t “ has not been crossed, but I think that the agreement will at least enable that important section of the community, the wheat-growers, to develop their industry with confidence.
From time to time, there have been suggestions that the wheat acreage be limited, and production reduced. I am not one of those who subscribe to that doctrine. While we have teeming millions so near at hand, anxious for the produce of Australia, it is our bounden duty, as it is that of every country, to produce foodstuffs in abundance. We must see to it that undernourished peoples, whose standard of living we are eager to raise, are given an opportunity to enjoy some of the good things of life. One could touch on other features of this bill, but the agreement is an accomplished fact, and we can only support ii and give it our blessing.
– With Senator Sheehan, I support this bill, which gives parliamentary approval and sanction to the new International Wheat Agreement. As Senator Sheehan has said, it perpetuates the basic principles of the International Wheat Agreement of the last seven years. However, I am sure that it is a matter for regret to the Government, and to wheat-growers, that some details of the previous agreement have had to be altered. For instance, as the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge) has pointed out, Australia’s quota under the new agreement has been reduced from 45,000,000 bushels to 30,000,000 bushelsa reduction of one-third. Similarly, the total amount of the world’s wheat dealt with under the agreement has been reduced from 395,000,000 to 303,000,000 bushels. It is also a matter for regret that prices show a downward trend. In Australian currency, they work out approximately at a maximum of 18s. and a minimum of 12s. a bushel.
To me, as a wheat-grower, the most interesting feature of the agreement is the minimum figure because, with a downward trend in world prices there is a necessity to establish a floor price. I am happy to think that a minimum price of even 12s. a bushel f.o.b. eastern Australian ports has been fixed.
It is a matter for further regret thai Great Britain is still not a party to the agreement. One cannot help wishing that in 1953, when the previous agreement was being negotiated, some of those who were sitting around the conference table had been a little more realistic and had met Great Britain’s price. That is. of course, all a matter of history, and Great Britain is still not a party to the agreement.
The downward trend in wheat prices is attributable principally to the- fact that huge surpluses have accumulated in the principal wheat growing countries. One cannot blame importing countries such as Great Britain for seeking the best possible bargain That consideration undoubtedly influenced Great Britain in 1953, and still does. At a time like this, when there is such a downward trend, the Internationa] Wheat Agreement is all the more important, lt is important to the wheat-growing industry, and it is especially important to the Government, which has munificently guaranteed the wheat-growers the cost of production price for 100,000,000 bushels of export wheat. We must remember this when we are thinking of wheat sales and prices. It must be some consolation to the Government to know that under the agreement there is a floor price of about 12s. a bushel for 30,000,000 bushels of Australia’s export wheat during the next three years. I suggest to the growers, who are also extremely interested, that they too might find some consolation in the ratification of this agreement for another three years, notwithstanding that some aspects of it have been disappointingly altered. Great comfort may be derived also from the fact that a stabilization plan, which assists growers at a time like this, is in existence. As I have said the plan guarantees to the grower the cost of production for 100,000.000 bushels of wheat. Under complementary legislation the States fix home consumption prices at approximately the cost of production. The cloud that has been hanging over the wheat industry seems to have lifted somewhat. It is pleasing to note that, at the present time, sales are buoyant. I read only the other day that about 100.000.000 bushels of wheat exported from Australia have been sold during the present wheat-selling season. 1 think that that trend is likely to continue.
I sum up Australia’s wheat position as follows: - It is estimated that Australia will have a carry-over of 90,000,000 bushels at the end of the current wheat year, which finishes at the end of November. Experts have estimated that the current crop will yield 120,000,000 bushels, so that the total quantity of wheal on hand after the harvest has been reaped will be 210,000,000 bushels. Of this quantity, it is expected that 160,000,000 bushels will be needed for home consumption. That estimate is based on figures for previous years. After satisfying the demand for home consumption, we shall probably have a carry-over of 50.000,000 bushels, which will be by no means embarrassing. As I have said before, there is every possibility that nature might take a hand in some of the great wheat exporting countries of the world. Taking into consideration reduced acreage, this could bring the world wheat surplus to manageable proportions before too long. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Cooper) read a first time.
Senate adjourned at 4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 October 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1956/19561019_senate_22_s9/>.