22nd Parliament · 3rd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Assent to the following bills reported: -
Customs Tariff Bill (No. 3) 1958.
Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference) Bill (No. 2) 1958.
Customs Tariff (New Zealand. Preference) Bill (No. 2) 1958.
Customs Tariff (Papua and New Guinea Preference) Bill 1958.
-Is the Minister in charge of the War Service Homes Division in a position to inform the Senate of the situation regarding applications made by ex-servicemen for advances from the War Service Homes Division, first, in order to build homes, and secondly, to purchase homes?
-I recently made a statement setting out the position, the contents of which ran somewhat along the following lines: -The waiting time has been eliminated for all those who desire to build homes in association with the War Service Homes Division. That is to say, at least one-third of the applicants for war service homes have no waiting time at all. For those who wish to buy a home, whether it is a new home or one that has previously been occupied, there is a waiting time of fifteen months. The waiting time for those who want to build homes privately, after obtaining the consent of the War Service Homes Division, has been reduced from fifteen months to eight months. We are catching up with the arrears and making headway. The waiting list of those wanting war service homes has been reduced from about 22,000 to about 19,000 over the last twelve months. When we speak in terms of 19,000 in this connexion, it must be remembered that, for some reason or other, a substantial proportion of applicants do not go on with their applications when their turn comes. I think that about 40 per cent. of applicants change their minds and do not go on with their applications. We are dealing with about 15,000 applicants a year. As the waiting list has been reduced to about 19,000 and it takes eight or nine months to build a home, the position regarding war service homes is very much brighter than it was a year or so ago.
-I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether the Government is aware that the running of election tickets in union ballots by groups of candidates is prohibited under the rules of many unions. I have in mind the Miners Federation and the Australian Journalists Association. Is the Government also aware that this voluntary banning of organized political tickets in unions allows the members to vote for the best man for the job, judged on his industrial record rather than on his political record and beliefs? Does the Government agree ‘that such a system is best for the unions and for Australia? Is the Government also aware that the practice of running political tickets in union ballots is a technique developed by the extreme right on one side and the extreme left on the other in the cold war on communism in the unions? This being so, will the Government consult with the Australian Council of Trade Unions for the purpose of securing its support for an amendment of the arbitration act so that unions may be freed from the continual conflict that arises from the politicalization of the unions -something which the Labour party has never supported -by interests which have chosen the trade union movement as a battleground for their political rather than their industrial ideologies?
-I do not know precisely where to begin my answer to what is really a statement rather than a question, but I can see that the honorable senator is very concerned about unity tickets. I think we all are. But I also think it would be quite improper for a government, in respect of union ballots, to legislate as to who shall run on what ticket.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion about this matter. I think that it was raised in the House of Representatives last April. On that occasion, the Leader of the Opposition in that place said that the matter was one entirely for the unions, that it was npt a matter for the Australian Labour party; yet, one day last week, or the week before, when the question was raised again in -the same place, the Leader of the Opposition there quoted the rules of the Australian Labour party to show that the party forbade the running of unity tickets in elections, whether they were elections of industrial union officials or political elections. But, notwithstanding that ban, the fact remains that unity tickets are run.
– Not in the main unions!
– It is a matter, of course, for the unions themselves to decide whether a man who is not a Communist but is prepared, for the purpose of winning election, to aline himself and associate with Communists, shall be allowed to do so. Conversely, it may be for the Communist to decide whether he is prepared to aline himself with a member of the A.L.P. With all respect, I suggest that it is not a matter in respect of which this Parliament should legislate; I suggest that it should be left to the good sense of the A.L.P. or union concerned to decide whether members of unions who are prepared, for the sake of gaining office, to be alined and associated with Communists on a unity ticket should be allowed to do so.
– Has the Minister for Customs and Excise seen the article in the Sydney “Sunday Telegraph”, of 3rd August, alleging that there has been a rapid growth in the production of horror films in Great Britain and America? The article suggests these films are drawing great audiences and are being used to combat the competition of television. What steps are taken by the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board to guard against the entry of horror films into Australia? Has there been any recent increase in the importation of such films into Australia?
– I did read the article with a great deal of interest. Since 1948, the importation of horror films into Australia has been banned. The Commonwealth Film Censorship Board has a definition of these films. The board defines a horror film as one which portrays charac ters of a monstrous or abnormal type, shows episodes of a hideous, revolting or gruesome nature tending to terrify or shock sensitive persons, irrespective of age, the main theme of which may be classed as horrific, and is portrayed in a manner tending to appear abnormal. That is the interpretation of Regulation 13 (d) of the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations upon which the board relies in respect of films considered to be not in the public interest. The number of such films imported has recently increased. More have been rejected in the last six weeks than during the whole of 1957. The board is watching this type of film very closely.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. On Tuesday Senator Mattner stated that so far this year the central bank had released to the private trading banks a grand total of £75,000,000. I interjected, “ To go into hire purchase “. Senator Mattner went on to say that the money was released to assist Australian industry, both primary and secondary, and that the only stipulation made by the central bank was that no additional money should be made available for hire purchase. Is it not a fact that neither the central bank nor the Commonwealth Government has any power of direction over funds once they are released to the private trading banks?
– I did not hear the whole of Senator Mattner’s remarks, nor did I grasp completely the honorable senator’s question. Therefore, any reply in general terms which I may make may be a little off the target. As I understand it, the present policy of the Government, and of the central bank, is that releases are made without any restriction or tag. I doubt very much whether the central bank has much more power than to issue words of advice to the trading banks. It has done so publicly in the past - but hot for some little time. I do not know whether that is the answer which the honorable senator seeks.
– I ask the
Minister representing the Minister for Trade whether the United States of America has sent a continuous flow of productivity missions to European and other countries. Is it a fact that in 1955 a Japanese Productivity Centre, based upon the European productivity centres, was formed? Is it further a fact that it was backed by the United States Government, by Japanese subsidies and by assistance from private industry? Is it also a fact that, since its formation three years ago, the centre has sent almost 1,000 Japanese businessmen to the United States of America to study the operations of American industry, and has invited some 60 experts to study productivity problems in Japan? Has such a centre been established in Australia. If not, will the Government give some consideration to its formation?
– We are indebted to the honorable senator, I am sure, for the information she gave in leading up to the question. All the information, in my recollection, is accurate and is, of course, of particular interest on a day like to-day when we have a visit from Japanese parliamentarians. I believe it to be correct that there have been exchanges of missions on productivity. There were exchanges between America and other overseas countries, and I remember one that was sent from Great Britain to the United States. I know that my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, has been greatly interested in the matter and that he has some clear views and proposals regarding it. I am sorry to say that I am not sufficiently acquainted with what he has in mind to attempt to outline it.
– I wish to preface a question to the Minister for National Development by referring to a press report last week which stated that the duty on lead1 and zinc might rise in America. This was because of the defeat of the Mineral Subsidy Bill in the House of Representatives. That bill proposed the payment of subsidies to United States producers on commercial sales of lead, zinc, tungsten and acid grade fluorspar, the provision of incentive payments for the production of beryl chromite and columbium tantalum, and the stockpiling of 150,000 tons of copper. I ask the Minister: If a duty is imposed on the importation of lead and zinc, will this affect the Australian producers of these commodities? If so, is any action contemplated by the Government to protect them?
– When Senator Scott asked a somewhat similar question yesterday, I told him that I had received a paper from the Department of National Development which I had not had a chance to study, but that if he repeated the question to-day I would give him some views on the matter, based on the information contained in the paper. I have summarized the paper, and although it does not cover all of the points raised by Senator Scott, I think it will be of interest to the Seriate if I read briefly the notes I have made.
We start on the basis that Australia is the largest exporter of lead to the United States of America. We export to that country about 120,000 tor.s of lead a year, as well as substantial quantities of zinc and copper. The difficulties commenced from the stage at which the United States ceased to stockpile base metals. That coincided with the decline in the level of business activities in America, which was a major contributing feature to the recession in prices. These circumstances caused a drop in sales in America, which led mining interests in that country to make strong representations for protection. Those representations went to the United States Tariff Commission which, in its report of last April, submitted two proposals - alternative proposals - to the government. The first was that there should be a moderate tariff increase. The second was that there should be a very large tariff increase combined with the imposition of a quota upon imports, the quota being 50 per cent, of commercial imports over the years from 1953 to 1957. The quota would be half of what was sold between 1953 and 1957 for commercial purposes - commercial purposes including sales to America for stockpiling purposes. Most Australian sales to America are used for stockpiling purposes. Therefore, if that quota had been brought into operation our exports of base metals would have been in a serious situation. Australia would have been the hardest hit of all countries by that import quota arrangement.
The representations that were made resulted in the United States Administration not adopting either of the Tariff
Commission’s recommendations but, instead, proposing the Seaton plan which was based upon the idea of subsidizing production in the United States to give American mining interests and producers a better return. The implementation of that proposal would have far less injurious effects on countries exporting base metals to America. The proposal also contemplated the stockpiling of copper in America for another year. Illustrating the importance of the proposal is the fact that the estimated cost was 650,000,000 dollars over a five-year period. Those proposals have been rejected by the United States House of Representatives and the President now can accept one or other of the Tariff Commission’s recommendations, one being for the imposition of an import duty, and the other for a heavy duty plus 50 per cent, import quotas. Alternatively, the President may take no action at all. This is a matter of great consequence to the Australian base metal industry. We could be faced with a serious situation if the Tariff Commission’s proposals for the imposition of a heavy duty on imports were adopted.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Has the Minister seen the survey published in to-day’s press showing the extent of profiteering by hire-purchase companies in which the major private trading banks have holdings of up to 40 per cent.? ls he aware that 30 per cent, profit was made last year on the £293,000,000 owing by the Australian people to these hirepurchase companies? Does the Minister not feel that this method of finance at such high rates of interest which return such huge profits is inflationary and calls for immediate review? In view of the Government’s policy of curtailing the amount of advances made by the industrial and rural finance section of the Commonwealth Bank which, in turn, forces many people to enter into hire-purchase agreements at a high rate of interest, will the Minister inform the Senate whether any alteration of Commonwealth. Bank policy is contemplated to bring it into> line with the Midland Bank in the United: Kingdom which is making advances up to- £500 at a flat rate of interest of 5 per cent.?
– I saw the newspaper report to which the honorable senator refers. It was of such interest to me that I have put it to one side until I have a chance to study it in detail. In general terms. Senator O’Byrne criticizes hire-purchase arrangements in Australia and contrasts them with the new banking proposals in England that are also currently reported in the press. The only criticism of hire purchase that I have heard is in relation to the rate of interest that is applied. I have not heard any other criticism. I think that hire purchase has become a well-established and deeply imbedded part of our economy.
– It is a black market in money.
– It is a question oi the rate of interest. This is a matter in respect of which State governments can legislate if they think it is necessary to do so, but in respect of which the Commonwealth has no constitutional power. It is for the ‘State governments to make the first decision. I do not think that we do a great deal of good by discussing the matter in this Parliament. I read with interest the report about British banks lending amounts up to £500 at 5 per cent, interest. It has been the practice of banks in Australia for a long time to make loans of that kind. Everybody knows that, as far as small advances are concerned, the Australian banks, more often than not, back the man. They are more concerned with him than with the actual security he offers. This is a matter of each bank making up its own mind, having regard to the business conditions that are applicable, but there is nothing new in the proposal so far as we are concerned.
– I should like to ask a supplementary question of the Minister for National Development. It is prompted by the answer he gave just now to a question asked by Senator Scott relating to the base metals industry and the situation that exists in America. Can the Minister give the Senate an idea of the nature of the consideration of the problem that the Government contemplates? Can he inform us particularly whether our representatives abroad will be discussing with both producer and consumer nations the situation brought about by the serious decision taken in America?
– I gave a factual survey of the position and I very carefully avoided making any statement about the procedure that is being adopted. A meeting of Commonwealth officials is about to take place in London - I think it is scheduled to commence during the first week of September - and this matter will be considered there. Following that meeting, a conference of Commonwealth trade Ministers will be held in Montreal, during the second week of September. Australia will be represented at each of those conferences. The Australian representatives, including my colleague, Mr. McEwen, are well seised of the significance of the developments referred to and their effect on Australian interests.
– My question is addressed to the Minister acting for the Minister for Repatriation. As long-deferred action is to be taken to rebuild the repatriation hospital in Hobart, will the Minister supply information on the following matters: -
– I am under the impression that there is a question on the notice-paper, addressed to the Minister for Repatriation, similar to the one just asked by Senator Cole. In the absence of the Minister for Repatriation, I ask the honorable senator to place his question on notice. If he does so,I shall obtain the information for him. I understand that within two or three weeks the Public Works Committee is to meet in Hobart to consider the plans for this hospital.
– My question is directed to the Minister in charge of the War Service Homes Division. Is he aware that prior to 28th November, 1951, ex-servicemen were encouraged to buy houses if they could obtain advances on their own, on the understanding that at a later stage, when funds were available, the War Service Homes Division would discharge their mortgages and take over the liabilities? Can he say whether any statutory bar has prevented that policy from being proceeded with or whether a policy instruction issued on 28th September, 1951, and subsequently sent out again on 28th November, 1951, the reference being A5 1/1700, has prevented ex-soldiers and other defence personnel from obtaining release from mortgages and liabilities incurred on homes in regard to which they have undertaken their own finance?
– I cannot tell the honorable senator whether or not the point he raises is covered by statute, but I inform him that in practice those ex-servicemen who already have and are living in a home are not eligible for a war service homes advance. I am sure that what is being done is being done in accordance with the law, but I repeat that I am not quite certain whether it is being done because of a statutory provision or as a result of a ministerial decision. I think it is quite justifiable in the circumstances.
As I said in reply to an earlier question, applications for war service homes are running at the rate of about 20,000 a year still, and I think it is better in the national interest that we should assist those who have not a home of their own before we return to the previous policy of helping those who are already in a home by giving them the opportunity to get war service homes finance on more favorable terms than apply to the finance they have already obtained.
-Has the Minister for National Development seen a report in a section of the press to the effect that the
Constitution Review Committee has been considering the possible necessity to increase the number of members of the House of Representatives after the 1961 census and the consequent effect upon the number of senators who represent the States? Is there any likelihood of the report of this most important committee being presented to the Parliament in the very near future so that a stop may be put to further garbled .reports on questions that the committee may have examined?
– I did see the newspaper report. I am not a member of the committee, and I do not know whether the report is accurate. But I have been told by members of the committee that they are aiming at submitting their report to the Parliament before the end of this sessional period.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation whether he will investigate the claim of the South Johnstone Shire Council for reimbursement of the cost of establishing an aerodrome at Innisfail in the same way that the claim of the Inverell municipality was examined following which it was decided to pay the sum of £80,000 this year.
– Only a few weeks ago the Minister for Civil Aviation, on behalf of the Government, announced a policy on aerodrome construction. I am confident that all claims will be examined in accordance with that policy. If the honorable senator places his question on the noticepaper, I shall obtain an answer for him.
– On Tuesday last, I asked the Minister for National Development whether a bill to amend the River Murray Agreement, in order to give effect to the agreement reached by the Prime Minister and the Premiers of the States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, would be introduced during this sessional period. In reply, the Minister said that he believed that discussions were proceeding between the legal officers of the respective governments regarding the form of the proposed bill.
He .also stated that .a conference was to be held in Sydney yesterday to carry on the discussions. I now ask him whether that conference was held, whether agreement was reached between the legal officers of the respective governments and, if so, whether we may expect a bill to be introduced in the Parliament during the current sittings.
– My information is that the conference was held yesterday. I think that I am correct in saying that it was a meeting of the Crown Solicitors of the various governments to consider the draft of the agreement. I am informed that there were no points of divergence, that a satisfactory meeting was held, and that the draft seemed to meet with approval all round. I am told that that draft has now been re-circulated to the various governments. I am also told, I hope correctly, that there are possibilities that the draft will be accepted next week by the various people concerned. I repeat what I said on Tuesday: I am very keen to get the legislation introduced before the Parliament rises.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer, relates to the proposed visit of the Treasurer to the meeting of the International Monetary Fund that is to be held shortly. In view of the depressed condition of world trade at the moment, and having regard to the importance of the price of gold in relation to that situation, can the Minister assure the Senate that Sir Arthur Fadden will press strongly for an increase in the fixed price of gold?
– I do not know what business is to come before the meeting of the International Monetary Fund to which Sir Arthur Fadden is going, but I do know the policy of this Government. It is the policy of the Australian Government to advance proposals for an increase in the price of gold in all appropriate circumstances. So, without knowing the business that will come before the meeting of the International Monetary Fund, I can assure the honorable senator that, if the opportunity occurs, Sir Arthur Fadden, on behalf of Australia, will advocate an increase in the price of gold.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has furnished the following reply: -
Debate resumed from 27th August (vide page 292), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the following papers be printed: -
Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure, and Estimates of Expenditure for Additions, New Works and other Services involving Capital Expenditure, for the year ending 30th June, 1959;
The Budget 1958-59 - Papers presented by the Right Hon. Sir Arthur Fadden in connexion with the Budget of 1958-59; and
National Income and Expenditure 1957-58.
Upon which Senator Kennelly had moved by way of amendment -
At end of motion add the following words, viz. - “ but that the Senate is of opinion that their provisions inflict grave injustices on the States and on many sections of the Australian people - especially the family unit, and that they make no contribution to correcting seriously adverse trends in the Australian economy “.
– When the debate was interrupted last night, I was about to refer to the fact that honorable senators opposite continually criticize the interest rates charged in hire-purchase transactions in Australia. This morning, I heard the Minister representing the Treasurer inform the Senate, in answer to a question, that the control of hire purchase was not a function of the Commonwealth and was a matter entirely for the State governments. I remind honorable senators opposite that during the war period the Commonwealth Government had full power under national security regulations to control hire-purchase business and agreements.
In 1941, a board of inquiry was appointed to inquire into hire purchase and the cash order system. I have studied the report of that board very carefully. The board was set up under the National Security (Inquiries) Regulations, and its members were Harold William Chancellor, chairman, Joseph Benedict Chifley, George Stanley Coleman and Marshal James McMahon. The board was appointed for the purpose of inquiring into and reporting upon the system of trade in Australia by means of cash order and hire-purchase agreements, including the business and operations of any person who issued cash orders or entered into hire-purchase transactions as lessor, vendor or owner, or financed either directly or indirectly hirepurchase agreements. It was also required to inquire into and report on the conditions under which such trading, businesses and operations should be carried on. The board had power to call witnesses from any part of the Commonwealth. It did, in fact, call witnesses from Western Australia and Queensland. It took evidence in New South Wales, Victoria, and I think, South Australia, to ascertain just what was happening in connexion with the hire-purchase system in Australia.
It is interesting to note that evidence was tendered to show that, during the depression period between 1930 and 1933, while finance companies did make losses, the payment of instalments was generally fairly well maintained. The evidence also tended to show that this system of credit during times of depression is of value to the community.
I suggest that honorable senators opposite should not criticize the system of financing by hire purchase too strongly, because it is a fact that from the moment hire purchase is abolished, or from the moment its operation is restricted, the demand for manufactured products decreases and the final result is unemployment. I do not intend to quote the whole report submitted by that board - it is available for those who care to read it - but I mention that it sets out quite plainly in two or three paragraphs that if the Commonwealth Government of that time restricted hire purchase - here it has to be remembered that we were in the midst of a war - unemployment would be created. Almost every honorable senator opposite who has spoken to the Budget has mentioned what he calls the exorbitant rates of interest charged by hirepurchase companies. Let me point out that in 1941 the rate of interest charged by banks was from 44- per cent, to 5 per cent. In its conclusions, the board of inquiry suggested certain charges for hire purchase. The late J. B. Chifley concurred in those conclusions. The board suggested that it could be laid’ down that the added charges expressed as a true rate of interest per annum on the unpaid balance under hirepurchase agreements should not exceed 20 per cent, for furniture and wireless sets, 16 per cent, for used motor vehicles or 15 per cent, for other goods, wares and merchandise. That suggestion was made over the signatures of Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Coleman, Mr. Chifley and Mr. McMahon.
– They are higher than the present rates.
– They are far higher than the present rates. Honorable senators opposite have suggested that we should restrict the interest rates, and two or three State governments have looked at the matter. I know that Mr. Hawke, the Premier of Western Australia, looked into the matter thoroughly last year but decided to leave it alone. If interest rates are restricted too much - for example, if they are reduced to 5 per cent. - people will not invest in hire-purchase companies and- no money will be available to enable the public to buy goods.
– Will they let their money stand idle? Not on your life!
– I suppose you have studied the matter very thoroughly, and know all about it?
– I have not got as much invested in it as you have.
– I have not any money invested in hire purchase at all - not one penny.
– You have probably got it invested in something more profitable than hire purchase.
– I am not like Senator Aylett, who has a goldmine in Tasmania. All I am doing is looking after the interests of the working people - something which we on this side always do. We want to ensure that any person in Australia, whoever he may be, is able to buy the things that he needs for his home.
– At 20 per cent.?
– At reasonable rates of interest.
– At 20 per cent.?
– The late Mr. Chifley suggested 20 per cent., and he was a Labour man.
– Do you agree with his suggestion of 20 per cent.?
– The late Mr. Chifley was a member of that board of inquiry.
– Do you agree that 20 per cent, is a fair rate?
– Mr. J. B. Chifley was a member of this board1 which suggested ar interest rate of 20 per cent, on hire-purchase business involving furniture and wireless sets, and 16 per cent, on business involving used motor vehicles. He was supposed to be one of the financial wizards of the Labour party. No doubt Senator Aylett got his information on finance from J. B. Chifley. I have no desire to antagonize the Labour party about this matter. I am merely pointing out how foolish its members are when they continue to criticize the rates of interest charged by the hire-purchase companies. For the present, I am not saying whether the rates are too high or too low. Honorable senators opposite are really asking the States - not the Commonwealth, which has no power to act - to restrict hire purchase severely. The result of that would be that people would buy fewer goods and we would have a substantial pool of unemployed. Then Labour would stand up here and decry the Government for not preventing widespread unemployment.
– We have it now!
– It is not as widespread as it was under Labour. Senator Benn has apparently forgotten that unemployment rose to the highest level since the war while a Labour government was in office.
– What about 1952?
– The Commonwealth Year-Book of 1949 shows that in the JuneSeptember quarter 5.7 per cent, of the work force were drawing unemployment benefits. That percentage has never been approached under this Government. I remind him, also, of what the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) - a Labour supporter - said in 1945. It is recorded in “ Hansard “, and I have read it many times. He said that if a country could get unemployment down to less than 5 per cent, of the work force it had, to all intents and purposes, full employment. I invite any honorable senator to deny that the honorable member for Parkes said that in 1945.
The report to which I have referred states specifically that if hire-purchase interest rates are severely restricted the production of vital goods will be curtailed and unemployment will be created. Indeed, it says that in a depression it might be wise to let more money out for hire purchase so that more goods will be bought. It advocates the lowering of deposits to encourage wider buying and the fostering of manufacturing industry. Despite all this, Labour supporters suggest that hire-purchase interest rates should be cut right down so that no one will be able to buy under the hirepurchase system.
– Do you think that it is quite all right to charge 20 per cent, interest?
– Mr. Chifley said that that was just the thing to do.
– Do you agree with him?
– I am merely quoting the opinion of a Labour leader. Why should I agree with him?
– - The honorable senator should try to forget the coming, election.
– I do not propose to forget it. I intend to say my piece as loudly and as often as I can. If you ask whether I agree that 20 per cent, should be charged, my answer is that I prefer to remain noncommittal. I am merely telling the Senate what was approved by a Labour leader.
Slitting suspended from 12 noon to 2.52 p.m.
– I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator O’sullivan) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read’ a second’ time.
The purpose of this bill is to provide for the acceptance of Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, as a territory under the authority of the Commonwealth, and for the future government of that territory.
The first legislative step in connexion with the transfer of Christmas Island to Australia was taken in December, 1957, when the Parliament passed the Christmas Island (Request and Consent) Bill 1957. By that act, the Parliament requested, and consented to. the enactment by the United Kingdom Parliament of an act to enable the Queen to place Christmas Island under the authority of the Commonwealth and to make provision for matters incidental thereto. When the bill for our act was before the Senate on 4th December, 1957, my colleague, the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), informed honorable senators of the discussions which had taken place with the governments of the United Kingdom, Singapore and New Zealand regarding the future of Christmas Island, and of the reasons why it was decided - with the full agreement and support of the New Zealand Government - that responsibility for the future administration of the island should be placed with Australia. The Minister for National Development also informed honorable senators that when the bill had been approved by Parliament, the United Kingdom Government would introduce a bill into the United Kingdom Parliament for the purpose- df transferring authority over Christmas Island to the Commonwealth of Australia, and that when that action had been completed another bill’ would be brought before the Australian Parliament to provide for the acceptance of the transfer and for the future administration of the island.
By order in council made on 13th December, 1957, with effect on and from 1st January, 1958, the United Kingdom Government detached Christmas Island from Singapore and provided for its administration as a separate colony. Since then, the United’ Kingdom Parliament has passed’ an1 act entitled Christmas Island Act 1958, which provides that Her Majesty may, by order in council, direct that Christmas Island shall, on such date as may be specified in the order, cease to be a colony of the United Kingdom and be placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The next legislative step is with this Parliament, and it is being taken in the present bill. The passage of this measure will leave the way clear for the United Kingdom Government to seek Her Majesty’s approval to an order in council in terms of the Christmas Island. Act 1958 of the United Kingdom. After the making of that order in council, the Australian Government will take over the administration of the island. 1 shall now outline briefly the main provisions of the bill. Part I. provides that the act shall, come, into operation on a date to be specified in the order in council to be made in terms of the United Kingdom Act as the date on which Christmas Island will cease to be a colony of the United Kingdom and. will be placed under the authority of the Commonwealth. The date fixed will be agreed upon mutually between the Commonwealth and United Kingdom governments.
Part II.. provides’ for Christmas Island to be accepted by the Commonwealth as a territory under the authority of the Commonwealth’ and to be known as the Territory of Christmas Island. Provision is also made in this: part, for the transfer to the Commonwealth, subject to certain specified exceptions, of the property, rights’ and liabilities: of the United. Kingdom, the colony of Christmas Island and the colony of Singapore in and in respect of the island.
Part III. deals with the legislation for the territory. It is proposed to continue in force, subject to the act and to any other Commonwealth acts which will extend to the island of their own force, or which may be extended, the selected Singapore laws which have been continued in force in the island, as a separate colony, by the United Kingdom order in council of December, 1957. This will avoid any disruption which might arise if there were an application of a completely new body of laws. Powers and functions conferred by any of the laws continued in force on the Governor of the colony of Singapore, will in future be exercised by the GovernorGeneral; those conferred on any other person or authority will be exercised by such person or authority as the Minister may direct. The Minister may delegate his powers and functions to a specified person or authority. Provision is made for the Governor-General to make ordinances for the peace, order and. good government of the territory; and any law continued in force may be amended or repealed by an ordinance so made. Experience will show the extent to which this may be necessary. Ordinances made by the Governor-General will be subject to disallowance, in whole, or in part, by the Parliament.
I should mention at this stage that it is proposed that the day to day administration of the affairs of the territory will be carried out by an official representative, who will be appointed- under powers to be conferred by ordinance, and who will exercise such powers and functions as are delegated to him. by the Minister. This follows the pattern set in regard to the comparable Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
Part IV. of the bill deals with the judicial system for the territory. Prior to detachment of the island from the colony of Singapore, the Supreme Court of Singapore exercised jurisdiction in the island. la the- United Kingdom- order in council, 1957, which provides for’ the administration of the island as a separate colony pending transfer to Australia; provision, has been made for the Supreme Court of Singapore to, continue to exercise jurisdiction in regard to the island until other provision is made. It is. desirable that, when the island becomes a territory of the. Commonwealth, it should have its. separate supreme court and necessary subordinate courts. This part of the bill includes, therefore, necessary authority for the- establishment of a supreme court for the territory; for the jurisdiction, practice and procedure of the Supreme Court to be as provided by or under ordinance; for necessary subordinate courts to be established by or under ordinance; and for the High Court of Australia to have jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from decisions, of the Supreme Court.
Part V. provides for the application of Australian citizenship to British subjects who were ordinarily resident in the island immediately before the date of transfer of the island to Australia. The provisions included in this part are similar to those which were included in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955-1956. Persons resident in the island for a special or temporary purpose only would not be eligible. There are no indigenous inhabitants in the island, and the small total population of some 2,650 persons is made up principally of workers from Singapore employed in the phosphate industry.
In Part VI. of the bill provision is made lor the appointment, under ordinances, of persons for employment in the administration of the island, notwithstanding the provisions of the Public Service Act which, by virtue of its 1957 amendments, now extends to all territories. Such a provision will remove any doubts about the validity of, for example, the appointment under ordinance of an official representative, of police officers, postal employees, &c. Provision is made, also, for the preservation, under the Officers’ Rights Declaration Act, of the rights of any person who, immediately before his appointment under ordinance to an office in the territory, was an officer of the Public Service of the Commonwealth.
This part also includes a provision relating to the serving of sentences outside the territory by prisoners convicted by the courts of the territory. There are no prison facilities on the island except for very shortterm prisoners, and existing practice is to transfer prisoners to Singapore to serve their sentences in prisons there. When the island becomes a territory of the Commonwealth, the Removal of Prisoners (Territories) Act of the Commonwealth will apply to the territory of its own force and, in terms of that act, any transfer of prisoners would need to be made to a prison in Australia or in another Commonwealth territory. This would be appropriate in the case of European prisoners, but not so in all other cases. The local population is composed mainly of Asian workers recruited in Singapore for the phosphate industry, and it may be preferable that any prisoners from this group should serve their sentences in Singapore prisons in an environment and under conditions which would not be completely foreign to them. There are also practical considerations of language, diet, economic rehabilitation and so on. The Singapore Government is agreeable to this, subject, of course, to reimbursement of the cost of maintenance in respect of any such prisoners. It is proposed, therefore, that authority should be given in this act for prisoners to be transferred to prisons outside the territory to serve their sentences notwithstanding the application of the Removal of Prisoners (Territories) Act.
Necessary detailed provisions to regulate any such transfers will be provided by ordinance.
A similar provision in this part relates to the detention and treatment of persons suffering from leprosy, and mentally disordered persons. There are no facilities on the island adequate to this purpose and, under existing arrangements, any such patients are transferred to Singapore hospitals for treatment. It is desirable that these arrangements should continue after the island becomes a Commonwealth territory as regards patients from amongst the workers recruited from Singapore. The Singapore Government is agreeable to this and it is proposed, therefore, that authority should be given in the act for the removal of such patients from the territory for treatment. As in the case of prisoners, necessary detailed provisions to regulate such removals will be provided by ordinance.
A provision is also contained in Part VI. permitting the continued circulation in the territory of the currency in use immediately before the date of transfer. The reason for this is that Singapore currency is in use on the island and, because of the nature of the employed population and the extent of its remittances to and spending in Singapore, it is desirable that the continued circulation of that currency should be permitted, at least until such time as its exclusion could be effected without creating difficulties. Provision along the lines proposed is necessary for this purpose as, otherwise, the position after transfer would be that, under the provisions of the Commonwealth Bank Act 1945-1953, which applies to the territories of the Commonwealth, Australian currency would automatically become legal tender on the island. Furthermore, in the normal course, the Banking (Foreign Exchange) Regulations, which also apply to the territories, would have the effect of preventing residents both from using Singapore currency locally and from taking it or sending it to Singapore without the approval of the Commonwealth Bank. It is proposed, therefore, to permit the continued use of Singapore currency after transfer in addition to Australian currency, until such time as its exclusion can be effected without creating difficulties.
This part provides power for the Governor-General to grant “ a pardon, remission or respite of sentence to offenders sentenced by a court exercising criminal jurisdiction in the territory; to remit fines, &c, imposed or incurred under the laws of the territory; and to grant a pardon to an accomplice who gives evidence that leads to the conviction of a principal offender.
A further provision in this part will permit exemption from customs duties in respect of the importation into Australia from the territory of goods produced or manufactured in the territory, provided that they are not goods which, if produced or manufactured in Australia, would be subject to excise duty. A comparable exemption already applies in relation to the other external territories of the Commonwealth. Apart from phosphate, there appears to be little likelihood of any other goods being imported into Australia from the island.
Finally, the bill provides that the accounts of the territory shall be subject to inspection and audit by the AuditorGeneral for the Commonwealth; and regulation making powers under the act will vest in the Governor-General in accordance with normal practice.
In conclusion, 1 do not think that I need do more than to reiterate that the bill is a necessary preliminary to the United Kingdom order in council whereby the actual transfer of the island to Australia will be made. The proposed transfer has been brought about by a process of frank and friendly negotiation with all interests concerned and as a result of agreement among them. The transfer will ensure an augmented supply of phosphate for Australian and New Zealand primary industries; and the conditions under which it is being made pay careful regard to the future well-being of the small population of the island.
I commend the bill to honorable senators.
– At the outset 1 announce that the Opposition supports this measure. The speech just delivered by the Leader of the Government in this chamber (Senator O’sullivan) contains matters of very great interest. This bill represents the fourth of the steps required for the taking over of Christmas Island by the Commonwealth of Australia. The island itself is small, being only about eleven miles by nine miles in area; it is roughly square in shape; it has about 2,650 inhabitants, comprised of about 2,000 Chinese, about 500 Malays and about 150 Europeans. The isla:.d is rather extraordinary in that it is the summit of a mountain, 14,000 feet of which is submerged and only 1,000 feet of which shows above the surface of the water. I understand that the island is completely surrounded by a submerged reef, there being only one opening to the coast which is al Flying Fish Point. Because of its steep cliffs, the island is not very readily accessible.
As the Minister indicated, the island was part of the colony of Singapore and belonged entirely to Great Britain. It struck me as extraordinary when I looked into this matter that there should have been even such a small portion of the world uninhabited and unacquired until as recently as 1888. That was when Great Britain acquired the island. Thereafter it was developed as a phosphate-producing prospect. It was leased for 99 years in the first instance to two individuals, Clunies Ross and Sir John Murray. They later passed the lease over to a company, and the Australian Government, acting in conjunction with the New Zealand Government, acquired the interests of the company on behalf of both governments in 1949.
The 99-year lease of the phosphate deposits on the island, comprising some 6.000 acres, is at present operated jointly by Australia and New Zealand. Some 400,000 tons of phosphate are produced per annum. My information is that the deposits have an expected life, at their present rate of use, of some 40 years, so that there is a limited future for them. In the meantime, very strenuous steps are being taken to discover, in and around Australia, other deposits of the same type and of a comparable quality, it is of vital importance to this country that lime phosphates shall be readily available to those engaged in agriculture, particularly in the pastoral industry. The alternative to getting lime phosphates from areas near Australia, like Nauru and Christmas Island, is to obtain them from the north of Africa, where excessive high prices are demanded. If we had to go as far afield as that and pay the prices that the North African market can command, I am afraid we would be able to embark on very little pastoral improvement here.
It is of real importance to Australia to have these deposits available. I congratulate the Government on engaging’ in a governmental enterprise in this matter. It is what one could truly term a completely socialistic or national enterprise. The Government is giving more than lip service to this very excellent project. It has joined with the Government of New Zealand to exploit these phosphate deposits. An interesting feature is that there is no element of profit in the matter. The people who will get the benefit of the low-cost production in a nearby area are the agriculturalists of this country. It is my wish, and the wish of the Opposition generally, that the Government will be equally as concerned to ensure that other vital elements of the costs of primary producers in this country will be brought down to this stable level.
I remember with pride that it was a Labour government which stepped in with the New Zealand Government to acquire the lease and to operate it. I congratulate the present Government for having at least one good thing in its record - the continuance of this lease. Probably that is the last good thing I shall say about this Government during the currency of the present Parliament. I have evil in my heart, and probably will have it on my lips when I come, at a more opportune time, to consider the misdeeds of the Government. However, so that honorable senators opposite will realize that there is not all evil in my heart, I hand the Government one crumb of praise now.
– What about dealing with the cheap labour angle before you close? Does that worry you at all?
– The labour in the area is drawn largely from Singapore and comprises Malayans, Chinese and Indians. The Minister has furnished us with no information about labour charges and accordingly I have no information upon the matter. I know that the Minister desires to get the bill through quickly, but if Senator Kendall cares to make a contribution on that point I shall be most interested to learn what the facts are. I can say to him now, speaking on behalf of the Opposition, that we would not favour sweated labour for anybody, whether abroad or here.
– lt is not contemplated.
– I am glad to have the Minister’s assurance. That is the first piece of information we have had on this aspect. [ am glad to hear what the Minister has said and, of course, I accept it. On behalf of the Opposition, I assure Senator Kendall that if the implication of his interjection was that we might be upholding sweated labour on Christmas Island, I repudiate that suggestion instantly. We would not support that.
– We would not ask you to do so.
– I am glad to hear the Minister say that. From the constitutional viewpoint, the bill is of great interest in that it very clearly establishes Australia as a self-governing nation under the Crown. When one observes the steps that have been taken and the care with which they have been arranged, one realizes the great delicacy with which the transfer of this island to Australia from the United Kingdom has been attended. Nothing whatever could be done until, last year, this Parliament passed a bill requesting the transfer of the island to Australia and consenting to the transfer. The next step, as the Minister indicated in his speech, was that on the very day that the Australian bill received the Royal assent, the island was, by proclamation, severed from Singapore by the United Kingdom Government. It was cut right off. The next step was the passage through the United Kingdom Parliament of a bill authorizing the Queen, by order in council, to effect the transfer on a date that she was to select.
The step we are now considering is the fourth step in the process. The kernel of the bill is that we agree to take over the rights, assets and powers that have hitherto been exercised by the United Kingdom Government alone, to take over liabilities - with one exception which I hope to go back to briefly in a moment - and generally to consent to the transfer to us. When this bill becomes law, the Queen will immediately, by order in council, formally effectuate the transfer. This bill and its provisions really hinge upon that proclamation. With one exception, no part of the bill can come into operation until such time as that order in council by the Queen has been proclaimed.
The one exception is the making of appointments to particular offices, referred to in Part I. of the bill. What is in contemplation, of course, is the appointment of an official administrator of the island on behalf of the Commonwealth, the appointment of his necessary staff and the taking of the necessary oaths or affirmations by the appointees. That is the one effective thing that can be done under the bill before the order in council by the Queen has been proclaimed.
The bill is very neatly divided into five parts, very dearly and logically arranged. Part II is the formal part that deals with the acceptance of the transfer. Australia rs to take over all property, rights and powers that have hitherto been enoyed by the Queen, either through the United Kingdam Government or through the control of Singapore. Australia also takes over the liabilities in connexion with the island of either or both of those governments. However, there is a very interesting exception there. It is contained in sub-section (3.) of section 6, which provides that the Australian Government is not to be responsible for the servicing or repayment of public loans raised by the Government of the Colony of Singapore. It occurred to me that that was a very extraordinary provision and that, if we were to take over all the assets, quite a number of which would have been built with loans raised by the Government of Singapore for the development of the island, surely it would be logical to expect that we would take over the servicing and repayment of those particular loans.
The answer, of course, is that such a requirement is eliminated for the reason that in December last, when this Parliament passed the first bill constituting the first step in the progress of this matter, the Government announced that it was joining with New Zealand in paying 20,000,000 dollars as an ex gratia payment to the Government of Singapore. The Government of Singapore, not as a matter of right or entitlement, but as a matter of ex gratia payments, had been collecting bounties from the recovery of phosphate on the island. Honorable senators will notice at page 242 of the Estimates that last year we paid £1,463,000 to Singapore - and New Zealand p: id an equivalent amount - as a contribution for the transfer of sovereignty over Christmas Island to Australia. The elimination of the requirement that we should take over the servicing or repayment of public loans made in respect of Christmas Island and raised by the Government of Singapore is no longer surprising when we realize that a capital sum of nearly £3,000,000 has been paid over by Australia and New Zealand in combination.
Part III. of the bill deals with the lawmaking power. That power is very simple, but it is exceedingly wide. The bill vests all power to govern the island in the GovernorGeneral. Laws are to be made by ordinance. The application of certain territorial laws is preserved under the bill. But, I repeat, the main power to make laws is vested entirely in the Governor-General, which means, of course, the GovernorGeneral in Council acting with the advice of the Executive Council. In other words, from that angle, absolute power, is vested, in effect, in the Australian Government to make laws by ordinance. As this is such a vast power without any qualification, the Parliament should be gravely concerned with it. I am very happy that there is in existence the Regulations and Ordinances Committee of the Senate, which will have each of the ordinances under review. The committee certainly will not be concerned with the constitutionality of those ordinances,” because no law could be made which would not be constitutional; but I suggest that this Parliament has a special duty to this island and its inhabitants.
Although the inhabitants are small in number, they comprise a number of different nationalities and, without proper oversight, a situation of great international significance could easily arise. My fear is that, because the island is so small, its population so small, and it is so far from us, this Parliament will lose all supervision and thought of it. It is not like other territories of the Commonwealth that are represented in the Parliament by members who have the special duty of observing the laws that are applicable to those territories and of drawing the attention of the Parliament to anything that they think is wrong with them. The people of
Christmas Island will not, and of course cannot, have representation in this Parliament at this stage.
I had hoped that provision would be made in the bill for a report to be furnished annually to the Parliament by the Minister for Territories so that there would be some element or fact, apart from the inclusion of a special item of expenditure in the Estimates, that would direct the attention of the Parliament directly to the affairs of the island. Although the bill provides for a regulation-making power, nothing is said about the submission of a report. However, I have had an opportunity to talk to the Minister for Territories, and he has given me the assurance, which I now record, that an annual report will be submitted to the Parliament.
– Such as is done in regard to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea?
– Yes. A complete report will be submitted.
– And the Parliament will have an opportunity to criticize operations at the island.
– Yes. That report will come before us. It will deal, of course, with all aspects of the administration - the laws, the results of administration during the year, the accounts, and that kind of thing. I am concerned with the fact that there should be before the Parliament something clear and specific so that each member of the Parliament will feel that he has a duty to that small, remote, mixed population to take an interest in what goes on.
Senator Willesee’s interjection brings to my mind the question of accounts. There is no information before the Senate, or, I think, before the Parliament, as to what the balance-sheet or the profit and loss account in regard to the island will be like -that is, as to what it will cost Australia to take over the island and run it.
– That will be brought out in the Estimates each year.
– I acknowledge that. But at this stage, when we are consenting to take over the island with its inhabitants, its assets and its liabilities, surely the Parliament might well be informed about whether we are taking over an asset or a liability from the administrative viewpoint. From the information that is before the chamber, we do not know whether it will cost £500,000 or only a few thousand pounds. But again, I have had the advantage of a talk with the Minister for Territories, and he has assured me that the administrative costs will be light. There will be a court, an administrator, some Asian staff and perhaps a magistrate. It is in contemplation that the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory of Australia will act as the court of Christmas Island; it is not proposed that a new supreme court shall be established. 1 understand from the Minister that the overall cost will be only some thousands of pounds per annum. Whatever the cost is, we must offset the vast benefit that comes from getting cheap phosphate into this country and having it readily available. That is a credit which all the time must be set off against whatever debit we raise in our accounts. I take it that the AttorneyGeneral (Senator O’sullivan), who is at the table, will concur in the two assurances that I have been given, the first of which was that reports will be submitted.
– That is so.
– The other is that it is not anticipated that the cost of administering the island will be very great.
– That is so.
– Should not the requirement to submit a report be written into the act?
– 1 thought so, and I raised that very point. I notice that clause 23 provides that the GovernorGeneral may make regulations. The requirement to submit a report could be dealt with under the regulation-making power. But I have the assurance from the Minister that it will be done. I am particularly putting that on record. I also have the assurance of the Attorney-General that it will be done. So, at this stage, I personally regard the position as being adequately safeguarded.
The setting up of the judicial system, the application of Australian citizenship to certain residents, the provision regarding currency, prisoners and patients of various types, and the application of duties of custom, are all of great interest, but I think they call for no special comment.
The final point I wish to make is that it is desirable that this Parliament should take a keen interest in this newly acquired territory, that events there should be watched with great particularity, because the inhabitants have no champion in this Parliament, and that we should adjust our minds to making whatever changes experience may dictate to be necessary. If change is required, we should address our minds to the problem very promptly and not allow difficulties to develop which might involve us in difficult international situations.
.- My remarks will be very brief. I support the bill because I believe that its object is to bring within the sphere of the Australian economy a most important product which can benefit all those who are concerned with it. I agree with Senator McKenna’s observation that we shall be watched very closely in our administration of this newly acquired territory. In addition to giving us the opportunity to acquire a most valuable asset in the form of phosphate, I believe that our administration of this territory will give us an opportunity to show the Asian people that our democracy is progressive and on the march. We must see to it that the charges that are sometimes levelled at other peoples with newly acquired territory cannot possibly be levelled at us.
Supplementary to Senator Kendall’s interjection regarding the conditions of labour on the island, I should like the Minister to assure me and the Senate that the administration will provide for the employment of a reputable and capable industrial relations officer whose duty it will be to ensure that the very highest standards are observed for the employees who are engaged to win the phosphatic rock. In our treatment of them we must set an example for the Asian people who necessarily, and in increasing numbers, will come into close contact with the Australian people in the future. The name “ Christmas Island “ is an interesting one. This is not the only Christmas Island. The one that has been mostly in our minds is the island where the thermo-nuclear bombs have been tested. By contrast, the Christmas Island with which we are concerned at the moment seems so much more peaceful than the other one.
I suppose that one of the factors that has contributed most to our great prosperity since the war, in both secondary and primary industries, has been the use of superphosphate to trigger off the cycle of nitro.genation of the soil. That, in turn, has resulted in greater fertility of the soil and increased production. Evidently, there are wonderful deposits of phosphate on this island, thus making this complicated transfer of sovereignty worth while. It is possible that, by introducing a plentiful supply of phosphate, to be turned into superphosphate by industrial processes and then made available to our farmers, an important contribution can be made to reducing the costs of production in our primary industries, which is one of the. vital problems for Australia to solve at the moment.
I should say that we are on the threshold of serious difficulties in relation to production costs. In some cases, the costs in our primary industries have reached the current retail prices of the commodities that those industries produce, while in other cases the current prices are lower than the costs of production. For that reason I think we are very fortunate in having the assurance, as the result of peaceful and friendly negotiations with the United Kingdom Government for the transfer of this island, of continuity of supply of this most valuable commodity.
As I have said, our acquisition of the island presents a great challenge to us. I think that responsibility rests with our Regulations and Ordinances Committee to see that the ordinances that are proclaimed in relation to the administration of Christmas Island adequately safeguard the interests of the people who will be employed there, as well as those who are to have the opportunity to avail themselves of the great honour of Australian citizenship. It will follow naturally from our acquisition of the island that people who work there for Australians, and for Australia, may become Australian citizens. Christmas Island is an important meeting place of east and west. I look forward to seeing how the experiment works out. I congratulate those responsible for bringing the negotiations to the stage where transfer of sovereignty is possible. I hope that justice will prevail in our relations with the people who are working the deposits of phosphate. I also hope that, by our administration, we shall be pointed to as exemplary employers and administrators.
I should like to be assured that the matter that has been raised by Senator Kendall will be watched closely by the Government. I hope that we shall not sweat the Asian labour, as has been the tradition with similar ventures. Instead, I hope that our administration will be regarded as an opportunity for u9 to show the world that we are a democratic people and that our purpose is not to exploit but to uplift, to raise living standards and to accord dignity to all human beings.
– I am most interested in the matter of the audit of the accounts by the AuditorGeneral, referred to by Senator McKenna and underlined by Senator O’Byrne when he spoke of the additional duties that will fall on the shoulders of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. I imagine that if Senator Wright were here, this question would interest him greatly. I refer the Minister to clause 22, which states -
The accounts of the Territory shall be subject to inspection and audit by the Auditor-General for the Commonwealth.
Without wishing to argue with the Parliamentary Draftsman, it seems to me that that wording rather leaves the position in the air. The clause seems to indicate that the accounts of the territory shall be subject to inspection and audit if the AuditorGeneral thinks fit. Perhaps I am misinterpreting the clause, but I should prefer to see an obligation definitely placed on the Auditor-General to inspect the accounts and to report on them. If, as I think is the case, the wording of the clause leaves the inspection at the discretion of the AuditorGeneral, that is a weakness in the bill. We all know from experience that the reports that are submitted by the Auditor-General each year are of great interest to the Parliament.
On the question of the general report on the administration of the island, although Senator McKenna stated that he had an assurance from the present Minister in this respect, I remind the Senate that Ministers come and go. I suggest that suitable provision should be included in the legislation. The Regulations and Ordinances Committee is constantly watching the effect of writing into regulations provisions which should be written into the parent act. The position regarding ordinances in relation to Papua and New Guinea comes to mind. I remind the Senate that the legislation under which the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission operates insists that an annual report shall be forthcoming. Honorable senators may remember that only a few months ago the annual report of the commission pointed to anomalies in the act. The report pointed out that some of the provisions which had been written into the act on the recommendation of the committee were, in fact, unnecessary and would limit the work of the commission. It was suggested that our recommendations be amended, and we did amend them.
I submit that it has become almost a common practice in legislation of this type to provide for the submission of an annual report to Parliament. I therefore suggest that clause 22 be amended to make it mandatory on the Auditor-General to inspect and to report. I also suggest that we add a clause - perhaps it would suit the Parliamentary Draftsman to number it 22a. - requiring a report to be submitted to this Parliament. The report submitted need not be as voluminous as the one submitted in connexion with the Territory of Papua and New Guinea; it could even be as small as some of those reports submitted years ago by Senator McLeay under the wine legislation, and taking up no more than half a foolscap sheet. Even though the report may be short, at least this Parliament will be officially informed of the way in which money is being expended at Christmas Island.
I am pleased that this bill is introduced, because it affects a matter which is vital to Western Australia. For some years now, it has been the practice to ship phosphatic rock to Geraldton. I do feel that in this instance there is an omission which might catch up with us in the long run, as was the case in connexion with our Customs Act and later our import licensing provisions. I see nothing in my suggestion that would detract from the value of the measure; on the contrary, if clause 22 were amended as I have suggested, and if a new clause, to be numbered 22a., were inserted for the purpose I have mentioned, the measure, in my opinion, would be strengthened.
– in reply - I appreciate the reception given to this bill by the Opposition. I affirm the assurances which the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) tells me he has received from the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). I am aware of the assurances to which Senator McKenna has referred. Senator O’Byrne raised a matter relating to labour conditions on Christmas Island. I do not know the precise nature of the structure of the industrial relationship that will prevail, but I give an unqualified assurance that it will be of such an order as not to disgrace in any way Australia. It will be of such a nature that Australia will be able to hold up her head with pride in any forum in the world.
Senator Willesee raised a matter in connexion with clause 22. I have a note to the effect that this provision has a counterpart in many of our acts. It has always been accepted by the Auditor-General as authorizing him to inspect the accounts in question, and as requiring the Government to submit its accounts to the AuditorGeneral for audit. The Auditor-General, of course, is completely unrestricted in respect of the matters upon which he reports to Parliament. He does not report to the Government; his report comes to the Parliament, as the honorable senator is aware.
I mention also, in the same context, that there is no provision in the Papua and New Guinea Act, in the Norfolk Island Act, nor in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act requiring that a report be submitted to Parliament. However, the Minister for Territories does, in fact, submit to Parliament each year reports on the administration of each of those territories. Apart from the custom already established, and pursuant to the assurances given to the Leader of the Opposition, that practice will be continued.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Senator O’sullivan) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday, 16th September, at 3 p.m., unless sooner called together by the President by telegram or letter.
Senate adjourned at 3.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 August 1958, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1958/19580828_senate_22_s13/>.